Vietnam: Culture & Cuisine

Halong Bay, Vietnam
January 31, 2017
16 Days
Small-Ship Cruise
65 Guests
From $14,980


Below please find the day-by-day itinerary for this expedition. Unless otherwise noted, daily excursion options are included in the cost of the trip. We do our best to adhere to the scheduled itinerary, but in the spirit of our expeditionary style of travel we may deviate slightly to take full advantage of encounters with the destination and its people, culture, and wildlife.

Pre-Trip Extension
Angkor Wat
January 28February 1, 2017

Depart USA

January 28

Board your independent flight to Cambodia, crossing the International Date Line en route.  

Siem Reap, Cambodia

January 29

Arrive in the very late evening and transfer to the Belmond La Résidence d’Angkor for overnight.

Siem Reap

January 30

After breakfast explore wondrous Angkor Thom, the 12th-century capital built by Jayavarman VI encompassing the Bayon temple with its enormous mysterious faces. Continue to Ta Prohm Temple built in 1186 by Jayavarman VII to honor his family. Atmospheric and mystical, many of the temple monuments are enveloped by the sinuous roots of soaring silk cottonwood trees. After lunch at a local restaurant visit Banteay Srei, the Citadel of Women, a temple dating from the 10th century. Perhaps the most beautiful temple in Siem Reap, it is remarkable for its fine pink-sandstone carvings relating episodes from the Ramayana. Then board a traditional wooden boat for a sunset cruise and enjoy a welcome dinner at a local restaurant.  

Siem Reap

January 31

Depart early to view the sunrise at the World Heritage Site of Angkor Wat. Enjoy breakfast with magnificent views of the temple, then spend the morning exploring its soaring towers, courtyards, and tiered galleries. After lunch, visit Preah Khan Temple, “the Sacred Sword,” an extensive monastic complex surrounded by a moat and guarded by statues of warrior deities. Continue to Neak Pean, a unique island temple rising from the center of an artificial pond. This evening attend a festive farewell dinner accompanied by a private cultural performance of traditional dance and music.

Siem Reap / Hanoi, Vietnam

February 1

After breakfast, visit the floating village of Kampong Khleang, and learn about fishing techniques. Then make a stop at Artisans d’Angkor Handicrafts Center to admire the beautiful metal works, silk weaving, and wood and stone carving from the region. After lunch at the hotel, transfer to the airport for your flight to Hanoi. Upon arrival, check in to the Hotel de l’Opera.

Day-by-Day Itinerary

Depart USA / Hanoi, Vietnam

January 31February 1

Depart the USA on your independent evening flight to Vietnam. Upon arrival in Hanoi, check in to Hotel de l’Opera for overnight. 


February 2
Hanoi, Vietnam

Choose from several tour options today. At the Hanoi Cooking Center, learn about Vietnamese cuisine over tea. After visiting a local market, return for a hands-on cooking class and lunch of freshly prepared dishes. The Center also is your base for an optional afternoon tour of Hanoi's street eats scene; try pho, a local specialty, before visiting the Chau Long market and Hang Gua to sample banh cuon (steamed rice pancake with minced pork and mushroom inside). Other tasty stops: Dong Xuan market for banh tom (prawn cake) and some of the city's best bun cha (grilled pork patties with sticky noodles); as well as an established café in old Yen Phu Village for black sticky rice or green rice with yogurt.

In more of a contemplative mood? Join a morning visit to the peaceful Sung Phuc Zen Monastery to practice Zen meditation with the masters. Then tour the Phu Khe woodwork trade village and engage with the head monk at Dong Lai Pagoda before enjoying a vegetarian meal prepared by the nuns.

Or, for an introduction to the city, a half-day guided tour includes visits to Ho Chi Minh’s mausoleum, Vietnam’s most highly revered monument; the Military History Museum; the Hoa Lo Prison, also known as the Hanoi Hilton; and the Museum of Ethnology. This tour is offered again in the afternoon, with the added bonus of a traditional wooden puppet performance at the Water Puppet Theatre.

This evening, relax over a special celebratory welcome dinner at the lantern-lit Kim Son Pagoda. 

Hanoi / Haiphong / Embark Coral Discoverer

February 3
Vietnamese Market

This morning, an early visit to the Vietnamese Women's Museum provides insight into the important role women play in Vietnamese life, from tribal art to acts of heroism during the war. Some of their folk arts are on display at the impressive Vietnam Fine Art Museum, which houses more than 20,000 pieces including archeological treasures as well as contemporary paintings and sculptures. The museum is located in a beautifully restored French colonial building, many of which still line the streets of Hanoi’s old quarter. After lunch at a local restaurant, set out overland for Haiphong where you will embark the Coral Discoverer. Enjoy the rest of the afternoon at leisure.

