Trip Number: 13755A
Staff: Hurston Roberts
- Bike the Tonkinese Alps and experience the thrill of crossing Tram Ton Pass
- Explore Ha Long Bay by junk and kayak, see abundant wildlife
- Hike and bike two of Vietnam’s primier national parks
- All in-country transportation, including two overnight train trips
- All accommodations, meals, bicycle rentals, entrance fees, and gratuities
- Experienced, English-speaking Vietnamese guides
Photo: Zsuzsanna Weimann
This unique and active trip in northern Vietnam takes you from endless paddy
fields, through dramatically shaped limestone mountains, to the world-renowned
Ha Long Bay that's dotted with thousands of limestone formations. Along the
way, we’ll visit two national parks and take some time to tour the capital
city of Hanoi. We’ll travel these varied and lush landscapes by boat,
train, and bus. Our activities include biking, kayaking, and hiking through
unique landscapes and seascapes. We will explore the many facets of this mystical
country with a rich and varied history. Vietnam is inhabited by 54 ethnic groups,
each with a unique culture. We’ll have the opportunity to experience life
in one ethnic minority village, where we’ll be treated to traditional
food, song, dance and an overnight home stay. Constantly under the threat of
invasion and occupation in the past, the Vietnamese are now working industriously
to improve the quality of life for all citizens as they also honor their cultural
traditions. The warm and friendly welcome of the Vietnamese people truly provides
an unforgettable experience.
This trip is designed for active people who want to experience the very best
of Vietnam’s northern regions during the best time of the year to visit.
Most days' activities will offer hiking, cycling, kayaking, or a combination
of these activities. Although we'll be using the bus to travel on certain days,
this trip has been designed to minimize bus travel and allow trip members to
spend more time involved in outdoor activities. It is also designed to avoid
the more touristy areas and provide opportunities to interact with local Vietnamese
and ethnic peoples. We'll be on a large boat overnight in Ha Long Bay with comfortable
accommodations and world-class views.
Most of our meals will feature delicious Vietnamese cuisine; we'll also have
some non-Vietnamese meals. One of the meals will be on your own (money provided
by leader), in case you want to taste some of the other international cuisine
available. We'll have a wonderful, fluent English-speaking guide who will interpret
Vietnam's rich history, culture, and nature for us.
Photo: Zsuzsanna Weimann
Although we'll pack a lot of activities in our Vietnam adventure, we will also
have time for relaxation and free time for shopping and sightseeing. Here's
a day-by-day itinerary of what we'll be exploring in Vietnam.
Day 1: Arrive in Hanoi, where you will be met at the airport
and transferred to our hotel in the Old Quarter of Hanoi. When planning your
flights, be aware that if you are flying west from the U.S., you'll lose a day
as you cross the International Date Line. You should plan to arrive no later
than mid-afternoon on Saturday, November 2. We'll gather for a late-afternoon
trip orientation meeting at our hotel and then enjoy our first delicious Vietnamese
Day 2: Today we'll leave the city and head south to Cuc Phuong
National Park, Vietnam's first national park. The park contains almost 2,000
species of trees, and living among them are some amazing and rare animals, including
the Clouded leopard, Delacour’s Langur, Owston’s Civet, Otters and
Asian Black Bears. After we have lunch and settle into our lakeside bungalows,
we'll tour their fascinating Endangered Primate Rescue Center. Not only does
this center rescue injured primates, it provides an up-close opportunity to
see these rare and endangered mammals. Later, we’ll have several options
for short hikes.
Day 3: For the "early birds," we'll have an early-morning
birding walk before breakfast. After breakfast, we'll bus to the end of the
road into the center of Cuc Phuong NP. Once there, we'll hike to the Big Tree
and a park guide/naturalist will describe the different plants/trees and explain
the complex ecosystem there. After a short break, we'll hike to the Cave of
Prehistoric Man, where remains that date back 7,500 years were found. After
lunch, we'll bus over to the Muong village of Ban Khank where we'll stay with
the villagers and experience Vietnamese rural village life, including a performance
of traditional Vietnamese music and dance.
