Vietnam is filled with stunning natural beauty and deep culture. Its mountains, jungles, and coastlines range from virtually untouched to well-groomed. Rural communities remain authentic and hospitable, and major cities are cosmopolitan but retain much of the old-world charm of the colonial and precolonial eras.
This medium-paced tour covers some of the best historical and cultural sights Vietnam has to offer, while also providing plenty of free time for you to relax or explore further. From the peaceful mountain villages of Sapa to the capital city of Hanoi; from the stunning natural beauty and emerald waters of Halong Bay to the ancient streets of Hoi An; from the to the rural charm of the Mekong Delta to the vibrant city life of Ho Chi Minh City, there’s so much to explore and discover!
After the core tour, extensions are available to Cambodia, to explore Angkor – one of the mightiest cities of the ancient world and home to the astonishing temples of the Khmer empire, or to Phu Quoc Island – to relax in the pristine beach environment of this beautiful tropical Vietnamese destination.
NOTE: All activities require a minimum of two people, and must be booked and paid for 2 months prior to departure.
Fly to Hanoi via connecting cities. On arrival at Noi Bai International Airport, you will be welcomed by your guide and driver who will bring you to your hotel in Hanoi City to rest up for the tour ahead. Hanoi is over 1000 years old and is currently the capital of Vietnam, as well the commercial, political, and cultural heart of the country.
Note: Some flights may depart the day before.
Early transfer by bus to Sapa. Arriving around lunchtime, you’ll check in to your hotel. In the afternoon, visit Cat Cat village (light trekking required), where you may wish to try the local apple wine or purchase a hand-woven blanket, and Sapa town.
Leave Sapa after breakfast, and drive southwards and up Den Thang Mountain. Take an easy walk to explore Hang Da, a Black Hmong village, which displays the age-old lifestyle of the Hmong – an ethnic minority in China, Laos, Thailand, Myanmar, and Cambodia, as well as in Vietnam, where over one million currently reside (along with about 2000 in Australia). We then follow the village path downhill through the stunning valley of Sa Seng. Along the way, we pass several hamlets which are organised in the typical Hmong style. The walk ends after paying a visit to Sa Pa, another hamlet of the Hmong which is located near the former Sapa traditional market.
After breakfast, depart for Hanoi. On arrival, check in to your hotel and enjoy free time at leisure.
Our guide and driver will pick you up for your Hanoi city tour: Visit the infamous Hoa Lo Prison – the ‘Hanoi Hilton‘. Those incarcerated at Hoa Lo included Pete Peterson, who became the first US Ambassador to a unified Vietnam in 1995, and the late Senator John McCain, the Republican nominee for the US presidency in 2008. Next, visit the Temple of Literature, the first university in Vietnam, built for the sons of mandarins (high government officials). Then it’s on to West Lake and Tran Quoc Temple, the oldest Buddhist temple in Hanoi, which is located on a small island near the southeastern shore of the lake. After lunch, visit Ba Dinh Square, where Ho Chi Minh read Viet Nam’s Declaration of Independence on 2 September 1945. Visit Ho Chi Minh’s Mausoleum (reminiscent of Lenin’s Mausoleum in Moscow), and Ho Chi Minh’s House, a modest residence from which he led the country until his death in 1969. Then, transfer by bus to the ancient ’36 Meandering Streets’ of Hanoi’s Old Quarter, which you can explore before before returning to the hotel.
Optional Activity: Water Puppet Theatre and Hanoi Foodie tour. A one thousand year old tradition, and one of the most popular tourist attractions in Hanoi, Water Puppet Theatre is considered to be one of the cultural highlights of Northern Vietnam, and includes a Vietnamese orchestra playing traditional music. Tonight, you’ll walk through the bustling Old Quarter as your guide tells you about the various foods on offer – stop and try some if you like! Stop at a ‘bia hoi’ store, sit down and share a relaxing moment with locals. The sidewalks are full of pop-up restaurants which offer truly local food like bánh cuốn (rice rolls with pork and herbs inside), and many kinds of noodle dish. You will enjoy southern-style beef noodles in Hang Dieu street. End the night with a drink at a local coffee shop, talking about life in Vietnam, before heading back to your hotel.
