Balance on a tiny street side stool in Hanoi’s Old Quarter, soaking up the bustling vibes and watching motorbikes zoom past.. Who’d have thought green seas and giant mossy rocks could be so pretty? Kayaking on Lan Ha Bay is bliss, and you’ll be doing something good for the environment.. A little touch of France here, a little bit of China there – and all in Vietnam! Chill out in the cultural mixed bag of Hoi An. Hit up the local beach, cycle through rice paddies or get some sweet threads tailor-made.. You can’t travel along the coast without spending some time lazing on the beach. Discover coastal Phan Rang and pull up a towel beside the sparkling South China Sea.
As you slink from old-world Hanoi through ancient Hue, past historic Hoi An and to beachy Phan Rang and bustling Ho Chi Minh City, you’ll quickly realise that the Vietnamese know a thing or two about delicious food. Pho, banh mi, rice paper rolls – oh my! You’ll be bowled over with the number of offerings on this 11-day Essential Vietnam tour, from north to south. Not only will you be eating, you’ll be cruising, riding, relaxing, exploring and enjoying all of the Vietnamese hospitality. It sure is a damn tasty slice of this South East Asian nation, so there’s only one thing to say: Viet-nom.
Breakfast Included: Lunches Included: 2 Dinner Included: 1
Xin chao! Welcome to Vietnam. This adventure kicks off with a group meeting at 6 pm. Because this trip doesn’t spend much time in Hanoi, why not arrive a day or two early to see the sights? Check out your reflection in beautiful Hoan Kiem Lake, wander along shaded boulevards or relax in a public park with some delicious street food (spring rolls inside rice paper rolls, anyone?). Museum-wise, you could visit the Mausoleum of Ho Chi Minh, drop into the serene Temple of Literature or get arty at the city's Fine Arts Museum. Tonight, maybe grab some food at a roadside stall and a fresh bia hoi, watching the motorbikes zoom by with your new mates.
Cat Ba Island
Travel by bus and ferry (approximately 3.5 hours) to Cat Ba Island, the largest island in the UNESCO-listed Halong Bay. With thousands of little limestone islands scattered around, this area is one of those quintessential Vietnamese scenes in which bright green water is dotted with traditional junk boats and limestone karsts. Take a cruise around Lan Ha Bay with a super cool rice paper roll workshop on the boat, then get up close and personal with this other-worldly landscape by kayak. The best thing about cruising by kayak is that you can help out the environment on your way. You can choose to have a net beside your boat to catch any plastic you may come by, and later on, take part in a plastic brick making activity. Stay overnight on Cat Ba Island and enjoy a dip at one of the beaches and a cold beer.
Hanoi - Overnight Train
Wake up to the morning scenes of Cat Ba and the emerald bay and enjoy some free time at the beach. Go for a swim, kick back with a book or take a stroll along the sand. The best thing is, it’s up to you! In the afternoon, head back to Hanoi and jump on the overnight train to Hue (approximately 12 hours). This may be your first time on an overnight train in Asia and trust us, the first time is always special. It's definitely an experience.
Arrive in Hue, the former imperial capital of Vietnam. You have today free to do as you please. You can easily spend a couple of hours exploring Hue’s massive walled citadel and the Forbidden Purple Palace that's enclosed within it. Perhaps jump on board a dragon boat and enjoy a cruise up the Perfume River to visit the Thien Mu Pagoda. You could also check out Dong Ba Market, which offers locally made goods, fresh produce and some tasty street food. This is a good place to try the dishes that Emperor Nguyen used to feast on: the banh khoai royal rice. If you like being on two wheels then maybe cycle out to one of the royal tombs such as the tomb of Emperor Tu Duc (one of the most excellent remaining examples of its kind), or set off on an optional motorcycle tour of the sights in Hue and some surrounding villages. Tonight, head into the home of a local family and enjoy a prepared dinner. You’ll be chatting and laughing over your chopsticks in no time!
