Begin your adventure in Hanoi, a city where an unstoppable energy thrives alongside traditional Vietnamese culture and a colonial charm permeates the broad tree-lined boulevards, most noticeably from the faded French architecture. Whether you’re buying baguettes and inexpensive coffee from the grand doorways of a past era, drifting alongside Hoan Kiem Lake or roaming the animated streets, Hanoi offers a delicious first taste of Vietnamese culture. Even crossing one of many manic roads serves as a memorable experience! This evening there will be a welcome briefing with your leader followed by an optional group dinner at a local restaurant. *May de Ville Old Quarter Hotel or similar*
This morning we transfer (approx. 4 hours) to Hoa Binh Province. Travelling up and over the Truong Son Mountain Range affords lush green views, serving as the perfect precursor of the scenery for the following days. We journey to the peaceful Sung Village, the home of approximately 70 Dzao Tien ethnic minority/hill-tribe families. Upon arrival, we will be served lunch cooked by a local family before heading off on an afternoon trek where we will learn about traditional agriculture and also visit a limestone cave and an ancient tea plantation. We will spend the night staying with a family and have the chance learn more about rural life in this beautiful part of the country. *Sung Village Homestay*
By now the beeping and bustling of Hanoi will be a faint memory, and the day is spent delving deeper into this slice of rural paradise. After an early breakfast, we start our trek. Walking for approximately 5 hours we will pass through a picturesque valley made of quilt-like rice terraces, palms and small villages. We’re also rewarded with fantastic views of the Da Reservoir and its turquoise waters. We will arrive in the village of Da Bia in time for lunch served by a Muong family that we will be staying with. There will be some time near the end of the day free for those who might like to swim in the reservoir or choose to hire a kayak and explore a little further. *Da Bia village Homestay*
A short walk this morning will take us to the reservoir where we will board a private boat for our journey (approx. 1-1.5hrs) to Thung Nai harbour. We’ll stop for lunch and if time permitting, have the option of visiting the Muong ethnic minority museum to learn a little more about one the main ethnic groups of the area. On return, our city tour of Hanoi introduces the many layers of Vietnamese culture and history. Sites include Hoa Lo, the Temple of Literature, and the Old Quarter, the centuries-old soul of Hanoi. Stepping into this commercial labyrinth is not as confusing as it first may seem, but only once you realise that it’s ‘36 streets’ indicate the type of products sold. So why not take a turn down Silk Street, Souvenir Street or even Gold Street? The remainder of the afternoon/early evening is free, perhaps to enjoy the view from a lakeside café. If you wish to opt for an optional activity, your tour leader can arrange a viewing of the famous water puppets, an art form dating back to the 11th century where folktale and legends are playfully recounted among the sounds of wooden bells, bamboo flutes and cymbals. *May De Ville Old Quarter Hotel or similar*
After an early start, we transfer (approx. 4 hours) to Halong Bay where a boat awaits us, ready to cruise along the legendary Halong Bay, otherwise known as ‘where the dragon descends into the sea’. Legend has it that Halong Bay’s islands were formed by a dragon’s plunge into the waters. Carving crevasses on its way, the dragon left what is now roughly 3000 exquisitely eroded limestone peaks rising from emerald waters. Soak up the enigmatic atmosphere this karst scenery creates, before kayaking to places inaccessible by boat (weather permitting). A sea food lunch is served on board, and the evening is yours to unwind upon tranquil waters. The night is spent in twin share cabins with en suite facilities. *Overnight Boat*
As the boat continues to cruise along the majestic peaks, there will be new opportunities to immerse ourselves in Halong Bay’s mystical quality. After returning to port, we will transfer to the train station in Hanoi and board the Reunification Express for the overnight train ride to Hue (approx. 12 hours). The overnight train journey is a great way to travel like the locals and really experience Vietnam. *Overnight Train*
Arrive early morning in the cultural and historical centre of Vietnam, Hue. Brimming with charisma, Hue has impacted several poets in its time and serves as a reminder of Vietnam’s imperial glories. This morning, we take a bus transfer to the Imperial Citadel and Thien Mu Pagoda to peep into the life of Nguyen emperors. With walls six miles in length, the Imperial Citadel is the most outstanding sight in town. We will explore the palaces, halls of the Mandarins and the remains of the Forbidden Purple City, once only open to the emperor, his eunuchs, and of course his concubines. Afterwards, in the afternoon, we will jump on local bikes and cycle around Emperor Tu Duc's tomb, which will be the last stop of the day - standing amidst a lake and a boundless pine forest, this tomb is deemed the most extravagant mausoleum of the great Nguyen Emperors and one of the most beautiful pieces of royal architecture in Vietnam. Whilst traffic will be a bit busier with motorbikes in a city like Hue, your leader is well prepared to safely manage cycling in a group and will provide clear guidelines. *Park View Hotel or similar*
