This cultural experience of a lifetime will give you the opportunity to immerse yourself in the diverse cultures of both Vietnam and China. Travel through small villages, minority quarters, and bustling cities as you embark on this 19-day itinerary full of adventure. The trip will first take you through Hanoi, Halong Bay, Lao Cai, Sapa, Matra, Hekou and several small villages in Vietnam. For the second half of your adventure, travel through Yuanyang, Jianshui, Shilin, Kunming, Lijiang, Shaxi, Shuanglang, Dali and Kunming in China. Go where few travelers have been able to go, and discover a whole new world for yourself.
Enjoy a full-day tour of Hanoi. Stroll through the Old Quarter’s narrow tree-lined streets. Visit the eerie Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum, and then continue on to the One Pillar Pagoda, the National Fine Arts Museum, the Buddhist Tran Quoc Pagoda on West Lake, and finish up your day at the Museum of Ethnology.
Depart Halong this morning for the drive back to Hanoi. This afternoon, go for a leisurely bicycle tour along some of Hanoi’s quieter streets. In the evening, enjoy a traditional water puppet show depicting scenes of rural life in Vietnam. Rest tonight back at the Sofitel Metropole.
Drive east out of Hanoi and across the lush countryside into the Bat Trang Ceramic Village. Here you can observe how local artisans have crafted ceramics and pottery for centuries. If you would like, try for yourself to craft a vase to take back home. Continue on to visit the But Thap Pagoda and the surrounding quiet rural villages. This evening, board an overnight train to Lao Cai, one of the mountainous northern provinces that border China.
Meet with your local guide over breakfast at your hotel - we recommend the Victoria Sapa Resort & Spa or Topas Ecolodge. Sapa is world renowned for its stunning landscape of vibrant tiered rice paddies and mountainous landscape. Travel through the Black Hmong ethnic minority village of Matra. Visit a local school and learn about the rare, quiet-kept culture. Stretch your legs with a hike through the area’s other fascinating local villages.
Cross the Chinese border at Hekou and journey to the Yuanyang stunning rice terraces, around 4 hours away. These particular rice terraces are considered to be the most beautiful in China. Head to Laohui, or “The Tiger’s Mouth,” to witness one of the most stunning sunsets in existence. Check in to your hotel in Yuanyang come evening time.
Rise early this morning to watch the sunrise at Duoyishu. Mornings here are brisk, so you can enjoy a hot cup of tea as you take in the scenery. After breakfast, visit a local market in the Hani Minority Village. This is a weekly stop for the Yi and Hani people. Next, enjoy a scenic trek from Duoyishu that finishes at Bada. Set amidst the rice paddies, grazing buffaloes and field workers, this is an incredible sight.
Today you travel 2 hours to the historic garrison town of Jianshui, a small city that has retained the atmosphere of an ancient feudal village. Visit the Zhu Estate in the heart of the old town. The labyrinth of a house covers two hectares of bamboo groves. This is a fantastic example of traditional housing during the times of imperial China. Visit the Twin Dragon Bridge, one of the oldest bridges in China before returning to Jianshui.
Today takes you through the stunning natural landscape of Lunan. Here you will discover Shilin or “The Stone Forest.” Next visit the Black Stone Forests to wander through the maze of jagged peaks. Travel to the Kunming Airport, 3 hours from Jianshui, where you will fly to Lijiang and gain an incredible aerial view of the area, while also reaching your final destination of the day.
Rise early to fully enjoy the city known as the “Big Inkpot,” since the canals weaving through the village are reminiscent of a knocked-over inkpot. Visit the Mu Palace, named for the Chinese Empire warlords who reigned during the Mongol Dynasty in the 13th century.
Climb the majestic Jade Dragon Mountain and enjoy the view from the top. You can climb to the very top peak, Ganzidou, for the highest view possible. Next, pause at the Yak Prairie and enjoy even more stunning views. Continue for 2 hours on to Shaxi, an important stop on the ancient Silk Road. Here, you will check into your hotel to rest up for the night. We recommend either the Laomadian Lodge or the Old Theatre Inn.
Spend the morning exploring the area at your own leisure. The paved avenues create a maze through the quaint old town. The exquisite Three Terraced Pavillion is a highly obscure building near the town’s Buddhist Temple. Spend the afternoon exploring Shibaoshan – “Stone Treasure Mountain.” This collection of temples, caves and boulders never fails to amaze visitors. The famous “Stone Treasure” that is shaped like female genitalia is believed to provide fertility to those who touch the stone.
Sit back and watch as the countryside rolls by as you are driven the four-to-five hour journey to the Bai minority’s home of Dali. Stay at a famous local artists’ house in the village. The area is renowned for its unique, fantastic art. There’s an incredible market that runs five days a month that you may be lucky enough to experience. The lakeside province is said to have everything but the sea.
Begin the day by traveling to the Three Pagodas at the Chongsheng Temple. The mystical temple sits at the foot of the Changshan Mountains. Reach Kunming this evening, and check in to a hotel and relax.
