Starting with a foodie focused visit to Hanoi before moving on to a private cruise around Halong Bay, a culturally rich few days in Hue and Hoi An and finally some much deserved beach time in Con Dao, this luxurious 16-day itinerary is the ultimate way to see Vietnam.
Board your connecting (or occasional direct) international flight to Hanoi. There are several airlines and times to choose from, so we can find something to suit a range of budgets and preferences.
With a long flight (or flights) under your belt you'll be met by a driver to whisk you to your hotel, which is just 40 minutes away.
We have given you your first morning free to settle in to your hotel, perhaps grab a bite to eat and freshen up after the journey. By late afternoon we thought you'd be ready to start exploring so have arranged for a professional foodie to meet you at your hotel for a food focused tour of Hanoi's streets. Start by exploring the Old Quarter's small lanes and hidden alleys, enjoying the sights and sounds of the city at night as you slurp up a bowl of steaming pho, the national dish of delicious steaming noodle broth.
Your guide will then lead you onward and introduce you to banh cuon, steamed rice paper stuffed with pork and mushrooms, and nem chua ran, fried spring rolls, as well as many other dishes. Finally, you'll sit down for a barbeque dinner and a cold beer at a traditional bia hoi bar as you watch the vibrant street scenes before returning to your hotel for a good night's sleep.
After a culinary primer to Hanoi last night, today it's time for a cultural introduction. Meet your guide at your hotel after breakfast and head out for a full day sightseeing.
Your first stop will be Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum, the grand marble resting place of the revolutionary leader Ho Chi Minh, who died in 1969. You'll also visit his old home, a wooden ethnic minority style house built on stilts, and in the same complex, the One Pillar Pagoda, which has become an important symbol for the people of Hanoi.
After a stop for lunch your guide will then lead you to Hoa Lo Prison (often referred to as the Hanoi Hilton due to the important American prisoners who were held here during the Vietnam-American war). Your tour will also include the Buddhist Tran Quoc Pagoda on West Lake (one of the oldest in Vietnam), Quan Thanh Temple and the Museum of Ethnology - where you will see Vietnam's diverse culture exemplified through a unique presentation of artefacts and dress.
Next up, enjoy a cyclo (bicycle rickshaw) tour through Hanoi's Old Quarter, also known as 36 streets. This bustling area of narrow streets and alleys is home to literally thousands of small businesses and shopkeepers and is a great place to explore, especially by cyclo, with plenty of photo opportunities all around you. Finally, finish the day at the water puppet theatre where you'll watch an entertaining live performance of this uniquely northern Vietnamese art form, a great way to end your day in Hanoi.
After piquing your culinary interests on your first night in Hanoi we thought you might like to try your hand at cooking some delicious Vietnamese cuisine of your own today.
Meet your driver to make the short journey to the home of your culinary mentor, who is passionate about Vietnamese cuisine (and made it to the final of Masterchef Vietnam in 2014). Together you'll walk to the neighbourhood's wet market to see the variety of goods on offer, learning about their uses in traditional cuisine and purchasing items for the day's cooking class. The marketplace is also a fabulous place to observe the local way of life and learn how Hanoi's residents shop for fresh produce.
Armed with the necessary ingredients, return to the family home. Once in the kitchen, your mentor will share the secrets behind North Vietnam's most popular dishes and then, using her recipes, you'll slice, dice and cook some of her favourites. When it's all cooked, sit down and feast on the home cooked meal which will taste all the better knowing you've made it yourself.
This afternoon, wander through Hanoi and stop to visit any sights you might have missed or been waiting to visit. Or simply relax at your hotel and enjoy a spa treatment or two before dinner.
After a busy few days in the city it's time to head east to the coast this morning. You'll be collected from your hotel for the three-hour drive to the dock on the edge of Halong Bay for embarkation on your private boat.
You'll board in time for a freshly prepared lunch and cool drink on deck as you set sail for your adventure at sea. With the boat to yourselves and a dedicated crew to cater for your every need you can then sit back and relax on the loungers as the limestone karsts that define area come into view.
First port of call is Bai Tu Long Bay, characterised by towering limestone karts, emerald waters and Vietnamese fishing villages - its beauty is on par with Halong Bay itself, but Bai Tu Long Bay is a much quieter cruising destination. Disembark here to explore Thien Canh Son Cave.
Returning to the boat, you'll next sail a short distance before mooring at Hon Co Island where there is a beautiful white sand beach. Spend a few hours relaxing and taking a swim in the ocean before getting back on board. Freshen up and enjoy dinner on board, under a blanket of stars and in the quiet calm of the bay at night.
Wake early this morning to enjoy a hot drink as you drift past the stunning bay scenery in the early morning light. Your chef will be preparing breakfast as you relax on deck.
After breakfast, hop into a small rowing boat and let your guide lead you to the Vung Vieng fishing village. Here you can meet the locals, visit the school - which is also floating on the bay - and pass by the fish farms owned by the villagers.
Returning to the boat, it is time to enjoy an early lunch on board as you sail back to the harbour. Upon disembarking, your driver will be waiting for you and will take you to Hanoi airport in time to check in for your short domestic flight to Da Nang airport. Once landed in Da Nang you will be collected and transferred to your hotel in Hue, where you can enjoy a leisurely dinner.
