Essence of Vietnam and Laos

Take a 16 day journey through two of Asia’s most diverse countries. Start in the bustling urban Ho Chi Minh City and hear the story of a war that changed the course of history. Explore the waterways of the Mekong Delta and the charming capital city of Hanoi. Meet ethnic minorities in the mountains and cruise the jade waters of Halong Bay.  Embrace the quiet, laid-back pace of Luang Prabang, filled with temples and golden spires.

Destinations included:
Ho Chi Minh City - Mekong Delta - Hanoi - Sapa - Halong - Luang Prabang

We pride ourselves in creating personalised travel experiences that suit all your preferences and needs.

With this tour you can:

  • Choose your own departure date
  • Select the comfort level of accommodation
  • Adjust activities to cater to special interests
  • Modify any aspect of the tour as needed
  • Feeling the metropolitan pulse of Ho Chi Minh City and experiencing its highlights
  • Experiencing the slow rhythm of life in the Mekong Delta by riverboat
  • Trekking through Sapa's mountains and meeting colourful ethnic minority people
  • Soaking up the hustle and bustle of Hanoi’s Old Quarter
  • Experiencing the family-friendly vibes of Luang Prabang and visiting its cultural heritage sites
  • Carefully selected accommodation with breakfast
  • Other meals listed in the itinerary
  • Expert English-speaking local guide
  • Tours as mentioned and air-conditioned transfers
  • Sightseeing and permit fees during guided times
  • Boat cruises and rides while on tour
  • Service charges and government VAT tax

Day 1: Arrive Ho Chi Minh City
Arrive in Ho Chi Minh City and transfer your hotel. Start your journey in the sultry, cosmopolitan Ho Chi Minh City formerly called Saigon. 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. The day is free to relax at the hotel or explore the streets.

Day 2: Ho Chi Minh City
Free time in the morning and start the tour in the afternoon. Discover the story of Saigon 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 many photographs - some that are quite graphic in nature. 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. 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 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, as Rue Catinat. The walk ends at the Saigon Opera House which has had an interesting history, not only as a theatre but as a bomb shelter! 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.

Day 3: Ho Chi Minh City – Cu Chi Tunnels
Depart from the city pier and begin your speedboat journey on the Saigon River to the Cu Chi Tunnels. As the city fades into the background, observe life along the river and the many new ‘weekend’ homes being built.  The Cu Chi tunnels were central to a few of the war’s strategic operations, including the famous 1968 Tet Offensive. They served not only as living quarters, but as supply routes, hospitals and munitions dumps for thousands of guerilla fighters.  See the various man-traps, bomb craters and other remnants of war that remain. 

Next, drive through the countryside to visit a small cricket farm.  Some Vietnamese consider crickets a delicacy, and local lore says that hungry soldiers ate them to beef up their nutrient-poor diets. At the farm you’ll see crickets in various stages of growth. You’ll also have a chance to sample cricket wrapped up in tasty spring rolls. Snap a photograph so that your friends will believe your unusual tale!  Travel back to Ho Chi Minh City with a stop for a traditional Vietnamese lunch - it won’t include cricket!

Day 4: Ho Chi Minh City – Le Jarai Cruise - Can Tho  
This morning depart from your hotel and drive approximately two hours to Ben Tre, and a gateway to the 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 large rice production, the area has also diversified into activities related to aquaculture, rearing of animals, cash crops and fruit trees.

Visit brick factory and board a small boat and meander through the canals and waterways and 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 you will have a short walk to a local village to see mat weavers at work, before jumping on the deltas version of a tuk tuk and travelling down the country roads to the pier. Here you will board the beautiful teak boat Le Jarai to continue your cruise along the river. While onboard join in the demonstration of Vietnamese cooking before sitting down to a sumptuous three-course lunch of Mekong specialties. After lunch relax on the top deck and take in the scenery back to Ben Tre, where on arrival you will transfer to Can Tho in late in the afternoon. Overnight in Can Tho

Day 5: Can Tho – Chau Doc
Rise early and travel by boat to the township of Cai Rang to see the hustle and bustle of a floating market. Watch as vendors hawk their wares from boats teeming with produce and buy a coffee from one of the floating cafes. Then, drive approximately three hours to the township of Chau Doc, a colorful and sleepy town near the Vietnam-Cambodia border.

