On this independent program, discover one of Southeast Asia’s most exciting destinations. Delve into timeless cities in authentic style, travelling the streets of colonial Hanoi by “cyclo ” and wandering through Ho Chi Minh City’s Chinatown. Venture further afield to historic Hue, the former imperial capital, and romantic Halong bay, weaving amid thousands of towering limestone islands by the top luxury cruise on the bay…
Halong Bay – Imagine 2000 or more islands rising from the emerald waters of the Gulf of Tonkin and you have a vision of breathtaking beauty. Halong translates as ‘where the dragon descends into the sea’, and legend claims the islands of Halong Bay were created by a great dragon from the mountains. As it charged towards the coast, its flailing tail gouged out valleys and crevasses. When it finally plunged into the sea, the area filled with water, leaving only the pinnacles visible.
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.
Hue – Each Royal mausoleum reflects the personality of the Emperor it commemorates. The most majestic is that of Emperor Minh Mang, a staunch follower of Confucianism with many wives, concubines and a small army of children. Planned by the Emperor and built shortly after his death in formal Chinese style, it’s opulent and exotic, and a good example of classic Sino-Vietnamese architecture.
Vietnam Luxury Holiday 10 Days
Day 1: Hanoi Arrival (Dinner, Guide pick up)
Arriving at Noi Bai airport in Hanoi, you’ll be met and driven to your hotel, the capital city of Vietnam, is an elegant city located on the banks of the Red River with tranquil Restored Sword Lake at its heart. North of the lake are the bustling streets of the Old Quarter, each street named after the trade that used to take place there. Much of the city was transformed by the French when it became a French protectorate in the 1880s and there are wide boulevards and large colonial buildings which are now home to government departments and foreign embassies. You will have time to relax before having 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. In the evening, 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: Hanoi Orientation (Breakfast, Lunch, Guide)
After breakfast at your hotel, you will be taken to visit the Ho Chi Minh Complex where you will hear about the man who led Vietnam’s campaign for independence from French colonial rule. Then you will see the One Pillar Pagoda and the Presidential Palace before heading to the Imperial Citadel. Once the apex of regional political power for more than a millennium, the area is now undergoing archaeological excavation and research. In the afternoon explore the Temple of Literature, Vietnam’s first university and the iconic Long Bien Bridge, followed by cyclo ride through Hanoi's Old Quarters to experience daily life of people who are living in the oldest parts of the city. You will spend the night in Hanoi.
Please be aware that the One Pillar Pagoda in Hanoi is closed for renovation work until January 2015. Day tours will now visit Ho Chi Minh’s Museum as an alternative touring attraction.
Alternative for Day 2: Hanoi city tour by motorbike and street food (Breakfast, Lunch, Guide)
You’ll have the whole day to explore Vietnam’s capital city on the back of a motorbike. Your guide will take you to the Temple of Literature, the first university in Vietnam dating back to the 11th century, and a popular attraction, as is Ho Chi Minh’s Mausoleum, his simple stilt house where he lived and worked and the museum dedicated to his memory. After that, you’ll visit the bustling Old Quarter with its eclectic mix of architectural styles - traditional ‘tube’ houses, religious buildings, colonial houses, vernacular dwellings and modern concrete edifices.
The day also includes a ‘Street Life’ experience, also on the back of a motorbike. You’ll spend a couple of hours wandering around the back streets in and nearby the Old Quarter. A street food brunch is included – take your pick from traditional Hanoi Pho (beef noodle soup), Nom (green papaya salad with seasoned beef), Banh Goi (pillow-shaped rice pastry with minced pork and mushroom), Banh Cuon (hot rice paper with pork and fried onion) or Bun Cha (fresh noodle with grilled pork). If you’re hungry, try two or three varieties – they’re snacks rather than a meal.
Day 3: Hanoi - Ha Long (Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner, Guide)
After breakfast, you’ll leave for Ha Long Bay, one of the most spectacular UNESCO World Heritage Areas and the world’s largest marine limestone ‘karst’ landscape. There you’ll board a private wooden junk that takes you through Bai Tu Long Bay area. You’ll then continue your cruise to the bay’s most deserted areas with opportunities to swim at quiet sandy beaches [weather permits] or visit one of the least visited caves. The route is designed to avoid the busy areas and includes a very quiet location for your overnight stay.
For your three-day Ha Long excursion, you'll board one of the Princess Junks, one of the best wooden boats on the Bay. They’re based on the model of the old Chinese court vessels with three barge sails, a wide transom and rectangular superstructure. Each boat has only one cabin, so you're likely to be the King and the Queen on board.
The cabin is air-conditioned and has windows overlooking the bay. The floor area of the cabin is about 10 m2. The cabin is furnished with two twin beds or a double queen size bed. The interior panelling, floor and furniture are of hard wood. The cabin has a wardrobe, 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 and included in the price.
Day 4: Ha Long – Yen Duc village - Hanoi – Danang – Hoi An (Breakfast, Lunch, Guide)
You’ll wake in the fresh air of the bay with a swim or you can relax on the sundeck. After breakfast, you’ll continue your cruise to visit a fishing village where you’ll have an opportunity to explore the village and the hidden lagoon in a rustic rowing boat. The route will ends at a Pearl Farm where you can see the whole process of making high quality pearl.
