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Arrive at your first night’s accommodation and check in. Hanoi is sometimes called the Paris of the Orient, with shaded boulevards, verdant parks and ochre buildings that retain an old-world charm.
You’ll start with a brief orientation tour of the nearby Old Quarter, where some of the city’s most beautiful architecture is to be found. Kids will be fascinated seeing locals in conical hats carrying swinging poles of goods on their way to market!
If you fancy taking things easy, do as the locals do and hire a cyclo - a cycle rickshaw - and sit back to enjoy the sights, sounds and smells of this remarkable city. Hotel (AAA) - 2 nights
Today you have a full day to explore Hanoi. Your city tour takes in sights within the old quarter and the infamous prison - the ‘Hanoi Hilton’. You also visit Ho Chi Minh’s Mausoleum, now a site of pilgrimage for thousands of Vietnamese people.
This afternoon you’ll have plenty of time to wander along tree-lined avenues and enjoy pagoda-studded lakes. The Old Quarter has great shopping opportunities; silk, silver, enamel bracelets and embroidery are among the best buys and the street names bear testimony to the business conducted there; Silk Street, Rice Street, Vermicelli Street, and even Boiled Fish Street! Some of the galleries boast the works of painters from all over Vietnam.
This evening you’ll make a visit to one of the water-puppet theatres to enjoy a performance of this fantastic art form - unique to Vietnam and best seen in Hanoi. (B)
NB. Ho Chi Minh's Mausoleum is normally closed for renovation for a period during the months of September to December, however, Ho Chi Minh's house on stilts is usually still open to visitors at this time.
From Hanoi you’ll travel for four hours by charter minibus to the coast and beautiful Halong Bay, whose name means ‘descending dragon’. The name derives from a Vietnamese legend that the gods sent a dragon to protect the people there. Arriving around lunchtime (after a stop at the Sao Do Charity Centre, where you can buy crafts made by disabled youngsters), you’ll jump straight on a boat in this secluded bay, marvelling at the 2000 limestone peaks that emerge from the sea. You’ll have the opportunity to visit spectacular caves crammed with stalactites and stalagmites and, weather permitting, to swim from your boat, before spending the night on-board. Berth in twin-cabin - 1 night (BLD)
This morning you return to Hanoi and have more time to wander in this fascinating city; there are lots of parks and more than 20 lakes to explore as well as little coffee shops and ice cream parlours - a legacy of the French. In the evening you board the Reunification Express train; journeying in four or six-berth, soft sleeper compartments (simple but very comfortable) you travel to Vietnam’s cultural capital, Hue. Berth on overnight sleeper train - 1 night (B).
Hue was once the capital of the Nguyen emperors, packed with influential people: bureaucrats, royalty, traders, astrologers and courtiers, who left behind many beautiful reminders of their times. For a fascinating look at life in Hue today, you make your way down to the Perfume River to embark on a riverboat journey to the elaborate tombs of the Nguyen emperors. The tombs are situated among the houses of local farmers who grow rice, fruit and vegetables here. It is this location that gives rise to the views of the Vietnam you know from television; local farmers in straw hats working in paddy fields beneath towering palms. You’ll visit one of the seven tombs, all of which follow a similar layout: statues of mandarins, elephants and horses, a pavilion where a stele (obelisk) tells of each emperor’s glorious reign and a temple where he was worshipped after death.
On your return trip you pause to explore the Thien Mu Pagoda (the Temple of the Heavenly Lady), possibly the most famous of all Vietnam’s pagodas. Legend tells of ‘fairy maids’ who predicted that a king would build a pagoda and bring great wealth to the countryside. Situated on the banks of the peaceful Perfume River, it is one of Vietnam’s best-loved buildings. Hotel (AAA) - 2 nights (Swimming pool) (Bx1)
Travelling south by bus you climb up and over the spectacular Hai Van Pass, the top of which is crowded by hawkers selling all kinds of souvenirs and people who have stopped to enjoy the magnificent view below. Approximately four hours after leaving Hue, you’ll arrive in Hoi An - a relaxed and laid-back place, where cars are prohibited from the narrow streets of the old town, preserving the atmosphere in the centre as it would have been in colonial times.
Settled over the years by a variety of nationalities, including the Spanish and Portuguese, the old town is a fascinating place to visit. The fading beauty of the beautiful shops, houses and cafés add to the charm; Hoi An is bound to be a highlight of the trip. Walking or cycling are the only ways to soak up the atmosphere of the old streets and we’ll help you explore on foot during your stay. You can walk down to the riverside market where fresh fish are unloaded and through the backstreets of this colourful town, past temples to the covered Japanese Bridge.
The rest of your time is left free to relax in this beautiful area. You could take a taxi or make the easy five-kilometre bicycle ride through the rice paddies and shrimp ponds to Cua Dai beach. Alternatively Hoi An is one of the best places to shop for souvenirs, especially if you’re looking for t-shirts, paintings or ceramics. For those interested in getting clothes tailored, this is definitely the place to shop – see Top Tips. Another good idea is to take a boat trip out to a village specialising in ceramics and boat-building (optional).
Hotel (AAA) - 3 nights (Swimming Pool) (Bx3)
Today you make the short drive (one hour) to Danang and take a flight south to Saigon, the cosmopolitan powerhouse of the south and a fascinating mixture of old and new. Upon arrival you head out of the city to make a visit to the famous Viet Cong hideout known as the Cu Chi tunnels; it’s likely that your guides were once soldiers here and their insight will help you to understand this tragic part of Vietnamese history and see the tunnels as more than they are today. Some of the tunnels have been widened to accommodate foreigners; more than a touch of irony here! Hotel (AAA) – 1 night (B)
This morning you leave the city behind and head for Vietnam’s rice-bowl – the Mekong Delta, a journey of approximately three hours. Passing through idyllic rural scenes you arrive at Cai Be where you transfer to local boats in order to reach your simple lodgings for a night in the house of a local family in the Mekong Delta. This afternoon you board local boats to explore the intricate waterways of the Mekong, zigzagged with ramshackle ‘monkey bridges’ and busy with local traders. There’s time to visit the local markets and cottage industries and soak up the atmosphere of this colourful collection of stilt homes built on channels and rivers. Homestay (A) - 1 night (BD)
Your final afternoon, on return from the Mekong Delta, is when you will discover more of Ho Chi Minh City, as the metropolis is now officially called. The city has plenty of enthralling corners to explore and you spend time today exploring the city. If time permits, you can visit the Chinese area of Cholon, with its strange mix of colonial and Chinese architecture then discover numerous museums, markets, pagodas and incense-filled temples. Hotel (AAA) – 1 night (B)
The trip ends at your hotel. (B)
Key: (B) = Breakfast, (L) = Lunch, (D) = Dinner
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