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Vietnam, Mountains and Hill-tribes

A 2-week tour through the remote and spectacular mountains of northern Laos and Vietnam travelling overland from Luang Prabang to the Plain of Jars and Sapa before finishing in Vietnam's capital Hanoi

Laos and Vietnam Overland Tour

‘Mountains and Hill-tribes’ – a fascinating and varied 2-week Northern Laos and Vietnam tour. This superb voyage through some of Southeast Asia’s most remote, least-known but spectacular regions begins in the ancient Lao capital and UNESCO World Heritage Site of Luang Prabang, Discover its well-preserved French period architecture, colourful markets, riverside cafes and fabulous ancient temple before travelling overland through the dramatic mountains, forests and myriad rice terraces of Northern Lao and Vietnam.

Discover the kaleidoscope of traditional ‘hill-tribe’ peoples; the remote and enigmatic Plain of Jars, spectacular limestone landscapes of Sam Neua, the famous Vieng Xai Pathet Lao caves and the picturesque old French hill station of Sapa from where we’ll continue by train to our final destination, Vietnam’s bustling capital, UNESCO-listed Hanoi.

A wealth of spectacular sites and range of superb landscapes plus of course, as is usual in Southeast Asia, plenty of friendly locals to meet and sumptuous cuisines to sample.

A 2-day extension also allows you to include the fabulous, and also World Heritage, scenery of Vietnam’s Halong Bay while, for those with  few more dast to spare we offer a 3-week version of this tour – ‘Unexplored – the Far North’ – beginning in Thailand’s Chiang Mai and travelling by road and river through the Golden Triangle region and western Laos to Luang Prabang.

 

Laos

Itinerary

Here's an idea of what you can expect to do and see day-to-day.

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Day 1 - Luang Prabang - arrival and walking tour

Arrival in Luang Prabang and check-in to a charming hotel situated in a converted French period villa with an afternoon tour walking tour fabulous temples, narrow lanes, colonial architecture and checking out the enticing riverside cafes before a local-style welcome dinner.

Overnight: Luang Prabang Transport: Walk,  Meals: D, 

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Day 2 - Luang Prabang - into the surrounding hills

Journey into the picturesque surrounding hills to visit the spectacular Kuang Si Waterfalls and excellent Free the Bears Rescue Centre plus halts en-route to discover the fascinating and still very traditional village life of some of the local people.

Overnight: Luang Prabang Transport: Minibus, Walk,  Meals: B, L, 

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Day 3 - Central Highlands - overland to Phonsavan

Early departure across scenic mountains to Phonsavan in Xieng Khouang Province – location of the enigmatic Plain of Jars. Stops on the way include Khmu and Hmong villages as well as a visit to a hidden cave temple that served as an army hospital during the Indochina war. Arrival in Phonsavan and an atmospheric dusk visit to one of the famous jar sites.

Overnight: Phonsavan Transport: Minibus,  Meals: B, L, 

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Day 4 - Plain of Jars - day tour and the ruins of Muang Khuon

Morning visit to the Mines Action Group office to learn about the work they do in clearing landmines and unexploded ordnance in the area. We then travel out to the picturesque Jar Site 2, and begin our short hike to the impressive Site 3, consisting of over around 150 jars. Afternoon visit to the atmospheric ruins of the ancient city of Xieng Khouang, now known as Muang Khoun.

Overnight: Phonsavan Transport: Minibus, Walk,  Meals: B, L, 

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Day 5 - On the road - head northeast to Sam Neua

Departure to the remote town of Sam Neua in the far northeast of Laos. Stops en-route include Hmong and Khmu settlements, a Tai Phong weaving village, plus photo stops for the breathtaking scenery. We’ll also visit the mysterious Hintang menhirs, about which almost nothing is known.

Overnight: Sam Neua Transport: Minibus,  Meals: B, L, D, 

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Day 6 - Sam Neua - Vieng Xai caves and karst scenery

Short tour of Sam Neua including a walk along the river to the local market, before setting off to Vieng Xai. These extensive caves are where the Pathet Lao leaders lived during the Indochina War. In the afternoon an easy walk brings us to some of the lesser-visited cave sites plus an opportunity to view more of the area’s beautiful, limestone karst scenery.

Overnight: Sam Neua Transport: Minibus, Walk,  Meals: B, L, D, 

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Day 7 - Pu Luong - into Vietnam

Early morning departure through more spectacular countryside and past traditional Black Tai villages to the nearby border crossing at Nam Meo. From here we’ll head into the stunning scenery of Vietnam’s Pu Luong National Park for a hike through the forest and our overnight accommodation.

Please note, accommodation at the homestay is usually shared, but single rooms may be purchased depending on availability.

Overnight: Pu Luong Transport: Minibus, Walk,  Meals: B, L, D, 

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Day 8 - Nghia Lo - rugged mountains and hill-tribe villages

Departing Mai Chau we cross the Da River to picturesque Nghia Lo district. This is a rugged, mountainous and sparsely inhabited region of northern Vietnam where most of the local people you will see are from either the various Tai or Hmong minorities. Overnight in the small town of Nghia Lo.

