- Tour the historic Old Quarter of Vietnam's capital, Hanoi
- Cruise the emerald waters of Hạ Long Bay
- Visit the historic river city of Hội An and take a cooking class
- See the highlights of Ho Chi Minh City and travel up the Mekong Delta
- Fly to Cambodia and marvel at the ancient temple of Angor Wat
|Day 1||Arrive in Hanoi||Hanoi|
|Day 2||Hanoi City Tour||Hanoi|
|Day 3||Hanoi to Hạ Long Bay||Halong Bay|
|Day 4||Hạ Long Bay to Hanoi, Flight to Da Nang & Transfer to Hội An||Hoi An|
|Day 5||Hội An City Tour, Boat Trip on the Thu Bồn River||Hoi An|
|Day 6||Bicycle Eco-Tour & Cooking Class||Hoi An|
|Day 7||Hội An Free Day||Hoi An|
|Day 8||Hội An to Da Nang & Fly to Ho Chi Minh City||Ho Chi Minh City|
|Day 9||Củ Chi Tunnel, Ho Chi Minh City Tour||Ho Chi Minh City|
|Day 10||Day Trip on the Mekong Delta||Ho Chi Minh City|
|Day 11||Fly from Ho Chi Minh City to Siem Reap, Cambodia||Siem Reap|
|Day 12||Tour Angkor Thom, Ta Prohm, & Angkor Wat||Siem Reap|
|Day 13||Visit the Floating Village of Kampong Phluk||Siem Reap|
|Day 14||Depart Siem Reap|
Day 1: Arrive in Hanoi
Welcome to Vietnam! Upon arrival at Hanoi's airport, you'll transfer by private car to your four/five-star hotel for check-in. No doubt you'll be tired after the long journey, but after taking some time to relax and unwind you should head out and explore on foot. This modern yet traditional metropolis is well worth it.
Dating to 3,000 BCE, Hanoi is one of the most ancient capitals in the world. That said, it's a mix of the old and the new—a city defined by the contradictions of a rapidly developing yet deeply traditional society. Here glimmering office buildings sit alongside the French-colonial Old Quarter. Rarely at rest, the kinetic energy of Hanoi's motorbike-packed streets spills over into the outdoor markets, Hang Gai silk shops, curbside bún chả /bánh mì vendors, and eclectic nightlife scene.
You can start the walk at the markets and street vendors of the Old Quarter, and then take in some local history and mythology with a stroll around Hoàn Kiếm Lake. At the north end of the lake is an arched red bridge leading to Jade Island and the Temple of the Jade Mountain. This temple was built in the 18th century to honor Tran Hung Dao, a military commander who famously repelled two Mongol invasions.
Nearby, in the center of the lake, is Turtle Tower, a small stone tower built to commemorate the Golden Turtle God, Kim Qui, who, according to Vietnamese myth, reclaimed a magical sword from Emperor Lê Lợi in order to return it to the Dragon King. You should know that it's legends like these around which Vietnam's rich culture is based. After the walk, feel free to dine out in the Old Quarter. There's no shortage of incredible eateries here that run the gamut from delicious street food to fine dining to trendy fusion restaurants.
Day 2: Hanoi City Tour
In the morning, you'll embark on a guided walking tour of Hanoi, first stopping at Hang Be Market. Nestled in the heart of the Old Quarter, this municipal market has been open for over 100 years. It offers a wide variety of items, from fresh produce, meat, and fish to dry goods, flowers, and clothing. More than a center of commerce, Hang Be is a meeting point for locals from all walks of life, and spending time here is a great way to get to know the people of the city and understand their energy.
Afterward, your guide will lead you north to West Lake (Hồ Tây) and the Trấn Quốc Pagoda, the oldest Buddhist temple in Hanoi. Dating to the 6th century, it was built during the reign of Emperor Lý Nam Đế during his dynasty of 544-548 ACE. This 11-story, 49-foot (15-m) Buddhist shrine has undergone several changes and renovations over the years, but it is still home to Buddhist monks who pray every day at various shrines on the temple grounds.
After touring the pagoda, you'll veer south and visit the Temple of Literature, which was built in the 11th century and is dedicated to Confucius. This temple was the first university in Vietnam, and it's still a place where students burn incense and pray at the altars for academic success. Next, you'll head to Ba Dinh Square and visit the outside of the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum, the dominating block structure that serves as the final resting place for the revolutionary leader. You'll cap this full-day tour with a stop at the nearby One Pillar Pagoda, one of the most iconic Buddhist temples in the city.
