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Sample Vietnam's fresh flavours and colourful cuisine as you explore the iconic highlights of this vibrant country. Along the way you'll sail past the cliffs of Halong Bay and wander through bustling Ho Chi Minh City, all while enjoying some of the healthiest and tastiest food around.
Explore Tour Leader
1 nights guesthouse
1 nights premium hotel
9 nights comfortable hotel
1 nights comfortable overnight train
Trip maximum 16 Explore average 11
Itineraries on some departure dates may differ, please select the itinerary that you wish to explore.
Arrive in Vietnam's capital, which is famous for its rich culture, bustling life and colonial influences in their centuries-old architecture. Little lakes dotted around the city are encased by busy streets and secret alleyways, which are waiting to be explored.
For those arriving on time our Leader plans to meet you in the hotel reception at 5pm for the welcome meeting and for those that wish, there is the chance to go out on a street food tour. There are no other activities planned today, so you are free to arrive in Hanoi at any time. If you would like to receive a complimentary airport transfer today, you'll need to arrive into Noi Bai International Airport (HAN), which is only a 45 minute drive to the hotel. Should you miss the welcome meeting, your Leader will inform you of any essential information by note left at the front desk.
This evening we will embark on a street food tour, exploring the narrow lanes of the Old Quarter. Focusing on Dinh Liet and Ta Hien Street, we stop by several vendors to try some local delicacies. Banh Goi is a Vietnamese crispy dumpling and makes a perfect street snack with its rice paper outer stuffed with minced meat and soft noodles. Another Hanoi delicacy is Bun Cha - seasoned pork meatballs served with rice noodles and fresh herbs. The experience is not complete without washing it down street-side with a cold Ha Noi Beer(payable locally), on the ample outside seating as we watch the city's nightlife buzz by.
Hanoi Tokyo Hotel (or similar)
We start this morning like the city's locals - with a steaming bowl of the ubiquitous pho. Pronounced 'Fuh', this beef and noodle soup is Vietnam's national dish and each region has its own take - with the herbs, noodles and broth differing from north to south. In Hanoi, pho is prepared the night before in giant containers, with beef bones, oxtails, herbs and spices simmering in a rich broth for up to 14 hours to draw out the maximum amount of flavour. It is then served for breakfast the next morning with thinly sliced beef flank or brisket, flat rice noodles and garnished with fresh herbs. We'll take breakfast at a local pho stall before starting our day. Next up will be an egg coffee (ca phe trung). This concoction is made by beating an egg yolk with condensed milk for about 10 minutes, forming a cake-like batter. This is then poured on top of a steaming espresso.
Filled up and thirsts quenched, we continue to take in some of the capital's main sights. Architecturally styled like a French provincial town with tree-lined boulevards and low-built houses, the city is wonderfully nostalgic. Among the interesting sights are the charming One-Pillar Pagoda and the Presidential Palace. Ho Chi Minh himself, a spartan-living and scholarly man, chose not to live in the Presidential Palace; he preferred instead a simple teak stilt-house specially built for him in the grounds.
We then cross the Red River and head out of the city to one of the north's traditional villages. It is like stepping back in time and offers an insight into what village life was like in the north before it was colonised by the French. Ancient shuttered houses, elegant pagodas and communal halls line the narrow brick lanes which are interspersed by great sprawling Banyan trees. We meet with one of the local residents who gives us some insight into the history here, before teaching us to prepare and make some local delicacies. We make cha gio, more commonly known as spring rolls, cha la lot (beef-stuffed betel leaves) and thit xien nurong (grilled meat skewers).
From here we continue by road on to Halong Bay.
New Star Ha Long 2 Hotel (or similar)
One of South East Asia's most spectacular settings, where thousands of limestone islands rise from the jade green waters of the bay like the scales of some great submerged dragon, Ha Long Bay is a World Heritage site of natural majesty. Ha Long translates as the place where the dragon descends to the sea and local legend tells of a time when this rugged landscape was created by the pounding tail of a mighty dragon as he ran from the mountains into the sea. This morning we will board a charter boat for a cruise amongst its limestone islands, threading our way through a flotilla of boats, junks and wooden sampans as they ply their way across the gentle waters of the bay. The plan is to spend the day sailing through this stunning seascape, stopping off to visit some of the limestone caverns that pepper the landscape, and we enjoy a delicious seafood lunch on board. After disembarking later in the afternoon, we will drive onto the small town of Ninh Binh.
