ITINERARY BY DAY
Day 1: Arrive in Hanoi - Evening street food tour
Welcome to Vietnam! This is the start of your big adventure. Meet with your guide at the airport and head to your hotel to refresh yourself.
In the evening, head on a culinary adventure with your guide while sampling street food in the Old Quarter. It’s a great opportunity to try all those weird and wonderful foods you see but just aren’t sure what they are! Start the Hanoi Street Eats tour at Bia Hoi Corner to sample the local brew, a draft beer that traces its roots to Eastern Europe. Do as the locals do: pull up a stool and enjoy a drink while watching the world go by.
Continue through the old quarter’s narrow streets as your guide points out a range of tasty noodles, breads and snacks. At night the sidewalks are packed with locals perched on stools, amongst sizzling woks and bubbling pots. These small pop up restaurants are a nightly feature that all but disappear during the day. Sit down and enjoy a flame-grilled Vietnamese barbecue of beef, chicken, tofu and vegetables on skewers. End the night with dessert from Hanoi’s best-known ice-cream parlour before heading back to your hotel.
Day 2: Hanoi city tour
After a refreshing night’s sleep, begin your journey to the highlights and hidden gems of Hanoi, starting with Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum. This imposing structure houses the remains of the revered former president who led Vietnam’s campaign for independence from colonial rule and is considered by Vietnamese to be one of the country’s most important sites. Next, head onward to the Temple of Literature, an ancient collection of courtyards, gardens and architecture built in homage to the Chinese scholar Confucius. Considered the oldest university in Vietnam, the Temple of Literature dates back nearly one thousand years!
For lunch, sit down for a traditional Vietnamese meal with a contemporary twist at Home Restaurant, a boutique eatery within the quiet Truc Bach Lake area. The yellow walls and rustic décor here hark back to Hanoi’s past life as a French colony.
Follow your guide’s lead while you weave through some of the Quarter’s 36 streets named for the products historically sold there. Along the way, pass by some of the only remaining streets that continue selling the goods of their namesake, including Tin and Bamboo street. Head through labyrinthine back alleys well off the tourist trail and see Hanoi at its authentic best. Peer into temples and traditional houses, hear the stories of the ancient city and meet the people who call this fascinating city home. Wrap up your guided walk with a strong Vietnamese coffee at a café overlooking Hoan Kiem Lake - an important symbol of Vietnamese folklore - before heading to your final stop at Ngoc Son Temple on a tiny island on the lake. Enjoy a water puppet show for a look at traditional performance art in Vietnam before heading back to your hotel.
Day 3: Transfer to Mai Chau
Departing from your hotel around 8am, head towards Mai Chau. The ride from Hanoi to Mai Chau takes about four hours and promises to be a scenic one. Arriving at Mai Chau Lodge around noon, enjoy a freshly prepared lunch before starting your journey to discover the gorgeous surroundings and ethnic minority tribes with a relaxing walk to Thái villages of Pom Coong and Lac. Also explore Mo Luong Cave on the other side of the hotel.
As you’ll discover, Mai Chau offers a mix of culture and adventure set against one of Vietnam’s most striking backdrops. There are waterfalls, towering limestone mountains, rice paddies, corn fields, bamboo groves and terraced tea plantations. Relax at the lodge, a rustic-but-comfortable retreat with an outdoor pool and Roman-style Jacuzzi. Enjoy a dinner of Vietnamese and international dishes, followed by traditional dancing by members of the local ethnic-minority group before tucking in for the evening.
Day 4: Mai Chau valley biking tour
After breakfast at the lodge, start a refreshing valley biking tour. Get to know the local hill tribe people and their culture better while passing through charming local villages, lush rice paddies and into the countryside. This is a unique experience where you will get to peek into the homes of locals and watch traditional farming methods up close. After heading back to the lodge, refresh yourself before heading back to Hanoi in the late afternoon.
Day 5: L'Azalee overnight cruise in Halong Bay
Depart the city in the morning and head to the seaside port of Halong Bay. On board the L'Azalee Deluxe, a beautifully restored traditional wooden junk boat, admire the sublime beauty of the limestone karts rising out of the water like giants.
Your first day on the bay promises a visit to a local Pearl Farm, and a leisurely cruise through Kiem Lam, a secluded bay within Cat Ba National Park. If you’re feeling adventurous, disembark here for a swim or go kayaking to discover sea caves and secluded bays that the bigger boats can’t reach. Back on board the junk, wrap up your evening with a Vietnamese cooking demonstration from the on-board chef before soothing snooze on the sea.
Day 6: Halong Bay - Transfer to Hanoi - Evening flight to Hue
Wake up refreshed from a good night’s sleep as the boat motors towards Surprise Cave, the biggest in Halong Bay. Board the tender for a short trip to the cave and prepare to be amazed - the entrance to the cave is deceptively narrow but, once through, the cave opens up to a large chamber with impressive limestone formations. Surprise! Then it’s back to the boat for a scenic stroll to Halong Port, arriving in the early afternoon, where you will continue on to Hanoi.
After arriving in Hanoi your guide will transfer you to the airport for your flight to Hue. When you’ve arrived in Hue, your guide will take you to your hotel for a well-deserved rest.
Day 7: Hue city tour
Enjoy breakfast at your hotel before embarking on a day of exploring Hue’s famous royal tombs, illustrious examples of the Grand Dynasty’s past, and garden houses.
