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Vietnam & Myanmar Contrasts

Discover the kaleidoscope of cultures and histories that define Myanmar and Vietnam. Encounter incredible traditional cultures, admire picture-perfect landscapes and explore ancient heritage sites. Learn of glorious kingdoms and dynasties and turbulent recent histories which stand in stark contrast alongside the modern cities.  

HIGHLIGHTS

Various activities on sites

  • Exploring the city of Ho Chi Minh, Hue, Hanoi, and Yangon with their own unique culture
  • Tasting the delicious street food of Vietnam in Hoi An
  • Cruising the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Ha Long and the giant freshwater lake of Inle
  • Exploring the sea of temple in Bagan and learn about its history.

Unforgettable moments

  • Crawling the small tunnels of Cu Chi and learn about the Vietnam/American war
  • Strolling the charming street of the old town of Hoi An and admiring the local life
  • Admiring the beauty of the old town of Hue, home to the last dynasty of Vietnam
  • Admiring the vivid life of local fishermen during work on Inle Lake
  • Admiring the sea of temples in Bagan and learn about its magnanimous history

Nature exploration

  • The nature of central Vietnam whilst crossing the “sea of cloud” Hai Van Pass
  • The amazing nature of Ha Long Bay and its surrounding area
  • The nature of the giant Inle Lake and its surrounding area

Culture experience

  • The bustling culture of Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh city with the effect of western culture wave
  • The friendly culture of Hoi An and the graving culture of Hue
  • The peasant culture of Myanmar countryside in Inle lake and surrounding area

Map

Detailed schedule

Day 1 - Welcome to Ho Chi Minh (Saigon)

Upon arrival at Tan Son Nhat International Airport, Sonasia’s guide & driver will pick you up and transfer directly to the hotel in the center of Ho Chi Minh City.

Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC) is Vietnam at its most dizzying: a high-octane city of commerce and culture that has driven the country forward with its pulsating energy. A chaotic whirl, the city breathes life and vitality into all who settle here, and visitors cannot help but be hauled along for the ride.

Free to stroll around the town for your own exploration.

Overnight in Ho Chi Minh City.

Notes

Check out the Ho Chi Minh City travel guide

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Day 2 - Vespa Tour Exploring the Hidden Gems of Saigon

Experience the dynamic Ho Chi Minh City, still called Saigon by the locals. There are many ways to explore the bustling city of Ho Chi Minh, however none is as exhilarating as on the back of a Vespa scooter! Pillion with a professional driver on a ride around Ho Chi Minh City, while taking in sites. Enjoy a local lunch before departing on a vespa tour.

Head to the monument of Thich Quang Duc, a Vietnamese Mahayana Buddhist monk who burned himself to death on June 11, 1963 to protest against the persecution of Buddhists by South Vietnam’s Ngo Dinh Diem administration.

Then take a quick stop at the colourful Ho Thi Ky flower market.

Roll through Chinatown to Nhi Phu Temple built in the end of the 17th century by Chinese immigrants from the Fukien Province.

Although the exact construction date is unknown, an inscription on the pagoda's ancient bell dates the pagoda to pre-1765. Nhi Phu Temple is built in a Khẩu (gate) architectural style with an open yard in the center. Its roof is covered with tubular tiles lined with bas-relief mosaics made from broken ceramics, depicting the eight immortals of Taoism including apricot trees, orchids, bamboo and  of course dragons and phoenix.

Continue with a short walk through the alley full of tailor’s supplies. Then back to Nhi Phu Temple to return to district one by bike. On the way stop at a Chinese Medicine shops for an explanation about Thuốc Bắc - medicine from herbs or Thuốc tàu – medicine from China.

Leave Chinatown and drive through the tunnel to District 2 where to see downtown Saigon from a different perspective and have a chance to see developing Ho Chi Minh City.

Visit a local market before heading back to District 1 for a twin set of neighbouring landmarks: the Post Office and the Cathedral of Notre Dame. Note the architecture and the old map of Saigon that shows how the city transformed into a modern one. 

Move to the remarkable Reunification Palace and the previous CIA Office before a drive down Dong Khoi Street or People’s Revolution street. Pass by the historic Opera House (now the Municipal Theatre). Recognise the square where scenes from the film by Phil Noyce, The Quiet American was filmed.

Pass HCM City People’s Committee (formerly Hôtel de Ville) which is one of the most photographed buildings in Vietnam - notable for its gardens, ornate facade and elegant interior lit with crystal chandeliers. Enjoy a delicious lunch at one of the best restaurants in Saigon, Monsoon, serving up delicacies from Indochina.
In the afternoon step off the beaten track and take a stroll to the oldest quarter of the city (a car will be at disposal should it be needed.

