Xin chao! Welcome to Hanoi, Vietnam. You will be greeted at GATE A1 by your driver for your transfer to the hotel. Please look for the WORLD EXPEDITIONS welcome sign at GATE A1 in the arrivals hall. Upon arrival to your hotel, you will have time to relax and adjust to the pace of Hanoi. The capital of Vietnam is one of Asia's most enchanting cities, full of culture, history and the engaging contradictions of a rapidly developing but deeply traditional society. This beautiful city is bustling with energy and will soon dispel even the slightest feeling of jetlag.
In the late afternoon meet your guide at the hotel lobby for a trip briefing. You are then invited for a warm and hospitable meal with a Hanoian family. On arrival, the friendly host will give you a big welcome and introduce the household. You'll sip tea and share insights about Vietnamese culture, customs and habits. Receive your an introduction to Vietnamese cuisine which emphasises freshness of produce and uses many exotic herbs and spices. Your meal will include the most popular authentic local dishes. Relax, eat, drink and chat! You may even pick up a few handy phrases such as - xin ch o (hello), ngon (delicious), and c'm on (thank you).
Overnight in Hanoi.
Take a walk through Ba Dinh Square, the site of the Presidential Palace, Ho Chi Minh's Mausoleum and the National Assembly Building. Continue on to the World Heritage listed Imperial Citadel of Thang Long. Dating back over a thousand years to the Chinese Tang dynasty, Hanoi's ancient citadel was the home of Vietnamese sovereigns going back to Dai Viet, when Hanoi was known as Thang Long. You will visit the ruins of royal palaces and the revolutionary bunkers. Next is the 11th century Temple of Literature, dedicated to Confucius. It was the first university in Vietnam and students still come here to burn incense for good luck. A peaceful atmosphere tinged with incense smoke, sunken lotus ponds populated by fish and turtles is a world away from the bustle of the Old Quarter.
Next is a visit to the Museum of Ethnology, which gives an excellent overview of the country's ethnic groups, their customs and lifestyles. The highlight being the large outdoor area featuring genuine houses and compounds as built and used by the many different ethnic groups. You then explore the lively Old Quarter. This bustling heart of Hanoi has been a commercial centre since King Ly Thai To built his palace there in the 11th century. Skilled craftsmen started to migrate and artisan guilds were formed on the famous "36 Streets". Each street was named after the items produced and sold there. This is the heart of Hanoi, where you will find both fantastic shopping and cultural/historical sites together.
In the evening enjoy a delightful water puppet show, a traditional art-form closely linked with the agricultural roots of the Vietnamese people of the Red River Delta. Performed in a pool of water of which the surface is the stage. The puppeteers are hidden behind a screen and manipulate the lacquered wooden puppets whilst a traditional Vietnamese orchestra provides musical accompaniment.
Overnight in Hanoi.
Note: Most of Hanoi's museums also closed on Mondays, except the Museum of Vietnam Women & Museum of Vietnam Fine Arts. The Central Sector of the Imperial Citadel of Thang Long Hanoi is closed on Mondays
Skip breakfast at your hotel and venture out to eat pho with the locals - without doubt Vietnam's most famous dish. Then drop by a local caf to grab a Vietnamese coffee. Perhaps try the bittersweet c ph tr'ng (egg coffee), often described as Hanoi's answer to capuccino.
After our Hanoian breakfast, we head toward Mai Chau, a beautiful valley with a patchwork quilt pattern of rice terraces and villages which are home to the White Thai people. Mai Chau is known for its stunning scenery of palms, green mountains, paddy fields and picturesque stilt houses. We stop to enjoy lunch at Buoc Village before setting off for a beautiful hike through the rice fields past Muoi Village where you'll see Thai farmers going about their daily work. Continue walking through the villages of Sun, Ngoa and Den, where you will have ample opportunities to meet friendly locals and enjoy the stunning rural landscape. From the foot of Den Bridge we embark on a bamboo raft and paddle down Xia Stream. Watch out for the buffals leisurely wallowing in the refreshing waters.
Enjoy a local dinner followed by a live Thai traditional music performance.
Hiking distance: ~ 8.5km
Overnight at homestay in Mai Hich Village.
We will have breakfast at our homestay before taking the drive to Ninh Binh. Stop en route in Thanh Hoi to see Vietnam's largest banyan tree, a true wonder of nature at the end of the journey. Standing since the 17th century and reaching a height of 36m, this magnificent tree has acquired considerable cultural significance. Upon arrival at De Bridge in Gia Hung, we hop on our bicycles and cycle through the countryside. Enjoy the typical rural scenery of Northern Vietnam delta with rice fields, traditional houses and rural temples.
