VN2 Vietnam & Cambodia

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TOUR HIGHLIGHTS:

Halong Bay: Overnight Huong Hai Junk Cruise; Hanoi city tour; Northern Vietnam tribal encounter; Hue: Perfume River sampan trip; Charming, historic Hoi An; Saigon & Cu Chi tunnel complex; Mekong Delta boat trip; Superlative Angkor Wat & Angkor Thom

Full Itinerary


Day 1 Arrive in Hanoi
Arrive in Hanoi. Transfer to our hotel.

Hanoi is an attractive city with lakes, fine boulevards, and flourishing parks, as well as a public centre that is an architectural museum piece. Hanoi is situated on the right bank of the Red River (Song Hong) which is spanned by two bridges, the old Long Bien Bridge and the new Chuong Duong bridge.

Overnight in Hanoi.
Meal plan: dinner

Day 2 Hanoi - Halong Bay: Huong Hai Junk Cruise
This morning we depart for Halong Bay. The route today, via Haiphong, will be our first opportunity to see rural Vietnam. We will arrive at Halong Bay in the early afternoon. Halong Bay, located in the Gulf of Tonkin, covers an area of 1500 square km. With more than a thousand limestone peaks soaring from its crystalline emerald water this area is one of the natural wonders of Vietnam and now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The islands are dotted with innumerable white sandy beaches and grottoes created by wind and waves. The name Halong means "where the dragon descends into the sea". Legend has it that the islands of Halong Bay were created by a great dragon who lived in the mountains.

On arrival at Halong Bay we will board our Huong Hai Junk cruise and enjoy a welcome drink. The Huong Hai ('Ocean Flavours') junks are unique, 'antique' (replica) accommodations that are scrupulously clean, fully-crewed and comfortable. Our junk/s are large boats with private bath, air conditioning and fan, and plenty of deck space. An onboard chef prepares delicious, local seafood dishes (non-seafood dishes available).

After lunch on board we will cruise among the islands, stopping at a couple that have interesting cave features (some involve stairs). We enjoy sunset and then dinner on board.

Overnight Junk cruise.
Meal plan: breakfast,lunch,dinner

Day 3 Halong Bay - Hanoi
Fishermen at Halong mount fan-shaped Chinese junk sails on their boats, the same sort of sails once deployed by pirates in these waters. Junks have been used for centuries by the Chinese, Japanese and Javanese for fishing and transportation, and often as living quarters; a junk commonly includes a deck, high masts, and several cotton sails.

Halong is one of the last places where junk sails are still handmade by families of sail makers. Coarse cotton panels are sewn together with silk thread -- every seam sewn by hand. To discourage rot and mildew, the completed sail is dipped in a liquid that comes from a beetroot-like member of the yam family. The sail is dipped and dried three or four times; a process that gives its dark red-tan colour.

Early this morning, after breakfast on board, we cruise to visit Hang Luon Cave by small bamboo boat. We check out at around 10 am, enjoy brunch on board before disembarking and departing for Hanoi at around noon. Upon arrival we'll visit Hanoi's Old Quarter, also known as the 'Quarter of 36 Streets', where we enjoy a leisurely walking tour.

Overnight in Hanoi.
Meal plan: breakfast,lunch,dinner

Day 4 Hanoi: City Tour
Today we have a full day of sightseeing, starting with the Hoa Lo Prison Museum, known to American prisoners of war as the Hanoi Hilton. This museum was a prison used by the French colonists in Vietnam for political prisoners and later by North Vietnam for prisoners of war during the American / Vietnam War.

We also see the Mausoleum of Ho Chi Minh, a site of pilgrimage (the building has been closed to visitors of late; probably an outside viewing only). The building was constructed from materials gathered from all over Vietnam. Modeled closely on Lenin's Mausoleum, Ho Chi Minh lies at rest in this Vietnamese version.

We continue to the house on stilts, where Ho Chi Minh lived and worked from 1958 to 1969. Its construction and decor illustrates the importance of simplicity and modesty to this Vietnamese revolutionary. The building is elegantly crafted with lacquered and polished wood, following the model of a traditional communal house on stilts.

We will also admire the elegance of the One Pillar Pagoda, originally built in 1049. The temple is lotus-shaped and is situated in the middle of a water-lily pond.

