Xin chao! Welcome to Vietnam. Your adventure begins with an important welcome meeting at 6 pm. After your briefing, head out for your first introduction to Vietnam’s lively culinary scene. Stop at a family-owned restaurant and savour a bowl of noodles with an unexpected secret ingredient! After dinner enjoy a bia hoi. This foamy, light beer is made fresh each day and served in basic, open-walled ‘brew halls’. Pull up a chair and sip your tasty brew.
Start the day with a traditional breakfast of pho – a dish that originates in Hanoi – designed to awaken the senses and prepare you for the day. Join your leader on a city tour and tuck into some of Hanoi's renowned street food specialties before heading to a hidden tea house, learning about Vietnamese tea traditions from a true master. Afterwards, visit a local Xo community where an expert winemaker will lead a tasting of local Vietnamese varieties. You’ll walk down alleyways lined with French colonial architecture, passing by artist collectives, pottery workshops and back-alley fashion houses – you’re in the true heart of Hanoi now. Once arrived, head down into the basement of a 100-year-old French villa and into the world of Xo Liquid – an alcohol made of rice wine. Your expert wine maker will take you through his story and explain to you the process of making this traditional product – the knowledge and care for his craft is infectious. After your special wine experience, visit a traditional Vietnamese house, where you’ll be greeted by a local family and enjoy a meal which showcases fresh produce and regional vegetarian cuisine.
Travel by private vehicle to the spectacular World Heritage-listed site of Halong Bay (approximately 4 hours). Set sail on emerald-green waters, gliding between limestone karsts and soaking in the old-world tranquillity. Halong Bay is a secluded harbour with 2000 limestone islands rising from the turquoise waters of Bac Bo Gulf. It spans an area of about 1500 square kilometres and is dotted with beaches and grottos created over thousands of years by waves and wind. Visit one of the lesser known caves, then return to your vessel late in the afternoon and enjoy a delicious feast prepared by an onboard chef.
Take a bus back to Hanoi (approximately 3.5 hours), then board an overnight train bound for Hue (approximately 12 hours). Although conditions are basic, overnight trains are a rewarding experience. It's an efficient way to travel long distances and a great way to get a sense of the country. Most trains have a dining carriage serving simple food, but some travellers take an opportunity beforehand to stock up on fresh bread, cheese and fruit prior to departure.
Hue is Vietnam’s former royal capital and its cuisine is considered by many Vietnamese as the best in the country. The food is influenced by its imperial heritage (small dishes and a focus on aesthetic presentation) and its strong Buddhist heritage, reflected in the high proportion of vegetarian restaurants in the area. On arrival (approximately 8:30am), enjoy a classic breakfast of bun bo Hue – a popular Vietnamese soup containing rice vermicelli (bun) and beef (bo). After leaving your luggage at your hotel, embark on a tour of the city’s imperial monuments on the back of a motorbike! Stop past Thien Mu Pagoda, an active Buddhist monastery since 1601. Here you'll see a car that belonged to one of the self-immolating monks of the 1963 protests. A dragon boat cruise on the Perfume River (approximately 40 minutes) will be followed by a special lunch stop for a plant-based Buddhist meal at a pagoda, finishing with a visit to the royal tomb of Emperor Tu Duc. The evening is free for your own food adventure. Perhaps ask your leader for the best place to try imperial street specialties like banh hue (rice flour cakes stuffed with shrimp, pork and spices).
Start your day with a visit to the Imperial Citadel, which includes the Forbidden Purple City. The latter was almost totally destroyed during the Vietnam War's Tet Offensive, but the foliage-covered ruins are still atmospheric, and the gaping holes left by bombs give an idea of the destruction wreaked upon the country during the war. Head south by bus through coastal rice paddies and traverse the mountainous Hai Van Pass, stopping en route to see the traditional preparation of My Quang – a Vietnamese noodle dish originating from the Quang Nam Province. The local expert will show you how it is made, then enjoy a tasting with your group. Afterwards, continue to Hoi An (approximately 4 hours, with your lunch stop). This beautifully restored city retains the feel of centuries past, making it the sort of place that grows on you the more you explore it. Take the chance to indulge in some shopping and perhaps have some clothes tailored. There's a great array of original paintings, handcrafted woodwork, ceramics, embroidery, lanterns and fabrics on display. On arrival, your leader will take you on an orientation walk around the Ancient Town. Pop into the Reaching Out Tea House – the peace and quiet of this establishment stands in stark contrast to the bustling streets outside. The teahouse is a non-government organisation that supports the local deaf and mute community by providing employment and vocational training. While here you’ll sip some delicious teas in total silence – a tranquil experience you won’t soon forget. Your evening is free to do as you wish, and your leader can recommend the best local examples of Vietnamese cuisine.
Start your day with a walking tour of Hoi An, where you’ll see all of the sights, like the Japanese covered bridge and the Old Town’s maze of alleys. Afterwards, head to a rustic food market and keep your eyes out for things to buy – this is a great place to pick up Vietnamese cooking gadgets. In the afternoon, head to a small village called Cam Thanh. Be joined by a local chef at the village market, for a spot of ingredient shopping and to take in the aromatic herbs, vibrant fruit and vegetables, and local life. Head back to the home of our local chef and enjoy visiting their own edible garden, before rolling up your sleeves for a hands-on cooking class. Feast on your delicious creations, dishes that highlight the cooking of the Pho Hoi people.
Today is free for you to explore Hoi An at your leisure and of course your leader can recommend the best food and activities. For early risers, take the opportunity to visit the Hoi An fish markets – they are at their most vibrant in the mornings! Afterwards, if the weather's fine, perhaps hit the local beach for a swim (a great way to get there is by bicycle, which you can hire in town). In the evening, you could enjoy some seafood by the water, or jump on a boat for a barbecue feast on a nearby island.
Take the short flight to Ho Chi Minh City (approximately 1 hour). Take a guided tour to get a feel for the city's frenetic, fascinating blend of old and new, East and West. You will notice a strong French influence in Ho Chi Minh City, which means excellent coffee and baguettes. Stop past the War Remnants Museum, GPO and Notre Dame Cathedral, finishing up at one of Vietnam’s most pulsing markets, Ben Thanh. This is the perfect place to pick up any last-minute snacks, cooking utensils, ingredients, or presents for friends and family. Tonight, take part in a cooking class where you'll learn some contemporary twists on traditional Vietnamese dishes with a passionate chef. Sit down and enjoy the delicious feast you've prepared over dinner.
Take a private bus out to the Mekong Delta (approximately 2–3 hours), then cruise up this mighty river on a sampan (traditional boat), one of the most common forms of transportation in these parts. Glide past farms and orchards to your guesthouse, set alongside a family home. Meet your hosts and take some time to wander the garden, relax or lend a hand with dinner preparations. Enjoy a southern Vietnamese feast on the wide verandah overlooking the garden as the sun gs down.
For those who fancy an early morning cycle, join your hosts on a ride to the nearby village market for breakfast supplies for the group, and then enjoy a meal back at the homestay. Afterwards, return to Ho Chi Minh City by bus. The rest of your day is at your leisure. If you've got energy left in the evening, you might choose to enjoy a final Vietnamese meal with your new friends.
With no activities planned for today, you are free to depart the accommodation at any time. If you wish to spend more time in Ho Chi Minh City, we’ll be happy to organise additional accommodation (subject to availability).