Vive Vietnam! That's exactly what you'll be saying after this action packed adventure aimed at travellers on a budget. We take you from the bustling Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) to the charming Hoi An, and out on one of the most spectacular bays in the world – Halong Bay.
Day 1 - SaigonYour trip starts today with your arrival in Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City). No activities are planned until your evening group meeting, so you may arrive at any time. Please check the noticeboard in the hotel lobby, located on the ground floor, for a notice containing details of your tour. This will advise you of your tour guide’s name, telephone number and the time and location of your group meeting. Normally this meeting takes place around 6pm. Until your meeting we encourage you to get out and discover the delights that Vietnam has to offer. Make sure that you take a hotel business card so that you will be able to find your way back to the hotel.
Day 2 - Saigon - overnight trainYou have a free day to discover the attractions of Vietnam’s largest city and your tour guide is on hand to advise you of things to see and do. One option is to take an excursion to the north of Saigon, something that would have been considered risky business 30 odd years ago. Today the peaceful farming communities around the former Viet Cong stronghold of Cu Chi Tunnels belie the horrors of the Vietnam War. Begun by the Viet Minh and later expanded by the Viet Cong, these tunnels were constructed to for guerrilla fighters to conduct covert operations and then quickly hide from the enemy. There are reputed to be around 200 kilometres of underground tunnels within the area and in some places they even managed to penetrate the perimeters of nearby US military bases. In some places you are actually be given the opportunity of crawling through a section of the tunnels and learning how the brave men and women of Cu Chi built underground hospitals, kitchens and meeting rooms during their struggle for a unified Vietnam. If you just plan on staying in Saigon, the city has many attractions. The Reunification Palace, War Remnants Museum, Ben Thanh Market, Notre Dame Cathedral and the adjacent Gustav Eiffel-designed Central Post Office are all within walking distance of your hotel. However, to make the most of your time, you might like to consider hiring a ‘cyclo’ (bicycle rickshaw). The going rate is approximately 80,000 VND per hour, but make sure you negotiate a price before setting out. In the evening we board our overnight train bound for Nha Trang.
Day 3-4 - Nha Trang - overnight trainWith fabulous sunny weather for most of the year, clear blue water surrounding a string of offshore islands and a beach that spans the whole length of the city, it is little wonder that Nha Trang has become Vietnam's premier beach resort. A steady increase in tourism has brought with it a much-needed boost in facilities and Nha Trang's diverse range of restaurants serve up seafood that is as good as anywhere else in Vietnam. We have plenty of time to enjoy the sun during our time in Nha Trang. One option is to book on a boat tour and head out on the water for a cruise around the islands. Bring your towel and swimmers because there is the opportunity for swimming and snorkelling. Lunch is usually provided on these day trips and you may also get the chance to go for a splash in the waters off one of the sandy island beaches or book a ride on a ‘basket boat’ and visit one of the local fishing villages. Those opting not to go on the day trip can just laze on the beach on town. On the evening of day 4 we board our overnight sleeper train and head north to Danang. (Please note that this is a local train and conditions on board are generally quite basic. Breakfast on board the train the following morning is not always available, so it is recommended that you purchase some breakfast supplies before leaving Nha Trang.)
