Vietnam Private Exploration

Explore Vietnamese cuisine in a private cooking class and try Vietnam’s famous ‘Egg coffee.’  Learn about the vanishing cultures of Northern Vietnam from noted French photographer Rehahn. Take in the breathtaking scenes of Halong Bay during a helicopter flight among the giant limestone stacks with jungle tops jutting form the blue-green waters. Walk to Cho Lon, the Chinatown of Saigon with its ancient pagodas, lovely parks and local craftsmen.  This journey takes you by helicopter, 5-Star speedboat, Mercedes and on foot to discover this exceptional land and its remarkable people.

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Enrichment Series




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Tour Highlights/Full Description

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  • Savor a private cooking class with the Academy, enjoy lunch at the Press Club, one Hanoi’s best French restaurants, and visit a traditional coffee place. to try Vietnam’s famous ‘Egg coffee’
  • Meet fascinating people such as a retired Vietnamese fighter pilot to gain a different perspective on the war; and learn about the vanishing cultures of Northern Vietnam from noted French photographer Rehahn
  • See stunning Halong Bay from the grand perspective of a helicopter as you glide among the jutting limestone stacks with jungle tops rarely seen from this perspective
  • Take a walk to Cho Lon, known as the Chinatown of Saigon, for a feast for the senses from pagodas to parks, local craftsmen to lively children on their way to school
  • Explore Vietnam by helicopter, 5-Star speedboat, Mercedes and on foot for an exceptional experience of this ancient land

Day 1: Hanoi, Vietnam
Welcome to Hanoi. Although it is the modern-day capital of Vietnam, Hanoi still retains the mystery and charm of past centuries. Narrow lanes and traditional shop houses invite exploration by cyclo, while its many beautiful public spaces – 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.

VIP airport services: meet our representative at the immigration custom, he will escort you to the fast track services as well as also assist you throughout the visa process and carry your luggage. After the arriving process is finished, 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 – Grand Prestige Suite (Opera Wing)

Day 2: Hanoi
This morning, you meet your guide and driver and head towards Hoan Kiem Lake. It is the custom in Vietnam to wake very early and start the day with some exercise. You get a glimpse of this early morning ritual as people, mostly women of various ages, start their busy routine. Several groups can be spotted practicing tai chi and aerobics. You can participate and join the locals in the morning routine. After visiting the Ngoc Son Temple in the middle of the Hoan Kiem Lake, enjoy a cup of coffee at a traditional, local coffee place. Try Vietnam’s 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. Later, discover the heart of Hanoi’s Old Quarter with its traces of distinctive French colonial architecture. St. Joseph Cathedral is a classic French gothic building dating from 1886. Next is the famous Hoa Lo Prison, where both Vietnamese, American and French prisoners of war were held. The morning ends at Huu Tiep Lake, better known as ‘B-52 lake’, where US B-5 bomber wreckage can be seen.

At noon, you enjoy lunch at the Press Club, one of the best French restaurants in the city. After lunch, drive to Nguyen Hong My’s house. Enter this residential neighborhood of Hanoi, drink tea and immerse yourself in an unforgettable story. As a young man at engineering college, Hong My was approached to take a test. This test would change the course of his life. He was sent to flight school in Russia and returned one of only 120 qualified fighter pilots in the country. He took to the skies to defend his country. You have a rare opportunity to listen the other side of this dramatic war-time story through his incredible story. Spend time with him in his home looking through old photographs, books and testimonials of his courage. His war stories are fascinating but his story post-war is possibly even more so. Remarkably, 30 years later, he was able to meet two Americans, the US pilot that he shot down and the US pilot who shot him down! They are friends today.

Then, take in the Temple of Literature, built in 1076. Vietnam’s first university was established within this temple to educate Vietnam’s royalty, mandarins and members of the elite. The university functioned for 700 years. Its gardens and well-preserved architecture offer a fascinating glimpse into Vietnam’s past.

Your last stop of the day will be on the Hanoi railway tracks. This is very particular to Hanoi as the railway tracks are sometimes located just feet away from entrance residential doors! Together with your guide, you will walk along the railway tracks and take some of the most unique scenes of the city. End the day with evening drinks at well-known Bia Hoi, where you can sample local draft beer.

