Day 1 Arrive Hanoi
Arrive to Hanoi where you are greeted at the airport and drive to your hotel to settle in. This evening can be spent at your leisure.
Day 2 Explore Hanoi
This morning, you will meet your guide and driver to make your way towards Hoan Kiem Lake. You will get to see how the local people start their daily routine - by practicing tai chi and aerobics. If you want, you can even join the locals in their morning exercise!
After visiting the Ngoc Son Temple, located in the middle of the Hoan Kiem Lake, we will visit a traditional coffee vendor where you will be able to try Vietnam’s local coffee: Cà phê sữa đá (Iced coffee). If you feel more adventurous, you can also try the Egg coffee! After our beverage stop, continue walking in search of a street food vender selling the delicious bánh mì to sample the popular baguette sandwich. Later, we will go deep into Hanoi’s Old Quarter on a walking tour. Observe the French architecture and influence in buildings, such as the St. Joseph Cathedral - a French gothic building constructed in 1886. Continue to the Hoa Lo Prison, where Vietnamese, American, and French prisoners of war were imprisoned. To conclude the morning, pay a visit to the Huu Tiep Lake - better known as "B-52 Lake" where there lies US B-5 bomber wreckage.
Return to the Old Quarter for a local lunch before visiting the Temple of Literature, built in 1076. Vietnam’s first university was established within this temple and functioned for 700 years! Its beautiful gardens and well-preserved architecture offer a fascinating glimpse into Vietnam’s past. Walk along and photograph Hanoi's railway tracks - some of which are located meters away from house doors! After a long day, finish the evening at the well-known Bia Hoi, where you can enjoy a local draft beer like a resident!
Day 3 Hanoi | Ninh Binh
After breakfast, head towards Hoa Lu, a scenic area in Ninh Binh that was the former capital of Vietnam in the 10th & 11th centuries under the Dinh and Le dynasties. You will explore some of the monuments dedicated to both emperors before driving to Tam Coc. Here, you will have the opportunity to bike through fields of beautiful rice paddies. Afterwards, visit Bich Dong pagoda on the way to a local restaurant for lunch.
After a delicious lunch, continue driving to Trang An where a cruise ship will take you along rivers through karst hills and rice fields. Trang An is also known as “Ha Long Bay inland” because its beauty rivals the famous coastal bay. You will arrive to Hanoi in the afternoon, and the rest of the evening will be free at your leisure.
Optional excursion: If you want more off-the-beaten-track adventure, after lunch you can opt to visit Thien Ha Cave. This cave located in the heart of Tuong Mountain is proclaimed to be the most beautiful cave in Ninh Binh. Stalactites are displayed inside this fanciful cave which used to be buried in deep mud and has just recently been discovered. You will help row the boat as you explore Thien Ha Cave and take in the mysterious natural scenery around you.
*Note: If you choose to go to Thien Ha Cave, you will skip the visit to Trang An.
Day 4 Cruise Ha Long Bay
- 1 Breakfast, 1 Lunch, 1 Dinner
Set out for your journey to iconic Ha Long Bay this morning! After a 3.5 hour drive to the bay, board your vessel mid-day at Hon Gai Harbor and set sail to discover the magnificent Bai Tu Long Bay. You will get to see fascinating caves, pristine beaches, floating villages, and jagged limestone rock formations jutting out of the emerald water.
This afternoon, explore the mystery of Thien Canh Son Cave. The trail to the cave is set under thick forest canopy and stone cliffs, making the hike dramatic. After your adventure, enjoy swimming or kayaking from the white sand beaches of Hon Co Island.
As the sun sets over the bay, head back to the boat for a local seafood dinner. To end the evening, enjoy a drink from the bar or try your hand at squid fishing from your boat.
Day 5 Thanh Chuong Palace | On to Hoi An
Enjoy a leisurely morning cruise through the bay this morning as you make your way back to the pier. Along the way, you will visit Vung Vieng fishing village by way of rustic row boat. Meet some of the local people and pass through the fish farms.
Disembark after an early lunch and set out towards Hanoi. En route, you stop to visit Thanh Chuong Viet Palace, the former residence of and studio of Thanh Chuong, one of the most celebrated painters in contemporary Vietnamese art. In 2002 the palace became famous as a unique preservation resort and spiritual legacy of Vietnamese art and culture that attracts many local and foreign visitors. This palace house became part of his own personal art collection and displays statues, paintings and various historical artifacts from the Dinh, Ly, and Tran dynasties. Here you get an interesting look at the culture and architecture of Vietnam.
After the visit transfer to the airport for your short flight south to Da Nang. Drive on to Hoi An and settle into your new hotel for a restful evening
Day 6 Walking tour of Hoi An | My Son Sanctuary
Start the day with breakfast at a local restaurant while sitting by the river with a view of Old Town. With a cool breeze and a delicious bowl of Cao lầu, it’s a perfect way to start the day and get a taste of what’s to come. Start the walking tour in a residential area where families run their metal work, construction and paint businesses. Then, cross the river and head towards Hoi An Central Market. Getting there early means seeing the best produce, avoiding the crowds and watching the interactions of locals preparing for the day. As we explore the seemingly endless myriad of alleyways, you will pass a number of culturally important sites of Hoi An. Be prepared to smile a lot and say hello as the locals love to engage visitors and are proud of their little communities. Take a break on a veranda overlooking the river while enjoying a refreshing drink. Continue through the Old Town as your guide tells stories, explains local customs and shares fun facts about life here. Pass the famous Japanese covered bridge before your final stop of the morning - the home of a local family who will show us the skills required to make handmade lanterns. A lovely setting by the river, this is a peaceful end to a very full morning!
