Best of Vietnam

plus Angkor Wat & Sapa Hill Tribes optional extensions

This itinerary is for a past tour program.
Check out our new Best of Vietnam & Cambodia tour program.

Halong bay, Vietnam

Discover Vietnam, among the most fascinating and stunningly beautiful natural settings on earth. Our 13-day fully escorted tour takes you from south to north—with stops in Ho Chi Minh City, Hue, Da Nang, Hoi An, and Hanoi—to show you the very best of this engaging country.  Enjoy Superior First Class & Deluxe accommodations, fully escorted touring, lots of included meals, and the very best in service, all at prices that are downright amazing!

Best of Vietnam 13 day tour itinerary To maximize your visit to Southeast Asia, take advantage of your already-included airfare by joining one—or both—of our optional extensions. Before your tour, join our pre-tour extension to Cambodia, where you can explore the massive and amazing Angkor temple complex. After your tour, take advantage of a truly exotic extension to fascinating Sapa, in the heart of Hill Tribe country, including a chance to explore the fantastic Bac Ha Sunday Market!

Detailed Itinerary

Ho Chi Minh City panorama from the Saigon River

Vietnamese children Day 1: Depart USA. Your exotic journey to Vietnam begins as you check in for your wide-body jet flight bound for Saigon via Taipei.

Day 2: En route. Cross the International Dateline and lose a day. (You'll recover this day on your return trip.)

Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam   Photo by Donald Huxtable
Day 3: Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon), Vietnam. Arrive today in Ho Chi Minh City and transfer to your hotel, located in the heart of the city within easy access to shopping, touring and dining. Enjoy the afternoon at leisure to experience for yourself the hustle and bustle of Vietnamese life. Saigon Equatorial Hotel

Cu Chi tunnel entrance Day 4: Ho Chi Minh City & Cu Chi Tunnels. After breakfast, drive to the Cu Chi Tunnels, begun by the Viet Minh in the 1940's. The incredible network of tunnels once stretched for 210 miles and contained extensive Viet Cong infrastructure including tactical quarters, storage rooms, kitchens, a school and even an underground hospital. Most entrances were so well disguised that only a small portion of the system was ever discovered during the war, despite the fact that some 125 miles ran under a U.S. military base.

Thien Hau Pagoda, Saigon This afternoon, explore dynamic Ho Chi Minh City (still called Saigon by many locals), including the former Presidential Palace, Notre Dame Cathedral, Old Saigon Post Office and Thien Hau Pagoda in the city's bustling Chinatown. Join your fellow travelers tonight for dinner at a popular local restaurant. Breakfast & lunch provided.

Floating market, Mekong Day 5: Mekong Delta. Depart this morning for Cai Be, deep in the heart of the Mekong Delta. En route, stop at Cao Dai Temple to witness firsthand a fascinating fusion of Buddhism, Confucianism, Taoism, native Vietnamese spiritualism, Christianity & Islam.

Continue to Cai Be and embark on a private cruise to the colorful Cai Be floating market. Transfer to smaller boats for a ride through the beautiful canals of Tan Phong island, then enjoy lunch at Anh Kiet ancient house.

Mekong Valley residents
Mekong Delta residents
Continue by boat to visit a handicraft village to observe locals making rice-net for spring-rolls, fish sauce, cooking salt, and more. Return to Ho Chi Minh City later today. Breakfast & lunch provided.

Day 6: Ho Chi Minh City, Da Nang & Hoi An. After breakfast, enjoy some free time for shopping, then transfer to the airport for your flight to Da Nang on the coast of the South China Sea.

Hoi An old town  Photo by Jean-Marie Hullot
Hoi An old town   Photo by Jean-Marie Hullot
Upon arrival, board your touring coach and drive to Hoi An, on the banks of the Thu Bon River. The colorful market town of Hoi An is an exceptionally well-preserved example of a major Southeast Asian trading port from the 15th to the 19th centuries, with ships arriving from all over the world to obtain silk and other fabrics, sugar, tea and ceramics. Hoi An's traditional Vietnamese architecture has been preserved, and there are many historic temples and pagodas in the area.

Japanese bridge, Hoi An old town  Photo by Pham Quoc Hung
Japanese bridge, Hoi An old town   Photo by Pham Quoc Hung
Enjoy the rest of the day at leisure to explore on your own. You might want to take advantage of Hoi An's world-famous tailors during your stay here. Anything you might want to wear can be made for you in Hoi An, all at bargain prices and with expert workmanship. Hoi An Trails Resort. Breakfast & dinner provided.

