Fascinating journey by road and by rail up the scenic Red River Valley from the bustling and historic Vietnamese capital of Hanoi to the picturesque old hill-station of Sapa and the incredible rice terraces of Yuanyang, now UNESCO World Heritage Site. Truly spectacular scenery, historic towns and myriad traditional hill-tribes make this an unforgettable journey.
Enjoy the trekking tour to discover the natural beauty and the life of the ethnic minorities in Vietnam highlands
Shopping at Bac Ha Market where the ethnic people sell their hand-made products
Discover the incredible rice terraces of Yuanyang, now UNESCO World Heritage Site
Day 1 - Hanoi - Tuyen Quang (L, D): Car
In the morning, we drive 4 hours to Tuyen Quang. Our aim today is visit and stay in an organic farm. It is Green Vietnam Farm with eleven organic fruit and vegetable farms spread over 55 hectares (136 acres), with humanely-raised, really free-range ducks, Muscovy ducks, chickens and pot-belly/wild pigs as well as fish. Up on arrival; take a walk to visit the expansive farm with lots of fruits trees, vegetable gardens, ducks, chickens, and fish.
Experience and taste the exotic flavors that make Vietnamese cuisine so well known.
Dinner and overnight in Green Vietnam Farm.
Day 2 - Tuyen Quang - La Vie Vu Linh (B, L, D): Car
In the morning, leave Tuyen Quang for a drive of around 2 hours to La Vie Vu Linh, a beautiful, simple, retreat on the edge of Thac Ba lake. You will be welcomed by local staff, from the Dao villages, who come from surrounding villages to join the English and French class at the Lavie Vulinh project.
Take the walk around the village of Dao QuanTrang with Mrs. Nhat – a specialist in medicinal plants. Enjoy the hospitality of the local people along the way, as you weave between the rice fields and stilt-houses.
Here relax while watching the local fisherman oar with their feet. Or go for a swim in the pristine waters of Ho Thac Ba Lake.
Overnight at La Vie Vu Linh.
Day 3 - Vu Linh trekking to CauBuc waterfalls (B, L, D): Car
Take a drive or moto-taxi, 10 km, to the start of the trekking. This loop is one of the last wild area of the region, where native species of fauna and flora are still preserved. Meet up with local guide – Mr. Dien – who knows very well the jungle. We climb up to the waterfalls and discover the natural treasure along the way.
Enjoy a picnic lunch at the foot of waterfalls. Participate in prepare your own picnic lunch supplies, by making bowls, glasses, chopsticks made from bamboo. Our table will be made of rock and banana leaves for seat. Depending on the season, we may have bamboo shoot, jungle crabs, seasonal fruit that we find along the way.
Enjoy the water fall after lunch. Leave the waterfall behind and head into the thick of the jungle.
Note: The trekking along the current of waterfalls is recommended in hot season (from April to October). For other periods, we will use another route which is drier and discover more about the jungle and its treasures: the big trees, medicinal plants, birds,…
Overnight at Lavie Vulinh
Approx: 3-5 hours of trekking depending on clients desires; 20 minutes driving
Day 4 - VuLinh - Bac Ha (B, L, D): Car
After breakfast, transfer by road for about 5 hours over mountain passes, passed sculpted by terraced rice paddies, toBac Ha. Arriving in Bac Ha, spend the time for walking in Hmong ethnic-minority villages
Overnight in Bac Ha
Approx: 1.5 hours of walking; 5 hours driving
Day 5 - Bac Ha - Sapa - Overnight at Ecolodge (B, L, D): Car
Every Sunday, the different and colorful ethnic minority come all here to sell their homemade products or buy something for the family, at the Bac Ha market. They are Hmong, Phu La, Back Dzao, Tay or Nung minorities. Your lunch will be provided in a local restaurant.
*For other days of the week, explore the famous Ban Pho Valley which is home to the Flower Hmong and Tay ethnic. Visit a local home along the way to better understand the local communities, well-known spirits made from corn as well as the Khen - a traditional musical instrument composed by 6 bamboo pipes.
In the afternoon, Transfer 2.5 – 3 hours to Sapa and head to Su Pan village, along the ridgeline to a wonderful Ecolodge. The hard work is rewarded this evening with a delicious home cooked dinner.
