Trails of Indochina | As seen on Francis Brennan's Grand Tour of Vietnam
Please note that this is not a group tour or escorted tour. It is a tailor-made itinerary for individuals who wish to travel to Indochina.
Transport & Accommodation
- Flights from Dublin via Dubai with Emirates
- Transfer on arrival from airport to your hotel
- Overnight accommodation on B&B basis
- 2 day, 1 night Bhaya Cruise (shared cruise/private cabin)
- Private transfers and transportation throughout the tour
- Transfer from your hotel to airport for your return flights to Dublin
- Day 1:
Our immigration officer will meet and greet you at the entrance to the overhead bridge that connects to the plane with a signboard with your names on it. The officer will assist you with your immigration formalities. For those who already have their Vietnam visa, the estimated time for this procedure is about 15-20 minutes per person. For those who will apply for ‘visa on arrival’, the estimated time for this procedure depends on the number of guests standing in the queue to have their visa stamped (FYI: There is only one counter for applying for ‘visa on arrival’ at Noi Bai airport). It is usually a 30 minute waiting time. After immigration procedures, our immigration officer will take you to baggage claim to pick up your luggage and then to meet the guide, who will be waiting outside the arrival terminal and transfer you to your hotel. In the afternoon, enjoy an hour cyclo tour through the Old Quarter to enjoy the bustling local life.
- Day 2: Hanoi City Sightseeing
Explore the charming city of Hanoi, often referred to as the ‘Paris of the East’, with its yellow ochre colonial buildings, tree-lined boulevards and scenic lakes. Visit Ho Chi Minh Museum and the historic Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum, an imposing monument of marble and granite built to house the preserved body of beloved revolutionary leader Ho Chi Minh, affectionately known to the Vietnamese as “Uncle Ho”. Visit the One Pillar Pagoda, a Buddhist temple built in 1049 of wood in the shape of a lotus blossom and set on a single stone pillar. Lunch will be served at Koto restaurant. Continue to the Temple of Literature, Vietnam’s first national university built in the late 11th century. The picturesque temple is an example of well-preserved traditional Vietnamese architecture and is featured on the back of the 100,000 Vietnamese dong banknote. Then, visit Tran Quoc pagoda and Westlake. Conclude your day by watching an entertaining water puppet performance, a uniquely northern Vietnamese art form said to have originated in the flooded rice fields of the Red River Delta where villagers entertained themselves by manipulating puppets over the water. The show uses colourful wooden puppets to depict scenes of rural life and episodes of national history set to music.
- Day 3: Culinary Experience
Visit a vibrant market with a local chef from EZ cooking class centre, where the trainers have been sourced from famous restaurants & hotels around Hanoi. Select locally produced food, fresh vegetables and spices under the chef’s guidance before returning to the kitchen to learn how to prepare Vietnamese traditional cuisine in this hands-on cooking class. Demonstrate your culinary flair in the kitchen before you have a chance to enjoy your creations with the chef.Visit Bat Trang village, it is traditional porcelain and pottery village with history of seven centuries. Continue to visit snake village.
- Day 4:Hanoi - Mai Chau
After a 45 minute drive southwest of Hanoi, you’ll arrive at Tay Phuong Pagoda which was built in the 17th century. It’s very famous for the valuable collection of 18 jack-wood Buddha statues coated with lacquer. There are 239 steps uphill to the pagoda, and from the top there is a wonderful view of the surrounding fields, mountains and villages. A short drive away is Thay Pagoda, first built in the 11th century. Located in a peaceful and gorgeous village, it is a combination of a Buddhist pagoda and a Taoist Temple. Then, drive southwest to Mai Chau. Located in Hoa Binh Province, Mai Chau is famed for its splendid vistas of mountains and valleys surrounded by lush landscape and stilt houses, inhabited mainly by the White Thai ethnic group. Then walk or cycle to Lac Hamlet. Continue cycling around 5km through the beautiful valley of Mai Chau. Your guide will facilitate chats with local hill tribe people to learn about their daily lives including planting rice, herding buffalos and building traditional houses.
