Day 1: Hanoi, Vietnam
Welcome to your Hanoi. The modern capital of Vietnam, Hanoi retains the mystery and charm of past centuries with its narrow lanes and traditional shop houses that invite exploration. Its many beautiful lakes, parks, tree-lined boulevards and monuments give the city an air of elegance and harmony with nature unique among Asian capitals. And everywhere there are motorcycles, some of which seem to carry whole families or impossibly huge bundles of goods. As part of our VIP airport services, our representative meets you at the immigration custom, and will escort you to the fast track services as well as also assist you throughout the visa process and carry your luggage. After all the arriving process is completed, he will escort you to the gate where you will meet our guide and driver. Then you will be transferred to your hotel. Sofitel Legend Metropole Hotel
Day 2: Hanoi
The morning is at leisure to relax, take a walk to explore a bit on your own, or enjoy the amenities of the hotel. This afternoon, your guide will meet you at your hotel and walk with you the short distance, about five minutes from Hoankiem Lake, to the home of a local family who has lived in the city for generations. Mrs. Hong is a lovely Hanoian lady, full of warmth and kindness, and a talented cook. Begin your cooking experience with a walk through a Hanoian market with her daughter or nephew to try some exotic Vietnamese fruit or other produce. Note: market visits are preferable on weekends or afternoons, depending on your schedule and host’s availability. Return to the host’s home where you learn through a hands-on experience to prepare an authentic Vietnamese or special Hanoi dish, using special tips that Mrs. Hong shares with you. The detailed recipe of your creation will be sent to you later. Don’t leave Hanoi without trying her delicious spring rolls or delightful salads, whether papaya, banana blossom, or green mango that spring to life with an array of fresh, aromatic, verdant Vietnamese herbs.
After class, enjoy a traditional Hanoian meal at the Hongs’ table. Mrs. Hong does not speak English, so she hosts the class with her daughter, Hang, who works at an environment NGO. Sometimes her nephew Diem may assist or substitute for Hang when she is busy with her two young daughters. Your hosts will go out of their way to make you feel comfortable and welcomed in Vietnam. They are excited to share their culinary traditions and recipes of Hanoi with you! The host owns a wide range of authentic Hanoian food, apart from most preferred meal (spring rolls/grilled fish, banana blossom salad/papaya salad), and can offer a tailor-made menu on request. Return to your hotel where the evening is at leisure. Sofitel Legend Metropole Hotel (B,L)
Day 3: Hanoi
This morning meet your guide and driver early to head for Hoan Kiem Lake. It is customary to wake early here and start the day with exercise. You glimpse this early morning ritual as people, mostly women, begin their routines, whether that is tai chi or aerobics. You are welcome to join in if you like.
Visit Ngoc Son Temple in the middle of the lake, then enjoy a cup of coffee at a traditional coffee house. Try the local coffee, Cà phê sữa đá (Iced coffee), or the well-known ‘Egg coffee’. Continue your walk with a stop at a street food shop to sample delicious ‘bánh mì’, a typical baguette sandwich.
Discover the heart of Hanoi’s Old Quarter with its distinctive French colonial architecture. St. Joseph Cathedral is a classic French gothic building dating from 1886. Next is the infamous Hoa Lo Prison, where Vietnamese, American and French prisoners of war were held. The morning ends at Huu Tiep Lake, known as ‘B-52 lake’, where US B-5 bomber wreckage can be seen.
Later, return to the Old Quarter. Vietnam is known for its food. You stop at a ‘Bún Chả’ restaurant to try a Hanoi specialty. After lunch, you visit the Temple of Literature built in 1076. It was Vietnam’s first university, established within the temple to educate royalty, mandarins and members of the elite. The university functioned for 700 years. Its gardens and preserved architecture offer a fascinating glimpse into Vietnam’s past.
End the day on, literally, Hanoi’s railway tracks. This is very specific to the city because the railway tracks are just meters away from entrance door to houses! With your guide, you walk along the railway tracks and take some of the most beautiful pictures of the city. After a long day, finish your evening at the typical and well-known Bia Hoi, where you sample local draft beer. Sofitel Legend Metropole Hotel (B,L)
Day 4: Hanoi / Halong Bay
After breakfast, you are picked up by your private van and driven to Dinh Vu Port in Haiphong, where you arrive mid-morning. Savor a cup of special tea at the Orchid Cruise’s lounge. At noon, you will transfer by tender to the Orchid Cruise, anchored in the south of beautiful Halong Bay, one of the ‘New Seven Wonders of Nature.’ Board your ship, check in and enjoy a welcome drink during your cruise briefing and safety instruction by staff members.