Overnight at Topas Ecolodge.
Day 6 - Explore Thanh Kim Commune (B, L, D) : Car
Situated about 20km southwest of Sapa, Thanh Kim valley is home to the Red Zao and Hmong peoples who have been living their strong and unique way in spite of influence of modern life from outside.
This morning we depart the hotel at 09.00am. Trek along a large path winding on high mountain side for about half an hour which offers beautiful panorama of the Thanh Kim valley composed by steep mountains, narrow stream, small waterfall and terraced rice fields.
Hike uphill along a narrow dirt trail for 2 hours through Lech Mong village which consists of 3 hamlets scattering on high mountain sides. Meeting Hmong people at their homes or working in the fields.
After lunch and a well-deserved break, the walk gets easier downhill and later along large rocky path for 2.5km to Lech Zao village, pay visiting to several homes of the Red Zao people, known for their embroidery work. In the afternoon wind around the terraced rice fields which are green from May to early October. Arriving back to the Topas Ecolodge in time to relax before dinner.
Overnight at Topas Ecolodge.
Tour summary: Road transfer 0km/ Easy walk and visiting local homes about 3.5 hours.
Day 7 - Mongsen Bridge - Mongsen 2 Village - Ta Phin Valley (B, L, D) : Car
This morning, depart at 8:30 am, transfer to the MongSen Bridge. Enjoy the breathtaking views.
Our trek begins along large dirt path for nearly an hour, then following a narrow dirt trail winding its way on steep hill-sides along the eastern bank of the MongSen stream. After 2 hours of trekking reachMongSen 2 village which consisted of three isolated hamlets of the Black Hmong and Red Zao people. Spend an hour to explore these remote hamlets.
Continue hiking along the same trail for nearly an hour up and downhill towards Ta Phin Valley and arrive to Ta Phin commune in midafternoon. Take a walk around this stunning valley, have the opportunity to visit the Red Zao families.
The walk ends at about 4.30 to 5.00pm, transfer by road back to Sapa.
Overnight in Sapa.
Trekking: 5-6 hours trekking; 1 hour driving
Day 8 - Sapa - Lao Cai - Cao Son Market - Hekou Border (B, L) : Car
Early departure from Sapa at 07.00 am. Transfer by road 118 km for 1.5 - 3 hours, first downhill to Lao Cai City, then uphill to one of several weekly markets. The markets will depend on the day of the week.
Join locals to enjoy the excitement of this weekly market to which local tribal peoples come to attend not only for shopping but also for socializing.
Walk from section to sections, corner to corners, seeing and smelling of different local products such as spices; vegetable; farming tools; handicraft; and even medicinal herbs, meeting smiling peoples everywhere. Leave the market at 10.30 am, to drive back to Lao Cai for lunch then cross the border.
There is no weekly market on Monday or Friday. An alternative morning walk through Sapa market will be optional, as an alternative.
You will cross the Chinese border at Hekou and head to Yuanyang (4 hours depending on the traffic), famous for Hani minority’s rice terraces.
The Hani, otherwise known as the Akha in Southeast Asia, number around 1.5 million and are mainly to be found in Yunnan. In spite of their modest numbers (compared with the scale of the Chinese population as a whole), they are famous for they mastery in the art of rice terrace sculpting and drainage systems. It is believed that they were the first people to implement this rice production method. Often living in rugged areas where fertile land is hard to come by, throughout the centuries the Hani have adapted their farming methods and have transformed 12,000 hectares of hillside into arable land making rice production their principal source of income. Nowadays tourism brings much money to the region, also considerably improving the local infrastructure. The Hani, also found in Xishuangbanna in the Southwest of the region, are well known for their tea culture.
It is hard to describe in writing the Yuanyang rice terraces, which are without a doubt the most beautiful in China and possibly the most impressive in the whole of Asia. Even UNESCO recognises the natural beauty of the rice terraces and is in the process of registering them as a World Heritage Site. Cascading down the mountainside through bamboo canals, the water transforms the mountain face into a truly wonderful vision giving the impression that the rice terraces are steps for giants leading to the mountain top. In spring (between March and April), considered by photographers as the best time to visit, the sky is reflected in the paddy fields full with water, resembling a never-ending mosaic of mirrors. In summer they turn an emerald colour and from October onwards they look like pools of honey. Other than in December and January when the fields are dry, each season offers something different but equally breath-taking.