Van Long Green Hotel (or similar)
We start our day with an early-morning boat ride through the beautiful Van Long Nature Reserve, a diverse wetland area set amongst jagged and forested limestone hills. The reserve is a haven for birdlife with species such as white stork, egret and kingfishers regularly spotted, and if we are lucky we may have the chance to spot the endemic Delacour's Langurs playing in the forested hills.
Next we head out to a local, family-run business learning how to cook the Ninh Binh dish of com chay, literally translated to 'burnt rice'. This crispy rice square is paired with meat, fresh vegetables and secret spices for a thoroughly tasty snack. We then move outside the village to learn about the farming techniques and practices that have been used here for hundreds of years and passed down through generations. Depending on the season, we may have the opportunity to help cultivate rice, tend to the gardens or try some fishing. We eat in the farm, with a meal prepared from the fresh and local produce we have spent time amongst. After lunch we take a leisurely bike ride through the lush rice paddies, passing pagodas and through small villages.
After freshening up this evening, we proceed to the train station to board the Reunification Express, for our overnight train journey to Dong Hoi.
The train has private four-berth, lockable cabins with air-conditioning and toilets are located at each end of the carriage. All bedding is provided.
Overnight Train to Dong Hoi
Comfortable Overnight Train
After freshening up and taking breakfast at a local hotel, we drive into the majestic Phong Nha National Park - a UNESCO-listed paradise made up of towering limestone karst landscapes, verdant jungle, vast, cavernous caves and a network of underground rivers. We'll board small wooden boats that take us across the placid Son River, winding its way through the lush vegetation and then inside the mouth of Phong Nha Cave. This vast cavern is adorned by huge stalactites and stalagmites cutting through the cave like the teeth of a giant monster, according to local legend. We have some time exploring the cave before we stop for lunch where we enjoy river prawns, grilled fish, marinated BBQ pork and freshly prepared Vietnamese salad.
After a leisurely lunch there may be sometime to swim in the river before we move on the incredible Paradise Cave. This cave stretches some 7km deep into the limestone rock , with the first kilometre stretch made accessible by boardwalks and lighting. The cave is a testament to the raw power of nature, as it continues to shape and change as water trickles its way through the rocks and the lights illuminate the multiple colours on display.
Later we drive back to Dong Hoi where our evening is at leisure.\b
Luxe Hotel Dong Hoi (or similar)
We make our way this morning to the iconic 17th parallel, which formed the border between North and South Vietnam between 1954 after the First Indochina War, until 1976 after the reunification of Vietnam. The De-Militarised Zone formed an approximate 10 kilometre buffer stretching from the Laotian border through to the Vietnamese coastline. We explore some of the areas found along the DMZ including Vinh Moc - a village that relocated its entire population underground, into an amazing network of tunnels and caverns that snake their way out to a beach on the South China Sea. We also visit the Quang Tri Citadel, an ancient walled Imperial City that saw huge amounts of fighting during the war and as such its structure has been peppered with bullet holes.
From the DMZ we cross the Ben Hai River and continue onto the ancient city of Hue, where this evening we will take part in a 10-course Royal Banquet. Hue's Nguyen dynasty ruled over the imperial city for over a century and developed a whole series of culinary traditions, from ingredients through to preparation and presentation. This evening we sample several of the dishes in the traditional way, elaborately presented in animal form such as a phoenix or an elephant. Our dinner is accompanied by royal folk music and we will get to try such dishes as nem cong (peacock starter), Tom ngu thuyen ron (shrimp in passionfruit sauce) and chuoi ngu & banh phu the (stuffed mung bean cake served with banana).
