Small Groups: Never more than 10-16 travelers—guaranteed!
Vietnam is a nation reborn, and we invite you to discover the depth of its beauty on this Asian adventure. Traversing the entire country from north to south, you’ll journey from Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh City, stopping en route to explore the idyllic seaside retreat of Nha Trang, the French-flavored hilltop town of Dalat, and much more. We’ll even have the opportunity to see both the sunset and sunrise over magical Halong Bay during an overnight cruise aboard a traditional junk—an intimate experience that’s only possible in a small group like ours.
All along the way, we’ll introduce you to the incredibly friendly people who are welcoming American travelers with open arms. From the cities to the seaside to the highlands, let Vietnam’s warmth and beauty amaze you—in all its diversity.
Fly from the U.S. to Bangkok, Thailand, losing one day en route as you cross the International Date Line over the Pacific.
Your OAT Trip Leader greets you at the airport and escorts you to your hotel. Here, you'll be joined by travelers who took the pre-trip extension to Bali: Ubud & Jimbaran.
After breakfast at our hotel, we depart for the airport for our flight to Hanoi, where we'll meet the travelers who joined our pre-trip extension to Vientiane & Luang Prabang, Laos. We'll check in to our hotel, and then enjoy a walking tour through the city's Old Quarter. Stretching along the banks of the Red River, Vietnam's charming capital retains much of its French colonial character. As we explore by foot, we’ll see Vietnam's history reflected in the French-influenced public parks and tree-lined boulevards. We conclude our day with a Welcome Dinner at a local restaurant.
After breakfast this morning, we take an orientation walk around our hotel. Then we enjoy a half-day tour of Hanoi, where we’ll drive through the French quarter and view the mausoleum of Ho Chi Minh, the national leader whose memory is honored here, and go inside to view the former president's preserved remains. We'll also see the distinctive One Pillar Pagoda, and stop for a visit to the Temple of Literature. Please note:The Ho Chi Minh mausoleum is normally closed from September 4 through November 5 for preservation and maintenance of the building.
After lunch at a local restaurant, take advantage of an afternoon at leisure. Or you can join us on an optional tour of rural Tho Ha. Twenty miles north of Hanoi, the Nhu Nguyet River surrounds this traditional village. After a drive and brief ferry ride, we’ll discover wonderful architecture and hard-working, friendly people. The main industries here are making rice paper and pig farming. After visiting a local family to see rice paper in the making, we’ll walk the village and mingle with the locals. It’s a great opportunity to gain a deeper understanding of rural life in Vietnam.
We’ll gather for dinner at a local restaurant this evening.
After breakfast, we set off for Halong Bay—the Emerald Bay of Vietnam—a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Some of the roads to the bay are rough, but the journey offers quiet views of the flat green countryside dotted with rice paddies and small villages. We arrive in the early afternoon and transfer to a pier for our overnight cruise.
With its clear, emerald waters and mountains draped in velvety cloaks of vegetation, it’s little wonder that Halong Bay has been the inspiration for generations of Vietnamese poets. Resting peacefully across the Gulf of Tonkin near the Chinese border, this region—literally “the bay of the descending dragon”—is dotted with more than 3,000 mountain islands, whose jagged profiles seem to rise out of nowhere.
Against the backdrop of this lush landscape—of innumerable caves, beaches, soaring cliffs, and grottoes—the Vietnamese go about their daily lives, fishing and harvesting, reaping the riches of the land and sea. Vietnamese fishermen nimbly navigate in lacquered and woven-wood coracles—lozenge-shaped, rudderless vessels that resemble an oversized tub. Oar-propelled fishing boats, or sampans, abound as well, many occupied by whole families—parents, children, and grandparents.
Our vessel is of particular interest—we board a junk, a wooden sailboat in the traditional Vietnamese style. After lunch on board, we drop anchor at an island pierced with surreal grottoes. We resume our cruise in the afternoon and also enjoy dinner on our boat, where we will spend the night.
We spend the morning cruising and enjoying a leisurely breakfast. We disembark in the mid-morning and return to Hanoi, stopping en route for a snack. When we arrive in the city, we visit the Museum of Ethnology, where we'll learn about the fascinating cultural diversity of this ancient land. Please note: On Mondays, the Museum of Ethnology is closed. If this day falls on a Monday, our visit to the Museum of Ethnology will be replaced by a visit to Hanoi's History Museum or Fine Arts Museum.