This afternoon drive approximately 20kms from Chau Doc to Tra Su Forest and travel by sampan through endless waterways flanked by mangroves and lush greenery. This eco reserve spans 850 hectares and is an ecological haven for fauna and flora, with more than 100 species of water birds and colonies of bats. The best time to visit Tra Su is from September to November when the water is high, although it is accessible all year round. On the way to the forest you will visit a small village of ethnic Khmer, where you will learn about the importance of Buddhism in the community and have the opportunity to chat with monks at the local monastery.

Day 6: Chau Doc  
The Mekong Delta is a land of winding waterways, lush paddy fields and floating markets where life is governed by the ebb and flow of Vietnam’s most iconic river. Today wake early and cruise aboard a small boat to Chau Doc’s famous floating market. Drawing traders and farmers from the surrounding countryside watch as fruits, vegetables and fish are bought and sold en mass. Continue past the floating fish farms on your way to a local Cham Village, where you will hear the story of one of Vietnam’s most fascinating peoples. After return to your boat and continue cruising towards the iconic Sam Mountain, passing along the fascinating Vinh Te Canal built from 1819 to 1823 by Emperors Gia Long and Minh Mang from the Nguyen Dynasty. Arrive at the banks of Sam Mountain and visit two of the iconic temples that draw pilgrims from miles around. Finish with lunch at the beautiful Nui Sam Lodge, with spectacular panoramic views of the countryside below.

The lush green paddy fields of Chau Doc are the perfect place to escape modern life and discover the authentic Mekong Delta at its very best. Cycle out along quiet dirt tracks, through villages where life has changed little over the decades and through fields busy with busy farmers and water buffalo. Stop for a picnic breakfast and recharge over a glass of traditional ice tea or coffee before getting back on the saddle and continuing your journey. Stop along the way for a chat with locals and some of the best views Southern Vietnam has to offer. Return to your hotel and a well earned break! Overnight in Chau Doc.

Day 7: Chau Doc – Can Tho - Hanoi
Travel time to Can Tho around more than two hours. Then take flight to Hanoi. Upon arrival, a guide is waiting to transfer guests to the hotel. Rest of the day is at leisure.
Day 8: Hanoi – Sapa
Begin your Story of Hanoi with a visit to the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum. Here, you will hear about the man who led Vietnam’s campaign for independence from French colonial rule. Next, visit the imperial citadel, the apex of regional political power for more than a millennium where research and excavation is still underway. After a Vietnamese lunch, head to another 11th century relic, the Temple of Literature, which was built as an homage to the Chinese scholar Confucius. You will then see the iconic Long Bien Bridge. Constructed across Red River between 1899 and 1902, when Vietnam was still ruled by the French, it is now jammed with whizzing motorbikes and an occasional passenger train chugging into nearby Long Bien Station.
The tour continues with a 30-minute cyclo tour through Hanoi’s bustling Old Quarter, a place where Hanoians buy everything from noodles to light fixtures to Buddha statues. The quarter’s 36 streets were named for the products that were sold from their shops. Today, vendors on Tin and Bamboo Streets still sell the same wares. After exploring the old quarter’s shady alleyways, sip a strong Vietnamese coffee in a café overlooking Hoan Kiem Lake - an important symbol in Vietnamese folklore. Snap a photograph of the downtown skyline before returning to your hotel at around 4.30pm.
Tonight board your train for Sapa.
Day 9: Sapa
Upon arrival, your guide will be waiting to transfer you to your hotel in Sapa.
You will take a short way north of Sapa town to the quiet valleys and gorges surrounding the village of O Quy Ho. The shallow winding valley sits in the shadow of Indochina’s highest peak, Fangxipan Mountain, and on clear days you can enjoy superb views of the range. Away from the major tourist routes, this trek is the perfect escape. Pass by oolong tea farms before joining a local footpath that clings to the contours of the rice terraces and takes you gently down the valley past grazing buffalo and working farmers. Walk along ancient stone paths and hear the story of the Black H’Mong migration to these mountains centuries before. Learn about the distinct cultures, languages and lifestyles that make northwestern Vietnam so fascinating, and visit an authentic Black H’Mong house, home to a local family. Transfer back to Sapa town in the early afternoon.

Day 10: Sapa
This morning, meet your guide at your hotel and walk south of Sapa towards the busy village of Cat Cat. The valleys that surround the village of Y Linh Ho are some of the most picturesque in the region, and this route allows you to explore one of Sapa’s less-traversed areas. Make your way along a gentle incline, through emerald paddy fields above a deep river gorge, before arriving on the river bank. Take a rest, dip your toes in the cool mountain waters and watch local children fishing with nets, before continuing deeper through the villages and terraces of the Black H’mong. Walk at your own pace and take in some of the best panoramas Vietnam has to offer. Enjoy lunch with a view at a local village restaurant before continuing through the valley towards the village of Lao Chai.