- Day 5: Mai Chau - Hanoi
After breakfast, drive 45 minutes to the village of Xa Linh which is inhabited by the H’mong hill tribe. Enjoy the cool mountain breeze on a 2 hour walk along scenic mountain trails with opportunities to stop and observe local traditions. There is an option to visit Pa Co Primary School (closed on weekends public holidays and in summer) or the Pa Co Market (only on Sundays). Return to Mai Chau Ecolodge for lunch before driving back to Hanoi.
- Day 6: Hanoi - Halong
Depart Hanoi for a 3.5 hour drive to magical Halong Bay. Covering an area of 43,400 ha (168 sq mi) and including over 1,600 islands and islets, most of which are uninhabited and untouched. Halong (literally “where the dragon descends into the sea” in Vietnamese) is world renowned for its spectacular seascape of limestone pillars complemented by its biodiversity, home to 14 endemic floral species and 60 endemic faunal species. Settle in on board your Bhaya Classic cruise and enjoy a buffet lunch as you begin cruising around some of the stunning islets that rise from the clear emerald waters of the Gulf of Tonkin named after the shapes they resemble like Chicken Rock, Finger Islet and Frog Islet. Explore the Bright and Dark Caves, leading into a tranquil sea lake surrounded by trees and cliffs. The long Dark Cave has little light whereas the short Bright Cave is lit by the sun. Both caves are accessible via rowboat or kayak (which can be booked in advance at Reception at extra cost). You may even see the Cat Ba Langur, one of the rarest Asian Colobinae monkeys left. Return to the boat and participate in a cooking demonstration with the chef or simply sit back and watch the sun set before dinner. The remainder of the evening is at your leisure to try your hand at night squid fishing or relax in your cabin.
- Day 7: Halong - Hanoi - Saigon
Begin your day with a Tai Chi demonstration on the upper deck before visiting the 30m/98ft-high Sung Sot (“Surprise”) Grotto, one of the most stunning in the bay with thousands of stalactites and stalagmites and almost perfectly smooth walls. In the inner chamber, a side entrance allows light reflected from the water in, causing the rock formations inside the chamber to seemingly come alive. According to locals, this unexpected display lent the grotto its name. Return to the boat where a buffet brunch awaits. Arrive at the jetty late morning and drive back to Hanoi with a light snack en route and an optional stop at a traditional pottery workshop.
- Day 8: Saigon
Saigon is the country’s commercial centre and, with over eight million inhabitants and four million motorbikes, a city that never sleeps. Despite the well-documented hustle and bustle, Saigon retains its connections with the past. A walking tour to admire Saigon’s historic landmarks is a must. Transfer to Dong Khoi street, or Rue Catinat as it was known in the time of the French occupation, to discover some of the beautiful French colonial buildings built in the late 19th and early 20th century. Appreciate the splendidly restored exteriors of the Opera House and the former Hotel de Ville which are still two of the finest buildings in Saigon. Wander up to the Notre Dame Cathedral, a red brick edifice with twin spires based on the original construction from Paris (it is only possible to visit inside when no service is being performed). Then head across the square to the Central Post Office, designed by the French architect, Gustave Eiffel, before he had risen to fame for the Eiffel Tower. The former Presidential Palace, the headquarters of the Saigon Government during the American war, is a short drive away and reveals the history of Saigon during its turbulent recent past.
- Day 8: Saigon
Continue to the City Hall (the former Hotel de Ville's) which was completed in 1908 by the French. It remains as one of the most stunning colonial monuments especially when floodlit at night (outside visit). Then sit down at a street coffee shop for a break to observe the daily life of the locals, and have a little personal chat with your guide over a cup of coffee. Your guide will give you some interesting tips such as how to cross the road without breaking a sweat or say a few simple words in Vietnamese as well as offer an insight of the local’s daily lives. In the afternoon, drive to the War Remnants Museum for a vivid glimpse of the American war through the local’s eyes.
