This tour will provide you with a deeper insight into a country that has emerged from hundreds of years of foreign domination and lengthy periods of war but is today steadfastly moving forward into the 21st century. Although not the capital city of a unified Vietnam, Saigon does hold claim to being the biggest and most lively city in the country and you will experience that yourself in the markets and on the streets. For a gentle (and cooler) change of pace we drive up to the Central Highlands before retreating to the coast for a seafood lunch cruise around some beautiful offshore islands near Nha Trang. You will have plenty of time to find a new wardrobe at the tailors in Hoi An before reaching the ancient Imperial capital of Hue. Relax at a sidewalk café around one of the many lakes in Hanoi before enjoying a spectacular overnight cruise aboard a junk in Halong Bay.
Day 1, 2 & 3: Saigon
Day 4: Saigon – Dalat
Day 5: Dalat
Day 6: Dalat – Nha Trang
Day 7: Nhatrang
Day 8: Nhatrang – Danang – Hoi An
Day 9: Hoi An
Day 10: Hoi An – Hue
Day 11: Hue
Day 12: Hue – Hanoi
Day 13: Hanoi – Halong Bay
Day 14: Halong Bay – Hanoi
Day 15: Hanoi
DAY 1: SAIGON/HO CHI MINH CITY (HCMC)
Upon arrival in Saigon you will be transferred to your hotel. Please remember that hotel check-in times are after midday – unless the hotel has some rooms already available. If you do arrive early you can leave your luggage at reception and we would encourage you to get out and explore Hanoi – but please take a hotel business card so that you will be able to find your way back. Before leaving the hotel, please look in the reception area for a notice advising your tour leader’s name, mobile phone number and other helpful local information. There are no activities planned until your 6 pm tour briefing. It is important you attend the tour briefing and afterwards, for those interested, your leader will be happy to escort you to a local restaurant to sample the delights of Vietnamese cuisine and toast the start of what will be an unforgettable journey.
DAY 4: SAIGON – DALAT
You are free at leisure today until we bring you to the airport to take a short, 50 minutes flight to Dalat. The former French colonial hill station town of Dalat was founded over 100 years ago, by a French scientist, Dr Alexandre Yersin. Although there was already a small settlement of ‘Lat’ people living alongside the river, Dr Yersin and his compatriots thought it would be a nice idea to establish a resort town in the mountains to escape the sweltering humidity of the coast. The French colonialists are long gone, of course, but as a result of the old ‘French Indochina’ days there are still a large number of magnificent old villas in and around the town.
In the afternoon we explore some of the more interesting sights in Dalat including the old railway station that once connected Dalat to the coast, the summer palace of the last emperor of Vietnam, Bao Dai, and the Hang Nga Guesthouse, known as the ‘Crazy House’ to locals because of its bizarre architecture. A good place to try lunch is the upstairs ‘mezzanine’ floor of the fruit and vegetable pavilion in Dalat’s central market. It’s cheap, clean and the food is generally fresh.
DAY 5: DALAT
Today will be free for further exploration. One option is to take a trip out to ‘Ta Nung Village’ – a local ethnic hill tribe community located just outside Dalat. Ask your tour leader to help to arrange this optional tour.
DAY 8: NHATRANG – DANANG – HOI AN
This morning we transfer you to the airport to fly to Danang then drive about 45 minutes to Hoi An – passing the massive former US airbase that was, in 1968, the busiest airport in the world with all manner of aircraft coming and going in support of South Vietnam’s war effort. The ancient and historic town of Hoi An was for three centuries one of the most important ports in Central Vietnam, visited by sailing ships from all over the world seeking trade in silk, ceramics and, spices. In the late 19th Century, the Tu Bon River, linking the port to the open sea, began to silt up and became un-navigable for large vessels.
Trade moved up the coast to Tourane, now modern day Danang, and Hoi An went back to being a sleepy little fishing and rice farming community. Today however, Hoi An’s fortunes are once again riding on the crest of the wave as Vietnam’s number one tourist destination. This is largely due to the fact that UNESCO has listed the Old Town as a World Heritage Site with its quaint narrow streets packed with ancient Chinese, Portuguese and Japanese styles of architecture that has changed little from its heydays as a major port of trade. In Hoi An we include a walking tour of the Old Town where you can visit an Ancient House, a Chinese Assembly Hall, the Japanese Covered Bridge and a Museum.
