This active journey takes you off the beaten track in Vietnam. Starting in the capital, Hanoi, and finishing in bustling Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City), this adventurous trip takes in the scenic highlights of both the north and the south. It gives you the chance to travel in beautiful hill country, visiting colourful minority groups and staying in a local home, a great learning experience and the best way for your family to interact with the friendly locals. The variety continues with a cruise around beautiful Halong Bay, stopping along the way to swim and kayak. In the middle of your journey you have time to unwind in the historic town of Hoi An, which has plenty of options for adults and children including a palm tree fringed beach, great shopping and fantastic local and western food. The safari continues as we fly up to the Central Highlands. Here you have the chance to explore the jungle on the back of an elephant and paddle a canoe around the picturesque Lak lake. We continue on the scenic overland route to Dalat, a former French colonial resort town, passing by coffee and tea plantations, before descending to Saigon, an electrifying experience. A great way to finish a memorable tour is with a visit to the underground tunnel network at Cu Chi. This is a trip that encompasses the main attractions and more, allowing you to get under the skin of this amazing country and its people.
Day 1 - Hanoi
On arrival in Hanoi you are met and transferred to your hotel. You meet your tour leader here who will organise a pre-trip briefing, where you meet the other members of your group, before heading out for an optional group dinner. 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. Please note that your tour leader will collect your travel insurance details at the meeting, so please bring them with you. The meeting is generally followed by an optional group meal out at one of Hanoi's fantastic eating spots.
Day 2 - Hanoi
Hanoi is one of Asia's most enchanting cities. This northern capital is a quiet, contradiction of its southern counterpart. The many lakes, parks and cafes provide enjoyable escapes. We take a guided half-day tour of Hanoi, visiting the major sights, including the Temple of Literature, One Pillar Pagoda, and paying homage to Vietnam's most famous revolutionary, Ho Chi Minh. We also include lunch at the KOTO café – an amazing project aimed at providing vocational training and experience in the hospitality industry for underprivileged young people. All the staff you meet at this café have come from poor backgrounds. The afternoon is free but as you are heading in a region inhabited by hill tribe people, we highly recommend that you catch a taxi out to visit the excellent Museum of Ethnology, situated on the outskirts of town. This museum is very child friendly with an outdoor section and many “hands on” exhibits. We then travel on an eight-hour overnight sleeper-class train journey up towards the Chinese border in the remote north of Vietnam. The beds on board come with a pillow and sheets, although some people may wish to bring their own sleeping sheet (purely optional and not a necessity). Also, breakfast tomorrow will not be available on board, so it is recommended that you purchase some snacks before boarding in Hanoi.
Day 3-5 - Sapa
We’ll catch a glimpse of China over the other side of the river this morning as we disembark from the overnight train and begin our drive into the mountains and on to the picturesque minority hill tribe town of Sapa. Set amidst some magnificent mountain scenery and in the shadow of Vietnam’s tallest peak, the 3,143-metre-high Mt. Fansipan, the former French colonial hill station town of Sapa is home to some of Vietnam’s most colourful minority hill tribes. Like Dalat in the south, the French developed Sapa in an effort to replicate parts of the Alps and the Pyrenees. A number of their villas remain but many were lost in 1979 when the Vietnamese army evicted the invading Chinese. We’ll spend the afternoon driving by jeeps to the local Red Dzao village of Ta Phin. Here you will get a chance to witness the colourful costumes and culture of the local minority people. There may be a chance to visit a local school or to share a cup of tea with one of the friendly local families. The next morning we commence on a scenic one day trek (12 kms) up the Muong Hoa River Valley with its lush vegetation and rice terraces. There are no hotels up here so we spend the night at a minority village in the cosy longhouse of one of the village’s families. The next morning, after a hearty hill tribe breakfast, we trek back into Sapa. There is some free time to explore the quaint shops and curious characters in Sapa town before we make our way back to Lao Cai in the evening, where we once again board the overnight train, for the return trip to Hanoi.
Breakfast | Lunch | Dinner
Day 6 - Hanoi
We have a final day in Hanoi to do our own thing. There is time to explore some of the many temples, museums and shops. Perhaps after the overnight train, you may like to just relax in a cafe or take a stroll around Hoan Kiem Lake to see how a great deal of the life of this city revolves around this pretty body of water. Visit Ngoc Son Temple and learn about the legend of the giant golden tortoise, which had once inhabited the lake. In the evening there is an option to enjoy a performance of the unique Water Puppets. Hanoi has many interesting restaurants, some of them in old French colonial houses or tucked away in the old part of town, with western and Vietnamese options available.
