The day is free to recover from the flight or stroll amongst broad tree-lined avenues dating from the French period. There is a faded colonial charm where baguettes and good coffee are sold from doorways of grand buildings of a past era. There will be a welcome briefing this evening with dinner at a local restaurant.
This morning we depart from Hanoi heading west to Hoa Binh Province, up and over the Truong Son Mountain Range to the hilltribe village of Mai Chau. On the way we will trek through H'mong country around Xa Linh & Tong Dau where we will visit local villages before continuing to Mai Chau, our overnight stay in a Thai hilltribe longhouse. Approx 4-5 hours walking.
We take a short drive to Sam Khoe and then trek from here back to Mai Chau. Most of the minority groups here are ethnic Thai (White & Black). You will have the chance to trek into their villages and spend time learning more about village customs & culture. Approx 4-5 hours walking.
On our departure from Mai Chau there will be a short trek via a village back to the roadside, (approx 3-4 hours walking). We then drive back to Hanoi and undertake a sightseeing tour of the city, visiting the Temple of Literature, the site of the oldest university in Vietnam with over 2000 graduates; Hoa Lo Prison & the Old Quarter of the city with its '36 Streets' where each street is home to shops selling particular products - e.g. 'silk street', 'gold street', 'paper street' and 'naff souvenir street. In the evening there is the option to enjoy a performance of Hanoi's famous water puppets.
We make an early start for the approximate 4-hour journey to Halong Bay. This is one of the most stunningly beautiful sights in South East Asia with roughly 3,000 limestone peaks rising directly from the clear emerald sea. We cruise among this amazing karst scenery, stopping to swim and kayak, allowing us to get to places inaccessible by boat (weather permitting), and enjoy a seafood lunch on board. We overnight on board in twin share cabins with en suite facilities.
We continue to cruise around Halong Bay this morning before returning to port. We then drive back to Hanoi, and transfer to the train station and board the Reunification Express for the overnight train ride to Hue, 500km to the south.
Arriving mid-morning in Hue we transfer to our hotel. Hue claims to be the cultural and historical centre of Vietnam, and there is plenty to see. The most outstanding sight is the Imperial Citadel with walls six miles in length; inside are the palaces and halls of the Mandarins, and the remains of the Forbidden Purple City, where only the emperor and his eunuchs and concubines were allowed. This afternoon we hire local bikes for a cycling tour to the citadel and the famous Thien Mu Pagoda. The pagoda was a centre for anti-government protest in the early 1960's and it houses the Austin car that transported a monk, Thich Quang Duc, to Saigon in 1963 where he burned himself as a protest against the president. The photograph of his self-immolation was printed in newspapers all around the world. Late in the afternoon we take a boat ride along the Perfume River, allowing us to see life on the river. Ride approx. 10km.
This morning we cycle out to the mausoleum of Tu Duc, one of the most extravagant mausoleums of the great Nguyen emperors who ruled Vietnam from Hue between 1802 and 1945. (Ride approx. 30km). Leaving Hue, our 130km journey drives through the beautiful peninsula of Lang Co between the crystal waters of a lagoon and the South China Sea, and then passes over the spectacular Hai Van pass ('Pass of the Ocean Clouds'). In Danang, we climb the Marble Mountain where we explore the large caves which were used by the Viet Cong as a hospital base during the war. From the mountain peak, there are fantastic views over China beach and the surrounding countryside leading on to Hoi An.
This morning will include a walking tour of Hoi An, the original European trading port in Vietnam dating back to the mid-sixteenth century. It is now a living museum, with attractive wooden merchant's houses and pagoda-style temples with Chinese, Japanese, Vietnamese and European architectural influences. It is also a marvellous place to wander around and enjoy the thriving riverside market with great silk and clothes shopping. If you have anything you want made up, you should consider taking a picture of it along with you. This afternoon is free and you have the option of hiring bikes for a ride out to the beach at Cua Dai, about 5km from town, or take a boat trip on the Thu Bon River.
We transfer to Danang airport for the flight to Saigon, officially known as Ho Chi Minh City. This afternoon we visit the legendary Cu Chi Tunnels. Used by the Viet Cong as living quarters and escape routes during the Vietnam War the network covers three levels and approximately 240km of tunnels. Traditionally these were very narrow but some areas have been widened to allow tourists to explore the system. Claustrophobes may prefer to stay outside in the sunshine before we return to Saigon.
This morning we drive into the Mekong Delta to the small market town of My Tho where we transfer to our bikes for a ride through quiet backroads following the Mekong River to Cai Be (approx 30kms). The Mekong Delta, known as the rice bowl of Vietnam, produces much of Vietnam's tropical fruits which you will have the chance to sample. We continue by vehicle to Can Tho where we can relax and soak in the ambience of this quiet riverside town.
We have an early start this morning as we board our boat for a trip along the Bassac River to the floating markets at Cai Rang. We head back to our hotel for breakfast and check out. On the way to Vinh Long we stop for a cycle ride along a quiet section of road through scenic rural villages (approx 40kms), before putting our bikes on a ferry and cycling to an island in the middle of the Mekong River. We spend the night sleeping communally at a local guesthouse built in the style of a local house. Bedding, a mosquito net and a small towel are provided.
After breakfast we cruise by boat past the Cai Be Floating Market we will visit some small cottage industries manufacturing local products such as popped rice and popcorn, then transfer by road to Saigon - an exciting and absorbing city where bicycles battle with lorries and temples stand defiantly alongside modern developments. Devastated by the Vietnam War, Saigon is now a bustling free market city where anything goes. This afternoon a city tour will include the Reunification Palace, Notre Dame Cathedral and the War Remnants Museum. Please be aware that some images at the museum are very graphic.
The day is free to relax or for individual sightseeing for those on group flight as these depart in the evening.