Day 1 Halong
Arrive Hanoi, enjoy a morning sightseeing tour of Hanoi. Visit the Temple of Literature: a peaceful series of walled courtyards and graceful gateways, this monument is one of the best-preserved examples of traditional Vietnamese architecture. Founded in 1070 and dedicated to Confucius, this was also the site of Vietnams first university. In one courtyard, giant stone tortoises bear steel on their backs, listing the accomplishments of graduating scholars. Visit Hanoi Hilton Prison. Visit Hoan Kiem Lake, Ngoc Son Temple and the Rising Sun bridge. Hoan Kiem Lake: located in the centre of the city this is an enchanting body of water. Legend has it that in the mid-15th century, Heaven gave Emperor Ly Thai To a magical sword which he used to drive the Chinese out of Vietnam. One day whilst boating on the lake a giant golden tortoise grabbed the sward. Since then, the lake has been known as the 'Lake of the Restored Sword. Ngoc Son Temple: located in the northern end of Hoan Kiem Lake, it was founded in the 18th century. Surrounded by water and shaded by trees, it's a delightfully quiet place to rest. The temple is dedicated to the scholar Van Xuong, General Tran Hung Dao and La To, patron saint of physicians. Late afternoon transfer by road from Hanoi to Halong Bay. Overnight in Halong.
Day 2 Hanoi
Cruise on a traditional wooden boat among the emerald waters and craggy limestone cliffs of Halong Bay, stopping to explore one of the many caves in this area. Sail past picturesque islands, floating villages, fishermen casting their nets and pearl fisheries and observe the rhythms of daily life on the bay. Return to Halong pier, then transfer by road from Halong to Hanoi. Visit a Water Puppet Show: a fantastic art form originating in the northern Vietnam, best seen in Hanoi. Overnight in Hanoi.
Day 3 Hanoi
Morning tour of Hanoi. Visit the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum (closed Monday and Friday and all October to November) Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum: in the tradition of Lenin and Stalin before him and Mao after him, the final resting place of Ho Chi Minh is a glass sarcophagus set deep in the bowels of a monumental edifice that has become a site of pilgrimage. The Mausoleum is open only in the mornings, and is closed on Mondays and Fridays. Every year, it closes in October and November for renovation and maintenance. Visit Ho Chi Minh's Stilt House: Near the Mausoleum is the two room stilt house where Ho Chi Minh lived from 1948 until his final days. Visitors also pass the simple three-room bungalow where Ho Chi Minh lived and worked from 1954-8, which has been preserved in the same condition and may be viewed through the windows. Visit the Presidential Palace (may be viewed from the outside only) Visit the One Pillar Pagoda (Chua Mot Cot Thu Du): built in 1049 by Emperor Ly Thai Tong and restored in 1922, then burned by the French in 1954 and restored in 1955. The pagoda which is a Buddhist representation of the world in the form of a lotus coming out of the water, contains a statue of Quan An, the Goddess of Mercy. Afternoon at leisure. Overnight in Hanoi.
Day 4 Hue
Transfer to the airport for your flight from Hanoi to Hue. Arrive Hue, transfer to your hotel. Hue served as the capital of Vietnam for more than 140 years. It houses ancient temples, imperial buildings and French-style edifices. It was established in the 17th century. Visit the Imperial Tomb of Emperor Khai Dinh: this was the last monument of the Nguyen dynasty and was constructed between 1920 and 1931. It sits magnificently on the slopes of Chau E Mountain in Chau Chau Village. It has a long staircase flanked by dragons. There are ceiling murals and ceramic frescoes. Visit the Old Imperial Citadel, a vast complex built in the early 19th century and modelled after the Forbidden City of Peking. The original walls stretched for 10 km and were surrounded by a wide moat. Today, most of the buildings have been destroyed due to bombing during the Vietnam-American War, but the monuments that remain provide a fascinating glimpse into the court life of the Nguyen Dynasty. Approach the city past the striking Flag Tower, where a giant Vietnamese flag waves proudly overhead, to the imposing Ngo Mon Gate, the main entrance to the Imperial Enclosure. Enter into an area of spacious courtyards and serene lotus ponds, and visit Dien Tho Residence ( Dien Tho palace) is where the Queen mother lived, visit Thai Hoa Palace, the magnificently decorated reception hall, the Halls of the Mandarins, and the original Nine Dynastic Urns, among other sites. Embark on a local boat and cruise down the Perfume River to the iconic Thien Mu Pagoda, an elegant seven-tiered octagonal tower which has become Hue's most widely recognizable monument. During the early 1960s, this became a center of anti-government protest, and the site of the famous self-immolation of the monk Thich Quang Duc. Overnight in Hue.
