- Watch the sunrise over fantastical limestone formations while cruising in a traditional-style junk boat on the UNESCO World Heritage site of Ha Long Bay.
- Walk through the elaborate tunnel system of Vinh Moc, a safe harbor dug by locals during wartime.
- Explore the palaces and ornate temples of Hue, and visit the humble home of Ho Chi Minh in Hanoi.
- Walk atop the massive sand dune of beautiful Van Phong Bay, and go kayaking among the mangroves in Con Dao National Park.
Stretching more than 2,000 miles along the South China Sea, the coast of Vietnam is a place of crescent-shaped beaches and gem-like bays, fishing villages, and modern cities. Trace these spectacular shores from north to south, venturing inland to explore ancient temples, historic wartime sites, and imperial cities. Discover the country’s past and present in Hanoi, Da Nang, and Ho Chi Minh City; and step back in time in royal Hue and the ancient port of Hoi An. Venture into bustling markets and lush rainforests alike on a voyage that balances nature’s grandeur with Vietnam’s rich tapestry of history and culture.
This trip is operated in collaboration with Lindblad Expeditions.
Depart on your overnight flight to Hanoi. Transfer to our hotel upon arrival and meet your fellow travelers at our welcome reception this evening.
Check out of our hotel this morning and discover the beautiful capital city of Hanoi on a guided tour. We’ll encounter an eclectic blend of architectural influences—Chinese, French colonial, and ultra-modern—as we make our way to the One Pillar Pagoda, one of the oldest buildings in Hanoi, and the Temple of Literature, Vietnam’s first university. See the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum, modeled after Lenin’s tomb in Moscow, and visit Ho Chi Minh’s modest stilt home, mostly unchanged since he left it. Choose to visit the National Museums of History and Ethnology, wander among lively shopping streets, or take a stroll in the peaceful park surrounding Hoan Kiem Lake. After lunch, drive through the scenic countryside to the maritime city of Haiphong. Settle into your cabin aboard the National Geographic Orion, our home for the next 11 days.
National Geographic Orion for the remainder of the trip
Considered one of the most picturesque landscapes in Southeast Asia, Ha Long Bay is a watery wonderland of limestone formations that have eroded over time into fantastical shapes. We’ll board traditional junk boats and spend the morning cruising to isolated coves, breathtaking grottos, and hundreds of islets named after animals and other objects they are said to resemble. Take an afternoon Zodiac cruise to Cua Van floating village, the largest fishing village in Ha Long Bay. Meet with villagers and learn how they have adapted to life on the water.
Zodiacs take us ashore to visit the infamous demilitarized zone (DMZ). Located on the 17th parallel, the Ben Hai River marked the border between North and South Vietnam from 1954 to 1975. The Vinh Moc tunnels were dug by locals as a semi-permanent home to endure the heavy bombing during the conflict; walking through the passageways, you will discover the lengths they went to in order to survive.
Today we dock in the port of Chan May and head inland to the imperial city of Hue, seat of the Nguyen dynasty from 1802 to 1945. Delve into the hustle and bustle of the local market before moving into the tranquility of the Imperial City—modeled after the Forbidden City of Beijing with temples, palaces, a royal library, and a museum. Following lunch along the Perfume River, visit the impressive Khai Dinh Royal Tomb. Regally situated on a pine-covered slope, it is noted for its staircase with dragon balustrades and its elaborate mosaics made from thousands of ceramic fragments.
Historic Da Nang is where the French landed to begin their conquest in 1858 and, a little over a century later, where 3,500 American troops first arrived in Vietnam. Today it is the country’s third largest city, a rapidly modernizing metropolis that stretches along the beach. Da Nang is a great base for visiting some of Vietnam’s most treasured sites, and you can choose from a range of excursions during our time here. Tour the UNESCO World Heritage site of My Son, a Cham religious center dating from the fourth century where ruins of temples still stand; or learn to make Vietnamese dishes during a cooking class with a chef. Take a guided tour of ancient Hoi An before time on your own to explore; or opt for a trip to the Marble Mountains, five peaks named after the elements of the universe, and climb to the Buddhist sanctuary of Huyen Khong Cave.
Today we dock in Qui Nhon, a deep-water port lined with grand boulevards and sandy beaches and known for the colorful fishing boats that dot the harbor. Head inland to visit the Cham towers of Banh It, four individually designed Hindu towers that date back some 900 years. Continue to the Quang Trung Museum to see artifacts from the 18th-century Tay Son rebellion and the reign of Emperor Quang Trung. The museum also showcases the martial arts, music, and dance of the Bahnar hill tribe.
Spend today exploring central Vietnam’s spectacular Van Phong Bay. Walk along the huge sand dune that shelters the gem-like bay, spot birds in the mangroves along its shores, or swim and kayak in its calm turquoise waters. Then visit the fishing village of Port Dayot, where fishermen in basket boats paddle between brightly colored fishing boats.
The 16 islands of the Con Dao Archipelago are characterized by jungle-covered mountains and gorgeous beaches—and nearly 80 percent of their land and sea has been declared a national park. Con Son is the largest island and the only one that is inhabited. During the French colonial era, the island served as a political prison and later, the Saigon regime imprisoned dissenters here using the infamous “tiger cages.” While its difficult past has earned the islands recognition as a national historical site, they are now celebrated for their natural beauty and biodiversity. We will have opportunity for hikes on the inner island trails, Zodiac cruises and kayaking through the mangroves, photographing the vast array of plant and birdlife, and just soaking up the splendor.
Enjoy a morning Zodiac cruise or beach walk before we set sail towards the mainland. Be on deck to take in the views of lush deltas and villages, before we reach the modern skyscrapers of Ho Chi Minh City. Formerly known as Saigon, the city was officially renamed after the North Vietnamese captured the city in 1975.
Trace history on a tour of Ho Chi Minh City, the most important city in southern Vietnam. View the former American Embassy and visit the Reunification Palace and the Saigon Central Post Office, one of the most iconic buildings in the city. At the Vietnam History Museum, browse exhibits that illustrate the evolution of Vietnam’s cultures. Then stop at two important pagodas, the Jade Emperor and the 18th-century Giac Lam, where Buddhists monks still live and worship. After lunch, drive past rice fields on the way to Cao Dai Holy See. This beautiful temple is the center of the Cao Dai sect, a Vietnamese religious movement that blends aspects of Buddhism, Taoism, Confucianism, and even Catholicism. Alternatively, stay in the city and wander through the shops, enjoy a Vietnamese coffee, or explore the beautiful parks on your own. Toast our voyage at a farewell dinner tonight.
Disembark this morning and transfer to the airport for your flight home.