Welcome to Hanoi! Upon arrival, you will be met at the airport and transferred to our group hotel in the old quarter. Please look for the "WORLD EXPEDITIONS" welcome sign in the arrivals hall. Your tour leader will meet you at the hotel where a trip briefing will be held around 6:30pm in the hotel lobby. We will have a welcome dinner in a local restaurant and an opportunity to sample specialty dishes of the north. Overnight in Hanoi.
After breakfast, we depart Hanoi for Hoa Binh province and the town of Mai Chau. This scenic drive takes around three hours. Along the way, we pass fields of tapioca and sugar cane as well as rice paddies. Around noon, we will arrive in Mai Chau. Mai Chau is located in a beautiful valley with a patchwork quilt of rice, farms and stilt-houses. In the spring (February to April) Mai Chau displays a riot of colors with blooming flowers and peach blossoms. Only 60km southwest of Hoa Binh province are the homes of hill tribes of White Thai and H'mong hill-tribe people. Upon arrival, we will check in at our homestay in Poom Cong village and enjoy lunch. In the afternoon, we will have take some leisurely walks to visit the Poom Cong village and Lac Village to understand more about their culture and daily life of the Thai Ethnic minority people, who call this area home. Here we will also have a chance to purchase Thai hand-made items. In the late afternoon, we return to our homestay for a briefing about the community work that lies before us, and enjoy dinner together. Accommodation will be in a simple homestay, dormitory style with shared toilet facilities. Dinner is at a local family house followed by live Thai traditional music performance. Overnight at homestay Poom Cong Village.
After breakfast, we will transfer to the project work - Thanh Son Elementary School and Kindergarten, Pa Van Village, Thanh Son commune, Ba Thuoc district, Thanh Hoa province. The project consists of renovating the school and kindergarten for the children of the surrounding villages. We will spend the 3 days working alongside the local villagers. There will be professional builders onsite to ensure that the project is completed correctly and on time. We will divide the group into sub groups to work on different components of the project. There will be a good deal of flexibility in the hours that you work each day, but it is anticipated that you will be involved in labour work for up to 6 hours a day. You should bring a pair of sturdy boots with you from home and wear clothing which you do not mind getting dirty. The people from the village will be very receptive to your visit and the improvements that you are making that will bring real long term benefit to the entire village. The project in September 2016 aims to construct new toilet blocks for the school. Overnight at simple homestay at Pa Van Village, dormitory style.
Following breakfast we head to our project site and continue our work. Overnight at simple homestay at Pa Van Village, dormitory style.
Today is another working day to complete the project. At noon, we will attend the ceremony, school dance and plenty of singing from the appreciative residents of Mai Chau. This will be a very exciting time and the entire village will turn up to partake in the festivities. There will be a group photo followed by farewells to the locals and school children. We then transfer back Poomcong village. The rest of day is at your leisure. Overnight at homestay Poomcong Village
After breakfast, we bid the farewell to the host in Poomcong village and depart by private vehicles to Cuc Phuong National Park (150km). Upon arrival, lunch will be provided at a local restaurant and we check-in the guest-house located in the Park gate area. After lunch, our journey continues on foot with a three hour visit to:
* Cuc Phuong's Visitor Centre introduces us to some of the park's valuable natural resources and its unique environment. It aims to increase the conservation awareness of visitors and is of particular value to students.
* Endangered Primate Rescue Centre (EDRC): This is one of the highlights of Cuc Phuong. The Centre has approximately 120 primates in breeding programs. There are currently 15 different species and subspecies of Gibbons and Langurs on site, including several living in huge forested enclosures.
* The Cave of Prehistoric Man: This is the site of one of the earliest discoveries of human habitation in Vietnam. Excavated in 1966, the cave revealed human graves, stone axes, pointed bone spears, oyster shell knives and tools for grinding dating back 7,500 years ago. These Artifacts have long been removed and the cave is open to visit now.
Overnight in Cuc Phuong National Park
After breakfast, we will transfer to visit Trang An. Upon arrival, we will take a sampan ride through a karst landscape to visit grottos. The sampan rower will drive the boat through shallow rice paddies and several splendid long grottos. Lunch at local restaurant. Next stop is Hoa Lu, which was the capital of the Dinh and Early Le dynasties in Vietnam in the 10th and 11th century. The sanctuaries were built in the 17th century. We will see the stone pedestal of a royal throne, bronze bells and statues of the Emperors. Dinner is at a local restaurant and then we have a transfer to our hotel in Ninh Binh.
