Vietnam Discovery

12 days / 11 nights

One of our most popular trips, this takes in the best of Vietnam from north to south. Starting in Hanoi, we see the most popular sights before travelling east to Halong Bay, one of the most striking natural wonders in all of Asia. After a night on a traditional junk, we fly south to Danang, gateway to the charms of Hoi An. As well as exploring the historic vestiges of this old river port, we learn about the secrets of Vietnamese cuisine with a cooking class at Red Bridge. After a day off to enjoy the beach, we fly down to dynamic Saigon, commercial capital of Vietnam. Our base for a few nights, we venture out to the Cao Dai Holy See in Tay Ninh, the base for a unique fusion religion and then go underground to learn about the tenacity of the Vietnamese people and their survival in the Cu Chi Tunnels. We also make a trip into the emerald green Mekong Delta, exploring the mighty river by boat and visiting local fruit farms in the area. This is the best of Vietnam in a bite-sized chunk.

In brief

  1. Day 1: Arrive Hanoi. Old Quarter Tour and Water Puppets.
  2. Day 2: HCM Mausoleum, Temple of Literature, Museum of Ethnology.
  3. Day 3: Hanoi to Halong bay. Lunch and Cruise Aboard Traditional Style Junk
  4. Day 4: Exploring Halong Bay. Overnight on Junk.
  5. Day 5: Cruise in Halong bay. Drive to Hanoi. Fly Danang.
  6. Day 6: Exploring Hoi An Old Town. Afternoon Free.
  7. Day 7: Cooking class at Red Bridge or Morning Glory Cooking Schools.
  8. Day 8: Day at Leisure in Hoi An to Enjoy the Beach.
  9. Day 9: Fly Danang to Saigon. Afternoon Sightseeing.
  10. Day 10: Cao Dai Temple at Tay Ninh and Cu Chi Tunnels.
  11. Day 11: Excursion to the Mekong Delta.
  12. Day 12: At Leisure in Cantho until Onward Transfer.

In detail

Day 1: Arrive Hanoi. Old Quarter Tour and Water Puppets.

We arrive in Hanoi and transfer to our accommodation. We explore the burstling Old Quarter on foot. We walk through the vibrant street market before exploring a real hidden tube house. We take a rest and enjoy a tasty Vietnamese coffee while enjoying the fascinating view of the Old Quarter and Hoan Kiem lake from the terrace of the house.

This evening, we attend a water-puppet theatre performance. The art of water puppetry began a thousand years ago, possibly in the flooded rice fields of Vietnam. Puppeteers today stand in waist-high water and manipulate their puppets in such a skilled way that you can’t help but be captivated by the performance. Music accompanies the action, including the dan bau, an instrument made from a dried watermelon rind that produces haunting sounds.

Day 2: HCM Mausoleum, Temple of Literature, Museum of Ethnology.

You’ll have the whole day to explore Vietnam’s capital city. Your guide will take you to the Temple of Literature, the first university in Vietnam dating back to the 11th century, and a popular attraction, as is Ho Chi Minh’s Mausoleum, his modest stilt house where he chose to live and work. We will also visit the museum dedicated to his memory.

In the afternoon, we will proceed to the most beautiful of Hanoi’s museums, The Ethnology museum. This showpiece provides a fascinating insight into the histories and lifestyle’s of the 54 ethnic groups of Viet Nam. 

Day 3: Hanoi to Halong bay. Lunch and Cruise Aboard Traditional Style Junk

We make an early morning departure from Hanoi and drive through the Red River Delta on our way to HaLong City. Upon arrival, our crew will greet us with a refreshing welcome drink and then our cruise begins! As we navigate our way through the emerald waters and limestone islands we are served a delicious lunch of fresh seafood (vegetarians are also catered for). As we cruise through Bai Tu Long Bay we marvel at the amazing karst scenery with different formations, such as Dragon Islet, Kissing Chicken Islet, Tourtoise Rock, Vung Oan Islet. Halong Bay is littered with hidden caves and grottoes and we’ll take some time to explore some of these. For those feeling active you can explore by sea kyak. After our first evening’s dinner, night fishing is available upon request. Most will probably opt to relax on deck under the stars before retiring for the night in your cozy cabin.

Day 4: Exploring Halong Bay. Overnight on Junk.

