Fall under the spell of enchanting Hoi An, an old port city of colonial-era architecture, superb dining and unrivalled shopping. Learn the ways and history of the ethnic Co Tu people during an overnight stay in the highland village of Bho Hoong. With its sprawling array of attractions, the imperial city of Hue is best explored from the back of a motorbike and cruising down the Perfume River by dragon boat. Cruise around emerald karsts off the coast of Cat Ba Island
Most travellers overlook the region, but there’s plenty more to central Vietnam than Hoi An and Hue – and we’ve now got the trip to prove it. In addition to time spent in both of places, which are must-visits on any itinerary, this trip ventures where very few others do: up into the highlands of the Truong Son mountain range and underground in the Tu Lan Cave System just outside Phong Nha. Spend a night in the remote village of Bho Hoong, home of the ethnic Co Tu people, and learn about their traditional way of life. Then, after a couple of days exploring Hue’s ancient citadel, get ready for something else completely different. Over two days and one night, venture below ground into one of the world’s largest – and most recently discovered – cave complexes. Wind through narrow rock corridors, scramble along rocky outcrops, swim through subterranean rivers and camp in the jungle.
Xin chao! Welcome to Vietnam. Your adventure begins with a welcome meeting at 6pm today. You can arrive at any time during the day as there are no activities planned until this important meeting. Please check with hotel reception or check the reception noticeboard for when and where the meeting will take place. If you're going to be late, please inform the hotel reception. We'll be collecting your insurance details and next of kin information at this meeting, so please ensure you have all these details to provide to your leader.
If arriving early in Hoi An you certainly won't be stuck for things to do. One option that's always good is an exploratory wander through the town's Central Market and the street stalls, where you'll find everything from paintings to woodwork to ceramics to lanterns being sold. Hoi An is also famous for its talented tailors, who can make beautiful items within only a few hours. Bring your favourite piece of clothing, or even just a picture of what you'd like, and you'll usually be able to collect it the very next day. Alternatively, you might like to visit a local workshop to learn how to make your own rice paper, while a Vietnamese cooking class is also a great way to familiarise yourself with some age-old culinary techniques (not to mention being able to feast on the fruits of your own labour).
Become versed in the colonial history of Hoi An on a walking tour with your trip leader around its Old Town. This is a place oozing with charm and, having largely escaped the destruction of successive wars, its streets and architecture are a delight to explore. Now a UNESCO World Heritage site, the Old Town is packed with buildings of historical and cultural significance and boasts a number of streets that are off-limits to cars. Stroll past the many Chinese Assembly Halls – from the Cantonese Chinese Congregation, with its impressive main altar, to the Hainan Chinese Congregation. Stop by the Japanese Covered Bridge, which was constructed in the 1590s by the town’s Japanese community to link them with the Chinese quarters across the stream.
Bho Hoong Village
Travel by bus to Bho Hoong, a small village located in the Truong Son mountain range that's home to the ethnic Co Tu people (approxiamtely 150km). This village came into existence during the closing stages of the Vietnam War, when the Co Tu, their hill country homelands largely destroyed in the fighting, migrated here from near the Laos border. The Co Tu practice a traditional way of life characterised by small-scale agriculture, weaving, the holding of harvest festivals and building of stilt bungalows. The drive here will include stop-offs at tea plantations. During an evening here you'll be treated to a traditional dance performance and home-cooked dinner.
Following a morning walk around the village, hop back in the bus for the onward drive to Hue (approximately 195 km). Packed with temples, tombs, palaces and pagodas, the former imperial capital of Hue is an eclectic mix of busy streets and peaceful beauty. After lunch you will visit the Imperial Citadel – a sprawling complex of temples, pavilions, moats, gates, and walls. The Ngo Mon Gate, Thai Hoa Palace and the Ancestral Altars are still impressive, and the complex must have been awe-inspiring during its heyday in the 19th century. In your free time you might like to visit to Dong Ba Market, which offers locally made goods, fresh produce and tantalising street food. This is a good place to try the specialties enjoyed by Emperor Nguyen such as the banh khoai royal rice cake.
Today’s adventure will be on the back of a motorbike! You’ll have your own driver who will take you first on a drive around the Imperial Citadel, including the Forbidden Purple City. The latter was almost completely destroyed during the Tet Offensive in the Vietnam War, but its humble, foliage-covered ruins remain a testament to its proud history. Here you'll gain some insight into the horrific damage endured during the war. Then it's on to the Thien My Pagoda, the unofficial symbol of Hue. This site dates back to 1601 and is still an active Buddhist monastery. You’ll also see the scar left by a monk who set himself alight in protest at the treatment of Buddhists by the South Vietnamese regime. Hopping off the motorbike, board a dragon boat for a cruise down the Perfume River. After the 40-minute journey, get back on your motorbike and ride to a special lunch spot at a convent or Buddhist monastery. Following lunch, drive to the tomb of Emperor Tu Duc, a royal mausoleum set beside a lake amid frangipani bushes and pine trees. This evening, perhaps ask your leader for the best place to try imperial street specialties.
