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21D/20N - ABSOLUTE VIETNAM
21D/20N - Absolute Vietnam
Ho Chi Minh City - Tay Ninh - Cu Chi Tunnels - Mekong Delta - Dalat - Nha Trang - Hoi An - My Son -Tra Kieu - Danang - Hue - Hanoi - Hoa Lu - Duong Lam - Lao Cai - Sapa - Hanoi - Halong Bay - Hanoi
Unforgettable: Vietnam is a country of contrasts. A rich colonial history dominates its cities, sitting side-by-side with scenes that characterise the spirit of Southeast Asia. The countryside is a stunning portrait of varied landscapes, from the waterways leading to the East Sea to terraced green paddy fields with the hilly central highlands in between. To fully appreciate the region, this tour has been designed to accommodate everything that makes Vietnam special, giving you time to stay in the country's finest accomodation, both on land and water, whilst admiring the wealth of unique and vibrant sites on offer. You will be introduced to the country in Ho Chi Minh City, the dynamic heart of Vietnam, where French colonial buildings line wide and elegant boulevards with a wealth of items on sale. Continuing to the Mekong Delta, see the vibrant lifestyle of the region's people where arroyos, islands, fish farms, and tropical fruit are abundant. My Son, Tra Kieu and the remains of the Cham Kingdom, which, centuries ago, stretched over what is now Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam are also included. From here take a scenic drive over the Pass of Ocean Clouds to the former capital Hue, home to imperial dynasties, tombs, pagodas and temples. Fly to the country's cultural capital, Hanoi, with its many charming lakes and surrounding traditional handicraft villages, before discovering Hoa Lu, the "Halong on Land". The charm of Sapa - next to China's border - is the finest place to explore Vietnam's beautiful mountainous countryside and is also home to numerous traditional ethnic groups. End your tour with a cruise on the UNESCO World Heritage-listed area of Halong Bay, where limestone cliffs and islands rise from the emerald blue water, making it the perfect place to finish your memorable journey with us.
Day 01:  Ho Chi Minh City
Upon arrival your guide will greet you and transfer by private car through the city to your hotel for check-in.
Overnight in Ho Chi Minh City.
Distances and journey time:
Tan Son Nhat Airport to HCMC downtown (10km):30mins

Day 02: Ho Chi Minh City (B)
Depart your hotel for a full day Ho Chi Minh City tour. Head to Cholon, the Chinatown district, to discover the area’s markets, shops and the Cantonese Thien Hau Pagoda - dedicated to the goddess of the Sea. Visit Vietnam's first traditional medicine museum, the FITO Museum, with an amazing collection of 3,000 items relevant to the development of traditional Vietnamese medicine. Implements used to prepare indigenous herbs and objects commonly found in traditional pharmacies can be seen in the galleries as well as ancient books and documents on traditional Vietnamese medicine.

Head back to the city centre to visit Ben Thanh Market where an incredible display of fresh produce is offered. Simply stroll through the market exploring the variety of goods for sale.

This afternoon visit the War Remnants or History Museum (choose which one you would most like to see) and the former Presidential Palace Stroll (your vehicle will be available at all times) to the major sights of colonial Ho Chi Minh City: the Old Saigon Post Office, Dong Khoi Street (formerly Rue Catinat), Continental Hotel, Opera House and City Hall. At the end of the afternoon head back to your hotel.
Overnight in Ho Chi Minh City.
Note: History Museum is closed on Mondays.

Day 03: Ho Chi Minh City - Tay Ninh - Cu Chi Tunnels - Ho Chi Minh City (B,L)
Depart Ho Chi Minh City at 0800 in the morning for the drive to Tay Ninh. The scenery changes as you leave the city behind to views of rice paddies, villagers drying noodles by the side of the road and other scenes typical to southern Vietnam. Visit the Cao Dai great temple at Tay Ninh, with its flamboyant architecture, where all the major faiths of the world blend together in a unique religious mosaic.

After lunch in a local restaurant visit the famous Cu Chi Tunnels which consist of an incredible underground tunnel network constructed by Vietnamese resistance fighters (Viet Cong) during both the French and American wars. Start the visit with the Ben Dinh or Ben Duoc sections of the tunnel.

Here you can imagine what it was like to be a guerrilla complete with Russian Carbine rifles and AK 47’s on display. In the late afternoon journey back to Ho Chi Minh City. 
Overnight in Ho Chi Minh City.

