Xin chao! Welcome to Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. Your adventure begins with a welcome meeting at 6 pm. Please look for a note in the hotel lobby or ask reception where it will take place. We'll be collecting insurance details and next of kin information at this meeting, so please ensure you bring these details to provide to your leader. 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.
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.
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.
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.
Leave Hoi An today and 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.
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.
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.
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 from Ti Top Island Beach or perhaps go kayaking. 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.
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.
You will still have a day to explore Hanoi today until 6pm for the group briefing for the 2nd part of the trip. As this is a combination trip, your group composition may change today and for the China part of the trip, you'll be accompanied by a Chinese tour leader.
Today is a long travelling day. First you will take a private bus from Hanoi to Lao Cai, near the border with China. Say goodbye to your Vietnamese leader and meet your Chinese leader at the Hekou border crossing. From there, take a taxi to the bus station and board your bus to Menzgi. Transfer to your hotel and settle in. Spend your free evening kicking back and relaxing – or perhaps head out for a taste of the famous Yunnan rice noodles which originated here.
As well as noodles, this town is known for its remnants French architecture - a rarity in today's China. Spot the simple, stately aesthetic of the European style buildings, with their soft yellow facades and tiled roofs which set them apart from the modern structures around them. Visit Bisezhai Station, the finest surviving station on the French-built Vietnam-Kunming railway. The rest of the day is yours to spend as you please. This is a town rarely visited by foreigners. The Nanhu Park area is great for a wander and meeting locals.
Travel by private bus to Yuanyang (approximately 3 hours). If you're a keen photographer, you're in luck, as this is one picturesque destination. This place is famous for its beautiful rice terraces, idyllic rural scenery and unique ethnic minority culture. Some 88% of Yuanyang County belongs to ethnic minorities; the Hani and Yi people created the ornate rice terraces that impress so many visitors. We are staying right inside the Duoyishu Scenic Area. The terraces here are considered a superior spot to photograph the sunrise.
Be sure to wear comfortable shoes today for your hike around the rice terraces with a local guide (approximately 4 hours). You'll be able to take it at a leisurely pace and enjoy the scenery. Most of the paths go through villages, which makes it easy to stop for a break.
Travel by private bus to Jianshui (approximately 3.5 hours). With a 1,200-year history and a distinct cultural heritage, the ancient town is a veritable outdoor museum of magnificent buildings. Many of these date back to the Ming and Qing dynasties. You will set out on a walking tour of the city and visit the Zhu Family Garden, as well as the incredible Confucius Temple.
Visit Tuanshan Village, a cultural echo of the Qing Dynasty that's still intact. You'll learn a little more about the Yi minority as you explore. It's a fascinating window to the China of the past. Visiting the village is like travelling to the China of the past. Small, cobbled lanes leave you with impressions of timelessness, art and architecture. In the afternoon and evening, enjoy some free time.
Today we travel to Kunming (approximately 3-4 hours). Stop at the geological wonder of the Stone Forest on the way. The Forest covers an area of 400 square kilometres (96,000 acres) and includes both large and small clusters of towering limestone pillars, as well as many other scenic spots. An old local saying says that 'If you have visited Kunming without seeing the Stone Forest, you have wasted your time'. Truly, the site is one of the most important attractions of Yunnan.
Free time to explore this large but laidback city today. The 1,000-year-old Yuantong temple is most definitely worth a visit, or find the traces of old Kunming at Lingguang street. You can also take a day tour out to Dianchi Lake or the West mountain if the weather is good. Perhaps head to Green Lake Park where you can see locals spending their leisure time on all kinds of activities and games. Check out The Loft, a disused factory area west of the city centre, home to many small galleries and cafes.
An early start this morning to catch the high-speed train from Kunming to Shenzhen (approx 7 hours). The fast train network is key to China's fast development and the most common way for locals to travel now. Watch the world speed by, read a book or learn a few words from others on the train. We'll arrive at Shenzhen around 3pm and then take the metro to the border for our crossing into Hong Kong. The time for the border crossing depends on the volume of people, so some patience and flexibility will help ease the process. The night is yours, so perhaps bargain your heart out at Temple Street Night Market or try out the great food that the city has to offer.
Reclaimed by China from Britain in 1997, Hong Kong remains an intriguing place to explore, with a spectacular, fast-paced cityscape, and islands and beaches on its doorstep. Enjoy a walking tour of the city and take a scenic journey across to Hong Kong Island on the famous Star Ferry. This gives you beautiful views of the harbour and surrounding areas. The rest of the day is yours. Perhaps ride the Peak Tram – the only way to truly experience Hong Kong's wonders. In the evening, gather your group to celebrate your final night and watch the harbour's spectacular light show – a spectacle of laser beams and searchlights synchronised to music and narration.
Your trip comes to an end today, with no further activities planned.