This concise tour of northern Vietnam allows you to discover and explore some of the most remarkably scenic regions in South East Asia. Beginning in the national capital, Hanoi, you uncover the charms and curiosities of this graceful old city and its fascinating Old Quarter on foot before setting out to cruise among the towering limestone karsts of awe-inspiring Halong Bay. Last, but definitely not least, take the China-bound train to the northern border town of Lao Cai. From here we’ll trek through the breathtakingly beautiful mountain scenery around the northern hill tribe minority town of Sapa, and spend the night in a village longhouse, before returning to Hanoi where your trip ends.
Your trip starts today with your arrival in Hanoi. No activities are planned until your evening group meeting, so you may arrive at any time. Please check the noticeboard in the hotel lobby, located on the ground floor, for a notice containing details of your tour. This will advise you of your tour guide's name, telephone number and the time and location of your group meeting. Normally this meeting takes place around 6pm. Until your meeting we encourage you to get out and discover the delights that Vietnam has to offer. Make sure that you take a hotel business card so that you will be able to find your way back to the hotel.
Meals included: 1 breakfast
Although there has been a settlement here since the 3rd century AD, the city of Hanoi can trace its origins back to 1010 when Emperor Le Thai To moved his capital from Hoa Lu to this site. From the 1880s to World War II, Hanoi was developed as the French colonial capital of French Indochina and many of the old structures in Hanoi were razed to make way for new French buildings. Today the people of Hanoi take a lot of pride in their grand old colonial buildings and these together with the wide spacious boulevards and tree-lined lakes help make Hanoi one of the most graceful and charming cities in South East Asia. In Hanoi, we will enjoy a half-day tour that will showcase some of the city's most interesting attractions. We'll begin with a visit to the One Pillar Pagoda situated near the Soviet-inspired Mausoleum of Ho Chi Minh. Unfortunately the mausoleum itself is only opened for limited hours in the morning and is closed on Mondays, so you will need to come back and visit it in your own time on your return to Hanoi. The One Pillar Pagoda was first constructed in 1049 and as such it was Hanoi's oldest structure. If it doesn't look that old to you, it's because the French blew it up in 1954 as a parting gesture and the current building is a replica. From here we'll continue on to the 'Temple of Literature', a wonderful name for a wonderful place. Founded in 1070, it was Vietnam's first educational institute and a place where candidates for the position of Mandarin were examined. Finally we'll visit the Hoa Lo Prison, probably better known to most of us as the 'Hanoi Hilton'. Hanoi's tallest building now occupies most of the original site, and no, it doesn't belong to the Hilton Hotel chain, but the eastern wall and a small section of the prison behind have been retained and today serve as a museum. It mostly serves as a reminder of the Vietnamese who were incarcerated here by their French masters. The remainder of your time in Hanoi is free to wander around town and check out the lifestyles of Hanoi's people. One of the best places to do this is right outside our hotel's door in the city's Old Quarter. It's a great (and easy) place to get lost in for a couple of hours. However, it's not too difficult to find your bearings if you remember that its boundaries are the railway line to the west and the north, the Red River to the east and Hoan Kiem Lake to the south. This evening we have the option of attending a performance of Vietnam's world famous 'water puppet, troupe.
Meals included: 1 breakfast, 1 lunch, 1 dinner
'Ha Long' means 'descending dragon' and legend has it that a giant dragon plunged into the ocean at this point, cutting the bay from the rocks as it thrashed its way into the depths. We prefer Mother Nature's version and awe-inspiring Halong Bay, with its 3000 limestone karsts thrusting skyward out of the sea, is one of her finest pieces of work. Our Halong Bay excursion begins with a 3½-hour drive through the fertile Red River Delta to the bayside town of Bai Chay. We board our chartered boat shortly before midday and enjoy a full afternoon lazing on deck as we cruise through this most amazing seascape. A seafood lunch is served on board and we have the opportunity to go for a swim before going ashore on one of the islands to explore colourful limestone caves. With any luck we may witness a fabulous sunset over Halong Bay before enjoying dinner prepared by our crew. Accommodation tonight is on board our boat in simply-furnished twin-share cabins with en suite facilities, but if the weather is fine, there is the option of sleeping on the top deck under the stars. Be aware that the showers are sometimes hot, but sometimes there is only cold water!
Meals included: 1 breakfast
Following breakfast we make our way back to Hanoi and arrive shortly before lunchtime. Our remaining time in Hanoi is free for shopping and sightseeing or relaxing in one of the lakeside cafes. This evening we begin our exciting journey up to Sapa when we board the overnight train for the Vietnamese-Chinese border town of Lao Cai. Please note that this is a local train and conditions on board are generally quite basic. The beds on board come with a pillow and sheets, although some people may wish to bring their own sleeping sheet (purely optional and not a necessity). Also, breakfast tomorrow is not always available on the train, so it is recommended that you purchase some breakfast supplies before boarding in Hanoi.
