Tribal Heartlands of Vietnam & China

13 Days
from AUD$ 6,364


  • Street food tour through the old quarter of Hanoi
  • Cycle through the rice paddies and remote villages of Mai Chau
  • Mingle with minority tribes, visit their stilt houses, taste their traditional home cooked food
  • Trek to minority villages only accessible by foot
  • Bac Ha market – the largest minority market in the Sapa Valley
  • Sunrise over the beautiful Yuanyang rice terraces in Duoyishu
  • Visit the village of Xingmeng – the only ‘Mongolian Village’ within the Yunnan Province
  • Explore the Stone Forest – a karst landform more than 200 million years old

Leaving behind the bustling but nostalgic city of Hanoi, venture north as you spend time with the hill tribe minority groups of Northern Vietnam and Southern China.

Travel overland between Vietnam and China – a route almost completely untrodden. Witness spectacular vistas of terraced rice paddies, traditional homes, hidden cultures and flourishing traditions.

Journey map

Fitness level



Day 1 – Arrival in Hanoi

Xin chao! Welcome to Hanoi, Vietnam. Upon arrival in Hanoi Airport you will be met and transferred to your hotel.

The capital of Vietnam is a charming city with a population of over six million. Hanoi is famous for its beautiful lakes, shaded boulevards, verdant public parks and its thriving Old Quarter, which is an architectural museum piece with blocks of ochre buildings retaining the air of a 1930s French provincial town. As Vietnam develops to compete with other South-East Asian countries, the beautiful Hoan Kiem Lake reflects the contrasts of modern office buildings, old Buddhist temples and the tangle of ancient streets in its still surface.

This evening, enjoy dinner at Cau Go Restaurant, a restaurant hidden on the 5th floor of a small building overlooking Hanoi’s famed Hoan Kiem Lake. The restaurant is more than just a great view, however. The décor, like Hanoi itself, is a mix of Old meets New in its chic lines and modern furnishings juxtaposed against antique fans, distressed French shutters and vintage staff uniforms. The chef takes a contemporary approach to traditional Vietnamese cuisine, beautifully presented in every dish of the country’s specialities. Here you will meet your tour leader, and the rest of your group, and there will be a briefing introduction of the adventure that lies ahead! (D)

2 nights at Hanoi Pearl Hotel or similar

Day 2 – Hanoi

Today you will explore the city of Hanoi, with its ochre-coloured colonial buildings, tree-lined boulevards and scenic lakes. Stop at the old coffee shop in the Old Quarter to learn about daily life of Hanoian. Then visit the historic Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum, an imposing monument of marble and granite built to house the preserved body of beloved revolutionary leader Ho Chi Minh, affectionately known to the Vietnamese as “Uncle Ho”. Tour the One Pillar Pagoda, a Buddhist temple built in 1049 of wood in the shape of a lotus blossom and set on a single stone pillar, considered by many to be one of Vietnam’s most iconic pagodas. Visit Ho Chi Minh’s House nearby, a simple wooden house in a tranquil setting where Ho Chi Minh lived and worked. Some of his belongings are on display and visitors can walk up the steps to see his bedroom. Continue on to the Temple of Literature, Vietnam’s first national university built in the late 11th century. The picturesque temple is an example of well-preserved traditional Vietnamese architecture and is featured on the back of the 100,000 Vietnamese dong banknote.

Water puppetry is a unique art that originated in Vietnam’s wet rice civilisation. Drive 30 minutes from your hotel to a local house situated in a small alley of Hanoi to meet with a water puppet artisan. Born into a family with a tradition of performing water puppetry in Nam Dinh province, Mr. Liem Phan acquired a passion for this folk art in his childhood. He inherited the talent and tradition from his father and  he has a profound passion of playing with puppets, making puppets by creating a mini stage for water puppetry and bringing his solo performances to several countries outside Vietnam.  Sit down for a cup of tea and learn his stories about how the water puppet originated, his memorable experience travelling to different corners of the world to bring Vietnamese culture and folklore to international friends. Witness a 30-minute show seeing lion dances, buffalo fighting, rice farming, and boat racing, etc. at his private mini water puppet stage on the top floor of his house. After the show, get yourself into the artisan’s role to handle puppets in the water or join with Mr. Liem Phan to make and paint the puppets.

Following the water puppet show, you will be transferred to the Omamori Spa for a relaxing massage. Omamori Spa is a social enterprise, providing a safe and dignified work environment for blind people. The specially trained Masseuses here are vision impaired, and provide quite an experience with a level of gentleness and body awareness that differs from traditional practitioners.

