Imperial cities, ancient temples, superlative landscapes, and tribal villages. This is just the start of your heritage and highlights exploration of Vietnam and Thailand. Expect to see monkeys, enigmatic cities, war histories, and mysterious river caves. Spanning 3,000 years and over a dozen unique destinations, this three-week tour celebrates the famous and unknown wonders of two remarkable nations. It’s handcrafted for those who want to crave exploring the past and present history of these countries. Zicasso...
Hanoi – Immersed in the Old Quarter
Touch down in Vietnam’s largest airport and you’re transferred to Hanoi’s Old Quarter, where an exotic atmosphere quickly takes hold. A trader cycles past, his cart laden with peculiar fruits. Bells tinkle all around. Incense mingles with coffee aromas. Noises echo and there is a lot for the senses to take in, so find some respite at the lake when you need. A local guide takes you around to One Pillar Pagoda, the Temple of Literature, and Ho Chi Minh’s Mausoleum. At some point you will be exhausted, what with the travel and the continual surge of new sights and sounds. So stop, rest up in the city’s finest boutique hotel. It’s going to be much calmer after today.
Halong Bay – Seaplane Above the Rice Paddies and Karst
Eat breakfast in the old-world hotel garden. Try Vietnamese coffee. There is time for a quick walk on the streets should you wish, before you head back to the airport and a seaplane flight to Halong Bay. Rivers twist beneath the wingtips. Rice paddies extend in a succession of green hues. The karst landscape grows nearer and soon you are flying above this world wonder of nature. Touch down and set sail on a luxury three-night junk cruise. Now you can really relax, amid one of the most unique natural landscapes on earth.
Day 3 - 4
Halong Bay – Relaxing Halong Bay Cruise
Karst islets rise sharply from blue-green waters, their slopes carpeted with thick, tangled forest. Mist swirls, evaporating slowly to reveal your morning location. As you cruise, the landscape just keeps going. There are thousands of islets and islands here, most of them uninhabited works of nature. With a cruise you get to explore the outer reaches of Halong Bay, far beyond where the day and overnight trippers congregate. Soon you’re alone amid the karst, drifting with the wind as the landscape’s mystery takes hold.
Go kayaking around the karst, into river caves and beneath strange overhangs. Disembark at deserted beaches and sink your toes into the save. Find the obscured entrances of humongous caves, then find the stalactites within. Lounge in the boat’s small pool as you cruise through improbable combinations of green. Jump off into the warm water and swim where few people venture. This cruise is a chance to explore and there are various activities each day. It’s also a very serene experience, a chance to stop and re-energize for the journey ahead. You’ll be amazed at how few other boats there are once you leave the area closest to Haiphong. You’ll be amazed at how surreal it feels to wake up amid the mist and karst.
Day 5 - 6
Sapa – Vietnamese Tribes and Rural Adventures
Returning to the seaplane, you take an early morning flight back to Hanoi before twisting north into the mountains. It’s a slow yet beautiful journey by road, meandering through countless viewpoints as rice paddies and villages dot the panorama. Your destination is Sapa, a quiet place that’s used as a hub to explore the villages and tribes of northern Vietnam. Your accommodation is a mix of a boutique hotel and homestay experience; small, local, relatively simple yet with all the contemporary amenities. Meet with a family, eat with them, discuss the past and present, and fall asleep surrounded by bamboo forests.
You have more time to explore the villages. Meet the locals in Giang Ta Chai, then trek to a small waterfall. Eat lunch in Supan, admiring its location amid rice paddies and jungle-like mountains. Find out about Vietnamese tribes, how they take their culture and history into the modern day. Local people are open to discussions and a guide helps translate where required. Like Halong Bay these two days are a mix of exploring and taking it easy, something you’ll find common across these three weeks in Vietnam and Thailand.
Hoi An – The Atmosphere of Centuries Past
Journey back to Hanoi then fly to Hoi An, where the old quarter reflects a country’s peculiar history. It’s a city that mostly avoided destruction during the war, one that displays a proud, faded grandeur. Locals cycle past old Japanese architecture. Colonial French townhouses juxtapose with ancient pagodas. There’s evidence of old China and early Vietnam as well, everything coming together on quiet central streets that are a delight to discover. Spend the afternoon with a guide, absorbing all the history. Then spend the evening relaxing in the old town, absorbing the atmosphere of a place that clings hard to its past.
Hue – The Imperial City
My Son is just an hour outside Hoi An, a sanctuary of temples remembering the ancient Cham civilization. Forest now wraps itself around these temples, nature, and history creating a harmony that’s surreal to the eye. It’s another World Heritage Site on your tour and another serene place to experience the region’s history. From My Son, you travel south, using a road that’s normally closed to the public. Snake your way over the mountain pass then descend into Vietnam’s imperial city. Not that much of the old remains in Hue – it was a battlefield during the US Vietnam war – but you can still sense the old-world charm and dedication to artistic detail.
