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Taste of Vietnam

Ho Chi Minh City & Hanoi plus Halong Bay optional excursion & Bangkok optional extension

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Overview

Itinerary at a Glance
Taste of Vietnam
Day Destinations
1 Depart USA
2 En route
3 Ho Chi Minh City
4 Ho Chi Minh City
5 Ho Chi Minh City or optional Mekong Delta excursion
6 Hanoi
7 Hanoi
8 Hanoi or optional Halong Bay excursion
9 Hanoi/USA
Halong Bay Overnight Cruise
8 Hanoi & Halong Bay
9 Halong Bay & Hanoi
10 Hanoi/USA
Bangkok Extension
9 Hanoi/Bangkok
10 Bangkok
11 Bangkok
12 Bangkok/USA
Style Fully Escorted & Guided
Dedicated tour escorts & guides throughout
Highlights Ho Chi Minh City, Hanoi, Cu Chi Tunnels, Mekong Delta excursion & optional Halong Bay cruise. Optional extension to Bangkok.
Included in the Price
  • Roundtrip flights from Los Angeles (LAX) via scheduled China Airlines wide-body jet service including fuel surcharges and taxes and fees
  • All intra-Asia flights and ground transportation
  • Superior class hotels with private bath
  • Buffet breakfast daily
  • Comprehensive touring program including entrance fees
  • Special, discounted optional tours including Halong Bay day tour
  • Optional upgrade to Halong Bay overnight cruise aboard the deluxe Emeraude
  • Optional Bangkok Extension
  • Professional English-speaking tour director and local guides
What to Expect This moderately-paced, locally hosted tour includes a reasonable amount of walking or hiking and requires an average level of physical fitness.

If you've put off a trip to Vietnam because of time or price, then our new Taste of Vietnam tour is for you. See for yourself why Vietnam has emerged as Asia's hottest new destination for Western travelers. Our 9-day escorted tour takes you to Vietnam's two most important cities—Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) and Hanoi. Explore on your own or on exciting optional tours to the Mekong Delta, Halong Bay and more! You'll enjoy superior accommodations, bountiful daily breakfasts, included sightseeing tours in each city, discounted optional tours, and as always, the very best in Friendly Planet service. Of course, all of this is yours at prices that are downright amazing!

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Testimonials

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Our tour guide in Borneo (Solly) from Asia Experience was really exceptional. He was extremely interesting and demonstrated excellent knowledge of all areas we visited and toured. He made sure our trip was interesting and really demonstrated a great deal of care throughout the tour of Kuching and Bako. He also gave very good suggestions for places to dine locally. Very nice hotel in Batang Ai that exceeded my expectations. The tour to the Longhouse was very good. We loved the Lake and the Longboat ride. They were very nice experiences. Our visit to Bangkok was really excellent. Our guide (Chai) was really excellent and made the Thailand experience truly unforgettable. He was extremely knowledgeable on all of the sites we visited and went out of his way to make sure we were always comfortable and hydrated. It would be hard to believe we could have had any better time in Thailand and this was all due to the care Chai took in leading the tours and various experiences. The drivers were also very good in some very difficult traffic situations. I have no negative comments on the Borneo or Thailand experiences we had.

Dates, Prices & Options

For departures after May 2013, see our new itinerary.

Sorry, there are no currently available tour dates.

NOTE: Reservations for triples are possible for this tour. On the cruise portion, passengers will stay in 1 double and 1 single cabin. Please contact our reservations team for pricing and availability.

Detailed Itinerary

Taste of Vietnam tour itinerary For departures after May 2013, see our new itinerary.

Day 1: Depart USA. Check in for your flight bound for Saigon via Taipei. Your flights will depart from LAX shortly after midnight on day 2.

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

Day 3: Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon), Vietnam. Arrive in Ho Chi Minh City and transfer to your hotel, located in the heart of the city and within easy access to shopping, touring and dining.

This afternoon, explore dynamic Ho Chi Minh City (still called Saigon by many locals) on an included comprehensive city tour. Begin at the historic Reunification Hall, which formerly served as the Presidential Palace. It was towards this modern building that North Vietnamese resistance fighters tanks (the Viet Cong) rolled on the morning of April 30, 1975 as Saigon fell.

Notre Dame de Saigon From 1885 to 1954, Vietnam was the French colony of Indochina, and you'll see remnants of the French influence throughout the city. You'll visit the impressive gothic Notre Dame Cathedral, as well as the ornate French colonial Saigon Post Office, built by the famous architect Gustave Eiffel, where locals still come to post letters and make international phone calls from the beautifully trimmed phone booths inside.

