Venture into the extraordinary underground caves and ethnic highland villages of central Vietnam

Most travellers overlook the region, but there's plenty more to central Vietnam than Hoi An and Hue – and we've now got the trip to prove it. In addition to time spent in both of places, which are must-visits on any itinerary, this trip ventures where very few others do: up into the highlands of the Truong Son mountain range and underground in Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park. Spend a night in the remote village of Bho Hoong, home of the ethnic Co Tu people, and learn about their traditional way of life. Then, after a couple of days exploring Hue's ancient citadel, get ready for something else completely different. Over two days and one night, venture below ground into one of the world's largest – and most recently discovered – cave complexes. Wind through narrow rock corridors, scramble along rocky outcrops, swim through subterranean rivers and camp in the jungle.

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Terms & Conditions

Start
Hoi An, Vietnam
Finish
Hanoi, Vietnam
Country
Vietnam
Style
Original
Code
TVSC
Physical rating
Ages
Min 16
Group size
Min 1, Max 12

Why we love this trip

  • Fall under the spell of enchanting Hoi An, an old port city of colonial-era architecture, superb dining and unrivalled shopping

  • Learn the ways and history of the ethnic Co Tu people during an overnight stay in the highland village of Bho Hoong

  • With its sprawling array of attractions, the imperial city of Hue is best explored from the back of a motorbike and cruising down the Perfume River by dragon boat

  • Sample the literal life underground on a two-day spelunking adventure through the enormous caves and subterranean rivers of Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park

Is this trip right for you?

  • One night at the Bho Hoong Village is in simple bungalow accommodation in the village. The experience of spending time with the local people will be more than worth it.

  • A level of physical fitness and ability to swim is required to take part in all activities on the Tu Lan caving expedition. This includes a moderately demanding hike through rough and rocky terrain with over a 30 m (100 ft) ascent and then descent, swimming in rivers through subterranean caves sometimes against the current, and climbing up into natural caves with no established infrastructure.

  • In some parts of Tu Lan cave you will swim through subterranean rivers surrounded by limestone formations, and climb, squeeze up into completely enclosed sections of dry cave with no natural light sources. If you suffer from claustrophobia perhaps reconsider if this is suitable.

  • There is one night of camping with very basic camp facilities and twin share tents. Please be prepared for full camping, although all the camping gear will be carried by porters.

Itinerary

This itinerary is valid for departures from 01 January 2017 to 31 December 2017. View the itinerary for departures between 01 January 2018 - 31 December 2018