We continue to the new Ethnology Museum, one of Vietnam's finest. Dedicated to the ethnic minorities of Vietnam, this museum provides educational displays and descriptions and provides a real insight to peoples found primarily in the high country.

Next is the Temple of Literature, the site of the first national university dating back to 1076 and one of Hanoi's best-preserved ancient sites. From here we walk to the Fine Arts Museum, housed within a large colonial building, where we will see contemporary Vietnamese art and handicrafts.

Tonight we will enjoy a (+/- one hour) water puppet show. This is a fantastic art form unique to Vietnam and derives from the Red River Delta area.

Overnight in Hanoi.
Meal plan: breakfast,dinner

Day 5 Hanoi - Dien Bien Phu
Today we fly from Hanoi to Dien Bien Phu, in the heart-shaped Muong Thanh Valley near the Lao border, one of the remotest parts of Vietnam. The valley is surrounded by steep, heavily-forested hills inhabited by Hill Tribes. Though it is difficult to plan in a formalized way, we hope to have some face-to-face encounters with the numerous ethnic groups in the area and learn about their distinctive cultures.

Dien Bien Phu was the site of that rarest of military events, a battle that can be called truly decisive. Here, in 1954, Viet Minh forces overran the beleaguered French garrison after a 57-day siege, forcing the French government to finally abandon its attempts to re-establish colonial control of Indochina.

Our area sightseeing includes the DBP battle area and a visit to the DBP Army Museum and A1 Hill. Dien Bien Phu now bears few scars of its past except for the occasional rusty tank.

Overnight in Dien Bien Phu.
Meal plan: breakfast,lunch,dinner

Day 6 Dien Bien Phu - Da Nang - Hoi An
While in Dien Bien Phu, we will explore the surrounding area with plenty of beautiful landscapes, waterfalls, terraced rice fields, and indigenous villages. The Hill Tribes living around the area of Dien Bien Phu make up 70% of the region's population, and the ethnic minority groups include the Black Thai, Nung, Meo, Hmong, and others. We will have an opportunity to meet the local people and, hopefully, visit a village to witness the way of life in this rapidly changing part of Vietnam.

Later today we fly to Da Nang via Hanoi and continue by road to Hoi An. Da Nang is situated on a peninsula at the point where the Han River flows into the South China Sea. We pass through the nearby Marble Mountains; five limestone peaks with marble outcrops known for their beauty and their caves. At the foot of Marble Mountain, an important religious site for the Chams, you can see many artisans crafting fine marble objects. Our destination is one of the most charming towns in Vietnam -- Hoi An. The ancient town of Hoi An (formerly Faifo) lies 32 km (20 miles) south of Da Nang on the banks of the Thu Bon River.

Overnight in Hoi An.
Meal plan: breakfast,dinner

Day 7 Hoi An: Walking Tour
Today we will be able to soak in the atmosphere of this small town (a World Heritage Site) on a walking tour. The unique architecture, the temples, the market will make Hoi An one of the highlights of your trip.

The Japanese Covered Bridge was built in the 16th century, perhaps even earlier. On its north side there is a pagoda, Japanese in style, which protects sailors. Its popular name reflects a long-standing belief that is was built by the Japanese, although no documentary evidence exists to support this. At the Tran Family Temple we will see the fusion between both the Chinese and Japanese styles. This temple has survived for 15 generations.

Overnight in Hoi An.
Meal plan: breakfast,dinner

Day 8 Hoi An - My Son - Hoi An
This morning we visit the World Heritage Site of My Son ("mee-sohn"), a large complex of religious relics that comprises more than 70 architectural works from the obscure Cham Dynasty (2nd-15th century). The Chams were "Indianised" during commercial trading relations and adopted Hinduism (which can clearly be seen in the Temple designs). My Son served as a intellectual and religious centre and is a must visit as one of Vietnam's most important Cham Sites. The forested, mountain setting and general peacefulness of this little visited site make this an excellent excursion.

Return to Hoi An with the balance of the day at leisure.

