ITINERARY BY DAY
Day 1: Arrive in Hanoi - Evening street food tour
Welcome to Vietnam! Upon arrival, your guide will be waiting to transfer you from the airport to your hotel.
After freshening up, meet with your guide and head 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. 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 housing the remains of the revered former president, Ho Chi Minh, who led Vietnam’s campaign for independence 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 in the serene settings of the Truc Bach Lake area. The yellow walls and rustic décor here hark back to Hanoi’s former life as a French colony.
Follow your guide’s lead while you weave through some of Old Quarter’s 36 streets, each 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. Enjoy a strong Vietnamese coffee at a café overlooking Hoan Kiem Lake - an important symbol of Vietnamese folklore - then head to a tiny island on the lake for a visit to charming Ngoc Son Temple.
Wrap up your guided walk at a nearby water puppet show for a look at traditional performance art in Vietnam, then head back to your hotel. After a brief refresh, your guide will then meet you back at your hotel and transfer you to the train station for your night-train ride to Sapa.
Day 3: Train to Sapa - Trekking to Y Linh Ho - Lao Chai
Meet your guide at your hotel in Sapa in the morning after checking in, and walk south of Sapa towards the busy village of Cat Cat. Traverse through some of the most picturesque valleys in the region along a route that allows you to explore Sapa off-the-beaten-path.
Make your way along a gentle incline, through emerald-green paddy fields above a deep river gorge, before arriving at 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 ethnic community. 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 world famous for their intricate batik patterns and embroidery. The practice, which is an integral part of the culture, is under threat from modernization and now only practiced by a handful of villagers. Join a hands-on master class led by a local expert to uphold their tradition and then 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 4: Train to Hanoi
Wake up early to enjoy the view of the sun rising over the surrounding rice 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 unforgettable views of the surrounding valley. After your scenic hike, arrive in the village of the Giay ethnic people, where you will be picked up and transferred back to your hotel in Sapa. After freshening up, meet with your guide and head to the train station and for a scenic ride back to Hanoi by train.
Day 5: Hanoi – Overnight Cruise in Halong Bay
Depart from Hanoi and travel about four hours to the port of Halong Bay by shuttle bus. Take a small tender boat to meet your traditional junk boat, which is anchored just offshore. After a short safety briefing, set sail to the outer reaches of Bai Tu Long Bay, passing by stunning limestone karst formations jutting out of the jade waters. Later, take a kayak out and get an up-close look at the incredible jungle-clad karst formations for which Halong Bay is so famous.
Day 6: Halong Bay – Transfer to Hanoi
Take a traditional rowboat to the floating fishing village of Vung Vieng. Watch as people go about their daily lives -shaped by the ageless rhythms of the sea. Enjoy your last glimpses of Halong Bay over an early lunch as you cruise back to the port. While returning to Hanoi, stop at Yen Duc Village to see a traditional water puppet performance, an ancient art form of the Red River Delta. Afterwards continue to Hanoi, arriving in the late in the afternoon.
Day 7: Hanoi – Fly to Dong Hoi
Your guide will meet you at your hotel and transfer you to the airport for your flight.
Day 8: Dong Hoi – Phong Nha
This morning, set off from your hotel in Phong Nha after breakfast and head to the village of Tan Hoa, about 70 kilometres away. Get a thorough safety briefing before embarking on your adventure. Beginning with a 2.5 kilometres hike across beautiful patty fields bound for Rao Nan River, ascend 30 meters up a rocky hill to a jungle opening, then continue with a 100 meter descent to Hung Ton Valley.
Enjoy lunch at the mouth of Hung Ton Cave before embarking on some serious trekking. Traverse Mango Mountain from Hung Ton Valley, and then head back down again into Tu Lan Valley - a distance of about 3 kilometres. After reaching your campsite, swim onward to explore Ken Cave, which is located on-site.
After a challenging first day, sit back and relax over a scrumptious BBQ dinner followed by campfire R&R and hammock-slumber in the chorus of nature.
Day 9: Tu Lan – Dong Hoi
Begin your second day with a hearty breakfast before diving headfirst - literally - into your day’s adventure. After exploring wet and dry sections of Tu Lan Cave, return to the campsite for lunch before a challenging, but enjoyable, 450 meter swim and another 500 meter trek through Hang Kim Cave, leading you to To Mo Valley. From here, swim onward through Hung Ton Cave to reach the dry passage within. Trek another 800 meters across Hung Ton Valley before climbing over a small rocky mountain to Hang Chuot - affectionately known as “Rat Cave”. After exploring 300 meters of Hang Chuot, the tour winds down by crossing back over Rao Nan River and through the picturesque fields to Tan Hoa. There, enjoy the scenery over a cold drink and have a proper shower before departing back to Phong Nha, arriving in the late evening.
Day 10: Dong Hoi – Transfer to Hue
Today, drive to the imperial capital of Hue. After arriving at your hotel, explore the surrounding area at your leisure or use the opportunity to relax and recharge.