DAY 9: HOI AN
Today is your free time you can rent bicycles and set off to explore the surrounding countryside, take a boat trip on the Tu Bon River, relax on the nearby beach, enjoy the wonderful cuisine on offer at some of the town’s numerous cheap cafes, or have some clothes made up. Hoi An has nearly 100 silk shops offering same-day service for tailor made clothes at low prices.
DAY 12: HUE – HANOI
This morning we enjoy a city tour, showcasing some of Hanoi’s most interesting attractions. We begin by visiting the One Pillar Pagoda which is near to the Soviet-inspired Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum. One Pillar Pagoda was first constructed in 1049 and is one Hanoi’s oldest structures. If it does not look that old, it is because the French blew it up in 1954 as a parting gesture and the current building is a replica. Afterwards, we will visit the Temple of Literature. Founded in 1070, it was Vietnam’s first institute of learning and the place where candidates for the position of Mandarin were examined. Finally we will visit the Hoa Lo Prison, better known to many as the ‘Hanoi Hilton’. These days the prison serves as a museum and a reminder of the Vietnamese who were incarcerated here by their French masters and, later, American pilots shot down over North Vietnam airspace during the Vietnam War. The afternoon is free to wander around and one of the best places to do this is the city’s Old Quarter, situated to the north of the Hoan Kiem Lake – a great (and easy) place to get lost in for a couple of hours.
DAY 13: HANOI – HALONG BAY
Halong Bay became firmly entrenched as one of the must-sees of Vietnam after the filming of the 1992 French movie, Indochine (starring Catherine Deneuve) and later the 1997 James Bond film Tomorrow Never Dies (starring Pierce Brosnan), The images of red sailed junks navigating through the 3,000+ limestone karsts (islands) jutting out of the bay are nothing short of spectacular. It is approximately a three-hour drive from Hanoi to Halong port, passing the Red River and the country side of the delta. Upon arrival embark the Phoenix Luxury Cruiser and sip on a welcome drink before checking in your cabin then begin the cruise through the bay.
A delicious lunch would be served while you are cruising among hundreds of islands and gorgeously natural settings, limestone bedrocks and sheer cliffs of tiny islets. You will pass by Duck and Thumb islets, then Coconut Island – the only soil island in the World Heritage Site.
When the boat stop at Luom Bo area, you will kayak in the turquoise waters of Cat Ba National Park and it is optional to swim on the sandy beach of the Coconut Island. As the sun sets, relax and enjoy our happy hour as we keep cruising to Fairy Lake (Ho Dong Tien) area and anchor for the night.
DAY 15: HANOI
Free at leisure, it is subject to your flight schedule you might have some free time once we transfer you to the airport for taking your international flight back home. Today is the last day of your tour. You can use your hotel room in Hanoi until check out time (most times at 12 pm noon). We wish you a comfortable journey home and are sure you will take with you some wonderful memories of Vietnam.
DAY 2 and 3: SAIGON/HO CHI MINH CITY (HCMC)
Officially renamed Ho Chi Minh City after reunification in 1975, most people here still prefer to use the old name, Saigon. Once referred to as the ‘Pearl of the Orient’, Saigon, with its unofficial population around 8-9 million is Vietnam’s largest city and stands in stark contrast to the capital, Hanoi. Perhaps Saigon lacks the same colonial charm of its northern cousin but it still has a certain tropical ambience and general hustle & bustle that makes it a distinctly a modern South East Asian city.
This morning we drive to the former Viet Cong stronghold of Cu Chi Tunnels. Begun by the Viet Minh and later expanded by the Viet Cong, Cu Chi’s tunnels were constructed to conduct covert operations and then quickly hide from the enemy. There are reputed to be around 200 kilometers of underground tunnels within the area, and in some places they even managed to penetrate the perimeters of nearby US military bases. We’ll actually be given the opportunity of crawling through a section of the tunnels while we’re here, and learn how the brave men and women of Cu Chi built underground hospitals, kitchens and meeting rooms during their struggle for a unified Vietnam.
Returning to Saigon we will visit the Reunification Palace (formerly South Vietnam’s Presidential Palace), War Remnants Museum (with its graphic depiction of the horrors of war), the French built Notre Dame Cathedral and the Gustav Eiffel designed Central Post Office.
DAY 6: DALAT – NHA TRANG
Today we leave Dalat and head to the coast. We will pass through pine forests and small market garden communities before descending to the coastal plains below. With fabulous sunny weather for most of the year, crystal clear blue waters surrounding a string of offshore islands, a beach that spans the 6 km length of the city, and some fantastic seafood, it is little wonder that Nha Trang has become Vietnam’s premier beach resort. We will have plenty of time to enjoy the sun and sand by day and vibrant nightlife in the evening during our time in Nha Trang.
