Essence of Vietnam Tour

Uncover the true essence of Vietnam as you travel from the farthest corners in the north to deep in the south. Create lasting memories as you meet the people, taste the food and embrace the culture. Stay in French colonial boutique hotels and cruise the waters on traditional junks and converted rice barges.

Destinations included:
Hanoi - Sapa - Halong - Hoi An - Ho Chi Minh City - Can Tho - Chau Doc

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
JOURNEY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Soaking up the hustle and bustle of Hanoi’s Old Quarter
  • Trekking in Sapa and meeting ethnic minority people
  • Cruising on a traditional junk boat through scenic Halong Bay
  • Strolling through the lantern-filled streets and riverside promenade of Hoi An Ancient Town
  • Feeling the metropolitan pulse of Ho Chi Minh City and experiencing its highlights
  • Squeezing through the tunnels at Cu Chi
  • Gliding through the waterways of the Mekong Delta, enjoying the slow rhythm of life
TOUR INCLUSIONS
  • 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
  • Flights to tour destinations (Economy Class)
  • Service charges and government VAT tax
TOUR MAP
ITINERARY BY DAY

Day 1: Arrive in Hanoi

Welcome to Vietnam! Upon arrival, your guide will be waiting to transfer you to your hotel.

Tonight your guide will take you on a culinary adventure, 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 your Hanoi street eats tour at Bia Hoi corner to try the local brew, a draft beer that traces its roots to Eastern Europe. Do as the locals do and 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.

Day 2: Hanoi city tour

Today, start your journey to the highlights and hidden gems of Hanoi at the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum, an imposing structure that houses the remains of the revered former president who led Vietnam’s campaign for independent from colonial rule. 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 here. 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 the 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: Sapa trekking to O Quy Ho

Upon arrival, your guide will be waiting to transfer you to your hotel.

Meet your guide at your hotel and transfer 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, Fansipan 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 and enjoy lunch at the Hill Station - sampling traditional mountain dishes from Vietnam's far north.

Day 4: Sapa trekking to Cat Cat - Overnight in a homestay

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 the home of Ms Moo and her family, where you will sleep for the night. Watch as the sun sets over the rice terraces and enjoy a traditional H’mong herbal foot bath before tucking in to a delicious H’mong-style dinner. See how food is prepared over an open fire, listen to the sounds of the countryside and learn all about H’mong life and culture with your amazing hosts.

Day 5: Sapa - Transfer to Hanoi

Wake early to enjoy the view of the sun rising over the terraces. After a tasty breakfast, say farewell to Ms Moo and her family and set out along the Muong Hoa valley towards Ta Van village. Trek along the high road and take in the superb views of the valley. Arrive in the village of the Giay ethnic people where you will be picked up and transferred back to your hotel in Sapa.

Day 6: Hanoi - L'Azalee overnight cruise in Halong Bay

Upon arrival, your guide will be waiting to transfer you to your hotel.

Depart from Hanoi and travel by shuttle bus to the seaside port of Halong Bay. On board the L'Azalee Deluxe, a beautifully restored traditional wooden junk, admire the sublime beauty of the limestone karts rising out of the water like giants.

Your first day on the water promises a visit to a local Pearl Farm, and a leisurely cruise through the Kiem Lam area, 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 chefs!

Day 7: Halong Bay - Transfer to Hanoi - Fly to Danang

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 entry 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 one last cruise to Halong Port, arriving in the early afternoon, where you will continue to on Hanoi.

Your guide will meet you at your hotel and transfer you to the airport for your flight to Danang.

Day 8: Hoi An walking tour

Explore the breezy Hoi An Ancient Town, a former trading port that welcomed Chinese, Ditch, French, Japanese, Portuguese and Arab merchants from the 16th to the 18th Centuries. Now one of coastal Vietnam’s most charming towns, Hoi An is home to some of the country’s most beautiful ancient architecture inspired by Portuguese, Chinese and Japanese culture.

Start your walking journey through the breezy walking streets lined with honey-yellow buildings, and arrive first at Chua Ong Pagoda. This Chinese inspired structure dates back to 1653, and its interior still wafts the sweet smell of incense during the day. From here, walk onward to nearby Phuc Kien Assembly Hall and Jinshang Temple, dedicated to the Goddess of the Sea.

After passing by the 200-year old Tan Ky House, take a short break at the Japanese Covered Bridge - one of Hoi An’s most iconic structures. At Reaching Out Tea House - an establishment that aids locals with disabilities - sit down for a rejuvenating cup of tea before having a tasty lunch accompanied by a cooking demonstration at a restaurant specialising in traditional Hoi An delicacies.

Afterwards, hop on a cyclo and heading out toward Cam Thanh Village, a small community located in the outskirts of central Hoi An. Your destination is a small village home to meet a local family, and the opportunity to interact with the locals that call this village home. On the nearby river, hop in a bamboo basket boat to visit a water coconut forest and then on board a boat bound for central Hoi An. After taking in the stunning riverside scenery along the Thu Bon River, wrap up your journey with a sunset cocktail at a rooftop bar.

Day 9: 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. Upon arrival, your guide will be waiting to transfer you to your hotel.

Start your 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 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, as Rue Catinat. 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.

Day 10: Cu Chi tunnels by Saigon river

Depart from Ho Chi Minh City pier and begin your speedboat journey on the Saigon River. As the city fades into the background, observe life along the river and the many new ‘weekend’ homes being built by the Saigonese.

The cramped tunnels were central to a few of the war’s strategic operations, including the famous 1968 Tet Offensive, and they didn’t escape damage. American B52 bombers dropped hundreds of missiles leaving huge tell-tale craters behind. The tunnels also have “mantraps” - large camouflaged holes dug deep into the ground that ensnared enemy soldiers by bamboo spikes. But don’t worry, you won’t step in one! You’ll also discover the remains of an American tank that was destroyed by a landmine which you can climb on for great photos. The Cu Chi experience can be emotionally draining for some visitors, but it offers fascinating windows into the hardship and traumas of war.

Next, it’s a short drive through the countryside to visit a 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 crickets wrapped up in tasty spring rolls. Make sure you snap a photograph so that your friends will believe your unusual tale! Stop for a traditional Vietnamese lunch - it won’t include cricket - en route to Ho Chi Minh City, arriving mid afternoon.

Day 11: Mekong Delta Le Jarai Cruise

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 specialities. 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 12: Can Tho - Transfer to 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 colourful 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 13: Chau Doc river life

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 14: Transfer to Ho Chi Minh city

Say good bye to the delta and travel to Ho Chi Minh City about seven hours by car. There will be plenty of stops along the way to stretch your legs and take photos.

Your guide will meet you at your hotel and transfer you to the airport for your flight.

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