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Trip Report 2-week adventure to the far north mountains of Vietnam with Exotic Voyages

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My husband and I are already very experienced when it comes to travel in Vietnam. The main reason for this is that my father comes from this country, but I was born and raised in East Germany. As of this connection I’m very interested in the culture of my ancestors.
As we have been here already many times we know all the typical tourist destinations by heart. Still we love to return here at least once per year to discover some new parts of the country we haven’t seen yet. This time we decided for the mountain area in the North. It’s not always easy to communicate, as the locals only speak Vietnamese. Although my father comes from Vietnam I never learned this difficult language. Some don’t even speak Vietnamese but only the language of the ethnic minority they belong to.
We knew about this in advance, therefore we decided to do our trip together with a tourguide. As this is a very special tour not many people do we had some problems in advance to find a tour operator who offers this, nevertheless I can highly recommend all the places we visited. After some research we finally found a tour operator named Exotic Voyages. The company is seated in Hanoi but also has a German Website and German speaking tourguides. We sent them an e-mail and together with a nice girl called Linh designed our trip.
After one night in Hanoi we met our guide Thang, who joined us for the tour of two weeks. We also had a car with a driver. From Hanoi we set off to Cao Bang, a province in the Northeast. The beautiful landscape is full of rice terraces, but the highlight here are definitely the biggest waterfalls of the country, which are directly at the border to China. Thang also explained to us, that in this province some very important battles during the war of independence against the French were fought.
The next destination on our journey was Ba Be, a national park in the North of Hanoi. As in most places during our trip we stayed in a homestay. It is not the most comfortable option, but on this way you get to know the local culture best. Thang always helped us to talk to the locals and we learned a lot of things about the daily life. I really enjoyed the traditional meals we had. Depending on the region and the ethnic minority we either had pork, chicken or even buffalo. Everywhere we also tried the homemade rice wine. They are more like spirits than wine, but honestly taste differently in each place.
Ba Be is very peaceful and quiet. We did a boat tour on the 3 big lakes, went hiking and swimming and relaxed a bit in the hammock.
Ha Giang was the next stop. This region really impressed me! It’s in the North at the border to China. To me the landscape was even more impressive than in the famous tourist destination Sapa. The valley is very narrow and the hills are even steeper. We stayed another two nights and spent most of the days with trekking and got to know two other ethnic minorities: The minority of the Tay and the one of the H’Mong. After our tour we were able to tell different minorities from each other only by the way they dress. The Red Dzao for example wear red headscarves, black H’Mong dress in dark clothes and Flower H’Mong are always dressed very bright and colorful.
The Flower H’Mong we met on our next stop, which was Bac Ha. This is a small town that is very famous for its market. Countless different ethnic minorities meet here to sell their products, but also for the social life the market is very important: Here you get all the news from the region. Unfortunately, this place is already getting very touristy. Busses full of people come here from Sapa and many vendors already sell souvenirs for tourists instead of their traditional goods. Still it was interesting to see all these ethnic minorities in their fantastic clothes, a very colorful experience. The region around the market is also fantastic for hiking and trekking.
The next day we started going south again. Although we’ve been there many times before we stopped another time in the valley of Sapa. I didn’t really want to come back here, as I think it is too touristy and not much of the original culture is left. But I was proven wrong! Linh suggested stopping here, as the transfer time would be to long if we drive it all in one stretch. We were shown a part of the valley that was completely different from what I remembered. We stayed for two nights in different homestays and it was a great experience which really surprised me. Sapa is definitely still worth visiting, but take care in which part you go!
The cultural journey ended with one more night in Mung Cang Chai, which is a beautiful and very little known region in the South of Sapa. From here we set off back to Hanoi, but on the way we spent another 2 nights in a small Resort at Vietnam’s biggest lake. It’s built in the style of a homestay and great for relaxing. To me it seems that it’s very popular with foreigners living in Hanoi, who use it as a weekend escape. It was a great place for us to review all the fantastic experiences of the last weeks.
Back in Hanoi we said goodbye to Thang and flew back to Germany. All in all we had a fantastic journey, although the many hours in the car were not very relaxing. Still, we knew about this in advance and decided to do it. All the great experiences were definitely worth it. I can recommend a trip like this to everybody who really wants to get to know the traditional life of this country, but you need to get a guide. Without Thang we would not have been able to communicate with our hosts at the homestays, only through him we could learn so many things during our trip. The tour Linh designed was amazing, many thanks to her and to Exotic Voyages for this great holiday!

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