Triều Châu Assembly Hall, Hoi An  Photo by Pham Quoc Hung
Triều Châu Assembly Hall, Hoi An   Photo by Pham Quoc Hung
Day 7: Hoi An. This morning, set out on a walking tour of this World Heritage Site. Along the way visit the Japanese Covered Bridge which features a Buddhist pagoda attached to one side and the town's most famous landmark, a beautiful Chinese Assembly Hall built in 1740 as a meeting place for all Chinese residents of the town. The hall is lavishly decorated with murals and a replica of a Chinese ship, and Phuoc Kien Pagoda, also called Kim Son Pagoda, built in 1697 by Chinese Phuoc Kien merchants at Hoi An.

Outdoor Market, Vietnam - Photo by Donald Huxtable
Outdoor Market, Vietnam   Photo by Donald Huxtable
Conclude your tour at the Central Market, where you will find everything from fruit and flowers to tailor-made clothes and silk lanterns, whose flexible bamboo frames are designed to collapse, so they're easily transported home as a souvenir. Enjoy lunch at a popular local restaurant, then spend the afternoon at leisure to explore further on your own. Time for a swim in the China Sea, shop for wood carvings from Kim Bong village for which Hoi An is famous.

Hindu temple complex at My Son Optional Tour to My Son: Enjoy an optional half day trip to visit the capital and religious center of the former Champa Kingdom, My Son. Here, 40km southwest of Hoi An in a lush green valley, are dozens of red brick towers and sanctuaries dating from between the 7th and 13th centuries.

Tra Kieu Cham art On the way back to Hoi An stop to visit Tra Kieu, formerly known as Simhapura or the Lion Citadel, the capital of Champa between the 4th and 8th centuries. Some of the finest sculpture in Da Nang's Cham Museum originated from here. $35 per person; requires a minimum of 3 passengers to operate. Hoi An Trails Resort Breakfast & lunch provided.

Thuy Son caves, Vietnam  ©
Thuy Son caves, Vietnam   ©
Day 8: Hoi An, Da Nang & Hue. Board your touring coach this morning and drive to the coastal city of Da Nang, one of Vietnam's most important ports. During the Vietnam War, Da Nang was home to a huge U.S. Air Force base. But it is best known for its impressive art and architecture from the Cham Dynasty, dating from the 4th to 14th centuries. South of Da Nang are the Marble Mountains, five marble hills representing the elements of the universe—water, wood, fire, metal & earth. One of the hills, Thuy Son, is honeycombed with caves containing Cham, Buddhist, and Confucian relics, pagodas, and temples.

China Beach - Photo by Donald Huxtable
China Beach   Photo by Donald Huxtable
You'll also stop at China Beach, a former U.S. recreation base, known for its sparkling white sand and excellent views of the Marble Mountains. The Cham Museum here contains the finest collection of Cham sculptures in the world. Drive over the Hai Van Pass and enjoy its spectacular views. Arrive in Hue and check in at your hotel.

Emperor Khai Dinh's mausoleum, Imperial City, Hue This afternoon, explore Hue, former imperial capital of Vietnam, seat of the Nguyen Dynasty that ruled Vietnam between 1802 and 1945. Visit the walled Citadel containing the Imperial City, modeled on the Forbidden City of Beijing, and the Purple Forbidden City within, former home of the royal family. This great sprawling complex of temples, pavilions, moats, walls, gates, shops, museums and galleries is Hue's prime attraction.

Vietnam river

Thien Mu Pagoda from Perfume River A boat trip on the Perfume River takes you past Hue's best known religious site, the Thien Mu Pagoda where, according to legend, an old woman appeared on a hill where the pagoda now sits and predicted that a great leader would one day build a pagoda in that spot in order to bring peace to the country. Lord Nguyen Hoang visited the area in 1601 and upon hearing of the legend, he ordered the pagoda built, naming it Chua Thien Mu, the Heavenly Lady Pagoda.

Photo by Marc Descollonges
Photo by Marc Descollonges
End the day with a visit to the popular Dong Ba Market, one of the must-see sites in Hue, where fruit, vegetables, fish, rice and other staples of the traditional Vietnamese diet are sold along with foods made from these ingredients. Join your fellow tour members at Y Thao Restaurant for dinner this evening. Morin Hotel Breakfast & dinner provided.

