What makes an overland journey from Hanoi to Kunming so extraordinary? What are the highlights of this region? What learning and discovery is there to be had on this adventure of a lifetime? All these question’s and many more will be answered in this week’s blog post which covers our Tribal Lands of Vietnam & China small group tour.
Read on to find out more about the road less travelled from Hanoi to Kunming and exploring Yunnan province.
Mai Chou Valley
Imagine ethnic minority villages sitting amongst a patchwork of paddy fields surrounded by soaring mountain peaks, that’s Mai Chou Valley. Mai Chau is home to a variety of minority groups with their own unique culture and languages. The village of Pom Coong will be the locale for a traditional lunch is a great opportunity to try local cuisine, chat with your hosts and gain a real insight into life in this fascinating and picturesque region their people, lifestyles, customs and culture.
Son La Old French Prison
Son La’s Old French Prison was a French penal colony where it’s incarcerated inhabitants once included anticolonial revolutionary soldiers and political prisoners. This notorious jail is known as ‘hell on earth’ became somewhat of an institution of stamina and solidarity to the Vietnamese prisoners. It was destroyed by the ‘off-loading’ of unused ammunition by US warplanes after bombing raids but is now partially restored. Rebuilt turrets stand guard over crumbling cells and a famous lone surviving peach tree, planted by To Hieu, a 1940s inmate.
Tram Ton Pass
The road between Lai Chau and Sapa crosses the Tram Ton Pass, a winding mountain road that snakes the periphery of Fansipan, Vietnam’s highest mountain. At 1900m this is Vietnam’s highest mountain pass and acts as a dividing line between two weather fronts. The lookout points here have fantastic views and you will see why it is often referred to as ‘Heaven’s Gate’, with its picturesque landscapes and sheer magnificence resembling a gate to the Heavens.
Tac Tinh Waterfall
Tucked away in a small green valley where the Dao ethnic village resides, the pristine and pure beauty of Tac Tinh Waterfall will make you feel as though you have stumbled upon a bygone era. Locals shorten the name of the waterfall to just ‘Tinh’, which means love in Vietnamese. Legend has it that a forbidden love between a man and a woman of the Dao ethnic group tragically ended here when she jumped down the waterfall and he followed.
Hill tribe village of Cat Cat
Cat Cat Village is located on the Muong Hoa Valley and is the village of the H’mong people who originated from China about 300 years ago. The H’mong people are easily recognisable by their dark blue or black clothing, the dye they use being from the indigo plant which is native to the area. H’mong women wear long aprons with embroidered waistcoats and have their hair rolled up into a turban-like hat, while the men wear a black skullcap. What better way to experience this than on foot in an afternoon guided trek.
Yuanyang Rice Terraces
There are many countries with rice terraces but none of them is nearly as amazing as Yuanyang. And don’t take our word for it, UNESCO declared them a World Heritage Site in 2013. Not only are the most beautiful they are also officially the biggest in the world. Your Yangyang Rice Terrace visit will be a start early as you will be making the most of enjoying a spectacular sunrise; the colours, shadows and the reflections on the water are constantly changing, creating an amazing way to start the day.
Xingmeng the Mongolian Village
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. Their presence here, a very long way from Mongolia, Outer or Inner, is a living historical vestige of an important story in Yunnan’s long history and how it became part of China.
The Stone Forest
In China’s Yunnan Province is the famous stone topography of Shilin, meaning “stone forest.” Covering an area of four-hundred square kilometres the stone forest is a massive otherworldly landscape of karst formations over 270 million years old and is known as the ‘First Wonder of the World’. Over the millennia seismic activity and water and wind erosion have carved the present-day limestone formations. Its giant stalagmite-like pillars create huge arrays of labyrinths and include 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.
This category of tours involves light trekking, walking, cycling, rafting or kayaking for a few hours each day with a small amount of inclines and declines. You will require a reasonable level of fitness and good health to participate. It is important to note that due to the nature of some of our trips, they may take place in remote areas (with basic facilities) and can involve long travelling days on various modes of transport.
Suggested preparation : At least 3 months prior to departure, it is recommended that you undertake aerobic exercise (this may include jogging, cycling or fast walking) for 30 minutes, three times a week. It is also advised to walk on variable terrain and in variable weather conditions. For a cycling adventure, road cycling twice a week is recommended and for adventures which involve paddling and kayaking, it is important to gain confidence and rhythm rather than speed prior to departure.
This category of tours involve trekking, kayaking and cycling for period of 6 to 8 hours a day at a fairly consistent pace. Ideal for people looking to slightly increase the heart rate. For our moderately rated tours, you must have a good level of fitness and also be in good health. It is also important to be prepared for variable weather conditions. Altitude may also come into play. This category of tours may involve visiting remote areas where facilities can be quite basic. Accommodation may also involve camping, homestays or basic accommodation where facilities may not be considered of western standards. To enjoy this style of travel, it is suggested for travellers to have a reasonable level of fitness and health, a positive attitude, as well as a fairly active lifestyle. An open mind is also required.
Suggested preparation: At least 3 months prior to departure, it is recommended that you undertake 45mins – 1 hour of aerobic exercise, three to four times a week. Some potential exercises that could be beneficial include hill walking with a backpack on over variable terrain and weather conditions, as well as running and cycling dependent on the activity you plan on undertaking.
This category of tours involves trekking, kayaking, cycling or other adventure activities in remote areas for up to 8 to 10 hours a day. It is important to note that with the remoteness of some regions comes a variety of other challenges such as variable weather conditions, accommodation as well as facilities. You must have an excellent level of fitness and good health to be able to partake in this category of tour. You must have confidence in your own ability and be in good physical condition. Includes extended periods of endurance.
Suggested preparation: At least 3 to 4 months of strenuous exercise, four times a week. When preparing for treks it would be beneficial to participate in hill walks with a weighted day pack (approximately 5-8 kg) once a week for aerobic fitness and strengthening of leg muscles. It is also important to do this on variable terrain to prepare for challenging adventures. When preparing for cycling adventures, regular bike riding (at least 4 to 5 times a week for 1-4 hours is essential). It is also important to cycle on uneven surfaces or even participate in other aerobic exercises such as running or swimming to build up strength and stamina. Altitude may also be a factor in these tours.
This category of tour often involves extreme trekking, cycling or other extreme adventure activities. It is important to expect remote and poorly defined tracks and to be prepared for variable weather conditions for 10 to 12 hours per day (may sometimes be more depending on weather and altitude). These adventures are suitable for travellers who have prior experience in strenuous travel and activities, are extremely fit and have excellent health. It is also important to note that some of the terrain on these adventures will involve trekking in snow, at high attitude levels and may require technical equipment.
Suggested preparation: It is important to note that physical fitness should be an ongoing activity, commencing around 5-6 months prior to departure, or even before if you have no prior fitness. Exercise should focus on building maximum endurance and stamina. Four to five hard sessions of 40-60 mins per week should be completed and can include exercises such as going to the gym, running, swimming or cycling to focus on building aerobic stamina. It could also be beneficial to prepare by hiking on rough terrain, in extreme weather conditions or partake in altitude training.