Outlined itinerary: 4 Saigon, 2 Hoi An, 1 Hue, 2 Hanoi, 1 Halong, 1 Hanoi, 2 Sapa, 1 Hanoi
Day 1: Arrive Saigon (D)
Upon arrival into Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City), we are welcomed by our guide and transferred to our hotel.
Saigon is one of the world-class cities with a history, culture and style obtained from colonial France, ancient China and the art deco era. Once the main port of Cambodia’s Mekong territory, Saigon became the capital of France’s Cochinchina and later the capital of the Republic of Vietnam. It remained the capital until the end of the Vietnam War in 1975, when it was moved to Hanoi.
Although the city was renamed Ho Chi Minh City in 1975, the government soon realised that the proud ‘Saigonese’ would never stop calling it Saigon. Now it’s accepted that Ho Chi Minh City refers to the greater metropolitan area, while the older and central suburbs are called Saigon.
This evening, enjoy our welcome dinner for an introduction to Vietnam culinary, followed an orientation by bus for a feel of Saigon by night. Overnight in Saigon.
Day 2: Saigon (B,L)
Today we begin our sightseeing around Vietnam’s largest and busiest city with a visit to the imposing Notre Dame Cathedral, built between 1886 and 1890, and the French-style Central Post Office.
We continue to the Reunification Palace. This was the scene for the final stages of the Vietnam War when a North Vietnamese tank bulldozed through the gates and a soldier ran to the fourth floor of the palace to raise a North Vietnam flag from its balcony.
Next we visit the emotional War Remnants Museum where sensitive photographs and infantry weapons are on display. As it is a self-explanatory museum, we will have time to walk around on our own. Please be aware that some of the remnants on display at this museum may be confronting and upsetting for some group members.
After lunch we will drive to Cholon, the Chinatown of Saigon; here we will visit the beautiful Thien Hau Pagoda, dedicated to the Goddess of the sea. End our tour at Ben Thanh Market where we can enjoy some bargain hunting!
The remainder of the day is at your leisure.
Day 3: Saigon – Mekong Delta (B, L, D)
This morning we will drive to Ben Tre, a southern province located in the Mekong Delta. We will pass lush rice paddies and fruit farms emerging alongside the highway as we leave the city behind.
Upon arrival in Ben Tre, take a short stroll through a shaded area of coconut gardens before reaching a rest-stop to enjoy freshly picked fruit, a cup of honey tea and a traditional folk song performance.
Walk further to the river bank where we continue our journey by sampan, in which we are paddled by a personalised rower. Take the time to discover the maze of small palm-lined canals. We will have the chance to see a family-run business where they make coconut candy directly in front of the pier.
Embark on another motorized boat ride toward Turtle Island. Take some time to enjoy a leisurely walk through the village observing fruit orchards along the way. Our lunch will consist of typical Mekong dishes at a local restaurant. After lunch cruise to Chuong Duong waterfront pier where we can take in the Delta scenery of houses built on stilts and local fish farms.
Drive back to Saigon and stop en route at either Vinh Trang Pagoda, which was built in 1849 and is one of the first pagodas to incorporate a mixture of Asian and European architectural features.
Day 4: Saigon – Tay Ninh & Cu Chi Tunnels (B, L)
Depart hotel around 8.30 o’clock, we head west to the Cao Dai Great Temple (or ‘Holy See’) at Tay Ninh. The Cao Dai religion has over two million followers today and was created in 1926 by a Vietnamese man who promptly elected himself the first Pope. It combines the philosophies of Buddhism, Hinduism, Christianity and Islam. The ‘Holy See’ is one of the most striking and unusual structures in all of Asia, blending the styles of a Western cathedral, a Chinese pagoda and the lurid colours of a Disney cartoon.
After lunch we visit the amazing communist guerrilla tunnel system at Cu Chi. The network, which is several storeys deep in some parts, includes trapdoors, living areas, storage facilities, weapon factories, field hospitals, command centres and kitchens.
The tunnels are located in an area known during the Vietnam War as the ‘Iron Triangle’, on account of the strength of its Communist insurgency. Cu Chi was also the conclusion to many caravan paths that traced down from the Chinese border, across mountain borders with Laos and into the Mekong Delta, which later became known as the Ho Chi Minh Trail. We have the unique opportunity to hear a first-hand account of what it was like to live in the tunnels during the Vietnam War as we are led around the tunnels site by a Cu Chi Veteran. After exploring the tunnels we return to Saigon.
Day 5: Saigon to Hoi An via morning flight (TBA) (B)
This morning we will be transferred to Saigon airport to catch our flight to Danang. Danang is on the western bank of the Han River and is Vietnam’s 4th largest and main University City.
