Last Modified: 06 Mar 2014
Cycling in Laos & Northern Vietnam
Trip code: TZXL
Validity: 01 Apr 2013 to 30 Apr 2014
Heading out from Vietnam’s Hanoi, cycle along quiet roads that travel through karst scenery in Tam Coc, to cheeky monkeys at the Primate Rescue Centre, past H’mong villages and cascading waterfalls near Luang Prabang, along river scenery in Vang Vieng and to the laidback Lao capital of Vientiane. Get to know these two beautiful countries at a relaxed pace and get up close and personal with the surprising locals, culture and landscapes of Northern Vietnam and Laos.
The operator for this trip is our experienced sister company Exodus. Your group will therefore be a mixture of Intrepid booked passengers and other international like-minded travellers.
Table of Contents
- Original trips are classic Intrepid adventures. With a mix of included activities and free time, they offer plenty of opportunities to explore at your own pace and take part in activities that really get beneath the skin of a destination. While the occasional meal may be included, you'll have the freedom to seek out your own culinary adventures. Accommodation is generally budget or tourist class (2-3 star), but you're as likely to find yourself as a guest of a local family as staying in a hotel or camping. Transport will vary as well. Depending on the destination and the itinerary you could find yourself travelling on anything from a camel to a train or a private safari vehicle. It's all part of the adventure! Original travellers have a desire to make the most of their travel time and really get to know a place, its people and cultures.
Days 1-2 Hanoi
Xin chao! Welcome to Vietnam.
Your adventure begins with a welcome meeting at 6pm on Day 1.
You can arrive at any time as there are no activities planned until this important meeting. Please look for a note in the hotel lobby or ask the hotel reception where it will take place. If you can't arrange a flight that will arrive in time, you may wish to arrive a day early so you're able to attend. We'll be happy to book additional accommodation for you (subject to availability). If you're going to be late, please inform the hotel reception. We'll be collecting your insurance details and next of kin information at this meeting, so please ensure you have all these details to provide to your leader.
The capital of Vietnam is a charming city with a population of over six million. Hanoi is famous for its beautiful lakes, shaded boulevards, verdant public parks and its thriving Old Quarter, which is an architectural museum piece with blocks of ochre buildings retaining the air of a 1930s provincial French town. As Vietnam develops to compete with other South-East Asian countries, the beautiful Hoan Kiem Lake reflects the contrasts of modern office buildings, old Buddhist temples and the tangle of ancient streets in its still surface.
If you arrive early, why not get your first taste of Vietnam exploring the lovely, laidback capital. You can stroll the tree-lined boulevards to get a sense of the old days, wander the Old Quarter to uncover ancient temples and a rich, religious culture or head to the Temple of Literature, an oasis of calm right at the heart of Hanoi.
The following morning we will head out before breakfast and go for an early warm up ride through the charming streets of the Old Quarter and out to the picturesque West Lake area.
In the afternoon we will have a city tour including visits to the Temple of Literature - the site of the oldest university in Vietnam, Hoa Lo Prison and the Old Quarter of the city with its '36 streets' where each street is home to shops selling particular products, eg silk street, gold street, paper street and naff souvenir street.
In the evening there is the option to enjoy a performance of Hanoi's famous water puppets.
Cycling distance: approx 25 km
- Hanoi - Temple of Literature
- Hanoi - guided tour
- Water Puppet Show Entry Hanoi (Optional Activity) - USD3
Hotel (2 nts)
Day 3 Tam Coc
Departing Hanoi by bus, we travel a couple of hours south into the provinces before cycling to Tam Coc.
Known as 'Halong Bay on land', the scenery at Tam Coc is truly stunning. Rugged limestone karsts rise upwards from the green rice paddies with low caves at their base through which the river flows.
Here we take a paddle boat out onto the lake before taking some free time to explore further by bike or to relax in this peaceful village.
Cycling distance: approx 50 km.
Hotel (1 nt)
Day 4 Cuc Phuong National Park
After a short transfer we cycle to Cuc Phuong National Park.
Vietnam's oldest national park, Cuc Phuong is home to thousand year-old trees and caves where evidence of pre-historic man has been found. The park's primary tropical rain forest contains rare hardwoods and is home to an amazing variety of wildlife including lorises, langurs, bats and giant squirrels.
The cycling is on quiet paved roads and overall is flat terrain. We will stop for a picnic lunch in the lush surrounds of the park. This afternoon we visit the Primate Rescue Centre which is a sanctuary for langurs and various gibbon species amongst others.
Cycling distance: approx 50 km
- Cuc Phuong National Park
- Primate Rescue Centre
Hotel (1 nt)
Day 5 Vieng Xai
We make an early start today ahead of a long drive. As we cross the border from Vietnam to Laos, life takes on a different pace. The drive takes us through some spectacular scenery and into a remote area of Laos rarely visited by tourists.
Our accommodation in Vieng Xai is very basic, reflecting the fact that we are well off the tourist trail.
Hotel (1 nt)
Day 6 Sam Neua
This morning we visit the caves in the surrounding area by bike.