Xin chao! Welcome to Vietnam. Your adventure begins with a welcome meeting at 6pm today. You can arrive at any time during the day as there are no activities planned until this important meeting. Please check with hotel reception or look on the reception noticeboard for when and where the meeting will take place. 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 your leader. If arriving early in Hoi An you certainly won't be stuck for things to do. One option that's always good is an exploratory wander through the town's Central Market and the street stalls, where you'll find everything from paintings to woodwork to ceramics to lanterns being sold. Hoi An is also famous for its talented tailors, who can make beautiful items within only a few hours. Bring your favourite piece of clothing, or even just a picture of what you'd like, and you'll usually be able to collect it the very next day. Alternatively, you might like to visit a local workshop to learn how to make your own rice paper, while a Vietnamese cooking class is also a great way to familiarise yourself with some age-old culinary techniques (not to mention being able to feast on the fruits of your own labour).
Optional Activities
  • Hoi An - Hoi An Walking & Cooking Class Urban Adventure - USD49
Meals Included
There are no meals included on this day.
Become versed in the colonial history of Hoi An on a walking tour with your trip leader around its Old Town. This is a place oozing with charm and, having largely escaped the destruction of successive wars, its streets and architecture are a delight to explore. Now a UNESCO World Heritage site, the Old Town is packed with buildings of historical and cultural significance and boasts a number of streets that are off-limits to cars. Stroll past the many Chinese Assembly Halls – from the Cantonese Chinese Congregation, with its impressive main altar, to the Hainan Chinese Congregation. Stop by the Japanese Covered Bridge, which was constructed in the 1590s by the town’s Japanese community to link them with the Chinese quarters across the stream.
Included Activities
  • Hoi An - Ancient town walk and entrance ticket
Optional Activities
  • Hoi An - Street Food By Night Urban Adventure - USD28
  • Hoi An - Hoi An Boat & Bike Urban Adventure - USD51
Meals Included
  • Breakfast
Travel by bus to Bho Hoong, a small village located in the Truong Son mountain range that's home to the ethnic Co Tu people (approxiamtely 150km). This village came into existence during the closing stages of the Vietnam War, when the Co Tu, their hill country homelands largely destroyed in the fighting, migrated here from near the Laos border. The Co Tu practice a traditional way of life characterised by small-scale agriculture, weaving, the holding of harvest festivals and building of stilt bungalows. The drive here will include stop-offs at tea plantations. During an evening here you'll be treated to a traditional dance performance and home-cooked dinner.
Included Activities
  • Bho Hoong Village - traditional dance
Meals Included
  • Breakfast
  • Lunch
  • Dinner
Following a morning walk around the village, hop back in the bus for the onward drive to Hue (approximately 195 km). Packed with temples, tombs, palaces and pagodas, the former imperial capital of Hue is an eclectic mix of busy streets and peaceful beauty. After lunch you will visit the Imperial Citadel – a sprawling complex of temples, pavilions, moats, gates, and walls. The Ngo Mon Gate, Thai Hoa Palace and the Ancestral Altars are still impressive, and the complex must have been awe-inspiring during its heyday in the 19th century. In your free time you might like to visit to Dong Ba Market, which offers locally made goods, fresh produce and tantalising street food. This is a good place to try the specialties enjoyed by Emperor Nguyen such as the banh khoai royal rice cake.
Included Activities
  • Hue - Imperial citadel
Meals Included
  • Breakfast
Today’s adventure will be on the back of a motorbike! You’ll have your own driver who will take you first on a drive around the Imperial Citadel, including the Forbidden Purple City. The latter was almost completely destroyed during the Tet Offensive in the Vietnam War, but its humble, foliage-covered ruins remain a testament to its proud history. Here you'll gain some insight into the horrific damage endured during the war. Then it's on to the Thien My Pagoda, the unofficial symbol of Hue. This site dates back to 1601 and is still an active Buddhist monastery. You’ll also see the scar left by a monk who set himself alight in protest at the treatment of Buddhists by the South Vietnamese regime. Hopping off the motorbike, board a dragon boat for a cruise down the Perfume River. After the 40-minute journey, get back on your motorbike and ride to a special lunch spot at a convent or Buddhist monastery. Following lunch, drive to the tomb of Emperor Tu Duc, a royal mausoleum set beside a lake amid frangipani bushes and pine trees. This evening, perhaps ask your leader for the best place to try imperial street specialties.
Included Activities
  • Hue - Motorbike trip including lunch
  • Hue - Empoeror Tu Duc's Tomb
Meals Included
  • Breakfast
Special Information
For those who prefer not to ride motorbikes, please ask your leader to request car transportation between destinations.
Boats along Perfume River may not be available during festival season. During these times, you’ll be transported by land to reach the activities.
The drive to Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park includes two interesting stop-offs along the way: Hien Luong Bridge and the Vinh Moc tunnels. Hien Luong Bridge, a 178-metre long bridge that spans the Ben Hai River, marked the division between north and south Vietnam from 1954 until 1975. While it's not the most impressive sight you'll ever see, this humble piece of architecture came to symbolise a country's desire for reunification. Not far off, Vinh Moc is an underground tunnel complex dug by a local village in response to the American bombs that fell from above. Between 1966 and 1972 it's believed 60-odd families lived down here. After creeping through the tunnels, continue on to your night's accommodation.
Once settled in and refreshed, head out to see Paradise Cave and climb down the wooden staircase to admire is cavernous interior, and it's dramatic stactites, stagmites and seemingly unnatural pools. There is a full kilometre of this incredible cave to explore.
Accommodation
  • Guesthouse (1 night)
Included Activities
  • Quang Tri - Hien Luong Bridge
  • Quang Tri - Vinh Moc Tunnels Entrance
  • Phong Nha Ke-Bang NP - Thien Duong (Paradise Cave)
Meals Included
  • Breakfast
Special Information
Caves and the area surrounding Phong Nha are subject to flooding. For safety reasons it may be necessary to amend your trip itinerary to avoid flood affect areas.
Today you'll be trekking to over the mountain range containing Tu Lan Cave. Start the day early and travel by bus (approximately 1.5 hours) to the headquarters of our local expedition partner. There is an important safety briefing and time to check and repack your gear for the next 2 days before your trek begins. Begin with a flat walk through farmland, past water buffalo, peanut crops and corn stalks (approximately 2.5 km, 1.5mi). Cross Rao Nan River, and then your trek starts to get more demanding with a 30 m (100 ft) climb up a rocky hill to a small jungle opening where you can catch your breath before a 100 m descent in elevation down to Hung Ton Valley.

Stop for lunch in an opening in Hung Ton Cave ready for some more serious trekking over to Mango Mountain, then back down into Tu Lan Valley (3 km, 1.9mi).

This afternoon you will explore Ken Cave located next to the camp site. Swim up into the cave entrance and have the chance to climb up on to a ledge for a photo! Afterwards return to the campsite for a delicious BBQ dinner.
Accommodation
  • Camping (1 night)
Included Activities
  • Phong Nha-Ke Bang NP - Overnight hike to Tu Lan Cave
Meals Included
  • Breakfast
  • Lunch
  • Dinner
Special Information
This trek portion of the trip is run in conjunction with a local partner. Depending on your group size you may join with other travellers booked through our local partner.

