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Take an in-depth journey across Vietnam following part of the Ho Chi Minh Trail through the beautiful Central Highlands where we trek, raft and visit tribal villages. We also explore beyond Halong Bay and cruise among floating markets on the Mekong Delta.
Explore Tour Leader
1 nights comfortable homestay
15 nights comfortable hotel
2 nights comfortable junk
1 nights simple overnight train
1 nights comfortable tented camp
12 - 18
Itineraries on some departure dates may differ, please select the itinerary that you wish to explore.
Arrive in the architecturally styled city of Hanoi. Designed like a French provincial town, with tree-lined boulevards, the streets are lined with food sellers tempting you with all manner of noodles, snacks and stir-fried delights from shoulder panniers, all adding to the charm of Hanoi's historic heart.
For those arriving on time our Leader plans to meet you in the hotel reception at 6pm for the welcome meeting and for those that wish, there is the chance to go out for dinner. 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.
If your flight arrives earlier in the day, perhaps you might choose to take a stroll through the narrow lanes of the Old Quarter, or perhaps enjoy a gentle walk around Hoan Kiem Lake.
Nesta Hanoi Hotel (or similar)
This morning we make a tour of the main sights of Hanoi. Among the interesting sights are the charming One-Pillar Pagoda and the Presidential Palace, a very fine example of French colonial architecture. Ho Chi Minh himself, a spartan-living and scholarly man, chose not to live in the Presidential Palace; he preferred instead a simple teak 2-storied stilt-house specially built for him in the grounds. In the afternoon we visit the Old Quarter of Hanoi. The streets are named after various crafts or specialities: Paper Street, Silk Street, Basket Street etc. The shops themselves have very narrow frontages but are actually quite deep; they are known locally as 'tube' shops.
This morning we drive out towards the magnificent Halong Bay in the Gulf of Tonkin. Thousands of jagged limestone islands rise out of the jade green waters like the hairy scales of a submerged dragon. In fact Ha Long means 'where the dragon descends to the sea' as legend tells that the rugged seascape was created by the pounding tail of a dragon as he ran from the mountains into the sea, carving islands in his wake. We enjoy the romantic scenery while cruising amongst the islands. We'll have the chance to stop at a grotto beneath towering cliffs and perhaps pull into a beach where you will have time to relax or kayak (optional). It is also interesting to see the curious assortment of boats, junks and wooden sampans, their sails hoisted, gliding through the waters. We enjoy an included seafood lunch on board the boat. In the evening we'll transfer to our overnight boat. Accommodation will be in twin cabins, bedding and mattresses provided.
Halong Bay Junk (or similar)
We'll have the chance to stop at an island or Three Peaches beach under towering cliffs and fringed with thick jungle. You will have the opportunity to sea kayak through stunning limestone scenery - we carry our own kayaks and lifejackets and instruction is provided (this activity is optional, but at no extra expense). Late in the afternoon we visit Cua Van floating fishing village to experience some local life of the people in this part of the bay. Again in the evening we'll transfer to our overnight boat.
This morning we board local rowing boats cruising through Bai Tu Long Bay. Enjoying our brunch while on the boat we get to see Bai Tho mountains and Ha Long market. During our cruise we sail to the beautiful caves of Hang Luon. We then return to Hanoi where we have day rooms before boarding the overnight sleeper train for the journey to Hué - bedding provided.
Overnight train from Hanoi to Hue
Simple Overnight Train
We arrive in Hué, one of the great cultural and religious centres of Vietnam, a quietly impressive place and a major highlight of our trip. The Perfume River divides the city in two and it has been the inspiration for poets and painters for many centuries. In the afternoon we take a trip by boat on the Perfume River to the Thien Mu Pagoda. This lovely monastery is the oldest in Hué.
Thanh Lich 2 Hotel (or similar)
To appreciate Hue's fascinating history we'll tour the Old Citadel in the morning. The citadel/palace built by the Nguyen dynasty (early 1800's to 1945) has formal moats and impressive ramparts and was an exact copy of the Forbidden City in Beijing. Although most of the Inner City was destroyed during the Tet Offensive (1968), the vast outer walls and the West Wing remain and are an eloquent reminder of the palace's former glory. The afternoon is free to wander at your own pace. You may choose to hire a bike or wander the back streets and lively markets (optional).
