Hanoi backstreets, Da Bac hiking, Hoi An countryside and Cat Ba kayaking

Trace Vietnam’s eastern coastline on this 15-day Lonely Planet Experience, tackling the country from south to north and discovering the many wonders that lie along the way. From the modern chaos of Ho Chi Minh City all the way up to old-world Hanoi, you'll experience tumultuous history, colonial charm, vibrant colours, delicious food and inspiring scenery on your adventure. Take a boat cruise along the Mekong Delta, tour the backstreets of Hoi An with a local, enjoy a rural homestay in Da Bac and explore the beautiful karsts of Lan Ha Bay.


Start
Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
Finish
Hanoi, Vietnam
Destination
Vietnam
Style
Basix
Theme
Lonely Planet Experience
Code
TVRN
Physical rating
Ages
Min 15
Group size
Min 1, Max 16

A powerful partnership

Lonely Planet and Intrepid Travel share the same philosophy: we help curious people explore the world.

Why you'll love this trip

  • After spending time admiring Hoi An’s World Heritage-listed ancient town, hop on a bike and pedal beside rice fields and through small villages on a guided bicycle tour of the surrounding countryside.

  • Spend two days on Cat Ba Island relaxing on tiny beaches, hiking through verdant jungle and kayaking around karst-studded Lan Ha Bay. It’s just like Halong, but with fewer tourists!

  • Cruise around the backwater canals of the Mekong Delta – the ‘rice bowl’ of Vietnam – and discover rural life and local interactions along the shores with your small group.

  • Explore the 36 streets of Hanoi’s Old Quarter, as well as the Dong Xuan Market and Hoan Kiem Lake, taking in the unique mixture of French Colonial and Buddhist architecture.

  • This trip is big on connecting with the real Vietnam, and with two included homestays – one in Da Bac and one on the Mekong Delta – you can immerse yourself in everyday life.

Is this trip right for you?

  • You may also want to check out our Cambodia and Vietnam Experience (TKRNC) if you have longer time to explore in the region. https://www.intrepidtravel.com/vietnam/cambodia-vietnam-experience-126711 You may also want to check out our Cambodia and Vietnam Experience (TKRNC) if you have longer time to explore in the region. https://www.intrepidtravel.com/vietnam/cambodia-vietnam-experience-126711

  • Once on this trip, including on overnight trains. Accommodation and amenities are shared and basic, but the experience of rubbing shoulders with the locals makes it all worthwhile. For more about what this experience is like, see our blog post here: https://www.intrepidtravel.com/adventures/what-to-expect-on-an-overnight.

  • You'll be spending two nights with local families on this trip. While during these homestays the accommodation is shared and basic, this is a great opportunity to connect with the local people (and enjoy delicious home-cooked meals!). Read more about what to expect here: https://www.intrepidtravel.com/adventures/community-based-tourism-vietnam

  • Your visit to Hoi An includes a bicycle tour of the surrounding countryside. Although the ride isn’t strenuous, you will need a basic level of fitness to take part.

  • There is an included hike of up to six kilometres (almost four miles) in the countryside in Da Bac. While this hike is within the capabilities of most travellers, please let your booking agent know if you have any concerns. Good walking shoes are recommended.

  • This trip gives you plenty of free time in each location, perfect for the traveller who appreciates a bit of independence.