The ship sets out to Da Chong Islet, home of a century-old lighthouse built by the French. Enjoy an international buffet lunch while passing the islets of Con Vit. The towering limestone karst formations dramatically shoot up out of the sea. This area remains untouched since few cruise ships use the route via the Cat Ba Island, Thoi Quyt area, Coc Ngoi islet, through Gia Luan, which belong to Cat Ba National Park. Orchid Cruise takes you to some of the less populated areas of Tra Bau in Lan Ha Bay. You will enjoy the green, cool emerald water where you can swim.
On Cat Ba island in the middle of Cat Ba National Park, travel by bus through Kim Giao Forest to Trung Trang Cave, which runs 300 meters/984 feet into the mountain and is populated with stalactites. The cave is constantly being carved and altered by nature, a process begun over two millennia ago.
Return to the ship to relax, watching the magnificent sunset over the Gulf of Tonkin. Onboard you can opt to join a Vietnamese cooking class with the chef. In the early evening the boat has its happy hour for guests followed by a sumptuous candlelight, set-menu dinner. Enjoy the amazing landscapes of the bay at night up on the top deck. You can settle in with a drink, try your hand at night squid fishing or catch a movie in the restaurant. Orchid Cruise - Premium Suite with Balcony (B,L,D)
Day 5: Halong Bay / Hanoi / Danang / Hoi An
This morning, you might want to get up early to enjoy morning on Halong Bay. You can also enjoy an invigorating Tai Chi session on the sundeck, flowed by breakfast. After breakfast, head out to explore the bay in the area where Ao Ech is situated. Go kayaking here to discover the hidden charm of Lan Ha Bay. While cruising back to the quay, sit down for a final meal, a delightful brunch. Back at the dock where you started in the south of the bay, disembark. You are transferred to Hanoi airport for your evening flight to Danang. On arrival in Danang, you are met and transferred to nearby Hoi An for check-in at your hotel. Anantara Hotel (B)
Day 6: Hoi An
This morning is at leisure to relax. This afternoon, you take a coconut basket boat tour, in one of the traditional round bamboo boats. Learn to paddle the strange and unique Vietnamese basket boats, and how to use traditional fishing techniques, or explore the tranquil coconut-palm flanked waterways. On this tour, you gain authentic social and cultural insights into the local way of life through some hands-on activities that are both fun and interesting. Anantara Hotel (B)
Day 7: Hoi An
Early this morning, you are met at your hotel and transferred to the Grasshopper Adventures shop to begin a four-hour bicycle excursion to explore the hidden passageways and winding alleyways of intriguing Hoi An. Stop to take in the iconic, ancient Japanese bridge in the historic district.
From here, continue to the southern villages of Quang Nam Province. Visit a local family making Banh Beo, one of the favorite traditional breakfast staples, a mixture of rice flour and water in the traditional method. Visit a family home to learn about the tradition of the family chapel. Our host is nearly 90 and vividly remembers his experiences in the American war, which he is willing to share. Later, pedal past rice fields and vegetable farms along small canals and waterways towards a wooden boat-building site. The final stops include a traditional mat-weaving shop and a family distillery, where rice wine has been produced in the same manner for generations. Samples are provided for those who wish to taste this traditional spirit. It's a short ride from here to the local ferry for a trip back to town. Once dockside, it's another short five-minute ride through alleyways back to the Grasshopper shop, where you’ll be rewarded with a complimentary cold beverage after a fun day exploring Hoi An and the surrounding countryside. You are transferred to your hotel, where the remainder of the day is at leisure. Anantara Hotel (B)
Day 8: Hoi An / Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon)
Transfer this morning to the Danang airport for your flight to Ho Chi Minh City. On arrival at Tan Son Nhat Airport, you are met by your guide and transferred to your hotel. The remainder of the day is free to pursue your own interests.
