After a hearty breakfast, we saddle up and make the break out of the city limits and the lowlands and plains of the Red River Delta. We pass through clusters of limestone as we head out west before leaving the main road and climb up to thePeak of Mau Son Mountain. An old French hill station,Mau Sonwas ravaged during war with the Chinese, and the buildings have recently been rebuilt in a traditional style. A winding road leads us to the summit and at over 1,500 metres altitude we enjoy fantastic views out over China and down towards Ha Long Bay.
Overnight at the Mau Son Hotel(B, L, D)
Dropping down from the heights of Mau Son we strike directly north, skirting the border city of Lang Son, visiting the Dong Dang ‘Friendship Gate’ on the Chinese border, then we join the legendary ‘Highway 4′ where the Viet Minh forces carried out numerous raids over uncountable passes in this remote border region. We follow the border all the way to Vietnam’s major city in the Northeast, Cao Bang (literal translation: ‘High Plateau’).
Overnight at the Bang Giang Hotel in Cao Bang(B, L, D)
*Cao Bang: At 300 kilometres north of Hanoi, Cao Bang is a base camp for all our expeditions to destinations close to the Chinese border. The region north of Cao Bang is almost entirely limestone, hence its scenery is similar to that of Ha Long Bay or Guilin (China) and offers unprecedented driving enjoyment amongst some of the most spectacular surroundings in Vietnam.
We explore into the magical region of the far Northeast with its impressive limestone karst scenery. Travelling on dirt tracks and crossing rivers, we follow the path of the Chinese border, passing through remote regions and driving through a cave, all the way round to the huge Ban Gioc Waterfall, which sits on the border.
Overnight with a family next to the waterfall(B, L, D)
*Ban Gioc Waterfall: In this closed off region, where thousands of limestone monoliths loom high above paddy fields tended by Nung, Tay and Green H’Mong peoples, you will find sealed, winding roads which make for excellent driving. The entire area rewards those willing to take the time to explore and share life with its people.
After an early start and a chance to swim in the falls we follow the border west marked by a massive range of peaks, visiting lakes where we can take bamboo rafts into caves. We pass over to Pac Bo Cave where Ho Chi Minh made his return to Vietnam in 1941. Late afternoon ride on sealed road back to Cao Bang, and a soothing massage.
Overnight at the Bang Giang Hotel in Cao Bang (B, L, D)
*Pac Bo Cave: North-West of Cao Bang and right up along the border with China, keen the first refuge of Ho Chi Minh on his return to Vietnam in 1941. At the point where the famous Lenin Stream cascades down a waterfall from China, we will continue by foonown for having bt to penetrate into the mystery of Vietnam’s Independence Movement and its surrounding jungle.
We move south-west from Cao Bang and breach several passes on route in an area hosting huge mountain scenery. TheCao BacPass offers breathtaking views of the surrounding countryside. Descending the pass, we see hillsides carpeted with apiaries, in Vietnam’s most famous honey-producing area. In the afternoon, we arrive at Ba Be Lake in the heart of a National Park.
Overnight with a family in aTayminority stilt house on the shores of the lake (B, L, D)
*Ba Be Lake: This pristine mountain lake, arguably Vietnam’s most beautiful lake, is situated 240 kilometres north of Hanoi, surrounded by primary jungle and limestone cliffs, in a region inhabited principally by Thai and H’Mong peoples.
A day to explore at Ba Be Lake, take in some markets, enjoy a boat cruise, go fishing, explore caves, dine with friends at the edge of a waterfall, enjoy the hospitality of the minority people who inhabit this area. We will take a boat up the 7km length of the lake to theDau Dangwaterfalls on theGam Riverand visit the 300m-longPhuongCave. During wartime, the cave was one of the rare natural shelters for the local population hiding from bombing raids.
Overnight with a family in aTayminority stilt house on the shores of the lake.(B, L, D)
Staying off the main road for as long as possible we head back towards the Red River Delta, passing through areas inhabited by H’Mong, Dao, Tay and Nung minority peoples. A mixture of both challenging track and glorious sealed road leads us all the way back to Hanoi. In the evening, we enjoy a fine feast atHighway 4traditional liquor and food restaurant, recounting the adventure.
End of services (hotel accommodation today is not included) (B, L, D)