Itinerary

Xin chao! Welcome to Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. Your adventure begins with a welcome meeting at 6 pm today. As you won’t be spending much time in Ho Chi Minh City, we recommend arriving a few days early to see more of this fascinating city. See the ancient pagodas and cathedrals near the former Presidential Palace, historic Dong Khoi Street, and the chaotic markets of Ben Thanh and Cholon (Chinatown). Better yet, consider taking a day trip such as Urban Adventure’s Cu Chi Experience. See urbanadventures.com/destination/ho-chi-minh-city-tours for more information on the range of Ho Chi Minh City day tours.
Accommodation
  • Hotel (1 night)
Optional Activities
  • Ho Chi Minh City - Cu Chi Tunnel Experience Urban Adventure - USD39
  • Ho Chi Minh City - Ho Chi Minh Discovery Urban Adventure - USD52
Meals Included
There are no meals included on this day.
Special Information
It’s very important that you attend the welcome meeting as we will be collecting insurance details and next of kin information at this time. If you are going to be late please let your travel agent or hotel reception know. Ask reception or look for a note in the lobby for more information on where the meeting will take place.
This morning, head away from the city and make your way to the province of Ben Tre, where you’ll get on a boat to tour the canals of the Mekong Delta. This fertile area is famous for its abundance of fruit, flower and rice crops, and is known as the ‘rice bowl’ of Vietnam. During your boat ride you’ll visit some cottage industries along the river before heading to your guesthouse. Staying in simple local accommodation close to the delta, hosted by a Vietnamese family, will be one of the highlights of your trip, giving you a taste of community life as well as the chance to enjoy a traditional home-cooked meal.
Accommodation
  • Homestay (1 night)
Included Activities
  • Mekong Delta - Boat Cruise and Homestay
  • Mekong Delta - Boat Cruise Lunch
Meals Included
  • Lunch
  • Dinner
Special Information
Facilities at the guesthouse are basic and can vary as we stay with several different families. We sleep on camp beds in a communal room for all members of the group. Bedding and mosquito nets are provided. Your guesthouse will be located near the Mekong, but may not be on the banks of the river itself.
Rise early to the sounds of the river coming alive, and enjoy a simple breakfast before boarding the boat back down the delta and catching a bus back to Ho Chi Minh City. Enjoy some free time in Ho Chi Minh City this afternoon, perhaps with a visit to the War Remnants Museum or Reunification Palace. If you haven’t already, head to Ben Thanh Market for some delicious street food, colourful shopping and even more colourful characters. This evening, board an overnight train bound for Danang. Trains are a common form of transport for the Vietnamese, so sit back and relax into this local experience.
Accommodation
  • Overnight sleeper train (1 night)
Optional Activities
  • Ho Chi Minh City - Reunification Palace - VND40000
  • Ho Chi Minh City - War Remnants Museum - VND40000
Meals Included
  • Breakfast
Special Information
There are shared day use hotel rooms available this afternoon if you would like to freshen up before the overnight train. There is one room provided to share between up to six members of the group. Single supplements do not apply to day use rooms.