Note: On today’ s tour you will be trying different street food specialties, therefore we recommend avoiding breakfast at the hotel this day! Sofitel Legend Metropole Hotel – Grand Prestige Suite (Opera Wing) (B,L)

Day 3: Hanoi / Danang / Hoi An
This morning, you see serene Halong Bay from a helicopter. Setting off from just outside Hanoi, you travel above the countryside as you make your way to the coast. Crossing rice fields and rivers, you savor unforgettable views of northern Vietnam. When you arrive at the coast, you take on a whirlwind tour of the UNESCO site. Glide amongst the limestone stacks and see this natural wonder from a perspective most never experience. Then, fly back Noi Bai airport in Hanoi where you are transferred in time to connect your schedule flight to Danang.

On arrival at the Danang airport, meet your private chauffeur who will then transfer you to your resort where the rest of the day is free. Four Seasons The Nam HaiThree Bedroom Beach Front Pool Villa (B)

Day 4: Hoi An – Marble Mountains – Hoi An
This morning your guide will pick you up for an exploration of the Marble Mountains, a pilgrimage site with caves, temples and tunnels.  Each of five mountains represents one of the essential elements –metal (Kim), wood (Moc), fire (Hoa), soil (Tho)), made out of limestone and marble, and water (Thuy). The largest among them is Thuy Son (Water Mountain), and, ironically, it is home to the notorious Am Phu (“hell”) cave.

Discovered in the 19th century, King Minh Mang named the cave to signify the mountain’s yin-yang contrast because the top of the mountain is considered heaven while the bottom is its opposite.  Opened to visitors in 2006, the cave’s natural atmosphere of rock formations, stalactites and dark tunnels have been heightened with startling figures and altars created by local artists, who recreated a Buddhist concept of hell ”where sinners confess crimes, suffer punishments and hope to reach heaven’s light.”

You cross a stone bridge over a pond with carved hands reach out from the water begging for rescue. The bridge symbolizes the passage from your Earthly existence into the afterlife. Enter in the Am Phu Cave and begin your journey along sometimes challenging stairways. (Those who have difficulty with stairs should consider skipping this as the cave has many sections of stairways, some steep and without railings.)

The cave symbolizes nine floors of Buddhist hell. Go down into spooky tunnels accompanied by the sound of bat wings flapping somewhere nearby. Descend into the realm of man-hungry crocodiles, violent demons, devils and river monsters. In the depths of Am Phu, the strong, fragrance from incense is unavoidable. Reminders of the Vietnamese-American War include a chamber used as a Viet Cong field hospital. Altars scattered around the cave with burning candles and incense is where locals come to pray and leave offerings. An altar rests below a stone stele for lost soldiers of past conflicts and a stone Buddha marks a staircase, leading deeper underground.

Another path, leading up, has walls covered with beautiful carvings. This is the section symbolizes heaven. Some steep and narrow steps lead to a small balcony with an altar and a laughing Buddha statue. Climbing the stairs to salvation isn’t supposed to be easy. In Hell’s court, judges evaluate a sinner’s acts to decide on the level of punishment. In the cave’s center, a statue of the Ksitigarbha Bodhisattva, referred to as the Bodhisattva of the Hell beings, is near the spiritual scale. If you have a mind to, you can confess sins and repent before this marble scale that weighs good and bad deeds.

Nearly 1,000 feet in length, this remarkable cave presents a blend of folklore and Buddhism’s philosophy of humanity. A stone stairway leads up to the top of the Thuy Son Mountain, or you can opt to take a glass elevator and enjoy the views of the city. On top of Thuy Son, more caves as well as divine shrines and pagodas wait. After your exploration, r Return to your hotel. Four Seasons The Nam HaiThree Bedroom Beach Front Pool Villa (B,L)

Day 5: Hoi An / Danang / Saigon This morning, savor a private cooking class in your hotel with the Academy Chef. The focus is Hanoi cuisine. You go on a guided journey through the heart of the oldest and busiest market in Hoi An to gain insights into Vietnamese food found in the old quarter’s myriad of street stalls. Bun Cha is a favorite dish that has spread through the entire country. On the cooking menu you find dishes: 1. Appetizer/Snack: Crispy crab roll; 2. Green mango salad with dry beef; 3. Grilled pork, vermicelli noodles, sweet and sour dipping sauce (Bún Chả); and 4. Main Grilled fish, turmeric and dill (Chả Cá Lã Vọng). After you have finished the cooking class and lunch, you check out of your hotel and are transferred to the Danang airport for your flight to Ho Chi Minh City Previously Saigon). Upon arrival in Saigon you are met by your driver who will transfer you to your hotel.