Overnight: Nghia Lo Transport: Minibus, Walk,  Meals: B, L, D, 

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Day 9 - Mu Cang Chai - more mountain vistas and rice terraces

We’ll continue a leisurely drive northwards passing through more glorious mountain scenery and a region settled predominantly by the Dzao ethnic group to Mu Cang Chai where we’ll explore the sometimes vertiginous, and always magnificent, Hmong rice terraces reputed to be the country’s most spectacular.

Overnight: Tan Uyen Transport: Minibus, Walk,  Meals: B, L, D, 

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Day 10 - Sapa

Our next leg takes us over the high mountain ranges along the Chinese border to our destination of Sapa. This picturesque old French hill-station overlooking a spectacular valley lies in the shadow of the mist-shrouded Fansipan Mountain – at over 9,500 feet, the highest summit in mainland Southeast Asia.

Overnight: Sapa Transport: Minibus, Walk,  Meals: B, D, 

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Day 11 - Sapa - hike through the hills

Leisurely day hike through the area’s incredible scenery – known to the French as the Tonkinese Alps – terraced rice paddies, bamboo forest, towering peaks, crystal clear streams and visits to traditional villages of the local Dzao and Hmong people.

Overnight: Sapa Transport: Walk,  Meals: B, L, 

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Day 12 - Lao Cai - morning at leisure and night train to Hanoi

Morning at leisure to explore the town, roam the bustling hill-tribe market or simply sit back on the hotel balcony and admire the awe-inspiring views. Late afternoon transfer to nearby Lao Cai town for the night sleeper train to Hanoi.

Please note, single accommodation is not available on the sleeper train and therefore accommodation will be on a shared basis.

Overnight: Night Sleeper Train Transport: Minibus, Train,  Meals: B, D, 

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Day 13 - Hanoi - afternoon city tour

Arrival in Hanoi with a tour of the city: including Ho Chi Minh’s mausoleum, the 11th-century University, Hoan Kiem Lake and a walking tour of the narrow streets of Hanoi’s bustling old commercial quarter. In the evening perhaps catch a performance of the highly original water-puppets and a guided tour of some of the city’s varied street food.

Overnight: Hanoi Transport: Minibus, Walk,  Meals: B, L, D, 

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Day 14 - Hanoi

Morning at leisure and departure at your convenience. Airport transfers are included if you purchase the ‘with flights’ package. If you purchased your own flights, airport transfers can be arranged on request.

For those with a couple more days to spare an extension to Halong Bay, staying overnight on a traditional style junk is available.

Extra nights in Luang Prabang and Hanoi, before or after your tour are available on request.

Overnight: Departure Transport: Walk,  Meals: B, 

Print Itinerary

Details

The nitty-gritty, the things you need to know, the answers to your burning questions.

Vietnam, Sapa in the mist

Just a few of the many highlights

Rugged mountain scenery, remote valleys inhabited by myriad hill-tribe people, spectacular rice terraces and traditional villages on this fantastic trip through the mountains of Indochina

  • Explore the ancient temples, colonial architecture, narrow lanes and bustling markets of UNESCO World Heritage Luang Prabang
  • Visit the picturesque and enigmatic 'Plain of Jars' archeological site in northeastern Laos
  • Explore Hanoi; its historic old town, Hoan Kiem Lake, museums, markets, cafes and fascinating street-life
  • Sample local coffee on cafe terraces and take in the incredible mountain vistas or meet the local hill-tribe peoples in Sapa Town
  • Journey through some of Southeast Asia's most dramatic mountain scenery in northern Vietnam's Tonkinese Alps
  • Discover the delicious and contrasting cuisines of Laos and Vietnam in restaurants, local cafes, street markets

Air Departures (UK)

  • 1 November 19 2,400 GBP
  • 24 November 19 2,400 GBP
  • 25 December 19 2,600 GBP
  • 19 January 20 2,400 GBP
  • 15 February 20 2,400 GBP
  • 14 March 20 2,400 GBP
  • 11 April 20 2,400 GBP
  • 9 May 20 2,400 GBP
  • 3 June 20 2,400 GBP
  • 28 June 20 2,400 GBP
  • 25 July 20 2,500 GBP
  • 22 August 20 2,500 GBP
  • 22 September 20 2,400 GBP
  • 22 October 20 2,400 GBP
  • 23 November 20 2,400 GBP
  • 24 December 20 2,600 GBP

Land Departures

  • 2 November 19 1,400 GBP
  • 25 November 19 1,400 GBP
  • 26 December 19 1,400 GBP
  • 20 January 20 1,400 GBP
  • 16 February 20 1,400 GBP
  • 15 March 20 1,400 GBP
  • 12 April 20 1,400 GBP
  • 10 May 20 1,400 GBP
  • 4 June 20 1,400 GBP
  • 29 June 20 1,400 GBP
  • 26 July 20 1,400 GBP
  • 23 August 20 1,400 GBP
  • 23 September 20 1,400 GBP
  • 23 October 20 1,400 GBP
  • 24 November 20 1,400 GBP
  • 25 December 20 1,400 GBP

Guaranteed Places Left Special Price Solo Traveller Closed

*Air departures are from the UK. Land departures start from Luang Prabang

*Land departure dates correspond to the FIRST day of the itinerary.