Day 04: Ho Chi Minh City - Mekong Delta - Ho Chi Minh City (B,L)
The local traditional wooden boats, vast emerald rice fields and lush back waterways are the things that make Cai Be such a desired destination. This morning, leave bustling Ho Chi Minh for the 2 hour drive to the delta town of Cai Be.

On arrival board your boat for a cruise of Cai Be floating market. Traders work the river and some have been living on these waters for generations. Produce at the market is hung on a pole in front of boats to attract customers and make it easier for people to see from afar what is on offer.  

After visiting the market continue to a cottage factory where ‘pop-rice’, rice paper and coconut candies are made. Return to the boat for the cruise to Dong Hoa Hiep Island, admiring the scenery and the daily life of the local villagers along the way. Lunch is local Mekong style serving specialties of the area. Following your cruise drive back to Ho Chi Minh City.
Overnight in Ho Chi Minh City

Day 05: Ho Chi Minh City - Dalat (B)
Transfer to Ho Chi Minh City domestic airport for the 40-minute flight to Dalat. Dalat is located 300 km from Ho Chi Minh City. Established as a hill station at the beginning of the century, Dalat is reminiscent of an alpine town with its French chalets and pine forests.

An afternoon of sightseeing in Dalat takes in Bao Dai's Summer Palace that sits on a hill just outside the main centre. Bao Dai was the Last Emperor of Vietnam and the Palace has been preserved exactly as he left it in 1954. It is a classic example of art deco that is a tourist attraction in itself. Continue the tour with the former railway station (in use only for an optional steam train ride) which is remarkable with its architecture and its old steam locomotive.  Visit Xuan Huong Lake and Lam Ty Ni Pagoda where the folkloric a Buddhist monk, Vien Thuc, produces his abstract paintings and writes poetry. Your will end the tour at the town's bustling central market, renowned for its fresh vegetables and fruit that is rarely found in a tropical country. Overnight in Dalat.  

Day 06: Dalat - Nha Trang (B)

Leaving Dalat after breakfast, descend to the coastal city of Nha Trang. Drive on a panoramic route down a lush mountain pass to the coastal plains of Central Vietnam. The highland crops of coffee, tea and vegetables are replaced with that of tobacco, grapes and rice as the road descends into a dry climate. Follow the coast past salt ponds and vivid green rice fields to Nha Trang.

Nha Trang simply has every single activity that a sun worshipper may want. Besides the pre-requisite golden stretches of land and crystal clear waters, the coast is dotted with many islands each with their own distinct character. The turquoise waters play host to a variety of marine life, and snorkeling and scuba diving are perennial favorites. In the afternoon take a city tour of Nha Trang to visit the Po Nagar Cham Towers, the Alexander Yersin Museum, the ‘XQ’ workshop where exquisite hand made embroideries can be seen, Long Son Pagoda, with its enormous white Buddha statue and the lively and highly colorful Dam Market. Overnight in Nha Trang.  


Day 07:  Nha Trang (B)
A morning boat trip on Nha Trang Bay visits some of the nearby islands where you can swim and snorkel in the clear warm waters.Along the way, visit nearby villages or simply relax on the boat’s deck and ‘people watch’ as Vietnamese villagers, whose descendants have lived on these islands for generations, go about their daily lives. After a fresh seafood lunch on ‘Bamboo Island’, return to Nha Trang City.

Your afternoon is at leisure to explore Nha Trang at your own pace.
Overnight in Nha Trang.  

Day 08: Nha Trang - Hoi An (B)
Transfer to Nha Trang domestic airport for the 50-minute flight to Danang. Upon arrival in Danang, drive 40-minutes to Hoi An.  Hoi An is a destination with two faces – the charming, old-world trading port of narrow streets and traditional houses; and the beach with its new resorts and long stretch of clean white sand. In keeping with Hoi An’s heritage as a trading port, the town’s tiny shop-houses now host a range of craft shops and artisans including some of Asia’s best bespoke tailors. Despite the passing of 200 years and the ravages of weather and war, the centre of Hoi An remains much the same as it was in its heyday.

Take a walking tour of the ancient town centre to visit former merchants’ houses, the 400 year-old Japanese Covered Bridge, a Chinese communal hall and the colorful market.
Overnight in Hoi An.  