Your tour of Hanoi ends as the sun goes down when you return to your hotel. You'll then have the evening free.
Day 3: Hanoi to Hạ Long Bay
After breakfast, you'll hop in a shuttle bus that will depart Hanoi for the coastal retreat and fishing community of Hạ Long Bay, arriving around noon. This UNESCO World Heritage Site is one of the true natural wonders of the world. In this sweet spot where the land meets the Gulf of Tonkin, over 1,000 karst islets rise above emerald waters. Legend has it that these islands originated as precious jewels that were sprayed into the water by a great dragon who was doing battle with invaders in Hạ Long Bay centuries ago. Mythology aside, you can't deny the otherworldly beauty of the seascape here.
Upon arrival, you'll board a cruiser that will depart from the port for an unforgettable tour of the bay. Not only will you enjoy fresh seafood for lunch and dinner, but you'll overnight aboard the ship as well. This will give you an opportunity to see the sunset over the water.
Day 4: Hạ Long Bay to Hanoi, Flight to Da Nang & Transfer to Hội An
In the early morning, you'll wake up to a spectacular sunrise over the bay. After a leisurely breakfast onboard the ship, you'll cruise the bay a bit longer before returning to the pier. From here you'll transfer back to Hanoi by bus then to the airport where you'll catch a 1.5-hour flight to Da Nang, located on the coast of Central Vietnam.
Upon arrival in Da Nang, you'll transfer by car about 30 minutes to adjacent Hội An and check into your hotel. This colorful city sits on Vietnam's central coast at the entrance to the Thu Bồn River and has a long and storied history. You'll get a sense of it as you stroll the waterfront streets of its well-preserved Ancient Town (historic center). Feel free to spend the evening relaxing and enjoy dinner out in town.
Day 5: Hội An City Tour, Boat Trip on the Thu Bồn River
After breakfast, you'll enjoy a walking tour of Hội An, recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Walking Hội An's ancient streets you'll see why it's so celebrated. This port city boasts over 2,000 years of history, with its heyday occurring from the 7th-10th centuries when it was a major player in the spice trade with Indonesia. By the 1600s, Hội An was a thriving international port, and you can see remnants of this in its Chinese temples, Japanese merchant homes, and covered bridges.
The tour begins on the historic cobbled streets of Hội An, which are lined with two-century-old Chinese merchant homes. Some locales you'll visit include the famous Japanese covered bridge, Chinese temples, and the Phung Hung House, a wooden Chinese-style trading house built in 1780 and which is a touchstone of cultural heritage in the town. Inside this well-preserved architectural landmark and museum, you'll even find the original furniture.
Later in the afternoon, you'll take a leisurely boat trip down Thu Bồn River to admire the country scenery and witness a beautiful Vietnamese sunset. Finally, you'll return to Hội An and enjoy some refreshments and a bit of relaxation in a traditional teahouse. Afterward, you'll return to your hotel.
Chat with a local specialist who can help organize your trip.
Day 6: Bicycle Eco-Tour & Cooking Class
It's time to discover the smells and flavors of Vietnam on this culinary adventure in Hội An. In the morning, a local guide will pick you up at your hotel and take you to the meeting point for today's group tour. After hopping on a bicycle, you'll ride to the outskirts of Hội An, passing by vast green rice paddies on your way to a local neighborhood market, Ba Le.
This municipal market is more relaxed than the larger and more hectic options in the center but still abounds with fresh produce. The guide will direct you to the freshest ingredients to select for the cooking course you'll participate in today, plus they'll offer insight into the various stalls and items that the merchants here sell. After shopping, you'll head to a local restaurant where a professional chef is waiting to lead you on the day's culinary odyssey.
But first, a bit of fun. After a rich Vietnamese coffee to help kickstart your energy, the group will hop in traditional bamboo basket boats for a fun ride down the waterways of the Bay Mau Coconut Forest. Afterward, you'll watch a traditional Vietnamese folk game called bit mat dap noi. This game is popular at village festivals and involves two people who are blindfolded trying to catch each other in a fenced-off area.
Then it will be time for everyone to head to the kitchen where the chef will instruct you on how to prepare a variety of local dishes. These include fresh spring rolls, rice pancakes, papaya salad, and lemongrass chicken with chili. Upon completion of the dishes, everyone will sit down for a convivial lunch. After eating you'll hop in a boat for a slow and tranquil trip back up the river to Hội An. You'll have the remainder free and can enjoy dinner at a restaurant in town.
