13 nights/14 days from £6,495 per person (excluding international flights)
Day 1 – Hanoi
On arrival in Hanoi you will be thrown into the maelstrom of energy and colour which characterises city life in Vietnam. Your Avventura Representative will take you on the forty-five minute journey to the Sofitel Legend Metropole Hotel for prearranged early check-in to your luxury room. After a hot breakfast you can head out on your own to enjoy your first explorations of this thriving capital city.
Day 2 – Hanoi
After breakfast, you will have a full day guided tour of Hanoi including visiting the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum, the 11th century One-Pillar Pagoda and the Temple of Literature (Văn Miêu), a Confucian temple founded in 1070 by Emperor Ly Thanh Tong. With its ancient courtyards, ornate altars and pillars, Văn Miêu is one of the finest examples of Vietnamese architecture.
Vietnam is steeped in ‘coffee culture’ and during the morning your guide will take you for a traditional cup of coffee. Quintessentially Hanoian, the egg coffee recipe was developed by a Vietnamese barista who once worked at the historic Sofitel Legend Metropole. A wide range of traditional beverages will be available if egg coffee is not exactly to your taste!
Following lunch, you will ride in the back of a Soviet-era Minsk to explore the backstreets of Hanoi – a ride through a maze of narrow alleyways to see this vibrant city and its friendly people at its most authentic. Your tour will conclude with a stop at West Lake, a large freshwater lake in the middle of the city, for a traditional food tasting experience.
You will return to your hotel via the famous Long Biên Bridge, the iconic cantilever bridge that spans the Red River which, despite heavily targeted bombing during the Vietnamese War, remains in use to this day.
Day 3 – Hanoi to Hai Phong to Lan Ha Bay
After breakfast at your hotel you will be taken to Hai Phong to board the Heritage Line ship, Ylang, for your overnight cruise. The vessel is beautifully decorated in a mix of Asian and French styles and with only ten spacious suites across two decks you will feel transported to a bygone age of luxury travel. Each suite has floor-to-ceiling doors opening onto a private balcony and filling your quarters with light. There are also spa, yoga and Tai Chi facilities and lessons on board for you to enjoy. Setting off around noon, you will be served your lunch in the dining room on the terrace deck so as to get a proper look at the breathtaking scenery you will pass. Look out for the picturesque lighthouse built by the French more than a century ago.
The Ylang next makes landfall at Southern Cat Ba Island from where you will have a look around the village of Viet Hai. Paved paths wind through all-enveloping tropical forest to the village itself where you can meet and get to know the locals as they go about their daily lives. After re-embarking your captain will find a quiet and relaxing spot to moor overnight and you will be served a sumptuous multi-course dinner before deciding whether to join the crew fishing for squid, get to know some of your fellow passengers over a movie or just lay back and watch the stars while listening to the sounds of the water which surrounds you. This is Lan Ha Bay, a part of the coastline less frequented by tourists and thus more easily enjoyed by you in its natural state.
Day 4 – Lan Ha Bay
When you wake aboard the Ylang enjoy hot drinks and pastries or if you’re feeling inspired, join a tai chi session or yoga class. Breakfast can be taken in the dining room or in your suite if you prefer a gentle, private start to the day. The first stop on this leg of the journey is at one of the few remaining local floating fishing villages where you will discover how people live and work on the water as they have for generations. Continue to the shore and travel the short distance along scenic island roads to Cát Bà National Park where a gentle hike will bring you face-to-face with the jungle. Cát Bà National Park is a World Heritage Site founded to help preserve Vietnam’s most endangered flora and fauna. Among the thirty-two different species of mammal which live here are most of the world’s last white-headed langur or leaf monkey. Only sixty-five of these unusual creatures still exist making it one of the most at-risk species in the world.
While you enjoy your lunch Ylang continues its serene passage through the bay to a secluded cove. The afternoon is free for you to choose from a swim and sunbath on a natural beach or take a kayaking tour. After dinner, learn more about Lan Ha Bay and Halong Bay or simply relax on your private balcony and absorb the natural splendour.
Day 5 – Hai Phong to Hanoi to Danang to Hoi An
Your last morning aboard the Ylang will be spent cruising the emerald green waters until you disembark and transfer to the Tuan Chau Pier in Halong Bay, a journey time of about an hour. Now you will take to the skies for a spectacular twenty-five minute seaplane flight over the bay and its countless clusters of towering limestone islands crowned with verdant rainforest. Peter Pan, James Bond and King Kong are among the many cinematic characters whose adventures have unfolded here.
