Experience quintessential Vietnam on this comprehensive journey from south to north, you will travel from Ho Chi Minh City to Hanoi and experience dynamic cities, tranquil backwaters, imperial ruins, faded elegance and picture-perfect landscapes dotted with reminders of past history.
– Explore the tombs of imperial Hue
– Go bargain-hunting in Hoi An
– Go gibbon-spotting in Cuc Phuong
– Enjoy a water puppet show in Hanoi
– Enjoy a homestay on the Mekong
– Discover old and new in Ho Chi Minh City
– Go underground in the Cu Chi Tunnels
– See beautiful Halong Bay on a boat tour
– Wiggle toes in sandy Nha Trang beaches
Day 1: Ho Chi Minh City arrival (Dinner, Guide)
Arriving at Tan Son Nhat airport in Ho Chi Minh City, you’ll be met and driven to your hotel. You’ll have time to relax after your journey before a Welcome dinner. In the evening, you’ll have tickets for a performance of traditional Water Puppetry (an art form unique to northern Vietnam, and a good, light-hearted introduction to its rural culture). You’ll spend the night in Ho Chi Minh City.
Day 2: Ho Chi Minh City orientation (Breakfast, Lunch, Guide)
After breakfast, your guide will arrive to show you around Ho Chi Minh City. You’ll visit the History Museum where there is a special exhibition of the 5th century ‘Oc Eo’ civilization. (Alternatively, you’ll visit the Fito Museum (First Museum of Traditional Vietnamese Medicine) is host to a large collection of relics, including traditional Vietnamese medicinal implements, and chronicles the history of medical practice in Vietnam from 2000 BC). The Museum of War Remnants provides a very partial, but riveting, perspective of the ‘American War’: not for the squeamish! The Binh Tay market and the China Town are worth a stroll to explore the local daily life and the culture mix.
You’ll also call in at the Jade Emperor Temple. It’s one of the best Taoist temples in Vietnam, with superb effigies, remarkable carved panels of the descent to Hell and somewhat incongruous terrapin and tortoise sanctuaries. You’ll then return your hotel for freshen up or wander around the huge Ben Thanh market, one of the liveliest areas of Ho Chi Minh City, is packed with every conceivable commodity. You’ll spend the night in Ho Chi Minh City.
Day 3: Ho Chi Minh City - Vinh Long - Can Tho (Breakfast, Lunch, Guide)
After escaping from Ho Chi Minh City’s urban sprawl, you’ll travel to Cai Be where a Mekong River cruise will take you to visit the fruit orchards, a traditional family-run brick kiln, and some long established cottage industries. Later, a rowing boat will carry you through the maze of the Mekong Delta’s myriad channels to connect with the real life of the local people, visiting a local house and listening to live music performed by local artists. You’ll then drive deeper into the Mekong Delta to Can Tho. Upon arrival you’ll call in at the Munir Ansay – an ancient Khmer style pagoda renowned for its unique structural decorations. You’ll then continue to your hotel in Can Tho where you’ll spend the night.
Munir Ansay Pagoda has many statues and pillars with sophisticated decoration; the main gate was built in the shape of the towers illustrative of Angkor architecture.
Day 4: Can Tho - Ho Chi Minh City (Breakfast, Lunch, Guide)
After breakfast and a boat cruise, you’ll arrive at Cai Rang floating market on the Mekong Delta. Both the journey and the market provide insights into the rural Mekong Delta lifestyle. On your return to Ho Chi Minh City, you’ll stop by the beautiful and ancient Vinh Trang Pagoda, 3 km from My Tho centre. You’ll arrive in Ho Chi Minh City in the late afternoon with time to freshen up in your hotel before the evening.
Vinh Trang Pagoda is renowned for its architectural mixture of Chinese, Vietnamese and Angkor styles. Located on a 2 hectare block with 5 buildings, 2 ornamental yards, 178 pillars and many valuable statues (especially the 18 arahants, wooden statues carved in 1907), the pagoda will give you a deeper look into the relationship between Vietnamese art and Buddhist beliefs.
Day 5: Ho Chi Minh City – Dalat (Breakfast, Dinner, Guide Pick up)
In the afternoon, you’ll fly to Dalat. On arrival, you’ll be met and driven to check into your hotel. After freshening up, you’ll then visit Dalat market, followed by dinner.
Day 6: Dalat Orientation (Breakfast, Lunch, Guide)
You’ll visit the Linh Phuoc Pagoda and an embroidery workshop in an attractive garden setting. Alternatively, you could visit Dalat’s railway station instead of the embroidery workshop. After lunch, Emperor Bao Dai’s Summer Palace, the Crazy House and Dalat market are on the itinerary.
