Day 1: Join tour Hanoi. PM orientation of Hanoi’s Old Quarter
After a chance to freshen up, this afternoon has been set aside to explore something of Vietnam's vibrant capital. Architecturally styled like a French provincial town, with tree-lined boulevards and low-rise buildings, the city is wonderfully nostalgic and a walk through the engaging streets of its Old Quarter provides an ideal introduction to its fascinating heritage. Named after the various crafts and specialities of the city's artisans, each street bears such descriptive monikers as Paper Street, Silk Street and Basket Street. This practice dates back to the 13th century, when the city's original 36 guilds established themselves here, adopting a street each to differentiate them from their neighbours. The maze of alleys presents a fascinating venue to explore on foot and the area is known for its interesting 'tube' houses, whose narrow frontages give way to long rooms that stretch back. Street food sellers tempt you with all manner of noodles, snacks and stir-fried delights from shoulder panniers, all adding to the charm of Hanoi's historic heart.
Day 2: AM Hanoi city tour. PM cycle ride around West Lake
After breakfast we will have the opportunity to check out our bikes and complete any necessary fine tuning. We then continue by bus for a morning sightseeing tour of the city in the company of our local guide. We will include visits to the 11th century Quan Thanh Taoist Temple, the charming One-Pillar Pagoda, the temple of literature and the Presidential Palace. Ho Chi Minh himself was a spartan living and scholarly who chose not to reside in the Presidential Palace itself, but himself preferred a simple teak, 2 - storey stilt house especially built for him in the grounds. We'll have a chance to visit this simple structure today, before heading back to the hotel. After lunch we will enjoy an afternoon's cycle ride around the nearby West Lake. A journey of some 17-20 kms, the ride takes us around the largest fresh water lake in the capital, a place steeped in legend and lying in the bustling heart of the city. Covering some 500 ha and surrounded by gardens, temples and some of Hanoi's most opulent real estate, the lake provides us with an ideal venue to test out our bikes. Our circuit will include stops at the Buddhist library of Thu Sacha and the Phu Tay Ho Temple, an especially lucky place for women who come here to ask for blessings.
Our total cycling distance today is approximately 17 to 20 kilometres
Day 3: Drive to Dong Ho; cycle through villages of the Red River Delta
Departing Hanoi this morning, we head first for the village of Dong Ho, situated to the east of the city. Famed for its folk paintings, the village has existed on the banks of the Duong River since the 16th century and its art reflects centuries old traditions. Hand printed on papyrus-like paper, the paintings traditionally reflect feelings of prosperity and happiness, their colours generated from locally acquired materials such as charred bamboo leaves and finely ground oyster shells. We will have an opportunity to spend some time with the artisans this morning, before continuing our journey from here by bike, cycling along the dyke of the Duong River. The dyke system in the North of Vietnam is the longest in Indochina, stretching over 2400 kilometres. Cycling atop the dikes we will pass through commercial vegetable gardens providing much of the capitals fresh produce and encounter plenty of grazing cattle. After a distance of around 8kms we will arrive at But Thap, where we will visit the 17th century Pagoda before continuing on our bikes through lush landscapes to Kim Son. Here we will visit the Sui Pagoda, where novice monks are trained in the art of meditation. Nearby a small vegetable market will provide us the opportunity to see some of the produce from the dike gardens. Re-joining our bus here we then drive on to Phu Thi in the Red River Delta, for a home cooked lunch and a chance to learn a little about local customs and traditions from our hosts, before continuing by bus towards the Gulf of Tonkin and the stunning karst landscapes of Ha Long Bay.
Our total cycling distance today is approximately 15 kilometres
Day 4: AM Ha Long Bay cruise. PM drive to Ninh Binh via Nhan Muc
One of South East Asia’s most spectacular settings, where thousands of limestone islands rise from the jade green waters of the bay like the scales of some great submerged dragon, Ha Long Bay is a World Heritage site of natural majesty. Ha Long translates as the place ‘where the dragon descends to the sea’ and local legend tells of a time when this rugged landscape was created by the pounding tail of a mighty dragon as he ran from the mountains into the sea. This morning we will board a charter boat for a cruise amongst its limestone islands, threading our way through a flotilla of boats, junks and wooden sampans as they ply their way across the gentle waters of the bay. The plan is to spend the morning sailing through this stunning seascape, stopping off to visit some of the limestone caverns that pepper the landscape and enjoy a delicious seafood lunch on board. This afternoon we then continue by road to the village of Nhan Muc, where we will enjoy a traditional water puppet show (a practice that dates back to the 15th century) and have a chance to interact with the locals, before we complete our journey to the town of Ninh Binh. We arrive to our hotel in the evening after a long yet rewarding day. No cycling, rest day.
