- See the highlights of Hanoi and rural Vietnam
- Cruise the emerald waters of Ha Long Bay
- Visit the palaces of Bangkok and Chiang Mai
- Enjoy food tours and laze on the beaches of Phuket
|Arrive in Hanoi (Vietnam), Rickshaw City Tour & Water Puppet Show
|Day Trip to Ninh Binh, Cycling & Sampan Ride
|Transfer to Ha Long Bay, Overnight Cruise
|Ha Long Bay
|Morning Cruise, Transfer to Hanoi, Fly to Bangkok (Thailand)
|Visit Bangkok Temples, Night Tuk-Tuk Food Tour
|Fly to Chiang Mai, Visit Hill Tribe Village & Wat Phrathat Doi Suthep
|Visit Elephant Sanctuary, Cooking Class with a Lanna Family
|Fly to Phuket, Optional Activities
|Phi Phi & Khai Islands Speedboat Tour
Day 1: Arrive in Hanoi (Vietnam), Rickshaw City Tour & Water Puppet Show
Welcome to Vietnam! This Southeast Asian country is famous for many things, including its stunning natural beauty, its world-class cuisine, and its long and storied imperial history. You'll experience all of it over a couple of days in Hanoi. Vietnam's beguiling capital contains a potent mix of historical landmarks, amazing street food, and boundless energy on every street and down every alleyway.
Upon arrival at the airport, a driver will pick you up for the transfer to your hotel in the city. After checking in, you'll meet a local guide, hop in a traditional rickshaw, and head out to explore the bustling streets of Hanoi's Old Quarter. During this half-day excursion, you'll visit iconic landmarks like the French colonial Presidential Palace and the unassuming Ho Chi Minh's Stilt House, where President Ho Chi Minh lived between 1958 and 1969. You'll also stop at the Fine Arts Museum, which features around 2,000 art and artifacts showcasing Vietnam's history from prehistoric times to the present.
Later, you'll leave Hanoi and transfer to a nearby village. There, you'll visit the home of an artisan and practitioner of the Vietnamese art of water puppetry. This theatrical expression has been part of the nation's culture for over 1,000 years, and your host has devoted his life to mastering it. The stage for these performances is a small pool (mimicking rice paddies), and the puppeteer stands behind a screen while manipulating the wooden puppets. Over a cup of tea, your host will explain the history of this art and then treat you to a private show. Afterward, you'll return to Hanoi.
Day 2: Day Trip to Ninh Binh, Cycling & Sampan Ride
In the morning, meet your driver for the two-hour transfer south of Hanoi to the Red River Delta and Ninh Binh province. This rural area is one of the most scenic regions in the country, known for tranquil rivers snaking through vast green rice fields dotted with towering karst mountains. It's a scenic drive during which you'll pass rolling green hills and vast expanses of verdant rice paddies.
The first stop when you arrive is Hoa Lu, a district that was the capital of Vietnam during the 10th and 11th centuries. After touring Hoa Lu's historic pagodas, you'll visit the Bai Dinh Temple. This sprawling complex covers 1,331 acres (539 ha) in Ninh Binh and is Vietnam's largest Buddhist pagoda complex. The oldest pagoda here dates to the 12th century, while the newest was built in 2003. It's a massively popular pilgrimage site, and you'll see all its highlights on a walking tour.
Later, you'll hop on a bicycle for a ride around the villages and rice paddies around Trang An. Located adjacent to Ninh Binh, this is the Vietnam you see in postcards, famous for its tranquil canals, rice paddies, and karst towers. In fact, when the bike ride is over, you'll board a sampan (flat-bottom boat) for a leisurely tour down the waterways of this rural paradise, exploring limestone caves as you go. Afterward, you'll transfer back to Hanoi.
Day 3: Transfer to Ha Long Bay, Overnight Cruise
After an early breakfast, your personal driver will pick you up at the hotel for the three-hour transfer north to the legendary Ha Long Bay. Located on the Gulf of Tonkin, over 1,500 karst islets rise above jade waters, resembling the spine of a mythological creature ("ha long" translates to "descending dragon"). The unique beauty of this region is unlike anywhere else and thus has earned UNESCO World Heritage status.
