Bespoke Vietnam: A Custom Journey From North to South

Travel Partner: ATJ

Duration | 14 Days

Destination | Vietnam

Starting Price | $9, 290

Overview

This in-depth journey captures the true essence of Vietnam. From rural villages to decadent ancient sites to buzzing urban environments, you will be immersed in variety. Stroll among quiet, traditional villages and explore modern cities that crackle with energy. Discover lavish, historical temples and wander through the sleepy, rural countryside. Cruise in comfort through limestone-studded Ha Long Bay and along the historic Perfume River. With one foot firmly planted in the ideology of Ho Chi Minh and the other taking a giant leap toward the global free-market economy, Vietnam is a fascinating study in contradictions. Diverse religious traditions, an elusive spirituality and ongoing political transformations add yet more layers of complexity. It is a nation reveling in its newfound prosperity. This trip explores the classic, must-see sights, while also sourcing out surprising, unusual experiences. Vietnam’s best hotels serve as your accommodations, allowing the opportunity to relax and reflect on this fascinating, complex destination.


Day 1 – Hanoi

Overnight – Sofitel Legend Metropole Hotel

WThis morning is free to sleep-in, rest and relax after your long international flights. Late this morning reconvene with your Englishspeaking guide and begin exploring the capital of Vietnam. Hanoi is a serene city of lakes, shaded boulevards, verdant parks and grand French architecture. With its tree-lined avenues and French-colonial architecture, Hanoi is widely considered one of Asia’s most alluring cities. Hanoi has been Vietnam’s on-again off-again capital for nearly a millennium with the surrounding area being inhabited since at least 3000 BC. Evidence of successive influencing cultures—Chinese, Japanese, French, American—can be seen in the city’s collection of monuments and relic buildings, as well as its markets.

Begin the day with a visit to the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum that displays Ho Chi Minh’s embalmed body. Then tour the modest wooden house on stilts where he lived during the last years of his life. Other sights this morning include the One Pillar Pagoda and the Temple of Literature, the site of Vietnam’s first university and shrine for Confucian worship founded in 1066.

This afternoon visit Hoa Lo Prison Museum, otherwise known as “the Hanoi Hilton.” Built by the French to house Vietnamese revolutionaries, it was later used to hold American POWs during the Vietnam War. Nearby is Craft Link, a not-for-profit organization specializing in the production of quality handicrafts from Vietnam’s many ethnic groups.

Later this afternoon tour the city’s Old Quarter aboard bicycle rickshaws called cyclos. In this part of town, each colorful street is devoted to a particular craft or ware. You will be pedaled amongst the quaint French buildings along Shoe Street, Silk Street and Banner Street (to name just a few) before returning to the hotel where you will have a chance to relax and freshen up.


Day 2 – Hanoi

Overnight – Sofitel Legend Metropole Hotel

This morning is free to sleep-in, rest and relax after your long international flights. Late this morning reconvene with your Englishspeaking guide and begin exploring the capital of Vietnam. Hanoi is a serene city of lakes, shaded boulevards, verdant parks and grand French architecture. With its tree-lined avenues and French-colonial architecture, Hanoi is widely considered one of Asia’s most alluring cities. Hanoi has been Vietnam’s on-again off-again capital for nearly a millennium with the surrounding area being inhabited since at least 3000 BC. Evidence of successive influencing cultures—Chinese, Japanese, French, American—can be seen in the city’s collection of monuments and relic buildings, as well as its markets.

Begin the day with a visit to the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum that displays Ho Chi Minh’s embalmed body. Then tour the modest wooden house on stilts where he lived during the last years of his life. Other sights this morning include the One Pillar Pagoda and the Temple of Literature, the site of Vietnam’s first university and shrine for Confucian worship founded in 1066.

This afternoon visit Hoa Lo Prison Museum, otherwise known as “the Hanoi Hilton.” Built by the French to house Vietnameserevolutionaries, it was later used to hold American POWs during the Vietnam War. Nearby is Craft Link, a not-for-profit organization specializing in the production of quality handicrafts from Vietnam’s many ethnic groups.

