Vietnam Express Northbound
Explore Vietnam's fast-paced Ho Chi Minh City, wander the ancient Vietnamese streets of Hoi An, experience the history-soaked monuments of Hue and bask in the undeniable charm of Hanoi. Experience Vietnam's beautiful landscapes, delicious cuisine and the renowned friendliness of the Vietnamese people. Top it all off with an overnight cruise on mystical Halong Bay and you won't ever want to leave.
Day 1 Ho Chi Minh City
Xin chao! Welcome to Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. Your adventure begins with a welcome meeting at 6 pm today. You can arrive at any time during the day as there are no activities planned until this important meeting. Please check with hotel reception or look on the reception noticeboard for where and when the meeting will take place. If you're going to be late, please inform the hotel reception. Have your insurance and next of kin details on hand as we'll be collecting them at this meeting. Because this trip doesn’t spend much time in Ho Chi Minh City, why not arrive a day or two early to see the sights? Ho Chi Minh City has a dynamic atmosphere and a French influence. Perhaps head to Pham Ngu Lao Street to see the local open-aired market, visit Vinh Nghiem Pagoda or take an Urban Adventure with an expert local guide.
Day 2 Mekong Delta/Ho Chi Minh City
Today you'll travel south by private bus (approximately 3 hours) for a day trip to explore the Mekong Delta. When you arrive, you’ll board a boat and explore the intricate waterways of the Mekong Delta. Often referred to as ‘the rice bowl’ of Vietnam, the fertile delta is where rice, tropical fruit and flowers are grown for the whole country. The views along the canal will take your breath away. Disembark at Ben Tre and visit a local cottage industry - coconut candy - and sample the candy which the region is famous for. You’ll have the opportunity to take a tuk-tuk around this remote village and make a stop to sample tropical fruit and learn more about rural life. For lunch, go to a restaurant in the heart of the delta and try regional specialities such as the famous elephant-ear fish. After lunch, board sampans (small rowing boats) and paddle along the canals under the shade of lush water coconut trees. Get back on the main boat and cruise though more major waterways on your way to the town of My Tho. After a scenic cruise, take the bus back to Ho Chi Minh City.
Day 3 Hoi An
This morning, say goodbye to Ho Chi Minh City and fly north to Danang (approximately 1 hour). From here you’ll take a forty-five minute bus ride to Hoi An with the five spectacular peaks of the Marble Mountains as a backdrop. Once in Hoi An, your leader will take you on a walking of this unique town, influenced over the years by Europe, China and Vietnam. The town was a major trading port from the 17th century onwards, and the outside influences can be seen all over its architecture, with pagodas and assembly halls found across the town. For a small place it has a liveliness alongside its charm and serenity. The tour will take you down the streets that are being restored and look much like they did over a century ago. Past low tiled buildings, you'll take in a historic house (formerly home to a prominent trader), the Japanese Covered Bridge, a Chinese assembly hall and a museum.
Day 4 Hoi An
Enjoy a free day in the world heritage listed Hoi An. You may like to wander the Central Market and the street stalls selling paintings, woodwork, ceramics, lanterns and much more. Hoi An is also famous for its talented tailors who can make beautiful items to order within a few hours. For those still feeling adventurous, why not hire a bicycle and tour the surrounding countryside? This is one of the best ways to get an insight into rural Vietnam. Other optional activities include a day trip to My Son Cham (elaborate World Heritage-listed temples that reflect the rich cultural traditions of the Cham civilisation), a cruise along the Thu Bon River and a trip to the nearby Cua Dai Beach.
Day 5 Hue
Leave Hoi An today and head towards My Khe Beach (China Beach). This area is famous for its role in the Vietnam War and its spectacular backdrop of the Marble Mountains. Continuing on your journey you’ll cross the dramatic Hai Van Pass, a sometimes bumpy but incredibly scenic stretch of highway with views of Lang Co Beach. Make a quick stop at the fishing village of Lang Co, then continue to your final destination of Hue (approximately 5 hours including stops). Arrive in Hue, the former imperial capital of Vietnam. Hue contains the treasures of Vietnam’s royal history, and has a interesting blend of bustling streets and tranquil settings. Your excursion here will be to the Imperial Citadel. This fortress houses the Imperial City and the citadel-within-a-citadel, the Forbidden Purple City. This icon was almost completely destroyed during the Vietnam War, and the ruins and holes left by bombs are a reminder of the destruction caused by the war. In your free time you might like to visit to Dong Ba Market which offers locally made goods, fresh produce and tantalising street food. This is a good place to try the specialties enjoyed by Emperor Nguyen such as the banh khoai royal rice cake.