Alternative for Day 6: Dalat City tour from the back of a motorbike (Breakfast, Lunch, Guide)
Today will be devoted to Dalat and its surroundings. The city is quite compact, but its hinterland extends well beyond, so we suggest a tour on the back of a motorbike. You’ll visit the Linh Phuoc Pagoda and an embroidery workshop in an attractive garden setting. Alternatively, you could visit Dalat’s railway station instead of the embroidery workshop. After lunch, Emperor Bao Dai’s Summer Palace, the Crazy House and Dalat market are on the itinerary. The day will end at a café at about 4.00 p.m.
Day 7: Dalat - Nha Trang (Breakfast, Lunch, Guide)
After breakfast, you will head eastward, making our way towards the coast. You will pass through pine forests and small market garden communities before reaching the top of Ngoan Muc Pass where you begin our 18 kilometer descent down to the coastal plains below. If you look to the left from here you may see where the old rack and pinion railway made its way down the range. Looking forward, you may just be able to make out the coastline situated 50 kilometers in the distance. You will arrive in Nha Trang City in the afternoon where you will spend the night.
Day 8: Full day private boat trip in Nha Trang (Breakfast, Lunch, Guide)
After breakfast, a car will take you to board a boat for a whole-day cruise to some of the small islands in the bay. You’ll anchor off Mun Island for snorkeling and a glass bottom basket boat ride to see colourful corals and the various marine life. You’ll then head to Mieu Island to enjoy a local basket boat ride and explore the life of fishermen at Mieu fishing village. If you wish, you can join other tourists for the ‘music entertainment’ with a wine and fruit party, followed by a seafood lunch on Tre Island. In late afternoon, you’ll return to the mainland and be driven to your hotel. You’ll spend the night in Nha Trang.
You’ll cruise on a private boat with Vietnamese crew members who will highlight the beauty of Nha Trang Bay. En route, plenty of wine and tropical fruits are available. The coral around Mun Island is good, provided you swim away from the area where the boats tie up.
Alternative for Day 8: Nha Trang River Tours (Meals: Breakfast, Lunch, Guide)
After breakfast, you will cruise down river and enjoying the village peaceful life along the banks of Cai River. The trip begins with a visit to the Po Nagar Temples, an outstanding example of Cham architecture, situated on Mount Cu Lao where you can have panoramic views of the surrounding. From here board the riverboat for the leisurely cruise visiting Cu Lao Fish market. You will then take a horse carriage to visit a wide range of local handicrafts in production. You also can enjoy the beautiful scenery that unfolds along the banks, experience and make acquaintance with local people in their natural scenery & daily life. Next stop you will have a short visit to Pagoda Orphanage where it shelters and cares for over 120 abandoned, orphaned or street children. You will then visit a family of local people and see a typical Vietnamese country house in the countryside before being transferred you back to the city. You will stay overnight at hotel in Nha Trang.
Day 9: Nha Trang – Danang – Hoi An (Breakfast, Guide Pick up)
After breakfast, you will be free until the driver arrives to drive the airport and take a short flight Danang. When you arrive, you will be taken to your hotel to check in before visiting Hoi An ancient town.
After lunch, your guide will meet you to show you the Ancient Town and explain its considerable significance in the history of Vietnam. You’ll spend the night in Hoi An.
Hoi An town is a UNESCO World Heritage area. An ancient trading port, once the largest in Indochina, Hoi An was a meeting point for many cultures that left their mark in the different architectural features of its wooden buildings. The original traditional street pattern still exists, as does the quay that once welcomed ships from all over East Asia and beyond. Many remained there for months at a time, waiting for favourable trade winds to carry them home.
There are plenty of good restaurants offering a variety of cuisines and price levels. The town is also a good place for shopping for silk. You can have your clothes tailor-made within a day or two at reasonable cost.
Hoi An town is three kilometres from Cua Dai Beach - part of what was once known as China Beach and used for rest and recreation by American GIs during the Vietnam War. The beach is composed of white sand fringed with palm trees and overlooks the South China Sea.
Day 10: Hoi An – From Farmer to Fisherman Tour (Breakfast, Lunch, Guide)
The day starts with cycling the narrow roads through the countryside, passing by rice paddy fields, water buffalos, bamboo bridges and local farmers on their daily work. You’ll then board a boat to the mouth of the Thu Bon estuary where the river meets the Cua Dai Sea and cruise along the coastline observing the lives of the local fishermen.
After joining the fisherman to try your hand at catching fish in a traditional ‘Thung Chai’ basket boat, you will meander through the water palm coconut canal. During the American War, Viet Cong soldiers made use of this area as a highly effective hiding place from enemy attacks through their long struggle. Following an insightful visit to a local fishing village, you’ll be free to relax and enjoy a fresh seafood lunch before cycling back to your hotel.
