This exciting introduction to Vietnam hits all of the so-called 'Five H's' as you travel privately with your family from Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh City. Along the way, cruise around Halong Bay, take part in a martial arts lesson in Hue, discover historic Hoi An and stay in a traditional homestay in the Mekong delta. Hanoi - Free time to wander through the bustling narrow streets of the Old Quarter lined with shop-houses Hoi An - Charming ancient merchant's town on the banks of the Thu Bon River Ho Chi Minh City - Learn about the resourcefulness of the Viet Cong at the Cu Chi Tunnels, visit an underground weapons bunker and explore old Saigon's bustling back alleys
Arrive in Hanoi. Vietnam's bustling capital is architecturally styled like a French provincial town, with tree-lined boulevards and low-rise buildings. It's a wonderful city to explore on foot. You will be met on arrival at Hanoi's Noi Bai International Airport (HAN) by a local guide, and driven to your centrally-located hotel, approximately a 30 minute drive away. There are no activities planned today, so feel free to arrive in Hanoi at any time. For those booking their own flights, you will just need to let us know your flight details no later than three weeks prior to departure, in order to be met on arrival. If your flight arrives earlier in the day, perhaps you might choose to head to the Old Quarter, a maze of narrow lanes named after the various crafts and specialities of the city's artisans. The pavements are filled with food sellers tempting you with steaming noodles, snacks and stir-fried delights.
This morning, take a guided sightseeing tour of Hanoi, visiting the One-Pillar Pagoda, the Temple of Literatures and the Mausoleum of Ho Chi Minh. The afternoon is then free to perhaps take an optional cookery class, or explore Hanoi's elegant French Quarter on foot. In the evening there is the chance to witness a remarkable performance of traditional water puppetry. Set on a flooded stage, the stories tell tales of legendary heroes and everyday life, with dragons and unicorns often sharing the stage with fireworks and naval battles.
With a free morning in Hanoi, visit the Ethnology Museum or Ho Chi Minh's Mausoleum and museum (closed on Mondays). In the afternoon, transfer by road towards the Bay of Tonkin on Vietnam's northeast coast. Your destination is the breathtaking setting of Halong Bay, one of Vietnam's, and indeed Southeast Asia's, most spectacular natural attractions, whose staggering beauty has seen it listed as one of the eight natural wonders of the world. A UNESCO World Heritage site, Halong Bay presents a quite extraordinary vista of hundreds of limestone islands (over 1600 at last count) that rise from the jade green waters of the bay like the scales of some great submerged dragon. Indeed Halong means 'where the dragon descends to the sea' and local legends tells of a time when this rugged landscape was created by the pounding tail of a mighty dragon as he ran from the mountains into the glittering waters of the bay below.
Today, raise anchor and head out of Halong Bay on one of its famous junk boats. Cruise past towering limestone cliffs and take the opportunity to drop anchor, exploring eerie caves, gottos, floating villages and even beaches. Enjoy a traditional seafood lunch on board, before disembarking and returning to Hanoi. This evening, transfer to the airport for a flight south to Hue, where a local guide will meet you to take you across to your hotel.
This is a full day of fun as you experience the beating heart of Vietnamese culture. Do a little historic exploration first, driving out of the city this morning and visiting the enormous Royal Tomb of Tu Duc, set in a palatial landscape of lakes, pine trees and well-maintained grounds. Next up, take a martial arts lesson with a visit to a dedicated martial arts school that practices the Vietnamese art of Kinh Van, the countries equivalent to Kung Fu. This ancient art is based upon defence techniques from the actions of a tiger, cobra, and bird. The owner of the school's ancestors were chosen to guard the Vietnamese king and he now teaches this ancient art. In the afternoon, visit the house of a national champion kite flier for Vietnam where we are shown how to make traditional Vietnamese kites. Taking time to decorate our kites with iconic symbols such as dragons, birds and peacocks, we take our completed kites to the nearby Citadel grounds to try them out. The Citadel is an impressive monument that is almost 10 km in circumference with the Imperial City located in the centre of the Citadel which is more than 600m long on each side. Access to the Imperial City can be made by four entrance gates although the Noon Gate is only used for the King.
Travel to Trieu Son village with your local guide, located by the Perfume River on Hue's outskirts. Take a short walk in the village before bording a boat to travel 15 minutes upstream to Sinh Village. Hear, meet a local family that specializes in making wood paintings - they will teach you how to make these traditional artefacts. Take a leisurely cycle ride around the village and along countryside lanes to Thanh Tien village which is famous for paper flowers. Continuing through paddy fields and the Vietnam countryside, arrive at Tien Non village and board a cruise boat to journey back to Hue (total cycling distance is approximately 6km). In the afternoon, travel over the Truong Son Mountains and through the Hai Van Pass, as seen on the TV programme, Top Gear, to the historic merchant seaside town of Hoi An.
