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Explore the amazing beauty of Mai Chau,

Pu Luong, Cuc Phuong & Ninh Binh by car

Explore the amazing beauty of

Mai Chau, Pu Luong, Cuc Phuong,

& Ninh Binh by car

5 Days | Car & driver | 640+km | Easy / moderate
  
Guaranteed departure on scheduled dates for 2-4 people or more and at least 5 weeks’ notice – see the Information tab. Traveling solo or want different dates? Contact us!
  +84 9 1464 9182
  [email protected]

At a glance

Discover the best of Mai Chau, Pu Luong, Cuc Phuong and Ninh Binh, four beautiful and very different regions to the south west of Hanoi, in a fully guided tour by private car & driver.

This is the perfect medium break tour — no other tour has such diversity with such easy access from Hanoi.

We have designed a flexible itinerary that will suit both those wanting to be active and explore as well as those preferring to relax while seeing the best sights.

Along the way, visit some of the less traveled parts of Hanoi and drive the backroads through countryside on the edge of greater Hanoi and see the daily rhythms of semi-rural Vietnam.

Sidle above a spectacular lake through a forest of whispering bamboo, and meander through the rice fields of Mai Chau on foot or bicycle, surrounded by gorgeous green mountains. Visit a vibrant craft village and enjoy quiet views from a relaxing resort.

Wind on serpentine roads through the remote deep green forests of Pu Luong with its rice fields cascading down mountainsides, and hike among rice terraces and minority villages, or kayak on a peaceful river.

Or just relax in a simple eco-resort with splendid views.

Discover the wilderness rain forest and wonderful wildlife of Cuc Phuong, Vietnam’s oldest National Park.

Explore the spectacular hidden waterways and temples of Tran An, gliding in a boat between fantastic limestone mountains – a UN World Heritage site and one of the wonders of Vietnam.

Enjoy the view over rice paddy fields from your comfortable resort. We take the backroads, away from the crowds and traffic so you experience the real Vietnam.

See the Itinerary below for more details.

 

There is travel that fits within the expected and then there are journeys that go beyond. At Other Path Travel, we specialize in small group tours that will take you to a Vietnam that most travelers never see, extraordinarily beautiful, amazingly diverse, off the beaten path.

From astounding natural beauty to scooter-packed streets in vibrant cities, we offer a range of experiences to suit your interests and travel style whether that’s exploring extraordinary scenery by private car or motorbike; cruising spectacular islands by boat From astounding natural beauty to scooter-packed streets in vibrant cities, we offer a range of experiences to suit your interests and travel style whether that’s exploring extraordinary scenery by private car or motorbike; cruising spectacular islands by boat From astounding natural beauty to scooter-packed streets in vibrant cities, we offer a range of experiences to suit your interests and travel style whether that’s exploring extraordinary scenery by private car or motorbike;

cruising spectacular islands by boat From astounding natural beauty to scooter-packed streets in vibrant cities, we offer a range of experiences to suit your interests and travel style whether that’s exploring extraordinary scenery by private car or motorbike; cruising spectacular islands by boat

Highlights

  • Follow less traveled roads through rolling Vietnamese countryside to the beautiful Mai Chau valley, nestled among limestone mountains, and explore its trails, rice fields and villages
  • Discover remote and tropical Pu Luong, with spectacular scenery and some of the best back roads in North Vietnam, far from the crowds. Optionally, trek through stunning rice terraces and ethnic minority villages, and kayak a remote, peaceful river
  • Enjoy sunset drinks with fantastic views and delicious traditional meals among the mountains and rice fields
  • In Ninh Binh, glide on small sampans along hidden waterways, twisting through the spectacular karst mountains and caves of  Trang An Landscape Complex – one of the wonders of Vietnam and a UNESCO World Heritage site
  • Visit Cuc Phuong, Vietnam’s oldest and largest National Park, and its magnificent wilderness forests Experience extraordinary wildlife at the Endangered Primate Rescue Centre
  • Take in some of the oldest and best Buddhist temples in Vietnam

What our travelers say

 

“Wonderful touring on a really varied itinerary! Mai Chau was beautiful, a gem, while Pu Luong was spectacular, vast and much less travelled. The forests of Cuc Phuong were magnificent.”

“The karst mountains and hidden waterways of Ninh Binh, nestled amongst incredible limestone mountains, were breathtaking, astonishing and a highlight of the trip. “

”Going by car & driver was great – we saw more and could stop wherever we wanted. We took the backroads, through deep green forests and lush valleys and experienced authentic Vietnam.”

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Arrival and airport transfer

If you have requested an airport transfer, an Other Path Travel representative will meet you at Hanoi airport, and take you to your hotel in the Old Quarter or city center.

If you are spending time in Hanoi before the start of the tour, you might be interested in exploring Hanoi off the beaten path with one of our half-day Insiders’ Tours.

