Vietnam Off The Beaten Track
Hanoi, Dong Hoi, Phong Nha Caves, Ha Giang, Sapa, Halong Bay Cruise, Lan Ha Bay
Unquestionably Vietnam’s most unspoilt region, Ha Giang, in the far north-east, is as colourful as it is culturally diverse. Vietnam Off The Beaten Track takes you away from the well-worn trail and into the mountainous heartland of north Vietnam.
Along with Ha Giang's minority markets, rice-terraced landscapes and welcoming home-stays, you'll visit the largest cave in the world, in the recently accessible Phong Nha Ke Bang National Park, enjoy the charms of Hanoi City, and visit some of the further lying reaches of Halong Bay.
If 12 days isn't enough and you want to venture further south - perhaps taking a few days to indulge yourself on one of Vietnam's world class beaches - just ask a Selective Asia consultant to tailor-made this holiday just for you.
Upon arrival in Hanoi you'll be met by your guide who will transfer you to your hotel. The remainder of your day is at leisure.
Hanoi, Vietnam's capital, ranks amongst the world's most attractive and interesting cities. It was first the capital of Vietnam in A.D. 1010, and though the nation's capital moved to Hue under the Nguyen dynasty in 1802, the city continued to flourish after the French took control in 1888. In 1954, after the French departed, Hanoi was declared Vietnam's capital once again. The remnants of over 1,000 years of history are still visible here, with that of the past few hundred years wonderfully preserved.Overnight in Hanoi.
Hanoi, City Tour
Enjoy a full day tour of Hanoi. Your guide will be happy to personalise your programme, however we would recommend sites such as Ho Chi Minh’s Mausoleum, One Pillar Pagoda and a stroll around Hoan Kiem Lake. For many the Temple of Literature is a highlight worth lingering over. Built in 1070, this complex of atmospheric halls, pavilions and courtyards is dedicated to Confucius and scholars. Of special note are the 82 remaining steles of stone shaped like turtles which are elaborately carved with the names of candidates that sat the Royal examinations. A walking tour through the Old Quarter will provide another fascinating insight into the character and history of the city, before moving on to Dong Xuan Market with its bustling stalls and brisk trading of day-to-day local goods.
After lunch, consider visiting the very popular Ethnology Museum or the central Hoa Lo Prison, nicknamed the Hanoi Hilton by American POW's during the war. Alternatively your guide will be happy to discuss alternative places of interest that you may wish to consider.
In the evening we recommend staying in and around the Old Quarter where there is a large selection of excellent restaurants and cafes to choose from. There is also the amazing 'street-food' such as Pho to be found on every corner!Overnight in Hanoi.
Escape the city
Spend a night with a Vietnamese family and experience typical rural village life in Ky Son Village, 65 km from Hanoi. The village has three ancient wooden houses, each refurbished in a traditional style, for visitors to stay in. During your visit you can enjoy a bike ride along surrounding trails, pick herbs and vegetables, shop at the local market and assist with meal preparations. Conversation will be assisted by your guide, ensuring your stay is an enjoyable and enlightening occasion for all.
Witness Hanoi awake
The day starts early in Vietnam, particularly in Hanoi, and witnessing the city coming alive at dawn is a highlight for many visitors. Rise early and drive to Ba Ding Square, where the Vietnamese flag is ceremoniously raised each day at 6am, before taking a cyclo ride across the city to the Old Quarter. An early morning walk in the Old Quarter will give you a sense of the spirit of this enigmatic city. Around Hoan Kiem Lake and throughout the city’s parks and public spaces you can witness what seems to be the entire population taking morning exercises such as Tai Chi, badminton, jogging and cycling.
Make a difference
Throughout Vietnam there are a large number of orphanages, often associated with a Pagoda or Catholic Diocese, providing care and happy environments for orphaned and otherwise disadvantaged children. As well as providing a home, these projects aim to provide schooling, life skills, and English classes. Selective Asia can arrange for volunteers to visit orphanages for as little as a few hours, up to a stay of several days. Any time you spend will be invaluable in helping the children in play, developing skills, and ultimately helping them to lead rewarding and fulfilling lives.
Back to basics in Vuon Thi
Just a couple of hours to the south of Hanoi, set amongst dramatic limestone karsts and rice paddies as far as the eye can see, is the ancient village of Vuon Thi. Upon arrival you will meet your hosts, a local family, who will help you participate in their normal daily activities. It’s a very ‘hands on’ day and you will undoubtedly enjoy the lifestyle, hospitality and welcoming attitudes of the local people. In additional to preparing and enjoying lunch with your hosts, you can also join them in the fields to learn the traditional techniques still used in farming and fishing. Close
Hanoi, Dong Hoi
Late morning transfer to the airport in time for your flight to Dong Hoi.
Despite Dong Hoi’s recent popularity due to its proximity to the now famous Phong Nha Caves, the number of visitors to this coastal town is minimal, leaving vsitor's to enjoy the 12km of pristine white sands in near solitude.
