From north to south, this 13 day programme includes a diverse range of destinations and excursions providing travellers with an in-depth view of the history, cultures and landscapes of Vietnam. In addition to the major cities of Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh, the tour embraces the cultural heartland with stops in Hue and Hoi An. Rounding out our Vietnam Explorer itinerary are a trip to the highland region of Sapa, an overnight cruise on Halong Bay and a visit to the Mekong Delta.
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, also known as the ‘36 streets’. Walking through charming Hang Be Market, around Hoan Kiem Lake and stop at Ngoc Son temple. The 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 that functioned for an incredible 700 years from 1076. Its gardens and well-preserved architecture offer a fascinating glimpse into Vietnam’s past. Nearby is Ho Chi Minh’s mausoleum and modest stilted house where he lived from 1958 to 1969. Visit the small but iconic One Pillar pagoda before lunch at a local restaurant.
This afternoon, you will visit a water puppet master to unveil the secrets behind this traditional art form. Welcome to Mr. Liem’s workshop, where the shelves are lined with wooden angel wings and buffalo tails and puppets of all shapes and sizes. After a 30-minute performance of ancient and modern stories, 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 local craft and rural traditions as well as a unique, behind-the-scenes experience. (B/L)
Day 3: Leave behind the bustle of Hanoi on a biking tour to the rural villages on the other bank of the Red River. Ride through small back alleys, take a local ferry across the river and return through quaint villages along the river, discovering traditional houses, ancient pagodas, lively markets, emerald paddy fields and lush tropical gardens. En route, stop with a family for tea and a chat about their daily life and visit a local temple, where you may be lucky to see a special Vietnamese ceremony –“Len Dong” or “Going into a trance”. Overnight train to Lao Cai. (B)
Day 4: Arrive in Lao Cai Station, breakfast and visit a local market where Flower Hmong and sometimes Phu La, Black Dao, Tay and Nung hilltribe people trade 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 to buy provisions. Then take an easy trek to discover 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: After breakfast, a 30-minute road transfer to Ban Khoang Valley, enjoying breathtaking views of the Tonkinese Alps along the way. Your first stop is at Lu Khau village, home to Blue Hmong and Red Zao people. Explore the village 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 at the jetty around midday for check-in formalities. After your welcome on board, lunch will be served 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 middle of the bay as the sun rises. Breakfast or brunch is served while you cruise slowly through the magnificent rock formations back towards port. Upon disembarkation your driver will take you to Noi Bai airport for the flight to Danang. On arrival in Danang transfer to Hoi An, a major Asian trading port in the 17th and 18th centuries whose architecture and relaxed lifestyle has changed little over the years. (B)
Day 8: Spend half of today visiting 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 of Champa between the 4th and 8th centuries. Some of the finest sculptures in Danang’s Cham Museum originated from here.
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 centre of Hoi An remains much the same as it was in its heyday. Take a walking tour of the ancient town to visit former 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 Citadel, then take a cyclo through dai noi ‘Old City’ to Tinh Tam Lake, where the Emperors used to relax. It is full of lotus flowers in summer and surrounded by many local style coffee shops where university 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 resident 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 design of balance and symmetry inspired by Confucianism. Khai Dinh’s tomb is in traditional Vietnamese style with a unique European touch. Finally stroll around Dong Ba Market, teeming with colour and a great place to catch a glimpse 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 city tour starts with Chinatown’s markets, shops and the Cantonese Thien Hau Pagoda, dedicated to the goddess of the Sea. Continue to Vietnam's first traditional medicine museum, which displays an amazing collection of 3,000 items including ancient implements and books. Head back to the centre to Ben Thanh Market where an incredible display of fresh produce is offered. This 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.
This is a suggested itinerary. Dates, stops & activities are all flexible.
Best Time To Travel
Best time to visit: November - April
North: Nov – Apr sunny and dry but can be cold in the evenings. May – Sep rainy and humid, especially the middle months, drying up in late Oct.
Centre: Feb – Aug generally dry and sunny but humid in later months. Sep – Dec monoon season with typhoons possible especially in Oct/Nov. Jan rain possible but less.
South: Nov – Apr dry and sunny. May – Oct wet season with frequent, but not constant rain.