Arriving at Noi Bai airport in Hanoi, you’ll be met and driven to your hotel. You’ll have time to relax after your journey before having tickets for a performance of traditional Water Puppetry, an art form unique to northern Vietnam, and a good, light-hearted introduction to its rural culture. In the evening, you’ll have a welcome dinner at a Vietnamese restaurant. You’ll spend the night in Hanoi.
You’ll have the whole day to explore Vietnam’s capital city. Your guide will take you to the Hanoi Citadel, recognised as World Heritage Site, is the former residence of the royalty of Vietnam was used between 1010 and 1810. Most of the structure that makes up the citadel was destroyed by the French in the 19th century, but the gate, steps, Princess's Palace and Hanoi Flag Tower still exist. You can now visit a few of the buildings, which were kept guarded from visitors for centuries. Followed by a visit to the serene Tran Quoc Pagoda, the oldest in Hanoi, on the banks of Hanoi’s Ho Tay (West) Lake. You continue to the Hoa Lo Prison – better known by captured US pilots as the ‘Hanoi Hilton’.
The excellent Ethnology Museum for an overview of Vietnam’s 54 distinct ethnic groups will provide you their life, culture and traditional costumes. Temple of Literature is the first university in Vietnam dating back to the 11th century.
For the rest time, you may stroll around the Old Quarter, a maze of shopping streets and a hotchpotch of architecture - traditional tube houses, religious buildings, artisans’ workshops and cottages, colonial houses and modern concrete edifices.
You’ll spend the night in Hanoi.
In the morning, you’ll be picked up to travel to Trang An complex in Ninh Binh. Trang An Landscape Complex is a spectacular landscape of limestone karst peaks permeated with valleys, many of them partly submerged and surrounded by steep, almost vertical cliffs. Exploration of caves at different altitudes has revealed archaeological traces of human activity over a continuous period of more than 30,000 years.
Alternatively, you may choose the tranquil rowing boat at Tam Coc (three caves), a peaceful valley among limestone ‘karst’ hills, There, you’ll be rowed along a gentle river between paddy fields and through the caves. On the way back, you’ll disembark for a pleasant stroll (about 2km) through the rural scenery to Thai Vi temple.
After lunch at a local restaurant, you continue to Hoa Lu – the former capital of Vietnam, about a two-hour drive from Hanoi. You’ll visit two temples, one dedicated to Emperor Dinh and the other in memory of Emperor Le, followed by a brief visit to the remains of the Old Palace. In the late afternoon, you’ll return to Hanoi for overnight accommodation.
You’ll leave for Ha Long Bay, one of the most spectacular UNESCO World Heritage Areas and the world’s largest marine limestone ‘karst’ landscape. There you’ll board your boat, a wide transom and rectangular superstructure, that will take you to the busy World Heritage area and then to some of the less well-known grottoes and caves. Weather permitting, you’ll be able to swim, or venture into some of the sea level caves in a small sampan. All your meals will be provided on board, usually based on fresh seafood, and you’ll sleep in a twin/double cabin with an en-suite toilet and shower.
You’ll spend the morning cruising Ha Long Bay, followed by lunch just before docking around noon and leaving for Hanoi. You should arrive in the late afternoon and spend the night in Hanoi.
After an early breakfast, you’ll be driven to Sapa on the new highway through Yen Bai and Lao Cai provinces in 5.5 hours. The highway takes you up the Red River Delta to where the river enters Vietnam at Lao Cai City on the border with China. After break en-route, you will reach Sapa, a small town perched on the mountainside opposite Mt. Fan Si Pan, Vietnam’s highest peak.
You will have lunch and check in your hotel, then you’ll be transferred to Muong Thanh Valley cable car station to start an amazing journey to the top of Fansipan, the rooftop of Indochina. You have the whole afternoon on Fansipan Mountain.
Dinner at a local restaurant then free to walk around Sapa town at night.
The day is devoted to a beautiful hike through the breathtaking scenery of Sapa valley. You descend Cau May to Muong Hoa river while admire the rice terraces hidden behind mist of the morning, a truly awe-inspiring sight. Follow a small track and cross Muong Hoa River and pass well-tended rice terraces on your way to the Black Hmong village of Lao Chai, through colorful rice terraces to Ta Van Giay village. Along the Muong Hoa River, you will cross a small suspension bridge, roughly 2km from the settlement. Here you can discover a fascinating collection of rock carvings. These engravings depict some beautiful images of man, stilt houses and some beautiful decorative patterns. You have lunch at a local home in the village, then continues to bamboo forest to Giang Ta Chai, a Red Dao ethnic minority village. After taking a rest nearby a waterfall, you start climbing uphill to a road where the car is ready for your journey back to Sapa.
Approx: 1-hour driving/ 4 hours walking/ 1-hour lunch
After breakfast, your transport and guide will arrive to take you to visit a market frequented by ethnic minority peoples. The first part of your journey will take you through Lao Cai, which is a border crossing point, and alongside the river marking the boundary with China.
Although it’s quite a long drive, the landscape is attractive and the ethnic markets are a fascinating experience. Unlike those in the tourist areas, the markets that we choose are not only for buying and selling, but are also meeting places for ethnic minority people to meet and exchange news. There will be plenty of colour and authentic costumes, but very little to buy as souvenirs unless you want to barter for a water buffalo or a sack of fertiliser!
The trips to ethnic minority markets must be on Tuesday (Coc Ly Market), Saturday (Can Cau) or Sunday (Bac Ha or Muong Hum Markets).
You have lunch in Lao Cai city and take a highway drive back to Hanoi. Overnight in Hanoi.
Free time to scroll around and shop around the Old Quarter.
Your guide/driver arrives to take you to Noi Bai airport for your international departure flight.
Check-in time at hotel: 14.00 // Check-out time: 12.00