Tour type: Private
Group size: Min: 2 | Max: Any
Accommodation: 3 to 4-star hotels, sleeper train, bamboo huts & junk boat
Transport: A/C minibus, sleeper train & junk boat
Highlights: Soaking up the hustle and bustle of Hanoi's Old Quarter, trekking in Sapa and meeting ethnic minority people, marvel at the natural beauty of limestone peaks in Ninh Binh, spending a night on a junk in romantic Halong Bay
This tour of Vietnam covers much of what is a diverse and interesting about the north of the country. Starting in Hanaoi, the capital, we have included Sapa for its trekking and minority villages, Ninh Binh region for its limestone peaks which rival those of Halong Bay and of course time exploring spectacular Halong Bay itself.
Your itinerary begins with a city tour of Hanoi before taking the overnight train to Lao Cai and the trekking area of Sapa. We will spend two days exploring the valleys and peaks of this beautiful region while getting to know the local people and their customs. We then return to Lao Cai for the overnight train back to Hanoi for an early breakfast at the hotel before having the rest of the day free to explore this city. After a night back in Hanoi we travel to Hoa Lu, famous for being the country's capital from 968 and 1009 AD. This area is one of stunning natural beauty which you will see best during your boat ride along the Boi River. Next we travel to stunning Halong Bay and spend 2 days cruising on a traditional junk around the limestone outcrops as well as sea kayaking and swimming - this is bound to be one of your tour highlights. Your tour ends back in Hanoi.
This is a sample private tour itinerary and we can customise the daily itinerary, duration and accommodation levels and styles as much or as little as you wish.
We meet and greet you at the airport and provide a private transfer to your hotel where you can settle in and explore your new surroundings. In the evening your guide will take you on a tour of Hanoi's street food. We start our adventure into the world of street food with a taste of the local brew called "bai hoi". This very fizzy draft beer originated from eastern Europe. We continue though the streets and stalls, sampling the many wonderful culinary delights on offer, including Vietnamese flame grilled barbecue of meats, tofu and vegetables on skewers and much more. We end the evening with a wander around the lake and take dessert at Hanoi’s most famous ice cream parlour.
Hanoi - 3-star hotel
Extra day in Hanoi - pre-tour
Single room supplement (VETMNV)
This city tour takes in Hanoi's essential sites. In the morning you'll visit Ho Chi Minh Complex including the Mausoleum, his former stilt-house residence, the Presidential Palace and the Ho Chi Minh Museum. You then have time to expore the Imperial Citadel of Thang Long - centre of regional political power for almost 13 centuries. This has recently been recognized as the World Cultural Heritage Site.
After lunch you visit The Temple of Literature, Vietnam's first university dating back to 1070, and Long Bien bridge, constructed from 1899 - 1902 whilst Vietnam was under French occupancy. Later you'll take a fun one-hour cyclo tour through the narrow, chaotic streets of the Old Quarter - a must for any visitor to Hanoi!, before finishing the day with a Vietnamese coffee in a local cafe overlooking Hoan Kiem Lake.
Note: The Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum is closed all day on Monday and Fridays, as well as from 1st October to 30th November (approx.) for annual conservation.
Later in th evening you board an overnight train from Hanoi to the border town of Lao Cai. Catch some sleep along the way in soft sleeper berths on the express train (4 berth shared cabins). The train departs around 21:00pm and arrives into Lao Cai the following day at around 06:00am.
On board sleeper train
Our trekking adventure starts with the drive from Lao Cai Station to the mountain town of Sapa. This drive takes about an hour, but it's worthwhile as the scenery on our northward journey into the highlands is both dramatic and breathtaking. We arrive in Sapa around 8.00 am and start the day proper with a good breakfast.
Sapa is a former French hill station set in a high valley near the Vietnam-China border and is surrounded by picturesque mountains. At 1600m, its cool climate inspired the French to build villas here as their summer retreat from Hanoi. Today, Sapa attracts visitors from around the world due to its stunning scenery, crisp climate, colourful markets and ethnic hill tribes living in nearby villages.
After breakfast we take a bus to the trekking route. The trek starts by walking through the wonderfully scenic "Ban Ho" valley. En route you'll have a chance to explore the wooden houses, which traditionally belong to the Tay ethnic minority. We continue trekking to Thanh Phu village where we stop for lunch in a local house.
