Discover the mystique of ancient traditions juxtaposed with vibrant modernity as you cruise from Hanoi to evocative sites along the coast of Vietnam and conclude with two days at Cambodia's Angkor Wat.

Starting at: $4,497 * Includes airfare, taxes & all fees Make a Reservation Ask Us A Question or Call 855-330-1542
 The breathtaking Ha Long Bay  Throwing fishing nets along the river in Vietnam. Credit: Amanda Mack  Terraced rice fields in Vietnam. Credit: Hoang Long Ly  Temple of Literature, Hanoi  The Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum, Hanoi  Ha Long Bay  Terraced rice fields
  Da Nang Harbor  Traditional musicians   The village of Hoi An, a World Heritage site  The canals of Hoi An  The Perfume River near Hue  Pavilion in the Imperial City, Hue  Tomb area of Khai Dinh, Hue  Thien Mu Pagoda in Hue  Pavilion at the Tomb of Minh Mang in Hue  Woman working with flowers on the Mekong. Credit: Nhiem Hoang  Floating market on the river  Skyline of Ho Chi Minh City at dusk  Reunification Palace, Ho Chi Minh City

Discovering Vietnam

17 days from $4,497 | includes airfare, taxes and all fees

Discover the mystique of ancient traditions juxtaposed with vibrant modernity as you cruise from Hanoi to evocative sites along the coast of Vietnam and conclude with two days at Cambodia's Angkor Wat.

or Call 855-330-1542

Tour Details

TOUR BROCHURE

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WHAT OUR TRAVELERS SAY

This was our first Smithsonian tour and we were impressed! It combined first class transportation and accommodations with intelligent and thought provoking seminars plus knowledgeable tour directors and study leaders. It won't be our last Smithsonian Journey. 

- Carol R.

JOURNEYS DISPATCHES

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LASTCALL

Save $200 *per person when you book by September 20, 2019! Use promotion code LASTCALL online or when speaking to our travel specialists to secure these savings.

• Oct. 23, 2019

• Dec. 1, 2019

*Offer valid on new bookings only.

SPECIAL VALUE

This tour is specially designed for a small group of 16 to 24 Smithsonian travelers and offers outstanding travel value. Prices include airfare, airline taxes, fuel surcharges, and departure fees.

Overview

With its breathtaking beauty and enduring traditions, Vietnam provides endless rewards for the thoughtful traveler. Discover both the ancient and modern worlds of Vietnam on this popular and magical journey.

Highlights Include

  • Royal Cities: Experience the grandeur of the imperial capital of Hué and the fascinating ancient traditions of village life in Hoi An, both World Heritage sites. Tour the acclaimed Cham Museum in Da Nang. Plus, take a cruise along Hué’s Perfume River and visit peaceful Thien Mu Pagoda, a Buddhist monastery, and the palatial Tomb of Minh Mang.
  • Ha Long Bay: Enjoy a boat ride through this legendary and breathtaking waterway, a World Heritage site comprising 3,000 islands and a landscape of limestone cliffs.
  • Mekong River: Spend two days on the Mekong, where boats take you along small tributaries and inlets to the bustling floating market at Cai Rang and to other traditional villages.
  • Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City: Take in-depth tours of the political and cultural capital of Hanoi and spirited and cosmopolitan Ho Chi Minh City.
  • Cultural Experiences: Savor local cuisine during a private cooking lesson, visit a farming settlement, and have lunch in the home of a local historian. 

This was our first Smithsonian tour and we were impressed! It combined first class transportation and accommodations with intelligent and thought provoking seminars plus knowledgeable tour directors and study leaders. It won't be our last Smithsonian Journey. 

- Carol R.

2019 Itinerary

Days 1 & 2 — Depart the U.S., Arrive Hanoi, Vietnam

Depart the U.S. and travel to the Vietnamese capital today then transfer to the hotel. 

Day 3 — Hanoi

This afternoon we arrive in the Vietnamese capital, where we meet our Tour Director and transfer to our hotel. We get our first taste of Hanoi tonight as we walk through the narrow streets of the Ancient Quarter, commonly called the “36 Streets District”, where goods of all types are bought and sold, alongside houses and temples. There are so many shops, in fact, that each has its own separate street – Shoe Street, Sugar Street, Paper Street – to help direct customers to their desired product.