Day 7 - Halong Bay
Depart Hanoi for the three-and-a-half-hour drive to the bayside resort town of Bai Chay. Upon arrival, we board our boat, put our bags in our cabins and begin a memorable cruise amongst the remarkable limestone formations of Halong Bay. A lunch of local seafood is served on board and there are opportunities for swimming and visiting one of Halong Bay’s many limestone grottoes. Weather permitting we can watch the sunset over Halong Bay whilst our crew prepares tonight’s dinner. Don’t forget a hat, sun block and swimwear. Northern Vietnam can be quite cold during the winter months (December – February) and at this time you will also need to bring some warm clothing. It is also advisable to carry a sturdy pair of shoes for visiting the grottoes. Bedding and a small towel are provided on the boat. All boats used by us have twin-share cabins with en suite facilities and air-conditioning. We also have the chance to get active and do some kayaking on Halong Bay.
Breakfast | Lunch | Dinner
Day 8-10 - Hoi An
In the morning you can wake early for a kayaking trip on the bay, if the weather is kind, before sailing back to the port. At Bai Chay, we disembark and drive back to Hanoi airport where we will board our afternoon flight to Danang. From there, we transfer by road an hour into Hoi An and settle in for our three-night stay in this historical ‘oasis’. Hoi An was originally a Cham port town, but has been influenced down the centuries by a myriad of traders from various cultures. There is a distinctly Chinese appearance with pagodas and assembly halls scattered along the small streets. Hoi An was once a bustling port in centuries gone by, before the river silted up. Today it is a delightful backwater town with an air of liveliness about it. The tranquillity and charm of Hoi An, coupled with its low tiled houses, makes it one of the most delightful places to visit in Vietnam. It is a constant favourite of our travellers and staff. The following morning a walking tour takes us to see a historic house (formerly home to a prominent trader), the Japanese Covered Bridge, a Chinese assembly hall and a museum. From there on in you will have free time to enjoy this idyllic location. Your tour leader will be on hand should your require assistance in booking any optional tours such as a bike ride to the nearby beach or a boat trip on the Thu Bon river.
Day 11-12 - Nha Trang
Leaving Hoi An, we continue north for further sightseeing. China Beach, enjoyed as an 'R & R' spot during the Vietnam War, lies against a backdrop of the sensational Marble Mountains. The five peaks, which are actually limestone with marble outcrops, are also seen to epitomise the five elements: fire, water, earth, wood and metal. The history of the mountains is a rich one. They were once used by the Chams for religious purposes, but in more recent times became a haven for the Viet Cong, with its clear view of the Danang air base - at one time the busiest airport in the world. Good footwear is essential, as the path between the rocks are sometime slippery. The walk takes about an hour and involves climbing approximately 200 steps. This afternoon, we board the flight from Danang to Nha Trang. On arrival in Nha Trang we check into our hotel, which is close to the beach. The following day we spend the morning on the water enjoying swimming, snoerkelling, lazing on a beach feasting on seafood.
Day 13-15 - Saigon
This morning we board our flight to Saigon. Saigon is the biggest city in Vietnam with a population of approximately 8 million people and 4 million motorbikes. The following morning you may wish to take a spare shirt with you because we’re literally going to ‘get down and get dirty’. Our excursion to the north of Saigon would have been considered risky business indeed 30 odd years ago but 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, Cu Chi’s tunnels were constructed 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. We’ll actually be given the opportunity of crawling through a section of the tunnels while we’re here, and to learn how the brave men and women of Cu Chi built underground hospitals, kitchens and meeting rooms during their struggle for a unified Vietnam. Early afternoon, we return to Saigon where you are free to spend your remaining time exploring some of the city’s attractions, such as the Reunification Palace, Dam Sen water park or Ben Thanh Market. However, to make the most of your time, you might like to consider hiring a ‘cyclo’ (bicycle rickshaw) for the afternoon. The going rate is approximately 50,000 VND per hour but make sure you negotiate a price before setting out. Tonight is your chance to farewell your tour leader and celebrate the end of a terrific family adventure.