Upon arrival in Danang, we transfer to the charming town of Hoi An, located 30km south of Danang. En route we will stop at Marble Mountains, five mountainous outcrops of marble. Here we will have a view of China Beach, where the American Marines had a huge R&R base during the 1960s and 1970s.
Perhaps more than any other place in Vietnam, Hoi An retains the feel of centuries past. Once known as Faifo, Hoi An was an influential port along the Silk Road. For over 500 years merchants from China, Japan, France and Portugal settled in the prosperous town resulting in a distinctive blend of culture, cuisine, religion and architecture. In 1999, the town was declared a UNESCO World Heritage listed site for having the most unique architecture in Southeast Asia. It has been restored and protected by both the UNESCO fund and proud locals ever since.
Hoi An is also the best place to get some clothing made that fits your measurement. You can get measured and fitted this afternoon and your new garments will be ready for collection tomorrow.
After lunch at a local restaurant, enjoy a walking tour of the narrow and ancient streets of this charming town. We will visit one of Hoi An’s oldest homes, built over 200 years ago and still traditional Hoi An market, the Quan Cong Chinese Temple and the Japanese Covered Bridge.
It is local belief that the ancient houses in Hoi An have a soul, which is displayed on the house as an eye, formed from the Chinese yin-yang symbol. Newly built houses are blind since they do not have eyes.
The rest of the day is at your leisure to revisit the tailors or explore this ancient town
Day 6: Hoi An cooking class (B,L)
Hoi An is also best known for its food fusion. This morning we will be transferred to the Central market in Hoi An to start the market tour with our chef and learn how to choose fresh ingredients. Chance to buy cooking knife. Continue to a famous cooking class for a hands on experience to impress our friends back home. Lunch with what we cook.
The rest of the day is at your leisure to revisit the tailors or explore this ancient town
Day 7: Hoi An to Hue (B,L)
We leave Hoi An this morning and head north to Hue. This drive will take us over the scenic Hai Van cloudy Pass, passing the fishing village of Lang Co, as we enjoy panoramic views of the central coastline (if weather permits, otherwise, we will have to drive through the tunnel).
Hue was the imperial capital of Vietnam from 1802 to 1945, when the last emperor abdicated the throne, yet is still regarded as the seat of Vietnam’s culture and religion today. The Imperial Citadel, which dominates the city, was modelled on China’s Forbidden City. The city boasts many significant pagodas and temples, as well as the grand tombs of the Nguyen Emperors.
Lunch is served at a garden restaurant.
This afternoon we enjoy a cyclo ride to visit the Imperial Citadel and the Forbidden Purple City, which was built only for the Imperial family, concubines and eunuchs. The Forbidden Purple City is still being restored to this day after the destruction caused by street fighting and bombing during the French and Vietnam wars.
We continue by road to Thien Mu Pagoda, Hue’s oldest and most beautiful pagoda, built on a hillock overlooking the Perfume River. It is outside this pagoda that the car, driven by a monk called Thich Quang Duc, sits as a reminder of a change in the regime, which was made after the Vietnamese Buddhist crisis. Thich Quang Duc committed self-immolation in 1963 to protest against the government and in turn unwittingly produced one of the most enduring press photographs of the 20th Century. From the pagoda we take a cruise on the Perfume River before returning to our hotel.
Overnight in Hue.
Day 8: Hue to Hanoi by mid afternoon flight (TBA) (B,L)
This morning we will visit the UNESCO World Heritage listed Royal Tomb of Minh Mang. Emperor Minh Mang reigned in the Nguyen Dynasty, the last of the Vietnamese dynasties, from 1820-1840. The construction of his tomb was completed after his death and is said to have taken approximately 10,000 workers to complete. The complex comprises of almost 40 monuments and is surrounded by gardens and pools, making it one of the more beautiful tombs. Transfer to lunch. From here we will then transfer to the airport for our flight to Hanoi.
Upon arrival in Hanoi, we will be transferred to our hotel. Hanoi is a charming and richly historic city of lakes, shaded boulevards and verdant public parks, with a population of about four million. The city centre is like an architectural museum, with blocks of ochre buildings retaining the air of a provincial French town from the 1930s.
Day 9: Hanoi (B)
This morning we will visit Ho Chi Minh complex for a look at the life of the father of modern Vietnam. First we will visit Ho Chi Minh’s Mausoleum. The Mausoleum sits in Ba Dinh Square and is where Ho Chi Minh first declared independence from French rule in 1945.
