The Essence of Vietnam

Suggested 11 day North to South Itinerary (best time to travel: Mar-May + Sep-Nov)

Day 1 Arrive Hanoi
Arrive in Hanoi airport to meet your guide; transfer to a hotel in the city.

Day 2 Hanoi
Spend today visiting the highlights and hidden gems of Vietnam’s charming capital city. First stop is Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum, the final resting place for the revered former president who led Vietnam’s campaign for independence. Continue to the Temple of Literature to wander the ancient collection of courtyards, gardens and architecture built in honour of the famous Chinese scholar -Confucius

Enjoy traditional Hanoi delicacies for lunch then meander through the Old Quarter with its thirty-six streets each named after the thirty-six trades originally on offer in the district. Let the guide lead the way through a labyrinthine of back alleys into the city’s authentic heart; pass by time-worn temples and traditional houses to encounter people who call this fascinating city home. Stop for an authentic Vietnamese coffee at a café overlooking iconic Hoan Kiem Lake, before making a final stop at Ngoc Son Temple built on a small island on the lake. End the day captivated by a traditional water puppet show, an age-old performing art originating from the riverside villages of Northern Vietnam.

Day 3  Hanoi - Halong Bay
Depart Hanoi and travel to Ha Long Bay to board the L’Azalee Deluxe - a beautifully restored traditional wooden junk with a colourful, modern design. Settle in to a stylish cabin and enjoy spectacular views of the UNESCO World Heritage Site from the water.

Set sail to Sung Sot Cave - aptly known as ‘Surprise Cave’ - reached only via a small opening in the rock. From there, cruise to Lom Bo Canal to visit a floating pearl farm and learn how these precious 'stones' are cultivated. Choose to kayak or walk about the floating village and do some shopping for the freshest pearls in the bay. Continue floating through the towering, jungle-clad islands before mooring for the evening. Take part in a Vietnamese cooking demonstration from the on-board chefs; learn firsthand the art of rolling fresh pho cuon (rice noodle rolls) and elegant fruit carving. Enjoy dinner on the deck and wrap up the day with a cocktail or try out squid fishing under the stars of the bay.

Day 4  Halong Bay - Hanoi
Wake up amidst the bay’s stunning karst scenery and enjoy breakfast before setting off on the final leg of the cruise. Arrive back at Tuan Chau Marina after a few hours of gentle cruising and grab a light lunch before heading back to Hanoi via vehicle transfer.

Day 5  Hanoi - Hue
From the Hanoi htel, transfer to the airport for a flight to Hue (pronounced ‘hway’). Upon arrival at this royal city, meet a Buffalo Tours guide at the airport for transfer to a hotel. The rest of the day is free to explore this alluring city at one’s own pace.

Day 6 Hue - Hoi An
Depart Hue and continue south to the riverside town of Hoi An. This five-hour drive hugs the coastline along the North Pacific Ocean with breath taking views, particularly as the road winds Hai Van Pass (“Pass of the Ocean Clouds”).

Stop at the coastal city of Da Nang to visit the Museum of Cham Sculpture; examine remnants and learn all about the Champa empire which once controlled all of Central Vietnam. Continue southwards to eventually arrive in one of Vietnam’s most atmospheric towns – Hoi An.

Day 7 Hoi An
Explore Hoi An’s well-preserved ancient town, a former trading port which once welcomed Chinese, Dutch, French, Japanese, Portuguese and Arab merchants from the 16th to the 18th Century. Now one of coastal Vietnam’s most amiable towns, Hoi An is home to some of the country’s most beautiful ancient architecture inspired by Portuguese, Chinese and Japanese culture.

Start a walking tour through the breezy streets lined with honey-yellow buildings and arrive at Chua Ong Pagoda. This Chinese inspired structure dates back to 1653 and its interior still wafts the sweet smell of incense throughout the day. From here, walk to nearby Fujian (Phuc Kien) Assembly Hall with its Jinshang Temple dedicated to the Goddess of the Sea.

