Day 1: Arrival-Hanoi. On arrival at Noi Bai Airport, you are met and transferred to hotel. Ha Noi, Vietnam's capital, is a stylish and gracious city that retains an unique old world charm and some Asia's most striking colonial architecture. The many lakes and parks make for relaxing atmosphere. If time permits we enjoy a short cycle excursion through the bustling old quarter streets named after the specific goods once offered for sale at these places. Overnight in Ha Noi. Includes: (B).
Day 2: Hanoi. Today we enjoy a full day city tour starting with the Ho Chi Minh Complex. This famous site contains the mausoleum of the nation's founder Ho Chi Minh, the Presidential Palace and the Ho Chi Minh's house on stilts. Close to this complex is the One Pillar Pagoda, whose origins date back to the foundation of city. We follow this with a trip to the Temple of Literature, which is well known as the first university of Vietnam and the impressive Ethnological Museum, dedicated to Vietnam's 54 ethnic groups. The beautiful West Lake and the History Museum with an excellent collection of artifacts illustrating the Vietnamese history, are not to be missed. We visit these sights before continuing to the peaceful lake of Hoan Kiem. In front of this lake is the famous water puppet theater where we will see a fantastic performance. Overnight in Ha Noi. Includes: (B).
Day 3: Hanoi-Sapa. An early morning start to drive along the Red River to Sa Pa. The roads are bumpy at times, but various scenic landscape changing from the delta area to the Tonkinese Alps make for an interesting journey. At an elevation of 1,500 meters, Sa Pa was once a hill resort of French administrators when the summer heat became unbearable. The remoteness and the simple lifestyle of ethnic minority people are a highlight of Sa Pa although conditions are basic. After checking into hotel in Sapa we can soak up the fresh climate as much as we want by spending time to wander around this hill town. The ethnic people are frequently seen on the main street of Sapa and small vendors along the street sell local textiles and handicraft. Overnight in Sa Pa. Includes: (B).
Day 4: Sapa. The range of Phan Si Pan boasts Vietnam's highest mountain and lends an alpine feel to the area surrounding this hill station. Today we have enough time to visit the bustling Sa Pa Market where the Red Dao, Black Hmong, Tay and Xa Pho ethnic minorities converge from the nearby mountainsides and valleys to trade their goods and buy provisions. We then get well off the beaten track as we embark on a walk to explore this beautiful mountain region. Along the way we traverse several rustic villages and see many mountaineers doing their daily works such as logging, herding buffalo and tilling the field. The blend of verdant mountain backdrop and colourful population makes for an unimaginable view. Overnight in Sa Pa. Includes: (B).
Day 5: Sapa-Bacha (Sunday). Upon leaving Sapa we set off on our scenic drive through the border town of Lao Cai to the colourful Sunday Market at Bac Ha. This market also attracts a wide variety of ethnic minority groups including the Variegated Hmong, Dao, Phu La, La Chi and Tay. They still retain their age old cultural traditions and are recognizably distinct from each other by their dress. The experience of this congregation is colorful and unique. After the market we enjoy a walk around the area, visiting the Hmong King's former residence and Ban Pho where the villagers make the potent local maize alcohol. Overnight in Bac Ha. Includes: (B).
Day 6: Bac Ha-Hanoi. The return journey begins as we depart Bac Ha Town and pass through the verdant and rugged mountain scenery to Hanoi. These back roads are a great way to explore the real Vietnam. We see very few other travelers, mostly rural dwellers who are just as interested in finding out about our lives as we are of theirs. The drive is very long , but we can can make many stops along the way to stretch our legs and take wonderful photographs. Overnight in Ha Noi. Includes: (B).
Day 7: Hanoi-Perfume Pagoda-Ninh Binh. An interesting drive through the rich farming land of the Red River Delta to the Perfume Pagoda, which is not just one pagoda but many shrines and sanctuaries built into mountainsides. This famous complex of pagodas is also one of Vietnam great pilgrimage sites. On arrival we enjoy a leisurely boat excursion on the Yen River past the spectacular landscape of flooded rice fields and undulating mountains. After two hour river trip we embark on a rugged walk uphill to explore some of the many pagodas and the sacred grotto of Huong Tich. We then drive to Ninh Binh, our final destination. Overnight in Ninh Binh. Includes: (B).
Day 8: Ninh Binh-Haiphong. The capital of Vietnam during the Dinh and early Le Dynasties is Hoa Lu, which however has left its legacy in the form of two small temples, each one nearly a thousand years old. After a short drive we visit these two remaining structures, dedicated to the Dinh and Le Rulers, then climb 200 steps to the top of Ma Yen mount for a fantastic view over the surrounding areas. The next stop of our trip is Tam Coc which is surnamed "Inland Halong Bay". We take a boat trip on a river through the quiet and peaceful landscape of rice fields surrounded by limestone formations to the grottoes of Tam Coc. Upon leaving this site we commence our scenic drive to Hai Phong, the biggest port town of northern Vietnam. Overnight in Hai Phong. Includes: (B).
