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Panoramic view of a curving river running through lush lime green fields and surrounded by karst limestone peaks.

Cultures and Geology of Northern Vietnam with New Scientist

  • GROUP TOUR
Start dateEnd dateDays
Prices from
Single SupplementTour ExpertGroup SizeStatus
04/09/21 14/09/2111 days £3,895 ex. flights £0Local Guides15 Max AVAILABLE Reserve place

Vietnam is well known for its ancient and modern history, wonderful food and iconic landmarks. Discover a different side of Vietnam on this varied tour covering geology, spectacular landscapes, animal preservation and history.

Explore the hidden landscapes of Cuc Phuong National Park observing conservation work with pangolins, civets, gibbons and langur. Cruise through the spectacular river scenery of Tam Coc National Park where hidden caves lie within the soaring limestone peaks. Spend a night on the emerald waters of Halong Bay, experiencing the karst topography at its most peaceful and beautiful. Explore floating fishing villages and caves by rowing boat or kayak before flying south to the UNESCO protected Phong Nha National Park. Trek through unspoiled jungle landscapes peppered with underground rivers and waterfalls to the world class cave system at Hang Tien. The tour ends amidst the peaceful and atmospheric streets of  Hue, immersed in the history and culture of this ancient capital.

Key Highlights of this Itinerary

View from interior of rocky cave lined with moss towards cave entrance with silhouette of woman at entrance. 1

Spectacular cave systems

Explore Hang Tien Cave, home to stunning stalactites and stalagmites

Vietnamese woman cycling alongside a bright orange wall in Hoi An old town. 2

Culture and History in Hue

Incredible feats of engineering, wartime bravery and a private audience with a royal descendant

Halong Bay 3

Halong Bay Cruise

Overnight among the karst peaks of Halong Bay

Side close up portrait of a grey and white monkey with sun shining on him. 4

Wildlife Conservation

Privileged access to the Save Vietnam’s Wildlife Centre in Cuc Phuong National Park

Why we like it

This trip offers real variety, from tropical jungles to limestone caves, local villages and amazing feats of underground engineering. Guided throughout by our expert local guides who know the country like no other, it offers a real chance to get under the skin of Vietnam. Immerse yourself in every aspect – from geology to conservation, history, culture and cuisine.

Explore our suggested itinerary

  • Day 1

    Hanoi

  • Day 2

    Hanoi

  • Day 3

    Hanoi - Cuc Phuong National Park

  • Day 4

    Cuc Phuong National Park - Ninh Binh

  • Day 5

    Ninh Binh - Halong Bay

  • Day 6

    Halong Bay - Phong Nha

  • Day 7

    Phong Nah (Trek to Hang Tien cave)

  • Day 8

    Phong Nah - Hue

  • Day 9

    Hue

  • Day 10

    Hue - Hoi An

  • Day 11

Day 1

Hanoi

Lady Florist, Hanoi, Vietnam

On arrival, transfer to your hotel in the city. This evening meet with the rest of the group for a welcome dinner and a briefing from your guide on the adventures ahead.

Day 2

Hanoi

Tortoise Tower, Hanoi, Vietnam

An early start today to join the locals as they exercise on the shores of Hoan Kiem Lake. Observe or join in with groups practicing Tai Chi and aerobics. Visit Ngoc Son Temple, located in the middle of the lake before sampling local coffee and street food. Explore Hanoi’s Old Quarter on foot soaking up the French architecture of St. Joseph’s Cathedral and Hoa Lo Prison before viewing the wreck of a B-52 at Huu Tiep Lake. Lunch on local specialities before visiting the Temple of Literature, the site of Vietnam’s first university. Lastly, explore Hanoi’s railway where beautiful houses are located just metres from the tracks, before joining locals for a freshly brewed beer. Later this evening observe the closing flag ceremony in Ba Dinh Square.

Day 3

Hanoi - Cuc Phuong National Park

Three grey and white red shanked douc monkeys say in tree tops looking towards camera.