After lunch at a local restaurant, you will be driven to the World Heritage ‘My Son Sanctuary’. See the remains of the remarkable towers constructed by the Cham builders so many centuries ago. This sanctuary is a cluster of abandoned and partially ruined Hindu temples built between the 4th and the 14th century AD by the kings of Champa . In 1937, French scholars began to restore the temples at My Son. However, this temple was damaged by attacks during the Vietnam War.
In the evening, enjoy free time at your leisure. Relax or venture out again to discover this beautiful town on your own.
Day 7 Drive to Hue
After breakfast, meet your guide and driver to drive to the city of Hue. Along the way visit the Museum of Cham Sculpture, opened in 1915, and explore the villages around the Marble Mountains. Many skillful artisans work with marble or granite to create excellent stone products. The drive continues along National Highway 1, through the breathtaking Hai Van Pass. As the highest and longest pass in Vietnam it forms a boundary between the climates of northern and southern Vietnam. A photostop is a must along this stretch of the road!
Upon arrival to your Hue hotel, check in and enjoy the rest of the day on your own!
Day 8 Explore Hue | Cruise the Perfume River
This morning set out to explore the countryside around Hue with your guide. Thuy Bieu is an ancient village long known as a symbol of transition and harmony. Beside the multiple well-preserved communal houses, the nostalgic beauty of the garden-houses, their aesthetic wooden architectures and Fengshui-based gardens, suggest a mingling of royal legacy and rustic lifestyle. Visit the royal tomb of Emperor Tu Duc and Tiger Arena, known as Hue Royal Colosseum. Here the fights of Tigers and Elephants were held by kings. Visit some villages near the tomb where local people make traditional incense sticks and conical hats.
Continue the tour with a cruise on the poetic Perfume River to visit the characteristic Thien Mu Pagoda and the Forbidden Purple City, constructed under the Emperor Gia Long's, in the early 19th century.
Day 9 Fly Ho Chi Minh City
Enjoy the morning at leisure until you transfer to the airport for your flight south to Ho Chi Minh City, formerly known as Saigon. Settle into your hotel here and enjoy the rest of the evening to explore on your own.
Day 10 Explore Ho Chi Minh City
Today explore the country's most dynamic city, Ho Chi Minh City. Still called Saigon amongst older generations, this city was renamed as Ho Chi Minh after North Vietnam's President in 1975. A day spent here reveals a bustling lifestyle with an interesting mix of modernity and traditional Vietnamese traits. Modern skyscrapers appear amidst Chinese style pagodas and food vendor stalls and create a truly dynamic urban area.
Start the morning with an early morning walk through Tao Dan Park in the center of Saigon. Enjoy the sounds of song birds, have a local coffee to get you moving, and watch as locals start their daily routine with Yoga, Tai Chi, badminton and much more. It’s then a short walk to the Venerable Thich Quang Duc (Burning Monk) Monument. You will stop for a hot bowl of breakfast soup before heading to Cho Lon, known as the Chinatown of Saigon.
Cho Lon is a feast for the eyes. From pagodas to parks, local craftsmen to lively children on their way to school. Your guide will lead you through the winding backstreets, describing the daily life of residents and the history of such an iconic area including two unseen buildings that were directly involved in the reunification movement. Have the opportunity to make and sample the beloved sugarcane juice - a great way to rehydrate as you explore. From Cho Lon we head for lunch in a local restaurant where you are treated to some amazing food in a setting unlike anywhere else in Saigon.
After lunch it’s a short stroll to an old apartment block where residents have come together and transformed their homes into funky, stylish, unique coffee shops. It’s fun to simply wonder through the building, marveling at the creativity and ingenuity of the owners. After exploring, you will get to relax for a traditional Vietnamese tea-tasting. You might not be a tea connoisseur, but you’ll find it fascinating all the same and probably learn more about the types, history and methods of brewing than you would in a month of studying! Travelers may choose to stay and relax with more tea on the beautiful balcony, take another stroll through the building, head back to your hotel, or go back out into the bustle of central Saigon.
Day 11 Cruise the Mekong Delta
This morning leave the bustling Ho Chi Minh for a two hour drive towards the delta of the Mekong River and the town of Cai Be. Upon your arrival board a boat for a leisurely cruise on the bustling waterways of the delta. Observe the never-ceasing activity of boat traffic while enjoying tea and seasonal fruit. At Tan Phong Islet, you will board a row boat to explore the canal's hidden mangroves. Return to your sampan to visit an ancient house. Along the way, make stops to observe glimpses of local industries: pop-rice, rice paper and coconut candiy making.
Your cruise ends at a local restaurant where lunch is served. You will enjoy your meal in a colonial style villa set in a lush garden by the river. This gives you a sense of life during Indochinese times.
Return to Ho Chi Minh City for a free evening to explore on your own and enjoy your last night in Vietnam.
Day 12 Return Home
Transfer to the airport today in time for your international flight home or for a connection to your next destination.