Day 5-6 - Hoi AnThere is no rail link into Hoi An so we jump off the train at Danang and drive the remaining distance to Hoi An. It should only take us about 45 minutes and on the way we pass the massive former US airbase that was in 1968 the busiest airport in the world, with all manner of aircraft coming and going in support of South Vietnam's war effort. The ancient and historic town of Hoi An was for three centuries one of the most important sea ports in central Vietnam, visited by sailing ships from all over the world seeking trade in silk, ceramics, spice etc. In the late 19th century, the Tu Bon River, linking the port to the open sea, silted up and became unnavigable to large vessels. Trade moved up the coast to Tourane, now modern-day Danang, and Hoi An went back to being a sleepy little fishing and rice farming community. Today Hoi An's fortunes are once again riding on the crest of the wave as Vietnam's number one tourist destination. This is largely due to the fact that the old town's narrow streets are packed with a brilliant blend of Chinese, Portuguese and Japanese styles of architecture and has changed little from its heyday as a major port of trade. In your free time you can do your own ‘tour’ of the Old Town, where you can visit an ancient house, a Chinese Assembly Hall, the famous Japanese Covered Bridge and a local historic museum. You may wish to rent a bicycle and set off to explore the surrounding countryside, take a boat trip on the river, relax on the nearby beach, enjoy the wonderful cuisine on offer at some of the town's numerous cheap cafes or have some clothes made. Hoi An has nearly 100 silk shops offering same day service for tailor made clothes at unbelievably low prices. If you'd like to learn more about the Kingdom of Champa, the ancient ruins at My Son can be visited inside half a day. Here you can see more than 70 historic monuments spread over a large area.
Day 7-8 - Hue - overnight trainThis morning we jump onto the local bus one last time for a three to four hour drive to Hue, travelling through a region of Vietnam that is blessed with magnificent coastal and rural scenery. Shortly after we've forged our way through the busy streets of Danang where Highway 1 begins its winding ascent through the Hai Van Pass or 'Pass of the Ocean Clouds'. On the other side of the pass we stop at Lang Co Beach for a short break before crossing over another two small passes to arrive in Hue around lunchtime. Under the reign of the Nguyen Dynasty emperors, Hue served as Vietnam's capital from 1801 to 1945. Dripping with history, and often with rain, Hue has a certain serene and classic character that sets it apart from all other provincial centres. In Hue it is recommended that you spend a couple of hours exploring Hue's massive walled citadel and the Forbidden Purple Palace that is enclosed within. The Citadel's splendid Ngo Mon Gate gives little hint of the wholesale destruction that has taken place inside at the hands of various occupying forces. The bloody Battle of Hue during the 1968 Tet Offensive all but finished it off. The Vietnamese, with the help of UNESCO and other non-government organisations, are hard at work restoring and rebuilding what remains. Sadly it may never be returned to its former glory, but it's still a fascinating insight into Imperial Vietnam. Tickets to enter the Citadel are available at the main gate opposite the flag tower and cost approximately US$4 per person. If you wish to explore further afield you can book on a tour that takes you on board a 'Dragon Boat', where you enjoy a leisurely cruise up the timeless Perfume River to one of Hue's most beautiful landmarks, the Thien Mu Pagoda - with its symbolic tiered tower. After visiting the pagoda, you re-join your boat and continue to the Tomb of Emperor Tu Duc (1847-1883), the fourth emperor of the Nguyen Dynasty. Constructed between 1864 and 1867, it was more of a pleasure garden than a tomb and the Emperor Tu Duc used it as his second residence. The interesting thing is that it is not known if Tu Duc is actually buried here. No one has yet discovered his burial site and the treasures that must lie within. Not as extensively damaged during the Vietnam War as Hue's Citadel, Tu Duc's Tomb remains a significant reminder of the opulent lifestyles enjoyed by the Nguyen Dynasty emperors. There are many royal tombs in the vicinity and another option is to hire a bike and cycle through the magnificent countryside to visit them. In the late afternoon of Day 8 we transfer to the train station and board the 'Reunification Express' for our overnight train journey to Hanoi. (Please note again that breakfast on board the train the following morning is not always available, so it is recommended that you purchase some breakfast supplies before leaving Hue.)
