ITINERARY BY DAY
Day 1: Ho Chi Minh City
Start your journey in sultry, cosmopolitan Ho Chi Minh formerly called Saigon and feel the pulse of the city. With its heady mix of past and present architecture, scooters whizzing past, noodle sellers on the sidewalk, Saigon is a city on the move.
Day 2: Ho Chi Minh City
Discover the story of Saigon and hear about the history of the city from the days of French colonial rule to the tragedy of the Vietnam War. You’ll visit key locations such as the Central Post Office, Notre Dame Cathedral and the War Remnants Museum before ending your day with a sunset speedboat ride along the Saigon River.
Day 3: Mekong Delta – Le Jarai Cruise
Travel about two hours south of Ho Chi Minh City to Ben Tre, the gateway to the Mekong Delta. Hop aboard a small boat and explore the waterways stopping off at a small home-based factory where workers process coconuts to be used in products like matting and candy. Then transfer to Le Jarai, a converted rice barge and continue your cruise along the Mekong River. Join in a demonstration of Vietnamese cooking and watch the river go by and enjoy a sumptuous three-course lunch of Mekong specialties!
Day 4: Ho Chi Minh – Hoi An
Fly to Danang and take a short drive to Hoi An. This UNESCO recognized destination has been artfully restored to its former glory and its quaint architecture makes the perfect picture postcard. Discover a preserved pagoda, assembly hall and the often photographed Japanese covered bridge — living links to Hoi An’s ancient past!
Day 5: Hoi An
Getting to know the food is also the great way of learning about a country. Enjoy a half-day cooking class where you will have a hands-on lesson on how to shop for ingredients and cook authentic Vietnamese food. By the end of it you’ll be whipping up pho and spring rolls like a professional!
Day 6: Hoi An – Hue
Drive about two and a half hours along the scenic Hai Van Pass to the former imperial city of Hue. This stretch of road is arguably the prettiest coastal drive in all of Vietnam! Nestled against the banks of the Perfume River, Hue has had an interesting history. Explore the elaborate tombs belonging to past emperors and see the mausoleum of the former emperor Minh Mang in a tranquil setting of gardens and lakes, and walk around the Imperial Citadel the seat of power for the Nguyen dynasty.
Day 7: Hue – Hanoi - Sapa
Take a short flight to Hanoi and say a quick hello to the city. See the highlights of Hanoi with a visit to the famous Temple of Literature and Ngoc Son Temple perched on a tiny island in Hoan Kiem Lake. Take a breezy cyclo ride through the Old Quarter’s 36 streets and end your day with a water puppet performance that will delight your senses. This evening, board an overnight train to the former French hill station of Sapa, a region of stunning landscapes, cultural heritage and ethnic minorities at the edges of northern Vietnam.
Day 8: Sapa
The train arrives very early into Lao Cai station, the last stop on the line. From here, drive about an hour through the winding mountain roads to reach Sapa. This morning learn the story of Sapa on a guided walking tour of the museum with its displays of old photos, artefacts and ethnic minority costumes. Then take a walk through the local market, followed by a trek along hillside tracks at a nearby village.
Day 9: Sapa - Hanoi
Today, walk up to the top of Ham Rong Mountain for great panoramic views over Sapa and hear the myth and legends behind the mountains name. On the way you will pass by flowers in bloom, orchid farms, interesting caves and rock formations. This evening, travel to Lao Cai and board the overnight train to Hanoi.
Day 10: Hanoi – Halong Bay
Arrive into Hanoi early in the morning and after a quick freshen up and breakfast head to the coastal port of Halong about four hours drive from Hanoi. Cruise the waters of Halong Bay with its hundreds of towering pillars of sea and wind-carved limestone karsts. Stay onboard a traditional junk for the night and swim, and kayak in the jade green waters
Day 11: Halong Bay – Hanoi
See the Surprise Cave the largest in Halong Bay with its incredible limestone formations. Cruise back to port and drive to Hanoi arriving later in the afternoon. This evening pull up a stool on the sidewalk and enjoy a beer and spot of people watching just like the locals.
Day 12: Hanoi
Begin the morning with a visit to the Ho Chi Minh mausoleum and hear about the man who led Vietnam’s campaign for independence from French colonial rule. See the One Pillar Pagoda built by an emperor to honour the goddess of mercy. This small pagoda is built over a pretty lotus pond and is rumoured to have healing powers. Next, visit the Temple of Literature, considered Vietnam’s first university. The afternoon is free to do whatever you choose!
Please be aware that the One Pillar Pagoda in Hanoi is closed for renovation work until January 2015. Day tours will now visit Ho Chi Minh’s Museum as an alternative touring attraction.
Day 13: Hanoi – Luang Prabang
Fly to Luang Prabang the spiritual capital of Laos and visit the temples Wat Xieng Thong and Wat Mai, and see the former Royal Palace which is now the National Museum with its halls containing rare religious and cultural artefacts. Then walk up the 328 steps to the top of Mount Phousi, for panoramic views of the city as the sun sets.
Day 14: Luang Prabang
Rise early to the sound of the temple gong and witness Luang Prabang’s mystical daily ritual of monks collecting alms. Then journey a short distance out of town to the magical Kaung Si Waterfall. The water runs over calcified limestone tiers turning the water a vibrant shade of blue. Take a dip in the cool waters before returning back to the town.
Day 15: Luang Prabang
Cruise the waters of the Mekong River to the Pak Ou Caves that have become shrines to devotees of Buddhism. For hundreds of years, followers have come to the caves to pray and make merit, by leaving behind a statue of Buddha. The caves are jammed packed with statues with more being added each year. Pop into a riverside weaving village where ancient wooden looms are used to create intricate textiles.
Day 16: Luang Prabang
Spend the morning at leisure. Later, transfer to the airport for your onward flight.