Take a well-earned rest and enjoy a soothing cup of tea before learning the art of Batik painting. The beautiful textiles of the Black H’mong are famous around the world and Batik is a traditional part of H’mong culture. Under threat from modernization, Batik is now only practiced by a handful of villagers. Join a hands-on master class led by a local expert and take your creation home! You will be supporting a sustainable tourism project that supports local women and ensures this amazing art form is handed down to the next generation.

Afterwards, head to Ta Van village where you will be picked up and transferred back to your hotel in Sapa.

Day 11: Sapa – Hanoi
Relax and enjoy the cool mountain air as you have a free day to do as much or as little as you like!  Shop for handicrafts in the market, climb to the top of Ham Rong Mountain for impressive views over Sapa or get a well-earned foot massage!  This evening return to Lao Cai and board the overnight train to Hanoi.

Day 12: Hanoi – Halong Bay
Leave the noise of the city behind as you travel about four hours to Halong Bay by shuttle bus. Hop aboard a small tender boat to arrive at L’Azalee, a beautifully restored traditional wooden junk and explore the jade green waters of Halong Bay over lunch. This afternoon the tender will take you to a secluded part of the bay where the water is perfect for swimming and kayaking around the limestone karsts. You’ll return back to L’Azalee just in time to watch the sunset from the top deck before enjoying the bay’s freshest seafood dinner.

Day 13: Halong Bay – Hanoi
Wake up and have an early morning dip before breakfast. Then head off to visit the Cave of Surprises. This is the biggest cave in Halong Bay and here you can see stalagmites and stalactites as you walk along the lit paths. After your visit to the cave start your cruise back to the main harbour where you will be taken to Hanoi airport to take flight to Luang Prabang. Upon arrival, transfer to your hotel.

Day 14: Luang Prabang
Enjoy a tour around the atmospheric town of Luang Prabang. Visit Wat Xieng Thong, the finest example of Luang Prabang architecture, as well as the gilded carved façade of Wat Mai. Also visit the National Museum, the former Royal Palace, where relics from Laos’ royalist past remain.

Travel south of town to the Kuang Si Waterfall. Stop along the way to visit the Living Crafts Centre, a place where you can meet weavers and learn about textiles, while helping keep these traditions alive. At the falls, crystal water cascades into idyllic turquoise pools. Bring a bathing suit if you would like to swim! Also take time to visit the nearby Sunbear Refuge to learn more about the poaching of these endangered creatures. Return back to Luang Prabang in the early afternoon. The rest of your day  is at your leisure.

Day 15: Almsgiving - Pak Ou Caves
If you wish, get an early start (6:00am or so) and go watch or participate in the traditional Lao rite of Almsgiving to the monks. In the city, some 300+ monks file through silently collecting alms. This is an amazing sight and your guide will be on hand to demonstrate and explain this important ritual. Afterwards, visit the Morning Market and see an array of meats, vegetables and spices the locals use in their cooking. Return to your hotel for breakfast before cruise to Pak Ou Buddha Caves.

Cruise up the Mekong River to the mouth of the Ou River. Visit the sacred Pak Ou Buddha Caves, long considered a holy spot for the Lao people. Locals make pilgrimages to this site to place Buddha images inside the caves to make merit. On the way, stop to visit Ban Xang Khong, where the weaving of Lao textiles still takes place on ancient wooden looms. Enjoy lunch before your return cruise back to the town early afternoon. The rest of your day is at leisure.

In the late afternoon enjoy a one hour walking tour of Luang Prabang’s atmospheric night market.  Here you’ll find perhaps the most extensive collection of traditional and ethnic handicrafts for sale in Laos, the stalls overflowing with colourful textiles, sumptuous quilts, carvings, basketry, ceramics, clothing, handmade paper goods and even Beer Lao T-shirts.  This beguiling market is open daily from dusk until about 10pm.

Day 16: Luang Prabang
This morning drive about thirty minutes outside of Luang Prabang to the Elephant Village. You'll be welcomed by the staff who will give you a short introduction to the village and learn how they care for the elephants.  Then meet your elephant and enjoy a one hour ride through countryside before stopping off for a quick coffee or green tea along the Nam Khan River.  Arrive into Luang Prabang early in the afternoon and transfer to the airport for your onward flight.

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