Eating on the street is a very typical activity for Hanoians and makes up an important part of the city’s unique culture. Depart from your hotel at 18:00 for a leisurely walk with your tour guide to the Old Quarter. Chit-chat with your guide to get an insight of street food in Hanoi & the typical culinary habits. Make a first stop at a local coffee shop to try the local brew. Then walk a little further to taste some typical Hanoi snacks such as Pillow cake, fried sweet cakes. Next stroll through the streets lined with many food vendors and make your way to a steaming bowl of Pho Ga (Vietnamese noodle soup with chicken). This is practically Vietnam’s national dish and is a dish enjoyed morning noon and night. Next move on to try Vietnam’s 2nd most popular food – the Banh Mi Pate or baguette sandwich with pate at Banh My Lan Ong, one of the most famous shops in Hanoi. Later head to Dong Xuan night market which is well known for all types of goods including souvenirs. Try your hand at bargaining for a good deal before heading off to Beer Corner in the old corner to try a cold glass of Bia Hoi (fresh draft beer) like a local. (B,D)

Day 3 - Hanoi to Mai Chau

This morning after breakfast you will leave the hectic pace of Hanoi and journey to the fresh mountain air of the Mai Chau valley (approx. 3hrs). There are great photo opportunities along the way and you will have time to stop at a look out for a great view of Mai Chau. If time permits, you may also have the opportunity to help local farmers plant rice seeds in their fields.

Mai Chau is home to a variety of minority groups with their own unique culture and languages. Enjoy a traditional lunch with examples of local cuisine in the village of Pom Coong, where your local guide will introduce you to your hosts and provide information on the region’s people, their lifestyles, customs and culture. This is a great opportunity to experience the local area, chat with your hosts and gain a real insight into life in this fascinating and picturesque region.

After lunch, there will be some time to relax before saddling up for a cycle trip to explore nearby villages. This picturesque ride takes you on small footpaths and through rice paddies surrounded by the spectacular mountains of the valley, you will also have many opportunities to interact with the locals as you cycle your way through the villages. (B,L)

Overnight Mai Chau Ecolodge Hotel or similar

Distance and Journey Time: Approx (140km) 3.5hrs

Day 4 – Mai Chau to Moc Chau to Son La

Today starts with an early morning departure for Moc Chau. En-route, you will have the opportunity to visit a village of local H’mong people, and witness the unique peach gardens and spectacular roads that twist around the mountains. Enjoy lunch in Moc Chau town, before continuing on to Son La City. Upon arrival in Son La, visit the French colonial Son La Prison. Its inhabitants once included revolutionary soldiers and polotical prisoners, yet this notorious jail known as ‘hell on earth’ became somewhat of an institution of stamina and solidarity to the the Vietnamese prisoners.

From here you will visit Mong village, where you will immediately notice the spectacular scenery of mountains and rivers. The village is also surrounded by ancient forests and colourful orchid flowers. Each spring, apricot flowers, plum flowers and ban flowers show off their splendour, and during winter Vong Gai flowers bloom, filling the forest with a burst of bright red colour.

Whilst in the area, feel the breeze in the air while immersing yourself in the local hot springs whilst overlooking the red stilt houses and Vong Gai flowers, a most relaxing way to ‘soak in’ the wonderful surroundings! (B,L)

Overnight Muong Thanh Luxury Son La Hotel or similar

Distance and Journey Time: Approx (185km) 4.5hrs

Day 5 – Son La to Dien Bien Phu

Following breakfast, you will depart for Dien Bien Phu. The drive itself showcases the stunning scenery of north-west Vietnam, passing the lush, expansive terraced fields of corn, beans and bananas, as well as the many colourful roadside ‘shops’ as the locals sell their wares. You will have opportunies along the way to stop for photos, stretch your legs, and to visit local villages, where you can learn more about their unique cultures. You will then continue the drive through the impressive Pha Din Pass at the height of 1,500m, it offers a fantastic panorama of the charming valley encompassed by the year round cloud, as well as passing roads of colourful wild flowers.

You will arrive at Dien Bien in the late afternoon where you will have free time to relax or you may wish to do some exploring around the city. (B,L)

Overnight Muong Thanh Holiday Dien Bien Phu Hotel or similar

Distance and Journey Time: Approx (153km) 3.5-4hrs

Day 6 – Dien Bien Phu to Lai Chau

Today after breakfast you will continue your scenic journey north to Lai Chau (approx. 6hrs).

Arriving in the afternoon, you will have some free time to explore the back roads providing a great way to explore the real Vietnam, where you will likely see mostly rural dwellers, who are just as interested in finding out about you, as you are of them, and very few other travellers. (B,L)

Overnight Muong Thanh Lai Chau Hotel or similar

Distance and Journey Time: Approx (202km) 4.5-5hrs

Day 7 – Lai Chau to Sapa

Leaving the wild of Lai Chau, you will make your way toward Sapa, driving through picturesque scenery and villages, and traversing Tram Ton Pass. At 1,900m, it is the highest pass in Vietnam, and is often referred to as ‘Heaven’s Gate’, with its picturesque landscapes and sheer magnificence resembling a gate to the Heavens. You will have the opportunity to take a break here to admire the incredible views.

