Day by Day Itinerary

Small Groups: Never more than 10-16 travelers—guaranteed!

Travel to Thailand and Vietnam on this extraordinary in-depth adventure, and discover two distinct and unforgettable Asian nations. First, we’ll explore Thailand—once the Kingdom of Siam—taking in the glittering wats (temples) of Bangkok, then venturing north to explore the lush banks of the River Kwai, passing through rural towns and villages where ordinary tourists rarely venture. In Chiang Rai, where the borders of Thailand, Myanmar, and Laos converge, we explore the fabled Golden Triangle, home to remote hill tribes who have preserved their unique lifestyles for centuries. And in Chiang Mai, “rose of the north,” we discover the spiritual heartland of this devoutly Buddhist nation. Then we’ll visit Vietnam, an ancient and alluring country. Today it has emerged from the shadows of war, offering travelers a chance to rediscover a land rich in culture, as well as landscapes. We’ll discover Hanoi and bustling Ho Chi Minh City (the former Saigon), visit lovely Halong Bay, and sail the Mekong Delta. In the ancient cities of Hué and Hoi An, we’ll get a glimpse of traditional Vietnamese life, and in Nha Trang, we’ll experience the country’s close relationship with the sea.

Bangkok Ho Chi Minh City Expand All
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    We depart on an overnight flight across the Pacific and cross the International Date Line.

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    Your hotel room in Bangkok is reserved so that you can check in immediately upon arrival, very late in the evening. An OAT representative greets you at the airport and assists with transfer to the hotel, where you'll meet the travelers who joined the pre-trip extension to Burma & the Irrawaddy River.

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    See the Grand Palace in Bangkok

    Following breakfast, your Trip Leader, who will be with you throughout your trip, gives you a briefing on Bangkok. Then, we'll have the chance to see the floral market at Pakklong Talad, where we'll observe garland making and sample fresh tropical fruit before continuing our exploration of Bangkok by canal. We'll sail aboard motorboats down the river and along the klongs, or canals, through residential areas on the outskirts of town. We become part of Bangkok's lifeblood as we cruise its network of rivers and klongs—a part of Bangkok most travelers never see. We'll then enjoy a cooking demonstration and lunch.

    After lunch, we'll take another boat ride to visit the Royal Barge Museum, where we'll discover a fleet of ornate teak and gold vessels that were once reserves for royal processions and grand ceremonies along the Chao Phraya River. 

    After the museum visit, we return to the hotel for an orientation walk of the surrounding area before enjoying a Welcome Dinner at a local restaurant.

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    See the Temple of the Emerald Buddha in Bangkok

    Following breakfast at our hotel, enjoy a tour of Bangkok. Step into the Old Kingdom of Siam at the Grand Palace of Thailand, a sprawling compound of ceremonial halls, gilded spires, and ornate buildings. The ancient city's defining landmark since 1782, the palace became the centerpiece of a new Thai capital called Krung Thep (City of Angels), known outside of Thailand as Bangkok. It was King Mongkut (or Rama IV) who ruled from this palace, expanded trade with the West, and was romanticized in the musical The King and I.

    The focal point of the palace is the Emerald Buddha. Carved out of jade and adorned with gold, the Emerald Buddha made a dramatic appearance in 1434, when it was found hidden in a temple stupa. Since 1785, the Emerald Buddha—the most highly revered image of the Buddha—has resided in the Royal Chapel of the Grand Palace. 

    Continue your explorations with a visit to Bangkok's oldest temple, Wat Pho, where you'll see the colossal statue of the reclining Buddha.

    You can spend the afternoon at leisure making your own discoveries in Bangkok, with lunch and dinner on your own.

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    Discover Bangkok's floating markets

    This morning, we have breakfast and then depart Bangkok, stopping to see the Floating Market of Damnoen Saduak. Then we arrive in Kanchanaburi Province, a green region where the riverside scenery belies its dramatic history, portrayed in the film The Bridge on the River Kwai. It was here that Allied POWs and Asian conscripts were forced to build the infamous World War II railway. In the summer of 1942, World War II was raging across Europe and Asia. The Allies were rapidly capturing the sea routes to Burma, forcing the Japanese to develop an overland supply route from the east to support their troops. The Japanese decided that the most viable option was a railway that followed the River Kwai through the dense jungle on either side. About 200,000 Asian laborers and 61,000 Allied prisoners of war built this 260-mile stretch of rail in abominable conditions—for every half-mile of track laid, 38 POWs perished.

    Following lunch at a local restaurant, we visit Kanchanaburi's War Cemetery and have a chance to walk on the original bridge on the River Kwai. We then drive to Hellfire Pass for a 45-minute walk on a woodland trail. (The trail has many stairs, but you can avoid them by turning back after walking through Hellfire Pass.) The area is now peaceful, but many lives were lost during the World War II construction of one of the most difficult sections of the River Kwai Railway. We visit the sobering Hellfire Pass Museum and continue to our lodge by motorcoach, and settle down for dinner upon arrival.

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    Explore the Kanchanaburi region of Thailand

    Today, we have a special treat: A Day in the Life of a western Thai community. First we explore the stalls of a local market, seeing fresh produce and the popular snacks of the region.

    We'll then depart to Ban Phu Toey School, where we’ll meet and interact with kindergarten students. After some classroom activities, we’ll serve the children lunch and enjoy a student performance.

    From here, we’ll continue to Ban Phu Toey Village, spending the afternoon visiting with local villagers and farmers, discussing agricultural and political topics important to the region. We’ll pause for lunch at a local farm, where we’ll be joined by members of the community. After lunch, we’ll say farewell and visit the community cooperative center before boarding our longtail speedboat for a cruise on the River Kwai.