Sleeper trains typically have four- or six-berth compartments with bench seats that convert into sleeping bunks. A sheet, pillow and blanket are provided, although some travellers prefer to bring their own sleeping sheet. Depending on the configuration of the group, you may have to share with people of different genders or passengers who aren’t part of the group. Your leader will coordinate and give further information on the trip. Most trains have a dining carriage serving simple food, but we recommend that you stock up on snacks and drinks before departure.
Arrive in Danang by train and travel by minibus for approximately 1 hour to Hoi An. Hoi An was recently declared a World Heritage town and is being beautifully restored. It was a major trading port with the West from the 17th century. Today, parts of Hoi An look exactly as they did more than a century ago. Your leader will take you on a sightseeing walk through the Old Town and visit some of the city's major attractions. A sightseeing pass is included in your tour so you can visit a selection of the major sights. Hoi An is also a shopping mecca, so head down to the markets and street stalls to browse paintings, woodwork, ceramics and lanterns. It’s also famous for its tailors who can make beautiful items to order, and with almost three full days here you have the chance to have some unique pieces whipped up.
Accommodation
  • Hotel (1 night)
Included Activities
  • Hoi An - Old Town walking tour
Optional Activities
  • Hoi An - Food Adventure Urban Adventure - USD31
Meals Included
There are no meals included on this day.
Wake up for a free morning to do as you please. It’s a great opportunity to take a trip out to the My Son temples – a World Heritage-listed site constructed between the 4th and 14th centuries that reflects the rich cultural traditions of the Cham civilisation. In the afternoon, swap walking for cycling with a bike ride through the countryside near Hoi An. There's no better way to explore the peaceful area than on two wheels. You’ll see places few tourists get the chance to see among the green rice paddies and small creeks, which will give you a true insight into rural life in Vietnam.
Accommodation
  • Hotel (1 night)
Included Activities
  • Hoi An - Countryside bicycle hire
Optional Activities
  • Hoi An - My Son Cham tour (entrance fee, guide and transport included) - USD35
Meals Included
There are no meals included on this day.
Special Information
As bicycle helmets aren't a legal requirement in Vietnam, it's possible that helmets won't be available for today's included activity. If you would like to be guaranteed a helmet, we recommend you bring one with you. We are working with our local operators to ensure helmets are available in the future.
You’ve got another day to explore this historic haven. Perhaps book in your final tailoring fitting this morning to make sure the threads you’re getting made fit like a glove, or hire a bike for a lazy ride out to the South China Sea to relax on An Bang or Cua Dai beach. Hoi An is also known for its great food, so you could book yourself in for a cooking class to take some culinary secrets away with you. Most tours include a trip to the local food markets, and some take you on a short boat journey along the Thu Bon River. Let your local leader know what you're into and they will be able to recommend some activities to suit.
Accommodation
  • Hotel (1 night)
Optional Activities
  • Hoi An - Hoi An Boat & Bike with Sunset BBQ Urban Adventure - USD54
  • Hoi An - Hoi An Walking & Cooking Class Urban Adventure - USD55
Meals Included
There are no meals included on this day.
Bid farewell to Hoi An this morning and make your way to Hue. The drive in a private vehicle will take around 5 hours. You’ll be travelling on the incredible Hai Van Pass, through lush mountains and past scenic lookouts, and there’ll be some good places for a photo stop. Once in Hue, you’ll have a free afternoon to explore. Hue was once Vietnam’s imperial capital and has a curious mix of bustling streets and tranquil enclaves. Perhaps visit the Dong Ba Market, which sells everything imaginable and is a great place to spend some time. It’s important to know that Hue is renowned for its cuisine, with some delicious dishes originating from this region, including bun bo hue (Hue’s delicious take on pho), and banh khoai (a filled turmeric crepe). Time to give your tastebuds a workout.
Accommodation
  • Hotel (1 night)
Optional Activities
  • Hue - Hue Royal Street Eats by Cyclo Urban Adventure - USD39
Meals Included
There are no meals included on this day.
Enjoy a free day in Hue. Perhaps visit the Imperial Citadel which includes the Forbidden Purple City that was almost totally destroyed during the Vietnam War. The gaping holes left by bombs give you an idea of how much destruction occurred in this country. Another optional activity is a dragon boat cruise along the Perfume River and then a visit to Thien Mu Pagoda – the unofficial symbol of Hue. Here you’ll see an active Buddhist monastery dating back to 1601 and a car belonging to the monk who tragically set himself alight in public to protest against the treatment of Buddhists. You may also like to visit one of the royal tombs, that of Emperor Tu Duc, with its central lake set amid a grove of frangipani and pine trees. This evening, take another overnight train bound for Hanoi. The journey will take approximately 12 hours.
Accommodation
  • Overnight sleeper train (1 night)
Optional Activities
  • Hue - Imperial City Full Day Tour Urban Adventure - USD69
  • Hue - Thien Mu Pagoda - Free
  • Hue - Emperor Tu Duc's Tomb - VND105000
  • Tam Giang Lagoon by Motorbike Urban Adventure - USD78
  • Hue - Hue Village Discovery Urban Adventure - USD39
Meals Included
There are no meals included on this day.
Arrive in Hanoi at about 5 am and transfer to your hotel. Once you’ve dropped off your bags and freshened up, embark on a walking tour of Vietnam’s charming capital. Explore the 36 streets of Hanoi’s Old Quarter – locally known as this because of each street originally selling a specific type of product. Continue on to the Dong Xuan Market and Hoan Kiem Lake, making sure you check out the unique architecture along the way. Hanoi has a French provincial feel left over from colonial times, but it also has a Buddhist influence and striking modern buildings. The rest of the day is yours to explore Hanoi as you please. In the evening, why not get your group together and head out to a bustling night market for some local fare. Sitting on plastic stools and eating on the roadside is a rite of passage in Vietnam.
Accommodation
  • Hotel (1 night)
Included Activities
  • Hanoi - Old Quarter Walking Tour
Optional Activities
  • Hanoi - Army Museum - VND20000
  • Hanoi - Women's Museum - VND30000
  • Hanoi - Ho Chi Minh Complex: Ho Chi Minh, Stilt House and Museum - VND80000
  • Hanoi - Fine Arts Museum - VND30000
  • Hanoi - Hanoi Street Food By Night Urban Adventure - USD29
  • Hanoi - Temple of Literature - VND30000
  • Hanoi - Hoa Lo 'Hanoi Hilton' Prison - VND30000
  • Hanoi - Museum of Ethnology - VND40000
Meals Included
There are no meals included on this day.
Special Information
Day use rooms are provided on arrival in Hanoi.
Leave Hanoi after breakfast around 8 am and make the drive to Sung Village (approximately 4 hours). There are around 70 families living at Sung Village and the majority are Dzao ‘Tien’ people. Farming and forest plantations are their main source of income. Enjoy lunch at your homestay then take an introductory walk around the village. After getting to know the village better, take a short trek (approximately two kilometres) to the alluring Sung Cave and visit a 100-year-old tea plantation. The trek has some steep and slippery sections so make sure you’ve packed suitable footwear for this activity. After a local handicraft workshop, return to your homestay accommodation for a nice hot shower and a delicious dinner.
Accommodation
  • Homestay (1 night)
Included Activities
  • Da Bac - Homestay and activities
  • Da Bac - Sung Cave hike
Meals Included
  • Lunch
  • Dinner
Special Information
Tonight's homestay is shared accommodation, usually with the whole group together in a single room. There are separate beds with clean linen, blankets and mosquito nets provided.