It’s time to get back on the road now for the two and a half hour journey to Hanoi Airport from where you will depart for Danang. An hour and twenty minutes later, your Avventura representative will take you on the short journey to The Four Seasons Nam Hai. Dinner this evening will be at the hotel.
Day 6 – Hoi An
A full day to enjoy Hoi An at your leisure.
Day 7 – Hoi An
As the day begins, you’re invited to experience a private yoga lesson on An Bang Beach while the sun’s awakening light reveals the beautiful landscape around you.
After breakfast, you will travel to the Cham Museum to meet Mr. Tran Ky Phuong, a journalist, writer and expert on the Cham culture, today considered every bit as important in the history of the region as the Khmer and on a par with Angkor in Cambodia, Borobudur in Indonesia and Bagan in Myanmar. Under his knowledgeable guidance you can explore the labyrinthine My Son temple complex, some buildings of which are seventeen hundred years old. My Son (which translates as “beautiful mountain”) is the Vietnamese equivalent of Egypt’s Valley of the Kings, having been used as a ceremonial and burial site for Cham royalty from the fourth to the seventeenth century. Its seventy temples are dedicated to Shiva, one of the most important figures in the Hindu pantheon of the gods.
When your visit to My Son is complete you can take in some more of the city as you choose or perhaps relax on the beach. In the evening you will be taken on an adventure in a bamboo basket boat, paddling along the Coco River as the sun sets around you, arriving finally at the beautiful The Field Restaurant to have dinner overlooking the rice paddies and the river, all served beneath a bamboo gazebo on the lake.
Day 8 – Hoi An
It’s time to get on your bike today, heading for Hoi An’s Old Town, the peaceful, narrow, winding streets of which are closed to cars. This has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage site with its historic buildings dating back hundreds of years. The old town was once a very significant trading post with a multi-national population which explains the presence of Chinese temples, pagodas, a Japanese bridge, locally designed wooden shop/houses, impressive French colonial buildings and canals. From here you will ride to a small village surrounded by towering areca palms to take a break and to taste some delicious grilled seafood and coconut rice paper.
After your break, cross the bridge to the far bank of the Thu Bon River and the village of Dong Binh, renowned for its mat weaving and a carpenters’ village where the residents produce unique hand-crafted furniture. A local ferry will take you back to the Old Town and to Tra Que Village, where the speciality is growing vegetables and herbs with dizzy tastes and aromas. You can enjoy these in the company of a local host who will also give you a well-earned foot massage and a gorgeous homemade meal.
After lunch, just rest up or if you’re still feeling the urge to discover, return to the Old Town for more exploration.
Day 9 – Hoi An to Danang to Ho Chi Minh City
Today you will take a flight to Ho Chi Minh City where your Avventura Representative will meet you to take you to the Park Hyatt Hotel to spend the afternoon as you choose.
In the evening, you will be taken to Café Zoom where you can enjoy a cocktail or aperitif before climbing on the back of a classic, lovingly restored Vespa scooter. Ho Chi Minh City is still known to its inhabitants by its historic name of Saigon and this remarkable ride will take you to numerous of the city’s nooks and crannies not so frequently seen by visitors. With a population similar to that of London, half Saigon’s inhabitants are under thirty-five and riding pillion on a scooter is one of the best ways to see their world. The city is separated into twenty-four districts, some of which have names but most are known purely by a number. Hence you will start your journey in District 4 amid noisy, energetic, bustling streets and alleyways where you can sample some local seafood dishes. Breathe in this vibrant and fast-growing metropolis as you move to District 3 and District 1 before alighting at a tucked away café where you can enjoy live Vietnamese music. The night’s tour reaches its final destination at a lively bar, again with contemporary Vietnamese music before heading back to the hotel at about ten.
