The basic program to discover Vietnam can be taken as it is presented or by adding additional items: e.g. Sapa, Ninh Binh, the high plateaus and ethnic minorities of central Vietnam, a cruise in the delta of the Mekong River or a beach resort stay. Or, even combining the tour with Laos, Cambodia or Thailand. A classic tour enriched by Amarita’s special touch such as visits to less touristic and more authentic sites, such as taking a night train or an excursion by sampan down the Mekong River delta.
Classical Vietnam start with an arrival at Hanoi, meeting your guide and booking into the hotel. The visit begins with a trip over to the French Quarter, where the beautiful neo-classic style buildings today are renovated and brought back to their former glory, now occupied by ministries and the head offices of State companies. With the Hotel Metropole, the Opera House and the Museum of History, these buildings justify the nickname of “Little Paris”, which Hanoi boasted during the colonial era. The heart of the city, however, remains in the maze of alleys formed by the district of 36 guilds. A real maze, it took shape under the Ly dynasty, where in each street the guilds of artisans settled and were requisitioned by royal power for its own use and that of its Court, all of them orginating from the same village. Today, shops of all types have been added to these traditional shops, giving an absolutely fascinating mixture. At its southern limit the Hoan Kiem Lake, which is one of the places most cherished by the inhabitants of the capital, who come to stroll or to practice any physical activity at any hour of the day or of night. It owes its name to a beautiful legend that the guide will be more than welcome to relate. Visit to the Historical Museum, inside an old wooden house, followed by a walk and cyclo ride along the alleyways.
Option : Puppet show on the water at the Municipal Theater. Originating in the rice fields to celebrate the end of the harvest period, this popular and typically Vietnamese art has seen a new revival since the 1960’s: its originality and the skill of the puppeteers makes it a unique vehicle to get to know the traditional culture of this people. It is essential to book in advance.
2nd Day: HANOI-HANLONG BAY
Transfer by road to Halong port (3h30 approximately), going via Ba Dinh square, where the Mausoleum of Ho Chi Minh is built, followed by a brief visit to the adjacent One Pillar Pagoda, founded in 1050 by the Emperor Ly Thai To. Boarding for a bay cruise of approximately 20 hours with meal and night stay on board. Registered as world heritage by UNESCO as early as 1994, Halong Bay is certainly one of the most spectacular natural wonders in the world. At the interior of a cul-de-sac defined by Cat Ba island itself and land, almost 2.000 islands and islets emerge from this jade coloured water; some important and imposing, others little more than pitons and rocks, all of them originally karstic, shaped in a spectacular or dramatic way by the effects of water and air erosion.
Lunch and dinner on board.
Note: plan only to bring the essential, preferably in a flexible bag, as the boat cabins do not allow storage for large suitcases. Unnecessary luggage will be left in the care of the hotel in Hanoi, and recovered before departure to the next location.
3rd Day: HALONG BAY – HANOI- NIGHT TRAIN
Landing late morning. Return to Hanoi, arrival during the afternoon. Transfer to train station and departure around 19h00 in a night train to Hue.
Brunch on board
4th Day: HUE
Arrival early morning to the ancient imperial capital, landing and transfer to the hotel for breakfast. Visit the Dong Ba market and the Imperial Citadel. Built following the same model as the Forbidden City in Beijing, it was seriously damaged during the wars of the last century. There remains however important parts, such as the south door, the Palace of Supreme Harmony, the Dynastic temple, and some of the buildings of the Forbidden Purple City, residence of the Emperor and his family. Visit to a former stately home built in the same style as the old capital according to the principles of Feng Shui. Afternoon Excursion to Emperor Tu Duc mausoleum. Passionate about poetry, with a contemplative spirit, he built his tomb between 1864 and 1867 as a park, on 12 ha of land and with a good fifty buildings on it. Returning to Hue to visit the Thien Mu pagoda. Built in 1601 and two centuries later there was added an imposing octagonal tower which today characterizes it where each of its seven floors represents an incarnation of Buddha.
