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Bicycling the Far North of Vietnam (TourzPlus!)
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Bicycle Tours in Vietnam: Bicycling the Far North of Vietnam (TourzPlus!)

The Northwest is the roof of Vietnam where the Hoang Lien Mountains (Tonkinese Alps) soar to over 3,000 meters (9800 feet) and some of Vietnam's most spectacular scenery is to be found. This is truly the road less traveled and much of the area is sparsely populated with the only exception being groups of ethnic minorities. The Montagnard women still favor elaborate costumes of brightly colored skirts, tops and hats, each ethnic group favouring its own color variation and design. Sapa is an atmospheric former hill station with magnificent views of rice terraces and mountains. We will travel by train, boat and bike as we follow the rugged Northwest route right to the border with China, at Lao Cai. We will venture away from tourist meccas, cycling through traditional villages and staying in small towns with modest lodgings. Come prepared for the unexpected -- Bring your spirit of adventure!

Day 1: Welcome to Hanoi

Highlights: Hanoi

We offer a 2:00PM shuttle from the Hanoi airport - please notify us of your arrival details - and be taken to your hotel where Tour Leaders will offer an overview of what to expect in the following day. Hanoi, the capital of Vietnam (pop.c 3.4 million) attained its present name in 1831. Our hotel is located in the Old Quarter, ideally situated for walking tours of this fascinating part of Hanoi. Its narrow streets are occupied by trades people who can be seen working at traditional crafts on the sidewalks or selling anything from snake-wine to vibrant paper lanterns. We are also close to Hoan Kiem Lake (Lake of the Restored Sword) and the Red River (Song Hong). This afternoon we will drive to a quiet location to fit and do our bike fitting. Dinner is together tonight.

Day 2: Hanoi to Mai Chau

Highlights: Scenic ride, villages

We drive out of the city and the Red River Delta for about 50 kms (30 miles), passing traditional farms, then through limestone monoliths and into foothills populated by Muong people. Crossing an attractive forested pass, we descend to the hidden valley of Mai Chau where Thai people live in houses-on-stilts,with palm leaf roofs and polished bamboo-slat floors. The day's bicycling is fairly strenuous, but very scenic, finishing with a superb downhill. Breakfast, lunch and dinner are together today. Total Distance: 152 km (95 miles). Cycling Distance: 91 km (56.5 mi miles).

Day 3: Mai Chau to Son La

Highlights: Local market

We climb steadily in the morning, through forest, populated by H'mong people, with views to the distant mountains, before descending into a mountainous tea-growing region. Soon after we follow a long valley floor filled with rice paddies and dotted with Black Thai villages on the way to Son La. Allow time to visit the bargain-filled market. Breakfast, lunch and dinner are together today. Total Distance: 187 km (117 miles) Cycling Distance: 100-115 km (65 - 72 miles).

Day 4: Son La to Dien Bien Phu

Highlights: Breathtaking scenery, Black Thai people

The scenery from Son La and Dien Bien Phu is breathtaking. An early start gives the opportunity to visit one or two colorful markets. We drive a short distance out of town before commencing to bike, with a beautiful 47 km (29 miles) ride through a spectacular valley with towering limestone cliffs, passing many colorfully attired Black Thai minority people, to the foot of Pha Din pass. We drive over this scenic pass (1400m / 4592ft) to the lunch café. After lunch we drive for one hour through an agricultural region - watch for the amazing water wheels. The day finishes with a 30 km descent by bike to Dien Bien Phu, which is famous as the battle site where the French colonial forces were emphatically defeated by the Viet Minh in 1954, signaling the beginning of the end for the French Indochina empire. Breakfast, lunch and dinner are together. Total Distance: 155 km (97 miles). Cycling Distance: 76.6 km (48 miles).

Day 5: Dien Bien Phu - Rest Day

Highlights: Battle sites and relaxing by the pool

This morning we will take a city tour, visiting the war museum and one or two battle sites (from the French/Vietnamese war of 1954) before exploring the interesting local produce market. You may like to spend the afternoon relaxing or swimming in the pool. Lunch and dinner are on your own.

Day 6: Dien Bien Phu to Muong Lay / Sin Ho

Highlights: Traditionally dressed locals

This morning we cycle along quiet windy roads that snake trough the beautiful countryside that characterizes this part of the country. Undulating but not too hilly, with stunning panoramas. After lunch keen riders can tackle the climb to Ma Thi Ho pass, passing H'mong settlements en route. You will encounter women in traditional H'mong dress of vibrant embroidered skirts and headdresses with black leggings and aprons. There is a fabulous descent to Muong Lay. A huge new hydro dam is being constructed at Muong Lay and the original town will be submerged by 2012. We drive from Muong Lay (possible road works over the first 20kms), climbing very steeply up to the small town of Sin Ho. Breakfast, lunch and dinner are together. Total Distance: 102 km (64 miles). Cycling Distance: 58 km (36 mi) to lunch and an optional 44 km (27 mi) after lunch.

Day 7: Sin Ho to Lai Chau

Highlights: Quiet road and a fantastic ride

A very short climb brings us on to the remote Ta Phinh Plateau, where we cycle an undulating road, through more superb mountainous countryside. Along the way we pass through several small Dzao ethnic minority villages and are able to see at close quarters how people go about their daily lives. There are several climbs, but some rewarding exhilarating descents and almost no motor traffic. Meals: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner. Cycling Distance: 63km (40 miles).

