Few tourists visit the destinations on this tour because the infrastructure is still limited. Consequently, it’s ideal for adventurous travellers who favour off-the-beaten-track routes. The reward is authentic cultural experiences among the northeast’s many and varied ethnic minority communities set against the backdrop of one of Vietnam’s most spectacular mountain areas. It’s advisable to take this trip during the dry season when the reduced rainfall avoids the mudslides common in the monsoon season. The best months are from October until April when the weather is cooler and less humid.
Hanoi - Hoang Su Phi
After breakfast, you’ll drive to Ha Giang, the northernmost province of Vietnam. You’ll stop en route at Tuyen Quang to visit the remains of the 15th century Mac Dynasty Citadel and a market nearby.
After lunch at a local restaurant, you’ll continue driving on a winding single lane road through strikingly mountainous scenery.
In the mid-afternoon you’ll arrive at the small rural district of Hoang Su Phi. You’ll spend the night in the ‘base camp’ hotel called Pan Hou Village.
The exceptional views of the terrace rice fields, rocky highlands, large valleys and lush forests along with the character of the local people make visiting the Northern Province a truly unique experience. Ha Giang has the highest amount of Ethnic minority groups in Vietnam and the cultural enthralment works both ways. You’ll be greeted with smiles and admiration from the locals as you stroll through the markets and villages of one of the most untouched areas of Vietnam.
Pan Hou Village is a purpose-built ecotourism hotel which uses solar energy for lighting and heating. The eco-lodge is located in the heart of the Song chay mountains adjoining the Yunnan. This natural fortress has long been a refuge for many ethnic groups who have escaped from the Middle Kingdom, his persecution and its famines.
You have the opportunity before your hiking day to enjoy your breakfast from the Pan Hou Village restaurant and, if you have get up early, a time in gardens of the eco lodge maintained by the tays gardeners.
You leave Pan Hou with your local guide at 9am to explore the nearby mountains through tropical forests and rice terraces. After a three hours walk, you are taking a break in a village of the Red Dao for lunch. By necessity, they have sculpted the mountainside and use its water courses to grow rice. These laborious adjustments who enable them to live in the heights, offer you some unique landscapes to contemplate.
The cooler climate and fresh water in abundance also contribute to the growth of lush tea trees. Before reaching another Red Dao village, a two hours walk will allow you to discover the local vegetation, to meet with the local people and observe them in their daily activities.
Accommodation: Red Dao Homestay
Walking Duration: 5 hours
After having breakfast with your hosts, you are resuming your trekking through the cassava fields, the forests, the tea plantations towards the valley.
Three hours of walking are bringing you to Nam Nghi, a Red Dao village for a lunch break. You will continue your Hike by ascending the mountains through the tea plantations.
You will arrive in the late afternoon to a H'mong family house where you will have diner and will spend the evening and night.
Accommodation: H'mong Homestay
Duration of the walk : 5 -6 hours
You can enjoy the calm of this morning in the high mountains and the friendliness of the family around the fireplace.
After breakfast, you continue your walk through the bamboo forests, rice terraces to the valley Yen It's also where live red Yao. One of the families in the village will welcome you for lunch. You will leave following along the river to reach Pan Hou Village in mid-afternoon. Get a quick rest and then you take the drive to Ha Giang city for overnight accommodation.
Duration of the walk: 5 hours
After breakfast, you’ll visit the small communities of Quan Ba, Yen Minh and Dong Van, some of the most picturesque villages in the northern tip of Vietnam. The scenery is spectacular – a vast limestone mountain range and perpendicular walls of rock. There will be plenty of opportunities to take photos, but please be unobtrusive when photographing the local people – cameras and camcorders are rare in the area.
You’ll call in at the infamous Vuong Palace, once the home of a high-ranking H'mong family during French colonial rule. The palace attracts architecturally minded visitors due to its unusual combination of European and Chinese styles.
From there you drive to Dong Van town where your guide will show you its charming ‘Old Streets’ near the market. After lunch, a scenic route will take you to the Ma Pi Leng Pass from where you can enjoy a panoramic view of the Nho Que River – with luck you might see one of the northeast’s stunning sunsets. Finally, after your busy day, you’ll arrive at Meo Vac in the late afternoon where you’ll spend the night.
It’s worth arranging this tour to visit the fascinating Quan Ba and Yen Minh market in Sundays. They take place on Sunday and is frequented by members of the H’mong ethnic minority groups in Quan Ba and Yen Minh.
It’s a good place see local products, experience the hustle and bustle of the market’s activities and meet the buyers and sellers. It’s an interesting introduction to the local culture.
At this stage of the tour, you’ll be deep in the remote areas of the north where accommodation is very basic with few travellers (and hardly any foreigners!). From here until you arrive in Bac Me town, you’ll in your guide’s hands for food and somewhere to sleep. It’ll be a long way from five-star menus and facilities, but our local guides know the area intimately and will ensure that you have the best available.
By visiting these remote areas, you’ll witness first-hand the local people’s perpetual struggle to survive in the unforgiving environment. Living conditions are extremely harsh, and there is hardly any arable land in the mountains.
The people survive mainly on a diet of corn, one of the very few one species capable of growing in the rocky soil. Despite the hardship and simple lifestyle, the local people are very friendly, welcoming and generous to visitors.
After breakfast and a brief visit to Meo Vac local market, you’ll be driven to Ba Be National Park. Today is a real challenge - you’ll travel along rough roads and tortuous bends to Lung Phin, another small town about 14km from Meo Vac. However the breath-taking scenery makes the effort worthwhile.
You’ll stop en route for photos and have lunch in a small town. In the afternoon, you’ll arrive with time for a sunset stroll in the forest fresh air before dinner. You’ll spend the night in a ‘stilt’ house in Ba Be National Park.
Most mountain markets in Vietnam happen at weekends, but Lung Phin is an exception. Its calendar is based on the dates of 12 animal designations - Rat, Ox, Tiger, Hare/Rabbit, Dragon, Snake, Horse, Sheep/Goat, Monkey, Rooster, Dog and Pig. This market, a huddle of thatched huts on a hillside, occurs every Monkey and Tiger day.
The local people tether their animals for sale at the corner of the market. If you can arrange your travel time to coordinate with the market days, you’ll experience a untouched culture little changed over the millennia.
Tay Ethnic Minority
You’ll have a full day to visit the park. In the morning, you’ll travel down the river in a motor launch through Puong Cave.
After lunch, you’ll reach the lake. You visit the Fairy Pond, set in dense forest with many birds, and Widow’s Island, where the ‘river ghost’ punished greedy villagers by creating the lake. It’s a pleasant experience to relax as the boat glides through the unruffled crystal-clear water.
In the late afternoon, you’ll disembark at a Tay ethnic minority village for dinner. You’ll spend the night in a ‘stilt’ house in Ba Be National Park.
In the morning, you’ll return to Hanoi, visiting a local market and stopping for lunch en-route, and arriving in the late afternoon. You’ll spend the night in Hanoi.
You might consider spending an extra day mountain hiking from the National Park headquarters through primitive forest to the Dao ethnic minority village of Hin Dam.
The hiking is arduous and requires consistent stamina, but the panorama over the lake, the forest flora, and the hospitality of the Dao people more than compensates. Your overnight accommodation would be in the park.
Departure from Hanoi