Day 10 – Ho Chi Minh City
After seeing just how much modern Ho Chi Minh City has to offer it’s time to experience something of Vietnam’s troubled past. After breakfast at your hotel you will be driven to the pier to board a boat bound for the Cu Chi Tunnels. Dug out entirely by hand by the Viet Minh (Resistance Force) during the French-Indochina War (1946-54), this underground network was expanded and used to great effect during the Vietnam War. Originally 200 kms (125 miles) long and 3-4 metres (10-13 feet) deep this was once a whole underground world with hospitals, barracks and meeting rooms. A visit to the tunnels provides a unique insight into the war from the Vietnamese perspective. The tour* begins with a documentary explaining the conflict and the significance of the tunnels and ends with a taste of what those living underground ate in the darkness; Cu Chi, khoai my luoc (boiled cassava) is a traditional Vietnamese dish that was eaten daily during the war.
* Please note, due to the narrowness of the tunnels, this tour is not recommended for anyone who suffers from claustrophobia.
Returning to the city you will be the guests of two passionate local musical artists, Dinh Linh and Tuyet Mai. They will perform a traditional Vietnamese music concert and be delighted to help you discover and try the many traditional music instruments they own.
Day 11 – Ho Chi Minh City
This morning, you will be picked up from your hotel for a private transfer to Bên Tre, a coastal province which lies in the lowest part of the Mekong River Basin. You will set out from Phong Nam bridge for a guided cycle* around the beautiful villages and pay a visit to several traditional cottage industries producing items as diverse as charcoal, coconut handicrafts and traditional bricks.
* Non-cycling option is available.
After your cycling exertions, it is time to take a leisurely exploration of the Mekong River aboard the Cai Be Princess Sampan. The staff will welcome you on board with cold towels and refreshments. Your voyage will take you along this bustling river, teeming with traditional boats, large and small, all surrounded by beautiful countryside. In Nhon Trach, you will visit a small outdoor market where the community trade their local produce such as fresh fruits, vegetables, flowers and traditional delicacies.
From Nhon Trach, you will travel by traditional tuk-tuk to an elegant countryside restaurant, set in tropical gardens on the riverside, for a sumptuous traditional lunch.
In the afternoon, you will have a chance to explore the less accessible areas of the Mekong River on a small sampan. You will learn more about the fragile ecosystem of the river and its surroundings and the flora and fauna of this captivating region.
In the late afternoon, you will take a private transfer back to your hotel.
Day 12 – Ho Chi Minh City to Siem Reap
Today you will leave Vietnam and take the short flight to Siem Reap in Cambodia where your Avventura Representative will meet you to drive you to your hotel, Phum Baitang.
In the evening, you will be taken to the Divine Sala and welcomed into the garden of this ancient Khmer house, where the Sacred Dancers of Angkor host a performance. Their performance represents over 10 years of devotion and practice to Khmer ballet. They have mastered the repertoire of the Khmer classical ballet with refined precision and perfect synchronisation in accordance with the rhythm and the sacredness of the original divine motions. The money collected from the entrance fees goes directly to support the prestigious Nginn Karet Foundation for Cambodia School (NKFC), supporting the preservation of the traditions of the Khmer Classical Ballet.
You’re free to make your own arrangements for dinner.
Day 13 – Siem Reap
This morning you will be able to watch the sun rise over the archaeological and spiritual spectacle which is Angkor Wat. The sheer size of the temple complex is hard to take in. The best way to see the sprawling mass of buildings is by bike. Weaving through the jungle trails you will discover an abandoned city, once the largest in South East Asia. In the days before the Norman Conquest London was considered a grand city of 50,000 souls; at the same time this was home to more than a million.
First stop is the looming South Gate of Angkor Thom, the great capital of the Khmer Empire. Then it’s on to the Bayon temple, widely regarded as one of the most beautiful edifices on the site. This imposing structure was built to demonstrate the glory and worldly power of King Jayavarman VII. It has fifty-four gigantic towers with more than two hundred enigmatic, smiling faces carved into the stone. It was Jayavarman’s mother who built the temple of Ta Phrom, also known as the Tomb Raider Temple. The jungle growth appears to be trying to utterly envelope the stonework, the intertwining tendrils and branches struggling to reclaim the land for nature.
While exploring the temples you will have passed by the Srah Srang baray or reservoir which was used as Royal baths during the days of the ancient Khmer Empire. Following a ten-minute walk through the local village, you will come to a charming, traditional Khmer timber house. Here, in perfect tranquillity, you can enjoy your picnic lunch.
After an aperitif in a rice field you can choose to return to your hotel by bike or by car.
Day 14 – Departure
On the last day of your trip to Vietnam and Cambodia you will have breakfast at your hotel before taking the fifteen-minute transfer to the airport for your flight home.