19 days from £3680 per person
Places Visited: Hanoi, Halong Bay, Hue, Hoi An, Quy Nhon, Nha Trang, Dalat, Ho Chi Minh City, Mekong Delta Cruise
Covering the country in greater depth, our popular ‘Discover Vietnam’ itinerary offers what we regard as the optimal three-week all-rounder. It starts in the north at Hanoi and works south to Ho Chi Minh City – similar to our ‘Classic’ route, but lingering on the beaches and in the uplands of the central region. All of the ‘must sees’ feature, as well as stays in one or two places off the regular tourist trail, such as the Central Highlands. Sample some of the country’s most delicious street food; laze on some heavenly tropical beaches; and savour the distinctive feel of colonial-era trading towns such as Hoi An and Hue.
Fly overnight from the UK to Hanoi, via Bangkok.
On arrival in Hanoi, you’ll be met by your driver and guide and escorted to your hotel for a two-night stay. Spend the rest of the day recovering, perhaps venturing out for dinner at the 1901 Sofitel Regent Metropole – the High Temple of retro Indochina chic.
Enjoy a full day’s sightseeing today, starting at the exquisite Temple of Literature and Ho Chi Minh’s Mausoleum. After lunch, explore the city’s atmospheric old quarter, before attending a performance of traditional Vietnamese water puppetry in the evening.
Set amid a maze of formal gardens and fig trees, the Temple of Literature is a particular delight in the morning, when you might see local students dressed in embroidered silk ao dai dresses praying for good exam results at the shrine of Confucius. Next up is the Mausoleum of Ho Chi Minh and his rather less imposing stilted home on the nearby lake. In the afternoon, soak up the traditional feel of the old quarter’s ’36 Streets ‘ where traditional craftsmen ply their trade in a maze narrow alleyways. Be sure to pause in the market for a fragrant bowl of beef soup and rice noodles, garnished with lime, ginger and chillies, before heading to Hoan Kiem Lake to see the delightful Vietnamese water puppets.
Travel by road to Tuan Chau Marina on Halong Bay, where you’ll board a traditional junk for an overnight cruise.
After a welcome drink and briefing, you’ll be served a light lunch as the boat chugs through the otherworldly karst limestone stacks and islets of Halong Bay, pausing en route at some of the more famous formations, such as Hang Dau Go (the ‘Cave of Marvels’), with its extraordinary stalactite’s and stalagmites, and Hang Sung Sot (‘Cave of Awe’). Visit Cua Fan fishing village in the afternoon by bamboo rowing boat or kayak (with supplement), before trying your hand at fruit and vegetable carving back onboard the cruiser.
Continue your bay cruise in the morning, returning to Hanoi in the afternoon to catch a late-afternoon flight south to the former capital of Hue.
For early risers, there will be a Tai Chi demonstration on the sundeck at dawn, followed by a light breakfast in the restaurant. Later, the cruiser will stop at Titov Island, where more energetic travellers may wish to disembark to climb the peak for a spellbinding view over the Golf of Tonkin. After returning to the marina and transferring to Hanoi airport, your connecting flight should arrive in Hue well in time for supper.
Spend the day exploring historic Hue with your guide, beginning with the Imperial City, then cycling or driving into the surrounding countryside to visit the Nguyen Dynasty’s elaborate tombs.
One of the finest historic monuments in Southeast Asia, Hue’s Imperial City was where the Nguyen Emperor, his Queen and five ranks of concubines, servants and eunuchs resided amid fabulous pomp in the 19th century. Open courtyards and lawns divided the various buildings, which are all richly decorated and surmounted by beautiful glazed tile roofs. Some of the rulers who resided in it are entombed in suitably extravagant mausolea on the outskirts of town, around the banks of the Perfume River, where the tombs of Tu Doc and Khai Din are the standout monuments.
Take a boat trip along the Perfume River to see the impressive Thien Mu Pagoda. In the afternoon, explore the backcountry outside the town by bicycle.