We choose our hotels based on a combination of location, comfort and convenience. Here is a *selection of the types of hotel/rooms you can expect to stay at on this tour...

Villa Chitdara, Luang Prabang view

  • 'French colonial' chic at Luang Prabang's Villa Chitdara
  • Friendly staff, a relaxed atmosphere and central location
  • Great spot for exploring the old World Heritage town

Sunny Mountain Hotel, Sapa view

  • Our choice in the old French hill-station of Sapa
  • Hmong chic at our favourite Sapa hotel, the Sunny Mountain.
  • Friendly staff, comfy rooms, great views make a fine spot

MK Premier Boutique Hotel, Hanoi view

  • Located right in the heart of Hanoi's picturesque old town
  • Great staff, coffee shop, rooftop bar and cracking breakfast
  • Handy for exploring or just relax in their street-side cafe

*This list should be considered a guide only, hotels/rooms may change (without notice) depending on availability.

Visa Info & Notes

Visas: 
Laos: 30-day tourist visas are issued at the visa on arrival counters at international airports as well as any land entry point. These are available for most nationalities with the exception of certain African and Middle Eastern countries. (You can check the list at this link.) For some reason, Swiss, Luxembourgeois and Russian passport holders are exempt from visas while any nationalities not included in the visa on arrival list will need to apply at a Lao embassy or consulate beforehand.

Requirements are at least 6 months passport validity, a minimum of 1 blank page and 2 passport-sized photos. Application forms are available at immigration counters though if arriving by flight they are usually handed out by cabin crew while for land crossings our guides are on hand with forms and assistance.

The fees are only payable in $US except for Thai/Lao land crossings where baht are accepted and this is where things do get slightly complicated as pricing does vary from country to country. Most European passport holders plus South African, Australian and NZ are charged $30 with the exception of Swedish who pay $1 more and British who pay an extra $5.  US citizens are also charged $35 while, for reasons we can’t fathom, Canadians pay $41. (Note a $1 overtime fee is charged for public holidays and outside of standard Lao office hours.)

A Lao tourist visa is a 1-page stick on type and you’ll receive additional, regular sized,  entry and exit stamps.

Vietnam: Visas are no longer required for citizens of some countries including France, Spain, Italy, Germany and the UK for single-entry visits of up to 15 days. For longer visits, and for visitors from some countries, a visa MUST be obtained in advance from your embassy. Your entry point is Na Meo, Thanh Hoa Province. You are arriving by road on day 7. Your point of exit will be Hanoi Airport. The address during your visit is c/o Golden Tortoise Travel, Hoang Hoa Tham St, Allee 465, no 13, Hanoi.

VISA INFORMATION FOR UK & US CITIZENS ONLY – ALL other nationalities will need to consult the relevant embassies in their countries. Any visa/immigration costs are not included in the price of the tours – you will need to pay for these in addition, as indicated.

Tipping: we recommend a kitty system for the smaller, daily tips such as hotel/restaurant staff and local guides and drivers. Amounts inevitably vary with group size but would generally be in the region of $3-4 per person, per day. With regards guides accompanying you for longer periods we’d recommend a separate tip of approximately $5 per person, per day though of course, this is always discretionary and performance related. (Local currency or USD are fine.) 

Meals: Breakfasts are generally hotel buffets with lunch and dinners based on local food. Your tour-leader will usually order a selection of dishes, local-style, while a number of meals are not included, which allows you to ‘do your own thing’ or take a break if you’re feeling ‘riced out’.

Although you may assume Lao cuisine is little-known outside of Laos the fact that it’s hugely popular in neighbouring Thailand is a good reference and indeed many well-known Thai dishes such as the famous green papaya salad (som tam) and spicy minced pork salad (laap) are of Lao origin. Certain dishes then can be pretty firey – though your tour-leader can, of course, ask for them to be toned down – while the more Chinese and Vietnamese influenced dishes, which will be more familiar to foreign travellers, being generally mild.

Both vegan and vegetarian diets are easily catered to.

Accommodation: while all choices generally fall into the comfortable 3* range – en-suite and air-conditioned – certain of these destinations are seriously off the beaten track so pleae don’t expect anything too fancy! We have posted a selection of sample accommodation on the lefthand hotel tab but please note that as we try and avoid the larger hotels, availability, in high season particularly, means we use several options in each destination. Please note that since many establishments are on the small size, swimming pools are not a common feature.

Activities: note that no activities are compulsory and that any offered, including trekking, can be tailored for any fitness level or alternatives suggested.

Further info: more details and photos of our ‘Mountains and Hill-tribes‘ tour or check our Lao reading and viewing list here.

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