Arrive in Hanoi. Vietnam's bustling capital is architecturally styled like a French provincial town, with tree-lined boulevards and low-rise buildings. It's a wonderful city to explore on foot.
For those arriving on time our Leader plans to meet you in the hotel reception at 6pm for the welcome meeting and for those that wish, there is the chance to go out for dinner. There are no other activities planned today, so you are free to arrive in Hanoi at any time. If you would like to receive a complimentary airport transfer today, you'll need to arrive into Hanoi's Noi Bai International Airport (HAN), which is 30KM, around one hour's drive from the airport. Should you miss the welcome meeting, your Leader will inform you of any essential information as soon as you catch up.
If your flight arrives earlier in the day, perhaps you might choose to head to the Old Quarter, a maze of narrow lanes named after the various crafts and specialities of the city's artisans. The pavements are filled with food sellers tempting you with steaming noodles, snacks and stir-fried delights. Stay: Nesta Hanoi Hotel (Comfortable)
This morning we join our tour leader on a sightseeing tour of Hanoi, visiting the One-Pillar Pagoda, the Temple of Literatures and the Mausoleum of Ho Chi Minh. The afternoon is then free to perhaps take an optional cookery class, or explore Hanoi's elegant French Quarter on foot. In the evening there is the chance to witness a remarkable performance of traditional water puppetry. Set on a flooded stage, the stories tell tales of legendary heroes and everyday life, with dragons and unicorns often sharing the stage with fireworks and naval battles. Stay: Nesta Hanoi Hotel (Comfortable) (B)
Leaving Hanoi after breakfast, we drive using the new expressway for a two and a half hours to the Gulf of Tonkin and the breath-taking scenery of Ha Long Bay. A UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the most visually impressive landscapes in South East Asia, Halong Bay is the setting for an overnight cruise. Boarding just after midday, set sail towards Bai Tu Long Bay. Lunch is served shortly after embarking, there is ample time after lunch to sit back and admire the towering limestone islands topped by rainforest that Halong Bay is so famous for.
We make a stop to visit a Vung Vieng fishing village by rowing boat or kayak, the choice is yours. The rest of the afternoon is spent further exploring the bay scattered with hundreds of islands and dotted with caves and grottoes. Dinner is served on board, a chance to sample fresh sea food and regional dishes, we anchor overnight in Bai Tu Long Bay.
There are between 10-18 en-suite cabins on board with a restaurant, bar and sundeck area. All bedding is provided. Please be aware, the boat may not be exclusive to our group and consequently we may be sharing with other tourists. Stay: Overnight Boat in Halong Bay (Comfortable) (B/L/D)
Sunrise takes place around 0630, if the weather is clear it's well worth making the effort to witness sunrise over the bay. A light breakfast of pastries, tea and coffee we disembark to visit the hidden Thien Canh Son caves with numerous stalactite and stalagmite limestone formations in an impressive cavern. Returning to our boat, continue to cruise in the bay. Brunch is served on board.
Returning to Hon Gai harbor, rejoin our vehicle and drive back to Hanoi. The rest of the afternoon is free, with two day use rooms provided for the group to freshen up before we head to the central train station in Hanoi to board the Reunification Express overnight sleeper train to Hue, Vietnam's old imperial capital.
We travel in soft sleeper compartments, with four passengers sharing each compartment with all bedding provided. Please note, breakfast will not be provided on the train, it's advisable to pick up snacks for the morning before boarding the train. Stay: Overnight train from Hanoi to Hue (Simple) (B)
Arriving in Hue this morning, we enjoy some of the highlights of this historic city including a visit to the Royal Palace with its Terracotta Warriors guarding the entrance and the iconic Thien Mu Pagoda, home to the oldest monastery in the city. We also visit the house of a national champion kite flier for Vietnam where we are shown how to make traditional Vietnamese kites. Taking time to decorate our kites with iconic symbols such as dragons, birds and peacocks, we take our completed kites to the nearby Citadel grounds to try them out. The Citadel is an impressive monument that is almost 10 km in circumference with the Imperial City located in the centre of the Citadel which is more than 600m long on each side. Access to the Imperial City can be made by four entrance gates although the Noon Gate is only used for the King. Stay: Thanh Lich Hotel (Comfortable)
We travel to Trieu Son village which is located by the Perfume River on Hue's outskirts for a guided walk and boat ride. Our first stop is to Sinh village where we meet a local family that specializes in making wood paintings and they will teach the group how to make these traditional artefacts. We then take a leisurely cycle ride around the village and along countryside lanes to Thanh Tien village which is famous for paper flowers.
