Elizabeth Gilbert’s best-selling memoir Eat, Pray, Love did not include Vietnam but that’s no reason to limit your personal journey of discovery. Visit a scenic ancient pagoda on Hanoi’s West Lake, hidden temples in the grottoes of Marble Mountain, see traditional lifestyles and immerse yourself in yoga and meditation classes. Indulge Vietnamese cuisine from succulent meals prepared by 5 star professional chefs to your own fresh-from-the-village-market cooking class. As for love, well you never know!
We set the scene from the comedy of water puppets, magical Ha Long Bay, serenity of the Perfume River in Hue and delightful Hoi An with its fusion of Ancient buildings and cultures. Luxuriate and relax in another world and experience the ambience of Vietnam and its friendly people. All the ingredients and recipes are assembled to make this a memorable tour of discovery.
Day 1: Arrival at Hanoi
Arriving at Noi Bai airport in Hanoi, you’ll be met and driven to your hotel, the French Colonial Sofitel Legend. Relax after your journey and maybe stroll round evocative Hoan Kiem Lake close by. You have tickets for a performance of traditional Water Puppetry, an art form unique to northern Vietnam, and an endearing, light-hearted introduction to its rural culture. In the evening, a ‘Welcome’ dinner awaits you at a Vietnamese restaurant in a restored French Colonial building. We will return you to your hotel.
Day 2: Hanoi City – Half Day Tour
You’ll have the whole morning to relax at your hotel and enjoy Le Spa, a sanctuary dedicated to well-being. The Hotel rightly boasts it is disconnected from the outside world and ideal for recharging body and soul. Chill out has an extra meaning!
In the afternoon, you’ll visit the Temple of Literature, the first university in Vietnam dating back to the 11th century and the serene Tran Quoc Pagoda, the oldest in Hanoi, on the banks of Hanoi’s Ho Tay (West Lake). This is followed by a cyclo tour of the Colonial and Old Quarters to discover the city’s architectural mix of the French Colonial style, pagodas and USSR influenced social realism, to communal houses with Chinese features, merchants’ houses, ‘tube’ dwellings.
In the evening, spend a couple of hours wandering around back streets in and nearby the Old Quarter. A street food brunch is included – 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). If you’re hungry, try two or three varieties – they’re snacks rather than a meal. Then stroll to Hoan Kiem Lake, the most beautiful lake in the city and magical at night. Keep walking through narrow streets inside the Old Quarter to Hanoi Beer Corner to drink a cup of local fresh beer, Bia Hoi. See the night life eye to eye on the back of the motorbike led by our tourist guide. The last stop is Dong Xuan Market for sightseeing and a visit to the night street food market. Before returning to your hotel, enjoy a hotpot if you are still peckish!
Meals: Breakfast, Dinner
Day 3: Hanoi/Ha Long
After breakfast, 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. There you’ll board a private wooden junk that takes you through Bai Tu Long Bay area. You’ll then continue your cruise to the bay’s most deserted areas with opportunities to swim at quiet sandy beaches [weather permitting] or to visit one of the least visited caves. The route is designed to avoid the busy areas and includes a very quiet location for your overnight stay in deluxe and comfortable accommodation. Enjoy lunch and a dinner in pampered luxury as you gaze at rock formations standing like sentinels in this tranquil Bay.
For your three-day Ha Long excursion, you'll board one of the Princess Junks, one of the best wooden boats on the Bay. They’re based on the model of the old Chinese court vessels with three barge sails, a wide transom and rectangular superstructure. Each boat has only one cabin, so you're likely to be the King and the Queen on board.
The cabin is air-conditioned and has windows overlooking the bay. The floor area of the cabin is about 10 m2. The cabin is furnished with two twin beds or a double queen size bed. The interior panelling, floor and furniture are of hard wood. The cabin has a wardrobe, pillows, white cotton sheets, and an en-suite toilet and shower with a good selection of high-quality toiletries. All meals, usually based on fresh seafood, will be provided on board. Kayaking is available and included in the price.
