The Beauty and Charm of Northern Vietnam

At a Glance

Hanoi, Vietnam
Nov 5 - Nov 19, 2024
14 Nights
Level: 3
We rate all trips on a 1 to 5 scale. A designation of 1 would be trips with the least amount of activity, such as our beach trips, where it's up to you if you'd like to be active. Our adventure trips (such as the Inca trail hike) are a 5. Most of our trips are rated 3, for people who don't mind a fair bit of walking.
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Trip Description

About this trip

The word Vietnam, for many, conjures visions of rice paddies, helicopters, war, beaches, and GIs. But those who haven’t visited this enigmatic, beautiful country are in for a surprise. Nowhere will you feel more welcome, feel more like your preconceptions shaped by old movies and the war-era press are wrong.

Want to learn more? Meet our guide and watch our virtual information session here.

NextTribe members receive a $100 discount on the trip. Find out more here.

The Vietnamese are quintessentially kind and welcoming and we’ll have the chance to meet many of them as we explore in depth the riches and natural wonders of Northern Vietnam. We’ll start and end in Hanoi, visiting rural communities in the lush Red River Delta, then travel north to the hill tribe town of Sapa.

Here we’ll find breathtaking landscapes–some of which have been named among the most beautiful in the world–including terraced rice fields, lush valleys and rugged mountain peaks. We’ll also find the wonderful world of local ethnic minority groups, such as the Hmong, Dao and Tay people.

About Your Guide: Ann Hillers

Ann Hillers has been a peripatetic globetrotter for 35 years, leading groups (or her family of three college-age boys) to more than 70 countries. Her strictly women tours have taken her to Vietnam, Laos, India, Mexico, South Africa, and Namibia.

Comfortable on barstools and at food stalls around the world, she is happiest staying in a different hotel room every night (provided the thread count on the sheets is high). After living in San Miguel de Allende for several years, Ann is now based in Claremont, California, a beautiful, walkable small town but farther from LAX than she would like.




TUESDAY, Nov. 5th

Leave the U.S. for Hanoi

Make sure you vote early and then catch an overnight flight to Hanoi. You need a flight that gets in on WEDNESDAY, Nov. 6th to enjoy the full itinerary.


Good Morning Vietnam!

On arrival, you’ll be met at the airport by a private driver and taken directly to the Peridot Grand Boutique Hotel, a sensational hotel in the heart of Hanoi’s bustling Old Town. The rooftop’s gorgeous bar is THE place to see the spectacle that is Hanoi at night, a sea of blazing lights and buzzing streets.

At 5:30 this evening we’ll take a lively street food tour sampling Vietnamese specialities at 6-7 local spots. Your senses will come alive as we navigate a maze of backstreets, alleyways, and bustling markets. Hear, touch, taste and smell the authentic essence of Hanoi. Along the way delicacies, strange food items and an explanation of Vietnamese food practices will be given. These busy eclectic markets are alive with the sights and sounds of Hanoi and are the essence of Vietnamese culture.

Continue through the streets of the Old Quarter to Dong Xuan market to sample some local treats such as pho (beef or chicken noodle), bun cha (grilled pork with noodle), Hanoian sandwich, and green papaya Salad. Our guide will explain the routine of Vietnam meal times and indigenous/unusual ingredients eaten. Keep walking deeper to the inner of the Old Quarter and its bustling 36 streets, stop at a famous dessert shop to taste che, fresh fruit or bean is cooked with sugar, mixed with jelly and ice. We’ll finish our street food journey with an egg coffee, Vietnamese cappuccino, or a draft beer (bia hoi) in the old quarter.

THURSDAY, Nov. 7th


Wake up early this morning and walk to the nearby Hoan Kiem Lake. Locals are practicing tai chi, zumba, and ballroom dancing, or playing chess, jogging or gossiping over cups of Vietnamese coffee. On weekends the streets around the lake are pedestrian only, allowing you to stroll easily around the broad leafy roads.

After breakfast we’ll visit the Hanoi Hilton, where John McCain was imprisoned after landing in Hanoi’s West Lake (Ho Tay). We’ll also have a guided tour of the venerable Temple of Literature, built in 1077 and dedicated to students of Confucius. This walled compound with five separate courtyards is the country’s first university.

