Start your Vietnam Highlights this evening in Ho Chi Minh City, still referred to as Saigon, a cosmopolitan city that combines Vietnamese flair with US influences post the Vietnam War and is one of the most dynamic and progressive cities in Asia with great places to eat and drink. The French also left their fingerprints all over this ‘Paris of the Orient’, from architecture like Notre Dame Cathedral to the best pastries this side of the Eiffel Tower.
Today you’ll hear Vietnam’s history in a nutshell on a city tour that starts from colonial times. Check out the Notre Dame Cathedral, a relic left from French rule. We also see the Presidential or Reunification Palace, the former political heart of the country, from where various leaders have ruled. Learn how the loss of this building marked the fall of Saigon during the Vietnam War. Then look through the sobering War Remnants Museum and find out about victims of the Vietnam War. In the afternoon, the group flies to the seaside resort town of Nha Trang, famous for its sweeping, golden beach, turquoise waters and fun water sports. Your Trip Manager can also organise you a treat - experience a mineral mud bath and hot thermal springs! This evening, order yourself some fresh lobster, prawns or even fish’n’chips!
A free day gives you time to sink into the laid-back beach lifestyle. Snack on fresh pineapple or other tropical fruits from the area. Try a massage and soak up the sun or cool off in the South China Sea. Activity-wise, there’s a chance to get out among the gorgeous offshore islands on our optional cruise. With swim stops and snorkelling off the island of Hon Mun, this is a fun way to explore the area. Tonight, find yourself a spot on the beach or at a waterfront bar to watch the sun set over the sea. But don’t stop there! Get into Nha Trang’s nightlife with some of the group - it’s a pretty lively place!
After a short flight to Dan Nang this morning, we drive on to Hoi An. Hoi An is a pretty little town, with history written all over it. Blending Japanese, Chinese, Vietnamese and European influences, this former port town is an unusual mix of architectural styles. You’ll get a real feel for this town when you walk through the UNESCO World Heritage Listed old quarter with our Local Guide, who’ll tell you the story behind the old merchant shops, the 400-year-old Japanese covered bridge and the pretty pagoda. This afternoon, it’s free time to either relax back at the hotel pool or get some clothes made. Hoi An is known for its beautiful cloths and colourful silks, and there are loads of tailors ready to whip up some made-to-order threads in record breaking time. One tip is to bring some clothes you like from home with you - the tailors can make almost exact copies of the patterns! They also have designs in their shops to choose from. As the sun sets, we head out on bikes with a Local Guide into the surrounding countryside for a look at the gorgeous scenery. Cruise past rice fields and traditional homes before riding riverside back into town. Choose an optional Vietnamese cooking class tonight and taste why this food has such a good reputation. Cook up 4 traditional dishes - you’ll even get to enjoy eating them afterward.
A short drive from Hoi An are the famous Marble Mountains where (if you choose to explore) you can see a collection of 5 peaks that represent the 5 Elements in Vietnamese folk lore – metal, wood, earth, fire and water. Our local guide would be delighted to take us on a tour through the Thuy Son caves and grottos which are home to some of the most beautiful and intricate stone carvings in the area. The Marble Mountains were also the hiding place of the US Forces during the Vietnam Conflict and even a military hospital! Hear about the history while taking in panoramic views and later, kick back at An Bang Beach before heading back to Hoi An for more ME Time.
Back on the coach we travel through the “Pass of the Ocean Clouds”, on to the former imperial city of Hue. Keep your camera handy for the incredible coastal views and rolling green hills along the way. We start our time in mellow Hue with a visit to the imperial Tu Duc Mausoleum. Our Local Guide will give you the story on this 'poet Emperor' and ancient burial rites as you walk around the intricately decorated pavilions, gorgeous gardens, and lotus flower ponds. Take your time to view the statues and colourful artwork. The next spot we stop at is the 7-story Thien Mu Pagoda. Learn about the legend behind its construction plus the events surrounding the notorious Hue Buddhist massacre.
After a short flight, we land in the Northern capital of Hanoi. Hanoi is completely different to its southern counterpart, Ho Chi Minh City. It combines French flair, Chinese culture and Vietnamese vitality. This town is a romantic living timeline and open-air museum. Our hotel is right in the middle of the city’s bustling Old Quarter – this really is the place to be! The Old Quarter has been Hanoi’s commercial hub since the 15th century and is packed into a tiny square kilometre. A maze of back streets, merchant houses and shops loaded with goods gives the area its special atmosphere. Your Trip Manager will take you to some of the 36 trade streets found here – each street specialises in certain products. See masses of colourful items on display, from red banners, black-lacquered goods, to silks, fans and paper products. Escape the busy streets with a visit to the Temple of Literature – a quiet haven of walled gardens, red-lacquered pillars and golden painted dragons. Nearly 1,000 years old, the temple is Vietnam’s most important Confucian sanctuary and its historic seat of learning. In your free time, navigate to the French Quarter for a change of scene. Walk the wide Parisian-style boulevards and take in the shuttered mansions, balconies and other leftovers from a by-gone colonial era. For a real slice of Vietnamese culture, sit down at one of the simple bia hoi (draught beer) sidewalk bars, pull up a stool and hang out among the locals. People-watch and order some local dishes, like bo luc lac (spicy beef and green pepper stir fry), dau chien ron (fried tofu) or nom ngo sen (lotus-stem salad).
First up this morning is a visit to the mausoleum of Ho Chi Minh – former president of Vietnam. Be part of the solemn procession of onlookers paying their respects to the leader who fought for the country’s independence (seasonal). We then drive to picturesque Halong Bay where we’ll board a Chinese-style junk boat for an overnight cruise through the absolutely stunning waters of this UNESCO World Heritage-listed site. This natural wonder doesn’t come up short on views: traditional sampans and junks sail the crystal waters of the Gulf of Tonkin, where nearly 2,000 limestone islands dot the sea. Kick back on deck and soak up views of grottos, lagoons and thick forests. Our boat passes hidden coves, sheer cliffs and stunning beaches before arriving at the Sung Sot Caves where we'll visit the limestone interior and take in the fantastic views. Back on board there’s a little more cruising before we stop for a swim in an idyllic remote lagoon and dock at Dao Ti Top for sunset. Tonight enjoy some fresh seafood with the group for dinner before settling in to your air-conditioned cabin on board the junk.
Overnight Cruise Dinner, Breakfast and Lunch
After a relaxed breakfast we take a local boat to explore a small, hidden grotto and perhaps see some of the locals (monkeys!) that live there. We then cruise back to port and return to Hanoi, with free time this afternoon. For more culture your Trip Manager can help you get tickets to Hanoi’s world-famous water puppet performance, a quirky tradition from the region of the Red River Delta.
Hotel Breakfast and Lunch