The ultimate south to north adventure tour of Vietnam

Experience quintessential Vietnam on this comprehensive trip from south to north. Travel from Ho Chi Minh City to Hanoi and experience dynamic cities, tranquil backwaters, imperial ruins, faded colonial elegance and picture-perfect landscapes dotted with reminders of the past. Explore the narrow cobbled streets of Hoi An’s Old Town, slurp on noodly pho in Nha trang and cruise the gentle Perfume River in Hue as you uncover the very best of Vietnam.

Start
Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
Finish
Hanoi, Vietnam
Countries
Vietnam
Themes
Explorer
Code
TVST
Physical rating
Cultural rating
Ages
Min 15
Group size
Min 1 Max 12
Carbon offset
394kg pp per trip


Highlights

  • Travel to both popular and lesser-known destinations in Vietnam, including tourist hotspots like Halong Bay and hidden gems such as Quy Nhon
  • See Vietnam through an exciting mix of transport, including motorbike, basket boat, dragon boat, junk boat, bus and train
  • Experience local life during homestays in the Mekong Delta and Mai Chau. Get to know local families, participate in their activities and enjoy a homestyle meal
  • The drive to Quy Nhon features some of the best scenery in Vietnam. Sit back, relax and enjoy the ride
  • Visit the mind-boggling Phong Nha and Thien Duong Caves. These labyrinthine systems were used to shelter civilians and win the war against the Americans
  • Spend a day in Hue, touring the city's sights on a motorbike, cruising down Perfume River and eating lunch at a serene nunnery

Itinerary

This itinerary is valid for departures from 01 January 2016 to 31 December 2016. View the itinerary for departures between 01 January 2017 - 31 December 2017

Xin chao! Welcome to Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. Your adventure begins with a welcome meeting at 6 pm today. You can arrive at any time during the day as there are no activities planned until this important meeting. Please check with hotel reception or look on the reception noticeboard for where and when the meeting will take place. If you're going to be late, please inform the hotel reception. We'll be collecting your insurance details and next of kin information at this meeting, so please ensure you have all these details to provide to your leader.

Because this trip doesn’t spend much time in Ho Chi Minh City, why not arrive a day or two early to see the sights? Ho Chi Minh City has a dynamic atmosphere and a French influence. Perhaps head to Pham Ngu Lao Street to see the local open-aired market, visit Vinh Nghiem Pagoda or one of the amusements parks.

Note: If you can't arrange a flight that will have you arrive at the hotel in time for the meeting, you may wish to arrive a day early so you're able to attend. We'll be happy to book additional accommodation for you (subject to availability).
For the first full day of your trip, you’ll visit one of the most important sites in Ho Chi Minh City, the famous Cu Chi Tunnels. These complex tunnels were used by the Viet Cong in the long war against the Americans and were instrumental to the Vietnamese victory. Be amazed by the ingenuity of these dangerous tunnels.

Later in the day, take a tour of the city, passing the Reunification Palace, Notre Dame Cathedral and the Opera House. Head to the War Remnants Museum for a sobering yet informative lesson on the Vietnam War. Here you’ll see things like old military equipment, an F5A fighter and a UH1-Huey helicopter.
Travel south by private bus for about three hours to Cai Be. When you arrive, you’ll board a boat and explore the intricate waterways of the Mekong Delta. Often referred to as ‘the rice bowl’ of Vietnam, the fertile delta is where rice, tropical fruit and flowers are grown for the whole country. The views along the canal will take your breath away.

Hop off the boat to visit an orchard and sample some tropical fruit. You’ll then continue on the cruise towards some local cottage industries. Get to see local life and the industries surrounding the river up close. Around sunset, you’ll make your way up one of the many canals to your homestay where you’ll enjoy a wonderful meal of local specialities. The accommodation tonight will be simple, but the experience will be rewarding.

Notes: At the homestay, you’ll be sleeping in a dorm-style arrangement on simple beds. Bedding and mosquito nets will be provided, and there will be shared toilet and bathroom facilities with cold water only.
Wake up early today to explore more of the magical delta. Daily life here starts at dawn, so after breakfast we visit the Cai Be Floating Market. Here you’ll see hundreds of boats filled with people selling fresh produce.

Travel back to Ho Chi Minh City (about three hours) and enjoy some free time to do a bit of sightseeing. We recommend exploring the city’s restaurants and trying Ho Chi Minh City’s distinctive food. In contrast to the north of Vietnam, the cuisine here is spicier, sweeter and more varied. There are also plenty of street food stalls if you’d like to try a several bites.

In the evening, board an overnight train to Nha Trang which will take about 11 hours. Although conditions are basic, overnight trains are a true Intrepid experience and the best way to travel long distances with the locals. You’ll have the opportunity to stock up on fresh bread, fruit and cheese before the journey, and most trains also have a dining carriage which serves simple food.