Depending on weather, availability and number of visitors to this region, we may stay overnight at an alternate village. If we do change the village on your departure, your leader will advise you as soon as possible. Trek length and activities may vary, depending on which village you’re staying in. Should this region be completely inaccessible due to weather conditions, we will put an alternative itinerary in place, visiting Mai Chau.
This morning, take the opportunity to encounter more of the Vietnamese highlands on a ten-kilometre (6.2 mi) trek from Sung Village to Da Bia. The first eight kilometres of the trek is on mostly flat ground along well-worn buffalo tracks. The final two kilometres gradually incline and for a period of approximately 300 metres there are some steps to climb, but the walk will be at a steady and relaxed pace. Keep an eye out for the monumental stone at the peak of Da Bia Mountain during the hike while you walk through local villages, meeting people from the ethnic Muong tribe. Stop for lunch at Da Bia before enjoying a scenic 1.5-hour boat cruise on Hoa Binh hydropower reservoir. Arrive at Thung Nai then board a bus transfer to Hanoi (approximately 2 hours), arriving at around 6 pm. This evening is free for you to explore this delightful city. Why not relax with a bia hoi (freshly brewed draught beer) at one of the microbars in the Old Quarter?
Accommodation
  • Hotel (1 night)
Included Activities
  • Da Bac - Sung village to Da Bia hike
  • Da Bac - Hoa Binh Reservoir Cruise
  • Da Bia - Muong Tribe Lunch
Meals Included
  • Breakfast
  • Lunch
Special Information
Comfortable supportive footwear (running shoes) will be suitable for the trek, but you can bring hiking boots if you prefer. The path can be quite slippery if there has been recent rain – your homestay hosts can provide bamboo trekking poles on request. Please ensure you have a 1.5 litre water bottle with you for the trek; we will fill bottles at Sung Village and there are no refill points along the way until we have concluded the trek.