Halong Bay

February 4February 5
Halong Bay, Vietnam

Halong Bay is an otherworldly archipelago of thousands of limestone islets and rocky outcroppings. Spend two days cruising among the dramatic formations of craggy monoliths, where gnarled trees cling precariously to narrow clefts.

On Saturday, take a day boat around Lan Ha Bay, disembarking at Ben Beo for a trek through Cat Ba National Park. The park—Vietnam’s first to encompass both land and marine ecosystems—claims some 1,500 plant species and more than 30 species of mammals, including the critically endangered white-headed langur. After a short trek, meet with local villagers who earn a living by fishing. Your visit is a prelude to the next day’s visit to the Cua Van floating village, the largest fishing village in Ha Long Bay. Learn about their way of life before exploring the colossal Tien Ong Cave, its two chambers extending more than 10,000 square feet and covered in stunning stalactites.  

Vinh Moc

February 6

This afternoon, Zodiacs take you ashore to visit the once notorious demilitarized zone (DMZ) at the 17th parallel, an arbitrary strip of land that demarcated North and South Vietnam from 1954 to 1975. View a bridge over the Ben Hai River and a labyrinth of extraordinary tunnels at nearby Vinh Moc, which served both as a refuge for the villagers while the area was bombarded, and as a Viet Cong supply route.


February 7
Hue, Vietnam

Discoveries abound in the city of Hue with a variety of morning tours. This ancient trading center and Vietnam's last royal city has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and its mysteries are revealed during visits to the picturesque mausoleums of Emperors Khai Dinh and Tu Duc. The tombs reflect the Chinese-inspired architectural styles found throughout Hue, perhaps best evidenced in its vast, moat-rimmed citadel styled after the Forbidden City in Beijing. This imperial complex of the Nguyen Emperors, built between 1802 and 1945, reigns over the banks of the Perfume River, named for the many aromatic plants that grow upstream.

If you're feeling more active, opt for a guided bicycle ride to Thanh Thuy Village with its tile-roofed bridge, one of the most famous in Vietnam. Along the way, pass tranquil rice fields and stop to visit the Cua Ngo Mon and Princess Huyen Tran Temples. After wandering the market and Agricultural Tools Museum, which displays ancient farming tools used in the rice fields, join villagers on a boat ride along the scenic Nhu Y River; you might even try catching fish using age-old traps and nets. Then return to a local restaurant, where you learn about the many vegetables grown in its gardens before a private cooking class with the chef and enjoyable lunch of your creations.

This afternoon, embark a traditional “dragon boat” and sail along the Perfume River to the peaceful Sinh Village, famed for its colorful paintings celebrating Tet (Vietnamese New Year). 

Da Nang / Hoi An

February 8
Vietnamese Market

Once a quiet backwater port, Da Nang is now Vietnam's third-largest city and offers an abundance of options for exploration. Take in the city sights including the Linh Ung Pagoda; local Han market; and Museum of Cham Sculpture, the world's largest repository of Cham sandstone carvings including altars, apsaras, lingas, and images of Hindu gods. Afterward, stop at a local marble workshop to see master carvers at work. You might opt to tour My Son, a UNESCO World Heritage site of extensive Cham ruins dating from the 4th to 14th centuries; or, visit the Red Bridge Cooking School for a chef-led immersion into Vietnamese cuisine, complete with a visit to the local market and herb garden before a hands-on workshop. All three morning tours include lunch. You also may opt for free time in the ancient town of Hoi An to do some shopping on your own.

In the afternoon, the entire group gathers for a walking tour of Hoi An. Stroll along winding lanes past a magnificent collection of authentic 18th- and 19th-century homes, a Japanese bridge, a Chinese temple, silk shops, and small museums illustrating the cultural riches of this UNESCO World Heritage Site. Learn the art of lantern-making before returning to the ship.