Explore Saigon’s well-kept secret - Antiques Street, Le Cong Kieu, where genuine antiques are mixed in with genuine fakes: Aladdin oil lamps, carved wooden chests, Marelli copper fans, opium pipes, abacuses, etc. Find military cast-offs from the Vietnam War, observe for relics from the French Indochina era. Follow a typical street to reach the Beaux-Arts Museum, a superb neo-colonial building home to various modern arts. Explore the art galleries surrounding the museum, where local artists gladly display their talent.

Spend the rest of the evening at leisure.

Overnight in Ho Chi Minh.

Notes

Art Museum is closed on Monday.

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Day 3 - Ho Chi Minh - Cu Chi Tunnel // Da Nang - Hoi An

Get a first-hand look at the Vietnam-American war history with this half-day morning tour of the Cu Chi Tunnels. Travel 1.5-hours northwest of Ho Chi Minh City and be led through the jungle as the guide explains the history of war, the ingenuity of the Cu Chi residents and the daily activities of the people. Have a chance to crawl through the tunnels before returning to the city.

Depart Ho Chi Minh City for the morning drive to Cu Chi district. Leave the city behind and watch as the scenery changes to views of rice paddies, villagers drying noodles by the side of the road and other scenes typical southern Vietnam.

Arrive and start the visit of the famous Cu Chi Tunnels which consist of an incredible underground tunnel network constructed by Vietnamese resistance fighters (Viet Cong) during both the French and American wars. Start the visit with the Ben Dinh or Ben Duoc sections of the tunnel. Here imagine what it was like to be a guerrilla complete with Russian Carbine rifles and AK 47’s on display. In the late morning journey back to Ho Chi Minh City. 

Enjoy delicious Vietnamese lunch at Hoa Tuc, located in the most famous courtyard of a previous Opium Factory.

After lunch, continue to Tan Son Nhat Airport for a 40 min flight to Danang. On arrival be welcome and go on a 30-minute drive to Hoi An.

Freshen up at the hotel before going on a walking tour to discover the ancient port town of Hoi An. Despite the passing of 200 years and the ravages of weather and war, the centre of Hoi An remains much the same as it was in its heyday. A walking tour is the best way to see this marvellous town.

After the walking tour, enjoy dinner at Mango Rooms, one of Hoi An’s best restaurants which serves original and creative cuisine that can only be described as Vietnam-Latin American-Japanese fusion. With a combination of refreshing flavours, beautiful presentations and a relaxing atmosphere this eatery has won the hearts of many loyal and happy customers.

Immerse in the romantic atmosphere by the bank in the old town lit up by thousands of lanterns at night. Enjoy the rest of the night at leisure.

Overnight in Hoi An.

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Day 4 - Hoi An Street Food Tasting Tour

This morning, embark on a unique street food tasting tour for a different side of Hoi An through its food. Visit a local market off the tourist map then sit down to sample an astounding 36 local delicacies bought directly from the vendors - from sweet to savoury, noodles, sticky rice, a myriad of spring rolls, tropical fruits and dishes only found in Hoi An.

Start at a colourful and friendly ‘wet market’ and get the chance to meet and chat with stall holders to learn more on the huge choice of ingredients on sale. Everything from silk worms, a huge variety of fresh fragrant herbs and vegetables to meat and fish sections will be seen.  Leave the market and continue along both high streets and back streets, discovering out-of-the-way producers and street vendors making and selling a wide variety of exotic foods.

The final destination will be a comfortable restaurant where the tasting session will begin. A wide selection of local delicacies bought directly from the vendors – will be tried. Learn the names and meanings of different local foods and how to pronounce the names as well as the main ingredients and how they should be eaten. Get a deeper understanding of Vietnamese cuisine  and the purpose of the tour is to give an opportunity to try the huge variety of foods of local Hoi An people – the benefit also goes back to the vendors as all dishes are bought directly from them.

Spend the afternoon free to wander around this  beautiful town or take some time to relax at the beach resort.

Overnight in Hoi An

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Day 5 - Hoi An - Hue

Leave Hoi An after lunch (plenty of time to pick up those handmade items) for Hue, the former imperial capital of Vietnam. In Danang visit the Cham Museum, before climbing over the ‘Pass of Ocean Clouds’. Arrive in Hue late in the afternoon and transfer to hotel.