Thung Chai Basket boats, similar in style to coracles in use throughout the ancient world, are widely used throughout Central Vietnam, and are highly suited to the local terrain and lifestyles of local fishermen due to their relative light weight and portability, often doubling as a carrier for various handy items. Circular and constructed of bamboo and tarred for waterproofing, these small boats can typically carry up to five people, and represent a fun-filled opportunity to touch the authentic rural soul of Vietnam. As a precaution, life jackets are provided for your safety during this excursion.
Day 11: Cooking Class in Hoi An (Breakfast, Lunch, Guide at cooking class)
In the morning, you’ll join a cooking class at the Red Bridge Restaurant. After visiting a market to purchase ingredients, a boat will take you along Hoi An River to the restaurant where you can investigate its herb and vegetable garden before learning how to cook traditional Vietnamese dishes. After lunch at the restaurant, your time will be free. You’ll spend the night in Hoi An.
- Fresh Rice Paper Shrimp Rolls – including making rice paper.
- Warm Squid Salad served in half a pineapple
- Grilled Eggplant stuffed with market vegetables
- Hoi An Pancakes (Banh Xeo)
- Food Decoration - pineapple boat, three coloured flowers and Vietnamese hand fan
Day 12: Hoi An free (Breakfast)
The day will be free for strolling in the town, lazing on the beach, or whatever takes your fancy. You’ll spend the night in Hoi An.
Day 13: Hoi An – Hue (Breakfast, Lunch, Guide)
In the morning, your car will arrive to drive you to Hue. On the way, you'll cross the high mountain pass of Hai Van. The views from the top are excellent – you should be able to see Lang Co beach and village, and the lagoon far below, with Danang spread out before you to the south.
Upon arriving in Hue, your guide will take you on a tour of Hue’s ancient citadel, once the seat of the powerful Nguyen Dynasty Emperors that ruled Vietnam from approximately 1800 to 1945. You’ll begin with a stroll around the area between the Citadel’s massive walls and the defensive moat, now filled with lotus flowers. You’ll then enter via the Noon Gate to wander around the Thai Hoa Palace, the Pavilion housing, the Nine Urns of the Nguyen rulers, and the remains of the Royal Palaces before crossing the river to modern Hue and the bustling Dong Ba market.
In the evening, you’ll sit down for dinner in the pleasant surroundings and a comfortable atmosphere of another of the garden houses. The owner will prepare and serve a traditional meal based on the distinctive characteristics of classic Hue cuisine. You’ll spend the night in Hue.
The garden houses are a unique feature of Hue. The houses are traditional, privately owned, and set in attractive formal gardens. Some have connections with the old Royal Imperial Court. Hue traditional architecture has long had close associations with the natural environment. The garden houses reflect this association. Each is highly individual - house and garden, people and scenery, plants, clouds and water co-exist and blend with each other in a harmonious context. The narrow streets and abundant flora give the garden house area a country village feeling.
Day 14: Cycling to get closer to Hue’s lifestyle (B, L, G)
In the morning, your bicycles will be at your hotel ready for you to ride through Hue’s rural villages towards the Thanh Toan Bridge (roofed in Chinese style). Nearby, a local market will provide you with views of daily life and local products. You'll then return to Hue’s city centre with en-route visit the Ngoc Son Princess ‘garden house’. It has an attractive family altar and the owner is an expert on Hue’s culture and history – he will be pleased to explain the geomantic principles underpinning the building and garden’s construction.
After lunch, your route will take you past the Imperial Citadel to visit some of the garden houses in Phu Mong Kim Long village, thence ride toward one of the handicraft villages in Hue’s hinterland that specializes in a single product range of traditional cakes - ‘banh it’ and ‘banh phu the’ before looping back to your hotel for overnight accommodation.
Day 15: Hue – Hanoi (Breakfast, Guide)
After breakfast, you will be free until the driver arrives to take you to the airport. You will then catch the flight Hanoi. When you arrive in Hanoi airport, you will be picked up and taken to your hotel in the center. You will spend the night in Hanoi.
The hotel is located in the centre, nearby the Old Quarter. You can wander around to discover the real life of local people. There are a lot of shops or galleries which your must visit.
Day 16: Ha Noi - Tam Coc - Cuc Phuong (Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner, Guide)
In the morning, you’ll drive to Ninh Binh. On arrival, you’ll visit Tam Coc where you’ll be rowed along a river meandering through rice paddies and caves in a peaceful valley between limestone ‘karst’ mountains. In the afternoon, you’ll drive to Cuc Phuong Forest National Park to visit the Primate Rescue Centre and the Botanical Garden. Your overnight stay will be in a guesthouse in the Park.
The Endangered Primate Rescue Centre is a temporary home for many gibbons and langurs that have been injured, or been orphaned by poachers. Among them are two of the rarest species in the world, Delacourt’s Langur, confined to two or three spots in north Vietnam, and the elegant Cat Ba Golden Langur, now reduced to a colony of around 50 individuals in Cat Ba Island National Park. Strenuous efforts are being made to conserve both species. When those in the rescue centre have regained their strength, a carefully staged programme will release them into the wild.
