It’s been an interesting year here in Christchurch, so this year I’ve decided to take a different tact when it comes to Christmas. I’m having a pre-Christmas-Christmas with the kids and the fly out to Vietnam for a holiday tour with a few days in Thailand either side for good measure. It’s always been something I’ve wanted to experience so I’m very excited to be seeing the sights/sounds and culture of these very interesting places and meeting some new people
Days 1-2 Ho Chi Minh City
Formerly known as Saigon, Ho Chi Minh City is characterised by a vast array of sights and sounds: 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 the city's life takes place on the busy streets lined with shops, stalls and vendors with their wares spread out on the footpath, selling everything from soup to sophisticated electronics.
Visit the famous Cu Chi tunnels. This former Viet Cong stronghold provides an insight into the resourcefulness and tenacity of the Vietnamese people, as well as a unique sense of what underground life was like during the American War.
Experience the hustle and bustle of old Saigon in cyclos (bicycle rickshaws) and explore some of the city's more interesting sights, including the War Remnants Museum.
- Cu Chi Tunnels
- Cyclo tour
- War Remnants Museum
Hotel (2 nts)
Days 3-4 Hoi An
Take a short flight to Danang (approx 1 hr) and then drive to Hoi An (approx 1 hr).
Recently declared a World Heritage site, Hoi An is being beautifully restored and preserved. Known as Faifo to early Western traders, it was one of South-East Asia's major international ports during the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries. Today, parts of Hoi An look exactly as they did more than a century ago and it retains the feel of centuries past, making it the sort of place that grows on you the more you explore it.
It's also a shopping mecca - with much to browse and buy. Choose from original paintings, handcraft woodwork, ceramics, embroidery, lanterns and more. Hoi An has also become famous for its tailoring - with a great variety of fabrics and tailors to choose from. Bring your favourite piece of clothing or even just a picture, and you'll be able to have it copied.
Your leader will take you on a walk around the Ancient Town.
You have time here to explore the beautifully restored and preserved Chinese shop houses, enjoy the vibrant and busy market, visit Cua Dai Beach, cycle to the rice fields and browse the array of art galleries.
Hotel (2 nts)
Days 5-6 Hue
Departing Hoi An, we can stop at China Beach before crossing the dramatic Hai Van Pass to the picturesque fishing village of Lang Co. After a quick stop, continue on to Hue (approx 5 hrs including stops).
The pace of life is slow and tranquillity prevails in Hue - the former imperial capital of Vietnam. Founded as a royal city in 1687, it's the gateway to the treasures of Vietnam's royal past.
Hop on to your cyclo for a tour of the city - a truly fun and Intrepid way to explore the town.
Visit the Imperial Citadel, including the Forbidden Purple City. The latter was almost totally destroyed during the American War's Tet Offensive, but the foliage-covered ruins are still atmospheric and the gaping holes left by bombs give an idea of the destruction wreaked upon the country during the war.
Enjoy a dragon boat cruise on the Perfume River. The trip includes a visit to Thien Mu Pagoda, considered by many to be the unofficial symbol of Hue. It's an active Buddhist monastery with its 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. We also visit one of the royal tombs, that of Emperor Tu Duc, with its central lake set amid a grove of frangipani and pine trees, and we may visit what many believe to be the most majestic of all the royal tombs, Minh Mang.
The bustling Dong Ba Market offers a plethora of goods and foods to see and sample, and it's a good place to try some of the specialities that graced the Nguyen emperors' banquet tables, such as the banh khoai, a royal rice cake.
Board an overnight train to Hanoi. Although conditions are basic, overnight trains are a true Intrepid experience and the best way to travel long distances with the locals. Sleeper trains typically have four berth compartments (occasionally six berth depending on seasonal variations), which have bench seats that convert into sleeping bunks. A sheet, pillow and blanket are provided, although some travellers prefer to bring their own sleeping sheet. On occasion, passengers of different genders will be required to share a compartment and there will be occasions where you'll be sharing with local travellers or travellers who are not part of your group. Most trains have a dining carriage serving simple food, but some travellers take the opportunity to stock up on fresh bread, cheese and fruit prior to departure.
- Cyclo tour
- Imperial Citadel
- Perfume River cruise and Thien Mu Pagoda
- Royal tomb
Hotel (1 nt), Overnight sleeper train (1 nt)
Day 7 Hanoi
We arrive in Hanoi early in the morning.
Enjoy a buffet breakfast at KOTO restaurant, one of Intrepid's Responsible Travel supported programs which aims to teach street children hospitality skills that will enable them to find employment.
Visit the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum complex, which includes the One Pillar Pagoda and the Ho Chi Minh Museum.
The rest of the day is free to explore the city. Venture into the atmospheric Old Quarter to see the Vietnam of old, stroll the tree-lined boulevards to admire the French architecture or visit one of the many museums for some insight into the country's turbulent history.
- Breakfast at KOTO restaurant
Hotel (1 nt)
Day 8 Halong Bay – Christmas day NZ Time
Travel by private minibus to the spectacular World Heritage site of Halong Bay (approx 4 hrs).
Halong Bay is a breathtaking secluded harbour with 2,000 limestone islands rising from the emerald waters of Bac Bo Gulf. One of Vietnam's most scenic regions, this area of about 1,500 sq km is dotted with innumerable beaches and grottos, created over thousands of years by waves and wind.
Board our private boat and cruise among the dramatic limestone peaks. There's an opportunity to swim in the famed South China Sea, as well as to explore caves filled with stunning stalactites and stalagmites. Spend a peaceful night on board, beneath a night sky alive with stars. Our sailing junk has twin-share cabins that have air-conditioning and private facilities. There's also a dining room and bar where we enjoy a sumptuous lunch and dinner.
Overnight boat (1 nt)
Days 9-10 Hanoi
Take a bus back to Hanoi (approx 3.5 hrs).
The afternoon is free for you to explore this delightful city. Why not stop for a bia hoi (freshly brewed draught beer) at one of the microbars in the Old Quarter or relax at a cafe.
Hotel (1 nt)