NOTE: Ho Chi Minh’s Mausoleum is only viewable from outside if your visit is on a Monday or Friday, and from 5 Sep. to 5 Nov. due to annual maintenance. Rules regarding dress and behaviour are strictly enforced by staff and guards. Legs must be covered (no shorts or miniskirts).
Travel by coach to Halong Bay and take a boat trip to explore one of the world’s great natural wonders, cruising the thousands of limestone islands filled with caves of all shapes and sizes. The sails of junks and sampans gliding along the clear and emerald waters of the bay form a magnificent picturesque scene that blends with the sky. You also get a chance to visit some of the hidden grottoes beneath the towering cliffs. A seafood lunch and dinner will be served on board the charming junk. Stay overnight on board.
Enjoy the aquamarine waters of the bay at its best as the junk continues to cruise quietly through spectacular limestone formations. Disembark from the junk at noon and transfer to Hanoi airport for a short flight to Da Nang. On arrival, you will be picked up and transferred to Hoi An, an ancient town recognised as a World Cultural Heritage site by UNESCO. Check into your hotel.
Note: In the event that sufficient seats are not available for the Hanoi to Da Nang flight, the group will instead fly from Hai Phong.
You will be escorted by our local guide to discover Hoi An by walking tour through the narrow streets of this charming town. Perhaps more than any other place in Vietnam, Hoi An retains the feel of centuries past. Once known as Faifo, Hoi An was an influential port along the Silk Road. For over 500 years merchants from China, Japan, France, and Portugal settled in the prosperous town, resulting in a distinctive blend of culture, cuisine, religions and architecture. In 1999, the town was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Then, visit the highly-regarded Bebe Tailor Shop to discover the story behind Vietnam’s traditional outfits. The remainder of the afternoon is free at leisure. You may also join one of our optional tours (at your own expense).
Optional Activity 1: Half-day Cycling Tour from Hoi An to Tra Que Village. Take a scenic bicycle ride through the rice paddies to Tra Que Village just outside Hoi An. This little village is well-known for supplying the many restaurants and hotels in the area with fresh herbs and vegetables. You will walk through the vegetable gardens, experience how the local farmers work the land and learn more about the history of the village and the importance of herbs in Vietnamese medicine and cuisine, before your relaxing pedal back to town.
Optional Activity 2: Fishing Village & Waterway Eco-tour: Enjoy an authentic social and cultural insight into the local Vietnamese way of life. Drive to a local farming village traveling along picturesque country roads. Explore the now tranquil coconut-palm flanked waterways of a past war and hear of the extreme conditions endured by soldiers on both sides. Meet local fishermen and experience their daily life. You will take a wooden boat to a ‘water coconut forest’, and join local fishermen on the river to experience round net and cast net fishing. Learn to paddle bamboo basket boats and join in a basket boat race. You’ll also learn how to use reeds or palm leaves to make grasshoppers, birds, rings, sunglasses, etc. Return to the boat to enjoy lunch and a cold beer or soft drink and then return the hotel by car.
This morning, you will visit the Réhahn Museum, to view the ‘Precious Heritage Collection’, by French Photographer Réhahn. This work focuses on the endangered cultural heritage of Vietnam’s 54 ethnic minority groups, attempting to document their rapidly-changing ways of life. Afterwards, you have free time at leisure, or you may enjoy the following optional activities (at your own expense):
Optional Activity 1: Half-day Da Nang Tour (Ba Na Hills & Golden Bridge). Explore Ba Na hills, sightseeing the panoramic views of Quang nam – Da Nang city; Discover the famous Golden Bridge (pictured bottom right); See famous places such as the French Village Campanile, Nine Floor Goddess Shrine, Tombstone Temple, Linh Phong Monastery, and Linh Chua Linh Tu Temple, and discover Fantasy Park with its adventurous games. Includes lunch.
Optional Activity 2: Evening Cultural Stage Show. Lune Performing Center Hoi An. The Centre, with its graceful bamboo dome architecture, is known for such performances as My Village, Teh Dar, and The Mist. The shows portray the daily lives of farmers, minority tribes, and urban and rural dwellers, and carry Lune Productions’ vision of upholding Vietnam’s culture and heritage, creating a whole new destination where heritage and art converge.