This richly historic 364-room French colonial masterpiece built in 1901 is one of Vietnam's finest hotels, with luxuriously appointed rooms, attentive staff and gracious service. It is ideally located in central Hanoi and houses a beautiful interior garden. Excellent French cuisine is served at Le Beaulieu, and Hanoi specialties are offered at Spices Garden. The hotel has a well-equipped fitness center with cardio machines and weights, as well as a swimming pool and spa offering massage treatments. All of the guest rooms have broadband Internet access and are decorated in an opulent, neo-classical style.
Reminiscent of romantic eras gone by, the Victoria Express Train brings history and passion to life, featuring a luxurious sleeping carriage alongside the intricate dining carriage on an exciting overnight journey. Guests travel between Hanoi and Lao Cai and enjoy a once-in-a-lifetime experience through Northern Vietnam. From the moment they board the train, guests are transported back in time: their evening begins with a four-course meal in the dining carriage, Le Tonkin, where they can sample both Western and Vietnam cuisine and wines from around the world. After dinner, they may retire to their sleeping cabin, each wood-paneled and equipped with air conditioning and reading lights, where they are lulled to sleep by the sound of the train - and wake up refreshed, ready to take on a new city.
The four-star Victoria Sapa Resort & Spa, the only luxury hotel in the region, was built in traditional chalet style with wooden décor. The Resort overhangs the village, blending in perfectly with its natural surroundings. Its 77 rooms and suites feature private terraces with views over the Sapa village, the resort’s lush gardens or Mount Fansipan, and the property comes with all the modern amenities one would expect from a four-star hotel. The resort's Ta Van restaurant combines French and Vietnamese cuisine around a cozy central fireplace, as well as traditional dance performances every Saturday. Guests can travel between Hanoi and the resort on the luxurious Victoria Express sleeping train.
The Aman Group’s 28th resort in their ever-expanding portfolio of luxurious accommodation just happens to be one of their most impressive to date, spread over a hectare of land on a hill perched above the Old City of Lijiang - a World Heritage Site. The quaint winding lanes of the town below are an image of classic China, and the breathtaking luscious green mountains and snow-capped peaks provide the perfect backdrop. The hotel itself is relatively small; with only 35 suites the resort is kept quiet and peaceful, just like the surrounding countryside and historic town below. Even the smallest of accomondation options here start at close to 800 square feet, and Yunnan pine wood from Shangri-La is used throughout to create an inviting, cozy log-cabin feel. Modern conveniences are in ample supply too, both inside the range of rooms and throughout the rest of the resort. Guests can find no less than three superb dining options including a signature Chinese restaurant, as well as a luxurious spa, an on-site cinema and an impressive indoor heated swimming pool – difficult to resist jumping in after a day of sightseeing in Lijiang.
Banyan Tree Lijiang sits just south of the magnificent Jade Dragon Snow Mountain, with 55 deluxe mountain-view villas. The hotel is constructed in the regional Naxi style of architecture with its distinct rooflines and courtyards. Each villa is decorated in contemporary Naxi style and has a heated pool, jet pool and Internet connection. The Bai Yun Restaurant serves Chinese Cantonese banquet style meals with local musical accompaniment. Asian and Western-style cuisine are offered in a choice of indoor and outdoor settings at the Ming Yue Restaurant. The Spa offers treatments featuring Asian healing and relaxation techniques as well as European rejuvenation therapies. There is a business center with fax and Internet services, a fitness center, yoga room, and tennis court. The Banyan Tree Lijiang is an approximately 40-minute drive from Lijiang Airport (LJG).
Situated along the route frequented by trading caravans that runs through Shaxi, the Laomadian Lodge provides comfortable accommodation in an authentic Bai setting. The guesthouse is in a 150 year old wooden house in the Bai style and consists of only 9 private rooms, each with it's own unique theme and decor. The setting is rustic and cozy, and the rooms are situated around courtyards that maintain the feeling that it is an authentic and integral part of the ancient trade route.
The Old Theatre Inn is the premier choice for discerning travellers visiting Shaxi. The guesthouse aims to provide not only high quality accomodations, but also an experience for their guests in order to impress on them the cultural heritage of Shaxi. With only five guestrooms, the Inn is able to pay a high level of attention to each guest. The Dancing Mule Cafe provides a small, simple menu that showcases local dishes and specialties and only uses ingredients fresh from the gardens and farms local to Shaxi. The architecture and setting of The Old Theatre Inn makes for a wonderful countryside stay in Shaxi.
Immerse yourself in Chinese culture at the Linden Centre, located in Xizhou, a pristine village just outside of Dali City. Set in a fully-restored Chinese residence, the Linden Centre features four courtyards, lush, well-manicured gardens, and tasteful rooms and suites that feature locally built furniture, comfortable, plush mattresses, clean bathrooms, and Wi-Fi access. There are two restaurants at the Linden Centre, one serving Chinese cuisine and the other serving Western dishes. Amenities include a library, movie room, exercise facility, a small museum, and a series of gardens with sweeping views of the nearby countryside. The Linden Centre is located about a half-hour’s drive from Dali’s Old Town.