    Dinner tonight is at a local restaurant.

    Please note: If a school visit falls on a weekend or holiday, we will visit Boonyapak Daycare Child Center in Phrae.

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    Explore Uthaithani on a rice barge cruise

    After breakfast, we set out early this morning, and drive through rice-growing country to Uthaithani. We then board the Khiri Nava, a large traditional wooden rice barge, and cruise past peaceful scenes of river life. Many local people live on the raft houses that line both sides of the Sakae Krang River, and you might see farmers tending their small fish farms. We have lunch as we cruise on the river for about an hour and a half. We then continue to Phitsanulok. Late in the evening, we check into our hotel and later, have dinner at a local restaurant.

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    Explore 13th century Sukhothai

    After breakfast this morning, we head for Sukhothai, Thailand's largest collection of historic ruins. This is the place where the Thai nation was born, the kingdom's magical and spiritual center. With its cache of remarkably preserved columns, shrines, temples, and palaces, it epitomizes old Siam. We ride a tram through the well-kept grounds of this historical park to see the monuments, and learn about its most famous king, Ramkamhaeng. Not only did this legendary ruler leave a great legacy of art and architecture, he left stones inscribed with a chronicle of his achievement. King Ramkamhaeng is credited with inventing Thai script, as well as with amazing skill at hand-to-hand combat on elephantback, the spread of Theravada Buddhism, and developing relations with China. But even his colorful legend pales in comparison to the evocative palette of Sukhothai, “Dawn of Happiness.” Then we enjoy lunch together at a local restaurant.

    In the afternoon, we travel approximately five hours to Phrae, where we will end the day with dinner at a local restaurant.

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    After breakfast, we'll spend the morning at an indigo  workshop learning how cloth is dyed and intricate patterns and designs are locally made. From here, we travel further north to Chiang Rai, stopping en route for lunch. We arrive this afternoon and take an orientation walk before having dinner at our hotel.

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    Encounter the Hill Tribes during a tour of Thailand

    Today we visit the House of Opium Museum and hear stories about the opium warlords who once held sway in this region, formerly known as the Golden Triangle. At one time, the hill tribes in this region relied on the cultivation of opium for survival—including several bands of Chinese nationalist followers of Chiang Kai Shek, who have been living here (somewhat in hiding and in dwindling numbers) since the Revolution. But times have changed. The government has established many programs to introduce more viable crops, and most of the people are law-abiding farmers. Today, tourism has become a preferable alternative to drug smuggling, and the hill tribes are more concerned about preserving their old traditions..

    For lunch, we'll drive by open songtaew taxi trucks to a nearby restaurant. After some free time back at the hotel, we'll depart for our visit to the local hill tribes. More than 20 distinct, semi-nomadic tribes inhabit northern Thailand and the borderlands of Burma and Laos. Some have obscure origins; most have their own language; and all have unique customs. We visit the hill tribe known as “Long Neck” for the golden rings the women wear to push down their collar bones. Take note of their compact huts, their traditional clothing, and a way of life that has changed little in centuries. We also visit the Akha, who wear elaborate headdresses accented with vivid colors.

    We dine with the "Long Neck" tribe this evening and enjoy a traditional dance.

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    Discover the night bazaar in Chiang Mai

    Relax and enjoy the passing landscapes as we travel most of the morning to Chiang Mai—the principal city of the north, a major cultural center, and a favorite with visitors. The city’s medieval walls encircle an amazing 36 temples, and the metropolitan region boasts some 80 more official religious sites.

    Lunch will be in Chiang Mai at a local restaurant. This afternoon, join your Trip Leader on a visit to a gem gallery. Chiang Mai holds some of the leading miners of sapphires, and it's the world's largest cutter of colored stones.

    Dinner tonight is on our own. Later, explore the well-known Night Bazaar on foot to experience a cavalcade of sights and sounds. You’ll find costumed dolls, carved teakwood artwork, and hill tribe crafts, as well as modern items from DVDs to lamps. Chiang Mai is the nation’s premier crafts center, and you'll have an opportunity to learn how local craftsmen created their products throughout your stay here.

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    Explore the forest of Thailand on an elephant trek

    This morning we visit the Mae Taman Elephant Camp for show of trained elephants, and then we embark on a forest trek by elephant back. We ride for about an hour on the backs of these gentle giants, enjoying a grand view of the forest. We return to camp by elephant and then board small bamboo rafts and float downstream. We'll enjoy lunch at the camp.

    This evening we'll dine at a local Thai restaurant.

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    See Wat Phrathat Doi Suthep in Chiang Mai

    Before breakfast this morning, you have the option of visiting a local temple to witness traditional Buddhist alms giving. After breakfast, we’ll visit the temple of Wat Chedi Luang and have a discussion with its Buddhist monks. Then we’ll see the most magnificent of the city’s temples, Wat Phrathat Doi Suthep, which we reach by riding up its mountain slope and negotiating hairpin turns until we come to a flight of 306 stairs, flanked by snarling naga serpents whose tails coil up to the temple. From this vantage point, Chiang Mai seems minute below. We'll have the option to walk up the stairs or take a funicular.

    You’ll have the afternoon to explore Chiang Mai on your own, perhaps sampling the renowned northern dish, khao soi (yellow noodles and meat in a spicy, coconut-curry broth) for lunch. In the evening, we enjoy making personal connections with the Thai people as we have a special dinner in the home of local residents.

