From the emerald green rice paddies of the countryside and the sounds of its cities’ bustling markets to the intoxicating flavors of its renowned cuisine with its blend of French and Asian influences, Vietnam is a feast for the senses. It’s also one of Southeast Asia’s most captivating countries—and on Boundless Journeys’ Cultural Explorer tour of Vietnam, you’ll have 10 days to see the very best of it in the most magical of ways. The journey begins in the southern capital of Ho Chi Minh City, formerly Saigon, where you’ll visit poignant war sites from the Cu Chi Tunnels to China Beach. In the following days, you’ll explore UNESCO World Heritage Sites such as the Forbidden Purple City of Hué, the 15th century trading port of Hoi An, and the spectacular seascape of Ha Long Bay, via a deluxe Asian junk for a two-day trip through the bay. You’ll also discover sacred caves, relax aboard longboats on scenic rivers, and immerse yourself in Hanoi, the “Paris of the Orient.” Consider this your “greatest hits” tour of Vietnam with Boundless Journeys!
Ho Chi Minh City
Upon arrival of your international flight to Ho Chi Minh City, you will be met at the airport and transferred to our hotel. Following a lunch together with our guide, we set out to explore the city.
First, we pay a visit to the Fine Art Museum in Saigon - the best place to see a varied collection of works by Vietnamese artists, both historical and contemporary. We then explore the winding alleyways of the Chonlon district (Chinatown), starting at Cha Tam Church and Chua Ong Pagoda, a stunning example of Chinese-inspired architecture. By foot, we head down a traditional herbal medicine street for a closer look at how locals use herbal remedies for everything from headaches to energy boosts.
Our next stop is the Bitexco Building — a glittering example of modern architecture in the city. As the fifth-highest building in Asia, the views from the rooftop cafe are unrivalled. Here, we enjoy a leisurely cocktail as the sun dips below the horizon.
This evening, we'll gather with our guide and fellow guests for a welcome dinner at an acclaimed restaurant featuring the best of traditional Vietnamese specialties.
Rex HotelHo Chi Minh City, Vietnam
Offering modern luxury in the heart of downtown Saigon, the Rex is a heritage hotel dating to early 20th century. For over 80 years, the Rex has been a landmark in the city, with 286 individually designed rooms, a world-class spa and four in-house restaurants. The rooftop bar is a must, as guests can look over the bustling nightlife while they unwind over a cocktail.
Cu Chi Tunnels; Transfer to Hué
This morning we'll depart early for our one and a half hour journey down the Saigon River by speedboat, gaining a unique perspective of our surroundings and avoiding the congestion of the roads. Watching the city fade into the background, we enter the countryside and eventually reach the Cu Chi tunnels.
During the Vietnam War, the Vietcong dug an extensive tunnel complex that served as a sanctuary in the fight against American forces. Part of the complex has been left in its original state. For those who are comfortable with very close quarters, we will have an opportunity to crawl through some of these tunnels, a unique experience indeed.
Following our visit to the tunnels, we travel through the countryside to a cricket farm. According to local lore, hungry soldiers ate them to supplement up their nutrient-poor diets, and today they are considered a delicacy. This afternoon we return to Ho Chi Minh City and the airport for our flight to Hué.
From 1802 to 1945, Hué was the country's political capital under the Nguyen Dynasty's thirteen emperors. Hué was caught in the crossfire during the years of the Vietnam War; the educated populace did not support the North nor the South, but still they suffered from their location between the two. Hué experienced great devastation when, during the 1968 Tet Offensive, the North Vietnamese held the city for nearly a month, using the ancient citadel as their base of operations. American soldiers fought to regain the city, but did so only after an estimated 10,000 people died (many of them Hué civilians) and the city's many important historic cultural sites were destroyed. Restoration is steadily underway, and today you will find Hué to be a rather small and quiet town, especially in comparison to the northern and southern capitals of Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City.
