Blessed with a ravishing coastline, emerald-green mountains, breathtaking national parks, dynamic cities, outstanding cultural interest and one of the world's best cuisines, Vietnam has it all. This is an outrageously fun country to explore, the locals love a laugh (and a drink) and you'll have plenty of opportunities to socialise with them and hear their tales. The American War is over, and yet its impact endures - you'll find reminders of that cataclysmic conflict everywhere you travel. That said, the country was never broken and emerged with its pride intact. Poor in parts but never squalid, Vietnam is developing at an astonishing pace. On this journey you will hike through lush jungles and stay in local homes. Support numerous local projects from a blind massage school to restaurants run by converted street kids. Chat with monks and venture into the planets largest cave. Your Vietnamese adventure with Crooked Compass is sure to be wonderfully rewarding as you explore an incredibly varied country.
Day 1 - Ho Chi Minh City
Xin chao! Welcome to Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. Upon arrival at the airport, you will be met and transferred to your hotel. Ho Chi Minh City is characterised by a vast array of sights and sounds, and is a fascinating blend of old and new, East and West. The huge number of people rushing about their daily lives in Vietnam’s largest city gives it a dynamic atmosphere and the French influence is evident in the excellent baguettes and coffee on offer. Much of city life takes place on the busy streets lined with shops, stalls and vendors, who have their wares spread out on the footpath and sell everything from soup to sophisticated electronics. This evening, enjoy a welcome dinner at Cuc Gach restaurant. Overnight at Vien Dong Hotel or similar. (D)
Responsible travel notes: We commence this trip with a briefing on Responsible Travel, saying no to plastic, minimise water bottles, etc. We want our travellers to ‘leave nothing behind but their footprints’ and to take with them incredible memories.
Day 2 - Cu Chi Tunnels - Ho Chi Minh City tour
This morning, you will visit the famous Cu Chi tunnels. Built by local fighters during the Indochina conflict as a base from which the Viet Cong could operate close to the Southern Vietnamese capital. The location proved of significant strategic importance, at the end of the infamous Ho Chi Minh Trail and within striking distance of the southern Vietnam capital.
The initial construction began in 1948 when the Viet Minh required somewhere to hide from French air attacks. By 1965, the tunnel complex was estimated to consist of 200km’s of tunnels, including hospitals, schools, meeting rooms, kitchens and sleeping quarters. Life was difficult for the inhabitants and to protect against outside intruders, traps were laid throughout the complex. Today the Vietnamese government have preserved approximately 75km of the tunnels as a memorial park. Your local guide will take you on a fascinating trip around the Cu Chi Tunnels where you will learn more about the conditions the people lived in, the hardships they faced and the amazing ingenuity employed to maintain life in the tunnels. Walk past huge bomb craters, evidence of the heavy bombing campaigns in the region during the Indochina conflict, discover hidden entrances right beneath your feet, wander past tiny little chimneys in the ground that dispersed smoke from the underground kitchens, sample some of the simple cuisine that local fighters would have survived on and have an opportunity to venture into the tunnels and explore the complex.
After, drive to the home of a former VC soldier (now a farmer) where you will join him and his family for a home cooked meal. After lunch, walk with him through his garden and listen to his stories of life during and after the war.
This afternoon, return to Ho Chi Minh and enjoy exploring the city. Experience the hustle and bustle of former Saigon and explore some of the city’s more interesting sights such as the War Remnants Museum and Reunification Palace. Overnight at Vien Dong Hotel or similar. (B,L)
Day 3 - Ho Chi Minh – Hoi An
Say goodbye to Ho Chi Minh City as you fly to Danang. From here you’ll make your way to My Khe Beach, a beautiful spot which lies against a backdrop of Marble Mountains. This location was significant for both the Americans and the Vietnamese during the war. After a sightseeing tour of the Marble Mountains, continue to Hoi An.
