Day 1: Hanoi – Mai Chau. ~150 km, ~5 h.
Once out of the Red River Delta, which brims with traditional farming activity, we pass through limestone monoliths and into foothills populated by Muong people. We head straight at the main range before breaching a high and beautiful forested pass, which descends into the hidden valley of Mai Chau where we spend the night with friends in a traditional Thai stilt house.
Day 2: Mai Chau – Yen Binh. ~200 km, ~8 h
A long but beautiful drive from Mai Chau to Yen Binh, we will go up, north direction along the Da (Black) river until Yen Binh where we spend the night. Yen Binh is a small town quite near Thac Ba lake.
Day 3: Yen Binh – Vu Linh. ~1.5 h boat.
A boat is waiting for us in Yen Binh to bring us to Vu Linh, at our Dao friends’ village. You will cross all the lake (~1.5 hours). The welcome is exceptional at Dao village of Vu Linh.
Day 4: Vu Linh – Ba Be. ~250 km, ~9 h.
Quite a long drive but easy (early departure is better) from Vu Linh to Ba Be (~250 km). Ba Be is a nice stop and it is good to arrive the first day to have a full day (of the second) day there.
However, if you feel like resting before, it is all the time possible to stop 50 km before Ba Be. The place before Ba Be is Na Khan, a village of Tay people lost in the forest.
Day 5: Ba Be. Boating.
Easy boating on the lake and river. Go to market (if it is the day you arrive). Stop at waterfall, beautiful swim…Ong pirate, the chef of Dau Dang waterfall where we enjoy dinner. Down the waterfall, we could visit the village and a small school (only few pupils during the summer). We propose to stay in the stilt house of forest guards.
Day 6: Ba Be – Quang Hoa. ~170 km, ~8 h.
Cross Ba Be lake to come back to our captain’s house. Beautiful ride up to Cao Bang province. Few passes from where you can dominate the area. The road is easy but many curves. We can stop a lot. All together, stop for drinks and food it should be an 8-hour journey. Then ride 1 more hour to reach the beautiful village of Quang Hoa, in the middle of a mountain cirque. This is the territory of Nung An people. Spend the night in our friend’s house.
Day 7: Quang Hoa – Na Tau – Quang Hoa. ~30 km, ~1 h.
Na Tau is a completely unknown area that we propose to discover it by raft and motorbike. Rivers and waterfalls everywhere are extremely beautiful and wild. It is only 15 km from Quang Hoa. On the return, we invite you for the aperitif at the village of Phuc Sen, artisan village Nung An, the owner is the brother of our host.
Day 8: Quang Hoa – Ban Gioc – Quang Hoa. ~100 km, ~2 h.
Having obtained permission from the border police, we make our way through spectacular scenery to Vietnam’s most impressive waterfalls. Weather permitting we can swim right up to where the 50 m high falls hit the river.
Day 9: Quang Hoa – Mau Son. ~180 km, ~7 h.
We slowly leave the region of the karsts to find the forest. Then descending by famous colonial road N. 4 until the frontier city of Lang Son. We then climb Mau Son mount (1.541 m) to spend the night at its top from where we dominate all the area to which China is near.
Stay in a hotel in a former French atmosphere, which is recently restored.
Day 10: Mau Son – Bai Chay. ~180 km, ~7 h.
We have a long ride mainly on secondary road, passing many coalmines along the road. The road goes down towards the plains. Some sections are in bad conditions.
Arrive in Bai Chay. Check in.
Day 11: Bai Chay – Halong – Cat Ba. Boating.
Cat Ba is the far end of Halong Bay. Cat Ba still live from the resource that the sea offers. The tourism is developed and of high quality. The Cat Ba Bay is a condensed of Halong Bay, its labyrinth of limestone so dense that it is difficult to imagine we are on the sea.
We created this itinerary – the floating village Van Gia. It is our personal friends and the relation with them is intimate, even knowing that some companies now also pass through there.
Finally yet importantly, Monkey Island (Cat Dua Islet) was totally ignored by mass tourism when we propose to stop there. It has nothing special beside the fact that there is nobody except monkeys and one family who takes care of their security.
We propose to sleep on the boat near Cat Dua Islet.
Day 12: Cat Ba – Bai Chay – Hanoi. ~170 km, ~4 h.
After breakfast, we take another 4-hour boat cruise to see the East part of Halong Bay (Bai Tu Long) which was beautifully framed in the French film Indochina starred by Catherine Deneuve. Lunch at Hai Ninh restaurant before driving back to Hanoi. Arrive in Hanoi at ~5 pm.