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Highlights of Vietnam: Amazing Ha Long Bay to Labyrinth Cu Chi Tunnels
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Have you ever get wrong with Vietnã, Viedma, Vietname, Vietnams or Vietnamn? The correct name is Vietnam. See the very best Highlights of Vietnam, getting a taste of the country’s diverse landscapes, intriguing history and rich culture in just twelve days — a greatest-hits tour of this fascinating country. Commencing from Hanoi, Vietnam’s vibrant capital in the north you will then see ethnic minorities in Mai Chau, admire Sunshine valley of Thung Nang in Ninh Binh and a chance to see bird garden (for bird watchers), cruise the waters of Halong Bay, and visit the charming town of Hoi An a UNESCO heritage site. Down south, discover the buzzing streets of Ho Chi Minh City, and end your tour with a cruise in the Mekong Delta. Truly an immersive tours to truly connect with the remarkable wonders of Vietnam! What else are you waiting but travel to Vietnam?
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DAY 01: HANOI
Welcome to HANOI, the vibrant capital of Vietnam and the start of your big adventure. Upon arrival, you will be met by your guide and driver then transported to your hotel for check in. Depend on your actual arrival time, some soft sightseeing for an orientation tour is suggested.
For some activities in the evening, follow your guide for a culinary adventure while tasting street food in the Old Quarter. It’s a great chance to sample all those weird and wonderful foods you see but just aren’t sure what they are! Stroll through the narrow streets of the old quarter as your guide points out a range of tasty noodles, snacks and breads. At night the sidewalks are packed with locals perched on stools, amongst bubbling pots and sizzling woks. These small pop up restaurants are a nightly feature that all but disappear during the day.
Sit down and enjoy a flame-grilled Vietnamese barbecue of beef, chicken, vegetables and tofu on skewers. The night comes to an end with dessert from Hanoi’s best-known ice-cream parlour before returning back to your hotel.
After a refreshing night’s sleep, begin your journey this morning encompassing some of the highlights and hidden gems of Hanoi. The city showcases superb French architecture from its colonial days, with large tree-lined boulevards and low-built mansions and houses.
Start with monumental Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum which houses the embalmed body of the communist leader in a glass coffin then the wooden stilt house where the president Ho Chi Minh resided in his later years. Ho Chi Minh himself, a spartan-living and scholarly man, chose not to live in the Presidential Palace; he preferred instead a simple teak stilt-house specially built for him in the grounds. Nearby you can see the One Pillar Pagoda, founded by fatherless King Ly Thai Tong in 1049 and Temple of Literature was Vietnam’s first university.
After lunch, follow your guide to the 6th century Tran Quoc Pagoda, Hanoi’s oldest Buddhist temple, originally built in the sixth century, and the Taoist Quan Thanh Temple.
Stroll through the narrow alley then be immersed with a strong Vietnamese coffee at a café overlooking Hoan Kiem Lake (that appears on lonely planet Vietnam guidebook) - an important symbol of Vietnamese folklore - before heading to your final stop at Ngoc Son Temple on a tiny island on the lake. Enjoy a water puppet show for a look at traditional performance art in Vietnam before heading back to your hotel.
This morning, head towards MAI CHAU from your hotel around 8:00 am. The drive takes you four hours and promises to be a scenic one. Upon arrival in Mai Chau, enjoy a freshly and deliciously prepared lunch before checking in the hotel.
Begin your journey afterwards to discover the gorgeous surroundings and ethnic minority tribes with a leisurely walk to local Thai ethnic villages of Pom Coong and Lac then pass by Mo Luong Cave.
As you explore further, you will find out stunning waterfalls, bamboo groves, towering limestone mountains, beautiful rice paddies, corn fields, and terraced tea plantations are something the town has to offer. Mai Chau boasts a blend of culture and adventure set against one of the most striking backdrops of Vietnam. Return to the your lodge (which is equipped with an outdoor pool and Roman-style Jacuzzi) then relax.
After breakfast, pedal a short relaxing valley biking tour. It is another beautiful opportunity to interact with the local hill tribe people and get to know their culture better while cycling through charming local villages, lush rice paddies and into the countryside. This is a unique experience where you will get to peek into the houses of locals and witness traditional farming methods up close.
Check out then depart for a 3.5 hour drive through rural landscapes to NINH BINH, then visit Hoa Lu, one of the first capitals of Vietnam. Upon arrival, have time for lunch break. After lunch, pay a visit to the temples dedicated to Emperor Dinh Tien Hoang of the Dinh Dynasty (968-80) and Emperor Le Dai Hanh of the Le Dynasty (980-1009).