Day 9: Haiphong-Halong. Heading out of town we travel by roads to Ha Long Bay, truly one of Vietnam's most impressive scenic sights. On arrival we embark on a boat for a memorable trip around the bay which will give us a chance to explore the picturesque scenery blending with the sky and some 3,000 limestone islands, rising amazingly from the clear and emerald water. The limestone karst formations are littered with beaches, grottoes and beautiful caves. Along the way we will anchor for a leisurely swim in a secluded cove and an enjoyable visit to one of the many hidden grottoes beneath towering cliffs. After a seafood lunch on board we continue our exciting cruise and have time for another swim. Overnight in Ha Long. Includes: (B), (L).
Day 10: Halong-Bat Trang-Hanoi. The very good roads make our journey back to Hanoi much more pleasurable. Today we have plenty of time to observe the rural landscape and visit the riverside village of Bat Trang, where distinctive ceramics are made and used throughout the delta region for over 500 years. The vitality of this village is still blown up by the hundreds of pottery kilns on fire day and night. We stroll around various cottage industries and watch craftsmen forming, painting and glazing their products in traditional ways. The reminder of the day will be free to explore Hanoi's older quarters or simply to relax. Overnight in Hanoi. Includes: (B).
Day 11: Hanoi-Vientiane. An impressive way to commence the day is a walk around Hoan Kiem Lake at dawn, where hundreds of people come to do their morning exercise (optional). After breakfast we have free time until transferring to airport for a flight to Vientiane. The charming and fascinating capital of Laos, Vientiane is located on the banks of the Mekong River. This small city conjures up exotic images, with the curious mix of Lao, Thai, Chinese, Vietnamese, French influences. A city tour includes Wat Sisaket, the oldest temple still standing in Vientiane. The following sight is the former royal temple of Haw Pha Kaew, which previously housed the famous Emerald Buddha Image. We also visit the imposing Patouxai Monument well known as Vientiane's own Arc de Triomphe on our way to the great sacred structure of That Luang Stupa. Overnight in Vientiane. Includes: (B).
Day 12: Vientiane-Luang Prabang. The royal capital of the former Lane Xang Kingdom, Luang Prabang with its gleaming temple roofs, fading colonial architecture and stunning mountain backdrop retains an unique charm rarely found in all Asia. This morning we take a short flight to Luang Prabang. There is plenty to see in this delightful town, some of which are the impressive stupa of Wat Visoun, the shrine of Wat Aham and Wat Mai with five tiered roofs. We include these sights in a half day guided tour which ends with a climb to Phousi Hill for a beautiful sunset view of the town and the Mekong River. There are 329 steps leading us on zigzag way past various temples to the sacred, gilded stupa of Wat Phousi at the summit. Overnight at Luang Prabang. Includes: (B).
Day 13: Luang Prabang-Pakou-Luang Prabang. Today we continue seeing this town with the magnificent Wat Xieng Thong, which nestles at the meeting of the Mekong and the Nam Khan River. The temple structures are decorated in various ways with gilded stuccoes and doorways while the main sim has a marvelous "tree life" mosaic pattern on an outer wall. We board a boat for a leisurely trip on the Mekong River, stopping en route at Ban Xang Hai to visit the distillation of local rice wine. Upon leaving this village we wave our wave through the stunning mountain landscape to the mysterious Pak Ou Caves. They are crammed with thousands of gold lacquered Buddha statues of various shapes and sizes, all brought there by devout villagers. After the river trip we drive towards Ban Phanom and visit the hand weaving. Overnight in Luang Brabang. Includes: (B), (L).
Day 14: Luang Brabang-Vientiane. The exploration of Luang Prabang would not be complete without a visit to the national museum at the former Royal Palace. This interesting structure displays a lovely collection of treasures and artifacts reflecting the richness of Lao culture dating from the days of the early kings right through the last sovereign. We then spend our time wandering through the charming streets until transferring to the airport for a short flight back to Vientiane. On arrival we head out to see the impressive Friendship Bridge which links Laos and Thailand, and the Buddha Park. This landmark represents a blend of Buddhist and Hindu sculptures created by mystical monk on a parkland located by the Mekong River. A perfect way to round off the day is to watch the spectacular sunset over the Mekong River from one of riverside bars. Overnight in Vientiane. Includes: (B).
Day 15: Vientiane-Departure. There is a free time for your own exploration of the city and catching up on some shopping areas. The trip ends after your transfer to the airport for departure. Includes: (B).
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