The day is free to recover from the flight or stroll amongst broad tree-lined avenues dating from the French period. There is a faded colonial charm where baguettes and good coffee are sold from doorways of grand buildings of a past era. There will be a welcome briefing this evening with your leader followed by an optional dinner at a local restaurant, where your children will have their first opportunity to practice their chopsticks skills. *May De Ville Old Quarter Hotel or similar*
This morning we take a city tour, which will include a visit to the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum area to see his 'House on Stilts' and visit the One Pillar Pagoda. We'll also visit the Temple of Literature and the Hoa Lo Prison (also known as the 'Hanoi Hilton'). Afterwards we enjoy a cyclo (bicycle taxi) ride through the Old Quarter, with its '36 Streets' where each street is home to shops sell particular products - e.g. 'silk street', 'gold street', 'paper street' and 'souvenir street'. The remainder of the day is at leisure to stroll around the Hoan Kiem Lake, stopping for a coffee or ice cream at one of the many cafes surrounding it. In the evening there is the option to enjoy a performance of Hanoi's famous water puppets. *May De Ville Old Quarter Hotel or similar*
We make an early start for the approximate 4 hour journey to Halong Bay. This is one of the most stunningly beautiful sights in South East Asia with roughly 3,000 limestone peaks rising directly from the clear emerald sea. We cruise amongst this amazing karst scenery, stopping to have a go at kayaking, allowing us to get to places inaccessible by boat (weather permitting), and enjoy a seafood lunch on board. In the late afternoon we watch the sun go down and enjoy another lovely meal before overnighting on the boat in twin share cabins with en suite facilities. *Overnight Boat*
We continue to cruise around Halong Bay this morning before returning to port. We then drive back to Hanoi, and transfer to the train station and board the Reunification Express for the overnight train ride to Da Nang, over 600km to the south. *Overnight Train*
This morning on arrival in Da Nang we drive the short distance to Marble Mountain where we explore the large caves which were used by the Viet Cong as a hospital base during the war. From the mountain peak, there are fantastic views over My Khe Beach and the surrounding countryside leading on to Hoi An. We then drive on to the World Heritage site of Hoi An, the original European trading port in Vietnam dating back to the mid-16th century. It is now a living museum, with attractive wooden merchant's houses and pagoda-style temples with Chinese, Japanese, Vietnamese and European architectural influences. It is also a marvellous place to wander around and enjoy the thriving riverside market. We take a walking tour of the old town and visit the Japanese Bridge and Chinese Assembly Hall. *Hoian River Green Boutique or similar*
This morning we jump on bikes for a ride on quiet roads through the countryside past local markets, schools and villages before continuing on to Cua Dai beach (5 km). Please note that we are able to provide child sized bikes for those children who are 120cm and taller. Children riding their own bikes must be aged 7 upwards, for smaller children there will be the option of riding on the back of their parents bike in a child seat or saddle. The afternoon is dedicated to free time at the beach for swimming, or you can take an optional boat trip on the river or relax back in town. In the evening we join an informal cooking class where adults and children alike will learn how to make some of Hoi An's speciality dishes and even participate in rolling your own spring rolls! *Hoian River Green Boutique or similar*
This morning we transfer to Da Nang airport and fly to the Cam Ranh airport in Nha Trang. We then transfer (approx. 3 hours) to the tropical island retreat of Whale Island. With just one guesthouse on the island and accommodation in beach bungalows, this really is a chance to unwind and relax or while away the rest of the day swimming in the sea. *Whale Island Resort or similar*
We will join a boat trip in the morning for a spot of snorkelling and swimming before a seafood lunch is served. In the afternoon there is the option to visit a local fishing village, see the Whale temple or walk around the island to the viewpoint for a 360 degree view of the stunning mountainous coastline and the surrounding coves and white sand beaches. *Whale Island Resort or similar*