Day 9 - 10
Hue – Boating Through the Vietnamese Interior and the DMZ
Hue is a delightful place to spend the late afternoon and evening. Hang out on outdoor cafe terraces, dine in markets or upmarket restaurants, gaze at the mausoleums of Vietnamese emperors before enjoying the humming energy of Dong Ba Riverside Market. Sip a coffee or beer beneath the colorful walls of the citadel. Dusk is a great time to walk through the sprawling imperial palace, which was once off bounds to everyone. There are temples galore here, along with an impression of old Vietnam in quintessence. Hue is easy to walk around and there is always somewhere new to stumble upon.
All that’s for the late afternoons and evenings, especially that time around dusk when all the colors change. During the days, you visit two more of the country’s most iconic sights. Ride down the river into Phong Nha Cave on day nine, a vast maze of grottoes, underground lakes, and bizarre rock formations; it’s a day amid the humbling power of nature. Spend day ten in the Vietnamese DMZ, the Demilitarized Zone that once formed the border between North and South. Crawl into the Vinh Moc tunnels where local villagers lived for two years. Learn a Vietnamese perspective on the war. Discover infamous places that shaped history in both Vietnam and the US. Then return to the soft pleasures of an evening in Hue.
Ho Chi Minh City – Remnants of Saigon
A short flight to Ho Chi Minh City and you have a day to explore what remains of old Saigon. Such as Notre Dame Cathedral and the Old Saigon Post Office, both of them memoirs to the colonial era. Then the Presidential Palace, where the history stretches across multiple eras. It’s loud and it’s hectic on the labyrinthine streets of District 1, yet there is so much to experience and it’s not too overwhelming with a local guide. In many places the city really feels like turn of the 20th-century Saigon. As you explore further, you find a juxtaposition with 21st-century Vietnam.
Day 12 - 13
Bangkok – Traditional Thai Performances and Famous Sightseeing
Fly to Bangkok and another city that’s full of energy and experiential highlights. Over these two days you have a local guide and a relatively flexible program. There’s too much in this city for two days, so the guide will explain the options and you can build a program upon arrival. Spend one evening at one of the city’s most exclusive dining venues, a restaurant overlooking Chao Phraya River where a Thai dance performance is a great introduction to the country’s cultures. For the other evening you might consider a night market, where you can join the locals and soak up a carnival-like atmosphere.
Explore Wat Po, the mysterious old temple that hides a 170-foot reclining Buddha. Listen to the morning chanting of monks, then join them in incense filled rooms. Lose yourself in the rich wonders of the Royal Palace, then turn a corner to marvel at the Emerald Buddha, a lucid sight that can’t be captured on camera. Boat down the river, past bustling marketplaces and small temples, alongside wooden shops then out into rural neighborhoods. Discover a towering Khmer-style pagoda and inhale the spiritual atmosphere at the Temple of Dawn.
Khao Yai – Monkeys, Gibbons and a Helicopter Flight
Take a helicopter out of the city, skyscrapers giving way to a landscape of mountainous green. Vineyards tumble on the slopes below, limestone peaks compete for attention, and you touch down to a world of elephants and gibbons. Spend the day with the wonders of Khao Yai national Park, driving along rugged trails and hiking through the evergreen forest. Look up to find gibbons swinging through the trees. Eat a picnic deep in the wilderness. Hide away near a salt lick and wait for the elephants to come. Then travel to a hotel that’s deep within nature, for a night that’s completely away from the rest of the world.
Ban Prasat to Khon Kaen – Thailand’s Forgotten Khmer Ruins
Spend this morning exploring some of Southeast Asia’s finest but most forgotten ruins. Ban Prasat dates back 3,000 years and the area is still inhabited, villagers living amid the relics and leftovers. Prasat Him Primai is newer, dating to the Angkorian period. It’s been carefully restored to its former glory, a great complex of sandstone temples rising evocatively from the ground. Admire it all – huge temples, intricate details, architectural complexity – then continue the Thai adventure by driving north into Khon Kaen, a halfway stop on your journey to Sukhothai.
Sukhothai – A Fairytale World of Chedis, Relics and Temples
Welcome to the fairytale world of Sukhothai. The kingdom’s early capital is a fairytale world of ruined chedis, mysterious relics and iconic temples. Some of the ruins await in a hypnotic state of decay. Others have been carefully preserved. 200 chedis reach skywards and there’s rich detail to every one of them. The guide provides a historical backdrop and helps you decipher what’s inscribed on temple walls. Wat Mahathat, Wat Sri Chum, Wat Trapang Ngoen – some temples are from the postcards and they live up to their fame. But in such a huge fairytale complex there’s always somewhere to be alone with history.
Lampang to Chiang Mai – Lanna Temple and Northern Spirituality
It’s a relatively long drive north to Chiang Mai, broken up by stopping at Wat Phra That Lampang Luang. Monks beckon you into this Lanna Temple. Spirituality blends with elegance. There’s rich detail all around, yet a wonderful simplicity to the design, one that befits the spirituality you are experiencing. Arrive in Chiang Mai later in the afternoon and have some time to make up your own impressions of this old city. It was cut off from the world until the 1920s, accessible only by river or elephant-back. So in the old part of the city you can still feel the quiet enchantment of a past century.
