Explore some genuine parts of Vietnam still untouched by mass tourists during this 18-day journey: the northern valley of Mai Chau-Pu Luong, the beautiful Phong Nha National Park, along with other must-see attractions of the country.
- Itinerary in Detail
Day 1. Arrival in Ha Noi
Day 2. Ha Noi
Day 3. Ha Noi – Mai Chau – Pu Luong
Day 4. Pu Luong
Day 5. Pu Luong – Ninh Binh
Day 6. Ninh Binh – Ha Long
Day 7. Ha Long – Ha Noi – Night train to Dong Hoi
Day 8. Dong Hoi – Phong Nha
Day 9. Phong Nha
Day 10. Phong Nha – DMZ – Hue
Day 11. Hue
Day 12. Hue – Hoi An
Day 13. Hoi An
Day 14. Hoi An
Day 15. Hoi An – Da Nang – Flight to Can Tho
Day 16. Can Tho – Ben Tre
Day 17. Ben Tre – Ho Chi Minh City
Day 18. Ho Chi Minh City – Departure
DAY 1: ARRIVAL IN HANOI
Arrive in Hanoi, the capital of unified Vietnam and one of the most charming cities in Southeast Asia, with its authenticity, large shady avenues, numerous lakes, manicured gardens, and well-preserved architecture. Meet your guide and driver, then transfer to your hotel. Free time for a stroll around the city. Dinner on your own. Overnight at a hotel in Hanoi.
DAY 2: HANOI SIGHTSEEING AND MOTORCYCLE TOUR (B/L/-)
After breakfast at the hotel, meet your local guide at 08:30 and start your city tour with a visit to the Temple of Literature, Vietnam’s first university, founded in 1076. Known locally as Quoc Tu Giam, this place of learning was established inside a temple to educate Vietnam’s nobles, scholars, and society’s elites. Its well-preserved architecture and tranquil gardens offer intriguing glimpses into Vietnam’s past. Later on, take a walk around the Old Quarter, also known as "the 36 streets" and stop at Hoan Kiem Lake to learn more about the legend of the lake and the temple of Jade.
Visit St. Joseph’s Cathedral, one of the first buildings built by French colonists during their expansion in Indochina and still intact in Hanoi after two fierce wars, and then emerge in the serene and peaceful atmosphere of Pagoda Ba Da, hidden in a very quiet corner in the middle of Hanoi's busy traffic, just a few steps from the cathedral.
In the afternoon, you will discover the different neighborhoods of Hanoi on the back of a Russian Minsk motorcycle. First stop at a local r estaurant in Ba Dinh District, where you can taste one of the city's specialties, “pho" or rice noodles, served in a variety of ways: rolled, stirred, and fried. After having filled your stomach with delicious food, head off to a hidden farmland on the Red River bank to discover the countryside on the edge of bustling Hanoi, where people plant bananas and vegetables and live in floating homes. On your way back to the city center, stop at Long Bien Bridge, a historic bridge across the Red River that was built by the French from 1898 to 1902.
Next stop is Hanoi’s largest open-air second-hand market in Hai Ba Trung district. Emerge yourself in the narrow alleys of residential areas nearby, then take a walk around a wet market to learn about ingredients used daily in Vietnamese meals and taste tropical fresh fruits.
Continue heading towards Dong Da District, the most populated area of Hanoi with more than 400.000 residents per km2. Stop at the train street, where houses are built just a few meters away from the railway. Later on, visit a local house with a separate kitchen and bathroom that brings back memories of Hanoi in the 1960s. The journey concludes with Hanoian egg coffee at an old coffee shop. Return to your hotel at around 16:30. Overnight in Ha Noi.
DAY 3: HANOI – MAI CHAU VALLEY – PU LUONG (B/L/-)
After breakfast, depart from Hanoi at 08:00 for a 4-hour drive to Mai Chau through mountains, fertile valleys, and rural villages. Stop en route at Thung Khe Pass, also called White Rock Pass, to admire the whole valley at the foot of the pass.
On arrival at the picturesque Mai Chau valley, surrounded by karst rock formations and rice fields, enjoy your lunch and spend the afternoon cycling through the villages of Thai minorities.
In the late afternoon, transfer to Pu Luong through a breathtaking mountain pass with panoramic views of the valley. Overnight in Pu Luong.
DAY 4: PU LUONG (B/L/-)
Enjoy breakfast amidst the peaceful scenery of the mountains. At 8:30, head out to discover the surrounding villages. Start to descend into the beautiful valley, where you walk around rice terraces. Then walk through small paths as you slowly approach the charming Uoi village, perched at the foot of a mountain. Continue walking downhill to a local home, where you take a rest and take a bike to cycle through the rice paddies of Lan village and learn about the traditional weaving of Black Thai people.