The leadership of the Pathet Lao lived in these underground hideouts throughout the Indochina conflict. The caves we visit include those occupied by Prince Souphanouvong, better known as the 'Red Prince' who was later to become the first President of the Lao People's Democratic Republic, and Kaysone Phomivihane, who was the leader of the Lao People's Revolutionary Party from 1955 and served as the first Prime Minister of the Lao PDR. In their caves we see their underground bedrooms, offices, and meeting rooms, along with an 'emergency room' which could be sealed from the outside world, protecting anyone instead even from chemical attacks.
After lunch we ride to Sam Neua where we spend the night. The ride has some challenging hill climbs and descents but we are rewarded with spectacular views throughout.
Cycling distance: approx 35 km
Hotel (1 nt)
Days 7-8 Phonsavanh
Today is a full day's drive through some extreme terrain. The drive will take approximately 9 hours depending on weather and road conditions. Near the township of Muang Kham we visit Tham Piu.
The cave at Tham Piu is infamous because of a tragic incident during the Indochina conflict. Approximately 350 civilians had moved into the cave for protection from the never-ending bombing. Tragically, the cave was rocketed by a Royal Lao Airforce aircraft on 23 November 1969, bringing down the roof of the cave on all those inside. Their bones are still buried in the rubble. You can climb to the mouth of the cave, which is approximately 100 metres off the valley floor.
We then continue on for another couple of hours to Phonsavanh, the capital of Xieng Khuang Province and home of the 'Plain of Jars'.
The following morning we cycle out to the Plain of Jars and visit sites 1 and 3.
The Plain of Jars is an area of more than 60 sites covered with huge jars made from sandstone, granite, or sometimes calcified coral. The jars vary in size and some weigh as much as 13 tons. They lay in clusters but are said to be in a linear path running from south Thailand to northern India. Their exact purpose is unknown but theories range from funerary urns to food storage. Legends claim that an ancient king used them to brew Lao Lao rice wine.
We then cycle out to Muang Khoun, the former capital of Xieng Khuang before its total destruction during the Indochina conflict. There are only two surviving buildings in the town - a temple (Wat) and a hospital built by the French early last century. The ride to Muang Khoun takes us through peaceful country surrounded by rolling hills, rice paddies and minority villages. Depending on your preference you can cycle back to Phonsavanh or ride in the support vehicle.
Cycling distance: approx 50 km
Hotel (2 nts)
Days 9-11 Luang Prabang
This morning we cycle west from Phonsavanh along National Road 7 to Ban Chomesy. On the way we pass through Muang Sui, where a former US military base (known as Lima Site L108) was established during the Indochina War. The relatively flat terrain takes us initially through a pine forest area and then past H'mong villages and small lakes and across the Yen and Ngum rivers. The scenery in this part of the country is quite different from elsewhere in Laos in that instead of jungle and rice paddies we pass through more rolling hills where you can almost picture cows and sheep grazing. The weather at this altitude is often cooler, and as a result, the scenery, flora and fauna can at time contrast with that seen during the rest of the tour.
At Ban Chomesy we board our vehicle for the long drive (approx 8 hours) to the enchanting town of Luang Prabang.
The atmospheric World Heritage-listed city of Luang Prabang is a favourite of many. Nestled in the hills of northern Laos on the confluence of the Mekong and Khan rivers, it's studded with ornate temples and French colonial architecture.
The following morning we ride out from our hotel, through a rural landscape of rice paddies and Lao Lum villages, to the beautiful Kuang Si Falls. Once at the falls we have a picnic lunch and there is the chance for a refreshing dip. In the afternoon we cycle back to Luang Prabang.
The rest of the afternoon is free for individual sightseeing or shopping, or there is an optional bike tour of the town (entrance fees not included). This evening perhaps visit the night market in town with beautiful, traditional Lao and Hilltribe textiles on sale.
The next morning, for those up at dawn, there is the chance to witness the daily parade of saffron-robed monks receiving alms.
We then ride to the village on Ban Pak Ou. From here we get a boat across the river to visit the Pak Ou caves.
Filled with hundreds of Buddha statues in a myriad of positions, Pak Ou Caves look out onto the Mekong and are a fascinating sight to see.
Most of our return journey to Luang Prabang is by boat, giving us an experience of the mighty Mekong River, which starts its journey high in the Tibetan Plateau, eventually emptying itself into the sea in the south of Vietnam. Its journey takes it through 7 different countries. We cycle the last few kilometres, visiting a weaving village along the way.
This evening is free for your own exploration of the town.
In your free time consider a climb to the top of Mt Phousi - providing a fantastic view over the town and its surrounds. The Dara Market sells everything and is a great spot to browse. If you'd like to experience more local culture, consider taking a long boat across the river to a traditional Laotian village.
Cycling distance: approx 50 km day 9, approx 50 km day 10, approx 40 km day 11.