This is also one of the city’s most popular gastronomic areas, with dozens of excellent restaurants, one of which will be our host for a welcome dinner this evening. (D)

Day 4 — Hanoi

This morning we embark on an orientation tour of this French-accented city with broad tree-lined boulevards and colonial architecture. We start with a walking tour of Ba Dinh Square, a popular complex of cultural and historic sites. This was the place where, on September 2, 1945, Communist Party leader Ho Chi Minh read the Declaration of Independence, officially establishing the nation of Vietnam. Today, his memory is honored by the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum, a massive granite tomb complex inspired by Lenin’s Mausoleum in Moscow. Interestingly, Ho Chi Minh wished to be cremated, but the nation so mourned him that it chose to construct this edifice to house his remains. Inside Ho Chi Minh rests in a glass sarcophagus, visible to onlookers (his corpse goes under annual “upkeep” from September – early November; during this time we will not be able to pay an inside visit). For this visit, please dress respectfully and do not bring a camera inside – photos are strictly prohibited (our tour director will hold all cameras and cell phones outside the mausoleum). We also see the bright-mustard French colonial Presidential Palace and 1,000-year-old One Pillar Pagoda, built on a single stone pillar to resemble a lotus blossom.

After time for lunch on our own, we resume touring as we pass Hoan Kiem Lake in the heart of the city, where legend has it that in the 1400's a deity rose from the lake and reclaimed the magic sword of Emperor Le Thai To, which he had used to drive the Chinese from Vietnam. We also see the marvelous Temple of Literature, founded in 1070 and dedicated to Confucius – it later became Vietnam’s first university and today remains an active place of worship.

Our next stop brings us to Hoa Lo Prison, also known as “Hanoi Hilton.” Throughout the Vietnam War, and for many years thereafter, the North Vietnamese Army controlled the prison and held American soldiers captive in order to torture and interrogate them. After this sobering visit, we have dinner together at a local restaurant. (B,D)

Day 5 — Hanoi / Ha Long Bay

A tour highlight is in store today, as we depart early on a full-day excursion to Ha Long Bay or “Bay of the Descending Dragon”, Vietnam’s legendary and beautiful waterway sprinkled with some 3,000 islands and islets and surrounded by a fairytale landscape of limestone cliffs, secret grottoes, and hidden caves. A World Heritage site, Ha Long Bay was the home of ancient cultures dating back 25,000 years. Our tour here includes a boat ride on the placid waters and a lunch consisting of local seafood specialties.

Please note the weather in this region can be cooler and quite foggy, but it adds to the mystique of Ha Long Bay. We return to our hotel in Hanoi tonight and have the evening free to sample some of Hanoi’s renowned fare. (B,L)

Day 6 — Hanoi/Da Nang

We fly this morning to Vietnam’s third largest city, Da Nang, situated at the mouth of the Han River on the country’s south-central coast. Da Nang is the commercial and educational hub of central Vietnam and the third biggest economic center after Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi. Here we tour the acclaimed Museum of Cham Sculpture, home to the world’s largest collection of Cham sculptures and artifacts, all of which date from the 5th to 15th centuries. The Cham people are a small ethnic group which originated in Southeast Asia millennia ago – in fact, written records exist of Chams all the way back to the second century CE, but their numbers have dwindled to less than half a million worldwide. Culturally, the Cham people have been influenced by many forces ranging from Chinese to Indian to Arabian (indeed, the state religion was Hinduism for many centuries, but now a large number of Chams practice a hybrid form of Hinduism and Islam). Built in 1915, the museum is constructed, like the art inside, in Cham style, with simple lines, smooth corners, and windows open to the sea air.

After arriving mid-afternoon at our beachfront hotel, the remainder of the day and evening is at leisure. Dinner tonight is at our hotel. (B,D)

Day 7 — Da Nang / Hoi An

Early today we travel to the nearby town of Hoi An, an ancient market city which had the largest harbor in Southeast Asia during the 1st century CE. Now riddled with canals and waterways, Hoi An was originally the commercial capital of the Cham people before seeing a succession of Dutch, Chinese, Portuguese, and Japanese traders all contribute to the building of an architecturally diverse and colorful village, which is now a World Heritage site. Indeed, during the early part of the 17th century, Hoi An was known as one of the most important trading ports in all of Asia, dealing with tradesmen as far away as Egypt and England. These days the streets belong to pedestrians and bicyclists, as no cars are allowed in the old town – making it perfect for exploring on foot.

We take a walking tour past the low, tile-roofed houses lining narrow streets; the Japanese covered bridge; and the Chinese communal house. We then have the rest of the day at leisure to either remain in Hoi An and explore on our own, the town boasts numerous art galleries, shops, and tailors, or to return to our beachside resort for a relaxing afternoon.

