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Indochina Northern Passages of Laos - Vietnam

12 days, 12 nights

Introduction

Take a road less traveled and combine it with a spectacular river trip on the Nam Ou River in northern Laos with scenic drives along the border areas of remote northwest Vietnam and you have a memorable exploration of areas that will invigorate your sense of adventure and satisfy the wish for remote exploration. 

This trip is newly designed as international arrivals and departure at the Tay Trang/Dien Bien Phu border have only recently been allowed opening access to remote and wonderful areas that were previously impossible to combine.

Brief Itinerary

Day 1: Luang Prabang – Nong Khiaw - Muong Ngoi Kao
Day 2: Muong Ngoi Kao – Muong Khua
Day 3: Muong Khua - Boun Neua - Phongsali
Day 4: Phongsali – Hat Sa - Muang Khua - Tay Trang Border - Dien Bien Phu/ Vietnam
Day 5: Dien Bien Phu Relic - Pa Khoang Lake                               
Day 6: Dien Bien Phu - Muong Lay - Moung Te
Day 7: Moung Te - Paso
Day 8: Paso - Lai Chau - Tam Duong - Sapa
Day 9: Sapa - Topas Eco-Lodge
Day 10: Topas Eco-Lodge - Trekking
Day 11: Topas Eco-Lodge - Sa Pa - Lao Cai - Night train to Hanoi
Day 12: Arrive in Hanoi

Day to Day Itinerary

Day 1: Luang Prabang – Nong Khiaw - Muong Ngoi Kao

Departing from Luang Prabang, we take a slow boat up the Mekong River. On the way, we stop at  paper making village, Lao sticky rice wine making village and Pak Ou Cave (1000 Buddha Cave).  We turn of the Mekong Rive and begin exploring the Nam Ou making a lunch stop at a riverside restaurant at Pha Lai, a small village along the way.

Nam Ou is the longest inland river in Laos and cruising along it, we enjoy what is widely thought of as the most beautiful river journeys through stunning a mountain setting.  We arrive in Muang Ngoi around 5:00 pm, a full, enjoyable day on the river.  On arrival, we check into the guesthouse and take a walk to Tham Pa Thok, a limestone cave where villagers lived during the Second Indochina War as well as to a nearby waterfall.

Accommodation: Hotel or Guesthouse from our list
Transit
: 6 hours by boat
Trekking
time: 2 hours
Trekking
difficulty: Easy
Meal plan:
L

Day 2: Muong Ngoi Kao – Muong Khua

It is worth an early wake up to watch a beautiful sunrise over limestone mountains and wander around the Ngoi village.  After breakfast we embark to continue our journey up the Nam Ou past picturesque scenery. We stop for lunch served with local food on the river bank and continue to Muang Khua for over night in a guest house.  The peace and serenity of the journey is truly amazing. 

Muong Khua is a small town inhabited by Lao, Chinese and Vietnamese people with a few colonial style buildings.  Muong Khua’s remoteness is sure to be different in the next few years as its location and new waypoint for Vietnam will surely influence the development.   The town is only a short 45 km from the border, recently opened to international travel.

Accommodation: Hotel or Guesthouse from our list
Transit
: 4 hours by boat
Meal plan:
B, L

Day 3: Muong Khua - Boun Neua - Phongsali

Today we travel by car to Phongsali via Boun Neua. Boun Neua is 35 km from Phongsali and 40 km from the Chinese border.  We take a little time to explore the town of Boun Neua, essentially a Thai Lu settlement filled with heavy Chinese influence as seen by the numerous signs in Chinese and homes decorated from the neighbor to the north.

After lunch at Boun Neua, we drive to Phongsali. After checking in to our guesthouse, we make a small discovery walk of the town.  We’ll visit the Museum of Tribes (open Mon – Fri) that displays locally found exhibits on Phongsali province’s diverse culture. We then stroll through the town’s backstreets and alleys to see some interesting old Phu Noi (similar to Tibetan) and Chinese brick-and-wood architecture. In the past, Phongsali has served as Chinese, French and Vietnamese outpost.  This province is the most inaccessible of all of Laos and enclose on three sides by China and Vietnam.

