Saturday. Welcome to Hanoi, perhaps the most graceful, atmospheric and exotic capital city in Asia. Airport to hotel arrival transfer. The remainder of the day offers free time for you to explore the wide tree-lined avenues, beautiful lakes, ancient pagodas and the thriving historic old city, all easily navigated on foot. For those able to arrive very early today or the day prior, why not get off the beaten track and explore Hanoi with us on our optional Back Streets of Hanoi add-on which explores the quaint districts of Cho Buoi, Hoang Hoa Tham and Vinh Phuc, and also includes an exhilarating local experience - riding pillion, on taxi-motorbikes through a maze of tiny streets and along the shore of beautiful Ho Tay Lake.
Hanoi – Halong Bay. After breakfast this morning we leave Hanoi and transfer to the crown in Vietnam's scenic crown - the incredibly beautiful Halong Bay. We explore the jade waters studded with karst islands aboard a traditional wooden junk boat and after embarkation there's time for lunch soaking up the views. This afternoon we visit Trinh Nu Cave, one of the finest caves in Halong Bay, covering an area of 2,000m² with a stunning array of stalactites and stalagmites. There's also the opportunity to go kayaking and enjoy a refreshing swim. Later this evening back on board, watch a Vietnamese cooking demonstration held on the sundeck before settling down for a sumptuous seafood dinner.
Halong Bay - Hanoi - Hue. Early birds can start the day with a relaxing Tai Chi class on the sundeck or a traditional massage - the perfect way to start the day. Before heading back to port this morning, we explore the beautiful Sung Sot cave (Surprise Grotto), which is 10,000m² and consists of two major chambers which are spectacular and spacious enough to hold thousands of people. Arriving back into Hanoi mid-afternoon we explore the maze of streets in the French Quarter on cyclo (rickshaws), taking in highlights such as the Opera house and Ly Thai To park. We then swap our wheels for a leisurely walk through ‘36 streets of the old quarter’, named after the numerous guilds that once set up shop on a particular street from silk tailors to traditional medicine shops. Later this evening there's a chance to freshen up before boarding the train (4 berth sleeper cabin, basic standard) on the ‘Reunification Express’ railway line to Hue. An option to fly from Hanoi to Hue is also available.
Upon arrival to Hue we embark on a guided sightseeing tour of the 19th-century Nguyen empire capital. We visit the Thien Mu Pagoda, home to the oldest monastery in the city, whose 21m high tower has become something of a symbol for Hue and the citadel. Within the citadel is the Imperial Purple Palace, an exact copy of the Forbidden City in Beijing, with its impressive ramparts, formal moats and imperial palaces, some of which lay in ruin. In the countryside lies the Royal Tombs of the Nguyen kings and here we view the elaborate mausoleum of Emperor Tu Duc. As the sun sets there is an optional cruise in a long boat along the gentle Perfume River, beautifully illuminated at night.
Hue - Road of the Ocean Clouds - Hoi An. Today we take the scenic Hai Van Pass (Road of the Ocean Clouds), which offers magnificent views of beaches to one side and lush hills to the other. En route we stop for a walk along My Khe beach, a beautiful stretch of coastline which was nicknamed 'China Beach' by the Americans during the war and famously featured in Francis Ford Coppola’s movie ‘Apocalypse Now’. Perhaps enjoy a refreshing swim in the sea before continuing our journey south along the coast to Hoi An. The charming, old-world trading port of Hoi An with its cobbled streets, traditional homes and tiny shop houses is a perfect place to lose yourself in a bygone era. Boutique restaurants, hip cafes along the waterfront, delightful craft shops and artisans including some of Asia’s best bespoke tailors (whose services come at a nominal price), all can be found here. On a short walking tour of the enchanting historical town, we visit the Chua Ong Pagoda, Chinese Assembly Hall, 200-year-old Tam Ky house, former merchants’ homes and the 400 year-old Japanese Covered Bridge. During your stay in Hoi An, we offer a unique optional Hoi An Street Eats add-on, which explores the city’s most popular local haunts. Cruise the city the way the locals do, by vintage Vespa and enjoy lots of tasty Vietnamese Cuisine. Book early with your reservation consultant, as numbers are limited.
A bicycle ride into the countryside leads us to Tra Que village. Here, we discover age old farming practices and learn about traditional medicine. It’s a hands-on experience today where we assist with tending the fields and gardens and cooking lunch!
A free day for you relax or further sightsee. You may wish to take a relaxing rowboat journey along the river or spend the day lazing by the beach or hotel pool. Alternatively you can opt to take an excursion to the UNESCO-listed My Son sanctuary or enjoy a day trip to the Ba Na Hills, where you can ride the second longest cable car in the world, explore the resort and walk along the striking Golden Bridge (book and pay locally).
Hoi An - Ho Chi Minh City. Early morning flight to Ho Chi Minh City. Then a drive to the Mekong Delta. Often referred to as the ‘rice bowl’ of Vietnam, the fertile Mekong Delta is famous for its abundant harvests of tropical fruits, flowers and rice, as well as its fantastic views while boating along the canals. Taking our sampan from Cai Be we cruise through the maze of waterways watching the hubbub of daily life on the river. Passing colourful trading boats, house boats and children swimming we stop to visit some of the local cottage industries that produce popcorn, coco candies and paper along the way. Lunch is served today in a traditional wooden home on Dong Hoa Hiep Island.
Can Tho - Ho Chi Minh City. Early today we visit the ever lively Cai Rang floating market. Watch as melons, pineapples, fresh greens, sacks of rice and children's toys get tossed from one sampan to another at great heights and speed before driving back to Ho Chi Minh City. Once called the Pearl of the Orient, modern Ho Chi Minh City is a thriving metropolis on the move. Sleek sky scrapers, gourmet restaurants, designer malls and swanky bars and spas are scattered between ancient pagodas, colonial era landmarks and lively street markets. Our walking tour of Ho Chi Minh City includes visits to the Notre Dame Cathedral, Old Post office and the sobering War Remnants Museum. Evening is at leisure.
Monday. Today is free for you to enjoy Ho Chi Minh City before your departure transfer to the airport. Opt for a relaxing foot massage, shop for souvenirs at Ben Thanh Market or visit the grand Independence Palace, with its secret bunker and military command centre beneath. You could also extend your stay and join us on a day trip to the Cu Chi Tunnels Here you can go underground to explore the vast network of tunnels and hideouts used by Viet Cong guerrilla fighters, see booby traps, trap doors or test your skill with an AK 47 at the firing range.