Saigon Morin HotelHue, Vietnam
Located in the heart of Hue, the Hotel Saigon Morin was originally built in 1901, and it is now one of the oldest hotels in Vietnam with views of the Perfume River.
Following breakfast this morning, we head to the ancient, walled Citadel and explore this former Imperial Palace. We learn about the Citadel's intriguing architecture, inspired by Beijing's Forbidden City. We then continue to Minh Mang Tomb to explore the opulent final resting place designed by the emperor himself.
For lunch, we go to Lien Hoa Pagoda, a temple located on the top of a hill with a fantastic view. We may visit the kitchen to see how food is prepared in a wood-burning stove, before joining the nuns for this special vegetarian meal. Over lunch we have the opportunity to learn about Buddhism and the nun's daily lives.
Next, we make our way to Thanh Tien Village, well-known for its tradition of crafting paper flowers for more than three centuries. Those who would like to can learn from local villagers how to make an ornate paper flower.
Our visit today supports the Backstreet Academy, a social enterprise providing struggling artists, craftsmen and home-based workers with additional income and recognition.
We return to Hue on a dragon boat ride, floating down the Perfume River. The evening is free to spend at your leisure. You may enjoy our accommodations and dine onsite, or take a complimentary shuttle into town for further independent exploration.
Transfer to Hoi An; Marble Mountain and Lantern Making Class
This morning after breakfast, we transfer to Hoi An. En route, we ascend Hai Van Pass, with incredible views over the Lang Co Lagoon and the South China Sea. Just south of Danang, a major commercial center of Vietnam and sight of the largest American military base during the Vietnam War, we will stretch our legs at Marble Mountain and take a short climb up to see the shrines and limestone caves that blanket the hills.
We then continue to Hoi An, a picturesque town along the Thu Bon River. This exceptionally well-preserved example of a Southeast Asian trading port, dating from the 15th century, was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1999. Upon our arrival, we enjoy some regional specialties for lunch.
This afternoon, we have the unique opportunity learn a local craft. Under the instruction of Hoi An craftsmen, we practice the art of making lanterns from bamboo and silk. During the experience, we also have time to share tea and conversation with our hosts. These lanterns are visible at night along the Tu Bon River, and make a wonderful (and collapsible!) souvenir.
Anantara ResortHoi An, Vietnam
Located in the French colonial quarter of Hoi An, this tranquil property has landscaped gardens and is situated on the riverbank, just a short walk from the center of town. The hotels design embodies Hoi Ans cultural diversity, with each of the resorts 93 spacious rooms overlooking either the river or garden courtyard. Guests may sip on a cappuccino at the French-style bistro, or unwind with a cocktail overlooking the Tu Bon River.
Biking Exploration of Farming Communities; Walking Tour of Hoi An
This morning following breakfast, we embark on a walking tour of Hoi An's charming old town with its numerous historic houses, congregation halls, and pagodas. Both the buildings and street plan reflect varied influences — indigenous and foreign — that have combined to produce this unique city. Among our stops this afternoon will be the Museum of History and Culture, Tan Ky house, the Japanese Bridge, and the Fujian Assembly Hall. Hoi An is known for its extraordinary talent in tailoring, so we'll also visit the local cloth market to witness this trade.
In the afternoon, a cycling tour in the nearby countryside gives us a sense of rural life. We head out toward Cam Thanh Village, a small community located in the outskirts of central Hoi An. At the village we have the opportunity to meet a local family, and visit their home. On the nearby river, we visit a water coconut forest by bamboo basket boat and then we return to Hoi An by river boat for lunch.
The evening will be yours to explore Hoi An, which is very festive at night, and you may enjoy dinner at one of the many wonderful restaurants in the Old Quarter.