After passing by the 200 year old Tan Ky House, cross one of Hoi An’s most iconic structures - the Japanese Covered Bridge – to take a break at Reaching Out Tea House. Sit down for a rejuvenating cup of tea at this social enterprise which has been established to aid locals with disabilities. Head to a restaurant specialising in traditional Hoi An delicacies to have a tasty lunch accompanied by a cooking demonstration.

Afterwards, move to Cam Thanh Village - a small community located in the outskirts of central Hoi An. Walk a short distance to a small village home to meet a local family; take the opportunity to interact with them and learn about their way of life. On the nearby river, hop in a bamboo basket boat to visit a water coconut forest and then board a larger boat bound for central Hoi An. After taking in the stunning riverside scenery along the Thu Bon River, wrap up today’s journey with a cocktail at a rooftop bar.

Day 8  Hoi An - Ho Chi Minh City
Take a flight from ancient Hoi An to the pulsating Ho Chi Minh City. Spend the remainder of the day at leisure.

Day 9 Ho Chi Minh City
Today begins with an introduction to Vietnam’s vibrant southern metropolis by private car. Set off into the bustling morning atmosphere of downtown Ho Chi Minh City, en route to a collection of its most famous landmarks. Start the journey at the Central Post Office and Opera House, both colonial-era architectural masterpieces with dazzling French design. Walk onward to the nearby Independence Palace to admire the elegant meeting rooms before enjoying beautiful third-storey views across the vast grassy lawns and gardens.

Pay a visit to the War Remnants Museum nearby for a firsthand look at the mid-twentieth century war through the eyes of the Vietnamese people. Transfer to Ben Thanh Market for a glimpse at the city’s bustling commercial heart then enjoy a freshly-prepared Vietnamese lunch at Mandarin Restaurant.

This afternoon, experience one of Ho Chi Minh City’s most charming modes of transportation - a cyclo! Sit back as the traditional rickshaw journeys through the winding alleyways of Chinatown arriving at two stunning examples of Chinese architecture - Cha Tam Church and Chua Ong Pagoda. By foot, head down a traditional herbal medicine street for a closer look at how locals use herbal remedies for everything from headaches to energy boosts! With a tea bag souvenir, wave goodbye to the friendly owner and head onward to Bitexco Financial Tower - a glittering example of modern architecture in the city. As the fifth highest building in Asia, the views from Café EON offer unrivalled panoramas of the sunset. Enjoy a leisurely cocktail as the sun dips below the horizon for the perfect end to the da

Day 10  Cu Chi Tunnels
Escape the congestion of Ho Chi Minh City and head out into the countryside, a far cry from the frenetic urban sprawl of downtown Saigon. On this journey through the countryside, stop at a cricket farm where these insects are raised to eventually become tasty snacks. Considered a delicacy by many, local lore also says that hungry soldiers ate them to beef up their nutrient-poor diets. Witness crickets at various stages of their lifecycle and have the opportunity to sample them wrapped up in tasty spring rolls.

Visit Cu Chi Tunnels, the infamous underground city for Viet Cong soldiers during the Vietnam War. The cramped tunnels were central to the war’s strategic operations and are complete with underground hospitals, schools and canteens. Keep an eye out for the man traps, bomb craters and other remnants of war, including an American tank that was destroyed by a landmine.

Travel down the Saigon River by speedboat, enjoy one of the least explored parts of the city that still brims with culture. Watch the world float by while enjoying a selection of traditional Vietnamese fruit before arriving back in Ho Chi Minh City. After a full-on morning out, relax and enjoy a delicious lunch at a local Vietnamese restaurant before returning to the hotel mid-afternoon.

Day 11  Ho Chi Minh City - home
After traveling from the North to the South, it’s time for the adventure to come to an end. Transfer to the airport for a departing flight.

Visit cultural highlights along with ancient back alleys in Vietnam’s capital, Hanoi
* Cruise through emerald waters and towering limestone pillars at Ha Long Bay aboard a traditional junk
* Explore Hoi An’s ancient town and interact with the locals
* Ride a cyclo through Chinatown in Ho Chi Minh City
* Crawl through the Cu Chi Tunnels and learn about the infamous underground city constructed during the Vietnam War