Cultural wonders and natural beauty abound on this 15-day journey through Vietnam and Cambodia. With an itinerary packed full of world-famous highlights and off-the-beaten-path gems, you'll set out from the buzzy capital of Hanoi to cruise through the magnificent Ha Long Bay, cycle through the countryside of Hue, and learn to fish with the locals in Hội An. After a trip through Ho Chi Minh's past and a leisurely float down the Mekong Delta, it's time to hop over to Cambodia and end your adventure among the ancient temples of Angkor Wat.

Highlights

  • Cycle through idyllic rural villages around Hanoi
  • Board an overnight cruise through the breathtaking Ha Long Bay
  • Learn to cook traditional Vietnamese dishes in Hội An 
  • Float past mangrove forests & coconut farms in the Mekong Delta
  • Venture into the Củ Chi Tunnels in Ho Chi Minh City
  • Discover the mysteries & marvels of the Angkor Temples

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrive in Hanoi  Hanoi
Day 2 Cycle Through Hanoi's Rural Villages Hanoi
Day 3 Explore Ha Long Bay on an Overnight Cruise Ha Long Bay
Day 4 Return to Hanoi, Overnight Train to Hue  
Day 5 Arrive in Hue, Perfume River Boat Tour & Countryside Cycling Hue
Day 6 Coastal Drive to Hội An  Hội An 
Day 7 Traditional Fishing Excursion & Historic Hội An Tour Hội An 
Day 8 Hội An Organic Village Tour & Cooking Class  Hội An 
Day 9 Flight from Da Nang to Ho Chi Minh City Ho Chi Minh City
Day 10 Explore the Củ Chi Tunnels & Ho Chi Minh City Tour Ho Chi Minh City
Day 11 Day Trip to the Mekong Delta Ho Chi Minh City
Day 12 Fly to Siem Reap, Cambodia Siem Reap
Day 13 Discover the Angkor Temples Siem Reap
Day 14 Visit Kbal Spean & Banteay Srei Siem Reap
Day 15 Depart Siem Reap  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Arrive in Hanoi

The bustling streets of Hanoi

Xin chào! Welcome to Hanoi!

Vietnam's capital is a mix of the old and the new—a metropolis defined by the endearing contradictions of a rapidly developing yet deeply traditional society. Here glimmering modern buildings sit alongside the French Colonial Old Quarter in the historic heart of the city. 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 needn't worry about navigating Hanoi's chaotic streets, though, because upon arrival at Noi Bai Airport a private driver will be waiting to whisk you off to your hotel in the city center. After check-in, you'll have the rest of the day free to unwind and relax after your long flight. Maybe stretch your legs with a stroll around Hoàn Kiếm Lake or the alleyways of the Old Quarter where you can browse local shops.

Day 2: Cycle Through Hanoi's Rural Villages

Explore the countryside around Hanoi

This morning you'll visit several villages just outside Hanoi. This is a great opportunity to experience rural customs and traditions firsthand as you cycle from village to village and also tour these communities on foot. Beyond interacting with residents, you'll visit local markets and temples to catch a glimpse of daily life. Then you'll attend a cooking demonstration of traditional Vietnamese cuisine before joining a local family for lunch. 

Later in the afternoon, set out from the historic district of Dong Ngac and head north, cycling on mostly country lanes through surrounding villages to Lien Mac, a beautiful rural area abounding with well-tended vegetable and flower gardens. Beyond touring the colorful fields, you'll get to chat with some of the local farmers about the organic practices they use to tend to their crops.

After taking another route from Lien Mac back to Dong Ngac, take a short break for a drink back at the family home. Then you'll say your goodbyes and catch the van back to your hotel in Hanoi in time for dinner.

Day 3: Explore Ha Long Bay on an Overnight Cruise

Towering karst islets surrounding Ha Long Bay

After breakfast, 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 overnight tour of the bay. The ship will pass several interesting sights, including island towns and floating fishing villages like Cặp La and Cong Dam. Eventually, you'll enter the limits of Bai Tu Long National Park, a protected marine ecosystem home to rare plants and animals as well as about 40 islands. 

