Discover the sights and bites of Vietnam’s backstreets from Ho Chi Minh to Hanoi

Go behind the scenes of Vietnam’s hot-spots on a small-group adventure that avoids the tourists.
From the fast-paced hub of Ho Chi Minh City to the charming capital of Hanoi, experience the beautiful landscapes, history-soaked monuments and all the delicious cuisine in between as you traverse the country from South to North like a local: paddle through the waterways of the Mekong Delta in a sampan, explore remote villages via tuk-tuk, cruise through the waters of Halong Bay on a traditional boat, wander the car-free streets of Hoi An on foot and discover the imperial icons of Hue from the back of a motorbike – and with the guidance of your expert local leader, you’ll discover secrets to this South-East Asian gem that you simply won’t find in a guidebook.


Start
Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
Finish
Hanoi, Vietnam
Destination
Vietnam
Style
Original
Theme
Explorer
Code
TVSQ
Physical rating
Ages
Min 15
Group size
Min 1, Max 16

Why you'll love this trip

  • See the very best that Vietnam has to offer in just 10 days as you traverse the country from bottom to top with a small group of up to 15 new friends.

  • Visit some of the must-see sights with your group such as a walking tour in Hoi An and the Temple of Literature in Hanoi, as well as plenty of free time to make your own discoveries.

  • Travel through Vietnam like a local as you explore the cosmopolitan and rural landscapes by boat, train, plane, tuk-tuk, taxi and motorbike.

  • Sample local food wherever you go: a seafood dinner on Halong Bay, lunch at a Buddhist nunnery, coconut candy in the Mekong Delta, and a final dinner at KOTO restaurant – oh, and did we mention the street food?

  • Have expert advice on hand the whole way with an experienced local leader to help you get the best out of your time in Vietnam.

Is this trip right for you?

  • We cover a lot of distance 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 intrepidtravel.com/adventures/what-to-expect-on-an-overnight.

  • The sightseeing tour by motorbike in Hue is great fun with bikes driven safely by professionals (and helmets provided), but alternative transport can be arranged for those who would prefer not to travel by motorbike.

  • Depending on where you come from, the weather in Vietnam might be hotter and more humid than what you are used to. We recommend checking online for what the typical temperatures will be at the time of year you are looking to travel. This page might be useful: intrepidtravel.com/vietnam/weather-in-vietnam

  • Some travellers find the pace of this trip quite fast as we are covering a lot of destinations in a short amount of time. If you would like a more relaxed pace with more time to explore, you might like to consider a longer trip, or additional days in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City.

  • This itinerary also runs in reverse direction, from Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh City, see trip code TVSF on our website.