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    Explore the canals of Bangkok at sunset

    This morning, we fly to Bangkok. Lunch will be on your own today. After checking in to our hotel in Bangkok, spend an afternoon at leisure making your own discoveries in the city and enjoy dinner on your own. Or, this evening, you can join an optional excursion to see the beautifully painted murals at the Ananta Samakhom Throne Hall and watch an epic Thai musical production.

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    Today, we explore the city of Bangkok. We begin with a walk through a traditional market in Chinatown, filled with colorful shops selling fruit, snacks, incense, and items used in local rituals. Then we pay a visit to Wat Trimitr and its Golden Buddha, the largest Buddha made of pure gold in the world.

    Explore a street market in Bangkok

    After lunch on your own, we arrive at the Jim Thompson House, former home of a mysterious American turned silk merchant, for a tour of the traditional teak houses whose pieces were moved here from various parts of the country. Jim Thompson is credited with revitalizing Thailand's silk industry and expanding its international markets. We'll return to our hotel by public transportation in late afternoon.

    Tonight, we gather for a Farewell Dinner cruise on a river rice barge, and return to our hotel for the evening.

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    After breakfast at our hotel, we depart for the airport for our flight to Hanoi. We check in to our hotel and take an orientation walk around the neighborhood. We gather together tonight to enjoy dinner at a local restaurant.

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    This morning, we have breakfast and set out on a full-day tour of Hanoi. We'll travel through the French quarter on a cyclo-rickshaw ride to 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 closed every Monday and Friday (outside grounds and garden area will be open on these days) and normally closed from September 4 through November 5 for preservation and maintenance of the building.

    After lunch at a local restaurant, 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 our tour of Hanoi is 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.

    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. 

    We'll then enjoy dinner together at a local restaurant. 

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    This morning 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. You may want to stroll to interesting traditional and contemporary art galleries or visit some of Hanoi’s other attractions including Hoan Kiem Lake, West Lake, Quan Thanh Temple, and the Opera House.

    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 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 and then stop for lunch. This tour is a great opportunity to gain a deeper understanding of rural life in Vietnam.

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    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.

    Discover Halong Bay on a traditional Vietnamese Junk boat

    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 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.

    Our vessel is of particular interest. We board a junk, a wooden sailboat in the traditional Vietnamese style. We drop anchor at an island pierced with surreal grottoes, then enjoy lunch onboard ship. We resume our cruise in the afternoon and enjoy dinner on our boat, where we will spend the night.

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    We cruise back to the port this morning. Stopping for lunch on the way, we transfer to the airport for our flight to Hué, located on the central coast of Vietnam, north of Danang. We arrive in Hué this afternoon and transfer to our hotel. Tonight, enjoy dinner on your own.


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    After our breakfast at the hotel, we explore Hué, the former imperial capital, built by the first king of the Nguyen Dynasty during a time recognized as the golden age of Vietnam. For centuries, Hué has been a main cultural, religious, and educational center of 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 on 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. We'll have a chance to meet some of the children on the playground, tour the infant care rooms and the boys and girls dormitories, and see a typical lunch in the dining room. Our visit will conclude with a discussion with one of the nuns who runs the orphanage.

    This evening, we'll enjoy dinner together at a local restaurant.

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    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 eponymous TV show about a U.S. army base in Vietnam—now a peaceful 18 miles of white sand and waves. Upon arrival, we enjoy lunch at a local restaurant and check into our hotel before taking a 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.

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    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). Today, it is preserved as a UNESCO World Heritage Site and supported in part by Grand Circle Foundation. 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 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.

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    This morning, we fly from Danang to the town of Nha Trang.

    Upon arrival in Nha Trang, 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 boat tour also takes us to a beautiful beach nearby, where you can relax and enjoy lunch on your own. Afterward, we check into our hotel and gather for a lively round table discussion about Vietnamese history and culture. This evening we’ll gather together for dinner at a local restaurant.

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    Today, we set out to experience A Day in the Life of the tranquil riverside community of Xóm Gio. 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, followed by a savory lunch prepared with our help and the guidance of the chief's wife. Afterwards, we'll tour several homes that were remodeled with support from Grand Circle Foundation, visiting with 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. On our way back to the hotel, we'll stroll through a vibrant village marketplace where you can pick up some exotic fruit for an afternoon snack.

    We'll enjoy some free time back at the hotel. Tonight, enjoy dinner on our own.

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    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 enjoy lunch at a local restaurant before checking into our hotel.

    We gather for an orientation walk around our hotel, and then set out for our visit to Dalat University. Here, we'll learn about the Vietnamese system of education during an informative discussion with a professor and local university students.

    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.

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    This morning, you may choose to rise early before breakfast to explore a local market in Dalat. Enjoy the rest of the morning at leisure with lunch on your own, or 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. This tour includes lunch.

    In the afternoon, we all depart for our visit to Dalat's crémaillere (cog railway) train station. Established by the French in the early 20th century, the railway linked Dalat to Thap Cham before ceasing operation in 1964 due to Viet Cong attacks. We'll admire the Art Deco aesthetic of the station and take a 30-minute train ride to the nearby town of Trai Mat. Here, we'll explore Linh Phuoc Pagoda, a striking Buddhist temple adorned with a mosaic of glass, pottery, and porcelain.

    We'll return to Dalat in time for dinner at a local restaurant.

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    Explore Ho Chi Minh City

    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 a city tour, which brings us first to the War Remnants Museum to see its artillery and armor collection and gain a North Vietnamese perspective on the "American War." Next, we'll see 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.

    After a meal of traditional noodle soup at a local restaurant, we'll check into our hotel and enjoy free time before we gather for an orientation walk around the hotel.

