Spirit Of Vietnam (Superior)12 days & 11 nights, Escorted Discovery Group
Escorted Discovery Group
Hanoi, Halong Bay, Hoi An, Hue & Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon)
Discover the varied sights, sounds and flavors of this enchanting country, touring the fascinating cities of Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon), the Vietnam war-era Cu Chi tunnels, and the historic pearls of Hue and Hoi An. A cruise on the Mekong delta and the magnificent landscapes of Halong Bay, including a night on a traditional junk boat, are all included in this superb tour of Vietnam.
Day 1Arrive Hanoi
On arrival in Hanoi, you will be met and taken to your hotel.Movenpick Hotel Hanoi - 2 Nights (D)
This evening, a welcome dinner will be held at Le Tonkin restaurant.
Today, proceed on a full day tour of Hanoi. The tour begins with a visit to the Soviet-style Ba Dinh Square where Ho Chi Minh read out the declaration of the nation's independence in 1945. Visit the museum dedicated to Ho Chi Minh before passing through the mausoleum (you will be asked to remove hats if entering, and no shorts or vests are allowed), escorted by a soldier in full regalia. As you leave, you will be able to walk through the gardens of the Presidential Palace before seeing Ho Chi Minh's house, the modest dwelling he built based on a rural Vietnamese stilt house and where 'Uncle Ho' lived for the last years of his life. Between September and December each year, Ho Chi Minh's mausoleum is closed for re-embalmment of the body and the site can only be visited from the outside. The mausoleum is also closed every Monday and Friday.
Visit the nearby One Pillar Pagoda, which rests on a single stone pillar emerging from the water, and is shaped like a lotus on its stalk. It houses a statue of the goddess of mercy.
Continue to the 900-year-old Temple of Literature, Vietnam's principal Confucian sanctuary and its historical center of learning. Made up of five courtyards, this is one of the few remnants of the original city. The morning ends with a visit to Ngoc Son Temple, located in the middle of Hoan Kiem Lake, the Lake of Restored Sword.
Lunch will be taken at the Koto restaurant which provides vocational training for underprivileged youth. You will then visit the Museum of Ethnology which reveals the diverse culture of Vietnam's 54 ethnic minority groups through a collection of clothes, textiles, musical instruments and many other items from daily life.
Note: The order of the sightseeing above is subject to change depending on local conditions. Every year, Ho Chi Minh's mausoleum is closed between October and December for re-embalmment of the body and can only be visited from outside.
Optional excursion: Evening water puppets performance (payable locally)Movenpick Hotel Hanoi (B, L)
Water puppetry is a traditional and unique Vietnamese art. This highly entertaining form of theater uses the water surface as stage. Standing waist-deep in the water, the master puppeteers are hidden behind a bamboo screen.
Day 3To Halong Bay
Travel by private vehicle from Hanoi to Halong Bay. The total journey time is approximately 3 hours. On arrival you will board an Indochina Sails vessel.Indochina Sails - 1 Night (B, L, D)
Note: For your Halong Bay cruise, we recommend you pack a separate overnight bag, including any valuables, for your stay on board as this will give you more space in your cabin. Your main luggage will be stored securely for you by our local agents and returned to you after the cruise. If you prefer, you may take your full luggage on board to store in your cabin.
Indochina Sails offers one of the most modern and luxurious fleets sailing Halong Bay. The boats, or 'junks', are built in Vietnam utilizing local materials and the craftsmanship of skilled native shipbuilders. The wood featured in the interiors is known as 'go huong', which translates as aromatic wood, which is highly durable and beautifully grained and adds to the rich and warm character of the boats. The Indo 1 and Indo 2 vessels are identical and were both launched in 2007. Each comprises 15 cabins in superior and deluxe categories, all featuring a rich wooden decor with large windows from which to enjoy the spectacular scenery of Halong Bay. Large en suite bathrooms include a shower and deluxe towels and toiletries.
The vessel serves international and Vietnamese cuisine, including fresh local seafood in the dining room, with drinks available from the bar and a sundeck for sunbathing and sightseeing. Please be aware that access to the junk boat from the quay will be across a gang plank. The dock is often crowded and, at such times, the boat may not be able to get as close to the quayside as would be desirable. While there is no handrail, the crew members will assist you at all times with your embarkation and disembarkation. However, please exercise caution when making this crossing. At times the junk boat may not be able to reach the quayside due to low tide or crowding and on these occasions you will be transferred to the junk boat by a tender.
Cruise in Halong Bay. After a Vietnamese buffet lunch visit Cua Van floating fishing village, the largest fishing village in Halong Bay. There are two options for visiting the village; either by two-seater self-rowed kayaks ($10 payable locally), or by sampan (flat bottomed Chinese-style wooden boat).
