- Hike in three of Vietnam's national parks
- Snorkel in Nha Trang Bay
- Kayak in spectacular Ha Long Bay
- All in-country transportation, including two flights
- All accommodations, meals, and gratuities
- An experienced, English-speaking Vietnamese guide
|Dates||Mar 4–19, 2015|
|Staff||Pritpal Singh Kochhar|
You are invited to join us for our Vietnam journey, which travels the length of Vietnam 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 Vietnam is inhabited by 54 ethnic groups, each with a 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'll visit many of the most beautiful and famous of Vietnam's cultural and historical sites, which will provide insight into the history and character of Vietnam. 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 three of their national parks and renowned Ha Long Bay.
This trip is planned for anyone who wants to experience the very best of Vietnam 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 three moderate (two to three hours each) day hikes in national parks. You can hike as long as you'd like on all of the three hikes; likewise, you're welcome to do as much or as little sea kayaking in Ha Long Bay as you'd like. 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 (usually Chinese) and some of our 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 Vietnam's rich history, culture, and nature for us. We'll learn about the Vietnam War (referred to as the "American War" by Vietnamese) from their perspective by visiting some of their museums and famous sites, including China Beach. The Vietnamese hold no anger from our war with them and warmly welcome American tourists to their beautiful country.
Although we'll pack a lot of activities in our Vietnam adventure, we will also have free time for relaxation, shopping, and sightseeing. Here's a day-by-day itinerary of what we'll be exploring in Vietnam.
Day 1: Arrive in Ho Chi Minh City, where you will be met at the airport and transferred to our central downtown hotel. Please keep in mind that if you fly west, you will lose a day as you cross the International Date Line. You should plan to arrive no later than mid-afternoon on Wednesday, March 4, 2015. 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 History 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 Cat Tien National Park, where we'll overnight in rustic cabins/rooms. Cat Tien is one of Vietnam's outstanding natural areas and features an amazing biodiversity in a lowland tropical forest, considered the best in southern Vietnam. After settling into our rooms and lunch, we'll visit a small bear and primate rescue center there. Afterward, we'll take a two- to three-hour hike (optional; as far/long as you want to hike) with a park guide/naturalist in the nearby forest to explore some of the natural treasures that Cat Tien NP was created to save. That night after dinner, we'll board a truck to look for nocturnal animals, including deer.
Day 4: For the "early birds," we'll have an early-morning birding walk before breakfast. Next we'll 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 Vietnam. We'll board a boat that will take us to 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 massage on our boat (if you really want to relax; purchased on your own). After having lunch on the islands, 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, hiking up Marble Mountain and seeing the pagoda and cave there (optional), and visiting Non Nuoc marble-carving village. 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 of Vietnam. In the morning we'll tour the covered bridge, an ancient historical home, and the 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. Then we'll bus into the mountains to explore our second Vietnamese national park: Bach Ma. Sometimes referred to as the "Da Lat of central Vietnam," Bach Ma was a French-era hill station that 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 one- to two-hour hike (optional) and then head for historical Hue, where we'll stay for the next two nights.
Day 9: Located on the banks of the Perfume River, Hue is famous for its art and architecture, and in 1993 Hue 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 the 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 to Cuc Phuong National Park, Vietnam's first national park. After we settle into our rooms and have lunch, we'll tour the 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 the third of our hiking days. After breakfast, we'll bus into Cuc Phuong National Park. 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, we can also hike to the Cave of Prehistoric Man, where remains dating back 7,500 years were found. After lunch, we'll bus over to the Muong village of Ban Khank, where we'll 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 head back to Hanoi and visit the fascinating Ethnology Museum. Either this evening or tomorrow evening, we hope to arrange for a presentation by one of Vietnam's environmental NGOs (probably World Wildlife Fund) so we can learn about efforts to preserve Vietnam's beautiful and fragile wildlife and environment.
Day 13: This will be a full day of touring the best of Hanoi, Vietnam'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 Vietnam'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 tour out into Ha Long Bay among the thousands of islands. We'll stop and hike through one of the impressive, huge caves on the islands. Depending on weather/water conditions, we'll likely have an afternoon kayaking adventure (optional). We'll have lunch, dinner, and overnight aboard our boat.
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 Vietnam adventure ends. Unless you choose to extend your stay in Vietnam/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 Thursday, March 19.
Our trip officially begins with your arrival in Ho Chi Minh City on Wednesday, March 4, 2015. You will need to get a Vietnam visa in advance; as of this writing, a single-entry Vietnam visa costs $100 (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.
You are welcome to make your own travel plans to/from Vietnam, 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 also make 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 he can help facilitate your plans with our Vietnam concessionaire.
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 two overnight stays in Vietnamese national parks will be in comfortable, but more rustic rooms/cabins. And 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 if 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 he will see if this is possible; there will be an additional charge for requested single accommodation.
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 two moderate hikes in national parks, 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.
Because Vietnam 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 Vietnam 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.
Probably the best place to begin is one of the popular tour guide publishers: Lonely Planet, Rough Guides, etc. You can check your local 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 he 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:
- Jamieson, Neil, Understanding Vietnam.
- Education for Nature Vietnam (ENV) (an NGO specializing in increasing young people's awareness of environment concerns; mainly active in Hanoi): http://www.envietnam.org
- Fauna and Flora International (FFI): http://http://english.vietnamnet.vn/features/2003/08/219808
- Ecotourism map of Vietnam: http://www.fauna-flora.org/asia_pacific/map.html
Current events in English from a Vietnamese point of view:
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 Vietnam, 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.