After lunch you continue on to Sin Chai village of the Red Dao minority where you'll spend the night in bamboo huts. The wonderful hospitably of the Red Dao will make you feel so at home.
Approx: 1 hour driving/ 5 hours trekking/ 1 hour lunch.
Sin Chai village bamboo huts
Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner
You start the trek today downhill toward the My Son village, which belongs to the Xafo ethnic minority, one of the smallest group's ethnic in Northern Vietnam. After an hour and a half walking you'll reach the Red Dao village of Nam Toong, where we will take lunch. After lunch you'll continue descending back to Ban Ho village, where you'll be able to enjoy a swim at the nearby refreshing waterfall of La Vie.
In the afternoon, transfer to Lao Cai for the overnight train journey to Hanoi.
Catch some sleep along the way in soft sleeper berths on the express train (4 berth shared cabins). The train departs around 20:00pm and arrives into Hanoi the following day at around 05:00am.
On board sleeper train
Hoa Lu, 100 km south of Hanoi, was the Vietnamese capital city under the Dinh and Le Dynasties between 968 and 1009 AD. Some of the structures and tombs have survived the years and can still be seen today. The area is also one of an outstanding natural beauty with limestone peaks whose splendour is said to surpass even that of Halong Bay. This morning, your tour guide will be meeting you at the train station then depart for Ninh Binh province, which will take two hours driving. Upon arrival you'll spend time visiting the Dinh and Le sanctuaries before we head to Tam Coc for lunch at a local restaurant. Next we take a traditional boat ride along the Boi River which is lined by the rice paddies and protected by the limestone cliffs, and en route you'll pass through caves and ancient temples. Following the boat trip head to our hotel in Ninh Binh.
Ninh Binh - 4-star hotel
Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner
After early breakfast, you'll be transferred to Halong Bay. You'll enjoy an overnight boat cruise on Halong bay, which is listed as a World Heritage Area of outstanding natural beauty. The trip of Halong Bay is unforgettable. Visit ancient limestone caves and enjoy sea kayaking and swimming, weather permitting. Back on board the junk boat you can relax on deck with a drink to watch the sunset. In the evening you'll enjoy a freshly prepared seafood dinner under the stars.
Halong Bay junk boat
Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner
This morning we board a smaller boat to explore Lan Ha, a remote corner of the bay. Here we visit the Leaning Tower, a popular rock climbing cliff, then off at some small floating fishing villages to see the farm pens that hold a variety of fish, shrimps and crabs that the locals farm in the bay. Later in the morning there is more time for swimming or to explore the area in a kayak. After lunch the boat cruises to Three Peaches beach, a beautiful white sandy beach, where there is plenty of time top up your tan, weather permitting!
Halong Bay junk boat
Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner
Enjoy an early morning swim followed by breakfast. The tour then visits the "Cave of Surprises" before cruising back to the main harbour for the return drive to Hanoi.
In the evening you are transferred to the airport for you flight home.
Note: Day use room in Hanoi is not included.
Seasonal prices for this tour are given below. We can also customise the itinerary to fit your personal requirements. Please contact us for details and prices
The hotels and accommodations listed below are the ones we most often on this tour. From time to time we may exchange these for similar properties at the same level. In general, specific hotels cannot be guaranteed on our group tours, but you may select your preferred options if you are booking a tailor-made trip.
Our tours are designed to include all that you need to enjoy a really special time in the destination youre visiting. However, we do also offer some extra options to complement the tour and add some additional sightseeing or activities, or some extra time at either end of the tour.
All accommodation based options (e.g. Single supplements, extra nights, cruise upgrades) should be booked and paid for in advance so that we can make the appropriate arrangements. Other options may either be booked and paid for in advance or while you are on the tour, though we recommend booking in advance to ensure there are no issues with availability.
Many options are priced the same throughout the year, but some may incur single or high season supplements - full details are given on the tour reservation form or on request.
The detailed Tour Notes below have been written to give you some more detailed information about how the tour runs, what to expect, and how to prepare for your holiday. We recommend downloading an up to date copy of these shortly before you travel in case of any changes.
Our trips feature a mix of different transport options. We want you to feel like you're really experiencing the country you're travelling through, but at the same time we want you to finish journeys refreshed enough to enjoy the next stage of the tour. With this in mind we use public transport where we think it offers a good local experience, this may include overnight sleeper trains, local buses and local ferries. We also use private transportation including jeeps, rickshaws or pickup trucks, and mini buses for sightseeing tours where required.