Afterwards we’ll have lunch before we discover the secrets of traditional Vietnamese pottery.

In this half-day pottery class, we’ll learn how to make clay creations from a master artisan direct from Bat Trang, one of the country’s oldest ceramics villages. Get personalized guidance and answers to all your questions in this private session.

FRIDAY, Nov. 8th

Women's Museum and Old Town

This morning we’ll walk together to the Vietnamese Women’s Museum of Vietnam below the lake’s southern shore. Focused on the contribution of women to Vietnam's history and culture, this museum highlights their roles in the country’s many military conflicts as well as in commerce, including features on female street vendors, women's role in the family, and more recently, single mothers in Vietnam. Its noble mission is to promote gender equality and the progress of women.

We’ll do a little shopping on the walk back: one of my favorite places is Collective Memories for great Vietnamese kitsch as well as home decor. Tired City apparel shop is also a sweet spot for t-shirts and hoodies with original artwork by local graphic designers. There’s also Lennin, a skateboard brand, that has some hip merch, right across the street from Pasteur Street Brewing, if you’d like to sample some fantastic local beer. My fave is the Jasmine IPA. Or is it the Passion Fruit Wheat?

Around the corner is perhaps the best banh mi in town, at 57 Ly Quoc. We can stop by for a chicken and egg baguette or the more traditional paté.

This afternoon you're free to explore the stalls of Old Town where you’ll no doubt find many, many goodies to bring home, including great North Face and Columbia knockoffs. Before dinner we’ll take in a water puppet show at the Thang Long theater. This is a unique Vietnamese art form that depicts scenes from rural life. From there I suggest we walk to my favorite restaurant in Hanoi: Pizza 4Ps. Silly name but divine pies, crab curry pasta and Western-style salads. It’s a must.

SATURDAY, Nov. 9th

Hanoi to Sapa

After breakfast we’ll head to the northern highlands and the town of Sapa (5.5 hours). Though the first part will be on smooth, paved highways, the latter portion crosses through the agricultural province of Yen Bai, which is full of rice terraces - the most famous of which is at Mu Cang Chai - and beautiful lakes and dams. En route we’ll stop for lunch, then arrive in Sapa by early evening.

We’ll spend four nights at the lovely, centrally located KK Sapa Hotel. Here we’ll enjoy dinner before hitting the sack!

Sapa town stands at the head of a deep valley of magnificent rice terraces that are still farmed today as they have been for centuries. Backdrops don’t get much more spectacular. Enticing ribbons of road lead the eye down to the valley floor, white-water rivers rush among rice fields, and lush green mountains stretch into the distance as far as the eye can see. The highest peak in the region, Mount Fansipan, crowns the ragged ridge line high above town. Nestled in the misty mountains, this rice terrace region is quite different from the rest of hot, humid Vietnam. In fact in November we can expect chilly weather!

Northwest Vietnam is famous for its stunning natural landscapes, lush terraced rice fields, diverse culture of different minority groups, especially unique bustling local markets. For those who love to explore the ethnic culture, learn more about the local daily life and enjoy nature beauty by visiting one of the eight best local markets.

SUNDAY, Nov. 10th

Sapa: Bac Ha Market

This morning we’ll visit the Bac Ha Hill Tribes Market where Red Dzao, Flower H'Mong, Tay and other ethnic minority people converge from the surrounding countryside to sell their silverware and handicrafts, and to buy provisions. Dip yourself into the happy atmosphere of this market, which is very simple but really meaningful to the local people.

Every Sunday the Bac Ha market bursts into life, as hundreds of traders from the Dzao, Han, Xa Fang, Tay and Thai tribes descend on the market, decked out in traditional garb. Expect a riot of color and excited haggling.We’ll have lunch at a local restaurant and then visit Ban Pho Village, H’mong King House before returning to Sapa.

