23 days with Intrepid Travel Rating:
Day 1 Hanoi
Xin chao! Welcome to Vietnam. Your adventure begins with a welcome meeting at 6 pm where you'll meet you tour leader and fellow travellers. If you arrive early, why not step out onto the streets to explore the chaotic capital of Vietnam. Hanoi is an alluring city of contrasts, best discovered on foot. Tonight, perhaps get to know your new travel buddies over a glass of fresh bia hoi. This is a foamy, light beer made fresh each day and served in basic, open-walled ‘brew halls’ – take up a brightly coloured plastic chair and sip your tasty brew.
Day 2 Hanoi
Enjoy breakfast at the Blue Dragon Children's Foundation, a community project dedicated to helping underprivileged children and victims of trafficking. Afterwards, head out on a city tour where you’ll see the city’s diverse past reflected in a mix of South East Asian, Chinese and French-influenced architecture. Stop by the aptly named One Pillar Pagoda, the country’s most famous stilt house (former residence of Ho Chi Minh), Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum and the Temple of Literature.
Day 3 Da Bac
Leave Hanoi after breakfast around 8 am and make the drive to Sung village (approximately 4 hours). There are around 70 families living at Sung Village and the majority are Dzao ‘Tien’ people. Farming and forest plantation are their main source of income. Enjoy lunch at your homestay then take an introductory walk around the village. After getting to know the village better, take a short trek (2 kilometres) to the alluring Sung Cave and visit a 100-year-old tea plantation. The trek has some steep and slippery sections so please ensure you have suitable footwear for this activity. After a handicraft workshop, return to your homestay accommodation for a nice hot shower and a delicious dinner.
Day 4 Hanoi
This morning, have an opportunity to take in more of the Vietnamese highlands on a 10 kilometre (6.2 mi) trek from Sung Village to Da Bia. The first 8km of the trek is mostly flat ground along well-worn buffalo tracks. The final 2km gradually inclines and for a period of approximately 300m there are some steps to climb, however the walk will be a steady relaxed pace. Keep an eye peeled for the monumental stone at the peak of Da Bia Mountain during the hike that takes us through the local villages, meeting people from the ethnic Muong tribe along the way. Stop for lunch at Da Bia before enjoying a scenic 1.5 hour boat cruise on Hoa Binh hydropower reservoir. Arrive at Thung Nai then board a bus transfer to Hanoi (approximately 2 hours). Arrive in Hanoi at around 6 pm. This evening is free for you to explore this delightful city. Why not relax with a bia hoi (freshly brewed draught beer) at one of the microbars in the Old Quarter?
Day 5 Cat Ba Island
Rise and shine for the 7.30am bus, stop for a quick break, then jump on the ferry. This morning of travel will deliver you to beautiful Cat Ba Island before midday. There's no time to waste, so begin exploring the picturesque waters around Cat Ba. You’ll board a boat and spend the rest of the day cruising the breathtaking Lan Ha Bay. Located in the greater Halong Bay area, Lan Ha Bay is one of Vietnam’s most scenic places, where limestone islands and caves rise from the emerald waters. Enjoy lunch on board, then get up close and personal with giant karsts in a kayak. Stay overnight on Cat Ba Island and enjoy a dip at one of the beaches and a cold beer.
Day 6 Hanoi - Overnight train
Wake up in paradise, maybe starting your morning with a refreshing swim. Make sure you soak up as much sun and sand as possible, because this afternoon it's back to Hanoi via ferry and bus. There will be free time to explore the city when you arrive back in Hanoi before boarding an overnight train bound for Hue around 10pm. Shared hotel rooms will be available if you want to freshen up or organise your luggage. Otherwise, use this time to do some shopping on Hang Gai Street or seek out some delicious Hanoi street food. Meet back at the hotel lobby at 9pm where you’ll transfer with the group to the train station. Although conditions are basic, overnight trains are a rewarding experience in Vietnam. They are an efficient way to travel long distances and a great way to get a sense of the country.
Day 7 Hue
Arrive in Hue just after sunrise and proceed to the hotel to refresh. Hue is the hub of Vietnam’s historic past. This former imperial capital is an eclectic mix of busy streets and peaceful beauty. The rest of the morning is free for you to relax, perhaps pick up a classic Hue breakfast of bun bo Hue, a popular Vietnamese soup containing rice vermicelli (bun) and beef (bo). After lunch you will visit the Imperial Citadel, a sprawling complex of temples, pavilions, moats, gates, and walls. The Ngo Mon Gate, Thai Hoa Palace and the Ancestral Altars are still impressive, and the complex must have been awe-inspiring during its heyday in the 19th century. In your free time you might like to visit to Dong Ba Market, which offers locally made goods, fresh produce and tantalising street food. This is a good place to try the specialties enjoyed by Emperor Nguyen such as the banh khoai royal rice cake.