We check into our hotel, and the rest of the day is free for independent exploration of this fascinating city. Because Hanoi was isolated from Western development after 1954, it has a uniquely preserved concentration of French and Chinese colonial-era architecture. With other members of the group, or on your own, you may want to stroll to interesting traditional and contemporary art galleries. Hanoi’s other attractions include beautiful Hoan Kiem Lake, West Lake, Quan Thanh Temple, and the Opera House. Lunch and dinner are on your own.
This morning, we drive to the Hanoi Airport for our flight to Danang, located on the central coast of Vietnam. We enjoy lunch together in Danang, and take a motorcoach to Hué, the former imperial capital built by the first king of the Nguyen Dynasty during a time recognized as the golden age of Vietnam.
We’ll check into our hotel, and dinner is on your own tonight.
After our breakfast at the hotel, we explore Hué. For centuries, Hué has been a cultural, religious, and educational center in Vietnam—and the reputation continues with the many students who live there today. The older section of Hué is a moated, walled citadel surrounded by eleven stone gates. We'll take a boat ride along the Perfume River to visit the unofficial symbol of Hué—the seven-story Thien Mu Pagoda. We’ll also tour the citadel, find the Imperial Enclosure, and see its inner Forbidden Purple City, a private area reserved for the emperor.
Then we share a savory lunch with the Buddhist nuns at the Dieu Thanh Pagoda before returning to our hotel for some time at leisure.
Later, we visit with the children at Minh Tu Orphanage, which was founded by three Buddhist nuns who literally found a baby on their doorstep. Now privately run and locally supported, the facility provides a home for almost 200 children and offers care and nurturing to the region’s youth. The orphanage also receives support from Grand Circle Foundation.
This evening, we enjoy a water puppet show, an art form in which puppets are suspended over water, directed by puppet masters who must sit semi-submerged for hours at a time. The tradition of water puppetry is at least 1,000 years old, originating with peasants in the Red River Delta of the north. The puppets, which the French used to call “the souls of the Vietnamese rice fields,” are made of the water-resistant wood of the fig tree and depict villagers, farm animals, dragons, and more.
Tonight, we have dinner together at a local restaurant.
We rise early for breakfast before our drive to the town of Hoi An, an ancient, well-preserved port town that’s changed little in the past two centuries.
En route to Danang, we stop at China Beach, the setting for the TV show by the same name. Upon arrival, we check into our hotel, and then enjoy lunch at a local restaurant before our walking tour.
A well-known feature in this port town is the Japanese covered bridge with its own temple and statuary. We take a walking tour of the ancient quarter and see its historic streets and mossy houses, including the Phuc Kien Congressional House and Japanese Bridge. Most of Hoi An’s historic houses have been maintained in their traditional design, with brick exteriors and wooden interiors. And after many centuries of maritime trade, the town boasts a multicultural air: Traders from Persia, Arabia, China, Japan, and India, as well as the first Christian missionaries to reach Vietnam, have all left their mark.
Tonight, we head to a local restaurant for a Vietnamese cooking class, where we'll learn the secrets to preparing some local specialties. We’ll savor the fruits of our labors for dinner.
After breakfast, we travel through the rice fields of the countryside to My Son Sanctuary, Vietnam's most significant ruin from the Champa Kingdom, which prospered from the second to the 15th centuries.
My Son was established as a religious center in the fourth century in a lush, isolated valley overlooked by Hon Quap (Cat's Tooth Mountain). We walk these red-brick ruins, enjoying time to admire the delicate masonry and to take in the peace of the place. We'll return to Hoi An in time for lunch at a local restaurant before an afternoon at leisure. Dinner tonight is on your own.
Or join us this afternoon on an optional cyclo-rickshaw ride through a rural area of Hoi An, followed by a Thu Bon River cruise. We'll travel by cyclo-rickshaw to Cam Nam village, view Hoi An's historic cityscape from a different vantage point during a cruise along the lovely Thu Bon River, and sample a slice of daily life at the central market. We'll dine at a riverside restaurant, enjoying local cuisine with the panorama of the city's eclectic architecture before us.
This morning, we fly from Danang to Nha Trang. When we arrive, we have an opportunity to experience A Day in the Life of nearby Xóm Gio village. We’ll be guests of a village family for a savory lunch, prepared with our help. Afterwards, we’ll be guests of the village chief, who’ll invite us into his home for a mid-morning discussion about the village’s history and culture., and then we’ll tour several homes, visiting with several families who live there. We’ll learn about daily life and then be introduced to the local cottage industry—the bamboo baskets for which the village is known. Then we walk through the village, passing fields of vegetables and rice paddies on our way to a small family-run business where chopsticks are milled.