Duy Tan 2 Hotel (or similar)
Once the capital of Vietnam and an inspiration for poets and artists alike for centuries, Hue is divided by the waters of the Perfume River, which separate the city's 19th-century citadel from the suburbs that radiate from the eastern shore. Even today, its easy air of leisurely ambience makes it one of the most engaging cities in the country to explore and this morning we head out to the imposing citadel. Built by the Nguyen dynasty (Vietnam's ruling emperors from the early 1800s to 1945), the citadel still dominates the left bank of the Perfumed River. Its formal moats and impressive ramparts were constructed to be an exact copy of the Forbidden City in Beijing, and whilst much of the inner city suffered badly during the heavy bombardments of the Tet Offensive in 1968, the huge outer walls and the West Wing remain an eloquent reminder of the palace's former glory.
This morning we spend time exploring the imposing Citadel before visiting a nearby family to learn to make a tasty snack that is popular during TET (Vietnamese New Year) celebrations - Keo Me Xung or chewy sesame candy. Later in the morning we visit the Thien Mu Pagoda and the Tu Duc Tomb, a mausoleum dedicated to the longest reigning emperor of the Nguyen dynasty, said to have over 100 wives and concubines.
This evening we drive outside of the city limits to visit the house of a local family where we dine with them. We will be welcomed as friends and have the opportunity to share stories and experiences over a variety of flavoursome home-cooked meals including va tron (Hue fig salad) banh beo (water fern cakes) and bun bo (a spicy beef and pork noodle soup).
We follow the coastal road this morning towards the Truong Son Mountains and the lofty heights of the Hai Van (Sea Cloud) Pass. This scenic region once marked the boundary between Vietnam and the Champa Kingdom to the south and as we reach the pass itself the views before us are simply spectacular. After a short stop at the pass we drive downhill towards the UNESCO-awarded fishing port of Hoi An, accompanied by stunning panoramas of mountains, islands and ocean.
Before arriving in Hoi An, we visit Tra Que Herb Village, a quaint area of lush fertile ground served by the Thu Bon River Delta where over 150 farmers tend to their vegetable patches. We will meet some of the farmers and learn about some of the produce grown here and how the crops are helped along not with pesticides but with local algae found in a nearby lagoon. We will get the opportunity to relax here with a foot soak made from a solution packed full of the herbs grown here.
For lunch we stop off for a Banh Mi, once-lauded by Anthony Bourdain as a 'symphony in a sandwich'. The banh mi is one Asia's best examples of fusion cuisine - taking the humble French baguette and then stuffing it chock-full of fresh and flavoursome Vietnamese ingredients. A traditional banh mi would usually contain pate, beef or pork sausage, coriander, chillies, pickled carrots and finished with a creamy mayonnaise. We will eat this street-side before continuing on our walking tour of Hoi An, taking in the incredible architecture of buildings like the Japanese Bridge and the Chinese Meeting Hall. The streets are lined with lanterns that glow in a haze of technicolour as the sun starts to set and day turns to night.
This evening has been left free to take in the wonderful evening atmosphere of the town, or to independently try one of the many excellent eateries here.
TTC Hotel Premium - Hoi An (or similar)
The historic, merchant town of Hoi An had become one of the busiest international trading ports of Southeast Asia by the 17th and 18th centuries. First colonised by the Portuguese in the 16th century it still retains its medieval charm today, with many of its old buildings superbly preserved. The day has been left free to explore at leisure. There are many shops, bars and restaurants in this charming town and it is a great place to buy souvenirs, have clothing tailored or simply watch the world go by in a riverside cafe. You may wish to take an optional excursion out to the temples of My Son. Declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO, My Son is a striking complex of tower temples located in a secluded valley. The rest of our time is left free for personal exploration.
Another option would be to take a fishing trip out to the Thu Bon River Delta, where we learn how to fish using a traditional cast net. Travelling out by boat we meet local fisherman and try our hand at cast net fishing as well as trying the bamboo winches used to haul in the huge drop nets from the river. We also have a chance to go out in a Vietnamese 'basket boat' - a circular boat constructed from bamboo that takes a little practice to row!