Spend the morning at leisure before driving to Cuc Phuong National Park to check into your guesthouse. Early evening transfer by electric car to the Save Vietnam Centre to meet conservation staff and observe how they protect and feed pangolins, civets and otters. This rescue centre is one part of the worldwide effort to save endangered primates from extinction through poaching and loss of habitat. The entry fee (included) helps fund their work which includes rehabilitation, reintroduction, research and conservation education. Enjoy a late dinner this evening.

Day 4

Cuc Phuong National Park - Ninh Binh

Panoramic view of lush karst peaks and valley floor from top of a mountains.

After breakfast travel by electric car to the Endangered Primates Rescue Centre. Experts on the conservation of gibbons and langur will accompany you as you see how they are cared for, how their behaviour is studied in semi-wild conditions and how they are prepared for full release into the wild. Travel to Ninh Binh town for a traditional lunch before boarding a river cruise. Glide among rice paddies and karst limestone mountains before visiting Tam Coc grottoes, part of an exquisite cave system eroded through the limestone hills, with ceilings just two metres high. This afternoon visit Mua Cave whose main attraction is two karst mountains, each with 500 steps leading to amazing views of the Ninh Binh landscape.

Day 5

Ninh Binh - Halong Bay

Row of small wooden cabins on floating pontoons surrounded by karst limstone peaks.

This morning transfer to Halong City wharf to board your cruise. Lunch will be served as you slowly cruise through the bay which is characterised by thousands of towering limestone islands, rising dramatically out of the sea. Mid-afternoon head to Vung Vieng fishing village to learn about the lives of the inhabitants – choose to explore by local rowing boat or kayak. This evening experience a Vietnamese cuisine cooking demonstration before dining on the food cooked. Relax and soak up the beautiful scenery from the top deck as the sun sets.

Day 6

Halong Bay - Phong Nha

Halong Bay

The best time to observe Halong Bay is in the early morning. Tai Chi will be conducted on the upper deck and is a terrific way to feel as one with the peaceful surroundings. After breakfast visit the Thien Canh Son cave, one of the most stunning of 59 caves in the bay – it has distinctive geomorphology and is strewn with stalactites and stalagmites. After brunch onboard transfer back to Halong City wharf and onto Hanoi airport for your flight to Phong Nha where you will check into your hotel.

Day 7

Phong Nah (Trek to Hang Tien cave)

View from interior of rocky cave lined with moss towards cave entrance with silhouette of woman at entrance.

An early start for the one and a half hour journey past jungles, fields and over the historic Da Deo pass to Tan Hoa. Reach the start of today’s trail and once fully equipped, begin the six kilometre trek to Hang Tien cave. Walking mainly through forest, the last kilometre is very rocky. Stop for a barbecue lunch before entering the cave. Hang Tien is two gigantic caves, one of which is over three kilometres long – you will cover approximately one and a half kilometres. Unusual formations create an otherworldly feel with layers of rock and stalagmites resembling terraced rice fields. On the return, stop for a dip in a natural jungle swimming pool before heading back to your hotel and a well earned restful evening.

Day 8

Phong Nah - Hue

View of blue and yellow iron bridge over river.

Today, explore key sites from the Vietnam war. Begin with a visit to the Vinh Moc tunnel complex which sheltered sixty families from intensive bombing without any loss of life. Onto the Hien Luong Bridge over the Ben Hai River -this river was the only true physical demarcation between North and South Vietnam during the war. Visit the old Citadel at Quang Tri – a military bastion and an administrative head office of the Nguyen Dynasty from 1809 to 1945. In 1972 the Citadel came under intense attack from American forces for 81 days but managed to remain in Vietnamese hands. Later, transfer to Hue and check into your hotel.

Day 9

Hue

Thien Mu Pagoda, Hue, Vietnam

Today, experience Hue with guides and locals who have grown up here. Hear stories of their family history and their childhood during the war. If available, receive a blessing from the monks at Thien Mu before travelling along the Perfume River by boat. Experience the famous bronze factories of Phuong Duc and have a local lunch by the walls of the citadel. End today with a private audience at the home of descendants of the Royal Court – sample authentic royal dishes and learn about the family’s past.

