Vietnam Tour

Vietnam: The Far North, Hanoi to Hanoi

13 days/12 nights

The Northwest is the roof of Vietnam where the Hoang Lien Mountains (Tonkinese alps) soar to over 3000m and some of Vietnam’s most spectacular scenery is to be found. This is the road less traveled; much of the area is sparsely populated and the mountains are still home to many ethnic minorities; the Montagnard women still favor elaborate costumes of brightly colored skirts, tops and hats, each ethnic group favoring its own colour variation and design.
Sapa is an atmospheric former hill station with magnificent views of rice terraces and mountains. We will travel by train, boat and bike as we follow the rugged Northwest route right to the border with China, at Lao Cai; on most days venturing away from the civilized tourist meccas, cycling through traditional villages and staying in small towns with modest lodgings.

Come prepared for the unexpected, for breathtaking scenery - and bring your sense of adventure!

Tour dates:

March 19 - 31, 2014 (1 spot left)
March 27 - April 9, 2014
Optional pre-tour trip to Halong Bay: March 17 - 19

Pace and distance: This tour is rated challenging. Approximately 367 total miles with an average of 41 miles per day of cycling. See an elevation chart here, and remember, an air-conditioned support van is always available to help you over the hills!
Group size: 6 minimum, 20 maximum
Cost: US $2,095 - $2,995; depending on sign-up numbers.

Cycling distances given are entirely optional; cycle as little or as much as you wish each day, the shuttle van will always be available.

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Detailed Itinerary

MEETING DAY / DAY ONE

Meals: D
Lodging: Thien Thai Hotel, 45 Nguyen TroungTo Str; Ba Dinh District, Hanoi
Facilities: Licensed restaurant, bar, lounge, in-room safe, internet, laundry, hotel doctor.
Features: Central location, adjacent to the old town. and a few minutes walk to Hoan Kieu Lake, the Water Puppets Theatre and numerous restaurants.

You will be met at Hanoi airport and taken to your hotel where your guide will give an overview of what to expect in the following days.

Hanoi, the capital of Vietnam (pop. 3.4 million) attained its present name in 1831.

Our hotel is in the Old Quarter, ideally situated for walking tours of this fascinating part of Hanoi. Its narrow streets are occupied by trades people who can be seen working at traditional crafts on the sidewalks or selling anything from snake-wine to vibrant paper lanterns. We are also close to Hoan Kiem Lake (lake of the restored sword) and the Red River (Song Hong).

DAY TWO
Hanoi - Mai Chau: 152 km / 95 mii

CYCLING: up to 88 km / 55 mi (lunch at 52 km / 33 mi)

Meals: B, L, D
Lodging: Mai Chau Lodge
Features: Lovely 3 star hotel on the edge of town with music and dance cultural show.
Facilities: Attractive longhouse-style restaurant and bar, swimming pool, sauna, hairdryer.

We drive out of the city and the Red River Delta, passing traditional farming activity, then through limestone monoliths and into foothills populated by Muong people. Crossing an attractive forested pass, we descend to the hidden valley of Mai Chau where Thai people live in houses-on-stilts, with palm leaf roofs and polished bamboo-slat floors.

After we have settled in at our hotel we will be entertained in the village by traditional music and dancing, finishing up with a taste of rice wine.

DAY THREE
Mai Chau to Son La: 187 km / 117 mi

CYCLING: up to 115 km / 72 mi (lunch at 54 km / 33 mi)

Meals: B, L, D
Lodging: Cong Doan Hotel, Son La
Features: In town centre
Facilities: Two star hotel, best available in town. Private facilities.

We climb steadily in the morning, through forest, populated by H'mong people, with views to the distant mountains, before descending into a mountainous tea-growing region. Soon after we follow a long valley floor filled with rice paddies and dotted with Black Thai villages on the way to Son La.
Allow time to visit the bargain-filled market.

DAY FOUR
Son La – Dien Bien Phu: 155 km / 97 mi

CYCLING: 76 km / 48 mi

Meals: B, L, D
Lodging: Him Lam hotel, Dien Bien Phu
Facilities: Restaurant, huge swimming pool and bar, snooker tables, tennis court, sauna/ massage/steam room, internet.
Features: Set in spacious leafy grounds on the edge of town.

