Day 1 Hanoi
Our tour starts this afternoon around 2 pm. We’ll have our get-acquainted meeting, meet our Vietnamese guide, and head out to explore the city. Our walking tour takes in the major sights including the Temple of Literature and Hoa Lo Prison (nicknamed the ‘Hanoi Hilton’ by American POWs). We’ll explore the Old Quarter whose streets are named for the goods once offered here, including Silk Street, Rice Street and Jewelers Street. We’ll end our day with a traditional Vietnamese dinner.
Day 2 Hanoi – Ninh Binh
Today we take a 2 hour drive from urban Hanoi to the rural province of Ninh Binh. Our first destination is Bai Dinh, the largest complex of Buddhist temples in Vietnam and a popular site for Buddhist pilgrimages. After having lunch at a local restaurant, we depart for a visit to Tam Coc (which translates as “Three Caves”). This leg of our journey is by small boat. Sit back and enjoy the two-hour journey through caves, past villages, and beside the lush green rice paddies of the Red River Delta, always with the stunning backdrop of karst crags and towers. Bring extra flash cards for your camera! After our full day in the countryside, we return to Hanoi for a free evening.
Day 3 Halong Bay
You can leave your luggage behind at our Hanoi hotel and pack an overnight bag. We are off to Halong Bay, Vietnam’s most impressive scenic wonder. Views of sailing junks navigating the 3000+ karst islands and rocky outcrops jutting out of the bay are nothing short of spectacular. We travel to Bai Chay (Halong City West) where we board our sailing junk for an exploration of the bay, enjoy a seafood lunch and dinner and spend a night on board (private twin rooms). We visit a sea cave in the area, kayaks are available, and there is always the option to enjoy a swim. It is a wonderful experience to spend a night on the bay. The views at sunset and sunrise are incredible!
Day 4 Hanoi – overnight train
After breakfast, we continue cruising around Halong Bay, before returning to port and driving back to Hanoi. Arriving back in the capital, we check into our hotel day use rooms until leaving for an overnight train around 20:00. Before then we’ll see a performance of the famous Water Puppet Theater, Vietnam’s signature performing art. Later we board the Reunification Express for our overnight train journey down to Quang Binh. We travel in ‘soft sleeper’ class – a compartment for four people.
Day 5 Phong Nha – Hue
After disembarking from the train we’ll take a short break to refresh in hotel day use rooms and have breakfast before visiting the Phong Nha cave. Once again we travel by boat, cruising along the Son River to the cave, another of Vietnam’s great natural treasures. We’ll journey through the first half mile of the cavern in our boat, then continue on foot into the heart of the cave. Inside we’ll see the remains of Cham Altars in addition to the fantastic rock formations. After our return to the sunlit world we have an afternoon’s drive to our final destination, Hue, a Unesco World Heritage site. Located on the Perfume River, Hue is the former capital of the Nguyen dynasty. We’ll have dinner together in a local restaurant this evening.
Day 6 Hue
This morning we take a tour of the partially ruined Citadel, capital of Vietnam in the 19th century. Its six miles of walls contain the palaces and pavilions of the ruling Nguyen emperors and the remains of the Forbidden Purple City, where only the emperor or his eunuchs and concubines were allowed entrance. Many buildings remain blackened and crumbling, creating an evocative ambiance, ideal for photographing or imagining the ghosts of the mandarins. Before leaving Hue we’ll visit the famous Thien Mu Pagoda, a center for anti-government protest in the early 1960s. This afternoon another waterborne excursion on the Perfume River takes us to the surrounding countryside where we’ll have a local lunch and visit one of the extravagant royal tombs in the area.
