Highlights of Vietnam - Overland Trip
2 ½ weeks: to (IMT-PAHV)
IntroThe highlights and hidden charms of a beautiful country There will never be a better time to experience the emergence of Vietnam. We start in bustling Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City) and head for the tranquil hill station of Dalat. In the old port town of Hoi An, Portuguese, Chinese and Japanese influences from bygone eras are reflected in the charming architecture. It’s also an ideal place for shopping or having a silk outfit tailored. At Hue, we visit the crumbling ruins of the Purple Forbidden City and explore an elaborate tomb of one of the former emperors. A trip on the famous Reunification Express takes us to delightful Hanoi, before we complete our journey at Halong Bay with a cruise amongst 3000 limestone pinnacles.
You can also start your Vietnam experience two days earlier and visit the bustling and colourful Mekong Delta. See \'Itinerary Variation\' in the Detailed Itinerary for further information.
IncludedLocal tour leader, local guides, arrival transfer, transport, sightseeing and entrance fees, overnight cruise at Halong Bay.
ItinerariesDay 1 - Saigon
Your trip starts today with your arrival in Saigon. No activities are planned until your evening group meeting, so you may arrive at any time. Please check the welcome board or reception desk, located on the ground floor of the hotel, for information on your upcoming tour. This will advise you of your tour leader’s name, telephone number and the time and location of your group's Welcome Meeting. Normally, the meeting will be at 6pm.
Until your meeting we encourage you to get out and discover the delights that Vietnam has to offer. Make sure that you take a hotel business card so that you will be able to find your way back to the hotel. Please note that your tour leader will collect your travel insurance details at the meeting, so please bring them with you. The meeting is generally followed by an optional group meal out at one of Saigon's many fantastic eating spots.
We head out of town today to visit the Cu Chi Tunnels. Cu Chi is actually the name of the district which covers an extensive underground network (approximately 200 kilometres) of tunnels dug initially by the Viet Minh and later expanded by the Viet Cong. The tunnels contained hospitals, plus accommodation and schools, and were used extensively for refuge and storage and also utilised as a military base for the Viet Cong close to Saigon. The 1968 Tet Offensive was launched from Cu Chi with surprising effect. A section of the tunnels has been widened to allow tourists to get a feel for what the life underground must have been like. We will also visit Tay Ninh, which is the headquarters of the Cao Dai religion. We will attempt to arrive for the mid-day church service when the followers fill the hall wearing coloured robes, a symbol of the curious combination of the religions of Confucianism, Taoism, and Buddhism. (Please note that the church service does not operate during Tet.)Day 3 - Saigon
Today is a free day to explore this vibrant and captivating city. Most places of interest are located close to the centre of town - the Reunification Palace, War Remnants Museum, Notre Dame Cathedral and Ben Thanh Market. You may choose to get around by cyclo, which is the local version of a trishaw. The going rate is approximately 50,000 VND per hour but make sure you negotiate a price before setting out. Take time out to relax in one of the cafes on the tree-lined boulevards or enjoy a drink in the Continental Hotel, the meeting place for journalists during the Vietnam War.Day 4 - Dalat
We start our northbound journey today with the first stop being Dalat, one of Vietnam's most charming towns. The drive offers fantastic views. The influence of the French is prevalent as Dalat was founded as a hill station to enable the colonials to escape the heat and chaos of Saigon. The city is set around a lake and surrounded by forests, waterfalls and rolling countryside.Day 5 - Dalat
We have a free day to enjoy the sights in and around Dalat. A pleasant way to get around is by bicycle. This is also a great place for sitting in cafes, relaxing and soaking up the atmosphere. Close to Dalat are local Lat and Chill tribal villages which we sometimes have the option to visit (this depends on the government restrictions at the time). However, we must purchase special permits, which our tour leader can help, us to obtain.Day 6 - Nha Trang
We make our way to the coast today for some 'R & R' on the beaches of Nha Trang. Along the way we pass the stunning Bidoup-Nui Ba National Park - the national park is home to the oldest primordial forest in the Central Highlands. On arrival in Nha Trang we check into our hotel, which is close to the beach.Day 7 - Nha Trang
A highlight of a visit to Nha Trang is a day trip out on a boat exploring the islands of the South China Sea. We spend a day on the water enjoying swimming, snorkelling, lazing on a beach and feasting on a seafood lunch.Day 8 - Quy Nhon
This is a very long travelling day. Departing Nha Trang, we drive past the colourful fishing port before making our way north, travelling along the coast. The drive is long, but the views are fantastic and we can make stops as we please, including a stop at the impressive Po Nagar Cham tower. Part of the pleasure of travelling in Vietnam is the simple joy of seeing green rice fields dotted with conical hats and the smiling faces of the people. We arrive in Quy Nhon in the evening for an overnight stop to break our long journey in what is basically a town that sees very few tourists.Day 9 - Hoi An