Day 09: Hoi An - My Son -Tra Kieu - Hoi An (B)
Take a half day trip to visit the capital and religious centre of the former Champa Kingdom, My Son. Here, 40km southwest of Hoi An in a lush green valley, are dozens of red brick towers and sanctuaries dating from between the 7th and 13th centuries. On the way back to Hoi An visit Tra Kieu, formerly known as Simhapura or the Lion Citadel, the capital of Champa between the 4th and 8th centuries. Some of the finest sculptures in Danang’s Cham Museum originated from here.
Afternoon at leisure.
Overnight in Hoi An.  

Day 10: Hoi An - Danang - Hue (B)
Enjoy this morning at leisure before leaving Hoi An for Hue, the former imperial capital of Vietnam. Its mesmerizing tombs and mausoleums of the last emperors of Vietnamreveal fascinating insights into the lives of the imperial families and their subjects. The ancient Citadel reflects the pomp and ceremony of the dynastic rulers as well as the scars of many years of turmoil, both ancient and modern. The Royal Citadel was badly damaged in the latter stages of the warbut retains a sense of grace and majesty even today.  

Drive through Danang and visit the Cham Museum, which contains the finest collection of Cham sculptures in the world before climbing over the Pass of Ocean Clouds and dropping down to the wonderfully photogenic fishing village of Lang Co. Overnight in Hue.

Day 11: Hue (B)
0830 depart from your hotel in Hue. Start at the Imperial Citadel where the Nguyen Dynasty ruled between 1802 and 1945. From here take a cyclo through dai noi ‘Old City’ to Tinh Tam Lake where the Emperors used to come to relax. It is full of lotus flowers in summer and there are many local style coffee shops around the lake where university students come to study.  

After exploring the ruins of this wonderful monument depart for Thien Mu (Celestial Lady) Pagoda overlooking the Perfume River. Constructed in 1601, the 21-meter tower is the centerpiece of the pagoda and represents seven reincarnations of Buddha. On the pagoda grounds is the famous Austin car a resident monk drove to Saigon in 1963 to protest against the southern regime. The photo of his self immortalization is one of the most well known images of the war.

Continue to former emperor Minh Mang’s tomb located in a tranquil setting of gardens and ponds.
Journey on to Khai Dinh’s Tomb designed in traditional Vietnamese style with a European touch making it unique from the other tombs in Hue.

Before heading back to your hotel take time to stroll around Dong Ba Market with your guide.  The market is another of the must see sites in Hue, the stalls are teeming with color and a great place to catch a glimpse of everyday life.
Overnight in Hue.

Day 12: Hue - Hanoi (B)
This morning you will be transferred to Hue’s airport for the short flight to Hanoi. On arrival explore Vietnam’s capital on an escorted full day city tour

Visit the Temple of Literature. In 1076, Vietnam's first university Quoc Tu Giam, was established within a temple to educate Vietnam's royalty, mandarins and members of the elite. The university functioned for an incredible 700 years and its gardens and well-preserved architecture offer a fascinating glimpse into Vietnam’s past.

Visit The One Pillar Pagoda, founded by King Ly Thai To in 1049, next. This structure is one of Vietnam’s most iconic temples. Close by is the mausoleum of the historic father figure of modern Vietnam, Ho Chi Minh, and the former presidents house on stilts where he lived from 1958 to 1969. His former home illustrates the modesty of this Vietnamese revolutionary.  (viewed from outside; closed Mon and Fri and from Oct-Nov)

Continue to picturesque West Lake and the sixth century Tran Quoc Buddhist Pagoda. From here transfer (or stroll along the lakeside) 700 meters to the nearby Taoist temple of Quan Thanh dedicated to Tran Vu, one of the principal deities in Taoism.

In the afternoon visit the fascinating Ethnology Museum (closed Mondays), which is both a research centre and a public museum exhibiting the ethnic groups of Vietnam. As an alternative to the Ethnology Museum, visit the highly acclaimed Vietnam Women’s Museum (closed on Mondays).  The museum is located near Hoan Kiem Lake and offers wonderful insight into the lives of Vietnamese women.  Displays highlight Vietnam’s vast cultural diversity and educate on the significant role Vietnamese women play in Vietnamese society.  Learn historic and modern-day traditions centered around births, weddings, motherhood, spirituality and more.