Excursion to My Son Cham Ruins; Cooking Class
This morning we depart early by car to explore the ancient Cham ruins of My Son, about one hour outside of Hoi An. The Champa reigned over central Vietnam from the 2nd to 15th centuries and you can still see cultural influences of their kingdom today in pottery, fishing, and agricultural techniques, as well as in temple structures which embody influences from the Hindu traditions. Our bucolic drive will take us through the countryside outside of Hoi An. Although the temples of My Son are in relative disrepair, the partially overgrown vegetation encroaching on the temples actually adds to the mystique and intimate feel of the sight. We will have the chance to walk around for about an hour to take in the tranquil setting and learn about these ingenious and spiritual people.
We return to Hoi An in time for lunch, which you may enjoy on your own. This afternoon, we have some time for independent exploration to perhaps stroll the quiant markets, or take in the quaint ambience of Hoi An while enjoying drinks on one of the many balconies overlooking the Tu Bon River.
This evening we have the opportunity to participate in a cooking class. We begin at Hoi An's colorful and bustling market, where we learn about the different uses of fresh noodles, how to recognize and buy fresh fish, herbs, spices, rice, and grains, while perhaps tasting some exotic fruits. After the chance to mingle with the vendors, we try our hand at preparing some Vietnamese dishes, and enjoy the final product for dinner.
Flight to Hanoi; City Walking Tour
This morning we fly to Hanoi and embark on a walking tour of the city. We being at the presidential palace and stroll slowly down Phan Dinh Phung street, admiring the giant Sau trees and beautiful examples of French colonial architecture that line the boulevard. This is considered one of the most charming streets in the city.
Our first stop is Cua Bac Church. Built by the French, considered one of the more unusual churches in Vietnam, the architecural style combines Western architecture and oriental detailing. We then head to Hanoi's Old Quarter, also known as the "36 Streets," a bustling area of narrow alleys that is home to hundreds of small businesses and shopkeepers. Our guide brings us to visit the only family still producing traditional papier mache masks. Entirely handmade, this tradition dates back many centuries, however, it is now a dying art replaced with increasingly cheap and modern alternatives. From the lovely family who owns the workshop we hear stories of this unique art and their struggle to keep the tradition alive.
We continue our discovery of the hidden alleyways and head through the labyrinth of back alleys, peering into temples and traditional houses, passing through markets and by street sellers as our guide shares the stories and introduces us to the people who call this fascinating city home.
Following a stop at Bach Ma Temple, one of the oldest in Hanoi, we continue to Ta Hien and wrap up our walk with another drink at a café overlooking St Joseph's Cathedral - a symbol of Vietnam's French history.
Sofitel Legend MetropoleHanoi, Vietnam
This award-winning French colonial-style hotel has stood proudly in the heart of Hanoi since 1901. Once a gathering point for diplomats and high class society, the hotel has a rich history and lovely rooms, a recently built spa, and swimming pool. Within walking distance of Hoan Kiem Lake and the magnificent Opera House, the hotel is one of the few remaining hotels of its era.
Sights of Hanoi
This morning following breakfast, we explore the many historic and cultural sites of Hanoi. The Presidential Palace where Ho Chi Minh lived and worked from 1954 to 1969 will be our first stop. Originally the home of the Governor General of Indochina, the immaculate grounds became the center of revolutionary activity once North Vietnam achieved independence in 1954. Ho Chi Minh opted not to move into the palace at that time, believing it belonged to the North Vietnamese people, and instead lived in the neighboring "House on Stilts." Here, the revered "Uncle Ho" worked amid the gardens, mango alley, and carp-filled pond. The whole structure has been preserved in perfect condition, a tribute to the well-loved leader.
Next, we visit the One Pillar Pagoda and the Temple of Literature. Built after King Lý Thái Tông's vision of a bodhisattva seated on a lotus flower in 1049, the lotus-shaped One Pillar Pagoda sits atop a pillar jutting out of a lily pond. Soon after the temple was built, the King's wife gave birth to a son, and today childless couples visit the pagoda to make prayer offerings. The Temple of Literature is perhaps Hanoi's best-preserved ancient site. Also built in the 11th century, Van Mieu, as it is known in Vietnamese, served as the national university for 700 years.