You will be supplied with a PVC backpack, semi-dry bag, water bottle, life jacket, helmet and head torch/flashlight to use for the duration of the trek. There are shoes that you can borrow for the trek if you prefer not to wear your own. You will need to carry your own backpack, and swim with it through caves, so it is best to pack light. You will need to take clothing that is comfortable to swim and trek in. Any extra equipment can be stored at accommodation in Phong Nha, or at the headquarters overnight.

You will be camping tonight in tents set on a river bank near the entrance to Ken Cave. Camping is twin share, and all camping equipment is provided. Given our remote location there are composting camp toilets. All running water needs to be purified by your camp team, but is safe to drink. Please ensure that yo
Start the day with a good breakfast ready for your day of caving!
Commence with a brief swim across the river into the centre of Tu Lan Cave System. Stop to admire the the blue lagoon entrance before making your way 180 m (590 ft) downstream through Tu Lan Cave entrance. Climb up into the cave to explore the dry portion of it's interior. This section of your expedition my involve some climbing and squeezing, before you reach the exit and trek a short way through valley into Kim Cave entrance. Admire the natural window view in Kim Cave, before another swim of (450 m, 0.27 mi) and a further trek (500 m, 0.3mi) through Hang Kim to To Mo Valley.

Stop for a picnic lunch next the waterfall nearby Hung Ton Cave entrance. It's not long and you are back in the water, swimming out through Hung Ton cave. Some more exploration of a dry passage, and then then a trek back down into Hung Ton Valley (800 m) and return to your starting point.

After making your way out of the underworld, travel by bus back to Chay Lap Farmstay this evening for another night spent amid bucolic surrounds and a well deserved rest.
Accommodation
  • Guesthouse (1 night)
Meals Included
  • Breakfast
  • Lunch
Special Information
Showers are available at the headquarters in Tan Hoa, and you will have time to return any borrowed equipment.
In the morning, travel by bus to Dong Hoi for an onward flight on to Hanoi. This afternoon, take a guided half-day tour of Hanoi that encompasses the beauty and history of Vietnam's laid-back, tree-lined capital. You’ll visit major sights including the Temple of Literature, One Pillar Pagoda and the mausoleum of Ho Chi Minh. You’ll also pass by the Hoan Kiem Lake and enter the ’36 Streets’ of the historic Old Quarter. If you have some free time this afternoon, you may like to visit the Vietnam Fine Arts Museum. This Museum plays a crucial role in maintaining and promoting the cultural heritage of Vietnam’s ethnic communities. Hanoi has a huge array of excellent eateries, from buzzing streets stalls to upmarket restaurants. Why not ask your leader suggestions for a final group dinner?
Included Activities
  • Hanoi - Temple of Literature
  • Hanoi - Ho Chi Minh Complex: Ho Chi Minh's Mausoleum, Stilt House and Museum
Meals Included
  • Breakfast
There are no activities planned for the final day and you are able to depart the accommodation at any time. If you're planning to stick around in Hanoi a while, Urban Adventures are a great way to get to know the city. Head to urbanadventures.com to check out the five day tours on offer.
Meals Included
  • Breakfast

Meals

9 breakfasts, 3 lunches, 2 dinners

Transport

Bus, Private Bus, Private vehicle

Accommodation

Bungalow (1 night), Camping (1 night), Guesthouse (2 nights), Hotel (5 nights)

Included activities

  • Hoi An - Ancient town walk and entrance ticket
  • Bho Hoong Village - traditional dance
  • Hue - Imperial citadel
  • Hue - Motorbike trip including lunch
  • Hue - Empoeror Tu Duc's Tomb
  • Quang Tri - Hien Luong Bridge
  • Quang Tri - Vinh Moc Tunnels Entrance
  • Phong Nha Ke-Bang NP - Thien Duong (Paradise Cave)
  • Phong Nha-Ke Bang NP - Overnight hike to Tu Lan Cave
  • Hanoi - Temple of Literature
  • Hanoi - Ho Chi Minh Complex: Ho Chi Minh's Mausoleum, Stilt House and Museum

Dates & availability

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Important notes

1. Passport Details: Please provide your full name exactly as per passport at the time of booking (including any middle names listed on your passport), for internal flights and train tickets. Ticketing fees may apply for amendments to details within 45 days of departure, and in some cases you will be required to cover the cost of issuing a new ticket
2. A Single Supplement to have your own room is available on this trip and excludes nights 7 (Camping) where you will be in shared accommodation.
3. Minimum age is 16 due to included trip to caves in Phong Nha.

Essential trip information

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Reviews

Our Central Vietnam Adventure trips score an average of 5 out of 5 based on 4 reviews in the last year.

Central Vietnam Adventure, August 2017

megan jackson

Central Vietnam Adventure, August 2017

Mark Cleary