Day 1: Hanoi arrival
Arriving at Noi Bai airport in Hanoi, you’ll be met and driven to your hotel. You’ll have time to relax after your journey and spend the night in Hanoi.
Day 2: Hanoi Street Life
You’ll have the whole day to survey Vietnam’s capital city potential for taking photos.
As dawn creeps across the horizon, Hanoi’s street food vendors begin to assemble their stands. Fresh Pho (beef noodle soup) is a dish handed down tradition, but there are many other examples of Hanoi cuisine. However, it’s the ethereal early mist, the flares of the cooking woks and the workers breakfasts that attracts the photographer.
Nearby, the morning markets under appeals. Villagers surrounding the city converge on the road beside the famous Long Bien Bridge to trade, mostly carrying their produce on their heads or wooden yokes. Fruit and vegetables, familiar and alien, lay in piles soon to be bartered. Further away, Quang Ba flower market is a riot of blooms and plants. Wholesalers bundle up handfuls of blossoms, both familiar and wildly exotic.
By now, Hanoi is slowly beginning to open her eyes. As the haze on the city’s many lakes burns off, a legion of Hanoians head for the parks and open spaces for their morning exercise: Tai Chi, gymnastics, aerobics, callisthenics and more. Vietnamese people like keeping fit.
A rumble in the stomach suggests a break for sustenance. A pavement café offers an opportunity to watch the locals heading to work. The traffic noise is incessant: a river of motor scooters, buses, cyclos’ (bicycle taxi) and just about any other means of travel.
Appetite sated, other photogenic possibilities appear in the form of the city’s architecture.
The Colonial and Old Quarters are a tourist honey-pot, but a knowledgeable guide will direct you to the influence and beauty. Elsewhere, other styles have moulded the city: pagodas and communal houses, extravagant temples, old merchants’ residences, ‘tube’ dwellings, social realism, modern shopping malls and more.
After lunch, a walk along the pavements opens Hanoi’s daily life. Street vendors, pavement businesses, tranquil Hoan Kiem Lake, boulevards and narrow alleys: all have stories to capture in pixels.
With evening approaching, a visit to Long Bien Bridge and the Red River will be the last visit today! Watching from the bridge, the river meanders across a patchwork of small islands as it makes its way to its massive delta. Small boats chug across the flats, barges wanders slowly two and fro, children play in the mud, fishermen fling their nets.
Finally, the sun begins to slip down and Hanoi becomes a silhouette. However, if you have enough stamina there’s plenty of pictures to be taken in the city’s night life.
Day 3: Hanoi/Duong Lam/Hanoi/Lao Cai
Duong Lam is a community of six traditional villages some thirty miles (50 km) from Hanoi, a patchwork of verdant fields, shady trees and small huddles of cottages and pagodas built of raw laterite blocks. Although there are many ancient villages dotted across the Red River delta, this commune is extraordinary for its longevity, unscathed regardless through centuries.
Very few tourists visit Duong Lam, but even less recognise the immense depth of the villagers lore handed down through time-worn custom and practice. Your guide will explain the significance: the traditional commune house, pagoda and cottages. As their meanings become clearer, enlightenment grows and the quality of photography develops from prosaic to sublime.
Lunch will be waiting in nearby Son Tay Town. After, and if time allows, a quick look at the ruins of Son Tay Citadel destroyed by the French in 1883 is a reminder of the almost continuous hundred years of warfare waged upon Vietnam. Next, you’ll head to Hanoi, stopping en-route to visit Van Phuc silk village.
Returning to Hanoi where you’ll have room refreshment and you may consider a rest before freshening up and dinner (your own arrangement). Later, our driver will arrive in your hotel and take you to the train station for your overnight train to Lao Cai at 20:40.
Day 4: Lao Cai/Coc Ly Ethnic Market/Bac Ha
You’ll arrive in the early morning, where you’ll be met and taken by car to visit Coc Ly Ethnic market frequented by ethnic minority peoples. After lunch, you’ll continue your journey to Coc Ly where you’ll board a motor-boat to Bao Nhai with stop en-route for a short walk to the Tay minority village of Trung Do, visiting the villagers and their stilt houses, and will be always welcomed with a cup of green tea.
You’ll then continue your cruise for another hour downstream Chay River. Disembarking at Bao Nhai Bridge, your driver and vehicle will be waiting for your transfer to Bac Ha – a small tranquil town for your overnight stay.