Upon arrival at the marina, you'll board the luxurious Athena Royal cruise ship for an overnight tour. After settling into your cabin, head to the dining room, where a delicious lunch awaits. Then, you can spend time relaxing on the sun deck as the ship sails across glassy emerald waters to the most secluded corners of the bay. Later that afternoon, you'll stop at a secret cove for a swim and a kayak trip to explore hidden beaches and grottoes.
Return to the ship in time for a cooking demonstration during which you'll try some famous Vietnamese dishes. Your appetite primed, you'll head back to the dining room for a decadent buffet dinner. Afterward, you can spend the remainder of the evening relaxing or grab a pole and cast a line off the rear of the boat to try and catch some squid.
Day 4: Morning Cruise, Transfer to Hanoi, Fly to Bangkok (Thailand)
Chat with a local specialist who can help organize your trip.
Start the day strong with an early morning tai chi session on the deck surrounded by beautiful bay scenery. After a light breakfast, the ship will cruise to a karst cavern, which you can explore in a traditional boat. Afterward, you'll return to the ship and cruise to the Ha Long Bay pier, enjoying a late brunch as you go. Then hop in a vehicle for the 3.5-hour ride back to Hanoi, arriving around 3 pm.
Once back in the city, you'll transfer to the airport by private vehicle and say goodbye to Vietnam as you catch a two-hour flight to Bangkok. Welcome to Thailand! Among other attractive qualities, the capital of Bangkok is known for its chaotic energy, world-class street food, buzzing nightlife, and awe-inspiring Buddhist sights. Upon arrival at the airport, a driver will transfer you to your hotel.
Day 5: Visit Bangkok Temples, Night Tuk-Tuk Food Tour
Get ready for a full-day tour of Bangkok's most iconic landmarks. Start in the city center with a trip to Pak Khlong Talat, a colorful market abounding with aromatic fresh flowers. Then, continue to the Grand Palace, a complex of intricate palaces and temples built in 1782, which served as the royal family's home for 150 years. Highlights include the Reception Hall, Coronation Hall, and Wat Phra Kaew, which houses the sacred Emerald Buddha, a 26-inch (66 cm) jade statue of a meditating Buddha.
After a break for lunch, you'll hop on a traditional long-tail boat and cruise a short distance along the Chao Phraya River to Wat Pho. Dating to the 13th century, this temple is famous for its massive Reclining Buddha statue that measures 49 feet (15 m) high and 150 feet (46 m) long. Finish the tour with a trip to Wat Arun, known for its towering 259-foot (79 m) central spire. Dating to the 17th century, War Arun is also known as the Temple of Dawn, named after the Indian dawn god, Aruna. Then return to your hotel and spend the rest of the afternoon relaxing.
Later, when the sun goes down, you'll climb into a tuk-tuk (auto rickshaw) for a half-day evening food tour of Bangkok. It's the most efficient way to hit up as many of the city's most beloved eateries as possible. Throughout this tasty trip, you'll savor authentic Thai cuisine that includes authentic pad thai, mango sticky rice, and popular Thai snacks, all while learning about this nation's rich cultural heritage. The final stop is a rooftop bar to enjoy a drink while enjoying glittering views of the Chao Phraya River lit up at night. Afterward, you'll transfer back to your hotel.
Day 6: Fly to Chiang Mai, Visit Hill Tribe Village & Wat Phrathat Doi Suthep
It's time to head north this morning. Your driver will take you to the airport in Bangkok so you can catch the 1.5-hour flight to Chiang Mai, nicknamed the "Rose of the North." The largest city in Thailand's northern region was the capital of the Lanna Kingdom from the 13th to 18th centuries, existing apart from the Kingdom of Siam (Thailand). Much of Chiang Mai's distinctive architecture and historic landmarks remain today, including its moat-encircled Old City.
Upon arrival, you'll check into your hotel. Then, meet a local guide for a trip outside the city to a Hmong village. Northern Thailand is filled with these ethnic communities, whose residents emigrated to Thailand from places like southern China and Myanmar. As for the Hmong people, they're the second-largest ethnic hill tribe group in the country, having emigrated from China in the 19th century. They live traditionally, as they have for generations, and are known for their handmade hemp clothing and intricate embroidery. During the visit, you'll meet locals and learn all about their culture and customs.
