Water Puppet Tours

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With its numerous national parks, white sand beaches, colourful villages, pagodas and ancient monuments, forests and islands, Vietnam is a land of often surprising beauty, offering cultural depth and history, increasingly combined with tourism-friendly areas offering all the facilities a modern traveller could wish for.

Vietnam’s people are its greatest asset: gregarious, friendly and eager to meet visitors. In the bustling cities, the often chaotic streets contrast ox carts with limousines, ancient rituals with sophisticated technology, and are ruled by the ubiquitous moped.

Our strength is in translating these opportunities into detailed, practical itineraries. We do luxury travel and event planning, as well as a wide range of beach, family, honeymoon, adventure, golf, veteran and cultural tours.

There is no better way to experience a destination than through the perspective of the local people. At Water Puppet Tours, this key element of local insight drives every step of our process of tour design and delivery. We provide tailor-made tours individually crafted for each client, achieving this by emphasizing the direct working relationship between the client and the tour designer and operator.


Travel Style

Travel Destination

Travel and Help in Vietnam’s Northern Highlands 14 days

Nam Dam is a scenic village in quiet rural setting, and has been chosen for a community-based tourism development project by the international NGO Caritas Switzerland and the Vietnamese NGO Pan Nature. It is only 4 km from the Quan Ba district centre of Tam Son. The project is new and local people have only elementary training on tourism, but with the investment and support from the project, accommodation has been much improved to serve international visitors at mid-range standard. There is functioning toilet, shower, water and electric, but not an ensuite toilet. Having your own toiletries is advised.

Most mountain markets in Vietnam happen at weekends, but Lung Phin is an exception. Its calendar is based on the dates of 12 animal designations – Rat, Ox, Tiger, Hare/Rabbit, Dragon, Snake, Horse, Sheep/Goat, Monkey, Rooster, Dog and Pig. The market is held in a huddle of thatched huts on a hillside and takes place every Monkey and Tiger day. Local people tether their animals to sell at the corner of the market. If you can arrange your travel in time to co-ordinate with the market days, you’ll experience an untouched culture that has experienced very little change in the last millennium.

From there, you’ll travel back to Ha Giang then continue to the small remote district of Hoang Su Phi. After checking-in, time is at your own leisure to walk around to explore the village and the area. You’ll spend the night in the ‘base camp’ hotel called Pan Hou Village.

 Travel and Help in Vietnam’s Northern Highlands 14 days

Day 1, Sunday: Arrival at Hanoi (Dinner, Guide Pickup)

Arriving at Noi Bai Airport in Hanoi, you’ll be met and driven to your hotel. You’ll have time to relax after your journey before enjoying a performance of traditional Water Puppetry, an art form unique to northern Vietnam, and an endearing, light-hearted introduction to its rural culture. Later, you’ll have a ‘Welcome’ dinner at a Vietnamese restaurant in a restored French colonial building. You’ll spend the night in Hanoi.

Day 2, Monday: Hanoi (Breakfast, Lunch, Guide)

You’ll have the whole day to explore Vietnam’s capital city. Your guide will take you to the Temple of Literature, the first university in Vietnam dating back to the 11th century. You’ll then drive to the excellent Ethnology Museum for an overview of Vietnam’s 54 distinct ethnic groups in anticipation of your trip to the northern highlands, with lots of interesting information on their customs, arts and costumes.

After lunch, explore the bustling Old Quarter and Dong Xuan Market, a magnet for visitors, it’s noisy and hectic, but definitely a ‘must-see’ attraction. The Old Quarter is a maze of shopping streets and restaurants with a hotchpotch of architecture - traditional tube houses, religious buildings, artisans’ workshops and cottages, colonial houses and modern concrete edifices. You will stay overnight in Hanoi.

Day 3, Tuesday: Hanoi - Ha Giang - Quan Ba -Nam Dam (Breakfast, Lunch,, Dinner, Guide)

Today you will start early, as you’ll drive 320 km north from Hanoi to Ha Giang, the northernmost province of Vietnam. You’ll stop en route at Tuyen Quang to visit the remains of the 15th century Mac Dynasty Citadel and a market nearby. Arriving in Ha Giang, you will drive 45 km further to Nam Dam Village in Quan Ba District. Upon arrival, you can stroll around the town to get a sense of this Dao community. You will stay at a traditional Dao house with a private room.