Meals included: 2 breakfasts, 1 dinner
We may catch a glimpse of China over the other side of the river this morning as we disembark from the overnight train and begin our drive into the mountains and on to the picturesque minority hill tribe town of Sapa. Set amidst some magnificent mountain scenery and in the shadow of Vietnam's tallest peak, the 3143-metre-high Mt. Fansipan, the former French colonial hill station town of Sapa is home to some of Vietnam's most colourful minority hill tribes. Like Dalat in the south, the French developed Sapa in an effort to replicate parts of the Alps and the Pyrenees. A number of their villas remain, but many were lost in 1979 when the Vietnamese army evicted the invading Chinese. We' spend the afternoon discovering the charms of this magic little town and set out the next morning on an adventurous two-day trek up the Muong Hoa River Valley with its lush vegetation and rice terraces. (Luggage not required for your trek can be left in Sapa until you return tomorrow.) We start at the minority village of Ta Van and trek for 14 kilometres to another village known as Ban Ho. There are no hotels up here, so we spend the night in the cosy longhouse belonging to one of the local families. The next morning, after a hearty hill tribe breakfast, we are picked up by our jeeps and driven back to Sapa. On Saturday evening we make our way back to Lao Cai where we board the overnight train for the return trip to Hanoi.
Meals included: 1 breakfast
We have a final day in Hanoi to do our own thing. There is time to explore some of the many temples, pagodas and museums, or perhaps just relax beside a lake and take a stroll along a shaded boulevard. Situated on the outskirts of the city, but well worth a visit, is the excellent Vietnam Museum of Ethnology. However, please note that museums in Hanoi are usually closed on Mondays. Hanoi has many interesting restaurants, some of them in old French colonial houses or tucked away in the old part of town, and our final night gives us a chance to go out for a farewell dinner (optional) in one of these places. Your journey through northern Vietnam finishes after breakfast.
• Gecko’s expert English-speaking local tour guide throughout the tour, and professional local site guides at some sites.
• Sightseeing (including entrance fees where relevant): Hanoi - One Pillar Pagoda, Temple of Literature and Hoa Lo Prison (Hanoi Hilton); and minority hill tribe town of Sapa.
• Overnight boat cruise in Halong Bay. Accommodation in twin-share cabins with en suite facilities. A seafood lunch and dinner on board, swimming and a limestone cave excursion. Option of sleeping on the top deck under the stars (weather permitting).
• Two-day trek up the Muong Hoa River Valley to visit minority hill tribe villages.
• A night in Ban Ho in a longhouse belonging to a local family, including a hill tribe breakfast.
• Free time to explore Hanoi.
• Return overnight sleeper train from Hanoi to Lao Cai (bed with pillow and sheets provided).
International flights, arrival and departure transfers, departure and airport taxes, visas, all other meals, all optional tours or activities during free time, transfers outside of the tour program, travel insurance, tips and items of a personal nature.
Local Tour Guides
By employing and training local site guides to lead our group holidays, there is a two-fold benefit. Firstly, we provide employment opportunities for the local community. Just as importantly is the benefit to you, the traveller. Your tour guide’s friendship, humour, passion and intimate knowledge of the region will be key factors in making your holiday a success.
Tipping has become an accepted part of tourism in South East Asia. Your tour guide will be able to advise you in this area; however, as a guideline we would recommend tipping 10% of the total bill in restaurants and a small tip to hotel bellboys for carrying your bags.
At you pre-tour briefing your tour guide will discuss with you the idea of running a tipping kitty, whereby everybody contributes an equal amount and then the tour guide pays the tips and keeps a record of all monies spent (except restaurant tips). The record can be checked at any time and any money remaining at the end of the tour is returned to group members. This is often the easiest way to avoid the hassles of needing small change and knowing what is an appropriate amount to tip.
It is customary to tip your tour guide, at the end of the trip, if you are happy with the service. A minimum tip of US$2 per day, from each member of the group, is the usual amount expected.
Infrastructure and Tet Holiday Period
Please note that Vietnam is a developing country whose infrastructure may differ from what you expect in your homeland. Expect poor road conditions and be prepared for some inconveniences due to such things as restaurants or tourist sites being closed and our regular transport services not always being available, especially so during the Tet holiday period (Vietnamese New Year).
During Tet (Vietnamese New Year), most businesses will be closed as Vietnamese people usually spend this period returning to their homes and celebrating with their families. This will involve a major burden on all forms of transport, and despite booking in advance, tickets for planes and trains especially are extremely difficult to obtain. Even if bookings are obtained, transport services during this period will be overcrowded and heavy delays are to be expected, so you will need to make sure that you pack your sense of humour. In order to facilitate your travels during the Tet period, we may need to substitute your train/plane journey with a private bus trip, if required.
This is an 'adventure' trip and we hope to expose you to all aspects of Vietnamese culture. Please be open-minded.
Please note that, on your tour, you may link up with passengers booked on other tours in our Gecko’s Asia program.
The information provided here is given in good faith and has been compiled with all reasonable care. However, things change and some of the information may become out of date. Please ensure that you have the most up-to-date information for your trip. We recommend that you check the trip notes for your tour around one month before departure. If you have any queries, please contact your travel agent or our staff in Australia. We are here to help you!
23 January 2013