Vietnam Itinerary

The North

 

The North is the birthplace of Vietnamese culture and identity.  In our tour of sites here you will learn about the birth and re-birth of the Vietnamese state, its successful defense against northern invasions and the formation of its culture.  This includes its Confucian and Buddhist overlay, socially and politically, but also unique aspects like the cult of the Holy Mothers, the village communal houses, craft villages, the traditional guilds of Hanoi, Vietnamese village  

 

 

organization, citadels, water-puppets and traditional music, plus historical events like the Mongol Wars, first contact with the West and the introduction of Christianity.

 

First stop:  Hanoi

 

We will begin our tour with a visit to the Women's Museum in the former French Quarter, which features exhibits of tools, implements, traps, nets, baskets and so on used in the material life of people all over the country, the clothing of the ethnic minorities, the domestic life of women and the city's roving street vendors.  You will also learn about Vietnam's unique cult of the Holy Mothers, from the display, eyewitness accounts and a video room where you can sample the music and ritual dances associated with this still thriving tradition.  

 

Afterwards we will proceed to the 11th century Temple of Literature, where you will learn how the state educated and trained potential officials in the government bureaucracy and the life of its students in classical times.  From here we will visit the One-Pillar Pagoda in Ba Đình and pass by the Hồ Chí Minh Mausoleum, the Presidential Palace and other examples of colonial-era architecture and the northern gate of the former Citadel.  You will learn about the evolution of West Lake and stop at Quan Thánh Pagoda, dedicated to one of the city’s ancient protector deities, and Chùa Trấn Quốc, the city’s oldest pagoda.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The afternoon we will spend exploring Hanoi’s Old Quarter and the area around Hoàn Kiếm Lake.  On this excursion you will learn about the guilds, spatial arrangement, traditional tube-houses and classical social life of Vietnam’s thousand-year-old capital city.  The day’s features will also include a performance of the water-puppets, Vietnam’s ancient and unique form of traditional entertainment.

 

Second Stop:  Bắc Ninh and Gia Lâm

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Third Stop:  Chùa Thấy and Sơn Tây district

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fourth Stop (Tour B):  Ninh Bình province

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Our journey south takes us to Hoa Lư, set amongst scenic limestone hills, Vietnam's capital in the latter 10th century, before the establishment of Thăng Long (Hanoi) in 1010.  You will learn more about Vietnam’s ancient history and visit temples honoring Đinh Bộ Lĩnh and Lê Hoàn, two kings who ruled in Hoa Lư.  After lunch we will drive southeast to Kim Sơn, site of the Phát Diệm Cathedral compound. Since the 17th century this has been a heavily Catholic district and the way is lined with churches that look like they were plucked from the French countryside. But Phát Diệm has its own indigenous style, designed by a Vietnamese priest over a century ago, with stone quarried in Thanh Hóa, its architectural style unique among the country's churches.

 

 

Last Stop:  Hạ Long Bay

On this day we travel west of the capital to Chùa Thấy, a compound featuring historic temples, a pond with an 18th century water-puppet pavilion and a rare covered bridge.  It is backed by a hill 105 meters high, with shrines, grottoes and a broad view of the farms and villages on the plain.

 

We will then proceed to Đường Lâm, a preserved traditional village, and National Cultural Relic, in Sơn Tây district.  It was the birthplace of two of Vietnam’s national heroes—the 8th century Phùng Hưng and the 10th century Ngô Quyền. Shrines to these two heroes, as well as the fine 17th century Mia Pagoda, its collection of outstanding wooden sculptures, and the classic communal house Đình Mông Phụ, are among the attractions.  With a visit to Đường Lâm you will become acquainted with the look, layout and lifestyle of a typical Vietnamese village.  We conclude the day with a trip to nearby Sơn Tây Citadel, to see an example of the type of fortification that used to exist in many cities in Vietnam’s past.  It was also the scene of battles with French colonialists.

 

 

Across the river from Hanoi, Bắc Ninh was the location of the first Chinese administrative center and the introduction of Mahayana Buddhism.  We will visit Chùa Dâu, originally constructed in the 2nd century, the first Buddhist temple in Vietnam.  Then we will see Chùa Bút Tháp, a 17th century temple compound featuring stone carvings, an enormous prayer wheel, towers and ponds.

 

Then we will visit examples of the craft village tradition in Vietnam. We start with Đồng Hồ for its woodblock printing on hand-made paper.  Following this we visit Kiêu Kỵ, whose specialty is the production of gold and silver leaf, used for furniture decoration and the enhancement of carved images.  Afterwards we will stop at Bát Trang in Gia Lâm, a village historically renowned for its ceramics, which boats carried from the village to the former Dutch trading post at Phô Hiên as well as Hanoi.