Set on a low hill amid verdant countryside overlooking the river, the Thien Mu (‘Celestial Lady’) Pagoda is the oldest in the city, and boasts its most iconic landmark: a seven-storey octagonal tower known as the Thap Phuoc Duyen. By far the most impressive approach is by boat: a flight of stone steps leads from the water to the shrine. Low-lying rice fields scattered with farming hamlets and crumbling dynastic tombs, the surrounding countryside is perfect terrain for a leisurely cycle.
Travel by road over the Hai Van Pass to Hoi An, visiting Danang and spectacular Marble Mountains en route.
With the beautiful, pristine sands of ‘China Beach’ on the eastside, and a maze of local cafés, street food stalls and markets on the west, there’s plenty to occupy you in the seaside city of Danang. Before moving on, consider a trip up to ‘Marble Mountain’, a cluster of peaks bristling with ancient temples, pagodas and Buddhist statues. In the evening, soak up the magical atmosphere of Hoi An’s Old Town, with its hundreds of paper lanterns and lively bars. Housed in a stately colonial building, Brother’s Café has a particularly lovely candlelit garden.
Take a walking tour of Hoi An’s old town in the morning, and spend the afternoon lazing in cafés and browsing local handicraft boutiques.
A thriving port before it was eclipsed by nearby Danang, Hoi An’s Old Quarter preserves a unique cultural legacy spanning more than three-hundred years of colonial trade. Wandering its grid of 17th-century streets, you’ll pass some fine examples of old tube houses, Chinese pagodas, elaborately decorated community halls and shrines, and a wonderful Japanese covered bridge, as well as a restored French enclave. Savour the traditional Vietnamese atmosphere of the riverfront and market district, or shop for locally made art, crafts and silk, displayed in numerous boutiques around the backstreets. Hoi An’s traditional tea shops and restaurants are good places to sample local cau lau noodles and white-rose dumplings.
Travel by road or rail south to the coastal town of Qui Nhon for a two-night stay at a luxury beachfront spa resort.
Qui Nhon is a breezy seaport that still hasn’t really made it on to the radar of most international tourists – and is all the more appealing for that. Based at one of the sleek new resorts on the town’s beach, you can browse the local market, watch fishing boats and dockers at work in the port and visit the striking Thap Doi Towers – fine specimens of Cham architecture located in a central park. We also recommend the city’s main pagoda, Long Khanh, which dates back to the 18th century and boasts a 17-metre-high Buddha.
Spend today at leisure enjoying the beach and spa treatments at the resort.
Travel by road or rail to Nha Trang – a famous coastal city with beautiful beaches.
Thanks to its breathtaking setting and convenient location as a stepping stone midway down the Vietnamese coast, Nha Trang claims the crown as the country’s top beach destination. A 6-km arc of golden sand and surf fringe this relaxed city at the mouth of the Cai River. In addition to the main beach, the nearby islands hold world-class scuba diving and snorkelling sites.
Day at leisure to enjoy the beautiful beaches and scenery of Nha Trang.
Alternatives to a day on the beach include the boat excursions running out of Nha Trang. These usually include a stop at Hon Mun (‘Black Island’) for a swim, a pause for a fresh seafood lunch, and an afternoon session at pretty Hon Tam beach. Along the way, guides point out the cliffs where swallows’ nests are harvested – regarded in Asia as a great delicacy.
Drive up through the hills to Da Lat, a picturesque town in the Central Highlands.
Developed by the French as a refuge from the humidity of Saigon, Da Lat is today Vietnam’s most popular hill resort. Its refreshing climate and faded Gallic ambiance have made it a favourite destination for Vietnamese newly weds and courting couples, who flock here to enjoys trip in swan-shaped peddle-boats on the ‘Lake of Sighs’, admire views of the ‘Valley of Love’ and giggle their way around the quirky Hang Na Crazy House – a cross between an amusement-park ghost castle and guest house made of concrete mushrooms and tunnels. Foreign visitors, meanwhile, come for the fresh air, delightful scenery and crafts produce sold at the local markets.
Explore the hill station today in the company of your guide, with visits to the market (one of the largest in the country), a craft centre, and Summer Palace of Bao Dai.
