Vietnam/Laos - "Tour d' Indochine"
It's been over 50 years since French Indochina has disappeared off the map, but there is no reason that we can't put some of the pieces back together.
This tour combines some of the best parts of our Vietnam and Laos Tours. We start out in what has been called the Paris of Southeast Asia, Hanoi. We spend a couple nights to soak up the Old Quarter and the non-stop motion of the streets. We then take the overnight train to Lao Cai, hard on the Chinese border, and then on to Sapa, the premier destination in North Vietnam, then over 2,000 meter high Tram Ton Pass.
We cross into Laos at Tay Tran, outside Dien Bien Phu. We bike through the remote Northeast of Laos before heading South at Odomxai. We stop in Luang Prabang, a Unesco World Heritage Site, and Vang Vieng, where we usually do some kayaking, as well as smaller towns. The tour ends in Vientiane. Tour d'Indochine is 18 nights.
This tour is NOT for everyone. There is plenty of climbing on the tour so you should take a close look at the elevation profiles. Additionally, the accommodations are basic in some spots (shower out of a bucket). You need to be the type of person who likes an adventure.
Day 1 and 2 - Hanoi
We meet in Hanoi and explore "the Paris of Southeast Asia". Hanoi is a virtual human beehive of activity. We stay near the Old Quarter which is a fascinating labyrinth of streets named after the businesses on them: weaving, forging, jewelry-making, shoe making, silver-making and dozens of others.
There are numerous things to do and see: take in the puppet show, visit the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum, Hanoi Opera House, the Ethnic Museum or just kick back, relax and enjoy one of Hanoi's many "Bia Hoi"or "fresh beer" establishments and watch the river of scooters flow by.
Day 3 - Overnight Train to Lau Cai
We catch the overnight train for Lau Cai. Despite what you might imagine, It's actually plenty comfortable. You can buy snacks, get things to drink, etc etc. There are 4 berths to a cabin. It is a LOT better than a long plane ride in the economy section.
Day 4 and 5 - Sapa
We'll disembark from the train very early in the morning and either bike or transfer to Sapa. It's not all that far but it is virtually ALL up hill.
Sapa is the hilltribe capital of North Vietnam. There are a variety of minority people in this area and they all come to Sapa to the market. 37k - Rated 2.6
Day 6 - Sapa to Lai Chau (Old Tom Duong)
We climb up to Tram Ton Pass at 2,000 meters and then we have a huge 30k descent. We end the day in Lai Chau (formerly Tom Duong). On the way, you will pass plenty of minority, hill tribe villages. You will also pass Mt Fansipan, the highest peak in Vietnam (3100 meters). The French referred to these mountains as the "Tonkinese Alps". 68k - Rated 2.4
Day 7 - Lai Chau (Old Tom Duong) to Muong Lay (Old Lai Chau)
We have a couple pretty big climbs and then follow the picturesque Nam Na river into Muang Say (aka "Old Lai Chau"). We stay at the hip Lan Anh Resort where there no doubt will be an active badminton game in the evening. 106k - Rated 2.7
Day 8 - Muong Lay to Dien Bien Phu
In 1954, the French Garrison at Dien Bien Phu was pinned down when the Vietnamese were able to do something thought impossible....carry heavy artillery into the mountains. When you ride in this area you will wonder yourself how they ever did it. The siege at Dien Bien Phu ended in a French surrender and marked the end of French Indochina. Little known is the fact that the US had developed a plan to aid the French by using tactical nuclear weapons at Dien Bien Phu. 105k - Rated 3.5
Day 9 - Dien Bien Phu to Muang Khua, Laos
We depart Dien Bien and cross into Northeast Laos at Tay Tran. This is the least populated section of Laos. We continue on to Muang Khua on the banks of the Nam Ou river. 103k - Rated 4.3
Day 10 - Muang Khua to Pak Mong
In the morning we will load our things into boats for a trip down the scenic Nam Ou River. We will pass places that are only accessible by boat and which do not see many visitors. At Nong Kiau we disembark and ride our bikes 37k to Pak Mong.
Day 11 - Pak Mong to Luang Prabang
On to the historic and enchanting city of Luang Prabang. We follow the banks of the Mekong before entering the city proper. It's also possible, with advance planning, to bike the 20k in the opposite direction to Nong Khiaw and then take a boat down the Nam Ou River. This will take you right by the Pak Ou caves at the confluence of the Nam Ou and Mekong Rivers. 108k - Rated 2.1
Day 12 Rest day in Luang Prabang
Today is a rest day in Luang Prabang. Luang Prabang is encircled by mountains and situated on the banks of the Mekong where it meets the Nam Khan river. There is a lot to see in this World Heritage Town: Temples, Monastaries, the Royal Palace and French Colonial Architecture as well as the beautiful falls outside of town. It’s worthwhile to get up and observe the monks collecting alms at 6 am.
This section has some of the most spectacular limestone, karst mountains in all of Southeast Asia. We ovenight in Kiu Kacham. It is long and challanging ride between Luang Prabang and Kasi. Kiu Kacham is the half way point and a good place to break up the ride. Kiu Kucham is at a high elevation and on a clear day the ride here is spectacular. There will be big bucket of VERY hot water for your shower at the our friendly guesthouse. 79k - Rated 3.7
Day 14 Kiu Kacham to Kasi
We have a big 38 km descent passing dramatic views of craggy limestone mountains. The scent of jasmine and lotus blossom drifts through the clear air from the rich jungle flora. We end our day coming off the mountains at Kasi. 91k - Rated 3.0
Day 15 Kasi to Vang Vieng
60 km of gentle rolling hills to Vang Vieng. Vang Vieng is situated on a bend of the Nam Song River and at sunset it is beautiful. Lots of action in Vang Vieng. It’s a cross roads for travelers and, unlike some other villages, you will run into some here. All the travelers means that there are lots of restaurants and comfortable guesthouses. Check out the market here. It’s very much worth seeing. We have the option of jumping off the bikes and kayaking the last 8k. 64k - Rated 1.4
Day 16 Vang Vieng to Thalat
After a relatively gentle 24 km we reach the fishing village of Tha Heua where you can see all manner of salted fish being sold by the road. We end the day in Thalat which is known for the exotic fare in it's local market. We are not far from Na Nam where we usually eat dinner in the floating restaurant. 110k - Rated 2.0
Day 17 Thalat to Vientiane
Our last day of cycling starts with last two short but hard climbs, before the road levels out for the 95 km all the way to Vientiane. Here the land is agricultural passing paddy fields and more intensely farmed areas. As we near the Lao capital of Vientiane the roads, which till now have been relatively traffic free throughout our trip, start to become busier. We stay at the Inter Hotel on the banks of the Mekong. 98k - Rated 1.6
Day 18 Rest day in Vientiane
We spend a final day exploring Vientiane, the Capital of Laos. Visit That Luang, or the old Burmese Stupa or get up at sunrise to exercise with the locals or do some final shopping in the huge market. It's a great place to chill and recover.
18 nites accommodations at hotels and guesthouses.
Lunch and dinners (except rest days in Hanoi, Sapa, LP and Vientiane)
Transport of baggage
Stocked Sag Vehicle and Driver
Kayaking in Vang Vieng, Boat charter from Muong Khua to Nong Kiau
Deluxe sleeper train from Hanoi to Lai Cau
English Speaking Vietnamese and Lao Guides
Beer, wine booze
Lunch and dinner on rest days in Hanoi, Sapa, LP and Vientiane
Immunizations from your doctor or travel clinic
Airport transfers - not hard.