Hoa Lo Prison, Hanoi, in 1993 Day 9: Hue & Hanoi. Transfer to the airport this morning for the short flight to Hanoi. Transfer to your hotel for check in. Hanoi's rich history is closely tied to French colonialism as well as the Chinese era, both evident in the city's architecture, cuisine and culture. After lunch at a local restaurant, visit the Maison Centrale, Hoa Lo Prison, also known as the Hanoi Hilton during the Vietnam War.

Chauffeur pedaled
Chauffeur pedaled "cyclo", Vietnam
Later this afternoon, you'll enjoy a tour by cyclo, a chauffeur-pedaled tricycle, through the city's Old Quarter, known as the 36 Streets. This bustling area of narrow streets is home to literally thousands of small businesses and shopkeepers. It's a great place to explore, especially by cyclo, with plenty of photo opportunities all around you.

Water Puppets, Hanoi - Photo by Donald Huxtable
Water Puppet show in Hanoi   Photo by Donald Huxtable
Continue to the theater to enjoy a unique, ancient form of Vietnamese entertainment known as Mua Roi Nuoc, or Water Puppets, where puppeteers control their puppets using long bamboo rods and string mechanisms hidden beneath the water's surface. Melia Hanoi Breakfast & lunch provided.

Day 10: Hanoi, Halong Bay & Emeraude Cruise. After breakfast, drive from Hanoi to Halong. This amazing bay, a UNESCO World Heritage site, is dotted with thousands of limestone karsts and isles.

Boats amongst some of the 1,969 islands of Halong bay

Local legend has it that long ago, when the Vietnamese were fighting Chinese invaders, the gods sent dragons to help defend the land. The dragons spit out jewels and jade, which turned into the islands and islets of Halong, forming a great wall against the invaders.

The Emeraude Here you'll board the deluxe Emeraude, a wonderful replica of one of the classic steamships of the colonial era of French Indochina. With 36 luxurious air-conditioned cabins, a restaurant, two bars and a sun deck, this is the ultimate Halong Bay experience. Lunch is served on board at 1:00 PM. While cruising on the emerald green waters of the bay, try a traditional Vietnamese massage (optional extra, prices vary). Then, join your fellow shipmates for a beautiful sunset on the sun deck followed by a delicious Vietnamese buffet dinner. Overnight aboard the Emeraude Breakfast, lunch & dinner provided.
Note: Passengers traveling on the September, October, and February departures will board the Emeraude cruise one day later (on Day 11).

Bicyclist, Vietnam Day 11: Emeraude Cruise & Hanoi. Wake up to fresh coffee and a wholesome breakfast before cruising back to Tuan Chau quay. After disembarking from the Emeraude, board your touring coach and drive back to Hanoi. After lunch at a local restaurant, the afternoon is at leisure to shop, stroll and enjoy the city on your own. Melia Hanoi Breakfast & lunch provided.

Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum, Hanoi Day 12: Hanoi. On this morning's sightseeing tour, you'll explore the highlights of Hanoi. Stop first for a visit to the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum and his "house on stilts" where he resided during the later years of his life, one of the most important and visited sites in Vietnam. Continue to the One Pillar Pagoda, built on stilts over a lake in 1049 by King Ly Thai Thong. A prayer here is said to bring fertility and good health. (Mausoleum is closed Sept-Nov. Departures during those months only view the Mausoleum from the outside.)

Temple of Literature, Hanoi Continue to the Temple of Literature, Vietnam's first university constructed in 1070 by King Ly Thanh Tong to pay tribute to education and to those of high academic achievement. Today, art students sit on the grass and try to reproduce the traditional Vietnamese architecture on paper while enjoying the beautiful and well-preserved gardens of this quiet retreat into Vietnamese educational history.

School children playing in Hanoi
School children in Hanoi
The rest of the day is at leisure to shop for last-minute souvenirs or to simply enjoy a last stroll through Hanoi's fascinating streets. Tonight, join your fellow travelers for a farewell dinner at Au Lac Restaurant.
Note: Passengers traveling on the September, October, and February departures will experience this sightseeing 2 days earlier (on Day 10).

If your schedule permits, join us on a fabulous 3-night optional extension to Sapa, center of the Hmong aand other Hill Tribe people. Departing by train after dinner this evening, this extension is a cultural experience not to be missed. Breakfast & dinner provided.