Day 6 Hue / Overnight Train
Today’s adventure will be taken on the back of a motorbike. You’ll have your own driver who will take you first on a drive around the Imperial Citadel, then to the Thien My Pagoda, the unofficial symbol of Hue. This site dates back to 1601 and is still an active Buddhist monastery. Here you’ll also see the car left by a monk who set himself alight to protest the treatment of Buddhists by the South Vietnamese regime. Hop off the motorbike for a bit and go on a dragon boat cruise along the Perfume River. After the 40-minute cruise get back on your motorbike and ride to a special lunch spot at a convent or Buddhist monastery. After lunch, drive to the royal tomb of Emperor Tu Duc, set amid a lake, frangipani bushes and pine trees. In the evening, board an overnight train to Hanoi (approximately 12 hours). Although conditions are basic, overnight trains are a true Intrepid experience and the best way to travel long distances with the locals.
Notes: For those who prefer not to ride motorbikes, a car can be arranged upon request for transport between destinations.
Boats along Perfume River may not be available during festival season. During these times, you’ll be transported by land to reach the activities.
Sleeper trains typically have four or six berth compartments with bench seats that convert into sleeping bunks. A sheet, pillow and blanket are provided, although some travellers prefer to bring their own sleeping sheet. Depending on the configuration of the group, you may have to share with people of different genders or passengers who aren’t part of the group.
Day 7 Hanoi
Arrive in Hanoi early in the morning and transfer to your hotel. Vietnam’s capital is famous for its beautiful lakes, shaded boulevards, public parks and Frenchy Old Quarter. As an emerging city in Southeast Asian, Hanoi has an attractive contrast of modern office buildings, old Buddhist temples and a labyrinth of ancient streets. Later in the day you'll take a walking tour through the city. You’ll see Ho Chi Minh’s former stilt house and other icons such as the Temple of Literature. In your free time, perhaps stop by the ’36 Streets’ of the historic Old Quarter, head to the beautiful Hoan Kiem Lake, or visit the Vietnam Fine Arts Museum. This Museum plays a crucial role in maintaining and promoting the cultural heritage of Vietnam’s ethnic communities.
Notes: There are shared day rooms available prior to hotel check in.
Day 8 Halong Bay
Travel by private minibus to the spectacular World Heritage site of Halong Bay (approximately 4 hours). This is one of Vietnam’s most beautiful places, a secluded bay of emerald waters flecked with sandstone islands and caves. Here you’ll go on a cruise to explore the rock formations and caves and in the warmer months perhaps go for a swim. There’ll be a dining room and bar on board where you’ll enjoy your meals, including fresh seafood for lunch and dinner. Spend the night on board the boat beneath a sky alive with starlight. The boat has twin-share cabins with air-conditioning and private facilities.
Notes: There are restrictions on the number of boats that are permitted to stay in the bay overnight, sometimes resulting in a shortage. To ensure all Intrepid travellers can enjoy the experience of a night on the water, we’re occasionally using a larger boat (with approximately 12 cabins) or splitting groups across different vessels. An Intrepid group leader will be present on each boat, and the route taken and inclusions on board will remain the same.
Your leader will discuss the option for swimming from Ti Top Island beach during the warmer months. Swimming in the bay from the boats is not permitted.
Day 9 Hanoi
Leaving the memorable scenery of Halong Bay behind, return by bus to Hanoi (approximately 3.5 hours). Return to Hanoi late this afternoon, and enjoy a couple of free hours to explore Hanoi's sights or do some last minute shopping. Otherwise, why not just relax at a cafe or stop for a bia hoi (freshly brewed draught beer) at one of the microbars in the Old Quarter? Tonight there will be a farewell dinner to enjoy with the group at KOTO restaurant, an organisation that supports street kids with a career in the hospitality industry.
Day 10 Hanoi
Today you're exploration of Vietnam comes to an end. There are no activities planned for the final day and you are able to depart the accommodation at any time. Maybe consider continuing your adventure with a short tour such as ‘Hanoi Street Food by Night’ or ‘Village Discovery by Bike’ with our partners Urban Adventures (see urbanadventures.com for more information). Or perhaps visit the Hoa Lo Prison aka the ‘Hanoi Hilton’ which was used for prisoners of war during the Vietnam War. There’s also the Museum of Ethnology with its fascinating indoor and outdoor exhibits. Consider booking some extra nights in Hanoi to further explore this delightful city.
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