Essential Vietnam

Vietnam

Culture | Christmas

Discover Vietnam's charms and its people

Dates & Prices

Intro

An ideal introduction to Vietnam, this tour will allow you to meet Vietnam's friendly people and discover its diverse regions - the natural splendour of the North, the historic charm of the Central provinces and the vibrancy and beauty of the South. Discover Hanoi`s historic districts and take a traditional boat through the limestone karsts of Halong Bay before heading South to imperial Hué and the atmospheric old town of Hoi An. Sample delicious cuisine and explore the stunning beaches of Vietnam's coastline before heading to Ho Chi Minh City. Discover this lively city and explore the Viet Cong's Cu Chi tunnels and the picturesque Mekong Delta.

TOUR HIGHLIGHTS

  • Contrasting histories of Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City
  • Learn about the chilling history of Hoa Lo Prison
  • The natural beauty of Halong Bay
  • The historical city of Hoi An
  • The historic city of Hoi An
  • The Imperial City of Hué
  • Discover the vast Cu Chi Tunnels
  • The rural life of the Mekong Delta

Places Visited

Hanoi - Hoa Lo Prison - Halong Bay - Hoi An - Hué - Ho Chi Minh City - Cu Chi Tunnels - Mekong Delta

What's Included

Arrival & departure transfers
Ground transport with driver
Domestic flights
Accommodation
Breakfasts and some other meals (refer to itinerary for meal plan)
English-speaking guides
Entrance fees to sites
Itinerary & Map
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Day 1 : Arrival

Arrive at the airport where you will be greeted by a Travel The Unknown representative. Transfer to hotel. Rest of the day free. Overnight in Hanoi. 

Meal plan: n/a

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Day 2 : Hanoi

Explore Hanoi like a local
This morning, you will meet your guide and driver around 07:00 am and head towards Hoan Kiem Lake. It is a cultural thing in Vietnam to wake up very early and start the morning with some exercise. It is very interesting to see how the local people, mostly women of varying age, start their busy routine. Several groups of people can be found practising tai chi and aerobics. Be part of Vietnam and join the locals in their morning routine!
 
After visiting the Ngoc Son Temple, located in the middle of the Hoan Kiem Lake, we will visit a traditional, local and charming coffee place, where you will be able to try Vietnam’s local coffee: Cà phê sữa đá (Iced coffee) and if you feel more adventurous, you can also try the ‘Egg coffee’! After our coffee, we will continue walking and we will stop in a street food place, where you will try the delicious ‘bánh mì’ –typical baguette sandwich filled in with a variety of things! Later, we will get deep into Hanoi’s Old Quarter and you will start a walking tour where you will be able to witness the French architecture in different Vietnamese buildings. Our first stop will be the St. Joseph Cathedral, a French gothic building constructed in 1886. Next, we will walk just 10 minutes until we arrive at the Hoa Lo Prison, where Vietnamese as well as American and French prisoners of war used to be imprisoned. To finish our morning, we will pay a visit to the Huu Tiep Lake, better known as ‘B-52 lake’, where US B-5 bomber wreckage can be seen.
 
At noon, we will return to the Old Quarter. Vietnam is very well known for its food, so we will stop at a ‘Bún Chả’ restaurant, where you will try Hanoi’s speciality. After our super local lunch, we will visit the Temple of Literature, built in 1076. Vietnam’s first university was established within this temple to educate Vietnam's royalty, mandarins and members of the elite. The university functioned for 700 years and its gardens and well-preserved architecture offer a fascinating glimpse into Vietnam’s past.
 
Our last stop of the day will be in Hanoi railway tracks. This is something very particular from this city as the railway tracks are sometimes located meters away from entrance door of houses! Together with our guide, you will walk along the railway tracks and take some of the most beautiful pictures of the city. After a long day, we will finish with evening beers at the typical and well known Bia Hoi, where you will taste local draft beer; finishing the day as a local!
 
Along the tour, you will be trying different street specialities, therefore, we recommend avoiding breakfast at the hotel this day!       

