Adventure in the Hills: Hanoi to Ha Giang
The northern-most region of Vietnam is crying out for a road trip, with roads snaking up mountains, along valleys and into rice fields. Immerse yourself into hill tribe culture with a homestay, and exploring villages and exotic markets. Start and end in the fun city of Hanoi to complement your countryside adventure.
Itinerary at a Glance:
- Enjoy the varied street food scene of Hanoi
- Experience family life with a local homestay in the village of Tay in Pac Ngoi
- Discover the stunning scenery of the lush Yen Minh valley and Ha Giang region
- Go off the beaten track along the Vietnam-China border
- Explore the markets of the mighty Ban Pho valley
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When To Travel
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Day 1: Arrive and Discover Hanoi
When you arrive in Hanoi, you'll be met by a private driver for a quick 40-minute transfer to your hotel.
Spend what remains of the afternoon relaxing in your hotel or go for a wander to get your bearings. In the evening, our local guide will introduce you to amazing Vietnamese cuisine with a street food tour. Soak up the sights and sounds of the city at night, starting in the small lanes of the Old Quarter, lined with stalls and roadside stools. Discover one of the city's best pho shops, and slurp this delicious national dish of steaming noodle soup while perched on a stool alongside the locals.
Continue the tour by sampling local favourites, such as banh cuon steamed rice paper stuffed with pork and mushrooms, and nem chua ran (fried spring rolls). The next stop is a barbecue dinner of perfectly grilled meats and vegetables. Finish the evening with a visit to a traditional bia hoi (small shop selling draft beer) for a cold pint as you watch the night time scenes unfold.
Day 2: Historic Hanoi
Spend today delving into the fascinating history of Hanoi, with a full day of sightseeing with our private guide. Head out to the West Lake to admire the sixth-century Tran Quoc Buddhist Pagoda, before visiting the resting place of the revolutionary leader Ho Chi Minh himself at the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum. Spend some time in his old home and surrounding gardens, as well as the One Pillar Pagoda from 1049 in the same complex.
Next you can explore the Temple of Literature, Vietnam's first university which was also constructed in the 11th century. After lunch, learn about the country's diverse culture at the Museum of Ethnology, or visit the Vietnamese Women's Museum; covering both historic and modern traditions, this museum gives great insight into the lives and milestones of women.
In the afternoon, explore the 36 narrow streets of the Old Quarter by day to learn about traditional ways of life. Continue through the busy Hang Be Market and around Hoan Kiem Lake, before finishing the day at the water puppet theatre. Enjoy an entertaining performance of this uniquely northern Vietnamese artform, and return to your hotel for a well-earned night's sleep.
Day 3: Road Trip to Ba Be
It's time to head out of the city to start your road trip, with your private driver and car. After a two-hour drive, arrive at Thai Nguyen and visit the Museum of Ethnology to learn about the tribal people in this region of Northern Vietnam. Continue winding through the spectacular scenery for another 65 miles to Na Phac and Cho Ra in time for a traditional lunch.
Now in the depths of Ba Be National Park, you will get a chance to explore this remote park, with a cruise on the lake and walks in the forest.
At the end of the day, it's a short drive to the village of Tay in Pac Ngoi where you will meet your hosts for the night. Immerse yourself in the local culture and sleep well at this cosy homestay.
Day 4: Meet the Locals in Meo Vac
The stunning scenery continues as your private car rolls through the hills to Tinh Tuc, taking around three hours. Take in the view across to the Colia Pass and meet the locals in the village of Zao Tien, before enjoying a morning coffee. Hop in the car for the next leg of the journey - two hours to Bao Lac. Discover the village of the San Chay people with an hour-long walk, and then break for lunch in Bao Lac.
After lunch, the road follows the Gam River, climbing up for a short one hour drive to Ly Bon. There are epic views at every turn as you pass through the remote lands between Cao Bang and Meo Vac. Stop for a walk in the fascinating valley of Niem Son and discover the cultural life of the Nung tribe.
Arrive in Meo Vac to meet the local family you will be staying with this evening, and settle in to your homestay for the night.
Day 5: Onwards to the Yen Minh Valley
If your itinerary falls on a Sunday, you will be able to visit the Meo Vac market this morning where the Hmong, Zao and Lo Lo people come dressed in their best traditional costumes.