Photo: Zsuzsanna Weimann
Day 4: Wake to the sounds of village life and take a short
walk through village fields before breakfast. After breakfast, we bid farewell
to our village host and hostess, and head back to Hanoi where we’ll visit
the fascinating Ethnology Museum, exhibiting the ethnic groups of Vietnam. An
open-air exhibition on the museum’s spacious and peaceful grounds features
ethnic houses from all over Vietnam.
Day 5: This will be a full day of touring the best of Hanoi,
Vietnam's capital city. Early risers may want to take the walk around Hoan Kiem
Lake and optionally join in the Tai Chi and exercise ongoing around the lake.
After breakfast, we’ll visit the Ho Chi Minh mausoleum, his simple home,
and the interesting Ho Chi Minh museum. Perhaps one of the highlights of today
will be attending the famous and fascinating water puppet theater. Although
we won't be able to understand the Vietnamese language, we'll surely understand
the action and enjoy the beautiful musical/singing accompaniment. After dinner,
we’ll head to the train station, where we’ll board the train for
our overnight sleeper trip to the city Lao Cai, along the Chinese border.
Day 6: Upon our dawn arrival in Lao Cai, we’ll board
a bus for Sapa, an incredibly picturesque village that lies in the Hoang Lien
Son mountain range near the Chinese border in northwestern Vietnam, known as
"the Tonkinese Alps." After breakfast in Sapa, we’ll spend the
day hiking through stunning terraced rice fields and stopping for visits in
small villages, which allows us to get a close-up view of life in the hill country
Photo: Zsuzsanna Weimann
Day 7: After breakfast, we’ll board our bus for a short
drive up to the trailhead for Love Waterfall. Our short hike descends to the
Golden Stream, then along the stream to Love Waterfall for some dramatic waterfall
Upon our return from the waterfall, we’ll don our bicycle gear and prepare
for a full day of cycling (26 miles) through some of the most beautiful vistas
in the Tonkense Alps. After a mile of cycling we’ll reach the Tram Ton
Pass, also known as Heaven’s Gate, where we’ll start our descent
(4,000 feet in 15 miles), following the many twists and turns while enjoying
dramatic vistas along the way. After descending the pass, we’ll stop for
a simple lunch at a small village. Following lunch we’ll continue our
bike ride through small farming villages with serene vistas of the Nam Mu River.
The cycling will be van supported. We’ll overnight in a small town in
Lai Chau Province for the evening.
Day 8: Today we’ll continue on bike through small villages
and along endless rice paddies. Along the way, we’ll stop at a village
and visit a minority group farmhouse. Perhaps our fondest memories of the day
will be our interaction with the local people of Lai Chau Province. After a
morning of cycling, we’ll hike to the Waterfall Tac Tinh, one of the most
stunning waterfalls in the region. We’ll bus back over the Tram Ton Pass
to Sapa where we’ll overnight.
Day 9: After breakfast, we’ll take a trek to discover
Sapa's quaint hill tribe village -- Cat Cat village. It is here where you will
find hands stained with color from fabric dyes, and shades of blue, red, and
green intricately stitched into jackets, waistcoats, pants, skirts, caps, purses,
and leggings. The afternoon will be free time for shopping or getting massages
for sore muscles. In the late afternoon, we’ll take the bus back to Lao
Cai where we’ll have a leisurely dinner. We’ll overnight in sleeper
berths on the train back to Hanoi.
Day 10: After breakfast in Hanoi, we’ll take a bus
to Haiphong, where we’ll board a water taxi for Cat Ba Island. At Cat
Ba we’ll transfer to a ferry and continue to Nam Cat Island. After lunch
at Nam Cat, you’ll have free time to enjoy the beach or kayak in Lan Ha
Bay. Overnight on Nam Cat Island.
Day 11: Today we transfer by boat to Cat Ba National Park,
where we’ll explore this visually stunning and ecologically diverse national
park by foot and bicycle. Cat Ba is home to the highly endangered Cat Ba langur.