Lunch on site
5th Day: HUE-HOI AN
Trip a few kms from Hue to find a typical village of central Vietnam, with its market of fresh farm and sea produce, some beautiful old houses, as well as a hut where Ho Chi Minh lived at the time of his education. Transfer heading to Hoï An. Stopping at the summit of the Pass of Clouds for a beautiful panoramic view over Da Nang Bay and China Beach, a beach of white sand that extends to the south for more than 35 km. The afternoon is devoted to visiting the Old City of Hoï An, site classified as world heritage by UNESCO. Founded in the XVth century under the name of Faifo, it very quickly became one of the main maritime trading centers in south-east asia, right in the center of the trade routes between Europe, China and Japan. At the beginning of the xviith century, the emperor allowed foreign merchants to live there, and so they built their own neighborhood and comfortably settled in. These neighborhoods remained virtually intact for two centuries, and constitutes the old town today, a true living picture of a by gone era. No cars are allowed (but unfortunately nothing stopping motorcycles and mopeds), one travels through the streets on foot or by cyclo, stopping to visit a few examples of local buildings: Firstly the Museum of History and Culture, then a communal house for a Chinese congregation, a temple, a cult house, the French quarter, a Chinese merchant house and the Japanese pagoda -bridge, with its beautiful wooden sculptures.
6h Day: HOI AN – DA NANG – SAIGON
Departure for Da Nang airport and taking a Vietnam Airlines flight to Ho Chi Minh City. Beginning immediately with a visit to the colonial city, still called Saigon. First stop the Reunification Palace, modern construction built in the 60’s to replace the residence of the Governor General of Indochina; it was the seat of the Presidency and the Government of South Viet Nam, in the floors beneath you can still see the maps of State and abandoned equipment when Saigon was taken over by the Viet-Minh in 1975. Then the cathedral of Notre-Dame, in bricks from Marseille and opposite this the central post office, whose project and construction was supervised by Gustave Eiffel. Finally, two small temples, quite extraordinary in their own way and surprising in the context of the city. The Jade Emperor pagoda, where the cults and flags of Buddhism and Taoism cohabit, and the Temple of Sri Mariamman, built by the small Tamil community from Ho Chi Minh City. In the evening, a stroll along the Dong Khoi Street, former street Catinat: the street of delights of former colonial Saigon, not far from the main hotels, and today sees the opening of luxury shops and boutiques that resume the traditions and splendours of the past.
7th Day: MEKONG DELTA
Early departure for the Mekong River delta. We cross the Chinese District of Cholon, with Stops at Thien Hau Temple, the Chinese goddess of the sea. Transfer by road up to Cai Be, where we arrive after 2h30hrs. Visit to a rice paper factory (used in many culinary meals), and sugar factories. Boarding on a typical sampan, for a cruise through the floating market and the waterways which link the two main tributaries of the river. Less spectacular than the retail markets of the western part of the Delta, this wholesale market nevertheless remains the most important in the province. Then continuing along the canals to see village life and the way of life of the locals. After lunch in a beautiful colonial house, your sampan will plow little by little through the depths of the Delta. Discovering the lush islets of Dong Hoa Hiep and An Binh in the direction of Vinh Long. During the day you will discover a little bit more of the life style of the rural population as you go along the various stops on the river banks; a pretty Mandarin house dating from the end of the nineteenth century, the manufacture of roofs in plaited palm leafs, longanes shelling (fruit), sparrow hawk fishing, and the most important rice storage center in the delta. Your sampan will continue its route to Vinh Long taking the Dong Phu canal. Landing and return to Saigon at days end.
Lunch in a colonial restaurant.
8th Day: SAIGON
Visit Giac Lam pagoda, built in the xviiith century, one of the oldest and most interesting of the city. Fronted by an impressive seven-storey tower, it is centered around a large prayer and meeting room, where hundreds of wooden pillars support the voluminous framework which are covered with Vietnamese ideograms – and not Chinese. It contains, in addition, 113 lacquered wood statues and more than 500 tablets of worship. Returning to the city center, time available for additional visits or last minute purchases before transfering to the airport.
End of suggestions.