Southern Yunnan and northern Vietnam via Dien Bien Fu
Travel overland from Kunming (Yunnan) to the Halong Bay in VietnamMap
An inspiring overland journey from Yunnan to northern Vietnam
Your overland journey from Yunnan Province in China to Hanoi in Vietnam starts in Kunming. Due to is all year round pleasant climate, Kunming is also often referred to as "The spring City of China".
From Kunming, the capital of the Yunnan Province in Southwest China we first travel to Jianshui.
During the Yuan Dynasty (1279-1368) Jianshui (Lin An) became an important military outpost which resulted in the development of the contemporary town. The surrounding hills are home of the Dai, Hui and Yi ethnic groups. The magnificent Zhu Mansion, the lovely Confucius temple and the village of Tuanshan as a few of highlights of Jianshui.
From Jianshui you continue to the famous Rice Terraces of Yuanyang. The rice terraces of Yuanyang are located in the southeast of the Yunnan Province and where painstakingly hacked out of the Ailao mountains by the resident Hani and Yi ethnic minorities.
In September 2013 the rice terraces of Yuanyang where added to the list of the UNESCO World Heritage sites. The colorful sunrise over the Yuanyang rice terraces is one of the highlights of this Yunnan - Vietnam tour and should not be missed at any cost.
Journey from the Yuanyang Rice terraces in Yunnan across the border to Sapa in Vietnam
From the Yuanyang rice terraces at 1’800m above sea level you travel mainly along the Red River towards Hekou. The border town of Hekou is located just about 100m sea level at the shores of the Red River.
The Red River (in Chinese: Yuan Jiang) marks the border between the Yunnan Province and Vietnam.
After the border formalities you travel with your Vietnam Guide through the impressive mountain scenery of northern Vietnam to Sapa.
You explore the fantastic mountain region around Sapa on foot, by bicycle and partly by car and, by doing that, meet the resident ethnic minorities and learn more about their culture, traditions and beliefs.
Travel from Sapa through the mountains of northern Vietnam to Dien Bien Fu
Away from the usual tourist paths you then travel through the remote mountain areas of northern Vietnam to Dien Bien Fu, located in the far northeastern corner of Vietnam only 35 km away from the border to Laos.
1954 Dien Bien Fu was the scene of a brutal battle between the former colonial power France and the troops of the Vietnamese independence movement Vieth Minh under the command of General Giap. The defeat at Dien Bien Fu ultimately led to the withdrawal of the French from Vietnam and ended the French presence as a colonial power in Southeast Asia.
Overland Tour from Dien Bien Fu via Son La, Mai Chau to Hanoi and the Halong Bay
From the rather grim past of Dien Bien Fu you continue your journey through the wonderful landscape of North-Vietnam, still following in the footsteps of the French colonial past.
Over the Pha Din Pass you reach the town of Son La where you visit the infamous prison of Son La. The notorious prison of Son La was built by the French in 1908.
Behind Son La the landscape changes dramatically: from the rugged mountain landscape you now travel towards the green highland plains of North Vietnam. Dotted with lovely hills the area this around Moc Chau is known for the production of high quality Vietnamese tea.
You reach Mai Chau in the evening. The town of Mai Chau is home to the ethnic groups of White Thai, said to be distantly related to tribes in Thailand, Laos and southwest China. Spend the night in Mai Chau in a lovely boutique lodge.
Travel from Mai Chau to Hanoi and the Halong Bay
Hanoi is the capital of Vietnam and also one of the oldest and most exciting cities in Southeast Asia. Your city tour through the bustling and on first sight seemingly chaotic capital of Vietnam is an unforgettable experience. The once proud, magnificent, ocher yellow colonial buildings and the broad, tree-lined avenues give the old quarter of Hanoi a unique, almost southern charm, which delights every visitor to Hanoi.
