This 13-day luxury tailor-made holiday through the northern hills of Vietnam features the dramatic scenery, rice paddy trekking and pristine cruising that the north is famous for, but without the mass crowds of Sapa and Halong Bay. The result is a trip that's steeped in culture, heritage and unrivalled natural beauty. Start in Hanoi’s bustling laneways of temples, bridges and narrow Old Quarter streets before heading to the unspoilt region of Pu Luong where you’ll spend days cruising the river on a bamboo raft and trekking through rice terraces and mountainous valleys. You'll visit charming local villages and stay in authentic retreats surrounded by paddies, with a touch of luxury in exquisite food, spas and private terraces. The majestic landscapes and winding rivers of vivid Ninh Binh are your penultimate destination before you finish the journey with a luxury cruise among quiet bays and pristine islands. This trip is relatively active but can of course be tweaked and tailor-made to suit you and your fitness levels without compromising any section.
Day 1: London to Hanoi
Begin your trip in style with VIP airport lounge access before boarding your overnight flight from London to Hanoi, Vietnam.
Days 2-4: Hanoi
Arriving in Hanoi, you'll be met by a local representative who will transfer you to your hotel. Perhaps spend this afternoon exploring Hanoi's ancient temples and street food markets before rejuvenating with a treatment at your hotel's luxury spa. Spend day 3 visiting the home and mausoleum of Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam's former leader, before discovering the ancient Temple of Literature and the famous 'Hanoi Hilton', the city's notorious former prison. Then, experience the thrill of a cyclo ride through the bustling streets of the city's Old Quarter, also visiting the tranquil Hoan Kiem Lake and French district with its faded colonial buildings and tree-lined avenues. We also recommend a 4-hour Vespa excursion on day 4 through the city’s iconic narrow streets where you'll traverse among lakes, traditional markets and garden oases. Spend an evening at the Hoan Kiem Lake at sunset, enjoying cocktails at a rooftop bar overlooking the city, and there's also the option to enjoy a show of once-banned enchanting Vietnamese chamber music where you'll enjoy an included street food dinner.
Please note lunch is only included on day 3.
Stay: La Siesta Hotel & Spa (Superior)
Day 5: Hanoi to Pu Luong
After breakfast today you’ll depart Hanoi and transfer to the verdant hills of Pu Luong, a majestic microcosm of North Vietnam, via a breathtaking mountain pass that affords panoramic views of the whole valley. Marvel at the mountain ranges that loom among rice terraces, giving way to rivers, waterfalls and remote traditional villages before spending the afternoon exploring the area around your stunning accommodation, the Pu Luong Retreat, where you'll stay in a bamboo-adorned room overlooking views of endless rice paddies. Enjoy a bridge walk over the Cham River, searching for historic water wheels, before visiting fishermen houses and enjoying bamboo river rafting to the scenic mangrove-surrounded Tan Lap bridge. Then, perhaps enjoy a glass of wine around the campfire or in the cosy lounge before a traditional Thai dinner tonight.
Stay: Pu Luong Retreat
Day 6: Pu Luong
Enjoy breakfast overlooking the highlands as you trek to the valley facing the retreat, all tumbling rice terraces, picturesque unspoilt landscapes, waterfalls and charming mountain villages. Then, carry on among empty roads, vivid farmland and winding rivers before enjoying a picnic lunch and swim in the trickling stream. The rest of the evening is at your leisure to enjoy the delights of the hotel.
Stay: Pu Luong Retreat
Day 7: Pu Luong to Ninh Binh
Dotted among northern Vietnam's dominating landscape is a plethora of culture, and this itinerary allows you to immerse yourself with visits to several local villages, one of which you'll enjoy this morning, discovering the life of the locals who work around the farmland and rice fields, weaving colourful textiles. Then, transfer to Ninh Binh, nicknamed the 'inland Halong Bay', passing through sprawling green fields as you approach the UNESCO World Heritage site of the Trang An Scenic Landscape complex, all tropical forests, serene streams and deep limestone caves. Explore its beauty with a charming sampan rowing boat, traversing along the small winding river that's almost enveloped by the surrounding vivid grasslands and vertical limestone peaks. Then, transfer to your hotel for the next 3 days, Tam Coc, where you'll stay in one of just 8 bungalows with private terraces looking over grandiose rice fields, enjoying a beautiful pool surrounded by greenery and traditional Vietnamese fare.
Stay: Tam Coc Garden
Day 8: Ninh Binh
After breakfast you'll explore the Ninh Binh area, cycling on a peaceful trail where winding canals, karstic rock formations and limestone grottoes all vie for your attention. The small Mua Cave serves as your entrance to Hang Mua, a mist-shrouded mountainous rock – trek to the top for wonderfully panoramic views. Then, you'll stop at a local village house before driving to the Bich Dong pagoda, an ancient three-tiered cluster of cave temples reached by steep stone steps, affording incredible countryside vistas. Finally, explore spectacular 11th century fortified royal palaces before perhaps enjoying a massage at your hotel looking over the rolling rice paddy fields.
Stay: Tam Coc Garden
Day 9: Ninh Binh to Hai Phong
Enjoy breakfast at your hotel before transferring to the ferry terminal for your 3-day cruise with Orchid. After a welcome drink, highlights today include the 100-year-old lighthouse of the Da Chong islet and the otherworldly limestone karst formations of the Con Vit and Gia Luan islets. Enjoy untouched beauty at the Ba Trai Dao beach area, where pristine sandy stretches and 400 picturesque islands are wonderfully explored with kayaking and swimming before enjoying a magnificent sunset over the Gulf of Tonkin. An intimate dinner awaits tonight on the romantic lighting of the ship's top deck, affording a serene panorama of the silent, inky blue bay.
Stay: Orchid Cruise
This trip has no fixed departures but restrictions may apply - check operator website
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