Afternoon before day of tour departure

In the afternoon of the day before the tour departure, we will gather at a pre-arranged time for a welcome refreshment, introductions and a pre-trip briefing where we will walk through the itinerary and answer any questions you might have. We will also talk through what to bring and arrange hotel storage for any luggage you won’t be bringing with you on the trip.

On the day of the tour, we will get together around 8 or 8:30 am (after your breakfast at your hotel), load up the car, and set off.

Hanoi & Red River Basin countryside

We wind our way through the bustle of early morning Old Quarter traffic, heading north towards the calmer streets of Tay Ho, bordering West Lake, Hanoi’s largest and arguably most beautiful lake.  Tay Ho – where an interesting mix of Westerners and Vietnamese live - is a fascinating neighborhood, a unique blend of Vietnamese and Western cultures.

Leaving Tay Ho, we continue north along the banks of the mighty Red River, the ancient birthplace of the Vietnamese people and still a major working river.

Heading west on a series of small roads through typical Hanoi countryside we reach a beautiful group of pagodas and temples that are among the oldest Buddhist shrines in Vietnam, dating back a thousand years.  We stop to explore and take a coffee break.

South – fields, forested hills, Hoa Binh lake to Mai Chau

Refreshed,  we resume driving, and turn south to follow smaller roads through open countryside, riding along a fabulous less-travelled road that twists and turns along a valley threading between green forested mountains.

We rejoin the highway for a while, then, after lunch in a pleasant café, we leave the highway and follow smaller roads to the shores of the vast and spectacular Da River and Hoa Binh Lake.

We stop for some photos and then drive the serpentine road that hugs the slopes above the lake, passing through some stunning bamboo forest.

Along the way there is a fine waterfall where we can take a dip if the weather is hot. We visit an interesting bamboo factory, before turning south again to Mai Chau.

On the way, we divert slightly to visit a lookout with fantastic views over the Mai Chau valley, before driving to our eco resort.

Optional activities

If there is time and energy, there are a number of optional activities. A relaxed stroll or bicycle ride or trek through the rice fields, beautiful in afternoon light; a visit to a nearby textile & crafts village; a bicycle or motorbike ride along a scenic valley up to a mountain village.

Or just relaxing at an eco-resort, where there is a pool and excellent views of the surrounding countryside and mountains. A quiet sunset drink at the eco-resort followed by a delicious meal rounds off the day.

Accommodation: Eco resort, Mai Chau
Meals: Lunch, Dinner

Sunday ethnic market option If it is a Sunday, after breakfast, we can get an early start to visit the weekly ethnic market at Pa Co, not far from Mai Chau. H'Mong and Thai ethnic minorities from surrounding villages gather to buy and sell everything from animals to textiles, and to socialize with people they may not otherwise see. Many dress in their traditional costumes and the market is a busy, interesting colorful mix of different hill tribes, a slice of old Vietnam. Onwards to Pu Luong Alternatively, after a relaxed breakfast, (skipping the early wake up and market visit), we head down the Mai Chau valley surrounded by steep karst limestone mountains and then turn onto the road leading to Pu Luong. The scenery is stunning. We climb gradually along a wonderful twisting valley road, each kilometer taking us further off the beaten path. Mountains rise up on either side – steep slopes carpeted in dense tropical forest.  As we crest a pass, amazing views of the Pu Luong ranges, deeply clad in green, open up.  Below stretches the main Pu Luong valley with its scattered hamlets. It feels a long way from anywhere – the contrast with much busier Mai Chau is incredible. We stop to enjoy the view and take some photos. From the pass we drop down more twists before making an excursion along a dirt side road to a pretty hidden valley and hamlet surrounded by mountains, where daily life still follows the seasons and harvests. We admire the view and have lunch in one of the local ethnic village houses. We rejoin the main road as it sidles along the valley slopes, with rice terraces falling down the hills. This is beautiful, remote Vietnam, a place to go slowly and enjoy. We soon reach our destination – a comfortable lodge with bungalows set among the rice fields. Now there are several options. We can drive or ride a motorbike further into the Pu Luong ranges and explore valleys and villages. Or we can take an easy or moderate trek among the beautiful rice fields and villages surrounding the lodge. Another option is a drive down to the lower valley to enjoy some gentle kayaking along the river. Or we can simply relax at the lodge, sit on a terrace with stunning, sweeping views over the rice fields and valleys below. We end the day with a delicious dinner at the lodge. Accommodation: Resort / homestay, Pu Luong Meals: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner

Water wheels and winding roads

After breakfast, we drive further down the valley, where we could explore some of the other Pu Luong valleys; or go see the giant bamboo water wheels – a signature of Pu Luong – that are found along some of the rivers; or take in an easy trek through rice fields to some local ethnic villages.

