The best of Vietnam itinerary is an extraordinary way to experience the highlights of Vietnam when you may have a restricted amount of time to see the country. Northern Vietnam and Hanoi sees fewer visitors than Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) and the coastal cities in the south, but it's full of culture. Historically, and to this day, it has been significantly poorer than the southern part of the country. Cultural and political differences remain strong - the language is pronounced differently in some ways, and there's definitely a more authoritarian feel in the cities. The largest city in northern Vietnam is the capital of Hanoi. But there are numerous other locations such as: National Parks and the scenic privince of Ninh Binh, with rock formations - sometimes known as 'Halong Bay on land', the stunning Mai Chau Valley, the mountain resort of Sapa and the historical battlefield of Dien Bien Phu.
The old capital of the former South Vietnam, now renamed Ho Chi Minh City (the former Saigon), exhibits an obvious energy - with numerous motorcycles, bustling markets and an overall air of sophistication in this busy city. In Vietnam’s southern highlands the scenery is spectacular and the climate soothing. No wonder the colonial powers sought out Dalat as their Summer retreat. This is also the gateway to the Mekong Delta. where lifestyles and traditions have changed little over the years. A wonderful part of this amazing country.
The central region is one of the most diverse and least visited regions of Vietnam, stretching from Vinh down to the Central Highlands. There are outstanding beaches along the coast, notably around Da Nang and Hoi An. This region also boasts four of Vietnam’s eight UNESCO World Heritage sites: Phnog Na/Bang Ke Bang National Park, Hue Monuments, Hoi An Ancient Town and My Son Sanctuary. With stunning landscapes and ocean views, coupled with the serenity of local villages, this is among our favourite areas of Vietnam.
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‘At-a-Glance’ Illustrative Itinerary
DAY 1 - Arrive into Hanoi
Meet you outside of the arrivals hall and private transfer to Hanoi city, which takes around 45 minutes.
DAY 2 - Discover Hanoi City
This day will take in the highlight sites and sights of Hanoi. Highlights will include : Streets of the Old Quarter, explored by the time honoured local transport - the Cyclo, the perfect way to get around and get a feel of this vibrant city! Following this, rejoin your car and to continue your discovery of the capital's gems : Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum complex, One-pillar Pagoda, Temple of Literature and museums of interest.
In the evening enjoy dining the Hanoi Way! An evening walk and streetfood tour will introduce you to some of Hanoi's finest local cuisine - Beef
spring rolls – Pho cuon or Hotpot – Lau. The area around Yen Phu street is a popular street for dinner and late night eating out. You will have the opportunity to see many other kinds of street foods that are only served after dark. A delightful and very different Hanoi dinner!
DAY 3 - Mai Chau Hideaway
Leave Hanoi around 7.45am (tbc) for the 3.5 hours drive south-west to National Road 6 to your resort. There will be stops along the way
After arrival at your resort, lunch is served in the restaurant and you'll have superb panoramic views of the Da River.
The afternoon activity is a cycle ride to Go Lao Waterfalls and you've have the opportunity to visit a local village on the way. This is an approximate 3 hours trip between 2.00pm and 5.00pm.
The remainder of the day is free and easy for you - dinner is included this evening.
DAY 4 - Mai Chau Hideaway
After breakfast there's a morning of kayaking and boating on the Da River and Vietnam's largest lake - Hoa Binh Lake. The trip offers great opportunity to discover Da River ( Black River) as the HaLong Bay on mountain with 47 limestone and dolomite islets sprinkled over an area of 2.760.000 square meters. Explore Fairy Pond - the most beautiful and pristine. The jade waters are spectacular.
We'll set you up with a picnic lunch on the traditional boat.
After lunch grab a drink, enjoy a nap, or play photographer through new areas of the river. You'll arriveback at the hotel by kayak, although your traditional boat is a backup plans in case you tire at any time.
DAY 5 - Mai Chau Hideaway
The journey starts from Mai Chau hideaway to Mai Ha village. We start walking to Kha village and sightseeing around Kha lake – the heart of Mai Chau. This lake is the irrigation system that reserves the water source for Van Mai valley, providing life to the peoples living around.
Then we hike to explore small villages of Thai people hidden on lush bamboo forest. Pristine landscapes with many primeval tropical forests on Pu Poc Mountain, lofty limestone mountains with distinctive shapes, luxuriant cassava fields, corn fields with traditional charming houses on stilts.
Continuing to Te Village, a small authentic village nestled between the dense forests. Top off the journey by dropping by a Thai family to understand more about culture of Thai minority people.