Take a picturesque cycle-ride past villages and rice paddies to the small village Thanh Toan and indulge in its legendary market. Travelling as the locals do, it's easy to discover the sights, sounds and smells of the villages surrounding Hue. (The cycling is aprox. 15km on mostly flat terrain). Following this, a 130km drive to Da Nang will pass through the beautiful peninsula of Lang Co, situated between the crystal waters of a lagoon and the Eastern Sea, as well as the awe-inspiring Hai Van pass, known as the ‘Pass of the Ocean Clouds’. Once in Da Nang, climb the Marble Mountains and uncover the large caves used by the Viet Cong as a hospital base during the war. Rewarding views stretching over My Khe beach and the surrounding countryside will be waiting for you once you reach the mountain peak, the latter of which makes up our next home for 2 nights, Hoi An. *Le Pavillon Hoi An Boutique Hotel or similar*
Embrace the sleepy ambience seeping through Hoi An on our walking tour (approx. 3-4 hrs) of Vietnam’s original European trading port town dating back to the mid-16th century. Often described as a living museum, Hoi An boasts more than just grace and atmosphere. Wooden merchant houses and pagoda-style temples line the streets, architecturally reflecting the Japanese, Chinese and European influences on the town. The afternoon is free to enjoy what many call their favourite town in Vietnam, and it’s easy to see why. Take a boat trip on the Thu Bon River, relax by the riverside, meander around the thriving riverside markets, or indulge in shops famous for their silk. Alternatively, why not hire a bike and make your way through Hoi An’s pretty countryside towards Cua Dai beach, past markets, schools and villages (5km). There may also be the option to spend the afternoon kayaking through the coconut-palm lined canals in Cam Thanh village for those keen. (Walking tour approx 3-4 hrs) *Le Pavillon Hoi An Boutique Hotel or similar*
Transfer to Da Nang airport and fly to Saigon (approx. 70 mins), a city full of chaotic thrills. Please be aware that as Saigon is located in the south, it is likely to be much warmer and humid than the north of the country. Upon arrival into Saigon, a 1.5 hr drive will then take us to the Cu Chi tunnels. Crawl through the infamous and intricate system of tunnels and experience the spirit of guerrilla warfare! Used by the Viet Cong during the war for its escape routes as well as living quarters, the network covers 3 levels and approximately 240km of tunnels. Although they were traditionally very narrow, they have now been widened to allow an extensive exploration of the system. Even so, claustrophobes should feel free to bask outside in the sunshine if they do not wish to take part! *Sonnet Hotel or similar*
Arrive in the small market town of My Tho after a 1.5 hr drive. After hopping onto our bikes we will follow the Mekong River through quiet back roads towards Cai Be (approx. 30 km). Known as the ‘rice bowl’ of Vietnam, the Mekong Delta produces the majority of Vietnam’s tropical fruits, some of which you will have a chance to sample, as well as sugar cane and coconuts. Transfer back to Can Tho to relax and soak up the atmosphere of this quiet riverside town, or explore the maze of backstreets and wide boulevards. *Saigon Can Tho Hotel or similar*
Early start for a boat trip along the Bassac River towards Cai Rang, the largest and liveliest floating market in the Delta. Float through a maze of boats, rife with fruits, vegetables and plants and watch the techniques locals use to make a living. One includes attaching their produce on to long poles and hanging them above the boat, enabling them to showcase their items to buyers from all angles and distances. Since you’ll be witnessing authentic trading in full swing, there will be countless opportunities for you to capture traditional scenes on camera. Afterwards, we cycle to Vinh Long through rural villages and scenic landscapes (approx. 40 km). Reaching the end of the day, we will be transferred by motor boat to an island in the middle of the Mekong River for overnight at a simple homestay guesthouse built in the style of a local house. Bedding, a mosquito net and a small towel are provided. *Homestay Guesthouse*
Cruise by boat along the Cai Be Floating Market and stop to visit small cottage industries manufacturing local products such as popped rice, sweets, pancakes and wine. Recently, 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. Return to Saigon, a city once devastated by the Vietnam War, and now a bustling free market city. A combination of old and new diversifies the city with temples standing defiantly among zooming scooters and modern developments. The Reunification Palace is one of the stops on our city tour, famous for its 1960s architecture and slightly garish appeal as much as its association with the fall of Saigon in 1975. Another stop is the War Remnants Museum, housing a vivid collection outlining the horrors of modern history and warfare and effects on innocent civilians. Be aware that these records of the Vietnam War are often very graphic and distressing. Heading to the romantic Catholic Notre Dame Cathedral throws yet another light on Saigon. *Sonnet Hotel or similar*
For land only clients, the tour ends this morning after breakfast.
* 8 nights hotels, all with ensuite facilities * 1 night boat with twin share cabins * 1 night standard homestay guesthouse in the Mekong Delta * 2 nights basic house/longhouse with dormitory/shared bath * 1 night sleeper train, soft-bed berths * Travel by bus, boat, sleeper train and internal flight * Reasonable fitness required * Remote and city locations visited * Group normally 6 to 16, plus local leader
12 breakfasts, 3 lunches and 4 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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