Early risers can enjoy the sunrise and the quiet breath-taking beauty of Halong Bay’s landscape. After breakfast we cruise to the Cong Dam area for exploring hidden lagoons and karst formation. Again there is the chance to explore at your own pace by kayak. We’ll make a stop at a beach where we can take a stroll, swim or simply relax before enjoying our BBQ lunch. Well fed and rested we return to our trusted vessel and cruise to a nearby floating village. Here we have the opportunity to meet with the local fishermen and their families. We can make a short tour of the village by local rowing boats while our crew pick up some fresh fish for our dinner. We then Cruise back to the overnight spot with more time for swimming or kayaking around. Alternatively just relax with a cool drink and enjoy the sun set in this enchanting bay. Our final evening dinner will be served on board and then there is time to enjoy one final night under the stars.

Day 5: Cruise in Halong bay. Drive to Hanoi. Fly Danang.

We wake with the sun and enjoy a light breakfast before visiting Thien Canh Son Cave or Vung Vieng floating village. Once back on the boat we cruise back to the harbour of Halong City. There will be one last chance to swim in the bay en route. Lunch will be served on the way back and we expect to reach the Jetty by 12.00. Bus transfer directly to Noi Bai airport for your onward flight ***NOTE: The morning visit to Thien Canh Son is for 2-day tour; to Vung Vieng floating village is for 3-day tour. Anyway, the program is subject to change without prior notice depending on tidal condition.
We land in Danang and make the 40 minute drive to the charming town of Hoi An, which is our base for the next few days.

Day 6: Exploring Hoi An Old Town. Afternoon Free.

This morning we travel to the port town of Hoi An. Recently named a World Heritage Site by UNESCO, this is a trading outport dating back to the 16th century. Because of its location on the Thu Bon River, Hoi An became a magnet for merchants from all over the world. Today its streets display a rich mix of Vietnamese, Japanese, Chinese, and European architecture and culture. Explore the small town on foot. Here the streets, historical temples, centuries-old shopkeepers’ houses, and artisans’ quarters evoke an earlier time, when silks and brocades, ivory, fragrant oils, fine porcelain, innovative weaponry, and raw minerals were hawked by enterprising merchants and manufacturers. Visit Tan Ky House, a late 18th-century merchant’s residence. The Tan Ky family, very successful silk, tea, and rice traders originally from China, lived here for seven generations and amassed quite a collection of paraphernalia. The house itself is a fine example of combined Japanese, Vietnamese, and Chinese architecture, typical of the older houses in Hoi An. The Fukhien Association, also known as the Assembly Hall of the Fujian Chinese Congregation, was founded as a place where minority Fujian Chinese could hold meetings. Later it became a temple for the worship of Thien Hau, goddess of the sea and protector of fishermen and sailors.

Free afternoon at your leisure.

Day 7: Cooking class at Red Bridge or Morning Glory Cooking Schools.

Option 1: At Morning Glory
You’ll find Morning Glory in an elegant old building with a French colonial style exterior and traditional Hoi An interior. It’s based in the ‘old quarter’ surrounded by many interesting buildings. Their cooking school and Ms. Vy’s well-known Gourmet Cuisine Classes take place here. The 3-hour session provides us with a rich and comprehensive gourmet experience. We start with a 1 hour market tour to learn about Vietnamese ingredients & how to choose fresh foods. Next is a short talk on the art of Vietnamese gastronomy, vegetables, herbs & spices & how to prepare & use them. The practical includes learning cooking & cutting techniques & how to use a Vietnamese vegetable grater & knife. We’ll get hands-on experience of fresh summer rolls, grilled chicken with lime leaf, Green Papaya salad, Crispy Pancake. Finally we put our own culinary skills to the test as we eat our creations during a well earned lunch!

***Note: Pick-up at your hotel at 8.00am, class starts at 8.30am.

Option 2: At Red Bridge school
Situated on the banks of the Hoi An River, the Red Bridge Restaurant & Cooking School is designed to meet the growing demand, from local and international travellers, for a quality Vietnamese dining experience with personal service and individual style. We start this morning with an experience of Hoi An market coloured by amazing sights, sounds and aromas. Next is a 25-minute leisurely boat trip along the Hoi An River to the school where we can investigate its herb and vegetable garden. Then it’s time learn how to cook traditional Vietnamese dishes. Once the cooking is completed we then set ourselves the task of devouring our culinary creations.
***Note: Pick-up at your hotel at 8.00am, class starts at 8.30am.

