Overland from Vietnam to Laos via Guangxi and Yunnan

Repertory Trip: No Future Dates Set


Over the past centuries, successive waves of tribal people migrated from southwest China over the borders to Southeast Asia to start a better life or escape from famine or local wars. Some groups changed their names but all retained enough cultural and linguistic markers to be easily recognized on both the north and south sides of the border with China. In the company of veteran Wilderness Travel Trip Leader Roger Williams, one of our most versatile Asia guides, we’ll undertake a fascinating overland adventure that provides an in-depth look at the connection and relationship between the minority people of Vietnam, Laos, and the southwest Chinese provinces of Guangxi and Yunnan. As we journey from Hanoi to Luang Prabang, the ancient capital of Laos, we’ll visit many authentic minority villages, encounter at least a dozen different ethnic groups including the Tay, Hmong, Red Dao, Hani. Yi, Dai, and Aini, visit lively markets, and savor some of the most stunningly beautiful scenery in the world—with views right out of classical Chinese landscape paintings. Our explorations include the ancient Huashan Rock Paintings, the Stone Forest Geological Park (and World Heritage Site) near Kunming, a sail on the Mekong River, a ride on the recently re-opened Yunnan-Vietnam narrow gauge railroad built by France in the early 20th century, and walks through some of the most picturesque and photographed terraced rice fields of Asia. Join us for an intriguing glimpse of this corner of the world!

Itinerary at a Glance

Days 1-7
Hanoi, Vietnam / Sa Pa / Ethnic Groups of Northern Vietnam

After exploring Hanoi, including the impressive Museum of Ethnology, we take a night train to Lao Cai, close to the border of Yunnan, China. In this northern stronghold of ethnic minority villages, we visit lively markets, local villages, and take a scenic boat ride, experiencing bustling life along the riverbank. Sapa, a former French hill station set at a cool 5,000 feet, is a center for Vietnam’s tribal peoples and the town’s lively market is full of street vendors, open-air eateries, and a mix of ethnic peoples from many regions. We ride by cable car to the Fansipan Peak of the Hoang Lien Son mountain range, walk to Tay and Red Dao villages, and overnight at a charming hilltop hideaway with gorgeous views of Hoang Lien Son Mountain and surrounding terraced fields. On Day 7, we return to Hanoi by overnight train.

Days 8-15
Hanoi / Chongzuo, China / Kunming / Jianshui / Yuanyang

Back in Hanoi, we explore the Old Quarter by cyclo (bicycle rickshaw) before heading to Chongzuo, China, a beautiful, seldom-visited area unique for its lush karst landscapes, rich customs of the Zhuang people, and mysterious white-headed langurs. Our explorations here include the Huashan Rock Paintings, painted on a riverside cliff between 1,800 and 2,500 years ago, and the Chongzuo White-Headed Langur Nature Reserve. A flight brings us to Kunming, where we explore the Stone Forest Geological Park, a UNESCO World Heritage site and a veritable museum for karst geological landforms. In Jianshui, once a stop on the ancient Tea and Horse Trade Route, we stroll through the Old Quarter and see the unique customs of Hani, Yi, Miao, and other minority peoples. Boarding a narrow gauge train, we head to Tuanshan, where we walk along the cobblestone streets and admire the ancient and traditional architectural styles preserved from the late Qing Dynasty (1644-1911). From Yuanyang, we walk along the Duoyishu Rice Terraces, considered the most beautiful and magnificent part of Honghe Hani Rice Terraces, a World Heritage Site, dropping in at villages of Yi and Hani people along the way.

Days 16-19
Jiayin / Xishuangbanna / Mengla

A mountain drive brings us to Jiayin, reputed to be one of the most beautiful villages in China, and we experience the most authentic lifestyle of the Hani people in the charming village of Zuofu. A long but scenic drive brings us to Xishuangbanna, where we explore Mt. Nannuo, inhabited by the Aini people, the second largest ethnic group in the region, and enjoy a homemade dinner at a local Aini family home. En route to Mengla, close to the Laos border, we visit Jinuo and Dai minority villages (this is the only area one can meet the Jinuo people).

Days 20-26
Muangla, Laos / Ethnic groups of northern Laos / Luang Prabang

We cross into Laos and head to Muangla, home to many ethnic groups including the Lanten, Ikhos, and Hmong minorities whose villages we visit. On the way to Luang Prabang, we explore the Pak Ou Caves, a Buddhist pilgrimage site located above the Mekong River, then enjoy a special private baci (“welcoming”) ceremony in a local family home in Luang Prabang. Our explorations in Luang Prabang include the magnificent Wat Xieng Thong (“Golden Temple”) and the former Royal Palace, now a museum housing heirlooms of the former Lao monarchy. We can also climb Phu Si Hill, an important site with fine views over the town and the Mekong River, and visit the Ock Pop Tock weaving center, a Laos-based social enterprise working primarily in the field of textiles, handicrafts, and design. Depart on Day 26.



Explore the sights of Hanoi and Luang Prabang, including the Buddhist caves at Pak Ou
Visit minority tribal peoples in their villages, attend lively markets
See the ancient Huashan Rock Paintings, Chongzuo White-Headed Langur Nature Reserve, the karst landscapes of Stone Forest Geological Park near Kunming
Enjoy scenic walks along picturesque rice terraces, dropping in at minority villages along the way
Sail on the Mekong River to witness life along the riverbanks


Length: 26 days
Cost From: TBA  
Arrive: Hanoi, Vietnam
Depart: Luang Prabang, Laos
Lodging: 23 nights hotels, 2 nights trains
Meals: All meals included except 1 lunch and 4 dinners (B=Breakfast, L=Lunch, D=Dinner)
Activity: Cultural Adventures
Trip Level:

Overland travel with walking tours, cultural explorations
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