 

Hạ Long Bay is a natural stop in our tour, one of the country's earliest and best known World Heritage SItes, not only for its breathtaking island scenery, but also for the prominent place it has in Vietnamese history. You will learn that Hạ Long Bay was the site of several important Vietnamese naval victories in battles against Chinese and Mongol invaders, as well as for the hidden bases of Chinese pirate allies of the Tây Sơn rebels in the late 18th century.  In the morning we will drive to Hạ Long City and board a boat for a ride on the picturesque bay, heading south towards Cát Bà Island.  Besides enjoying the views and the amenities of a luxury cruiser, we will also visit a typical fishing village and learn about the life of the people who live by the sea.  We will stay overnight on the water and return to Hạ Long City in the morning.  After lunch we will drive back to Hanoi and in the evening board the overnight train to Huế.

 

 

 

 

 

The Center
 

Central Vietnam was once the realm of several Chăm  kingdoms, an Austronesian people heavily influenced by Indian civilization.  You will examine their legacy in art and architecture by visiting several sites of important Chăm relics, learn their history and how they influenced Vietnamese settlers.  You will also learn how and why Vietnamese migrated here, the story of the Nguyễn Lords and the civil wars of the 17th and 18th centuries.

 

were patterned after classical 17th century French bastions, the grand entrance gate, remnants of the Forbidden CIty, the Nine Dynastic Urns, with their embossed decorative vignettes of the life of the times, the royal theater and its Nguyễn Court stage entertainment, the remains of the imperial library and other gates, towers, shrines and buildings. 

 

After lunch we will go south of the city, stopping first at Chùa Từ Hiếu, an active and typical Buddhist forest temple, set in a glade of pines and ponds.  From here it’s a short distance to the Tự Đức Mausoleum.  Nguyễn Emperors prepared elaborate burial grounds for themselves while they were still alive.  That of Tự Đức is the finest example, a walled compound enclosing a lake and several pavilions, gates and buildings, as well as the royal tombs.  Following this we will take a back road through the countryside to the Mausoleum of Thiệu Trị.  While not as elegant and harmonious as that of Tự Đức, the site is in a typically quiet rural setting of ponds, farms, towers and arched bridges.  On our return to the city we will pass by the Cao Đài temple, a preview of something we will see more of further south, and in late afternoon arrive for a leisurely walk through the riverside Đông Bà market to complete the day.

 

 

Second stop:  Hội An

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

halls of various Chinese neighborhoods.  We will spend the rest of the day seeing these and exploring other sights of the old town, its merchant houses, temples, museums, markets and waterfront.

 

 

Third stop:  Mỹ Sơn to Quy Nhơn

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In the morning we will visit the ruins of the ancient Chăm religious sanctuary of Mỹ Sơn and learn something of Chăm history and religion.  Buildings at Mỹ Sơn date back more than a thousand years, commissioned as merit-making exercises by Chăm kings ruling from nearby Sinhapura and Indrapura, today’s Trà Kiếu and Đồng Dương villages.  The monuments and sculptures reflect Indian and Khmer influence and lie in a secluded valley backed by Cat’s Tooth Mountain.  They are grouped in several sites and in various conditions and degrees of restoration.  Mỹ Sơn, a World Heritage Site since 1999, is the largest collection of historic Chăm relics in all of Vietnam.  Following our tour of the area we will drive to Quy Nhơn.  We will arrive late in the day, have a look at the beach and stay there two nights.  

 

  

Fourth stop:  Bình Định Chăm and Tây Sơn sites

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

a mound beside Chà Bàn and Thốc Lốc, on a hilltop just east of the highway near the junction to Chà Bàn, is visible on our way back to the city.   We will return to Quy Nhơn and stop at the Tháp Đôi towers at the edge of the city.  The next day we will fly to Saigon.

 

 

Fifth stop (Tour B):  Nha Trang

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sixth stop (Tour B):  Phan Rang

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

the Chăm weaving village of Mỹ Nghiệp on the way back to Phan Rang and see different kinds of looms, in addition to the pottery village of Bao Lúc.  In the morning we will go to Tháp Poklong Garai, one of the best preserved Chăm temples, still in use today by Chăm people. From the nearby museum's exhibits and pictures you will learn about both  historic and contemporary Chăm life.  After Poklong Garai we drive to Cam Ranh airport for an afternoon flight to Saigon.