Day 5: Bac Ha/Sapa
After breakfast, you will have a walk trip to Ban Pho village, inhabited by the Flower Hmong and Nung peoples. During the two hours loop around the village, you will see the daily farming life of the mountainous minority groups, and enjoy fresh mountain air around the corn fields, rice terraces, green tea hills and apple farms. After lunch, you’ll drive further to Sapa where you’ll spend the night.
Day 6: Sapa/Sa Seng/Hau Thao/Sapa
After breakfast, you’ll leave the town. Sapa is interesting but has been heavily commercialised thus limiting the options for good pictures, so you’ll guide will avoid the nearby villages with refuse, begging, poor quality souvenirs and other bad management.
For photographers, natural attractions include the stark peaks, waterfalls, sweeping valleys, precipitous tracks and passes, birds (more than three hundred species including nearly fifty rare or endangered) as well as a remarkably wide range of flora ranging from low mountain forest to sub-alpine dwarf bamboo and stunted trees.
Human activity is equally interesting. The wide valleys in the highlands are often terraced: the produce is usually rice. Ingenious means of capturing water from the narrow waterfalls cascading to the valley floor enables irrigation. A variety of rudimentary but effective bridges and roads enable villagers to hike to Sapa to sell their goods: those further away head for weekly markets.
The inhabitants of the area are diverse groups of ethnic minority communities: Black H'mong, Dzao, Red Dao and Flower H'mong make up the majority of the local population. Although most males no longer wear traditional costume, most females are adorned with rich ensembles, each wearing different time-honoured weaves and regalia. Depending upon your particulate interests, your guide will adjust your itinerary accordingly.
Fifteen minutes after a short drive, you’ll hike up a long dirt trail to the Sa Seng arriving about an hour later. As with this village, and all others on your way, you’ll find the inhabitants friendly and sociable, some even to the extent of inviting you enter their dwellings.
From there, the Ma Tra and Ta Phin villages offer a striking view of home of the Black H’mong people. Another twenty-minute and two villages unveil a panoramic view of Fansipan. After plenty of photo opportunities, you’ll stop for a picnic lunch in the church of another Black H’mong village.
Another two-hour walk through rice paddy fields and spectacular views, your vehicle will be waiting to return you to Sapa.
Approx: Grade 2 of 5/ 30 minute driving/1 hour for lunch/ 4 hour hiking.
Day 7: Sapa/Lao Chai/Ta Van/Thanh Phu
You’ll arrive in the early morning, where you’ll be met and taken up into the mountains by car to Sapa, a small town perched on the mountainside opposite Mt. Fan Si Pan, Vietnam’s highest peak.
After breakfast at your hotel, you’ll hike down a scenic valley calling in at the H’mong and Dzay ethnic minority villages on the way. You’ll have lunch in a local family. Later in the afternoon, you’ll be picked up by car to travel 12 km ahead. You’ll enjoy picturesque scenery e-route and diverse ethnic minorities. You’ll then continue your hiking to Thanh Phu village where you’ll have dinner and spend the night in a Tay ethnic minority group stilt-house.
Day 8: Thanh Phu/Nam Toong/Ban Ho/Sapa/Lao Cai/Hanoi
After breakfast, you’ll trek to the village of Xa Pho tribe, the smallest ethnic group in Sapa who have very little contact with modern Vietnam and they can speak very little Vietnamese. The route will continue taking you through the rice fields to the Red Dao village of Nam Toong where your guide will prepare your lunch in a local house.
After lunch you will ascend back to Ban Ho where your driver is awaiting for you to take you back to Sapa, later in the evening, to Lao Cai station by car to catch the overnight train to Hanoi.
Day 9: Hanoi/Siem Reap arrival
In the early morning you’ll arrive in Hanoi train station where our driver is waiting for you and take you to the hotel for refreshment. After breakfast, the time will be yours to explore Hanoi – our elegant city until our car arrives to take you to the airport for your flight to Siem Reap. Upon arrival at Siem Reap airport, you will be welcomed and driven to hotel for check in. You will spend your own time and overnight at hotel in Siem Reap.
Day 10: Siem Reap/Angkor Thom/Angkor Wat
You’ll depart from your hotel early, at about 04.30 am – 05.00 am, for sunrise outside Angkor Wat.
You’ll enter the gate temple in darkness from the little visited eastern site, and creep along hoary cloistered corridors past the longest stretch of bas-relief carvings in the world until the sun rises, take beautiful photographs from the western end of the main building of Angkor Wat.
While there are not many people at the temple, we’ll then explore the interior of the great temple, spending a thorough two hours discovering the corridors, central chambers and upper terraces of this truly great temple. Your guide will decipher the myriad of stories behind the bas-relief carvings, and give you an insight into life during the height of the Khmer empire. The tour will be end at Angkor with the box breakfast outside the temple. You’ll then return to hotel for your rest.