- Kuang Si Waterfalls
- Pak Ou Caves
Hotel (3 nts)
Days 12-13 Vang Vieng
Today we drive south from Luang Prabang to Phou Khoun through more mountainous terrain (approx 4 hours), and passing through numerous H'mong villages. Once in Phou Khoun we pull out the bikes and start riding. The ride includes a superb winding descent with magnificent views of limestone karsts. This is followed by shorter climbs and easy riding through rice paddies and villages as we approach Kasi. The rest of the journey (approx 2 hours) is on the support bus.
We end up in Vang Vieng.
Surrounded by stunning limestone karst scenery, Vang Vieng is a small haven with fascinating caves to explore, a myriad of water-based activities and a relaxed atmosphere.
The following day is free in Vang Vieng for your own private exploration. You may choose to take your bike for a ride around the limestone karsts, or have a break and try some different activities like kayaking, rock climbing or trekking. This evening is a perfect opportunity to relax on the banks of the river with a cold drink, and take in the view.
Hotel (2 nts)
Day 14 Vientiane
This morning we drive 85 km from Vang Vieng to Phonhong. Here we turn off the highway and follow the road towards Nam Ngum dam. Near the dam we jump on the bikes to take a backroad route to the capital, Vientiane. The cycling is mainly on quiet, paved country roads and gives us an interesting insight into the local way of life. The last 15 km approaching Vientiane has some traffic but it is surprisingly quiet for a capital city. We conclude the ride at the Patuxai Monument. Based on the Arc de Triomphe, it is also referred to as the 'Vertical Runway' following the Lao government's use of concrete supplied by US Aid for the completion of the airport in the 1960s to construct the monument.
Possibly Asia's most laidback capital, Vientiane is a city where daily affairs are conducted at a relaxed pace. Hardly touched by the modernisation that has completely changed the face of other cities in South-East Asia, Laos still has a wealth of cultural delights to discover - on foot, or for the less energetic, by jumbo (tuk tuk).
This evening perhaps head to the bank of the Mekong River for a last Lao sunset.
Cycling distance: approx 60 km
Hotel (1 nt)
Day 15 Overnight train
This morning is free to shop or explore Vientiane. We then take a tour of the city, visiting Thatluang Stupa, Wat Si Saket - the oldest temple in the city - and Haw Phra Kaew, a temple which originally housed the Emerald Buddha now on display in Thailand and which we will see tomorrow!
We then ride out of the city and over the Mekong, across the Friendship Bridge into Thailand. After completing border formalities we ride (on the left in Thailand!) to Nong Khai railway station. Here we say goodbye to our Lao guide and can relax for a couple of hours in a local hotel (with a swimming pool) before returning to the train station for our overnight train journey to Bangkok.
Cycling distance: approx 30 km
Overnight sleeper train (1 nt)
Days 16-17 Bangkok
On arrival in Bangkok we transfer to our hotel. Later in the morning we take a short walk to the Chao Praya river where we board a longtail boat for a tour of the local canals (khlongs). Bangkok was once known as the Venice of the East because of its intricate canal network, and we get a glimpse of daily life as we pass locals selling their wares by the river.
Today we will also visit the Royal Palace complex, followed by Wat Phra Kaew, home to the Emerald Buddha - one of Thailand's most venerated images. Another highlight is Wat Pho, the largest temple in Bangkok, housing a 46 m long, 15 m high gold-plated reclining Buddha. We then head back to our hotel by ferry, and the rest of the afternoon is free for your own exploration.
There are no activities planned for the final day and you are able to depart the accommodation at any time.
- Bangkok - Khlong (canal) guided tour
- Bangkok - Grand Palace - THB500
Hotel (1 nt)
Also available to purchase
For many of our trips we have other services or experiences that are also available to purchase to extend your trip or to make your holiday a little easier. Below is a list of other travel products you can purchase in conjunction with this trip.
- TZXL Single Supplement (TZXL)
- TZXL Bicycle Hire (TZXL)
- TZXL Local Bike Hire - Cycling in Laos & Northern Vietnam - Exodus (TZXL)
Occasionally our itineraries are updated during the year to incorporate improvements stemming from past travellers' comments and our own research. The information given in this itinerary may be slightly different to that in the brochure. It's very important that you print and review a final copy of your Trip Notes a couple of days prior to travel, in case there have been changes that affect your plans. For the latest updated Trip Notes please visit our website: www.intrepidtravel.com
Please note that while we operate successful trips in this region throughout the year, some changes may occur in our itineraries due to inclement weather and common seasonal changes to timetables and transport routes. This can happen with little notice so please be prepared for modifications to the route.
Expect some culture shock. You'll be exposed to signs of poverty and access to services may be sporadic. The food will be quite different to home and English speakers harder to find. Respecting the local culture will make it easier to fit in and really experience the location.
This trip will raise your heartbeat. Moderate physical activities are included and a good level of fitness is required.
On this trip we cycle an average of 40 km (25 miles) per day over 11 days of cycling. The surface is mostly good but with some broken tarmac and unsurfaced sections. Routes follow main roads, but Laos lacks the heavy traffic of other Asian countries. Laos is mountainous and there are some tough climbs and long downhills, but vehicle support is always available. The heat can make the going tough. The majority of riding is away from traffic, but you should be comfortable riding in traffic on the approaches to the main towns. This is most relevant to the first day cycling in Hanoi. To cover the distances involved there are also some long drives on winding mountain roads.