Board a private sampan in Tam Coc, gently slicing through the water, taking note of the enormous limestone karsts jutting out from the green rice fields and giving rise to the area’s nickname, 'Halong Bay on Land'. For those feeling adventurous, there’s a climb up to Bich Dong Pagoda on nearby Ngu Nhac Mountain. The pagoda dates back to 1428 and is comprised of three structures: Ha, Trung, and Thuong Pagodas, in ascending order. If you are not interested in Tam Coc boat trip, there are other options for you to choose from:
OPTION 2: Boat to Trang An Natural Reserve (in replacement of Tam Coc): Trang An is a less visited nature reserve gorgeously illustrated by karst hills and a peaceful river softly crawling through a series of caves (one of which takes 15-minutes to pass through in darkness). Once here, you will find the only interruptions are the sound of birds and the gentle paddle of the oar upon the crystal clear river. Truly an eco-tourism area!
OPTION 3: Boat Thung Nang (in replacement of Tam Coc): Thung Nang is another less-visited area that is similar in style to Tam Coc. Pass through a cave, fields of lotus (in summer) and reach a quaint pagoda before returning on the same route. Nearby, the Thung Nham Bird Garden, listed in special list of Ministry of Vietnam tourism, offers an optional excursion for bird watchers.
Following an early breakfast, leave Ninh Binh for a 4-hour (approximately) drive to HALONG BAY, Vietnam’s most popular UNESCO World Heritage site! Upon arrival around noontime to Halong City’s pier, proceed with check in formalities and board the junk for a five-hour cruise on the emerald green waters of beautiful Halong Bay, dotted with more than 2,000 towering karst islands topped with dense jungle foliage. Lunch (with fresh seafood) will be served on board while cruising into the bay.
In the afternoon, enjoy sightseeing, on-board activities or just spend some time relaxing on board. Towards the end of the day the boat sets anchor for the night among the karst formations. Dinner is served on board.
Wake up early to enjoy a memorable sunrise over the karst formations of Halong Bay. Enjoy the delicious breakfast while the junk cruises back towards the port through more limestone formations. Upon arrival to port, disembark and being transported back to Hanoi Airport for the quick flight south to central city of Da Nang.
NOTE: En route to the airport, if the time permits, we make a stop to visit unique so-called Thanh Chuong Palace, the home and studio of painter Thanh Chuong, one of the most celebrated painters in Vietnam. More a living space than a museum, the palace is an architectural gem featuring Vietnamese traditional cultural objects, exquisite antiques and remarkable structures.
Upon arrival in DA NANG, your local guide and driver will be awaiting to transport you to the hotel in HOI AN, a major Asian trading port in the 17th and 18th centuries for check in.
This morning you will take off on a half day trip to capital and religious centre of the former Champa Kingdom, My Son Sanctuary, also another World Heritage-listed site. Located 40km southwest of Hoi An in a lush green valley and considered one of the best-preserved Cham centers in Vietnam, the site is home to dozens of red brick towers and sanctuaries dating between the 7th and 13th centuries. Stroll around the temple complex to learn about the Cham culture, architecture and civilization before come back to the resort before noon.
After a morning of exploration, head back to Hoi An. There is a unique opportunity to stop for a visit to Tra Kieu, the capital of Champa Kingdom between the 4th and 8th centuries. Some of the finest sculptures in Da Nang’s Cham Museum originated from here.
Upon returning to Hoi An, take a walking tour of the ancient town centre to visit former merchants’ houses, the 400 year-old Japanese Covered Bridge, a Chinese communal hall and the colorful market. After the tour, enjoy some time at leisure exploring the old town.
After breakfast at the hotel, depart Hoi An for Hue, the former imperial capital of Vietnam, en route stop in Da Nang for a visit to the Cham Museum, which contains and exhibits the finest collection of Cham sculptures in the world.
Afterwards, continue with a drive climbing over the Pass of Ocean Clouds (or Hai Van Pass in the Vietnamese language), dropping down to the beautifully photogenic fishing village of Lang Co. After a short break for a drink in Lang Co, continue the drive one hour to reach Hue, former imperial capital of Vietnam.
Arrive in HUE, then take a half-day tour of the former imperial capital. Commence at the Imperial Citadel where the Nguyen Dynasty ruled between 1802 and 1945. The Citadel was heavily bombed and badly damaged in the latter stages of the French and American wars but retains a sense of grace and majesty even today. It also reflects the pomp and ceremony of the dynastic rulers as well as the scars of many years of turmoil, both ancient and modern.
After exploring the ruins of this wonderful monument, continue to another highlight of Hue city, 17th-century Thien Mu Pagoda which overlooks the Perfume River. Visit the 21-meter tower which is the centerpiece of the pagoda, representing seven reincarnations of Buddha. On the pagoda grounds you will see the famous Austin car a resident monk drove to Saigon in 1963 to protest against the southern regime. The photo of his self immolation is one of the most well known images of the war. After the tour, enjoy the remainder of the day free at leisure.
This morning, pay a visit to the city’s vibrant Dong Ba Market which is full of fresh produce. Enjoy a leisurely cyclo ride (or rickshaw) through the ‘Old City’ to Tinh Tam Lake where the Emperors used to relax. The lake is abundant of lotus flowers in summer and is surrounded by local style coffee shops, a favourite local spot to pass the time.