Accommodation: Hotel or Guesthouse from our list
Transit
: 4 hours by car
Walking
time: 2 hours
Trekking
difficulty: Easy
Meal plan:
B, L

Day 4: Phongsali – Hat Sa - Muang Khua - Tay Trang Border - Dien Bien Phu/ Vietnam

An early departure is needed. We have breakfast and have a short transfer on an unsealed road.  Here, we embark on a boat at Hat Sa for a downstream cruise on the Nam Ou River returning to Muong Khua.  While you will enjoy the scenery along river banks, your guide prepare a simple picnic lunch.  

You arrive in Muong Khua by early afternoon, and head out to Lao - Vietnamese border through one of the most remote area. In the rainy season, there will be several river crossings along this bumpy ride! Our guide from Vietnam will pick you up at Tay Trang border and transfer you to Dien Bien Phu. On your arrival, you check into your hotel and take a walk to the central market for a look.

Dien Bien Phu is well known through out the world as a battlefield that decided the first Indochina War. 

Accommodation: Hotel or Guesthouse from our list
Transit
: 30 minutes transfer to the boat pier/ 4 hours by boat/ 2.5 hours Muong Khua - Dien Bien Phu
Meal plan:
B, L

Day 5: Dien Bien Phu Relic - Pa Khoang Lake                           

After breakfast, we’ll start out tour of this valley city with a visit to the battlefields that helped shaped modern Vietnam.  Our first stop will be the bunkers used by the French during the battle, Bunker Headquarters and A1 Hill where bitter fighting took place.  We then visit the Dien Bien Phu Museum for an overview and relics of the battlefield.

In the afternoon, we will go to Pa Khoang Lake, slightly east of town.  There is an excellent one hour boat ride and we can visit the bunker of General Giap, the most legendary of all Vietnamese Generals.  A remote Thai village is near to the lake and we’ll stop there as well.

Accommodation: Hotel or Guesthouse from our list
Transit
: 2 hours by car/ 1 hour by boat
Walking
time: 3 hours
Walking difficulty:
Easy
Meal plan:
B, L

Day 6: Dien Bien Phu - Muong Lay - Muong Te

Note - maps of this area unless printed after 2007 are inaccurate, all major towns between Dien Bien Phu and Sa Pa have been renamed after the provinces were redrawn.

We depart early and drive north along Highway 12.   We’ll stop a few kilometers outside of Muong Lay (Old name Lai Chau) and have a view the valley soon to be flooded by the Son La Dam Project that will provide green energy to Vietnam.

We continue to Muong Te, one of Vietnam’s remote outposts.  About 8 km after turning off the main road, we stop at a historical relic, an ancient poem carved in a stone in 15th century by Emperor Le Loi who had succeeded in expelling Chinese from the region.  We’ll also encounter tiny villages along the way; stops for photos are on request.  Muong Te is not developed for tourism like other places in Vietnam, there are few guesthouses but the remoteness of the area is the key to its simplicity.  If you are lucky to get there on Sunday, a very colorful market full of ethnic minorities such as Lahu, Si La and Ha Nhi can be seen.

Accommodation: Hotel or Guesthouse from our list
Transit
: 5.5 hours
Walking
time: limited
Walking difficulty:
Easy
Meal plan:
B/L

Day 7:  Muong Te - Paso

We leave Muong Te along the same road we came out on.  We continue to Paso, you may not find it on your maps but we know where it is and upon arrival we’ll enjoy lunch by the Nam Na River. 

We then take the afternoon by boat down the river and see local life and the truly remote aspect of life in the northwest of Vietnam.  We return to the hotel before sunset.

Accommodation: Hotel or Guesthouse from our list
Transit
: 4 hours, small boat tour
Walking
time: limited
Walking difficulty:
Easy
Meal plan:
B, L

Day 8: Paso - Lai Chau - Tam Duong – Sapa

Departing Paso, we are starting on one of the most beautiful drives in all of Vietnam.  Our destination is the old French hill station of Sapa, located high in the mountains.  Along the drive we will pass many different minority villages and see a vast rainbow of colours form the minority dress.  Black Hmoung, Black Thai, Black Dao, Lu People, and Giay minority dot the landscape.  We’ll leave the main road after Lai Chau and take in some parts of the north not seen by many. 