This afternoon we have time to walk around Hoan Kiem Lake and enjoy some independent exploration or relaxation. For those who are interested, there will also be plenty of opportunities to purchase handicrafts to take home.
This evening we enjoy a traditional Vietnamese water puppet show at the Thang Long Opera House.
Transfer to Ha Long Bay
This morning after breakfast, we transfer to Ha Long Bay, either by road (approximately 3-4 hours) or seaplane (optional at an additional cost). Ha Long Bay, in the Gulf of Tonkin, includes some 1,600 islands and islets, forming a spectacular seascape of limestone pillars. In 1994, this unique landscape was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Upon arrival you will board a deluxe Asian "junk" boat for a two-day trip through the bay.
We enjoy a lunch of Asian-fusion specialties on board while sailing into the bay, soaking up the scenic views and unwinding for the last leg of our journey. Various excursions are available including a visit to Tien Ong Cave. The Cave is peppered with beautiful stalactites and stalagmites, formed out of ancient limestone karsts about 700,000 years ago. The voyage continues with an excursion to the floating fishing village of Cua Van, the largest and oldest fishing village in Ha Long Bay. Once we are back on board, there will also be a cooking demonstration by the ship's chef to reveal some of the secrets of Vietnamese cuisine.
This evening, we enjoy the sunset from the deck before an elegant five-course dinner in the restaurant. Afterward, you can relax on the deck and socialize with other travelers before retiring to your cabin.
Jasmine CruiseHalong Bay, Vietnam
This traditionally rigged Asian sailing vessel offers the highest standard of service and amenities on Ha Long Bay. This junk has 24 cabins, stylishly decorated with an antique Asian motif. There is also a restaurant, lounge, and sundeck offering uninterrupted views of the bay. Excursions such as walks and kayaking amidst the limestone cliffs of offered by the boats professional and friendly staff.
Ha Long Bay and Departure
Early risers will be treated to ideal light for photographs, and perhaps join other guests on deck for a morning Tai Chi lesson. After breakfast, we continue our cruise through the unforgettable landscape, stopping at one of the most spectacular beaches - Ti Top - where you are free to disembark and hike up 400 steps for a panoramic view of the bay, or simply relax and enjoy the beach.
We disembark the cruise by midday, and return to Hanoi by road, where we will say farewell and depart for our onward journey.
Please note that this is a typical itinerary, and actual activities may vary due to weather conditions, local events, and to allow serendipity to play a hand in your experience. Accommodations are as outlined in the itinerary, although we reserve the right to change these or the order visited should the need arise.
Feb 25-Mar 5, 2020
Nov 3-12, 2020
Take over a date for your group! See "Make It Private" on Dates & Prices tab.
From $4,995 Per Person
$295 Per Person
Ho Chi Minh City-Hué; Danang-Hai Phong; subject to change
First two reserved:$695
See single supplement policy below.
Optional seaplane flight to Ha Long Bay $425
10+ Guests: $4,995 per person
4 to 9 Guests: $5,395 per person
Make it Private price is based on Land Cost only, and a guarantee of the specified number of guests in double occupancy. For groups smaller than the numbers shown, or those requiring single occupancy, we reserve the right to adjust the per person price. Additionally, some trips have minimum group sizes. Please call 1-800-941-8010 for details.
2020 PRICING GUARANTEE
Please note that we are holding our 2019 pricing for 2020 dates. For bookings received prior to 2020 pricing being set, Boundless Journeys will cover the first 5% of any increase in pricing, and will only ask travelers to pay any amount beyond a 5% increase.
Accommodations (hotels, tents, cruise cabins) are based on double occupancy. A single supplement is paid by participants who specifically request single accommodations, subject to availability. If you reserve at least 120 days prior to departure, you may be eligible for a reduced or free single supplement.* This is generally limited to the first one or two solo travelers to reserve, and the reduction is outlined in the pricing for each trip. Please note, free or reduced single supplements are not combinable with other offers or promotions.