 

 

 

We will drive from Huế to Hội An via the Hải Văn Pass, the historic topographical boundary between the northern and southern portions of Vietnam.  We will take a look at the watchtower remnants of past wars and enjoy the view before continuing to Hội An.  Hội An had been an important port since the days of  the ancient Chăm kingdoms and had its heyday during the era of the Nguyễn Lords in the 17th and 18th centuries.  It had resident Japanese and Chinese communities, as evidenced by the old Japanese bridge and the community

Bình Định province was the home base of Vijaya, a once-powerful Chăm kingdom that periodically challenged its Vietnamese neighbor until conquered in the late 15th century.  We will begin our journey with a visit to Tháp Bánh Ít, one of the best preserved Chăm temple compounds, then head west to Tây Sơn village and its museum.  Here we will learn the story of the Tây Sơn Revolt that convulsed Vietnam in the late 18th century, then visit Chà Bàn, formerly the capital of Vijaya and later the Tây Sơn regime.  The Chăm tower Cánh Tién stands on

From Quy Nhơn we will drive to Nha Trang and stop on the way at the Chăm tower in Tuy Hoà and, weather permitting, the salt marshes near Ninh Hải. We will arrive late in the day and spend two nights here.  After our arrival we will explore the downtown area and the beach.  In the morning we will visit Tháp Bà, a temple dedicated to the Chăm goddess Pô Nagar.  You will learn that  the area around Nha Trang formed a small  but separate Chăm kingdom, how it fell and that Tháp Bà was one of the most venerated temples in all of Champa.  The compound rests on a small hill, featuring several buildings and ancient sculptures. 

 

 

Afterwards we will visit Chùa Long Khánh, the city's premier Buddhist temple. also on a hill, with a broad view of the city and environs.  In the afternoon we will take a look at the citadel remains in nearby Diên Khánh, built by Nguyễn Ánh during his campaign against his Tây Sơn opponents.  On the way back to Nha Trang we will stop at a rural temple to Goddess Ý Thiên Ná, the Vietnamese version of Pô Nagar and learn how the cult of the Holy Mothers extended to include the Chăm deity.  Back in the city, we will visit the Long Thành Gallery to view the work of a talented Vietnamese photographer specializing in black-and-white portraits and shots of various aspects of life in Central Vietnam. After that the rest of the afternoon is free for the beach and/or the silk embroidery center in between our hotel and the beach.

 

Phan Rang and Ninh Thuấn province was the stronghold of Panduranga, the last Chăm kingdom.  Never as strong as Chăm states further north, it outlasted them, however and maintained its autonomy until 1832.  On the way from Nha Trang we will visit the Hoà Lai towers just north of Phan Rang, notable for their fine relief carvings, still in relatively good condition.  After lunch in town we then visit Pôrômê Tower to the southwest.  This was the last Chăm tower ever constructed, dating from the early 17th century, in honor of King Pôrômê, the last illustrious Chăm monarch before the state's decline.  We will stop at   

First stop:  Huế

 

Huế was the capital of united Vietnam under the Nguyễn Dynasty, the last imperial rulers of the country.  The area had been a sronghold of the Nguyễn Lords since the late 16th century.  On our tour here you will learn about the rise and fall of the Nguyễn Lords and the dynasty they established. 

 

In the morning we will visit the Thiên Mụ Temple, originally commissioned by the first Nguyễn Lord, Nguyễn Hoàng, in 1601, though his own capital at the time was further north in Quảng Trị.  Dedicated to the Celestgial Goddess, originally the site of a Chăm temple, this was the first pagoda constructed by Vietnamese in the Huế area, Then we will move to the Citadel, the royal bastion of the Nguyễn Emperors.  Many of the original buildings decayed from neglect after the fall of the dynasty or were destroyed by war in 1968. But intensive restoration in recent decades has restored enough of it to suggest its original splendor.  The sights include the old walls and moats that 

The South

 

Until the 17th century the Mekong Delta was only sparsely inhabited and largely swamp and forest.  Khmer settlers concentrated near the mouth of the river and in areas near today's Cambodia border.  You will learn how the Khmer live, the story of VIetnamese and Chinese migration here from the 17th century, how the VIetnamese transformed the Delta and consolidated their control and how Ngujyễn Ánh used it as his base to defeat his Tây Sơn adversaries and unite the country.