Included activities are listed in the day-to-day itinerary, all other activities are optional and at your own expense. If you choose not to participate in the included activities on this itinerary, the cost will not be refunded.
A selection of optional activities are listed in the day-to-day itinerary. This isn't an exhaustive list and should be used as a guide only. Prices are for entrance only and don't include transport costs to and from the sites or local guides unless indicated. It may not be possible to do all the activities listed in the time available at each destination. Optional activities aren't necessarily endorsed or recommended by Intrepid nor included in price of this trip. If you do any optional activities, you do so at your own risk and it must be clearly understood that your participation is your own decision and doesn't form part of your contract with Intrepid. You may be required to sign/complete a waiver form or a receipt for some optional activities.
The official currency of Vietnam is Dong (VND).
The most convenient and cheapest way to obtain local currency in is via an Automated Teller Machine (ATM). ATMs are now available in most towns and visa cash advances are available in major banks. Foreign currency notes that are old, torn or faded can be very difficult to exchange, clean bills in small denominations are most useful. Traveller's cheques can be difficult to change. The use of credit cards is restricted, mainly to major hotels.
It's not possible to exchange Vietnamese Dong outside the country, so convert or spend all your Dong before leaving.
The official currency of Laos is the Kip (LAK).
However, USD are also widely used throughout Laos. Foreign currency notes that are old, torn or faded can be very difficult to exchange, clean bills in small denominations are most useful. Traveller's cheques can be difficult to change. Visa cash advances are available in major banks, and ATM's are now available in most towns. The use of credit cards is restricted, mainly to major hotels.
The official currency of Thailand is the Baht (THB).
The most convenient and cheapest way to obtain local currency is via an Automated Teller Machine (ATM) or Bancomat. ATMs are now available in most towns and visa cash advances are available in major banks. Foreign currency notes that are old, torn or faded can be very difficult to exchange, clean bills in small denominations are most useful. Traveller's cheques can be difficult to change. The use of credit cards is restricted, mainly to major hotels.
Every traveller is different and therefore spending money requirements will vary. Some travellers may drink more than others while other travellers like to purchase more souvenirs than most. Please consider your own spending habits when it comes to allowing for drinks, shopping, participating in optional activities, and tipping. Please also remember the following specific recommendations when planning your trip.
If you are happy with the services providing a tip - though not compulsory - is appropriate. While it may not be customary to you, it is of great significance to the people who will take care of you during your travels, inspires excellent service, and is an entrenched feature of the tourism industry across many Intrepid destinations. We recommend that any tips are given to the intended recipient by a member of your group, rather than collected and passed on by the group leader.
The following amounts are based on local considerations and feedback from our past travellers:
Restaurants: Please check the bill and if there’s an addition of 10% service charge, there’s no requirement for tipping. Otherwise, 10% of the total bill amount is appropriate.
At local markets and basic restaurants: Leave the loose change.
Local guides/Porters: Throughout your trip you may at times have a local guide in addition to your leader. We suggest US$1 per person, per day for local guides/porters.
Your crew (including the leader and driver, and perhaps cook depending on your trip): You may also consider tipping your crew for outstanding service throughout your trip. The amount is entirely a personal preference; however as a guideline US$2-3 per person, per day can be used. Of course you are free to tip more or less as you see fit, depending on your perception of service quality and the length of your trip. Remember, a tip is not compulsory and should only be given when you receive excellent service.
All departure taxes should be included in your international flight ticket.
This trip is operated by our trusted local partners, Exodus.
The minimum age of clients on this trip is 16 years. Please note that teenagers aged 16 or 17 must be accompanied by (and share accommodation with) a parent or legal guardian.
Tet is Vietnam's New Year festival, held annually in late January or early February based on the lunar calendar. While this can be a fascinating time to travel and experience this event, expect some shop closures and busier than usual local transport. Opening hours at some tourist sites may also be affected or closed. Although we make all reasonable efforts to avoid disruption, a flexible approach from the traveller is appreciated.
FESTIVALS & PUBLIC HOLIDAYS:
During public holidays and festival periods in Cambodia and Laos many businesses may close, transport may be extremely busy and travel times may increase. During these times please be patient and consider these moments as an opportunity to interact with the locals. Particularly worth noting are Khmer/Laos New Year (3 days in mid April), Pchum Ben (3 days in mid October) and Water Festival (3 days in late November).
Maximum of 18 travellers per group.
Your fellow travellers
As you travel on a group trip you will be exposed to all the pleasures and maybe some of the frustrations of travelling in a group. Your fellow travellers will probably come from all corners of the world and likely a range of age groups too. We ask you to be understanding of the various needs and preferences of your group - patience with your fellow travellers is sometimes required for the benefit of everyone's travel experience. Remember too that you have responsibilities to the group. If you are requested to be at a place at a certain time, ensure that you don't keep the rest of the group waiting. We have found time and time again that the very best trips we operate are those where the dynamics within the group work well - this takes just a little effort on your part.