Opt to stop en route to visit Tac Tinh Waterfall starting at the height of 130 meters from the Hoang Lien Son Range and ends with a 100-square-meter lake. Climb up for about 15 minutes to have the best view of the waterfall.

In the afternoon, you will head off on a guided moderate trek (approx. 2-3hrs) to the hill tribe villages of Ta Van & Giang Ta Chai. Sapa’s terraced rice fields are often considered as some of the most magnificent in the world. Depart Sapa for the breathtaking Muong Hoa Valley, home to the largest terraced rice fields in the area. If your visit is between May and October, it will coincide with the local planting and harvest time, a chance to see the local farmers in action. Hike to the Ta Van Village to visit the Zay, an ethnic group known for their brightly coloured clothing. Observe their way of life and the local traditions before continuing your trek featuring magnificent views of the terraced fields and impressive Mount Fansipan. Visit the Red Dzao village of Giang Ta Chai and notice the square piece of fabric on the back of the shirts worn by both men and women symbolizing that they are children of God. The Dzao women also wear red turbans adorned with silver coins and red tassels. Return to Sapa by car.

In the late afternoon, you will return to Sapa where you can relax in your hotel. (B,L)

Overnight Aliana Boutique Sapa Hotel and Spa or similar

 Tour duration: 4 hours

Total trekking distance: 4km (2 miles)

Distance and Journey Time: Approx (80km) 2.5hrs

Day 8 – Sapa to Bac Ha Sunday Market – Ban Pho

Today you will travel to the Bac Ha market (Sunday only) which is the largest minority peoples market in Northwest Vietnam. Alive with the bright colours and extravagant costumes of the local people, here you will meet different tribal groups such as Flower Hmong, Black Dzao, Tay and Phu La, as well as other minority groups who come from far and wide to buy and sell a wide variety of goods and livestock. You will have time to wander around the market, enjoy the atmosphere and have fun trying out your trading skills with the friendly local people.

In the afternoon, you will embark on a 2 hour walk to visit Ban Pho – A Flower Hmong village where the villagers live a simple life but are renowned for their kindness and hospitality. Situated on a mountain cliff side, the rooftops of nearly 500 village homes appear as nests along the escarpment. It’s here where the beauty of the highlands is most captivating, and paired with the serene village backdrop makes a lasting impression. (B,L)

Overnight Ngan Nga Hotel in Bac Ha or similar

Distance and Journey Time: Approx (100km) 2.5hrs

Day 9 – Bac Ha to Ha Khau Border

After breakfast, you will be transferred to the border town Ha Khau in the Hekou County of Honghe which is situated in the southeast of Yunnan and borders on Vietnam’s Lao Cai Province.

Hekou derives its name from its location, it is the converging point of the Red River and Nanxi River, and is a vital gateway for trade and travel between China and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).

After seeing off your Vietnamese leader, you will cross the border independently into China, where you will be greeted by your Chinese leader. On arrival in China, you will have a local lunch and then drive to Zheke village (approx. 4hrs) which is one of most traditional Hani village in this region and it is located in the middle of the mountain, we can experience the local life and visit the rice terrace there (B,L,D)

2 nights at Yun Ti Hotel or similar

Walking Time: Approx 1.5hrs

Distance and Journey Time: Approx. (290km) 5-5.5hrs

Day 10 – YuanYang

This morning you will rise early to make the most of the spectacular sunrise over the beautiful Yuanyang rice terraces in Duoyishu. The colours, shadows and the reflections on the water are constantly changing, creating an amazing way to start the day.

After breakfast, you will explore the local morning markets before spending the day trekking along the terraced fields and visiting some of the local minority groups on the way.

The Yuanyang rice terraces are on the southern slopes of Ailao Mountain, and are a masterpiece of the ingenuity of the Hani people with slopes varying from 15 degrees to 75 degrees, they extend to many towns along the south bank of the Red River. Known as ‘land sculpture’, these magical terraced fields have been officially acknowledged by UNESCO as a World Cultural and Natural Heritage site. (B,L,D)

Walking Time: Approx 4hrs

 Distance and Journey Time: Approx. (44km) 2hrs

Day 11 – Jianshui

After breakfast, you will drive to Jianshui (approx. 4hrs), an ancient town in the Honghe Prefecture of Yunnan Province. With a history of around 1,200 years the town enjoys a great reputation as a ‘Museum of Ancient Buildings and Residential Houses’.

Here you will visit Tuanshan Village, which is built on a small plateau on a hill and surrounded by a rounded-top mountain. The cobblestone streets of the village are lined with ancient family mansions and gardens, lineage temples and historical courtyards.