Day 10

Hue - Hoi An

Solitary rowing boat on a lagoon as sun sets over water and mountains in background.

This morning, travel approximately one and a half hours south to Lang Co lagoon. Embark on a local boat journey to enjoy idyllic watery views, overlooked by the jungle covered Annamite Cordillera mountains. Also known as Heaven’s Door, these mountains form an important habitat for rare species such as the Annamite rabbit, the antelope-like saola and the douc langur. Stop at a fishing post for a demonstration of the local fishing technique before continuing to visit a family-run oyster farm to learn how local life is intertwined with the lagoon. After lunch in an authentic stilt house enjoy swimming and snorkelling in the crystal-clear lagoon. Later, transfer to the city of Hoi An and check into your hotel.

Day 11

British Airways plane wing

After a leisurely morning, transfer to Danang airport for your onwards journey.

Includes / Excludes

Important Information

Activity Level
Moderate Activity
Single Supplement

Travelling on your own? Our group tours are perfect for solo travellers, as travelling as part of an organised group in faraway places provides security and peace of mind. We handle all of the arrangements for you and there will be a local tour guide on hand throughout to provide advice and help if needed, as well as the expertise of a Tour expert.

Flexibility

To allow flexibility, our group tours do not include international flights as standard. We can arrange international flights on your behalf, please get in touch with our travel experts for a quote. All international flights from the UK are ATOL protected.

What is included

  • Accompanied by a local guide throughout
  • Accompanied by additional local guides as appropriate
  • All accommodation
  • Single supplement
  • Breakfast daily. Brunch, lunch and dinner as indicated
  • All tours and excursions
  • Jungle trekking equipment (including jungle boots, water bottles, lights and helmets)
  • Transfers and transportation throughout
  • All permits and entrance fees
  • Gratuities for local guides, drivers and porters

What is excluded

  • Travel insurance
  • International flights
  • Any visa requirements
  • Items of a personal nature
  • Meals unless mentioned
  • Early check in or late check out of accommodation
View from water through cave entrance to karst peak with sun reflecting.
Tam Coc National Park, Vietnam

Subterranean Vietnam

Vietnam is home to some of the world’s most spectacular cave systems. The UNESCO protected Phong Nha National Park is home to the two gigantic caves at Hang Tien. Surrounded by dense jungle they are only accessible on foot and once inside they soar to 100 metres with entrancing rock formations.

The spectacular landscapes of UNESCO-listed Trang An are home to Tam Coc National Park (meaning three caves). A trio of caves ranging between 45 and 120 metres in length are accessed by water via beautiful scenes of lush karst peaks and glittering rice paddies.

Mint coloured waters with hanging rock overhead and double kayak in the distance with more rockface behind.
Halong Bay kayaking, Vietnam

Halong Bay

Designated a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1994 – according to geologists, the Halong Bay we see today has been in the making for 300 million years. Centuries of erosion from the rain and sea have shaped the karsts, valleys and caves that make this incredible landscape.

View from interior of rocky cave lined with moss towards cave entrance with silhouette of woman at entrance.
Hang Tien cave, Vietnam

Hang Tien cave trek

The six kilometre trek begins with a steep section into jungle before descending into a valley below. The final kilometre is through rocky terrain with the impressive cave entrance at the head of the valley. Don safety equipment and enter the cave, continuing for a further one and a half kilometres. Inside the cavernous interior magical calcite shapes rise up like terraced rice fields and swirling patterns cover the lofty ceilings. Lush foliage covers many of the formations, bats hang above and sunlight streams through small skylights. A 10 metre ladder leads to a second section known as the high chamber, beyond which lies the exit.

You will be aided throughout by the guides and safety team.

Harbourside at Night, Hoi An, Vietnam
Hoi An harbour at night, Vietnam

Hoi An Extension - Riverbank erosion project

Extend your stay in Hoi An and explore a path less travelled. Spend time working alongside the Green Youth Collective’s Riverbank Erosion Project, a hidden cooperative working sustainably to grow organic gardening and prevent riverbank erosion. A true insight into a unique way of life in this part of Vietnam.

Speak to one of our experts for more information.

