This 2 week Vietnam explorer holiday takes in the whole country from north to south, immersing you in diverse experiences and places that will give you an in-depth view of the history, cultures and landscapes of Vietnam. As well as the major cities of Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh, you will visit the cultural heartland around Hue and Hoi An. There’s also time to explore some of the most famous and beautiful regions of the country – the Sapa highlands, Ha Long Bay and the Mekong Delta.
This is a suggested itinerary. Dates, stops & activities are all flexible.
13 Days: Hanoi - Sapa - Halong Bay - Hoi An - My Son - Hue - Ho Chi Minh City – Mekong Delta
Activities: history and culture, traditional crafts, rural villages, gentle cycling, hilltribes, trekking, cruise, sightseeing, floating markets
Day 1: Arrive in Hanoi where you will be welcomed by your guide and transferred to your hotel.
Day 2: Explore Hanoi’s Old Quarter, known as the ‘36 streets’, where narrow streets and alleys are home to literally thousands of small businesses and shopkeepers, with fantastic photo opportunities all around. Continue to the Temple of Literature, Vietnam's first university for an incredible 700 years from 1076, whose gardens and well-preserved architecture offer a fascinating glimpse into Vietnam’s past. Nearby, you will find Ho Chi Minh’s mausoleum and the modest stilted house where he lived from 1958 to 1969 as well as the small but iconic One Pillar pagoda.
After lunch, drop in to see Mr. Liem, a water puppet master whose workshop shelves are lined with wooden angel wings and buffalo tails and puppets of all shapes and sizes. After a 30-minute performance of stories old and new, roll up your sleeves and try to make the dragon chase its tail and spit water, then paint your very own puppet. A great insight into Vietnamese craft and traditions as well as a unique, behind-the-scenes experience. (B/L)
Day 3: Leave the bustle of Hanoi behind on a bike tour to the rural areas on the other bank of the Red River. Ride through small back alleys, take a local ferry and return through quaint villages along the river, discovering ancient pagodas, lively markets, emerald paddy fields and lush tropical gardens. En route, stop with a family for tea and a chat and visit a local temple, where you may be lucky enough to see a special Vietnamese ceremony – 'Len Dong' or 'Going into a trance'. Overnight train to Lao Cai. (B)
Day 4: Arrive at Lao Cai, breakfast and visit a local market where Flower Hmong and sometimes Phu La, Black Dao, Tay and Nung hilltribe people trade unusual local products not found in other areas. Continue to Sapa’s busy market where Red Dao, Black H’Mong and other ethnic minority people converge from the surrounding countryside to sell their silverware and handicrafts and buy provisions. Finish with an easy trek admiring Sapa's picturesque hilltribe villages, set against the stunning Hoang Lien Son mountain range and Indochina's highest peak, Mt. Fansipan. Rest of the day at leisure. (B/L)
Day 5: A 30 minute road transfer to Ban Khoang Valley, enjoying breathtaking views of the Tonkinese Alps along the way, takes you to Lu Khau village, home to Blue Hmong and Red Zao people. Explore on foot, meet the friendly villagers and learn about their culture and life in the countryside. Short transfer Ta Giang Phinh for lunch and a leisurely walk on small paths that wind down an impressive valley, home to Blue Hmong. Visit some cottage workshops and observe villagers tending their crops with buffaloes. Late afternoon return to Hanoi. (B/L)
Day 6: After an early breakfast, take a 4-hour drive to Halong city arriving around midday for check-in formalities. Welcome on board and tuck into lunch while cruising towards the bay itself. In the afternoon, enjoy some visits and/or activities (depending on each boat’s itinerary) or just spend some time relaxing on board. Towards the end of the day the boat sets anchor for the night among the karst islands. Dinner on board. (B/L/D)
Day 7: Soak up the fresh morning in the midst of the stunning bay as the sun rises. Breakfast or brunch is served while you cruise slowly through the magnificent rock formations back towards port. After disembarking your driver will take you to the airport for a flight to Danang, then transfer to Hoi An, a major Asian trading port in the 17th and 18th centuries whose architecture and slow-paced lifestyle has changed little over the years. (B)
Day 8: This morning visit the religious centre of the former Champa Kingdom, My Son. 40km southwest of Hoi An, in a lush green valley, are dozens of red brick towers and sanctuaries dating from the 7th to 13th centuries. On the way back, stop at Simhapura or the Lion Citadel, the capital between the 4th and 8th centuries where some of the beautiful sculptures in Danang’s Cham Museum were found.
