Vietnam: Caves, Conservation, Culture
11 days for £3,895 4 September 2021
No single supplement for solo travellers
Discover a different side of Vietnam in this wide-ranging tour that covers geology, stunning landscapes, animal conservation and history. Starting off in Hanoi with stays in Cuc Phuong National Park, sailing down a river in the Ninh Binh valley, cruising the Halong Bay and trekking to the famous Hang Tien cave. Finishing in Hue, the ancient capital of Vietnam.
Experience tropical jungles, limestone caves, blissful villages and amazing feats of underground engineering. Immerse yourself in local culture and sample Vietnamese cuisine, ranging from street food to dining like royalty. A real treat for the senses in this highly stimulating country.
Solo travelers will not be charged a single supplement.
DAY 1: ARRIVE INTO HANOI
Welcome to Vietnam! Upon arrival at Hanoi NoiBai Airport you will be met and transferred to the La Siesta Premium Hang Be Hotel. The day is at leisure. then in the evening, you will have a welcome dinner at the hotel where the guide will brief you on the tour ahead.
DAY 2: EXPLORE HANOI AND EAT LIKE A LOCAL
This morning, you will meet your guide around 7am and head towards Hoan Kiem Lake. It is a cultural thing in Vietnam to wake up very early and start the morning with some exercise and you will see several groups of people practicing tai chi and aerobics. Be part of Vietnam and join the locals in their morning routine!
After visiting the Ngoc Son Temple, located in the middle of the Hoan Kiem Lake, you will try Vietnam’s traditional local coffee and street food. Later, you will get deep into Hanoi’s Old Quarter with a walking tour where you will be able to witness the French architecture in different Vietnamese buildings. Including St. Joseph Cathedral and Hoa Lo Prison. To finish your morning, Huu Tiep Lake, better known as ‘B-52 lake’, where US B-52 bomber wreckage can be seen.
For lunch, you will return to the Old Quarter for a ‘Bún Chả’ restaurant, where you will try Hanoi’s specialty. Then onto the Temple of Literature, built in 1076. Vietnam’s first university was established within this temple to educate Vietnam’s royalty, mandarins and members of the elite.
Your last stop of the day will be the Hanoi railway tracks. Where houses are often located just meters away from the tracks yet still retain their beauty.
After a long day, you will finish with evening beers at famous Bia Hoi Corner, where you will taste local freshly brewed beer. Finishing the day as a local!
After freshening up at your hotel, you will be picked up for the 9pm closing flag ceremony in Ba Dinh Square.
DAY 3: CUC PHUONG NATIONAL PARK
After a busy previous day in Hanoi and a leisurely breakfast, you have the morning to relax before driving to Cuc Phuong National Park and checking into a guest house in the middle of the park.
In the early evening, you will transfer by electric car to the Save Vietnam Center. Meet conservation staff and observe how they protect and feed pangolins, civets and otters. This rescue centre is one part of the worldwide effort to save endangered primates from extinction through poaching and loss of habitat. The entry fee (included in the tour price) helps fund their work which includes rehabilitation, reintroduction, research and conservation education.
This is followed by a late dinner just inside the national park’s gates
Overnight at Cuc Phuong Guesthouse, Standard room
DAY 4: ENDANGERED PRIMATES AND STUNNING LANDSCAPE OF NINH BINH
After breakfast take the electric car again to the Endangered Primates Rescue Centre. Here, they focus on the conservation of the gibbons and langur. You will have a chance to see how the staff feed them in captivity and semi-wild areas of primary forest. Then how their behavior is studied in semi-wild conditions and they are prepared for full release into the wild.
After the tour, say goodbye to the National Park and drive to Ninh Binh town. Enjoy lunch in a traditional Vietnamese restaurant, then transfer to Tam Coc pier where you will take a cruise up the river. Whilst gliding along the river among the rice paddies and karst limestone mountains, you will visit the Tam Coc grottoes. Part of an exquisite cave system with ceilings just 2m high, eroded through the limestone hills.
In the late afternoon, when it’s a little cooler, you will visit the misnamed Mua Cave whose main attraction it two karst mountains with 500 steps each that afford amazing views of the Ninh Binh landscape of beautiful forested limestone pillars, calm river, pristine rice fields and local villages.
Overnight you will stay at the Tam Coc Rice Field resort, your bungalow having views over the rice fields and mountains.
DAY 5: CRUISING HALONG BAY
In the morning transfer to Halong City wharf, where your cruise will begin at midday aboard the small but luxurious Athena Luxury Cruise ship. A delicious lunch will be served as you slowly cruise through this Halong Bay, characterized by thousands of towering limestone islands rising dramatically out of the sea.
It was designated a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1994 and according to geologists, the Halong Bay you see now has been in the making for 300 million years. Centuries of erosion from the rain and sea have shaped the karsts, valleys and caves that make this incredible landscape.
Mid-afternoon head to the Vung Vieng ﬁshing village by local rowing boats or kayaks to explore the interesting daily lives of its inhabitants. In the evening you will experience a Vietnamese cuisine cooking demonstration served in the main dining room. Evenings are beautiful on Halong Bay, and just because the sun goes down, it doesn’t mean the night is over. Relax on the top deck and take in the transformation of the bay.