After a short drive to Danang Airport we fly to Ho Chi Minh City, from where we drive further south to Ben Tre in the Mekong Delta. Surrounded with lush and fertile land the area is home to a patchwork of cottage industries, with the villagers all plying their trade from this vital life source - either from growing produce on its land, fishing its vast waterways or making things from the local resources. We take a traditional sampan through the narrow waterways lined with swaying coconut palms, where we visit a series of villagers, all making their own delicacies from the produce around them. We can try baked potato cakes, Vietnamese doughnuts or suong sam - a Vietnamese jelly. We also spend some time in the delta cycling alongside palm-fringed canals, an excellent opportunity to take in daily life in this thriving region of Vietnam.
Our accommodation tonight is in a comfortable homestay - we will be housed in a brick-built block separate from the main family, in twin rooms with en-suite facilities and showers. All bedding and mosquito nets will be provided.
This evening we help prepare our meal alongside our hosts, making such dishes as ca nuong trui (grilled fish), banh xeo (rice pancakes) and banh la mit (jackfruit leaf cake).
Ut Trinh Homestay - Ben Tre (or similar)
We spend a further morning exploring the delta, visiting one of the bustling local markets where fish, vegetables, exotic fruits and drinks are sold. We'll also likely see an array of colourful exotic fruits not familiar to us, such as rambutan, mangosteen, dragon fruit and jack fruit - the heaviest fruit in the world. We will buy some ingredients at the market which we then take a local house, to learn how to make a selection of snacks that are ubiquitous to this corner of Vietnam.
After lunch we drive back to Ho Chi Minh City. Still commonly referred to by locals as 'Saigon', the city is the largest in Vietnam and the country's commercial hub. You will find an eclectic mix of the traditional and the new, where pagodas and markets compete alongside the trappings of Vietnam's newly discovered entrepreneurial spirit.
Later this afternoon we embark on a street food tour along some of Old Saigon's bustling moped-laden streets. Over 86% of households in Vietnam own a motorbike, and Ho Chi Minh City's streets are thought to be the most densely- packed in the world for scooters. So much so, the Vietnamese have even designed their own way to cross the road, walking slowly but consistently so the motorcyclists can predict your path and then either go in front or behind you. It's a little un-nerving, but sometimes necessary! On the food tour we talk to several stall vendors and will be able to try fried quails eggs with tamarind, nam vang noodle soup, crispy sweet potato balls and even avocado ice cream. We'll end the tour at the trendy East-West brewery, a local craft beer house where the Saigonese come to relax after a busy day. They serve up sliders of a variety of different craft beers brewed on site as well as offering a variety of Vietnamese pub snacks (payable locally).
The rest of this evening has been left free as there are a wide variety of excellent restaurants in Ho Chi Minh City to choose from.
Alagon Central Hotel (or similar)
We set off this morning to the International Barista School, an institution providing local students with an international accreditation in the art of coffee making. We spend the morning here with one of the expert baristas, who will be explaining the importance of coffee in Vietnam, and the story of how Vietnam grew to become the second-largest exporter of coffee in the world. We learn about the art of growing, roasting and grinding the bean, and how different notes and acidities of the bean are created and detected. We also learn to brew and press the coffee, and of course finish off with some latte art.
Later this afternoon we set off for a walking tour of the city. The tour will take in some of the central sights of the city, including the Opera House (formerly South Vietnam National Assembly), Hotel de Ville, Notre Dame Cathedral and the impressive French style edifice that is the GPO building.
This evening has again been left free to eat at your leisure.
The trip ends after breakfast at our hotel in Ho Chi Minh City.
There are no activities planned today, so you are free to depart from Ho Chi Minh City at any time. If your flight is departing later in the day, luggage storage facilities are available at our hotel. If you would like to receive a complimentary airport transfer today, you'll need to depart from Tan Son Nhat International Airport (SGN) , which is 45 minutes from the hotel.
As Vietnam is a long, narrow country from north to south climate conditions vary considerably. The climate can be divided into three distinct patterns between the north, central and south regions. The climate in the north is generally humid and subtropical, although the winter months from November to March can be colder with temperatures from 10 - 15 degrees. Summer months, May to September can be quite hot with temperatures from 30 - 35 degrees. Meanwhile south Vietnam enjoys a tropical climate all year round, with little variation throughout the year (around 27 - 32 degrees), however May to November is the rainy season when short, heavy downpours are quite frequent. Central Vietnam lies somewhere in between. The coastal strip is usually dry and hotter from April to October while November to March is wetter and cooler. A light rain jacket and small umbrella are recommended year round.