Due to privacy reasons we are unable to provide you with contact details and any personal information about your fellow travellers booked on your trip prior to departure. However you can download Intrepid's FREE Meet Up app to chat with your fellow travellers before your trip. Meet up, discuss your upcoming trip and share the excitement of planning for your adventure. For more information visit:
Our group trips are designed for shared accommodation and don't involve a compulsory single supplement. Single travellers share with people of the same gender in accommodation ranging from twin to multishare. Some of our itineraries have accommodation booked on a mixed gender share basis and where applicable this will be specified in our Trip Notes. On a selection of our trips, you have the option to pay a single supplement to ensure that you have your own accommodation (where available). Please note that this only applies to accommodation during the tour - pre-trip and post-trip accommodation will be booked on a single room basis.
Hotel (15 nts), Overnight sleeper train (1 nt)
All the hotels we use have twin rooms with en suite facilities. The hotel at Vieng Xai is quite basic and the water supply is erratic: you may wish to bring a sheet sleeping bag for this night. The park lodge in Cuc Phuong N.P. has individual rooms with twin beds. Each bedroom has a basic private bathroom attached with running water. The main building consists of a dining room, where meals are served, and water, coffee, tea and soft drinks are available. All the other hotels are clean and comfortable, with friendly staff. As we are travelling away from the usual tourist haunts there is less choice so please be prepared for this in order to see places that are not frequently visited by tourists.
The overnight trains are in air-conditioned second-class soft sleepers, bedding is provided. Berths are 'open plan' along the coach wall either side of the central aisle. At night, each pair of seats pulls together to form the bottom bunk, and an upper bunk folds out from the wall. An attendant will make up your bunk with a proper mattress, and will hook up the curtains which are provided for privacy.
16 Breakfasts, 1 Lunch
Please budget for additional meals and expenses while on your trip. Our suggestion is based on past traveller feedback but you may choose to spend more or less.
Food is cheap in SE Asia and you can generally avoid the spicier food if you wish, normally consisting of rice or noodle based dishes with pork, chicken, vegetable or seafood. Western food is readily available almost everywhere. Vegetarians are well catered for but please inform us before departure of any special dietary requests. Please note that in SE Asia the availability of certain specialised products for restricted diets, e.g. gluten-free or dairy-free, is minimal or non-existent and we strongly recommend you bring these specialised dietary items from home. You may find it beneficial to bring some 'cycling snacks' with you from home; high energy snacks are not readily available locally. For snacks and drinks during the rides, a kitty is normally arranged.
Breakfast: hotel breakfasts are normally buffet-style. In some places they will be more basic and may involve just bread, eggs, fruit and tea or coffee.
Lunch: while cycling lunches normally consist of a substantial picnic or a meal in a local restaurant which may involve a soup or a rice based meal.
Dinner: your tour leader will be on hand to escort you to a local restaurant.
Bicycle, Bus, Boat, Train
We use private coach/mini-buses, which will be quite comfortable, usually with air-conditioning. There are some long driving days on this trip (up to 9 hours). Road conditions are generally good and improving all the time in Vietnam, but progress can be slow in the cities due to traffic. Roads in Laos are much quieter, but progress is slow due to the mountainous terrain. The coach and support vehicle will accompany the riders at all times throughout the tour, allowing you substantial flexibility to cycle as much or as little as you like.
Mountain bikes are ideal for this trip and flat bars are preferable, but a good strong tourer will suffice. If choosing to hire a bike we use Trek/Specialized mountain bikes with front suspension. Bike hire should be arranged at the time of booking. Very occasionally a bike of your size may not be available. We may be able to offer you a bike of a different but acceptable size, or otherwise you must bring your own bike.
Generally we use different staff and vehicles for each country, but all groups will be accompanied by one experienced cycling tour leader from start to finish, either Thai or Vietnamese. The tour leader will be assisted by a second cycling leader, and if required local guides from each country.
We don't expect any problems (and nor should you) but if for any reason you are unable to commence your trip as scheduled, please refer to the emergency contact section below for who to contact depending upon your starting location.
No refund is available on missed transfers or portions of your trip owing to a different flight arrival or delayed flight arrival. Any additional cost incurred in order to meet up with your group is at your own expense.
Nouvo City Hotel
2 Samsen Road
Phone: +66 228 27500
Finish point description
A modern 4 star centrally located hotel in the Bangamphu area which is also known as the Old Bangkok City. The hotel is only 15 minutes walk from Khao San Road. and walking distance to many Buddhist temples and the Grand Palace.
All rooms have free WiFi, air conditioning, hair dryer and a fridge.
Finish point instructions
Departure transfer is available - enquire at time of booking.
A taxi to the airport costs between THB400-700 (US$13-20) depending on time of day and toll ways, and takes approx. 1 hour.
Normal check out time is 12 noon. If you are departing later, you can arrange luggage storage at the hotel.