Day 9 - Halong BayOn arrival in Hanoi we are met by our driver and his vehicle, who will take us on a day trip out to Halong Bay. 'Ha Long' means 'descending dragon' and legend has it that a giant dragon plunged into the ocean at this point, cutting the bay from the rocks as it thrashed its way into the depths. We prefer Mother Nature's version and awe-inspiring Halong Bay, with its 3000 limestone karsts thrusting skyward out of the sea, is one of her finest pieces of work. Our Halong Bay excursion begins with a 3½-hour drive through the fertile Red River Delta to the bayside town of Bai Chay. We board our chartered boat in the late morning and cruise through this most amazing seascape. We have the opportunity to go for a swim before going ashore on one of the islands to explore colourful limestone caves. On arrival in Hanoi we are met by our driver and his vehicle, who will take us on a day trip out to Halong Bay. 'Ha Long' means 'descending dragon' and legend has it that a giant dragon plunged into the ocean at this point, cutting the bay from the rocks as it thrashed its way into the depths. We prefer Mother Nature's version and awe-inspiring Halong Bay, with its 3000 limestone karsts thrusting skyward out of the sea, is one of her finest pieces of work. Our Halong Bay excursion begins with a 3½-hour drive through the fertile Red River Delta to the bayside town of Bai Chay. We board our chartered boat in the late morning and cruise through this most amazing seascape. We have the opportunity to go for a swim before going ashore on one of the islands to explore colourful limestone caves. In the afternoon we return to Bai Chay, where we spend the night.
Day 10-12 - HanoiIn the morning we are driven back to Hanoi. Although there has been a settlement here since the 3rd century AD, the city of Hanoi can trace its origins back to 1010 when Emperor Le Thai To moved his capital from Hoa Lu to this site. From the 1880s to World War II, Hanoi was developed as the French colonial capital of French Indochina and many of the old structures in Hanoi were razed to make way for new French buildings. Today the people of Hanoi take a lot of pride in their grand old colonial buildings, and these together with the wide spacious boulevards and tree-lined lakes help make Hanoi one of the most graceful and charming cities in South East Asia. Your time in Hanoi is free for you to make your own discoveries. You may wish to visit the One Pillar Pagoda, which is situated near the Soviet-inspired Mausoleum of Ho Chi Minh. Unfortunately the mausoleum itself is only open for limited hours in the morning and is closed on Mondays. The One Pillar Pagoda was first constructed in 1049 and as such it was Hanoi’s oldest structure. If it doesn’t look that old to you, it’s because the French blew it up in 1954 as a parting gesture and the current building is a replica. You can also check out the Temple of Literature, a wonderful name for a wonderful place. Founded in 1070, it was Vietnam’s first educational institute and a place where candidates for the position of Mandarin were examined. Another interesting site is Hoa Lo Prison, probably better known to most of us as the ‘Hanoi Hilton’. Hanoi’s tallest building now occupies most of the original site, and no, it doesn’t belong to the Hilton Hotel chain, but the eastern wall and a small section of the prison behind have been retained and today serve as a museum. It mostly serves as a reminder of the Vietnamese who were incarcerated here by their French masters. One of the best places to go wandering is the city’s Old Quarter, situated to the north of the Hoan Kiem Lake. It’s a great (and easy) place to get lost in for a couple of hours. However, it’s not too difficult to find your bearings if you remember that its boundaries are the railway line to the west and the north, the Red River to the east and Hoan Kiem Lake to the south. Your adventure ends after breakfast on Day 12. If you wish to extend your stay in Hanoi, additional accommodation can be arranged. Please ask your agent.
What to Know
Trip Dates and Prices
Start Date – End Date Trip Status Price 01 Jun 2013 - 12 Jun 2013 7+ Request US $595 On Sale Sale: US $447 Book Now
Past Travellers' Ratings & Comments
At the end of each trip, we ask our travellers to provide feedback. We publish the positive, negative and neutral feedback on this page to give you an overall idea of what to expect on this trip.
Katie-Lee - Australia, 14 Apr, 2012
Kim - United States, 5 May, 2012
Another awesome holiday experience. The tour guide was very knowledgeable, friendly and made my Vietnam holiday one to remember and recommend.
What to know
No entrance fees included.