A 9 day tour taking in the highlights of the Ninh Binh and Mai Chau regions with a combination of hill tribe cultures and unique water-based lifestyles. Enjoy easy to moderate cycling on rural roads alongside the extensive canal network and through small villages. A highlight of the tour is in meeting the locals and with the help of your guides you will enjoy some wonderful cultural experiences as you learn about life in Vietnam.
To consider the grade of a particular adventure we consider a number of factors. These include the condition of the terrain, the altitude and the length of the trip. The Limestone Landscapes is a graded introductory to moderate. You will need a reasonable level of fitness and we suggest 30 minutes of aerobic type exercise (either cycling or jogging) three times a week for the three months leading up to your trip.
On arrival in Hanoi, please make your own way to the group hotel at 3.00 p.m (15:00hrs). You will join your fellow travellers for a briefing, bike fitting and short test ride. Dinner this evening will be all together at a local restaurant.
An early start sees us drive out of the city to the small village of Ben Yen. Here we start cycling on rural roads surrounded by kaarst rock formations as we enter the Limestone Country. The route has several turns so we advise cycling with your guide and there are a few ups & downs as you traverse the narrow gaps between the structures. Lunch is at a local restaurant before continuing on a spectacular flat afternoon ride to Ninh Binh through a beautiful landscape of limestone islands surrounded by rice fields and canals. You will cycle between “Mountain gates”, the local term for the gaps between the limestone formations. Tonight’s lodging is at the luxurious Legend Hotel, the welcoming swimming pool is always popular after a hard day’s cycling.
Cycling Distance Morning 45km/28miles - Afternoon 29kms/18 miles
This morning’s ride is another beautiful route via quiet lanes amongst limestone islands rising out of rice paddies surrounded by canals and rivers. At Phat Diem we visit the incredible Catholic Cathedral built in 1891. Apart from gigantic pillars made from single trees this massive building is built entirely of stone with numerous stone sculptures on the walls and a large bell cast in the 1890s weighing nearly 2 tons. Your guide will explain the amazing story of how this structure was built. This afternoon we drive to meet our boat, for the trip to visit the remarkable Kenh Gha village. The journey to the village is a unique experience, as we glide along the Hoang Long river and weave our way past boathouses and fishing vessels. Surrounded by limestone cliffs the village’s main access is by boat, and the people in Kenh Gha row boats with their feet, leaning back and watching the world go by.
Cycling distances – Ninh Binh to Phat Diem 23kms/14miles,
Optional return 28kms/17 miles
Today sees us ride through quiet back roads on the gentle climb to Cuc Phuong National Park Headquarters, our base for the next two nights. The scenery is spectacular as we cycle through small villages & alongside rice fields before we enter the national park in the afternoon. On the way we pass through a spectacular gorge which offers some wonderful photo opportunities and visit the modern Bai Dinh pagoda, the largest pagoda in South East Asia, built on the site of Hoa Lu, the ancient capital city of Vietnam. There is an option here, for a beautiful walk to view a 30 tonne gold Buddha. Created by Ho Chi Minh in 1963 Cuc Phuong was Vietnam’s first National Park. Tonight we stay in comfortable guest houses at the park headquarters & there is time this afternoon for a short hike around nearby Mac Lake or the botanical gardens
Cycling Distance - Ninh Binh to Cuc Phuong National park 45kms/28miles
Surrounded by limestone cliffs, Cuc Phuong National Park is considered the most important nature reserve in Viet Nam. It has 222 square km. of primary tropical forest and is famous for its variety of wildlife, there are an estimated 2,000 different species of flora and the 450 species fauna in the park.
This morning you will visit the famous Primate Rescue Centre www.primatecenter.org with 14 species of threatened gibbon and langur on site. A visit to the park headquarters to view the interpretation panels is also recommended. We then head into the park centre, depending on your fitness you can cycle or drive, with a visit on the way to the “cave of the Prehistoric Man.” After lunch at Bong, the park centre, we will go for a 2hr hike on an easy trail into the forest to see the ancient trees & prolific birdlife. To end the day we have a cruisy downhill ride back to the Park Headquarters. Tonight your guides will treat you to a tour highlight, a Vietnamese cooking school where you will learn to create some local favourite dishes for your evening meal.
Cycling distance to Park Centre – 20kms/12miles each way
Today is a cycling day as we follow the Buoi River valley towards Mai Chau. We cycle briefly on the northern section of the famous Ho Chi Minh Trail, now a paved highway traveling south all the way to Saigon, before continuing riding to Muong Khen where you have the option to ride in the support vehicle to traverse the formidable Thung Khe pass. (Those who want a challenge on the bike will find this climb offers great satisfaction, once you reach the summit an awesome downhill is just reward). Near the top we stop at some roadside stalls and meet some local ethnic Muong people who will introduce you to one of their delicacies, the delicious sticky rice cooked on a bamboo stick. The optional descent into Mai Chau, is steep but spectacular with beautiful views into the valley. The day ends at a local ethnic White Thai village where we will join our hosts in a meal combined with a cultural & musical performance in their traditional longhouse. Tonight’s lodging is in a traditional long-house with communal sleeping & shared bathrooms. This is a unique cultural experience but we do understand that it may not be satisfactory to all participants. There is an option to stay at the near-by Mai Chau Lodge in private room with ensuite (additional cost applies; please ask for details). This must be booked in advance.
Cycling Distance – Up to 82kms/51 miles
The lowland valleys around Mai Chau are inhabited by the Thai people and the high country is the home of the H’Mong ethnic minority. This morning we drive up the Ma’a River to an altitude of 1000 meters to visit a traditional H’Mong village at Sa Linh. We cycle back to our resort on a thrilling downhill run for a late lunch and the afternoon is free to relax and enjoy our beautiful lodgings.
Tonight we stay at Mai Chau lodge, a new resort reflecting the local culture, nestled amongst the rice fields and surrounding mountains the beautiful swimming pool is a popular place this afternoon. Tonight’s meal is on your own at the delightful restaurant at the Mai Chau Lodge.
Cycling distance – 35kms/22miles
This morning we drive to the top of Khung The Pass before a thrilling downhill sets us up for the days riding. The landscape changes as we farewell the limestone country and gradually descend towards Hanoi. Lunch today is at an excellent local restaurant in Hoa Binh before loading up for the drive back to Hanoi. Tonight we experience the famous & spectacular Water Puppet show before our celebration farewell dinner and a chance to reflect on the experiences of the last eight days.
Cycling Distance –Summit Thung Khe Pass to Hoa Binh 48kms/29miles
Trip arrangements end after breakfast in Hanoi. Airport transfers and additional accommodation can be arranged if required (extra cost applies).
Per Person, Twin Share