Day 8 Hue
Today’s adventure will be taken on the back of a motorbike. You’ll have your own driver who will take you first on a drive around the Imperial Citadel, including the Forbidden Purple City. The latter was almost completely destroyed during the Tet Offensive in the Vietnam War, but its humble, foliage-covered ruins remain a testament to its proud history. Here you'll gain some insight into the horrific damage endured during the war. Break up your sightseeing with a dragon boat cruise on the Perfume River. Then it's on to the Thien Mu Pagoda, the unofficial symbol of Hue. This site dates back to 1601 and is still an active Buddhist monastery. Here you’ll also see the car left by a monk who set himself alight to protest the treatment of Buddhists by the South Vietnamese regime. Ride to a special lunch spot at a convent or Buddhist monastery for a delicious vegetarian feast. After lunch, drive to the royal tomb of Emperor Tu Duc, set amid a lake, frangipani bushes and pine trees. This evening, perhaps ask your leader for the best place to try imperial street specialties.
Day 9 Hoi An
Travelling by bus, head south through coastal rice paddies before stopping in at Lang Co Beach. Then traverse the dramatic Hai Van Pass, a sometimes bumpy but incredibly scenic stretch of highway with views back to Lang Co Beach and beyond. The spectacular Marble Mountains will be your backdrop as you arrive at Hoi An (approximately 4 hours). Declared a World Heritage site, Hoi An is being beautifully restored and preserved. Known as Faifo to early western traders, it was one of South-East Asia's major international ports from the 17th to the 19th centuries. Today, parts of Hoi An look exactly as they did more than a century ago and it retains the feel of times past, making it the sort of place that grows on you the more you explore it. On arrival, a walking tour will take you around the major sites of Hoi An’s charming Old Town, including an historic house (formerly home to a prominent trader), the Japanese Covered Bridge, a Chinese assembly hall and a museum. You will notice a distinctly Chinese appearance to the pagodas and assembly halls scattered along the small streets. A sightseeing pass is included in your tour for you to visit a selection of the major sights as you wish.
Day 10 Hoi An
If you feel like getting active on your free day today, why not hire a bicycle and tour the surrounding countryside. This is one of the best ways to get an insight into rural Vietnam. Other optional activities include a day trip to My Son Cham (elaborate World Heritage-listed temples that reflect the rich cultural traditions of the Cham civilisation), a cruise along the Thu Bon River, and a trip to the nearby Cua Dai Beach. Your leader will be able to help with suggestions on activities in Hoi An.
Day 11 Hoi An
Enjoy another free day in the World Heritage-listed Hoi An. You may like to wander the Central Market and the street stalls selling paintings, woodwork, ceramics, lanterns and much more. Hoi An is also famous for its talented tailors who can make beautiful items to order within a few hours. Bring your favourite piece of clothing, or even just a picture, and you'll be able to have it copied. You might like to visit a local workshop to learn how to make your own rice paper, while a Vietnamese cooking class too is a great way to familiarise yourself with some age-old culinary techniques, not to mention being able to feast on the fruits of your own labour.
Day 12 Ho Chi Minh City
Transfer to Danang (approximately 45 minutes) for your flight to Ho Chi Minh City. Formerly known as Saigon, Ho Chi Minh City is characterised by a fascinating blend of old and new, East and West. The huge number of people rushing about their daily lives in Vietnam's largest city gives it a dynamic atmosphere and the French influence is evident in the excellent baguettes and coffee on offer. Take a guided tour to get a feel for the city, going past the GPO, Reunification Palace, and the Opera house. Stop in at the War Remnants Museum and the Notre Dame Cathedral. With free time this evening perhaps drop by one of Vietnam’s most pulsing markets, Ben Thanh. This is the perfect place to pick up any last-minute snacks, cooking utensils, ingredients, or presents for friends and family before you return home. Perhaps enjoy some of the market fare for dinner as you shop.
Day 13 Mekong Delta
Today you'll travel south by private bus (approximately 3 hours) to explore the Mekong Delta. When you arrive, you’ll board a boat and explore the intricate waterways of the Mekong Delta. Often referred to as ‘the rice bowl’ of Vietnam, the fertile delta is where rice, tropical fruit and flowers are grown for the whole country. Disembark at Ben Tre and visit a local cottage industry and sample the candy that the region is famous for. You’ll have the opportunity to take a tuk-tuk around this remote village and make a stop to sample tropical fruit, see a honey farm, and learn more about rural life. For lunch, go to a restaurant in the heart of the delta and try regional specialities such as the famous elephant-ear fish. After lunch, board sampans (small rowing boats) and paddle along the canals under the shade of lush water coconut trees. Stay overnight at a guesthouse in the Delta. The accommodation is fairly basic with shared bathroom facilities and dormitory style rooms, but the sounds of nature thrumming softly in the night makes for a memorable experience.
Day 14 Ho Chi Minh City
Take the bus back to Ho Chi Minh City. Maybe spend the final night of your Vietnam adventure with a finale bowl of pho, celebrating with your new friends.
