The most striking thing during a trip to Vietnam, is the extraordinary richness and diversity of landscape, cultures, experiences, cuisine, people and lifestyles. 63 provinces divided into three regions (North, Centre and South), each with its climate, its atmosphere, its traditions, its ruins, its history; an incredible variety of population (54 ethnic minorities, plus the Viets); at every step, something different to do or see. Visits and experiences change over the days,never will you see something that looks familiar.
Amarita, proposes that you should discover Vietnam, with its many facets, which always surprises and is never boring despite its thousand different faces.
Arrive in Hanoi, entry procedures, meeting with the guide and transfer to hotel. Tour starting at Ba Dinh Square, where the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum stands. Then the adjacent Pillar Pagoda, founded in 1050 by Emperor Ly Thai To. Trip across the French Quarter, the beautiful neo-classical style buildings are now renovated and brought back to their ancient splendor now housing ministries and state companies. With the Metropole Hotel, Opera House and the History Museum, the buildings do really justify the nickname “Little Paris”, which boasted Hanoi in colonial times. Visit the Temple of Literature, where people sat their exams to enter a career in the administration. The real heart of the city remains in the maze of alleys formed by the district of 36 Guilds. A real maze that took shape under the Ly dynasty, where on every street there settled artisan guilds requisitioned by royal power for its own use and that of the court, all from the same village. Visit the Historical Museum, located in an old wooden house, and then a walking tour and cyclo ride along the streets to Hoan Kiem Lake, at the southern edge of the Quarter.
Transfer by road (175 km, about 4 hours) to Halong port, boarding in the late morning for about a 20 hour cruise in the bay, with meals and overnight stay on board. Choice of a traditional Vietnamese junk (fitted with private cabins) or paddle boat (reconstruction of an original boat built in 1910).
Lunch and dinner on board.
Landing by late morning and returning to Hanoi and with time available for individual visits, shopping, strolling … in the evening transfer to the railway station to board the overnight train to Lao Cai.
Brunch on board.
Arrive early morning in Lao Cai train station, the last stop before the Chinese border. Transfer to Sapa (about 40 km), along a road that offers beautiful views of mountains and gorges. Stopover to visit Ta Phin village which is Dao Rouge, near which lies the ruins of a seminar, destroyed in 1952. Arriving in Sapa by mid-morning, then transfer to hotel with tour of the city and of its market. Built in the early 20th century as a resort to escape the heat of Hanoi, Sapa is located at 1650 m in the heart of a mountainous region inhabited by many ethnic minorities, mostly coming from the Sino-Tibetan family of languages. Its market is lively throughout the week, we will always encounter Dao Rouge and H’Mong Noirs minorities, sometimes the Dzay, H’Mong Barioles and many others as well. Tourism development in recent years has led to the construction of modern buildings that have deeply upset the harmony of the streets where the colonial houses are located, but a rehabilitation program is underway to develop the old buildings and give the city its original character. Afternoon hike, (about 3 km), to the H’mong village of Cat Cat, consisting of about twenty traditional houses. About 2 km downstream, we visit the falls and a small hydroelectric plant built in 1925, still in service. Meet the locals with time available to familiarize with the site, then back up the valley for about 1 km, crossing a suspension bridge over a gorge (total journey on foot about 6 km). Back to Sapa by road and by car.
Excursion to Lao Chai Valley, a dozen km from Sapa. River crossing at Muong Hoa and going up through the rice fields to the H’mong Noir village of Lao Chai. Continuing 2 km through fields, you reach the village of Ta Van Dzay. Another short trek of 2km allows a crossing again at Muong Hoa to see a site of rock engravings. Depending on the time available, we can continue walking up to 1 or 2 villages that are further in the valley. Return to Sapa in the afternoon, continuation to Lao Cai and Hanoi by night train.
Early morning arrival in the capital, landing and breakfast at a downtown cafe. Departure for the airport and Vietnam Airlines flight to Da Nang, then immediately on arrival continuing on to Hoi An (about 30 minutes). In the afternoon a walking tour of the old town of Hoi An, a World Heritage site classified by UNESCO. Founded in the fifteenth century under the name Faifo, it quickly became a major maritime center in Southeast Asia, the heart of the trade route between Europe, China and Japan. In the early seventeenth century, the Emperor authorized the installation of foreign merchants, who then built their own neighborhoods and settled there comfortably. These districts remained virtually untouched for two centuries and constitute the old town, a real picture of living in a bygone era. No cars are allowed (but nothing stops, alas, motorcycles and mopeds), one runs through the streets on foot or by bike, stopping to visit some examples of typical buildings: first the History and Culture Museum, then a local house of a Chinese congregation, a temple, a house of worship, the French quarter, a Chinese merchant’s house and the Japanese pagoda bridge with its beautiful wood carvings.
The morning is free followed by an afternoon drive by road to Hue (130 km, 3h30). Stop off at the top of Cloud Pass for a beautiful panoramic view of the Bay of Danang and China Beach, a white sandy beach that stretches south for over 35 km.
