Aerial view of floating villages around Cat Ba islands. Cat Ba is the largest of the 366 islands, which make up the southeastern edge of Ha Long Bay in Vietnam

11 Days | from $1,330 per person

Our 11 Day Originals Tour

Vietnam Classic

North & Central

With 11 days to play with, you can explore the best of northern and central Vietnam, including the two historic capitals and jaw-dropping landscapes. Begin in Vietnam’s storied city, Hanoi, with superb museums, lakes, parks, colonial architecture, and a fascinating Old Quarter. Then marvel at Vietnam’s iconic seascape landscapes: the water wonderland of Lan Ha Bay, including Cat Ba Island.

After the water, ascending to the mountains by train to Sapa and enjoy hiking through jungles and across mountains. Stay at the Topas Ecolodge and Topas Riverside Lodge, two of Vietnam’s most precious accommodations. A highlight of this adventure is getting to know northern Vietnam’s ethnic diversity, with a dedicated to learning about four distinct groups.

Then fly down to the old imperial capital of Hue and uncover the lives of the imperial kings with grand palaces, crumbling tombs, and arguably the country’s best cuisine.

Proposed Itinerary

Take a peek in more detail at each day of this itinerary!

Arrive in Hanoi, take the day to relax, and prepare for the evening. When you want to get to know a culture, there’s nothing quite like breaking bread (or spooning rice) with a local family. In this experience you’ll be picked up from your hotel at around 6pm and invited to feast with a traditional Hanoian family. Expect spring rolls, hearty soups, light stir fries and plenty of hot white rice. Get to know the family without worrying about the language barrier, as English-speaking students from the local university will accompany you throughout, teaching you about local etiquette and making sure you avoid making any social faux pas.

Hanoi is home to Vietnam’s very best museums, covering everything from the military history of the nation to the colorful ethnic diversity. Choose one from three of the best: the Vietnamese Women’s Museum, the National Museum of Vietnamese History, or the Vietnam Museum of Ethnology. Then head to the Temple of Literature, Vietnam’s oldest university and still a place of worship, especially for students during exam season.

Enjoy a local lunch, either on the street or in a local restaurant, before understanding more about Hanoi’s 1000-year-old history in the monstrous Citadel. Stroll around the leafy gardens, marvel at the ancient architecture, and learn about the Citadel’s central position of power – which it maintains even today. Then explore one of the Old Quarter’s most picturesque houses, with tiled flooring, ancient wooden beams, and antique furniture.

Finish the day with a beer in one of the local fresh beer stalls. This light and refreshing drink is one of the (many) beverages that keeps Hanoi buzzing and refreshed. Enjoy it with a whole host of local snacks, from fried tofu to grilled meats.

Jump in the transfer bus at 9am of day one and head to Hai Phong, just over an hour from Hanoi. Take a smooth 45-minute express boat journey to Cat Ba, Lan Ha Bay’s largest island and a national park. Check in to Cat Ba Ecolodge and explore the island, including the fascinating Hospital Cave used during the wars and the spectacular views from the colonial era Cannon Fort. Enjoy a swim and a beer by the beach before returning to the lodge for dinner.

Breakfast at the lodge before heading off to the pier and hopping in a boat. You’ll pass through one of Cat Ba’s floating villages before disembarking on an uninhabited island. Enjoy the scenery either by swimming or taking to a kayak, either by yourself or with a friend. Head back to Cat Ba after lunch, check out of your homestay, and transfer to the cruise ship – your accommodation for the night. Settle into your cabin, enjoy a cruise around the bay, and then dinner and overnight on the cruise ship. Not ready for bed? Enjoy some late-night squid fishing to see what’s biting in the watery depths of the bay.

Wake up in the bay, setting your alarm a little earlier than normal if you want to enjoy an onboard sunrise. Board the tender and explore a local fishing village before coming back to the cruise ship for breakfast. Then take to a bamboo row boat and head to the Dark & Bright Cave, one of Halong Bay’s most atmospheric water caves. Look out for monkeys on the jungled shores, sometimes visible in the gaps between the trees. Head back to the cruise ship before slowly cruising back to Hai Phong. Disembark and head back to Hanoi – you’ll arrive before 4pm on day three, with enough time to hop on the night train and head to Sapa.