Numerous elegant, colonial-era villas line the avenues of the leafy French Quarter, most of which was laid out as a summer retreat in the early decades of the 20th century for Gallic residents of Saigon. The last Nguyen Emperor, Bao Dai, lived here between 1938 and 1945, in a 25-room mansion designed in a curious Art-Nouveau style – with a distinct nautical twist! In the afternoon, consider the cable car ride up to the Thien Vien Truc Lam monster, overlooking ‘Paradise Lake’.
Ho Chi Minh City
Drive via a scenic back route to Ho Chi Minh City today. Visit the city’s vibrant Night Market at Ben Thanh in the evening to sample some of its famously tasty street food.
Originally built by the French in 1870, Ben Thanh is the oldest surviving market in the city, and the most atmospheric. After dark the streets surrounding it transform into a large souvenir bazaar, serviced by rows of Vietnamese fast food stalls and sidewalk restaurants – the most popular dish by far is deep-fried white fish, washed down with ice cold beer.
Ho Chi Minh City
In the morning, travel to Cu Chi to see one of the impressive tunnel networks built by the Viet Cong during the war. In the afternoon, explore Ho Chi Minh City with your guide.
As ‘Saigon’, Ho Chi Minh City earned the epithet ‘Paris of the Orient’, and more than a hint of Gallic grandeur survives in the swanky Dong Khoi district (setting for Graham Greene’s novel, The Quiet American). In the afternoon, visit the beautiful Jade Emperor Pagoda, with its array of gilded Buddhist and Taoist deities, then wander around the atmospheric Cholon quarter, whose markets are brimming with silk, spices and jade souvenirs, before a sundowner at rooftop bars for a dizzying view over the metropolis – the Eon Heli Bar, on the 52nd floor of the city’s tallest building, Bitexco Financial Tower, is one of our favourites.
Mekong Delta Cruise
Spend the day exploring the Mekong Delta by boat, returning in the evening to Ho Chi Minh City.
The Delta of the Mekong River begins a couple of hours’ drive south of Ho Chi Minh City. Known as ‘Vietnam’s Rice Bowl’, it’s one of the most intensively farmed, densely inhabited regions in Asia. Mile upon mile of lush paddy fields carpet the flat landscape, lined by fruit orchards and coconut groves. Chugging along the waterways in a traditional song xanh boat is a great way to experience rural life in the region. You’ll see field workers in conical straw hats hunched over rice paddy; houseboats piled high with cargoes of pink dragon fruit; children sluicing water over their buffaloes in the morning, or pedalling home from school later in the day.
Ho Chi Minh City, UK
It’s time to say goodbye to Vietnam as you head for the airport to catch your return flight to the UK.
19 days from £3680 per person
✓ International flights from London
✓ 17 nights accommodation
✓ All internal transportation and transfers
✓ English-speaking guides
✓ Breakfast daily
✓ Entrance fees to sites and monuments listed in tour itinerary
Vietnam’s charismatic capital, on the Red River, may be expanding and modernizing at an extraordinary pace, but it’s a great city to explore on foot. Surrounded by parks and tranq...
Rising in majestic fashion from the northern shore of Vietnam, the karst limestone formations of Halong Bay create a unique, spellbinding landscape. Around 2,000 islands, islets, ...
During the 143-year reign of the Nguyen dynasty (1802–1945), the last ruling family of Vietnam, Hue was an imperial capital famed for the piety of its monasteries and splendour of...
A thriving port before it was eclipsed by nearby Da Nang, Hoi An’s Old Quarter preserves a unique cultural legacy spanning more than three-hundred years of colonial trade. Wanderi...
Developed by the French as a refuge from the stifling humidity of Saigon, Da Lat is today Vietnam’s most popular hill resort. Its refreshing climate and faded Gallic ambiance have...
Ho Chi Minh City
Ho Chi Minh City – or ‘HCMC’ as it’s more often referred to these days – epitomizes the contrasting facets of modern Vietnam. Vibrant, dynamic and evolving at a breathless pace, i...
Cu Chi Tunnels
During the Vietnam War, among the tactics used by Vietcong guerrillas to evade capture, was the digging of extensive tunnel networks, protected by hidden entrances. One of the lar...
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