A Cultural Odyssey


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


Dates & Prices

To book this tour, please refer to the sidebar ►

Prices are in US Dollars (USD), before taxes (if applicable) - All pricing reflects per-person Land Only expenses, however, we can book flights from virtually every city. Please call us for an air quote.

Start DateEnd DatePriceMore Info
Sun 20 Dec 2015Sun 03 Jan 2016 $2470
Tue 12 Jan 2016Tue 26 Jan 2016 $2470
Tue 02 Feb 2016Tue 16 Feb 2016 $2470
Tue 08 Mar 2016Tue 22 Mar 2016 $2470
Tue 08 Nov 2016Tue 22 Nov 2016 $2470
Tue 20 Dec 2016Tue 03 Jan 2017 $2470

Optional Single Supplement: $520 (number of singles limited).

Tour Overview

This 15-day tour begins in the beautiful Hanoi with its sprawling lakes, beaches and parks. You will be quick to examine the magnificence of this country under a closer eye as you embark on a cruise that takes you through the Halong Bay in the Gulf of Tonkin. Watch as local fishermen go about their daily work as you drift through the many limestone peaks and sandy-edged islands and enjoy a priceless insight into the lives of rural Vietnamese citizens. Halong means "where the dragon descends into the sea" and after witnessing your surroundings, this reference might make the legend seem all too real. Before leaving Hanoi, you will have the opportunity to enter one of the many museums and temples. This country's turbulent past is revealed at the underground tunnels of Chu Chi near Ho Chi Minh City, where 10, 000 people lived during the Vietnam War might prove interesting. Travelling from one village to the next, you will encounter the busy artisans working at the foot of Marble Mountain or the World Heritage Site of My Son, a complex containing many Hindu relics.

Regions visited: Southeast Asia
Countries visited: Vietnam


I enjoyed all the excursions; all were interesting, informative and worth doing. All local guides were good. Transportation was excellent. We generally had the use of a large bus which gave room to spread out. Yes the meal plan met my expectations. I especially liked the selection of local restaurants and local cuisine for lunches and dinners (this contrasts very favourably with a previous tour - with another company - which generally used hotel buffets for dinners). A couple of special meals in private homes were especially interesting. The tour leader did an excellent job of managing the many food restrictions amongst the group, including my shellfish allergy. She also selected "western" options from time to time to provide a welcome break from local cuisine. Our tour leader did an excellent job throughout. Excellent tour.

Full Itinerary

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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: 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 and Dinner

Day 3 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 and Dinner

Day 4 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 and 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 and 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 and 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.

While in Hoi An, we'll also enjoy a boat trip on the river.

Overnight in Hoi An.

Meal plan: Breakfast and 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 and 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.

While in Hue, we will enjoy a "cyclo" ride through the old city and market.

Overnight in Hue.

Meal plan: Breakfast and 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 and 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 and Dinner

Day 12 Saigon: Cu Chi Tunnels & War Remnants Museum
Today we travel outside of Saigon to the Cu Chi Tunnels. The tunnels were dug with simple tools and bare hands during the French occupation in the 1940s, and further expanded during the Vietnam War in the 1960s to provide refuge and a defensive advantage over the American soldiers. Despite all the bombings in their town, the Cu Chi people were able to continue their lives beneath the soil, where they slept, ate, planned attacks, healed their sick, and taught their young. Some even wed and gave birth underground, but over 10,000 lost their lives here.

A well-defined walking track loops around the area, with things to see spaced at regular intervals, including examples of how people lived and what they ate. There are sample sections of tunnel which visitors can crawl through (not recommended for the claustrophobic), examples of traps used during the war, and the remnants of bomb craters.

From here we will continue on to the War Remnants Museum (formerly the Exhibition House for Crimes of War and Aggression). The exhibits may be one-sided with many exhibits containing a heavy dose of anti-American propaganda, but they do graphically portray the horrors of the war.

Overnight in Saigon.

Meal plan: Breakfast and 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 and 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 and Dinner

Day 15 Departure
Departure from Saigon.


Meal plan: Breakfast

Tour Map

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*The red tour trail on the map does not represent the actual travel path.

Hotel List

The following is a list of sample hotels at some locations included on this tour. The hotels shown here are meant to provide a general sense of the standard of hotel we usually aim for; they are not necessarily confirmed for your chosen departure.