Continue to Hieu Village, where you have a good chance to cool off in the natural swimming pool at the foot of Hieu Waterfalls, one of the most beautiful waterfalls in the reserve. Ride back to the local home, where the car is ready to take you back to your accommodation. Overnight in Pu Luong.
DAY 5: PU LUONG - NINH BINH (B/L/-)
After breakfast, leave Pu Luong at 08:00 for Ninh Binh. On the way, stop to visit the Citadel of the Ho Dynasty, which was the capital of Vietnam from 1398 to 1407. Recognized as a World Cultural Heritage by UNESCO, the citadel is considered the onl y stone citadel remaining in Southeast Asia and one of the few remaining in the world. Continue to Ninh Binh, passing through the beautiful landscape with immense pineapple plantations. Arrive in Ninh Binh at lunchtime.
In the afternoon, head to the UNESCO-listed Trang An Landscape Complex, where you unwind on a peaceful riverboat ride that passes through a series of caves. Trang An is sure to wow you with its spectacular landscape of jagged karst mountains and valleys. As you float along, take some photos of the enormous karst peaks that jut out from the green rice fields; this landscape is what gives this region the nickname "Halong on Land". Overnight in Ninh Binh.
DAY 6: NINH BINH - HA LONG (B/L/D)
After breakfast, depart from your hotel at 08:30 for a drive to Tuan Chau Harbor, where you hop aboard your boat and begin your overnight cruise on the stunning Lan Ha Bay. Lunch will be served while the vessel starts cruising through thousands of limestone islets emerging from the emerald water. After sailing along the idyllic rock formations, end the day by setting anchor in the middle of the Bay. As the sun sets over the water, dinner is served on board with fresh seafood. Overnight on board.
The itinerary is subject to change due to the weather and operating conditions without prior notice.
DAY 7: HA LONG – HA NOI – NIGHT TRAIN TO DONG HOI (B/Brunch/-)
Enjoy a beautiful sunrise over the bay, followed by a light breakfast. As the cruise sails back to the pier, enjoy brunch on board while admiring the limestone rock formations that glide by. Upon disembarkation, your driver will be waiting to take you back to Hanoi. Time at leisure until your train departs at 19:30. Overnight on board in a 4-berth cabin.
DAY 8: DONG HOI – PHONG NHA (B/-/-)
On arrival at Dong Hoi station in the early morning, you will be welcomed by your tour guide and driver and transferred to the city center for breakfast. Then, depart for Phong Nha.
In the afternoon, visit Phong Nha Ke Bang National Park, home to spectacular and scientifically significant caves. Get on a boat trip on the Son River to Phong Nha Cave, where you can admire the magnificent stalactites and stalagmites and explore the remains of Cham altars and inscriptions inside the cave. Continue to the marvelous Tien Son Cave with hundreds of stalagmites and stalactites of different sizes and shapes. Overnight in Phong Nha.
DAY 9: PHONG NHA (B/-/-)
After breakfast at the hotel, depart at 08:30 and drive on to the Ho Chi Minh-West Trail to reach the drop-off zone, from where you will have to hike into the primary forest to discover the Paradise Cave, one of the most beautiful caves inside the Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park and the longest dry cave in Asia.
Continue to Mooc Spring with a short stop on the way to visit Eight Ladies Cave, which is a significant historical site in memory of the sacrifice of the eight brave young volunteers during the second Indochina War. On arrival at Mooc Spring, take time to kayak, enjoy the cool blue water, and take in the abundant wildlife, including birds, butterflies, and dragonflies.
Return to your hotel at around 16:00 and overnight in Phong Nha
Alternatively, continue to Dark Cave and Chay River to take part in some outdoor activities. Start with a 400-meter zip line from the wildlife observation tower, then swim to the entrance of Dark Cave and start your adventure under the instruction of an expert guide. Once entering the cave, you keep walking in complete darkness and enjoy a bath in the mud lake at the end of the cave before heading out to enjoy some swimming or go kayaking on the Chay River. Return to your hotel at around 16:00 and overnight in Phong Nha
DAY 10: PHONG NHA – DMZ – HUE (B/-/-)
Depart from your hotel at 08:00 and drive south to the Vietnamese Demilitarized Zone (DMZ). From Dong Ha Town, travel to the old battlefields of Khe Sanh on the historic National Route 9 that links with Southern Laos, passing through historic sites such as The Rockpile, an important United States Army and US Marine Corps observation post and artillery base from 1966 to 1969; the Ho Chi Minh Trail; and the Ta Con airfields.
Head to Vinh Moc Tunnels to get an accurate look at the subterranean lives of the Viet Cong and the villagers of Vinh Linh during the Vietnam War. Continue to the Ben Hai River, which served as a border between North and South Vietnam. The last stop is at Quang Tri Ancient Citadel, where tens of thousands of Vietnamese soldiers sacrificed their lives for national liberation. Arrive at the hotel at around 18:00. Overnight in Hue.