Upon arrival you will be met by your guide and transferred out of town to your hotel, close to the border of the Phong Nha Ke Bang National Park.
The remainder of your day is at leisure.Overnight in Dong Hoi.
Dong Hoi, Phong Nha Ke Bang National Park
Morning departure from Dong Hoi, passing along Victory Road 20 - formerly part of the Ho Chi Minh Trail – stopping to visit the memorial temple at Hang 8 Co; dedicated to the North Vietnamese volunteers who lost their lives maintaining the trail during the American-Vietnam War.
Continue on to the entrance of Phong Nha Ke Bang National Park, located close to the Laotian border and home to one of the world's largest known karst regions, with over 300 caves and grottoes. The Phong Nha Caves were awarded UNESCO World Heritage status in 2003 and have only been open to the public since 2011. Much of the network of caves remain unexplored, however the National Park contains what are believed to be the world’s largest and longest caves.
Visit the huge Paradise Cave (Hang Thien Duong), passing along the raised wooden walkway that runs into the cave, to witness the astonishing stalactites and stalagmites. Move on to the nearby Nuoc Mooc spring where there is an opportunity to swim in the emerald stream that runs from the nearby caves.
During the afternoon you will visit the old runway at Khe Gat, secretly built during the war, and also visit Phong Nha Cave itself. You will also be able to kayak through part of the cave, using headlamps to access several caverns as you get deeper inside. Having exited the cavern, enjoy a BBQ dinner at the mouth of the cavern before returning to your hotel in the evening.Overnight in Dong Hoi.
Dong Hoi, Hanoi
In the morning there will be time to revisit the National Park, taking a boat trip as far as 'Dry Cave'. Alternatively you may prefer to drive into Dong Hoi where there will be time to explore the town before transferring to the airport in time for your flight to Hanoi.
Upon arrival you you will be met by your guide and transferred to your hotel. The remainder of your day is at leisure.
Overnight in Hanoi.
Hanoi, Ha Giang
Early morning departure from Hanoi, heading north towards the Chinese border. The total distance travelled on this first day is just over 300km but the journey is a beautiful one and the hours pass quickly. Your final destination, Ha Giang, is amongst the least visited destinations in Vietnam and has only been accessible to travellers in recent years due to its remote location and the previous necessity for a special travel permit.
Traditional cultures are very strong in the region and tourism has made little impact thus far, making it a very exciting time to visit Ha Giang, especially for clients keen to learn more about Vietnam's ethnic diversity.
Along the way there will be plenty of opportunity to take comfort breaks, break for lunch and to enjoy the incredible backdrop. Upon arrival in Ha Giang there will still be time to visit some Tay minority people at the village of Phuong Do, the oldest Tay community in Ha Giang. The village is surrounded by terraced paddy-fields dotted with large houses-on-stilts.
You will have a chance to walk around the village and to converse with the inhabitants, learning about their way of life, thanks to the multi lingual abilities of your local guide. You will soon discover that Tay hospitality knows no language barriers!
Return to Ha Giang in the late afternoon and check in to your hotel.Overnight in Ha Giang.
Distance driven: 320km
Ha Giang, Dong Van
Today is the type of day when you’ll find it hard to put your camera away as you can be sure of some spectacular scenery from start to finish, passing through extraordinary mountainous landscapes and terraced paddy-fields.
It’s a day of steep ascents and descents, and your altitude will range between a low of 700m to a high of 1,433m. Upon arrival at Quyet Tien, visit the colourful minority market where the photo opportunities continue en mass as you witness the convergence of Nung, White H'Mong, Po Y, Dao Lanten and Tay people all gathering for the days trade.
Drive on to Heaven’s Gate and Fairy Mountain before reaching a White H'Mong village that specialises in flax weaving. Stretch your legs and explore the village and its surroundings before continuing on to a village of the Zao Ao Dai (Zao Long Traditional Dress) where you will also break for lunch.
In the afternoon drive up to today's highest point to visit an ancient village of the White H'Mong. As you journey between the various minority tribe villages and regions you can’t help but notice the huge variation in both the culture and costume of each.
In the mid-afternoon continue to Sung La where you will find a LoLo house and its people (the LoLo minority is one of Vietnam's rarest ethnic minorities and only exist in this region). Also visit the impressive ancient H'Mong King Palace before you make the final short journey to Dong Van town, arriving in the late afternoon where the remainder of your day is at leisure.Overnight in Dong Van.
Distance driven: 160km
Dong Van, Meo Vac, Ha Giang, Tay Minority Homestay
In the morning visit the authentic and extremely colourful Sunday Dong Van minority market, considered one of the most beautiful minority markets in Vietnam. There will be plenty of time to barter with the locals and enjoy the energy of the gathering before driving up towards the peak of Ma Pi Leng to admire the panoramic views of the surrounding mountains, and the rivers and paddy-field terraces far down below. Visit the Meo Vac cattle market before continuing on to the village of Zao Ao Dai for lunch.
