Day 1: Hanoi. On arrival in Hanoi you are met and transferred to your hotel. This northern capital is a quiet, contradiction of its southern counterpart. Its relaxed ambiance is a joy, with exploration best on foot or bicycle. Hanoi is one of Asia's most enchanting cities and, until our welcome meeting this evening, we encourage you to get out and discover the delights that the city 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. Your tour leader here will organize a pre-trip briefing, where you also get to meet the other members of your group. This meeting is generally followed by an optional group meal out at one of Hanoi's many fantastic eating spots. After dinner there is also an option to enjoy a performance of the unique Water Puppets.
Day 2: Halong Bay. Early in the morning, we transfer by road to the famous Halong Bay, listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site and is one of Vietnam's most spectacular natural wonders. On arrival, we board a traditional junk for a four-hour cruise around the 2000 thousand tiny limestone islands that makes up mystical Halong Bay. Several islands boast beautiful grottoes with contiguous chambers and peculiar stone formations. We visit caves, swim in the clear waters of the Gulf of Tonkin (weather permitting) and enjoy a delicious seafood lunch on board before disembarking and heading back to Hanoi. This evening, our tour leader escorts us to dinner at Ngon Restaurant, where we can enjoy authentic Vietnamese street food in an courtyard setting, surrounded by street stall-style cooking stations, each serving a regional specialty. Includes: (B), (L), (D).
Day 3: Hanoi. In the morning 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. This afternoon we embark on the first of our culinary adventures at our cooking class at KOTO restaurant – 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. Here you learn about the differences in the northern Vietnamese food, which is less spicy and relies more on its natural flavors than that of the center and south. Includes: (B), (D).
Day 4: Hue. A morning flight from Hanoi takes us to Hue, the last imperial capital of Vietnam (1802-1945) and also one of its cultural centers. Upon arrival, we freshen up before enjoying a tour of the city and its surroundings. 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. Returning to town, we then visit the Citadel and the Purple Forbidden City. This evening we discover the joy of the famous 'royal' cuisine in Hue as our tour leader escorts us to a local restaurant to experience some of the local delicacies such as Hue spring rolls and pancakes known as 'banh khoai'. Includes: (B), (D).
Day 5: Hoi An. A free morning to laze by the pool or perhaps take a walk through the shaded streets by the river. In the afternoon we embark on one of Vietnam's most spectacular road trips by crossing over the Hai Van Pass, towards Danang. We continue south to China Beach, enjoyed as an R and R spot during the Vietnam War, which lies against a backdrop of the sensational Marble Mountains. We also visit these mountains, which consist of five peaks that are actually limestone with marble outcrops and are seen to epitomize 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 their clear view of the Danang air base - at one time the busiest airport in the world.
Good footwear is essential, as the paths between the rocks are sometime slippery. Our destination at the end of the day is Hoi An. There are many street-side cafes and restaurants in Hoi An - ideal places to finish off the day by sampling the culinary delights of this town. This evening, our tour leader takes us to dinner at Nhu Y Restaurant, a hidden gem of Hoi An where we can enjoy a most authentic cao lau - a specialty noodle dish of the region. Includes: (B), (D).
Day 6: Hoi An. Today is a full day cooking tour where we get to learn more about Vietnamese cooking while immersing ourselves in the daily life of the local people. We travel to Tra Que Village and walk through the market gardens where local farmers work their fields. Here we pick fresh saw-tooth coriander and Vietnamese mint for our cooking lesson, before trying a special herbal drink at a local home. Our next stop is to the local village's market and, with shopping list in hand, we purchase a range of local ingredients including cardamom, sesame rice paper and banana flower. On arrival at Red Bridge Cooking School we learn the traditional ways of preparing and cooking Vietnamese food, using the freshest ingredients and traditional Vietnamese utensils. After the class we sit down to savor the dishes we prepared. Our trip back to Hoi An town is a leisurely cruise along the river. Includes: (B), (L).
Day 7: Hoi An. 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 tranquility 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 favorite of our travelers and staff. A walking tour takes us to see a historic house, the Japanese Covered Bridge, a Chinese assembly hall and a museum. During a free afternoon we can enjoy an optional bicycle ride in the countryside or relax at the nearby Cua Dai Beach. Includes: (B).
Day 8: Saigon. We depart Hoi An for Danang, where we board our flight to Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City). Saigon is the largest city in Vietnam and the nation's economic capital. On arrival we take a short city tour to the Reunification Palace, War Remnants Museum and Notre Dame Cathedral, and walk through the many beautiful French colonial buildings such as the main post office and the former Hotel de Ville. This afternoon we embark on our final Vietnamese cooking class hosted by the famous and colorful Ms Dzoan, a TV celebrity chef, author and restaurant owner, in her beautiful French villa home. After the class we relax over dinner and enjoy the delicious dishes that we have helped to create, before returning to our hotel. Includes: (B), (D).
Day 9: Mekong Delta - Saigon. Today we travel south to the Mekong Delta, often referred to as the rice bowl of Vietnam as it produces three harvests per year. The Mekong River begins its life in Tibet and travels 4500 kilometers through six countries, before eventually splitting into nine tributaries and flowing into the South China Sea. Traditional transportation in the delta is by boat along a vast network of canals and channels. On this trip, we travel on the canals, surrounded by lush green vegetation, visit orchards and local produce farms, and have the chance to sample the many local delicacies, including the elephant ear fish and a feast of the varieties of exotic fruits grown in the delta.
On the way we stop to visit the vibrant and colorful Cao Dai temple. Indigenous to Vietnam, Caodaism is a unique fusion of the best from Taoism, Buddhism, Hinduism, Christianity, Islam and Confucianism. This evening, our tour leader escorts us to a farewell dinner at Bun Ta Restaurant, where we get to enjoy a plethora of authentic rice noodle specialties in a beautifully renovated French villa. Includes: (B), (D).
Day 10: Saigon. A transfer to the airport is not included; however, the hotel staff will be on hand to advise you as to the options available. Includes: (B).
Also see tour packages in:
Asia Vietnam Local Culture Food & Wine Cultural Journey