Later this afternoon tour the city’s Old Quarter aboard bicycle rickshaws called cyclos. In this part of town, each colorful street is devoted to a particular craft or ware. You will be pedaled amongst the quaint French buildings along Shoe Street, Silk Street and Banner Street (to name just a few) before returning to the hotel where you will have a chance to relax and freshen up.


Day 3 – Hanoi

Overnight – Sofitel Legend Metropole Hotel

Following breakfast at the hotel meet your guide and head into the countryside west of Hanoi for a unique day of exploring villages, local temples and taking in local life, which is elusive to most tourists. Begin with the drive to Duong Lam village, a purely agricultural village of the Northern Red River Delta known for its traditional architecture and houses, some hundreds of years old. Walk around the village to discover the daily life of the villagers most of whom farm rice and vegetable terraces. Also visit some of the village’s ancient houses, the largest having been built about 200 years ago and the oldest residences dating back to the early 17th century.

Continue to the hamlet of Mong Phu and walk along and through tiny ancient alleys. Then visit the village temple followed by a traditional Vietnamese lunch with a local family in their home. After lunch continue by car to the Mia Pagoda, built in the 15th century and distinctive for its 287 statues including famous sculptures such as the statue of Buddha in the Himalayas and the statues of the Eight Vajra Deities. End the day with visits to the Ngo Quyen and Phu g Hung temples, places dedicated to two of Vietnam’s national heroes, before returning to Hanoi and the hotel with the evening at leisure.


Day 4 – Ha Long Bay

Overnight – Orchid Junk

This morning check-out of the hotel and depart on a private, two hour transfer to Hai Phong and the magnificent Ha Long Bay, a UNESCO Natural World Heritage site. The Orchid Junk explores less visited areas of Ha Long Bay which is now Vietnam’s most popular destination. On arrival at Dinh Vu Port, board the tender to the Orchid Cruise; a modern, luxury junk with 14 cabins for a small group, join-in overnight cruise through the limestone cliffs and emerald waters of Ha Long Bay.

Begin cruising to Da Chong Islet, with its lighthouse built by the French over 100 years ago. After lunch on board, continue the journey through the limestone karst formations and the islets of Con Vit and Gia Luan. Then proceed to pristine Ba Trai Dao beach, located in Lan Ha Bay. Unlike the main part of Ha Long Bay, the islands of Lan Ha Bay are forested.

Continue by discovering the area’s small coracles, a small, round boat made of wickerwork covered with a watertight material, used by fishermen for centuries. Learn how they go about their trade, casting the nets, whilst navigating the waters in their tiny craft. Alternatively, enjoy kayaking which is a great way to explore waters of the bay.

This evening watch the magnificent sunset over the Gulf of Tonkin. Enjoy happy hour before a gourmet dinner. Take in the landscape of the bay at night from the top deck. Relax whilst enjoying drinks from the bar. If interested join the crew for squid fishing, watch a movie in the restaurant, or enjoy a massage in the ship’s spa. Please note that the sailing agenda and activities while on Ha Long Bay is subject to change based on various factors.


Day 5 – Hue

Overnight – La Residence Hotel & Spa

This morning rise to a beautiful sunrise on the bay and enjoy breakfast as you continue your cruise and exploration of Ha Long Bay. Enjoy an early lunch onboard and cruise back to Dinh Vu Port, then returning to Hanoi by private car and check in for the flight to Hue, a UNESCO World Heritage site and the last imperial capital of Vietnam under the Nguyen Emperors. Upon arrival in Hue meet your English-speaking guide and transfer to the luxury, riverside hotel for check-in.


Day 6 – Hue

Overnight – La Residence Hotel & Spa

Following breakfast at the hotel, enjoy a leisurely cruise along the Perfume River, sailing through the dreamy countryside and charming scenes of Vietnamese life to Thien Mu Pagoda. This is one of Vietnam’s oldest and most beautiful Buddhist temples. The octagonal, seven-tiered tower is situated on a hill near the Perfume River and houses some bronze-cast relics dating to the 17th century. In one corner of the grounds rests an aged, pale blue Morris automobile. This is the vehicle that was driven by a local monk who traveled to Saigon to immolate himself in 1963 in protest against the anti-Buddhist laws of the Ngo Dinh Diem regime.
Then continue to the Tombs of the Nguyen Emperors. With their vast, well-tended botanical gardens, beautiful open-air pavilions and numerous shrines, the Royal Tombs provided seven Nguyen emperors with noble burials as well as comfortable afterlives. The tombs of Minh Mang and Tu Duc are the most elegant, while Khai Dinh’s is the most unusual, combining Western architecture with Vietnamese style. Stroll among the courtyard statues and stele amid serene gardens and ponds.