The sleeper trains in Vietnam are of a good standard and are popular with tourists. Each carriage has its own steward who ensures the train is kept clean and tidy. You will stay in a 4-berth cabin with 3 other passengers. Supplements can be paid to book a private cabin. Bedding is provided onboard the train. The berths are on two tiers and we cannot pre-book lower tier berths. A ladder is provided but you therefore need a reasonable degree of mobility to climb up to the top tier berths.
When travelling in a group, we cannot guarantee that everyone in the group will be seated together in the same cabins. However, the train stewards are generally very helpful at arranging seat swaps, and the local travellers on the train are friendly and interesting to talk to during your journey too.
Our South East Asia tours all include a 24-hour arrival and departure airport-hotel transfer service, and all other transfers throughout the tour. If you are already in the country then we will provide you with your first hotel details, contact numbers for our local representatives, and details of your first meeting time.
We want to give you as much flexibility as possible when it comes to booking your holiday with us. So, to take account of people with varying travel plans, we don’t include your international flights in the main tour price. We are however very happy to suggest flights to go with the tour. Please contact us with your preferred dates and departure airport and we’ll give you a selection of airlines, times and fares to choose from.
Your airport arrival & departure transfers are included on the first and last days of the tour.
Our Vietnam tours start and finish in either Hanoi airport (HAN) or Ho Chi Minh airport (SGN).
If you are booking a tour that combines Vietnam and Cambodia we may not include the connecting flight between the two countries in the tour price (see the inclusions/exclusions or extension option sections for details). This flight can often be built into your main international flight ticket, or we may be able to book this flight for you separately if you prefer - please contact us and we will advise you on available airlines, times and prices.
We do also sometimes advertise flight inclusive packages from selected airports. Where these are shown on our website, prices are correct at the time of quoting, but are subject to continued availability of the fare used. Prices will be reconfirmed at the time of booking, and we will also provide the flight times and airline details before tickets are issued.
Flight inclusive prices are based on the cheapest Economy ticket class available which is generally non-refundable and non-changeable unless the flight is cancelled for reasons such as Covid-19, in which case the airlines are more flexible. More flexible ticket options, as well as Premium Economy and Business Class tickets are available on request for an additional supplement. Any changes made to flight inclusive bookings will be subject to the airline rules on your ticket.
The tour price includes entrance fees to all the tourist sites mentioned in the itinerary. You will need to cover the cost of entrance to any other extra sites that you may wish to visit.
Tipping is not part of culture in South East Asia in the same way that it is standard practice in other parts of the world. However it has become more customary but not compulsory in the tourist and service industry. Tipping is always optional, and any amounts paid should reflect excellent service. You may therefore wish to tip your guide and driver at the end of the tour. You should not feel obliged to tip any particular amount, and should consider your personal budget. We are often asked to provide a guide however, and can suggest that approx. USD 5-10 per person per day would be appropriate for your guide(s).
You should ensure you are fully insured for medical emergencies including emergency evacuation and repatriation.
Recommended vaccinations and other health protection measures vary according to the country you are visiting and where you are travelling from. We recommend you contact your GP/medical practitioner or a travel clinic for current information on vaccinations needed for your destination. You should ensure that you are up to date with vaccines and boosters recommended for your normal life at home, including for example, vaccines required for occupational risk of exposure, lifestyle risks and underlying medical conditions. In addition, additional courses or boosters normally recommended for the countries in this region are:
Thailand: Additional vaccinations: Hepatitis A, Tetanus. Malaria map. Yellow Fever certificate: Required if arriving from or having transitted through an infected area.
Vietnam: Additional vaccinations: Hepatitis A, Tetanus, Typhoid. Malaria map. Yellow Fever certificate: Required if arriving from an infected area.
Cambodia: Additional vaccinations: Hepatitis A, Tetanus, Typhoid. Malaria map. Yellow Fever certificate: Required if arriving from or having transitted through an infected area.
Laos: Additional vaccinations: Diptheria, Poliomyelitis, Hepatitis A, Tetanus, Typhoid. Malaria map. Yellow Fever certificate: Required if arriving from an infected area.
The above information can change at short notice. For up to date health information & vaccination requirements we recommend that you contact your medical practitioner or a travel clinic.