Tonight we return to the town of Hoi An for a cooking lesson and dinner. (B,D)

Day 8 —Da Nang

This morning we visit a neighboring village, nestled amidst seemingly endless rice paddies. Here we gain a special insight into the everyday life of a local farming community as we walk through the village past modest homes, gardens of vegetables and fruit, the village temple, and husking mill. It’s a picture of a life many people live, but we rarely consider: water buffaloes plow the fields, villagers ride to market with produce piled high on their bicycles, and owning a television set connotes a certain level of prosperity. We see into the living rooms of homes open to the street, many with their pictures of Ho Chi Minh and shrines to their deities. Depending on the season, we may see the villagers engaged in threshing and harvesting.

We enjoy lunch together in a local restaurant, then have the remainder of the afternoon and evening at leisure. (B,L)

Day 9 — Da Nang / Hue

We depart this morning by coach for the ancient imperial capital of Hue, whose temples and attractions evoke its past grandeur as home to emperors and mandarins. Hue was the capital of Vietnam during the reign of the feudal Nguyen lords, from 1802 until 1945, and remained on the world stage due to its location near the border between North and South Vietnam. The city suffered considerable damage throughout the Vietnam War, coming mainly during the Tet Offensive of 1968. In contrast to many cities in Europe whose historical ruins were rebuilt after conflicts, Hue’s fascinating architecture was left as rubble for many years, as a slight from the Communist regime towards the previous “reactionary” Nguyen rulers.

After checking in at our hotel, we enjoy a special visit and a hosted lunch at the home of a local scholar to learn about Hue culture. Later this afternoon we embark on a ride in a traditional cyclo, a three-wheeled bicycle in which passengers sit across a bench in front and the driver pilots from behind.

From this unique vantage point, we tour the Imperial Citadel, whose innermost complex houses the Forbidden Purple City, where only the emperor, his family, and his servants were allowed entrance. A vast complex of palaces, residences, temples, courtyards, and gates, the Imperial Citadel was built in 1804 to resemble the Forbidden City of Beijing, and was guarded by more than six miles of moats and walls six feet thick. Today it is protected as a World Heritage site. We also visit the Dong Ba central market where locals buy their produce, fish, meat, and sundry items such as Vietnam’s ubiquitous conical hats, ironware, jewelry, and tea.

Tonight we enjoy a special Hue dinner outdoors (weather permitting), accompanied by a performance of traditional music. (B,L,D)

Day 10 — Hue

This morning we cruise along Hue’s Perfume River by sampan, a traditional, flat-bottomed boat used by coastal fishermen. Our destination is peaceful Thien Mu Pagoda, a Buddhist monastery that ranks among the city’s oldest and most important monuments. The pagoda was built in 1601 by the first ruler of the Nguyen dynasty, and its seven-story octagonal tower makes it the tallest religious building in Vietnam.

After admiring this symbol of Hue, we visit the palatial Tomb of Minh Mang (c. 1840), with its pavilions, reception hall, summer house, lakes, gardens, and courtyards modeled after the Ming Tombs of China. Surrounded by a forest and sitting on the west bank of the Perfume River, this complex contains an elaborate series of gates, pavilions, staircases, and bridges (three of which span the evocatively named Lake of 5 Impeccable Clarity), all leading to the emperor’s tomb. The tomb is only opened once every year, on the anniversary of Minh Mang’s death (January 20).

After, we visit a local Buddhist nunnery where we enjoy a vegetarian lunch as an added Smithsonian Journeys highlight. Following lunch, we visit two other tombs: Tu Duc, sitting in a narrow valley in a pine forest and considered one of the most beautiful works of royal architecture from the Nguyen dynasty; and Khai Dinh, an elaborate architectural mélange of European and Asian, ancient and modern styles.

Dinner tonight is on our own.(B,L)

Day 11 — Hue / Mekong Delta / Can Tho

Today is a travel day that begins with an early morning departure for the airport, where we board the one hour flight to Saigon

Upon arrival, we board our motorcoach for a relatively long (4.5-hour) transfer to the busy river port of Can Tho, the provincial capital where the various waterways that comprise the Mekong Delta converge – and where we spend the next two nights at our riverside hotel.

We arrive late afternoon with time to relax and enjoy the hotel’s amenities before we meet for dinner here tonight. (B,D)

Day 12 — Mekong Delta and Ho Chi Minh City

We rise early for a tour highlight, today’s excursion by boat to the bustling floating vegetable market at Cai Rang, one of many such markets on the Mekong’s lower reaches. The lifeblood of southern Vietnam and the world’s 12th-longest river, the Mekong River is surpassed only by the Amazon in terms of aquatic biodiversity. Millions of people live within the mighty river’s drainage basin, which counts as one of the country’s two “rice bowls,” as well as a major producer of vegetables and tropical fruit. It is along the river that locals conduct the business of everyday life, as we see farmers lined up cheek to jowl displaying and selling their goods from bamboo poles suspended over their boats as a form of advertising.