This afternoon, enjoy a drive through the quiet, picturesque countryside around Hue. The area is a veritable cultural treasure trove, filled with brightly decorated pagodas, lively village markets and inquisitive and friendly locals. See the Thanh Toan covered bridge, dating back over 300 years. Also visit a colorful village market before arriving at Thuyen Lam Pagoda. Return to the hotel late this afternoon with the evening at leisure.


Day 7 – Hoi An

Overnight – Four Seasons Resort - The Nam Hai

This morning enjoy breakfast before checking out of the hotel and depart on a half-day exploration of Hué, including the ancient Citadel. Hué was the capital of Vietnam until the early 20th century, and generations of royalty lived in the Forbidden Purple City, inside the walled exterior of the Citadel. This was also the sight of some of the most brutal fighting during the infamous Tet Offensive of 1968.

After lunch, depart Hué on the overland drive south along the coast to the quaint town of Hoi An, in what is sure to be one of the most memorable days in Vietnam. Weather and interest permitting, ascend Hai Van Pass (also known as the Sea of Clouds), with the rugged Annamese Cordillera to one side and the Gulf of Tonkin on the four-hour journey, south to Hoi An.

In downtown Da Nang, visit the open-air Cham Museum. This small museum displays an array of artifacts from the Hindu kingdom of Champa, which flourished in the second century in central Vietnam. Continuing south enjoy a stop at China Beach (My Khe), a former R&R spot for U.S. soldiers.

This afternoon arrive in Hoi An, one of Vietnam’s great artistic gems. For hundreds of years, until it was superseded by Da Nang, this was the most flourishing port in the country and attracted traders as well as influences from China, Japan and Europe. Miraculously, the town has remained intact, and it is still possible to wander here and imagine oneself in another age. On arrival check into a luxury, beach front resort with the remainder of the evening at leisure.


Day 8 – Hoi An

Overnight – Four Seasons Resort - The Nam Hai

Once called Faifo, it was the most important port of Vietnam during the 16th century. Due to the monsoons, many trading vessels (Chinese, Thai, Japanese, Arab, India, Dutch and even Portuguese) had to stop here for a while and wait for the wind direction to change. During the four months between monsoons, these merchants rented lodgings and trading houses, preferably on the waterfront. Miraculously, the town has remained intact and it’s still possible to wander here and imagine oneself in another age.

This morning explore with your English-speaking guide and walk along the streets of Hoi An’s Ancient Town, declared a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1999. The city is a haven for local artists, and numerous galleries display a range of artistic interpretations. Visit the Japanese Bridge, built in the 16th century to link the Japanese section of Hoi An with the Chinese quarter. It’s the only covered bridge known to have a Buddhist pagoda attached to one side. Stop by the local produce market and the Tang Ky House, a late 18th century merchant’s residence, whose family lived here for seven generations. On a visit to the Fukien Association, learn about the minority Fujian Chinese, who used the building as an assembly hall. Later, it became a temple for the worship of Thien Hau, goddess of the sea and protector of fishermen and sailors.

This afternoon enjoy a culinary exploration of Hoi An beginning with a stop at Madam Phuong Bread Shop made famous by Anthony Bourdain’s visit in which he enjoyed the best banh mi in Vietnam. Continuing on foot through the ancient streets of town the next stop is a food stall that specializes in banh beo. A small food stall near the local ferry boat station prepares incredible nem nuong or BBQ beef. For a change of pace, the next food stop makes ‘Husband & Wife Cakes’ better known as banh, followed by the opportunity to enjoy traditional tofu and xoa, a local soft drink preferred by the area’s farmers. End the culinary adventure with a visit to a famous, local restaurant that is world famous for its Hoi An style cao lau which is very different from the cao lau from other areas of Vietnam and finally banh bao banh vac or ‘white roses’ which is the official dish of the area. Return to the hotel with the evening at leisure.