DAY 11: HUE VESPA TOUR AND SIGHTSEEING TOUR (B/-/-)
This morning, get off the beaten path to discover a more local, authentic side of Hue. Start the day at 08:00 with a coffee or fresh juice at a local cafe, where you’ll meet your tour guide and fellow travelers.
Then hop on the Vespas and cruise through the atmospheric streets to a family temple to discover the rich traditions of Vietnamese culture. Take a short stroll to learn about the French colonial influence on architecture and the struggle that the locals have to preserve their beautiful riverside homes.
Continue on foot through a bustling local market where you’ll rub elbows with the locals who come to buy and sell their daily wares. From the market, we take a short ferry boat ride to cross the Perfume River and meet with the Vespas on the other side.
Back on the Vespas, wind through smaller countryside streets, getting further from the modernity and bustle of city life. Pop into a worship materials workshop to gain deeper insight into the skilled crafts and cultural traditions of Hue. Then it’s a short drive to a folk art printing workshop. Try your hand at making your own print while chatting with the artisans and sipping green tea.
Next up, the Vespas take you through scenic rice paddies and other bucolic landscapes. Take a break at an ancient bridge, mingling with the locals who come to relax and enjoy the river breeze. Loop back into the city at around 12:00
In the afternoon, visit the Imperial Citadel, seat of the Nguyen Dynasty emperors. The Citadel was inspired by Vauban fortifications and is composed of three sections; the capital city (Kinh Thanh), the Imperial city (Hoang Thanh) and the Forbidden City (Cam Thanh). Continue to the Buddhist shrine of Thien Mu Pagoda, also known as the Pagoda of the Heavenly Lady. Built in the seventeenth century, it's one of the most fascinating and ancient pagodas in Hue, overlooking the picturesque Perfume River. Return to hotel at around 17:00 and overnight in Hue.
DAY 12: HUE – HOI AN (B/-/-)
After breakfast, depart at 08:30 from your hotel for a visit to Tu Duc's Mausoleum, one of the most beautiful royal tombs of the Nguyen dynasty with unique architecture and perfect harmony with the natural landscape. Visit the nearby Thuy Xuan incense-making village, where you'll be amazed by the smell of aloeswood and the sight of innumerable bouquets of colorful bamboo incense sticks being sundried along the village roads. Continue to Minh Mang’s Mausoleum, a complex of 40 constructions including palaces, temples, and pavilions. Located on the left bank of the Perfume River, it’s a stunning example of how man-made beauty can coexist peacefully with natural beauty.
In the afternoon, leave Hue for Hoi An on a scenic drive through the fishing village of Lang Co and Hai Van Pass. Arrive at the hotel at around 17:00 and stay overnight in Hoi An.
DAY 13: HOI AN COOKING CLASS AND WALKING TOUR (B/L/-)
This morning, you are invited to come and experience a memorable cooking class with our wonderful Chef Van. Depart from your hotel at around 8:30, and Ms. Van will take you to the market where you purchase fresh ingredients and find out more about local produce. After that, head back to Van’s home to prepare a variety of local dishes of your choice. Under the guidance of Van, you will actively take part in the cooking of delicious meals. Around Van's kitchen table, share your creations and a beverage with one another.
In the afternoon, stroll through the narrow streets of the atmospheric Hoi An Ancient Town. This UNESCO Site is a precious gem that shows a range of architectural influences. Visit the Japanese covered bridge, one of the Chinese communal halls, and former merchants’ houses. At the end of the day, enjoy a cup of tea at Reaching Out Tea House, a lovely and tranquil setting founded to help the disabled grow their artistic talents and lead independent lives through their art. Return to your hotel at around 17:30 and overnight in Hoi An.
DAY 14: HOI AN (B/-/-)
Breakfast at the hotel and time at leisure to relax. Overnight in Hoi An.
DAY 15: HOI AN – DA NANG – FLIGHT TO CAN THO (B/-/-)
Breakfast and time at leisure until your driver transfers you to Da Nang airport for a short flight to Can Tho. On arrival at Can Tho airport, meet your local guide and transfer to the hotel for check-in.
Depart from your hotel at 14:00 and head to the meeting point. Take the bike and get ready for a 7–10 km ride through local villages. On the way, you’ll pass through small, rustic roads in the countryside and encounter many interesting activities of the locals. Stop by one of the biggest organic cacao farms, where you can have the chance to learn about the progress of making chocolate manually and taste a fantastic cup of chocolate drink.
