Xin chao! Welcome to Hanoi, Vietnam. You are greeted by your driver at Noi Bai International Airport for your transfer to the hotel. Please look for the WORLD EXPEDITIONS welcome sign in the arrivals hall. You will have time to relax at your hotel 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 and 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 our Vietnamese 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 his/her household. You'll sip some tea and share insights about Vietnamese culture, customs and habits. Around the dining table, the host will tell us more about Vietnamese cuisine, which emphasizes freshness and uses a lot of vegetables, herbs and spices. Your meal will include authentic local dishes which are popular among the locals. Here, you can eat, chat, and learn some basic Vietnamese phrases like: xin ch o (hello), ngon (delicious), and c?m on (thank you)!
Overnight in Hanoi.
Take a walk through Ba Dinh Square where you'll see the Presidential Palace, President Ho Chi Minh's Mausoleum and the National Assembly Building from the outside. Recognized by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site in 2010, the Central Sector of the Imperial Citadel of Thang Long Hanoi is a relic of a succession of dynasties. 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, a revolutionary bunker and the archeological site. The Temple of Literature, dedicated to Confucius, was built in the 11th century. It was the first university in Vietnam and students still come here to burn incense. You will find a peaceful atmosphere tinged with incense smoke, and sunken lotus ponds populated by fish and turtles.
Next is a visit to the Museum of Ethnology, which gives an excellent overview of the country's ethnic groups, their customs and ways of life. The highlight here is the large, beautiful 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". Previously, each street carried the name of the item produced and sold there, and many still have the same names. This is a place you must see to experience Hanoi, where you will find shopping and cultural/historical sites all wrapped into one.
Enjoy the unique performance of a water puppet show, a traditional art form closely linked with the agricultural roots of the Vietnamese people on the Red River Delta. It is performed in a pool of water, with the water surface being the stage. The puppeteers stand behind a screen and manipulate the lacquered wooden puppets using long bamboo rods and strings hidden beneath the water surface. A traditional Vietnamese orchestra provides musical accompaniment.
Overnight in Hanoi.
Note: Most of Hanoi's museums also close on Mondays, except Museum of Vietnam Women & Museum of Vietnam Fine Arts. The Central Sector of the Imperial Citadel of Thang Long Hanoi is closed on Monday.
Skip breakfast at your hotel and have ph? (Vietnamese noodle soup with beef or chicken) at a local restaurant like Hanoians do. This is without a doubt Vietnam's most famous dish. Drop by a local caf to observe how Hanoi locals enjoy sipping every drop of Vietnamese coffee. Try the bittersweet c ph tr?ng (egg coffee), which is something like a Hanoi's Capuccino.
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. Have lunch at Buoc Village.
Set off for a beautiful hike from Buoc Village through the rice fields of Muoi Village where you can see Thai farmers going about their daily work. Continue walking through the villages of Sun, Ngoa and Den, where you will have plenty of opportunities to meet friendly local people and enjoy the scenic landscape of fields and mountains. From the foot of Den Bridge embark on a bamboo raft and paddle down Xia Stream. Enjoy the scenery along the stream banks, with bamboo groves, karst mountains and buffals leisurely eating grass.
Dinner followed by live Thai traditional music performance.
Overnight at homestay in Mai Hich Village in Mai Chau.
Hiking distance: approx. 8.5km
Breakfast at 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, hop on your bicycles and cycle through the countryside. Enjoy the typical rural scenery of Northern Vietnam delta with rice fields, rural houses, temples, etc.
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 rowing, the fishes swimming and the birds singing.
Overnight in Ninh Binh.
Breakfast at hotel before heading out to Ha Long Bay, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. On arrival we will join our traditional 'junk' sailing boat and head out into the Gulf of Tonkin amongst the huge limestone outcrops and emerald waters. We will spend the rest of the day cruising in our boat around the myriad of tiny islands and exploring the many grotts created by the wind and the waves. While on board we will have a fresh seafood lunch followed by a swim and exploring 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.
Head out with your cameras for a day filled with amazing sights and experiences. Explore the amazing temple complex, spending the day in the UNESCO World Heritage listed Angkor Archaeological Park. Visit the ancient city of Angkor Thom, surrounded by an 8m high wall. Angkor Thom was the last capital of the Great Khmer Empire under the reign of Jayavarman VII at at its height was the most populous city in the world. Visit its crowning jewel, the temple of Bayon in the city's epicentre. This enigmatic 12th century masterpiece is a study in grandeur, its most distinctive feature being the multitude of large serene stone faces on the many towers which rise from the upper terrace and cluster around its central peak. Continue on to Ta Prohm -made famous by the Tombraider movie- a photogenic and atmospheric maze of trees growing out of temple ruins amidst jungle surroundings, making it one of Angkor's most popular temples with visitors. In the afternoon we explore Angkor Wat, the world's largest religious complex. Its importance means that it is the best-preserved of all temples within the Angkor complex. A massive three-tiered structure crowned by five lotus-like towers rising 65 meters from ground level. it is truly the centrepiece of any visit to the temples around Siem Reap.
We cap off the day with a trip to Pre Rup to witnes the sunset over the Angkor Archaeological Park and its surroundings.
Note: Appropriate attire when visiting Angkor temples is long pants (covering the knee) and shirts that cover shoulders. Skirts, small shorts, tank tops, and other items of revealing clothing are not allowed within temple grounds. Visitors can and are frequently turned away from temples when wearing revealing clothing.
Overnight in Siem Reap.