Today you'll take a full day tour of Hue with an expert local guide. Start the day bright and early with a transfer to the Imperial Citadel, which was recognised by UNESCO in 1993. The Citadel reflects the pomp and ceremony of the old dynastic rulers as well as the scars of many years of turmoil, and although badly damaged in the latter stages of the Vietnam-American war, it retains a sense of its former glory.
Next up on the tour, you'll visit the tomb of the Emperor Minh Mang, which is famous for its imposing architecture and gorgeous forest setting. After looking around and hearing stories from your guide, transfer by car to the Thuy Bieu countryside. When you arrive a delicious homemade lunch will be served in a gazebo in the beautiful pomelo garden.
After lunch, you will then start a guided walk through the village and its surrounding countryside. After pausing to chat with locals you'll stop at a beautiful garden house for a fresh drink before embarking on a late afternoon boat ride along the Perfume River back to Hue. On the way, make a final stop at the Thien Mu Pagoda, otherwise known as the Pagoda of the Celestial Lady, which is one of the best-loved symbols of the city.
After a busy day yesterday we thought you might like a lie in today, so enjoy a leisurely breakfast before hitting the road headed south to Hoi An. The drive is around three hours long so you should arrive in this coastal town by lunchtime.
Once settled into your hotel, which will be your base for the next three nights, spend the afternoon at leisure, exploring your surroundings and taking it easy after a busy few days. We can recommend some great restaurants for dinner and you'll find a selection of the best in our Dossier.
Get up early this morning to make the most of your day exploring the culturally rich town of Hoi An. Unlike many of Vietnam's cities Hoi An escaped bombing during the Vietnam-American war and so remains wonderfully preserved.
The tour starts with a journey to My Son, a UNESCO World Heritage Site in the heart of the tranquil countryside west of Hoi An. Built during the era of the Champa Kingdom from the 4th to 13th centuries, many of the dozens of ancient brick structures are dedicated to Hindu gods or reflect Hindu mythology. As you explore these atmospheric relics that have stood the test of time, your guide will entertain you with tales and facts.
After this glimpse into central Vietnam's ancient history, return to Hoi An and take a lunch break at a popular local restaurant. Feeling re-energised you will then spend the afternoon exploring Hoi An's old town with a guided walking tour. Despite the passing of 200 years and the ravages of weather and war, the centre of Hoi An remains much the same as it was in its heyday. This walking tour is the best way to see the wooden-fronted houses (that once belonged to the town's prosperous merchants), the Japanese-covered Bridge, the wonderful markets, and the silk, handicraft and antique shops.
This morning a guide will meet you with bicycles and you'll then cycle into the countryside of Hoi An, exploring the narrow country roads to see what local life is like outside the town.
Along the way you should spot water buffalo, rice paddy fields, organic vegetable farms and friendly locals. Stop to learn how to spread a traditional Vietnamese fishing net, called a ro, from a small round bamboo basket boat (a thung chai) which Vietnamese fishermen have used for centuries. Then, visit a water palm area surrounded by coconut trees and learn about the history of this unique area, before enjoying a seafood lunch on board a boat. Full and ready for a rest, cycle back to your hotel before this evening's activities.
For something a little different this evening we've arranged a food focused tour, on the back of a vintage Vespa. The first stop is at Café Zoom, where you'll sample some banh can (fried cake made of rice and egg) and enjoy welcome drinks before mounting your Vespa and riding out into the night. Over the course of the night you'll stop at various local eateries and taste a multitude of delicious and authentic street food.
The last port of call is a more modern Vietnamese restaurant incongruously nestled in the rice fields, where delicious BBQ specialties are on offer. Top off this evening's culinary tour with a popular desert, banh flan, a light version of creme caramel that was introduced in Vietnam by the French, and then head back to your hotel to collapse into bed, full of delicious food.
After a jam-packed ten days of adventuring in the countryside and cities, today it's time to head to the beach.
The journey begins with a transfer from your hotel to Da Nang airport, where you'll catch a short flight to Ho Chi Minh, and then another onto the Con Dao islands, which are just off the south coast. Once the home of political prisoners and other 'undesirable's these islands are now one of the most desirable beach spots in the country and are a lovely place to spend the last few days of your holiday.
Kick the beachy vibes off with a paddle in the late afternoon sea and sundowner cocktail before dinner at your hotel.
Spending some time on a sunny foreign beach every year is arguably a life essential, and this is that time. Get your fix over the next few days as you enjoy the laid back lifestyle in Con Dao.
From tropical rainforests to colourful coral reefs and white sandy beaches there is plenty in the way of natural beauty to keep you entertained here. So whether you prefer hiking, diving or sunbathing - or a mixture of all three - we can book it all for you. Eating plenty of seafood and spending some time being pampered in a spa are also essential criteria for your stay in Con Dao.
Unfortunately it's time to leave this beautiful and diverse country behind today, hopefully with plenty of memories to soften the blow though. A driver will collect you from the airport to make the journey back to the airport where you'll catch a flight to Ho Chi Minh City, and then on to the UK from there.
If you would like to book the itinerary mentioned above, with economy flights, during mid-season and staying in our preferred room category at our preferred hotels.
If you would like to pare back the above itinerary by travelling at non-peak times, staying in a standard room and removing some or all of the guided activities.
If you are looking for something extra special, we can discuss with you upgrading your accommodation, flights or activities.
We rarely boast about our service but we believe it's what sets us apart and makes us truly original, so please forgive this moment of unabashed self-promotion.