Day 7 Hoi An
One of Vietnam’s most scenic road trips over Hai Van Pass begins our day. We’ll make a photo stop at Danang’s famed China Beach. Our destination, Hoi An, was originally a Cham port town so has been influenced down the centuries by traders from many cultures. The town is a living museum, with Chinese, Japanese, Vietnamese, and European architectural influences. There are pagodas, assembly halls, attractive wooden merchant’s houses, and colorful tiled houses scattered along the small streets. Once a bustling port, today Hoi An’s ambiance, tranquility, and charm make it one of the most delightful places to visit in Vietnam. This afternoon will include a guided walking tour of the city center and tonight we’ll dine together.
Day 8 Hoi An
This morning, we visit My Son, the Cham civilization’s spiritual home, where Cham kings were buried as early as the fourth century. There are many carved stone towers, sanctuaries, and tombs to explore and photograph at this intriguing archaeological site. This afternoon is free to explore, shop, or relax in Hoi An.
Day 9 Hoi An
Today we continue our vacation from our vacation. Hoi An is a marvelous place to wander and enjoy the thriving riverside market – a good place to buy silk. Local tailors can create fine garments for a bargain price, all within a day. Imprint can arrange a Vietnamese cooking class for those interested. Rent a bike for the day or just relax by the hotel pool.
Day 10 Hoi An – Ben Tre
This morning we depart Hoi An for nearby Danang, where we board our flight to Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City). Upon arrival we’ll travel directly to the Cu Chi Tunnels. Cu Chi is actually the name of the district that covers an extensive underground network (approximately 125 miles) of tunnels dug by the Viet Minh during the war. The tunnels contained hospitals, accommodation, and schools. They were used extensively for refuge and storage and also as a Viet Cong military base. A section of the tunnels has been widened to allow tourists a feeling for what underground life must have been like.
On the way to Ben Tre we’ll stop to visit the vibrant and colorful Cao Dai temple (Tam Thon Hiep Holy Temple). Indigenous to Vietnam, Caodaism is a unique fusion of Taoism, Buddhism, Hinduism, Christianity, Islam and Confucianism.
Day 11 Mekong Delta
Today is our cultural connection day. We depart for Cai Be, gateway to the agriculturally rich Mekong Delta. From there we begin a Mekong River boat trip that takes us past a floating market and lush scenery with many ‘photo ops’ along the way. We’ll stop to visit riverside businesses and observe the locals plying their trades. After sampling various tropical fruits and local specialties we continue to our overnight homestay on an island in the river. As this is Vietnam’s New Years Eve, we’ll be having a special celebration with our homestay hosts, helping to prepare “Bánh Tét”. These sticky rice cakes wrapped in banana leaves are a New Years tradition.
Day 12 Ho Chi Minh City
Today is the first day of Vietnam’s New Year. After a leisurely breakfast we will visit some houseboat families to wish them “Chúc Mừng Năm Mới” and “lì xì” and enjoy some traditional New Years treats. Then it’s on to Ho Chi Minh City by midday. In the afternoon we’ll make a city tour to admire the French colonial architecture and visit the Reunification Palace and War Remnants Museum. This evening we’ll have our last dinner together at KOTO. In keeping with Imprint’s values of responsible travel we support KOTO. This acclaimed restaurant trains and employs underprivileged or homeless youths, teaching them job skills, life skills, and English, thereby helping them become productive citizens. And the food is excellent, making KOTO one of the top-ranked restaurants in Saigon.
After dinner we will participate in Vietnam’s Tet celebrations.
Day 13 Ho Chi Minh City
The tour ends after breakfast. We’ll help arrange airport transfers for those heading home today. For those continuing on to Cambodia (Angkor Wat optional extension), we’ll have a leisurely morning and a midday flight to Siem Reap.
Angkor Wat Extension
Day 1 Siem Reap
Sousadei! Welcome to Cambodia. Upon arrival, our Cambodian escort will pick us up from Siem Reap International Airport and transfer us to our hotel. We’ll check-in and refresh. We’ll gather in our hotel for a get-acquainted meeting and to meet our Cambodian guide. Afterward we’ll head into the archeological park for sunset at Angkor Wat. The day concludes with a classic Cambodian feast on our first night together. We’ll dine at Sala Bai Restaurant. In keeping with our values of responsible tourism, we support Sala Bai. They not only provide excellent food in a charming setting, but their purpose is training and employing underprivileged Cambodian youth.