For the remainder of the afternoon, you can choose to spend your time kayaking and swimming at Cong Dam or simply relax on the boat. If the weather allows, the boat might just stop at some caves and grottoes on the way back to the anchor point. Later, dinner will be served and you will have the remainder of the evening free before being lulled asleep by the sounds of the sea.

Day 4: Return to Hanoi, Overnight Train to Hue

Trains leaving Hanoi

Early risers can enjoy this morning's sunrise and the quiet, breath-taking beauty of the bay’s landscape. After breakfast, enjoy one more swim before slowly cruising back to the harbor as lunch is served onboard. After disembarking, you'll transfer back to Hanoi, where you can grab dinner before meeting your guide and transferring to the train station. Here you'll get settled into your shared or private cabin and embark on an unforgettable overnight train journey down the coast to Hue.

Day 5: Arrive in Hue, Perfume River Boat Tour & Countryside Cycling

Hue's Royal Citadel 

Your train pulls into Hue this morning, where you'll be picked up and transferred to your hotel. After some downtime for a shower, short rest, and breakfast, it's time to set out for some morning explorations. Start with a visit to the Imperial Citadel. Built in 1804 and located along the Perfume River, the fortress is composed of three parts: the Capital City (Kinh Thanh), the Imperial City (Hoang Thanh), and the Forbidden City (Cam Thanh). Although it suffered severe damage during the Vietnam War in 1968, many recent endowments are used to restore and revive this heritage site.

Afterward, you'll embark on a scenic boat ride down the beautiful Perfume River, stopping at the Thien Mu Pagoda and enjoying lunch on board as you float downstream.

In the afternoon you're back on two wheels as you cycle to the flower village of Tien Non, where you'll be surrounded by its many colors, then onto the Thanh Tien paper-flower-making village to try your hand at the craft. Continue to a village known for its traditional folk paintings before you make your way back to Hue through the peaceful countryside.

Day 6: Coastal Drive to Hội An 

Take an evening stroll along the colorful riverfront in Hội An

After breakfast today, you'll be picked up for a four-hour scenic transfer to Hội An. With fabulous sightseeing en route, there will be plenty of time to make stops at Lang Co Beach, Hai Van Pass, Cham Museum, and the Marble Mountains before reaching Hội An in the late afternoon.

This small city of just over 100,000 people sits on the banks of the Thu Bồn River, with a historic center so ancient it's been granted UNESCO World Heritage status. Its heyday was from the 7th to 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, Japanese merchant homes, and covered bridges.

Upon arrival, check into your hotel and take some time to relax. As darkness falls, head out for an evening stroll along the romantic waterfront, where colored lanterns and floating candles illuminate the night sky.

Day 7: Traditional Fishing Excursion & Historic Hội An Tour

Explore the Hội An countryside by boat and bike

Meet your guide at the hotel this morning for a quick transfer to the docks in town. From here you'll hop in a boat and travel a short distance down the river from Hội An to a traditional fishing village to get a glimpse into the lives of the locals as they ply their trade. Each day they head out on traditional basket boats called thung chai to cast nets for shrimp, crabs, and fish. You'll join right in, learning how to prepare the nets and tools before heading out on the water to do some fishing yourself.

After the fishing excursion, take a leisurely ride in the basket boat down the river, passing coconut fringed banks on your way to a small village. Here you'll disembark and sit down to a delicious local lunch. Then it's time to hop on a bicycle for a scenic ride down a country road alongside green rice paddies and cornfields as you make your way back to Hội An.

After touring some of the more famous sights around Hội An, like the Japanese-style Covered Bridge and the historic Chinese meeting hall Phuc Kien, the tour comes to an end and the rest of the evening is at your leisure.

Day 8: Hội An Organic Village Tour & Cooking Class 

Learn to prepare Vietnamese cuisine

Today you'll make your way to a cafe in Hội An's Ancient City, which serves as a meeting point for today's excursion. From here, a ten-minute journey by minivan takes you to Tra Que Organic Village, where you can walk through the market gardens and watch local farmers working their fields using traditional methods. Pick fresh saw-tooth coriander and Vietnamese mint for your cooking lesson later, before trying a special herbal drink at a local home.