Return to Hoi An, a charming destination with two faces: the old-world trading port of narrow streets and traditional houses and the long stretches of clean white sand of its beach resorts. In keeping with Hoi An’s trading heritage, the tiny shop houses now host a range of craft shops and artisans including some of Asia’s best tailors. Despite the passing of 200 years and the ravages of weather and war, the town's centre remains much the same as it was in its heyday. Take a walking tour of the ancient streets to see merchants’ houses, the 400 year-old Japanese Bridge, a Chinese communal hall and the colourful market. (B)
Day 9: Morning at leisure before leaving for Hue, the former imperial capital of Vietnam. Its mesmerising tombs and mausoleums of the last emperors of Vietnam reveal fascinating insights into the lives of the imperial families and their subjects. The imposing Citadel reflects the pomp and ceremony of the rulers and retains a sense of grace and majesty, despite the scars of years of turmoil, both ancient and modern. On the way visit the Cham Museum in Da Nang, home to the finest collection of Cham sculptures in the world before climbing over the Pass of Ocean Clouds and dropping down to the photogenic fishing village of Lang Co. (B)
Day 10: Explore Hue starting at the Imperial City, then take a cyclo through the citadel's ‘Old City’ to Tinh Tam Lake, where the Emperors used to relax. It is full of lotus flowers in summer and surrounded by local style coffee shops where students come to study. Next is Thien Mu (Celestial Lady) Pagoda overlooking the Perfume River, whose centrepiece 21m tower represents seven reincarnations of Buddha. On the grounds is the famous Austin car a monk drove to Saigon in 1963 to protest against the southern regime. The photo of his self-immolation is one of the most famous images of the war.
Continue the tranquil gardens and ponds of emperor Minh Mang’s tomb, a harmonious traditional design of balance and symmetry inspired by Confucianism, with a unique European touch. Finally stroll around Dong Ba Market, teeming with colour and a great place to observe scenes of everyday life. (B)
Day 11: Transfer to Hue Airport for the short flight to dynamic Ho Chi Minh City, still called Saigon by the locals. A full day tour starts with Chinatown’s markets, shops and the Cantonese Thien Hau Pagoda, dedicated to the goddess of the sea. Head on to Vietnam's first traditional medicine museum, which houses an amazing collection of 3000 items including ancient implements and books. Return to the centre where an incredible display of fresh produce is offered at Ben Thanh Market, then in the afternoon visit the War Remnants or History Museum, the former Presidential Palace and the major sights of colonial Ho Chi Minh City. (B)
Day 12: Colourful floating markets, vast green rice fields and lush backwaters; these are the things that make Cai Be such an intriguing destination. Cruise the waterways of the Mekong Delta, passing by Cai Be’s nowadays quiet floating market, to a cottage factory where ‘pop-rice’, rice paper and coconut candies are made. Sail on to Dong Hoa Hiep island, admiring the scenery and observing the daily life of the local villagers. Lunch is Mekong specialities of the area. Return to Ho Chi Minh City late afternoon. (B/L)
Day 13: Sadly today it's time to say goodbye to Vietnam as you are transferred to the international airport in time for your return flight home. (B)
Prices from: £1450 per person
Services included: hotels on shared room basis, meals, transfers and activities as mentioned, entry fees, English speaking guide, 24 hour assistance
Services not included: flights, drinks, tips and personal expenses.
Note: stops can be extended, added or cut - just ask us!