Notes: Sleeper trains typically have four or six berth compartments with bench seats that convert into bunk beds. A sheet, pillow and blanket will be provided, however some travellers prefer to bring their own sheets. You’ll usually be sharing with people of the same gender, however occasionally you’ll need to share with people of other genders or travellers who aren’t part of the group.
Arrive in the idyllic coastal town of Nha Trang. Here you’ll have a free day to enjoy the beaches, snorkelling and the seafood restaurants along the promenade. Ask your leader to suggest some things to do.
Get on another boat and head out to explore the nearby islands. This excursion is often the highlight of the trip for many travellers as you’ll get to know some of the locals and indulge in the beauty of the place. Starting on the main boat, you’ll then take a small basket boat to shore and visit a fishing village, snorkel in the turquoise waters and have a seafood buffet for lunch. Pass the afternoon lazing in a deck chair or going for another swim.
Today will be a long day of travelling to Quy Nhon but will be full of beautiful views along Highway One. The drive will take about six hours along a road hugging granite cliffs over the blue sea. Enjoy scenery of islands, lagoons and sand dunes which give way to sugar plantations and rice fields.

En route, you’ll stop for a visit to the striking Po Nagar Cham Towers, medieval temples remaining from the Cham civilisation.

Quy Nhon is a hidden gem, remaining off the tourist trail despite its beautiful beaches and bay. When you arrive, you’ll visit the Nguyen Nga Training Centre, a charity venture which helps orphans and people with disabilities. Spend some time with the children who’ll be more than happy to practice their English and entertain with songs. You can also purchase handicrafts made in the centre’s workshop.
Another long but scenic drive today towards Hoi An (about seven hours). On the way make a sobering visit to the My Lai Memorial, which marks the site where American troops massacred a whole village of civilians.

Recently declared a World Heritage site, Hoi An was a major trading port with the West from the 15th to the 19th century. Today it has been restored to look exactly as it did more than a century ago, giving it an old-world feel full of nooks and crannies to explore.

You’ll have some free time this afternoon. Hoi An is very much a shopping mecca. Why not browse the paintings, woodwork, ceramics, embroidery all made by the locals? The city is also famous for its talented tailors who work with beautiful fabrics for a good price.
Also known as Ancient Town, part of what makes Hoi An so special is its blend of indigenous and European architectural styles. For this reason, it’s also known as Ancient Town. Go on an orientation walk around the town today and get your bearings. Afterwards, you may choose to go on one of the optional activities. Perhaps take a boat cruise down the Thu Bon River, or take a bicycle tour around the countryside. There’s also a day trip to the stunning ruins of My Son, the centuries-old Hindu temples.
Enjoy another free day in the town of Hoi An. You’ll have time to see the beautiful Chinese shophouses, enjoy the busy market, visit Cua Dai Beach, cycle to the rice fields or browse the array of art galleries.
Depart Hoi An and visit the white sand and blue sea of My Khe Beach. Continue on the journey and cross the dramatic Hai Van Pass and make a quick stop at the fishing village of Lang Co. Get back in the bus again and make your way to Hue. The total driving time today will be about five hours.

Arrive in Hue, the former imperial capital of Vietnam. Hue contains the treasures of Vietnam’s royal history, and has a curious blend of bustling streets and tranquil settings. Your excursion here will be to the Imperial Citadel. This fortress houses the Imperial City and the citadel-within-a-citadel, the Forbidden Purple City. This icon was almost completely destroyed during the Vietnam War, and the ruins and holes left by bombs are a reminder of the destruction caused by the war.

In your free time you might like to visit to Dong Ba Market which offers locally made goods, fresh produce and tantalising street food. This is a good place to try the specialties enjoyed by Emperor Nguyen such as the banh khoai royal rice cake.
Today’s adventure will be taken on the back of a motorbike. You’ll have your own driver who will take you first on a drive around the Imperial Citadel, then to the Thien My Pagoda, the unofficial symbol of Hue. This site dates back to 1601 and is still an active Buddhist monastery. Here you’ll also see the car left by a monk who set himself alight to protest the treatment of Buddhists by the South Vietnamese regime.

Hop off the motorbike for a bit and go on a dragon boat cruise along the Perfume River. After the 40-minute cruise get back on your motorbike and ride to a special lunch spot at a convent.

After lunch, drive to the royal tomb of Emperor Tu Duc, set amid a lake, frangipani bushes and pine trees. At the end of the day, head back to Hue.

Notes:

-For those who prefer not to ride motorbikes, a car will be provided for transport between destinations.

-Boats along Perfume River may not be available during festival season. During these times, you’ll be transported by land to reach the activities.
Get on a bus this morning on your way to the Vinh Moc Tunnels. These were used during the Vietnam War as shelter for the villagers who were escaping intense bombing. The locals lived in the underground system that went over three levels. You’ll be able to enter the tunnels which remain in their original form.

This afternoon continue on to the a picturesque village outside the Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park and our our base for tonight.
Today visit the Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park. This UNESCO World Heritage site contains the oldest known karst mountains in Asia. The area is also known for its enormous cave system. You’ll visit the Thien Duong Cave (Paradise Cave), then take a cruise up the Son River towards the Phong Nha Cave. The scale of the place is truly astounding.