Meal plan: Breakfast & lunch

Sitting on the banks of the Red River, Vietnam's capital is the second largest city in the country. Steeped in an intriguing history, many of Hanoi's historical monuments and palaces have been destroyed by both civil war and foreign aggression, although some do still remain - for example the Temple of Literature, which is Vietnam's first university and was built as a tribute to Confucius. It is home to the Central Sector of the Imperial Citadel of Thang Long which was built by the Ly Dynasty in the 11th Century on an old Chinese Fortress. Hanoi is famous for its lakes, in particular Hoan Kiem Lake, also called the 'Lake of the Restored Sword', which is linked to the legend of the magic sword when the Golden Turtle God reclaimed Emperor Le Loi's magic sword, Heaven's Will. 

The Hoa Lo Prison was built by French colonists in 1896 to hold political prisoners, though was later used during the Vietnam War by North Vietnam for US prisoners of war, who ironically nicknamed it 'Hanoi Hilton'. Originally intended to house 450 inmates, records show there were a staggering 2000 prisoners by the 1930s, though hundreds escaped the walls through the sewer grates. The prison complex was demolished during the 1990s, with only the gatehouse remaining as the museum. Most of the exhibits relate to the prison's use up to the 1950s and the Vietnamese struggle for independence from France, with a particularly chilling display of the French guillotine used to execute Vietnamese revolutionaries. 

Devoted to Confucius, the Temple of Literature is set amidst immaculate grounds that are divided into five courtyards. The temple has a great academic history and possesses engraved stone tablets that feature the names of its top performing students, some of which date back to 1070.

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Day 3 : Halong Bay

This morning, you will depart from your hotel to Ha Long Bay, one of the most spectacular UNESCO World Heritage Areas and the world’s largest marine limestone ‘karts’ landscape. On arrival you will board your boat, a wooden junk built modelling the old Vietnamese court vessels. This typical boat, with sails, wide stern and a rectangular superstructure will take you to the World Heritage area, where you can enjoy some activities if weather permits. All meals will be provided on board.

Meal plan: Breakfast, lunch & dinner

A UNESCO World Heritage Site, Halong Bay is a collection of magnificent limestone islands rising from the ocean. Several of the islands have grottos inside them which have been decorated by 19th Century French tourists and some of the paintings and messages can still be seen today. It has been the backdrop for many sea battles and Kublai Khan’s Mongol boats were defeated there in 1288.

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Day 4 : Halong Bay - Hoi An

In the morning take part in a yoga session and visit one of the most famous caves in the bay. Transfer to Hanoi for a flight to Da Nang. On arrival, you will be met by a Travel The Unknown representative and transferred to Hoi An for overnight. 

Meal plan: Breakfast & lunch

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Day 5 : Hoi An

Explore another side of this Historic town, engage with locals and take part in local craft making during a walking tour of Hoi An’s Old Town.
One of Vietnam’s most famous and popular destinations, Hoi An has a reputation for beautiful, colonial architecture, incredible local cuisine and an Old Town steeped in history and formed through the mix of indigenous, Chinese, French and Japanese influences. This tour is designed to give a taste of the life of the local residents, while exploring areas of the Old Town that are often overlooked.
 
Unlike so many other walking tours of Hoi An, our route has been carefully selected to take you away from the crowds and immerse yourself in the local culture and learn of the importance of Hoi An’s history as a trading post in South-East Asia.

Meal plan: Breakfast

Once the country's trade centre, Hoi An is steeped in history. Shipwrecks that have been recovered show that Vietnamese and Asian ceramics have been transported as far as Sinai, Egypt. Foreign influence can be seen in the buildings and streets of the city. Nearby are the ruins of  My Son, Cua Dai Beach and China Beach, which is a hot spot for activities such as windsurfing and snorkelling. It is home to many ruins and pagodas, which have given it UNESCO World Heritage Site Status and there is archaeological evidence of a port being there since the 2nd Century BC.

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Day 6 : Hoi An

This morning you will spend your day in a Farming & Fishing Life Tour which provides you with a close-up and intimate exposure to both the local farming and fishing communities. Accompanied by your tour guide, you will start the day cycling slowly along country roads and witnessing local Vietnamese rural life first hand and where you will have many photo opportunities. Then you will visit a beautiful organic vegetable village, where you will help watering and planting vegetable, hoeing the soil with a local farmer and riding a water buffalo in a rice paddy field. The photo opportunities are endless. Later you will board our eco-tour boat for a river cruise to meet and engage with local fishermen and enjoy a hands-on experience of traditional net fishing. You will also experience paddling the unique Vietnamese bamboo basket boat along the waterways of coconut palm paradise. This tour provides you with a cultural window into the ways of life of both Vietnamese farming and fishing communities. When the tour finishes, you will be taken back to the hotel where you will have free time at leisure.