    This evening, we'll enjoy dinner together at a local restaurant in Ho Chi Minh City.

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    Explore Ho Chi Minh City during a Mekong Queen boat cruise

    This morning, we travel to Cai Be to board a Mekong Queen boat. We'll cruise the Mekong River, passing by many colorful floating markets and disembarking for a tour of a local handcrafts 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.

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    See the Cu Chi tunnels in Vietnam

    This morning, 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 this optional tour.

    You'll have the afternoon at leisure. This evening, we gather at a local restaurant for a special Farewell Dinner.

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    Enjoy a morning at leisure and lunch on your own before we transfer to the airport for our flight to Bangkok, where we'll spend our final night. If you’re extending your adventure, you’ll fly to Phnom Penh to begin your optional post-trip extension, Phnom Penh & Angkor Wat, Cambodia.

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    Depart for the airport early this morning for your flight to the U.S.


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Questions and Answers

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Weather & Regional

Before you travel, we encourage you to learn about the region of the world you'll discover on this trip. From weather and currency information to details on population, geography, and local history, you'll find a comprehensive introduction to your destinations below.  Visit our “What to Know” page to find information about the level of activity to expect, vaccination information resources, and visa requirements specific to this vacation.

What to Know

For more detailed information about this trip, download our Travel Handbook below. This document covers a wide range of information on specific areas of your trip, from passport, visa, and medical requirements; to the currencies of the countries you’ll visit and the types of electrical outlets you’ll encounter. This handbook is written expressly for this itinerary. For your convenience, we've highlighted our travelers' most common areas of interest on this page.

Download the Travel Handbook

What to Expect


  • 14 locations in 31 days with 4 one-night stays
  • International flights from Los Angeles to Bangkok depart around midnight, crossing the International Date Line, and 1 internal flight that requires early wake-up
  • Airport transfers in Bangkok take approximately 1 hour

Physical requirements

  • Not appropriate for travelers using wheelchairs, walkers, or other mobility aids
  • You must be able to walk 3 miles unassisted and participate in 5-7 hours of physical activities each day
  • Agility and balance are required for embarking boat, raft, and barge, and riding songtaew taxi truck and elephant


  • Daytime temperatures range from 80-90°F
  • March-May are hottest during the day, with high levels of humidity; rains are possible between August and October


  • Travel over some bumpy unpaved roads, walk along city streets and ancient ruins, and visit monuments often with uneven paths and walkways with no handrails


  • Travel by 25-passenger coach, 30-passenger boat, raft, barge, junk (wooden sailboat), songtaew taxi truck, and elephant
  • 6 internal flights

Accommodations & Facilities

  • All accommodations feature private baths and Western-style toilet facilities
  • In some locations, only Asian-style toilets (squat-style rather than seats) may be available

Travel Documents


Your passport should meet these requirements for this itinerary:

  • It should be valid for at least 6 months after your scheduled return to the U.S.
  • It should have the recommended number of blank pages (refer to the handbook for details).
  • The blank pages must be labeled “Visas” at the top. Pages labeled “Amendments and Endorsements” are not acceptable.


U.S. citizens will need a visa (or visas) for this trip. In addition, there may be other entry requirements that also need to be met. For your convenience, we’ve included a quick reference list, organized by country:

  • Thailand: No visa required.
  • Vietnam: Visa required.
  • Burma (optional extension): Visa required.
  • Cambodia (optional extension): Visa required.

Travelers who are booked on this adventure will be sent a complete Visa Packet— with instructions, applications, and a list of visa fees—approximately 100 days prior to their departure. (Because many countries limit the validity of their visa from the date it is issued, or have a specific time window for when you can apply, we do not recommend applying too early.)

If you are not a U.S. citizen, do not travel with a U.S. passport, or will be traveling independently before/after this trip, then your entry requirements may be different. Please check with the appropriate embassy or a visa servicing company. To contact our recommended visa servicing company, PVS International, call toll-free at 1-800-556-9990.

Vaccinations Information

For a detailed and up-to-date list of vaccinations that are recommended for this trip, please visit the CDC’s “Traveler’s Health” website. You can also refer to the handbook for details.

Before Your Trip

Before you leave on your adventure, there are at least four health-related things you should do. Please check the handbook for specifics, but for now, here’s the short list:

Step 1: Check with the CDC for their recommendations for the countries you’ll be visiting.
Step 2: Have a medical checkup with your doctor.
Step 3: Pick up any necessary medications, both prescription and over-the-counter.
Step 4: Have a dental and/or eye checkup. (Recommended, but less important than steps 1-3.)

What to Bring

In an effort to help you bring less, we have included checklists within the handbook, which have been compiled from suggestions by Trip Leaders and former travelers. The lists are only jumping-off points—they offer recommendations based on experience, but not requirements. You might also want to refer to the climate charts in the handbook or online weather forecasts before you pack. Refer to the handbook for details.

Insider Tips


Main Trip

  • Vietnamese junk

    In the privacy of our OAT small group, we cruise the island-studded waters of Halong Bay on a traditional wooden sailboat known as a junk. We'll appreciate its modern touches, including private baths with showers and air-conditioned cabins. Onboard, we can relax on the sun deck or enjoy a drink from the bar.

Main Trip

  • Tawana Hotel

    Bangkok, Thailand

    The 265-room Tawana Hotel is centrally located in Bangkok, very close to both Skytrain and subway stations, whether you walk or use the hotel’s complimentary tuk-tuk. Rooms are air-conditioned and include a safe, minibar, coffee and tea-making facilities, and private bath. Amenities include an outdoor pool and three on-site restaurants.

