Day 1: Hanoi City Tour
City tour of Hanoi with long stop at the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum and serene One Pillar Pagoda followed by lunch at a popular children vocational cooperative. Afternoon stroll through family homes in the Old Quarter — the most densely populated urban place on earth. A couple hours free to wander Hanoi's silk, art and other specialty shops before dinner. Orientation dinner at Vietnam's most elegant French-Vietnamese restaurant followed by a traditional, delightful water puppet performance.
Day 2: Hanoi to Hue
Morning airline transfer to the ancient Imperial Capital of Vietnam. Set on the tranquil Perfume River, Hue is Vietnam's most pleasant and picturesque city. While Saigon and to a lesser extent, Hanoi, have seen heavy growth in the last decade, Hue remains largely untouched. After breakfast we will test our bikes cycling along the Perfume River on our way through the high-walled Imperial Citadel, to the peaceful Thien Mu Pagoda. Dinner free to enjoy local delicacies such as crab soup, ban sao — Vietnamese "pancakes," and frozen creme caramel.
Day 3: Hue
A succession of Nguyen Dynasty Emperors built grand tombs on a wide scale, scattering them around the hills surrounding Hue. and we will see two wonderful examples of Imperial architecture. We'll cycle from our restored hotel on the riverfront through Hue's beautiful countryside to the majestic Khai Dinh and Tu Duc Royal Tombs. Afternoon free to explore the giant, bustling riverfront market and other attractions, or rest up for our next day's journey.
Day 4: Hue to Hoi An
A full day cycling one of the most scenic routes in Vietnam. Our "long group" will depart Hue on bike early in the morning while the rest of us will wait to disembark closer or to the top of the Hai Van Pass. Our route passes by rural villages and the picturesque Lang Co Lagoon, then ascending the six-mile road over the Hai Van offering stunning views of the coast and a thrilling descent on the backside to the green rice fields and white-sand graveyards around Danang. After regrouping we will skirt around Danang on a side country road to Hoi An. Afternoon arrival at the peaceful Hoi An Hotel followed by dinner cooked by one of the best chefs in Vietnam, Miss Ly. A tour favorite, read more of Hoi An's history in this Asia Week Article.
Day 5: Hoi An
After breakfast in the serene courtyard, a walking tour of Hoi An, an ancient Japanese port of trade where rare wooden architecture remains in the setting of this small, pleasant town. Explore the ancient elegant pagodas, bustling riverfront marketplace and distinctive cuisine, soak up the celebratory atmosphere and spend most of the day mixing in the festivities. Optional cycling to Cua Dai Beach on the South China Sea, cooking demonstration featuring local specialties by another of Vietnam's most talented chefs, or free time on your own for a boat excursion on the river. Plenty of time to also explore Hoi An's vibrant market.
Day 6: Hoi An to Qui Nhon
Depart early along the coast and past scenic rice villages. Lunch near a "secret" Cham sight superior to My Son. Regroup at Chu Lai, a former American military base. Coastal riding past rural rice villages canopied by swaying coconut palms on one side of the road and beach on other. Arrive at the beachfront Seagull hotel. Time to enjoy the tranquil waterfront (pictured below), before dinner at the hotel featuring lemongrass fish cooked in palm leaves.
Day 7: Qui Nhon to Nha Trang
Our ride from Qui Nhon to Nha Trang covers some of Vietnam's most scenic coastline, featuring deserted blue lagoons and stone promontories overlooking the waters below. Fishing villages dot the coast here, their bays filled with brightly colored boats. Not many travelers here, so lots of attention can be expected. Lunch at scenic Dai Linh Beach. Arrive at the Ana Mandara on the waterfront, one of the finest resort hotels in Asia. Evening free to explore the many seafood restaurants.
Day 8: Nha Trang
Vietnam's finest oceanfront city. Optional half-day boat excursion to nearby islands and a marine reserve. Snorkeling and swimming over the coral reefs in warm, clear water, followed by sunbathing and grilled seafood lunch. Also option of city cycling tour, including Lon Song Pagoda and Po Nagar Cham ruins. Evening free to walk along the beach, have a massage or swim in the warm surf. Arranged dinner featuring shrimp spring rolls, fried squid with pineapples, steamed crab, fresh fish and other seafood delicacies.
Day 9: Nha Trang to Dalat
Morning bus shuttle past historic Cam Ranh Bay to Phan Rang - location of a large a Cham ruin, Thap Cham, and most of the remaining, original inhabitants of Vietnam - the Chams. Cycling from Thap Cham along the flat to the six-mile climb up Ngoan Muc Pass into the beautiful pine forests of the Central Highlands around Dalat. Small villages and strawberry, carrot and other crops line the empty road passing into Dalat. Cycling "escorts" are common here. Overnight at the majestic Sofitel Dalat Palace, restored in perfect detail and one of the finest hotel in Asia with expansive views of Dalat valley. Special Christmas Eve dinner and accommodation at the luxuriously restored French-colonial hotel, the Dalat Sofitel Palace.
Day 10: Dalat
Dalat - a beautiful colonial hill-station with cooler weather and some very interesting and sites, such as Vien Thuc's Pagoda, Bao Dai Palace and the Valley of Love. The gem of Vietnam, Dalat was where the French came for relief from the heat of Saigon - hundreds of well-preserved colonial villas cover the hills. Also a center for exotic game hunting - even Teddy Roosevelt had a villa here. Ride to see the Valley of Love and other local attractions including waterfalls and lakes. Afternoon city tour of the central marketplace, Dalat Cathedral, the artist community and numerous cafes. Evening free to partake of the many restaurants in town.
Day 11: Dalat to Bao Loc - Saigon
Our morning begins with a twisting six-mile descent from Dalat through pine forests to the rolling and gradually falling road to Saigon. We'll pass by numerous coffee, tea, banana and rubber plantations planted in the rich, red earth that marks the Central Highlands as the place where Vietnam's finest tea fields and crops unique to Vietnam, like strawberries grow abundantly. We'll also pass by the ubiquitous churches in this unique and predominately Catholic area of Vietnam. Just outside of Saigon, the rubber trees originally planted by the French Colonialists are still harvested. Accommodations at restored historic hotel on the Saigon River. Saigon from above image. Dinner on your own at one of the many restaurants nearby the hotel.
Day 12: Depart Saigon (December 28)
Half or full-day city tour of the vibrant Cholon Bin Tay market, nearby pagodas, the Saigon River front and several historical sites. Afternoon free for cyclo ride or sightseeing and shopping with guide. Farewell dinner near the Saigon River. Overnight at the Caravelle, overlooking the central square. All meals are included.
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