Arrival - Hanoi
On arrival at Hanoi’s Noi Bai Airport the guide will greet you and transfer by private car through the city to your hotel.
After breakfast depart for an insider’s tour of the capital. Start with an insider’s tour of the Long Bien Bridge (originally name Doumer Bridge) which was built in 1902 by Sir Gustave Eiffel with specialist guide Douglas Jardine. Born in Connecticut in the United States, Historian Douglas Jardine has lived in Hanoi for 4-years and is a Professor of History at Hanoi University. He is endlessly fascinated with the beauty of Hanoi where he spends time researching history, art, architecture as well as social studies. Take a walking tour of this fascinating structure to learn more on how this bridge helped shape Hanoi’s future. Enjoy lunch at Cha Ca La Vong, this specialty fish restaurant has been serving the same dish for the past 3 decades. This afternoon continue to West Lake and one of the oldest Buddhist pagodas in Hanoi, Tran Quoc, and the nearby Taoist temple of Quan Thanh which dates from the Ly Dynasty.
Hanoi – Hoa Lu / Tam Coc – Hanoi (B/L)
A couple hours drive outside of Hanoi will take you deep into Vietnam’s past and picturesque countryside discover Hoa Lu, ancient capital of Vietnam during the Dinh and Le dynasties, before taking a sampan trip down the so called Halong Bay on Land - Tam Coc River, famous for its charming grottoes and limestone karst mountains. A real insight into Vietnam’s outstanding heritage and dramatic scenery. Depart your hotel this morning at 0800 for the 2-hour drive through rural northern Vietnam to the site of Vietnam’s first capital, Hoa Lu. Visit the temples dedicated to Emperor Dinh Tien Hoang of the Dinh Dynasty (968-80), and Emperor Le Dai Hanh of the Le Dynasty (980-1009). The ancient Hoa Lu Citadel (most of which has since been destroyed) once covered an area of three square kilometers. If time permits after visiting Hoa Lu (for the fit and healthy), take a half-hour walk up one of the surrounding limestone karst hills, the climb is rewarding with spectacular views. In the late morning depart for Tam Coc Town for a Vietnamese lunch, along the way stop where you wish to take photographs of local villages and the stunning landscape. After lunch, board your private sampan to either Thung Nang (visited in summer) or Trang An (visited in winter). As the boat gently slices through the water, notice the enormous limestone karsts jutting out from the green rice fields giving rise to other name, ‘Halong on Land’. Should you feel adventurous climb up to Bich Dong Pagoda on nearby Ngu Nhac Mountain, dating to 1428 and comprising three structures Ha, Trung, and Thuong Pagodas, in ascending order. Following its back by sampan to Tam Coc town before returning to Hanoi where you arrive in the late afternoon.
Ha Long Bay (B/L/D)
After breakfast leave Hanoi for an overnight boat trip on Halong Bay. Journey there through the rich farmlands of the Red River Delta, observe everyday life of Vietnamese villagers as they work the rice fields, take pigs to the market on bicycles and plough the fields with their water buffaloes. Arrive in Halong City late morning and board your traditional wooden junk for the overnight journey into the Bay. En-route lunch will be served. Following cruise by rock formations with such names as Sail, Dog and Dinh Huong (incense pot). Towards the end of the day set anchor for the night. As the sun sets over the bay dinner is served on board with fresh seafood, salads, and fruits.
Ha Long Bay - Hanoi - Danang - Hoi An (B/L)
On your return to Halong City enjoy a wholesome brunch as your boat weaves through strange-shaped limestone rock formations. Upon disembarkation your driver will meet you for the transfer to Noi Bai Airport for the flight to Danang.
En route visit Thanh Chuong Palace, the home and studio of Thanh Chuong who is one of the most celebrated painters in Vietnam today is an architectural gem showcasing Vietnamese traditional cultural objects and structures. A living space rather than a museum which showcases Vietnamese archaeology, art, history and other culture values. Have lunch here before exploring the monuments at this fascinating museum. Flight to Da Nang and transfer to Hoi An.
Hoi An - Hue (B/L)
After your breakfast drive to the ancient port town of Hoi An. Despite the passing of 200 years and the ravages of weather and war, the centre of Hoi An remains much the same as it was in its heyday. A walking tour is the best way to see this marvelous town. Lunch at one of Hoi An’s best restaurants which serves original and creative cuisine that can only be described as Vietnam-Latin American-Japanese fusion. With a combination of refreshing flavors, beautiful presentations and a relaxing atmosphere this eatery has one the heart of many loyal and happy customers. Leave Hoi An after lunch for Hue, the former imperial capital of Vietnam. In Da Nang, visit the Cham Museum, before climbing over the Pass of Ocean Clouds. Arrive in Hue late in the afternoon and transfer to hotel.
Start your exploration of Hue at the Imperial Citadel where the Nguyen Dynasty ruled between 1802 and 1945. After exploring the ruins of this wonderful monument take a cyclo through the ‘Old City’ to Tinh Tam Lake where the Emperors used to come to relax, full of lotus flowers in summer there are many local style coffee shops around the lake where university students come to study. Enjoy lunch in Hue at one of the city’s most renowned restaurants, Ancient Hue. Following your meal depart for Khai Dinh’s Tomb which is traditional Vietnamese in design with a European touch making it unique from the other tombs in Hue. Before the return to your hotel, visit Chau Lam Pagoda, be welcomed by Priest Thien Phuoc, the master monk for over 20 years at Chau Lam pagoda, talking with the master monk about Buddhist and calligraphy before and now and take one-hour Calligraphy class, learn to write some sample. Dinner at one of visit to Hue’s beautiful garden houses known locally as ‘nha vuon’. These houses are traditional, privately owned, and set in large and attractive formal gardens. Some have connections with the old Royal Imperial Court and the house’s traditional architecture has long been associated with the natural environment and the ancient belief of ‘feng-shui’.