Day 5: Exploring rural scenes of Ninh Binh by bicycle. Overnight Reunification Express to Hué
Cycling the back roads to Hoa Lu this morning, we visit the country's ancient capital. Once the political and cultural centre of Dai Co Viet (Vietnam), the city ruled over the region's first centralised feudal state. Whilst many of its ancient monuments are long gone, we will get a chance this morning to visit the temple of King Dinh Tien Hoang, the man who unified the country and founded Vietnam's first feudal dynasty. From here we cycle along narrow concrete paths through picturesque local communities on to the 12th century Nguyen Saint Temple. After a break at the temple we head through rural countryside towards the spectacular limestone karst formations of Van Long, and finally on to the nearby village of Vuon Thi, where we enjoy a delicious traditional lunch. There may be an opportunity to try some traditional farming and fishing instruments in the yard. After lunch we cycle the short distance to the nearby dock for a tranquil sampan journey around the stunning caves and Karst scenery of the Van long Reservoir. Returning to Ninh Binh later this afternoon by bus, there will be some free time in the city and to freshen up in our hotel dayroom before we board the Reunification Express for the overnight journey to Hué.
Our total cycling distance today is approximately 34 kilometres
Day 6: Arrive Hué. PM biking tour of Hué.
Arriving in Hué this morning we transfer to the hotel and check in, after checking and adjusting our bikes the rest of the morning is free to relax and enjoy at your leisure. Once the capital of Vietnam and an inspiration for poets and artists alike for centuries, Hué is divided by the waters of the Perfume River, which separate the city's 19th century citadel from the suburbs that radiate from the eastern shore. Even today, its easy air of leisurely ambience makes it one of the most engaging cities in the country to explore and, after lunch, we will cycle our bikes on a tour of the imposing Citadel. Built by the Nguyen dynasty (Vietnam's ruling emperors from the early 1800s to 1945), the Citadel still dominates the left bank of the Perfumed River. Its formal moats and impressive ramparts were constructed to be an exact copy of the Forbidden City in Beijing, and whilst much of the inner city suffered badly during the heavy bombardments of the Tet Offensive in 1968, the huge outer walls and the West Wing remain an eloquent reminder of the palace's former glory. Later today we will cycle out to the lovely tile-roofed bridge at Thanh Toan. Built over two centuries ago, the arched wooden bridge spans a canal that runs through the village and has long been an iconic and cultural landmark in the area. Late in the afternoon the old folk gather on the bridge to talk and reminisce. After enjoying the tranquil atmosphere around the bridge we will cycle back to our hotel.
Our total cycling distance today is approximately 18 kilometres
Day 7: AM Exploring around Hué by bicycle. PM Perfume River optional.
This morning we will enjoy the peaceful leafy backstreets of this charming city, cycling out to explore the countryside around Hué. We begin with a visit to the Ho Quyen amphitheatre, where the emperor presided over duels between tigers and elephants. Continuing on to the 19th century Nguyen Tomb of Tu Duc, we will enjoy the beautiful complex of ornate temples, pavilions and tombs built beside a picturesque lake. After a visit to the eunuch tombs at the Tu Hieu Pagoda, a gentle ascent of Vong Canh Hill rewards us with spectacular views. From the pine forest atop the hill we can look over the Perfume River and the surrounding countryside and tombs of the Nguyen dynasty. We finish our morning cycling further out to the vast 19th century tomb of Minh Mang, possibly the finest of all the imperial tombs. Returning to Hué by bus around lunch time, the rest of the day is then free. There is the option to take a half day excursion along the Perfume River, visiting the iconic Thien Mu Pagoda, home to the oldest monastery in the city, whose 21m high tower has become something of a symbol for Hué. Dedicated to the Manushi-Buddha, the existing temple was constructed in the middle years of the 19th century, under the auspices of the Emperor Thieu Tri, and within its confines you can find a number of superb Buddhist statues, as well as an enormous cast bell that weighs in at over 2000 kg and is reputed to be audible over 10 km away.
Our total cycling distance today is approximately 35 kilometres
Day 8: Bus and bike to Hoi An, via Hai Van Pass and Danang
This morning we drive south, stopping at Lang Co, a section of the famed China Beach, to enjoy a spot of swimming. Known locally as My Khe, the name China Beach was accorded by US troops who came here for R & R during the Vietnam War. After our break to relax here we follow the coastal road towards the Truong Son Mountains and the lofty heights of the Hai Van (Sea Cloud) Pass. This scenic region once marked the boundary between Vietnam and the Champa Kingdom to the south and as we reach the pass itself the views before us are simply spectacular. Mounting our bikes we begin the seven kilometre descent from 500 metres down to the South China Sea, accompanied by stunning panoramas of mountains, islands and ocean. After pausing to catch our breath at sea level, we continue cycling alongside China beach towards Danang and the Thuan Phuoc Bridge. The longest suspension bridge in the country, this impressive structure measures some 1850 metres in length and spans the flowing waters of the lower Han River. Only officially completed in July 2009, the bridge cost a staggering 42 million US dollars to build and provides us with a spectacular end point for today's cycle ride. From here we rejoin our bus for the onward journey to the bustling port of Hoi An. First colonised by the Portuguese in the 16th century, by the 17th and 18th centuries Hoi An had become one of the busiest international trading posts in South East Asia and, even today, it still retains the engaging charm of a medieval port, with many of its old buildings superbly preserved. The rest of the day has been left free to wander throughthe historic heart of this World Heritage Site at your leisure. You might like to pay a visit to the Japanese Bridge, Hoi An's emblematic symbol, believed to have been constructed to quell the violent rumblings of a restless monster, or perhaps explore the traditional wooden houses and Chinese temples that line the streets. Other alternatives include visits to the local cloth mill and the hire of rowing boats to explore the landscapes along the river.