Why travel with Steppes Travel and New Scientist to learn about geology and culture in Vietnam?

As part of our partnership with New Scientist, we have some amazing special access opportunities on this tour. Accompanied throughout by our expert local guide, you will also meet with naturalists, conservationists, geology experts and local people. Your participation in the tour also helps support sustainable travel throughout the region.

What will the weather be like in September?

September marks a time of transition from Summer to Autumn and is a great time to travel throughout most of the country, especially the north. Having said that, be prepared for a mixture of weather, with warm temperatures but also a good chance of rainfall.

What is the standard of accommodation on this tour?

Accommodation ranges from boutique city hotels to simple jungle guesthouses, a stylish 20 cabin boat and traditional bamboo style houses with glorious views. Some shine through their location, others through the experience and hospitality they offer while a few also have pools and a spa.

Is this tour suitable for solo travellers?

Our group tours are perfect for solo travellers, as travelling as part of an organised group in faraway places does provide security and peace of mind. We handle all of the arrangements for you and there will be a local tour guide on hand throughout to provide advice and help if needed, as well as the expertise of our tour experts.

Solo travellers will not be charged a single supplement on this tour.

Do I need to be physically fit to enjoy this tour?

On many of the days there will be trekking and occasionally getting in and out of boats. You must be comfortable being on foot, wear appropriate clothing and have a reasonable level of fitness. For example, being able to walk for a few hours on uneven terrain.

For the Hang Tien cave expedition on day seven, you will be trekking for six kilometres through jungle with a further one and a half kilometres into the cave itself. You will be assisted by trekking guides throughout and none of the activities are compulsory.

Do I need a visa to travel to Vietnam?

The visa situation is constantly changing so please speak to our specialists for up to date information on visa requirements.

Can I extend my time in Vietnam?

Absolutely – there are lots of options to extend your stay in Vietnam. Spend longer in Hoi An or for those wanting to explore further afield, discover Vietnam’s southern city of Saigon, known for its pivotal role in the Vietnam War and as the gateway to the Mekong. An extension to Cambodia also works fabulously, with the chance to explore the sprawling 1,000-year-old temple complex of Angkor.

Speak to one of our Vietnam specialists for more details of possible extensions.

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Why a Steppes expert-led group tour

1.Experience Matters

We have been running insightful and groundbreaking group tours since our inception in 1989. We have worked with institutions such as the British Museum and Victoria & Albert Museum and run wildlife tours in conjunction with conservation agencies such as Fauna & Flora International, Wildlife Conservation Society, the Orangutan Foundation, Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund and the Jane Goodall Institute.

2.Size Matters

Our average group size is typically eight to ten people, smaller than other group tours typically offered – a factor which many of our clients appreciate. Travelling as part of a smaller group provides a more intimate, personalised and relaxed atmosphere.

4.It’s about who you know

We have developed an enviable pool of expertise from which to choose our tour experts, who we carefully select based on their knowledge, companionship and personality. Often, these experts can use their influence to facilitate private access to sites not typically open to the public.

3.Like-Minded People

Steppes Travellers are like-minded people – interesting, interested and curious. Our group tours aim to create an easy and informal atmosphere – we have a lot of fun on our tours and many friendships have been formed.

5.Value for money

Our tours are well-priced to ensure you get real value for money. We include gratuities on the majority of our tours and do not pass on currency surcharges. We strive to look after single travellers as well as we can, keeping single supplements to a minimum.

6.Peace of Mind

When you travel on one of our group tours, you will be looked after by our local agents and your tour expert with the back-up of our 24-hour emergency number and duty manager. All our holidays are fully bonded and protected – our ATOL number is ATOL 6495.

Our future tour dates

For further information about any of these tours please call 01285 880 980

Start dateEnd dateDays
Prices from
Single SupplementTour ExpertGroup SizeStatus
04/09/21 14/09/2111 days £3,895 ex. flights £0Local Guides15 Max AVAILABLE Reserve place

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Our travel experts have a wealth of first-hand knowledge, so if you have any questions about this expert-led group tour, please get in touch. They would love to help. We hope you can join us on this tour.

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