• Hanoi • Hoa Lu • Lao Cai • Sapa • Halong Bay • Hue • Hoi An • My Son • Saigon • Cai Be • Vinh Long • Can Tho
This journey combines a wide variety of ethnic minority groups set in high mountains, deep ravines and terraced fields of Vietnam. They still retain their lifestyle, wear traditional costume and are some of the friendliest and most hospitable people you could meet. Halong Bay is one of the world's natural wonders and features more than one thousand awesome limestone karsts and islands of various sizes and shapes. You'll see all this and more aboard a traditional junk boat with all the modern amenities. My Son Sanctuary has arguably the best collection of Cham art and architecture in its natural setting. Many of the structures are overgrown with dense vegetation making it all the more unique to visit.
Day 1: Hanoi Arrival Transfer to your hotel by private car. (The regular check-in time for all hotels is 2.00 pm. Early check-in is not included).
Day 2: Hano With ochre-coloured colonial buildings, tree-lined boulevards and scenic lakes, Hanoi is full of charm. Start the tour at the historic Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum, an imposing monument lavishly built using marble and granite, and where the preserved body of "Uncle Ho" resides. (Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum is closed every Monday & Friday, all afternoons and from late September until December). A short walk from the mausoleum is the lotus shaped One Pillar Pagoda - resting on a single stone pillar emerging from the water. Wind your way afterwards to the Temple of Literature, the first University for the sons of mandarins, for an overview about Hanoian culture and appreciation for ancient Vietnamese architecture.
In the afternoon, visit the serene Museum of Ethnology which is a 20 minute drive out of town and offers a fascinating insight into Vietnam's 54 ethnic minority groups (Museum of Ethnology is closed on Mondays). Drive back to central Hanoi for a walking tour through the Old Quarter to enjoy the bustling local life, then cap off the day with a show at the water puppet theatre - a uniquely northern Vietnamese art form depicting scenes of rural life and episodes of national history.
Day 3: Hanoi > Hoa Lu > Ninh Binh > Hanoi > Lao Cai By Night Train A 2 hour drive to Ninh Binh province will bring you to Hoa Lu ancient capital. This was the first centralised feudal state in Vietnam at the end of the 10th century. The ravages of time have destroyed the ancient citadel, but some vestiges including King Dinh and King Le worship temples still stand to this day among the rice paddies, and are a worthwhile visit to get a glimpse of the ancient Vietnamese past.
Enjoy lunch at a local restaurant in Ninh Binh, and continue on to Van Long eco-tourism area, an astounding place of natural beauty. With an area of nearly 3000 hectares, it is the largest wetland reserve of Northern Vietnam and one of its most important protected areas. A two hour boat trip along the river offers stunning scenery of local villages dotted among the limestone karsts and caves. Bring along binoculars as you might encounter some rare langur or bird species in their native environment. Return to Hanoi.
Transfer with a guide from your hotel in Hanoi to Hanoi railway station where you will board the train for a 10 hour overnight ride to Lao Cai province. Sapa is a frontier town in northwest Vietnam, 350km northwest of Hanoi, close to the border with China. The Hoang Lien Son mountain range dominates the landscape, which is actually the far eastern edge of the Himalayas. Sapa is famed for its terraced fields, diverse mix of hill tribes and magnificent landscape. With an annual average temperature of just over 15°C, Sapa is a remarkably cool place so it is advised to bring warm clothes as nights can be chilly in this part of Vietnam. The area is also home to a large number of ethnic hill tribes. Spend the night on board where you may purchase food and other essentials although it may be advised to bring your own.
Late check out at 8.00 pm is included.
Day 4: Lao Cai > Sapa Upon arrival at Lao Cai Train Station, you will be taken on a scenic one hour drive to your hotel located in the hill station of Sapa. Breakfast at your hotel and early check-in is subject to availability. Sapa's terraced fields are recognised as one of the world's seven most beautiful and magnificent sites of terraced farmland. Trekking through Muong Hoa valley to admire the beauty of the fields, created by talented and diligent ethnic farmers. This gives you the opportunity to see different traditions and costumes of the Zay minority at Ta Van village, and Red Dao people at Giang Ta Chai village.
Note: Sapa is becoming more and more popular with tourists. Many local people have limited income, therefore selling souvenir items can often be seen as another way to earn money. Expect hilltribe vendors to follow you and to be persistent in persuading you to buy their handicrafts. If you're not interested, just say 'no' and ask your guide to walk you away.
Day 5: Sapa > Lao Cai > Hanoi By Night Train Have breakfast before driving to visit a local market (Coc Ly on Tuesday/Lung Khau Nhin on Thursday / Can Cau on Saturday/Bac Ha on Sunday. Note: The market may be visited on your arrival day depending on the market day). Here you will see mostly Flower Hmong, however Phu La, Black Dao, Tay, Nung hill tribe groups also gather here. The market offers a variety of local products which could not be found in others areas such as pot-bellied pigs, cows and buffalo. Then continue to Lao Cai railway station. Freshen up and enjoy dinner at the local Thien Hai Hotel (day use) nearby before boarding our overnight sleeper train back to Hanoi.