  • Hin Tok River Camp

    Kanchanaburi, Thailand

    Perched on the peak of Hintok Mountain, with inspiring views of the River Kwai and the lush local flora, the Hin Tok River Camp in Thailand features an on-site open-air restaurant and a swimming pool fed by a natural spring. The 32 tented, air-conditioned rooms feature a minibar, refrigerator, and private bath.

  • Wangchan River View

    Phitsanulok, Thailand

    Newly constructed in 2013, this modern hotel is located in the city center of Phitsanulok, close to the Nan River with easy access to public transportation. Nearby attractions include Wat Phra Sri Rattana, the King Naresuan Bridge, and Phitsanulok's popular night market. Each of the 116 air-conditioned rooms features TV, WiFi, and a private bath. Try to make time to relax at the hotel’s Thai massage center.

  • Maeyom Palace Hotel

    Phrae, Thailand

    This 104-room hotel provides basic amenities in an off-the-beaten-path location. In your down time, relax at the outdoor pool, bar, or the on-site restaurant with garden seating. Rooms are air-conditioned and feature TV, minibar, and private bath with shower.
  • Golden Pine Resort & Spa

    Chiang Rai, Thailand

    Golden Pine Resort & Spa in Thailand is in the heart of pineapple country, far from the busy city streets, surrounded by fields and rice paddies. The 90-room resort features an outdoor pool, restaurant, bar, and spa. Rooms are broken into individual, air-conditioned cottages and include TV, minibar, shower, and tub.

  • The Park Hotel

    Chiang Mai, Thailand

    Built and decorated to reflect the charms of northern Thailand, the Park Hotel offers panoramic views of Chiang Mai’s green hillsides. Facilities include an outdoor swimming pool with poolside bar, a restaurant, and a cocktail lounge. Its 176 air-conditioned rooms feature a TV, telephone, radio/alarm clock, and a private bath with shower.

  • May De Ville City Centre

    Hanoi, Vietnam

    Conveniently located in central Hanoi—within walking distance to the Ngoc Son Temple, Hoan Kiem Lake, and other local attractions—the May De Ville features a restaurant, salon, and sauna. The hotel’s 81 air-conditioned rooms are outfitted with satellite TV, coffee- and tea-making facilities, safe, Internet, and private bath with hair dryer.

  • Cherish Hotel

    Hué, Vietnam

    This hotel is ideally situated at the center of Hué, Vietnam, close to the Huong River, with 106 guest rooms decorated in Vietnamese style. Rooms offer hair dryers, plasma TVs, Internet connection, minibars, bathrobes, private balconies, and delightful views of the city.

  • Lotus Hoi An Hotel

    Hoi An, Vietnam

    This hotel offers a free shuttle to downtown Hoi An and nearby beaches like Cua Dai, but its free-form swimming pool, bar, and restaurant options entice many guests into staying on site. Each of the 65 guest rooms has a private balcony, air conditioning, coffee- and tea-making facilities, free wireless Internet, a minibar, and a private bath with a hair dryer.

  • Yasaka Saigon Nha Trang Hotel & Spa

    Nha Trang, Vietnam

    The seaside Yasaka Saigon Nha Trang Hotel & Spa offers private beach access and beautiful views of Nha Trang Bay. Each of the 201 air-conditioned rooms features comfortable modern furnishings in the local style, as well as TV, Internet access, and private bath. During your free time, you may enjoy access to the rooftop swimming pool and bar, two on-site restaurants, spa, and garden area. 

  • Sammy Dalat Hotel

    Dalat, Vietnam

    Located in the city center and convenient for public transportation, the Sammy Dalat Hotel features a combination of unique French and traditional Vietnamese design. The hotel features 92 rooms that include satellite TV, minibar, Internet, and private bath with hair dryer.

  • Saigon Hotel

    Saigon, Vietnam

    Centrally located just minutes from the Notre Dame Cathedral and Ben Thanh Market, the Saigon Hotel is a comfortable, modern retreat from the buzz of Ho Chi Minh City. Each air-conditioned guestroom features Internet access, TV, minibar, and hair dryer. During your free time, you may wish to take advantage of the spa, or enjoy a drink and take in the view from the 9th floor bar.

  • Pantip Suites

    Bangkok, Thailand

    Surrounded by gardens, Pantip Suites is close to Lumpini Park, the largest park in central Bangkok, as well as the Silom shopping strip and Patpong night market. Take advantage of the outdoor swimming pool, a fitness center, and on-site restaurant. The 148 modern suites offer kitchenettes, TVs, and air-conditioning.

  • Mandalay Hill Resort

    Mandalay, Burma

    Located at the foot of Mandalay Hill, the First-Class Mandalay Hill Resort offers views of the nearby pagodas, iconic Royal Palace, and Irrawaddy River. Hotel amenities include a lounge, café, and restaurant. Each air-conditioned room features a TV, safe, coffee- and tea-making facilities, and private bath with hair dryer.

  • Town View Hotel

    Phnom Penh, Cambodia

    The Town View Hotel is situated in the heart of Phnom Penh, close to the Royal Palace and the National Museum of Cambodia. Each of the 98 air-conditioned rooms include a TV, Internet access, minibar, coffee- and tea-making facilities, safe, and hair dryer. The hotel also features an outdoor swimming pool and bar, rooftop terrace, fitness center, and restaurant.

  • Angkor Home Hotel

    Siem Reap, Cambodia

    The Angkor Home Hotel is located in the heart of Siem Reap. Each of the hotel’s 84 guest rooms has an oversized bed, TV, air-conditioning, minibar, coffee- and tea-making facilities, and safe. There is a swimming pool, gymnasium, and spa on the premises, and the on-site restaurant serves Khmer, Asian, and Western cuisine.