Day 11: Hue city tour
Enjoy breakfast at your hotel before embarking on a day of exploring Hue’s famous royal tombs and the illustrious examples of grand dynasties past, the 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 the religion Buddhism or just get to know your friendly hosts.
Next, make your way to Thanh Tien Village, well-known for over 300 years 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.
Day 12: Hue – Transfer to Hoi An
Today drive south to Hoi An over the scenic Hai Van Pass – probably the most scenic stretch of coastal road in Vietnam!
Set off on a culinary adventure in Hoi An to discover the flavours and dishes that make this coastal town unique. Alongside an expert local guide, your journey introduces you to the stories behind Hoi An’s most iconic dishes at the town’s most famous eateries.
Start your tour at a local restaurant famous for white rose dumplings, found exclusively in Hoi An. Sit back and enjoy the wonder of the locals working here, who churn out up to 6000 of these dumplings every day! Your visit here includes a chance to try making a few of your own dumplings before sampling a few.
Down a nearby alley, depart the dumpling shop and head onward to another local specialty: banh can crackers. Served with quail eggs, pork and a tasty salad, this dish is a highlight of Hoi An street food culture. Pull a small streetside stool and enjoy with your guide.
Continue onward to sample grilled pork satay and spring roll at a local restaurant. Next up is fried wonton - lovingly referred to as “Hoi An pizza” - and finally famous Cao Lau noodle or chicken rice. Wrap up the tour with a stop at Sky Coffee Bar, a local favourite haunt within the Hoi An Museum. Chat with your guide over a beverage here before heading back to your hotel.
Day 13: 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 14: Hoi An – Fly to Ho Chi Minh City
Your guide will meet you at your hotel in the morning and transfer you to the airport for your short flight to Ho Chi Minh City.
Upon arrival, your guide will meet you at the airport and transfer you to your hotel. Freshen up before heading out again to explore the city. Start your Story of Saigon Tour with a visit to the War Remnants Museum. Through displays of military aircraft, weaponry, and a collection of grim photographs, gain sobering insight into the city’s darkest and most tragic hours during the Vietnam War. Although many of Vietnam’s 90 million people are now too young to remember it, its legacy is still felt strongly across Vietnamese society, so the experience should put Vietnamese culture in a more tangible context.
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 by the renowned French 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 - it’s now a favourite backdrop for Vietnamese wedding photographs.
Next, stroll down 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. Having been used as everything from a bomb shelter a Parliamentary building, the Opera House has had a fascinating history. End your day with a speedboat trip along the city’s ancient canals where life carries on relatively unchanged from a bygone era. Return to your hotel as the sun sets on this fascinating city.
In the evening taste the culture of Saigon on a culinary adventure in the heart of the city. Walk along small alleys, and see the streets come alive at night. With the help of our guide, try some strange and fascinating local delicacies. Begin with a unique rice paper pizza, then enjoy some banh beo or water from cakes, some fresh snail dishes, and savour a Vietnamese pancake known as banh xeo. End the night on a sweet note with dessert at a spot that is a favourite with locals.
Day 15: Ho Chi Minh City – transfer to Can Tho
Leave the city behind in the morning as you travel about two hours to reach Cai Be, a gateway to the Mekong Delta. Then hop aboard a small boat and travel along the winding waterways to witness how life along the delta takes an entirely different shape. Stop off at Dong Phu and An Binh, where you’ll see small home-based factories that produce oil, matting, candy and even coconut wine! Then visit a French colonial house that is more than 150 years old. After a quick stop for lunch, hop aboard another boat and head to the ferry hub of Vinh Long. Then head by car to Can Tho, arriving in the late afternoon.
Day 16: Can Tho – Chau Doc
It’s an early start to the day as you go by boat to the floating market in Can Tho. Experience the flurry of vendors trading their wares as boats teeming with fruit, vegetables and household goods ply the waters. Then it’s off to Chau Doc, a sleepy riverside border town, about three hours by road.
From Chau Doc head to Tra Su Forest and travel by sampan boat through endless waterways flanked by mangroves and lush greenery. This eco-reserve spans 850 hectares and is a haven for fauna and flora -with more than 100 species of water birds and huge colonies of bats. On the way to the forest, visit a small village of ethnic Khmer where you will learn about the importance of Buddhism in the community and have an opportunity to chat with monks at the local monastery.
Day 17: Chau Doc – transfer to Ho Chi Minh City
Say goodbye to the Delta and travel to Ho Chi Minh City by car – a scenic journey of about seven hours. Take advantage of the numerous stops along the way to stretch your legs and take photos.
Day 18: Depart
Your guide will meet you at your hotel and transfer you to the airport for your departing flight.
Please note: Caves exploring from day 7 to day 10 will not be operated during October 2016. If you would like to book this tour during October 2016, we will suggest an alternative for these 3 days.