For the more adventurous in the group you will be able to savour the local delicacy of eel, easily found in many local restaurants, and which are used in the rice production process. Just before the rice is harvested they are added to the paddy fields saturated with water to aid in this process. We will eat fairly early in the evening in preparation for a heavy day to come.
Night in Yuanyang.
Day 9 - Yuanyang (B, L, D) : Car
We will set off extremely early so as to be able to admire the sunrise at Duoyishu, where the rice paddies seem to melt into the valley floor. It is sometimes difficult to see the hilltops, especially when the cloud base is low and they mix with the crops in their terraces, giving photographers the chance to snap one of nature’s real masterpieces.
You’ll then walk through the rice terraces starting at atBada, although the view from Duoyishu and Laohuzui are more impressive, the view from Bada is special for its visceral beauty. Your view is from a less elevated vantage point, you are much closer to the terraces themselves enabling you to take in the full glory of the work of the Hani. Depending on the season you may be able to enjoy the sun sparkling on the water in the rice paddies and the crickets chirping in the trees. It’s an unforgettable experience.
The trek will take around 6 to 7 hours; you will be able to see, without disturbing their toil, some of the local men and the buffalo working the fields while the women pick the rice.
Lunch at Titian restaurant in Sheng Village.
You will be rewarded for your efforts in Laohuzui, literally “The Tiger’s Mouth”where you can enjoy the sunset. Here rice terraces continue as far as the eye can see, and the panorama is breath-taking, even dizzying for some. It is recommended to wrap up warm as the early morning can be rather fresh
Day 10 - Yuanyang - Puzhehei (B, L, D) : Car
The day will start by a visit a local market in Hani Minority Village. The market is held daily, rotating between the villages of Niujiaozhai, Shengcun, Panzhihua, Yuanyang, Huangcaoling, Laomeng… depending on a complex system based on the lunar calendar. On “dragon sign” days the market is held in Yuanyang, but if it’s a “pig sign” day the market will be held in Shengcun and so on…
It is mainly the Yi and the Hani who come to buy their supplies for the week ahead or who sell their produce on the market. The busy market is to be savored for its traditional hustle and bustle and its bright and vivid colors.
We will set off for Puzheheiwho is referred to by the locals as the “Guilin of Yunnan. It will take around 6 to 7 hours to cover the 300km (185 miles).”
A vast lake marks the centre of this area and is also the epicenter for mass tourism in the region; as such we will instead spend the night in a more typical village in the heart of countryside just a few kilometers away.
Night in Puzhehei
Day 11 - Puzhehei (B, L, D): Biking
You will start the day with a bike ride in the surrounding countryside and you will even have the choice between riding a traditional bicycle, a tandem or even a three-seater bike.
The route will pass through a number of “sugar loaves” (the poetic name given to a specific type of karst formation), patches of private land, past traditional red brick houses and through paddy fields that are almost fluorescent green due to a combination of the sunlight as it illuminates the crops. The sound of the workers in the fields, the laughing of children in the villages and the almost deafening sound of hammers working in improvised forgeries almost transports you to another world. This incredible spectacle is only disturbed by the hysterical barking of a well-trained guard dog protecting his master’s home.
You will take a refreshing stop at a peach farm where you will be able to try some of the local produce. Peaches originate from China, and those from this region are particularly succulent thanks to its especially rich soils.
We will then return to Puzhehei to enjoy a pleasant boat trip on the lake lasting around an hour. You will be able to marvel at the natural beauty of the water-lilies covering the lake, which bloom in the summertime.
Your day will end with a walk along the embankment admiring the sun gently setting over the lake and reflecting the “sugar loaf” hills. Arched bridges and some traditional wooden houses where people come to play Mah-jong punctuate this superb walk through a beautiful natural setting. The walk can last anywhere from 1 to 2 hours depending on your speed, and runs alongside a perfect flagstone path upon which electric cars run for those who are tired from the day’s activities. You will finally arrive at a small fishing village and there be able to feast your eyes and your stomach on the catch of the day, which you can later try for your dinner. In the language of the Yi (one of the principal minorities in the region), Puzhehei means “the lake with many fish and prawns”. Enjoy your meal!