The day is free to wander through the historic heart of this World Heritage Site, taking in the wonderfully preserved buildings of what was once one of the busiest trading outposts in South East Asia. Discovering this delightful town, we recommend an early morning visit to Hoi An's fish market which presents the perfect setting for some great photographs and some priceless interaction with the locals. Visit the city's famous Japanese Bridge, before wandering through its historic collection of traditional wooden houses and Chinese temples. This afternoon you could hire bicycles and explore the surrounding countryside, experience a gentle river cruise, spend time at the beach, or grab the chance to visit some of Hoi An's famous tailor shops.
The drive to Danang this morning takes you past the five peaks of the Marble Mountains, originally believed to have been islands that were said to represent the five elements of water, wood, fire, gold and earth. On arrival in Danang, board the morning flight to Ho Chi Minh City, and meet your Ho Chi Minh guide at the airport. Experience a different side of Ho Chi Minh City to the classic Old City tour. Cyclo drivers (cycle carriages with a seat at the front) will take you to District 3, turning off the main thoroughfare and into the maze of narrow streets of this bustling district. Descend the cyclos and walk through this eclectic area, navigating local markets selling anything from colourful fruit to bootleg DVDs, and ambling past ramshackle shopfronts, houses, churches and schools, all squeezed into the small buildings that line the narrow alleys. It's a fascinating inter-connected community here that is a stones-throw from the city centre, yet feels a far cry from the modern buildings and throngs of tourists. Stop at a local stall for a traditional Vietnamese coffee (brewed coffee served sweet with condensed milk) and sample 'Banh Mi' - a Vietnamese take on the humble French baguette - freshly baked and packed with a combo of traditional and more exotic, aromatic ingredients. The walk ends at the so-called 'secret weapons' bunker'. A small unassuming 'tube house' nestled in a quiet neighbourhood hides a trap door in the floor, concealing a basement stocked full of rifles, grenades and ammunition. The bunker played a key role in the TET Offensive of 1968, it was the base from which the Viet Cong's "Team 5" launched their assault, and its location was only revealed after the end of the war. Explore the house and bunker, filled with decommissioned weapons and photographs, news clippings and memorabilia from the wartime.
After breakfast this morning, head out to visit the infamous Cu Chi tunnels. First constructed by the Vietnamese during their colonial war with the French, the tunnels were later greatly expanded and went on to achieve notoriety during the Vietnam War, when they served as an underground command base for 10,000 Viet Cong troops. Exploring Cu Chi gives some idea as to the conditions that the Vietnamese and their American adversaries had to endure (the tunnels are narrow and can be quite claustrophobic). The afternoon allows for more time in the city including an optional visit to the waterpark, a great way to cool off from the mid-day sun.
Leaving the city, drive to Ben Tre, in the Mekong Delta. Surrounded with lush and fertile land the area is home to small villages and swaying coconut palms. Take a local ferry to Tam Hiep island where you will spend the night in a local homestay. After lunch, explore the local village by trishaw (a sort of rickshaw-style bike where the carriage is on the front of the bike), relaxing in the carriage as you move along the island roads to a farm that grows Suong Sam - a native plant in South East Asia which is used mostly in local refreshments. Pick the leaves and learn how to make a typical dessert jelly. After visiting the village, boart a sampan craft, a small traditional boat that is regularly used by villagers to travel along the delta, and return to the homestay via the coconut palm-lined canal. This evening, relax by the Mekong River before enjoying a typical Mekong delta dinner. with shared facilities and dorm-style accommodation Set in a lovely garden setting with a main lounge area and dining room, accommodation is en-suite (shower and toilet) with traditional décor throughout. Your local guide will also be staying with you in the homestay.
Leaving the homestay behind, cruise back along the Mekong delta passing small floating markets and soaking up the atmosphere of this unique trading point, a vast network of rivers and islands that crisscross agricultural villages, paddy fields and mangrove swamps. Bidding farewell to your boat crew, drive back to Ho Chi Minh City. The aim is to be back at Ho Chi Minh City around 3pm, and as such the earliest that your flight can depart is 5pm. For those of you with later evening flights, a day use room will be provided before your transfer to the airport. Why not extend your trip to Indochina with three nights on the tropical white sand beaches of Phu Quoc Island? Nestled in the warm waters of the Gulf of Thailand this Vietnamese island is 90% national park, a thick-rainforest interior framed by idyllic white sand beaches. Easily accessible by a short flight from Ho Chi Minh City, this is a great way to unwind after an action-packed trip in Indochina.
10 Break Fast(s) 2 Lunch(es) 1 Dinner(s)
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