Freshen up at the historic hotel before dinner at one of Hue’s beautiful garden houses known locally as ‘nha vuon’.  These houses are traditional, privately owned, and set in large and attractive formal gardens. Some have connections with the old Royal Imperial Court and the house’s traditional architecture has long been associated with the natural environment and the ancient belief of ‘feng-shui’.

Enjoy the rest of the evening at leisure.

Overnight in Hue.

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Day 6 - Hue - Exploration

Pick up from the hotel by cyclo and head to dai noi ‘Old City’ to Tinh Tam Lake where the Emperors used to come to relax; full of lotus flowers in summer there are many local style coffee shops around the lake where university students come to study.

Continue by cyclo to Tay Loc Market which is located in the northwest part dai noi. This market is mostly for locals and is rarely visited by tourists.

From Tay Loc transfer by vehicle to the beautiful pagoda which dates back to 1843. What is most interesting at the pagoda are the eunuch tombs from the former Royal Court which in the whole city of Hue are only found here. If in Hue on Thursday or Sunday mornings between 0900-1000 it is the gathering place for up to 20 Buddhist monks and nuns who gather together to pray and read aloud scriptures. This is a fascinating time and highly recommended.

Ho Quyen, which was an arena where duels between elephants and tigers were fought for the entertainment of former Kings, will be visited next. The last fight was held here in 1904 and although small, there is a chance to climb the nearby ramparts and gaze down upon the area where the animals once fought.

At the end of the tour with a visit to the recently restored An Dinh Palace where magnificent murals can be seen, as well as the stunning façade where oriental and European designs are integrated

Enjoy lunch in Hue at one of the city’s most renowned restaurants, Ancient Hue.

In the afternoon, see the tomb of the former emperor Minh Mang which is located in a tranquil setting of gardens and ponds.

At the end of the afternoon head back to the hotel and enjoy the rest of the day at leisure.

Overnight in Hue.

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Day 7 - Hue // Hanoi

After breakfast, be transferred to the airport to depart for the Hanoi bound flight. Upon arrival in Hanoi Airport, be met by the local guide and transferred to the hotel to check in before meeting a specialist street food guide and driver. Continue to the centre of Hanoi, where the tour be mostly conducted on foot so be sure to wear comfortable walking shoes.

The expert guide today is a local hospitality industry insider and food blogger, with an enormous passion for his country's cuisine, and a large following both in Vietnam and internationally. He created awareness of locally known street food dishes combined with cultural adventures, entertaining his readers since 2005.

Quirky observations also found their way into both local and international media and his experience managing some of Hanoi 's finest dining establishments along with his special interest in street-food (he's shared many hours trawling the street stalls and markets) make him the genuine, local authority on  Hanoi 's food scene. 

Stroll through Old Quarter, past the old east gate to Thanh Ha Market. Along the way delicacies, strange food items and an explanation of Vietnamese food practices will be given. This busy, eclectic market is alive with the sights and sounds of Hanoi and is the essence of Vietnamese culture.

Continue through the streets of the Old Quarter to Dong Xuan market to sample some local treats such as pho tiu and bun dau. The guide will explain the routine of Vietnam meal times and indigenous/unusual ingredients eaten. Stroll up ‘food alley’ to see other dishes on offer.

From here visit the food sections of Hanoi’s main market, Dong Xuan. See dried goods and aromatics, the essentials of Vietnamese cuisine.

Walk down to Hang Than Street to view ceremonial cake stalls and taste a special French influenced dessert. An explanation on traditions and food gifts for celebrations will be given. Continue back into the Old Quarter via Hang Cot Street – check specially treated fruit which are dependable on the seasons and a common snack in Vietnam.

Walk along Phung Hung Street through temporary market stalls and observe the changing market scenes in Hanoi and how modernisation is shaping tradition. At the end of the tour stop at one of the Old Quarter busiest (yet smallest) coffee shops for a well-earned sit down and coffee before transferring back to the hotel.

Spend the rest of the day at leisure.

Overnight in Hanoi

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Day 8 - Hanoi - Ha Long Bay

Following breakfast leave Hanoi for a 4-hr drive to Halong Bay, the mystical scenery of Halong Bay where thousands of limestone islands jut out of the emerald sea, sculpted into bizarre shapes and surrounded by colorful floating villages is a truly breathtaking destination.

Arrive at the jetty in Halong City towards noon and proceed with check-in formalities. After a welcome onboard, lunch will be served while cruising towards the bay itself. In the afternoon, enjoy some visits and/or activities (depending on each boat’s itinerary) or just spend some time relaxing on board. Towards the end of the day the boat sets anchor for the night among the karst formations. Dinner is served on board.