This morning we enjoy a scenic drive across the spectacular Col des Nuages, otherwise known as the Hai Van Pass observing rural scenes of thatched, wooden houses and lime-green rice paddies as well as enjoying panoramic sea views. Pausing in Danang, once the centre of the Kingdom of Champa (2nd century AD - 1720) we visit the Cham Museum, home to a fine collection of Cham sculptures. Our next stop is at the nearby five peaks of the Marble Mountains, said to represent the five elements of water, wood, fire, gold and earth. Naturally formed grottoes have been transformed into heavily carved Buddhist sanctuaries. A short distance from the mountains we find the white sands of My Khe Beach (nicknamed China Beach by American troops)- an ideal spot for a brief rest. Finally we reach our destination - the UNESCO World Heritage town of Hoi An.
Vinh Hung 2 Hotel (or similar)
The Portuguese arrived here in the 16th century and by the 18th century it had become one of the busiest international trading ports of South-East Asia. Hoi An still retains its medieval charm with old buildings and colourful markets. During our stay here we include an excursion to 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.
A cookery class at one of Hoi An's restaurants is a popular choice, as is the lantern-making workshop where you can learn how to make the beautiful lanterns that are ubiquitous in Hoi An.
Bicycles here are inexpensive and a great way to get out into the surrounding countryside or perhaps take a trip to the nearby beaches. Hoi An is also renowned for its many craft and tailors' shops. You may wish to take an optional excursion to Quang Ngai, the site of the My Lai Massacre Memorial. The massacre was a significant turning point in the Vietnam War and the horrific story is told through a photo presentation - an emotional experience. 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. We travel out by boat where 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 some practice to row!
Our journey takes us inland through the mountains of the Central Highlands to the market town of Kon Tum. It is a long day of travel but the stunning scenery and opportunity to see this rural area more than make up for it.
Indochine Hotel (or similar)
On our second day here we walk out to Kon Ko Tu, one of the many Bahnar tribal villages in the surrounding area (approx 5 hours walking, graded easy to moderate). We walk through cassava and sugar plantations and pass several stilted villages en route. After lunch there is an opportunity to float back to the village on local dugout canoes. In the evening we can visit the Village Rong or communal house which is the most important building in the village - not only is it used for festivals and village meetings, but it acts as the court where people are tried for tribal offences.
We drive south today through the Central Highlands, to Buon Me Thuot, Dak Lak Province's administrative centre and the Western Highlands' unofficial capital. Although a nondescript town, there are many minority Ede villages in this region, and we head south to Lak Lake to spend a night in a bungalow near the shores. After settling in to our picturesque accommodation, we have some free time to explore the area by foot, bicycle or by kayak.
Lak Tented Camp (or similar)
Comfortable Tented Camp
We rise early this morning to take a boat out onto Lak Lake for sunrise. We then continue on foot to Yang Tao village where we learn about how this small community produces pottery and harvests its plentiful cacao supply to support the village.
Later, we continue south by bus, where our drive sees us descending to the coastal plains, as we make our way to the fishing town and beach resort of Nha Trang. Some of the most impressive Cham towers can be seen on the outskirts of the town on our arrival.
Tran Vien Dong Hotel (or similar)
Today we enjoy this seaside town, famed for its clear warm water, delicious seafood and white sand beach. We plan a boat trip to some of the outlying islands to swim and relax (dependent on local weather conditions).
Today we fly to Ho Chi Minh City where we have a walking tour of the city's central sights including the National Assembly, Hotel de Ville, Notre Dame Cathedral, the Independence Palace and the War Crimes Museum. The afternoon is free for you to walk around this charming city.
This afternoon we will experience a different side of Ho Chi Minh City, away from the major sights where we take a walk through Old Saigon's back alleys. We make our way to District 3 and turn off the main thoroughfare and into the maze of narrow streets of this bustling district. Our walk takes us past ramshackle shopfronts, through local markets selling anything from colourful fruit to bootleg DVDs, and past houses, churches and schools, all squeezed into the small buildings that line the narrow alleys. It's a fascinating inter-connected community here that is a stones-throw from the city centre, yet feels a far cry from the modern buildings and throngs of tourists. We stop at a local stall for a traditional Vietnamese coffee (brewed coffee served sweet with condensed milk) where we can also sample 'Banh Mi' - a Vietnamese take on the humble French baguette - freshly baked and packed with a combo of traditional and more exotic, aromatic ingredients.
The walk ends at a previously-secret weapons' bunker. A small unassuming 'tube house' nestled in a quiet neighbourhood hides a trap door in the floor, concealing a basement stocked full of rifles, grenades and ammunition. The bunker played a key role in the TET Offensive of 1968, it was the base from which the Viet Cong's "Team 5" launched their assault, and its location was only revealed after the end of the war. We have some time to explore the house and bunker, filled with decommissioned weapons and photographs, news clippings and memorabilia from the wartime.