Hotel Mercure La Gare

Rating: 3 Star Accommodation3 Star Accommodation3 Star Accommodation
Location: Ha Noi
Country: Vietnam

Located opposite Hanoi Central Railway Station, Mercure Hanoi La Gare is an inviting oasis in the heart of the bustling
... centre. Situated close to the Old Quarter, this hotel features modern design and facilities, a French brasserie, internal courtyard and gym.
Read More.

Hoi An Hotel

Rating: 4 Star Accommodation4 Star Accommodation4 Star Accommodation4 Star Accommodation
Location: Hoi An
Country: Vietnam

The Hoi An Hotel offers 160 international-standard rooms, restaurant, bar, garden café, outdoor swimming pool, fitness center, jacuzzi pool, sauna,
... bath, beauty salon, laundry service, mail services, money exchange, souvenir shop and art gallery. All rooms feature: telephone, air-conditioning, bathroom with bathtub and shower, mini bar, satellite TV, hair dryer, bathroom amenities, in room safety box.

Read More.

Festival Hue Hotel

Location: Hue
Country: Vietnam

Festival Hotel is rightly situated in the very heart of of Hue city, in close reach to to the relics
... the Old Charming citadel with easy access to the Royal Citadel, Antique museum, and other beautiful landscapes and tourist attractions.

Read More.

Duxton Hotel

Rating: 4 Star Accommodation4 Star Accommodation4 Star Accommodation4 Star Accommodation
Location: Saigon
Country: Vietnam

Located right in the heart of vibrant Ho Chi Minh City, the Duxton Saigon is a luxury 4* boutique hotel
... a refined and relaxing environment. As well as a range of deluxe rooms, executive rooms and suites, the hotel also has a restaurant, bar, gaming centre, gymnasium, swimming pool, spa and business centre.
Read More.

Trip Information

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Breakfast and dinner (at local restaurants and some hotels) are included daily; all meals on junk cruise. All transport, accommodation, sightseeing and entrance fees for sites noted as 'visited' in the detailed itinerary. Gratuities for drivers, junk crew, restaurant staff, porters, local guides. Airport transfers for land & air customers and for early arriving / late departing land & air customers who book their extra hotel nights through us.


Tour Leader gratuities, most lunches, drinks, personal items (phone, laundry, etc), domestic and international (if applicable) air taxes, visa fees, and any excursions referenced as 'optional'. Airport transfers for Land Only customers. Optional trip cancellation insurance. Our post-reservation trip notes offer further guidance on shopping, not included meals, visas and locally paid departure taxes.

Seasonality and Weather

Our tours in SE Asia operate during the cooler, drier time of year, Nov-Apr. That said, however, the entire region experiences a warm-hot tropical climate with humidity and a chance of rain showers at any time. Inland regions can experience extreme heat, especially Feb-Apr, when it is also very dry and landscapes are brown. Coastal regions-Central Vietnam, Halong Bay-are cooled by sea breezes. Hanoi & Northern Vietnam can be downright cold and damp, especially late Nov-Jan. Overall you should prepare for warm, sticky weather with the possibility of rain and some chilly nights / mornings in a few locales.

Transport and Travel Conditions

Land transport throughout will be by private air-conditioned bus. Most of the driving days are not long, usually no more than four hours. Road conditions are generally not good and progress can be slow. Boats are used at various points in the itinerary, and vary from converted trawlers to small riverboats. Internal flights via scheduled regional carriers.

The tour is not strenuous though it is busy; you must be steady on your feet and be able to endure some heat and long days. We have numerous walking tours and visit several sites that are LARGE with steps and uneven surfaces. Porters are available at hotels but you must be able to manage with your baggage at airports.


Hotels used on tour are modern, comfortable, well-located, air-conditioned, 3&4 star properties with en suite bath / toilet (hotel at Dien BIen Phu may be of a simpler standard). Single rooms are limited and possibly smaller than twins. Laundry facilities are available at most hotels for a reasonable price. Safe deposit boxes are available in most hotels either free or for a nominal fee. Most hotel rooms are well equipped and likely include hairdryers and irons, minibar fridge, TV. All are air-conditioned. Most hotels provide complimentary purified drinking water. Some hotels have swimming pools.

HUONG HAI JUNK: The Huong Hai junks are unique, `antique' (replica) accommodations that are scrupulously clean, fully-crewed and comfortable. Our junk/s are large and luxurious boats with private bath, air conditioning and fan, and plenty of deck space.

Staff and Support

Tour Leader throughout, local drivers, local guides at various locations.

Group Size

10-21 (plus Tour Leader)