Day 6: Hanoi > Halong Bay Arrive in Hanoi in the early morning. After breakfast, embark on a 3.5 hour drive to Halong Bay with a quick rest stop at Hong Ngoc Center - the best place to stop and stretch your legs en route. On arrival in Halong Bay, board your deluxe junk, settle into your cabin and prepare your appetite for an enjoyable lunch on deck. Mid-afternoon you will visit the mysterious atmosphere of Tien Ong cave, adorned with stalactites and stalagmites. Continue to the Cua Van fishing village, the largest community on the bay. This will allow a closer look into the lives of local fishermen before you transfer to a bamboo boat and are rowed slowly through the village with a museum and a school among floating houses. Back to the boat, a cooking class is offered with the chef if you are interested while your boat leisurely cruise be amazed or enjoy sunset cocktails and canapes on up top deck before served wonderful dinner on board tonight.
Day 7: Halong Bay > Danang > Hoi An Wake up early and partake in a Tai Chi class which is held on the upper deck. Visit Soi Sim Island, here you can relax in azure water of Halong Bay or enjoy over 200 steps to the up top for panoramic view of the whole bay. Return to the boat, and cruise towards the shore while brunch is served. Prepare your luggage and hand your key to the reception for check out. Arrive at the jetty late morning and transfer back to Hanoi with light snack provided en route.
Transfer to airport for flight to Danang. On arrival, you will be met and transferred to your hotel in Hoi An.
Day 8: Hoi An Between the 17th and 19th centuries, Hoi An was a prosperous trading port. Today, this World Heritage-listed ancient town boasts well-preserved buildings, pedestrianized streets and unique cuisine, allowing visitors a glimpse of its illustrious past. The narrow lanes are ideal for a guided walking tour. There is plenty to visit including the old merchant's houses with influences from Chinese, Japanese and Vietnamese architecture; the 400-year-old Japanese Covered Bridge; the Assembly Hall of the Chaozhou Chinese Congregation with outstanding wood carvings; and the colourful market with stalls brimming with local specialties including silk, which can be turned into fashionable garments within a day or two. An optional stop, subject to availability, is the private home of Diep Dong Nguyen with a stunning collection of artifacts ranging from pottery, seals and paintings to money and old Hoi An photography.
Day 9: Hoi An > Hue Have this morning at leisure before leaving Hoi An for Hue, the former imperial capital of Vietnam. Its mesmerizing tombs and mausoleums of the last emperors of Vietnam reveal fascinating insights into the lives of the imperial families and their subjects. The ancient citadel reflects the pomp and ceremony of the dynastic rulers as well as the scars of many years of turmoil, both ancient and modern (the Royal Citadel was badly damaged in the latter stages of the war) but retains a sense of grace and majesty even today.
Drive through Danang and visit the Cham Museum, which contains the finest collection of Cham sculptures in the world before climbing over the Pass of Ocean Clouds and dropping down to the wonderfully photogenic fishing village of Lang Co.
Day 10: Hue Hue served as an imperial capital to the Nguyen Lords, a feudal dynasty which reigned from the 17th to the 19th century. With splendid emperors' tombs, ancient pagodas and the remains of the Citadel, the city retains its royal charm. Start from your hotel with a 10 minute cyclo ride from your hotel to the Imperial Citadel, a UNESCO listed site. Enter through the towering main gate and you will appreciate the magnificent architecture and gardens while your guide explains about the events and the intrigue of the former royal court. Despite being bombed heavily, there are some incredibly well preserved sections still intact and others which are being lovingly restored. From there, vehicle will take you to visit Thien Mu pagoda, Hue's best-preserved religious monument. Standing on the riverbank with its seven-storey tower, the pagoda is a sight to behold. Afternoon, drive out 30 minutes to the elaborate Khai Dinh Royal Tomb. Its architecture and atmosphere showcase elements of eastern art and western designs. Continue to the serene Tu Duc Royal Tomb, designed to blend in with its natural surroundings and built on principles of feng-shui. Transfer back to your hotel with an optional stop en route at an incense stick making house.
