DAY 1 – HANOI ARRIVAL and Welcome Dinner
Welcome to Hanoi.
Upon arrival, you will be welcome by your guide and transfer to hotel. The rest of the day is at your leisure until Welcome Dinner.
Overnight in Hanoi. (D)
DAY 2 – HANOI
The capital of Vietnam, a city that celebrated 1.000 years in 2010 has countless fascinating cultural and historic sites and our days’ tour will visit the highlights. See the grand and solemn mausoleum of Ho Chi Minh (viewed from outside; closed Mon and Fri and from Oct-Nov), the ‘icon of Hanoi’ – The One Pillar Pagoda, the beautiful Temple of Literature, West Lake’s Tran Quoc temple and Quan Thanh pagoda as well as the fascinating Ethnology Museum, the bustling Old Quarter and at the end of the day – a water puppet performance.
After breakfast, depart your hotel for the Temple of Literature. In 1076, Vietnam’s first university Quoc Tu Giam, was established within a temple to educate Vietnam’s royalty, mandarins and members of the elite. The university functioned for an incredible 700 years and its gardens and well-preserved architecture offer a fascinating glimpse into Vietnam’s past.
Visit The One Pillar Pagoda, founded by King Ly Thai To in 1049, next. This structure is one of Vietnam’s most iconic temples. Close by is the mausoleum of the historic father figure of modern Vietnam, Ho Chi Minh, and the former presidents house on stilts where he lived from 1958 to 1969. His former home illustrates the modesty of this Vietnamese revolutionary. (Viewed from outside; closed Mon and Fri and from Oct-Nov)
Continue to picturesque West Lake and the sixth century Tran Quoc Buddhist Pagoda. From here transfer (or stroll along the lakeside) 700 meters to the nearby Taoist temple of Quan Thanh dedicated to Tran Vu, one of the principal deities in Taoism. Lunch at the local restaurant.
In the afternoon visit the fascinating Ethnology Museum (closed Mondays), which is both a research centre and a public museum exhibiting the ethnic groups of Vietnam. As an alternative to the Ethnology Museum, visit the highly acclaimed Vietnam Women’s Museum. The museum is located near Hoan Kiem Lake and offers wonderful insight into the lives of Vietnamese women. Displays highlight Vietnam’s vast cultural diversity and educate on the significant role Vietnamese women play in Vietnamese society. Learn historic and modern-day traditions centered around births, weddings, motherhood, spirituality and more.
At the end of the afternoon visit Hanoi’s Old Quarter also known as the ‘36 streets’. Take a walking tour through charming Hang Be Market and around Hoan Kiem Lake. This bustling area of narrow streets and alleys is home to literally thousands of small businesses and shopkeepers. It’s a great place to explore with plenty of photo opportunities all around you.
Finish the day with a Water Puppet show. This is a uniquely northern Vietnamese art form depicting scenes from rural life and episodes of national history.
Overnight in Hanoi. (B,L)
DAY 3 – HANOI – HOA LU – HANOI
Depart your hotel this morning early for the 2-hour drive through rural northern Vietnam to the site of Vietnam’s first capital, Hoa Lu. Visit the temples dedicated to Emperor Dinh Tien Hoang of the Dinh Dynasty (968-80) and Emperor Le Dai Hanh of the Le Dynasty (980-1009). The ancient Hoa Lu Citadel (most of which has since been destroyed) once covered an area of three square kilometers. If time permits after visiting Hoa Lu take a half-hour walk up one of the surrounding limestone karst hills, the climb is rewarding with spectacular views.
In the late morning depart for Tam Coc Town for a Vietnamese lunch, along the way stop to take photographs of local villages and the stunning landscape.
After lunch board your private sampan. As the boat gently slices through the water notice the enormous limestone karsts jutting out from the green rice fields giving rise to the area’s other name, ‘Halong on Land’.
Should you feel adventurous, climb up to Bich Dong Pagoda on nearby Ngu Nhac Mountain, dating to 1428 and comprised of three structures: Ha, Trung, and Thuong Pagodas, in ascending order. Return by sampan to Tam Coc town before returning to Hanoi.
