Day - 1
Location: Hanoi - Xin chao! Welcome to Vietnam. Your adventure kicks off in Hanoi – Vietnam’s capital – with a welcome meeting at 6 pm tonight. If you arrive early, wander these gorgeous streets and see the sights. Tonight, maybe grab your new group and see who’s up for some food and a fresh bia hoi at a roadside stall or watch the motorbikes zoom by. Hanoi is also a great place for local beer and cocktail bars, so maybe hit the nightlife and discover what this city has to offer after sundown.
Day - 2
Location: Hanoi - Today is a free day in Hanoi to explore however you’d like. Maybe check out your reflection in beautiful Hoan Kiem Lake, wander along shaded boulevards or relax in a public park with some delicious street food (spring rolls inside rice paper rolls, anyone?). Museum-wise, you could visit the Mausoleum of Ho Chi Minh, drop into the serene Temple of Literature or get arty at the city's Fine Arts Museum. Maybe head to KOTO for a delicious lunch – this organisation is dedicated to developing the hospitality careers of disadvantaged youth. If you’re a bit of a foodie, this is also a great Instagram spot! Later, maybe explore the centuries-old architecture as the sun goes down.
Day - 3
Location: Cat Ba - Travel by bus and ferry to Cat Ba Island – the largest island in Lan Ha Bay, connected to the UNESCO-listed Ha Long Bay. With thousands of little limestone islands scattered around, this area is one of those quintessential Vietnamese scenes in which bright green water is dotted with traditional junk boats and limestone karsts. Take a cruise around Lan Ha Bay and enjoy a seafood lunch prepared by your onboard chef. What could be better? This afternoon, hop off the boat to get up close and personal with this other-worldly landscape by kayak. Paddle through serene waters and then watch the sunset over this awe-inspiring landscape.
Day - 4
Location: Ninh Binh - This morning, take a ferry back to the mainland and head to Ninh Binh province – once the site of Vietnam’s capital in the 10th and 11th centuries, which is now a protected UNESCO World Heritage Site. Join a local guide on a cycling tour to visit the ancient citadel. This once covered 300 hectares of land, however the passage of time has left few remains of the once glorious capital. You’ll visit the 17th-century temples built in honour of King Dinh and King Le among other temples, pagodas, monuments and lush grounds surrounded by mountains.
Day - 5
Location: Ninh Binh - Overnight Train - The day is yours to explore the many other wonders of Ninh Binh. You might like to lace up your hiking boots and trek to the incredible Mua Cave. While the cave sits at the base of a mountain, be sure to make the trek up the 500 steps to the mountain peak for amazing views of Hoa Lu and Ngo Dong River. Or maybe get out on the water and take a boat tour past limestone karst peaks, caves, temples and maybe even the locations of scenes from a King Kong movie. Tonight, board an overnight train to Hue.
Day - 6
Location: Hue - Arrive by train in Hue, the former imperial capital of Vietnam. You have today free to do as you please. You can easily spend a couple of hours exploring Hue’s massive walled citadel and the Forbidden Purple Palace that's enclosed within. Maybe jump on board a dragon boat and enjoy a cruise up the Perfume River to visit the Thien Mu Pagoda. You could also check out Dong Ba Market, which offers locally made goods, fresh produce and some tasty street food. This is a good place to try the dish that Emperor Nguyen used to feast on – the banh Khoai royal rice. If you like being on two wheels, maybe cycle out to one of the royal tombs like the tomb of Emperor Tu Duc (one of the most excellent remaining examples of its kind). Tonight, head into the home of a local family and enjoy a freshly prepared dinner. You’ll be chatting and laughing over your chopsticks in no time!
Day - 7
Location: Hoi An - Continue along the coast to Hoi An by private bus. When you arrive, your leader will take you on a walking tour of this unique town which has been influenced over the years by Europe, China, Vietnam and Japan. The town was a major trading port from the 17th century onwards, and its old-school flavour is written all over its architecture. For a small town, it's pretty lively. The tour will take you down the streets that are being restored and look a lot like they did 100 years ago, then you’ll discover some of the more chilled out spots. Check out a historic house (formerly home to a prominent trader), the Japanese Covered Bridge, a Chinese assembly hall and a museum. Later, maybe play bingo with your leader in a town square – a popular local past time.
Day - 8
Location: Hoi An - Start the day by cycling through the beautiful surroundings of Hoi An to the organic vegetable and herb gardens of a local chef. See, smell and taste what makes Vietnamese food so delicious. After a tour of the gardens, enjoy a freshly prepared lunch using some of the ingredients you picked during your tour. Much of the food waste here is composted, recycled or reused. The rest of the afternoon is free for your own explorations. Maybe wander to the Central Market and browse the paintings, woodwork, ceramics and lanterns. Hoi An is also famous for its talented tailors, so if you’ve been wearing the same shirt every day (who hasn’t), why not hit one of the same-day tailors and get yourself something new? Tonight, maybe wander the streets, lit up by lanterns and go on a self-guided photo walk.
Day - 9
Location: Hoi An - Overnight Train - Lucky you, it's another free morning in this historic haven. You could take a trip out to the My Son temples (World Heritage-listed beauties that reflect the rich cultural traditions of the Cham civilisation), join a cooking class or take the stairs or the escalator up the Marble Mountains to explore the many pagodas, tunnels, caves and shrines. After, take an overnight train journey to Ho Chi Minh City.
Day - 10
Location: Ho Chi Minh City - Arrive in Ho Chi Minh City very early this morning and transfer to your hotel. Formerly known as Saigon, Ho Chi Minh City is a whirl of sights and sounds. You can still see the French influence in the top-notch baguettes and coffee. Compared to the north, the food here is spicier, sweeter and more varied. Maybe take advantage of the early morning by checking out the markets and tucking into a bowl of pho with the local traders. With your group, you’ll visit a local market, where you can browse the exotic street foods and maybe take the chance to try some. Then try the iconic Saigon cafe sua da (iced coffee with condensed milk) amid the market’s everyday bustle as your leader shares stories about life in Ho Chi Minh City. Tonight, why not get your group together for a meal and some drinks on Pham Ngu Lao Street?
Day - 11
Location: Ho Chi Minh City - With no planned activities today, your trip comes to an end. If you have more time, there’s lots to see and do – The Cu Chi Tunnels are an interesting day trip, plus the city is a great springboard to head down to the Mekong Delta or to Phu Quoc Island. Ask your group leader for more recommendations or, better yet, book an Urban Adventures tour! Find out more at urbanadventures.com. If you’d like to spend more time here and need further accommodation, just speak to your booking agent.