Day 8: Lai Chau to Sapa

Highlights: Vietnams' highest mountain pass

We continue on our way through scenic hills and valleys with one climb over Giangma Pass before tackling the Hoang Lien Son Pass (also known as Tram Ton Pass), Vietnam's highest pass at 1900 meters (6232 feet). Finish the day with a great descent to Sapa (population 36,200, elevation 1650m - 5400'). Sapa is in a magnificent setting in the mountains and an attractive little town. There is the option of cycling from Lai Chau until the start of the climb and driving over the pass, or for those who want the challenge of climbing the pass, drive in the morning to the start of the climb. It is mostly 0.5% grade and 24 km (15 miles) long. Breakfast, lunch and dinner are included. Cycling and Total Distance: 70.8km (44 miles) with shorter options possible.

Day 9: Sapa rest day

Highlights:

Much of the attraction of Sapa is the H'mong and the Dzao people who sell their crafts at the market. There is a good selection of cafes, bakeries and restaurants in town, catering to all tastes. You may wish to simply wander around town and the market, or to hike a short distance (4 km - 2.5 miles) to Cat Cat village, where you will have the chance to see local craft shops, the lovely waterfall and a short cultural show before returning via a steep climb back up to Sapa town. Ride option: Bicycle from Sapa downhill to Ta Van (Dzay minority) village across the river on a narrow winding road with excellent views down the valley. Return 11 kms (7 miles) back uphill to Sapa. Breakfast is included.

Day 10: Sapa to Bac Ha

Highlights: Fabulous downhill, near the border of China

We start the day with a fabulous 30km (19 miles) 1,000m (3280 feet) descent to the Red River valley on the Chinese border. The scenery is spectacular and the biking wonderful. This is truly a day to remember. We will pass ethnic villages where the local people wear their traditional colorful clothing. On reaching the river valley, we will be escorted through Lao Cai to the Bac Ha road to avoid getting lost. For the first 40km (25 miles), until reaching the village of Pac Ngam, we pass through lowland country. After lunch we then climb steeply to Bac Ha, our final destination. Breakfast, lunch and dinner are included. Cycling Distance: Sapa to Bac Ha: 101km (63 miles). Options: Via Ban Xeo and Lao Cai): 80km (50 miles) to start of climb to Bac Ha.

Day 11: Bac Ha day ride

Highlights: Market Day

On Sundays there is a fascinating market attended by all the tribes: Tay, Nung, Dao, Flower H'mong,Giay, PhuLa etc, it's a great opportunity to see the local life style as thousands of people gather to sell produce and socialize. It is a riot of color as everything from pigs, ducklings and wooden ploughs to scarves and gaily embroidered bags and jewelry are exchanged. The main tribe you will see today is flower H'mong, the most colourful one in Vietnam. Breakfast, lunch and dinner are included.

Afternoon options: From Bac Ha it is a spectacular road, climbing to 1360m (4461 feet), to Can Cau village where there is a fascinating market attended by the local ethnic tribes people. We visit Lung Phinh village then bicycle downhill back to Bac Ha. OR take an optional short drive up a beautiful side valley to the nearby village of Ban Pho, where we'll have the opportunity to visit some local houses and see corn wine (potent stuff!) being distilled. Bicycling Distance: 35km (22 miles).

Day 12: Bac Ha to Lao Cai and then an overnight train to Hanoi

Highlights: A day of varied tranportation: bicycle, long boat, and train

Retracing our bike tracks over Bac Ha Pass for 16kms (10 miles). A very minor climb in this direction), we descend to Coc Ly where we walk about 2kms (1.2 miles) to board a long boat for a relaxing two hours on the Song Chay (Blue River) passing limestone cliffs and water buffalo on the waters edge. After lunch in Bao Nhai, your support vehicle will take you to Lao Cai town - literally the end of the line in Vietnam. Alternatively you might like to bike this flattish 40kms (25 miles)section of road. The town was destroyed in the Chinese invasion of 1979 (and subsequently rebuilt) and the border crossing closed until 1993. At Lao Cai we can look across the river to China. We change and shower at a hotel prior to dinner and then board the overnight sleeper train to Hanoi. Breakfast, lunch and dinner are included. Cycling Distance: Up to 60km (38 mi) downhill and flat terrain.

Day 13: Hanoi

Highlights: Hanoi

The train journey (in sleeper class carriages) takes about 10 hours and you will arrive in Hanoi early this morning (5:00 AM). From Hanoi we can arrange a trip to Halong Bay or take you to the International Airport for your flight home. Breakfast is included.
  • Highlights
    Dien Bien Phu, Stunning Scenery
  • Includes
    Use of a quality 27-speed hybrid bicycle, 13 days, 12 nights accommodation (includes one night on a sleeper train); 12 breakfasts, 10 lunches and 10 dinners
  • Countries
    Vietnam
  • Begin/End
    Hanoi
  • Arrive/Depart
    Hanoi Noi Bai Int'l Airport (HAN)
  • Total Distance
    725 KM (448 miles) some shorter options available
  • Daily Distance
    81 KM (50 miles) some shorter options available
  • What to Expect
    This tour is for the fit and more adventurous bicycle traveler.
  • Rating
    401
    All roads are paved but some sections of roadworks are likely.
  • Notes
    *TourzPlus™ Program
    *Visas are required for entry into Vietnam. Click here for information on obtaining visas.
  • Terms
Please call 1-800-685-4565 or e-mail us for the dates for this tour.

Click on the "pins" for details about each day's highlights.

Map Key

Green pinStart
Yellow pinCity (on route)
Red pinEnd
Other city dotCity (not part of route, provided for reference)

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