Last time for a dip in the sea before transferring to Cam Ranh airport. In the afternoon we fly to Saigon, officially known as Ho Chi Minh City. This is an exciting and absorbing city where scooters pack the streets and temples stand defiantly alongside modern developments. Devastated by the Vietnam War, it is now a bustling free market city where anything goes. *Huong Sen Hotel or similar*
In the morning we visit the famous Cu Chi Tunnels used by the Viet Cong during the war the network covers 3 levels and approximately 240km of tunnels. The tunnels were used by the guerrillas as living quarters and escape routes during the Vietnam War. Although originally very narrow, some parts have been widened for the tourists and we have the opportunity to explore parts of the system. Claustrophobes may prefer to stay outside in the sunshine before we return to Saigon. In the afternoon we wander around the city visiting the Saigon River, Ben Thanh market, Reunification Hall and Notre Dame Cathedral. *Huong Sen Hotel or similar*
This morning we drive to Cai Be in the Mekong Delta (approx. 2.5 hours). The Mekong, known as 'the rice bowl of Vietnam', produces much of Vietnam's fruit, sugar cane and coconuts. We spend some time at Cai Be from where we begin a Mekong River boat trip passing a floating market and visiting typical riverside villages where we learn about some of the local products for which the Mekong Delta is famous - e.g. popped rice, rice paper & coconut candy. Cai Be floating market is becoming less crowded and smaller as fruit trading is mostly now done by trucks due to the bridge being built. However, this is still a great opportunity to see a local market and the trade being conducted traditionally on a smaller scale. After lunch we continue our journey passing some magnificent countryside and stopping at some small cottage industries. The evening is tranquil as we have dinner on an Island and enjoy some 'Delta' hospitality. We spend the night sleeping at a simple guesthouse built in the style of a local house. Bedding, a mosquito net and a small towel are provided. *Homestay*
This morning we take a walk through the fruit orchards and navigate our way through the small canals in a traditional wooden sampan. Later we rejoin our boat to rendezvous with our vehicle for the journey back to Saigon via a little visited Cao Dai temple used by devotees of this strange indigenous religion, which fuses all the great religions of east and west. *Huong Sen Hotel or similar*
Today we visit the excellent Dam Sen Water Park with its slides and rides to allow the kids to let their hair down! *Huong Sen Hotel or similar*
For land only clients, the tour ends this morning in Saigon after breakfast.
* 10 nights hotels, all en suite, 1 night boat, 1 night homestay, night sleeper train * 13 days sightseeing, boat trips, kayaking and exploration * Travel by private minibus, boat, bike, train and 2 internal flights
12 breakfasts, 2 lunches and 3 dinners are included. Thanks to the tropical climate, the long coast and the gigantic range of mountains, Vietnam is blessed with numerous varieties of culinary offerings and consequently maintains its reputation as one of the healthiest cuisines in the world that still packs a punch with delicious, fresh and fiery flavours. Vietnamese food relies on fresh fish, vegetables, rice and a whole myriad of verdant herbs and spices; lemongrass, ginger, basil and lime all play an important role in the cuisine. The Chinese and French influence is felt throughout the country where you are just as likely to be offered a Banh Mi (stuffed baguette) as you are a hot steaming bowl of Pho (noodle soup). Each dish is prepared with the Asian principle of Wu Xing in mind (the five elements); meaning that the perfect combination of spicy, sour, bitter, salty and sweet is the ultimate aim. Be sure to also seek out the national beverages; Vietnamese coffee is served iced and sweet with condensed milk, a real sugar and caffeine hit, and beer hoi (local beer, brewed daily) is served on most street corners in the North out of large plastic jugs that are perfect for sharing. Food is cheap in Vietnam and you can generally avoid the spicier food if you wish. Western food is readily available almost everywhere, with the exception of the night in the Mekong Delta. Vegetarian food is widely available, however the offering will be fairly similar in most places. Please advise at time of booking if you have any dietary requirements.
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