You'll also see Cholon, Saigon's bustling Chinatown, including the Jade Emperor Pagoda and Thien Hau Pagoda. Time permitting, stop at Binh Tay Market, Cholon's colorful central market. Accommodations: New World Hotel.

Cu Chi Tunnel entrance  Photo by Donald HuxtableDay 4: Ho Chi Minh City. Enjoy a full day to explore this vibrant city on your own. We recommend an optional morning excursion to the famous Cu Chi Tunnels. Breakfast provided.

Optional Excurision: The Cu Chi Tunnels were built by the Viet Minh in the 1940s, this 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. You can enter the tunnels if you wish, or view them from outside. ($55 per person)

Mekong Valley residentsDay 5: Ho Chi Minh City. Continue exploring independently today or take advantage of a special optional excursion to the Mekong Delta.

Optional Excursion: Depart your hotel this morning heading south to the Mekong Delta, arriving at Ben Tre, where you cross the Mekong River on a motorboat. You'll drive through the second biggest coconut tree orchard in Vietnam. Stop along the way to observe the daily life of the villagers and discover how Vietnamese farmers work their rice fields. Since rice is the most important crop produced in the country and is eaten in many forms every day, rice farming is serious business requiring dedication, great planning and patience. Continue exploring the Mekong as you cruise through its small canals and arroyos lined with palm and coconut trees. Stroll through the fragrant fruit orchards, sip Vietnamese honey tea, and take a short donkey cart ride before stopping for an included lunch at an open-air Vietnamese restaurant specializing in delicious "elephant ear fish." Return to Saigon for an afternoon at leisure. ($85 per person)

This evening after dinner, why not visit the Night Market, where everything (except food) is on sale and where the browsing is almost as much fun as finding the amazing bargains you won't be able to resist. Breakfast provided.

Day 6: Hanoi. After breakfast this morning, transfer to the airport for your flight to Hanoi. Upon arrival, you will be escorted to your hotel for check-in. This afternoon, board your coach and head out for an included comprehensive tour of the city. Hanoi's history is closely tied to French colonialism as well as the Chinese era, both evident in the city's architecture, cuisine and culture.

Hoa Lo Prison, Hanoi Your tour will begin at the Hoa Lo Prison, also known as the "Hanoi Hilton." This notorious prison got its nickname during the Vietnam War—which the locals call the American War, one of many endured in recent times. Long before Americans were imprisoned here, many Vietnamese who fought against the French were held here.

Tran Quoc Pagoda gardens The next stop is the Taoist Quan Thanh Temple and the Buddhist Tran Quoc Pagoda, one of the oldest Pagodas in Vietnam. The Vietnamese are a devoutly religious people, and evidence of their Buddhist beliefs can be found everywhere, in the lovely pagodas and in the alters found in every home, town and village.

Visit the Museum of Ethnology, where you'll learn more about Vietnam's diverse history and culture. Here you'll find a fascinating and beautiful display of the multi-cultural and multi-ethnic groups that form Vietnamese society. The museum has gone to great lengths to preserve and also develop traditional Vietnamese art, music and handicrafts.

Before returning to your hotel, stop en route for outside views one of the most important and visited sites in Vietnam—the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum and his "house on stilts," his residence during the later years of his life. You'll find many local Vietnamese people coming each day to visit and pay homage to "Uncle Ho" who, for the people of this country, is like their George Washington. Accommodations: Nikko Hotel. Breakfast provided.

Outdoor Market, Vietnam  Photo by Donald Huxtable Day 7: Hanoi. Spend the day at leisure exploring the city further on your own. In addition, you will have a special opportunity on this morning's optional excursion to immerse yourself in Vietnamese culture through a hands-on cooking class in the heart of Hanoi's Old Quarter. Breakfast provided.

Optional Excursion: This unique experience begins with a visit to the local market to learn about Vietnamese ingredients and culinary staples. You'll marvel at the stands of just-picked herbs, fresh fruits and vegetables, and tubs of live fish and seafood, all waiting for the daily shoppers who buy just what is needed for a single day's meals. The cleanliness and appeal of this market will surprise and amaze you, but not as much as the delicious treats you'll enjoy later at lunch. After the market, proceed to the home of Madame Tuyet, a native of Hanoi and culinary master, who will teach you how to create authentic Northern Vietnamese dishes. After your cooking lesson, sit back and enjoy the delectable lunch that you prepared! This optional excursion can only be purchased locally ($68 per person).