Drive total distance ~365 km. Time: ~ 9 hours. You should plan to start around 07:00 AM and arrive around 05:00 PM.

Day 4, Wednesday: Nam Dam Village Hiking (Breakfast, Lunch,, Dinner, Guide)

After breakfast, you will walk around Nam Dam Village. You will visit Deer Waterfall in a forested area, walking through a landscape dominated by paddy fields, steep hills and the famous karst formations of the Dong Van Geopark. After taking in the scene from a viewpoint overlooking a vast valley, you will visit the Karst Twin Towers and wander the picturesque paddy fields of Nam Dam basin. You will also walk along Nam Dan Lake and the Fairy Breast mountains to Tam Son, and then reward yourself with a delicious fruit juice before driven back to Nam Dam.

In the afternoon, you will work in Nam Dam village with various activities depending on the needs of the project during your staying time. It can be just simply as giving advices/comments to the locals, teaching local people on cooking and serving westerns.... to improve community-based tourism services, teaching children English & basic life skills… Or it can be some practical work such as building a toilet, watering system, digging foundations, clearing land, building - painting walls ...

You will stay at traditional Dao house with private room.

Nam Dam is a scenic village in quiet rural setting, and has been chosen for a community-based tourism development project by the international NGO Caritas Switzerland and the Vietnamese NGO Pan Nature. It is only 4 km from the Quan Ba district centre of Tam Son. The project is new and local people have only elementary training on tourism, but with the investment and support from the project, accommodation has been much improved to serve international visitors at mid-range standard. There is functioning toilet, shower, water and electric, but not an ensuite toilet. Having your own toiletries is advised.

Day 5, Thursday: Trekking to Hoang Lan - Quyet Tien (Breakfast, Lunch,, Dinner, Guide)

The trekking today starts at Nam Dam village, crossing the Nam Dam bridge to hike towards Truc Son and Hoang Lan village. The path changes between a narrow hiking path and an enlarged path, which can be muddy during rainy season. The landscape is hilly with different agricultural products planted, changing between fields and small villages. The higher the hike gets, the better the view around the Quan Ba plateau and the uniquely shaped surrounding hills and mountains. Traditionally dressed Hmong and Dao people carrying wood, grass, and herbs, or working in the fields can be met on the way. After visit Truc Son, a traditional Dao village with numerous clay and wood houses like in Nam Dam, but more compact and with a beautiful view, you will continue your hike to reach Hoang Lan village, which is a traditional Hmong village on the hilltop. Being one of the poorest villages in the region, the Swiss NGO Caritas supports the local people with upgrading their households to lead a healthier and better life. You will spend time in the village primary school, constructed entirely from wood, to learn about the school’s poor condition. Today you can donate necessary school supplies such as books, pens, tables, chairs , fridge... (We can check and advise you later what you can donate).

After passing Hoang Lan village, the trekking route leads down through a very beautiful agricultural and forested landscape on a perfect hiking trail towards Quyet Tien village. After passing a forested area, the view opens to another landscape consisting of typical, pyramid-shaped karst hills and a small plain where Quyet Tien village od Dao people is located. Later, your car will pick you up at Quyet Tien Junction to drive you back Nam Dam.

Day 6, Friday: Working in Hoang Lan village and primary school (Breakfast, Lunch,, Dinner, Guide)

The day is devoted to help H’mong people in Hoang Lan village. You are free to do whatever may helping the local community, children and the school.

Day 7, Saturday: Working in Hoang Lan village and primary school (Breakfast, Lunch,, Dinner, Guide)

One more day to help H’mong people in Hoang Lan village. You are free to do whatever may helping the local community, children and the school.

Alternative: Working in Nam Dam village (Breakfast, Lunch,, Dinner, Guide)

Continue your volunteer working in Nam Dam village, teaching English to children and local people, teach them cooking western dishes and lend a hand on their crops (on what available).