Arrive in Lao Cai early in the morning before transferring to Sapa town for breakfast. Then the day really begins! Start with a trek to the Black Hmong village of Hang Da before a straightforward 2-hour downhill walk with beautiful mountain vistas to reach Hau Chu Ngai. This is another Black Hmong village, and here you can really begin to understand their way of life. Take a look at their houses – always built on the ground – and consider purchasing some of their remarkable textiles. Then move on to Thanh Phu of the Tay minority group, who have a very different culture to the Hmong. For one, they build their houses on stilts, but there’s also a marked difference in the clothing. Continue to My Son of the Xa Pho people, one of the most isolated groups near Sapa. Then finish in the remote village of Nam Cang, a Red Dao village where you’ll also find your accommodation: the Topas Riverside Lodge. The Red Dao make great healers, and if you want you can enjoy a foot back made with herbs plucked from the mountainside while relaxing at the lodge.

Note: Due to the high altitude, the morning walk may shift to the lower valley of Lao Chai & Ta Van if the weather is too foggy and the views aren’t great.

Enjoy another hike that differs from yesterday with vastly different scenery. Today you’ll head to the jungle where the villagers plant cardamom along with other herbs and spices that can fetch a good price in the local markets. Enjoy the scenery, which is notably wilder than yesterday’s, while making your way to a stream. Take a rest, dipping your toes in the water, before heading back to the lodge through the forest for lunch. You can take a final swim in the river before ascending to Topas Ecolodge by private transfer.

Relax at your leisure by the pool, in the restaurant, or in your bungalow. Uncover the spa, which offers a range of unique treatments that borrow from the botanical knowledge of the Dao. Or consider taking out a mountain bike – free of charge – and exploring some of the local villages. Want to go a little further afield? Why not take off on a half-day or full-day hike of the surrounding villages and explore the colorful ethnic diversity of the region, couples with glorious views. Make the most of the day before heading back to Hanoi at around 2:30pm.

Enjoy the day in Hanoi until your evening flight to Hue.

9am and head up stream on the poetic Perfume River, a large, sweeping river that descends from the mountains before dividing Hue in two. As you move towards the mountains, you’ll pass villages and temples before making your way to Thien Mu Pagoda, one of Vietnam’s most impressive Buddhist sites. Absorb the morning atmosphere of this important religious complex, situated on a picturesque bend in the river.

Time for the tombs! Head further up river to Tu Duc Tomb, the most elegant of all the royal resting places in Hue, decorated with lotus ponds and ancient shrines. Enjoy a vegan lunch (prepared by Buddhist nuns if you like) before moving to Khai Dinh Tomb, an entirely different structure that blends Vietnamese, Chinese, French, and Cambodian architecture.

Return to the city and unearth the Citadel, the palace that the great kings constructed and improved upon over the centuries. Explore the proud flag tower, ornate gates, and various royal chambers before returning to your hotel before 6pm.

Enjoy your last morning in Hue before departure.

Is this tour right for you?

This suggested tour itinerary is great for those who are visiting Vietnam for the first time and looking to spend more time in the south of the country, and discover Central Vietnam with an active twist. 

There are some physical activities such as cycling and light trekking but it is nothing strenuous that a person of average fitness couldn’t complete comfortably. 

Our trip designers are very happy to adjust any part of this itinerary to best suit your requirements, including style of hotel, or perhaps more or less strenuous activities in each destination. We can also add or remove any section of the itinerary to suit your schedule. 

Tour Price

From 1,330 usd /per person

This tour price is quoted based on two people sharing one room through the tour, and includes all local taxes, entrance fees where required, accomodation and meals as specified, local English-speaking guides, and local transportation between each destination as specified.  It does not include drinks and meals as specified, travel insurance, tips for guides and drivers, and any personal expenses. 

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