Things to do in Hanoi & Halong Bay
Hanoi Street Food Tour
Join a local food blogger for a guided street food tour of Hanoi to get a real insight into Vietnamese cuisine. Enjoy specialities such as pho, banh cuon (steamed rice paper stuffed with pork and mushrooms), and nem chua ran (fried spring rolls), and then wrap up the evening with a cold beer at a traditional bia hoi (street-side bar) as you watch the city come alive for the night.
Hanoi Tai Chi Class
Start your day as the locals do, with a wander through Long Bien market (the biggest fruit and vegetable market in North Vietnam) and then a Tai Chi class in one of the city's peaceful gardens. Away from the hustle and bustle and honking car horns you'll spend 45 minutes practising the slow movements of this popular martial art to rejuvenate your body and prepare for a day of exploring.
Explore Lan Ha Bay
Guidebooks might tell you there's nothing quite like Halong Bay but we've found the perfect alternative. Beautiful Lan Ha Bay is just south of Halong and boasts as much limestone karst beauty as its more popular neighbour, but without hordes of tourists. Get off your bigger cruise boat and explore the bay by sea kayak to really get to grips with the scale and beauty of the bay.
Things to do in Ho Chi Minh City
History Tour of Ho Chi Minh
Explore some of Ho Chi Minh's most celebrated architecture. Enter a time-warp as you visit the Reunification Palace - two of the North Vietnamese tanks used to capture the palace still remain parked just outside. Then head to the splendid neo-Romanesque Notre Dame Cathedral and neighbouring Old Saigon Post Office, a beautifully preserved reminder of French colonial rule. For contrast, visit the colourfully tiered Thien Hau Pagoda.
Food Tour by Vespa
Spend an evening racing around on a Vespa, HCMC's go-to method of transport, and explore the city's booming culinary scene. Stop off at a rooftop bar for panoramic views and aperitifs. Visit several buzzing restaurants and street stalls at which your savvy guide will point out the most authentic and delicious Vietnamese treats from satays to summer rolls. End the night in a local café watching a traditional music show.
A Night at the Saigon Opera House
Take in a dose of culture at the elaborately decorated Saigon Opera House. Built from imported French stone, the interiors boast intricate carvings, statues and crystal chandeliers. Sit back and watch an A.O show, a charming depiction of southern Vietnamese life through dazzling acrobatics and contemporary dance. Afterwards hit the streets to soak up the city's vibrant nightlife.
Things to do in Hoi An & Hue
Highlands Jeep Tour
Rise early and head into the Truong Son Mountains in a renovated open-air Vietnam War-era jeep. Stop off at a hillside tea plantation where you'll see first-hand the centuries-old techniques used to produce this signature elixir. Visit the friendly Co Tu tribespeople of Ba Hom Village and their charming stilted-houses; share a meal with them and learn all about their traditions and culture.
A Kite-Making Lesson
Head to the home of master kite-maker, Mr Cu. Kite-making is an ancient Vietnamese tradition and a significant source of national pride. Explore Mr Cu's house, take a peek at his lovingly-made kaleidoscopic kite collection and enjoy a brief history lesson before heading to his workshop to see the master at work. Then put your new-found skills to the test, painting your very own Hue kite - a truly authentic souvenir.
Farming and Fishing in Hoi An
Take a bicycle ride into Hoi An's surrounding countryside. Pass by field after field of shimmering rice paddies, meet friendly locals and catch sight of buffaloes basking in the water. You'll visit a village where you can interact with local fisherman, learn their techniques and then try them out for yourself in a Vietnamese basket boat on the Cua Dai River - a scenic experience amid palm trees and mangroves.
Things to do in Mai Chau and Ninh Binh
Cruise Trang An
Trang An has been described as an 'inland Halong Bay' without the crowds, and is best explored on a guided Sampan (wooden fishing boat) tour. As you cruise gently along the river, winding through the green rice fields, notice the huge limestone karsts jutting out around you. The only sounds you'll hear here are birds in the trees and the gentle paddle of the oar hitting the water.
Meet Hilltribe Communities
Join a guided trek from your lodge to the rural villages of Xa Linh and Pa Co, where the Green Hmong hill tribe communities still live a very traditional and spiritual life. Visit the Sunday market in Pa Co to see the locals go about their daily life, buying and selling goods and socialising with one another. This is a fascinating insight into the region's colourful and unique hilltribe culture.
Explore Ninh Binh in a US Army Jeep
Though many choose to explore the lush farmland and stunning limestone karst scenery in Ninh Binh by bike, this can get very tiring in the heat of the day and limits you to certain areas. Instead, opt to enjoy a guided tour in a reconditioned US army jeep which will not only see you travelling in unique Vietnamese style, but also means you'll get to see much more of the area.