The valleys surrounding Jianshui are littered with old stone bridges, the crown jewel of which is undoubtedly Double Dragon Bridge (or Seventeen Span Bridge). Built from local stone in the eighteenth century, it is nearly 150m long, paved in marble and the largest bridge of its kind in the Province. There are also three elegant lofts on the bridge with the middle one known as the ‘Grand View Pavilion of South Yunnan’, as it offers beautiful views of the surrounding green fields, majestic blue mountains and sparkling clear waters. (B,L,D)

Overnight Jianshui Lin An Hotel or similar

Walking Time: Approx 4hrs

 Distance and Journey Time: Approx. (137km) 2.5hrs


Day 12 - Kunming

Today you make your way toward Kunming City, visiting Xiushan Hill in Tonghai Town, Xingmeng (Mongolian Village) and Stone Forest (World Natural Heritage) along the way.

Xiushan Park dates back to the Han Dynasty, and throughout its long history various Temples and Pavilions have been added. Today an array of traditional Temples and Pavilions in various styles of Taoism, Buddhism and Confucianism are found around the lush park covering Xiushan Hill.

The village of Xingmeng dates back to 1253 and is the only ‘Mongolian Village’ within the Yunnan Province and you will see the statue that features the arrival of the Mongolian cavalry. You will also see Xingmeng Mongolians in their traditional clothing as they go about their daily lives and continue to practice their own unique customs.

Stone Forest is a karst landform more than 200 million years old and is known as the ‘First Wonder of the World’. Covering an area of 400 square kilometres, its giant stalagmite-like pillars create huge arrays of labyrinths and includes both large and small stone forests, as well as many other scenic spots. Walking through the site, you will marvel at the sheer size and beauty of the natural stone masterpieces and their intricate formations. (B,L,D)

Overnight Cachet Boutique Kunming Artim or similar

Walking Time: Approx 4hrs

 Distance and Journey Time: Driving Approx. (194km) 3.5hrs, Train 2.5hrs


Day 13 - Departure

The day is yours at leisure until it is time to transfer to the airport for your onward flight. (B)

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What’s included

  • Return airport transfers
  • 12 nights accommodation
  • 12 breakfasts, 10 lunches, 6 dinners
  • Entrance Fees as per the itinerary
  • Snacks en route (Day 3 – Day 9)
  • Services of English speaking local guides
  • Sightseeing as per the itinerary
  • Transportation in an air conditioned vehicle
  • Bicycle rental and helmet for cycling days (local bikes).
  • International and domestic flights
  • Visas
  • Travel and medical insurance
  • All services, meals other than those indicated above
  • Any changes to the proposed and confirmed program.
  • All items of a personal nature e.g. drinks, laundry, telephone calls, tips etc

**Please note that this tour can be organised on request for private departures.

* Pricing is subject to change at anytime until full payment has been received.

* A minimum of 2 adults is required to guarantee this departure.

A non-refundable deposit of $1000 AUD per person is required to secure your place. Final payment is due no later than 60 days prior to departure. Travel insurance is mandatory for travelling with Crooked Compass. For full terms and conditions, please click here.



Start Date
End Date
Start Date
05th May 2024
End Date
17th May 2024
13 Days
Enquiry Only
$6,364 AUD
Start Date
03rd Nov 2024
End Date
15th Nov 2024
13 Days
$6,364 AUD
Start Date
04th May 2025
End Date
16th May 2025
13 Days
$6,682 AUD
Start Date
02nd Nov 2025
End Date
14th Nov 2025
13 Days
$6,682 AUD

What our adventurers are saying

We just completed a 4 week tour of Vietnam and Cambodia arranged by Crooked Compass. It went perfectly. Excellent accommodation, reliable and experienced guides and drivers and a well arranged itinerary. We saw the best of what these 2 countries offer. Thank you CC

Roger Desmarchelier – Vietnam & Cambodia

I’ve been a solo traveler for decades but the personally crafted experiences plotted out for me by CC are ones I’d never have figured out on my own. They catered to all my needs and preferences but still made sure I was having the most authentic, enlightening exchanges I’d been hoping for. If you’re heading to Thailand or Cambodia…they really make it worth your while to trust their kind & knowledgeable guides and their staff in Sydney to plan it all. Fantastic job, Crooked Compass!

Scott Thuman – Vietnam & Cambodia

We had the most fantastic tour through Vietnam in July 2022 with Crooked Compass. Our family’s private tour was quick and easy to organise, and Lisa took all of our requests seriously (which we very much appreciated, especially when travelling with a young child). We travelled to more remote parts of Halong Bay and the Mekong Delta than most other tourists, and we had fantastic guides who proudly told us about Vietnam’s history, food, and culture. Our accommodation was all easily 5 star, and internal flights and transfers were a breeze. Would highly recommend, and we will book again soon!

Tina Watts-Seale – Vietnam