The drive to Phong Nha includes two interesting stop-offs along the way: Hien Luong Bridge and the Vinh Moc tunnels. Hien Luong Bridge, a 178-metre long bridge that spans the Ben Hai River, marked the division between north and south Vietnam from 1954 until 1975. While it's not the most impressive sight you'll ever see, this humble piece of architecture came to symbolise a country's desire for reunification. Not far off, Vinh Moc is an underground tunnel complex dug by a local village in response to the American bombs that fell from above. Between 1966 and 1972 it's believed 60-odd families lived down here. After creeping through the tunnels, continue on to your night's accommodation.
Once settled in and refreshed, head out to see Paradise Cave and climb down the wooden staircase to admire is cavernous interior, and it's dramatic stactites, stagmites and seemingly unnatural pools. There is a full kilometre of this incredible cave to explore.
Today you'll be trekking to over the mountain range containing Tu Lan Cave. Start the day early and travel by bus (approximately 1.5 hours) to the headquarters of our local expedition partner. There is an important safety briefing and time to check and repack your gear for the next 2 days before your trek begins. Begin with a flat walk through farmland, past water buffalo, peanut crops and corn stalks (approximately 2.5 km, 1.5mi). Cross Rao Nan River, and then your trek starts to get more demanding with a 30 m (100 ft) climb up a rocky hill to a small jungle opening where you can catch your breath before a 100 m descent in elevation down to Hung Ton Valley.
Stop for lunch in an opening in Hung Ton Cave ready for some more serious trekking over to Mango Mountain, then back down into Tu Lan Valley (3 km, 1.9mi).
This afternoon you will explore Ken Cave located next to the camp site. Swimming up inside the cave entrance and climbing up and exploring. Afterwards return to the campsite for a delicious BBQ dinner.
Start the day with a good breakfast ready for your day of caving!
Commence with a brief swim across the river into the centre of Tu Lan Cave System. Stop to admire the the blue lagoon entrance before making your way 180 m (590 ft) downstream through Tu Lan Cave entrance. Climb up into the cave to explore the dry portion of it's interior. This section of your expedition my involve some climbing and squeezing, before you reach the exit and trek a short way through valley into Kim Cave entrance. Admire the natural window view in Kim Cave, before another swim of (450 m, 0.27 mi) and a further trek (500 m, 0.3mi) through Hang Kim to To Mo Valley.
Stop for a picnic lunch next the waterfall nearby Hung Ton Cave entrance. It's not long and you are back in the water, swimming out through Hung Ton cave. Some more exploration of a dry passage, and then then a trek back down into Hung Ton Valley (800 m) and return to your starting point.
After making your way out of the underworld, travel by bus back to Chay Lap Farmstay this evening for another night spent amid bucolic surrounds and a well deserved rest.
In the morning, travel by bus to Dong Hoi for an onward flight on to Hanoi. This afternoon, take a guided half-day tour of Hanoi that encompasses the beauty and history of Vietnam's laid-back, tree-lined capital. You’ll visit major sights including the Temple of Literature, One Pillar Pagoda and the mausoleum of Ho Chi Minh. You’ll also pass by the Hoan Kiem Lake and enter the ’36 Streets’ of the historic Old Quarter. If you have some free time this afternoon, you may like to visit the Vietnam Fine Arts Museum. This Museum plays a crucial role in maintaining and promoting the cultural heritage of Vietnam’s ethnic communities. Hanoi has a huge array of excellent eateries, from buzzing streets stalls to upmarket restaurants. Why not ask your leader suggestions for a group dinner?
Cat Ba Island
Rise and shine! Board a bus at 7.30 am, then jump on a ferry to Cat Ba Island. You’ll arrive on this massive island paradise a little before midday, meaning more time to cruise around the magnificent karsts that dot the waters of Lan Ha Bay. Part of the greater Halong Bay region, Lan Ha Bay has all the limestone rock formations and bright waters many associate with Vietnam. Explore in a cruise upon arrival, cutting between behemoths and enjoying lunch on board. Later, get up close and personal with the water and jutting crags via kayak. Stay overnight on Cat Ba Island and enjoy a dip at one of the beaches and a cold beer.
Enjoy a free morning to soak up the sun and maybe lounge on the sand of one of Cat Ba Island’s many tiny beaches. Make the most of it, because come the afternoon you’ll be heading back to busy Hanoi. After your ferry and bus, maybe head out for an optional final dinner with your new friends and leader. Crack a beer and toast to a trip well spent.
Goodbye Vietnam! Bid farewell to Hanoi and depart any time after check-out as there are no activities planned for today. If you plan to stay on, there is plenty to do in this intense city. Can’t get enough of the limestone karsts you saw in Lan Ha Bay? Urban Adventures runs a Halong Bay tour that will see you exploring a cave, indulging in seafood and cruising on a private boat. Check out more at https://www.urbanadventures.com/destination/hanoi-tours.