2 Pin Round
Mahayana Buddhism, Taoism and Confucianism
Hanoi - Water Puppets Show from US$ 6; 'Cyclo' tour of Old Quarter US$ 8 Hue - Morning meditation Class in Tu Hieu Pagoda US$ 50 Hoi An - Cookery class - US$ 30, Half day cycle through the countryside - US $ 22, Half day fishing experience - US $48 The prices stated are based on a minimum number of participants (usually 5-6). Please be aware that the optional excursions can run with fewer people but the price may be higher. Likewise, a slightly reduced price may be applicable where the participation greater. The prices listed are generally only entrance fees and do not include the price of transport to and from the excursion, Your Explore Leader will quote this when you are on tour, as the price for transport will depend on the number of participants. These excursions are generally run via our local agent in the country. Local companies may offer similar excursions at a cheaper price. Should you want to use these companies please be aware that a lower price may mean that not all costs are included (entrance fees etc.) or services will not operate at the same safety and quality standards.
From December through to February warmer clothing is needed for the North. Days are hot and humid. Lightweight rainwear essential at all times.The northern region is cold at night during the winter.
Comfortable shoes, trainers and sandals.
One main lockable bag/case, an overnight bag for your trips to Halong Bay and the Mekong delta when your main luggage is left behind and a daypack.
Even though bed linen is provided on the train journey, you may want to bring your own sleeping sheet (it can be purchased in Hanoi); torch, and don't forget mosquito repellent (no need for a mosquito net as when necessary, it is provided). We advise you bring a water bottle for day to day use.
Bus, Bicycle, Boat, Train
For train travel within Vietnam, we will always try and book 4-berth cabins which feature 2 bunk-beds in a compartment with lockable door and wash basin. All bedding is provided and luggage can be stored underneath the beds. Toilets are located at each end of the carriage. Occasionally 4-berths will not be available in which instance we will book 6-berth cabins instead, with 3-tier bunk beds in a lockable compartment. We will make every effort to ensure groups are roomed in cabins together, although this cannot be guaranteed.
Vietnam's cuisine is fresh, varied and absolutely delicious. While many dishes use chillies, these serve to add flavour rather than real heat - so you'll find the food lightly spicy but not burningly hot. There are some vegetarian options available in the major cities, but most dishes do tend to centre around meat and seafood, and the majority of dishes also use shrimp paste as a base. This will certainly be the case in rural Vietnam where we are not able to provide vegetarian options for all meals. We recommend that you look through the trip notes to see what's included, and judge whether this is the right trip for you.
Can you drink the water?
The water quality is poor and therefore it is recommended to avoid drinking tap water during your trip.
We strongly recommend that you check your government's travel advisory for up-to-date information and advice about your destination: safety and security, entry requirements, health, local laws and customs. For UK citizens, check the latest Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office advice.
Please refer to our COVID-19 entry requirements page for any country-specific conditions of entry. Whilst we strive to update this on a regular basis we recommend you also check the FCDO website for the latest advice on entry requirements in this fast-evolving situation. Information can change at any time.
Please note that some countries require proof of parental consent when travelling overseas with under 18s. Please check requirements with the relevant embassy or consular office well in advance of travel if this applies to your party.
Once your booking has been confirmed we guarantee the price will not increase, whatever the circumstances. However, please note that if you voluntarily make any changes to your booking including changing your trip or departure date, any additional costs or charges incurred will not be covered. Before booking please ensure you have read our important tour pricing information.Booking Conditions
Vietnam: 'British Citizen' passport holders can visit Vietnam for up to 45 days without a visa. A visa will be required if you wish to re-enter within 30 days of your departure. Visas are required for citizens of the USA, Canada, Australia and New Zealand and can be obtained in the form of an eVisas via: \ul \ulnone Please note that it is a pre-requisite for entry into Vietnam that your passport is valid for a minimum of 6 months from your date of entry All visa related issues including information for other nationalities should be confirmed with the relevant Embassy prior to departure. If you do require assistance in obtaining a visa then you may be able to apply through Explore's recommended visa service in the UK, Travcour. See \ul www.travcour.com \ulnone to download the relevant visa application for your trip, if applicable (UK citizens only), along with details of how to apply for your visa through Travcour. The Team at Travcour will be happy to answer specific questions relating to visa applications, please call them directly on \ul 0208 5431846 \ulnone . It is your responsibility to ensure that you are in possession of a full passport, with the correct validity for your chosen destination.