After lunch take a rowing boat trip through picturesque karst landscapes of Van Long Nature Reserve. The surroundings are so calm and quiet that you can hear the sounds of the oars dipping, the fish splashing and the birds singing.
Overnight in Ninh Binh.
Have breakfast at the hotel before heading to UNESCO World Heritage listed Ha Long Bay. On arrival we join our traditional 'junk' sailing ship and head out into the Gulf of Tonkin amongst the huge limestone outcrops and emerald waters. We spend the rest of the day cruising around the myriad of tiny islands, exploring the many grotts created by the wind and waves. A fresh seafood lunch will be served on deck aftyer which you can choose to relax, enjoy a swim or explore one of the limestone caves in this area.
Dinner and overnight on board.
Note: Cruise itinerary and schedule are subject to change due to weather, tide levels and operating conditions. Swimming or kayaking excursions may be cancelled due to poor weather. Unused services are not subject to a refund.
Today we continue to cruise to visit more sightseeing and spots in Ha Long Bay. We will reach the pier around noontime and transfer back to Hanoi.
Enjoy some free time in Hanoi before transfer to the railway station to take the evening train to Dong Hoi.
Overnight on train in a 4-berth cabin, soft sleepers
Arrive at Dong Hoi in the early morning, pick up and drive to Phong Nha for breakfast. Phong Nha - Ke Bang National Park is home to Son Doong Cave, the world's largest. The park features many beautiful limestone grotts and caves, and boasts lush forestland. Visit the Phong Nha Botanic Garden which boasts an area of over 40 ha and 500 plant species. A guided plant tour along a 3-kilometre path inside the garden provides opportunities to see wildlife in both semi-wild and wild areas as well as natural landscape of waterfalls and lake.
Discovered by a local man in 2005, Thien Duong Cave was later explored by the British Cave Research Association and found to be 31 km in length. Your visit to some of the accessible areas of this cave will give you a taste of the wonders that lie its depth.
Overnight in Phong Nha.
After breakfast take the drive to the DMZ. The Vinh Moc Tunnels were constructed by residents of Vinh Moc and served as an underground village during the Vietnam War. The underground network consists of three levels and served all the community's needs, with a school, hospital, etc. Hien Luong Bridge crosses the Ben Hai River at the middle of the DMZ, marking the former border between North and South Vietnam. From 1954 to 1972, when the North Vietnamese Army pushed the border farther south, the bridge was painted with the two different colours. While peaceful and bucolic today, this historical sight is, for many, profoundly evocative. A simple monument stands on the north side of the bridge. Stop by the Mine Action Visitor Center in Dong Ha which belongs to Project RENEW - an NGO project, for an overview of how devastating the war was and how the remaining explosives left large swaths of land unusable even to the present day. Housing exhibits, images and constantly updated documents, and professional tour guides, the Center provides visitors with information about the devastation of the Vietnam War, its consequences and the people's recovery from loss, pain and poverty, as well as efforts of the government, people, and international organizations to respond to this challenge. Continue to Hue.
Overnight in Hue.
Embark on a cyclo for a pleasant ride through Hue's streets to Dong Ba Market, the city's largest market which sells varieties of local products and food. The Imperial City at Hue is the best-preserved remnant of a vast citadel and royal quarters that once existed on the site. Here you can see the ravages of time and war on what was the carefully designed capital of the Nguyen Dynasty. Built in the early 19th century by armies of conscripted labourers under Emperor Gia Long, the citadel was surrounded by a ten kilometer moat, and earthen walls formed the outer perimeter.
Take a boat ride in Huong River to Thien Mu Pagoda. This 7-storey octagonal tower on the bank of the Perfume River is a symbol of Hue. Behind the pagoda are peaceful gardens and, somewhat incongruously, the old Austin car which transported the bonze Thich Quang Duc to Saigon in 1963 for his self-immolation. A photograph of this act was highly publicized and credited for drawing public attention to the situation in Vietnam. The garden house tradition is a unique characteristic of Hue. Two hundred years ago during the Hue-based Nguyen Dynasty, while the royal family lived in the palace, many royal relatives and mandarins established luxurious private residences in the surrounding villages. Today these compounds offer a glimpse into their bygone lifestyle. King Tu Duc's Tomb is a sprawling compound centred around a lake and several waterways, and including numerous separate memorials connected by pleasant walkways. Planned long before Tu Duc's death in 1883, the major portions of the tomb complex were completed from 1864-67, along with future temple buildings that served as a palatial retreat for Tu Duc and his many wives during his lifetime.
