Vietnam Adventure

Sierra Club Outings Trip # 14555B, International

Highlights

  • Visit important Vietnamese cultural/historical sites
  • Hike in one or more of Viet Nam's national parks
  • Snorkel in Nha Trang Bay
  • Kayak in spectacular Ha Long Bay

Includes

  • All in-country transportation, including two flights
  • All accommodations, meals, and gratuities
  • An experienced, English-speaking Vietnamese guide

Details

DatesMar 23–Apr 7, 2014
Price$2,695
Deposit$200
Capacity15
StaffJohn Doidge

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Trip Overview

The Trip

You are invited to join us for our Viet Nam journey, which travels the length of Viet Nam, from Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon) to Hanoi. We will be exploring the many facets of this mystical country with a rich and varied history. "S"-shaped Viet Nam is inhabited by 54 ethnic groups, each with its own unique culture. The Viet are the established ancestral ethnic group, making up more than 70% of the Vietnamese population. Constantly under the threat of invasion and occupation in the past, the Vietnamese are now working industriously to improve the quality of life for all citizens as they also honor their cultural traditions.

We will visit some of the most beautiful and famous of Viet Nam's cultural and historical sites, which will provide insight into the history and character of Viet Nam. We will overnight in a rural village, and be entertained with traditional Vietnamese music and dance, including (in Hanoi) the famous water puppet theater. We will also visit some of the most dramatically beautiful Vietnamese natural areas, including one of their national parks and renowned Ha Long Bay.

This trip is planned for anyone who wants to experience the very best of Viet Nam in a single trip. All of the physical activities are optional, so if you just want to sightsee you are welcome to join us. We'll have at least one moderate (2-3 hours) day hike in a national park. Many activities are optional so that you can choose to do as little as you like or join us on a hike; likewise, you're invited, but it is not mandatory to do the snorkeling in Nha Trang Bay or sea kayaking in Ha Long Bay. We'll be on a large boat overnight in Ha Long Bay with comfortable accommodations and delicious food.

Most of our meals will feature delicious Vietnamese cuisine; we'll also have some non-Vietnamese meals and some meals will be on your own (money provided by leader) in case you want to taste some of the other international cuisine there. We'll have wonderful, fluent English-speaking guides who will interpret Viet Nam's rich history, culture, and nature for us. While the Viet Nam War (referred to as the "American War" by Vietnamese) is not the focus of this trip, we will learn much about it from their perspective by visiting some of their museums, and some famous sites including China Beach. The Vietnamese are wonderful hosts and warmly welcome American tourists to their beautiful country. Vegans and vegetarians will find many good options available.

 

Itinerary

Although we'll pack a lot of activities in our Viet Nam adventure, we will also have time for relaxation and free time for shopping and sightseeing.

Day 1: Arrive in Ho Chi Minh City, where you will be met at the airport and transferred to our central downtown hotel. If you are flying from the West Coast, you'll probably leave on Thursday, March 20 or Friday, March 21 and will lose a day as you cross the International Date Line. You should plan to arrive no later than Sunday mid-afternoon and are encouraged to arrive a day or two before the actual start of our trip. We'll have a late-afternoon trip orientation meeting at our hotel and then enjoy our first delicious Vietnamese dinner.

Day 2: After breakfast, we'll spend the day touring Ho Chi Minh City/Saigon, Vietnam's largest and perhaps most dynamic city. We'll visit the historic post office (where you can purchase beautiful Vietnamese stamps), the interesting national historical museum, and the imposing Reunification Palace, and then end the day walking through the huge downtown market where you can shop and witness daily street life.

Day 3: Today we'll "head for the hills" (highlands) and bus to DaLat, where we’ll overnight in one of the city’s many comfortable hotels.  DaLat, meaning “river of the Lat Tribe,” is known for its coolness in the midst of the tropics and a wealth of locally grown delicacies.  Amazingly, both sides the “War” spared this resort city from destruction so that people like us can still explore and discover its delights.  Discovered by Europeans in the early 20th century, DaLat has been appreciated by foreigners and natives alike for decades. We will have free time upon arriving to enjoy its hilly terrain and explore such sights as the flower gardens and the local market.  In the evening we will have dinner at one of DaLat's many charming restaurants known for its international cuisine. 