Your next stop is the local village market with a shopping list in hand, where you'll purchase a range of local ingredients, including star anise, cardamom, sesame rice paper, water spinach, and banana flower.

Arriving at Red Bridge Cooking School, you'll have a chance to freshen up before beginning your class. Working together with a chef, learn the traditional ways of preparing and cooking Vietnamese food from scratch. Using the freshest ingredients and traditional Vietnamese utensils (still in use today), you'll cook four famous dishes, including the national dish of pho. Afterward, sit down and savor a meal that includes the dishes you prepared. 

In the afternoon, a leisurely cruise along the Hội An River takes you back to the city and your hotel. 

Day 9: Fly from Da Nang to Ho Chi Minh City

Sunset over Ho Chi Minh City

After breakfast at your hotel, you'll have some free time for shopping or relaxing in Hội An. After check out, your driver picks you up for a transfer to the airport in Da Nang, where you'll catch 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. 

Upon arrival, you'll be welcomed at the airport by a local guide and transferred to your hotel, where you can rest up for a busy day of sightseeing tomorrow. 

Day 10: Explore the Củ Chi Tunnels & Ho Chi Minh City Tour

HCM City's Central Post Office

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, you'll discover the highlights of this former capital of French Indochina on a tour. 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.

End the tour with a visit to the Buddhist Thien Hau Temple and the Ben Thanh Market for some souvenir shopping before returning to your hotel.

Day 11: Day Trip to the Mekong Delta 

Travel down 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 Bến Tre. Upon arrival at the Hung Vuong Pier in Bến 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 of fishing boats and coconut cargo ships passing back and forth. 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 and visit a coconut workshop to see the various stages of coconut processing, from removing the husk to the peeling, which is all done by hand. You'll then stop at a honey-bee garden for a snack of fresh fruit and honey tea accompanied by local music. Then it's a visit to a candy mill to enjoy some sweets followed by a visit to the country home of an artisan who makes traditional sleeping mats.

Experience more of the stunning countryside when you embark on a bike 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.

After lunch, 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 12: Fly to Siem Reap, Cambodia

Welcome to Siem Reap

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. The rest of the evening free to explore the town and enjoy dinner in a local restaurant. Try a delectable local dish like Khmer curry.

Day 13: Discover the Angkor Temples

On the way to 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 included 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 of the national flag. 

Your first stop 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, Jayavarman VII, who reigned from the late 12th to the early 13th century. Angkor Thom was a formidable defensive city, as it's encircled by a wide moat and was further protected by 26-foot (8 m) walls.

Another 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. Alas, the top levels of Bayon were closed for restoration in 2019 and aren't scheduled to open until 2022. 

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 have the evening free.

Day 14: Visit Kbal Spean & Banteay Srei

Statues at Banteay Srei

After meeting your tour guide this morning, transfer into the lush jungles about 30 miles (49 km) from Siem Reap. Here you'll visit the spectacular Kbal Spean, a river and ancient Angkor-era archeological site. Known as the "River of a Thousand Lingas," the waterway is famous for the intricate lingas (Hindu symbols) intricately carved into the riverbed. It was believed that the carvings spiritually "fertilized" the waters that flowed to the eastern bay and irrigated the rice fields. 

Head further out through the rural countryside to the small but beautiful pink-hued temple of Banteay Srei. Dedicated to the Hindu god, Shiva, Banteay Srei is one of the most picturesque temples in Cambodia and is lauded as a stunning achievement of Angkorian artisanship, featuring small yet exquisite carvings and bas reliefs. Comprised of mainly pink sandstone, its name translates as "Citadel of the Women." 

In the afternoon, you'll be transferred back to Siem Reap, where you can enjoy your final evening in Cambodia at your leisure.

Day 15: Depart Siem Reap

Farewell, Cambodia

It's time to say goodbye to Cambodia. After breakfast, spend your last morning in Siem Reap relaxing, shopping, or squeezing in some last-minute sightseeing before transferring to the airport to catch your departing flight. Safe travels!

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