Monday, August 15, 2016


Not our usual five star hotels but still a five star adventure in Vietnam. Ada from Oslo is one of our Vietnam specialists. This time she tested an itinerary for those who prioritize adventure and discovery.

This trip arranged for me by an adventure operator exceeded even my expectations. It was not the typical Select Collection experience as the hotels were more 4 star than 5 star, but I give it 5 stars for the experience – down to the details from beginning to end. This is something for our adventurous clients.

Six nights, seven days on a round trip in the north of Vietnam.

Including the magnificence of Halong Bay

Day 1: Hanoi arrival – Afternoon jeep tour
Day 2: Transferring to Mai Chau via Hoa Binh Reservoir – Swimming and boating
Day 3: Cycling in the countryside – Having lunch with a tribal family
Day 4:  Transferring to Ninh Binh – Taking the authentic row boat in Van Long Nature Reverse
Day 5: Transferring to Halong Bay – On board wooden junk
Day 6: In Halong Bay – Swimming and kayaking
Day 7: Transfer to airport - Departure

Day 1: Hanoi arrival – afternoon jeep tour 

Our adventure starts in Hanoi with a pickup at the airport where we met our local tour guide Tuoc and our Happy Van - a very nice Ford Minibus with captain seating and all the comfort you could ever need.

Happy Van

Apart from a jeep excursion, this was our vehicle for the week. The week was packed with experiences, I could write a book about the trip - but let me try to make it short - this is our itinerary:

The Ann Hotel in Hanoi
Good location for walks in the old town, very good breakfast and nice rooms.

And a pool with a city view

Anh Tuyet Restaurant Hanoi
Authentic and exceptionally good food. Nice small restaurant, more like a private home.


Jeep Excursion to Hanoi outskirts
Adrenaline kick - very good - fun - felt safe - will recommend to all travellers. Had a very nice dinner in a private house, in the garden.

Norwegian enthusiasm on city safari in Hanoi

Day 2: To Mai Chau via Hoa Binh Reservoir – Swimming and boating

Boat trip and lunch at Hoa Binh water reservoir - nice and rustic experience - the water is clean even though the color is a bit unusual.

Hoa Binh Water Reserve
Ada on a genuine funky fishing boat on the reservoir

Mai Chau Eco Lodge - exceptionally nice rooms and amazing views of rice fields and mountains. Very good food and service. The Spa was good and they have a dancing show in the evening. I'd say 4*+ for rooms, food and Spa treatments - 4* for the rest. I would definitely go again, reminded me a bit of our African lodges. Located in Mai Chau Valley – home of Tribal Villagers like the White Thai

Mai Chau Eco Lodge - serene between mountains

The charming pool of Mai Chau 

Rustic but delightful rooms

A private plunge pool at the ecolodge

Our outside shower at the ecolodge 
View from our balcony – what a beautiful sight to wake up to



Day 3: Cycling in the countryside –  lunch with a tribal family

Bicycle tour in Mai Chau - good bikes, nice scenery, not too challenging - but not "a walk in the park" either. Lots to see and nice encounters with the local people in the area. Very tasty and cozy lunch at a Home stay.

We visited another home stay for dinner and dance show  - another pleasant experience.

Delicious meal at Homestay – and our host in front of his traditional house on stilts...

Our host and his home

Day 4:  Ninh Binh – Taking the authentic fishing boat in Van Long Nature Reverse

Travelling on. Visiting Hoa Lu Temple on the way to Ninh Binh and having an  unusual  snack.

Hoa Lu Temple

Num num snack - cicadas, frogs, peanuts and beer

Amongst pools, mountains and rainforest

Ninh Binh - Emeralda Resort
Very nice resort with good spa treatments and restaurants. Nice large rooms and semi private pools. As the weather was a bit challenging we could not take the boat trip but I am sure it's a beautiful experience and a nice spot for peace and quiet.

Entrance to Emeralda Resort

A light-filled bathroom at Emeralda Resort

Continuing to Halong Bay

Day 5-7:  Halong Bay. On board wooden junk – swimming & kayaking 

Halong Bay is one of my favorite places on earth and experiencing it on a private charter with Paradise Privilege - away from the day cruisers - was amazing. Visiting the pearl farm and the floating villages was nice, but just cruising that bay with the beautiful scenery, having a swim and a trip in a kayak are the truly memorable moments. The caves and the beaches are just a bonus. My recommendation is to stay clear of the tourist traps, charter your own boat and do 2-3 nights.

View of Halong bay from the junk

Tai chi on deck

Off to visit a floating village

Our party lost for words

Paradise Privilege

Serenity on deck in the sunset

Day 7: Transfer to airport - Departure

Final advice

As a final note – we know how important it is to have a good guide in Vietnam.
I advise the same guide for the whole trip if possible - as a guide/tourleader. Just speak to us.

You will experience much more this way and in ways that are more personal. You will be able to tailor-make the trip to fit your needs, whether for families, groups of friends or a honeymoon couple.

If something unexpected should happen then you have a friend in a foreign place. It's worth a lot in a country like Vietnam.

Tuoc & Bao - part of our memorable experience

Thank you to my friends in VJT Adventures - our guide Tuoc and our driver Bao for making this a very memorable experience.

For our Vietnam programme based on Five Star hotels, click HERE.

Ada Størmer Papatheocharis, author of this post, is a senior travel advisor in our Oslo office.

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