Overnight in Hoi An.
Meal plan: breakfast,dinner

Day 9 Hoi An - Da Nang - Hue
Today we travel to Hue via Da Nang where we visit the Cham Museum* which houses the largest display of Cham art anywhere in the world. Shortly after departure from Da Nang we will pass through the Truong Son Mountains, the former border between North Vietnam and South Vietnam. Hai Van Pass, or literally "Pass of the Ocean Clouds," offers spectacular scenery.

Hue was the capital of the old Nguyen dynasty and traditionally one of Vietnam's cultural, religious and educational centers. Here there are splendid tombs of the emperors, several stunning pagodas and the citadel that houses the forbidden Purple City, situated on the banks of the Perfume River.

Overnight in Hue.
Meal plan: breakfast,dinner

Day 10 Hue: Area Tour
We begin our day by motorised boat down the Perfume River to visit the delightful Thien Mu Pagoda, considered to be the finest pagoda in Hue. It was built in 1601 after an old woman appeared to Nguyen Hoang, the governor of Hue, and said that the site had supernatural significance.

This afternoon we tour the Citadel, a fortress surrounded by a moat that has a six-mile perimeter. At the Forbidden Purple City we can see the remains of the former home of the emperors. The Imperial City is built on the same principles as the Forbidden City in Beijing. It is enclosed by thick outer walls (Kinh Thanh) of 23-33 feet, along with moats, canals and towers. There are ten gates, which pierce the four walls of the citadel, although many are in poor condition. The city has not only been damaged by war, but also by natural disasters such as floods, which inundated the city in the mid-nineteenth century to a depth of several feet. The complex has undergone partial restoration with the aid of UNESCO.

This evening we will enjoy a special, private dinner in a beautiful, restored royal home in Hue. The home is now owned by descendants of the Hue royal family.

Overnight in Hue.
Meal plan: breakfast,dinner

Day 11 Hue - Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City)
Today we fly from Hue to Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City), the business and tourist centre of Vietnam.

This afternoon we visit some of the city's highlights, including the Reunification Hall, formerly the site of Norodom Palace, the residence of the French governor-general of Indochina. On 30 April 1975, NVA tanks smashed down the first gates and took control of Saigon. We then proceed to Cholon, or Chinatown, an area inhabited by Vietnamese of Chinese origin. This area is one of the most vibrant in the city.

Overnight in Saigon.
Meal plan: breakfast,dinner

Day 12 Saigon - Cu Chi Tunnels - Saigon
This morning we will visit the intriguing tunnels of Cu Chi, a complex underground system that housed 10,000 people during the height of the war and contained sleeping quarters, hospitals and schools.

From here we will continue on to the War Remnants Museum (formerly the War Crimes Museum). The visit here is a sobering experience with its countless photographs and exhibits.

Overnight in Saigon.
Meal plan: breakfast,dinner

Day 13 Saigon - Cao Dai - Mekong Delta
On our way to the Delta, we will stop at one of the many Cao Dai temples.* This hybrid religion took root in southern Vietnam during the 1920's after Ngo Van Chieu, a civil servant, was visited by 'Cao Dai' or the 'Supreme Being'. The Cao Dai later told Ngo in a seance that he was to be symbolized by a giant eye. Being a humanist religion, it quickly gained support of a large following of dispossessed peasants. Today there is thought to be about 2,000,000 adherents and 1,000 Cao Dai temples.

A four-hour drive south takes us to the fertile delta of the meandering Mekong River, the southernmost region of Vietnam. Often referred to as the rice bowl of Vietnam, producing three crops of rice per year, the fertile Mekong Delta is also famous for its tropical fruits and flowers. The Delta area is the end of a 4500 km / 2,812 mi journey the Mekong River makes after travelling through six countries. Traditional transportation in the Delta is by boat, via a vast network of canals and channels. Boating along these canals and visiting the floating markets is a fascinating experience.

* Please pack an overnight for the trip to the Mekong Delta. Large baggage will be securely stored in Saigon.

Overnight in hotel in Cantho region (Mekong Delta).
Meal plan: breakfast,dinner

Day 14 Mekong Delta - Saigon
Early this morning we will have a covered boat ride on the delta where we can have a candid glimpse into the lives of the local people selling, buying, and exchanging goods from their boats.

We meet our bus (at a different point from where we left it) for our drive back to Saigon. This afternoon we may accomplished Saigon area sightseeing not accomplished earlier due to flight times. At some point during out tour we will drive past the Notre Dame Cathedral and adjacent Post Office. Both of these buildings were constructed by the French in the 1880s and display architectural characteristics typical of that time period.