A trip a few km from Hue to discover a typical village in central Vietnam, with its market of fresh produce from both the countryside and the sea, some beautiful old houses and a hut where Ho Chi Minh lived at the time when he was growing up. Back to town to visit Dong Ba market and the Imperial Citadel. Built on the model of the Forbidden City of Beijing, it was badly damaged during the wars of the last century. There still remains however some important parts, such as the South Gate, the Hall of Supreme Harmony, the dynastic temple, and some buildings in the Forbidden Purple City, the residence of the Emperor and his family. Lunch in a former mansion built like the rest of the ancient capital according to the geomantic principles of feng shui. Then an fternoon excursion to the mausoleum of Emperor Tu Duc. Passionate about poetry, with a contemplative spirit, he built his tomb between 1864 and 1867 as a 12 hectare park and with a good fifty buildings. Return to Hue to visit the Thien Mu Pagoda. Built in 1601, but two centuries later there was added the imposing octagonal tower that characterizes it today and where each of the seven floors represents a separate incarnation of Buddha.
Lunch at the house.
Vietnam Airlines scheduled flight to Ho Chi Minh City. The visit immediately begins with the colonial city, still called Saigon. First stop is the Reunification Palace, modern building built in the 60s in the same site of the residence of the governor general of Indochina; it was the seat of the presidency and the government of South Vietnam, and in its cellars you can still see the staff maps and the abandoned equipment left behind when Saigon was taken by the Viet Minh in 1975. Then to the cathedral of Notre Dame, built with bricks from Marseille and the adjacent Central Post Office, whose design and construction were overseen by Gustave Eiffel. Finally two small temples both quite extraordinary in their own way and surprising in the context of the city. The Jade Emperor Pagoda, where co-habit both Buddhist and Taoist pavilions and cults, and the Sri Mariamman Temple, built by the small Tamil community in Ho Chi Minh City. In the evening a walk along Dong Khoi, once called Catinat Street, the heart of nightlife during colonial Saigon, not far from the main hotels, that is back in vogue today, thanks to its boutiques and luxury shops which sees a renewal of its tradition and past life.
Early start for the Mekong Delta. Crossing through the Chinese district of Cholon, with a stop at Thien Hau Temple, Chinese goddess of the sea. Transfer by road to Cai Be, which can be reached in 2h30. Visit a rice paper factory (used in many culinary preparations), and sugar factories. Boarding on to a typical sampan for a cruise through the floating market and the lateral waters that connect the two main branches of the river. Not as spectacular as the more detailed ones found on the western side of the delta, this wholesale market still remains the most important in the province. Continue along the canals, watching village life and activities of the locals. After lunch in a beautiful colonial house, your sampan will gradually study the depths of the Delta. Discover the lush islands of Dong Hoa Hiep and An Binh towards Vinh Long. During the day at various stops on the banks you will discover a little more of the lifestyle of the rural population ; a lovely Mandarin house dating from the late nineteenth, roof manufacture made of woven palm leaves, shelling of longan (fruit), hawk fishing, and the largest delta rice storage center. Your sampan will continue its way to Vinh Long via the Dong Phu canal. Disembark and continue by road to Ca Tho.
Colonial restaurant lunch.
Transfer by road to Cai Rang (about 1 hour), home to one of the busiest floating markets of the Delta. Still quite authentic, the market is visited daily by local residents to stock up on fresh fruits, vegetables, fish and meat. Each ship offers one or more commodities, and a sample is hoisted atop a perch in the bow of the boat as an ensign. One follows along these boats that proudly show a pineapple, onion, chili, or salads, bananas, mangoes. The visit is by motorized canoe, ideal for moving between larger boats and for observing from near the negotiations that take place. Back to Can Tho in mid-morning and departure by car to Chau Doc (120 km, 2h30). Hugging the Cambodian border, this small town is at the heart of the delta, where four different peoples coexist with their own languages, religions and customs. Viets, Khmer, Cham and Chinese meet at the central market, and intermingle along the streets built on stilts. The walk inside the neighborhood is a must: a veritable fairyland of colors, smells, sounds, and not without forgetting the magnificent views over the confluence of several rivers. Depending on time available, a boat ride and village visit to see some Cham weavers or a sunset view from Mount Sat.
Back in Ho Chi Minh City by road via Sa Dec (250 km, 6-7 hrs), a small sleepy town where Marguerite Duras spent her childhood. One can still admire many colonial houses, including the “Blue House” mentioned in her book L’Amant. Two pagodas and primary school where the novelist was a student, completes the course through the setting of this novel. Arrival in Saigon by late afternoon and then either direct transfer to the airport or to the hotel depending on what follows in the tour.
Transfer by road or plane to one of the beach destinations of South Vietnam: Mui Ne, Phan Thiet, Phu Quoc and Con Dao. Booking into the resort.
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