Snaking sinuously down from the high mountains on the border with China in the north to the steamy Mekong Delta in the south, Vietnam is a land of many contrasts. Perhaps it is fitting that its array of UNESCO World Heritage sites are so varied. From the dramatic karst-studded seascape of Halong Bay to ancient ruins at Hue’s citadel and at the once mighty Cham city of My Son, the country is a treasure trove of natural and heritage wonders. This epic journey takes an all-encompassing approach to the nation and its highlights. The adventure starts in Hanoi, the 1000-year old capital, which boasts the world-heritage listed Thang Long Imperial Citadel and provides an easy launching pad for Halong Bay. As the journey heads south, guests will witness heart stopping nature at Ninh Binh and Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park and thrilling and dramatic history at Hue and Hoi An before ending the journey in Ho Chi Minh City, the nation’s charismatic southern hub.
Arrive in Hanoi and transfer to your hotel in town (note that hotel check-in time is 2 pm). The rest of day is at your leisure. Overnight in Hanoi.
- Essence Palace Hotel
- Oriental Suites Hotel
Depart the hotel to visit the Temple of Literature, or Quoc Tu Giam. Built in 1076, The Temple of Literature was Vietnam's first university and was established within a temple to educate Vietnam's royalty, mandarins and members of the elite. The university functioned for an incredible 700 years and its gardens and well-preserved architecture offer a fascinating glimpse into Vietnam’s past.
Next we visit Hanoi’s UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Thang Long Imperial Citadel. The Citadel was constructed on a Chinese fortress dating back from the 7th century and re-built in the 11th century by the Ly Viet Dynasty. The historical site and remains reflect a unique South-East Asian culture between influences from China in the north and the ancient Kingdom of Champa in the south.
We also visit The One Pillar Pagoda, which was founded by King Ly Thai To in 1049. This structure is one of Vietnam’s smallest but most iconic temples. Close by is the mausoleum of the historic father figure of modern Vietnam, Ho Chi Minh, and the former presidents house on stilts where he lived from 1958 to 1969. His former home illustrates the modesty of this Vietnamese revolutionary. Afterwards we continue to Hanoi’s picturesque West Lake area and the sixth century Tran Quoc Buddhist Pagoda. From here transfer (or stroll along the lakeside) 700 meters to the nearby Taoist temple of Quan Thanh dedicated to Tran Vu, one of the principal deities in Taoism.
Next, visit Hanoi’s Old Quarter, also known as the ‘36 streets’ area. Take a walking tour through charming Hang Be Market and around Hoan Kiem Lake. This bustling area of narrow streets and alleys is home to literally thousands of small businesses and shopkeepers. It's a great place to explore with plenty of photo opportunities all around.
Finish the day with a Water Puppet show. This is a uniquely North Vietnamese art form depicting scenes from rural life and episodes of national history. Overnight in Hanoi.
Depart your hotel this morning at 08.00 for the 2.5-hour drive through rural northern Vietnam to the site of Vietnam’s first capital, Hoa Lu. Visit 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). The ancient Hoa Lu Citadel once covered an area of three square kilometers.
After visiting Hoa Lu if time and energy levels permit, you may choose to take a half-hour walk up one of the surrounding limestone karst hills, the climb is rewarding with spectacular views. In the late morning depart for Tam Coc Town for a Vietnamese lunch, along the way stop where you wish to take pictures of local villages and the stunning landscape.
After lunch, you will visit Trang An Landscape Complex which was listed on UNESCO World Heritage Site in June 2014. Take a relaxing boat ride on a peaceful river passing through a series of caves (one which takes 15-minutes to pass through in darkness). Trang An is a spectacular landscape of limestone karst peaks permeated with valleys, some of which are submerged, and surrounded by steep, almost vertical cliffs. As the boat gently slices through the water, notice the enormous limestone karsts jutting out from the green rice fields giving rise to other name, ‘Halong on Land’. An ‘eco tourism’ area, the only interruptions here are the sound of birds and the gentle paddle of the oar upon the crystal clear river.