Day 11: Hue > Saigon Transfer to the airport for your flight to Saigon. On arrival you will be welcomed at the airport and transferred to your hotel. Saigon is the country's commercial centre and, with over nine million inhabitants and five million motorbikes, a city that never sleeps. Despite the well-documented hustle and bustle, Saigon retains its connections with the past. A walking tour to admire Saigon's historic landmarks is a must. Transfer to Dong Khoi street., or Rue Catinat as it was known in the time of the French occupation, to discover some of the beautiful French colonial buildings built in the late 19th and early 20th century. Appreciate the splendidly restored exteriors of the Opera House and the former Hotel de Ville which are still two of the finest buildings in Saigon. Wander up to the Notre Dame Cathedral, a red brick edifice with twin spires based on the original construction from Paris. (It is only possible to visit inside when no service is being performed) Then head across the square to the Central Post Office, designed by the French architect, Gustav Eiffel, before he had risen to fame for the Eiffel Tower. The former Presidential Palace, the headquarters of the Saigon Government during the American war, is a short drive away and reveals the history of Saigon during its turbulent recent past. Head out of the city centre on a short 6km drive to District 5 to visit Thien Hau temple, built by the Cantonese congregation in the early 19th century to honour the Goddess of the Sea. The temple's ornate interior courtyard is always full of life as worshipers from the local Chinese community come to offer their prayers. Take time to make a wish, write it on a small card and attach it to one of the incense coils in the local custom. Continue your visit to FITO (closed on Monday), the first museum of traditional medicine in Vietnam, offering an insight into how traditional medicine was used in the past. Return to your hotel.
Day 12: Saigon > Ben Tre > Can Tho Depart for a 1.5 hour drive from Saigon to Ben Tre, one of the country's southern provinces, situated in the Delta of the Mekong River. Take in the lush surroundings of rice paddies and fruit farms alongside the highway as you leave behind the busy city.
Arrive at the waterfront pier and embark on an enjoyable motor boat excursion, take a glimpse at the Delta scenery, houses built on stilts and local fish farms along the way. Upon arrival at Turtle island, visit a local house and be introduced to the owner, sample freshly picked fruit and coconut milk while relaxing in the natural surroundings of fruit orchards. Chat with your host and stroll through the garden to get an insight into daily farming life. Take some time to enjoy a leisurely walk through the village observing tropical gardens along the way. You will have the chance to see a family run-business where they make coconut candy directly in front of the pier.
Continue on your journey by sampan, be paddled by a personalized rower while you take the time to discover the maze of small canals. Bid farewell to your friendly boat rower, take a short stroll under through a shaded area of coconut gardens before reaching a rest-stop to enjoy a cup of honey tea and a traditional folk song performance. Lunch will be served at My Tho, taste some local delicacies before continuing on a two hour drive to Can Tho. Arrive in Can Tho at your hotel where you will be free at leisure this evening.
Day 13: Can Tho > Saigon Departure This morning, rise early and get a unique taste of life in the Mekong. Board a local boat and explore the colourful Cai Rang floating market, where many boats laden with fruit, vegetables and fish jostle for trade. Sellers advertise their wares by crying out across the waters or tie their goods to a tall pole attached to their boat so that buyers can see from a distance what is being sold. This memorable experience makes for many excellent photo opportunities. Relax and enjoy the cruise back to the hotel where we will freshen up before we check-out and return to Saigon. Lunch will be enjoyed at a local restaurant along the way. Transfer to the airport for your departure flight.
• Tailor-made journey with English-speaking local tour guides • 9 nights' in your selected category of accommodation • 1 night aboard a traditional junk in Halong Bay • 2 overnight trains Hanoi > Lao Cai > Hanoi (shared cabin, 4 people per cabin) • Economy class flights Hanoi > Danang & Hue > Saigon including airport tax • Transfers and transport • Sightseeing and entrance fees • Boat trips as specified • 12 Breakfasts, 4 Lunches, 2 Dinners
Pricing (per person) $NZD
Departs Daily. Itinerary also operates in reverse.
Daily. Itinerary also operates in reverse.
Booking conditions This tour is available in the reverse direction.
• Surcharges apply during TET Vietnamese New Year 15 Feb to 20 Feb 2019
• Surcharges apply during public holidays
• Surcharges apply for private train cabin. If you would prefer your own private cabin aboard the train to Sapa - ie 2 people to a 4 berth cabin, the additional costs apply to the twin share prices: First Class: $139 per person, Superior: $139 per person, Deluxe: $303 per person TET, the Vietnamese New Year. Travellers who are visiting larger cities like Saigon or Hanoi during the holidays may encounter empty streets and deserted parks as Vietnamese people return to their home town to celebrate the New Year with their families. Most businesses are closed during this period.
This tour is available in the reverse direction. • Surcharges apply during TET Vietnamese New Year 15 Feb to 20 Feb 2019 • Surcharges apply during public holidays • Surcharges apply for private train cabin. If you would prefer your own private cabin aboard the train to Sapa - ie 2 people to a 4 berth cabin, the additional costs apply to the twin share prices: First Class: $139 per person, Superior: $139 per person, Deluxe: $303 per person
TET, the Vietnamese New Year. Travellers who are visiting larger cities like Saigon or Hanoi during the holidays may encounter empty streets and deserted parks as Vietnamese people return to their home town to celebrate the New Year with their families. Most businesses are closed during this period.