Please also make sure you have access to an additional US$400, to be used when unforeseen incidents or circumstances outside our control (eg. a natural disaster, civil unrest or an outbreak of bird flu) necessitate a change to our planned route.
Visas are the responsibility of the individual traveller. The visa requirements for your trip vary depending on where you are from and where you are going. As a general rule most countries expect that you will have at least 6 months' validity on your passport. On arrival visitors may be asked to present return tickets and evidence of means to cover your intended stay.
We keep the following information up to date as much as possible, but rules do change - it's important that you check for yourself. Residents from other countries must consult the relevant embassies or your travel agent.
Australia: Yes - in advance
Belgium: Yes - in advance
Canada: Yes - in advance
Germany Yes - in advance
Ireland: Yes - in advance
Netherlands: Yes - in advance
New Zealand: Yes - in advance
South Africa: Yes - in advance
Switzerland: Yes - in advance
United Kingdom: Yes - in advance
USA: Yes - in advance
When obtaining your visa you should allow 3 weeks for processing, the cost is approximately US$60 to US$100. Check with your embassy or consulate for further details. Some nationalities are exempt from requiring a visa if their stay is less than 15 days, but if you are planning on staying in Vietnam for longer than 15 days you will need to obtain a visa extension in advance.
Keep the customs and immigration form you receive on arrival, as you need it to complete exit formalities on departure.
If your visa application asks for a point of contact, please write: Intrepid Vietnam 57A Nguyen Khac Hieu St, Hanoi, Vietnam Ph +84 4 3715 0996.
Australia:Yes - on arrival
Belgium: Yes - on arrival
Canada: Yes - on arrival
Germany Yes - on arrival
Ireland: Yes - on arrival
Netherlands: Yes - on arrival
New Zealand: Yes - on arrival
South Africa: Yes - on arrival
Switzerland: Yes - on arrival
United Kingdom: Yes - on arrival
USA: Yes - on arrival
We ask all our travellers to obtain their Laos visas at the border, and NOT in their home country. Your tour leader will assist you in obtaining a Laos visa, generally at the border, depending on the current state of affairs, as it can vary.
Please ensure that you have at least 1 passport photos and up to US$60 cash (this may vary too) to fulfil the requirements. There will also be an Immigration Fee of USD1. To assist us in processing your Laos visas, please provide your agent with accurate passport details prior to the departure of your trip as these details will be passed on to our leader.
When crossing the border you will most likely see a lesser entry fee than what you have paid. This is due to the leader having to use a local agent to process the visa which allows the group to cross the border as quickly as possible.
Australia: No - not required
Belgium: No - not required
Canada: No - not required
Germany No - not required
Ireland: No - not required
Netherlands: No - not required
New Zealand: No - not required
South Africa: No - not required
Switzerland: No - not required
United Kingdom: No - not required
USA: No - not required
If entering by air you will be granted a 30 day stay on arrival.
If entering by a land border, you will be granted a 15 day stay only. A visa extension can be obtained in Thailand at an immigration office for approx. 2000THB or alternatively you can apply for a Thailand visa in advance from your embassy or consulate that will allow a 30 day stay when entering at an overland border.
Exception– as of 28 Oct 2013 citizens of the United States, United Kingdom, Canada, France, Italy, Germany and Japan are eligible for 30 day visa at land borders.
Issues on your trip
While we always endeavour to provide the best possible holiday experience, due to the nature of travel and the areas we visit sometimes things can and do go wrong. Should any issue occur while you are on your trip, it is imperative that you discuss this with your group leader or our local representative straight away so that they can do their best to rectify the problem and save any potential negative impact on the rest of your trip.
We recognise that there may be times when your group leader/local partner may not be able to resolve a situation to your satisfaction - if this is the case, please ask the leader to speak to their direct manager.
You may also choose to provide details in your online feedback, which we ask you to complete within 30 days of the end of your trip. But we do ask you to be aware that it is very difficult for us to provide any practical help after the trip is complete.
What to take
What you need to bring will vary according to the trip style you have chosen, the countries you are visiting and when you are travelling. Generally speaking you should pack as lightly as possible. On the vast majority of our trips you are expected to carry your own luggage and although you won't be required to walk long distances with your luggage (max 30 minutes), we recommend keeping the weight under 10kg / 22lb.
Most travellers carry their luggage in a backpack, although an overnight bag with a shoulder strap would suffice if you travel lightly. Smaller bags or backpacks with wheels are convenient although we recommend your bag has carry straps. You'll also need a day pack/bag to carry water and a camera etc for day trips.
You can find Intrepid's Ultimate Packing List on our website. It should be used as a guide only and isn't intended to be a complete packing list.
BRINGING YOUR OWN BIKE:
Plenty of people choose to bring their own bikes on our cycle trips. If you wish to bring your own bike, please note that we cannot guarantee against small scratches and paintwork damage involved in the loading and unloading from support vehicles.
Please note that helmets must be worn when riding on all our Cycling holidays. You must bring your own helmet with you for this trip, as they are not available for hire.