Day 7: Hội An Free Day
Today you'll have the freedom to enjoy Hội An however you see fit. To learn more about the history of the city, you can visit the Hội An Museum, which houses a number of fascinating artifacts dating from early dynasties to the colonial period. Or eschew the culture for some pure, unabashed fun in the sun with a trip to An Bang Beach. The white sands and sky-blue waters here are the stuff of dreams.
It's when the sun sets, however, that Hội An really comes alive. You should definitely consider an evening stroll, as the waterfront is particularly romantic after dark when the river lights up as colored lanterns and floating candles illuminate the night sky. Along these lines, you can visit Hội An's Lantern Market to pick up a traditional lantern to take home.
Day 8: Hội An to Da Nang & Fly to Ho Chi Minh City
Take the morning to relax and then, at the appropriate time, you'll transfer to the airport in Da Nang for a 1.5-hour flight to Ho Chi Minh City. Once upon a time, this metropolis in southern Vietnam was known as Saigon. Despite a communist revolution and devastating war, the city has retained much of its unique cultural mix of Asian and western traditions. In fact, many of its French Colonial landmarks still stand today.
The biggest change to Ho Chi Minh City is that it's only gotten bigger, busier, and more energetic. The streets swell with mopeds whizzing past markets and modern shopping districts as the sidewalks overflow with vendors selling everything from delicious street food to golden lucky cats. This city has it all: French-era Art Deco buildings, ancient Buddhist temples, hidden alleyway eateries, outdoor night markets, Chinese pagodas, 21st-century skyscrapers, and hotels and restaurants for every budget.
You'll see and feel Ho Chi Minh's surging energy firsthand during the private transfer from the airport to your hotel. After check-in, you'll have the remainder of the day free to spend as you see fit. You can relax in your hotel room and have dinner, or head out and get carried away by the energy of the city.
Day 9: Củ Chi Tunnel, Ho Chi Minh City Tour
After breakfast, you'll leave Ho Chi Minh in a private car for the short drive north to Củ Chi. This area is home to a massive tunnel network made famous during the Vietnam War as the Viet Cong's base of operations, particularly during the Tết Offensive of 1968.
This 155-mile (250-km) tunnel network once sheltered over 16,000 Vietcong guerrillas. First constructed in 1948 to guard against French air and ground sweeps, the tunnels then served as supply routes, storage facilities, hospitals, and living quarters for Vietnamese fighters throughout the American war. Here you'll have the option to go into the tunnels and get a glimpse of the harsh conditions faced by Vietcong guerrillas who lived here, plus see the innovative booby traps they left for unlucky enemy soldiers.
Later in the afternoon, you'll discover the highlights of this former capital of French Indochina. Historic landmarks you'll visit include the 19th-century Gothic/Renaissance Post Office, Notre Dame Cathedral (built in the late 19th century with materials imported from France), and the Opera House, which was built in 1897. You'll also visit the Reunification Palace, also known as Independence Palace. This is the former home of the president of South Vietnam, which was taken over when Saigon fell in 1975.
You'll end the tour with a visit to the Buddhist Thien Hau Temple and the Ben Thanh Market for some souvenir shopping. After the tour, you'll return to your hotel.
Day 10: Day Trip on the Mekong Delta
Today you'll experience firsthand the lifestyle lived by those on the Mekong Delta. In the morning you'll leave from your hotel to the waterfront province of Ben Tre. Upon arrival at the Hung Vuong Pier in Ben Tre City, you'll hop in a boat for a ride down a tributary of the Mekong River. As you travel amid the thick mangrove forests of this waterway, you'll see the morning hustle as fishing boats and coconut cargo ships pass back and forth, going about their daily business. A stop at a traditional brickworks reveals how local workers still make bricks the old-fashioned way: by hand.
After that, it's a stop at My Long, a village famous for the tasty rice cakes made by its residents. While the recipe is secret, you'll get to see the process as the villagers make the cakes from rice paper, followed by a sampling of these treats.
Back on the water, you'll travel down canals lined with looming coconut palms. Here you'll stop at a coconut workshop to see the various stages of coconut processing, from removing the husk to the peeling, which is all done by hand. After a short trip down a smaller canal, you'll stop at a honey-bee garden for honey tea accompanied by local music. Then it's a visit to a candy mill to enjoy some local sweets followed by a visit to the country home of a local artisan who makes traditional sleeping mats.
You'll then get to experience some of the stunning countryside when you embark on a bicycle ride (or motorized scooter trip) through the coconut groves and vegetable gardens around the river. Then take a sampan rowboat along a tranquil canal shaded by palm fronds to a riverside restaurant where you'll stop for lunch. Afterward, you'll return to Hung Vuong pier by motorboat and transfer back to Ho Chi Minh City by car. You'll then have the remainder of the day free.