The scenery from Son La and Dien Bien Phu is breathtaking. An early start gives the opportunity to visit one or two colorful markets. We then drive out of town before commencing to bike, with a 35 km warm up before Pha Din pass. After lunch there is another 40 km to Dien Bien Phu, which is famous as the battle site where the French colonial forces were emphatically defeated by the Viet Minh in 1954, signaling the beginning of the end for the French Indochina empire.There will be a brief tour of the historic town.

DAY FIVE
Dien Bien Phu

CYCLING: Rest day - optional bike ride

Meals: B
Lodging: Him Lam hotel, Dien Bien Phu
Facilities: Three stars, restaurant, bar, pool

This morning we will take a city tour, visiting the war museum and one or two battle sites (from the French/Vietnamese war of 1954) before exploring the interesting local produce market. You may like to spend the afternoon relaxing or swimming in the pool.

DAY SIX
Dien Bien Phu to Muong Lay: 102 km / 64 mi

CYCLING: 57 km / 36 mi to lunch (optional 44 km after lunch)

Meals: B, L, D
Lodging: Thanh Binh Hotel, Sin Ho town
Facilities: Private facilities, TV, restaurant
Features: Modern hotel on the outskirts of town – well off the beaten tourist tracks.

This morning we cycle along quiet windy roads that snake trough the beautiful countryside that characterizes this part of the country. Our route is undulating but not too hilly, with stunning panoramas. After lunch keen riders can tackle the climb to Ma Thi Ho pass, passing H'mong settlements en route. You will encounter women in traditional H'mong dress of vibrant embroidered skirts and headdresses with black leggings and aprons. There is a fabulous descent to Muong Lay. A huge new hydro dam has been constructed at Muong Lay and the original town has been submerged. We drive from Muong Lay, climbing very steeply up to the small town of Sin Ho.

DAY SEVEN
Moung Lay to Lai Chau: 63 km / 40 mi

CYCLING: 63 km or less if you prefer

Meals: B, L, D
Lodging: Muong Thanh hotel, Lai Chau
Facilities: three star hotel. Tennis court and swimming pool, wifi access, massage, ATM machine
Features: Traditional communist style but comfortable.

A very short climb brings us on to the remote Ta Phinh Plateau, where we cycle an undulating road, through more superb mountainous countryside. Along the way we pass through several small Dzao ethnic minority villages and are able to see at close quarters how people go about their daily lives. There are several climbs, but some rewarding exhilarating descents and almost no motor traffic.

DAY EIGHT
Lai Chau to Sapa: 70 km / 44 mi

CYCLING: 70 km / 44 mi

Meals: B, L, D
Lodging: Chau Long Hotel
Facilities: Ensuite, restaurant, free internet and WiFi, swimming pool, laundry service, tea/coffee making facilities
Features: Attractive hotel in central location, with good views over Sapa valley.

We continue on our way through scenic hills and valleys with one climb over Giangma Pass before tackling the Hoang Lien Son Pass (also known as Tram Ton Pass), Vietnam’s highest pass at 1900 m. Finish the day with a great descent to Sapa (Population 36,200, elevation 1650m). Sapa is in a magnificent setting in the mountains and an attractive little town. (Keep a warm jacket and gloves handy for the descent, as it can be very cold at the summit of the pass).
There is the option of cycling from Lai Chau until the start of the climb and driving over the pass, or for those who want the challenge of climbing the pass, drive in the morning to the start of the climb. It is mostly c.5% grade and 24 km long.

DAY NINE
Sapa - Rest day

Meals: B (Lunch and dinner not included)
Lodging: Chau Long Hotel
Facilities: Ensuite, restaurant, free internet and WiFi, swimming pool, laundry service, tea/coffee making facilities
Features: Attractive hotel in central location, with good views over Sapa valley

Much of the attraction of Sapa is the H’mong and the Dzao people who sell their crafts at the market. There is a good selection of cafes, bakeries and restaurants in town, catering to all tastes. You may wish to simply wander around town and the market, or to hike a short distance (4 km) to Cat Cat village, where you will have the chance to see local craft shops, the lovely waterfall and a short cultural show before returning via a steep climb back up to Sapa town.