Overnight in Ninh Binh
After breakfast at the hotel, we leave Ninh Binh for 3-hour drive to the Halong Bay, a natural wonder with thousands of islands rising out of the water, creating an unique and beautiful landscape. On arrival, we board our traditional junk for a journey through the 3,000 limestone islands dotted with caves and grotts. After lunch your captain will find a secluded spot and from here the choice is yours. There is time for exploring the Bay at a leisure pace: swimming, sunbathing, relaxing and experiencing the magic of falling asleep on board in this beautiful part of the world. After you have finished exploring we retire to the junk and relax on the top deck and enjoy a refreshing drink from the bar. In the evening your cook will prepare a delicious seafood extravaganza using beautifully prepared fresh ingredients straight from the sea as we find a secluded place to anchor for the night. Overnight on Junk, Ha Long Bay
NOTE: Cruise itinerary and schedule are subject to change due to weather, tide levels and operating conditions.
In the morning, we continue with the cruise through different parts of Halong Bay, passing many islets and grotts. We will reach the pier around noon. We transfer to Hanoi arriving in the afternoon. We will have day use room at the hotel in Hanoi for refreshment. We then transfer to the train station for our overnight train journey on the Reunification Express southwards to Hue. The overnight accommodation aboard the train is four person cabins where we sleep in comfortable berths swaying to the timeless rhythm of the railroad.
Overnight on train
We will arrive mid morning aboard the Reunification Express. We will visit the Lien Hoa Pagoda and enjoy the special vegetarian meal. In the afternoon, we will visit Imperial Citadel and Forbidden City, created in the 19th century for the Emperors under Nguyen Dynasty. Like the citadel, the city of Hue itself is a walled city, and was designed by a French architect. We then drive outskirts of Hue to the impressive tomb of King Khai Dinh. Enjoy your shopping at Dong Ba Market before we make our way back to hotel.
Overnight in Hue
This morning, we travel by road via the scenic fishing village of Lang Co and the Pass of Ocean Clouds, head to Danang city where we will visit the impressive Cham Museum and Marble Mountain. The Cham Museum, founded in 1915 by the Ecole Francaise d'Extreme Orient, is an open-air collection of the finest Cham sculptures in the world. The Marble Mountains consists of five marble hills. Each of them is representing a different element: Thuy (Water), Moc (Wood), Hoa (Fire), Kim (Metal) and Tho (Earth). The largest and most famous one; the Thuy Mountain, has numerous caves, in which Buddhist sanctuaries have been built through the centuries. Lunch at local restaurant. Afterwards, we head to the World Cultural Heritage Site of Hoi An Ancient Town. Hoi An is an ancient port town and was home to one of Southeast Asia's major international harbors from 17th to the19th century. Some parts of Hoi An still look exactly as they did a century and a half ago. The city preserves hundreds of houses built of precious wood in its very own style. There is the Japanese quarter linked with a Chinese neighborhood by the famous Japanese Covered Bridge, which was constructed in 1593. The Chinese community of Hoi An founded many temples and Assembly Halls, which are worth visiting. From here we check-in to our hotel and have free time, at your leisure. Overnight in Hoi An.
In the morning, we enjoy a walking tour to explore the ancient town of Hoian through the narrow winding streets of the Ancient Quarter visiting Chua Ong Pagoda, Chinese Assembly Halls, the 200-year old Tam Ky ancestral house, the Japanese Covered Bridge. In the afternoon, we will visit Hoi An's colourful market and and experience the amazing sights, sounds and aromas of this busy market. We will have the opportunity to interact with the local sellers and purchase some of the ingredients to be used in the cooking lesson later. We board the Red Bridge boat for a leisurely cruise (25 minutes) along the Hoi An River to the Red Bridge Cooking School. This is a chance to view local river life, so make sure your camera is handy. On arrival, we explore the cooking school's herb and vegetable garden, before learning about some of Hoi An's and Vietnam's well-known dishes. The cooking lesson runs for about 2 hours - each dish is first demonstrated by the Red Bridge chef's, before we prepare the same dish ourselves. Included in the class is a brief introduction to Vietnamese food carving (plate decoration). After the lesson, we sit down and eat exactly what we have cooked.
Overnight in Hoi An
After breakfast, we will transfer to the airport for our flight to Ho Chi Minh city. Upon arrival, we will be taken to the hotel. This afternoon, we have an excursion to the famous Cu Chi tunnels. This network of tunnels, which stretched for over 200km, became legendary during the 1960's. The Cu Chi tunnels played a vital part in the American war as they allowed the Viet Cong to control a large rural area only 30 to 40 km from Saigon. At its height the tunnel system stretched from Saigon to the Cambodian border. The network, parts of which were several levels deep, included innumerable trap doors, specially constructed living areas, storage facilities, weapons factories, field hospitals, command centres and kitchens. Today the remaining tunnels have become a major tourist attraction giving the visitor a unique experience and feel of what underground life in the American War must have been like. The tunnels have been widened for our benefit (otherwise we would not be able to enter them!).
Tonight we join our Vietnamese guide for a farewell dinner at a local restaurant.
Overnight in Saigon
Enjoy your final day in Vietnam by exploring Ho Chi Minh city on your own. You will be transferred you to the airport and the trip concludes.