Day 18 - 20
Chiang Mai – Relaxing and Exploring in Chiang Mai
With three full days in Chiang Mai, there are so many avenues for exploration. Travel an hour from the city to Mae Taeng and feast your eyes on rice paddies, flowering orchards, tiny villages and buffalos in the fields. Explore Sri Lanna National Park, where waterfalls tumble over limestone rock and you relax in the water. Visit Doi Suthep National Park for a legendary experience with local elephants. Travel high above Chiang Mai and join the monks in an early morning alms ceremony. Visit a modern village and explore the contradictions of modern Thailand, with Buddhist shrines sitting on blaring televisions inside bamboo houses.
These two days are flexible and you have a local guide leading the way. At the end of a three-week vacation, you might have had enough temples and culture. So these two days could involve the spa and a few quiet walks in the town. There’s also adventure in the jungle nearby, like zip-lining through the canopy or taking a raft down a river. There are cooking classes and demonstrations, Muay Thai boxing events, countless local experiences as well as some indulgent Western pleasures. Only one experience is firmly written into the itinerary – a hot air balloon flight above Chiang Rai. It provides a glorious appreciation of both the landscape and Thailand’s most cultural city.
Chiang Mai – Departure
After three days relaxing and exploring in Chiang Mai, you depart Southeast Asia. It’s been three weeks packed with impressions and it’s going to take some time to reflect on all the experiences.
- Spend days cruising through the karst landscape of Halong Bay, a serene and surreal introduction to your three weeks in Southeast Asia
- Feast your eyes on the ancient ruins of Ban Prasat, before admiring a temple complex in Thailand from the Khmer period
- Spend two days amid Vietnamese hill tribes and rice paddies, Sapa a base for two days of mountain exploration
- Lounge around Chiang Mai and its nearby national parks, finishing the vacation with hot air ballooning, elephants, night markets and incense-filled temples
- Compare the histories of two major cities, Bangkok, and Ho Chi Minh City so diverse yet both so full of energy
- Lounge around the historical cities of Hue and Hoi An, where imperial and colonial legacies present a faded grandeur
- Explore an ancient world of temples and chedis with a day in Sukhothai
- Visit Vietnam’s DMZ and crawl into the tunnels where villagers lived during the war
- Helicopter above Khao Yai, take a seaplane over Halong Bay, and hot air balloon above Chiang Mai
- Discover Hanoi’s Old Quarter, feel the atmosphere of a Lanna temple, and go searching for wild monkeys and gibbons
Vietnam and Thailand are experiential countries. You don’t go sightseeing, you breathe in the history and join locals in spiritual places. Rather than ticking off the postcards you travel deep into the mysteries of history. The superlative landscapes aren’t for admiring from a distance; they are places for exploring, in boats and balloons, perhaps even next to elephants. These are also countries where the experiences change every day: vibrant cities, peaceful nature, rural tribes, and ancient history leading to imperial and colonial times. Every day is different, and the experience is most memorable because of the people you get to meet. With such an appeal, it’s hard to only spend a few days in Vietnam and Thailand. So much is packed into these two countries. Which is why you need three weeks to experience them in depth.
This tour has been handcrafted for those who like to explore. There are 11 days in Vietnam, starting in northern Hanoi and traveling all the way to Ho Chi Minh City in the south (formerly Saigon). Ease into the experience by cruising around Halong Bay, plus a seaplane flight over the world wonder. Escape to the mountainous north, where rice paddies and local tribes define the experience. Spend days in the heart of Vietnam, Hoi An, and Hue both historical cities with great stories to tell. With these as a comfortable base you can discover the DMZ, Vinh Moc tunnels, Phong Nha Cave and other experiential highlights. Then fly to Ho Chi Minh City, where District 1 completes the first half of your adventure.
Fly to Bangkok, Thailand’s capital that is full of energy and enigmatic sights. Spend two days here, watching performances, discovering the old temples, living the history and shaking your head at the contrasts. Fly by helicopter to Khao Yai then explore beneath the thick forest canopy. You will go to places where few visitors venture: Khmer ruins, ancient cities, temples from the past that remain in everyday use. Chaing Mai is the relaxed place to finish. After some busy days hopping between destinations, you have four nights in Thailand’s charming northern capital. Find elephants in the national parks, meet monks on hilltop temples, lounge around the old town and balloon above the northern landscapes. It’s a fitting way to end these weeks, part tranquility, part local experience, part exotic adventure in Southeast Asia.
To gain more ideas for your perfect Thailand and Vietnam vacation, take a look at our Thailand and Vietnam page for more itineraries and tours.
$4,195 per person (excluding international flights)
Your Zicasso trip is fully customizable, and this sample itinerary is a starting place for your travel plans. Actual costs are dynamic, and your selection of accommodations and activities, your season of travel, and other such variables will bring this budget guideline up or down. Throughout your planning experience with your Zicasso specialist, your itinerary is designed around your budget. You can book your trip when you are satisfied with every detail. Planning your trip with a Zicasso travel specialist is a free service.
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Your final trip cost will vary based on your selected accommodations, activities, meals, and other trip elements that you opt to include.
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