 

First Stop:  Saigon

 

After arriiving from Quy Nhơn or Can Ranh, we will spend the rest of the day exploring the center of the city ,particularly the outstanding examples of French architecture from the colonial period.  The next morning we will visit Chùa Giác Lâm, dating from 1733, Saigon's first Buddhist temple, and Chùa Giác Viên, dating from the early 1800s, sited in a neighborhood of narrow, twisting lanes that gives us a glimpse of back-alley Saigon life.  From here it’s a short distance to Bình Tây Market, the starting point for our tour of the Chinese quarter Chợ Lợn.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Second stop (Tour B):  Sóc Trăng

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pagoda, a Chinese temple almost entirely built of clay, protected by a metal roof, its interior and rear courtyard full of brightly painted clay statues of animals and mythological figures.  Our final stop this afternoon will be Chùa Dơi on the southern outskirts of the city.  A particularly attractive structure, it is known as the Bat Temple for the presence of great numbers of fruit bats in the grove within the compound.

 

 

Third stop:  Trà Vinh

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We continue to Chùa Hang, another large Khmer temple south of the city and then drive further to see typical Khmer villages, with their house walls and roofs made of split palm leaf, groves of sugar palms and isolated temple compounds.  We return to Trà Vinh via Chùa Chim, a beautiful temple compound with a replica of Angkor Wat in miniature.  Before leaving Trà Vinh the next morning we will visit Phướng Pagoda, notable for its stone, Angkor-era Buddha heads and vestiges of the ancient temple on this site, evidence of Trà Vinh’s cultural and historical connection to the Khmer Empire of Angkor.

 

 

Fourth stop:  Vĩnh Long

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Our afternoon program begins with the Jade Emperor Temple, a Chinese Taoist compound over 200 years old, built by the local Cantonese community.  Then we will visit the nearby temple to Lê Văn Duyệt, one of Nguyễn Ánh’s best generals and later Governor of the South after final victory over the Tây Sơn.  We will learn of the early history of Saigon, particularly its growth and importance in the last decades of the Nguyễn Lords’ rule.   Next we will visit the History Museum, one of the most elegant colonial period buildings in the city, especially for its display of Chăm and Khmer sculptures and artifacts.  Afterwards we will take a look at the riverfront nearby.

The coastal provinces of Sóc Trăng and Trà Vinh are home to about 70% of Vietnam’s  Khmer population, who have resided there  since before the Angkor Empire rose in Cambodia.  We will drive first to Sóc Trăng, arriving after lunch on the way, and go to Chùa Khleang, a 16th century temple, since then renovated several times, that features classic Khmer architecture, a school for instruction in the Khmer language and an adjacent museum housing models of Khmer life, tools and implements, religious paraphernalia and a few  exquisite ancient bronze sculptures.  After this we will go for a look at the nearby Clay

 

 

Our next destination, another province with a high percentage of Khmer residents, is Trà Vinh. A few Khmer Buddhist temples are within the city boundaries, along with a small Chinese temple, one to the Goddess of the Sea and a couple Cao Dài temples.  A few kilometers outside the city is the venerable Âng Pagoda, the most important Khmer temple in the province, sited near Ao Bà Om, a rectangular pond, surrounded by tall trees, constructed by Khmer women over 1000 years ago.  A Khmer Museum stands just opposite Âng Pagoda, displaying various artifacts and other items of cultural interest

 

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Upon leaving Trà Vinh in the morning we will drive to Vĩnh Long, a typical Vietnamese Mekong Delta river town.  Vietnamese settlers from the late 18th century cleared swamps that once dominated the area to make farms and orchards on plots of land separated by a network of canals.  Boats are still the main means of transportation in the rural parts of the province.  After lunch along the river we will take a boat ride through the canals to Cái Bè, site of an all-day floating market.  Such markets are common to other Delta towns, though usually only active from dawn to early morning.  We will continue our journey through the canals and stop at a village to see the production of rice paste and other foods.  Our ride passes houses of wood and palm leaf, fish farms, overhead bridges, temples and churches along the banks of the creeks and canals, boats loaded with fruits, vegetables, grain, timber, pottery, sand and mortar for cement and various other types of cargo.  We conclude the journey with an overnight rural home stay experience and in the morning return to Vĩnh Long and drive back to Hồ Chí Minh City.

Destination Distances

Hanoi-Hạ Long 160 km, Hanoi-Ninh Bình 91 km, Hanoi-Huế 654 km, Huế- Hội An 115 km, Hội An-Quy Nhơn 278 km, Quy Nhơn-Nha Trang 240 km, Nha Trang-Phan Rang 105 km, Phan Rang-Hồ Chí Miny City 328 km, Hồ Chí Minh City-Sóc Trăng 231 km, Sóc Trăng-Trà Vinh 168 km, Hồ Chị Minh City- Trà Vinh 200 km, Trà Vinh-Vĩnh Long 68 km, Vĩnh Long-Hồ Chí Minh City 135 km