Day 2: After breakfast at the hotel, start an exhilarating one hour tour by cyclo, a chauffeur-pedalled tricycle, through the old quarter. The bustling narrow streets and alleys are home to literally thousands of small businesses and shopkeepers - changed little over time. Hanoi is the only city in Vietnam that has retained its merchants' quarter. A maze of narrow streets lined with myriad shops, the Old Quarter is fascinating. It's a great place to explore, especially by cyclo, with plenty of photo opportunities all around you. The afternoon is free to rest or to explore on your own. Later, we'll gather for a Vietnamese dinner at a local restaurant. Dining at local restaurants will be a pleasant and integral part of our trip. We overnight once again at our Hanoi hotel.
Day 3: This morning, meet your guide at the hotel to depart after breakfast. Your first stop will be Ho Chi Minh's Mausoleum. Built despite his request for cremation, the final resting place of Ho Chi Minh is a glass sarcophagus set deep in a monumental edifice that has become a site of pilgrimage. A pagoda, built of wood on a single stone pillar is designed to resemble a lotus blossom and has become an important symbol for the people of Hanoi. We continue to the National Fine Arts Museum — an eclectic mix of contemporary Vietnamese art, religious pieces, lacquer-ware and sculptures. We move to the Temple Of Literature, Vietnam's first university. Constructed in 1070, its well-preserved architecture and peaceful gardens offer a glimpse into Vietnam's past.
Enjoy a luscious mid–day lunch before encountering Hoa Lo Prison, the Buddhist Tran Quoc Pagoda on West Lake (one of the oldest in Vietnam) and Quan Thanh Temple (Taoist, dating from the Ly Dynasty). Our last stop today will be the Museum of Ethnology, where you observe Vietnam's diverse culture through the Museum's unique presentation of artifacts and dress used in daily life. We'll then return to our hotel for a brief rest. Later on, attend a traditional water puppet show, a uniquely northern Vietnamese art form especially designed for depicting scenes from rural life and episodes of national history. We overnight at our Hanoi hotel.
Day 4: Take an early morning departure from your hotel to Halong Bay, for a journey through the lush farmlands of the Red River Delta. The romance of old Vietnam still lingers — with beautiful karst islets randomly scattered with traditional red sailed junk plying across the waters. With 3,000 limestone and dolomite islets sprinkled over an area of 1,500 square kilometers, Halong Bay offers a wonderland of karst topography similar to Phuket in southern Thailand and Guilin in China.
Observe the daily life of small Vietnamese Villages where villagers work in local rice fields, take live pigs to market on bicycles or motorbikes, and plough the fields with their sturdy water buffaloes. Arrive in Halong and board a wonderful replica of a classic steamship of colonial French Indochina - your welcome drink is served on the sundeck! With luxurious air-conditioned cabins, a restaurant, two bars and a sundeck, this is the ultimate Halong Bay experience. Lunch is served on board. While cruising along the emerald green waters, try a traditional Vietnamese foot massage or high tea — served on the sundeck in the late afternoon.
We spend our day cruising Halong Bay past the islands of Trong, Mai, Am, Chen, and Cong Troi (Heaven Gates). Our trip includes Ba Trai Dao (Three Peaches Islands), the pelican caves of Bo Nau and Thien Cung (Heaven Palace) and Hang Dau Go — a huge cave consisting of three chambers, reached by 90 steps. Enjoy an exotic sunset and later, a scrumptious buffet dinner. Before retiring to your cabin, return to the sundeck for your nightcap and wonder at the quiet serene canopy of stars. We overnight onboard. .
Day 5: Early morning offers a Tai Chi class on the sundeck. If Tai Chi doesn't interest you, there's a fresh cup of coffee or tea waiting as you view the awakening of Halong Bay's boat people. Explore and cruise for early morning photography opportunities. You'll be served a wholesome breakfast before cruising back to Halong City. Your guide is waiting to return you to Hanoi where you will arrive in a few hours. We've reserved a wonderful dinner for you at Hanoi's Press Club. We overnight at our Hanoi hotel.
Day 6: Enjoy a lazy and restful day to relax and explore on your own. After a late hotel checkout, we'll stop at a bountiful Hanoi restaurant for dinner before arriving at the Hanoi Railway Station for our night train to Sa Pa. This evening we are bound for Lao Cai. We overnight onboard.
