Travel the length of Vietnam on an epic nine-day highlights tour you won't soon forget. In the capital of Hanoi, you'll dive into the culture, cuisine, and history with walking tours and cooking classes. After cruising the jade waters of Ha Long Bay, you'll experience the ancient culture of Hoi An before continuing south to Ho Chi Minh City, which will be your base for one final adventure to the Mekong Delta.

Highlights

  • Discover Hanoi's history on walking tours
  • Spend two days cruising Ha Long Bay
  • Take a food tour of Hoi An and visit the countryside
  • Tour Ho Chi Minh City and the Mekong's floating markets

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrive in Hanoi, Optional Activities Hanoi
Day 2 Hanoi City Tour & Water Puppet Show Hanoi
Day 3 Day Trip to Ba Vi Countryside & Cooking Class Hanoi
Day 4 Transfer to Ha Long Bay, Cruise Lan Ha Bay Ha Long Bay
Day 5 Visit Dark & Light Cave, Transfer to Hoi An Hoi An
Day 6 Hoi An Countryside Tour & Food Walk Hoi An
Day 7 Transfer to Ho Chi Minh City, Guided Tour Ho Chi Minh City
Day 8 Day Trip to Mekong Delta Ho Chi Minh City
Day 9 Depart Ho Chi Minh City  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Arrive in Hanoi, Optional Activities

Welcome to Hanoi
Welcome to Vietnam! Few places on the globe offer such a deep history, as this country has been inhabited dating back to the Bronze Age culture of Phung Nguyen beginning around 3,000 BCE. And what better place to start your adventure in this country than Hanoi, which itself has been a regional capital in some form since about 200 BCE. In this city, you'll find historical landmarks and culture that spans the ages, from ancient dynasties through French colonialism up to the present day.
 
Upon arrival at the airport, a personal driver will take you to your hotel in the city center. Once you've settled in, you can head out on a self-guided tour. Spend the afternoon exploring the labyrinthine streets of the Old Quarter by foot, or on a traditional three-wheeled cyclo, as you pass temples, French-colonial buildings, and Vietnamese "tube houses." These space-saving buildings can be as narrow as 6 feet (2 m) wide and 12 stories high. Later, perhaps head to the Pan Pacific Hotel's rooftop bar and sip cocktails amid spectacular sunset views over Tay Ho ("West Lake").

Day 2: Hanoi City Tour & Water Puppet Show

The Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum, in Hanoi
Visit the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum, in Hanoi

Leave the hotel at 8 am on a full-day guided tour to see Hanoi's historic landmarks and experience the city like a local. It starts near Hoan Kiem Lake, in the heart of the Old Quarter. Here, you'll visit Hang Be Market, which has been a commercial hub in the city for hundreds of years. This is where locals come to shop for fresh produce, meats, seafood, and other items. Of course, there are many vendors here selling prepared foods as well as stalls serving up Vietnam's famous street eats, so bring your appetite.

Then head over to the Tran Quoc Pagoda. Dating to the Ly Nam De Dynasty of the sixth century, this is the oldest Buddhist shrine in Hanoi. Next is the Museum of Ethnology, which preserves the cultural heritage of the 54 different ethnic groups in Vietnam. After lunch, continue to the 11th-century Temple of Literature, which was Vietnam's first-ever national university. To this day, students still pray at its altars for academic success. Finish the tour at the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum, the final resting place of revolutionary leader "Uncle Ho," who died in 1969. It was inspired by Lenin's Mausoleum in Moscow.

End the day with one of Vietnam's more unique theatrical performances: a water puppet show. This cultural expression dates back over 1,000 years, originating in the Red River Delta rice fields. Today, performances involve puppeteers maneuvering intricately crafted wooden marionettes over pools of water. The result is a dramatization of Vietnamese folk tales brought to life with the help of musical ensembles. After the show, you'll return to your hotel.

Day 3: Day Trip to Ba Vi Countryside & Cooking Class

Day Trip to Ba Vi Countryside & Cooking Class
Learn to cook Vietnamese favorites on a day trip into the Ba Vi countryside 

In the morning, you'll head west out of Hanoi on a full-day guided eco-tour of the beautiful Ba Vi countryside. Your first stop is Ri village, where you'll enjoy welcome drinks and snacks with Mr. Duoc, a Vietnam War veteran and tea plantation owner. Listen to Mr. Duoc's stories about life during the war and visit his workshop and tea plantation, where you'll learn how to pick the best leaves.

Next, take a short drive to Moc village, where Mrs. Chin will teach you how to cook Vietnamese dishes that you'll enjoy for lunch in her tropical garden. Join Mrs. Chin for a walk around the village to visit families and learn how to make tofu, conical hats, and other regional products. Finish with an easy cycle through Vietnam's iconic rice paddies, followed by a Muong herbal foot bath, before returning to Hanoi.

Day 4: Transfer to Ha Long Bay, Cruise Lan Ha Bay

Cruise into Lan Ha Bay

Board a shuttle bus this morning for the 2.5-hour drive to the coast and Ha Long Bay. Located on the Gulf of Tonkin, over 1,500 karst islets rise above jade waters and resemble the spine of some mythological creature ("ha long" actually translates to "descending dragon"). The otherworldly beauty of this region is unlike anywhere else and thus has been bestowed with UNESCO World Heritage status.