MONDAY, Nov. 11th

Sapa Hiking

After breakfast, we’ll meet our H’mong guide and transfer by bus to the path leading to Y Linh Ho Village. We’ll start our moderate trekking route from there (approx. 7 miles--though a bus is available for anyone who would like to depart the trek early!).

We’ll visit the Y Linh Ho and Lao Chai villages of the H’mong minority. After lunch at a local family in Lao Chai or in a drinking shop nearby the river bank, we keep on hiking to Ta Van village of the Dzay minority people. We’ll return to Sapa for a free evening.

TUESDAY, Nov. 12th

Silver Waterfall, Heaven Gate and Cat Cat Village

Today we’ll visit Silver Waterfalls and take in panorama views of Hoang Lien Son Mountain, Tram Ton Pass from Heaven Gate. Return to Sapa town for lunch at a local restaurant.

In the afternoon, a short trek to the gate of Cat Cat village which is home of Black H'mong ethnic people and is located near the bottom of a deep valley at the foot of Fansipan Peak. Our local guide will show you the daily life activities of the locals and we'll trek down to the valley bottom to the waterfall where the French built a Hydraulic Power Station; stop for photo with bridge and waterfall then we’ll walk uphill where our bus will take us back to Sapa town. Trekking distance is about 3.5 kms and it lasts for 2 hours. We’ll return to Sapa around 3pm. Remainder of day at leisure.

During free time in town be sure to stop by the Sapa market. It’s open every day for people to buy and sell products; its most impressive feature is its unique brocade products in vibrant colors, and subtle patterns of the H’Mong, Dao Do, and Giay.


Sapa to Ninh Binh

We’ll check out of the hotel this morning and make a seven-hour drive south to Ninh Binh, a playground for adventurers, and an oasis for nature lovers. We’ll have ample time to stop and stretch, including a lunch break in the Yen Bien province. We should arrive at our hotel by 4pm.

Vietnam’s first capital was established in Ninh Binh, and today the area is a protected UNESCO World Heritage Site, full of mossy pagodas, striking limestone karsts, and surreal landscapes. Our hotel for two nights is Le Clos du Fil.

During our stay here we’ll have the opportunity to visit the family-run embroidery atelier and witness intricate details on items of clothing come to life through delicate artistry and fascinating traditional techniques, each piece boasting a fine balance between classic patterns and refined modernity.

At our unique boutique hotel, we’ll find a perfect mixture of rustic, quaint and private comfort along with high-quality services while being surrounded by breathtaking natural beauty and fascinating local culture. Because at Le Clos du Fil, a stay is more than just a visit: it’s a source of inspiration.

THURSDAY, Nov. 14th

Ninh Binh: Trang An Sampan Ride and Embroidery Class

Some of Ninh Binh’s best scenery can only be accessed by boat, so this morning we’ll enjoy a paddleboat tour in Trang An. Gliding along the gentle current, in the shadow of enormous, jungle-covered karsts, the boats stop at temples and drift underneath grottoes along the way. We’ll cruise through five of these grottoes with beautiful stalactites and row from long dark caves into green picturesque canals.

We’ll return to the boat quay in Tam Coc and have lunch at a local restaurant.

This afternoon we have a leisurely craft adventure when we join an embroidery class at our hotel, famous in the region for its intricate stitching and designs.

FRIDAY, Nov. 15th

Ninh Binh: Bich Dong and Mua Cave

This morning we’ll bicycle to Bich Dong Pagoda, a complex of three structures which emerge from the cliff face set into the edge of a mountain. Its name translates to Pagoda of the Emerald Grotto and is believed to have come from Nguyen Nghiem, the father of a famous Vietnamese poet. It is clear to see where he took his inspiration from as the greenery that clings to the mountain is reflected in the mirror-like water, creating an emerald glow around the pagodas.

Located at the foot of a large mountain, Bich Dong Pagoda’s ornate gate is one of the most iconic sights in Ninh Binh. We’ll bike here from our hotel, a lovely, easy route. Just beyond the gate is a tranquil courtyard and a traditional Buddhist temple. Follow the stairs up and around the mountain for stunning views, then look for two other temples embedded in the mountain, dating back to the 18th century.