If you do require assistance in obtaining a visa then you may be able to apply through Explore's recommended visa service in the UK, Travcour. See www.travcour.com to download the relevant visa application for your trip, if applicable (UK citizens only), along with details of how to apply for your visa through Travcour. The Team at Travcour will be happy to answer specific questions relating to visa applications, please call them directly on 0208 5431846.
It is your responsibility to ensure that you are in possession of a full passport, with the correct validity for your chosen destination.
Before booking your Explore trip, please ensure that you read both our Essential Information and Booking Conditions.
Customers who have chosen to book on the ‘Land Only’ arrangements of our tour, please ensure that you have checked your tour specific ‘Joining Instructions’ prior to booking your own travel arrangements. Your joining instructions can be found below in the dates and prices information.
You may also be eligible for the Free Explore Transfer.
Customers booked on the ‘Land Only’ arrangements will receive a Free Transfer, provided you arrive and depart on the tour only itinerary start and end dates. The complimentary transfers will be arranged from the Explore designated airport or train station to your trips joining point, and then back from the ending point to the designated airport or train station. Generally the airport or station that Explore have selected will be the one that is closest to the town or city where the trip starts, or the one nearest to the joining point. It will be either an airport or train station but not both.
The exception to this rule is customers who are booked on a tour where the joining and ending point is at the designated airport or train station.
Free transfers are not available for Polar customers.
If you are not eligible for the Free Transfer then you will need to make your own way through to the joining and ending point. On a majority of our tours Explore will be able to provide a private transfer at an additional cost. Please ask for a quote at the time of booking.
For more information regarding the Explore Free Transfer click here
It is a condition of booking with Explore that you have adequate valid travel insurance. It is your responsibility to arrange appropriate travel insurance and ensure you have read and understood the full terms and conditions of your travel insurance policy to ensure that you are covered for all activities you intend to undertake whilst on the tour, including all optional activities. Your Insurance Policy must fully cover you for medical expenses and emergency repatriation to your home country. Please ensure your policy includes medical emergency helicopter evacuation in the event of illness or injury and covers the entire duration of your holiday. If you are trekking at altitude please ensure that there is no upper altitude limit which may limit or exclude cover for your trip. The cost of many of our Polar Voyages will exceed the capped amount covered by standard insurance premiums and you will be required to pay an additional premium to cover the full value of your trip. Please ensure that you are covered for the full amount of your holiday cost, as insufficient cover could invalidate a claim under the policy. Medical and repatriation insurance cover is not mandatory for UK residents who are travelling on trips within the United Kingdom.
Read more information about what travel insurance is required.
Explore offers a wide range of flexible flying options to make joining and leaving our trips easy. Read more about them here.
You are able to book this tour on a 'land only' basis or as a ‘flight inclusive’ package. Your flight inclusive package will be fully protected by the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) ATOL protection scheme.
We have a good selection of flights not only from London but from many regional airports around the UK allowing us to compare fares between scheduled carriers as well as low cost and charter airlines. Our dedicated flights team will match the best flight options to your arrival and departure airport.
On our website we display a UK flight inclusive package guide price which is generally based on a London departure. To avoid paying supplements or to secure your preferred flight option, we recommend booking as early as possible, especially for peak travel dates.
Nothing compulsory, we recommend protection against malaria, typhoid, tetanus, diphtheria, polio and hepatitis A. Consult your travel clinic for latest advice on Malaria and Zika Virus. Although not compulsory travellers may also wish to immunise themselves against Japanese encephalitis. Please check the latest requirements with your travel clinic or doctor prior to departure. The above is not an exhaustive list. Further information regarding vaccinations and travel health advice can be found by following the NHS and NaTHNaC links at Explore Travel Health and from your local healthcare provider. Visa and vaccination requirements are subject to change and should be confirmed by you before travelling.