From Hanoi to the cruise in the Halong Bay
Another highlight of you overland journey from Yunnan to Vietnam tour is a cruise aboard a tradtional junk around the famous Halong Bay. With over 3000 karst islands that protrude from the emerald waters, Halong Bay is one of the largest and best known natural wonders of Vietnam.
On board a comfortable junk you dive into this magical world of bizarrely shaped rock pinnacles, cone-shaped mountain and numerous limestone islands. The junk trip in the Halong Bay is filled with a variety of kayak tours and exciting shore excursions.
The popularity of the Halong Bay has increased significantly in recent years. To escape the hustle and bustle of the countless day-cruise-boat tours we recommend a tour that includes 2 overnight accommodations on board. The Halong Bay cruise is definitely a worthy end to an inspiring overland journey from the Yunnan Province in southwest China through the remote corners of northern Vietnam to Hanoi and the Halong Bay!
"...our journey has gone smoothly and definitely exceeded our expectations. We have seen and experienced a lot....thank you very much for the perfect organization...."
Armin from Germany
"...we loved our guide Paul who took excellent care of us. He even spontaneously invited us to his home for dinner together with his family..."
Yves from Switzerland
Day 1: OVERLAND TOUR FROM YUNNAN TO VIETNAM: FROM KUNMING TO JIANSHUI
Drive to Jianshui. On the way stop a Xingmeng, a village inhabited by a Mongol minority left behind by Khengis Khans army over 700 years ago.
Continue to Tonghai where you visit Mount Xiushan with an array of traditional Temples and Pavilions in various styles of Taoism, Buddhism and Confucianism some of which are from the late Jin Dynasty (265-420).
Upon arrival in Jianshui visit the recently renovated Confucius Temple „Wen Miao“. Continue to the “East gate” and you also pay a visit to former residence of the once wealthy an influential Zhu family. Take a stroll around the old town.
Check in at your hotel in Jianshui. Overnight accommodation is at Jianshui.
Day 2: JIANSHUI - TUANSHAN - SWALLOW CAVE - YUANYANG RICE TERRACES
Drive to the traditional Zhuang-Village of Tuanshan with its unique and well preserved architecture.
On the way to Tuanshan you also visit the "Twin Dragon Bridge", an ancient stone bridge from the Qing Dynasty.
After lunch you leave Jianshui towards the Swallow’s Cavern, a magnificent cave that has been dug out by the Lu River. During spring and summer hundreds of thousands of Swallows can be seen flying around inside and outside the cave.
Continue through magnificent scenery towards Yuanyang and its famous and spectacular rice terraces of Yuanyang.
The spectacular Yuanyang rice terraces have been carved out of the Ailao Mountains over hundreds of years by Hani farmers living in the area.
Day 3: HIKING THE YUANYANG RICE TERRACES
You leave the Hotel early (around 6 am) to witness a magnificent sunrise over the rice terraces. (Depending on weather condition; In winter the Rice terraces are often engulfed in fog).
After that if possible you visit one of the bustling weekly local markets in the area where we can observe the local people from various ethnic groups (Hani, Yi, Zhuang, some Miao) doing their weekly shopping. Many of them still wear their traditional costumes.
Visit some of the best viewpoints of the rice terraces around Yuanyang.
In the afternoon you make a hike (about 2.5 hours) through the magnificent rice terraces of Yuanyang to a nearby Hani village.
Day 4: YUANYANG - HEKOU - SAPA
After breakfast you leave Yuanyang towards Hekou. For most of the way, the road follows the luscious, fertile valley of the Red River (Hong He), which flows in an almost straight line through deep canyons and picturesque valley in a south-eastern direction across the border into Vietnam.
After completing the border formalities meet your guide in Vietnam and continue travelling towards Sapa. You leave the red river valley and travel into the rugged mountain area that covers most of Northern Vietnam.
The road to Sapa offers stunning views over surrounding mountains and lush forests belonging to Hoang Lien National Park.
The town of Sapa used to serve the French as a mountain retreat in order to escape the summer heat in the lower plains.