Qui Nhon

February 9

While the coastal city of Qui Nhon has seen plenty of conflicts over its long history, today it appeals with a quiet authenticity found along its grand boulevards, narrow backstreets, and beautiful beaches. Afternoon tour choices include its Whale Temple and the seldom-visited provincial capital of Binh Dinh, home to a colorful coastal fishing fleet. Visit the museum and spectacular twin Cham Towers, dating from the 11th century and perched serenely on a hilltop adjacent to a Buddhist monastery; other stops include the Long Khanh Pagoda and a picturesque beach. Or you may select a highlights tour that includes the Banh It Tower and Quang Trung Museum, where members of Vietnamese hill tribes perform superb martial arts demonstrations with music and dance—named an “intangible treasure” by UNESCO. 

Van Phong Bay / Port Dayot / Nha Trang

February 10

Massive sand dunes line Van Phong Bay, while Port Dayot offers excellent photographic and birding opportunities. Take a walking tour around this picturesque fishing village, visiting the Whale Temple and a local kindergarten. A short stroll through the market leads to a shop that makes traditional fishing nets.

Return to the ship for lunch and cruise past lovely coastal scenery to Nha Trang. Upon arrival, take an orientation tour, visiting the Institute of Oceanography, dedicated to local marine life; and the Po Nagar Temple complex with its impressive twin towers built between the 7th and 12th centuries. Po Nagar is one of the few well-preserved Cham sites remaining in Vietnam, and both ethnic Chinese and Vietnamese Buddhists make pilgrimages here. Continue to Long Son Pagoda, and climb the 152 stone steps to the giant seated Buddha. Enjoy dinner on board, or choose to dine ashore on your own.

Nha Trang

February 11
Nha Trang, Vietnam

Join a local guide for tour of the market to pick up fresh ingredients for your cooking class at a local restaurant. Learn preparation techniques using a Vietnamese grater and knife, making summer rolls, grilled chicken with lime leaf, and more for a delectable lunch. Afterward, reward yourself with a relaxing mud bath at a local hot spring.

Or, head into the scenic countryside to observe traditional mat-weaving before a cruise along the Cai River, calling at a stove-making workshop and an island where coconut is harvested. Return to Nha Trang for lunch and a chance to browse at the embroidery shops.

Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon)

February 12
Vietnamese Market

Spend the morning cruising up the Saigon River with lunch onboard. Enjoy an afternoon visit to the energetic Binh Tay market and 19th-century Thien Hau Temple in the Chinatown district. Return to the ship for dinner and overnight.  

Ho Chi Minh City / Mekong Delta

February 13

Often referred to by its former name, Saigon, Ho Chi Minh City—the “Pearl of the Orient”—stands as Vietnam’s largest, busiest, and most economically vibrant metropolis. The energy here is palpable, its streets abuzz with activity. Our group, however, opts for a more serene exploration along the beautiful Mekong Delta aboard the charming wooden boat, Mekong Queen. Savor the passing scene of emerald rice fields and orchards of coconut palms, mangos, bananas, and citrus fruits; and discover the huge variety of boats that ply this vital highway. The bustling Cai Be floating market, a symbol of the region, is a sight for the senses, while visits to local factories provide insight into local life. Meet with local artisans at a palm roof-making factory before reaching an ancient Mandarin house, where a lunch of Mekong specialties is served. Afterward, take a leisurely sampan ride before returning to the ship.

This evening attend an amazing show, which depicts the beauty and richness of Vietnamese culture through a mix of bamboo cirque, acrobatic acts, contemporary dance, and theatrical visual art, all performed to live music. The show takes place at the historic Saigon Opera House, a sight worth seeing in its own right. After dinner at a local restaurant, return to the ship for overnight.

Ho Chi Minh City

February 14

Your final day in Vietnam offers the chance to visit the HCM Agricultural Villages to learn about conventional farming techniques, observing livestock and rice fields. Venture into the garden to harvest a bounty of herbs and vegetables, then join a professional chef in preparing several healthy dishes for lunch. Or, take a leisurely bike ride through the surrounding countryside, pedaling through small villages and local markets on both paved and dirt roads. The ride is a leisurely 20 miles or so, with stops for refreshments and to chat with locals along the way.

Both options return to Ho Chi Minh City in time for an afternoon highlights tour. Pass Buddhist, Chinese, and Taoist temples on the way to the Museum of Vietnamese History, filled with artifacts dating back to the Bronze Age. At the former Presidential Palace, renamed Independence or Reunification Palace, witness the site where the North Vietnamese tank crashed through its gates, signaling the end of the Vietnam War.  Snap photos of Notre Dame Cathedral and the Centre Post Office before transferring back to the ship for your farewell dinner onboard.

Ho Chi Minh City / Disembark / USA

February 15

Transfer to the airport for your independent flight, arriving in the USA the same day.