Day 9 – Nha Trang

Overnight – Amanoi

This morning a private driver will transfer you to the Da Nang Airport for the short flight to Nha Trang.

On arrival in Nha Trang, meet a private driver and transfer to the resort that will be home for the next three nights as you relax and enjoy one of Vietnam’s most beautiful beach areas and the country’s best resorts.

Aman Resorts makes its debut in Vietnam with a contemporary beachside resort alongside a full-service Aman Spa. Named for the Sanskrit-derived word for ‘peace’ and noi meaning ‘place’, Amanoi is a tranquil retreat situated on a beautiful white-sand beach overlooking spectacular Vinh Hy Bay.


Day 10 – Nha Trang

Overnight – Amanoi

Today is free to relax and enjoy this hotel and its surroundings. Amano’i is a meditative retreat on the coast of Nui Chua National Park, one of Vietnam’s largest natural conservation sites. Hugged by rolling, evergreen-covered hills, the resort looks over the East Sea and pristine Vinh Hy Bay.


Day 11 – Nha Trang

Overnight – Amanoi

Today is once again free to relax and explore and enjoy Nui Chua National Park. End your day with a massage that realigns body and mind with a blend of essential oils; a combination of Swedish massage, reflexology, and energy work.


Day 12 – Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon)

Overnight – Park Hyatt - Ho Chi Minh City

Following breakfast transfer back to the Nha Trang Airport for the flight to Ho Chi Minh City, still commonly referred to as ‘Saigon’. On arrival in Ho Chi Minh City, head into the heart of the city and check-into the Park Hyatt – Ho Chi Minh City. Get settled before enjoying lunch and an afternoon walking tour of District One.

Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) is the economic powerhouse of this rapidly developing country, featuring grand boulevards, central squares and river front shops. Though you can still experience some of old Asia, Saigon is a new Asian boomtown and its inhabitants are poised to embrace the modern advances of the 21st-century.

Begin with a leisurely walking tour of downtown Saigon, known as District One. Visit Notre Dame Cathedral and the General Post Office, both excellent examples of French colonial architecture. Continue to the Fine Art Museum followed by a stroll along Le Cong Kieu Antique Street, which is one of the best shopping areas in the city for unique items. Next visit Saigon’s Cao Dai Temple. Vietnam’s most fascinating indigenous religion, Caodaism, was founded in 1926 by Ngo Minh Chiey. It is a syncretistic faith that merges both Eastern and Western religious and philosophical traditions, including Confucianism, Buddhism, Hinduism, Taoism, Genissm (an indigenous Vietnamese religion), Christianity, Judaism and Islam. Also visit Reunification Palace, formerly the South Vietnam’s Independence Palace, until stormed by tanks on April 30, 1975.


Day 13 – Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon)

Overnight – Park Hyatt - Ho Chi Minh City

Following breakfast take an excursion into the countryside to Cu Chi, where the famous Viet Cong tunnels are located. Starting in the 1940s, this hand-dug network of tunnels offered refuge for the underground resistance movement against the French and later the Americans. The massive system of tunnels stretched over 75 miles underground, from Saigon to the Cambodian frontier. Those who wish to can descend into the tunnels to gain a firsthand view of the terrible conditions faced by the Viet Cong who lived here. This excursion provides insightful lessons into how the tenacious Vietnamese won their last three wars against formidable powers with vastly superior technology.

Return to the city for lunch and continue exploring based on interest and suggestions of the guide. Finally take a walk through lively Cholon market, Saigon’s Chinatown and a hub of activity. Haggle for unusual produce, interesting trinkets and beautifully made handicrafts, then stop by Saigon’s most celebrated Buddhist shrine, the Thien Hau Pagoda before returning to the hotel for the last night in Vietnam.


Day 14 – Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon)

Today you will transfer to the airport for your international flight.


Prices are per person, based on two people sharing. Room categories, dates of travel and changes to services will affect the price. Dollar conversions shown (if applicable) will fluctuate throughout the year. Contact the Andrew Harper Travel Office to customize this itinerary to fit your needs.

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