Embark on a ferry to cross through a river to move to "Giàn Gừa," one of the hidden gems in Can Tho with a majestic view. You’ll sneak into the beautiful series of narrow paths covered with the green of trees before you head to "Giàn Gừa." Enjoy the peaceful atmosphere, and don’t forget to take some memorable photos before getting back to the meeting point. Finish the tour by 18:00. Overnight in Can Tho.
DAY 16: CAN THO – BEN TRE (B/-/D)
This morning, rise early and get a unique taste of life in the Mekong on a cruise over the colorful Cai Rang floating market. At 07:00 embark on the Mystic Sampan Cruise, while enjoying your breakfast served with Vietnamese and Western tasty dishes, you can comfortably observe the scenery of local daily life on the river banks. After breakfast, the Mystic Sampan cruises into the heart of the Cai Rang floating market, where you will see a maze of boats loaded with fruits, vegetables, or groceries for trade. You may also join the market by calling for fruits or a drink. Leaving the market, our tour guide takes you to a local workshop where you have a great time learning how locals make "Hu Tieu" - rice noodles.
Lunch at your own arrangement, and then depart for Ben Tre, known as the coconut kingdom of Vietnam. After 3 hours of driving, you arrive in a charming village hidden under hundreds of coconut palm trees. Welcome to Mekong Home, a family house composed of several bungalows, set in a tropical garden and on the Mekong River bank. Fresh coconut juice will be served, and then you will check into your room. Take a little break before leaving with a family member for an introduction to local fishing techniques.
In the evening, you participate in a cooking class and learn how to make "Bánh xèo" - Vietnamese pancakes made from rice milk. Dinner is ready to be served with fresh dishes cooked in local style, such as caramelized pork and fish soup, spring rolls, etc.
After dinner, relax in a lemongrass and ginger foot bath, a local therapeutic method to relieve the pain and fatigue of the legs. Overnight in Ben Tre.
DAY 17: BEN TRE – HO CHI MINH CITY (B/L/-)
Enjoy your breakfast and depart for Ham Luong pier, where you take a boat trip to explore the local life and family-owned business activities along the Ben Tre River, one of the Mekong River’s tributaries. Stop at a brick kiln and learn about a traditional method of making bricks. Continue to visit one of the plenty of coconut workshops along the waterway to discover how every single part of the coconut, including the shell, the meat, and the water, is processed to produce a variety of products: coconut milk, coconut candy, coconut oil, and even floor mats and charcoal.
Next stop is a sleeping mat workshop, where you can learn about hand weaving techniques and enjoy some fresh fruits and tea. Later on, take a motor cart (xe lôi) or ride a bike on the shady paths of the peaceful countryside, passing by green rice fields and vegetable plains, to touch on real life and get to know tropical peasant culture.
Enjoy lunch at a local restaurant with local specialties such as elephant-ear fish and river shrimp.
In the afternoon, take a rowing boat on small canals shaded by wild coconut palm trees until Hung Vuong Pier, where your driver is ready to transfer you back to Ho Chi Minh City.
Arrive at your hotel in Ho Chi Minh City at around 17:00. Overnight in Ho Chi Minh City.
DAY 18: HO CHI MINH CITY - DEPARTURE (B/-/-)
Depart from your hotel at 08:30 to explore Ho Chi Minh City through its market, pagoda, and historical buildings. The best place to learn about local life is the market and the best time to visit it is undoubtedly in the morning. Start the day at the Bàn Cờ market in district 3, where you can find everything from fresh vegetables, fish, meat, and second-hand clothes to street food stalls scattered in narrow alleys. Continue walking to Nguyen Thien Thuat apartment building to admire the life scenes of the inhabitants of Saigon.
Next stop at the FITO museum (Museum of Traditional Vietnamese Medicine) that offers an in-depth look at the fascinating world of traditional Vietnamese medicine. Located on a small street in the heart of Ho Chi Minh City, the museum is home to a collection of nearly 3,000 objects related to traditional remedies, some of which date back to the Stone Age.
Later on, let’s go back in time to delve into the history of Vietnam with a stop at Đỗ Phủ cafe which was once the operational base of the Liberation Army of South Vietnam. While the coffee is prepared, discover the secret bunker of weapons used for the Attack on the Indepe nden ce Palace during the 1968 offensive and take pictures of the old car used to transport weapons to Cu Chi tunnels. Enjoy your coffee in the atmosphere of this historical house before heading to the hidden Van Phat Pagoda in Jewelry Street of China Town in district 5. You will be amazed by the vibrant colors of the typical Chinese architecture and especially by the ten thousand Buddha statues inside the pagoda. Here at the pagoda, you can also learn how Vietnamese people preserve the cremation urns of their family members. Continue to the French Quarter in District 1 to visit Saigon Central Post Office, a vital part of Ho Chi Minh City's colonial legacy.
Time at leisure until your driver transfers you to the airport for departure flight.