Day 12 - Puzhehei - Jiulong - Luoping (B, L, D) : Car
We will then travel on to JiulongWaterfalls (nearby Luoping) which is located around 170km (100 miles) to the south and will take between 3 to 4 hours by car. Jiulong meaning “Nine Dragons”, which are counted amongst the most beautiful in the country.
You’ll head into a region populated by the Buyi Minority who number at around 3 million and are mostly concentrated in the province of Guizhou. Contrary to popular belief the Chinese do not eat a lot of dog meat, however the Buyi buck this trend and are rather fond of this delicacy. It’s not uncommon in some villages to find restaurants which specialise in serving dog based dishes. The majority of the Buyi are Animists (believing that all natural objects have souls or spirits), contributing to their respect of nature. The clothing is coloured indigo and white, directly reflecting the two principal colours of the heavens above.
Like the Han they follow the lunar calendar and their New Year celebrations are large gatherings providing an opportunity for the young to take part in various singing competitions and look for their soul mate.
The local authorities have recently constructed a number of traditional homes on the site, which are principally constructed using bamboo.
You will take a cable car ride in order to get a better view of the biggest waterfall, known as the “Spiritual Dragon Waterfall”, measuring 56 metres high and 112 metres wide. Climbing on board the cable car you will be taken around 3km upstream so that you can truly appreciate the beauty of the falls, villages and colza fields below.
The site is made up of 10 different waterfalls, all of around the same size. The “Lovers’ Fall”, the “Wandering Stone Dragon Fall” and other such evocative names give this place a particularly mysterious charm.
Afterwards we will head to Luoping (it will take around half an hour to get there) where you will take a walk to the colza fields, dotted with the rock formations typical of Southern China, and equally of Laos, Thailand and Vietnam. It is advisable to have a good, strong pair of shoes with you.
You will then visit a factory specializing in the production of canola honey, famous in the region. However beware the roadside canola honey hawkers as some of them have been known to sell fake honey!
Your countryside jaunt will continue with a visit to a tobacco field. The Chinese are big smokers and the tobaccos of Yunnan and the neighboring Guizhou province are some of the most sought-after in China. It is common to see local farmers smoking their water pipes at all hours of the day. Maybe you’ll be tempted to have a try.
Onwards to Niujie, where you will see the “snail-shell shaped fields” – another eccentricity of the region that is only really of interest during the January-March period when the colza is in flower. The local country folk farm the colza flower in small circular terraces which when viewed from afar strangely resemble the shells of snails.
Day 13 - Luoping - Hongtudi (B, L, D) : Car
After breakfast we will visit the town of the nearby village of Jinji where you will climb the steps to the top of Golden Rooster Peak, which takes its name from the village it surrounds. You will firstly visit the small Lingyi Temple which is more of an improvised place of worship for the locals than an official Buddhist site. The view from the promontory just below the temple is stupefying, in particular between January and March when the green-black Karst formation hills are adorned by fields of vibrant yellow colza flowers, or in summer when chrysanthemum are in bloom. From here you can admire the sun setting over this astounding vista.
Before noon we set off for Hongtudi (located around 300km / 185 miles away, taking at least 6 hours depend on traffic), literally translated as “Red earth”. It takes its name from the rich minerals found in the earth, in particular iron which, due to the oxidation process, gives this region its characteristic red-orange colour. This is exactly the same process that causes rust but on a much grander scale, and much more pleasing to the eye. On a much smaller scale the same process gives blood its red colour, but that’s enough for the science lesson.
We will take a small photo opportunity break at Yueliangtian where the panorama is particularly stunning. This is one of those marvels of nature and wondrous cultural sites that we wouldn’t have in the world if it weren’t for the harmony and creativity of man and Mother Nature. This harmonious blend is no better witnessed than at Hongtudi where the combination of the natural oxidation of iron and the manmade rice terraces and other fields give this region its superb rainbow of colour, encompassing the bright red earth, the green and white crops such as wheat, potatoes and corn, and the yellow colza flowers.
Here you will start a one hour walk through the local countryside.