More magnificent scenery today on the hour drive over the Ma Pi Leng Pass and into the Ma Pi Leng village. Meet members of the Hmong tribe in this village before continuing for around another two hours to Dong Van. You will have the chance for an hour-long walk in this stunning valley, and to explore the market before lunch.
Jump back in the car to follow the winding road through Ma Le and Lung Tao with more stunning views unfolding at every turn. Visit a small village of the Hmong at Lung Tao before heading into the Xa Phin valley. Spend an hour visiting the historic palace of the Vuong family who ruled the region, controlling opium production and trade until 1945.
Another hour's drive brings you to the Lung Cam Tren village where you will meet the famous village chief who plays the khene (bamboo mouth organ) and performs traditional dances. Say goodbye to Lung Can and drive downhill to the Pho Cao pass onto the Yen Minh Valley. Check-in to your simple, local hotel for dinner and a one night stay.
Day 6: Epic Scenery to Ha Giang
After breakfast, it's a two hour drive across the Yen Minh Pass to the Lung Tam Commune. This traditional workshop employs over 100 Hmong and Zao women, teaching traditional weaving and embroidery skills.
Continue over the stunning Quan Ba Pass and arrive in Ha Giang for lunch. Explore the Me village in the beautiful valley, and then drive 65 miles to Quang Vinh, in the Hoang Su Phi region. Discover a different type of landscape here, with the lush forests and tea farms providing a contrast to the rocky land of Meo Vac and Dong Van. The road winds around the mountains with views of some of the most impressive rice fields in Vietnam.
Come evening arrive at your hotel for the next two nights; relax in your very own bamboo thatched bungalow overlooking the rice terraces and enjoy a delicious dinner.
Day 7: Explore Ha Giang
Take a break from driving today and relax in your lodge. Your hotel has a partnership with the local village so that you're able to chat and interact to the local Dzao people for a responsible and respectful experience.
- Hike around the valley to see the rice fields up close and personal
- Explore the local market to discover local art and crafts to take home
- Get involved with the cooking of local recipes and enjoy the fruits of your labour over lunch
- Relax with a traditional Dzao herbal bath
Day 8: To the Chinese Border and on to Bac Ha
After breakfast, if your itinerary falls on a Sunday, you will be able to visit the local market of the Flower Hmong, Red Zao, Nung and Tay people, famous for its cattle exchange on the banks of the Chay river.
Feeling refreshed, today you will cover around three-and-a-half hours of driving along the Chinese border through the Chay River Massif, exploring the local life of the local people. Spend a couple of hours walking through the Lung Chai commune, overlooking the Chay River winding its way through a steep valley between Vietnam and China. Arrive at Bac Ha Town to visit Hoang A Tuong Castle before breaking for lunch.
After lunch, a local guide will take you on a walk through the mighty Ban Pho valley. Go at your own speed, stopping for photos and to chat to passing villagers.
Day 9: Market Time and on to Sapa
After breakfast you'll head out to visit a local market. Which one will depend on which day of the week it is - Ban Cam on Tuesday, Cao Son on Wednesday, Lung Khau Nhin on Thursday, Can Cau on Saturday, and Bac Ha on Sunday. The markets offer a variety of local products, including an animal market with pot-bellied pigs, cows and buffalos (although they might not fit into your suitcase…).
After lunch, drive for around two hours downhill to Lao Cai and into the Hoang Lien National Park. Arrive at your home for the next two nights which is located 45 minutes outside the town of Sapa. Relax and enjoy dinner with a beautiful view of the surrounding rice fields.
Day 10: Sapa and the Hoang Lien National Park
Spend the day soaking up the view of the peaks and valleys from the hotel's infinity pool, or take a stroll around the rice terraces.
- Guided hikes to local villages and markets
- Mountain biking tours
- Day tour to Sapa and a visit to Mt Fansipan
Day 11: Back to Hanoi
After breakfast, your driver will take you back to Hanoi, with a drive time of around five-and-a-half hours, depending on local traffic. Spend the rest of the day at your leisure, relaxing in your hotel or enjoying your last fill of Vietnamese street food. We can arrange dinner reservations for you, or perhaps tickets to see a performance at the Hanoi Opera House - just let us know.
Day 12: Head Home
It's time to wave goodbye to Hanoi and head back to the airport for your flight home, bursting with memories of your time exploring the 'roof' of Vietnam.
Frances, Holly and Rosie are our experts for this itinerary and as seasoned travellers they have the inside track on the most memorable adventures.