Back to your resort for lunch and after, it's time for the drive back to Hanoi. Expect to arrive at your hotel by late afternoon.
DAY 6 - Halong Bay
Your private vehicle and driver will meet you at your hotel and drive you to your Halong Bay Cruise, a pleasant journey through the Red River Delta that takes around 3.5 hours, with a refreshment stop along the way.
Once at the dock side you will transfer by tender to Paloma Cruise and settle into your cabins for a two day tour around the magnificent bay.
DAY 7- Halong Bay
Day 2 on the Paloma Cruise that includes an exploration of Vung Vieny Fishing Village to see first hand what the daily life is like for the local fishing community. Upon arrival back at Hon Gai Harbour you will be transferred to Hai Phong Airport for your flight onto Hoi An.
DAY 8- Hoi An
The morning is free and easy at your own leisure and we can make the car available for use in and around Hoi An.
The afternoon would be a walking tour of the exotic Hoi An. Hoi An was a prosperous trading port between the 17th and 19th century, with a number of foreign occupations, including the Japanese and Chinese.Today, this UNESCO World Heritage listed ancient town is home to well-preserved buildings, pedestrianized streets, a quaint riverside and unique cuisines. The narrow lanes are ideal for a walking tour to give you a glimpse of this beautiful ancient town with its illustrious past.
DAY 9- Hoi An
Your day starts with a early visit to Hoi An's colourful and bustling central market by boat, where participants learn about the uses of different fresh noodles, how to recognise and buy fresh fish, dried spices and herbs, and their uses in your recipes and medicinal purposes, rice and different grains. You will also see and taste many exotic fruits.
On your return you will be guided around the many live food counters to try samples including Banh Mi, dumplings, pickles, weird & wonderful foods. Then you have a Vietnamese cooking lesson after which the group will sit together an enjoy all that you have prepared!
You will receive a copy of the recipes and a Vietnamese cooking utensil to take home.
DAY 10- Ho Chi Minh City
This morning you will transfer to Danang Airport for your flight to Saigon. You'll be meet on arrival and head direct to the Cu Chi Tunnels, an elaborate underground community made up of about 250 km of tunnels and chambers below the city.The tunnels were dug with simple tools and bare hands during the French occupation in the 1940s, and further expanded during the Vietnam War in the 1960s to provide refuge and a defensive advantage over the American soldiers. Despite all the bombings in their town, the Cu Chi people were able to continue day-to-day living beneath the soil, where they slept, ate, planned attacks, healed their sick, and taught their young. Some even wed and gave birth underground, but over 10,000 lost their lives here.
Return to Ho Chi Minh City by late afternoon.
In the evening experience Saigon the local way! As part of a small group you will ride on the back of typical Saigon transportation – the xe-om
(motorbike)... with an experienced driver to visit local Vietnamese Street food vendors on the pavement or in small local Vietnamese style restaurants . You will be with an English-speaking Vietnamese guide from a local university who will be your guide and also help explain all of the Vietnamese food as you spend your evening in a unique and highly enjoyable way!
DAY 11 - Mekong Delta - small group tour
Departing by speedboat from HCMC’s central pier, you will explore areas of the Mekong Delta that few other tourists get to experience. Quaint hamlets and busy towns are dependent on the innumerable canals, tributaries and markets in the region that overflow with fish and a variety of produce yielded by the delta’s rich alluvial soil, including rice, sesame, peanuts, cashews, pineapples, dragon fruit and durian.
Key cultural stops include a Cao Dai Temple, a riverside market, local workshops and a pagoda and other historical sites along the way. Enjoy countless opportunities to capture amazing photos of the scenery and local people as we cruise past buffaloes ploughing fruit orchards and rice fields. Spend time at a family homestead, where you’ll be invited to enjoy refreshing, freshly cut coconuts and fiery Mekong whisky.
Your chef will prepare many Vietnamese dishes for lunch, such as fried elephant ear fish – a Mekong Delta specialty – Vietnamese spring rolls and lemongrass chicken.
DAY 12 - Departure Day
Ideally you will have an evening flight to be able to make the most of your final day. Check-out from the hotel mid-morning and then start with a short orientation walk of Old Saigon. Continue to Ben Thanh Market has been the focus of the city's commercial life since it was completed
under French rule nearly a century ago. It has outgrown the main structure and now spills over into the adjacent streets. It's a superb place to finsih your trip with somce very local cuisine It's also a great place to stock up on souvenirs, T shirts, bags, coffee and other local products before setting off home. Even if you're not on a shopping mission, Ben Thanh Market is a must see before leaving Vietnam.