Your driver will bring to Luoxiagou, a small village in a valley whose colours are particularly vibrant in the evenings and where you will enjoy dinner.
Arriving in the small hamlet of Huagou, you will check into the hotel.
Day 14 - Hongtudi (Red earth) - Kunming (B, L) : Car
Head to Jinxiuyuan where you will watch the sun rising in the blue dawn light. This mysterious hue slowly gives way to the bright rays of sunshine the illuminate the colorful fields, all the while accompanied by bird song. We recommend that you wrap up warm – the nights and early mornings are particularly fresh in this region. You will enjoy a well-earned breakfast while enjoying the view.
Your driver will bring you to Damaka, you will enjoy a relaxing journey through the peaceful countryside, far from the hustle and bustle of modern Chinese cities. Not only can you appreciate the spectacular views Hongtudi has to offer as the fields of wheat and flowers cover the hills as if they were a giant carpet, but you also hear the beauty on offer as the wind gently caresses the fields, making the ears of wheat sway majestically back and forth.
Photographers are particularly drawn to the region in spring, especially in February and March, when the flowers are in bloom providing a marvellous array of colour.
You will then set off for the spectacular views at Yuepu’ao, one of Yunnan’s many perfect photo opportunities. Here you will start a one hour walk through the local countryside.
You can watch the locals working in the fields, the majority of who is from the Yi Minority – otherwise known as the Lolo and who number almost 8 million in China, the largest grouping to be found in Yunnan Province. They are often considered to be the original inhabitants of the region and their “Torch Festival”, which takes place at the end of the 6th lunar month, is a major festival celebrated throughout the province. The Yi society still practiced slavery until the 1950s when Communist forces brought an end to that particular tradition during the early years of the Republic.
Head to Kunming which is found around 200km to the Northeast .You will also pass through some villages with traditional houses are made of mud bricks, totally surrounded by paddy fields, carefully designed by man’s hand and the hooves of water buffalo.
Note: according to the weather forecast, places to watch sunset or sunrise can be modified
Night in Kunming
Day 15 - Kunming (altitude 1750m) - Shilin - Kunming (B, L) : Car
Head to the county of Lunan where you will discover one of the major attractions of the region and a must see, Shilin or literally The Stone Forest. Due to its proximity to Kunming, Shilin can become a bit of a tourist trap. However, only a small part of the 26,000 hectare site is crowded and it is easy to escape the hordes of package holidaymakers. We therefore will take you instead to the quieter and less frequented Black Stone Forest, which is roughly 10km away from the main site but just as impressive.
You will walk around three hours in the forest.
According to legend, the immortals (divine beings worshipped by Taoists) created the Black Stone Forest by cutting up mountains into a maze of rocks so that they could offer them as gifts to loved ones. This maze of “stone trees” is therefore fascinating, but it’s also easy to get lost, so it’s very important that you follow your guide!
Shilin is an endless maze of rocky peaks in an intriguing array of shapes and sizes that are a result of chemical erosion of the rock over time caused by rain and wind. Depending on the weather, you will be able to enjoy a picnic lunch in the middle of the “forest” which will not only give you the opportunity to enjoy the scenery but also to avoid the rather high prices of the restaurants on-site.
En route to the Kunming, you will be able to see some of the old train tracks, the most significant traces of the French presence in China.
China was never fully colonized (at least by Western powers) unlike some of its neighbors in South-East Asia, but Concessions were granted to Western powers during the 19th century, one of the best known being in Shanghai. In 1910 the French launched a mammoth project in order to advance their expansionist desires by linking Hanoi, the capital of Vietnam and at the time a French protectorate, to Kunming. They laid more than 450km of rail track, built more than 3500 bridges and 170 tunnels, requiring a workforce numbering more than 60 000 often working in extreme conditions.
Day 16 - Kunming departure (B, L) : Air Plane
You will be taken to Kunming airport and from which you will be able to travel onward to your next destination.
- English/ French speaking guide
- All transfers and transportation as specified
- Hotel accommodation with ABF as per itinerary
- Meals and drinks as specified
What's Not Included
- Vietnam visa
- Accommodation and breakfast in Hanoi
- Personal expenses
- Travel insurance
- Camera and films
- Other meals and drinks
- Other services not mentioned in the itinerary
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