Overnight in Saigon.
Meal plan: breakfast,dinner

Day 15 Saigon, Vietnam - Phnom Penh, Cambodia
Today we fly from Saigon to Phnom Penh, the capital and largest city in Cambodia.

Engineered by the French, Phnom Penh was once filled with beautiful tree-lined streets and colonial mansions. Today many of the old buildings exist, although they are in a severe state of disrepair.

Depending on the time of our arrival, we may accomplish some of the sightseeing as described tomorrow, today upon arrival.

Overnight in Phnom Penh.
Meal plan: breakfast,dinner

Day 16 Phnom Penh: Tuol Sleng Prison & City Tour
Today we tour Phnom Penh and its surrounds.

We begin with a visit to the infamous Tuol Sleng Prison, now a museum illustrating the atrocities committed by Pol Pot during the 1970s, and the nearby Choeung Ek, aka the "Killing Fields." The buildings at Tuol Sleng are preserved as they were left when the Khmer Rouge were driven out in 1979. The regime kept extensive records, including thousands of photographs. Several rooms of the museum are now lined, floor to ceiling, with black and white photographs of some of the estimated 20,000 prisoners who passed through the prison.

Back in town, we visit the National Museum, which houses one of the world's largest collections of Khmer art, including sculpture, ceramics, bronzes, and ethnographic objects. The museum's collection includes over 14,000 items, from prehistoric times to periods before, during, and after the Khmer Empire, which at its height stretched from Thailand, across present-day Cambodia, to southern Vietnam. The Museum buildings, inspired by Khmer temple architecture, were constructed between 1917 and 1924.

We then walk the short distance to the Royal Palace and Silver Pagoda. We also stop in at Wat Phnom, a magnificent temple overlooking the town, said to be the spot whereupon the city was originally founded.

Overnight in Phnom Penh.
Meal plan: breakfast,dinner

Day 17 Phnom Penh - Siem Reap & Angkor Wat
Today we travel by road to Siem Reap, gateway for Angkor Wat / Angkor Thom.

Later we wander the magnificent grounds of the splendidly preserved 12th Century temple of Angkor Wat. Considered the best example of ancient Khmer architecture, it is the largest and most impressive of all Cambodian monuments and generally regarded as one of the finest religious structures in the world. We will also be visiting the South Gate of Angkor Thom, Bayon Temple, Baphuon, the Elephant Terrace and the Terrace of the Leper King.

NOTE: The order of Siem Reap sightseeing may vary at the discretion of your Tour Leader.

Ovgernight in Siem Reap.
Meal plan: breakfast,dinner

Day 18 Siem Reap: Angkor Thom
Today is dedicated to seeing the remaining highlights of the Petit Circuit -- Angkor Thom (Bayon), with its haunting images of the God-like Avalokitesvara and its magnificent murals, and Sras Srang (Pool of Ablutions), Ta Keo (the first Khmer temple built entirely of sandstone), and Ta Prohm, in its natural overgrown setting.

We will also see much of the Grand Circuit, including the great temple of Preah Khan and the brick sanctuaries of Pre Rup. It is not hard to imagine how this vast complex, covering several square kilometers, with carefully engineered canals and reservoirs to control flood waters and survive droughts, was once (by some estimates), the largest city in the world, housing as many as one million inhabitants.

Overnight in Siem Reap.
Meal plan: breakfast,dinner

Day 19 Siem Reap: Banteay Srei
Today we visit some temples a little farther afield, including the exquisitely carved Banteay Srei.

Banteay Srei is something of an anomaly. It wasn't built by a king, but rather a spiritual teacher, Yajnavaraha, the Brahman of King Jayavarman V, in AD 967. At that time it was called Tribhuvana Mahesvara, and stood in a town called Isvarapura. The name Banteay Srei means the "Citadel of Women", and is one of the first temples to be restored by the French.

We will also have time to have a boat excursion on Tonle Sap Lake.

Overnight in Siem Reap.
Meal plan: breakfast,dinner

Day 20 Departure
Departure from Siem Reap.

BON VOYAGE!
Meal plan: breakfast