Meal plan: Breakfast & lunch

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Day 7 : Hoi An - Da Nang - Hué

After breakfast, check out from your hotel and meet your guide and driver to depart to Da Nang. We will visit the Museum of Cham Sculpture, opened in 1915. Then, we will explore the Marble Mountains which are a well-known pilgrimage site with peaks, caves, tunnels and temples. There are a host of Buddhist sanctuaries and places of worship dotted across the mountains which are a much-visited spiritual site. There are many pagoda temples and even a special circular cave featuring a chimney leading to the summit with spectacular panoramic views. We will later continue driving towards Hue.
 
The trip passes through many spectacular scenarios along the National Highway 1 such as the breathtaking Hai Van Pass. The pass, which once formed the boundary between the kingdoms of Đại Việt and Champa, also forms a boundary between the climates of northern and southern Vietnam. The Hai Van Pass is the highest and longest pass in Vietnam, with the North-South National Highway zigzagging through it for almost 20 km. Photo-stop somewhere in the Pass, and get your perfect pictures of Lang Co beach, a spectacular landscape or the peaceful fishing vicinity.
 
On arrival to Hue, check in hotel and enjoy the rest of day free at your own leisure.

Meal plan: Breakfast

Once the capital of feudal Vietnam, Hué is known for its historical monuments and is home to the Imperial City. Along the Perfume River lie the tombs of the rulers of the Nguyen dynasty including Minh Mang, Tu Duc and Khai Dun as well as the Thien Mu Pagoda, regarded as the unofficial symbol of the former imperial capital. It is also home to the Dong Baa Markets, the largest marketplace in central Vietnam which has all the typical features of a traditional Vietnamese market.

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Day 8 : Hué

After an early breakfast, you will meet your guide and you will visit the Forbidden Purple City, constructed under the Emperor Gia Long's, in the early 19th century. It is located in the Citadel of Hue, which was badly damaged during the Tet offensive of 1968. Established as the capital of unified Viet Nam in 1802, Hue was not only the political but also the cultural and religious center under the Nguyen dynasty until 1945. Hue was declared a UNESCO World Heritage in 1993. At noon, we will stop for lunch at a local restaurant.
Later, you will board a dragon boat for a pleasant boat trip on the Perfume River to visit the characteristic Thien Mu Pagoda. Then, you will visit the tombs of the emperors Tu Duc and Khai Dinh. Tu Duc was Vietnam's fourth emperor and lived from 1829 until 1883. During his reign, Vietnam lost its independence to France. Tu Duc is said to have had 104 concubines.  Khai Dinh King was Vietnam’s Emperor from 1916 to 1925. His tomb represents a fusion of traditional Vietnamese style and modern influence, as it is almost entirely made of concrete and includes many European architectural details.

Meal plan: Breakfast & lunch

The Forbidden Purple City can be found at the centre of the Imperial Enclosure, a structure that resembles the Forbidden City of Beijing. Build by the Nguyen Dynasty who ascended the throne in 1802, this city was intended solely for the emperor’s use. The Forbidden Purple City has been victim to many natural disasters and was heavily damaged during the war with the U.S.

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Day 9 : Hué - Ho Chi Minh City

Today, you have a free day until the driver will pick up and transfer you to Phu Bai Airport for your flight to Ho Chi Minh City. 

Upon arrival to Ho Chi Minh City, your driver and guide will meet you and they will take you to your hotel. Check-in and rest of the day
 
Taste of the night: Motorbike street food tour
The tour will start when your tour guide meets you at a place specified by you at 17:30pm. You will then receive safety instructions on how to ride on the back of a bike properly in order to ensure the safest experience. Then, you will soon whisk away on the back of the bikes in the rush hour with no problem at all to find out and taste the most special dishes offered in small alleys while learning about the history and culture significance of each dish. You will probably be getting full at this point. Therefore, let’s walk together to digest easily and enjoy the nightlife of Saigon where the sights that most foreign tourists never even hear about or see and we’ll see what it is like to be a local. Next, the guides will introduce the most popular Vietnamese food traditions: “The Street Barbeque”. You have a chance to fill up your stomach with the irresistible authentic local dishes which make you wish for another belly and let’s drink local beer. Before it ends, do not forget to sit down and relax with the sweet desserts totally in Vietnamese style. At around 10:00 pm, we will drive you back to your hotel and wish you a good trip in Vietnam! Our tour is designed to give you a taste of as many different kinds of food as possible and is suitable for all travellers to Vietnam.
 
