Travel deep into the cultural heart of Vietnam on this five-day excursion. It's an adventure that goes beyond popular cities to the lesser-visited metropolises of Huế and Hội An. Besides road trips along the stunning coast and tours of ancient sights, you'll also see how locals live on a visit to a traditional fishing village plus spend the day at a community project that raises money for disabled artisans.

Highlights

  • Take a cruise down the Perfume River
  • Visit the historic Imperial Citadel in Huế
  • Learn the art of crafting while supporting disabled artisans
  • Stroll the romantic, lantern-lit river city of Hội An

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrival in Huế Huế
Day 2 Explore Huế: Imperial Citadel, Thien Mu Pagoda, & Thủy Biều Huế
Day 3 Explore Huế – Handicrafts, Minh Mang’s Tomb, & Chuon Lagoon Huế
Day 4 Huế to Hội An – Explore the City Hoi An
Day 5 Hội An to Da Nang - Departure  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Arrival in Huế

Huế and the Imperial City
Huế and the Imperial City

Welcome to Huế!

This off-the-beaten-path city in central Vietnam abounds with rich culture and deep history exemplified in the well-preserved landmarks spanning different eras. It was actually during the Nguyễn Dynasty, beginning in 1802, that Huế was the capital of the nation. This lasted until the creation of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam in 1945 when the country declared independence from French Indochina and the capital was moved to Hanoi.

Ideally located on the banks of the Huong River, Huế is a smallish city of around 500,000 people. The Huong earned its nickname—the Perfume River—over a century ago due to the flowers that fell from upriver orchards during the autumn months, imbuing the waterway with a tropical scent. Modern industrialization now masks the floral fragrances but the scenery remains beautiful.

Upon arrival, a driver will meet you at the airport and transfer you to your hotel. After check-in, you'll have the remainder of the day free to relax after your long journey. If it's early enough and you have the energy, feel free to head a couple of miles east of the city to Huong Thuy District. Here you can walk across the iconic Thanh Toan Bridge, a wooden, tile-roofed bridge that dates to the mid-18th-century and arches over a tranquil canal.

If you'd prefer to stay in town, and you have a bit of an appetite, then sample Huế's famous street food. There's an abundance of it at the Dong Ba Market, the city's oldest municipal market. If you're really hungry, order a bowl of bún bò, a hearty local soup made with vermicelli rice noodles and beef.

For something on the sweet side, try chè. This dessert soup is popular throughout Vietnam but there are dozens of varieties. Often made with beans, jelly, and coconut milk, in Huế you can get it mixed with other ingredients including taro, corn, and lotus seeds.

Day 2: Explore Huế: Imperial Citadel, Thien Mu Pagoda, & Thủy Biều

The Imperial City, Huế
The Imperial City, Huế

You're in for a treat as today you'll explore in and around Huế on a guided tour. The journey begins with a visit to the Imperial City, a vast, walled citadel constructed in 1804 and surrounded by a moat. You'll enjoy a fascinating tour of this well-preserved historic landmark that was once the center of government during the Nguyễn Dynasty.

Next, you'll visit the Thien Mu Pagoda, also known as the Pagoda of the Celestial Lady. This seven-story octagonal tower is the unofficial symbol of Huế, and it's steeped in mythology. Your guide will recount the story of the first Nguyễn lords, who upon hearing of prophecy by a "celestial lady," ordered the construction of the citadel in 1601. Around the pagoda are peaceful gardens and great views overlooking the Perfume River. 

Later on, you'll take a boat ride up that very river to Thủy Biều. The area around this village is famous for growing thanh tra (a kind of grapefruit). It also abounds with beautiful green gardens, ancient temples, and charming country homes—the perfect spot to enjoy relaxing walking or bike ride. You'll visit one of these homes and sit down for tea with a family who earns their living making incense. You can even join them in a bit of gardening.

Late in the afternoon you'll transfer back to your hotel and have the remainder of the day free.

Day 3: Explore Huế – Handicrafts, Minh Mang’s Tomb, & Chuon Lagoon

Explore Huế
Explore Huế

After breakfast, you'll visit one of the more unique souvenir shops in the city: Healing the Wounded Hearts. This endeavor was founded in 2009 by the SPIRAL Foundation, a non-profit that works with disabled children and the Huế College of Medicine. The store sells handicrafts and other handmade items from recycled materials by disabled artisans. The income generated from sales is used to pay the salaries and health insurance of the disabled workers plus fund heart surgeries for poor children in Huế.