Day 4: On this day we will head for Nha Trang on the coast. On the way, we'll visit Po Klong Garai Cham towers, ancient Hindu temples built on a hill overlooking the coastal plain, where we'll admire the Cham's sophisticated architecture and building technology. We'll continue on to Nha Trang where we'll overnight at a beach hotel -- if we arrive in Nha Trang early enough, we'll visit the Cham (Po Nagar) towers there. We'll spend the next two nights in Nha Trang.

Day 5: Today will be the first of our days exploring the beauty of offshore Viet Nam. We'll board a boat that will take us near some of the islands in Nha Trang Bay. This will be our first chance to truly relax -- we'll be snorkeling/swimming (both optional) and relaxing on the beach. We'll probably be offered a foot or neck massage on our boat (if you really want to relax; purchased on your own). After having lunch on an island, we'll return to Nha Trang where we'll tour the fascinating Oceanographic Institute nearby and learn about Vietnamese marine biology and their efforts to preserve the marine environment, and then return to our beachfront hotel.

Day 6: This morning will be the first of our two in-country flights. We'll fly to Da Nang, an important airport during the U.S. war there. We'll visit some fascinating museums in Da Nang: the Cham museum and the historical/war museum; both will be interpreted by our Vietnamese guide. Then we'll head for beautiful Hoi An, stopping at famous China Beach and hiking up Marble Mountain, visiting the pagoda and cave there (optional) and Non Nuoc marble carving village in the Marble Mountains. We'll spend our next two nights in Hoi An.

Day 7: We'll spend the entire day touring Hoi An, one of the most beautiful and interesting cities in all Viet Nam. In the morning we'll tour the covered bridge, an ancient historical home, and Chinese assembly hall. Except for a traditional Vietnamese music/dance performance (optional), the afternoon is on your own. Hoi An features hundreds of shops that will tempt you to bring back inexpensive clothing (customed tailored) and other souvenirs.

Day 8: Today will be a long day as we drive north toward the ancient capital of Hue. We'll stop along the beach to photograph boats along Da Nang Bay, and drive up the coastal highway to view Hai Van (Cloud) Pass. If conditions allow, we will bus into the mountains to explore our first Vietnamese national park: Bach Ma. Sometimes referred to as the "Da Lat of central Viet Nam," Bach Ma was a French-era hill station but has been restored to its previous natural wonder. Bach Ma is a popular bird-watching area and boasts more than 40 different mammal species. After touring the visitor center, we'll take a 1-2 hour hike (optional) and then head for historical Hue, where we'll stay for the next two nights.  If Bach Ma National Park is inaccessible we will have extra free time in Hue to explore its many historical sites at our leisure. 

Day 9: Located on the banks of the Perfume River, Hue is famous for its art and architecture, and in 1993 was honored as a UNESCO World Heritage site. We'll spend the entire day exploring some of its temples, tombs, pagodas, and palaces: the Thien Ma pagoda, King Tu Duc Khai Dinh and King Mihn Mang tombs, and the famous Hue Citadel. While the Hue tour will take most of our day here, there may be some time in the late-afternoon for some shopping and sightseeing on your own.

Day 10: Today we'll have our second in-country flight as we fly to Hanoi. Upon arriving in the capital city of Hanoi, we'll head southward by bus to Cuc Phuong National Park, Vietnam's first national park. After we settle into our rooms and have lunch, we'll tour their fascinating Endangered Primate Rescue Center. Not only does this center rescue injured primates, it provides an up-close opportunity to see these rare and endangered mammals.