Alternatively, should you feel adventurous climb up to Bich Dong Pagoda on nearby Ngu Nhac Mountain, dating back to 1428 and comprising three structures: Ha, Trung, and Thuong Pagodas, in ascending order. After that, you will take a boat trip back by sampan to Tam Coc town. Transfer to your hotel and the rest of the afternoon is at your leisure. Overnight in Ninh Binh.
Hoa Lu Citadel, Trang An Landscape Complex, Bich Dong Pagoda, Ngu Nhac Mountain
Following breakfast depart to visit the remote and less visited Ho Citadel, which was declared a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2011, situated in nearby Thanh Hoa Province. Ho Citadel remains consist of the Inner Citadel, La Thanh Outer Wall and the Nam Giao Altar, which are designed for a centralized imperial city in order to show a concept of royal power, based on the adoption of the Chinese Confucian philosophy. The use of large stone walls with traditional feng shui principles are the main characters that represent the almost intact Ho Citadel.
Enjoy a Vietnamese lunch after the visit then transfer back to your hotel along the way stop where you wish to take pictures of local villages and the stunning landscape.
Enjoy the remainder of the day at your own leisure. You may choose to either relax and enjoy the facilities at your hotel, to take a walk or bicycle ride through the rice paddy fields that surround your hotel to soak up the beauty of the country side, or if time permits make an optional trip to Cuc Phuong National Park (surcharge payable) – Vietnam’s first national park that was established in 1962. Overnight in Ninh Binh.
- Ninh Binh Legend Hotel
- Cuc Phuong Resort & Villas
Following an early breakfast leave Ninh Binh for a 4-hour (approximately) drive to Halong Bay, perhaps Vietnam’s most famous and most popular UNESCO World Heritage site! The name ‘Ha Long’ means the dragon descending into the sea and owes its origins to a Vietnamese myth. The towering limestone karsts represent the dragon’s back, surrounded by jade green water creating an unforgettable site. There are more than 1600 limestone islands and islets with different shapes jutting out from the sea. Most of them are still intact from human activities thanks to their uninhabited and uncultivated characters.
Arrive at the Halong Bay jetty around noon and proceed with check-in formalities before boarding a boat for your unforgettable overnight cruise on Halong bay. After your welcome onboard, a lunch will be served while cruising towards the bay itself. In the afternoon, enjoy some visits and/or activities (depending on each boat’s itinerary) 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. Overnight on board the boat in Halong Bay.
- Dragon Legend Cruise
- Au Co Cruise
Enjoy the morning in the middle of Halong Bay as the sun rises on Halong and breakfast is served (brunch on some boats) while the vessel cruises slowly through the magnificent rock formations and back towards the port. Mid-morning the boat will return to shore. Disembark and transfer to Hanoi Airport for the mid-late afternoon onward flight to Danang in Central Vietnam.
On arrival in Danang transfer the short distance to nearby historic Hoi An town. Hoi An was a major Asian trading port from the 15th to the 19th centuries whose architecture and relaxed lifestyle has changed little over the years making it traditionally a favourite destination for international visitors. The ‘Hoi An Ancient Town’ was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1999. This evening is at leisure. Overnight in Hoi An.
- Hoi An Trails
- Vinh Hung 1 Heritage Hotel
This morning you will be picked up by a jeep from your hotel in Hoi An to journey to another of Central Vietnam’s UNESCO World Heritage sites – the temple complex at My Son Sanctuary. This Jeep trip turns a day tour to My Son into an unforgettable outing. In an open-air, fully renovated, American war-era jeep set off from Hoi An toward the ruins of My Son. Reach My Son in the late morning hours; stop to have lunch in a local restaurant before setting off on foot to the ruins of My Son.
Venture around the paths, visiting the numerous ruins and soaking in the atmosphere of this historic site. Mid afternoon begin the drive back to Hoi An along different back roads that run parallel to the Thu Bon River. All good things must come to an end however, and reach Hoi An just in time for a sunset walking tour.
Despite the passing of 200 years and the ravages of weather and war, the centre of Hoi An remains much the same today as it was in its heyday, when it was one of Asia’s busiest trading ports. Hoi An is an exceptionally well-preserved example of trading port from the 15th century to the 19th century in South East Asia. This walking tour is the best way to explore this UNESCO World Heritage Ancient Town, the wooden-fronted houses that once belonged to the town’s prosperous merchants, the Japanese-covered Bridge and the wonderful market as well as the silk, handicrafts, antique shops and galleries that take you back in time.