Afternoon, we will look at some of the less well known sites near the South gate of Angkor Thom and take you to unusual viewpoints of the moat and gateway. Afterward, we proceed to multi-faced Bayon, a bizarre structure of several architectural changes reflecting a switch from Hinduism (the foundations) to Buddhism (the superstructure). Your next visit will be to the Elephant and Leper King Terraces followed by the Baphoun Temple. The views from the upper galleries of Baphuon are impressive and at the rear of this temple is an incomplete but impressive reclining Buddha 70 metre long. Your overnight will be in Siem Reap.
Day 11: Siem Reap/Taprohm/Preah Khan/Sunset on Phnom Krom Hill
At dawn time, you will be at the atmospheric temple of Ta Prohm. This is a good way to avoid the crowd who would disturb your photographing. We shall take you to see spectacular and sinister root systems growing through the ruins and visit areas which are unseen by most of the visitors here, then continue to nearby Banteay Kdei a smaller and less visited temple which is a delight to explore and photograph.
Afternoon, you will visit Preah Khan which is the second largest temple in the Angkor Group. We take in the less visited South Gate that is an atmospheric parts of this huge temple complex. Preah Khan has a maze of passages and courtyards leading to the Halls of the dancers and the north east quadrant; one of the favourite areas is the yard with the naga balustrades and a unique 2 story round columned building. The East Gopura has the most spectacular tree in temple shots at Angkor. We will be working in some confined dark places, so a fast wide angle lens will be useful. Later in the afternoon, you will be driven about 15 km to Phnom Krom temples on the hills dominating the Angkor plain. Enclosed in a square laterite wall, three sandstone sanctuaries aligned north-south are dedicated to the Brahmanic trinity - Shiva between Vishnu (north) and Brahma (south). Phnom Krom is a great sunset spot as you can overlook the Tonle Sap Lake and the Cambodian countryside. You will enjoy sunset and photographing on the hill before returning to hotel.
Day 12: Siem Reap/Luang Prapang
The time will be your own until our driver arrives to take you to the airport for your flight to Luang Prapang. Upon arrival, you will be met and transferred to hotel. Luang Prabang has been claimed by the UNESCO to be ‘the best preserved city in South East Asia’. During our time here, we visit the impressive stupa of Wat Visoun and the shrine of Wat Aham, Wat Mai; we then climb up to the top of mount Phousi for an enjoyable exploration of the sacred, gilded stupa as well as a panoramic view of the city at sunset and the Mekong River. From there, we explore the Night Market, where you can find a lovely selection of handmade textile made by local and hill tribe people surrounding Luang Prabang.
Day 13: Luang Prapang Discovery
Today, we will enjoy a short-guided tour seeing the city’s oldest temple of Wat Sene and the magnificent Wat Xiengthong with its roofs sweeping low to the ground, which represents classical Laotian architecture. We then embark on a cruise upstream on the Mekong River, which also gives us a breathtaking view of the tranquil countryside as well as explore the mysterious Pak Ou Caves, two linked caves crammed with thousands of gold lacquered Buddha statues of various shapes and sizes left by pilgrims. Along the way, we stop at the village of Ban Xanghai, where they make the local rice wine. On return, we take a short drive to Ban Phanom, a small village known for its hand weaving. You’ll spend the night in Luang Prapang.
Day 14: Luang Prapang
Early start gives you the fantastic opportunity to participate in the daily morning rituals of saffron-clad monks collecting offerings of Alms (ubiquitous sticky rice) from the faithful residents. This tradition is very unique in Laos, being the only Buddhist nation still preserving the procession. From there you will visit the morning Phosi Market, where you will see such diverse offerings as dried buffalo skin, local tea and saltpeter among the chickens, vegetables and hill-tribe weavings. Laos is also known for its traditional crafts, and today you will visit local villages of Lao ethnic minority groups at Ban Ouay, Hmong Village, Ban Ou, Laoloum Village and Ban Thapene, Khmu Village, then drive to the beautiful Khouangsi Waterfall where you can cool off with a refreshing swim in the turqoise pools or walk along the forest trails. After returning to Luang Prabang by late afternoon, we continue to Ban Xangkhong, a village well known for its silk weavings and for its Saa (jute) Papermaking. We’ll return to the city by late evening to observe the sunset at Wat Siphouthabath.
Day 15: Luang Prapang Departure
After breakfast, you’ll have free time until the time to drive to the airport in a good time to connect with your international departure flight. Tour ends!