Overnight in Hanoi. (B,L)
DAY 4 – HANOI – HALONG BAY
The scenery of Halong Bay where thousands of limestone islands jut out of the emerald sea, sculpted into bizarre shapes is truly an iconic image for Vietnam. An overnight boat trip is the best way to enjoy this Vietnamese must-see. After breakfast leave Hanoi for a 3hr30mins drive to Halong Bay including a 20-minutes stop on the way.
Arrive at your jetty in Halong City towards noon and proceed with check-in formalities. After your welcome onboard, a 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 formations. Dinner is served on board.
Overnight on Halong Bay. (B,L,D)
DAY 5 – HALONG BAY – NOI BAI AIPORT – DANANG – HOI AN
The sun rises on Halong in the morning and breakfast is served (also brunch on some boats) while the vessels cruises slowly back towards port. Disembark and transfer back to Hanoi.
After the short flight you will arrive at the central port city of Danang. On arrival in Danang transfer 40-minutes 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.
Overnight in Hoi An. (B,L)
DAY 6 – HOI AN
In the morning we will take a walking tour through the old town to visit 400 year-old Japanese BridgeThis, beautiful merchant house and a Chinese Temple. Hoi An is famous at tailoring. You may stop by a tailor shop to order some things for yourselves. Then lunch at a local restaurant before heading back to your hotel.
The rest of the day is your free time at leisure.
Overnight in Hoi An. (B,L)
DAY 7 – HOI AN – HUE
Today we will have a long but beautiful drive from Hoi An to Hue, the former imperial capital of Vietnam. Its mesmerizing tombs and mausoleums of the last emperors of Vietnam reveal fascinating insights into the lives of the imperial families and their subjects. The ancient Citadel reflects the pomp and ceremony of the dynastic rulers as well as the scars of many years of turmoil, both ancient and modern. The Royal Citadel was badly damaged in the latter stages of the war but retains a sense of grace and majesty even today.
Drive through Danang and visit the Cham Museum, which contains the finest collection of Cham sculptures in the world and Marble Mountains before driving over the Pass of Ocean Clouds and dropping down to the wonderfully photogenic fishing village of Lang Co.
Overnight in Hue. (B,L)
DAY 8 – HUE CITY
Start your tour at the Imperial Citadel where the Nguyen Dynasty ruled between 1802 and 1945. From here take a cyclo through dai noi ‘Old City’ to Tinh Tam Lake where the Emperors used to come to relax. It is full of lotus flowers in summer and there are many local style coffee shops around the lake where university students come to study.
After exploring the ruins of this wonderful monument depart for Thien Mu (Celestial Lady) Pagoda overlooking the Perfume River Constructed in 1601, the 21-meter tower is the centerpiece of the pagoda and represents seven reincarnations of Buddha. On the pagoda 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-immortalization is one of the most well-known images of the war.
Continue to former emperor Minh Mang’s tomb located in a tranquil setting of gardens and ponds.
Journey on to Khai Dinh’s Tomb designed in traditional Vietnamese style with a European touch making it unique from the other tombs in Hue.
Before heading back to your hotel take time to stroll around Dong Ba Market with your guide. The market is another of the must see sites in Hue, the stalls are teeming with color and a great place to catch a glimpse of everyday life.
Overnight in Hue. (B,L)
DAY 9 – HUE – HO CHI MINH CITY
Transfer to Hue Airport after breakfast for the short flight to dynamic Ho Chi Minh City, still called Saigon by the locals. A full day city tour takes in Cholon, the Chinatown district, to discover the area’s markets, shops and the Cantonese Thien Hau Pagoda – dedicated to the goddess of the Sea. Visit Vietnam’s first traditional medicine museum, the FITO Museum, with an amazing collection of 3,000 items relevant to the development of traditional Vietnamese medicine. Implements used to prepare indigenous herbs and objects commonly found in traditional pharmacies can be seen in the galleries as well as ancient books and documents on traditional Vietnamese medicine.