Overnight in Hue.
Today you continue by road south to Hoi An. The scenery is remarkable, as the route hugs the coastline of the East Sea before winding up the spectacular Hai Van Pass. Here you can stop to admire the stunning views: north over Lang Co Beach and south over Da Nang. The Museum of Cham Sculpture in Da Nang features extensive and diverse displays of Hindu-influenced Cham sculpture dating from the 7th to the 15th centuries. Designed in 1915 by two French architects, Delaval and Auclair, your visit here will introduce you to the most common features of Cham towers and temples from throughout the region.
Walk the ancient streets of Hoi An, lined with Chinese traders' homes and wooden houses reincarnated as restaurants, caf s, and outlets for local artists, craftsmen and tailors. Hoi An's unique fusion of Chinese, Japanese and Vietnamese architecture is well displayed here, in what is arguably Vietnam's most tourist-friendly town. The iconic lanterns are a symbol of Hoi An old town and seem to be a part of the spirit of Hoi An. Join in a lantern making class to create your own Hoi An lantern. At home of a craftsman you will get a brief introduction to the history, shape, and color of the lanterns, as well as the many stages of making them. The craftsman will show you how to decorate and instruct you in making your own lantern. Discover your inner skill and keep your handiwork as a souvenir of this beautiful Hoi An.
Overnight in Hoi An.
You will have a free day at leisure in Hoi An. You may like to hire a bicycle and explore the country side of Hoi An or relax on An Bang beach.
Overnight in Hoi An.
The morning is free at leisure.
Transfer to Da Nang Airport for the afternoon flight to Ho Chi Minh City. Formerly known as Saigon, Ho Chi Minh City is the largest city of Vietnam. It is the bustling and dynamic economic capital and the cultural trendsetter of the country, yet within the teeming metropolis you will find the timeless traditions and beauty of an ancient culture.
Overnight in Ho Chi Minh City.
At a coffee roasting workshop you'll be introduced to the various coffee types in Vietnam, and learn how to distinguish them and taste different coffee beans. After learning about the process of roasting coffee, you'll be guided to make a glass of the famous c ph s?a d (iced milk coffee) and enjoy your own Vietnamese coffee. The Jade Emperor sits in the centre of Ngoc Hoang Pagoda, surrounded by woodcarvings and altars depicting Taoist and Buddhist myths. The pagoda is a photographer's paradise. Visit the Museum of Traditional Vietnamese Medicine. Its collection of 3,000 items, including traditional tools and ancient documents, traces the development of traditional medicine in Vietnam.
Visit Reunification Palace, the former residence of the President of South Vietnam. You can visit the "War Room" from where the South Vietnamese forces were controlled, and the room where the North Vietnamese army finally took control in the Fall of Saigon on April 30, 1975. Built between 1877 and 1883, most materials for Saigon's Notre Dame Cathedral were imported from France. Neo-Romanesque in form, it is a major centre of Catholicism in modern Vietnam, and one of the city's major landmarks. The Saigon Post Office, a classic French colonial structure, is still a functioning post office today and features huge ceilings, a giant portrait of Uncle Ho, and many beautiful details.
Overnight in Ho Chi Minh City.
Depart for Ben Tre in the Mekong Delta, famous for coconut production. Upon arrival, set out on a boat trip on narrow channels winding through coconut forest. Stop at brick and coconut processing workshops to see how locals make bricks by hand and learn how to make different products from coconuts as well. Then jump on your bike, cycle on village roads through local hamlets, rice fields and coconut groves. Stop at any places which interest you, to have a close look at local life and culture. You'll then arrive at Mr. Sau Khanh's house, whose ambition is to collect antiques. His collection varies from ancient and valuable ceramics, pottery pieces like bowls, dishes and vases, to ceiling lights, sculptures and Buddha statues. Chat with him and try out the local skill of climbing coconut trees. Return to the pier and drive back to Ho Chi Minh City.
Overnight in Ho Chi Minh City.
The morning is free in Ho Chi Minh where our journey concludes. If you are flying home today you will be transferred to Tan Son Nhat Airport in time for your departure. We wsh you a pleasant onward journey.