SATURDAY, Nov. 16th

Ninh Binh to Bai Tu Long Bay

This morning we’ll travel one hour to the bay to board our luxury cruise, the Dragon Legend or another vessel. Activities begin with lunch on board, followed by two days of kayaking to a cave, cooking demonstration, squid fishing, and cycling on shore in Bai Tu Long. All meals included.

SUNDAY, Nov. 17th

Cruising in Bai Tu Long

Activities planned by boat staff, including kayaking, biking, squid fishing, tai chi and more!

MONDAY, Nov. 18th

Bai Tu Long to Hanoi

After disembarking from our cruise we’ll set have another leisurely drive through the Vietnamese countryside when we head back towards Hanoi (3.5 hours). En route we will stop in the town of Yen Duc where we’ll enjoy a water puppet show, a Vietnamese tradition!

We’ll check back into the Peridot Grand (maybe we can leave a few bags behind when we leave earlier!) This evening is free but I recommend a crazy seafood fest at a restaurant down the block--all you can eat sushi, fish, clams, steamed crabs and other peelable crustaceans--for $25.

The place rocks with loads of Hanoi 30-somethings and is quite simply a marvel! As a fond farewell to this city we should head to the Majesty Sky Bar for a multi-story view over the Hoan Kiem Lake and toast our trip with an exquisite craft cocktail!

TUESDAY, Nov. 19th

Hanoi and Farewell

This morning we’ll head back to Hanoi’s airport to begin our journey home. Have a farewell pho at breakfast!


What's Included

  • 4 nights in Hanoi

At the Peridot Boutique Hotel

  • 2 night in Ninh Binh

At the Le Clos du Fil

  • 3 nights in Sapa

At the KK Sapa Hotel

  • 3-day/2-night cruise

In Bai Tu Long Bay

  • Daily breakfast

  • 11 lunches, 8 dinners

  • Hanoi Street food tour

  • Transportation

Travel in an appropriate private air-conditioned vehicle with an experienced safe driver

  • English-speaking guides

  • Entry fees, permissions

For all visits mentioned in the program

  • Tips

Except those for housekeepers or bell hops who transport luggage

What's Not Included

  • Airfare
  • Airport transfers
  • Alcohol (unless specifically mentioned in an itinerary activity or purchased as an add-on)
  • Tips for housekeeping and porters

Gratuities to local guides, drivers, maids and hotel staff, travel insurance, round trip airfare, passport and visa fees, personal items such as phone calls, laundry, baggage fees and items not expressly listed as included.

Additional Add-Ons


Peridot Grand Luxury Boutique Hotel


Le Clos du Fil Boutique Hotel & Spa

Ninh Binh

KK Sapa Hotel


Our travelers love us (yay!)

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What I love about the NextTribe trips is that there is so much camaraderie of other women that are like you, and then the fabulous things that the organizers puts together to give you that viewpoint, it’s awesome.

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What I love about NextTribe trips is that you get the experience from an insider’s perspective—someone that has ties to the community and focused on building relationships from the start. I’ve been on a trip with another women’s travel group that dropped a guide in, not personally knowing anything about the locale, traditions, or culture. She was there to make sure you showed up on time, got on the bus, etc. With NextTribe, you feel like you’re having a personalized experience with your best girlfriends.

Donna B., Washington

I didn't know anyone going on the trip but that didn't stop me from signing up. I have learned that some of my life's greatest adventures have come from taking a risk and jumping in feet first. So glad I did with NextTribe! I may not have known anybody at the start, but now I feel like I know everybody.

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I always come by myself on NextTribe trips because I like to meet super fun and interesting women. We're always doing fun and interesting things in great cities that you couldn't do on your own because you wouldn't know the people or places or the insiders.

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Frequently asked questions

What’s different about your trips?

We curate trips specifically for curious, engaged women over 45. You’re pretty well assured that your fellow travelers will be a lot like you–since you’ve all responded to the idea of “aging boldly.”. That means built-in compatibility in your small group, including the woman who is leading the adventure.. In addition to specializing in group travel for people who don’t normally like group travel, we also pride ourselves on creating experiences that allow you to interact with local women or get deeper into the culture than you would if you planned the trip yourself.