Upon arrival in Hoi An, check–in to your hotel and then depart for a half day walking & boat trip in Hoi An’s ancient town. Between the 15th and 19th centuries, Hoi An, known then as ‘Faifo’, was a prosperous trading port, attracting Chinese, Japanese, Dutch, Portuguese and Spanish ships amongst others. Today, this World Heritage ancient town is recognised for its well–preserved architecture, pedestrian–only streets and distinctive local cuisine, allowing visitors a glimpse of its illustrious past. Hoi An’s narrow lanes are ideal for a guided walking tour of its many atmospheric sights including: old merchant houses with influences from Chinese, Japanese and Vietnamese architecture; the 400–year–old Japanese Covered Bridge, first built in the 1590s by the Japanese community to link them with the Chinese quarters across the stream; the Assembly Hall of the Chaozhou Chinese Congregation with its intricate woodcarvings; and the colourful market with stalls brimming with local specialities including silk, which can be turned into fashionable garments within a day or two. Enjoy an hour–long boat trip on the Thu Bon River for up close views of fishing boats and country villages before returning to your hotel. Overnight Boutique Hoi An Resort or similar. (B)
Day 4 - Hoi An
Today is yours at leisure. Wander through the streets and explore the markets. Sample some great food at the many cafes and restaurants. Hoi An is also famous for its talented tailors, who can make beautiful items to order within a few hours, so why not take the opportunity to have an outfit made especially for you! If you are interested in learning about, and how to prepare Vietnamese cuisine, we can also organise a cooking class. Overnight Boutique Hoi An Resort or similar. (B)
Day 5 - Bach Ma National Park
Today is an early morning departure from Hoi An for a 2–3hr drive to Bach Ma National Park. With an area of 22,031ha (85 sq mi), steep mountains and dense forests, the area is home to a wide variety of animals and plants. At the base of the mountains, there is a tropical monsoon forest whilst above 900m (2,953ft) the forest becomes sub–tropical. In French colonial times, the area was a popular hill station for members of the colonial administration. Meet a local forest expert who will share his passion for the area’s fauna and flora with you on a 3hr, 8km (5mi) hike along sub–tropical forest trails. Visit the magnificent Ngu Ho Lake and Do Quyen Waterfall. The Ngu Ho (“Five Lakes”) Cascade is a series of small waterfalls which crash down into pristine pools of clear water secluded under a canopy of foliage. After a picnic lunch, ascend to the peak, 1,450m (4,757ft) above sea level and enjoy the spectacular view overlooking the lagoons of Tam Giang and Lang Co Beach. Continue hiking along sub–tropical evergreen forest trails and visit the Orchid Collection House before hiking back down the mountain where transfer back to hotel in Hue. Overnight Lang Co Beach Resort or similar. (B,L)
Day 6 - Hue
This morning after breakfast transfer to the former imperial capital of Vietnam, Hue. There will be a chance to stretch your legs along the way as you visit the island-like, palm-shaded white sand of Lang Co beach, which has a turquoise lagoon on one side and 10km of beautiful beachfront on the other. Continue on to Hue, which holds the treasures of Vietnam’s royal past and is a curious mix of bustling streets and tranquil settings.
Start your Hue city tour with a visit to the Imperial Citadel, including entry into the Forbidden Purple City, which was almost totally destroyed during the American War’s Tet Offensive. The foliage-covered ruins and holes left by bombs give an idea of the destruction wreaked upon the country during the war. You will also visit the museum of Royal Relics, where royal robes, furniture, ceramics and weaponry offer an interesting insight into the life of Vietnam’s former rulers.
Lunch today is a traditional vegetarian style meal in a local pagoda, where you will have a chance to chat with monks and learn about Buddhism, gaining an insight into their daily lives.