Option: Cycle from Sapa downhill to Ta Van (Dzay minority) village across the river on a narrow winding road with excellent views down the valley. Return 11 kms back uphill (mostly a good gradient) to Sapa.

DAY TEN
Sapa (1,650m) to Bac Ha (700m): 101 km / 63 mi

CYCLING: lunch at 67 km / 42 mi

Meals: B, L, D
Lodging: Sao Mai Hotel, Bac Ha
Facilities: Modern 3 star hotel, centrally located just minutes walk from the market
Features: Attractively decorated rooms, air conditioning, free internet. (No elevators)

We start the day with a fabulous 1,000m (30kms) descent to the Red River valley on the Chinese border. The scenery, including terraced rice paddy fields, is spectacular and the biking wonderful – truly a day to remember. 
We will pass ethnic villages where the local people wear their traditional colourful clothing. On reaching the river valley, we will be escorted through Lao Cai to the Bac Ha road to avoid getting lost. For the first 40 km, until reaching the village of Pac Ngam, we pass through lowland country. After lunch we then climb steeply to Bac Ha, our final destination.

DAY ELEVEN
Bac Ha

CYCLING: Bac Ha day ride: 35 km / 22 mi

Meals: B, L, D
Lodging: Sao Mai hotel, Bac Ha
Facilities: Modern 3 star hotel, centrally located just minutes walk from the market
Features: Attractively decorated rooms, air conditioning, free internet. (No elevators)

From Bac Ha it is a spectacular road, climbing to 1360 m, to Can Cau village where there is a fascinating market attended by the local ethnic tribes people. We visit Lung Phinh village then cycle back to Bac Ha (Down hill). Or you have the option for a short drive up a beautiful side valley to the nearby village of Ban Pho, where we have the opportunity to visit some local houses and see corn wine (potent stuff!) being distilled.

DAY TWELVE
Bac Ha - Lao Cai

CYCLING: 47 km / 29 mi downhill

Meals: B, L, D
Accomodation: Day rooms at modern three star hotel adjacent to the railway station. Overnight first-class, air-conditioned 4 berth sleeper compartnemts on train to Ha Noi.

On Sundays there is a fascinating market attended by all the tribes: Tay, Nung, Dao, Flower H’mong, Giay, PhuLa etc, it’s a great opportunity to see the local life style as thousands of people gather to sell produce and socialize. It is a riot of colour as everything from pigs, ducklings and wooden ploughs to scarves and gaily embroidered bags and jewelry are exchanged. The main tribe you will see today is flower Hmong, the most colourful one in Vietnam.

DAY THIRTEEN
Depart

Meals: B    

The train journey (in comfortable, sleeper class carriages) takes about 10 hours and you will arrive in Hanoi early this morning c. 5.00am. From Hanoi we can arrange a trip to Halong Bay or take you to the International Airport for your flight home.

The fine print

Pricing
The following are estimated tour costs per rider, in US dollars (all prices on a twin share basis):

  • 6-7 cyclists: $2,995
  • 8-9 cyclists: $2,840
  • 10-15 cyclists: $2,460
  • 16-20 cyclists: $2,095

These prices represent a discount of up to 25% for Cascade members over standard Pedaltours rates

Single room supplement: $445 per person

Bike hire: $325 per person (hybrid bicycles)

Note: This quote is approximate only for Oct. 2013 - March 2014 and is subject to change for reasons beyond our control.

Trip Inclusions 

  • Accommodation as specified (mostly three star, one two star hotel)
  • Three quality meals a day except where specified
  • Transport in comfortable air-conditioned minibuses
  • Local cycle mechanic and guide with good command of English
  • Vietnam maps, plus daily maps with profiles, one per cyclist
  • Airport pick-up and drop-off
  • Airport to Hotel transfer in Hanoi on Day 1 of tour
  • T-shirt or lycra road jersey
  • Overnight train from Lao Cai to Hanoi
  • Boat trip on the Blue River
  • Trip Exclusions
  • Alcoholic beverages
  • Airport taxes
  • Laundry
  • Sightseeing other than specified
  • Domestic or international flights
  • Optional Trip Extension
  • We urge you to join us on the 3-day Halong Bay extension.
  • Drive up to beautiful Halong Bay and board a comfortable junk with private facilities for an overnight cruise around the 3,000 islands rising steeply from the sea.