Day 5: SAPA
Today you will take a bicycle ride through the beautiful surroundings of Sapa. The brilliant green terraced rice fields stand in a vast contrast to the rugged mountain slopes and the often snow-capped peaks surrounding the valley.
A mostly downhill ride along a winding road brings you to the village of Su Pan, an idyllic village that is mainly inhabited by the Black Hmong. It is believed that the Black Hmong (Huong) may have migrated from Persia or Babylonia via Siberia and China to the north of present-day Vietnam.
Continue to the village of Ban Ho where lunch is served. Time at leisure. If you feel like it you can take a swim together with the locals in the nearby river.
The extremely friendly Ta form one of the largest ethnic groups in Vietnam and migrated here from southern China. On foot you explore the nearby village of Nam Bong which is inhabited by the Red Dao. You visit one of their traditional houses built on stilts. Walk back to Ban Ho from where we take the car back to Sapa. (Bike: 25km mostly downhill = easy)
Overnigh accommodation is at Sapa.
Day 6: SAPA - DIEN BIEN FU
Away from the usual tourist paths you travel through the remote mountain areas of northern Vietnam to Dien Bien Fu. You travel across the the” Heavens Gate”, the highest stretch of road in Vietnam as well as the provincial border of Lao Cai and Lai Chau provinces.
Along the way there is the possibility to visit some more villages of the Hmong or the Dzao ethnic minority.
The Dzao ethnic minority can be found in southern China as well as in Laos and northern Vietnam. The Dzao are known for their elaborate and colorful traditional dresses.
With a bit of luck you come across one of the colorful local markets where you can witness the people of the nearby hill tribes socializing and making their weekly purchases. Lunch along the way at a local restaurant.
You reach Dien Bien Fu in the afternoon. The magnificent landscape makes up for today's somewhat longer journey. Overnight accommodation is in Dien Bien Fu.
Day 7: DIEN BIEN FU - SON LA
Only 35km separate Dien Bien Fu from the border to Laos. 1954 Dien Bien Fu was the scene of a brutal and decisive battle between the former colonial power France and the troops of the Vietnamese independence movement Vieth Minh under the command of General Giap.
In the evening of May 7, 1954 the French commander of Dien Bien Fu, Colonel de Castries, hoisted the white flag over his command bunker. A battle that lasted for 55 days was over. The defeat at Dien Bien Fu ultimately led to the withdrawal of the French from Vietnam and ended the French presence as a colonial power in Southeast Asia.
You visit the war museum and the command bunker of Colonel de Castries.
In the afternoon, drive along the recently upgraded road No. 6 through spectacular scenery to Son La. On the way you travel across the Pha Din Pass.
According to a local legend, Pha Din Pass is the place where the sky meets the earth, so it is considered as the “connecting point” where Heaven and Earth meet. Overnight in Son La.
Day 8: SON LA - MAI CHAU
If possible you visit the bustling morning market of Son La.
Son La was once the site of a French penal colony where anti-colonial revolutionaries where imprisoned and “re-educated”.
The Son La prison was built in 1908 but later partially destroyed by American bomb raids. You take a tour through the Son La prison and the attached Museum.
You conitnue your journey through one of Vietnams major teas growing areas to Moc Chau. You visit a tea plantation and learn more abut the cultivation of tea in that area. The scenic drive to Mai Chau offers many photo opportunities along the way.
The surrounding villages are mainly inhabited by the Black Thai and the Hmong ethnic minorities. You reach Mai Chau in the late afternoon. Overnight stay is at a tastefully furnished boutique lodge in Mai Chau.
Day 9: MAI CHAU - HANOI
After breakfast you travel to Hanoi. En route you stop at a village which is inhabited by the Muong ethnic group and we also take a short boat tour on the Hoa Binh Lake.
Hanoi is the capital and the second largest city in Vietnam. In the year 1010 King Ly Thai To chose Hanoi for the first time as capital city of Vietnam under the name of Thang Long (Soaring Dragon).
