Vietnam, a coastline of a socialist country with 82 million people and a 2000-year history, officially opened to tourism in the early 1990s. Ever since, travelers have been captivated by a landscape of great natural beauty, Chinese, French and other colonial influences woven into the architecture and cuisine, and incredibly friendly people untroubled by their complex past. From north to south, Vietnam constantly displays its vibrant diversity in: hill tribe villages surrounded by lush green rice paddies in mountain valleys of the north; gracious French colonial buildings and tiny workshops in the leafy capital, Hanoi; fishing boat villages floating among the limestone mountains rising out of Halong Bay; colorful Chinese temples and sedate wood beam merchant houses in the riverfront trading post of Hoi An; carved sandstone ruins of the Hindu-influenced Champa kingdom in the central Vietnam foothills; grand remains of an Imperial compound in Hue; energetic markets and street culture in the commercial capital, Saigon; and canals busy with boat trade between villages scattered on islands throughout the Mekong Delta.
Hanoi, the "Paris of Asia" is one of the world's most enjoyable cities, well known for its boulevards of French colonial architecture, its exquisite modern art galleries and upscale boutiques, and the numerous traditional craftsmen still based in the Old Quarter. Hanoi remains the artistic and cultural heart of Vietnam. Our Vietnam tours include in-depth walking tours of Hanoi's Old Quarter, the heart of the city's trade for over 2000 years. More than 70 streets are dedicated to specific goods: silk clothing, embroidery, silver products, wood turner's street, shiny paper products, herbal medicine, bamboo goods, fish sauce, tin ware, toys, linens, and cooking utensils. We take our travelers to Hanoi's most impressive modern art galleries and silk stores for custom clothing. A highlight of the city is its cuisine, including Hanoi's cafes and patisseries, its Buddhist vegetarian meals at small temples, its famous spicy fried fish dish, Pho noodle soup for breakfast, and the upscale restaurants in restored French villas. Visit its excellent museums, including the Fine Arts Museum, the Museum of Ethnology, and the Women's Museum. Ride a cyclo around the Hoan Kiem Lake in the middle of the city. Visit the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum and his sparse teak house on stilts. Other cultural attractions include the One Pillar Pagoda and the Temple of Literature
- Vietnam's first university that dates back to 1070. Our tours also include a performance of Water Puppets Theater, a Vietnamese folk tradition in which puppets act out scenes from traditional Vietnamese stories and fables, all accompanied by great humor and classical Vietnamese music. From Hanoi, we encourage you to visit Halong Bay for a day aboard a private Chinese junk cruise in this world-famous bay dotted with thousands of limestone islands. Alternatively, spend a memorable night aboarda luxury cruise. Cruise the islands, enjoy incredible scenery, and perhaps also opt to participate in kayaking, a cooking class, swimming, visits to local villages, and tai chi. Other side trips from Hanoi include tours of ruins, craft villages such as the pottery village in Bat Trang, biking to rural villages and temples, and the dramatic Perfume Pagoda.
Recommended luxury hotels in Hanoi include the Sofitel Legend Metropole Hanoi and the Hilton Opera Hanoi.
Saigon (Ho Chi Minh) Tours
The southern city of Saigon is Vietnam's most energetic and modern city. Our tours include walking tours of Saigon's markets and main landmarks, including Notre Dame Cathedral, the colonial Post Office, the Hotel de Ville, and Dong Khoi, the city's main shopping street. We take a cyclo to Cholon (Chinatown) to the Thien Hau Pagoda, the Binh Tay Wholesale Market, and the colorful Ben Thanh produce market. Other attractions include the War Remnants Museum and the Reunification Palace. From Saigon, Artisans of Leisure travelers have the option to visit the Mekong Delta, cruising its narrow canals and visiting local villages, fish markets, and fruit gardens. We also recommend a day in the countryside, surrounded by rice paddies and small villages, to attend the noon ceremony of the Cao Dai sect, a religion in Vietnam that fuses Buddhist, Taoist, Confucian, Christian, and Islamic elements. Cao Dai has over three million followers in Vietnam, and the daily mid-day ceremony at the temple has fascinated travelers and photographers in Vietnam for decades. Take in the chanting, gong music, and procession before continuing to the Cu Chi tunnels, a 75-mile-long underground maze of tunnels where thousands of Vietnamese fighters and villagers hid from the French and later the Americans. Back in Saigon, we take travelers to the city's best art galleries, museums, and stylish boutiques selling Vietnamese clothing, accessories, linens, and housewares.
Also enjoy exclusive activities such as a vegetarian lunch at a pagoda with Buddhist nuns, or a private visit to a former American ambassador's home.
Our preferred hotel in Saigon is the Park Hyatt Saigon.
Hoi An and Danang
Central Vietnam is home to luxury resorts, beautiful secluded white beaches, ancient Cham ruins, old trading ports, sacred temples, royal tombs, and small towns with great shopping and dining. Danang and Hoi An are just twenty minutes apart - most of our tours now include accommodation at The Nam Hai, a luxurious new beach resort created by the founder of the Aman resorts. Tour the Cham Museum to see the sandstone sculptures left by the Cham people who occupied this part of Vietnam from the fourth to the 17th century. Also see Cham ruins in nearby My Son. Climb the Marble Mountains to view caves housing sacred Buddhist shrines. Take a boat ride along the tranquil Thu Bon River. Explore enchanting Hoi An. Watch fishing boats unload their catch at the vibrant riverside market. Tour old merchant homes built in diverse architecture reflecting the early Chinese, Japanese, Portuguese, French, and British traders. Have silk clothing made, sip Vietnamese iced coffee in Hoi An's quaint cafes, and relax at the beach.
Our preferred luxury resort in Hoi An is the new Nam Hai. We also recommend the Life Resort Hoi An or the Furama Resort in Danang.
Hue is one of Vietnam's ancient capitals and still an important intellectual and Buddhist center. Our tours include the Citadel (the Forbidden Purple City), once the residence of the Nguyen Emperors (1802-1945). We walk through small local riverside markets, dine on Hue's renowned Buddhist vegetarian cuisine, cruise the Perfume River to small pagodas, and drive through the countryside to serene royal mausoleums surrounded by pine forests, lakes, and lilly ponds.
Our preferred hotel in Hue is La Residence Resort & Spa.
Using the mountain chalet Victoria Hotel Sapa as our base, our travelers visit remote hill tribe markets near Sapa that attract H'mong, Red Dao, Tay, Xa Pho and Giay, including markets in Coc Ly, Bac Ha, and Sapa's famous Love Market. Explore Sapa's other famous attractions on foot, bikes, mopeds, and 4WDs. Other attractions include Mount Fansipan, the highest peak in Vietnam, the Tram Fon Pass, the Nui Hoang Lien Nature Reserve, bird watching, orchid gardens, waterfalls and caves.
Our preferred hotel in Sapa is the Victoria Hotel Sapa. Our travelers reach Sapa in a private, first class berth aboard the Victoria Express train between Hanoi and Lao Cai.
Elsewhere in Vietnam, we also arrange resort stays in Nha Trang at Evason Hideaway, a destination particularly recommended for younger travelers, honeymooners, or anyone interested in diving.
Many of our tours visit the Mekong Delta to explore the canals and floating markets, and enjoy a leisurely tour of rural Vietnam.