After lunch, continue with a boat trip on the Perfume River to Thien Mu Pagoda. Considered by many to be the unofficial symbol of Hue, this active Buddhist monastery has origins dating back to 1601. One of the most poignant displays is a car belonging to a former monk who, in 1963, drove to Saigon and set himself alight to protest against the treatment of Buddhists by the South Vietnamese regime. Overnight at Eldora Hotel or similar. (B,L)
Day 7 - Hue – Phong Nha
Today is an early morning departure from Hue to Quang Binh Province with a stop at the Ben Hai River and Hien Luong Bridge situated in the Demilitarised Zone (DMZ). The 5km (3mi) strip of land on either side of the Ben Hai River was established after the first Indochina War and functioned as the division line between North and South Vietnam during the Vietnam War. You will then visit the Vinh Moc tunnels.
Continue on to Phong Nha Ke Bang area and stay overnight at Chay Lap farmstay.
Dinner will be arranged in local restaurant. (B,D)
Day 8 - Phong Nha – Ban Doong Village – Hang En
The Phong Nha – Ke Bang National Park was recognised by UNESCO in 2003 as a World Natural Heritage Site for its system of natural and unique water grottoes as well as abundant wildlife and plants, many of which are native to this region. At your hotel, meet your tour guide and then transfer to Oxalis Head Quarters for a safety briefing and load your gear before driving 45min through the park to the trail head where you will start trekking down steep jungle trails to a refreshing river at the bottom. Hike through the lush jungle to the minority village of Ban Doong. Learn more about the unique Van Kieu ethnic group over a hot cup of tea. After lunch, continue through more jungle, streams and a river to the entrance to Hang En Cave, home to thousands of swifts. Enter the cave at around 15:00 then enjoy an afternoon of swimming before a sizzling BBQ dinner is served, complete with rice wine. Overnight in a tent inside the cave. (B,L,D)
Day 9 - Hanoi
After an early breakfast, explore the breath–taking exit of Hang En Cave and trek through the dry passage to a viewpoint high above camp where 300 million–year–old fossils can be seen. In the late morning, trek back through the mountainous river valley, through jungle and across streams until reaching Ban Doong Village. Enjoy a picnic lunch by the stream then prepare for the biggest challenge ahead, climbing the treacherous hill up to the Ho Chi Minh Road that runs the length of Vietnam, where cold drinks await. Return by vehicle to Phong Nha by 17:00.
Adventure Level: 22km (14mi) trekking, moderate for physically active guests
No children below 16 years of age permitted
You will then be transferred to the train station for your overnight train to Hanoi.
Thong Nhat train SE2 departs Dong Hoi at 19:40, arriving in Hanoi at 05:30 the following day. (The schedule may change without prior notice). Overnight Thong Nhat train, 2 person sleeper cabin. (B,L)
Day 10 - City Tour & Street Eats
Early this morning, upon arrival in Hanoi, you will be greeted by your local guide and then transferred to a local hotel to freshen up and enjoy breakfast.
From here, you will depart for a half day city tour. Tour the city of Hanoi, with its ochre–coloured colonial buildings, tree–lined boulevards and scenic lakes. Stop at an old coffee shop in the Old Quarter to learn about daily life of the Hanoian. Continuing on, you will visit the historic Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum, an imposing monument of marble and granite built to house the preserved body of the beloved revolutionary leader Ho Chi Minh, affectionately known to the Vietnamese as ‘Uncle Ho’. Tour the One Pillar Pagoda, a Buddhist temple built in 1049 of wood in the shape of a lotus blossom and set on a single stone pillar, considered by many to be one of Vietnam’s most iconic pagodas. Visit Ho Chi Minh’s House nearby, a simple wooden house in a tranquil setting where Ho Chi Minh lived and worked. Some of his belongings are on display and visitors can walk up the steps to see his bedroom. Continue on to the Temple of Literature, Vietnam’s first national university built in the late 11th century. The picturesque temple is an example of well–preserved traditional Vietnamese architecture and is featured on the back of the 100,000 Vietnamese dong banknote.
