Best of Northern Vietnam

Northern Vietnam — with the cultural center of Hanoi, hill tribes and terrace rice fields in Sapa, national parks, and wonderful Halong Bay — moves at a slower pace than the cities in Southern Vietnam. This is the program for you if you are interested in culture and people.

Hoian by the River, EPetrofskyDay 01, Arrival into Danang

Our guide will meet you and transfer to your hotel located in the historic city of HoiAn, 45 minutes drive away.

Day 02, Hoian Walking Tour

Between the 17th and 19th centuries, Hoi An was a prosperous trading port. Today, this World Heritage-listed ancient town boasts well-preserved buildings, pedestrian friendly streets and unique cuisine, allowing visitors a glimpse of its illustrious past. The narrow lanes are ideal for a guided walking tour. There are plenty to visit including the old merchants' houses with influences from Chinese, Japanese and Vietnamese architecture; the 400-year-old Japanese Covered Bridge; the Assembly Hall of the Chaozhou Chinese Congregation with outstanding wood carvings; and the colorful market with stalls brimming with local specialties including silk, which can be turned into fashionable garments within a day or two. The remainder day is free. (Breakfast)

Day 03, HoiAn to Hue (120 kilometers)

After breakfast, transfer to hotel in Hue. This is a 3 hour drive, parts of it very scenic over the highlands and along the ocean. Hue served as an imperial capital to the Nguyen Lords, a feudal dynasty which reigned from the 17th to the 19th century. With splendid emperors’ tombs, ancient pagodas and the remains of the Citadel, the city retains its royal charm. Drive from your hotel to visit Thien Mu pagoda, Hue’s best-preserved religious monument. Standing on the riverbank with its seven-story tower, the pagoda is a sight to behold. Continue to visit the Royal Tomb of Minh Mang. He was the second Nguyen Emperor, very powerful and distrustful of Western religions. As previously noted his interest in architecture brought major new construction to the Imperial City as well as this large garden with its lakes and pavilions, all in Chinese tradition. Here we saw once more many of the frangipani trees, with their fragrant white blossoms which remain in perfect state for days after falling to the ground.

Sapa, C FongDay 04, Hue to Hanoi – overnight train to Sapa

After breakfast, drive from your hotel to visit the Imperial Citadel, a UNESCO listed site. Enter through the towering main gate and you will appreciate the magnificent architecture and gardens while your guide explains about the events and the intrigue of the former royal court. Despite being bombed heavily, there are some incredibly well preserved sections still intact and others, which are being lovingly restored.

Afternoon transfer to the airport for flight to Hanoi. Arrive in Hanoi, transfer to the Thang Long theatre for a Water Puppet performance. The art of water puppetry began approximately a thousand years ago, possibly in the flooded rice fields of Vietnam. Puppeteers stand in waist-high water and manipulate their charges in such a way that you can’t help but be swept up in the legend being told. Each short skit in the performance relates to the daily life of the people. Transfer to train station after an optional dinner stop. The train to Lao Cai departs at 8:30pm. Overnight on train (sleeping berths) (Breakfast)

Day 05, Lao Cai arrival Sapa

Early morning arrival into Lao Cai, transfer to hotel for breakfast. After breakfast, drive 30 minutes south of Sapa town into the Muong Hoa valley, home to the largest terraced rice fields in Vietnam. If your visit is between May and October, it will coincide with the planting and harvesting time, and provides a chance to see the local farmers in action. The walk takes you from Lao Chai village of the Black Hmong minority to Ta Van village of the Giay minority. The magnificent views of the terraced fields, Fansipan mountain range and the cool climate all contribute to an excellent experience. Trek a total of 5km through farmlands and rolling hills before heading back to the hotel early afternoon.

Note: Sapa is becoming more and more popular with tourists. Many local people have limited income, therefore selling souvenir items can often be seen as another way to earn money. Expect hill tribe vendors to follow you and to be persistent in persuading you to buy their handicrafts. If you’re not interested, just say ‘no’ and ask your guide to walk you away. ** Early check in is NOT inclusive** (Breakfast)

Hill Tribes shopping, C FongDay 06, Sapa – Coc Ly Market / Lao Cai – Hanoi overnight train

Depart for a three hour drive over hills and a slightly bumpy road to the small Coc Ly Market, situated alongside Chay River. Every Tuesday morning, locals from the surrounding ethnic villages such as Flower H’mong, Phu La and Black Dao, resplendent in their distinctive costumes, gather here to buy and sell their products. These products may range from livestock to hand woven fabrics. Afterwards, take a simple local boat down Chay River to take in the sights of beautiful caves and local life on the river banks before having a packed lunch on board. Enjoy a short trek to Na Nen Village where Flower H’mong people live and ride a fun water buffalo cart through the village before transfer to the rail station for train to Hanoi. (Only available on Tuesdays) (Optional return to Lao Cai station is 2 hours drive). (Breakfast)

Halong Bay, D AlpineDay 07, Hanoi to Halong Bay

Arrive in Hanoi in early morning. Transfer to a local restaurant for breakfast. After breakfast, depart for a 3.5 hour journey to HalongBay stopping for a break at Hong Ngoc Center – the best place to stop and stretch your legs en route. On arrival in Halong Bay, board your junk, settle into your cabin and prepare your appetite for an enjoyable lunch on deck. In mid-afternoon visit the mysterious Tien Ong cave, adorned with stalactites and stalagmites, and then continue to the Cua Van fishing village, the largest fishing community on the bay. Head back to the boat, participate in a cooking class with the chef or enjoy sunset on the top deck before dinner. (Breakfast/ Lunch /Dinner)

Day 08, Halong – Hanoi

Rise early and greet the day with another refreshing Tai Chi class on the upper deck. Transfer from the main boat to a small beach on Ti Top Island. Those wanting a bit of exercise can climb to the top of the island (20 minutes). Later, board the main boat and enjoy a delicious buffet brunch while cruising back to shore. Arrive at the jetty in late morning then transfer back to Hanoi. (Light snack provided en route. Option to stop at a small pottery workshop en route). (Brunch)

Hanoi Old Quarter, D AlpineDay 09, Hanoi Half day tour

With ochre-colored colonial buildings, tree-lined boulevards and scenic lakes, Hanoi is full of charm. Start the tour at the historic Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum, an imposing monument lavishly built using marble and granite, and where the preserved body of “Uncle Ho” resides. (Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum is closed every Monday & Friday, all afternoons and from early September until mid November). Behind the Mausoleum, you can see Ho Chi Minh's House. The simple house where Ho Chi Minh lived and worked is made of wood and enjoyed a tranquil setting, with a view of a lotus pond. Ho Chi Minh’s belongings are on display and you can walk up the steps of his house to see his bedroom. A short walk from the mausoleum is the lotus shaped One Pillar Pagoda – resting on a single stone pillar emerging from the water. Then enjoy an hour cyclo tour through the Old Quarter to enjoy the bustling local life. We will cyclo along the tree-lined streets to the Old Quarter, one of Vietnam’s most lively and unusual places, where you can buy anything from a gravestone to silk pajamas. The maze of back streets is fascinating, and the area is known for its “tunnel” or “tube houses.” They were developed to avoid taxes based on the width of their frontage onto the street, so their small frontages hide very long rooms. A cyclo tour of the Old Quarter provides us a good first dose of Vietnamese culture, and insight into the country’s long history. (Breakfast)

Day 10, Hanoi

Free at leisure (Breakfast)

Day 11, Departure

Free at leisure until transfer to the airport for departure flight. (Breakfast)