It remained the capital of Vietnam until 1802, when Emperor Gia Long, the founder of the Nguyen Dynasty, decided to move the capital to Hue.
The city was named Hanoi by ("the city in a bend of the river") by Emperor Tu Duc in 1831. From 1902 to 1953 Hanoi served as the capital of French Indochina. During this time, the French set up south of the old town a modern administrative city with wide, tree-lined paralleled avenues with opera, churches and numerous luxury villas, which nowadays provide Hanoi with a very peculiar charm.
Day 10: HANOI CITY TOUR
Full day city tour of Hanoi, the oldest city and definitely the most charming capital in Asia. Visit the Ngoc Son Temple which is located on a small island of Hoan Kiem Lake. The temple is dedicated to the war hero Tran Hung Dao, who is said to have beaten an army of Kublai Khan in the 14th century.
You then visit the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum and the Museum of Ethnology. Opened in 1997 by the Vietnam government, the Museum of Ethnology provides fascinating insights into the complex cultures, traditions and ways of life of the 54 ethnic groups who are native to Vietnam. In the afternoon visit the "One Pillar Pagoda", a unique wooden structure which was built in 1049 by Emperor Ly Thai Tong.
Continuing on your way through Hanoi, you will pass the Temple of Literature. The temple of literature was built in 1070 by Emperor Ly Thanh Thong who dedicated it to Confucius in order to honor scholars and men of literary accomplishment.
Afterwards you visit the charming old town of Hanoi with its countless colonial style houses and take a tour with a traditional Vietnamese "rickshaw". Overnight in Hanoi.
Day 11: HANOI - HALONG BAY
Drive to the Halong Bay where you check into the cabins aboard the comfortable Junk. Halong Bay is one of the most breathtaking scenic spots in all of Vietnam and was designated as a World Natural Heritage in 1994.
Halong Bay is a picturesque bay with some 1969 islets rising from the clear emerald waters of the Gulf of Tonkin. The limestone basin has been carved into stalactite caves, crescent beaches and odd-shaped formations.
The fantastic cruise of the Halong Bay brings you to some of the most prominent and impressive features in the Halong Bay area. At a leisurely pace the Junk sails past rock formations with romantic names such as “Burn of incense”, “Dog” or “fighting cock”. During the first stop you visit the magical and beautiful Sung Sot cave.
Continue to the Titov Island where you make a short walk with, once again, breathtaking views of the entire Halong Bay.
Dinner and overnight on board in front of the magnificent scenery of Halong Bay.
Day 12: HALONG BAY CRUISE
Today you explore some of the remoter parts of the Halong Bay.
By small boat or by Kayak you explore hidden caves and tunnels that have been artfully created by erosion over million of years. Lunch on board the Junk.
After lunch you can relax on the sundeck, take a swim or take one of the Kayaks and explore the area together on your own or together with your tour guide.
The Junk will sail further out into the Halong Bay. You paddle with the Kayaks to the fishing village of Van Gia. You take a walking tour around the village before returning to the Junk.
After dinner you can try your luck in fishing or simply relax on the sundeck. Overnight on board.
DAY 13: HALONG BAY - HANOI
While you enjoy an extensive breakfast the captain steers the Junk back towards Bai Chai. En route you drop anchor at the fishing village of Ba Hang where you explore the village before heading back to the boat for lunch.
In the afternoon you say good by to the crew and head by a small boat back to the mainland where your driver is waiting for you. Drive back (ca 1.5 hrs) to Hanoi. Check-in at the hotel. In the evening you visit a performance of the traditional art of water puppetry.
The art of water puppetry dates back to the Ly Dynasty (1004-1224). The stage is in form of a square tank of waist-deep water where the puppeteers, while standing in the water, operate their puppets with considerable skills. Overnight accommodation in Hanoi.
Day 14: HANOI DEPARTURE: END OF YOUR OVERLAND JOURNEY FROM YUNNAN TO VIETNAM
Transfer to the airport.