(Ho Chi Minh’s Mausoleum is closed some time of the year. Even when we are unable to enter the Mausoleum, however we can view it from the exterior).
In the same complex, we will see the Humble House on Stilts from which ‘Uncle Ho’ ruled Vietnam until his death in 1969, Ho Chi Minh Museum and the One Pillar Pagoda.
We will then drive to the serene Temple of Literature, Hanoi’s first university dating back to 1070 and a historical centre of learning, now dedicated to Confucian worship.
Later this afternoon, we enjoy a walking tour of Hanoi’s Old Quarter. This area of crowded market alleys is still laid out as it was 300 years ago and is also known as the ‘36 Streets’. Traditionally in Vietnam, all the shops on a single street were devoted to selling one product. We can see rope, button, copper and herbal medicine streets.
This evening we enjoy a performance of the famous Water Puppets. Vietnamese Water Puppets were invented thousands of years ago by farmers in the Red River Delta region near Hanoi, as a means to entertain themselves when the rains flooded their rice paddy fields.
Day 10: Hanoi – Halong Bay
After breakfast, check out hotel and drive to the area that is regarded as the ‘Jewel in the Crown of Vietnam’ – Halong Bay. This area has been compared with the landscape of limestone islets of Guilin in China and Krabi in southern Thailand.
Upon arrival in Halong Bay, we board our boat for a cruise around the 3,000 islets that rise from the clear emerald waters of the Gulf of Tonkin. This province shares a common border with China in the north and harbours some of the most stunning scenery in Vietnam. Bizarre rock sculptures jutting dramatically from the sea and numerous grottoes have created an enchanted, timeless world; the sails of the junk boats and sampans add further to this scenic bay.
Enjoy a seafood lunch onboard our junk boat. Afternoon, visit one of the most manifique caves in the Bay. Overnight on the sailed boat.
Day 11: Halong – Hanoi (B,L)
More leisurely cruising today, chance to swim at Titop island. The bot returns to shore around 10.30 am and transfer back to Hanoi with lunch en route in Hai Duong.
The remainder of the day is at leisure, enabling us the chance to grab that last bargain in the Old Quarter or stroll around the lakes and boulevards to soak up the colonial and romantic atmosphere of Hanoi.
Day 12: Hanoi – Sapa overland (B,L)
Enjoy a scenic drive to Sapa for around 5 hours. Located 1,600m above sea level, Sapa is close to the Chinese border. This mountainous area along with the spectacular landscapes and temperate climate is sure to make a lasting impression on its visitors. Seduced by the topography, the French had built more than 200 villas that bordered the streets of Sapa by 1943. Unfortunately, due to many wars, these old buildings were destroyed. The H’mong and Dao people, the largest and most colourful ethnic group in the region, are a cultural highlight.
Lunch is at a local restaurant on arrival. After that, drive to hotel for check in. Late afternoon, follow our guide to stroll around and visit a local market
Overnight in Sapa.
Day 13: Sapa (B,L)
After breakfast, the short drive south will bring you to Muong Hoa valley, a stunning place boasting the largest terraced rice fields in Sapa. If your visit is between May and October, it will coincide with the local planting and harvest time, a chance to see the local farmers in action. The walk takes you from Lao Chai village of the Black H’mong minority, to Ta Van village of the Giay minority. Back to town for lunch at a local restaurant.
Afternoon, enjoy a light trek to Cat Cat village of the Black H’mong, about 5 Km west of Sapa Town, right at the foot of Fansipan. You will have a chance to visit a stunning waterfall and vestige of a hydraulic power station the French built in 1925
Day 14: Sapa – Hanoi (B,L)
Sapa’s quaint hilltribe villages, taking in the different traditions, cultures and costumes of the minority groups. The short drive will bring you to Suoi Ho village. Follow the buffalo trails to visit Black H’mong people in the hiden away Ma Tra village. Chance to see tea plantations and cardamom gardens (on seasons) along the way. After lunch, drive back to Hanoi.
Day 15: Departure (B)
It’s time to bid farewell with sweet memories to bring home. We are transferred to the airport for our flight home.
Please note: Although your guide will endeavour to follow this itinerary as specified, all touring is subject to change due to local conditions.
At any stage, if you are not completely satisfied with any aspect of your tour, please inform Vietnam By Bike guide so that they may resolve the problem. If you need further assistance, please to call our hotline.
Inclusions: Hotel accommodation with daily breakfast; Lunches and Dinners at local restaurants as per itinerary, all transfers and land transport on tours, Entrance fees, boat trips, Water puppet show (1st class ticket) in Hanoi, airfare: SGN/DAD, HUI/HAN