Hue - Ho Chi Minh City (B/L)
Depart for Hue Airport after breakfast for the short flight to dynamic Ho Chi Minh City, still called Saigon by the locals. There are many ways to explore the bustling city of Ho Chi Minh (still called Saigon by the locals), however none is as exhilarating as on a personally-driven Vespa scooter. Our first stop is the Ernst Thalmann School on Tran Hung Dao Street, an historic location that marks the beginning of U.S. intervention in Southeast Asia in March 1950. We tell the little-known story of how 500,000 Vietnamese demonstrated through the streets of the city despite French tear gas attacks and massed troops. We continue through historic District One and pause at the northern end of Nguyen Hue Street. Here we note the buildings and constructions that traverse more than 300 years of Saigon’s history, from the establishment of the Bat Quay Citadel to the declaration of independence in 1945 to the colourful times of the Rex Hotel as a Bachelor Officers’ Quarters during the War. Our next stop is a quick look at the little known Hindu Temple in District One, moving then to the remarkable Reunification Palace. Here we explain the history of the building, its role and the role of Le Duan, after whom the boulevard in front of the Palace is named and we touch on the Time of Hardship from 1975 to 1985. Next we visit a twin set of neighboring landmarks the Post Office, noting the architecture and in particular the map of Saigon that shows where this modern city has come from, followed by a walk across the street to the sublime Cathedral of Notre Dame (“Our Lady”), where we’ll touch on the rituals around weddings in Vietnam and the role religious organisation plays within the State. A drive down Dong Khoi Street (it means “people’s revolution”) allows us to correct a modern myth. We reveal the place where, in 1975, during the dying days of the former regime, the iconic photograph was taken of a helicopter lifting people out of Saigon. A stop at the historic Opera House (now the Municipal Theatre) lets us talk about the history the square represents from the time it was the main road into the Bat Quay, to the French invasion, to the wartime ‘Five O’clock Follies,’ to the filming of Phil Noyce’s “The Quiet American”. A visit to a rare Muslim Mosque in Dong Du Street gives us a focus for explaining the Cham people of Vietnam and the famous modernist movement that gives the street its name. We then take the ferry (an experience in itself) across the river to District Two where we see downtown Saigon from a different perspective and we have a chance to familiarize our guests with the fully-restored Classic Vespas. After a quick cool drink, we head west into District 5, Saigon’s own Chinatown, known locally as Cholon. We’ll check out the colorful, surrealistic Cai Dai Temple on the way and taking a stroll through the fabric market as well as visiting the Silversmith Guild Hall before passing by the Francis Xavier Church where the Ngo brothers hid out during the coup against them. Our last stop is the Chinese Community Spirit House to the goddess Thien Hau, protector of travelers on the sea. This is, without doubt, one of the most striking of its type in Saigon. Here we explain the meaning of these societies to Confucianists. To fulfill the spirit of one of the exhortations in the Spirit House, “Universal Salvation To All Creatures,” our guests release finches. This afternoon step off the beaten track and take a stroll to the oldest quarter of the city (car at your disposal should you need it). Explore Saigon’s well-kept secret - Antiques Street (Le Cong Kieu), where genuine antiques are mixed in with genuine fakes Aladdin oil lamps, carved wooden chests, Marelli copper fans, opium pipes, abacuses, etc. You can also find military cast-offs from the Vietnam War, and if you look hard enough, relics from the French Indochina era. Follow a typical street to reach the Beaux-Arts Museum, a superb neo-colonial building home to various modern arts. Explore the art galleries surrounding the museum, where local artists gladly display their talent. The rest of the day and evening at leisure.
Ho Chi Minh City - Mekong Delta (B/L/D)
The Cuu Long region, which translates as 'Nine Dragons', otherwise known as the Mekong Delta is a great place to discover Vietnam. Amazing waterways hidden amongst vibrant tropical fruit gardens, bustling floating markets that offer a cornucopia of items and acres of emerald rice fields are what make this region so unforgettable.The private Song Xanh is designed as a traditional sampan and its small size allows you to discover the smaller canals, rivers and tributaries of this region. Cruise Cai Be's and Cai Rang's colourful floating markets; visit Sadec, the Mekong town made famous from Marguerite Duras' novel 'The Lover', enjoy an unforgettable dinner in a 19th century house and the sights of sounds of this fascinating region. After breakfast, depart for the Mekong Delta. Leave the hustle and bustle of the city behind as you travel through Vietnam’s picturesque countryside with its rice paddies and rural villages. Upon arrival in the Delta board the private ‘Song Xanh’, modeled after a traditional sampan. The boat’s small size allows you to discover the smaller canals and tributaries of this region. Your visit includes the home of Mr. Huyen Thuy Le, a character from the novel ‘The Lover’ by Marguerite Duras as well as Thien Hau Pagoda. Return to the boat for lunch. Continue to Can Tho stopping en-route at a Cao Dai Temple. Cao Daism is indigenous to South Vietnam and the colorful and unusual murals that cover the temple’s interior will blind you with their brilliance. Before sunset, the last stop is at a splendid 19th century house where an unforgettable candlelight dinner will be served. After dinner, proceed for one hour to Can Tho where your sampan will be moor for the night.
Mekong Delta - Ho Chi Minh City - Departure (B)
Crossing the Mekong on the way to Cai Rang Floating Market, take in traditional sights such as rice barges, wooden ship building yards and even fruit drying along the Mekong’s banks. After visiting the colourful floating market, you will return to Ho Chi Minh City. Your private car and guide will be at your disposal until your transfer by private car to Ton Son Nhat Airport for international flights or a domestic extension.