Day 5 Hoi An
Journey from Hue over scenic mountainous roads with spectacular views over the coastline. Halfway between Danang and Hue lies the dramatic Hai Van Pass, the high dividing line between the climate zones of north and south Vietnam. Continue southwards passing Lang Co, a lovely stretch of beach curving outwards between a clear blue lagoon and the South China Sea. After arriving in Danang, tour the Cham Museum, an elegant colonial building which now houses the finest collection of Cham sculpture in the world and briefly pass China Beach, a famous spot for American soldiers during the Vietnam-American War. Continue south to Hoi An, stopping enroute to visit the Marble Mountains, five stone hillocks, once islands, that now rise sharply from the surrounding ricefields. Riddled with caves and shrines, they are said to each represent one of the five elements of the universe. Overnight in Hoi An.
Day 6 Hoi An
Journey to My Son, the former religious center of the Champa Kingdom, a sophisticated civilization which held sway over the region from the 4th to the 13th centuries. Today, all that are left are five archaeological sites from different periods, in a beautifully green setting of hills and winding streams. After a brief visit to the Visitor’s Centre for an overview of Cham history and culture, visit each ruin in turn, walking along forested paths. Overnight in Hoi An.
Day 7 Saigon
Transfer to the airport for your flight from Danang to Saigon. Arrive Saigon, transfer to your hotel. Afternoon at leisure. Overnight in Saigon.
Day 8 Saigon
A vibrant metropolis, Saigon teems with energy, activity and motion. Everywhere you look, you see the meeting of traditional and modern life. The emerging modern skyline stands cheek by jowl with colonial buildings and traditional temples. Outside on the streets, young professionals zip by on motorcycles, chatting on mobile phones; inside the quiet temple courtyards, worshippers pray amidst clouds of incense. Begin your tour of this exciting city with a tour of the historic center, strolling along Dong Khoi Street, formerly known as the Rue Catinat, the main shopping thoroughfare and heart of old colonial Saigon. Pass by classic European-style landmarks such as the ornate City Hall (Hotel De Ville), the old Opera House (both may only be viewed from the outside), and pay a quick visit to the neo-Romanesque Notre Dame Cathedral and the Central Post Office. Afterwards dive into modern history with a tour of the Reunification Palace. Formerly the Independence Palace of the South Vietnamese president, this 60s style building was famously stormed by tanks on April 30, 1975 signifying the fall of South Vietnam. It has been preserved in its original state, and the original tanks remain on display near the entrance gates. Continue to the harrowing War Remnants Museum, which comprehensively documents the travails of the long Vietnam- American War. Inside are detailed photographic exhibitions; outside is a collection of tanks, planes and weapons. A powerful experience, this museum is guaranteed to provoke strong emotions. Afterwards driving to the historic center to visit Emperor of Jade Pagoda, one of Saigon's most interesting pagoda. In the afternoon, head out to Cholon (Chinatown). Explore the highlights of this fascinating area, beginning with a brief visit to Binh Tay Market, the vast wholesale market selling every kind of good from dried foods to T shirts to electronics. Continue to Thien Hau Pagoda, build by the Cantonese congregation and dedicated to the heavenly goddess. End your tour at the central Ben Thanh Market, where vendors display a vast array of goods and handicrafts, appealing to every taste. Overnight in Saigon.