Things to do in Mekong Delta
Visit a Floating Market
Take a local boat out onto the delta to see the Cai Rang floating market in full swing. Here, during the early morning market hours, the delta becomes a maze of boats packed with mangos, bananas, papayas, pineapples, and even floating pho vendors. Practise your bartering skills purchasing something tasty and soak up the lively atmosphere as your boat winds through the narrow waterways formed by the larger vendor boats.
On Your Bike
Rent bikes and spend several hours exploring the beautiful countryside surrounding the delta. Travelling via pedal power means you're free to stop and get off the road whenever you like and you will often meet friendly locals wanting to stop you for a chat. As you cycle, look out for winding waterways, organic farms, villages, and little cottage industry workshops.
Stay on a Houseboat
For a really unique experience, explore the Mekong Delta and then stay overnight on a private traditional wooden houseboat. These small flat-bottomed boats can access shallow tributaries of the delta, allowing you to also get away from the tourist traps. Relax on your private deck and soak up the atmosphere at the floating markets in the day, and then fall asleep to the boat's gentle bobbing at night.
Things to do in Nha Trang Coastline
Discover the Cham Heritage
For centuries central Vietnam was ruled by the Cham people, with Nha Trang at the heart of their Champa kingdom. Discover more about this fascinating past by visiting the ancient Cham temple towers of Po Klong Garai and then have lunch with a local Cham family. As the sun sets you will then witness a Cham Master conduct a scared blessing before a traditional dinner is served under the stars.
Kayak to a Deserted Beach
Set off from the lovely Ninh Van Bay hotel and kayak to a secluded private beach for the afternoon. Over the course of the 45 minute kayak you'll pass various fishermen tending their nets and locals going about their daily lives, but when you arrive at the beach you'll find yourselves totally alone and able to sunbathe, go snorkelling and explore the beach's lush surroundings as you please.
Pedal Power in the Countryside
Get to grips with the authentic side of Nha Trang on a guided cycling tour of the lush rice-paddy fields and rural villages, which are a much more accurate representation of what life is like for the locals here. Stop to chat to the villagers you pass as you cycle and even visit some of the local industry workshops where rice paper is produced and cashew nuts are sorted.
Things to do in Phu Quoc & Con Dao
Snorkelling off Con Dao
The warm, calm waters around the Con Dao archipelago are ideal for diving and snorkelling, and we can book excursions for all abilities. The coral here is incredibly healthy and along with the usual tropical reef suspects, you can hope to see huge cobias, stingrays, barracudas, turtles, batfish, clown fish and cuttlefish. The best visibility for snorkelling and diving is between February and October.
Cookery Class in Phu Quoc
Learn to cook like a local during a hands-on private cooking class and come away with some recipes to impress your friends at home. Start by visiting the morning market to select fruit, vegetables and the catch of the day, and then visit a fish sauce factory to learn more about one of the island's biggest exports. Finally, get stuck into the cooking and enjoy your creations for lunch.
Rainforest Hike in Con Dao
Venture into the rainforest on a guided hike and climb to 850ft above sea level where you'll find the So Ray Plantation. As you walk, your guide will point out various local flora and fauna including the endemic long-tailed macaques and playful giant black squirrels. Keen hikers might like to extend the trip to also explore the north of the island and the beautiful Ong Dung Bay.
Things to do in Sapa
Hiking in Hoang Lien National Park
Hike a trail deep into Hoang Lien National Park, a heavily-forested landscape boasting Indochina's highest mountain. Take in spectacular views of limestone mountain ranges, terraced rice paddies and shimmering valleys. Along the way, stop off at Red Dao villages and share a cup of tea with the friendly inhabitants; learn about their centuries-old traditions including their colourful ethnic garb and unique take on Taoism.
Bac Ha Market
This morning, visit the bustling Bac Ha market. Every Sunday men and women from the Black and Red Dao, Tay and Flower Hmong tribes, clad in traditional clothing, convene here to buy and sell textiles, fresh produce and other goods. Take in the cacophony of colour and vibrant atmosphere. After exploring the market, gather up your souvenirs and enjoy lunch in a local village.
Mountain Biking in Sapa
Hop on a mountain bike and descend into the postcard-worthy Muong Hoa Valley. En route, stop over in the remote village of Thanh Phu, home to the Tay people, an indigenous minority predominantly comprising farmers, with a long tradition of wet rice farming. Lunch here in the village at a family-run establishment and soak up sweeping valley vistas.