Our total cycling distance today is approximately 28 kilometres
Day 9: Around Hoi An: river trip, cycling and free time
This morning we board another boat, for a cruise down the river to the busy village of Kim Bong. However, in the company of an appointed village guide, we will uncover a hive of cottage industries amongst old colonial houses and temples. Biking through lush rural landscapes we will see local people producing boats, straw matting and rice noodles. Continuing by river on to the pottery village of Thanh Ha, we then have an opportunity to visit a traditional workshop and watch local artisans continuing a tradition that has existed in this village since the 16th century. We cycle the few kilometres back to Hoi An with the rest of the day free for more personal sightseeing. There is an opportunity to extend todays cycling with an optional visit to Tra Que village to learn about organic vegetable and herb farming. Here you can also enjoy a delicious lunch and even a herbal footbath and massage (at your own expense) in a local house in the village.
Our total cycling distance today is approximately 8 kilometres with an additional optional 12 kilometres
Day 10: Visit to My Son
Today we start our day with a short bus journey to a place called Nam Phuoc from where we will cycle our way through to My Son. My Son has been dubbed as a UNESCO World Heritage site and has ruins of structures from ancient Champa Kingdom which flourished between the 2nd and 15th Centuries. For those hankering for culture and history, this presents an ideal opportunity to explore the most evocative of Vietnam's Cham sites at My Son. The Chams were dynastic lords who rejected the authority of China in 2AD and established their own kingdom. For 1000 years they managed to stave off attacks by the Vietnamese and Chinese, before being overcome by the Vietnamese in the 15th century. The site contains several impressive groupings of Cham temples and present probably the finest example of Cham masonry skills in the country. We take a bus back to our hotel in Hoi An.
Our total cycling distance today is approximately 30 kilometres
Day 11: Fly to Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City); afternoon downtown orientation
After first transferring to Danang airport this morning, we fly south to Vietnam's largest and most vibrant city - Ho Chi Minh City. Still commonly referred to by its old colonial title, Saigon is an eclectic mix of the traditional and the new, where pagodas and markets compete alongside the trappings of Vietnam's newly discovered entrepreneurial spirit. After a short flight from Danang, we'll transfer to the hotel and check in, after which we will take a brief orientation tour of the city on foot. As part of our tour we will include the prominent sights of the Hotel de Ville, whose ornate grandeur is today the home of the People's Committee. We also take in the Opera House (formerly the National Assembly building), the Romanesque Notre Dame Cathedral and the impressive French style edifice that is the GPO building. Afterwards you will be free to enjoy some personal exploration, affording a chance to visit some of the many temples that lie dotted around the city, or perhaps to do some shopping amongst the bustling stalls of the Binh Tay Market, the largest wholesale market in southern Vietnam and a fabulous place to stroll and meet the locals. No visit to Saigon would be complete without exploring something of its tragic recent history too and this afternoon also offers a chance to visit the remarkable Reunification Palace and the emotive War Crimes Museum, where you can find some poignant and moving reminders of Vietnam's colonial wars.
No cycling, rest day.
Day 12: Cycle to the Cu Chi Tunnels. Freetime in Saigon
This morning we drive out of the city to Cu Chi (1.5 hours), from where we cycle out visit to the infamous Cu Chi Tunnels. Originally started during the French occupation of the country, the tunnels went on to achieve notoriety during the Vietnam War, when they formed an amazing underground command base for 10,000 Viet Cong troops and were a major part of the Tet Offensive. This area was the centre of intense fighting during the war, much of it falling prey to the incessant carpet bombing, napalm and defoliants utilised by the Americans in an attempt to dislodge the Viet Cong from their underground shelters. There is little evidence of any of that now and the landscape has returned to something of its pre-war beauty, but exploring the tunnels of Ben Dinh and Ben Bihn gives some idea as to the conditions that the Vietnamese and their American adversaries had to endure. Be warned, the tunnels are low and narrow and can be claustrophobic. Driving back to Saigon after lunch, the remainder of the afternoon is free to enjoy a last look at this remarkable city.
Our total cycling distance today is approximately 25 kilometres.
Day 13: Cycling in the Mekong Delta
Today we journey by vehicle, boat and bike into the Mekong Delta to explore these fascinating waterways. Firstly we make our way by bus from Saigon to Cai Lay (2 hours), where we start cycling alongside calm canals and rivers. Along the way we will learn more about local life, taking in the verdant gardens and orchards as we go. After an included lunch we take a boat trip to see local cottage industries making such things as rice paper, coconut sweets and rice cakes, before returning to Saigon later in the afternoon (3-4 hour drive).
Our total cycling distance today is approximately 20 kilometres.
Day 14: Tour ends Saigon
The tour ends in Saigon this morning after breakfast.
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