 

Meal plan: Breakfast & dinner

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Day 10 : Ho Chi Minh City

A trip to Sai Gon offers you a good experience of the country‘s most dynamic city – a vital economic hub with bustling life. Sai Gon is the reconciliation between American and Chinese influence, with many dots of modernity yet without losing Vietnamese traits. Modern office skyscrapers, amidst Chinese style pagodas and food stalls, street vendors along the street, they all create a dynamic urban area in a very traditionally modern sense.
 
You will depart from your hotel after breakfast, around 8:30 and our first stop will be the Jade Emperor Pagoda, one of the most spectacularly atmospheric temples in HCMC, stuffed with statues of phantasmal divinities and grotesque heroes.  Continue on to the Reunification Palace, former residence of the presidents of South Vietnam before 1975. Next, you will visit two iconic architectural landmarks the Notre Dame Cathedral and the Central Post Office built between 1877 and 1883 by renowned designer Gustav Eiffel. Then we will head towards the War Museum, one of Vietnam’s most popular museums which primarily exhibit the American phase of the Vietnam War.

Meal plan: Breakfast

Formerly known as Saigon, Ho Chi Minh City has a rich military history. Named after the Communist leader, the French colonial influence is reflected through the Western Style buildings and French Villas. It is home to the Reunification Palace, the archives of the Vietnam War, and the Ben Thanh market. It has become a sprawling, rapidly growing city that is unlike anywhere else in Vietnam. It is also home to the Vinh Nghiem Pagoda, which was named after the Pagoda in Bac Giang and is the first pagoda in Vietnam to be built in the traditional Vietnamese architectural style, but in concrete. 

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Day 11 : Cu Chi Tunnels

Drive to Cu Chi Tunnels and learn about life underground for Viet Cong soldiers. Transfer back to Ho Chi Minh to visit the Fito Museum. Overnight in Ho Chi Minh City. 
 

Meal plan: Breakfast

Located in the Cu Chi district of Ho Chi Minh City, the Cu Chi Tunnels were used by Viet Cong soldiers as hiding places during combat. Part of a larger tunnel network that underlies much of the country, at its peak the Cu Chi tunnel system stretched from Ho Chi Minh City to the Cambodian border and allowed the Viet Cong to maintain control in the surrounding rural area as it allowed them to make surprise attacks. The tunnels also feature constructive living areas and kitchens as well as field hospitals and command centres.

The Fito museum is a museum dedicated to Vietnamese traditional medicine. It exhibits around 3,000 items related to Vietnamese traditional medicine, some dating back to the Stone age.

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Day 12 : Mekong Delta

This morning, after an early breakfast, you will be picked up at your hotel around 8 am, and head towards Cai Be. Arriving at Cai Be, you will get on our charming shuttle boat to reach Mekong Lodge – the green pearl of Mekong Delta. The boat transfer is your first contact with the Mekong’s fertile alluvial water, which shapes the richness of the land.
 
Disembark and welcome you to Mekong Lodge. Check-in your private bungalows and enjoy a delicious lunch in Mekong Riverside Restaurant.
 
After lunch, you will begin the cycling tour to Tan Phong Island; go to one of the orchards along village paths, passing 3 wooden ferries in about to 2 hours.
 
In the evening, get some hands-on culinary experience by joining the Vietnamese cooking class. The chefs will instruct you to prepare the Mekong Lodge signature. Enjoy dinner in a cosy atmosphere in the restaurant.  And Riverside Bar is open until mid-night.

Meal plan: Breakfast, lunch & dinner

Known to the Vietnamese as Cuu Long or 'Nine Dragons', the Mekong Delta is the recent agricultural centre of Vietnam. Under the sway of the Cambodia until the end of the 17th Century, the Mekong Delta showcases the diversity of the area. There are many towns and villages dotted along the tributaries. The Mekong Delta is also home to over 10,000 new species of animal.

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Day 13 : Mekong Delta - Ho Chi Minh City

Begin your second day with buffet breakfast, and then you will get on the rowed sampan to visit Cai Be floating market, a cultural feature of Mekong Delta. Try to visit it early and you will see the most vibrant scene on Tien river with hundreds of boats gathering for fresh produce trade.
 