At the end of the afternoon visit Hanoi’s Old Quarter also known as the ‘36 streets’. Take a walking tour through charming Hang Be Market and around Hoan Kiem Lake. This bustling area of narrow streets and alleys is home to literally thousands of small businesses and shopkeepers. It's a great place to explore with plenty of photo opportunities all around you.

Finish the day with a Water Puppet show. This is a uniquely northern Vietnamese art form depicting scenes from rural life and episodes of national history. Overnight in Hanoi.

Day 13: Hanoi - Hoa Lu - Hanoi (B,L)
Depart your hotel this morning early for the 2-hour drive through rural northern Vietnam to the site of Vietnam's first capital, Hoa Lu. Visit the temples dedicated to Emperor Dinh Tien Hoang of the Dinh Dynasty (968-80) and Emperor Le Dai Hanh of the Le Dynasty (980-1009). The ancient Hoa Lu Citadel (most of which has since been destroyed) once covered an area of three square kilometers. If time permits after visiting Hoa Lu take a half-hour walk up one of the surrounding limestone karst hills, the climb is rewarding with spectacular views.

In the late morning depart for Tam Coc Town for a Vietnamese lunch, along the way stop to take photographs of local villages and the stunning landscape.

After lunch board your private sampan* (see options for Tam Coc sampan trip below). As the boat gently slices through the waternotice the enormous limestone karsts jutting out from the green rice fields giving rise to the area’s other name, 'Halong on Land'.

Should you feel adventurous, climb up to Bich Dong Pagoda on nearby Ngu Nhac Mountain, dating to 1428 and comprised of three structures: Ha, Trung, and Thuong Pagodas, in ascending order. Return by sampan to Tam Coc town before returning to Hanoi.

Note: Please be aware that some women on boats may try to sell local products to tourists. Guests should refer to their guide if this situation makes them uncomfortable.

Trang An Boat Option (in replace of Tam Coc): Trang An is a less visited nature reserve similar to Tam Coc. Limestone hills surround a peaceful river which passes through a series of caves (one which takes 15-minutes to pass through in darkness). An 'eco tourism' area, the only interruptions here are the sound of birds and the gentle paddle of the oar upon the crystal clear river.

Thung Nang Boat Option (in replace of Tam Coc): Similar to Tam Coc, Thung Nang is off the tourist trail and a pleasant alternative. Pass through a cave, fields of lotus (in summer) and reach a quaint pagoda before returning on the same route.
Overnight in Hanoi.

Day 14: Hanoi - Duong Lam (B,L)

Immerse yourself in ancient Vietnamese culture with an excursion to Duong Lam, one of the country’s few remaining ancient villages.  Situated northwest of Hanoi, a tour through Duong Lam is a great way to explore the area’s twelve-hundred year history.Explore houses over 400 years old, wander the village’s narrow alleyways, visit local temples, and most interesting of all, chat with friendly locals.

 Depart your hotel and travel west of Hanoi to Duong Lam village, a purely agricultural village of the Northern Red River delta which still preserves many hundred-year-old houses. Visit Mong Phu temple in Mong Phu commune - the only hamlet whose original village entrance remains intact. Continue on through the narrow alleys to see the old laterite houses which make up this charming village. For lunch enjoy a local style meal in a 100-year old house.

After your lunch, continue driving to Mia Pagoda (another hamlet of Duong Lam), built in the 15th century. Some 287 statues of all sizes can be seen here, among with are famous sculptures such as the statue of Buddha and the statues of the ‘Eight Vajra Deities’. Then, visit Ngo Quyen temple and Phung Hung temple, places dedicated to two national heroes - Ngo Quyen and Phung Hung.

In the afternoon return to Hanoi. Overnight in Hanoi.

Day 15: Hanoi Cooking Class - Lao Cai - Sapa (B,L)
This morning join a special cooking class. Start with a visit to a local market accompanied by a chef; here you’ll get a chance to learn about Vietnamese ingredients and cuisine. A cooking demonstration follows and you’ll have the opportunity to play an active part. After, the class lunch is served so you can sample all the different dishes prepared during the demonstration.

Rest of the afternoon is at leisure.
This evening transfer to Hanoi train station for the overnight train to Lao Cai, the gateway to Sapa.  
Overnight on the train in a soft sleeper compartment.

