Day 1 Arrive in Hanoi
You arrive in Hanoi and go to your booked hotel. The remainder of the day is at leisure to explore Hanoi and overnight here.
Day 2 In Hanoi
This morning you will visit the Ho Chi Minh Complex, containing the mausoleum of the nations' founder Ho Chi Minh. Here, large crowds gather to pay their respects to the man they call ‘Uncle Ho’ as they silently file past his glass sarcophagus. The complex also contains the One Pillar Pagoda, whose origins date back to the founding of the city in the 11th century. The Presidential Palace and Uncle Ho’s house on stilts can also be seen here.
You follow this with a walking tour of Hanoi’s vibrant Old Quarter and Hoan Kiem Lake (Sword Lake). Legend has it that in the 15th century Emperor Le Thai To vanquished the invading Chinese with the help of a magical sword. The Old Quarter, with its bustling streets, is home to hundreds of small thriving businesses, each street denoting its trade, such as Tin Street or Fish Street.
In the afternoon your will visit the Temple of Literature, the site of Vietnam’s oldest university, dating back to the 11th century. The temple is dedicated to one of the world’s most famous scholars, Confucius. Inside the temple grounds huge stone stele rest on the backs of even larger stone turtles (in Vietnamese culture the turtle represents longevity). The stele recorded the names of the successful candidates who would later go on to become mandarins in the Emperor’s court. From here we visit the impressive Museum of Ethnology, the finest museum in Vietnam. This museum is dedicated to Vietnam’s 54 ethnic minorities, several of which we will see on our forthcoming trek.
Day 3 Transfer to Halong Bay
This morning your will transfer 3 hours to commence our Halong Bay cruise. On arrival you will join traditional 'junk' sailing boat and head out into the Gulf of Tonkin amongst the huge limestone outcrops and emerald waters. You will spend the rest of the day cruising around the myriad of tiny islands and exploring many grottoes created by the wind and the ocean. While on board you can have a fresh seafood lunch followed by a swim and an exploration of some of the limestone caves in this area.
Day 4 Halong Bay, transfer to Hanoi, overnight train to Hue
This morning you will continue your cruise in the magnificent Halong Bay and then transfer back to Hanoi. You will arrive into Hanoi in the afternoon and have a couple of free hours to explore the city. The train from Hanoi to Hue is about sixteen-hours. A sheet/blanket will be provided as bedding and you should bring your own sleeping inner sheet or a sarong. Lavatories on the train are basic but functional.
Day 5 In Hue
In the morning you arrive in Hue, Vietnam’s former capital until 1945. The Royal Tombs of the Nguyen Emperors on the outskirts of the city are easily accessible by bicycle. The Nguyen dynasty ruled Vietnam from 1802 until 1945 and several of its most prominent Emperors are buried in the surrounding countryside. One of the most impressive tombs, that of Emperor Minh Mang, is set within a beautiful landscaped garden. Set on the banks of the Perfume River and surrounded by beautiful rolling hills it is a tranquil and idyllic place.
Also not to be missed is the Citadel, containing the Imperial City and the Forbidden Purple City, the Emperor’s private residence. The Imperial City, created in the 19th century and modeled on the Forbidden City in Beijing, has many palaces and temples inside.
One of the most interesting parts of the City is the ancestral Temple; dedicated to the memory of the former Emperors. Another important site in Hue is the Thien Mu, or Heavenly Lady pagoda. Situated 4 km upstream on the banks of the Perfume River, it is an active Buddhist monastery with its origins dating back to 1601. One of the most poignant displays here is a car belonging to a former monk, Thich Quang Duc, who in 1963, drove to Saigon and set himself alight to protest against the South Vietnamese regime and its treatment of Buddhists. Overnight Hue.
Day 6 Transfer to Hoi An
Today you continue south by road to Hoi An. The scenery enroute is beautiful as you hug the coastline of the East Sea before winding our way up the spectacular Hai Van mountain pass. Here you can stop to admire the stunning views north, to Lang Co beach and south to Danang City.
Once in Danang you will stop to visit the Cham Museum. It houses the most complete collection of Cham artefacts anywhere in the world. The largest peak, Thuy Son contains a number of caves that have become Buddhist sanctuaries. The journey takes about five hours. In the afternoon you can have our first glimpse of Hoi An with a walking tour of the old quarter. Overnight Hoi An.
(To be continued...)