EXTRA BIKE BITS:
You may like to bring your own saddle (excluding the seat post), or over gel cover to fit to the hire bikes. We encourage this, if it's your preference. However, please note that you are responsible for your own equipment, and removing your saddle at the end of the trip. We can't guarantee the return of any bike parts left behind.
A helmet, eye-protection (sunglasses), cycling gloves and water bottles or hydration system (e.g. camelbak). Please note that helmets must be worn when riding off-road on all our Cycling holidays. You must bring your own helmet with you for this trip, as they are not available for hire.
RECOMMENDED CYCLING CLOTHING::
Padded cycling shorts (with loose 'over-shorts' where recommended), breathable clothing, and a lightweight waterproof / windproof top. Shoes with relatively stiff soles are better for biking, but are not essential unless you are cycling long distances. Most people want to carry certain items with them during the day while cycling, for this for this we recommend a large bum-bag or small close-fitting day pack.
FIRST AID KIT:
You should bring a small, personal first aid kit with you including items such as high factor sunscreen, lip balm and chamois cream if required.
All Intrepid travellers need to be in good physical health in order to participate fully on this trip. When selecting your trip please make sure you have read through the itinerary carefully and assess your ability to cope with our style of travel. Please note that if, in the opinion of our group leader or local guide, any traveller is unable to complete the itinerary without undue risk to themselves and/or the rest of the group, Intrepid reserves the right to exclude them from all or part of a trip without refund.
You should consult your doctor for up-to-date medical travel information or for any necessary vaccinations and anti-malarial requirements before departure. We recommend that you carry a first aid kit as well as any personal medical requirements (including a spare pair of glasses) as they may not easily be obtained at the locations on this trip. For legal reasons our leaders and guides are prohibited from administering any type of drugs including headache tablets and antibiotics. Please ensure that you are adequately prepared.
Rare instances of dengue fever have been reported in this region. This virus is transmitted by mosquitoes. There is no vaccination against it, but there are preventative measures that you can take such as wearing long clothing and always using repellent. Please note that this mosquito is most active during daylight hours however care should be taken at all times.
Many national governments provide a regularly updated advice service on safety issues involved with international travel. We recommend that you check your government's advice for their latest travel information before departure. Please refer to our website's safety page for links to major travel advisories and updates on safety issues affecting our trip.
We strongly recommend the use of a neck wallet or money belt while travelling, for the safe-keeping of your passport, air tickets, cash and other valuable items. Leave your valuable jewellery at home - you won't need it while travelling. Many of our hotels have safety deposit boxes, which is the most secure way of storing your valuables. A lock is recommended for securing your luggage.
Your leader will accompany you on all included activities, however during your trip you'll have some free time to pursue your own interests, relax and take it easy or explore at your leisure. While your group leader will assist you with the available options in a given location, please note that any optional activities you undertake are not part of your Intrepid itinerary, and Intrepid makes no representations about the safety of the activity or the standard of the operators running them. Please use your own good judgement when selecting an activity in your free time. Please also note that your group leader has the authority to amend or cancel any part of the trip itinerary if it's deemed necessary due to safety concerns.
For more details on the type of conditions and safety standards you can expect on your trip, please refer to Intrepid's operational safety policy on our website. We recommend that you take a moment to read through this information before travelling, and would appreciate any feedback on how well it's being implemented in the field:
PETTY THEFT AND PERSONAL SAFETY:
While travelling there is always the risk of pick-pocketing and petty theft, particularly in the more touristy cities. We recommend that you exercise caution when walking alone at night and encourage you to walk together and only on main, well-lit thoroughfares. Be particularly vigilant on public transport. Simple measures like carrying your day pack on your front, not hanging your bag over the back of your chair and wearing a money belt will reduce any chance that your valuables should go missing.
Travel insurance is compulsory for all our trips. We require that, at a minimum, you are covered for medical expenses including emergency repatriation. We strongly recommend that the policy also covers personal liability, cancellation, curtailment and loss of luggage and personal effects.
When travelling on a group trip, you won't be permitted to join the group until evidence of travel insurance and the insurance company's 24 hour emergency contact number has been seen by your leader.
If you have credit card insurance your group leader will require details of the participating insurer/underwriter, the level of coverage, policy number and emergency contact number rather than the bank's name and credit card details. Please contact your bank for these details prior to arriving in-country.
Please go to our website for links to various travel insurance providers:
We believe strongly in low impact or rather positive impact tourism. Broadly speaking this means that we try to minimise the negative aspects of tourism on the local cultures and environments that we visit and highlight the positive aspects. Please visit our website for further details and suggestions on how you can be a responsible traveller:
Dress standards are conservative throughout Asia, especially outside major cities. To respect this and for your own comfort, we strongly recommend modest clothing. This means clothing that covers your shoulders and knees. Loose, lightweight, long clothing is both respectful and cool in areas of predominantly hot climate. In many rural areas women will need to wear modest clothing even to swim. Singlets, tank tops and topless sun bathing are all unacceptable. When visiting religious sites men often need to wear long trousers and women a long skirt or sarong.