In the afternoon, return to Ha Giang where you will 'check in' at your home stay, a typical example of the house-on-stilts used by the Tay people. The accommodation may be basic but it is an unforgettable experience! Enjoy dinner and the local hospitality with your Tay family hosts.Overnight in Ha Giang.
Distance driven: 170km
Ha Giang, Sapa
Your morning is at leisure, giving you an opportunity to walk or cycle around the village, experiencing the peaceful daily life. There are also some trails leading out into the countryside, offering some great views of the surrounding mountains.
In the late morning, depart for Sapa, stopping en route for lunch. Arrive in Sapa in the late afternoon and transfer directly to your hotel.
Nicknamed the ‘Tonkinese Alps’ by the French (this area of Vietnam then being Tonkin), Sapa is located within easy reach of both the Hoang Lien Son mountain range and Vietnam's highest peak of Fan Si Pan (3,143m). Five different hill tribes still live in the region and some of the villages, especially the more remote ones, are still largely untouched by modern ways of life.Overnight in Sapa.
Distance driven: 250km
Sapa, Y Linh Ho Trek, Taphin, overnight train to Hanoi
Morning departure for Y Linh Ho from where you will start your days trek with a walk into the Muong Hoa Valley below, passing through some of the stunning rice paddy terraces that the region is so well known for.
The total trekking time is likely to be three to four hours and throughout the morning the backdrop is breathtaking. You will stop at several spots that offer panoramic views of the valleys below and you are also likely to pass many H’mong people; thanks to the linguistic skills of your guide, you will have the opportunity to interact with them and learn more about their way of life.
Return to Sapa in time for lunch. Late afternoon transfer to Lao Cai train station for the overnight train back to Hanoi (a day room in Lao Cai or a late check out in Sapa can be arranged if you wish to freshen up before your jouney).Overnight on board.
Hanoi, Halong Bay Cruise (Bhaya Classic Cruise)
Early morning arrival in Hanoi where you will be met by your guide. Take a stroll around Hoan Kiem Lake which is a hive of activity at 5am as the locals take exercise and practice Tai Chi on the banks on the lake.
After an early breakfast it’s a three hour drive from the city to Halong Bay, passing through a number of typical North Vietnamese towns and villages. Upon arrival at a private port on Tuan Chau Island, you will be welcomed aboard the luxurious Bhaya Classic; the same style of junk that has sailed the bay for 100’s of years.
A natural wonder of the world and one of Vietnam’s UNESCO World Heritage Sites, the creation of Halong Bay is shrouded in myth. Local legend tells us how the gods sent a family of dragons to defend the country from the invading Chinese. The dragons spat out gemstones that turned into islands, linking together to create a wall against the enemy. The truth is almost as evocative as the legend and upon setting out into the bay you are met by one of the most beguiling natural scenes you will ever witness.
Lunch is served as you depart port. You will soon leave the mainland far behind, navigating amongst the jagged limestone islands and karsts emerging from the emerald waters. Whilst some islands are no more than large rocks others are far more substantial in size.
The Bhaya Classic travels much further into the bay than most junks, sailing a course well away from the pack and as the day progresses you will notice a significant reduction in other traffic.
During the afternoon you will visit Bai Tu Long Bay, having passed the towns of Hon Gai and Cam Pha, Oan Lagoon, Mat Quy (Monster Head) and Am Tich (Teapot) Islets. There will also be time to stop at Vung Vieng fishing village, where you will transfer to a rowing boat to explore the narrow channels.
Whilst your junk moors for the night, there is an opportunity to swim or kayak as the sun sets over the bay. In the evening enjoy a sumptuous supper served in the dining cabin. The junk also provides fishing for those that wish to try their luck, as well as board games and spa facilities.Overnight on board.
Halong Bay Cruise, Lan Ha Bay
After breakfast disembark the Bhaya Classic and transfer to your day-boat, the Bhaya Spirit. Your destination today is the little visited Lan Ha Bay in one of the remotest parts of the Gulf of Tolkin. The use of a day-boat provides easier access to the smaller bays, and allowing more opportunities to disembark.
The exact itinerary will depend on the weather and any swell, however stops will be made at a number of remote fishing villages, islands and limestone karts. There may also be the chance to kayak through an amazing tunnel that cuts through a karst mountain.
Return to your Bhaya Classic in time for sunset and supper on board.Overnight on board.
Halong Bay Cruise, Hanoi
In the early morning many of the islands are alive with the sound of various sea birds nesting in the thick green vegetation that engulf the limestone karsts. Early risers may wish to start the day with a Tai Chi class on the top deck as the sun rises over the bay.
Enjoy brunch onboard the Bhaya Classic whilst your junk slowly turns back in the direction of the mainland, passing points of interest such as a Drum and Virgin islands, the Me Cung Caves and Toad Islet.
Arrive back in port in the late morning. Disembark and transfer back to Hanoi in time for your onward flight.
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