Begin your day by floating down the peaceful Perfume River by boat, taking in the endless surrounding greenery. At the end of your hour-long boat trip, hop off at the pier and transfer to the tomb of Emperor Khai Dinh. Admire the unusual combination of architecture that blends a traditional Chinese past with a modern Western future. Then, continue to Minh Mang Tomb to explore the opulent and exotic resting place laid out in formal Chinese style.
For lunch, feast on a vegetarian meal prepared by nuns at Dong Thuyen Pagoda, a temple located on the top of a hill with a fantastic view. Visit the kitchen to see how your meal is prepared in a wood burning stove, then dig into your food in the company of the nuns who made it. Take the opportunity to learn about Buddhism or just get to know your friendly hosts.
Next, make your way to Thanh Tien Village, known for its 300-year history of crafting paper flowers. Meet one of the local villagers and learn how to make your own ornate paper flower. You can be sure that your visit is backing a good cause as it is supported by Backstreet Academy, a social enterprise providing struggling artists, craftsmen and home-based workers with additional income and recognition.
Finally, visit Tha Om Garden House and its owner, Mr Vinh. Explore the traditional 19th century Hue residence and listen to Mr Vinh’s stories of his royal heritage before returning to your hotel to enjoy the rest of your evening.
Day 8: Transfer to Hoi An - Hoi An walking tour
After enjoying breakfast, drive south to Hoi An over the scenic Hai Van Pass, probably the most scenic stretch of coastal road in Vietnam!
Begin your tour of Hoi An, a former trading port that welcomed Chinese, Dutch, French, Japanese, Portuguese and Arab merchants between the 16th and 18th centuries. Today Hoi An is famous for its restored architecture, homemade silk, expert tailors and delicious noodles and seafood. Its relaxed vibe and pedestrian streets make this town a pleasure to walk around and discover new things.
The tour includes stops at several famous landmarks. The first is Chua Ong Pagoda, dating back to 1653 and built in honour of the Chinese general Quan Cong, who is worshipped by many as a symbol of loyalty and justice.
Next, pop into Phuc Kien Assembly Hall to see the Jinshang Temple, which is dedicated to the goddess of the sea and the protector of sailors. From there it’s a short walk to Tan Ky House, a 200 year old ancestral house and finally, stroll across the often photographed 17th century covered bridge built by Japanese craftsmen. The beautifully built bridge doubles as a temple and is a major landmark of Hoi An. End your afternoon with a boat trip along the Thu Bon River before heading back to your hotel.
Day 9: Free day in Hoi An
After more than a week of solid adventure, spend this day to relax and recharge your batteries.
Day 10: Fly to Ho Chi Minh City - Afternoon city tour
Your guide will meet you at your hotel and transfer you to the airport for your flight in the morning. Upon arrival in Ho Chi Minh City, your guide will be waiting to transfer you to your hotel.
Start your Story of Saigon Tour with a visit to the War Remnants Museum. Here, your guide will tell the story of the city’s darkest and most tragic hours during the Vietnam War. The museum contains displays of military aircraft, weaponry and a collection of harrowing photographs taken during the war. Although many of Vietnam’s 90 million people are now too young to remember the war, its legacy is still felt strongly across Vietnamese society.
Next, visit the Reunification Palace, once a symbol of the South Vietnamese Government. It was here on 30 April 1975, that the war ended when a North Vietnamese Army tank crashed through its gates. See the war room, the banquet hall and the presidential office with the unusual gifts which have been received. Then, continue to the Central Post Office, designed and constructed by the renowned architect Gustave Eiffel, and take a moment to send a postcard! Just behind the post office is the Notre Dame Cathedral, an iconic Saigon landmark built in neo-Romanesque style by the French between 1863 and 1880. Today it’s a favoured backdrop for Vietnamese wedding photographs.
Next, stroll down follow Dong Khoi Street, which figured prominently in Graham Greene’s famous Vietnam novel, The Quiet American. The walk ends at the Saigon Opera House. From a bomb shelter to housing the parliamentary Lower House, the Opera House has had an interesting history. End your day with a speedboat trip along the city’s ancient canals where life carries on unchanged. Return to your hotel as the sun sets on this fascinating city and enjoy the rest of your evening.
Day 11: Mekong Delta Le Jarai
In the morning, depart from your hotel and drive approximately two hours to Ben Tre –a gateway to the Mekong Delta. Here, you will board a small boat to start your sightseeing around the waterways of Mekong Delta. Known also as the Rice Bowl of Vietnam because of its incredible rice production, the area has also diversified into activities related to aquaculture, the rearing of animals, cash crops and fruit trees.
Visit a brick factory before boarding a small boat for a meander through the area’s canals and waterways. Stop at a small homemade coconut processing plant to see how coconuts have been turned into oil, candy and woven mats that are later sold in the market. After the boat trip, enjoy a short walk to a local village to see mat weavers at work. Then, hop onto one of delta’s own versions of a tuk tuk, the xe loi, for a wander through the countryside roads on your way to the pier. Here you will board the beautiful teak boat Le Jarai to continue your cruise along the river. While on-board, join in the demonstration of Vietnamese cooking before sitting down to a sumptuous three-course lunch of Mekong specialities. After lunch relax on the top deck and take in the scenery back to Ben Tre where, on arrival, you will transfer back to Ho Chi Minh City, arriving late in the afternoon. Return back to your hotel and enjoy your last night in Vietnam.
Day 12: Depart from Ho Chi Minh City
Your guide will meet you at your hotel and transfer you to the airport for your onward flight home.