Day 2 Angkor Wat & Banteay Shrie
Our destination this morning is Angkor Wat, the jewel in the great Angkor crown, the world’s largest religious building, and Southeast Asia’s premier sight. Our guide will interpret its long bas relief galleries, distinctive corncob prangs, and concentric walls and moats: which together constitute a metaphor for the Buddhist cosmos. Lunch is Khmer style in a local restaurant in the forest. Enjoy a spread of great local food followed by a nap lazing in a hammock or chat with the Cambodians dining there. In the afternoon we’ll head to Banteay Srie, a small but intricately carved temple complex considered to be the jewel of Khmer architecture. Additionally, the journey to and from Srie affords opportunities to see village life, stop at the interesting Land Mine Museum, or catch a sunset from atop a ruined temple.
Day 3 Ta Prohm & Angkor Thom
Today’s highlights include photogenic Ta Prohm and world-famous Angkor Wat. Ta Prohm (made famous in the movie Tomb Raider) was left in its natural state, overwhelmed by the jungle. The roots of giant trees weave in, on, and through the temple ruins and walls of the complex. We’ll take plenty of free time here for photographers to record these iconic Angkor images. After a mid-day break we’ll visit Angkor Thom, a royal city encompassing famous Bayon & Baphuan temples, the Elephants and Leper King Terraces, and the oft-photographed South Gate. The Bayon is a popular favorite with labyrinthine passages to explore and multiple towers – each with 4 enigmatic Khmer faces. The south gate may well be the most photographed destination at Angkor. Its massive “4-face” tower and “tug-of-war” warrior balustrades adorn many books and brochures. Tonight we’ll indulge in a traditional dinner and enjoy a classical Khmer dance performance.
Day 4 Tour Over
The tour finishes today after breakfast. We’ll assist with transport to the airport or with plans for continued exploration of Angkor (you will still have one day left on your Angkor entrance pass). Consider a visit to Kbal Spean’s waterfall and riverbank carvings, other Angkor temples, or a floating village on Tonle Sap lake.
9 nights hotel accommodation, 1 overnight on-boat cruise, 1 overnight train, 1 night homestay, day use rooms day 4 Hanoi and day 5 Quang Binh; all tour transportation– bus (deluxe AC), train, boat, plane (Danang-HCMC*); meals- all breakfasts, 5 lunches, 6 dinners; all activities and entrances- Hanoi city tour, Temple of Literature, Hoa Lo prison, Tam Coc boat trip, cave excursion Halong Bay, Son River cruise, Phong Nha Cave, Perfume River cruise, Thien Mu pagoda; Hue tomb; Hue Citadel & Purple Forbidden City, Hoi An walking tour, HCMC city tour, Reunification Palace, War Remnants Museum, Cu Chi excursion, Mekong boat trip with villages and floating market visits, Cao Dai temple; services of English speaking escort and Imprint tour director throughout; tips for escort, local guides, drivers, boat captains, group meals, hotel staffs
Angkor Wat extension- HCMC-Siem Reap flight*, arrival transfer to hotel; 3 nights hotel accommodation; all tour transportation (AC bus); meals- 3 breakfasts, 1 lunch, 2 dinners; all activities and entrances- 3-day Angkor pass (Angkor Wat, Angkor Thom, Bayon, Elephant and Leper King Terraces, Ta Prohm, Banteay Srei, + more), Apsara dance performance; services of English speaking escort; tips for escort, drivers, group meals, hotel staff
International flights to/from tour; airport tax; Vietnam entry visa; Cambodia entrance visa; free time meals and sightseeing; beverages; expenditures of personal nature
[Itinerary details & hotels subject to change]
*As flight costs fluctuate, we reserve the right to add a flight supplement should flight costs rise more than 10% by time of booking.