Summary:

Tour taster

Enjoy an extraordinary array of arts and crafts skills handed down through generations.   The culture of Vietnam is based on long-held traditions of handcrafted products, arts and foods unique to a region, or even village and other artistic skills such as dance and music.  In this two week tour you will meet local artisans and admire their talent.  You may even be invited to have a go!  

Details:

By bicycle, motorbike and cruise vessel see stone carvers, silversmiths, potters, tailors, fruit farmers and fishermen at work with the inspiring natural scenery of Halong Bay, Sapa and Mekong Delta as a superb backdrop. Test some of Hanoi’s famous street food, explore its remarkable craft beer scene and try your hand at Vietnamese cooking.  It’s all great fun and you will learn lots.  

Be amazed by the creative ability and imagination of the Vietnamese from arts, crafts and cookery to quirky Mekong Delta coconut handicrafts.  See an exquisite stage performance and soak up the history of millennia-old imperial historic sites.   So much to do and see and you can even customise the tour.

Itinerary:    

Day 1: Hanoi Arrival

Arriving at Noi Bai Airport in Hanoi, you’ll be met and driven to your hotel.  Relax after your journey and maybe take a stroll round Hoan Kiem Lake. In the evening enjoy a delightful and artistic Tuong or Ca Tru performance of traditional arts of Vietnam.  Then enjoy a welcome dinner at a good restaurant in a French colonial building. Your overnight stay will be in Hanoi.

Meals: N/A

Day 2: Hanoi cyclo tour, street food and craft beer

This morning explore Vietnam’s historic capital by cyclo, an iconic vehicle on the city’s streets. Your guide will take you to the Temple of Literature, the first university in Vietnam dating back to the 11th century and the popular attractions of Ho Chi Minh’s House and his Mausoleum nearby.

We explore Tong Duy Tan, Hanoi’s famous ‘food street’ to sample a few dishes, starting with traditional ‘ga tan’ (chicken simmered with herbs), then stop for ‘banh cuon’ (rice pancakes) and ‘com binh dan’ (cheap rice) stalls.  Cam Chi Street offers a different experience for those wishing to taste distinctive local wines.  Be warned!  They might be a little strong so xoi’, a sticky rice dish may help.  

In the evening spend a couple of hours wandering back streets in and around the Old Quarter.  Streets tend to specialise by product category. Family owned shops spill onto the road and sell everything from shoes and silk to belts and buckets.  A street food brunch is included so take your pick from traditional Hanoi Pho (beef noodle soup), Nom (green papaya salad with seasoned beef), Banh Goi (pillow-shaped rice pastry with minced pork and mushroom), or Bun Cha (fresh noodle with grilled pork).  Still hungry!  Try two or three other varieties – they’re snacks rather than a meal.  

Watch locals sit and chat by beautiful Hoan Kiem Lake, magical at night, and meander through narrow streets in The Old Quarter to Hanoi Beer Corner.  Here you can sample a cup of Bia Hoi, a local fresh beer.  Then led by our tourist guide, hop on the back of motorbike to experience the hectic nightlife.  Our last stop is Dong Xuan Market and a night street food market too for a hotpot if anyone is still hungry!  Return to your hotel for a well-earned sleep.

Meals: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner

Day 3: Hanoi/Ninh Binh/craft villages

In the morning you’ll be picked up at your hotel for the two-hour drive to Hoa Lu – former capital of Vietnam.  On arrival you will visit Tam Coc (three caves), a peaceful valley among limestone karst hills, where you’ll be rowed along a gentle river between paddy fields and through the caves. On the way back disembark for a pleasant stroll of about 2km through rural scenery to Thai Vi temple. You return to Tam Coc Pier for lunch. After this, a little exercise with a bike ride through beautiful green fields to visit Ninh Van stone carving village and Ninh Hai embroidery village. Continue your journey to two temples, one dedicated to Emperor Dinh Tien Hoang and the other to Emperor Le Dai Hanh, followed by a brief visit to the remains of the Old Palace.  You spend the night in Ninh Binh.