This evening, experience the city from a one of the rooftop bars in Saigon. With incredibly beautiful 270-degree views of the city, our rooftop bar is the perfect place to unwind after a day on your feet exploring! With an array of cocktails and some delicious bar snacks, there aren’t many views of the city with this kind of service. Park Hyatt – Presidential Suite (B)

Day 6: Saigon
This morning you are picked up from your hotel to begin your early morning walk through Tao Dan Park in the center of Saigon. As a relaxed, shaded location, it is a lovely way to start the day. Enjoy the sounds of song birds, have a local coffee to get you moving and watch as locals start their daily routine with Yoga, Tai Chi, badminton and much more. Then take a short walk to the Venerable Thich Quang Duc (Burning Monk) Monument, a dedication to the subject of that infamous and tragic photo during the war. Stop for a hot bowl of breakfast soup before heading to Cho Lon, known as the Chinatown of Saigon. Cho Lon is a feast for the senses from pagodas to parks, local craftsmen to lively children on their way to school. Our guide will lead you through the winding backstreets, providing context as you go describing the daily life of residents and the history of such an iconic area including an unseen building that was directly involved in the reunification movement. Take a moment to stop and make some of the well-known sugarcane juice and taste a sample. A great way to rehydrate as you explore.

Drive back to the downtown, where you are dropped off at an old apartment block. The residents have come together and transformed their homes into funky, stylish, unique coffee shops. If you are interested in visiting the apartment or enjoy the coffee before or after the lunch, your guide will see to it. Enjoy lunch at the Vietnam House restaurant.

This afternoon, you travel in the only way a VIP should. After a short transfer to the pier, board your Five-Star speedboat for the journey down the Saigon River to Cu Chi. You arrive hours before the large crowds. Here, with the place almost to yourselves, your guide shares personal stories and tells you the intriguing history of the area. The famed tunnel complex was built by guerilla fighters beginning in 1940 and construction continued throughout the Vietnam War, which the Vietnamese refer to as the American War. Marvel at secret trapdoors, underground kitchens, living quarters, and even conference rooms. You’ll have ample opportunity to view the excavated areas from above. The more adventurous can explore the deeper second and even third-level tunnels. You will see the sun set on the horizon from your speedboat while returning to Saigon. Park Hyatt – Presidential Suite (B)

Day 7: Saigon / Depart
This morning you meet with Tim Doling, noted historian and author at the Grand hotel. Tim will share stories about the history of Vietnam such as how a shrewd marriage alliance in 1620 enabled the Nguyễn lords of Đàng Trong (Southern Vietnam) to manipulate the Cambodian royal succession and subsequently to promote successive waves of settlement throughout the Mekong Delta, eventually transforming the entire region into Vietnamese territory by 1770. He highlights the crucial role played in what the Vietnamese call the Nam Tiến (“March Southward”) by refugee Chinese. These supporters of the overthrown Ming dynasty carved out new territories in the Mekong Delta on behalf of the Nguyễn lords. They founded markets and ports, and established a thriving economy based on the shipping and processing of rice. Crucially, it shows how these Chinese settlers laid the essential groundwork for Saigon’s development into today’s economic powerhouse by founding its sister-city of Chợ Lớn.

Tim examines the policies of the French colonial authorities, who after 1867 built on the firm economic foundations laid by their Nguyễn predecessors. They placed more land under cultivation and facilitated the work of the Chinese merchants, thereby transforming their first colony of Cochinchine and its capital Saigon into a prosperous Far Eastern enclave.

The author also brings the story up to date with an overview of the two Indochina Wars, the division of the country from 1955 to 1975 and the reconstruction that has taken place since Reunification in 1975. The policies of the reconstruction have restored Saigon, now Hồ Chí Minh City, to its former role as a dynamic center of trade and commerce.

Throughout the talk, Tim introduces a range of important historic buildings that have played a part in

Saigon’s story and may still be visited today. After the talk, he escorts you for a short sightseeing walk through the District 1. After the tour, you return to your hotel to freshen up before you are picked up for your afternoon transfer to the Saigon airport in time to connect your international flight back to Hong Kong and onward. (B)

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