Continuing through paddy fields and the Vietnam countryside, we arrive at Tien Non village where we board our cruise boat which takes us back to Hue (total cycling distance is approximately 6km). An included martial arts lesson is our next stop with a visit to a dedicated martial arts school that practices the Vietnamese art of Kinh Van, the countries equivalent to Kung Fu which is based upon defence techniques from the actions of a tiger, cobra, and bird. The owner's ancestors were chosen to guard the Vietnamese king and he now teaches this ancient art. We then travel over the Truong Son Mountains and through the Hai Van Pass, as seen on the TV programme, Top Gear, to the historic merchant seaside town of Hoi An. Stay: Vinh Hung 2 Hotel (Comfortable) (B)
The morning is free to wander through the historic heart of this World Heritage Site, taking in the wonderfully preserved buildings of what was once one of the busiest trading outposts in South East Asia. Discovering this delightful town, we recommend an early morning visit to Hoi An's fish market which presents the perfect setting for some great photographs and some priceless interaction with the locals. Visit the city's famous Japanese Bridge, before wandering through its historic collection of traditional wooden houses and Chinese temples. This afternoon you could hire bicycles and explore the surrounding countryside, experience a gentle river cruise, spend time at the beach, or grab the chance to visit some of Hoi An's famous tailor shops. Stay: Vinh Hung 2 Hotel (Comfortable) (B)
Our drive to Danang this morning takes us past the five peaks of the Marble Mountains, originally believed to have been islands that were said to represent the five elements of water, wood, fire, gold and earth. On arrival in Danang, we then board the morning flight to Ho Chi Minh City.
This afternoon we will experience a different side of Ho Chi Minh City. We make our way to District 3 by cyclo (cycle carriages with a seat at the front) and turn off the main thoroughfare and into the maze of narrow streets of this bustling district. Our walk takes us past ramshackle shopfronts, through local markets selling anything from colourful fruit to bootleg DVDs, and past houses, churches and schools, all squeezed into the small buildings that line the narrow alleys. It's a fascinating inter-connected community here that is a stones-throw from the city centre, yet feels a far cry from the modern buildings and throngs of tourists. We stop at a local stall for a traditional Vietnamese coffee (brewed coffee served sweet with condensed milk) where we can also sample 'Banh Mi' - a Vietnamese take on the humble French baguette - freshly baked and packed with a combo of traditional and more exotic, aromatic ingredients.
The walk ends the so-called 'secret weapons' bunker'. A small unassuming 'tube house' nestled in a quiet neighbourhood hides a trap door in the floor, concealing a basement stocked full of rifles, grenades and ammunition. The bunker played a key role in the TET Offensive of 1968, it was the base from which the Viet Cong's "Team 5" launched their assault, and its location was only revealed after the end of the war. We have some time to explore the house and bunker, filled with decommissioned weapons and photographs, news clippings and memorabilia from the wartime. Stay: Liberty Hotel Saigon Parkview (Comfortable) (B)
After breakfast this morning we head out to visit the infamous Cu Chi tunnels. First constructed by the Vietnamese during their colonial war with the French, the tunnels were later greatly expanded and went on to achieve notoriety during the Vietnam War, when they served as an underground command base for 10,000 Viet Cong troops. Exploring Cu Chi gives some idea as to the conditions that the Vietnamese and their American adversaries had to endure (the tunnels are narrow and can be quite claustrophobic). The afternoon allows for more time in the city including an optional visit to the waterpark, a great way to cool off from the mid-day sun. Stay: Liberty Hotel Saigon Parkview (Comfortable) (B)
Leaving the city, we drive to the Mekong Delta and catch a boat to the start point of our cycle ride. We cycle for around 10-12 km along the flat Cai Thai village path with constant views of the delta as we wind our way around its many tributaries. The route is often shaded which is helpful to combat the humidity (the boat can pick up cyclists at various stopping points if required). Along the way, we visit Mrs Nani's home who will show us how to make rice paper in the traditional way and Mr and Mrs Chin's home who will provide refreshments that include her famous 'Banh Tieu' (traditional doughnut).