This golden-headed langur is rarely seen, as fewer than 100 specimens are thought
to survive in the wild, although it is the subject of a well-organized conservation
program. If time permits, we’ll visit the Cat Ba Langur Conservation Project.
We return to Nam Cat Island for the evening.
Photo: Zsuzsanna Weimann
Day 12: After breakfast we’ll say farewell to Nam Cat
Island and transfer by boat to Cat Ba National Park. The landscape of the national
park, which is dominated by karsts limestone, includes numerous waterfalls,
caves, and grottoes. The rugged topography is marked by steep outcrops and bare
rock areas with many seasonal streams. Upon arrival at Cat Ba Island we’ll
cycle to the village of Viet Hail, where we will have lunch. Afternoon activities
include a hike to Navy Peak to get a good view of Ha Long Bay, one of Vietnam's
greatest natural wonders and a UNESCO World Heritage site. The bay, part of
the Gulf of Tonkin, is filled with limestone/karsts islands and caverns, and
we'll be able to explore both over the next few days. We overnight in the rural
village of Viet Hai on Cat Ba Island.
Day 13: This morning we’ll explore the village of Viet
Hai including a visit to a local primary school. After lunch in the village,
we’ll cycle back to the harbor and transfer by boat to our well-furnished
Ha Long Junk and tour Ha Long Bay, with its thousands of islands. Weather conditions
permitting, we’ll have an afternoon kayaking adventure. We'll have dinner
and overnight aboard our boat.
Day 14: We awake onboard our boat on beautiful Ha Long Bay.
After breakfast we'll continue our tour, with opportunities for more kayaking
(if weather/water conditions permit), or hiking or exploring caves on the islands.
After our onboard lunch, we'll disembark to the mainland and bus/van back to
Hanoi for our farewell dinner.
Day 15: With some sadness and many wonderful memories, our
Sierra Club Vietnam adventure ends. Unless you choose to extend your stay in
Vietnam/Hanoi, you will be transported from our Hanoi hotel to the airport for
your return flight back home.
Photo: Hurston Roberts
Our trip officially begins with your arrival in Hanoi on Saturday, November
2. You will need to get a Vietnam visa in advance. Allow yourself plenty of
time to get the visa, and be sure your passport is valid for at least six months
beyond the conclusion of our trip. If you plan to visit another country/other
countries after entering Vietnam and plan on returning via Vietnam, you’ll
need a multiple-entry visa.
You are welcome to make your own travel plans to/from Vietnam, or you may want
to coordinate your flight with other trip members. If you would like to arrive
earlier than the beginning of our trip, the trip leader can make arrangements
for you to be met at the airport and secure hotel reservations in Hanoi. Likewise,
if you'd like to extend your stay, please let the trip leader know and he can
help with your plans. Once you have signed up for this trip, the trip leader
will provide additional information about traveling to/from Vietnam and entry
Accommodations and Food
We'll be staying in a variety of accommodations: during most of our trip we'll
be in cities/towns with comfortable hotels, and in Ha Long Bay we'll have very
comfortable rooms on our boat. Our overnight stay in Cuc Phong National Park
will be in comfortable, but more rustic, lakeside bungalows. Our overnight stay
in the Muong village will be with local families in their simple homes, sleeping
on the floor on padded mats with comforters and blankets. Except for the village
stay and the overnight train trip, accommodations will be two people/room. The
sleeper rooms on the train accommodate four people per room. Couples will room
together and singles will be paired up according to gender. If there's an odd
number of single participants of either/both genders, we'll share the single
accommodation with other single participants. If you want to request a single
accommodation, please let the trip leader know and he will see if this is possible;
there will be an additional charge for requested single accommodation.
Photo: Hurston Roberts
This trip is for physically active people who are experienced in hiking rough
terrain and cycling hilly routes. Mountain bikes will be used as we’ll
travel over dirt/gravel tracks as well as paved roads. Although a van will be
available to pick up cyclists who become tired, those that are physically prepared
for the trip will be rewarded with a great outdoor experience. Van pick-up will
not be available for bike rides that are on footpaths and tracks. The kayaking
events do not require previous kayaking experience; however, it would be helpful
for those with no kayaking experience to get a basic kayaking course before
the trip. Hikes will be easy to moderately strenuous.