If you are traveling alone and wish to share accommodations, we will try to match you with a roommate of the same gender. If you reserve at least 120 days ahead and a roommate is not available, you will only be charged a “forced” single supplement in the amount of 50% of the standard single supplement* (unless otherwise noted in the detailed itinerary). Single accommodations are limited so you are encouraged to reserve early!
*This may not apply to certain trips with unique accommodation arrangements. Please see specific trip information for more details.
Boundless Journeys’ trips are designed for energetic and flexible individuals who like to be active and have a spirit of adventure and a positive attitude. Vietnam: Cultural Explorer is rated 1+, easy with some moderate options on a scale of 1-5 (with 5 being the most strenuous). The walks on this trip are day walks with some vehicle support. Much of the walking will be flat terrain, in and around villages, towns and temples, 2-3 hours per day, broken up by rest and meals.
Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
Most Convenient Airport for Arrival:Tan Son Nhat International Airport, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam (airport code SGN)
Most Convenient Airport for Departure:Noi Bai International Aiport, Hanoi, Vietnam (airport code HAN)
Meeting Time and Place:Our group will meet with the guide in the lobby of the RexHotel at 12:00 pm on Day 1 of the tour.
Departure Time and Place:Day 10, upon returning from Halong Bay (departure flights can be scheduled for anytime after 5pm)
During our trip, you will likely experience a range of weather conditions, as various locations fall within different climate zones. While Hanoi will be relatively cool, Ho Chi Minh City will be warmer.
You can obtain more detailed weather information at www.weatherbase.com.
The cooler dry season lasts from October to March. In October and November, arriving just after the rainy season, you’ll have the benefit of being there for the newly greened trees and rice paddies, as well as the much clearer air quality that can be expected at this time of year. December through March remain much drier and a bit cooler than during the summer months. However, it is possible to have some rain at any time of year.
The ingredients and flavors of cuisine in Vietnam are complex and vary, as everything else does, according to its region of northern, central, or southern Vietnam. In Hanoi you may notice a bit of Chinese influence in the food, along with the inevitable French offerings. A bowl of pho in the Old Quarter is a must; this hot soup is hearty, with noodles and bean sprouts, chicken, pork, or beef, and fresh herbs and spices for flavoring. In central Vietnam, on the coast, seafood is abundant and the food tends to have a bit more chili-derived heat. To a large extent, you have the opportunity to dictate the flavors of your food, as dipping sauces and condiments are yours for the taking. Please note that everywhere we travel, you are likely to find some Western dishes that are familiar should you need a bit of comfort food. Vegetarians can be accommodated.
Hoi's love of sharing his homeland with others and his passion for travel led him to a career in guiding. He came to Hanoi initially to study sustainable tourism and has stayed for over 15 years building on his guiding experience and connecting with thousands of travelers.
Along with his deep knowledge of the various histories and cultures of all the regions of Vietnam, his light-hearted attitude and spontaneous spirit make him a joy to travel with. We love having him as a trusted partner in Vietnam!
Laki was born in southern Vietnam's Mekong Delta and pursued a career in guiding because he loves sharing and teaching about his homeland. Laki's deep knowledge of the various histories of South, Central, and North Vietnam, a keen sense of humor, and a love of adventure, have made him one of the most sought-out and highly-respected guides in the region for nearly a decade. In addition to leading active tours, Laki enjoys cycling and a good book.
Guests love his friendly demeanor and ability to make each day of the tour unforgettable!
With a Boundless Journeys guide, your experience is that of friend and local adventurer. We believe strongly in working with local guides, experts in the areas to which we travel, and they hold the keys to unlocking the hidden delights of your chosen destination. Although you will never know they are at work—the mark of a truly great leader—our guides make magical things happen and add a dimension to your trip that you could not experience on your own. Over the years we have forged bonds with some of the best guides in the world, and we typically work with a small team of guides in each region. You will be informed of the guide for your trip one month prior to your departure.
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