Ninh Van village has a 400-year-old tradition in the fine art of stone craft, with over 60 businesses and 600 local families now involved in the trade. Stone products include statues, animals and birds, stele, ornamental tanks, large porcelain vases, flower-basins, tables, chairs, beds, incense-tables, thrones, garden bridges, gates, door-steps and beams. There are also fine art products and articles like tea cups and pots, ashtrays, dishes and ‘photographs’ in stone. All these products display lively and exquisite carved patterns, the work of highly skilled hands and creative minds of the village’s craftsmen.

Ninh Hai Village is famous all over the country for its lace embroidery. Currently, every family in Ninh Hai has many kinds of embroidery frames, some frames several yards wide, and some as small as a handkerchief. Lace-embroidery products are diverse.  They include bedspreads, curtains, pillow covers, table covers, napkins, handkerchiefs, paintings and photos.

Meals: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner

Day 4: Ninh Binh/Thai Binh, crafts villages/ Halong private junk

Early this morning you depart for the province of Thai Binh, a huge source of rice in Northern Vietnam, and also home to many traditional craft villages, of which Dong Xam Silver Village is among the most well-known.

Dong Xam Silver Village is famous for its silver processing which has been practiced since the 17th century. The fame of Dong Xam Silver has spread not only in Vietnam, but overseas. Silver handicrafts produced are exported to Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Laos, Thailand, Netherlands, and Spain. These silver products have an unusual style and appearance.  The intricate decorations require delicate skills.

From here you’ll leave for Ha Long Bay, one of the most spectacular UNESCO World Heritage Areas and the world’s largest marine limestone ‘karst’ landscape. On arrival, you’ll board a private wooden junk to take you through Bai Tu Long Bay area. You continue your cruise through the bay’s most deserted areas with opportunities to swim at quiet sandy beaches, weather permitting, or visit one of the least visited caves. For dinner, enjoy a cooking class on board and closely watch the talented chef craft fruit and vegetable to decorate the meal. You stay overnight on board.

Meals: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner

Day 5: Ha Long/Phu Lang pottery village/Lao Cai

Wake in the fresh air of the bay for a swim or just relax on the sundeck. After breakfast continue your cruise to a floating fishing village where you’ll have an opportunity to explore the village and a nearby hidden lagoon in a traditional rowing boat. You will also visit a Pearl Farm to see the entire process of making high quality pearls.

You then cruise back and dock around noon for your return to Hanoi.  On the way back you will visit Phu Lang, one of the most famous traditional pottery villages in Vietnam. Phu Lang ceramic products are high quality because they are dried in traditional kilns called Rong.  These are specially constructed and use dry wood for fuel.  Enjoy the peaceful atmosphere of the village and see the ceramic kilns like giant mushrooms along the dykes. You may even try making ceramics if time permits. You arrive at your hotel in Hanoi late afternoon with time to relax and freshen up before transfer to the station close by to board the night train for Lao Cai.

Meals: Breakfast, Lunch

Day 6: Lao Cai/Sapa/Ta Phin weaving village

Arriving early morning you travel by car to Sapa, a delightful small town perched on the mountainside opposite Fansipan, Vietnam’s highest mountain.  After breakfast at a hotel you will take a picturesque thirty minute drive north of Sapa to Ta Phin Village.  Set in a valley with a towering mountain peak at the end, Ta Phin is home to approximately 1,000 Red Dao, 1,500 Black H’Mong and a handful of Kinh people. You’ll have lunch and dinner there and stay in a traditional wooden home of a Red Dao family.

The style of Red Dao embroidery is truly unique.  Ladies of the house will teach you their embroidery techniques while sharing stories about their lives. The outfits of the Red Dao in the Sapa region are different from the Red Dao in other northern provinces. There are many local variations in clothing from village to village. Common features are heavily embroidered trousers and a loose fitting black jacket with richly embroidered collar, sleeves and back panel.