Day 11: This will be another of our hiking days. After breakfast, we'll bus into Cuc Phuong NP. Once there, we'll hike to the Big Tree and a park guide/naturalist will describe the different plants/trees and explain the complex ecosystem there. Depending on participants' interest and trail and weather conditions, we may hike to the Cave of Prehistoric Man, where remains were found that date back 7,500 years. After lunch, we'll bus over to the Muong village of Ban Khank, where we will stay with the villagers and experience Vietnamese rural village life, including a performance of traditional Vietnamese music and dance.

Day 12: After breakfast in Ban Khanh, we'll board our van and bus back to Hanoi and visit the fascinating Ethnology Museum. Either this evening or tomorrow evening, we hope to arrange a presentation by one of Viet Nam's environmental NGOs (often World Wildlife Fund) and learn about efforts to preserve Viet Nam's beautiful and fragile wildlife and environment.

Day 13: This will be a full day of touring the best of Hanoi, Viet Nam's capital city. We'll visit the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum, his simple home and the interesting Ho Chi Minh museum, the Temple of Literature, and the Fine Arts Museum. Perhaps one of the highlights of today will be attending the famous and fascinating water puppet theater. Although we won't be able to understand the Vietnamese language, we'll surely understand the action and enjoy the beautiful musical/singing accompaniment. We'll spend a second night in our downtown Hanoi hotel.

Day 14: After breakfast, we'll board our bus and travel through the vast Red River delta to Ha Long Bay, one of Viet Nam's greatest natural wonders and another UNESCO World Heritage site. The bay, part of the Gulf of Tonkin, is filled with limestone/karst islands and caverns, which we will explore this afternoon and tomorrow morning. We'll board our large boat and head out into Ha Long Bay, with its thousands of islands. We'll stop and hike through one of the impressive, huge caves on the islands. Depending on weather/water conditions, we may have an afternoon kayaking adventure (optional) and /or a hike on one of the karst islands. We'll have lunch, dinner, and overnight aboard our boat.  This will be a good time to share our reflections of this incredible journey. 

Day 15: We awake onboard our boat on beautiful Ha Long Bay, and after breakfast we'll continue our tour, with opportunities for more kayaking (if weather/water conditions permit) and exploring the islands. After our onboard lunch, we'll disembark to the mainland and bus/van back to Hanoi for our farewell dinner.

Day 16: With some sadness and many wonderful memories, our Sierra Club Viet Nam adventure ends. Unless you choose to extend your stay in Viet Nam/Hanoi, you will be transported from our Hanoi hotel to the airport for your return flight back home. We'll be gaining a day on our return flight, so we'll be landing on the West Coast on Monday, April 7.

Photos

Details

Getting There

Our trip officially begins with your arrival in Ho Chi Minh City on Sunday, March 23, 2014. You will need to get a Viet Nam visa in advance; at the time of this writing, a single-entry Viet Nam visa cost about $90 and generally increases annually (not included in trip price). Allow yourself plenty of time to get the visa, and be sure your passport is valid for at least six months beyond the conclusion of our trip.  (If you will enter Viet Nam more than once you will need a multi-entry visa, which will cost more.) 

You are welcome to make your own travel plans to/from Viet Nam, or you may want to coordinate your flight with other trip members. The trip leader will provide you with flight information from a travel agent that many Sierra Club trip leaders use for our Asian trips. If you would like to arrive earlier than the beginning of our trip, the trip leader can make arrangements for you to be met at the airport and hotel reservations in Ho Chi Minh City. For those interested in our war there, there are day tours to Viet Cong tunnels near Ho Chi Minh City to experience these claustrophobia-inducing tunnels and to see the elaborate systems of underground tunnels and fortifications that they established in the "backyard" of Saigon during the war. Likewise, if you'd like to extend your stay, please let the trip leader know and she and our Viet Nam concessionaire can help with your plans.

