Vietnam's air-conditioned trains are safe, comfortable & inexpensive, the ideal way for independent travellers to get around and see Vietnam at ground level. The train journeys are a genuine Vietnamese experience in themselves, an integral part of your visit to Vietnam. You might even meet some Vietnamese people.
Arrival in Ho Chi Minh City, meet your guide in the airport and transfer to hotel for resting. Expecting your exciting train jounary starts tomorrow.
Excursion to Cu Chi Tunnels and Tay Ninh
From Saigon, drive to Tay Ninh, the birthplace of the unique Cao Daireligion, a fusion of Buddhism, Confucianism, Taoism, Christianity, Islam and native Vietnamese spiritual beliefs. Every day at noon, worshippers garbed in colorful robes flock to the Cao Dai Great Temple to participate in the daily prayer sessions, which visitors may respectfully observe from the upper balconies. (Note: shortly before and during the annual Tet festival (Vietnamese New Year) the daily ceremony of the priests in Tay Ninh may be cancelled without prior notice). Afterwards, continue to the Cu Chi Tunnels.
Never discovered by American forces, these tunnels were an important Vietcong base during the American War. Stretching over 200 km, this incredible underground network, dug by hand out of hard laterite, connected command posts, hospitals, shelter and weapon factories. Today, you can walk through the area and learn about the day-to-day life of the VC, see the cleverly disguised entrances and elaborate booby-traps, and even venture inside the tunnels, some of which have been modified to accommodate tourists. Return to Saigon in the late afternoon.
Sightseeing in Saigon and Cholon (Chinatown)
A vibrant metropolis, Saigon teems with energy, activity and motion. Everywhere you look, you see the meeting of traditional and modern life. The emerging modern skyline stands cheek by jowl with colonial buildings and traditional temples. Outside on the streets, young professionals zip by on motorbikes, chatting on cellphones; inside the quiet temple courtyards, worshippers pray amidst clouds of incense. Begin your tour of this exciting city with a tour of the historic center, strolling along Dong Khoi Street, formerly known as the Rue Catinat, the main shopping thoroughfare and heart of old colonial Saigon. Pass by classic European-style landmarks such as the ornate City Hall (Hotel de Ville), the old Opera House (both may only be viewed from the outside), and pay a quick visit to the neo-Romanesque Notre Dame Catherdarl and the Central Post Office.
Afterwards dive into modern history with a tour of the Reunification Palace. Formerly the Independence Palace of the South Vietnamese president, this 60s style was famously stormed by tanks on April 30, 1975 signifying the fall of South Vietnam. It has been preserved in its original state, and the original tanks remain on display near the entrance gates. Continue to the harrowing War Remnants Museum, which comprehensively documents the travails of the long Vietnam- American War. Inside are detailed photographic exhibitions; outside is a collection of tanks, planes and weapons. A powerful experience, this museum is guaranteed to provoke strong emotions. Afterwards driving to the historic center to visit Emperor of Jade Pagdoa, one of Saigon's most interesting pagoda.
In the afternoon, head out to Cholon (China Town). Explore the highlights of this fascinating area, beginning with a brief visit to Bihn Tay Market, the vast wholesale market selling every kind of good from dried foods to T shirts to electronics. Continue to Thien Hau Pagoda, built by the Cantonese congregation and dedicated to the heavenly goddess. End your tour at the central Ben Thanh Market, where vendors display a vast array of goods and handicrafts, appealing to every taste.
Overnight in Saigon.
Saigon - Danang - Hoi An
Flight from Saigon to Danang. Arrival in Danang
Sightseeing in Danang
Danang is a thriving regional center, one of the largest cities in Vietnam. Tour the Cham Museum, an elegant colonial building which now houses the finest collection of Cham sculpture in the world and briefly pass Non Nuoc Beach, a famous spot for American soldiers during the Vietnam-American War in 1960s. The Non Nuoc Beach stretches for many kilometres north and south of the Marble Mountains. During the American War, soldiers were airlifted here for 'rest and relaxation'. . Continue south to Hoi An, stopping enroute to visit the Marble Mountains, five stone hillocks, once islands, that now rise sharply from the surrounding ricefields. Riddled with caves and shrines, they are said to each represent one of the five elements of the universe.
By vehicle from Danang to Hoi An
Journey south past the Marble Mountains and small villages.
Overnight in Hoi An.
Sightseeing in Hoi An with a boat trip on the Thu Bon River
The exquisitely preserved merchant town of Hoi An was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1999. Its colorful shophouses and temples reflect a diverse heritage, dating back to the 16th and 17th century, when it was a major port for Western, Chinese and Japanese traders. Today it is a thriving center of traditional crafts and a shopper’s paradise, best explored on foot. Wander through the cobbled streets, past low tile-roofed buildings, the bustling central Market and the small HARBOUR where colorfully painted boats are moored. The walking tour will include visits to a Private House, where members of the same family have lived continuously for centuries in a traditional setting; to one of the family chapels built by prominent merchant or official families as centers for ancestor worship; and to a typical Chinese-style pagoda or assembly hall. Continue to Sa Huynh MuseumA, located near the Japanese Covered Bridge, it contains exhibitions from the earliest period of Hoi An's history. Visit a handicraft workshop in Hoi An where local products are being made by the industry itself. Finally, continue to the famous Japanese covered bridge pagoda, first constructed in 1593 by the Japanese community of Hoi An to link the town with the Chinese quarters across the stream.
In the afternoon, board a local boat and cruise down the Thu Bon River, enjoying the unspoiled countryside and stopping to visit a POTTERY VILLAGE and a WOODCARVING VILLAGE before returning to Hoi An harbour.
Overnight in Hoi An.