Day 8: Day at Leisure in Hoi An to Enjoy the Beach.

We leave today free to enjoy the atmosphere of this spiritually, culturally and historically enriching town. Wander the old streets to experience the diverse influences in the architecture, a testament to the sailors, traders and explorers who passed through here in centuries gone by. Take the measure of a tailor shop, as Hoi An is one of the best places in Vietnam to get clothes made. Try a cookery course to learn more about the secret herbs and spices of the Vietnamese kitchen. Rent a bicycle and explore beautiful Cua Dai Beach, one of the loveliest stretches of sand on the coast. 

For something more ambitious or adventurous, consider a trip to the atmospheric old Cham city of My Son, nestled under the shadow of Cat's Tooth Mountain. Or explore the caves and shrines of Marble Mountains. Hoi An has a wealth of experiences and adventures to offer and is one of the nicest places in Vietnam to explore at leisure.

Day 9: Fly Danang to Saigon. Afternoon Sightseeing.

We arrive in Saigon and transfer to our accommodation. In the afternoon, we begin exploring the sights of Saigon. We learn about the legacy of war at the dramatic War Remnants Museum. The Requiem photo exhibition showcases the work of the era's most famous combat photographers and is a must. We also visit Reunification Hall, formerly the Presidential Palace of South Vietnam. It was here that a North Vietnamese tank famously crashed through the gates bringing an end to the long Vietnam War and the building has been preserved exactly as it was in 1975. We then take a stroll around the impressive old French-built post office and Notre Dame Cathedral before continuing to the City Hall area, another grand old colonial-era relic. We then leave guests free to explore the famous Dong Khoi area, home to the legendary Continental Hotel, made famous by Graham Greene in the Quiet American, and lots of popular restaurants, bars and boutiques.

Day 10: Cao Dai Temple at Tay Ninh and Cu Chi Tunnels.

We leave the bustling streets of Saigon and head northwest to the town of Tay Ninh, headquarters of the Cao Dai religion. The Cao Dai Great Temple is an incredible cotton candy building and we learn about this unique religious fusion of East meets West. Cao Dai worshippers follow a blend of Buddhism, Taoism and Confucianism, as well as some Christianity and Islam for good measure. Prophets include Buddha, Moses, Jesus and Mohammed, as well as invoking the spirits of Joan of Arc, William Shakespeare, Victor Hugo and Lenin. We arrive in time to witness one of their noon prayer service.

After a local lunch, we continue to the Cu Chi Tunnels, an incredible underground world used by the Vietnamese communists to elude the Americans. Whole villages went underground during the 1960s and the tunnels stretched for more than 250km, from the Cambodian border to the suburbs of Saigon. Using this incredible warren of tunnels, the Vietcong were able to stage ambushes and attacks on American patrols and even bases. We explore this astonishing complex, a testament to the tenacity of the Vietnamese people. For those that dare, it is possible to crawl through some of the original tunnels, a fascinating but claustrophobic experience.
We then return to Saigon and leave some time free to soak up the atmosphere of the city.

Day 11: Excursion to the Mekong Delta.

After breakfast, we leave behind the hustle and bustle of Saigon as we delve into the Mekong Delta, a patchwork of emerald greens and the rice bowl of southern Vietnam. We travel to the small community of Cai Be, where we visit a colourful floating market. We cruise through the waterways and canals of the Mekong Delta to visit fruit orchards and learn about the local cottage industries like coconut candy, popcorn and brick-making. We stop for a local lunch on one of the pretty islands and may sample the local specialty of elephant ear fish.

After lunch, we can experience a sampan ride along one of the canals before we continue to the important port of Vinh Long. We then return to our vehicle for the onward journey to Cantho, commercial capital of the Mekong Delta and our base for visiting the amazing floating market of Cai Rang. We check into our hotel for the night.

Day 12: At Leisure in Cantho until Onward Transfer.

After an early morning cruise amidst the waterways of the floating market of Cai Rang, the biggest in the Delta, your time is free to explore the town of Cantho before we collect you for your onward transfer, either back to Saigon or onward to the Cambodian border crossing at Chau Doc.