Day 15 Ho Chi Minh City
Today you may be required to move to a different hotel in Ho Chi Minh City, for the next section of your trip. Your leader will let you know if this is the case, and will help with the transfer to the next hotel. Enjoy a free day today. Some of Intrepid's Urban Adventures available in this city include Cu Chi Experience and Saigon Street Food by Night. As this is a combination trip, your group leader and the composition of your group will change at this location. There will be a group meeting in the evening to discuss the next stage of your itinerary and you're welcome to attend, as this is a great chance to meet your new fellow travellers.
Day 16 Phnom Penh
Travel by public bus across the border, through rural Vietnam and Cambodia and onto Phnom Penh (approximately 10 hours including two border crossings and lunch). Cambodia's capital city is set on a major junction of the Mekong and Tonle Sap rivers and boasts some fine examples of French-inspired architecture. If you're looking for a tasty beverage on arrival, head to the Foreign Correspondents' Club for a mojito on the rooftop or if you're in the mood for shopping, stop in at the art-deco Psar Thmei (Central Market) or travel out to Psar Tuol Tom Pong (the Russian Market) for the best range of local souvenirs.
Day 17 Phnom Penh
Today, confront Cambodia's tragic past on a guided tour of the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum (S21), a former school which served as a Khmer Rouge torture centre. It's estimated that more than 20,000 people were held and tortured here. You’ll also head out to the Killing Fields of Choeung Ek, where a stupa made up of some 8000 human skulls marks the execution ground for the torture victims of Tuol Sleng. Afterwards, you may wish to learn about a brighter period in Cambodian history from an optional visit to the Royal Palace and Silver Pagoda. Wat Phnom, shrouded in myth, is equally worth a visit, as is the National Museum with its excellent Khmer collection. Cyclo tours around the city are a great alternative to walking and generally include the Central Market, US Embassy, Wat Phnom, Mekong riverfront, Independence Monument and Royal Palace.
Day 18 Battambang
Travel by private minibus to Battambang (approximately 6 hours). Break up an otherwise long trip with a visit to Kampong Luong, a marvellously colourful village that floats on the water. Spend an hour traversing between houses and other boats before hitting the road once more. Cambodia's second-largest city, Battambang, is a pretty riverside town of French elegance, friendly Khmer people and beautifully preserved colonial architecture. Why not take part in an optional cooking class to learn the secrets of local dishes such as amok, Khmer curry & fried spicy chicken.
Day 19 Siem Reap
Spend a bit of time riding around the countryside by bike, travelling out to local cottage industries to meet with on-site producers. Get a better insight into rural life in Cambodia, share a few snacks, then continue by private minibus to Siem Reap (approximately 3 hours). Arrive in Siem Reap in the evening and relax as you prepare for your much-anticipated visit to Angkor tomorrow. Perhaps hit the markets for some delicious street food.
Day 20 Siem Reap / Angkor Wat
Temple-hop with your local guide and make the most of your visit to the world-famous Angkor complex. The temples, dating back as far as the ninth century, were believed to represent the cosmic world and were set in perfect balance, symmetry and composition. The intricately carved bas-reliefs and architectural designs are mind-blowing and there are spectacular photo opportunities at any time of day. Watching a sunrise or sunset is a must. The ruins are scattered over an area of some 160 square kilometres, but the main cluster of temples is close to Siem Reap, so there will be plenty of time to fully appreciate the great archaeological sites of Angkor Wat, Bayon and the jungle-covered Ta Prohm.
Day 21 Siem Reap / Angkor Wat
Continue your explorations of the Angkor complex. You may like to spend just the morning making further discoveries here and save your afternoon for an optional activity elsewhere. Keen adventurers can take the Angkor zip-line adventure which gives an amazing birds-eye view of the rainforest, not to mention an adrenaline rush.
Day 22 Bangkok
It's a long drive by private minibus from Siem Reap to Bangkok (approximately 10 hours including border crossings and lunch). Arrive in Thailand's bustling capital and take in this exciting world of tuk tuks, khlong boats, and street vendors serving up delicious Thai food. Perhaps head out to sample some local specialties as a final farewell with your fellow travellers.
Day 23 Bangkok
Your trip comes to an end this morning, with no further activities planned. However, if you have more time, Bangkok is full of things to do, including the Grand Palace, Temple of the Emerald Buddha, and the fascinating Jim Thompson museum.
All This Included
Vibrant Vietnam, charismatic Cambodia, beguiling Bangkok; this journey covers the very best of South East Asia. From the graceful elegance of Hanoi, across the serene beauty of Halong Bay, to the quaint charms of Hoi An and the frenetic energy of Ho Chi Minh City, experience ancient customs and delicious cuisine while travelling through the heart of Vietnam. Embark on an exciting tour down the Mekong River to Phnom Penh, and spend several days exploring the enigmatic temples of Angkor Wat. The bright lights of Bangkok are the ideal way to cap off this South East Asian adventure.
Guesthouse (1 night)
Homestay (1 nights)
Hotel (19 nights)
Overnight sleeper train (1 night)
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