Malaria: Vaccinations are not available against Malaria, which is a disease transmitted by mosquitoes that can be very serious and sometimes fatal. You should avoid mosquito bites by covering up bare skin with clothing such as long sleeves and long trousers and applying insect repellents to exposed skin. When necessary, sleep under a mosquito net. Mosquitoes are most active during and after sunset. You should consult with your GP/medical practitioner/travel clinic about the most appropriate malaria prophylactic medication to take for the regions you are visiting.
Yellow Fever: This disease is spread by infected mosquitoes that bite during the day. A Yellow Fever Certificate of vacinnation may be required as a condition of entry depending on which country you are arriving from, or that you have travelled or transitted through recently (including connecting flights with stopovers of over 12 hours). You can view this US CDC information about where the virus is present and follow the links to further information detailing which countries need you to have a Yellow Fever vaccination as part of their entry requirements. Please ensure you have this certificate with you and to hand if necessary.
Please inform us of any pre-existing conditions such as diabetes or asthma and any prescription medicine you may be taking. We also need to know about any food allergies or physical disabilities that you may have.
Passports should be valid for at least six months after your departure from the country. Please do not bring an almost full or almost expired passport. Visa arrangements are the responsibility of the traveller, and requirements are subject to change by the local authorities.
British citizens (plus Japan, South Korea, Denmark, Russian, Sweden, Norway, Finland, , France, Germany, Italy, Spain) are currently subject to a visa exemption scheme, so no visa is required for stays in Vietnam of up to 15 days. Other nationalities and those staying longer in Vietnam will need to obtain a visa in advance. As this isn't always convenient we offer the option of obtaining a visa on arrival approval letter which means that you can then purchase you visa on arrival in Vietnam. However if you try to board the flight without this letter or a visa you'll be refused board. Visa approval letter fees are normally USD 10 p/p for single entry, or USD 15 p/p for multiple entry visas. The visa stamp fee on arrival at the immigration desk is then USD 25 p/p for single entry, or USD 50 p/p for multiple entry. These fees are given as a guide and may vary over time and subject to nationality. Please contact us if you have any queries.
The Vietnamese currency is the 'Dong' (VND). Most people prefer to be paid in Dong rather than US dollars. It can sometimes be difficult to change large notes at smaller villages so try to keep a stash of smaller notes with you.
You can also change all major currencies with any private moneychangers, at the local markets, shops or hotels, or at a bank. Banks usually open from 8.00am to 3.00pm, except Saturday afternoons and Sundays. Although all major currencies are usually accepted, the US$ is by far the most widely accepted and preferred currency, with large notes ($50 and $100 bills) getting a better exchange rate. Travellers' cheques in major currencies are accepted at all banks, though a commission will be charged.
At banks throughout Vietnam you can draw cash, in both dong and dollars on all major credit cards. Approx. 3% commission will be charged for this service. Many souvenir shops, restaurants and hotels will accept payment with credit cards. There is, however, a 3-4% surcharge.
There are ATMs in Major cities like Ho Chi Minh, Hanoi and Hué, which accept major credit cards. We recommend that you consider bringing both credit cards, some cash in a hard currency (e.g. GB Pounds, Euros, US Dollars), and some travellers' cheques.
Luggage limits: There is no luggage limit for this tour. However, most airlines restrict you to between 20kg and 25kg for your hold luggage and between 5kg and 10kg for hand luggage. Please check with your airline before travelling to the airport.
Climate and Clothing: There are three reasonably well-defined seasons in Vietnam, but unlike in Europe, where seasons are temperature based, Vietnam is tropical and generally speaking warm all year round. Take light clothes with something warmer for the winter nights. Some light raingear would be useful in the wet season.
Other items: We recommend you also bring:
If you would like to book a place on this tour, please complete the online reservation form on our website (via the Dates & Prices tab on the tour page). You may make a deposit or full payment online, or just hold a reservation if you prefer (full payments are due 8 weeks before departure). We will then contact you with more details about how to complete your booking. Payments may be made by debit or credit card (subject to a card processing fee), or by making a bank transfer, or posting us a cheque/bank draft. Full details will be provided in your booking confirmation email. Please contact us if you would like any more information or have any questions before making a booking.