Day 13: Hanoi. Enjoy a leisurely breakfast. Later today, transfer to the airport to check in for your return flight to the USA. Breakfast provided.

Angkor Wat Pre-Tour Extension

Take advantage of your already-included international airfare by joining our pre-tour extension to Cambodia for a special opportunity to visit Angkor Wat, a massive complex of temples that ranks among the most fascinating religious sites in the world.

Angkor Wat temples

Angkor native, Cambodia Day 1: Depart USA. Your exotic journey begins as you check in for your international flight.

Day 2: En route. Cross the International Dateline and lose a day. (You will recover this day on your return trip.)

Angkor Thom west gate Day 3: Siem Reap, Cambodia. Siem Reap is the gateway to the Angkor Archeological Park. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, the park contains the ruins of more than 1000 stone temples dating from the 9th to the 13th centuries. Late this afternoon drive to Angkor Wat for an unforgettable sunset view of the world’s largest religious temple. Borei Angkor

Overgrown doorway, Ta Prohm, Angkor Wat Day 4: Siem Reap/Angkor Thom. Built by the Khmer civilization between 802 and 1220 AD, the temples at Angkor and the great city that surrounded them represent one of mankind's most astonishing and enduring architectural achievements. The structures you see today are the surviving remains of a grand religious, social and administrative metropolis whose other buildings—palaces, public buildings, and houses—were built of wood and are long since decayed and gone.

Angkor complex - Photo by Holger Behr
Angkor complex   Map by Holger Behr
Satellite photographs reveal Angkor to have been the largest preindustrial city in the world, with an urban sprawl of 3000 square kilometres (the closest rival is Tikal in Guatemala, at most 150 square kilometres) and supporting a population of up to one million people. Mysteriously abandoned in the 15th century, the Angkor site remained largely cloaked by the forest until the late 19th century, when archaeologists began to clear away the forest and embark on a long restoration process that continues today.

Aerial view over Angkor Wat complex

Bayon temple, Angkor Wat After breakfast, begin your explorations at the mysterious royal walled city of Angkor Thom. Its 54-tower temple is an awesome sight that most visitors never forget, with each of its surreal towers topped with four giant, barely smiling faces, staring out in the directions of the four points of the compass. The faces, which depict a Khmer royal ruler as a Buddhist deity, are identical, but the staggered height of the towers and the different viewpoint of each keeps the design from appearing repetitious. You are engulfed by the silent, heavy, enigmatic gaze of those faces, through half-closed eyes, staring out from a remote time in history.

Carvings, Elephant Terrace, Angkor Thom Other sites you'll visit in this complex include the Baphuon, Elephant Terrace, Leper King Terrace and Royal Palace area, from which the Khmer kings ruled over a vast domain that reached from Vietnam to China to the Bay of Bengal. Enjoy lunch at a local restaurant and the rest of the afternoon at leisure. Breakfast & lunch provided.

Banteay Srei temples Day 5: Angkor Explorations. This morning, continue your exploration of the ruins of Angkor. Among the spectacular, carved-stone buildings you'll visit is the beautiful Banteay Srei, small in scale but considered to be a jewel in Angkor's crown because of its well-preserved, highly detailed carvings.

Ta Prohm, Angkor Continue to Ta Prohm, shrouded in jungle and left untouched among twisted banyan trees and stone pillars, it is has the most mysterious atmosphere of the temples in the Angkor area.

This afternoon, visit the intricately carved ruins at Angkor Wat, built during the early years of the 12th century to honor the Hindu god Vishnu. Consisting of an enormous temple symbolizing the mythic Mt. Meru, its rectangular walls and moats represent chains of mountains and the cosmic ocean. Hundreds of fine carvings and scenes from Hindu mythology can still be viewed here. Breakfast & lunch provided.

Boys selling postcards at Angkor Day 6: Cambodia/Ho Chi Minh City Transfer to the airport for your short flight to Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon), Vietnam. (See Day 3 of Vietnam itinerary above for the continuation of your touring program). Breakfast provided.

*Passengers taking the pre tour extension will depart the U.S. 3 days before the scheduled tour departure date. Passengers departing from JFK will depart the US 4 days before the scheduled tour date and will stay one additional night in Siem Reap before the start of the extension.