Alagon Central Hotel (or similar)
This morning we drive to Sa Dec, a peaceful town in the heart of the Mekong Delta. We explore the town on foot, walking through its narrow streets lined with centuries-old houses and Chinese Temples. We then make our way to the dock where we board our specially chartered river boat. Travelling along the backwaters by boat is by far the best way to see the delta, passing villages of stilted houses, abundant rice fields and a variety of cottage industries as we go.
Before lunch we stop at Tan Qui Dong, famous for its perfectly manicured floating flower gardens. Lunch will be served onboard, with delicacies such as 'elephant ear fish' available with a selection of locally sourced produce.
We end the day by docking outside our night stop, the Ut Trinh Homestay. Set amongst manicured gardens, our homestay comprises of light and airy twin rooms with en-suite facilities (toilets and hot showers). The décor is traditional and reflective of this region, and there is a large communal living area and dining room. It is here we can get to know our hosts whilst we help them to prepare a selection of local dishes for tonight's dinner.
Ut Trinh & Ut Quynh Homestay (or similar)
After a hearty breakfast, we wave goodbye to our hosts and continue our cruise up the delta, first stopping at My An. Here we meet a family of traditional brick makers, learning how they have been using their kiln to fire bricks for local industries for generations. We then move onto Hoa Tinh village where we disembark for a short walk to spot the locals weaving baskets and crafting a variety of implements from bamboo.
Lunch is served onboard as we voyage through the small narrow canal of Cai Ca, with plenty of opportunity to watch local life pass by. Coming out of the tributaries we cross the lower river and continue onto Can Tho, the bustling capital of the Mekong Delta. Can Tho is the centre in which farmers, fisherman and trades people come together to sell their products, and of course to buy for themselves and their families. Consequently Can Tho is packed full of markets, some are street markets but most are on the water, with many river intersections bustling with floating markets.
Fortuneland Hotel (or similar)
We venture out this morning to explore one of the biggest floating markets in the area, Cai Rang. This market is the coming together of boats big and small from all parts of the Mekong Delta. We'll have a chance to watch the lively morning trade in fish, flowers, handicrafts and more, as well as trying our hand at some bartering ourselves. Here we can choose from the excellent array of fresh fruit such as the ubiquitous jackfruit, sweet mango, dragon fruit, or the infamously pungent durian fruit.
From Cai Rang we will will disembark and drive back to Ho Chi Minh City, where the rest of the day is free.
This morning we'll take a short drive out of the city to the famous Cu Chi Tunnels, which formed an amazing underground command base for 10,000 Viet Cong troops and were a major part of the 1968 Tet Offensive. We then have a final group night before our adventure ends in Ho Chi Minh City.
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 30 minutes from the airport.
If you have time you may wish to pick up some last minute bargains at Binh Tay Market.
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$5; Cyclo tour of Old Quarter US$6 Hue - Morning meditation Class in Tu Hieu Pagoda US$ 50 Hoi An - Cookery class - US$ 30, Half day cycle through the countryside - US $ 22, Half day fishing experience - US $48 , Full day trip to the UNESCO temples of My Son : US$ 24 Nha Trang - Mud baths from US$6 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 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. Bear in mind that the region is tropical (humid) and can be hot. Lightweight rainwear is advisable at all times. The north is cold at night during the winter and the Central Highlands can be chilly. Casual clothes are the most practical.
Comfortable walking shoes, trainers and sandals.
One main piece of lockable baggage, an overnight bag for your two night trip to Halong Bay and the Mekong Delta when your main luggage is left behind, and a daypack.
Bring a small torch. Even though bed linen is provided on the train journey, you may want to bring a cotton sleeping sheet (it can be purchased in Hanoi) and a small travel towel. We advise you bring a water bottle for day to day use.
Bus, Boat, Flight, 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.
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: Until 30th June 2021 'British Citizen' passport holders can visit Vietnam for up to 15 days without a visa. A visa will be required if you enter after this date or if you wish to re-enter within 30 days of your departure. For visits of up to 30 days, you can get an e-visa before you travel from https://evisa.xuatnhapcanh.gov.vn For visits of longer than 30 days you must get a visa from the nearest Vietnamese embassy before travelling to Vietnam. If you want to make a second visit within 30 days of leaving Vietnam, you'll need to get a multiple entry visa to re-enter. Visa's are required for citizens of the USA, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. eVisa's can be applied for via https://evisa.xuatnhapcanh.gov.vn 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 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.
An ability to swim is essential for your safe enjoyment of the water based activities on this trip. If you wish to participate in these activities then we insist that you are able to swim.
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.
Our Vietnam Explorer with Cambodia Extension trip combines this comprehensive tour of Vietnam with the highlights of Cambodia to make a 4 week adventure through Indochina. Or if you'd prefer some rest and relaxation after your trip, why not add on the Phu Quoc beach extension?