We’ll have lunch in Tam Duong (old Binh Lu) and our ascent up to the highest road pass in Vietnam, Tram Ton Pass/Heaven Gate, begins.  The beauty of the climb will force us to take several stops for photos and depending on the time of year, there will be a fine layer of fog at the pass.  We continue down the other side to Sapa town.

Accommodation: Hotel or Guesthouse from our list
Transit
: 4 - 5 hours drive depending on photo stops!
Walking
time: limited
Walking difficulty:
Easy
Meal plan:
B/L

Day 9: Sapa - Topas Eco-Lodge

We have breakfast at the hotel and are off to see the daily market in Sapa.  We’ll then walk up to Ham Rong Mountain for a bird’s eye view of Sapa and the Muong Hoa Valley.  The botanical gardens are also along the walk and we’ll make our way down for lunch in town. 

After lunch, we begin heading down the valley by car to the Black H’mong village Lao Chai village.  From here we begin a short walk the Giay minority village of Ta Van and our car will meet us and continue to an isolated Eco-Lodge. The lodges are located on a large hill side overlooking a scenic valley surrounded by picturesque mountains.

Accommodation: Hotel or Guesthouse from our list
Transit
: 2.5 hours sealed road
Trekking
time: 3 hours
Road
difficulty: Easy
Meal plan:
B, L

Day 10: Topas Eco-Lodge - Trekking

You will travel by car to Su Pan from where you will commence your walk downhill through the breathtaking scenery. On the way you will pass through the Ban Ho village where you will be able to see the stunning views of the valley and rice paddy terraces. You will have the opportunity to explore the Ban Ho village of Tay minority before crossing the suspension bridge over the river, where your guide will prepare a delicious lunch in a local house.

The walk then continues through the rice fields to the Red Dao village of Nam Toong, a Red Dao village, where you will enjoy a cup of tea before heading back to Ban Ho to take a nice swim in the river nearby. You will then take the walk uphill to Su Pan. Here you return to the lodges by car.

Accommodation: Hotel or Guesthouse from our list
Transit
: 30 minutes driving
Trekking
time: 4 hours
Road
difficulty: Moderate - difficult
Meal plan:
B, L

Day 11: Topas Eco-Lodge - Sa Pa – Lao Cai - Night train to Hanoi

The morning is free at your leisure, sleep in and enjoy your late breakfast. You check out by noon and return to Sapa. In Sapa, you enjoy a late lunch at a restaurant with beautiful mountain view.

After lunch, you can return to Sapa Market where you can find diversity of local product and beautiful handy crafts made out of indigo and natural dying process from Black Hmong and Red Dao ethnic minorities. We then climb up to the top of Ham Rong Mountain, a botanic garden. A panorama view of Muong Hoa Valley and Hoang Lien Mountain Range deserves your effort! We descend the mountain and drive to Lao Cai for the night train to Hanoi. In Lao Cai, we stop at the Friendship Bridge entry point to China and visit the temple there.  

Note - If your departure from the Eco-Lodge is on a day when one of the weekly markets (Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday or Sunday) takes place, it is an add-on option to visit one of these minority markets.

Accommodation: Four berth cabin with soft sleeper on the train
Transit
: 2 hours by car
Trekking
time: 2 hours
Road
difficulty: easy
Meal plan:
B, L

Day 12: Arrive in Hanoi

We arrive early morning in Hanoi and we take you to a hotel of your choice.

Accommodation: Overnight at your proposed Hotel from our list
Transit: 20 minutes
Meal plan: N/A

                                                                                                                      

Our trip includes

  • English speaking guide
  • Accommodation as indicated
  • Meals as indicated
  • One way train ticket Lao Cai - Hanoi
  • Transportation by car/minivan or local transport available and boat
  • Tour as indicated
  • Entrance fee


Our trip excludes

  • Domestic and international flights
  • Visa & visa arrangement
  • Meals not indicated
  • Drinking water, soft drink and alcohol
  • Tips & personal expenses


Prices contact info@remoteasia.com