Meals: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner
Day 4: Ha Long Bay
Perhaps an early Tai Chi on deck before a leisurely breakfast! This morning you explore the village and hidden lagoons by kayak or if you prefer an extraordinary cave complex. After a BBQ lunch on a wild stretch of sand, your time is your own to relax or continue exploring the bay by kayak. Enjoy a relaxing dinner on the Princess Junk and restful overnight accommodation on board.
Meals: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner
Day 5: Ha Long/Hanoi
Wake in the fresh air of the Bay with a swim or just relax on the sundeck. After breakfast, continue your cruise to visit a fishing village to see local life. This time you will be rowed in a rustic rowing boat and will visit a Pearl Farm where you can see the whole process of making high quality pearls.
You cruise back to dock around noon to be picked up to return to Hanoi. After arriving at the Sofitel Legend Hotel mid-afternoon, the remainder of the day is at leisure.
Day 6: Hanoi/Hue
In the morning you have free time for shopping in the bustling Old Quarter of Hanoi with its maze of streets specialising in just about everything! We then pick you up for the airport and flight to Hue. After check-in at the Pilgrimage Village Boutique Resort & Spa you visit the imposing walled Imperial Citadel of Hue and busy Dong Ba market. You spend the night in Pilgrimage Village, Hue.
Day 7: Hue/Chakra cleansing class in Pilgrimage Village
This morning you cruise along the Perfume River to the Thien Mu Pagoda, and then by road to the Royal Tomb of Emperor Minh Mang. You’ll return to Hue to visit one of city’s unique Garden Houses. Listen to the fascinating history and relax in the peaceful surroundings and ambience of possibly a former Royal home. We return you to your hotel where you can relax and freshen-up.
Later, you’ll have a guided chakra meditation balancing session for half an hour at Pilgrimage Village. Chakra balancing is the therapeutic practice of cleansing the chakra (mentally and physically) energies and restoring them. Specific yoga postures will be used in this chakra cleansing class. Your teacher will provide basic instructions on different kinds of meditation for beginners or more advanced students.
Your dinner tonight is in the wonderful ambience and setting of a different Garden House. The owner will prepare and serve a traditional meal based on the distinctive characteristics of classic Hue cuisine. You’ll spend the night in Pilgrimage Village Hue.
Each royal mausoleum reflects the personality of the Emperor it commemorates. The most majestic is that of Emperor Minh Mang, a staunch follower of Confucianism with many wives, concubines and a small army of children. Planned by the Emperor, and built shortly after his death in formal Chinese style, it is both opulent and exotic and a good example of classic Sino-Vietnamese architecture.
Garden Houses are a unique feature of Hue. The houses are traditional, privately owned and set in attractive formal gardens. Some have connections with the old Royal Imperial Court. Hue traditional architecture has long had close associations with the natural environment. The Garden Houses reflect this. Each is highly individual - house and garden, people and scenery, plants, clouds and water co-exist and blend together in a harmonious context, inviting restful contemplation. The narrow streets and abundant flora give the Garden House and surroundings the feeling of a country village.
Meals: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner
Day 8: Yoga Class in Pilgrimage Village/Cycling to view Hue lifestyles
After a healthy breakfast, enjoy a yoga class lasting an hour.
Later in the morning, cycle through Hue’s rural villages towards the Thanh Toan Bridge, roofed in Chinese style. Nearby, a local market offers views of daily life and local products. En-route to Hue’s city centre you’ll visit the Ngoc Son Princess Garden House. It has an attractive family altar and the owner is an expert on Hue’s culture and history. He will be delighted to explain the geomantic principles of the design and construction of the Garden House and this garden oasis.
After lunch, your cycle route will take you to visit some of the Garden Houses in Phu Mong Kim Long village and a handicraft village that specializes in a single product range of traditional cakes, ‘banh it’ and ‘banh phu. You then loop back to your hotel.