  • Tawana Hotel

    Bangkok, Thailand

    The 265-room Tawana Hotel is centrally located in Bangkok, very close to both Skytrain and subway stations, whether you walk or use the hotel’s complimentary tuk-tuk. Rooms are air-conditioned and include a safe, minibar, coffee and tea-making facilities, and private bath. Amenities include an outdoor pool and three on-site restaurants.

  • Park Royal Yangon Hotel

    Rangoon, Burma

    The Parkroyal Yangon is located in the heart of Rangoon within walking distance of Shwedagon Pagoda and the Bogyoke Aung San Market (Scott Market). The hotel features a lobby bar, three restaurants, outdoor swimming pool, and fitness center. There are 267 air-conditioned rooms, each with minibar, safe, coffee- and tea-making facilities, and private bath with hair dryer.

  • Mandalay Hill Resort

    Mandalay, Burma

    Located at the foot of Mandalay Hill, the First-Class Mandalay Hill Resort offers views of the nearby pagodas, iconic Royal Palace, and Irrawaddy River. Hotel amenities include a lounge, café, and restaurant. Each air-conditioned room features a TV, safe, coffee- and tea-making facilities, and private bath with hair dryer.

  • Town View Hotel

    Phnom Penh, Cambodia

    The Town View Hotel is situated in the heart of Phnom Penh, close to the Royal Palace and the National Museum of Cambodia. Each of the 98 air-conditioned rooms include a TV, Internet access, minibar, coffee- and tea-making facilities, safe, and hair dryer. The hotel also features an outdoor swimming pool and bar, rooftop terrace, fitness center, and restaurant.

  • Angkor Paradise Hotel

    Siem Reap, Cambodia

    The Angkor Paradise Hotel is located in the heart of Siem Reap, just a short distance from Angkor Archaeological Park. Each air-conditioned guest room features a spacious bathroom, TV, minibar, coffee- and tea-making facilities, and safe. There is a swimming pool, fitness center, and spa on the premises, and the on-site restaurant serves Khmer, Asian, and Western cuisine. 

  • Angkor Home Hotel

    Siem Reap, Cambodia

    The Angkor Home Hotel is located in the heart of Siem Reap. Each of the hotel’s 84 guest rooms has an oversized bed, TV, air-conditioning, minibar, coffee- and tea-making facilities, and safe. There is a swimming pool, gymnasium, and spa on the premises, and the on-site restaurant serves Khmer, Asian, and Western cuisine.

Flight Information

Flight Options to Personalize Your Trip

Whether you choose to take just a base trip or add an optional pre- and post-trip extension, you have many options when it comes to personalizing your air—and creating the OAT adventure that’s right for you:

Personalized Air Routing

  • Work with our expert Air Travel Consultants to select the airline and routing you prefer
  • Upgrade to business or premium economy class
  • Customize your trip by staying overnight in a connecting city, arriving at your destination a few days early, or spending additional time in a nearby city on your own
  • Combine your choice of OAT adventures to maximize your value

Your Own Air Routing

  • Make your own international flight arrangements directly with the airline
  • Purchase optional airport transfers to and from your hotel
  • Extend your Land Tour-only Travel Protection Plan coverage and protect the air arrangements you make on your own—including your frequent flyer miles

OR, leave your air routing up to us and your airfare (as well as airport transfers) will be included in your final trip cost.

Partner since: 2000
Total donated: $439,025

Making a difference in Vietnam and Thailand

Simply by travelling with OAT, you support the work of the nonprofit Grand Circle Foundation. Alan and Harriet Lewis created the Foundation with the mission of changing people's lives through travel—which includes both the travelers who journey with OAT, and the local people who welcome us so warmly into their homelands.

Learn more about our work in Vietnam and Thailand, and what you'll experience during your itinerary:

A Day in the Life of Xom Gio Village and Ban Phu Toey Village

Meet the People of Xom Gio Village

Each Day in the Life is specially tailored to showcase daily life in your destination—in this case, the riverside community of Xóm Gio in Nha Trang and the Northern Thai village of Don Chum. You’ll get to know the local people through sharing a meal and conversation together, gaining an authentic glimpse of what life is really like here—and not just the typical tourist’s version.

Read More

A Day in the Life of Xom Gio Village and Ban Phu Toey Village

Each Day in the Life is specially tailored to showcase daily life in your destination—in this case, the Western Thai village of Ban Phu Toey and the riverside community of Xóm Gio in Nha Trang, Vietnam. You’ll get to know the local people through sharing a meal and conversation together, gaining an authentic glimpse of what life is really like here—and not just the typical tourist’s version.

"This was one of the most thorough Day in the Life experiences I’ve had. The opportunity to see people’s living conditions, appreciate the difference that Grand Circle’s contribution of four houses meant, and to have a long discussion with ample time for questions with the chief of the village (and find out how rural Vietnam is organized) was truly unique."

Judith Disla, 21-time traveler
New York, New York

Meet the People of Xom Gio Village

Meet the People of Xom Gio Village

In Thailand, we'll experience A Day in the Life of  Ban Phu Toey Village, a rural farming community in western Thailand. We'll learn about the role of agriculture in this village, especially corn and banana crops, and discuss local customs, health care and politics with members of the community. Next we have a chance to meet the children of a village school (when in session, May through early March; closed in October), sponsored in part by Grand Circle Foundation. We'll help prepare lunch and dine with the students, and have a conversation about education with the school principal. We'll then be treated to student performance before visiting the village's handcraft workshop.