Enjoy a delicious lunch at a local restaurant in town.
Head back to the city centre to visit Ben Thanh Market where an incredible display of fresh produce is offered. Simply stroll through the market exploring the variety of goods for sale.
This afternoon visit the War Remnants or History Museum (choose which one you would most like to see) and the former Presidential Palace Stroll (your vehicle will be available at all times) to the major sights of colonial Ho Chi Minh City: the Old Saigon Post Office, Dong Khoi Street (formerly Rue Catinat), Continental Hotel, Opera House and City Hall. At the end of the afternoon head back to your hotel.
Overnight in Ho Chi Minh City. (B,L)
Note: History Museum is closed on Mondays.
DAY 10 – HO CHI MINH CITY – SADEC – CAI BE
Depart your hotel early this morning for the 3.5-hour drive to Sa Dec, deep in the Mekong Delta.
Sa Dec is a charming, authentic Mekong Delta town that seems to have escaped the modernization that has swept much of Vietnam. The town was immortalized by the French writer Marguerite Duras who spent 04 years here from 1928 – 1932. Her novel “The Lover” went on to win the 1984 Prix Goncourt prize for literature. On arrival in Sa Dec, visit the charming Kien An Cung Pagoda before having lunch in the former home of Huynh Thuy Le who is the main character in Marguerite Duras’ novel.
After lunch, board your boat for the cruise to Cai Be. Sit back and enjoy the lush landscape and tropical life of the Mekong Delta. En route visit a flower garden as well as floating houses along a branch of the Mekong River where fish are raised in submerged cages. Make a stop at a traditional mat making workshop where river grasses are woven by hand.
Reach the river town of Vinh Long to visit one of the biggest brick factories in the Mekong Delta. In this traditional factory the process of making bricks is done by hand and the imagery seems timeless.
Back on the boat cross the Co Chien River, one of the two branches of the Mekong towards An Binh, Binh Hoa Phuc Islands and finally the Dong Phu canal and your final destination of Cai Be.
Continue down river to The Mekong Riverside resort & spa perfectly situated overlooking a branch of the Mekong River.
Rest of the evening at leisure.
Overnight at the Mekong Riverside resort & Spa. (B,L)
DAY 11 – CAI BE – HO CHI MINH CITY- FAREWELL DINNER
Early this morning take a sunrise boat cruise to the quiet but quaint Cai Be floating market. Produce at the market is hung on a pole in front of boats to attract customers and make it easier for people to see from afar what is on offer. Traders work the river and some have been living on these waters for generations, however like elsewhere in the delta the floating market here has become much smaller in recent years due to development and improvements in infrastructure.
Continue 50 minutes by boat to an area of the Mekong untouched by tourism. Here take a leisurely 7km cycling trip which takes you along shady back roads over tiny canals, past fruit gardens and sleepy villages. If you don’t want to cycle, take a ride on a xe loi which is a trailer towed from the back of a bicycle and only used in the Mekong Delta. En-route stop at some traditional workshops which make turmeric spring roll paper and roof thatching made from the water palm tree.
Mid-morning arrive at a family run orchard where diverse tropical fruits are grown. The owner, a former war veteran, will share with you stories from his life as well as taking you into his garden to sample some fresh tropical fruits.
Continue cycling to a stunning 100-year old house which is architecturally a mixture between Vietnamese and European designs. Here a Vietnamese lunch will be served consisting of dishes only found in the Mekong Delta. After your meal, bid farewell to the family before returning to Saigon where you will arrive in the late afternoon.
The rest of the afternoon is your free time at leisure until Farewell Dinner.
Overnight in Ho Chi Minh City (B,L,D)
DAY 12 – HO CHI MINH CITY DEPARTURE
This morning is at leisure until time to transfer to Tan Son Nhat Airport for your onward flight to your next destination. Note that hotel check-out time is 12 noon, and check-in time for international flights is usually minimum two hours prior to departure. (B)