We return to Nha Trang, where we’ll stroll through the vibrant village marketplace where you can pick up some exotic fruit for a snack. Then we’ll check in to our hotel and enjoy a lively roundtable discussion about Vietnamese culture. Dinner tonight is at a local restaurant.
After breakfast, we board traditional wooden “drawing boats” to visit a local fishing village on Mieu Island. The views of the water are lovely, with rocky inlets, palm-lined beaches, and refreshing breezes. Our two-hour boat tour also takes us to a beautiful beach, where we rest for an included lunch.
Enjoy an afternoon at leisure and dinner on our own.
After breakfast we travel overland to Dalat, nicknamed the "City of Eternal Spring," admiring the rice paddies, vegetable patches, and gently sloping hills that we pass along the way. Prized by Vietnamese for its mild climate, Dalat, nestled in the mountains, was the site of the summer residence of Vietnam’s last emperor, Bao Dai. We arrive in Dalat around noon, and after lunch at a local restaurant, we embark on a tour of Dalat. We also ride a cable car to the hilltop Truc Lam Pagoda.
This evening, we'll learn more about local culture over dinner with a local family in their home. This is another chance to meet with people who call Vietnam home, learn about their daily lives, share a little of ourselves, and really experience local culture.
This morning, join us for an optional tour that focuses on Dalat’s agricultural production and village life. We'll stop at a market garden to learn about flower-growing in this region. We'll also visit a silkworm factory and discover the process of silk-making from its very beginning. Then we'll continue on to the isolated traditional village of Buon Chuoi (Banana Village) to meet the Chil people, a hill tribe that practices subsistence farming.
After returning to our hotel, we depart for our visit to Dalat University this afternoon to learn about the Vietnamese system of education during an informative discussion with a professor and local university students.
From here, we’ll enjoy a look into the city’s hill tribe life. Founded in 1897 and built up as a vacation retreat for French colonial officials, Dalat still retains a dignified European air—and the presence of some 30 distinct hill tribes here, each with their own language and traditional dress, gives us a delightful opportunity to experience traditional Vietnamese culture. We’ll get a glimpse of this culture during a visit to the village of the K'ho people, where we'll be treated to a hill tribe dance performance.
This evening, we'll enjoy dinner together at a local restaurant.
After breakfast, we head to the airport for our short flight to Ho Chi Minh City. Formerly known as Saigon, it is now a modern seaport and the country’s largest city. Upon arrival, we embark on an included city tour, which bring us first to the Catholic Cathedral of Notre Dame. The structure was completed in 1880 and is said to be on the site of an old pagoda. We also see the architecture of the majestic Post Office, built during the same time period and featuring two enormous murals depicting maps of Vietnam as it was many decades ago. Our tour continues to the former U.S. Embassy.
Enjoy a meal of special noodle soup at a local restaurant, and we'll check into our hotel this afternoon. Then we'll embark upon a unique tour of the city by cyclo-rickshaw. This evening we dine together at our hotel.
This morning, we board a Mekong Queen boat to cruise the Mekong River. We observe local life along the river, pass by many colorful floating markets, and disembark for a tour of a local handicrafts village. We also ride through the canals to visit Mrs. Kiet’s house, a Mandarin home that has been in the same family for generations and is now an active agricultural learning center. We enjoy lunch at Mrs. Kiet’s and a stroll through the orchids and gardens before returning to Cai Be. Then we drive to our hotel in Ho Chi Minh City where you can enjoy the evening at leisure.
Today is free for you to make your own discoveries in Saigon.
In the afternoon, perhaps you’ll join us for an optional tour of the Cu Chi Tunnels. We’ll explore the village of Cu Chi, which sits on a vast network of tunnels stretching more than 125 miles. These tunnels allowed the Viet Cong to control a large area near the former Saigon. Many American visitors find this tour an especially emotional experience, as they discover how many North Vietnamese soldiers lived in the tunnels during the war. Lunch is included in the tour.
This evening, we gather for a Farewell Dinner at a local restaurant.
Fly to Bangkok for a final night in Thailand. Or, if you’re extending your adventure, you’ll fly to Siem Reap to begin your optional post-trip extension in Angkor Wat, Cambodia.
Depart for the airport early this morning for your flight to the U.S.