You’ll then cruise back to dock around noon whereupon you’ll be picked up to return to Yen Duc village. Arriving at Yen Duc village, you’ll be charmed by the fresh air and tranquility of its small lanes and picturesque fields. Here, you’ll enjoy a performance of the uniquely Vietnamese Quan Ho singing, now recognized by UNESCO as an intangible cultural heritage. Later you’ll explore the historic ‘cave 73’ on Canh mountain to learn of the wartime struggles of its inhabitants during French occupation and visit a local house to meet and chat with the villagers. Your visit will culminate with a walk through the fields to Canh Huong Pagoda, dating back to the eighth century, before returning to Hanoi airport to take the flight to Danang. On arrival, your guide and driver will transfer you to your hotel. You will spend the night in Hoi An.
Day 5: Walking and Photographing Hoi An (Breakfast, Lunch, Guide)
In the morning, you will enjoy a walking tour with first stop is the bustling fish and vegetable market and then you will go through the Old Quarters to see the town's landmarks of Japanese Covered Bridge, ancient Assembly Hall, Phuc Kien Temple. After that, you will get on the boat to cruise along the river to enjoy the scenery along the Thu Bon River and the general view of Hoi An Ancient Town then you will the Kim Bong pottery and carpentry villages to learn the traditional way of making clay products and fishing boat building. Hoi An is well known for souvenir shopping with great prices and also famous for its large number of tailor shops, so if you want to get a cloth tailor made to measure, this is the time to do it. You will spend the night in Hoi An.
Alternative for Day 6:
Option 1: Hoi An – From Farmer to Fisherman Tour (Meals: 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.
Option 2: 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 7: 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 8: Cycling to get closer to Hue’s lifestyle (Breakfast, Lunch, Guide)
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 9: Hue – Ho Chi Minh City (Breakfast, Guide)
After breakfast, you will be free until the driver arrives to take you to the airport to take the flight to Ho Chi Minh City. Arriving at Tan Son Nhat airport in Ho Chi Minh City, you’ll be met and driven to your hotel.
In the afternoon, your driver will take you to Cu Chi district, 50 km to the Northwest of Saigon City. On arrival you will watch a video presentation on the construction of the tunnels before making your way into the tunnels. Here you can spend around an hour exploring the maze of tunnels and also view the various mantraps on display and the remains of an American tank as well as numerous bomb craters made by 500 pound bombs dropped by B52 bombers. This unique experience gives a fascinating insight into what underground life in the war must have been like. You will come back to Ho Chi Minh City in the late afternoon. You will spend the night in Ho Chi Minh City
Day 10: Ho Chi Minh City – Vinh Long – Cai Be – Ho Chi Minh City (Breakfast, Lunch, Guide)
After breakfast, you will start the trip at 07:30 am and head for Vinh Long province. After boarding the beautiful traditional boat, you will have five hour to cruise along the river. It will take you through Vietnam’s most productive agricultural area. You will enjoy the beautiful landscapes of coconut palms, sugar-cane groves and fruit orchards from the vessel as you head to the Cai Be floating market. Here you can cruise through the colourful barges full of fruits and vegetables and then proceed to local home factories such as rice paste making, rice pop corn, coco candies, and longans drying processing. The trip continues along the Mekong canals to Dong Hoa Hiep Island located between Vinh Long and Cai Be. Along the way you will find the local people engaged in their daily tasks and see brightly coloured Khemer pagodas. Stops on the way can be made upon request for particular visits or photos making. These evergreen islands among the Mekong River still remain unknown to many people. After that, you will arrive at La Residence de Phu An resort where you will be welcomed and served Vietnamese culinary delights. You will then walk along a narrow canal to an air-conditioned vehicle that will transport you back to Ho Chi Minh City where you will stay overnight.
Alternative for Day 10: Ho Chi Minh City - Tay Ninh - Cu Chi Tunnels – Ho Chi Minh City ( Breakfast, Lunch, Guide)
A morning drive will take you to Tay Ninh to visit the Cao Dai Holy See in time, home to a unique religion combining the disciplines of Christianity, Buddhism, Taoism, Islam, Confucianism, Hinduism and Geniism. The aim of this sect is to achieve a synthesis of all religions. Followers consider Joan of Arc, Rene Descartes, William Shakespeare, Victor Hugo, Winston Churchill and Napoleon Bonaparte their respected saints or spirit intermediaries. You will arrive at the temple in time for the midday service giving you the chance to listen to chanting devotees. The temple’s exterior is decorated with multi-coloured dragons of all shapes and sizes.
After lunch, you will enjoy a scenic drive through idyllic paddy flatlands and countryside. Arrive to Cu Chi tunnels for a fascinating guided tour of this amazing three-floor labyrinth of underground passages stretching a staggering 250kilometres from Saigon to the Cambodian border. The network included innumerable trap doors, specially constructed living areas, storage facilities, weapons factories, field hospitals, command centers and kitchens. Today the remaining tunnels have become a major tourist attraction giving the visitor a unique experience and a feel of what underground life in war was like. You will spend the night in Ho Chi Minh City
Cao Dai is a ‘new’ religion unique to Vietnam with around a million followers. Both its creed and its architecture are remarkable and exotic. The service lasts about half an hour – the rituals are based upon an eclectic mixture of Catholicism, Hinduism, Buddhism and Taoism. Discreet photography is OK, but shoes must be left outside
Day 11: Ho Chi Minh City departure (Breakfast, Driver Pickup)
Your time will be your own until your private car and driver arrives to take you to Tan Son Nhat airport for your departure flight.
- Vietnam Visa invitation letter
- 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: Hanoi – Danang, Hue - Ho Chi Minh City, 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)