- Day 9: Saigon
Wake up around 5:00am to see how local Saigonese get their day started. First, zigzag though local streets to reach the city’s largest flower market – Ho Thi Ky in District 10. Catch the hustle and bustle of flower trading activities and get the feeling of springtime with all the blossoms around. Roses, lotuses, lilies, daisies, orchids and more – the market is a cornucopia of colours and scents!Later head to a Tao Dan park to watch or take part in some morning exercises. Many Saigonese visit the city’s lush parks each morning to practice the graceful movements of Tai Chi and other types of exercise. After a good session, take a break at a local café nearby which happens to be where the Saigon bird lovers club meets each morning. Enjoy a strong Vietnamese coffee while listening to the sing song of the birds as another morning passes in Vietnam. End your morning tour at the small family-run Huong Binh noodle shop to enjoy authentic Pho (beef noodle soup) whose recipe has been passed down for generations through the family members. Just eat like
a local and eat with the locals!Later, transfer back to your hotel.
- Day 10: Saigon - Can Tho
Depart Saigon and drive south to Ben Tre province. Situated in the Delta of Mekong River, Ben Tre is famous for its tropical fruit gardens and traditional handicrafts made of coconuts. Your first stop at Ben Tre is a brick kiln to see how the locals still use centuries-old traditional methods to make the bricks by hand. Then board on your private boat and start cruising to a coconut workshop where you can learn about the multiple uses of coconut in the daily life. Back on board for another short cruise to a small family-run mat workshop. Get involved in learning how to make sleeping mats under the instruction of the friendly mat-makers. Afterward, get on tuk-tuk (or hop on a local bicycle and ride of 3 km) and travel along the narrow shady village roads to admire the tranquillity of the Mekong villages. Arrive at the Garden House of a tropical fruit farmer and enjoy a walk around his orchard. Chat with the farmer whilst tasting fresh seasonal fruits in his garden. Hop on tuk - tuk (or bike) and continue your leisure sight-seeing. If requested, take an optional stop en-route at a small wooden chopstick workshop. Continue touring around these sleepy villages until arriving at a charming local restaurant for lunch. After lunch, have a short break before getting on sampan for rowing through the idyllic water palm creek. Arrive at your main boat and cruise back to Hung Vuong Pier where your driver awaits for continuing on a 2-hour drive to Can Tho. Arrive in Can Tho at your hotel where you will be free at leisure this evening. Overnight in Can Tho (Lunch).
- Day 11: Can Tho - Saigon
This morning, rise early and get a unique taste of life in the Mekong. Board a local boat and explore the colourful Cai Rang floating market, where many boats laden with fruits, vegetables and fish jostle for trade. Sellers advertise their wares by crying out across the waters or tie their goods to a tall pole attached to their boat so that buyers can see from a distance what is being sold. This memorable experience makes for many excellent photo opportunities. Relax and enjoy the cruise back to the hotel where we will freshen up before we check-out and return to Saigon. Lunch will be enjoyed at a local restaurant along the way.
- Overnight accommodation includes daily breakfast
- 2 day, 1 night Bhaya Cruise (shared cruise/private cabin)
- Private transfers and transportation on tour
- Sightseeing with English speaking guides in Vietnam
- Entrance fees and private boat rides
- Meals as specified (meals only, no drinks/water)
- Airfares: HAN-SGN (Economy class with airport tax)
- Entrance fees as per itinerary to museums
- Cold towels and water on sightseeing days
- Travel insurance €45 per person
- Price per person sharing twin/double rooms with private facilities
- Prices are inclusive of airline taxes and charges
- Meals where not stated are not included in the price
- Standard in-flight catering is included with the package
- 30 kg checked in luggage is included per person
- Itinerary may be subject to change; E&OE
- All bookings protected by the Commission for Aviation Regulation in Ireland (T.O. 052 | T.A. 0689) and the Civil Aviation Authority in the UK (ATOL 5163)