Itinerary

This itinerary is valid for departures from 01 Jan 2020 to 31 Dec 2020.
View the 2019 itinerary
Xin chao! Welcome to Vietnam. Your adventure begins with a welcome meeting at 6 pm. As this trip doesn’t spend much time in Ho Chi Minh City, why not arrive a day or two early to see the sights? We’ll be happy to book some additional accommodation for you (subject to availability). 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 take an Urban Adventure with an expert local guide. After the meeting, why not get to know your fellow travellers and the flavours of Vietnamese cuisine over an optional group dinner.
Accommodation
  • Hotel (1 night)
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.
Today you'll travel south by private minibus (approximately 3 hours) and spend the day exploring the Mekong Delta. On arrival, board a private boat and traverse the intricate waterways – soak up the tranquil surrounds and admire the breathtaking views as you float through this fertile landscape, often referred to as ‘the rice bowl of Vietnam’. Disembark at Ben Tre and visit the coconut gardens, stopping at a local home to sample tropical fruits and coconut jams before paddling in sampans (small rowing boats). Take a tuk-tuk tour around the villages, learning about rural life and how the locals make their living. Enjoy lunch at a restaurant in the heart of the delta, sampling regional specialties such as the famous elephant ear fish. Then it’s back to the boat to cruise the delta’s major waterways to Ben Tre boat pier. After the cruise, return via bus to Ho Chi Minh City.
Accommodation
  • Hotel (1 night)
Included Activities
  • HCMC - Mekong Delta day trip including coconut gardens & village tuk-tuk tour
Meals Included
  • Breakfast
  • Lunch
This morning, say goodbye to Ho Chi Minh City and fly north to Danang (approximately 1 hour 30 minutes). From here you’ll take a 45-minute bus ride to Hoi An, with the five spectacular peaks of the Marble Mountains as a backdrop. Once in Hoi An, your leader will take you on a walking tour of this unique town, influenced over the years by Europe, China and Vietnam. The town was a major trading port from the 17th century onwards, and the outside influences can be seen all over its architecture, with pagodas and assembly halls found across the town. For a small place it has a liveliness alongside its charm and serenity. The tour will take you down the streets that are being restored and look much like they did over a century ago. Past low tiled buildings, you'll take in a historic house (formerly home to a prominent trader), the Japanese Covered Bridge, a Chinese assembly hall and a museum.
Accommodation
  • Hotel (1 night)
Included Activities
  • Hoi An - Old Town walking tour
Meals Included
  • Breakfast
Enjoy a free day in the World Heritage-listed Hoi An. You may like to wander the Central Market and the street stalls selling paintings, woodwork, ceramics, lanterns and much more. Hoi An is also famous for its talented tailors who can make beautiful items to order within a few hours. For those still feeling adventurous, why not hire a bicycle and tour the surrounding countryside? This is one of the best ways to get an insight into rural Vietnam. Other optional activities include a day trip to My Son Cham, an elaborate World Heritage-listed temple that reflects the rich cultural traditions of the Cham civilisation, a cruise along the Thu Bon River and a trip to the nearby Cua Dai Beach.
Accommodation
  • Hotel (1 night)
Optional Activities
  • Hoi An - My Son Cham tour (entrance fee, guide and transport included) - USD35
  • Hoi An - Food Adventure Urban Adventure - USD28
  • Hoi An - Hoi An Walking & Cooking Class Urban Adventure - USD49
  • Hoi An - Hoi An Boat & Bike with Sunset BBQ Urban Adventure - USD51
Meals Included
  • Breakfast
Leave Hoi An today and journey across the dramatic Hai Van Pass, a sometimes bumpy but incredibly scenic stretch of highway with views of Lang Co Beach. Make a quick photo stop enroute then continue to your destination of Hue, the former imperial capital of Vietnam (approximately 5 hours including stops). Hue contains the treasures of Vietnam’s royal history and has an interesting blend of bustling streets and tranquil settings. Join your leader for a tour of 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/American War, and the ruins and holes left by bombs are a reminder of the destruction that was caused. In your free time you might like to visit Dong Ba Market, which offers locally made goods, fresh produce and tantalising street food.

Accommodation
  • Hotel (1 night)
Included Activities
  • Hue - Imperial Citadel
Meals Included
  • Breakfast
Today’s adventure will be 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 Mu 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. Ride to a special lunch spot at a convent or Buddhist monastery for a delicious vegetarian feast, then drive to the royal tomb of Emperor Tu Duc, set amid a lake, frangipani bushes and pine trees. In the evening, board an overnight train to Hanoi (approximately 12 hours).
Accommodation
  • Overnight sleeper train (1 night)
Included Activities
  • Hue - Royal tomb of Emperor Tu Duc
  • Hue - Highlights & back streets by motorbike (lunch included)
Meals Included
  • Breakfast
  • Lunch
Special Information
Although conditions are basic, overnight trains are a true Intrepid experience and the best way to travel long distances with the locals.

Shared day use hotel rooms are available today after check-out if you would like to freshen up or organise your luggage. There is one room provided between up to 6 members of the group. Single supplements exclude day rooms.

This motorbike activity has been assessed for safety and is closely monitored. To participate please ensure your travel insurance covers riding pillion on a motorbike up to 125cc. If you prefer not to participate, please let your leader know and they will arrange car transportation (cost included).

In 2020 we will no longer be including a cruise along the Perfume River due to poor feedback from past travellers. If you would like to do this activity during your free time in Hue, your leader can assist you with booking it.

Sleeper trains typically have four or six berth compartments with bench seats that convert into sleeping bunks. A sheet, pillo
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 beautiful Old Quarter. As an emerging city in South East Asia, Hanoi has an attractive contrast of modern office buildings, old Buddhist temples and a labyrinth of ancient streets. Later in the day, take a walking tour through the city where you’ll see Ho Chi Minh’s former stilt house and other icons such as the Temple of Literature. In your free time, perhaps stop by the ’36 Streets’ of the historic Old Quarter, head to the beautiful Hoan Kiem Lake, or visit the Fine Arts Museum. This museum plays a crucial role in maintaining and promoting the cultural heritage of Vietnam’s ethnic communities.
Accommodation
  • Hotel (1 night)
Included Activities
  • Hanoi - Temple of Literature
  • Hanoi - One Pillar Pagoda & HCM stilt house
  • Hanoi - Old Quarter Walking Tour
Meals Included
There are no meals included on this day.
Special Information
Prior to standard hotel check in this morning, shared day use rooms are provided with one room for up to 6 members of the group. Single supplements exclude day rooms.
Travel by private minibus to the spectacular World Heritage site of Halong Bay (approximately 4 hours). This is one of Vietnam’s most beautiful places, a secluded bay of emerald waters flecked with limestone islands and caves. Here you’ll go on a cruise to explore Surprise Cave and surrounding rock formations, and in the warmer months perhaps go kayaking or opt for a swim from Ti Top Island. Access to Surprise Cave is via staircases. Once inside the cave the pathways are a little uneven and slippery. On board your ship, there’ll be a dining room and bar on board where you’ll enjoy your meals, including fresh seafood for lunch and dinner. Spend the night on board the boat beneath a sky alive with starlight.
Accommodation
  • Overnight boat (1 night)
Included Activities
  • Halong Bay - Overnight boat cruise with seafood lunch and dinner
Optional Activities
  • Halong Bay - Kayaking - VND250000
Meals Included
  • Breakfast
  • Lunch
  • Dinner
Special Information
The boat has twin-share cabins with air-conditioning and private facilities.