Day 7: Arrive in Lao Cai Station, near the Chinese border, where you are met by your local guide. Breakfast options are at a local restaurant or your own picnic. After breakfast, embark on a scenic drive to the historic French colonial hill station of Sa Pa. Meander a spectacular landscape of rice-terraced mountains with Black Hmong and Red Dao hill tribe people dressed in colorful native clothing. We'll go to Can Cau Market — a very interesting local market frequented by Tu Di, Dao Tuyen, Ha Nhi, Flower Hmong and Giay minorities and pause for lunch.
After lunch we visit Ha Nhi and Trung Do Villages. Sapa, located in the steep hills of the Hoang Lien Son mountains, is centered around a restored French cathedral originally built in the 1920s. There are incredible views of Vietnam's highest mountain, Fan Si Pan (10,315 feet) and the deep valleys below. We visit the 328 foot high Thac Bac Waterfall, which swells impressively during the rainy season, and later, the highest mountain pass in Vietnam — Tram Ton Pass (6,233 feet), on the north side of Fan Si Pan. In the early afternoon, our vehicle arrives in Sa Pa and our hotel where the rest of today is at leisure.
Day 8: Today we'll do some exploring of Sa Pa and the surrounding villages by foot. We'll depart Sa Pa on a trail through lush gardens and a beautiful pine forest before we arrive at the Black H'mong village of Matra. We'll continue from Matra passing rice fields crowned by spectacular scenery, to the Red Dao Village of Taphin. Like the H'mong, the Dao migrated from China. Your vehicle awaits to return you to Sapa where the rest of today is free at leisure. Evening transfer to Lao Cai station for the return train to Hanoi where we overnight onboard.
Day 9: Our train arrives early in Hanoi. We'll have our breakfast in a local restaurant before we make our airport transfer for the flight to Hue. Upon arrival in Hue, take a short city tour to witness the elaborate mausoleums of Emperors Tu Duc and Khai Dinh as well as the Imperial Citadel, from where the Nguyen Dynasty ruled between 1802 and 1945. In the evening we have a special dinner at a Japanese restaurant. Overnight at a hotel in Hue.
Day 10: After your hotel breakfast, you'll begin a tour of Hue - the former imperial capital of Vietnam. Take a dragon boat ride boat upstream along the romantically named, Perfume River - past tranquil gardens and lakes. Hue's best-known religious sites are the Thien Mu Pagoda and the mausoleum of former Emperor Minh Mang. Visit the Imperial Citadel, where the Nguyen emperors once ruled Vietnam between 1802 and 1945. Modeled after the Forbidden City in Beijing, it was built in the early 19th century. The walls enclose numerous palaces and temples, as well as towers, a library, and museum. A traditional dinner is at Tha Om, a private home designed by Enha Vuon, a famous architect. Overnight at our hotel in Hue.
Day 11: Drive south to Danang through the inspiring Hai Van Pass (4900 feet) - Vietnam's geographical boundary between north and south. The pass remains perpetually shrouded in clouds. Continue on to the charming and relaxed town of Hoi An. Believed to have been settled over 2,200 years ago, Hoi An was a thriving seaport and a trade route stop. Our lunch awaits before we begin an interesting half day tour through the trading port of Hoi An. Its unique architecture and lifestyle have changed little over the years. We'll meander through the ancient town center and visit the sites of former merchants' homes, a 400 year-old Japanese Covered Bridge, and a Chinese Communal Hall. Before we return to our hotel, enjoy browsing and shopping in the one of the most colorful local marketplaces in all of South East Asia. Overnight at our riverside hotel in Hoi An.
Day 12: After breakfast, we're off for a half day trip to the capital and religious center of the former Champa Kingdom. My Son, 40 kilometers southwest of Hoi An, sits in a lush green valley with dozens of red brick towers and sanctuaries. It is thought that My Son was active as a sanctuary in the 3rd and 4th centuries and was dedicated to kings who had attained god-like status. Your guide will steer you through the museum and the holiest of sites before returning to Hoi An. We return to Hoi An in the afternoon to tour the colorful port town. Known as Faifo to early western traders, Hoi An was one of Southeast Asia's major international ports during the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries.