Where do you go?

We have a wide range of weekend jaunts here in the U.S. for those who want a quick getaway. We also love taking women to Mexico, where founder Jeannie Ralston used to live. We’re always talking about pushing boundaries, and we’re doing that in the geographic sense too. For those with more time, we offer trips all over Europe, to India, Vietnam, Peru (for a hike on the inca Trail to Machu Picchu). Soon, our travelers will be getting passport stamps in even more countries on six continents. Be saving those frequent flier miles!

What do you mean by transformational travel?

NextTribe is affiliated with the Transformational Travel Council, an international group of travel professionals dedicated to making the world a better place, one trip and one traveler at a time. We recognize that travelers, especially post-pandemic, are looking for more than just a date and a destination. They can shop for that anywhere online. Our community honors the intention behind a traveler’s investment in a trip. Our travelers want to have fun (we do too!) and to travel with a sense of purpose and belonging. That’s why we go to great lengths to provide ways for women to self-select by reading the articles in our magazine and the content of our website. If you like what you see, you’re likely to be a NextTribe traveler, and we look forward to seeing you on a trip soon!

What if I travel solo?

If you really prefer to book your travel yourself and go it alone, we applaud you. That’s brave and bold and we would never try to talk you out of it. But our trips are designed so that even a woman who’s used to traveling alone, or someone shy about meeting new people, will feel comfortable in our group. Our trip leaders are there to “read the room” and make sure everyone feels included and respected.

What if I don’t like group travel?

We don’t either! Not the way most groups do it. If you feel like doing what the group is doing, great! Join us for dinner or just some of the activities. All the benefits of solo travel and the comfort of being with a group. Our groups are small (normally around 12 to 14 women) and in most situations, you are free to opt out of an activity. We figure you’re grown-ass women who know what’s best for you.

What’s the price range of your trips?

We are committed to providing what we call “affordable-luxury” travel. Don’t expect
the Four Seasons, but who wants to stay in a gilded bubble anyhow? We always look for good value and offer wonderful hotels and memorable experiences that won’t break the bank and will get you closer to how locals live. Our prices depend on the length of the
trip and the destination. We offer domestic trips for under $2,000 for a shared room, which we encourage. If you don’t have a roommate we will match you with someone. Sometimes this has resulted in lasting friendships with new travel buddies., Some of
our longer trips–two weeks in India or Vietnam, for example–will cost between
$4,800 and $6,000.

What’s included in the price?

Our trips cover most everything you’ll need to dive into a destination. Hotels and most meals, plus special experiences such as hands-on classes and sessions with local artists, writers or entrepreneurs are almost always included, but each trip is different so please be sure to read The Experience and the itinerary. We occasionally have an add-on for an extra price, but those are clearly designated. What’s not covered as a rule are airfare, alcohol and tips.

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We sure do. It’s easy to pay for our trips by setting up automatic credit card charges at regular intervals, interest free. Think of it as the layaway plan to feed your soul.

How do I get trip discounts?

Our NextTribe members get a discount on every trip. Plus, members are the first to hear about new trips and receive upgrades on rooms if they’re available. Check out our three different membership levels here.

What’s the average age of women on the trips?

We welcome all women over 45, but most of our travelers are in the 50 to 65 age range. More important than age is the spirit of the traveler–her curiosity about the world, and her eagerness to embrace new opportunities. We’ve found women of any age with those qualities fit in well with our groups.

What’s the activity level of the trips?

Most of our trips are geared for active travelers who like to walk–a rating of 3 on our 1-5 rating scale. Here are some examples of how we rate. A designation of 1 would be our beach trips, where it’s up to you if you’d like to stroll down the beach, or play in the waves or walk around the small town. Trips where we have dedicated transportation for much of the time (such as India) are a 2; Paris is a 3 because we believe the best way to appreciate a city is to view it on foot. San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, is a 4, because you’ll be walking up some hills (at 6,000 feet altitude) and occasionally on cobblestone sidewalks. Our Inca trail trip is a 5, as are our more adventurous outdoor trips.

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