Hanoi  Photo by Donald HuxtableOptional Excursion: Your afternoon optional excursion offers you the chance to explore Hanoi on an hour long tour by cyclo, a chauffeur-pedaled three-wheeled carriage, through the city's Old Quarter known as the 36 Streets. This bustling area of narrow streets and lanes is home to literally thousands of small businesses and shopkeepers. There's no doubt that this is an entrepreneurial people and you'll see the evidence as you wind your way slowly through the quarter. There are tiny restaurants, with single burner kitchens set out on the sidewalk, kiosks for shoes, hats, suitcases, clothing and food, and many women carrying herbs and vegetables in flat baskets suspended from each end of a bamboo pole which is carried perfectly balanced on one shoulder. You find plenty of photo opportunities all around you, so have your camera ready. After your tour, you'll continue to the theater where you'll enjoy an ancient form of Vietnamese entertainment known as Mua Roi Nuoc, or Water Puppets, a wonderful performance art form well loved by locals and tourists alike. Puppeteers control their puppets using long bamboo rods and string mechanisms hidden beneath the water's surface to depict scenes from rural life and national history. ($50 per person)

Junks on Halong BayDay 8: Hanoi or optional Halong Bay Excursion. Today is yours to explore Hanoi at leisure, perhaps visiting some of the many new art galleries that have made Hanoi a popular international center for up and coming modern painters, sculptors and others. Join either an optional day cruise or an optional overnight cruise on majestic Halong Bay (see description below). Breakfast provided.

Optional Excursion: The day cruise option begins with a drive that takes you through the rich farmlands of the Red River Delta to Halong Bay. During the drive, soak up the picturesque scenes of Vietnamese village life as you pass local villagers working the rice fields, taking pigs to market on bicycles, and ploughing the fields with their large water buffaloes. Upon arrival in Halong, board your private junk for a 5-hour cruise on the emerald green waters of stunning Halong Bay, a UNESCO World Heritage site dotted with thousands of limestone karsts and isles. 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. Enjoy a fresh seafood lunch as you cruise through some of the spectacular 3,000 limestone islands. Return to Hanoi in the early evening for your final night in Vietnam. ($150 per person)

Vietnamese children Day 9: Depart Vietnam/Arrive USA. Enjoy a leisurely breakfast. Later today, transfer to the airport to check in for your return flight to the USA. If your schedule permits, take advantage of an optional extension to Bangkok, Thailand! Breakfast provided.


Deluxe Emeraude Halong Bay Overnight Cruise: $300

Upgrade your Halong Bay day excursion and enjoy an extra night in Vietnam as you sail aboard the deluxe Emeraude, the ultimate Halong Bay experience.

By far the best way to experience Halong Bay is by overnight cruise aboard the 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. Since you're spending the night aboard, you will be able to explore more of the bay than is possible with a day cruise.

Day 8: Hanoi, Halong Bay & Emeraude Cruise. You'll depart Hanoi and drive through the rich farmlands of the Red River Delta to Halong Bay. During the drive, soak in the picturesque scenes of Vietnamese village life as you pass farmers working the rice fields, taking pigs to market on bicycles, and plowing the fields behind large water buffalo.

Upon arrival in Halong, board the Emeraude and settle into your comfortable, well-appointed cabin. Lunch is served on board at 1:00 PM. After lunch, sail to Hang Sung Sot Cave, whose name in English means Cave of Surprises. It was named by a French explorer who was amazed by the size and beauty of the cave's interior rooms which contain impressive stalagmites and stalactites.

Vietnamese spring rolls Back on board the ship, take a cooking class conducted by the Emeraude's chef and learn the art of making a perfect Vietnamese spring roll. Or, take advantage of a kayaking adventure offered aboard the ship. If you're ready to just relax and cruise the emerald green waters of the bay, try a traditional Vietnamese massage (optional extra, prices vary) before joining your fellow shipmates for a beautiful sunset on the sun deck followed by a delicious Vietnamese buffet dinner.

And if you haven't had enough romance for one day, why not settle into your seat under the stars and enjoy a screening of the Oscar-winning film Indochine, filmed in precisely the same places you're sailing. Accommodations: Emeraude. Breakfast, lunch & dinner provided.

Day 9: 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.

En route, stop at Chan-Thien-My (formerly Hong Ngoc Humanity Center), a special embroidery and handicrafts school, factory and showroom. Here you'll have a chance to purchase souvenirs made by young handicapped Vietnamese artisans. The embroidered wall hangings and table linens and the lacquer pieces are particularly beautiful, and—like everything else in Vietnam—very inexpensive. Continue to Hanoi and enjoy the afternoon at leisure to shop, stroll and enjoy the city on your own. Accommodations: Nikko Hotel. Breakfast provided.