The Best of Vietnam
City Tour of Hanoi
Take a private guided tour of the city's main sights, including temples, museums of the country's recent and ancient history, traditional old quarters and more recent tree-lined boulevards with their French colonial architecture.
The merchant district is the only remaining version in the whole country. This densely populated corner of the city was once a centre of commerce where goods were sold under the street name of a particular guild. Still a thriving community of sellers today, you will see street names such as Sugar Street, Tin Street and Paper Street.
Ancient homes and temples are interspersed with excellent shops. Wander further south and you reach the wide tree-lined avenues of the former colonial capital. Judging by some of the architecture (and particularly the opera house), you might be forgiven for thinking you'd been whisked off to Paris - except for the erratic driving. Come to think of it, that makes it even more like Paris.
Why We Love It
A walking tour of this '36 Streets' is an absolute must-see.
Boat Trip on the Perfume River (Hue)
Original Travel can organise a private guided boat trip on the Perfume River to visit the Thien Mu Pagoda and the Imperial Citadel.
After lunch, visit the mausoleums of two of Hue's former emperors. The mausoleum of Tu Duc is surrounded by tranquil gardens and lakes, and that of Emperor Khai Dinh is designed in an elaborate European-inspired style.
Why We Love It
The Imperial Citadel was the head quaters from where the Nguyen Dynasty ruled the nation between 1802 and 1945.
Hue by Bicycle
Discover the hidden backroads of Hue by bicycle on a day trip spent meandering along country roads past craft villages, shrines, tombs and pagodas and taking a local ferryboat across the Perfume River with the locals. The route starts with a visit to Dong Ba food market, then along the northern bank of the Perfume River to the old town of Bao Vinh and to the famous Citadel and Imperial Museum to learn about the lifestyle of the royal family and aristocrats of the Nguyen Dynasty. Next up is one of the finest examples of garden houses of Hue, the An Hien garden and finally the Heavenly Lady Pagoda, one of the oldest Buddhist pagodas in Vietnam.
Hoi An Street Food Tour
This street food tasting tour is an entertaining and informative way to see Hoi An through its food. Visit a local market off the tourist map then sit down to sample a 36 local delicacies - from sweet to savoury, noodles, sticky rice, myriad spring rolls, tropical fruits and dishes only found in Hoi An.
Start at a colourful and friendly 'wet market' where you can meet stall holders to learn more on the huge choice of ingredients on sale, from silk worms, a huge variety of fresh fragrant herbs and vegetables to the meat and fish. Continue along back streets, discovering out-of-the-way producers and street vendors making and selling a wide variety of exotic foods.
The tour ends at a restaurant where the tasting session begins with a wide selection of local delicacies bought directly from the vendors. Learn the names and meanings of different local foods (and how to pronounce the names) as well as the main ingredients and how they should be eaten. This tasting session should give you a deeper understanding of Vietnamese cuisine and the benefit goes back to the vendors as all the dishes are bought directly from them.
Why We Love It
El Bulli, eat your heart out. This tasting tour includes a sampling menu of 36 different local specialities.
Tailor-made Hoi An
Original Travel can arrange a guided tour of this UNESCO World Heritage Site.
In the 16th century, Japanese and Chinese traders built a commercial district at Hoi An, and the town became one of the major trading centres of Southeast Asia. As a result, there is a distinctly Chinese/Japanese atmosphere, with these cultural influences visible in the elaborately carved wooden facades, narrow streets and tile-roofed houses of the Old Quarter that have survived for centuries.
The Japanese Bridge, built in the 17th century, is an outstanding example of Japanese architecture. Apart from its unspoilt heritage, Hoi An is also famous for its tailors. The small establishments of the town's numerous and talented tailors are great for stocking up on affordable, well-made clothes.
Why We Love It
Hoi An's historic character is enhanced by the restrictions on cars - so a walking or cycling tour is not only the best, but the only, way around.
Tunnels of Cu Chi
Well worth a visit from Ho Chi Minh are the Cu Chi Tunnels.
Nearby is the colourful Cao Dai Great Temple, a centre of the Cao Dai religion (funnily enough), which incorporates elements of both Taoism and Buddhism.
Why We Love It
An incredible 150-mile network of tunnels constructed by Vietnamese resistance fighters during the long struggle for independence.
Ho Chi Minh City Tour
Original Travel can arrange an expertly guided tour of the city, taking in the former Presidential Palace, the Notre Dame Cathedral, the Old Saigon post office, temples, a lacquerware factory and Thien Hau Pagoda in the city's bustling Chinatown