- Ancient Faifo
- Mango Mango Restaurant
Become more familiar with Vietnamese culture through the art of Vietnamese cooking, with a cooking class. It begins with a 1 hour tour of the Hoi An market. Learn how to select the freshest ingredients. Start the cooking class Here each dish is made step by step as you follow along. Additional assistance is offered by staff, for beginners or those that might need some extra help. The class not only covers cooking techniques, but also herbal remedies, and tricks to using Vietnamese vegetable graters and knives. All efforts are rewarded with the lunch that you have made for yourself!
After the cooking class, you will depart from Hoi An for a 3-hour drive through Hai Van Pass to Hue, the former citadel of the very last Nguyen Dynasty. Upon arrival in Hue, check in hotel and take some time to relax. Overnight in Hue.
- Romance Hue Hotel
- Eldora Hotel Hue
This morning after breakfast, depart from your hotel in Hue for a city tour to explore the UNESCO World Heritage listed ‘Complex of Hue Monuments’. The structures of The Complex of Hue Monuments are carefully placed within the natural setting of the site and aligned cosmologically with the Five Cardinal Points (centre, west, east, north, south), the Five Elements (earth, metal, wood, water, fire), and the Five Colours (yellow, white, blue, black, red). The Imperial Citadel is where the Nguyen Dynasty ruled between 1802 and 1945, this ancient citadel reflects the pomp and ceremony of the dynastic rulers as well as the scars of many years of turmoil, both ancient and modern (the Royal Citadel was badly damaged in the latter stages of the war) but retains a sense of grace and majesty even today and is an outstanding example of an eastern feudal capital.
From here take a cyclo through dai noi ‘Old City’ to Tinh Tam Lake where the Emperors used to come to relax; full of lotus flowers in summer there are many local style coffee shops around the lake where university students come to study.
Continue to visit Thien Mu (Celestial Lady) Pagoda overlooking the Perfume River; constructed in 1601, the 21-meter tall tower is the centerpiece of the pagoda and represents seven reincarnations of Buddha. In the grounds of the pagoda is the Austin car made famous when in 1963, a resident monk drove the vehicle to what was then Saigon to protest against the southern regime, the photo of his self immortalization was captured and was one of the most well known images of the war.
In the afternoon see the tomb of the former emperor Minh Mang which is located in a tranquil setting of gardens and ponds. If time permits you may also journey on to Khai Dinh’s Tomb which is Vietnamese in design with European influences, making it unique from the other tombs in Hue. On the way back to Hue, visit Ho Quyeng (tiger arena). Built in 1830 during the reign of Minh Mang emperor, the arena was the stage of yearly battles between an elephant and a tiger. The arena is a rarity of Asian architecture and is still intact.
Before heading back to your hotel take time to stroll around Dong Ba Market with your guide. The market is another of the must see sites in Hue, the stalls are teeming with color and a great place to catch a glimpse of everyday life. The evening is at leisure. Overnight in Hue.
Complex of Hue Monuments, Imperial Citadel, Thien Mu Pagoda, Dong Ba Market
This morning after breakfast you will transfer from Hue to Dong Hoi. You will stop at a couple of historic sites and monuments to understand the past history and story of Vietnam War.
Continue up Highway 1 across the Hien Luong Bridge, and over the Ben Hai River which demarcated North and South Vietnam, this area saw some of the heaviest fighting during the war. Doc Mieu Firebase, which lies just north of here, played a pivotal role in the South's defence and for a while, this was the command post for calling in airstrikes along the Ho Chi Minh Trail.
The journey from here to Vinh Moc Tunnels is scenic after you leave the main highway, pass through quaint villages and skirt along Cua Tung Beach. The village of Vinh Moc found itself tragically positioned in one of the most heavily bombed areas of Vietnam. In order to escape this bombardment, the villagers constructed approximately 2.8 km of underground tunnels which they used as a refuge to survive the bombings. Three hundred people lived intermittently in the tunnels from 1966 to 1971.