Alternative option: Full day trek to Kho My village (B, L, D, G)

If your volunteering in Hoang Lan village has been finished, today you can visit Kho My village, whish is a very isolated one, situated in a small basin in the middle of hills. The village is totally

Surrounded by hills and there is only one road leading down to the village, very quiet and one of the poorest villages of the region. Kho My is inhabited by ethnic Hmong people, who all live in traditional houses and practice subsistence farming. The soil here is of poor quality and with the exception of the narrow land strip in the basin, no high-quality agricultural product can be cultivated. Upon arrival, you can visit one of two beautiful caves (or both) located in the village. Tourists are invited to visit the incredibly poor local school here and bring books, pens, and paper to share with the children. You also see if you can help people and children here in some ways.

Late afternoon, you will come back Nam Dam for overnight homestay.

Day 8, Sunday: Nam Dam - Quan Ba - Yen Minh - Dong Van (Breakfast, Lunch,, Dinner, Guide)

You will get another early start today, to join local people flocking to the colourful Tam Son Sunday Market. You will then proceed to Yen Minh and further to Dong Van ethnic markets, which are all held only on Sundays, and gather the ethnic minority peoples such as Mong, Han, Dao, Giay and Tay, who live in the plateau border area.

It is worth scheduling your visit to this area on Sunday so you can experience the different ethnic markets. The markets start very early and finish around noon or earlier. You will get going equally early to have enough time to see at least two colourful markets and compare. It’s a good place to see local products, experience the hustle and bustle of market activities, and meet the buyers and sellers. It’s a genuine introduction to the unadulterated local culture.

Lunch will be not booked in advance today, but will be provided depending on your interest and time spent in the markets. The rest of the day will be spent exploring some picturesque villages in the northern tip of Vietnam. The scenery is spectacular – a vast limestone mountain range and perpendicular walls of rock. There will be plenty of opportunities to take photos, but please be unobtrusive when photographing the local people – cameras and camcorders are rare in the area. If time permits, you’ll stop by the infamous Vuong Palace, once the home of a high-ranking H'mong family during French colonial rule. The palace is something of an architectural fish out of water, and attracts visitors for its unusual combination of European and Chinese styles. From there you drive to Dong Van Town where your guide will show you its charming ‘Old Streets’ near the market. You’ll spend the night in Dong Van.

At this stage of the tour, you’ll be deep in the remote areas of the north where accommodation is very basic with few travellers (and even fewer foreigners!). From here until you arrive in Bac Me Town, you’ll be in your guide’s hands for food and somewhere to sleep. It’ll be a long way from five-star menus and facilities, but our local guides know the area intimately and will ensure that you have the best available.

By visiting these remote areas, you’ll witness first-hand the local people’s perpetual struggle to survive in the unforgiving environment. Living conditions are extremely harsh, and there is little arable land in the mountains. The people survive mainly on a diet of corn, one of the very few species capable of growing in the rocky soil. Despite the hardship and simple lifestyle, the local people are very friendly, welcoming and generous to visitors.

Day 9, Monday: Dong Van - Lung Cu - Meo Vac (Breakfast, Lunch,, Dinner, Guide)

Today you will have a little time to relax in the morning with a late breakfast, and then head northeast to Lung Cu, the northernmost point of Vietnam. You can visit the Flag Tower of Lung Cu and stroll through the commune, where there are 9 villages of the Mong, Lo Lo, Tay and Pu Peo minorities.

The traditional dress of Lo Lo ethnic minority women has drawn great admiration for its creativity and rich colours. Over a light shirt, Lo Lo women wear brilliant waist-length, long-sleeved vests. The body of the vest is covered with bright block patterns arranged vertically on the front and back. Each block is made with up to 20 smaller triangular pieces of fabric. The sleeves are decorated with bands matching the colour scheme. To top off this ensemble, Lo Lo women wear colourfully embroidered headscarves which are further decorated with beads. At times they use two or even three headscarves at once, wrapped with painstaking care to highlight the colours and beaded decorations.

Later, a scenic route will take you to Ma Pi Leng Pass from where you can enjoy a panoramic view of the Nho Que River – with luck you might see one of the area’s stunning sunsets. Finally, after your busy day, you’ll arrive at Meo Vac in the late afternoon where you’ll spend the night.

