Best of Northern Vietnam
Northern Vietnam has so much to offer.
Hanoi with its unique Old Quarter, and narrow treelined streets; hill tribes and terrace rice fields in Sapa, and national parks offer beauty and charm. For those with additional time, the very northern part of Vietnam has amazing hiking opportunities, made even more special with homestay opportunities. This itinerary includes 2 UNESCO World Heritage Sites of Halong Bay and the ancient city of Hoi An.
Day 01, Arrival into Danang
Our guide will meet you and transfer to your hotel located in the historic city of Hoi An, 45 minutes’ drive away.
Day 02, Hoi An 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, Hoi An 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, immensely 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.
Day 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 massive destruction during the Vietnam war, 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 cannot 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 are not interested, just say ‘no’ and ask your guide to walk you away. ** Early check in is NOT inclusive** (Breakfast)
Day 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 Hmong, 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 riverbanks before having a packed lunch on board. Enjoy a short trek to Na Nen Village where Flower Hmong 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)
Day 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 Halong Bay 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)
Day 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 exceptionally 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)