Depending on the day of arrival in Hoi An, you may instead see the stunning Hoi An Memories Show. This colourful and musically dazzling show, with a cast of nearly 500 actors and actresses, recalls the memories of Hoi An as a prosperous trading port over 400 years. It took nearly two years to produce the one-hour show. The theatre uses the waters of the Hoai River as its 25,000 m2 stage along with state-of-the-art lighting technology and sophisticated sound effects.
Today, drive to Hue City stopping along the way to take pictures at Lang Co Beach. During the Nguyen Dynasty (1802 – 1945), Hue was the political, economic and cultural capital of Vietnam, and its historical monuments were recognised as a World Cultural Heritage Site by UNESCO since 1993. One of the largest battles of the Vietnamese revolutionary war was fought in Hue, as part of the 1968 ‘Tet Offensive’ that turned the tide of the war against the US-backed Republic of Vietnam. On arrival, you will take a boat trip to Thien Mu Pagoda – an historic pagoda on the banks of the Perfume River. Apart from the scenic riverside and hilltop location, the Thien Mu Pagoda and its environs are rich in history, standing witness to almost four hundred years of tumultuous nation-building in Vietnam. Transfer back to the centre of Hue city to visit the massive Kinh Thanh Citadel, the most well-known and iconic site in Hue, a sprawling complex within 2.5 km of walls, comprised of the Imperial City, several museums, lakes, and lovely gardens, all laid out in a series of concentric circles. Return to the hotel.
Optional Activity: Enjoy a sumptuous Royal Dinner (at your own expense). Dress in beautiful traditional clothes (provided by the restaurant) and be served dishes which used to be made for the royal family. Enjoy live music during dinner.
We transfer to Hue Airport to catch a morning flight to Ho Chi Minh City. On arrival at Tan Son Nhat Airport in Ho Chi Minh City, you are picked up for transfer to the city centre to visit to imposing Dong Khoi Street (formerly Catinat street) before going to the Notre Dame Cathedral. This is the most famous landmark in Vietnam, as the twin bell towers can be seen from a great distance. In the same square is the famous Saigon Post Office, the largest functioning post office in Vietnam. Continue on to visit Reunification Palace, the palace of the presidents of South Vietnam before 1975, and the War Remains Museum, where you can learn about the Vietnam War. At the end of the day, visit Ben Thanh Market before returning to your hotel, after which you are free at leisure.
Depart with our guide and driver for a scenic drive through the Mekong Delta, home to the richest agricultural lands in Vietnam. On arrival at My Tho City, take a boat trip on the Mekong River to fishing villages and Dragon, Unicorn, Turtle and Phoenix Islands. Crossing the Mekong River, you’ll cruise along a small canal to see the daily life of locals in Bến Tre Province, visiting Quới An bee farm and handicraft workshop to enjoy some honey-tea and see how people make things from coconut wood. Take a horse-cart along country roads to visit fruit orchards, enjoy tropical fruit and listen to traditional music. Then, take small sampans back to your cruise to ‘Coconut Village’ for a coconut candy workshop and tasting. Visit Phoenix Island for a rice-paper workshop, then return by boat to My Tho and then by road back to Ho Chi Minh City. Enjoy the rest of the day free at leisure.
After breakfast, we visit the amazing Cu Chi Tunnels, a well-known historical vestige of the Vietnamese revolution. This cobweb-like tunnel complex is a network of underground dug-outs over 200 km long, consisting of many layers and turnings with meeting, living, and fighting quarters where we learn firsthand how the Viet Cong survived their extraordinary underground existence during the Vietnam War. Visit a lacquerware factory on the way back, and then enjoy the remainder of the day at leisure.
Optional Lunch: Hội An Sense restaurant is a beautiful harmony between refined cuisine and unique architecture. Set on an opulent rooftop with intimate terrace, relaxing fish pond and vivid lanterns, Hội An Sense draws influences from vibrant flavours of Vietnam’s central region.
Optional Dinner Cruise: Cruise on Saigon River and enjoy a delicious selection of local dishes as you take in the ambience of this charming city (at your own expense).
After breakfast, you will be transferred to the airport for your return flight home.
Arrive home this morning.