DAY 7: NHA TRANG
This morning we will head onto the water for a boat cruise around the offshore coastal islands. Bring a towel and bathers because there’s time for swimming and snorkeling. For lunch our crew will serve up a sumptuous feast of freshly caught seafood and other delights for non-seafood eaters. An interesting optional excursion may include a visit to Thap Ba Hot Springs for the chance to soak your bones in soothing pools of hot, mineral rich mud.
DAY 10: HOI AN – HUE
This morning we take a scenic drive to Hue, through a region of Vietnam blessed with magnificent rural and coastal scenery. We drive through Danang, where Highway 1 begins its winding ascent through the Hai Van Pass or ‘Pass of the Ocean Clouds’. On the other side of the pass is the pretty Lang Co Beach before crossing over another two small passes to arrive in Hue around lunchtime. Hue served as Vietnam’s capital from 1801 to 1945 – during the reign of the Nguyen dynasty emperors – and has a serene and classic character that sets it apart from all other provincial Vietnamese cities.
In Hue we visit the Citadel where we spend a couple of hours exploring Hue’s massive ancient royal walled city and the Forbidden Purple Palace enclosed within. The palace’s splendid ‘Ngo Mon’ gate gives little hint of the destruction that has taken place inside the citadel at the hands of various occupying forces. The bloody ‘Battle of Hue’ during the 1968 Tet offensive all but finished it off but skilled Vietnamese craftsmen, with the help of UNESCO and other non-government organizations, are restoring and rebuilding what remains. Sadly it can never be returned to its former glory, but it’s still a fascinating insight into Imperial Vietnam. We then visit Dong Ba market – While many aspects of this market seem typically Vietnamese, it remains a cultural symbol in Hue, particularly as it showcases traditional delicacies and crafts. Purchase sweet sesame Hue cakes or seek out bronze, pottery and ceramics. Not for the fainthearted, you will see jars of tom chua – shrimp preserved in chili and ginger – everywhere.
DAY 11: HUE
This morning we will enjoy a leisurely “Dragon Boat” cruise along the timeless Perfume River. Our first stop is the Thien Mu Pagoda – one of the oldest and most significant pagodas in Hue, We’ll then visit the Tomb of Emperor Tu Duc (1847-1883), one of the best remaining examples of its kind. Constructed between 1864 and 1867, it was more of a pleasure garden than a tomb and the Emperor used it as his second residence. In the afternoon we transfer to the airport to fly to Hanoi. Although there has been a permanent settlement here since the 3rd Century AD, the city of Hanoi can trace its origins back to 1010 B.C., when Emperor Le Thai To moved his capital from Hoa Lu to this site. When the French occupied Vietnam from the 1880s to World War II, Hanoi was developed as their colonial Indochinese capital with many of the ancient and historical structures being razed to make way for new French buildings. Today, the people of Hanoi take a lot of pride in their grand old colonial buildings which, together with the wide spacious boulevards and tree-lined lakes, help make Hanoi one of most graceful and charming cities in South East Asia.
DAY 14: HA LONG BAY – HANOI
Early risers would love to experience some relaxing Tai Chi on our upper deck, create and enjoy an oasis of calm in Halong Bay with no distractions of worldly concerns. This morning you will visit the most imposing grottos of the bay – Surprising (Sung Sot) Cave.
On our way back, you would have a wholesome lunch as the boat weaves through strange-shaped rock formation, passing by famous islands highlighted with fanciful names: Fighting Cocks (symbol of Halong Bay), Incense Burner, and Stone Dogs.
Arrive back at the Tuan Chau International Marina, you meet your guide and driver again to drive straight back to Hanoi.
Accommodation as mentioned in the program, based on Double/Twin Room with breakfast
Meals as indicated in itinerary
English speaking guide throughout the trip
Tours, transfers and all services as mentioned in the itinerary
Private driver and vehicle for city tours, train and airport transfers
Private cabin with the twin share on Halong Bay Junk
Entrance fees for all sights visited
Internal flights SGN-DLA / NHA-DAD / HUE-HAN
Vietnam visa arrangements
International flights to and from Vietnam
Any other meals not mentioned above
Personal expenses are such as laundry, telephone, drinks, camera and video fees, etc….
Tips for guide and driver
All other services which are not mentioned in INCLUSIONS
``I did not realise the benefits of having a tour guide before this trip. Having someone who was so friendly, knowledgable and approachable added greatly to enjoyment and learning experience of Vietnam.``