You may consider an optional ‘night spotting mini-safari' (if weather permits). In the late evening, you'd set off into the primary forest, an opportunity to see the park's nocturnal dwellers: the Black Giant Squirrel, the Indian flying Squirrel, Samba deer, the Slow Loris and several other small carnivores.
Day 17: Cuc Phuong - Halong Bay (Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner, Guide)
After breakfast, you will be transferred to Halong Bay. Ha Long Bay is one of the most spectacular UNESCO World Heritage Sites and the world’s largest marine limestone ‘karst’ landscape. There you’ll board a wooden junk that takes you first through Bai Tu Long Bay. You’ll continue your cruise to an island beach. Weather permitting, you’ll be able to swim or climb a hill (not a mountain!) for an overview of the bay’s remarkable seascape. You’ll then continue your cruise to visit Cua Van floating fishing village where you’ll have an opportunity explore the village by rowing bamboo boat. The cruise route is designed to avoid busy areas and includes a very quiet location for your overnight stay.
For your three-day Halong excursion, you'll board Indochina Sails, one of the best wooden boats on the bay. It’s a wooden junk modelled after the old Vietnamese court vessels with two barge sails, a wide transom and rectangular superstructure. The boat has 14-15 cabins in total, 11 Superior cabins in the lower deck and 4 Deluxe cabins in the upper deck, accommodating a maximum of 30 people, so you're likely to be joining other travellers for the cruise.
All cabins are air-conditioned and have windows overlooking the bay. In size, the Deluxe cabins are 14.5 m2 and Superior cabins are 13m2. Each cabin is furnished with two twin beds or a double queen size bed. The interior panelling, floor and furniture are of hardwood. Each cabin has a wardrobe, desk, pillows, white cotton sheets, and an en-suite toilet and shower with a good selection of high-quality toiletries. All meals, usually based on fresh seafood, will be provided on board. Kayaking is available upon request and at a surcharge.
Day 18: Ha Long Bay (Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner, Guide on boat)
The Indochina Sails’ route is for two days only, starting from noon of the first day to noon of following day. If you book a three-day cruise on the bay, you’ll be transferred after breakfast to your day–trip boat with private crew to cruise to the bay’s most deserted areas with opportunities to swim from quiet beaches or kayak to visit water tunnels, fishing villages, or your choice of other locations. A personal chef will prepare and serve your lunch on board. In the late afternoon, you’ll return to the Indochina Sails boat for dinner and your overnight stay.
The smaller boat’s facilities are limited and at a lower standard compared to the Indochina Sails boat, but you’ll have its exclusive use to cruise around the further reaches of the bay well away from the tourist area. Pack lightly; you’ll want swimwear and a set of dry clothes, and, as there are different activities during the day, bring both shoes (such as trainers) and flip-flops or sandals.
Day 19: Ha Long - Hanoi (Brunch, Driver Pickup)
You’ll awake to the fresh air of the bay, and can take a swim or enjoy a Tai Chi session on the large sundeck (beginners welcome!) After a light breakfast of pastries and tea or coffee, you’ll dock to visit one of the most famous caves in the bay. You’ll return to the junk for brunch while cruising back to the main dock, and around noon you’ll leave for Hanoi. You will arrive at your hotel in Hanoi in late afternoon, and the remainder of the day will be your own time.
Day 20: Hanoi Departure (Breakfast, Driver Pickup)
After breakfast, you’ll be free until your guide/driver arrives to take you to Noi Bai airport for your departure flight.
- Breakfast and accommodation sharing a twin or double room.
- Pick-ups and transfers by private air-conditioned vehicle as specified in the itinerary above (Please note: pick-ups will be by a guide and driver or, where a guide is not necessary, a driver only. All unaccompanied drivers will be briefed in advance, and will carry a mobile phone to ensure smooth transfer arrangements)
- Domestic flight tickets: Ho Chi Minh City - Dalat, Nha Trang – Danang, Hue – Hanoi including domestic airport taxes.
- Boat cruises as specified in the programme. All Ha Long Bay boats will be fully licensed and comply with current safety regulations.
- 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 (please note: guides will be on hand from pick-up until guests’ return to their hotel or reaching their destination). Free days or part days will not include the services of a guide unless requested and included in the final itinerary.
- Where necessary, entry fees for all visits as mentioned in the programme.
- Lunches and dinners (as specified in the itinerary) in the best local restaurants and full board on the boat in Ha Long Bay.
- VAT and other taxes
- International flight tickets and airport tax.
- Lunches and dinners, except as specified above.
- Drinks, gratuities and personal expenses.
- Surcharges for Peak seasons (if any)
- Compulsory meal (if any)