Day 9 Saigon
From Saigon, drive to the Cu Chi Tunnels. Never discovered by American forces, these tunnels were an important Vietcong base during the American War. Stretching over 200 km, this incredible underground network, dug by hand out of hard laterite, connected command posts, hospitals, shelter and weapon factories. Today, you can walk through the area and learn about the day-to-day life of the VC, see the cleverly disguised entrances and elaborate booby-traps, and even venture inside the tunnels, some of which have been modified to accommodate tourists. Afterwards, continue to Tay Ninh, the birthplace of the unique Cao Dai religion, a fusion of Buddhism, Confucianism, Taoism, Christianity, Islam and native Vietnamese spiritual beliefs. Every day at noon, worshippers garbed in colorful robes flock to the Cao Dai Great Temple to participate in the daily prayer sessions, which visitors may respectfully observe from the upper balconies. (Note: shortly before and during the annual TET festival (Vietnamese New Year) the daily ceremony of the priests in Tay Ninh may be cancelled without prior notice). Return to Saigon in the late afternoon. Overnight in Saigon.
Day 10 Saigon
From Saigon, transfer to My Tho, a bustling town in the rich agricultural region of the Mekong Delta and visit the Vinh Trang Pagoda, a beautiful temple and a sanctuary for orphans and other needy children. Afterwards board a local boat to explore the Mekong River Islands, stopping at a fruit orchard to enjoy fruit and tea while listening to local music and THOI SON islet. The trip also includes a brief sampan ride through the tiny waterways that thread the island. Overnight in Saigon.
Day 11 Phnom Penh
Transfer to the airport for your flight from Saigon to Phnom Penh. Arrive Phnom Penh, transfer to your hotel. Overnight in Phnom Penh.
Day 12 Phnom Penh
Explore Phnom Penh, a chaotic, energetic and always fascinating city. Graceful tree-lined boulevards and riverfront promenades are reminders of bygone eras; today they teem with life and activity, as motorcycles weave in and out of traffic, vendor hawk their wares, and pedestrians go about their business. Start your tour with an insight into Cambodia's cultural heritage with a visit to the Royal Palace, still the official residence of King Norodom Sihamoi and the adjacent Silver Pagoda, also known as the Pagoda of the Emerald Buddha. Continue to the elegant National Museum, which contains a comprehensive collection of Khmer Art. Finally, explore the modern-day city, visiting one of Phnom Penh's two great markets, the Central Market, located in a distinctive domed Art Deco building (Central Market is currently under construction but can be visited as usual), OR the sprawling Russian Market, a labyrinth of stalls selling everything from CDs and DVDs to silks, crafts, jewelry and more. Just outside Phnom Penh, in a peaceful rural setting, the Killing Fields of Choeung Ek provide a stark reminder of the atrocities under the Pol Pot regime. Thousands of people were killed here between the years of 1975 and 1978 and buried in mass graves. Visit Tuol Sleng (S-21) Learn about a chapter from Cambodia's more recent, tragic, past at the Tuol Sleng Museum (Museum of Genocide). Formerly the Tuol Svay Prey High School, in 1975, this became the interrogation and torture facility for the Khmer Rouge regime - at that time known as Security Prison 21, or simply S-21. Kept largely unchanged, this prison now showcases photographs and exhibits about the thousands of victims that passed through these doors - only seven of whom came out alive. Overnight in Phnom Penh.
Day 13 Siem Reap
Transfer to the airport for your flight from Phnom Penh to Siem Reap. Arrive Siem Reap, transfer to your hotel. Afternoon sightseeing in Angkor. Visit Angkor Thom The fortified city of Angkor Thom covers an area of 10 square km. Enclosed by a wall and wide moats, the city includes many of Angkor's most popular sights. Enter by the monumental South Gate over a causeway lined on either side by statues of demons and gods, each carrying a giant naga. Continue to the Terrace of the Elephants and the Terrace of the Leper Kings, former spaces for public ceremonies, both adorned with dramatic bas reliefs. Visit the ruined Baphoun, Royal Enclosure and Phimeanakas before continuing to the mysterious Bayon Temple. In this temple, one of the most popular and compelling in Angkor, explore the galleries of beautifully preserved bas reliefs and ascend narrow stairs to reach the central sanctuary, where you will find giant stone faces smiling enigmatically down at you from every angle. Overnight in Siem Reap.