In Vietnam, your Day in the Life experience will bring you to the tranquil riverside community of Xóm Gio. Here, you’ll see firsthand the improvements made possible by Foundation support—and the support of travelers like you. Upon arrival, you’ll be welcomed as a guest of the village chief, who will invite you into his home for a discussion about the village’s history and culture. You’ll then savor lunch—which you’ll help to prepare with the guidance of the chief’s wife. After you bid farewell to the chief and his wife, you’ll tour several homes that have been remodeled with support from Grand Circle Foundation, and visit with families who live there. Here, you’ll learn about everyday life and be introduced to the local cottage industry—and the bamboo baskets for which the village is known. You’ll then enjoy a walk through the village, passing fields of vegetables and rice paddies on your way to a small family-run business where chopsticks are milled. Before you depart, you’ll stroll through the vibrant village marketplace where you can pick up some exotic fruit for an afternoon snack.

By the end of each Day in the Life, we hope you’ll come away with a true sense of what life is like in rural Thailand and Vietnam—and of the warm and welcoming spirit of the people who call these villages home.

Grand Circle Foundation

Supporting a World Classroom: Vietnam and Thailand

The eager and inquisitive students of Dar Et-Taleb will welcome you

By funding improvements in local schools and orphanages, the Foundation’s World Classroom initiative is focused on supporting society’s most precious resources: its children. In Vietnam, you’ll visit a local orphanage supported by Grand Circle Foundation: Minh Tu Orphange and one of three elementary schools supported by Grand Circle in Northern Thailand. Our projects have ranged from purchasing bedding to providing school supplies and bicycles.

Read More

Supporting a World Classroom: Vietnam and Thailand

By funding improvements in local schools and orphanages, the Foundation’s World Classroom initiative is focused on supporting society’s most precious resources: its children. In Vietnam, you’ll visit a local orphanage supported by Grand Circle Foundation: Minh Tu Orphange. And in Thailand, you'll visit a school in Ban Phu Toey Village. Our projects have ranged from purchasing bedding to providing school supplies and bicycles.

Minh Tu Orphanage

Partner since: 2002 • Total donated: $196,654

The Minh Tu Orphanage was founded by a Buddhist nun named Minh Tu, who literally found a baby on her doorstep. Her goal in founding this orphanage was to change the lives of orphans by educating them and encouraging their independence—thereby giving them the courage and confidence to face any of life’s problems. As you’ll see during your visit, the children are in excellent hands.

Since we began our partnership, Foundation funds have built and renovated a new dining room; purchased bedding for the children; bought study supplies like chairs and calculators; provided a generator; paved the girls’ dormitory; supplied 20 computers and 15 bicycles; and renovated bathrooms.

When Minh Tu sees the children growing up with such love and care, she says, “My heart feels warmer. On behalf of these disadvantaged children, we appreciate and thank the Foundation so much for your kind-hearted support. We hope to save more and more orphans from despair.”

Ban Phu Toey School

Partner since: 2014

When you visit Ban Phu Toey School, which Grand Circle Foundation has just begun to support, you'll see how badly help is needed. The Foundation is thrilled to be part of the future of this school, consisting of five teachers and four classes of 65 students aged 4 to 12 years old. We plan to build a new covered walkway to the facility’s dining area and purchase books for the library, musical instruments for the marching band, school supplies, and uniforms for the students. We also plan to support repairs to ensure that students can continue their studies in inclement weather.

School in session:

We can visit Minh Tu Orphanage year-round. The Ban Phu Toey school is in session mid-May through early March and closed for vacation during the full month of October.

Gifts to bring if you're visiting:

  • Stationery supplies, especially crayons and coloring books
  • Beginners' English storybooks and picture books
  • Small toys (like dolls) for baby girls
  • Baseball caps for boys and colorful barrettes or hair clips for girls
  • CDs/DVDs of children's music or cartoons
  • Cookbooks of different cuisines for older students working at the pagoda's on-site vegetarian restaurant
  • Socks for students (plain white for girls and plain brown for boys)
  • Photos of families and hometown to share
Grand Circle Foundation

Alan and Harriet Lewis founded Grand Circle Foundation in 1992 as a means of giving back to the world we travel. Because they donate an annually determined amount of revenue from our trips, we consider each one of our travelers as a partner in the Foundation’s work around the world. To date, the Foundation has pledged or donated more than $97 million in support of 300 different organizations—including 60 villages and nearly 100 schools that lie in the paths of our journeys.

Read More

Private Adventures—New for 2015

How do you arrange a Private Adventure?

It’s simple: You choose the people you travel with. You choose the departure date. You choose the size of your group. OAT does the rest.

Your lifelong memories are only a phone call away: Call us toll-free at

Group Size Additional Cost
4-6 $1700 per person
7-9 $800 per person

Now you can reserve an EXCLUSIVE departure of From Siam to Saigon: Thailand & Vietnam Revealed with just 8 travelers. Enjoy a truly special adventure—starting from only $800 per person more than our published trip price.

The benefits of your Private Adventure …

  • Travel in an exclusive group of friends or family members
  • Work with your Trip Leader to create unique experiences and special memories
  • Tailor the pacing of activities—spending more time doing what interests your group most at the speed that fits your comfort level
  • Enjoy the security of knowing we have regional offices nearby

This program is available on new reservations in 2015 only, and cannot be combined with any offers, including our Vacation Ambassador Referral program. The additional cost of a Private Departure is per person, on top of the departure price and varies by trip. Private Departures do not include any changes or additions to our standard itineraries. Age restrictions may apply to some itineraries and must be at least 13 years old to travel with Overseas Adventure Travel. Ask your Group Sales Team for details. Additional taxes and fees will apply. Standard Terms & Conditions apply. Every effort has been made to present this information accurately. We reserve the right to correct errors.