From Vinh Moc drive to Truong Son National Cemetery where the remains of some 15,000 Vietnamese soldiers and civilians have been laid to rest, sadly many tombstones bear no name.
Towards the end of the afternoon, drive back to Dong Hoi where you will arrive in the late afternoon. Later in the afternoon, you will check in at your hotel in Dong Hoi to relax and the rest of the day is free time at your own leisure.
- Chay Lap Farmstay
This morning, after breakfast you will transfer from your hotel to the Phong Nha – Ke Bang National Park, which was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2003. The National Park contains and protects over 104 km of caves and underground rivers making it one of the most outstanding limestone karst ecosystems in the world.
The karst landscape is not only complex but also ancient (more than 400 million years ago), with high geo-diversity and geomorphic features of considerable significance in the world.
On arrival in Phong Nha area visit the Paradise Cave, which was opened to the public in 2010. Here you have a chance to see one of the larger and most impressive accessible caves in the area. After you climb over 400 stairs, you will see the large entrance of this cave. Descend into the cave on a wooden walkway, made to protect and preserve the fragile cave formations. This walkway continues for 1 km through the enormous, well lighted cave. After the visit, enjoy lunch at a local restaurant.
After lunch board your private boat for the 2.5 km leisurely boat trip down the Son River to the mouth of the Phong Nha cave. Pass by the entrance to the 'Cave of Teeth and Wind' and enter the mystical tunnels, filled with giant stalactites and stalagmites and crystal clear waters. The area has numerous grottoes and caves and so far only a total of 20 caves with a total length of 70km have been surveyed. Late afternoon transfer back to your hotel in Dong Hoi city, and the evening is free at your own leisure. Overnight in Dong Hoi.
Phong Nha - Ke Bang National Park, Paradise Cave
After breakfast transfer to Dong Hoi Airport for a flight to Ho Chi Minh City. Upon arrival in Ho Chi Minh City, often referred to by the locals as Saigon, being met by your Asia Senses Travel guide and transferred to hotel for check-in.
In the afternoon, you will join a city tour to unveil the histories and stories behind this vibrant metropolis in Vietnam. Your program includes the Reunification Hall, formerly known as the Presidential Palace it was towards this modern building that North Vietnamese tanks seized on the morning of April 30 1975, as Saigon fell. This fascinating building is filled with history still fresh in the minds of many. From there stroll (your vehicle will be available at all times) to the major sights of colonial Ho Chi Minh City: the Old Saigon Post Office, Dong Khoi Street (formerly Rue Catinat), Continental Hotel, Opera House and City Hall. After this historical visit continue to the War Remnants Museum where exhibition halls display imagery of both the French and ‘American’ wars. Continue to the Jade Emperor Pagoda located on the fringes of district 1. Dating from 1909 and built by Cantonese Buddhists this quiet oasis was designed using feng shui principals showcasing ornate statues and effigies. Afterwards return to your hotel and the rest of the day at leisure.
This early morning after a light breakfast, you will embark on an exciting street food tour in the city. Unveil the secrets behind each delicious street eats, exotic fruit on offer, gain a deeper understanding of the ingredients and assorted dipping sauces used in Vietnamese cuisine. Enjoy touring on the back of the motorbikes for some picture opportunities and fully immersed in the atmosphere of this lively city.
Around 12:15pm, your motorbike driver will transfer you back to your hotel to relax in the afternoon.
This evening, you will join a relaxing dinner cruise onboard the elegant Lady Hau cruise on Saigon River. You will be picked up from your hotel then transferred to the pier, onboard the boat you will be welcomed with fresh cold towels and welcome drink. You can simply relax at the open lounge area in the front of the boat as you cruise along the Saigon riverside and see how the lights decorate this vibrant metropolis. Enjoy a delicious buffet and BBQ and take time to soak up the atmosphere of Vietnam's busiest city. This 3-hour dinner cruise is the perfect way to finish a hectic day in the city. Overnight in Ho Chi Minh City.
- Liberty Central Saigon Centre Hotel
- Little Saigon Corner
This morning is at leisure until time to transfer to Tan Son Nhat Airport for your onward flight to your next destination.
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