You'll have a chance to meet some of these artisans, including deaf and mute children who, with the aid of basic sign language, will teach you how to make handcrafted items from recycled materials. The finished product will be yours to take home—a reminder of time well-spent in Huế. Afterward, you'll enjoy a cup of tea with your new friends before saying goodbye. 

Next, you'll transfer outside the city to Minh Mang’s Tomb, the final resting place of the Confucian emperor who ruled from 1820-1840 at the height of the Nguyễn dynasty. It's a testament to Minh Mang’s influence that his final resting place is a complex sitting on a 44-acre lot home to some 40 monuments comprising the royal tomb. On a tour, you'll visit highlights like the Honor Courtyard, Stele Pavilion, and Bright Pavilion. You'll also pass by lakes, pavilions, and gardens before reaching the burial mound itself. 

After the tour, you'll return to the city for lunch. If time permits, you'll visit the nearby village of Truong Da and its most famous landmark, Ho Quyen. This now overgrown arena was constructed in 1830 as a venue for live combat between tigers and elephants. These death matches were particularly popular among royals of the Nguyễn dynasty, who viewed them as symbolic. The elephant represented the power of the emperor and thus typically defeated the (usually de-clawed and de-fanged) tiger. 

In the early afternoon, you'll visit Truc Chi Garden where you'll participate in a crafting class and make beautiful artworks from bamboo paper. The Vietnamese art of truc chi (literally "bamboo paper") is a relatively new form but one that draws from ancient and symbolic materials like bamboo paper to celebrate Vietnamese culture. In this workshop, you'll cut your own handmade stencils and learn certain painting and etching techniques to create bamboo paper art you can take home and hang on your wall.

After the workshop, you'll travel outside the city to the coast and Chuon Lagoon. This community is home to fishermen who live on houseboats and have been making their living from the water for generations. Every day they head out for 12 hours and then sell their catch of fish and shrimp in the markets. 

You'll get a glimpse of this rugged life when you join some locals on a sampan (flat-bottomed boat) and head out into the lagoon to cast a few nets. After an hour or two on the water, you'll return to town and head to a local restaurant where they'll cook up your fresh catch on the spot. You'll then sit down to dinner and enjoy your fresh seafood as the sun sets over the water. 

After an unforgettable dinner, you'll return to Huế, where you'll overnight.

Day 4: Huế to Hội An – Explore the City

Hội An at night
Hội An at night

After breakfast, you'll depart Huế and travel about three hours south by road to Hội An. The route hugs the coast on National Route 1A before climbing up the Hải Vân Pass in the Annamite Mountains. It's a beautiful and scenic drive with opportunities to stop to admire stunning views over Lang Co Beach and Da Nang City. The road then dips down to the coast again and passes along the inviting white sands of My Khe Beach before reaching Hội An.

This small city of just over 100,000 people sits on the banks of the Thu Bồn River and is a real treasure of Vietnam. Its Ancient Town is the most impressive historic city center in the country, and as such it has been granted UNESCO World Heritage status.

Walking along its ancient streets you'll see why: Hội An reflects over 2,000 years of history. Its heyday was from the 7th-10th centuries when its strategic locale made it a major player in the spice trade with Indonesia. By the 17th century, it was a thriving international port and you can see remnants of this today in its Chinese temples and Japanese merchant homes and covered bridges.

Upon arrival, you'll check into your hotel and will have some time to relax. However, get ready for an evening stroll because when night falls, Hội An really comes alive. The waterfront is particularly romantic after dark, as colored lanterns and floating candles illuminate the night sky. While here you'll even visit a local workshop and build your own traditional lantern.

Day 5: Hội An to Da Nang - Departure

Farewell, Hội An
Farewell, Hội An

Take the morning to see more of Hội An, either on foot or even on a bicycle ride down the streets. Perhaps head into the riverfront boutiques and browse the local fashions and custom-made silks. In the, afternoon, you'll say a bittersweet goodbye to Vietnam as you transfer from Hội An to Da Nang where you'll catch your flight home. Until next time!

Map

Map of Central Vietnam Adventure:  Hue & Hoi An  - 5 Days
Map of Central Vietnam Adventure: Hue & Hoi An - 5 Days