Halong Bay

Vietnam’s legendary emerald waters

by Molly Mastantuono

This surreal seascape, the "Bay of Descending Dragons," is an enduring symbol of what it means to be Vietnamese.

For centuries, the ethereal beauty of Vietnam’s Halong Bay has cast a spell on locals and visitors alike, often rendering observers incapable of speech: John Rey, an early 20th century French journalist, concluded that what lay before him was “an indescribable, fanciful scene.” And Revolutionary leader Ho Chi Minh matter-of-factly hailed Halong Bay as “A marvelous scene that no one person could communicate to another.”

As more and more American travelers are discovering, it’s quite common to feel awestruck (and inarticulate) upon encountering this UNESCO World Heritage Site and its otherworldly landscape. A wide expanse of emerald-green water off the northeastern coast of Vietnam, Halong Bay is punctuated by nearly 2,000 schist and limestone islands of varying shapes and sizes, each crowned with lush vegetation and often shrouded in mist.

According to geologists, these iconic islands formed around 250-280 million years ago, when tectonic shifts forced thousands of limestone mountains to rise up from the seafloor. As water levels subsided, these submerged mountains became sun-dappled islands, which have been transformed by erosion into their evocative present-day shapes.

But for those who live here, Halong Bay is cherished for more than its spectacular scenery. In a land where fantastic legends are regarded as sober fact, and ancestors are likened to omnipotent deities, this surreal seascape is an enduring symbol of what it means to be Vietnamese.

Mystical Origins

For many Vietnamese, the history of Vinh Ha Long is immortalized in its name, which translates as “Bay of Descending Dragons.” As the story goes, a fierce mother dragon and her equally feisty children were dispatched from heaven to defend the Vietnamese people from Chinese invaders sailing south through Halong Bay. The benevolent beasts did so by spewing forth thousands of pearls and jade gemstones which, upon striking the water (or the ships), turned into the dramatic islands that visitors see today.

Of the nearly 2,000 islands scattered throughout the bay, roughly half have been named—and their often whimsical appellations are directly attributable to their animalistic, gravity-defying forms. For example, there’s Hon Con Coc, or Toad Islet, which bears a striking resemblance to an oversized (nearly 30-foot-tall) amphibian. But other limestone formations in the bay aren’t as easily discernible. To wit: a pair of towering, close-set islets with astonishingly narrow bases known as Hon Trong Mái, or Male and Female Chicken Islands. (These islands are so popular locally that they were chosen to appear on the official seal of Halong Bay created by the Vietnam National Tourism Administration.)

Much like snowflakes, it appears that no two islands are alike—which is one reason why travelers find Halong Bay so enchanting. And after boarding sleek traditional wooden junks and threading their way among the islands, visitors soon discover that no two vistas are alike, either. Rather, the constant interplay of sunlight and shadow on stone ensures visitors will encounter sublime scenery, wherever—and whenever—they look.

Hidden Charms

Quite a few of these seemingly solid limestone masses are home to extraordinary subterranean settings: vast caverns, or grottos, festooned with garlands of stalactites and stalagmites and accented by the occasional placid pond or rushing stream.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, each of these caves comes with its own special story of creation. And, just as the shapes of the islands influenced the names they were given, the distinct geological formations found within each grotto lend credence to its mythical origins. Such is the case with Thien Cung, or Heavenly Palace, grotto, the narrow entrance to which makes the first glimpse of the 427-foot-long cavern all the more breathtaking.

According to a popular folk tale, the Dragon Prince and his beloved bride, May, chose Thien Cung as the site for their lavish wedding, which lasted for seven days and seven nights. A motley crew of guests attended the nuptial celebrations, and their visages—including a group of dancing fairies, two lions with flowing manes, sinuous snakes, and several elephants—are ostensibly reflected  in the vivid “fossils” that appear on the grotto’s walls.

Historic Halong

While the unique patterns on the rocky interior of Thien Cung hint at what may have happened there, other grottoes have yielded actual fossils that prove humans have long inhabited Halong Bay.

In 1967, archaeologists discovered a veritable treasure trove of artifacts—including human teeth and bone fragments, stone axes and other tools, and petrified snail and mollusk shells—in Soi Nhu grotto. After thoroughly analyzing the find, scientists concluded that these early Vietnamese inhabitants lived in Soi Nhu between 5,000 and 10,000 years ago, making it one of the earliest known settlements in the country. Today, most Vietnamese regard Soi Nhu culture—and Halong Bay—as the birthplace of their national culture and identity.

Other archaeological finds reflect more recent Vietnamese history. In Dau Go grotto, experts found pieces of wooden stakes they believe are linked with a 13th-century military battle against invading Mongols. In 1288, General Tran Hung Dao used the cave to make and store hundreds of ironwood stakes, which he then planted in the riverbeds of the Bach Dang River. Tran tricked the Mongols into sailing into the river at low tide, where the stakes effectively turned them into sitting ducks, facilitating an easy Vietnamese victory. The site of one of the most important military triumphs in Vietnamese history, Dau Go grotto is perhaps the most revered site in Halong Bay.

With so much history and folklore attached to this scenic expanse in the Gulf of Tonkin, there’s clearly more to Halong Bay than meets the eye. Indeed, it seems there’s a legend to explain both the existence and importance of every alluring limestone island—which, considering there are nearly 2,000 of them, explains why so many visitors are left slack-jawed with awe after encountering Vietnam’s watery wonderland.