Optional Trip Extension

Enjoy a half-day kayaking the World Heritage Park site of Halong Bay!
3 days/ 2 nights (March 17 - 19, 2012)

Day 1: Arrive Hanoi, transfer to hotel.
Day 2: Drive to Halong Bay, board boat (shared boat if fewer than six rooms are required; private boat if six rooms or more are required; Kayak and B,L,D included)
Day 3: Finish boat trip, drive back to Hanoi. (Brunch included) Join main bike tour this afternoon.

Additional cost for trip extension:

  • 3-4 riders: $435
  • 5-8 riders: $366
  • 9-15 riders: $357

Single supplement: $130
Included: Accommodation and meals as specified and transport in air-conditioned minibuses. **This could also be taken post-tour.

Cancellations

If for any reason it is necessary to cancel a reservation, the following will apply: Cancellations more than 120 days before trip departure, loss of 50% of deposit. Cancellations between 42 and 120 days before trip departure, loss of full deposit. Cancellations within six weeks of departure will result in forfeiture of full payment.

There will be no refunds once a tour has commenced. We strongly recommend you take out travel, accident, medical, baggage and cancellation insurance. We advise against discounted airfares that carry restrictions.

Sign Up

To sign up, please go to our secure Pedaltours Bookings Page and choose "Vietnam Far North - 13 days" from the "select a tour" drop-down menu. Alternatively, please phone us on 1 888 222-9187. We welcome enquiries on the Toll-free number.

Weather notes

March is a very good time to visit Far North Vietnam, as good as November. The weather should be clear and mild.

There are very few insects to worry about. Most bugs can be found in the Mekong Delta, but we do not visit that area on this tour.

"I went in November and it was great weather. Not muggy at all. When we hiked in the mountains, we did wear rain type jackets. When we visited the World Heritage site of Halong Bay some people wore t-shirts…it wasn’t overly hot… Vietnam was a truly wonderful place to visit".
Rosa, Seattle

Flight Plan

Cascade Bicycle Club recommends Elizabeth Holmes Travel for booking airfare. Contact Sarah Ferris Scott at 206-647-8361 or visit www.elizabethholmes.com. If you plan to redeem frequent flier mileage make sure to book your flight early, as seats are limited. It is also a good idea to try and arrive one day early, in case of missed flights and to help to any Jet Lag.

Travel Insurance

Any policy you purchase should, at the very least, cover trip cancellation, loss of baggage, accident/life coverage, travel delays, and non-refundable airline tickets. Carriers for travel insurance include Travel Guard and Travelex. You may also consider insurance that covers emergency medical evacuation. Search the web to find the best deal that suits your needs- read the fine print.

Rider Testimonials on a Pedaltours Experience

"Many thanks for a wonderful tour! Hard to believe I cycled all those miles and still came home heavier! Guides, accommodations and meals were exceptional. Binh was especially good, kept our bikes in top shape. The drivers couldn’t have been more attentive! Each time I stopped, there they were with a cold water bottle. The experience exceeded my expectations!"
Barb Lacy, Colorado

"Nhan and Binh were exceptional guides and hosts. They represent Pedaltours, Ecotours and their nation well. I particularly enjoyed time in the van as they informed us of Vietnamese history, culture and society. I learned a lot. I was amazed at the long days they and the drivers put in and at their ability to maintain a cheerful and helpful manner with all of the demands put on them."
Cyrus McLean, Washington

"I have to say that pound for pound, Pedaltours could be one of the best tour companies in the business. Their routing was superb, the accommodations fantastic and the food mostly high end. They offered riders from modest to high ability the opportunity to ride the same tour with equal amounts of satisfaction for both groups. The 2007 Vietnam tour was the best trip I have taken in over 30 years of travel; everyone owes it to themselves to visit this special place soon! PT are a fabulous match for the Cascade Bicycle Club rider who wants a extremely high level of service (without being smothered) for a low discount members-only price"

Peter Verbrugge
Cascade Bicycle Club Event Producer
Seattle, WA