Hoi An remains a delightful city to visit as one of the few places in the country that has not been destroyed by war. Among its many examples of authentic Vietnamese architecture are Quan Thang House, one of the oldest and nicest houses in Hoi An and Phung Hung House, inhabited by one family for eight generations. We also visit Chua Chuc Thang Pagoda, the oldest pagoda in Hoi An. We tour the Chinese Quan Cong Temple, Phuoc Kien Pagoda, dedicated to the Goddess of the Sea and Protector of Sailors and Fishermen, Quang Dong Pagoda and the Japanese Covered Bridge. We stop by the Sa Huynh Museum and the Trading Ceramics Museum. Later, embark upon a private boat to take a three-hour cruise along the Thu Bon Riverto Kim Bong Village, a village of woodworkers and boatbuilding families located on Cam Kim Island. We'll make stops at Thanh Ha Pottery Village, Kim Bong Carpenters' Village, and Hoi An's large shipbuilding yard. Dinner at Brother's Cafe. Overnight at our hotel in Hoi An.
Day 13: Your day is free to explore and relax on your own. Overnight at our hotel in Hoi An.
Day 14: Your guide will pick you up at the hotel by private car and transfer you to the airport for your flight to Saigon. On arrival, your Vietnam guide and private car will pick you up to begin a full day city tour of Ho Chi Minh City — still called Saigon by many locals. Visit the city's bustling Chinatown (Cholon) and Thien Hau Temple. From the temple take a cyclo ride — the most appropriate and unusual way to explore Cholon — to the lively Binh Tay Market and a lacquerware factory where workers continue this ancient tradition. Our tour continues to the War Museum and the former Presidential Palace. From the palace it's best to travel on foot (but your car will be available at all times) to visit the major sights of colonial Ho Chi Minh City.
The bustle of Vietnamese life is everywhere in Saigon. Within this teeming metropolis remain 300 years of timeless traditions and the beauty of an ancient culture. We sightsee in Cholon, a huge Chinese neighborhood to the west of the city and visit Notre Dame Cathedral, the Jade Emperor Pagoda, and the Ben Thanh Market (Saigon's central market). Its surrounding streets make up one of the city's liveliest areas. After this historical visit, it's time for a scoop of fantastic ice cream at Fanny's, a quaint little parlor with French atmosphere. Stroll and explore the trendy boutiques and shops on Ton That Thiep Street. Overnight at our hotel in Saigon.
Day 15: We depart early for Cai Be — deep in the heart of the Mekong Delta. Embark on your private deluxe junk (boat) to cruise to Cai Be's colorful floating market. We'll also visit a local home factory producing rice paste, rice pop corn and coconut candies. We'll return onboard cruising on to the Evergreen Islands — located on the Mekong River, through large networks of meandering tributaries, criss–crossed with countless canals. Visit a fish market and Unicorn Island, which has a large fruit orchard where we will sample diverse types of fruit and tea mixed with bee honey. Board a smaller rowed sampan boat to navigate further into the winding and tiny canals which offer a close-up view of daily river life. We have lunch on the Turtle Island at a restaurant for Mekong Delta specialties. After lunch, we continue to Vinh Long — absorbing the passing landscapes and typical rural life on the Mekong Delta. Disembark and transfer to Can Tho for the night. Overnight at our hotel in Can Tho.
Day 16: After breakfast transfer to your boat for a colorful two hour cruise to visit the Cai Rang Floating Market where you explore a lively scene. The waterways are packed with people from the surrounding rural areas to sell their fresh fruits and vegetables. We'll also make stops at a Bun Tau noodle factory and a rice husking mill. On our drive back to Saigon enjoy a lunch stop near My Tho. Overnight at our hotel in Saigon.
Day 17: After breakfast, enjoy a morning drive through pastoral landscapes to the Tay Ninh Province, on the western side of Vietnam. At Tay Ninh visit the Cao Dai Great Temple, with its architecture straight from a Walt Disney movie. After lunch in a local restaurant, visit the famous Cu Chi Tunnels — an incredible underground network constructed by Vietnamese resistance fighters (Viet Cong) during their long struggle for independence. The Viet Cong built over 120 miles of underground tunnels connecting command posts, hospitals, shelters, and weapon factories. Dug in hard clay with hand tools and without the use of cement, parts of this amazing network were never discovered during the war. We'll enjoy an excellent dinner and overnight at our hotel in Saigon.
Day 18: Your guide and car will meet you at the hotel for your departure transfer to Saigon's airport.
Scheduled 2013 Dates: Vietnam North To South: March 10 - 28, 2013 From Hanoi, Vietnam
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