DAY 6: CRUISE TO THE THIEN CANH SON CAVE THEN FLY TO PHONG NHA
The best time to observe Halong Bay is in the early morning. Tai Chi will be conducted on the upper deck and is a terriﬁc way to feel as one with the peaceful surroundings. After breakfast enjoy visiting the Thien Canh Son cave, strewn with stalactites and stalagmites. Located in the quieter end of Bai Tu Long Bay, the cave is one of the most stunning of 59 in the bay, with its distinctive geomorphology strewn with stalactites and stalagmites.
After a delicious brunch and farewell from the crew, you will be transported back to Halong City wharf and then to Hanoi Airport for your flight to Dong Hoi where you will check into the Chay Lap Farmstay in Phong Nha.
DAY 7: TREK TO THE HANG TIEN CAVE
After an early morning pick up, you will head an hour and a half to Tan Hoa, located 70 km from Phong Nha. The drive is beautiful, passing alongside jungle, fields and over the historic Da Deo Pass. During the drive, you will also listen to a safety briefing led by your experienced tour guide.
Jungle trekking equipment will be supplied including jungle boots, water bottles, lights and helmets. You will then take a drive to the trailhead, where the trek begins with a hike through the forest. The last kilometer before the cave is very rocky with many boulders, as if the cave terrain has spilled out onto the landscape in front of it. You’ll enjoy a BBQ feast, before entering the spectacular cave.
Hang Tien is actually two gigantic caves, one of which is over 3km long. Marvel at the unusual formations such as astonishing layers of rock and stalagmites that look like terraced rice fields, giving the caves an otherworldly feel.
On your way back, take a dip in the natural jungle swimming pool and have a coffee, a quick swim, before making your return journey. Overall, there is 6km of trekking including 1.5km of caving.
A quick shower in Tan Hoa, then back to Phong Nha for a well-earned rest after this amazing day
DAY 8: KEY SITES OF THE VIETNAM WAR
The day starts with the Vinh Moc tunnel complex that sheltered sixty families from intensive bombing in the Vietnam war without any loss of life. Be guided through the tunnels and gain insight into this feat of engineering and human resilience.
Then onto the Hien Luong Bridge over the Ben Hai River in the middle of the DMZ (Demilitarized Zone). The river that was the only true physical demarcation between North and South Vietnam during Vietnam War (the 17th Parallel).
After midday, you will visit the Old Citadel at Quang Tri. A military bastion and an administrative head office of Nguyen Dynasty in Quang Tri Province from 1809 to 1945. In 1972 the Citadel came under intense attack from American forces for 81 days but managed to remain in Vietnamese hands.
After lunch near the Citadel transfer to Hue and check into the Pilgrimage Village Hotel.
DAY 9: DISCOVER HUE THE AUTHENTIC WAY
Hue is the ancient capital, a centre of arts and religion in Vietnam, plus a significant battlefield of the Vietnam War. Today, you will get a taste of what real life is like in Hue. With our guides who have grown up here, learn about Hue through the eyes of a real local. Hear stories of their childhood, through the war and their families. If available, you will receive a blessing from the monks at Thien Mu, travel along the calming Perfume River by Boat, see and experience the famous bronze factories of Phuong Duc, have a local lunch by the walls of the citadel, learn about the Imperial City and it’s secrets before ending the tour with a visit to the home of descendants of the Royal Court.
One of the city’s most famous culinary experiences is the Royal Dinner. You will have a unique experience where you will have a private audience with a descendant of the last royal family of Vietnam, in her own home. Spend time learning about her family’s past and taste the authentic dishes that were once served to royalty. A huge step away from the well-known street food culture of Vietnam, not only taste some special dishes but have the perfect dinner host for the occasion.
DAY 10: LANG CO LAGOON
Arrive at the Lang Co lagoon to embark on a local boat and enjoy the idyllic panorama of water overlooked by the Annamite Cordillera mountains covered by jungle. Also known as Heaven’s Door, the mountains form an important tropical rainforest with rare species such as the Annamite rabbit, the antelope-like saola and the douc langur.
The first stop is a fishing post with a demonstration of the local fishing technique, then continue by boat to visit a family-run oyster and mould farm. With your guide, learn how local life is intertwined with the lagoon. After lunch in an authentic stilt house above the water enjoy swimming and snorkeling in the crystal-clear lagoon.
You will then travel to the city of Hoi An and check into the Anantara Hoi An Resort. Enjoy the rest of the day at leisure.
DAY 11: DEPART HOI AN
Have an easy morning then you will be transferred to Danang airport for your flight home.
For those wanting to extend their time in Hoi An, explore southern Vietnam or add a pre or post trip extension to Cambodia, the travel experts at Steppes Travel, our travel partner for this tour, can look at various options.
Discover a path less traveled in Hoi An, visit the central market, travel through the old town and learn about the organic gardening and riverbank erosion project, to get a true insight into the way of life in this part of Vietnam. For those wanting to explore further afield, discover Vietnam’s southern city of Saigon, known for its pivotal role in the Vietnam War and as the gateway to the Mekong gateway. Travel to Vietnam, pairs perfectly with an extension to Cambodia, famously known for the sprawling 1,000-year-old temple complex of Angkor.