Afterwards return to the boat and spend some time relaxing on board. There is an optional Vietnamese cooking class, with the chance to sample your creations afterwards. Dinner is served later this evening.
Day 4Fly to Hoi An
Early this morning there is an optional tai chi class on the sun deck, and an opportunity to see the sun rising over the bay. Coffee, tea and breakfast pastries will be served in the dining room.Palm Garden Resort - 3 Nights (B, L)
A light breakfast is served, followed by a visit to 'Surprise Cave', one of the largest caves in Halong Bay with beautiful stalactites and stalagmites.
Afterwards, enjoy an early morning visit to Titop Island by rowing boat, where you can go swimming, relax on the beach or climb the steps to the top of the mountain for fantastic views. Water and towels are supplied.
Return to the boat, where you will have time to freshen up and pack. Enjoy breakfast while the boat sails for two hours back to Halong pier, arriving at approximately 11am, where you will be met to begin onward arrangements.
Drive from Halong Bay to Hanoi airport, a journey of approximately 116 miles and taking up to 3.5 hours. Board your flight to Danang.
Drive from Danang airport to Hoi An, a distance of approximately 15 miles and journey time of approximately 30 minutes.
Day 5Hoi An
This morning, visit to the temples of My Son. Visit My Son, located 43 miles south-west of Danang. It was an imperial city during the Cham dynasty, between the fourth and 12th centuries. My Son Sanctuary is a large complex of religious sites that comprises more than 70 architectural works. They include temples and towers that connect to each other with complicated red brick designs. The main component of the Cham architectural design is the tower, built to reflect the divinity of the king.Palm Garden Resort (B, L)
Lunch today is at the Streets International restaurant, a social enterprise initiative with the purpose to develop and operate sustainable programmes for street children.
In the afternoon, enjoy a tour of Hoi An. Explore the twisting lanes of Hoi An, passing by 200-year-old wooden merchant houses where Vietnamese, Chinese and Japanese architectural styles and intricate woodcarvings combine to create some beautiful houses. Begin with a visit to the Fujian Assembly Hall (Phuc Kien), established as a meeting place by Chinese merchants fleeing the Manchu conquest of China. The hall is dedicated to the goddess of the sea, Thien Hau, and the merchants' ancestors, and is adorned with ornate carvings and statues. Continue to the 400-year old Japanese covered bridge in Hoi An and then to the vibrant riverside market nearby.
Day 6Hoi An
Optional excursion: Morning cookery class at Red Bridge Restaurant & Cooking SchoolPalm Garden Resort (B)
This morning you will be taken to Red Bridge Restaurant & Cooking School from where you will set off on a guided tour of Hoi An's colorful central market. You will have the opportunity to interact with the local sellers and learn about all the ingredients to be used in the cooking lesson later. You will then board the Red Bridge boat for a leisurely cruise (25 minutes) along the Hoi An River back to the school.
On arrival back at the cooking school, you will explore its herb garden before learning about some of Hoi An's and Vietnam's well-known dishes. The cooking lesson takes approximately 2 hours and you will also be given a brief introduction to Vietnamese food carving. After your lesson, you will be able to enjoy your cooked meal.
Note: This excursion is payable locally.
Day 7To Hue
You will be driven north from Hoi An along Highway 1 to Hue, over the spectacular Hai Van Pass (weather permitting). This is a journey of approximately 3 hours.Imperial Hotel - 2 Nights (B, L)
Soon, the highway meets the Hai Van Pass (meaning Pass of the Ocean Clouds). Here the Truong Son mountain range cuts across the narrow center of the country. This creates a barrier to the cold airstreams from the north and so results in thick cloudbanks over the peaks. The pass has been a strategic military focal point during Vietnam's turbulent history and from the top there are views of the curve of Danang Bay.
On the way, a visit will be made to the Cham Museum, which houses a collection of Champa sculpture dating back to the seventh century. A range of exhibits are on display, including altars, statues and carvings collected from Buddhist and Hindu temples, which demonstrate how Champa sculpture evolved over the centuries.
Continue to the Tomb of Khai Dinh, hidden in Chau Chu mountain. Built for the Nguyen emperor Khai Dinh between 1920-31, it is an impressive structure combining western and eastern architecture, guarded by statues of soldiers and animals.
This afternoon, enjoy a tour to the Royal Mausoleums. The final resting places of the Nguyen emperors are dotted around the hills surrounding the south bank of the Perfume river. They were also designed for recreation - somewhere the emperor could fish, hunt and enjoy the company of his concubines in his twilight years. Each tomb is individual, but usually features a pavilion detailing the lifetime accomplishments of the dead emperor, a temple for worship to the emperor, a sepulchre, where the emperor's remains are enclosed, a decorative courtyard and a lotus pond. The tombs of Tu Duc and of Khai Dinh are two of the best examples and you will be shown around these during the tour.