Lunch will be arranged in KOTO restaurant – an establishment which lives by the philosophy of ‘Know One, Teach One’. It supports the underprivileged local youth by giving them a chance at making a career in hospitality.
Your afternoon is free at leisure.
Eating on the street is a very typical activity for Hanoians and makes up an important part of the city’s unique culture. Depart from your hotel at 18:00 for a leisurely walk with your tour guide to the Old Quarter. Chit–chat with your guide to get an insight of street food in Hanoi and the typical culinary habits. Make your first stop at a local coffee shop to try the local brew. Then walk a little further to taste some typical Hanoi snacks such as Pillow cake, fried sweet cakes. Next you will stroll through the streets lined with many food vendors and make your way to a steaming bowl of Pho Ga (Vietnamese noodle soup with chicken). This is practically Vietnam’s national dish and is a dish enjoyed morning, noon and night. Next you will try Vietnam’s 2nd most popular food – the Banh Mi Pate or baguette sandwich with pate at Banh My Lan Ong, one of the most famous shops in Hanoi. Later, head to Dong Xuan night market which is well known for all types of goods including souvenirs. Try your hand at bargaining for a good deal before heading off to Beer Corner in the old corner to try a cold glass of Bia Hoi (fresh draft beer) like a local. Overnight Hanoi Pearl Hotel or similar. (B,L,D)
Day 11 - Ba Be
After an early breakfast, transfer to Ba Be Lake. The drive to Ba Be takes around 4-5 hours, stopping for lunch along the way. Pass through the beautiful mountainous province of Thai Nguyen and view superb landscapes of terraced rice fields and rivers.
Upon arrival at Ba Be Lake, board a boat that will take you around the largest natural lake in Vietnam, surrounded by limestone bluffs and mountains. Disembark and visit waterfalls whilst observing the natural flora and fauna. This evening head to a local home and meet your hosts. Enjoy a traditional dinner and spend the night. Overnight at Mr Linh’s Homestay or similar. (B,L,D)
Day 12 - Trekking in Ba Be National Park
After breakfast at the homestay, set off for a full day of trekking into the Ba Be forest. Trek alongside a slow flowing river, gaze in awe at the dramatic mountains and valleys and natural caves. The national park is also home to countless numbers of flora and fauna so you can enjoy bird and butterfly spotting along the way. Overnight at Mr Linh’s Homestay or similar. (B,L,D)
Day 13 - Hanoi
This morning bid farewell to your hosts after breakfast and transfer back to Hanoi (approx 4–5hrs).
This afternoon, visit the home of the most famous and experienced water puppet artisan. Water puppetry is a unique art that originated in Vietnam’s wet rice civilisation. Drive 30 minutes from your hotel to a local house situated in a small alley of Hanoi to meet with a water puppet artisan. Born into a family with a tradition of performing water puppetry in Nam Dinh province, Mr. Liem Phan acquired a passion for this folk art in his childhood. Inheriting the talent & tradition from his father, he has a profound passion of playing with puppets, making puppets by creating a mini stage for water puppetry and bringing his solo performances to several countries outside Vietnam. Sit down for a cup of tea and learn his stories about how the water puppet originated, his memorable experience travelling to different corners of the world to bring Vietnamese culture & folklores to international friends. Then join a 30–minute show seeing lion dances, buffalo fighting, rice farming, and boat racing, etc at his private mini water puppet stage on the top floor of his house. After the show, get yourself in to an artisan’s role to handle the puppets in the water or join with Mr. Liem Phan to make and paint the puppets.
From here, transfer to Omamori Spa for a one hour massage.
Responsible travel notes: Omamori Spa (blind massage) is a social enterprise that provides a safe and dignified work environment.
Overnight at Hanoi Pearl Hotel or similar. (B)
Day 14 - Halong Bay
This morning, after breakfast you will be transferred to Halong for an overnight experience on a junk with an English speaking guide. (Approximately 3.5 – 4 hours).