Accommodations and Food

We'll be staying in a variety of accommodations -- during most of our trip we'll be in cities with very nice and comfortable hotels, and in Ha Long Bay we'll have very comfortable rooms on our boat. Our overnight stay in a Vietnamese national parks will be in comfortable, but more rustic, rooms/cabins. Our overnight stay in the rural village of Ban Khanh will likely be with local families in their simple homes, sleeping on the floor on padded mats with comforters and blankets. Accommodations will be two people per room. Couples will room together and singles will be paired up according to gender and (as much as possible) age. Once on the trip, singles can change roommates if they'd like and it's agreeable to all those making any changes. If there's an odd number of single participants of either/both genders, we'll share the single accommodation with other single participants. If you want to request a single accommodation, please let the trip leader know and she will see if this is possible; there will be an additional charge for requested single accommodation.

Trip Difficulty

All of the physical activities are optional, so if you're not in strong physical shape and/or don't enjoy physical activities, you can still join us and not participate in these activities. We will have at least one moderate hike in a national park, and participants can hike as far as they want and wait for us to return and hike back together to our bus/van or hike back on their own; likewise for our kayaking on Ha Long Bay. There will also most likely be an opportunity to bicycle and/ or take a cooking class in Hoi Ann at participants’ expense. 

Because Viet Nam is a developing country, medical care is not as available or convenient as in the United States, making medical emergencies considerably more hazardous than they might be at home. Please take care of any potential medical problems before leaving home and bring adequate amounts of all medications you might need. If you have any questions about the medical form included in your trip application packet, or about whether or not our trip will be appropriate for you, please contact the leader. Your safety and that of our group depends on your candid responses on the medical form.

Equipment and Clothing

We'll be traveling from southern to northern Viet Nam, and from tropical coastal areas to higher mountainous regions, so you should bring a variety of clothing for different temperatures. The easiest/lightest way to do this is to bring layers of clothing. You'll want to have well broken-in footwear -- sturdy tennis shoes or light hiking boots. Our trip leader will provide you with a list of recommended clothing/equipment and welcomes questions about what to/not to bring.

References

Probably the best place to begin is one of the popular tour guide publishers: Lonely Planet, Rough Guides, etc. You can check locally in a library or bookstore, or online. Internet resources are so prolific that if you're comfortable with that format you can obtain lots of information and ideas there. If you find something interesting/helpful, please let the trip leader know so she can share it with others. The leader will bring along some guidebooks and share pre-trip information with you to enhance our in-country experience. Here are a few other resources:

Movies:

  • Indochine
  • Good Morning Vietnam
  • The Quiet American
  • The Scent of Green Papaya
  • Rescue Dawn

Books:

  • Elliott, Duong Van Mai, Sacred Willow.
  • Jamieson, Neil, Understanding Vietnam.
  • Sterling, Eleanor, et al, Vietnam A Natural History.
  • Fay, Kim, To Vietnam With Love. 
  • Lewis, Norman, A Dragon Apparent. 

Websites:

 Current events in English from a Vietnamese point of view:

Conservation

One of the benefits and unique aspects of Sierra Club Outings is our focus on the environment and conservation issues. Pre-trip literature will highlight some of the environmental challenges and accomplishments of Viet Nam, and both the leader and our Vietnamese tour guide will discuss environmental issues during the trip. If possible, a presentation by a Vietnamese environmental NGO will be included to provide their perspective on these important issues.

Sierra Club is an environmentally focused entity. We are concerned about conservation and sustainability of resources both locally and globally. Our work is accomplished by volunteers, aided by a salaried staff, encouraging grassroots involvement. Our outings seek to empower participants toward environmentally understanding parallel concerns at home and abroad.

Staff

Leader:

Over the last several years, John has led and cooked on backcountry and front-country service trips in locations ranging from islands (Culebra, Vieques, St. John) to terra firma gems in the remote corners of the U.S and Italy. Whenever he can, he is gardening in his San Francisco garden, hiking, snowshoeing, skiing in California's mountains, pedaling its roads and paths, or paddling its waters. He believes that service work is one of the best ways to connect our values with love for our natural world.

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