ITINERARY BY DAY
DAY 1 – HO CHI MINH CITY ARRIVAL
Upon arrival to Ho Chi Minh City, our guide and driver will be waiting to provide transport to the hotel for check in. After checking in, the remainder of the day is free at leisure.
Overnight in Ho Chi Minh City.
DAY 2 – HO CHI MINH CITY – MEKONG DELTA
Begin Day 2 with a departure from bustling Ho Chi Minh City for the 2 hour drive to the delta town of Cai Be.
Upon arrival, board a local vessel for the day’s cruise through the Delta. Start the journey by passing by Cai Be’s floating market, once a busy place to trade fruits and vegetables and nowadays a more quiet market.
Continue to a cottage factory where ‘pop-rice’, rice paper and coconut candies are made. Return to the boat for the cruise to Dong Hoa Hiep Island, admiring the scenery and daily life along the way. Lunch will be served local Mekong style featuring specialties of the area. Return to Ho Chi Minh City in the late afternoon with the rest of the day free at leisure.
Overnight in Ho Chi Minh City
DAY 3 – HO CHI MINH CITY – HUE
After breakfast, head to Cholon, the Chinatown district of Ho Chi Minh City, to discover the area’s markets, shops and the Cantonese Thien Hau Pagoda. Next pay a visit to 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.
Head back to the city centre to visit Ben Thanh Market, where an incredible display of fresh produce is offered. Enjoy a stroll through the market exploring the variety of goods for sale.
This afternoon visit the War Remnants or History Museum (personal preference) and the former Presidential Palace. From the Palace, stroll 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 (guide and driver will be available at all times).
At the end of the tour, transfer to the airport for the short flight to Hue, the former imperial capital of Vietnam.
Overnight in Hue.
Note: History Museum is closed on Mondays.
DAY 4 – HUE CITY TOUR
Begin the day’s explorations with an 08:30 departure from the hotel in Hue. Start the 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. The lake is full of lotus flowers in the summer and there are many local style coffee shops around the lake, perfect for soaking in the local scene.
Next, pay a visit to the Thien Mu 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 immolation 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. Afterwards, 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 the hotel, take time to stroll around Dong Ba Market with the guide. The market is another of the must see sites in Hue, with stalls teeming with color and life.
Overnight in Hue.
DAY 5 – HUE – HOI AN
Enjoy this morning at leisure before leaving Hue for Hoi An. Hoi An was a major Asian trading port of the 17th and 18th centuries whose architecture and relaxed lifestyle has changed very little over the years.
Departing from Hue, drive through the wonderfully photogenic fishing village of Lang Co before climbing over the Pass of Ocean Clouds and dropping down to Danang. En route to Hoi An (from Danang), pay a visit to the Cham Museum, which contains the finest collection of Cham sculptures in the world. Continue on to Hoi An with a hotel check in and the rest of the day free at leisure.
Overnight in Hoi An.
DAY 6 – HOI AN – MY SON
Begin Day 6 with a half day to visit the capital and religious centre of the former Champa Kingdom, My Son. Located 40km southwest of Hoi An in a lush green valley, My Son is home to dozens of red brick towers and sanctuaries dating between the 7th and 13th centuries. After a morning of exploration, head back to Hoi An, stopping for a visit to Tra Kieu, the capital of Champa between the 4th and 8th centuries. Some of the finest sculptures in Danang’s Cham Museum originated from here.
Upon returning to Hoi An, take a walking tour of the ancient town centre to visit former merchants’ houses, the 400 year-old Japanese Covered Bridge, a Chinese communal hall and the colorful market. After the tour, enjoy some time at leisure exploring the old town.
Overnight in Hoi An.
DAY 7 – HOI AN – DANANG – HANOI
After breakfast, transfer 40 minutes to Da Nang airport for the short flight to Hanoi, the 1,000-year-old capital of Vietnam.
In the afternoon, embark on a visit to the fascinating Ethnology Museum (closed Mondays), a research centre and 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 helps explain the significant role Vietnamese women play in Vietnamese society.
Continue with a visit to Hanoi’s Old Quarter. 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 shops.
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.
DAY 8 – HANOI – HOA LU
Depart from the hotel early this morning for a 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). If time permits after visiting Hoa Lu, take a half-hour walk up one of the surrounding limestone karst hills, boasting spectacular views.
In the late morning, depart for a traditional Vietnamese lunch in Tam Coc. Along the way stop to take photographs of local villages and the stunning landscape.
After lunch, board a private sampan (see options for Tam Coc sampan trip below). As the boat gently slices through the water, take note of the enormous limestone karsts jutting out from the green rice fields giving rise to the area’s nickname, ‘Halong on Land’.
The adventurous sort can have the option of climbing up Bich Dong Pagoda on nearby Ngu Nhac Mountain. Dating to 1428, it is comprised of three structures: Ha, Trung, and Thuong Pagodas. Return by sampan to Tam Coc town before returning to Hanoi.
Option 1: Trang An Boat Option (in place of Tam Coc): Trang An is a less visited nature reserve illustrated by limestone hills and a peaceful river passing through a series of caves (one of which takes 15-minutes to pass through in darkness). An ‘eco tourism’ area, the only interruptions here are the sound of birds and the gentle paddle of the oar upon the crystal clear river.
Option 2: Thung Nang Boat Option (in replace of Tam Coc): Thung Nang is another less-visited area that is similar in style to Tam Coc. Pass through a cave, fields of lotus (in summer) and reach a quaint pagoda before returning on the same route.
Overnight in Hanoi.
DAY 9 – HANOI – HALONG BAY
After breakfast in Hanoi, depart for the 3hr 30mins drive to Halong Bay.
Arrive to the Halong City jetty (around noon) and proceed with check in formalities. After a welcome on board, lunch will be served while cruising towards the bay. In the afternoon, enjoy some sightseeing, on-board 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.
DAY 10 – HALONG BAY – HANOI
Early risers can enjoy an unforgettable sunrise over Halong, with breakfast served shortly thereafter. Enjoy breakfast (or brunch on some boats) while the vessels cruises slowly back towards port. Upon disembarkation, our guide and driver will be waiting to provide transport to Hanoi.
In the afternoon, take off for a half-day Hanoi city tour, starting with a visit to Vietnam’s first university: the Temple of Literature. Founded in 1076, 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.
Continue with a visit to the iconic One Pillar Pagoda, founded by King Ly Thai To in 1049. This structure is one of Vietnam’s most iconic temples. Nearby is the mausoleum of the historic father figure of modern Vietnam, Ho Chi Minh, and his modest house on stilts. (Sites are viewed from outside; closed Mon and Fri and from Oct-Nov)
Wrap up the tour with a visit to the picturesque West Lake and its 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.
Overnight in Hanoi.
DAY 11 – HANOI DEPARTURE
Enjoy the day at leisure until transport (provided) to Hanoi’s Noi Bai Airport for the departing flight.
If time allows, pay a visit (en route to the airport) to the Thanh Chuong Palace, the home and studio of Thanh Chuong, one of the most celebrated painters in Vietnam. More a living space than a museum, the Palace is an architectural gem showcasing Vietnamese traditional cultural objects, exquisite antiques and remarkable structures.