Head off the beaten path and into a land of wonders on this week-long exploration of central Vietnam. After a whirlwind tour of Hanoi, you'll catch a sleeper train down the coast to Dong Hoi. Explore the spectacular natural caves of Thien Duong and Phong Nha, then take a fascinating journey through the DMZ to reach the historic city of Hue. Discover its imposing Imperial Citadel, take a boat trip down the Perfume River, and venture into the surrounding countryside to cycle through a 500-year-old village and meet the fishermen of the Tam Giang Lagoon.

Highlights

  • Tour the capital of Hanoi by vintage motorbike
  • Explore the otherworldly caves of Thien Duong & Phong Nha
  • Discover Hue's vast Imperial Palace & take a boat trip down the Perfume River
  • Cycle through the 500-year-old village of Phuoc Tich
  • Savor the best of Vietnamese street food & home cooking

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrive in Hanoi & Full-Day City Tour, Overnight Train to Dong Hoi Dong Hoi
Day 2 Arrive in Dong Hoi, Transfer to Phong Nha & Cave Tours Dong Hoi
Day 3 Transfer to Huế via the DMZ, Quang Tri & Phong Nha Huế
Day 4 Tour Huế's Imperial Citadel, Royal Dinner Huế
Day 5 Visit Phuoc Tich & Tam Giang Lagoon, Optional Dinner in a Local Home Huế
Day 6 Free Day in Huế, Optional Street Food Tour Huế
Day 7 Depart Huế  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Arrive in Hanoi & Full-Day City Tour, Overnight Train to Dong Hoi

Hanoi's Temple of Literature

Welcome to Hanoi! Upon arrival in the Vietnamese capital, you'll be met at the airport by your guide and hit the ground running with a full-day tour. Start at the Temple of Literature (Van Mieu in Vietnamese), home of the first university of Vietnam. It was built in 1070 by Emperor Ly Thanh Tong for princes and mandarins exclusively. With its ancient courtyards, altars, and roofs, Van Mieu is an excellent example of Vietnamese architecture.

Next, you'll visit Hoa Lo Prison, which was well-known to American soldiers, like late U.S. Senator John McCain, as the “Hanoi Hilton.” The prison closed in the 1990s, but today it functions as a museum and highlights two specific time periods: the French colonial era and the Vietnam War. 

In the afternoon, you'll hop on the back of a Soviet-era Minsk motorcycle to venture through the black-market section of Hanoi, chat with locals in a remote area of the city, then continue to the must-see highlights of the capital. Stop at West Lake to experience the traditional cuisine and drinks, ranging from finger foods to the famous egg coffee, then return to your starting point via the famous Long Bien Bridge.

As evening falls, you will be driven to the Hanoi train station to board a sleeper train for the overnight journey to Dong Hoi in the Quang Binh province. Get settled into your compartment and enjoy the sunset as you travel south down the coast.

Day 2: Arrive in Dong Hoi, Transfer to Phong Nha & Cave Tours

Explore some of Vietnam's most spectacular caves on today's tour

At dawn, you'll pull into the Dong Hoi station, where your driver awaits to transfer you to your hotel in nearby Phong Nha for a short rest. After breakfast, embark on a one-hour boat trip on the Son River. As you slowly travel down the tranquil waters, enjoy the stunning landscapes passing along the riverbanks. Your first stop is the Phong Nha Cave, the longest cave in Southeast Asia. After returning to the pier, you'll travel to Thien Duong Cave, the largest of its kind in central Vietnam’s Phong Nha Ke Bang National Park. Marvel at the fantastical rock formations and dramatic stalactites, then return to your hotel for an afternoon at your leisure.

Day 3: Transfer to Huế via the DMZ, Quang Tri & Vinh Moc

The famous Hien Luong Bridge

After breakfast, travel toward Huế through the infamous Demilitarized Zone (DMZ). Stop along the road to see some of the most iconic DMZ sights, such as the Phong Nha, a strategic site that was the target of endless bombing during the Vietnam War. Descend into this underground village, which was dug by the population who occupied it for two years, to explore a system of three-floor tunnels consisting of small cells, kitchens, toilets, wells, and a hospital where 17 children were born. Continue en route to visit the famous Hien Luong Bridge, as well as the Quang Tri Citadel, before arriving in Huế by the end of the afternoon.

Day 4: Tour Huế's Imperial Citadel, Royal Dinner

Explore the vast Imperial City 

You're in for a treat today as you explore more of Huế's charms 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 is steeped in local 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. End the tour with a serene boat trip along the river, where you can admire the scenic views at a leisurely pace.

In the evening, discover the artistry of Huế's "royal cuisine" with a memorable dinner. The historic Vietnamese culinary tradition is known for its exquisite presentations and explosive flavors, which will both be on show at tonight's meal.

Day 5: Visit Phuoc Tich & Tam Giang Lagoon, Optional Dinner in a Local Home

A farmer cycling past rice fields in rural Vietnam

In the morning, you'll head out into the countryside to visit Phuoc Tich, a 500-year-old village surrounded by the O Lau River. It's well-known for its system of shrines, temples, old wooden houses, and an ancient tradition of producing ceramics. You'll have a chance to visit Mr. Dien's house, an elder local of the village, and learn about the traditional ceramic kiln and his impressive pottery collections.

Next, you'll take a drive to Tam Giang Lagoon and discover the rhythms of local life. Have lunch at a village house with a view of fishing boats and the lagoon, and observe how the locals fish using small cages and long fishing nets.

Return to Mr. Dien's house, then set out on a scenic bike ride through the village, stopping en route in the rice fields to discover how rice is harvested by hand. In the afternoon you'll be transferred back to Huế, where the remainder of the day is free. For dinner, you have the option of traveling to a local's home and sharing a meal with the family. Your hosts will prepare a range of traditional dishes while sharing stories about their family life, Vietnamese culture, and the culinary specialties of Huế. 

Day 6: Free Day in Huế, Optional Street Food Tour

Flavorful Vietnamese street food in Huế

Today is free for you to explore more of Huế at your own pace. Consider heading a couple of miles east of the city to Huong Thuy District to 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 prefer to stay in town, take a stroll around the colorful and bustling Dong Ba Market, the city's oldest municipal market.

Foodies can embark on an optional three-hour food tour by bicycle, which will have you sampling signature dishes like bún bò (vermicelli rice noodles and beef), banh khoai (pancake), and bahn beo (rice cake) throughout the city's most interesting neighborhoods and side streets. After a stop at a famous cake shop for some Vietnamese delicacies, the tour ends at a riverside coffee shop with beautiful views over the Perfume River. 

Day 7: Depart Huế

Huế's Imperial Gate at sunset

Your adventure comes to a close today as your driver transfers you to the airport to catch your departing flight. Safe travels!

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