A couple of rules
Illegal drugs will not be tolerated on our trips. Possessing or using drugs not only contravenes the laws of the land, but also puts the rest of the group at risk. Smoking marijuana and opium is a part of local culture in some parts of the world but is not acceptable for Intrepid travellers. Intrepid's philosophy of travel is one of respect towards everyone we encounter and in particular, the local people who make our destinations such special places. The exploitation of prostitutes is completely contrary to this philosophy. Our group leader has the right to expel any member of the group if drugs are found in their possession or if they use prostitutes.
The Intrepid Foundation
Since Intrepid Travel commenced operating in 1989 we've been committed to giving something back to the communities we visit. One way has been through our support for local humanitarian, development and conservation projects. Many of our travellers want to contribute something too. Whilst it is often tempting to give hand-outs to those less fortunate, this has the potential to promote a culture of begging and dependency. Handouts are not a sustainable way for individuals or communities to live. That’s why we established The Intrepid Foundation – to make it easier for travellers wishing to give back to communities in an effective and meaningful way.
The Intrepid Foundation is a not-for-profit fund offering a selection of excellent grassroots organisations which you can contribute to. All donations to The Intrepid Foundation will be matched by Intrepid Travel dollar for dollar (up to AU$5,000 per donor and a total of AU$400,000 for all donors in each financial year). And every cent gets there as Intrepid Travel pays for all the administration costs. Donating is simple and secure. Please ask your group leader for information on the projects we support through The Intrepid Foundation or go to our website:
Responsible Travel projects
Organisations and projects currently supported by The Intrepid Foundation in Vietnam include:
* The Blue Dragon Children's Foundation works in northern and central Vietnam with the most vulnerable children: street kids, children with disabilities, the rural poor and victims of trafficking. Their main aim is to help kids go to school or receive vocational training in an effort to help them find their way out of poverty.
* Children's Hope in Action (CHIA) provides vital health and disability programs and educational services to vulnerable families in Hoi An and surrounding rural areas. CHIA’s holistic Special Education program facilitates the social, physical and intellectual development of children who have motor disabilities and little, or no intellectual impairment.
* Cuc Phuong National Park's conservation programs - we're currently supporting the Turtle Conservation Centre (TCC), which has specialised breeding and holding facilities for more than 600 turtles representing around 15 of Vietnam’s 23 native species. In addition to providing educational activities and raising public awareness, a major focus of the TCC’s work involves training of wildlife protection officers.
* The KOTO Saigon Training Centre provides training in life skills and hospitality to former street children. Trainees at the Saigon centre will go on to work at KOTO's restaurant in the city (to open in 2011). Travellers may also visit the KOTO restaurant in Hanoi, which also provides training opportunities for disadvantaged youth and great food.
Intrepid Travel also supports the following non-profit organisation:
* The Nguyen Nga Centre (in Quy Nhon City) offers education, training and work placement assistance for disadvantaged people and people with disabilities. Intrepid Vietnam purchases embroidered 'say no to plastic' cloth shopping bags for our travellers and the income to the centre helps to pay their rent.
Organisations and projects currently supported by The Intrepid Foundation in Laos include:
* COPE works throughout Laos providing essential services to people with disabilities, more than half of whom have been injured by UXO (unexploded ordnance). They are the only provider of prosthetic, orthotic and rehabilitation services in Laos.
* UXO Lao aims to reduce civilian casualties from land mines and increase the land available for food production and other uses. Intrepid's support for its Community Awareness program allows educational teams to visit villages disseminating safety messages.
* Peuan Mit Street Children Project works with up to 1400 children every month, helping them to reintegrate back into Lao society and to prevent more children from coming to the streets. They support the children to return to school, find employment and return to their families.
* Tat Kuang Si Bear Rescue Centre is a forested sanctuary that provides bears, rescued from the illegal wildlife trade, an opportunity to live out the rest of their lives, free from pain, suffering, fear and hunger. The centre also works to protect wildlife through strengthening legislation and improving enforcement.
Organisations and projects currently supported by The Intrepid Foundation in Thailand include:
* Friends of the Asian Elephant aims to protect and conserve the welfare of elephants - both domesticated and wild. FAE's elephant hospital provides free medical care and transportation, and is in the process of establishing a nursery in an effort to reduce the high infant mortality rate of domesticated working elephants.
* Baan Unrak (House of Happiness) is an orphanage and community relief centre for children and destitute women. Providing shelter, food, clothing, education, employment, love and support for those in need, Baan Unrak currently houses more than 60 children and continues to grow.
After your travels, we want to hear from you! We realise that our partner company may ask you to complete paper or online feedback following your trip, however we would also like to know what you thought and encourage you to submit your feedback to us too. We rely on your feedback. We read it carefully. Feedback helps us understand what we are doing well and what we could be doing better. It allows us to make improvements for future travellers.
Once you’ve left your feedback with us you’ll automatically be entered into our monthly draw for a US$500 (or equivalent in your local currency) travel voucher.