Leaving Pu Luong, we climb an almost ridiculously steep pass cut into the sheer mountain side with a spectacular view over the whole Pu Luong region from the top – it’s a must stop for photos.

Driving on, we follow a wonderful little-visited road winding across a karst-dotted plateau with small villages every now and then. It feels remote and a long way from Hanoi.

Cuc Phuong National Park

We drop down from the plateau via some hairpin turns with great views and out onto the broad valley that marks the north west limit of the Pu Luong ranges.

We drive south east along the valley before cutting south via the Ho Chi Minh trail through the karst ranges that form the top end of Cuc Phuong National Park.

We then follow smaller roads through more open countryside and karst hills before reaching the entrance to Cu Phuong Park, the first, and still the largest, National Park in Vietnam. It remains a (mostly) pristine rainforest wilderness.

We visit the park's endangered wildlife rescue centre, where, if we are lucky, we get an opportunity to spot some of the rare animals of the Cuc Phuong forests.

Then, venturing deeper into the rainforest, we take some easy treks through the jungle with a local guide.

This is some of the best tropical forest in Vietnam, remote and unspoilt, and by spending the night close to the National Park we have an opportunity to explore it unhurriedly.

We end the day relaxing at a nearby resort before enjoying a local dinner.

Accommodation: Resort, Cuc Phuong
Meals: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner

The road to Ninh Binh

After breakfast, we leave Cuc Phuong and turn south east through beautiful scattered karst pinnacle countryside towards Ninh Binh.

We gradually pass through more built up rice fields, before arriving at the southern end of the Ninh Binh mountains.

We explore some of the fantastic roads threading through flooded valleys ringed by cliffs before arriving in Ninh Binh, where we stop for a coffee break and discuss the day's options, depending on the energy and desires of the group.

We might drive on to explore the ancient temples and tombs of Hao Lu, which was the capital of Vietnam in the 10th and 11th centuries, located in a wonderful setting, surrounded and protected by limestone mountains.

We might venture further and visit the immense Bai Dinh temple, with its golden Buddha.

Or, we might climb the steps at Hang Mua for the amazing view over the Tam Coc waterways and surrounding countryside.

Trang An waterways

As the shadows stretch out in the late afternoon sun, it's the perfect time to drive north to the Trang An complex of waterways, caves and temples.

As the birds start heading back to their nests for the night, we take small sampan boats to explore the hidden waterways that wind between the limestone cliffs and mountains. Local women use their feet to row the oars of our boat through awesome caves and we brieflly stop to visit some splendid temples.

It’s a wonderful, surreal experience in one of the most beautiful landscapes in Vietnam and a highlight of the trip.

Just before dark, after docking, we drive back to our resort with its excellent views and cold drinks, followed by a delicious dinner.

Accommodation: Resort, Ninh Binh
Meals: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner

The Perfume Pagoda

After a leisurely breakfast, we leave Ninh Binh and drive north along scenic roads surrounded by amazing karst pinnacles.

If we haven't done so the day before, we make a short visit to the picturesque and evocative remains of the ancient capital city of Hao Lu.

Then, we drive through the open countryside of the Song Boi valley before twisting through the edges of some spectacular karst ranges and arriving at the Perfume Pagoda.

We leave our car and once again ride in small open boats, also powered by locals peddling oars by foot, up a small river to the entrance to the pagoda complex – actually a series of Buddhist pagodas and temples stretching from the banks of the river up the karst mountains to a sacred cave at the top.

The river runs along the edge of more amazing karst mountains on one side and rice paddies on the other – it’s stunning scenery.

We arrive at the start of the complex, where we can either walk up the series of temples to the top, or (especially if the weather is hot) take a gondola.

The Perfume Pagoda temples & shrines are significant in Vietnamese religion and are visited by many thousands of pilgrims each year. While it can get quite crowded at times, watching the waves of pilgrims is a unique window into Vietnamese culture and beliefs, and don't worry, our guides know how to make the visit smoother and less chaotic.

We spend some time exploring the temples before enjoying lunch on the edge of the river, then boat back to our car.

Back to Hanoi

After lunch we journey through more open countryside, before eventually joining the larger roads heading north, about 50km from Hanoi. From here it is a straightforward drive back to Hanoi and our starting point. We will have a debrief of the trip along the way.

Meals: Breakfast, Lunch

Dine & departures

In Hanoi, after we deposit you at to your hotel, if the group wishes, we can organise a dinner at one of Hanoi’s best, authentic, ethnic food restaurants – it’s great fun, always packed with locals enjoying themselves, as much a cultural experience as a culinary one.

If you need transfers to the airport, or if you have booked transfers as part of your booking, we will arrange this for you.

Then we bid you farewell and safe travels until we see you again!

Booking in advance

We strongly recommend booking well in advance.