Day 10: Depart Vietnam/Arrive USA. Enjoy a leisurely breakfast. Later today, transfer to the airport to check in for your return flight to the USA. If your schedule permits, take advantage of an optional extension to Bangkok, Thailand! Breakfast provided.


Optional Excursions in Vietnam

To take full advantage of your visit to Vietnam, we offer a special discount package of optional excursions to other "must-see" sites. These are not "seat in coach" excursions that pick up passengers in various hotels—all our optional excursions are private and operated for Friendly Planet groups only.

Optional Excursions Package Includes:

  • Cu Chi Tunnels Excursion (Day 4)
  • Mekong Delta Excursion with Lunch (Day 5)
  • Old City Cyclo Excursion & Water Puppets Performance (Day 7)
  • Halong Bay Day Excursion with Lunch (Day 8)

Package Price: $300 per person if booked and prepaid before departure.**

Halong Bay Emeraude Upgrade: $170 per person in addition to the optional excursions pacakge

If you prefer not to book in advance, the individual optional excursions will be available from your guide once you arrive in Vietnam, at prices posted in our itinerary ($340 per person with Halong Bay Day Excursion).

Since the Halong Bay Emeraude experience requires an additional night in Vietnam, this option must be booked in the USA in order to avoid high penalties for changes in return flights. If you are not taking the discounted optional excursions package but wish to book the Halong Bay Emeraude experience only, the cost will be $300 per person double occupancy and $430 per person single occupancy.

Other optional excursions, mentioned above in our itinerary, will also be available to you in Vietnam. Payment for optionals purchased in Vietnam must be made in cash (U.S. or equivalent in Vietnamese currency).

**We regret that we cannot accept bookings for the pre-paid optional excursions package within 75 days from departure or after final payment has been received.


Bangkok Optional Extension

Why not take advantage of your already included international airfare and add three days in exotic Bangkok, bustling capital of Thailand? Your extension includes airfare from Hanoi to Bangkok, three nights at the deluxe Dusit Thani hotel, full buffet breakfast daily, and all group transfers!

Chao Phraya River, Bangkok Day 9: Vietnam & Bangkok. Transfer to the airport to board your short flight to Bangkok, bustling capital of Thailand, situated on the banks of the Chao Phraya River. Upon arrival, you'll be escorted to your deluxe, centrally located hotel. The rest of the day is yours at leisure to take in your new surroundings and explore the city independently. Your hotel boasts a prime location within walking distance to many attractions. And with a metro stop located right outside the hotel's front door, you can travel easily and quickly to many other areas of the city. Accommodations: Dusit Thani. Breakfast provided.

Day 10-11: Bangkok. Enjoy two full days at leisure to discover Thailand's vibrant capital at your own pace. Bangkok offers no shortage of shopping, dining, and sightseeing. Your hotel concierge will gladly offer suggestions for independent exploration.

Wat Phra Kaew, Grand Palace, Bangkok We recommend a visit to the Grand Palace, which for 150 years functioned as the home of the King and his court as well as the entire administrative seat of government. Within its grounds, you'll also visit the Temple of the Emerald Buddha (Wat Phra Kaew) built to house a large Buddha image carved from a solid piece of green jadite (jasper).

Temples, along with the monarchy, are the fabric that binds together the national identity that is Thailand, and some of the most interesting of Thai temples are found in Bangkok. We suggest visits to three of Bangkok's most visually stunning temples: Wat Trimitr, which houses the 700-year-old, 5-ton Golden Buddha, the largest in the world; Wat Po, the oldest temple in Bangkok and home to the amazing Reclining Buddha; and Wat Benchamabophit, with its abundance of white Italian marble.

Floating market, Ratchaburi  © Tourism Authority of Thailand Often called the "Venice of the East" for its network of canals (klongs), Bangkok can also be explored by boat. From this vantage point, you can gain close-up views of traditional Thai life. And of course, no visit to Bankgok would be complete without a visit to the colorful Damneon Saduak floating market, held daily. It is an experience not to be missed! Breakfast provided.

Day 12: Depart Bangkok/Arrive USA. Today, transfer to the airport for your return flight. Your memorable journey to Vietnam and Thailand comes to an end as you arrive in the US later today. Breakfast provided.

Passengers taking the Bangkok Extension will return to the U.S. on Day 12, two days later than the return dates shown on the Dates & Prices tab.

Passengers taking the Halong Bay Overnight Cruise AND Bangkok Extension will begin the extension on day 10, and return to the U.S. on Day 13, three days later than the return dates shown on the Dates & Prices tab.

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