This morning, enjoy the tour of Hue. Take a one-hour escorted ride through the streets of Hue, travelling by cyclo for a view of the city from street level, which is a regular means of transport for the people of Vietnam. Visit the Imperial Citadel and the Forbidden Purple City, which was modelled on the Forbidden City in Beijing by the Nguyen emperors in the early 19th century. The city was badly damaged during the Vietnam war, but the imposing city walls surrounded by a large moat afford good views of Hue. The palace retains a feeling of its past scale and importance with its detailed stonework and pavilions. End the cyclo ride on the banks of Perfume river, named after the tree resins and blossoms it carries on its way to the Pacific. Board a riverboat and cruise to the Thien Mu pagoda. Situated on the riverbank outside the city, this octagonal seven-tier stupa has long been regarded as the symbol of Hue and was founded in 1601. It is still a site of Buddhist worship and its huge bell is said to be audible from the city. There may also be the chance to meet the monks who reside here.Imperial Hotel (B, L, D)
Later, experience a Short Royal Martial Arts Performance. You will be taken to see a short and exciting performance of martial arts. The performance includes a number of different techniques that date back to the Nguyen dynasty.
This evening, dinner will be taken at the restored royal home of the Nguyen dynasty.
Day 9Fly to Ho Chi Minh City
This morning, you will be collected at your hotel and taken to the airport. Board your flight to Ho Chi Minh City.Renaissance Riverside Hotel - 3 Nights (B)
On arrival, you will be met and taken to your hotel.
This afternoon, enjoy a tour of Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon). The tour starts at the Presidential Palace, also known as the Reunification Palace. It was here in April 1975 that a tank belonging to the Northern Army breached the gates, signifying the fall of Saigon and the south. In 1976, Saigon merged with the surrounding Gia Dinh Province and was renamed Ho Chi Minh City. The building has remained largely untouched since, with 1960s style furnishings and a collection of military vehicles, including a helicopter, on display. In the basement is the command centre for the south, complete with military charts from the time of the war.
Continue to the Notre Dame Cathedral, which dates from the late 19th century and is built of red brick with two distinctive spires. The area around Notre Dame is a great place for watching local life, with women dressed in their best ao dais (traditional Vietnamese tunics). There is a pleasant park situated in front of the cathedral and the beautiful post office is located just opposite.
The tour ends at the nearby War Remnants Museum, which displays a number of exhibits relating to the war with the U.S. and battles with occupying French forces.
Note: The order of the sightseeing above is subject to change depending on local conditions.
Day 10Mekong delta
This morning, you will be met at your hotel in Ho Chi Minh City and driven to Cai Be on the Mekong delta.Renaissance Riverside Hotel (B, L)
The Mekong delta is Vietnam's rice bowl: a fertile region of flat farmland interlaced with the thousands of waterways and tributaries of the Mekong. Known locally as Cuu Long, or the River of Nine Dragons, the delta's waters are interspersed with rice fields, colorful floating markets and isolated villages accessed only by boat. The region remains home to descendants of the former Khmer empire and is scattered with a collection of working temples and resident Buddhists that continue to use Khmer as their mother tongue.
The drive to Cai Be takes approximately 2.5 hours. Arrive at the waterfront pier and embark on a motorized sampan (traditional flat-bottomed wooden boat) for a journey across the upper reaches of the Mekong delta. See how local people make their living by trading agricultural products from their boats. Enjoy lunch on board while cruising through the canals, then disembark at the village of Cai Thia. Take a 1.2 mile walk along the village road to visit a workshop that produces rice paper. Afterwards, return to the boat for the trip back to the pier, before returning to Ho Chi Minh City in the mid-afternoon.
Day 11Cu Chi tunnels
Travel out of the city to the Cu Chi tunnels. This vast network of tunnels, stretching for more than 93 miles, was built by the Viet Cong during the battles for south Vietnam. The tunnels are an insight into the dedication of the Viet Cong who virtually lived in the narrow and claustrophobic tunnels while the war raged above. Nearby is a chilling demonstration into the traps and weapons that were used against the American forces.Renaissance Riverside Hotel (B, D)
The Cu Chi tunnels have been widened in places for visitors; however they can still be dark, hot and claustrophobic so please bear this in mind if you do not like enclosed spaces.
A farewell dinner will be held this evening at a local restaurant.
Day 12Depart Ho Chi Minh City
Morning at leisure. Please note that late check-out is not included.(B)
You will be collected at your hotel and taken to the airport.