Meals: Breakfast, Lunch
Day 9: Hue/Danang/Fusion Maia Danang
The morning will be free at your leisure.
In the afternoon your car will arrive to drive you to Danang. On the way you'll cross the high mountain pass of Hai Van. The views from the top are excellent – you should be able to see Lang Co Beach and village and the lagoon far below, with Danang spread out before you to the south.
On arrival in Danang you’ll check-in at the Fusion Maia Resort, fabulously situated for perfect relaxation and indulgent luxury.
A new and like-no-other addition to Vietnam’s luxurious 5-star resorts, Fusion Maia is Asia’s first resort with all-inclusive spa. Fusion Maia boasts the largest spa of central Vietnam. Most irresistibly, all spa services are already included in the room rate. What’s more, breakfast is served at any time and any place, including at Fusion Lounge in Hoi An which you can reach by daily shuttle bus. Resting on My Khe Beach (China Beach), one of the world’s most beautiful beaches, Fusion Maia is only 10 minutes from Da Nang centre, 20 minutes from the world heritage town Hoi An and 15 minutes from the airport. It really does go many extra miles to provide a truly special holiday experience.
Day 10: Hoi An Cooking class/Fusion Maia Danang
In the morning, you travel by minivan to Tra Que Organic Village (Hoi An). Walk through the market gardens where local farmers work their fields using the traditional methods of hundreds of years ago - no electrical machinery here. Pick fresh saw-tooth coriander and Vietnamese mint for our cooking lesson later and try a special herbal drink at a local home.
Now for a culinary adventure! We go to the local village market and, with shopping list in hand, you will purchase a range of local ingredients, including star anise, cardamom, sesame rice paper, water spinach and banana flower.
Arriving at Red Bridge Cooking School you have a chance to freshen up before our class begins. Working together with our Red Bridge Chef, you’ll learn the traditional ways of preparing and cooking Vietnamese food from scratch. Using the freshest ingredients and traditional Vietnamese utensils (still in use today) you will learn cook four famous dishes, including the national dish ‘Pho,’ noodle soup. You can then sit down and devour the dishes you have prepared!
After the Cooking School take a leisurely cruise along the Hoi An River back to central Hoi An. Bring your swimsuit for free use of a 20 metre swimming pool. Maybe spend time in Hoi An to look around a fusion of cultures reflected in the exquisite buildings, explore the silk shops and perhaps have a garment made. You’ll be driven back to the Fusion Maia Resort in Danang where you will spend the night.
Meals: Breakfast, Lunch
Day 11: Marble Mountain/Fusion Maia Danang
After breakfast, you’ll depart for Marble Mountain where you’ll hike up Thuy Son Mountain (Water Mountain) and enjoy a panoramic view of the nearby countryside. On top of mountain, visit the Huyen Khong Cave before entering Tam Thai and Linh Ung Pagodas. Marble Mountain is an ideal pilgrimage site to whisper your wishes of love to Buddha. Rest at the foot of the mountain where you can visit Non Nuoc stone carving village. See skilled local sculptors creating marble products which are exported to many countries worldwide. If you visit on a Monday you can join a Tai Chi session on the top of Marble Mountain, guided by a Spa and Yoga Fusion expert. On alternate Saturdays the Resort holds meditation sessions by the Bodhisattva statue on Son Tra Peninsula. You are very welcome to join in. You’ll spend the night in Fusion Maia Resort.
Day 12 to Day 14: Fusion Maia Danang
Your time is your own in this luxurious Resort and delightful beach. Savour the wonderful memories of this fabulous tour and maybe arrange collection of a silk garment, made especially as a joyful reminder of this holiday experience of a lifetime.
Day 15: Danang/Ho Chi Minh City or Hanoi departure
In the morning, you’ll be free until your car arrives to take you to the airport for the flight to Ho Chi Minh City/Hanoi in good time to connect with your international departure flight.