Before your Java & Bali: Indonesia's Mystical Islands adventure, see two sides of Northern Vietnam with OAT. First, feel the cosmopolitan rhythm of Hanoi, the modern capital anchored by a tree-ringed lake. We’ll explore the winding streets of the Old Quarter, admire the classic Vietnamese architecture of the Temple of Literature, and witness handcraft traditions that have been passed down through generations. Then we experience the region by water, as we spend two nights cruising the calm, emerald waters of Halong Bay, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. A water puppet show on our final night in Hanoi serves as the finale to our explorations.
- It's Included:
- Airfare from Hanoi to Jakarta via Kuala Lumpur
- Accommodations for 4 nights in Hanoi, and 2 nights on a traditional wooden junk in Halong Bay
- 15 meals—6 breakfasts, 5 lunches, and 4 dinners
- 6 small group activities
- Services of an expert OAT Trip Leader
- NEW for 2015: Gratuities for local guides, drivers, and luggage porters
- All transfers
Fly from your U.S. gateway to Los Angeles and connect to your flight to Taipei, Taiwan.
Arrive in Hanoi via Taipei in the morning. An OAT representative will meet you at the airport and escort you to our hotel.
Lunch is on your own today, and you’re free to settle in before we take an afternoon orientation walk around the neighborhood and gather for a Welcome Briefing. Dinner will follow at a local restaurant.
This morning we have breakfast at the hotel before setting out on a full-day tour of Hanoi, where the atmosphere of growth is almost palpable. A young population—often perched on motorbikes—is headed forward, while brightly colored French colonial buildings offer a glimpse into the city’s past.
Our first stop is the mausoleum of Ho Chi Minh in the French Quarter. In honor of the beloved national leader, the Vietnamese erected an impressive marble and granite structure where visitors can view his preserved remains. Please note: The Ho Chi Minh mausoleum is normally closed from September 4 through November 5 for preservation and maintenance of the building.
After exploring the Ho Chi Minh complex, we head to the Museum of Ethnology to learn about the fascinating cultural diversity of this ancient land. We’ll then enjoy lunch at a local restaurant. 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.
From there, we visit the Temple of Literature, Vietnam’s first university. Constructed in 1076 to honor Confucius and high-ranking scholars, its five grassy courtyards feature several architectural styles from this 1,000-year-old civilization. Local students sometimes rub the head of the tortoise statue in the third courtyard for good luck.
We then continue with a walking tour through the Old Quarter, a tangle of 36 market streets near Hoan Kiem Lake. While the busy lanes seem modern at first, its origins can be traced back some 1,000 years, when artisan workshops around the palace of Emperor Ly Thai To joined into guilds to safeguard their trade secrets. The guilds have long since disintegrated, but the craftsmen in the Old Quarter have maintained the tradition of grouping their shops by specialty on each street. The neighborhood’s low-rise shop houses date back to the 15th century, with French shutters and balconies added during the early 20th century.
The rest of the afternoon is yours to spend as you wish. Ask your Trip Leader for recommendations on where to taste a good bowl of pho (savory rice-noodle soup) or Vietnamese coffee, equally strong and sweet. Tonight, we meet for dinner at a local restaurant.
After breakfast, we depart for Bat Trang, a small village outside Hanoi known for its unique style and superior quality of ceramic pottery.
Here, we visit a workshop, where local craftspeople have been perfecting the art of ceramics for centuries. We learn about the process, from forming the clay to painting the distinctive intricate designs.
Afterwards, we wander around town and make time for shopping and browsing the colorful vases, bowls, flowerpots, and more in the village market.
We return to Hanoi to have lunch at a restaurant. Enjoy an afternoon at leisure to explore the city, and dinner this evening is on your own.
After breakfast, we set off for Halong Bay, whose name translates to “Bay of the Descending Dragon.”
Despite occasional rough roads, the journey to the bay offers tranquil views of the flat green countryside, dotted with rice paddies and small villages. We may share the lanes with farmers bringing their chickens and other livestock to market in trucks or even strapped onto motorbikes. We arrive in the early afternoon and transfer to a pier for our overnight cruise.
With its clear, emerald waters and coves blanketed in velvety 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 UNESCO World Heritage Site is speckled with more than 1,600 mountain islands, whose jagged profiles seem to rise out of nowhere.
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 on board our ship. We resume our cruise in the afternoon before dinner on our boat, where we will spend the night.
This morning we enjoy breakfast al fresco aboard the boat while we continue our cruise around Halong Bay.
As we glide past hidden caves and soaring cliffs, we’ll observe Vietnamese going about their daily lives—fishing and harvesting, reaping the riches of the land and sea. Vietnamese fishermen 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.
We’ll stop at an island to stretch our legs. Here, we can explore one of the aforementioned caves by kayak. Lunch and dinner will be served on the junk today, where we’ll spend another night on the bay.
After breakfast onboard, we dock and return to Hanoi, where we enjoy lunch at a local restaurant. From there, we have some free time to explore the Old Quarter of Hanoi.
This afternoon, 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.
After the show, we check in at our hotel. Dinner will be on your own this evening.
After breakfast at the hotel, we depart for the airport for our flight to Jakarta (via Kuala Lumpur), where we’ll join the rest of our small group on our Java & Bali: Indonesia's Mystical Islands trip.