In the late afternoon, travel to Dong Hoi and catch and overnight sleeper train to Hanoi. The journey will take about 10 hours.
Arrive in Hanoi early in the morning and transfer to your hotel. Vietnam’s capital is famous for its beautiful lakes, shaded boulevards, public parks and Frenchy Old Quarter. As an emerging city in Southeast Asian, Hanoi has an attractive contrast of modern office buildings, old Buddhist temples and a labyrinth of ancient streets.

Later in the day, you’ll visit the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum complex, including the One Pillar Pagoda and the Ho Chi Minh Museum.

In the evening, enjoy a performance of water puppetry, a unique and traditional Vietnamese art form.
Make your way to the peaceful town of Mai Chau which is situated in a beautiful valley surrounded by verdant mountains and emerald rice paddies. You’ll go for a two or three-hour walk through the minority villages and meet the friendly Hill Tribe people.

You’ll spend the night in a local stilt-house homestay in the village of Poom Coong. Your amiable hosts will cook you a fabulous home-style meal and maybe even serve up some of the regional wine. Tonight you’ll enjoy a traditional dance performed by the local villagers.
Spend another morning exploring and enjoying the country air of Mai Chau, then return to Hanoi. As it’s often a favourite with those who’ve done the trip, you’ll get some more free time in Hanoi. See more of the colonial and Vietnamese architecture, and make the most of the delicious food.
Drive to Bai Chay Harbour towards the famous world heritage site of Halong Bay. The drive will take around four hours and take you to a secluded harbour and blue-green bay studded with limestone outcrops. The area is full of beaches and natural grottos. You’ll take a boat through the limestone peaks and caves filled with stalactites and stalagmites, and have the chance to go for a swim.

Spend the night on board the boat beneath a sky alive with starlight. The boat has twin-share cabins with air-conditioning and private facilities. There’s also a dining room and bar where you can enjoy the day’s meals.

Notes: There are restrictions on the number of boats that are permitted to stay in the bay overnight. To ensure all Intrepid travellers can enjoy the experience of a night on the water, we’re occasionally using a larger boat (with approximately 12 cabins) or splitting groups across different vessels. An Intrepid group leader will be present on each boat, and the route taken and inclusions on board will remain the same.

Your leader will discuss the option for swimming from Ti Top Island beach during the warmer months. Swimming in the bay from the boats is not permitted.
Take a three-and-a-half hour bus ride back to Hanoi. There are no activities planned for the day except for an optional farewell dinner to mark the end of your trip. Spend a final night in Hanoi before the trip ends tomorrow.
There are no activities planned for the final day and you’re free to leave the accommodation at any time.
View trip notes to read full itinerary

Inclusions

Meals
17 breakfasts, 5 lunches, 3 dinners
Transport
Boat, Bus, Overnight sleeper train, Private Bus, Private vehicle, Taxi
Accommodation
Homestay (2 nights), Hotel (14 nights), Overnight boat (1 night), Overnight sleeper train (2 nights)
Included activities
  • Ho Chi Minh City - Cu Chi Tunnels
  • Ho Chi Minh City - War Remnants Museum
  • Ho Chi Minh City - City tour
  • Mekong Delta - Sightseeing tour including cottage industries
  • Mekong Delta - Floating Market
  • Nha Trang - Row boat tour
  • Nha Trang - Boat trip including lunch
  • Nha Trang - Hon Mun Island swimming and snorkelling
  • Nha Trang - Po Nagar Cham Tower
  • Quy Nhon - Nguyen Nga Training Centre Visit
  • Quy Nhon - My Lai Memorial
  • Hoi An - Ancient town walk and entrance ticket
  • Hue - Imperial citadel
  • Hue - Royal tomb
  • Hue - Motorbike trip including lunch
  • Hue - Perfume river cruise and Thien Mu Pagoda
  • Quang Tri - Vinh Moc Tunnels Entrance
  • Phong Nha Ke-Bang NP - Thien Duong (Paradise Cave)
  • Phong Nha Ke-Bang NP - Boat Tour
  • Phong Nha Ke-Bang NP - Phong Nha Cave Entrance
  • Hanoi - Water puppet show
  • Hanoi - Ho Chi Minh's Mausoleum and Museum
  • Hanoi - One Pillar Pagoda
  • Mai Chau - Village visit
  • Mai Chau - Music performance
  • Halong Bay - Overnight boat cruise

Dates

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Important notes

1. Please provide your full name as per passport and passport number 45 days prior to departure in order to secure Vietnam train tickets.
2. A single supplement is available on this trip. The supplement in not available at the following accommodation:
Day 3 - Mekong Delta homestay
Day 4 - Overnight train
Day 14 - Overnight train
Day 16 - Mai Chau homestay
Day 18 - Halong Bay boat

Trip notes

Want an in-depth insight into this trip? Your trip notes provide a detailed itinerary, visa info, how to get to your hotel, what’s included - pretty much everything you need to know about this adventure and more.

View trip notes

Reviews

Our Best of Vietnam trips score an average of 4.87 out of 5 based on 148 reviews in the last year.

Best of Vietnam , August 2016

Best of Vietnam , July 2016