By vehicle from Hoi An to Hue
Journey from Hoi An over scenic mountainous roads with spectacular views over the coastline. Halfway between Danang and Hue lays the dramatic HAI VAN PASS, the high dividing line between the climate zones of north and south Vietnam. Continue southwards passing LANG CO, a lovely stretch of beach curving outwards between a clear blue lagoon and the South China Sea, and the large coastal city of DANANG before arriving in Hue.
Visit the Imperial Tombs of Tu Duc and Khai Dinh
Venture into the countryside around Hue to the Imperial tomb of Tu Duc. Tu Duc, the longest reigning Vietnamese emperor, designed and built this elegant tomb during his lifetime, using it as a retreat for meditation, reading and theater performances. Take some time to soak in the tranquil atmosphere, wandering among the gracefully proportioned pavilions, courtyards and lotus ponds. Afterwards visit the Imperial tomb of Khai Dinh, dramatically located on a hillside. The last of the monumental tombs of the Nguyen dynasty, completed in 1931, this tomb incorporates distinct European elements into the traditional Vietnamese architecture.
Visit Dong Ba Market
Dong Ba Market is a local market near the Imperial City
Overnight in Hue.
Sightseeing in Hue
Hue served as the capital of Vietnam for more than 140 years. It houses ancient temples, imperial buildings and French-style edifices. It was established in the 17th century.
Excursion to Thien Mu Pagoda and Tomb of Emperor Minh Mang with boat trip
Enjoy a leisurely boat ride down the Perfume River, stopping first at the iconic Thien Mu Pagoda, an elegant seven-tiered octagonal tower which has become Hue's most widely recognizable monument. Continue cruising into the countryside to the Imperial tomb of Minh Mang, a majestic complex of courtyards, pavilions and temples in a beautiful natural setting.
Visit the Old Imperial City
Located in the heart of Hue is the imperial citadel, a vast complex built in the early 19th century and modeled after the Forbidden City of Peking. The original walls stretched for 10 km and were surrounded by a wide moat. Today, most of the buildings have been destroyed due to bombing during the Vietnam-American War, but the monuments that remain provide a fascinating glimpse into the court life of the Nguyen Dynasty. Approach the city past the striking flag tower, where a giant Vietnamese flag waves proudly overhead, to the imposing Ngo Mon Gate, the main entrance to the Imperial Enclosure. Enter into an area of spacious courtyards and serene lotus ponds, and visit Dien Tho Residence (Dien Tho palace) is where the Queen mother lived, visit Thai Hoa Palace, the magnificently decorated reception hall, the Halls of the Mandarines, and the original nine dynastic urns, among other sites.
Take a train from Hue to Hanoi.
Journey north parallel to Highway 1 past Dong Ha, Dong Hoi, Ha Tinh, Vinh, Thanh Hoa, Ninh Binh, Nam Dinh and Hanam.
Overnight in Train
Arrival in Hanoi
Transfer to hotel and have breakfast
Sightseeing in Hanoi with a visit by cyclo to the Old Quarter
Although it is the modern-day capital of Vietnam, Hanoi still retains the mystery and charm of past centuries. Narrow lanes and traditional shophouses invite an exciting exploration by walking, 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. Begin your day visiting the Temple of Literature, a peaceful series of walled courtyards and graceful gateways, and one of the best serving examples of traditional Vietnamese architecture. Founded in 1070 and dedicated to Confucius, this was also the site of Vietnam's first university.
Continue to the miniature One Pillar Pagoda. Also dating from the 11th century, this monument was rebuilt after being destroyed by the French in 1954. After the Pagoda visit, walk through the park to Ho Chi Minh 's Stilt House, the simple two-room dwelling where Ho Chi Minh lived from 1958 until his final days (1969). Preserved in the same condition as during his life, it may be viewed through the windows. Afterwards head to Hoan Kiem Lake and Ngoc Son Temple, located in heart of Hanoi, which contains an islet with the tiny Tortoise Pagoda. Enroute, pass other colonial landmarks such as the magnificent Opera House (may be seen from the outside only) and St. Joseph's Cathedral. From the lake, begin exploring the old quarter by cyclo. This fascinating network of narrow alleys and shophouses is also known as 'The 36 Streets,' each street being named after the merchandise traditionally sold there, ranging from fabrics to crafts to medicines to tombstones. A handicraft-lover's paradise and a endlessly interesting place to explore local life. In the afternoon, visit History Museum which is just located behind the Opera House. The History Museum (Bao Tang Lich Su) is housed in an elegant building from the 1930s, which used to be the museum of the Ecole Francaise d'Extreme Orient; The Museum offers a good view of Vietnam history from prehistoric times and include exhibits spanning the entirety of Vietnam's history including prehistory, proto-Vietnamese civilisations, the Dong Son culture, the Oc-Eo culture and the Khmer Kingdoms.
Visit a Water Puppet Show with transfer to/from restaurant
A fantastic art form originating in the northern Vietnam, best seen in Hanoi.
Overnight in Hanoi.
Excursion to Halong Bay with boat trip including lunch (4 hours, private)
Depart from Hanoi in the morning for scenic Halong Bay. Arriving at the pier around noon, board your charming traditional wooden junk for cruising through the Bay. Lunch will be served while boat cruising through the bay. Following cruise by rock formations with such names as Stone Dog, Incense Burner (Dinh Huong), Fighting Cock (Ga Choi). At the core of the islets, there are two wonderful caves and grottoes to visit as Thien Cung (Heavenly Residence Grotto), Dau Go (Driftwood Grotto) before returning to Halong pier. Disembark at Halong pier at approximately 16.30 pm and return to Hanoi by vehicle.
Overnight in Hanoi.
Transfer to the airport to catch your connecting flight home.