Continue the discovery of Mekong Delta with visiting handicraft villages, and Cai Be market on land. Take in the fresh air, beautiful view and crossing canal.
 
Around noon, head back to Mekong Lodge for check-out, and you will be transferred back to Cai Be harbour for your coming back to Ho Chi Minh City.

Meal plan: Breakfast

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Day 14 : Departure

Breakfast. You will then be transferred to the airport to connect with your onward flight. 

Meal plan: Breakfast

Accommodation

Accommodation

All accommodation subject to availability. Final accommodation choices will be confirmed after booking.

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Medallion Hotel

The Medallion Hotel is situated at the heart of Hanoi's old quarter. The spacious hotel has a modern decor and fittings for guests, which include wifi access and air-conditioned rooms. Medallion's restaurant serves a mixture of Western and Asian cuisine, along with a buffet style breakfast. 

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Glory Legend Cruise

Glory Legend Cruises provides a tranquil way to explore Halong Bay. The boats are made up of modern cabins, comfortable communal lounges and restaurants. Guests can enjoy the panoramic views from the sundeck on board - before retiring to their cabins which also boast views from large windows that overlook Halong Bay. Cabin rooms provide for a comfortable stay and are fitted with air-conditioning and private toilets. Guests can also enjoy the other facilities whilst on board the Glory Legend Cruise, which includes a spa and fitness room. 

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Thuy Duong

Thy Duong can be found just outside of the charming town of Hoi An, where visitors can visit famous heritage sites and see historic pagodas. The hotel is surrounded by gardens and hosts additional services, such as an outside swimming pool and spa, that guests can access during their stay. The comfortable bedrooms have modern fixtures and fittings, including satellite television, air-conditioning and wifi. The hotel has a number of restaurants and cafes, serving Hoi An specialties, along with Asian and European dishes. 

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Romance Hotel

Romance Hotel is located in central Hue, near to many of the cities historic sights. It has a modern decor that, in some parts of the hotel, also displays traditional Vietnamese design. The bedrooms are spacious, providing a comfortable stay for guests who are exploring the city. The hotel also boasts a rooftop pool, which provides a relaxing spot for visitors to enjoy a panoramic view across Hue. 

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Ruby River Hotel

Ruby River Hotel is located at the heart of the city of Ho Chi Minh. It provides the perfect base for exploring local sights, that include the Opera House and the Saigon Notre-Dame Basilica. The en-suite bedrooms are decorated in an elegant and modern style - allowing guests a comfortable space to relax, where they will have access to wifi, satellite television and air-conditioning. The hotel restaurant serves a daily breakfast buffet, whilst its evening menu features both local dishes and Western cuisine. 

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Mekong Lodge

The quaint bungalows of Cai Be Mekong Lodge offer a tranquil respite from the bustle of Vietnamese cities. The lodge is set on the banks of the Mekong River, and is surrounded by lush gardens. The simple design of the bedrooms compliments the relaxed atmosphere of Cai Be Mekong Lodge. Guests can enjoy dinner at the restaurant, which offers provides guests with views across the river and offers a selection of both local and international delicacies. 

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Reviews

A well-planned itinerary that crammed an impressive amount into 16 days, without ever feeling rushed. Cambodia and Vietnam are both fantastic destinations, offering stunning natural scenery and beautifully preserved historical sites, together with truly delightful and welcoming people. Our guides made our trip extraordinary, weaving their personal histories in to the many insights they gave us of two countries that have experienced such difficult pasts.

Mark Pettengel & Jo Martin , Tailormade Vietnam & Cambodia

TTU created a first class tailor made tour for my sister and I. We couldn't have had better service, from the tour guides, the hotel, the cruise and even the transport between places.

Ciorsdan Taylor , Tailormade Vietnam

Our holiday to Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam with Travel the Unknown was a huge success. We had a fascinating itinerary, well-informed and friendly guides who really looked after us, and lovely accommodation. Every time there was a change of vehicle or guide, the next one was always there and waiting. All stages of the planning and booking process were efficiently done, so all we had to do was enjoy it!

Erika & Robert Hollingdale , Tailormade Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam

Our trip with Travel The Unknown was one of our best trips ever. All went as planned, wonderful guides, perfect hotels - best of all: excellent scheduling of activities and time to rest - balance was just what we needed!! Thank you to all staff involved!

Greg & Jan Sheffer , Classical Indochina, Indochina
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