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Vietnam expedition and the remote north

By Ryan Tarascas
Asia travel expert for Alfred& Asia

Step off the tourist trail with this expedition-style Vietnam adventure, which takes in biodiverse national parks, highland lakes and the remote, mountainous north. Highlights include rare wildlife in Cat Tien National Park, staying with a H’mong family in Sapa and driving across spectacular canyon passes on the Ha Giang loop.

Places

Length
16 days
Best months to go
February, March & April
Guide price range
£3,625 - £3,775pp
excluding international flights.

Top Experiences
Itinerary Highlights

Buon Ma Thuot

Exploring Lak Lake’s ancient M'nong culture

What’s special about Lak Lake Tented Camp is that it protects the area’s natural beauty and supports local M’nong culture...

Ha Giang

Ecolodge Panhou: ethnic villages and wild mountain scenery

I launched Ecolodge Panhou Village in 2007 as a base for my trekking company in the remote Ha Giang Province in far north-west Vietnam...

Sapa

Staying with a H’mong family in Sapa

Our homestay offers guests the chance to stay in a traditional H’mong house while enjoying the comforts of the Victoria brand...

Day by day
Itinerary in details

1

Ho Chi Minh City & Cat Tien

The trip gets off to a whirlwind start as you make the three-hour drive from Ho Chi Minh City to stunning Cat Tien National Park, where you’ll check into your lodge. After lunch, there’s a two-hour tour of the park’s endangered primate rescue centre on Monkey Island, which is dedicated to rehabilitating primates from the illegal wildlife trade. The centre was founded by the Endangered Asian Species Trust in collaboration with Monkey World in the UK and a portion of the park fees go straight back into the trust. Overnight in a Superior Deluxe Queen or Twin Room at Cat Tien Jungle Lodge.

Things to do:

2

Nam Cat Tien National Park

After breakfast, head out to explore the Crocodile Lake Trail, which encompasses a huge lagoon system surrounded by pristine forest. Take a ride in a pick-up truck, followed by short hike through Cat Tien’s tropical jungle with all its exotic flora and fauna. Look out for langurs, Siamese crocodiles and giant Tung trees with human-sized root systems. Continue exploring on your own in the afternoon. Overnight in a Superior Deluxe Queen or Twin Room at Cat Tien Jungle Lodge.

3

Dalat

Today you’ll leave for Dalat, which lies seven hours away in Vietnam’s cool central highlands. Known as the City of Eternal Spring, this alpine retreat was once a French colonial town and is surrounded with evergreen forests, waterfalls and hills where crops thrive. On the way, you’ll get a taste of local agriculture, stopping to visit coffee, tea and rubber plantations, as well as Prenn waterfall. After lunch in Dalat, you can take a tour of former emperor Bao Dai’s summer palace, built in 1933, and stroll around beautiful Xuan Huong Lake with its swan-shaped pedalos. Overnight at ANA Villas Dalat Resort & Spa.

4

Dalat & Lak Lake

Dalat is famous for its expansive central market laden with locally-grown strawberries, produce and coffee, which you can peruse after breakfast. You’ll then take a drive to Lak Tented Camp, which sits on the banks of the country’s largest lake and is surrounded by thick forests. This area is home to M’nong villagers who live in longhouses and make a living fishing and farming crops like rice, coffee and avocados. Explore the camp independently and enjoy a traditional gong performance followed by dinner at Y Lak restaurant. Overnight in a Wooden Bungalow at Lak Tented Camp.

Things to do:

5

Lak Lake

Spend the day experiencing Lak Lake’s natural beauty with a trek to a hidden waterfall. Accompanied by a local M’nong guide, you’ll learn all about life in this unspoiled region, passing lush plantations and dense forests. Cool off in the clear waters of Bim Bip while your guide prepares a lunch of BBQ pork and rice cooked in bamboo shoots. In the afternoon, you’ll spend some time at Yangtao Village, where you’ll meet an elderly artisan who creates pottery from dark river clay and a matriarch who runs a cacao and avocado farm. Overnight in a Wooden Bungalow at Lak Tented Camp.

Things to do:

6

Lak Lake & Hoi An

Wake early to watch the magical sunrise over Lak Lake, where fishermen trawl the waters in dugout canoes. After breakfast, you’ll be transferred to Buon Ma That, Vietnam’s coffee capital, for the short flight to Danang. From there, it’s a short drive to your next stop, the UNESCO-listed port town, Hoi An. Overnight at Hoi An Chic Green Retreat.

Things to do:

7

Hoi An & Hue

Spend the morning wandering Hoi An. This prosperous former seaport is famed for its skilled local tailors who can sew you a custom-made outfit. Top sites include the 400-year-old Japanese bridge, Fukien Assembly Hall and the ancient Tan Ky merchant house. There’s also a chance to visit a family-run shop, where you can make your own Hoi An lantern. Now it’s time to travel up the coast to Hue via the Hai Van Pass, one of Vietnam’s most striking roads with sweeping sea views, which is often referred to as the Pass of the Ocean Clouds. Arrive in Hue, where you’ll settle into your hotel and spend the evening as you please. Overnight at Pilgrimage Village.

