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The Red River Valley

Bordered by rugged mountains, World Heritage rice terraces and myriad hill-tribe settllements the Red River Valley cuts a deep and spectacular swathe across northern Vietnam and southern China

North Vietnam and South China tour

A fascinating North Vietnam and South China tour by road and by rail from the bustling and historic Vietnamese capital of Hanoi, up the Red River Valley to the picturesque old French hill-station of Sapa.

We’ll detour via the spectacular hill-tribe market at Bac Ha, frequented by the local Flower Hmong minority and take a leisurely day hike through a lush valley near Sapa to discover the region’s wonderful mountain landscapes and still very traditional villages of the local Red Dzao and Black Hmong groups.

From Sapa, after crossing the Chinese border on foot at Lao Cai, we’ll continue up the Chinese section of the valley, to the small mountain-top town of Yuanyang, our access point for the incredible, now World Heritage, 1,000-year-old Hani rice terraces. After sunrise and sunset visits we’ll continue north to the ancient walled city of Jianshui and on, by way of scenic Lake Fuxian, to Yunnan Province’s capital city Kunming. Our Kunming stay also includes a tour of another UNESCO-listed site, the surreal limestone landscapes of the nearby Shilin Stone Forest.

Famous sites and rarely visited ones combined with truly spectacular scenery, historic towns, sumptuous and varied food and myriad traditional hill-tribes make this an unforgettable journey.

This itinerary is designed as a stand-alone, 9-day tour, which can ideally be combined with a 2-day extension from Hanoi, prior to your tour, on a boat cruise through the dramatic scenery of Halong Bay. For those with a few more days to spare a slightly longer version of this North Vietnam and South China tour – ‘South of the Clouds‘ – also continues from Kunming to travel overland through Yunnan to historic Dali, UNESCO listed Lijiang old town and the awe-inspiring Tiger Leaping Gorge before finishing with a return flight from Zhongdian Town (now officially renamed Shangri La!) in eastern Tibet to Kunming.



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

Day 1 - Hanoi - arrival and explore the area

Arrival in Hanoi and check-in to a downtown hotel. Afternoon free to relax or explore the city before perhaps an optional evening performance of the highly original water-puppets followed by a local-style, welcome dinner.

Overnight: Hanoi Transport: Walk,  Meals: D,

Day 2 - Hanoi - tour of some of the City's sights

Day tour of some of the city’s sites, including Ho Chi Minh’s mausoleum, the 11th-century Temple of Literature, the fascinating Ethnological Museum and a walking tour of the narrow streets of Hanoi’s bustling old commercial quarter. Evening departure by sleeper train for Lao Cai in the far north.

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

Overnight: Sleeper train Transport: Minibus, Walk,  Meals: B, L, D,

Day 3 - Bac Ha - the hill-tribe market and on to Sapa

Morning arrival and drive to nearby Bac Ha to visit the highly colourful Flower Hmong market. After lunch we’ll continue to Sapa; a picturesque old French hill-station overlooking a spectacular valley, lying in the shadow of the mist-shrouded Fansipan Mountain, at over 9,500 ft the highest summit in mainland Southeast Asia.

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

Day 4 - Sapa - hike through the hills

Morning hike through the area’s incredible scenery, known to the French as the Tonkinese Alps, including Hmong and Dzao minority villages, picturesque rice terraces, bamboo forest and towering peaks. Return to Sapa with some time at leisure to explore the town or admire the views from a well-placed coffee shop terrace?

Our hike can be tailored to any fitness level

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

Day 5 - Yuanyang - cross the border and Hani rice terraces

Crossing the Chinese border into Yunnan Province at the town of Hekou, we’ll follow the scenic Red River northwest into the Ailao Ranges and the small mountaintop town of Yuanyang. Afternoon visit to the region’s  UNESCO World Heritage, rice terraces – carved out of the mountainsides over millennia by the local Hani and Yi minorities – a truly spectacular site.

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

Day 6 - Jianshui - dawn over the terraces and on to Jianshui

Early drive to catch some sunrise vistas of the fabulous terraces before a visit to Yuanyang’s lively market, a trading centre for the myriad local minority peoples. Afternoon drive to historic Jianshui and a visit to the Confucian Temple – 2nd largest in China – and the amazing Zhu Family Mansion with its 42 courtyards and 250 rooms. Overnight in a small, family-run hotel in the heart of the old town.

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

Day 7 - Tuanshan - a Ming dynasty village and Lake Fuxian

Morning visit to the fascinating village of Tuanshan, one of the very few remaining fortified villages in Southwest China. This village, originally founded during the Ming Dynasty, receives very few visitors despite being recently added to the UNESCO Protected List. Leaving Jianshui district we’ll continue north, via the picturesque Fuxian Lake, to the Province’s capital, Kunming.

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

Day 8 - Kunming - the Stone Forest and afternoon at leisure

Morning trip to the spectacular karst formations known as the Stone Forest – another site added to Yunnan’s UNESCO’s World Heritage list in 2006, with an afternoon at leisure to explore Kunming. Check-out the street markets or mingle with the locals in the excellent Green Lake Park.

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

Day 9 - Kunming - morning at leisure and departure

Morning at leisure in Kunming and lunchtime end of tour.

Extra nights in Kunming after your tour are available on request

Overnight: Departure Transport: Walk,  Meals: B, 

Print Itinerary


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

Vietnam visa regulations, Bac Ha, Flower Hmong

Just a few of the many highlights

Truly spectacular and varied scenery of rugged mountains, deep valleys and cascading rice terraces; mountain-top towns, historic villages and last but not least some truly spectacular and varied local cuisine

  • Discover the old city, the colonial architecture, lakeside cafes, pagodas and museums of Vietnam's charming capital Hanoi
  • Visit the incredible yet little known rice terraces of Yuanyang - certainly amongst the most spectacular of Asia
  • The amazing Stone Forest; hike through the weird limestone formations of another of China's World Heritage sites
  • Explore the old mountain-top, hill station of Sapa with its spectacular scenery and myriad traditional hill-tribes
  • Jianshui; a well kept secret. Visit another rarely visited yet amazing historic town of Yunnan
  • Sample the superb and highly varied local food of northern Vietnam and southern China

Air Departures (UK) *From

Land Departures

Guaranteed Places Left Special Price Solo Traveller Closed

*Air departures are from the UK. Land departures start from Hanoi

*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...

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

Vietnamese sleeper train view

  • We use 4-person, air-con sleeping berths
  • Berths equipped with reading lights & elecric sockets
  • Upgardes to private cabins available if desired

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

Lin An Hotel Jianshui view

  • Our clear favourite for exploring picturesque Jianshui
  • Beautifully decorated, with large well-appointed rooms
  • Central location in Jianshui old town

Jinhua International Hotel Kunming view

  • Freshly renovated rooms at the Jinhua International Hotel
  • Spectacular views over the City's skyline
  • Well-appointed, comfortable rooms

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

Visa Info & Notes

China; A visa must be obtained before arrival in China. Your entry point in Hekou on day 6 of the itinerary. You will be arriving by road from Vietnam. Your address in China is c/o China Kunming Overseas Tours Co Ltd, Kunming. As the visa cannot be applied for by post, we have used who we have found to be very efficient. They are an independent company and we do not accept any responsibility for the service they provide.

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