Because Vietnam is a developing country, medical care is not as available or
convenient as in the United States, making medical emergencies considerably
more hazardous than they might be at home. Please take care of any potential
medical problems before leaving home and bring adequate amounts of all medications
you might need. If you have any questions about the medical form included in
your trip application packet, or about whether or not our trip will be appropriate
for you, please contact the leader. Your safety and that of our group depends
on your candid responses on the medical form.
Equipment and Clothing
We'll be traveling through forests, mountains, and coastal areas. The weather
should be mild and pleasant in November; however, all trip members should be
prepared for a wide range of weather change by dressing in layers. It will be
cool in the mountains in the mornings, but warm later in the day. Rain gear
is essential to ensure we are prepared for changeable weather conditions. You'll
want to have well broken-in, lightweight hiking boots. Biking or tennis shoes
and padded biking shorts are recommended for longer bike rides. The trip leader
will provide you with a list of recommended clothing/equipment to trip registered
Photo: Hurston Roberts
Probably the best places to begin are with the popular tour guide publishers:
Lonely Planet, Rough Guide, etc. You can check your local library or bookstore,
or go online. Internet resources are so prolific that if you're comfortable with
that format you can obtain lots of information and ideas there. If you find something
interesting/helpful, please let the trip leader know so he can share it with others.
The leader will bring along some guidebooks and share pre-trip information with
you to enhance our in-country experience. Here are a few other resources:
- Jamieson, Neil, Understanding Vietnam.
- Karnow, Stanley, Vietnam.
- Education for Nature Vietnam (ENV) (an NGO specializing in increasing young
people's awareness of environment concerns; mainly active in Hanoi): http://www.envietnam.org
- Fauna and Flora International (FFI): http://www.fauna-flora.org
- Ecotourism map of Vietnam: http://www.fauna-flora.org/explore/vietnam
events in English from a Vietnamese point of view:
Photo: Hurston Roberts
One of the benefits and unique aspects of Sierra Club Outings is our focus
on the environment and conservation issues. Pre-trip literature will highlight
some of the environmental challenges and accomplishments of Vietnam, and both
the leader and our Vietnamese tour guide will discuss environmental issues during
the trip. If possible, a presentation by a Vietnamese environmental NGO will
be included to provide their perspective on these important issues.
This trip requires a $200 per-person deposit. An additional payment of $300 per person is due six months prior to trip departure. International trip prices are subject to change and are based on double-occupancy or group accommodations as described above. Single rooms may not be available or may cost more than the listed price. If you have any questions regarding double occupancy, please contact the trip leader.
See the How to Apply for an Outing
section for more details on registering for this trip and details
about our Reservation and Cancellation
The payment of a deposit does not confirm you as a member on the
trip. Participants must be approved by the trip leader. After signing
up for this trip, you will be sent a confirmation packet containing
approval materials (Participant Approval Questionnaire, Medical
Form, Liability Release Form). Each applicant (including those on
the waitlist) must fill out these forms and promptly mail them to
the trip leader. The leader will review the approval materials and
notify you of your acceptance in a timely manner.
The Sierra Club accurately and fairly budgets and prices our trips. However, unforeseen costs such as devaluation of the dollar compared to other currencies and fuel surcharges assessed by our international providers may necessitate adjustment in trip price. We will make every effort to mitigate and absorb these fees. If a price increase is necessary, however, you will have 14 days after announcement to cancel without penalty.
Hurston Roberts, a seasoned hike leader, has lived and traveled in many parts of the world. In addition to Vietnam, he has led outings in Scotland, England, New Zealand and Nepal. An amateur naturalist, Hurston has a great love for the outdoors and enjoys sharing the beauty and wonder of nature with others. Recently retired and relocated to Nevada, Hurston enjoys hiking, cycling and kayaking wherever the opportunity exists.
General Notes About Sierra Club Trips