Upon arrival at the pier, you will have some to relax and enjoy a tea or coffee whilst you wait for the crew to arrive by tender to take you out to the junk.
Enjoy a welcome drink on board and spend a couple minutes being briefed about safety and also the activities available on board. Now it is time to fill your belly again!
A delicious Vietnamese set menu will be served while leisurely cruising further into Bai Tu Long Bay. Around 3pm. you will arrive in a kayaking area known as Cap La Island. Enjoy kayaking through the karst and breathtaking nature or jump in and go swimming or simply relax..
Enjoy sunset back on deck whilst you continue sailing your mooring point before sitting down to dinner.
After dinner, the evening is yours at leisure so why not challenge yourself in Vietnamese puzzle games, or gather your group for a board game; try your luck with squid fishing of the back of the junk or simply sip on a cocktail and enjoy the quiet night on the bay. Overnight Swan Cruise or similar. (B,L,D)
Day 15 - Halong Bay to Hanoi
This morning your boat continues to cruise along the majestic peaks before it is time to transfer back to Hanoi. Why not start your morning with a Tai Chi routine on the sundeck or catch a morning view of the bay’s landscape with a cup of tea or coffee.
Explore the well hidden Thien Canh Son Cave and enjoy a white sandy beach at Hon Co Island. Upon returning to the boat you will have about 30 minutes to freshen up and finish packing.
At 10am, attend in a Vietnamese cooking demonstration. You can quickly learn a simple but delicious Vietnamese dish that Gordon Ramsey (a 2 Michelin Star Chef) used to guide – Nem Cuon. Enjoy a traditional Vietnamese lunch on boat.
Once back at the pier, you will be transferred back to Hanoi.
You have some free time this afternoon and you may like to visit the Vietnam Fine Arts Museum. This Museum plays a crucial role in maintaining and promoting the cultural heritage of Vietnam’s ethnic communities.
This evening, enjoy a farewell dinner of more elegant versions of traditional Hanoi street food at Madam Hien. Housed in a restored 19th–century villa, Madame Hien is a tribute to French chef Didier Corlu’s Vietnamese grandmother. Overnight at Hanoi Pearl Hotel or similar. (B,D)
Day 16 - Departure
Today is yours at leisure to enjoy a relaxed breakfast and then some free time until your transfer to the airport for your onward departure. (B)
- Return airport transfers
- 15 nights accommodation
- 15 Breakfasts, 8 Lunches, 7 Dinners
- Air conditioned transportation with English speaking local guides
- Sightseeing as per the itinerary
- Entrance fee to all attractions as per itinerary
- Domestic airfares Ho Chi Minh to Danang
- Train ticket Dong Hoi to Hanoi (2 person cabin)
- Camping gear: tent, camp light, sleeping bag
- Caving & safety gear: caving helmet, caving headlight, gloves
- Dry bag (for clothing and personal belongings excl. electronics)
- Basic canvas trekking boots (only if you do not have your own pair) sizes 36 –46
- Professional English – speaking tour guide and guide safety assistant
- Porter team to carry all camping gear and prepare all meals
- Shared dry box for phones and small cameras (limited availability for larger cameras)
- Water purifier and water bottle
- Basic camping facilities with eco – friendly compost toilet using western toilet seat
- First Aid Kit and Medical Rescue Equipment
- Secure Storage Facility at our headquarters to store all luggage you will not be taking on the trek.
- International flights
- Travel and medical insurance
- All services, meals other than those indicated above
- Any changes to the proposed and confirmed program.
- All items of a personal nature e.g. drinks, laundry, telephone calls, tips etc
**Please note that this tour can be organised on request for private departures.
* Pricing is subject to change at anytime until full payment has been received.
* A minimum of 2 adults is required to guarantee this departure.
A non-refundable deposit of $1000 AUD per person is required to secure your place. Final payment is due no later than 60 days prior to departure. Travel insurance is mandatory for travelling with Crooked Compass. For full terms and conditions, please click here.