After breakfast we head north to Siem Reap. Half way we stop by the town of Skuon, also known as Spiderville which boasts some of Cambodia's more exotic culinary delights - the deep-fried spiders and other critters. Continue on winding through farmer's fields, rubber plantations and typical Khmer villages to reach Kompong Thom on the banks of the Stung Sen River. We visit Sambor Prei Kuk, a collection of 7th century (pre Angkorian) temple ruins. This Hindu temple complex was established in the early 6th century AD at the city of Isanapura, the capital of Raja Isanavaram. The site, part of the Chenla Kingdom, includes an area of nearly 1000 acres enclosed by double walls, and over 150 temples and towers. After our exploration we continue to Siem Reap.
This evening we enjoy a special treat with a performance from Phare, The Cambodian Circus. A fantastic mix of acrobatics and performance arts, Phare has long been famous for their exciting live shows. This NGO teaching streetkids to become artists is a regular at international circus conventions worldwide. You will be sure to enjoy their interpretations of traditional folklore and modern societal topics.
Overnight in Siem Reap.
Our city tour starts by scaling the gentle steps to Wat Phnom Temple to learn of the city's origins. We then take a traditional cyclo ride to the famous Royal Palace, built in 1866 under the French protectorate and King Norodom. The adjoining Silver Pagoda, built in 1962 is famous for its lavish decorations, silver paved floor and Buddha statues made from precious metals & stones. Wander the National Museum, a treasure chest of Angkorian and pre-Angkorian artifacts.
In the afternoon there will be visits to the Tuol Sleng Genecide Museum an intense and sobering reminder of the recent traumatic history of Cambodia. This is followed by a visit to the Killing Fields of Chung Ek located about 10 km outside of the city. Time permitting, we can visit Phsar Toul Tompong (Russian Market), a perfect place to witness the bustling daily lives of the local people.
In the late afternoon, relax aboard a boat and cruise down the Tonle Sap River with drink in hand as the sun sets over the city's skyline.
Overnight in Phnom Penh
Note: To enter the Royal Palace and Silver Pagoda in Phnom Penh, visitors are required to dress appropriately. Guests must cover shoulders (sleeveless tops not permitted) and shorts must be at minimum knee length.
The Tuol Sleng Museum and Killing Fields can be a deeply moving experience. Families with young children may wish to opt out and spend their time enjoying the markets instead. Please discuss arrangements with your guide.
Overnight in Phnom Penh
After an early breakfast proceed to the pier and take a 5-hour speedboat ride up the mighty Mekong River, crossing the border in to Cambodia.
Sua s'dei! Welcome to Phnom Penh, Cambodia. You are greeted by your guide and driver at Phnom Penh Port for your transfer to the hotel. Please look for the WORLD EXPEDITIONS welcome sign. The city suffered much during the long war years and the subsequent abandonment from the Khmer Rouge but today its wide, riverside boulevards are bustling with activity. Phnom Penh boasts a unique blend of Asian and French traditions. The story of the capital of Cambodia dates back to an event in the year 1327. It is said that a rich widow named Don Penh found a tree with five Buddha's in it. She thus founded a pagoda Wat Phnom Don Penh, the monastery on the Hill of Lady Penh. In 1434 the city founded years earlier by King Ponhea Yat was completed and in 1866 became the capital. Today Phnom Penh is a bustling city built at the confluence of the Mekong and Tonle Sap rivers. The city is reminiscent of its French colonial days reflected in the evocative European architecture.
Overnight in Phnom Penh.
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.
In the late afternoon we wander through 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.
This morning we drive to the famous Cu Chi Tunnels, a remarkable site of Vietnamese wartime history. A twisting network of narrow underground tunnels and rooms that the Viet Cong used as its military base and living quarters during the Vietnam War, at its height the tunnel system stretched from Saigon all the way to the Cambodian border. The system including tunnels, trap doors, living areas, storage facilities, weapons factories and caches, field hospitals, command centres and kitchens. We'll learn about the Viet Cong's life underground. In the afternoon we visit Reunification Palace, the former residence of the President of South Vietnam. You can visit the War Room from which the South Vietnamese forces were controlled and where the North Vietnamese army finally took control during the Fall of Saigon on April 30, 1975. We continue on to Saigon's Notre Dame Cathedral, built between 1877 and 1883 with the majority of its materials being 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.
The morning is at leisure before transferring 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. 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.
Enjoy an entire day at leisure in the beautiful and peaceful atmosphere of Hoi An.You may like to hire a bicycle and explore the surrounding countryside or simply relax on An Bang beach or in one of the quaint cafes.
Overnight in Hoi An.
This morning we head north from Siem Reap toward the Kulen Mountain range. We drive up to the mountain top to visit the river of 1000 lingas. The lingas are believed to bestow fertility to the waters which fed the Angkorian rice fields below. We then visit Cambodia's largest reclining Buddha, carved from the rock which supports the temple housing it before venturing down jungle paths past tucked away villages and cashew plantations. En route back, stop at the impressive waterfall to cool off. On the drive back to town, we stop at Preah Dak village to support the reforestation efforts by planting a tree. It could be a jackfruit or mango tree which will have the added benefit of directly providing for the local community as well as carbon offsetting.
Evening is free to enjoy at your leisure. Siem Reap has a wealth of markets and excellent eateries within easy reach of your hotel.
Hiking distance: distance can be tailored to suit the group
This morning we 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 to Chau Doc.
Overnight in Chau Doc.
The day is free at your leisure until transfer to Siem Reap International Airport for your departure flight. We wish you a pleasant onward journey.
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