Here’s a wonderful way to experience the highlights of these two exotic countries. This 16-day tour of Vietnam and Laos covers Saigon, the Mekong Delta, ancient Hue, the beautiful and relaxing fishing village of Hoi An, exotic Hanoi, ethnic minority villages in Sapa, a junk cruise on Halong Bay, and the peaceful beauty of Laos’ Luang Prabang. If you have the luxury of time, we recommend slowing the pace down even more and enjoying these fantastic highlights in more depth.
Day 1: Ho Chi Minh City
Begin your Vietnam holiday in sultry, cosmopolitan Saigon where you are based for the first two nights of your holiday. Depending on your arrival time, go on a half-day tour of the city’s highlights and visit the famous Cu Chi tunnels system from the Vietnam War in a restored Russian army jeep or air conditioned vehicle.
Day 2: Mekong Delta – Le Jarai Cruise
Enjoy a relaxing day’s Mekong cruise on the converted rice barge Le Jarai and local boat. Sail through the broad waterways and small creeks of the Mekong River, enjoy a sumptuous three course lunch and see traditional rural life including a local village, communal temple and traditional matt weaving at a local farmer’s house. This trip is the ideal way to spend the day in the delta.
Day 3 – 4: Hue
Your highlights tour continues to the Central Vietnam coastline with a short flight to the ancient Vietnamese capital of Hue. Here you can explore the picturesque remains of the Imperial Citadel, royal tombs, and Buddhist pagodas.
Day 5 – 7: Hoi An
Next, you willl head south to the tranquil, traditional town of Hoi An. A must-see on any Vietnam highlights tour, Hoi An offers a long stretch of soft sandy beach, beautifully-restored architecture, hundreds of expert, inexpensive tailor shops, excellent restaurants, and an abundance of cooking schools. It is the perfect point on your holiday to stop, unwind and relax.
Day 8: Hoi An – Hanoi – Sapa
From Hoi An, transfer to Da Nang airport and take a short morning flight north to Hanoi, “the Paris of the Orient.” After spending the afternoon exploring the city, catch an overnight sleeper train to the lovely mountain town of Sapa, where you should expect to arrive into town early morning the following day (we recommend eating dinner beforehand or bringing a picnic onboard).
Day 9: Sapa
At this former French hill station, you will get a taste of Vietnam’s rich ethnic and cultural diversity. You’ll meet people from several different hill tribes and witness a simple rural lifestyle far removed from your life back home. The mountainous north of Vietnam close to the Chinese border is one of most beautiful areas on earth. Depending on your fitness level, various hikes can be arranged through fertile valleys, lush rice paddy fields and tiny hill-tribe villages. For the more adventurous traveler, home-stay accommodations can be arranged with a local family in one of the villages, or you can return to the comfort of your hotel in Sapa town at the end of a day’s exploring. If your holiday in Sapa falls over one of the ethnic minority market days, a trip can be arranged where you will be amazed at the colors, sites and wares for sale
Day 10: Sapa – Hanoi
Enjoy one last day of relaxation and exploration in and around Sapa, before returning by car to Lao Cai and catching an overnight sleeper train to Hanoi. Again we recommend eating dinner in Sapa or taking a picnic onboard. If travelling on the Victoria Express train, check whether their dining carriage will be operating.
Day 11: Sapa – Hanoi
Arrive early in the morning into Hanoi and enjoy a shower in a day use room to freshen up and have breakfast, alternatively early check in at your preferred hotel for the evening can be arranged at extra charge. Today you will have the opportunity to further explore Hanoi highlights, participate in a cooking class, or simply relax and explore on your own.
Day 12: Hanoi – Halong Bay
From Hanoi head to Halong Bay, one of the seven natural wonders of the world. Thousands of towering pillars of sea and wind-carved limestone karst make the bay an unforgettable sight. Stay onboard a traditional junk for the night, visit floating fishing villages and awesome caves. Kayaking in naturally-formed grottos and swimming in the bay are also popular during the summer months.
Day 13: Hanoi – Luang Prabang
Return to Hanoi and transfer to the airport for a late flight to the charming city of Luang Prabang in Laos.
Day 14: Luang Prabang
Nestled in a stunning setting amid lush mountains, this sacred city of golden temples and saffron-robed monks provides endless opportunities for sightseeing. Spend the remaining two nights completely relaxed amid its quaint, French-colonial style architecture, fabulous night markets and wide choice of excellent restaurants. Enjoy a tour around the atmospheric town of Luang Prabang. Visit Wat Xieng Thong, the finest example of Luang Prabang architecture, as well as the gilded carved façade of Wat Mai. Also visit the National Museum, the former Royal Palace, where relics from Laos’ royalist past remain. It is said that those who do not climb the 328 steps up Phousi Mountain have not really made it to the city. Venture up the hill and be rewarded with remarkable views of the area. Journey back down the southern slope to the Traditional Arts and Ethnology Center, a private museum displaying interesting information on the tribal peoples of Northern Laos.
Day 15: Luang Prabang
If you wish, get an early start (6:00am or so) and go watch or participate in the traditional Lao rite of Almsgiving to the monks. In the city, some 300+ monks file through silently collecting alms. This is an amazing sight and your guide will be on hand to demonstrate and explain this important ritual. Afterwards, visit the Morning Market and see an array of meats, vegetables and spices the locals use in their cooking. Return to your hotel for breakfast.
Cruise up the Mekong River to the mouth of the Ou River. Visit the sacred Pak Ou Buddha Caves, long considered a holy spot for the Lao people. Locals make pilgrimages to this site to place Buddha images inside the caves to make merit. On the way, stop to visit Ban Xang Khong, where the weaving of Lao textiles still takes place on ancient wooden looms. Enjoy lunch before your return cruise back.
Day 16: Luang Prabang
Relax on your own before catching your flight onward.