Begin your day by floating down the peaceful Perfume River by boat, taking in the endless surrounding greenery. At the end of your hour-long boat trip, hop off at the pier and transfer to the tomb of Emperor Khai Dinh, designed in traditional Vietnamese style with a European touch making it unique from the other tombs in Hue. Admire the unusual combination of architecture that blends a traditional Chinese past with a modern Western future. Then, continue to tomb of Emperor Minh Mang located in a tranquil setting of gardens and ponds to explore the opulent and exotic resting place laid out in formal Chinese style.
For lunch break, visit the Dong Thuyen Pagoda, a pagoda nestled on the top of a hill with a beautiful view then feast on a vegetarian meal prepared by nuns. You can take this unique chance to gain knowledge about Buddhism or just get to know your friendly hosts.
After lunch, make your way to village of Thanh Tien, renowned for its 300-year history of crafting paper flowers. Meet one of the local villagers and witness how the beautiful handicraft items are made. Finally, pay a visit to traditional 19th century Hue residence - the Tha Om Garden House and see its owner, Mr Vinh tell stories of his royal heritage before returning to your hotel to enjoy the rest of your evening at leisure.
After breakfast, transfer to Phu Bai Airport for the short flight south to Ho Chi Minh City. Upon arrival, your guide will be awaiting to provide the transport to hotel for check in. Take a short rest before embarking on a city tour.
Begin the day with a visit to Cho Lon, the Chinatown district, to discover the area’s markets, shops, and the Cantonese Thien Hau Pagoda. From here, proceed to visit the FITO Museum, Vietnam's first traditional medicine museum, with an stunning collection of 3,000 items relevant to the development of traditional Vietnamese medicine. Implements used to prepare indigenous herbs, and objects commonly found in traditional pharmacies can be seen in the ancient books and documents as well as galleries on traditional Vietnamese medicine.
Return to the city centre to visit Ben Thanh Market where an incredible display of fresh produce is offered. Enjoy a stroll through the market exploring the variety of goods for sale. Lunch break at a restaurant. Continue to the War Remnants or History Museum (up to personal preference) and the Reunification Hall, formerly known as the Presidential Palace.
From the palace, stroll to the other major sights of colonial Ho Chi Minh City: the elegant 19th century Old Saigon Post Office, elegant artistry of the Cathedral of Notre Dame, Dong Khoi Street (formerly Rue Catinat), Opera House. The Palace was also where the Vietnam War concluded in 1975, when a Communist tank of the North Vietnam crashed through its gates. Afterwards, head back to the hotel then rest.
This morning, depart the bustling HCMC then embark on an excursion to the Mekong Delta Region, often referred to as ‘the rice bowl of Vietnam’. It takes you 2 hour drive to reach the delta town of CAI BE in Tien Giang province.
Upon arrival, board a local vessel for the day’s cruise in the delta’s waterways, stopping to visit a small handicraft factory on Turtle Island and to visit a tropical fruit orchard. There is also a chance to visit a cottage factory where ‘pop-rice’, rice paper and coconut candies are made.
Later we will take a horse-drawn cart ride along country roads, admiring the scenery and the daily life of the local villagers and enjoy a taste of the locally-produced honey, and explore the Xep Canal by boat. Lunch will be served in the local Mekong style with specialties of the area. After lunch we pay a visit to the Vinh Trang Pagoda, surrounded by beautiful gardens, in My Tho Town, before heading back to Ho Chi Minh City.
DAY 12: CU CHI TUNNELS – HO CHI MINH CITY DEPARTURE
Your journey about Vietnam highlights wraps up today. Breakfast at your hotel is accompanied by the rich flavor and scent of fresh Vietnamese coffee.
After that, pay a visit to the Cu Chi Tunnels, the remarkable underground tunnel network where Vietcong guerrillas hid out during the Vietnam War. Containing over 170 miles of networks and just 20 miles away from Ho Chi Minh City, the tunnels continue to burrow through the countryside, constructed deep enough below ground to not have been affected by rumbling tanks or aircraft. You’ll see secret trap doors, living areas, meeting rooms and underground kitchens while you can also view excavated areas if you prefer to remain above ground. Have lunch in Cu Chi Tunnels.
Later in the afternoon, return to HCMC. Laid back until your private transfer will ferry you to the airport where you will catch your return flight home. For ideas on further customization, you may want to listen to our further suggestion for your Vietnam trip.
Private Tour (for 02 pax, cheaper if more)
Tour Price Includes
11 night accommodation
Local English speaking guides
Meals as mentioned
Cruise in Halong Bay
Boat in Mekong Delta (Cai Be)
All sightseeing as specified and entrance fees included
Bottled drinking water per touring days
Tour Price Excludes
Visas if required
Other meals not mentioned in the program
International & domestic flights (quoted separately)
Items of a personal nature such as laundry, drinks, etc...
Tips for your guide and driver (discretionary)
Any camera or video fees at any sites
When to Go
See estimated monthly temperature and rainfall for this itinerary