Some Red Dao in the area wear a plain red scarf with a white border decorated with silver coins, whilst others wear a large red headscarf decorated with silver beads and long red and yellow tassels. The women shave their eyebrows and shave back their hairline to display a larger area of forehead.  There will be plenty of opportunity today to wander through the valley and observe daily life among the H’mong and Dao people.  Depending on the season it may also be possible to visit some Black Hmong families preparing and dyeing indigo hemp fabrics.

Meals: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner

Days 7: Sapa Free

Have an unforgettable experience living in the wilderness by blending in with the ethnic minority groups. For free day you could consider to trek through villages of the H’mong, Giay, Dzao and Tay ethnic people or just relax yourself in such a beautiful highland.

Meals: Breakfast

Day 8 : Sapa/Ethnic market/Hanoi

On leaving Sapa the first part of your journey takes you through Lao Cai, a border crossing along the river marking the boundary with China.  We then visit a market frequented by various ethnic minorities. After exploring this and enjoying a picnic lunch you return to Lao Cai where you have a room to shower and to freshen up before boarding the sleeper train back to Hanoi.

Although it’s quite a long drive, the landscape is mesmerizing and the ethnic markets are a fascinating experience.  Unlike those in tourist areas the markets we choose are not only for buying and selling but meeting places for people to talk and exchange news.  The design and pigments of authentic costumes are amazing but there are few souvenirs to buy, unless you want to barter for a water buffalo or a sack of fertiliser! You will also have a chance to observe corn or rice wine production at a local village.

The trips to ethnic minority markets must be on Tuesday (Coc Ly or Ban Cam market), Thursday (Lung Khau Nhin market), Saturday (Can Cau) or Sunday (Bac Ha, Muong Hum or Muong Khuong markets).

Meals: Breakfast, Lunch

Day 9: Hanoi/Danang/Hoi An

You arrive back in Hanoi early morning and transfer to a mini hotel to refresh up and have breakfast. There is time to relax before your driver takes you to the airport for your flight to Da Nang. On arrival you’ll be welcomed and driven to Hoi An, about a 45 minute transfer. After checking in at your hotel for the night the rest of the day is at leisure in this pleasant town with plenty to see and do.   

Hoi An town is a UNESCO World Heritage area. An ancient trading port, once the largest in Indochina, it was a meeting point for many cultures that left their mark in the different architectural features of its wooden buildings. The original traditional street pattern still exists and so does the quay that once welcomed ships from all over East Asia and beyond. Many ships remained there for months at a time, waiting for favourable trade winds to carry them home. There are plenty of good restaurants offering a variety of cuisines and price levels. The town is also a good place to shop for silk. You can have clothes tailor-made within a day or two at reasonable cost.

Meals: Breakfast

Day 10: Hoi An Country side by Vespa – Ancient Town

Setting off from this ancient town you take the bike ferry for the river fishing port of Cam Kim Island.  First stop is a traditional boat builder’s yard before setting off to explore the relaxing island villages by bike. Enjoy an exhilarating ride through the zigzagging and breath-taking scenery of rice paddies and farmland.  Several stops along the way enable you to learn from friendly local families the art of mat weaving, farming and how to make (and eat) a perfect banh dap (rice cracker).

Riding into a small village we stop at a local café to fuel up on local drip-coffee to help us gear up for an adrenalin-pumping 300 metre bamboo bridge river crossing.  You will now be the sea-board side of the island as we make our way to Duy Hai market and harbour. Here, the local ferry crossing will take us to the water coconut palm fringed Cam Thanh, and beyond to Tra Que Fishing Village for a fish cracker stop.  Our final destination is a seafood lunch on the shores of the beautiful Ha My beach.

In the afternoon your guide will show you several remarkable buildings in the ancient town of Hoi and explain its considerable significance in the history of Vietnam. You spend the night in Hoi An.