Should you wish to skip the ten-kilometre (6.2 mile) trek, a taxi can be arranged locally for approximately USD 70.
Get up early for the 7.30 am bus, stop for a quick break, then jump on the ferry. This morning of travel will deliver you to beautiful Cat Ba Island before midday. There's no time to waste, so begin exploring the stunning waters of Lan Ha Bay around Cat Ba. Located in the greater Halong Bay area, Lan Ha Bay is one of Vietnam’s most scenic places, where limestone islands and caves rise from the emerald waters. You’ll have a free afternoon to explore at your own pace, so perhaps get active on a hike, or just enjoy a dip at one of the beaches. Have a relaxing evening on Cat Ba Island.
Accommodation
  • Hotel (1 night)
Meals Included
There are no meals included on this day.
This morning, head out on the water from Cat Ba and continue exploring the limestone karst scenery. Take a boat around Lan Ha Bay with an included lunch while you cruise, then get up close and personal with this striking landscape by kayak. There’s the option to have a net on the side of your kayak and help out the locals’ clean-up efforts. This initiative hopes to eliminate the rising amounts of plastic waste in the bay. Lan Ha and Halong Bay are on many travellers' bucket lists, and with two days in the area you’ll get to tick them off yours.
Accommodation
  • Hotel (1 night)
Included Activities
  • Cat Ba Island - Kayaking
  • Cat Ba Island - Boat trip on Lan Ha Bay
  • Cat Ba Island - Lan Ha Bay Lunch
Meals Included
  • Lunch
Rise and shine! Perhaps start your morning with a refreshing swim or a Vietnamese coffee (or both). Make sure you soak up as much sun and sand as possible, because this afternoon it's back to Hanoi by ferry and bus. Tonight you may want to head out for an optional dinner with your fellow travellers, sharing some memories and laughs over a local meal and beer.
Accommodation
  • Hotel (1 night)
Meals Included
There are no meals included on this day.
There are no activities planned for today and you’re able to depart the accommodation at any time after check-out. With so much to see and do in Hanoi, we recommend that you spend an extra day or two here, and we’ll be happy to organise additional accommodation (subject to availability). Urban Adventures has some great experiences in and around Hanoi, including Citadels, Karsts & Cycle, which is a great activity visiting the ancient citadel of Hoa Lu and taking a rowboat through the magnificent caves of Trang An. Head to urbanadventures.com/destination/hanoi-tours for more information.
Optional Activities
  • Hanoi - Citadels, Karsts & Cycle Urban Adventure - USD79
  • Hanoi - Village Discovery by Bike Urban Adventure - USD36
Meals Included
There are no meals included on this day.
This trip is a Lonely Planet Experience
Our Lonely Planet Experiences include plenty of free time so you can do the things that suit your budget and interests. Between your Intrepid Travel leader’s local knowledge and Lonely Planet’s trusted travel tips and recommendations, your trip will be more epic than ever.

Meals

2 breakfasts, 4 lunches, 2 dinners

Transport

Boat, Overnight sleeper train, Private minibus, Taxi, Train

Accommodation

Guesthouse (1 night), Homestay (1 night), Hotel (10 nights), Overnight sleeper train (2 nights)

Included activities

  • Mekong Delta - Boat Cruise and Homestay
  • Mekong Delta - Boat Cruise Lunch
  • Hoi An - Old Town walking tour
  • Hoi An - Countryside bicycle hire
  • Hanoi - Old Quarter Walking Tour
  • Da Bac - Homestay and activities
  • Da Bac - Sung Cave hike
  • Da Bac - Sung village to Da Bia hike
  • Da Bac - Hoa Binh Reservoir Cruise
  • Da Bia - Muong Tribe Lunch
  • Cat Ba Island - Kayaking
  • Cat Ba Island - Boat trip on Lan Ha Bay
  • Cat Ba Island - Lan Ha Bay Lunch

Lonely Planet extras

  • Free access to the Lonely Planet mobile app for one year
  • 25% discount on all items in the Lonely Planet Shop

Dates & availability

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Important notes

PASSPORT DETAILS
Please provide your full name exactly as per your passport at the time of booking (including any middle names listed on your passport) for train tickets. Ticketing fees may apply for amendments to details within 45 days of departure, and in some cases you will be required to cover the cost of issuing a new ticket.

SINGLE SUPPLEMENT
A single supplement to have your own room is available on this trip, subject to availability. Please contact an Intrepid booking agent if you would like to organise this. Please note the single supplement excludes Days 3 and 8 (overnight trains), Day 2 (guesthouse) and Day 10 (homestay) where you will be in shared accommodation. Day use rooms are also excluded.

Essential trip information

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