From the village, you'll transfer nearby Wat Phra That Doi Suthep, a revered temple and major pilgrimage site on the top of Mount Doi Suthep. Founded in 1383, this temple complex allegedly houses a bone shard relic from the Buddha's shoulder. Climb the 306 steps of the Golden Naga staircase to reach its golden pagodas and enjoy gorgeous views over Chiang Mai and its surroundings.
Day 7: Visit Elephant Sanctuary, Cooking Class with a Lanna Family
You're in for a treat, as this morning, you'll hop in a vehicle and head to the forests outside the city and the Elephant Jungle Sanctuary. This is just one of many centers in the region that rescue abandoned and abused elephants. These organizations earn money through tourism, opening their doors to visitors who can admire these magnificent creatures in a humane and eco-friendly way.
This half-day activity begins with a change into a mahout (caretaker clothing), after which you'll meet the elephants and spend the morning feeding them. You'll also take them to the river to bathe and brush them—a highlight for both the elephants and visitors. Back at the center, enjoy a snack of fresh fruit with the group and guides. Then, it's time to say a bittersweet goodbye to your new elephant pals.
Afterward, you'll transfer to a traditional Thai neighborhood on the outskirts of Chiang Mai. There, you'll be welcomed into the teakwood home of a local Lanna family for a very special culinary experience. Following a welcome drink, your host will lead you around the garden to see the various fruits, vegetables, herbs, and spices they grow on the property. Back in the kitchen, you'll use some of these ingredients as you prepare a home-cooked northern Thai meal with the help of your host family. When it's finished, everyone will sit down to dinner. Later, you'll transfer back to Chiang Mai.
Day 8: Fly to Phuket, Optional Activities
Enjoy a leisurely breakfast in Chiang Mai, then transfer to the airport for the two-hour flight south to Phuket. Located on the Andaman Coast, Phuket is known for its powdery beaches, neon nightlife, and world-class resorts. It's also home to diverse landscapes ranging from dense rainforest to palm-fringed beaches and craggy limestone cliffs. Upon arrival, you'll transfer to your hotel for check-in. Then, you can spend the rest of the day exploring.
If you like, head to a famous stretch of sand, like Patong, Kata, or Freedom Beach, for sunbathing and watersports like snorkeling and kayaking. However, the natural highlights of Phuket extend beyond the coast. The island has diverse landscapes, including forested hills, mountains, limestone cliffs, lagoons, and tropical forests. Many offer great hiking, like the trail up to the Black Rock viewpoint, which looks out over beautiful Cape Krathing.
Or, see a different side of Phuket and visit its historic Old Town area. Lining historic Thalang Road are colorful 19th-century shophouses and Sino-Portuguese buildings. There are also plenty of charming cafés and restaurants in the area where you can sit and relax with a good book.
Day 9: Phi Phi & Khai Islands Speedboat Tour
Wake up early for a full-day snorkeling/swimming excursion at the famous Phi Phi Islands. You'll transfer to the pier around 7:30 am to board a speedboat for an hour's trip to Phi Phi Lee (Maya Beach). One of the most spectacular destinations in Thailand, Maya Beach is a secluded bay hemmed in by towering limestone cliffs on a romantic isle. If it looks familiar, it was featured in the 2000 film "The Beach."
Once here, you'll take a dip in the water in designated swimming areas and snap photos at other nearby highlights like Pileh Lagoon and Viking Cave. On the way north to the larger island of Phi Phi Don, you'll pass Monkey Beach, which is named for the community of crab-eating macaques that live here. Upon arrival, you'll have time for snorkeling, followed by a delicious lunch. Then, you can do some sightseeing in Tonsai Bay and enjoy the beach bars in the village.
Later, you'll travel to the Ko Khai Islands, a group of tiny islets fringed by white-sand beaches and crystalline waters. Here you can snorkel, swim, or simply relax on the powdery sands. At the end of the afternoon, you'll transfer back to your hotel.
Day 10: Depart PhuketYour 10-day grand tour of Vietnam and Thailand has reached its conclusion. Wake up early to see one last sunrise over the Andaman Sea, followed by a leisurely breakfast at the hotel. Then, meet your driver for the transfer to your hotel and the flight home. Safe travels!
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