Day 10, Tuesday: Meo Vac - Yen Minh - Quan Ba - Hoang Su Phi - Pan Hou (Breakfast, Lunch,, Dinner, Guide)

After breakfast and a brief visit to Meo Vac local market, you’ll leave Meo Vac to return to Yen Minh and Quan Ba via a different scenic route. The breath-taking scenery makes today a real worthwhile challenge - you’ll travel along rough roads and tortuous bends to Lung Phin, another small town about 14km from Meo Vac. You will stop at Lung Cam, a community tourism village in Sung La commune and the scenic home of Lo Lo, White Hmong and Hoa minority people.

Most mountain markets in Vietnam happen at weekends, but Lung Phin is an exception. Its calendar is based on the dates of 12 animal designations - Rat, Ox, Tiger, Hare/Rabbit, Dragon, Snake, Horse, Sheep/Goat, Monkey, Rooster, Dog and Pig. The market is held in a huddle of thatched huts on a hillside and takes place every Monkey and Tiger day. Local people tether their animals to sell at the corner of the market. If you can arrange your travel in time to co-ordinate with the market days, you’ll experience an untouched culture that has experienced very little change in the last millennium.

From there, you’ll travel back to Ha Giang then continue to the small remote district of Hoang Su Phi. After checking-in, time is at your own leisure to walk around to explore the village and the area. You’ll spend the night in the ‘base camp’ hotel called Pan Hou Village.

Pan Hou Village is a purpose-built ecotourism hotel which uses solar energy for lighting and heating. The village includes 14 rooms with bathrooms attached in 5 stilt-houses modelled on the traditional house of the Dzao ethnic people. It has one large lounge with a bar and a restaurant, serving Vietnamese and international dishes in separate buildings and all of the staff are employed from the local ethnic community.

PS: It is a long drive almost the day. It is fine to break the trip with overnight stay in Ha Giang and less time in Hoang Su Phi then.

Day 11, Wednesday: Pan Hou village - Nam Hong - Phin Ho (Breakfast, Lunch,, Dinner, Guide)

A morning trip will take you to the Nam Hong village, home to the Red Dzao ethnic minority group. En-route your path will take you through the scenic valleys where you can expect to see views of the faraway mountains and the terrace rice fields. A local family will prepare lunch for you.

You’ll notice the improvement in panoramic views as you walk further uphill, there may also be a chance to engage with the local’s way of life as you pass by a village of long Tunic Dzao people. As the afternoon draws to a close you’ll arrive at the Phin Ho village, famous for its secular Shan tea plants, here a Red Dzao family will welcome you into their home for the night.

Day 12, Thursday: Phin Ho - Pan Hou village (Breakfast, Lunch,, Dinner, Guide)

After a light lunch prepared by your guide, it’s time to take a different loop back to the Pan Hou Village. Today’s downward walk is much easier than the previous days trek. The 4 hour journey will take you through giant bamboo forests to get closer to the rice terrace fields and the stream at the bottom of the valley below. After a short break you’ll move on to the Black Tay village built further along the stream. Lunch will be around noon back at the Pan Hou village.

The rest of the day is yours to relax and unwind at the village, you may wish to reward yourself with a sensual massage or a pleasurable dip in a herbal bath. You’ll have dinner and spend the night in Pan Hou Village.

Day 13, Friday: Pan Hou village - Ha Giang - Hanoi (Breakfast, Lunch,, Dinner, Guide)

In the morning you’ll return to Hanoi. After stop for lunch and some break, you will arrive in Hanoi in the late afternoon where you will have a rest and spend the night.

Day 14, Saturday: Hanoi Departure (Breakfast, Driver Pickup)

You’ll be free after breakfast until your driver arrives to take you to Noi Bai airport for your departure flight.

Our price includes:

  • Vietnam Visa invitation letter
  • Breakfast and accommodation sharing a twin or double room
  • Travel in an appropriate private air-conditioned vehicle with an experienced safe driver.
  • The services of experienced English-speaking guides as indicated in the itinerary
  • Where necessary, entry fees for all visits as mentioned in the programme.
  • Lunches and dinners (as specified in the itinerary)
  • VAT and other taxes.

Our price does not include:

  • International flight tickets and airport tax.
  • Visas stamping fee.
  • Dinners, except as specified above.
  • Drinks, gratuities and personal expenses.
  • Insurance.
  • Expenses for volunteering activities in Nam Dam, donations.
  •  Travel and Help in Vietnam’s Northern Highlands 14 days

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