Notes:  Stops are made to brief clients about local culture, lifestyles and traditions and to take in the stunning rural scenery around Hoi An.

Meals: Breakfast, Lunch

Day 11: Hoi An/Ho Chi Minh City

Today you’ll have a free morning and will then be picked up for an afternoon flight to Ho Chi Minh City. After transferring to your Ho Chi Minh City centre hotel and checking in, you’ll be free for a preliminary wander around District 1. Your overnight stay will be in Ho Chi Minh City.

Meals: Breakfast, Lunch

Day 12: Ho Chi Minh City/Trung Nghia/Vung Liem

You escape the bustling city and travel to the Mekong Delta where a beautiful natural environment and warm welcome awaits.  After a fairly long drive a relaxing time is guaranteed in Trung Nghia in Vung Liem District.  Walk along the village path for a few minutes and you reach to the Lodge for a welcome drink and check-in. Lunch is served on the lodge balcony with fine river views.

After lunch you will be rowed through a pretty tributary of the Mekong with overhanging foliage and visit a pop rice factory, home of Mr. Cong (Duc as a nick name).  He will show you the traditional way to make pop rice or corn while his wife completes the product that kids take to school.  Here you will also see how locals make a living by raising pigs and cows and convert their waste to generate green energy to create biogas for free cooking.

Select your bike for a cycle tour on quiet village roads passing fruit gardens, dragon fruits, coconut trees and Phu Nhuan Communal Temple. Continue cycling through rice fields and back to the lodge, crossing a peaceful village. This is the time to see the beautiful scenery of a sunset through a vast rice paddy field. Return to the lodge to freshen up before walking to another house for a cooking class and chat with a veteran farmer. Watch as poon oil is used to burn sticks burned for a traditional musical performance.  Dinner is then served.  After dinner walk back to the lodge holding a coconut leave torch to light your way.  You spend the night at the lodge

Meals: Breakfast, Lunch , Dinner

Day 13: Trung Nghia/Vung Liem/Ho Chi Minh City/Vespa tour in the evening

Start the day in the Mekong Delta with a fishing activity before returning to the lodge for a leisurely breakfast. You’ll then be taken to Ho Chi Minh City by road.  On arrival and check-in at your hotel you have time to explore a little and freshen up.

Early evening you will be picked up at the hotel for a Vespa tour. Your first stop is Café Zoom to "watch the world goes by" (quoted by Lonely Planet) and to enjoy a cocktail and appetizer (included) before you venture out for an evening meal. Experience Saigon nightlife the way locals do, all from the back of a vintage Vespa scooter. Then the tour continues to a hidden Vietnamese-style coffee shop to have a taste of Vietnamese music (live) as a local. Your overnight stay is in Ho Chi Minh City.

Meals: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner

Day 14: Cooking Class in Ho Chi Minh City

Follow our chef through the colorful and vibrant Ben Thanh market to purchase required ingredients for your cooking lesson. Feel free to ask any questions you want! At 9:40 am our chef will bring you back by taxi (included) to our cooking class which is from 10:00 am to 1:00 pm.

In a friendly (non-competitive!) atmosphere, participants all cook together with our chef.  Everyone has their own ingredients and Vietnamese kitchenware for a better understanding of cooking techniques. Just concentrate on the joys of discovery and pleasure of cooking.  We'll give you the detailed recipes at the end.  

Then enjoy a tasty three course meal plus a delicious seasonal dessert.  The dishes are those that you cooked!  After lunch you’ll be awarded a certificate of competence and souvenir gift.  The rest of the afternoon is for you to spend as you wish in Ho Chi Minh City where you will spend the night.

Meals: Breakfast, Lunch

Day 15: Ho Chi Minh City Departure

The day is at leisure until your private car and driver arrives to take you to Tan Son Nhat Airport for your departure flight.

Meals: Breakfast

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