Upon arrival at the marina, you'll board a multi-level cruise ship for an overnight tour of this UNESCO World Heritage Site. After settling into your cabin, head up to the deck, where a delicious seafood lunch awaits. Then spend hours relaxing on the sun deck as the ship sails across glassy emerald waters south into adjacent Lan Ha 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 just in time to participate in a cooking masterclass offered by the onboard expert chef. During the workshop, you'll learn to make traditional specialties like nem (Vietnamese fried spring rolls) and enjoy them for dinner. Spend the remainder of the evening relaxing, or head out on a small boat for a bit of night fishing with the locals.

Day 5: Visit Dark & Light Cave, Transfer to Hoi An

Off to Hoi An
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Wake up early and get the blood pumping with a tai chi session on the sundeck. After a light breakfast, the ship will cruise to the Dark and Light Cave. You'll then board a traditional bamboo boat and enter this system of two sea caverns. The "dark" cave stretches over 328 feet (100 m) and you'll explore the interior with a flashlight. The "light" cave is shorter and is filled with natural light, illuminating the white limestone karst walls and emerald waters of the grotto. Its cathedral-like interior is a great place to snap photos.

Afterward, you'll return to the ship, which will head back to the pier in Ha Long Bay. From there, you'll hop in a vehicle for the 3.5-hour ride back to Hanoi and the airport, where you'll catch a 1.5-hour flight to the city of Da Nang, located on the central coast. Upon arrival at the airport in Da Nang, another driver will meet you for the one-hour drive south to Hoi An. Sitting on the Thu Bon River, this historic city was a major trading port with the West from the 15th through the 19th centuries, attracting merchants from around the globe. Upon arrival, you'll transfer to your hotel and will have the rest of the night free.

Day 6: Hoi An Countryside Tour & Food Walk

Ride traditional basket boats
Around 9 am, your guide will meet you at your hotel, and the two of you will head outside of Hoi An for a half-day tour of the countryside. Upon arrival in the waterfront region of Cam Thanh, you'll hop in a Vietnamese circular basket boat (called a thung chai) for a ride along the nipa palm forests of the Thu Bon River. You'll even get to try your hand at traditional net fishing. Afterward, have lunch on the waterfront before returning to your hotel in Hoi An. 
 
A little while later, you'll head out on a four-hour guided walk to discover the famous landmarks as well as the delicious culinary legacy of Hoi An. During this stroll through Ancient Town, you'll see some of the most impressive architectural landmarks in the city, including the arched Japanese Covered Bridge and the 19th-century Assembly Hall of the Chaozhou Chinese Congregation.
 
After all that walking, you'll no doubt have worked up an appetite. That's why next up is the Central Market, one of the busiest municipal markets in the city. At its food court, you can order delicious and cheap eats like fruit smoothies and noodle dishes. (Be sure to try cao lao, a regional specialty.) Whatever you decide to eat, one thing is certain: you won't leave hungry. After the tour, you'll return to your hotel and will have the evening free.

Day 7: Transfer to Ho Chi Minh City, Guided Tour

City Hall of Ho Chi Minh City
In the morning, transfer back to the airport in Da Nang, where you'll catch a 1.5-hour flight south to Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon). Vietnam's largest metropolis is fascinating in that it has managed to preserve its cultural roots and traditions in the face of a communist revolution, a devastating war, and ever-encroaching modernity. Upon arrival, a driver will transfer you to your hotel.
 
Later, you'll meet a guide for a half-day highlights tour of the city. During the excursion, you'll visit many historic buildings that represent the broad mix of Vietnamese, Chinese, and French influences that define HCMC. These include the Reunification Palace (once the headquarters of the Saigon government), the People's Committee Building, 19th century Notre Dame Cathedral, the Central Post Office, and the Saigon Opera House. One somber highlight is the War Remnants Museum, which offers a vivid perspective of the American War through the eyes of the Vietnamese. 

Day 8: Day Trip to Mekong Delta

Travel down the canals on the Mekong
At 8 am a driver will pick you up from your hotel for a trip outside of Ho Chi Minh City to one of the most famous regions in the country: the Mekong Delta. You'll drive south for about 2.5 hours to the heart of the delta region and the town of Cai Be, which sits on the Mekong River. During the drive, you'll be treated to scenes of countryside life and witness a more traditional culture than in the cities.
 
Upon arrival in Cai Be, you'll visit its famous floating market. Each morning hundreds of boats ply the waters selling fresh produce, and your guide will introduce you to this world of aquatic commerce and teach you how to barter like a local. Then you'll visit a workshop run by a local family that makes "pop rice." Since Vietnam is the "rice bowl of Vietnam," the Mekong Delta region produces much of this crop, and this tasty puffed rice snack has become a staple of the local diet.
 
In the early afternoon, you'll stop at another local home for a traditional lunch, and can spend some time afterward relaxing in a hammock on the waterfront. If you like, hop on a bicycle for a leisurely ride along the delta's famous fruit orchards. Later, you'll return to the car for the ride back to Ho Chi Minh City.

Day 9: Depart Ho Chi Minh City

Sunset over Ho Chi Minh City
Your nine-day whirlwind tour of Vietnam has, unfortunately, come to an end. Your driver will meet you in the morning for the ride to the airport in Ho Chi Minh City, where you'll catch your flight home. Safe travels!

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Map

Map of Magnificent Vietnam - 9 Days
Map of Magnificent Vietnam - 9 Days