Things to do:

8

Hue

Today you’ll discover Hue, the ancient royal capital where Vietnam’s emperors once ruled. The city’s Imperial Citadel was the seat of the powerful Nguyen Dynasty between 1802 and 1945 and is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. There’s time to tour the Citadel and take a dragon boat ride on the Perfume River to visit Thien Mu Pagoda, a peaceful Buddhist monastery, before lunch. In the afternoon, you’ll travel outside the city to visit decorative tombs belonging to King Khai Dinh and King Tu Duc, as well as visit villages that produce conical hats and incense sticks. Overnight at Pilgrimage Village.

Things to do:

9

Hanoi

After breakfast, it’s time to fly to Vietnam’s busy capital, Hanoi. Spend the day soaking up the atmosphere in this vibrant metropolis, which offers a mix of colonial architecture and modern city life. Explore on your own or opt for an additional half day city tour to discover sites such as the Old Quarter, Hoan Kiem Lake, the 11th century Temple of Literature and Ethnology Museum. Other options include a street food tour or taking a pottery class at a ceramics store. Overnight at La Siesta Trendy.

Things to do:

10

Ha Giang

Leave Hanoi early for the drive to Ha Giang, one of Vietnam’s most remote regions, which has only just opened up to tourism. You’ll spend the day on the road, winding up forest-lined roads with mountain views. There will be several photo stops along the way, as well as the opportunity to have lunch at a home in a Tay ethnic village on the outskirts of Ha Giang city. It’s just two hours from there to Quan Ba and your final destination for the night, a lodge in Nam Dam Village. Overnight in a private room at Dao Lodge.

11

Ha Giang

Start the day with a hike to Quan Ba’s Heaven’s Gate summit for panoramic views of the Fairy Twin Mounts, then continue to Lung Tam village, where you’ll learn about the traditional H’mong techniques of hemp weaving and batik art. From here, the road snakes through mountains to Lao Sa, a rarely-visited H’mong village where you’ll visit an earthen house and visit a H’mong palace in nearby Sa Phin. Zig-zag along ‘happy road’ to Meo Vac, traversing the region’s highest pass, Ma Pi Leng, along the way. Overnight in a private room with shared bathroom at Auberge De Meo Vac.

12

Ha Giang

Travel to Ecolodge Panhou Village, which is built in a local architectural style and employs staff from surrounding Dao, Tay and H’mong communities. To get there, you’ll travel one of the region’s most scenic roads, stopping to visit villages along the way. In the late afternoon, you’ll reach Hoang Su Phi, which is home to a sprawling Sunday market where the area’s 23 ethnic minority groups come to sell produce and medicinal herbs. At a tea workshop, you’ll get to taste the locally-harvested white variety called shan tuyet. Overnight in a private room at Ecolodge Panhou Village.

Things to do:

13

Ha Giang

Have breakfast at Panhou’s restaurant and then take a cultural immersion trek with a local guide. You’ll walk for around four hours in total, enjoying views of cassava fields and vast rice terraces, passing through bamboo and white tea forests. Along the way, there will be stops in a Tay and Yao village to learn about local life. Arrive back to the lodge around 4pm for a Dao bath made with medicinal herbs to relax your muscles before dinner. Overnight in a private room at Ecolodge Panhou Village.

Things to do:

14

Sapa

Say goodbye to Panhou after breakfast and make the seven-hour journey to Sapa. This former French hill station has become northern Vietnam’s most popular hub for viewing rice terraces and trekking to ethnic villages. Stay at a hotel in town or escape to a quieter homestay experience with a H’mong family, where you can take in uninterrupted views of the mountains and share dinner with the family over a firepit, while watching the sun set over the terraces. Overnight at Victoria Homestay.

Things to do:

15

Sapa

Your final day in Sapa will be spent trekking. Take a transfer to Khoang Village, which is home to the Red Dao community. From here, you’ll trek through Sapa’s signature rice terraces and bamboo forests to Can Ngai, stopping for lunch en-route while you enjoy the region’s true tranquillity. You’ll arrive at Ta Phin village mid-afternoon for a Red Dao herbal bath at Mr Ly Lao Lo’s place, complete with paddy-field views. A car will take you from here to Lao Cai, where you’ll board the luxurious Victoria Express sleeper train to Hanoi.

Things to do:

16

Hanoi & Departure

You’ll awake on the train in Hanoi in time for an early transfer to the airport and your flight home.

Holiday Budget
Guide price information

Low Season

1st May to 30th September

£3,625

High Season

1st January to 30th April & 1st to 31st October

£3,775

Alfred & Ryan Tarascas

I started living and working in Asia by leading groups around Thailand and went on to work as a guide in Cambodia. Although most people go to see the temples of Angkor, I personally enjoyed showing people fireflies in Kampot and some of the secluded beaches around Sihanokville. I also worked as a guide in Vietnam, which is my favourite country in South East Asia, the variation in landscape and flora and fauna is something truly unique. My personal favourite spot in Vietnam is Mai Chau, I like hiking or cycling through the rice paddy fields and learning about local crafts from different ethnic groups.

Alfred & our Vietnam holiday experts

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