Day 14 Siem Reap
The crowning jewel of Khmer architecture, Angkor Wat is the national symbol and the highlight of any visit to Cambodia. The largest, best preserved, and most religiously significant of the Angkor temples, Angkor impresses visitors both by its sheer scale and beautifully proportioned layout, as well as the delicate artistry of its carvings. To approach the temple, first cross the vast moat, continuing along a broad causeway lined with naga balustrades. As you enter the main building, ascend through a series of galleries and courtyard before reaching the central sanctuary, which offers beautiful views back over the causeway and across the surrounding countryside. On the way, stop to enjoy the intricate stonecarvings that adorn nearly every surface, with some 1,700 Apsaras, or celestial dancers, sculpted into the walls. Along the outer gallery walls run the longest continuous bas-relief in the world, which narrates stories from Hindu mythology, including the famous Churning of the Ocean of Milk. Angkor Wat is stunning at any time of the day, but sunrise and sunset are especially beautiful times to watch the play of light on the stones. Visit Ta Prohm, one of the most popular attractions of Angkor as much of the jungle has not been cleared and it looks very much as most of the Angkor monuments would have appeared when European explorers first stumbled across them. Visit Ta Keo Temple at sunset: built by Jayavarman V (ruled 968 to 1001), it was the first Angkorian monument built entirely of sandstone and was dedicated to Shiva. The summit of the central tower is 50 metres high and is surrounded by four lower towers. Overnight in Siem Reap.
Day 15 Siem Reap
Visit Roluos Group Temples; these monuments mark the beginning of classical art, as some of the earliest great temples built by the Khmer. They served as the capital of Indravarman (who reigned from 877 to 889). Lolei: built on an islet by Yasovarman I (who ruled from 889 to 910), the founder of the first city of Angkor. The sandstone carvings in the niches of the temples are notable as are the Sanskrit inscriptions on the doorposts. Preah Ko: erected by Indravarman I in the late 9th century in dedication to his defied ancestors in 880. There are inscriptions in Sanskrit on the doorsteps of each temple. Bakong: built and dedicated to Shiva by Indravarman I, this is the largest and most interesting of the Roluos Group of temples and still has an active Buddhist monastery. Visit Pre Rup Temple: built by Rajendravarman II (ruled 944 to 968), it consists of a pyramid shaped temple with the upper-most of the three tiers carrying five square shrines arranged as a quincunx. The name means turning the body and refers to the traditional method of cremation. Visit Eastern Mebon: temple erected by Rajendravarman (ruled from 944 to 968), it is located on a former islet in the centre of the Eastern Baray. The base of the temple is guarded at its corners by stone figures of harnessed elephants. Visit Ta Som: built in the late 12th century by Jayavarman VII for his teacher, Som. Ta Som means old Som. Visit Neak Pean Temple: built by King Jayavarman VII (ruled 1181 to 1201), it is a Buddhist temple consisting of a square pool with four smaller square pools arranged on each axis. In the centre of the large central pool is a circular island encircled by two nagas with intertwined tails. Overnight in Siem Reap.
Day 16 Siem Reap
Visit Phnom Kulen: historically revered by all Cambodians as a sacred place of pilgrimage. It was the site, then known as Mount Mahendraparvata, that Jayavarman II chose in 802 to proclaim himself a divine universal ruler and marked the beginning of the Angkor period of Khmer history. It’s possible to see some of Kulen’s spectacular riverbed rock carvings. Banteay Srei: built in the late 10th century, it is a Hindu temple dedicated to Shiva. The temple is square with entrances on the east and west. Of main interest are the three central towers which are decorated with male and female divinities and beautiful filigree relief work. Kbal Spien: also known as the River of 1000 Lingas, there are carvings in the riverbed (in the same way as at Kulen). It should be more spectacular but many of the carvings have been looted. Near Kbal Spien is a waterfall that can be reached by hiking 2km uphill. Overnight in Siem Reap.
Day 17 Siem Reap
Transfer to the airport for your onward flight