Day 16: Sapa (B,L)
On arrival in the border town of Lao Cai transfer to the former hill station of Sapa. In the terraced hills and mountains of this area, the scenery of the expansive green landscape is enlivened by the colors of its hill tribe population. Flashes of shining silver jewellery from the necks and wrists of indigo-clad H'mong and the scarlet hues of the turbans worn by the Red Dao can be seen. It is here you will find hands stained with color from fabric dyes and shades of blue, red and green intricately embroidered and stitched into jackets, waistcoats, pants, skirts, caps, purses and leggings.

Take a morning walking tour of Sapa for a visit to the busy market where Red Dao, Black H’Mong, Tay and other ethnic minority people converge from the surrounding countryside to sell their silverware and handicrafts, and to buy provisions. Following take a light trek to discover Sapa's quaint hill tribe villages set against the stunning Hoang Lien Son Mountain Range and Indochina's highest peak, Mt. Fansipan.  A picnic lunch will be had en-route. Rest of the afternoon and evening at leisure. Appropriate footwear must be worn on treks in Sapa. Note that if conditions are wet, programs may be diverted. Overnight in Sapa.

Day 17: Sapa - Hanoi (B)

Have breakfast before driving to visit a local market (Ban Cam on Tuesday/ Cao Son on Wednesday/ Lung Khau Nhin on Thursday / Can Cau on Saturday/ Bac Ha on Sunday. Note: The market visit may be on your arrival day depending on the market day). Here you’ll see mostly Flower Hmong, however Phu La, Black Dao, Tay, and Nung hill tribe groups also gather here. The market offers a variety of local products not be found in others areas such as an interesting animal market where pot-bellied pigs, cows and buffalos can be seen.

Continue your tour with a short walk to a hill-tribe village. Here you’ll have the opportunity to visit some local homes to understand more about the daily life of these tribes as well as their culture and traditions. In the late afternoon transfer back to Lao Cai before taking the night train back to Hanoi. In Lao Cai you’ll have use of a hotel room so you can freshen up before the overnight train trip.
Overnight on the train in a soft sleeper compartment.

Day 18/19: Hanoi - Halong Bay (B,L,D)

Arrive early in Hanoi where a hotel will be available to freshen up before heading to Halong Bay by road.  Following breakfast, leave Hanoi for a 3hr30mins drive to Halong Bay including a 20-minutes stop on the way. Arrive at your jetty in Halong City towards noon and proceed with check-in formalities. After your welcome onboard, a lunch will be served while cruising towards the bay itself. In the afternoon, enjoy some visits and/or activities (depending on each boat’s itinerary) or just spend some time relaxing on board. Towards the end of the day the boat sets anchor for the night among the karst formations. Dinner is served on board.
Overnight 2 nite on Halong Bay.

Day 20: Halong Bay - Hanoi (B)
Enjoy your fresh morning in the middle of the bay, the sun rises on Halong in the morning and breakfast is served (brunch on some boats) while the vessels cruises slowly through the magnificent rock formations and back towards port. Disembark and transfer back to Hanoi. This afternoon free at leisure. Overnight in Hanoi.
Note: This tour may be subject to change depending on weather conditions.

Day 21: Farewell Hanoi (B)

Today is departure day. Enjoy some free time for last minute purchases or simply relax before the transfer to Hanoi's Noi Bai Airport and your onward flight.

Our services include:
+ Accommodation in a shared twin or shared double room
+ Meals as mentioned (B= Breakfast, L= Lunch, D= Dinner)
+ English or French speaking guide (for other languages and a national guide supplements apply)
+ Tours and transfers as mentioned by private air conditioned vehicle
+ Train tickets as mentioned in the itinerary (shared cabin)
+ Boat trip as mentioned in the itinerary
+ Entrance fees for mentioned visits

Our services do not include:
- Other meals than mentioned
- Other services than mentioned
- International and Domestic Flights
- Laundry, telephone calls and expenditure of a personal nature
- Tips, Travel insurance

Creating Unique Touring Experiences
All the touring itineraries on this website have been carefully crafted by our in-country management teams and represent a series of experiences we can certainly recommend. However, we understand that every travel experience should be as unique and individual as each traveler. Our consultants are waiting to hear from you so that we can tailor or custom design a Vietnam tour to your individual specifications.
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