We depart for Quang Ngai early and make a stop around lunchtime at the site of the My Lai Massacre. The area and the people are now at peace and, along the old road to the memorial and museum site, we can stop to take a walk through the colourful country roadside markets. We arrive in Hoi An in the afternoon and settle in for our two-night stay in this historical ‘oasis’. Hoi An was originally a Cham port town, but has been influenced down the centuries by a myriad of traders from various cultures. There is a distinctly Chinese appearance with pagodas and assembly halls scattered along the small streets. Hoi An was once a bustling port in centuries gone by, before the river silted up. Today it is a delightful backwater town with an air of liveliness about it. The tranquillity and charm of Hoi An, coupled with its low tiled houses, makes it one of the most delightful places to visit in Vietnam. It is a constant favourite of our travellers and staff. A walking tour takes us to see a historic house (formerly home to a prominent trader), the Japanese Covered Bridge, a Chinese assembly hall and a museum.Day 10 - Hoi An
Today is a free day to explore Hoi An and its surrounding areas. The market is a good place to buy silk, which can be made up into fine garments, all within a day. Close to town there is a nice beach, which can be reached easily by bicycle.Day 11 - Hue
Leaving Hoi An, we continue north for further sightseeing. China Beach, enjoyed as an 'R & R' spot during the Vietnam War, lies against a backdrop of the sensational Marble Mountains. The five peaks, which are actually limestone with marble outcrops, are also seen to epitomise the five elements: fire, water, earth, wood and metal. The history of the mountains is a rich one. They were once used by the Chams for religious purposes, but in more recent times became a haven for the Viet Cong, with its clear view of the Danang air base - at one time the busiest airport in the world. Good footwear is essential, as the path between the rocks are sometime slippery. The road to Hue takes us through the city of Danang, before a climb over the hills. The scene from the top of the Hai Van Pass is one of the most impressive panoramic scenes in Vietnam, with views over Lang Co Beach. Upon arrival in Hue we visit the Citadel and the Purple Forbidden City. This royal residence was all but destroyed during the 1968 Tet Offensive, however it is still fascinating to walk among the ruins.Day 12 - Hue - overnight train
Hue was once the capital of Vietnam. The royal mausoleum of Emperor Tu Duc and the beautiful Thien Mu Pagoda are not to be missed. We include these in a guided cruise on the Perfume River, which also gives us a taste of the tranquil countryside. In the evening we have an early dinner before boarding the train for our overnight journey to Hanoi. The train is very basic; we travel in 'soft sleeper' class which is a compartment for up to four people; a communal environment. The beds on board come with a pillow and sheets, although some people may wish to bring their own sleeping sheet (purely optional and not a necessity). Also, breakfast tomorrow is not the best food you will find in Vietnam, so it is recommended that you purchase some snacks before boarding in Hue. This journey is in keeping with the adventurous nature of our trips and allows you to experience a taste of the 'real’ Vietnam.Day 13 - Hanoi
Hanoi is one of Asia's most enchanting cities. This northern capital is a quiet, contradiction of its southern counterpart. Its relaxed ambience is a joy, with exploration best on foot or bicycle. The shopping is fun and the many lakes and parks provide enjoyable escapes. We have enough time this afternoon to explore the Old Quarter streets named after the goods once offered for sale there, including Silk Street, Rice Street and Jewellers Street. In the evening there is an option to enjoy a performance of the unique Water Puppets. In your free time you may also like to take a trip to the outskirts of town and visit the excellent Museum of Ethnology. Please note that museums in Hanoi are usually closed on Mondays.Day 14 - Hanoi
We take a guided half-day tour of Hanoi, visiting the major sights, including the Temple of Literature, One Pillar Pagoda, and paying a homage to Vietnam's most famous revolutionary, Ho Chi Minh. We also include lunch at the KOTO café – an amazing project aimed at providing vocational training and experience in the hospitality industry for underprivileged young people. All the staff you meet at this café have come from poor backgrounds. The remainder of the day is free to further explore Hanoi or catch up on some shopping in Hang Gai Street.Day 15 - Halong Bay
You can leave luggage behind at our Hanoi hotel and pack an overnight bag. It is a three-hour drive to Halong Bay, truly one of Vietnam's most impressive scenic sights. Views of sailing junks navigating past over 3000 limestone islands and rocky outcrops jutting out of the bay are nothing short of spectacular. We travel to Bai Chay (Halong City West) where we board a boat for an exploration of the bay, enjoying a seafood lunch and dinner (non-seafood also available), as well as spending a night on board. We visit one cave in the area and, in the warmer months, there is a chance to enjoy a swim. Conditions may be somewhat more communal compared to staying in a hotel, however it is a wonderful experience to be spending a night on the bay – weather permitting, the views at sunset are incredible. Bedding and towels are provided. All boats used by us have twin-share cabins with en suite facilities and air-conditioning. There may also be the chance to do some kayaking (optional and extra cost involved) on Halong Bay.
Accommodation on the Halong Bay cruise is on a twin-share basis, due to the small number of rooms available on the boats. If you have paid a single supplement, please note that this does not cover the cruise.
In the morning we sail back to the port, where we disembark and drive back to Hanoi. Arriving back in the capital, we have free time to wander around and enjoy some of the city’s other attractions. Perhaps afternoon tea at the Metropole Hotel?Day 17 - Hanoi
The tour ends after breakfast. A transfer to the airport is not included; however, your tour leader will be on hand to advise you as to the options available.