Day 11: Fly from Ho Chi Minh City to Siem Reap, Cambodia
Enjoy one last morning in Ho Chi Minh City before transferring to the airport for your flight to Siem Reap. This town, located in northwest Cambodia, is famous for being the gateway to the ruins of Angkor, which was the capital city of the Khmer Kingdom from the 9th to the 15th centuries.
Upon arrival at the airport, you'll transfer to your hotel for check-in. You'll then have the evening free to explore the town and enjoy dinner in a local restaurant. Try a delectable local dish like Khmer curry.
Day 12: Tour Angkor Thom, Ta Prohm & Angkor Wat
After breakfast, you'll transfer from your hotel to the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Angkor, the former capital of the ancient Khmer Kingdom. Throughout Cambodia's history, this was the seat of power for the ancient Khmer deva-rajas or "god-kings." Most notable of these was Jayavarman II, who ruled in the early 9th century. He was known for reunifying the fractured Cambodian kingdom and creating the Khmer Empire, which until the 15th century had influence in parts of Vietnam and Myanmar.
What Jayavarman II was most famous for was ordering the construction of Angkor Wat. Forget the Seven Wonders of the World—Angkor Wat is the largest religious temple on the planet. It was built as a tribute to the Hindu god Vishnu, and Jayavarman II was buried there, which was no surprise considering he viewed himself as Vishnu incarnate. In effect, Angkor Wat became his mausoleum, and today it's still the national symbol of Cambodia. It's even the central image on the national flag.
Your first stop, though, is to the Great City itself, Angkor Thom. This nearly four-square-mile area was once a fortified metropolis presided over by Cambodia's most celebrated king, Jayavarman VII, who reigned from the late 12th to the early 13th century. Angkor Thom was a formidable defensive city, as it was encircled by a wide moat and was further protected by 26-foot (8-m) walls.
One other must-visit site here is the Terrace of Elephants, a viewing platform stretching 1,148 feet (350 m) where Jayavarman VII ceremoniously stood to welcome his victorious armies back from battle.
Angkor Thom is centered around the temple of Bayon. Comprised of 54 gothic towers, it was commissioned by Suryavarman VII in the 12th century. On top of being a king who won many battles, he was also quite vain, as you'll see in the 216 massive stone sculptures of his smiling face. The temple is built over three floors, with impressive bas-reliefs on the lower level and the faces on the third.
Next up is the maze-like temple of Ta Prohm. Originally a Buddhist temple dedicated to the mother of Jayavarman VII, this collection of towers, courtyards, and narrow corridors has been all but swallowed up by the encroaching jungle. The result is that visitors are treated to the sight of ancient ruins being all but strangulated by the thick serpentine roots of giant fig and ceiba trees. The site was made famous in the Angelina Jolie film Tomb Raider and today it's still casually known as the "Tomb Raider Temple."
You'll cap the tour with Angkor Wat. The structure itself is incredible, featuring symmetry and grandiosity that's all the more impressive due to its having been constructed over a thousand years ago. On this walking tour, you'll stroll amid its various galleries with columns, libraries, pavilions, and courtyards immersing yourself in the ruins. You'll even walk its perimeter next to the large moat that encircles it while viewing the site's marvelous bas-reliefs and wall carvings of apsara nymphs.
Afterward, you'll return to Siem Reap and will have the evening free.
Day 13: Visit the Floating Village of Kampong Phluk
After breakfast, you'll take a drive to Kampong Phluk, a village located 10 miles (16 km) north of Siem Reap on Tonlé Sap Lake. Kampong Phluk is noteworthy because the buildings that house the village's some 3,000 residents are built on stilts about 20 feet (6 m) off the ground.
The reason for this unique architecture is the mangrove forest that surrounds the village. During the dry season when the lake is low (March–July), the buildings in the villages seem to soar over the treetops. During the wet season (August-February) when the water level rises, the stilts become hidden under the water and Kampong Phluk becomes the "floating village"
On a tour of this fishing village, you'll get to meet some locals most of whom are shrimp harvesters by trade. In the surrounding mangroves, you'll spot exotic animals like long-tailed macaque monkeys. After the tour, you'll return to Siem Reap, where you'll overnight.
Day 14: Depart Siem Reap
Take the opportunity to savor one last morning in Cambodia., At the appropriate time, you'll transfer to the airport in Siem Reap for your flight home. Until next time!
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