After this scenic outing, we visit Old Can Tho market on foot, soaking up more of Vietnamese market life. We enjoy lunch at a local restaurant, then have the remainder of the day and evening at leisure. (B,L)

Day 13 — Mekong Delta / Saigon

Today we travel by coach to Cai Be in the upper reaches of the storied Mekong. Here we board motorized sampans for an up-close look at river life as we explore the maze of tributaries and inlets that lead to tiny settlements and villages populated by fishermen and farmers. Reminiscent of the canals and creeks of the American Bayou, these channels wind through the overgrown landscape and provide transport, trade, and connection to the outside world for these settlements.

We enjoy lunch at a local restaurant, then travel by coach to Saigon (the name Ho Chi Minh City is used interchangeably). Once the proud capital of South Vietnam, Saigon was renamed in 1976 by the war’s Communist victors as Ho Chi Minh City and virtually closed to the outside world. Since the institution of economic and political reforms in the mid-1980s and the reentry of a peaceful and united Vietnam into the community of nations several years ago, Saigon has once again reclaimed its more cosmopolitan outlook – and its former name.

We reach our hotel late this afternoon, and dinner is on our own in this vibrant city. As always, our tour director will be on hand to offer restaurant recommendations. (B,L)

Day 14 — Ho Chi Minh City

History comes alive this morning with a visit to the former Presidential Palace which is now called Reunification Palace, the former wartime headquarters that remains preserved just as it was on April 30, 1975, when Communist tanks entered the city.

We continue on with visits to two well-known museums. Our first stop is Saigon’s Museum of Fine Arts, where we view contemporary art from local and international artists. Then we tour the History Museum, housing a fine collection of art and artifacts of Vietnam’s indigenous peoples.

After, we see the stunning Central Post Office and the Jade Emperor Pagoda, which was built in honor of this supreme Taoist god. Constructed in 1909 by Saigon’s Chinese community, the pagoda is still a working shrine used by locals and is known for its intricate wood panel carvings and statues depicting scenes from Taoist and Buddhist lore.

Later we attend a traditional water puppet performance, then enjoy dinner together at a local restaurant. (B,D)

Day 15 — Saigon / Cu Chi Tunnels

On this morning’s tour, we visit a place of infamy, the Cu Chi Tunnels. Built over a period of 25 years beginning in the 1940s to sabotage the French occupiers, the tunnels are marvels of engineering, stretching from Saigon to the Cambodian border. Parts of the tunnels descend several stories deep and include living areas, storage facilities, weapons factories, field hospitals, and kitchens. Americans will be most familiar with the tunnels because of the role they played during the war when these tunnels allowed the North Vietnamese to engage in combat in an area completely surrounded by Americans and South Vietnamese.

Those who choose to will have a chance to descend into one of the tunnels, while those choosing to remain outside will have ample opportunities to tour the excavations above. Our guide will tell us about each tunnel’s length and level of difficulty before we enter.

We return to our hotel in time for lunch on our own then the remainder of the day is free to explore as we wish. Saigon boasts virtually hundreds of pagodas and places of worship worthy of our time, including the Giac Lam Pagoda, the city’s oldest. Other options include a stroll along the city streets, where we enjoy the sight of thousands of bicycles and small motorbikes winding their way along; a shopping excursion for fine silks and locally made crafts; or a visit to one of the city’s colorful free markets.

Tonight we gather for a farewell dinner. (B,D)

Day 16 – Saigon / Depart for U.S.

Today is at leisure; we may wish to enjoy the hotel amenities or to further explore Saigon on our own.

Options include the Saigon Zoo and Botanical Gardens, home to many rare orchids, ornamental plants, and more than 100 species of mammals, reptiles, and birds; the Saigon Opera House, a beautiful French Colonial theater hosting spectacular plays and musicals; and the Bitexco Financial Tower Skydeck, offering 7 panoramic views of the city below.

Lunch and dinner are on our own today, and our rooms are reserved for late check-out. This evening, we depart for the airport and our overnight flight to the United States.

Please note: Due to earlier flight times, the day at leisure in Saigon is not available to guests on Cambodia: Angkor Wat extension. (B)

Day 17 – Saigon / Depart for the U.S.

We arrive in the United States and connect with our domestic flights home.

Included meals are denoted as follows: Breakfast (B), Lunch (L), Reception (R), Dinner (D)