We return to the boat where we have lunch on-board and sail close to our night stop. Transferring from our cruise boat to a sampan craft, which is a small traditional boat that is regularly used by the villagers to travel along the delta, we complete our journey to our homestay close by. Set in a lovely garden setting with a main lounge area and dining room, accommodation is en-suite (shower and toilet) with traditional décor throughout. After settling into our comfortable accommodation, we have a Vietnamese cooking lesson in the early evening followed by a delicious home prepared meal. Stay: Ut Trinh & Ut Quynh Homestay (Comfortable) (B/L/D)
Leaving our homestay behind, we cruise along the delta to the famous Cai Be Floating Market. One of the most colourful attractions of the Mekong area is its floating markets and we visit one of the biggest in the Delta at Cai Be. Spend some time cruising through the market and soaking up the atmosphere of this unique trading place. After our visit, we drive onto Chau Doc on the border of Vietnam and Cambodia via a stop at the emerald green wetlands of Tra Su where we take a boat trip in Tra Su Cajeput Forest with its many water hyacinths and water lilies. Stay: Chau Pho Hotel (Comfortable)
Driving to the jetty in Chau Doc this morning, we board an early morning boat to Phnom Penh, a four and a half hour river journey that takes us up the Hau Giang River into neighbouring Cambodia. The afternoon is spent discovering Phnom Penh, Cambodia's fascinating and colourful capital. We visit the National Museum of Arts and the grand elegance of the French built Royal Palace, whose spectacular pagoda-style structure is without doubt one of the city's most recognisable landmarks. Later we'll take in the hilltop sanctuary of Wat Phnom, the monument from which the city gets its name. Stay: Home Chic Hotel (Comfortable) (B)
We take the morning flight from Phnom Penh to Siem Reap and drive to our hotel which will be our home for the next two nights.
In the afternoon we visit the Roluos group of temples dating from the 9th and 10th centuries, making these some of the earliest permanent structures built by Khmer. There are three main temples in the site including Preah Ko (or Sacred Bull), Bakong whose design corresponds to the worlds of mythical beings (Nagas, Garudas, Raksasas and Yaksas) and the Lolei Temples which are famed for their carvings and inscriptions. Stay: Treasure Oasis Hotel (Comfortable) (B)
Travelling by local tuk tuk we visit three of the most famous temple sites, those of Angkor Thom, Ta Prohm and Angkor Wat. The fortified city of Angkor Thom was originally built at the end of the 12th Century and was a formidable sight in its day; surrounded by eight metre walls, towering gates and a crocodile filled moat. We also visit the atmospheric ruins at Ta Phrom, made famous in the Tomb Raider film and then finish the day viewing the beautiful setting of Angkor Wat, without doubt the most renowned and impressive of Siem Reap's jungle temples. Stay: Treasure Oasis Hotel (Comfortable) (B)
The trip ends after breakfast at our hotel in Siem Reap.
There are no activities planned today, so you are free to depart from Siem Reap at any time. If your flight is departing later in the day luggage storage facilities are available at our hotel. If you would like to receive a complimentary airport transfer today, you need to depart from Siem Reap International airport (airport code REP), which is 8km, around 15 minutes from the hotel.
Why not extend your trip to Indochina with three nights on the tropical white sand beaches of Phu Quoc Island? Nestled in the warm waters of the Gulf of Thailand this Vietnamese island is 90% national park, a thick-rainforest interior framed by idyllic white sand beaches. Easily accessible by a short flight from Hanoi, Siem Reap or Ho Chi Minh City, this is a great way to unwind after an action-packed trip in Indochina. (B)