Northern Laos, Vietnam, and Southwest China encompass a rich tapestry of languages and traditions, separated by national borders yet sharing a compelling heritage. On this epic new adventure with Asia expert Roger Williams, we’ll explore this intriguing cultural region, one of the most fascinating in the world. From remote villages in the hill country of Vietnam to Pu’er and Xishuangbanna regions of China, home to legendary teas, and on to the enigmatic kingdom of Laos, we’ll be far off the beaten path and deep in the cultural territory of the Tay, Hmong, Red Dao, Hani, Yi, Dai, and Aini ethnic groups. Along the way we’ll 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 spectacular terraced rice fields of Asia. Join us for an in-depth exploration of this intriguing corner of the world!
Days 1-7, Sep 27-Oct 3, 2017
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 , Oct 4-11, 2017
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, Oct 12-15, 2017
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, Oct 16-22, 2017
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.