Accommodation choices can be limited, especially in less traveled parts of Vietnam.  In more popular locations demand can be high, particularly at peak periods.  If possible, we recommend booking 2 or more months in advance.

Our minimum advance period to book online for this tour is 4 weeks – shorter than that and you need to email us with a reservation request and we need to confirm availability.

Of course, we will always work with you if you have to book at short notice – just contact us.

Peak Periods

Peak periods include: northern hemisphere summer holidays (July – August); Christmas period and southern hemisphere summer holidays (mid-December - early February); Easter; peak Ha Long Bay periods (September - November and March - May); Vietnamese domestic summer holidays (June - early September); Vietnamese lunar new year, Tet festival, usually sometime in mid to late-January or early to mid-February.

Remember, while these are the peak periods, Vietnam is busy all year round.

Minimum number of people

If you are booking as an ‘exclusive’ tour – meaning the tour will be just for your group and no others – then this tour is guaranteed to start on the scheduled date provided there are a minimum number of 2 people. For tours that are ‘not exclusive’, the minimum is 4 people.

Traveling solo? Book as ‘not exclusive’ and join with others. Or contact us -- we will always do what we can to help!

Departure day of the week

This tour has scheduled starts on Monday and Saturday of each week.  It can also be booked to start on other days by arrangement – please contact us.

The Monday start tends to have less traffic and quieter hotels. The Saturday start tends to be busier and provides the opportunity to experience a fantastic Sunday market near Mai Chau as an optional excursion.

Both start days provide a fantastic tour.

A mix of 3 - 4+ star hotels & resorts

In Mai Chau, our default is a 4-star hotel / resort with a pool and stylish but simply decorated rooms just on the outskirts of Mai Chau town, located in a beautiful natural setting.

In Pu Luong, we love a unique 3-star hotel / homestay located deep in the hills and rice paddies of the Pu Luong Nature Reserve, with nice rooms and bungalows.

Our default hotel in Ninh Binh is a cozy 3-star resort with modest bamboo bungalows set in a spectacular location in the middle of the famous karst mountains, alongside a lake surrounded by high cliffs.  We also offer an excellent 4+ star resort with a pool set among lush paddy fields and mountains.  A treat.  Let us know if you are interested in this upgrade.

A great way to go

Traveling by private car & driver is a great way to experience Vietnam.

Provided you have a guide who knows where to stop and explore, you can connect to the landscape and people in a way that’s very close to what you have on a motorbike.

In addition, cars can generally travel faster than motorbikes, opening up other possibilities – additional sites, a longer trek, more time relaxing.

And of course it is easier traveling when the weather is wet or blazing hot.

Slow travel

This tour is aimed at people who want to be active and explore, as well as those who prefer to spend more time relaxing while still seeing the best sites.

We modify the daily driving distances and choose roads and side excursions to suit the desires of the group.

If some in the group want to be active and others less so, that can be done too -- although it might mean some additional costs if additional guides or transport are needed in places: contact us to discuss.

In general, we have a ‘slow travel’ philosophy and try and ensure that daily distances and time in the car are not too great – we take time to enjoy what we are passing through.

Not going too fast is the secret to touring in Vietnam: there is so much to experience.

Weather in Northern Vietnam is changeable, and roads are in a constant state of being repaired (smaller roads and roads in the mountains are especially vulnerable to wet-season damage), and we may need to modify the itinerary, in consultation with trip participants.

Phone and 3G/4G internet, including Google Maps, generally work well in remote Vietnam, even in the mountains. We recommend you get a local prepaid SIM card for your smartphone. We can help do this at the start of the trip, but you need to give us sufficient notice.

The tour price includes:

  • comfortable, air-conditioned private car and experienced local driver. Typical cars are a Toyota Fortuner all-wheel drive (7 seater) which can carry a driver, guide, 3 travelers plus luggage; a customised Ford Transit van fitted out with luxury seats & interior and which can carry a driver, guide, 5 customers plus luggage; a mini-bus which can carry a driver, guide and up to 9 passengers plus luggage.
  • English speaking local guide
  • accommodation as specified in the itinerary
  • meals as specified in the itinerary, usually breakfast, lunch & dinner (BLD)
  • airport transfers, if selected as part of the itinerary
  • permits, entrance, trekking and other fees

The tour price does not include:

  • Drinks, including beer, wine & spirits
  • Travel insurance

Tour Options – Add Something Special to Your Tour

Customise Your Tour with Our Optional Activities

Take your tour further and add some extra experiences we think are not to be missed. From landscapes to people watching, trekking to markets, simply choose the option(s) that’s right for you and click ‘Reload your revised tour’ to open a new tab with an amended itinerary.

At this time we don’t have pre-prepared itineraries for every combination, so please contact us if your combination doesn’t load a new itinerary and we will work with you directly.

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