Travel insurance is compulsory on all of our tours and needs to cover personal accident & liability, medical expenses and repatriation, travel delay & abandonment. We also strongly recommend that you take out cover against cancellation and lost/stolen baggage. Personal medical insurance does not normally provide sufficient cover and is generally not suitable for travel on our tours. You will not be able to join your tour if you have not provided us with details of your insurance or if you arrive without cover in place (no refunds will be due in this event). More information...
You may arrange your own insurance, or you can take advantage of a comprehensive policy that we can arrange for you through Endsleigh Insurance which has been designed to be suitable for our tours. The policy is available to travellers of all nationalities and you do not need to live in the UK to take out the policy. For full details of cover provided, prices and to apply for one of our policies, please complete travel insurance application form.
Note: Any country that borders the Mediterranean is considered as 'Europe' for the purposes of travel insurance (including Turkey, Israel, Egypt and Morocco). If you are doing a tour that visits one country in 'Europe' and one that is 'Worldwide' (for example, an Egypt and Jordan tour), then you need a 'Worldwide' policy. When completing the form you should enter your travel dates including any extra days involved in overnight flights or connecting travel between your home and the tour. Our policies are not able to cover any extra time or activities other than your tour and options booked with us and your travel to & from home.
Note - to comply with insurance sales regulations, our travel insurance policies are only available to customers booking directly with us. If you have booked through a travel agent you will need to arrange your own insurance.
If your tour includes car hire, ior if you plan to arrange a hot air balloon flight locally or do some scuba diving during your tour, you should check the small print in your policy to make sure these are covered (these are covered in our policy). Please also check the maximum altitude that you will be reaching and that full cover including emergency evacuation is provided up to this altitude.
If you are taking expensive camera gear or other electronic equipment with you then please check the coverage and the fine print of your policy to ensure that you have sufficient cover.
IMPORTANT: We must have your travel insurance details (policy number and type of insurance) before you depart or you may not be allowed to join the tour. If you haven't told us already, please let us know the details when you can. You should take a paper copy of your insurance policy with you as you may be asked to show this at the start of the tour.
Before purchasing any travel insurance, please check the coverage provided for situations related to Covid-19, and for the rules about government travel advice. Your normal policy may not be suitable. Details about our own policies cover levels are given on our website.
We are a UK registered company and are committed to providing our customers with financial protection to provide peace of mind and to allow you to book with confidence.
We have therefore partnered with Trust My Travel Ltd., which provides financial protection services to over 2000 partners around the world. Funds paid to us by our customers are protected via an Insurance policy held by Trust My Travel. Each traveller and the description of services sold is declared against Trust My Travel’s insurance policy directly against our financial failure. In the event of our insolvency, you will be refunded for any unfulfilled products and/or repatriation to the UK (where applicable). Please see our website or booking conditions for more information.
It is impossible not to have an impact on the local environment, cultures and eco-systems when you travel. However, it is very possible to try and ensure that these impacts are as limited, or positive as possible. We are committed to ensuring that we try to leave our host countries in a better state than we found them and encourage and assist our travellers to help us with this.
The following are a few simple tips that require very little effort on your part but which will help ensure that any effect you have on the locations you visit is positive rather than negative.
All porters are employed and equipped following guidelines set by the International Porter Protection Group (IPPG).
You can stay in touch with us online by following us on Facebook and Twitter. We post updates on relevant travel news in our destination countries, special offers and discounts and other interesting travel related news and information.
www.twitter.com/encounterstravl (yes, without the 'e')
It is important when considering and preparing to travel anywhere in the world that you have a good understanding of the country you are visiting, its laws and customs, and the possible risks and situations that may occur. This includes specific risks related to your itinerary (eg. does it involve water & can you swim, are you fit enough for the activities included), as well as more general risks such as terrorism and natural disasters.
General details and links to more information about health risks, visa requirements, money, and travel insurance are given in these tour notes. We recommend that you re-read all these before your departure as well as the small print of your travel insurance policy so you know exactly what is covered and what is not.
You should take copies of your important travel documents with you and ideally also store them online securely as a backup. Make sure that you have given us your emergency contact details and told that person where and when you are travelling. Ensure you take enough money with you and that you have access to emergency funds.
Finally, you should read through and stay updated with the current official government travel advice for your destination. We are registered partners with the UK Foreign Office's 'Travel Aware' campaign which provides further useful and invaluable information.