It is recommended to pack a smaller overnight bag to take to Halong Bay for ease of boarding and disembarking. You can store your main luggage in Hanoi for tonight.

There are restrictions on the number of boats that are permitted to stay in the bay overnight, sometimes resulting in a shortage. To ensure all Intrepid travellers can enjoy the experience of a night on the water, occasionally you will stay on a larger boat (with approximately 12 cabins) and share your boat with another group. Or your group may be split across different vessels, in which case an Intrepid group leader will be present on each boat, and the route taken and inclusions on board will remain the same.
Leaving the memorable scenery of Halong Bay behind, return by bus to Hanoi (approximately 3.5 hours). Arrive in Hanoi late this afternoon and enjoy some free time to explore Hanoi's sights or do some last-minute shopping. Otherwise, why not relax at a cafe or stop for a bia hoi (freshly brewed draught beer) at one of the microbars in the Old Quarter? Tonight there will be a farewell dinner to enjoy with the group at KOTO restaurant, an organisation that supports disadvantaged youth with careers in the hospitality industry.
Accommodation
  • Hotel (1 night)
Included Activities
  • Hanoi - KOTO dinner
Meals Included
  • Breakfast
  • Dinner
Today your exploration of Vietnam comes to an end. There are no activities planned for the final day however you may consider continuing your adventure with a short tour such as ‘Hanoi Street Food by Night’ or ‘Village Discovery by Bike’ with our partners Urban Adventures (see urbanadventures.com for more information). Alternatively, perhaps visit the Hoa Lo Prison aka the ‘Hanoi Hilton’ which was used for prisoners of war during the Vietnam War. There’s also the Museum of Ethnology with its fascinating indoor and outdoor exhibits. We’ll be happy to book some additional accommodation for you (subject to availability), just ask at the time of booking.
Optional Activities
  • Hanoi - Village Discovery by Bike Urban Adventure - USD33
  • Hanoi - Hanoi Street Food By Night Urban Adventure - USD31
  • Hanoi - Citadels, Karsts & Cycle Urban Adventure - USD88
  • Hanoi - Hoa Lo 'Hanoi Hilton' Prison - VND30000
  • Hanoi - Fine Arts Museum - VND30000
Meals Included
  • Breakfast
Special Information
If you’d like to spend more time in South East Asia, have a look at the Best of Cambodia & Vietnam (TKSKC) combo, which includes this trip’s itinerary.

Meals

8 breakfasts, 3 lunches, 2 dinners

Transport

Boat, Overnight sleeper train, Plane, Private minibus, Private vehicle, Taxi, Motorbike

Accommodation

Hotel (7 nights), Overnight Boat (1 night), Overnight Sleeper Train (1 night)

Included activities

  • HCMC - Mekong Delta day trip including coconut gardens & village tuk-tuk tour
  • Hoi An - Old Town walking tour
  • Hue - Imperial Citadel
  • Hue - Royal tomb of Emperor Tu Duc
  • Hue - Highlights & back streets by motorbike (lunch included)
  • Hanoi - Temple of Literature
  • Hanoi - One Pillar Pagoda & HCM stilt house
  • Hanoi - Old Quarter Walking Tour
  • Halong Bay - Overnight boat cruise with seafood lunch and dinner
  • Hanoi - KOTO dinner

Dates & availability

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Important notes

1. Please provide your full name exactly as per passport at the time of booking (including any middle names listed on your passport) for train and flight 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.
2. A single supplement is available on this trip, subject to availability. Please contact your sales agent if you would like to book this. Please note the single supplement excludes day 6 (overnight train) and day 8 (overnight boat) where you will be in shared accommodation. Day use rooms are also excluded.
3. This trip includes a domestic flight. Checked luggage allowance is a maximum 20kg, with up to 7kg carry on luggage. Any excess luggage charges will need to be paid directly to the airline at check-in.

Essential trip information

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