Continue along the coast to Hoi An by private bus (approximately 3 hours). Once in Hoi An, your leader will take you on a walking tour of this unique town which has been influenced over the years by Europe, China, Vietnam and Japan. The town was a major trading port from the 17th century onwards, and its old-school flavour is written all over its architecture. For a small town, it's pretty lively in places. In others, it's chilled out. The tour will take you down the streets that are being restored and look a lot like they did 100 years ago or more. You'll check out a historic house (formerly home to a prominent trader), the Japanese Covered Bridge, a Chinese assembly hall and a museum. After your leader-led walk, you’ll surely be hungry. Lucky thing is that we’ve got you covered. Enjoy a banh mi lunch after your tour – a crusty French baguette filled with delicious pork and other fillings.
Enjoy a free day in Hoi An. Maybe wander to the Central Market and browse the paintings, woodwork, ceramics and lanterns. Hoi An is also famous for its talented tailors, so if you’ve been wearing the same shirt every day (who hasn’t), why not hit one of the same-day tailors and get yourself something new? Or, if you're still feeling adventurous, hire a bicycle and tour the surrounding countryside, or take a ride to the coastline for an afternoon on the South China Sea – this is one of the best ways to travel in and out of town.
Hoi An - Overnight Train
Lucky you, it's another free day in this historic haven. You could take a trip out to the My Son temples (World Heritage-listed beauties that reflect the rich cultural traditions of the Cham civilisation), hop on a cruise along the Thu Bon River or get some sun with a trip to the nearby Cua Dai Beach. Afterwards, board your overnight train. This one's going to Phan Rang, a great beach town on the central coast (approximately 8 hours).
Arrive in Phan Rang early this morning for two full days of relaxation. With perhaps the best weather in Vietnam, Phan Rang is a low-key coastal city where swimming and seafood take priority. There may also be an opportunity to hit up some awesome snorkelling spots or hire a surfboard or paddle-board – as if the shimmering waters of the South China Sea aren’t enough. Ask your group leader for details when you arrive. Phan Rang’s vibe is more beach beers than beach bars, so slow down and take it easy because this is meant to be a holiday, isn't it?
Phan Rang - Overnight Train
Phan-tastic – another day to soak up the sun, catch up on your favourite book, and enjoy a day of swim, sunbake, eat, repeat. Keep in mind there's one last overnight train to catch tonight, but that just means that you’ll wake up in another cool place tomorrow! Later in the evening, swap the deck chair for a bunk bed and buckle up for the 7-hour journey to Ho Chi Minh City.
Ho Chi Minh City
Arrive in Ho Chi Minh City very early (approximately 4 am) and transfer to your hotel, then leave your gear in a day room at the hotel. Formerly known as Saigon, Ho Chi Minh City is a whirl of sights and sounds. You can still see the French influence in the top-notch baguettes and coffee on offer. Compared to the north the food is spicier, sweeter and more varied. Perhaps take advantage of the early morning by checking out the markets and tucking into a bowl of pho with the local traders. Your leader will let you know the best places to check out during your free time. Well worth the visit are the Reunification Palace and War Remnants Museum. Included for today is a local experience with uni students called Ca Phe Bet, which literally translates to ‘coffee on the flat ground’. Enjoy some coffee and a snack in one of the many parks. Tonight, why not get your group together for a meal and some drinks on Pham Ngu Lao Street?
Ho Chi Minh City
With no planned activities today, you can depart at any time. If you would like to spend some more time in Ho Chi Minh City, we don’t blame you! We’re happy to organise additional accommodation (subject to availability). The Cu Chi Tunnels are an interesting day trip nearby, plus the city is a great springboard to head down to the Mekong Delta or to Phu Quoc Island. Ask your group leader for more recommendations or, better yet, book an Urban Adventures tour! Find out more at urbanadventures.com/destination/ho-chi-minh-city-tours.