Sapa Hill Tribes Post-Tour Extension

Why not take advantage of your already-included international airfare and visit pictureseque Sapa? Tucked away in the mountains near the Chinese and Laotian borders in northwest Vietnam, Sapa, a former French resort town, is a wonderful place to mix with some of the indigenous people. While some tours to Vietnam offer "Hill Tribe" options, they typically visit communities near Hanoi that were once considered hill tribe areas, but no longer are. On Friendly Planet's extension, you'll visit numerous different tribes in mountainous Sapa that preserve their traditional culture. On weekends, especially on Sundays, the tribes go into Sapa town for the market. Discover this exotic and gorgeous part of Vietnam on our very special 3-night extension.

Rice terraces, Sapa Day 12: Hanoi/Overnight Train. After dinner at the Au Lac Restaurant, transfer to the train station to board your first class sleeper to Sapa in the "Tonkinese Alps." The train features private sleeping compartments and all the amenities you'll need to travel in comfort. Fanxipan Train

Flower Hmong women at market  Photo by Brian Snelson
Flower Hmong women at market   Photo by Brian Snelson
Day 13: Lao Cai & Sapa. Arrive early this morning at Lao Cai. Disembark from the train and enjoy breakfast at a local restaurant. Drive on to Bac Ha Sunday market, located in the mountainous area, where you'll enjoy exploring the fascinating and treasure-laden market and the chance to shop for wonderful (and inexpensive) souvenirs. The textiles, embroidery and other needlecrafts on sale are superb.

Flower Hmong woman  Photo by Christophe Meneboeuf
Flower Hmong woman   Photo by Christophe Meneboeuf
Following the market, visit nearby Flower Hmong and Phu La hill tribe villages. Here you'll have the opportunity to visit some local homes to understand more about the daily life, culture and traditions of these tribes. Continue to Sapa for check in at your hotel. Victoria Sapa Hotel Breakfast, lunch & dinner provided.

Young woman of the Red Dao tribe  Photo by Ruud van Leeuwen
Young woman of the Red Dao tribe   Photo by Ruud van Leeuwen
Day 14: Sapa, Hill Tribe Villages & Overnight Train. After breakfast, begin the half-day trek to Giang Ta Chai, a Red Dao hill tribe village. The Dao (pronounced Zao) are the 9th largest ethnic group in Vietnam with a population of just under 500,000, and are believed to have started migrating from China in the 13th century. The women wear some of the most colourful and diverse costumes of all ethnic groups, and are known for their embroidery skills. Most Dao women shave off their eyebrows, traditionally regarded as a sign of beauty.

Black Hmong women of Sapa After lunch, set out through beautiful gardens and a lush pine forest before arriving at the Black Hmong village of Matra. The Hmong group is believed to have migrated from southern China into Vietnam only over the last 300 years and today they live extensively throughout the north of the country. You can distinguish the various subgroups of Hmong by the colors of their clothing—for instance, the Black Hmong typically wear black clothing.

Sapa town

Black Hmong girl, Sapa  Photo by Ruud van Leeuwen
Black Hmong girl, Sapa   Photo by Ruud van Leeuwen
Return to Sapa and enjoy dinner at a local restaurant before boarding the overnight train for your return trip to Hanoi. Breakfast, lunch & dinner provided.

Day 15: Hanoi/USA. Arrive in Hanoi this morning and transfer to your hotel for breakfast. Your rooms will be ready for you to freshen up, rest a little, and prepare for your return flight to the USA. Later, transfer to the airport to board your return flight, arriving later today. Breakfast provided.

**Passengers taking the post tour extension will return to the U.S. 2 days later than the scheduled return date.

Destination FAQs

For quick answers to Frequently Asked Questions about Cambodia, click here.

For quick answers to Frequently Asked Questions about Vietnam, click here.

Building a friendlier planet

Friendly Planet sponsored well in Cambodian village It's difficult to imagine not having something so basic as clean, potable water. Yet according to UNICEF, nearly 900 million people in the world don't have this luxury.

In Cambodia, we've seen this first-hand. We were amazed to discover that it takes as little as $200 to dig a well and install a pump that provides clean water to several dozen families. Friendly Planet has been funding the construction of wells in villages for the past three years. Several of our passengers have volunteered to fund wells themselves. Together, we've built over 200!

You can too! Learn more and donate towards a well yourself. $200 buys a complete well and pump, which will bear your name!

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