This evening you set out from your hotel for a unique and festive evening. The first stop is at Café Zoom to for some people watching, cocktail in hand and appetizers before hitting a favorite local eating spot. You experience the nightlife of Saigon the way locals do, from the back of a vintage Vespa scooter. Begin with a ride to Chinatown and then head to District 4 through busy streets and alleys for nightlife and street seafood. You likely won’t see other foreigners here. Travel from District 4 to District 3, passing through downtown District 1 to take in the sights on the way to try some traditional Banh Xeo, a specialty of Saigon, and sample southern other food with local people. Then you head for a hidden Vietnamese-style coffee shop for a bit of local music. The tour ends at a lively bar for drinks and some live music. Later you are returned to your hotel. Sofitel Plaza Saigon (B)
Day 9: Ho Chi Minh City
Today you are picked up from your hotel and driven outside of the city to visit the infamous Cu Chi Tunnels, the incredible underground network that once stretched for 210 miles. This tunnel complex was built by guerilla fighters beginning in 1940 and construction continued throughout the Vietnam War, (called the American War by the Vietnamese). This startling complex of secret trapdoors, underground kitchens, living quarters, conference rooms, communications, munitions storage, hospitals and more. You can view the excavated areas from above or can explore the deeper second and even third-level tunnels.
Return to the city to visit the War Remnants Museum, one of Vietnam’s most popular museums, which primarily exhibits the American phase of the Vietnam War from the point of view of the Vietnamese. After the tour, you return to your hotel for a free afternoon. Sofitel Plaza Saigon (B,L)
Day 10: Ho Chi Minh City
You depart this morning for an hour-and-a-half drive to Ben Tre, one of the country's southern provinces set in the Mekong River Delta. Take in the landscapes as you leave the city behind. Pass Rach Mieu Bridge before reaching the hamlet of Huu Dinh. Here, you get on a tri-motor cycle (xe loi) to ride into the lush surroundings of rice paddies and fruit farms along the narrow roads. Arrive at the waterfront to board the charming Mango Cruise for a glimpse at the delta scenery while enjoying coconut juice.
The first stop is to see how coconut is processed. The cruise also stops at a brick-making shop, where craftsmen use centuries-old methods to make bricks by hand. Here you begin a bicycle tour around Phong Nam village, riding about four km/2.5 mi, through gardens, pausing at a rice noodles factory that makes “hu tieu”, one of the most popular breakfast dishes in the region.
Walk about three minutes to visit Mrs. Huong’s home where her family has lived for generations. Her family lives on fishing, shrimp and farming. Enjoy the tropical fruits and honey tea in her garden before taking a rowing sampan, paddled by a personalized rower, to discover the maze of small canals. Later, return to your boat, and head to the Mango home restaurant, here you enjoy a five-course lunch. Freshen up before you switch back to the bicycle for a short ride past green gardens and local houses. Stop at another house, home to Mr. Sau Tuong, a former Vietcong soldier, who survived two years fighting the Khmer Rouge. Now he and his wife live on making rice paper, the most famous specialty of My Long village. Have a chat with him and see how his wife makes the crisp paper. The boat will be waiting at the pier nearby to bring you to Ben Tre city where your car transfers you to your hotel. Sofitel Plaza Saigon (B,L)
Day 11: Ho Chi Minh City / Phnom Penh, Cambodia
This morning you are transferred to the Saigon airport for your flight to Phnom Penh, Cambodia. Upon arrival in Phnom Penh, obtain your Cambodian visa, if you haven't already. Clear Immigration and Customs and proceed to the arrival area. You will meet by your guide, who privately transfers to your hotel. VIP fast track services are provided on arrival.
This afternoon, you discover Wat Phnom, 14th-century stupa with a small pagoda. It is the tallest religious structure in the city and the oldest building in Phnom Penh. Continue to the Royal Palace, built in 1866 under King Norodom, to see examples of Khmer architecture. A visit to the Royal Palace also includes a visit to the Silver Pagoda, so named for its prenominal floor, which is covered with more than 5,000 silver tiles. About 60% of the pagoda’s contents were destroyed under Pol Pot’s regime, but what remains is spectacular. This is one of the best places in Cambodia to still be able to see objects that embody the brilliance of the Khmer civilization. Explore the National Museum with its huge collection of Khmer sculpture and artifacts recovered from the ancient Angkor Empire. Sofitel Phnom Penh Phokeethra (B)
Day 12: Phnom Penh
This morning your guide meets you at your hotel to start this unique tour by foot. First, you stop for breakfast at Pshar Kandal, Phnom Penh’s oldest market to enjoy local delights such as Mi Char (fried noodle) Lort Char, Sachkor ang (BBQ beef) with papaya salad, noodles and traditional snacks of rice and coconut juice cooked in clay pots. Set out on foot again to discover the old French Quarter with its fine colonial-era architecture that incorporates Belle Epoque and Art Deco designs. Wat Phnom, a Buddhist temple in the heart of the city built in 1373, is the tallest religious structure in the capital. The legendary Raffles Hotel opened in 1929 by the French has hosted Jacqueline Kennedy and Pol Pot, and writers such as W. Somerset Maugham and Ernest Hemingway as well as famed director Alfred Hitchcock. The large colonial train station had been unused since the early 1990s until recently when weekend passenger service resumed. Cambodia’s largest market and a city landmark, Psah Thmey, is housed in an amazing yellow-domed art deco building dating from 1937. Its four wings are teeming with stalls that sell pretty much everything from gold and silver, to apparel, to desserts. You can also find a traditional Cambodian fortune teller to have your fortune told for a small fee. After the market, you return to your hotel by a tuk tuk.
This afternoon, journey to Tuol Sleng Prison in a former high school and see the devastating horrors that prevailed during Cambodia's ultra-radical Marxist movement. This excursion may prove distressing for some; it is, however, an important piece of Cambodia’s recent past as is Choeng Ek, known as Cambodia’s “killing fields" where more than 17,000 Cambodian civilians and nine westerners were killed and buried in mass graves between 1975 and 1979. Return to your hotel for an evening at leisure. Sofitel Phnom Penh Phokeethra (B)
Day 13: Phnom Penh / Siem Reap
This morning you are transfer to the Phnom Penh airport for your flight to Siem Reap. On arrival you are met and transferred to your hotel. Today you explore one of Southeast Asia’s most important enduring cultural symbols – the fabled temple complex at Angkor Wat, the crowning jewel of Khmer architecture. Angkor is the highlight of any visit to Cambodia. The largest, best preserved, and most religiously significant of the Angkor temples, Angkor impresses visitors both by its sheer scale and its beautifully proportioned layout as well as the delicate artistry of its carvings. Cross the vast moat along a broad causeway lined with naga balustrades. Enter the main building, ascend up through a series of galleries and courtyards before reaching the central sanctuary, with its beautiful views back over the causeway and across the surrounding countryside. On the way, stop to enjoy the intricate stone carvings that adorn nearly every surface, with some 1,700 Apsaras, or celestial dancers, sculpted into the walls. Along the outer gallery walls runs the longest continuous bas-relief in the world. It narrates stories from Hindu mythology, including the famous Churning of the Ocean of Milk. Angkor Wat is stunning at any time of the day, but sunrise and sunset are especially magnificent as you watch the play of light and shadows on the stones. Shinta Mani Angkor (B)
Day 14: Siem Reap
Rise early this morning for a unique experience. Join Buddhist monks in chanting and meditation, often commented on by our travelers as a singular highlight of this journey. Return to your hotel for breakfast. Then set out on a drive, some 16 km/about 10.5 mi, to Kompheim Village, a small village of farmers and workers. Your village tour includes contributions to HUSK Cambodia, a project that works with local families and the community. On your tour, a host family welcomes you into their home and lives for the day. These families receive a small payment for being the host family and a larger contribution is made to a village fund. The village fund is used for special village projects such as water filters and digging water wells.
Please note: It is extremely important that visitors not give away gifts, candy or money to families or children, regardless of how dire the situation seems. Providing gifts of any kind create problems within the village and jealousy among families and relatives. Should you wish to help, please talk to your guide. You will notice that many children suffer poor dental hygiene, candy only contributes to the problem.
This evening enjoy a traditional Cambodian Circus, Phare Ponleu Selpak, which means “Brightness of the Arts”. This is a group like no other and very different from a western-style circus. Phare is a Cambodian non-profit art organization founded in 1994 by eight young Cambodians returning from refugee camps along the Thai border. The purpose is to improve the development of local communities by providing education and professional artistic training. The circus performers are talented, passionate and travel the world to perform. The shows constantly rotate and the show you see depends on the time you visit. Their focus is on both traditional and contemporary themes. Shinta Mani Angkor (B)
Day 15: Departure Siem Reap / Depart
Today you are transferred to the Siem Reap airport in time to connect your onward international flight back to the US. (B)
Land price, per person, double occupancy: Price starts from US$600 per person per day.