Overnight aboard Halong Bay

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Day 9 - Ha Long Bay - Yangon

On the return to Halong City enjoy a breakfast on board or an early lunch as the boat weaves through strange-shaped limestone rock formations. Upon disembarkation the driver will meet for the transfer to Hanoi Airport for the 1635 Vietnam Airlines flight to Yangon.

On arrival at the Yangon airport, be welcomed by the tour guide. Transfer to the hotel for check in and a chance to freshen up and relax.  

Enjoy a welcome dinner this evening at the hotel of choice.

Overnight in Yangon.

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Day 10 - Yangon - Exploration

Enjoy breakfast at the Hotel before commencing a day of sightseeing in this evocative city.

Be picked up by the guide and driver at the hotel and venture downtown to explore the city centre and its fabulous mix of architecture and sites. The streets are filled with historical buildings many of which have a faded colonial charm not seen elsewhere in Asia. Start at the post office – a lovely historic building- and walk to Sule Paya in the middle of downtown, passing by Strand Hotel, Mahabandoola Garden and Independence Monument along the way. Then visit Little India and Chinatown, a colourful cacophony of restaurants, temples and markets.

Lunch at a local restaurant where delicious Burmese cuisine is served in a clean, comfortable environment.

After lunch visit Kyaukhtatgyi Pagoda, home to a 70-meter long reclining Buddha. A visit to Kyaukhtatgyi provides a great overview of Buddhism with murals depicting the life of Buddha, the feet of the statue carved with traditional symbols and often many locals gathering to pay homage and pray.

Continue to a local tea shop for a chance to experience an integral part of Burmese life: drinking tea! Select from an array of snacks and enjoy a coffee or tea amidst businessmen, friends and families who gather at the tea shop to socialise or conduct business.

Next take a guided tour to Kandawagyi Park, one of central Yangon’s greenest spots. Here,l see the glittering Karaweik barge, a replica of the royal barge, and the vast lake with views of Shwedagon in the background. Depending on the day of the visit Kandawgyi may be busy with local families who come here on the weekend to relax in the fresh air.

From here, continue to Shwedagon Pagoda the most revered Buddhist temple in Myanmar. Although the origins of the pagoda are unclear, the local legend states that the original structure was built 2500 years ago then renovated several times until taking its current shape in the 15th century. The 8-sided central stupa is 99 meters tall and gilded with gold leaf and is surrounded by 64 smaller stupas. Learn all about the massive complex while the guide explains why this temple is so revered. Enjoy breathtaking views of the golden stupa from this vantage point.

Dinner this evening is at House of Memories Restaurant, an old colonial style mansion set in a beautiful garden. Once used as the BIA (Burma Independence Army) and BDA (Burma Defense Army) Head Quarters, the building is full of memories of the people who embarked on the long walk toward gaining independence for Myanmar. Wander through the house looking at the historic remnants on display including a room named after General Aung San, which was once his office and still contains his desk and typewriter.

Overnight in Yangon.

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Day 11 - Yangon - Heho - Inle Lake

This morning, transfer to Yangon Airport for the flight to Heho.  Here enjoy a one-hour scenic drive to Nyaung Shwe, the gateway village to the lovely Inle Lake.
Be escorted by a private local motorboat to the luxurious hotel for check in.  Along the way, pass stilted villages, the leg-rowing Intha fishermen, and floating gardens anchored to the lake’s bottom with bamboo poles.

Check in to the hotel, a resort nestled near the lake’s shores. The stilted bungalow offers spectacular views from the balconies.

After freshening up, be taken on a private boat out on the lake to visit Phaung Daw Oo Pagoda, the lake's main sanctuary, before returning to the resort.

If there is time, stop for a coffee break (client’s account) at Inthar Heritage House. Not only are the cakes and coffee delicious but the house also has a superb display of information about traditional Inthar culture and history.

Return to the hotel in time for sunset. This evening enjoy a traditional Shan Style dinner at the hotel, served on lacquer plates.

Overnight on Inle Lake.

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Day 12 - Inle Lake - Indein - Inle Lake

Optional: Wake up early and visit the lake’s morning market on the way to Indein. The market rotates location on a 5-day basis and is a colourful spectacle with vendors gathering from the villages around the lake to buy and sell their wares.

This morning, enjoy a relaxing boat trip along a small canal to the Pa-oh village of Indein.  Explore the area on foot, strolling around the village and wander through the beautiful Alaung Sitthou area.  Alaung Sitthou is filled with picturesque ancient stupas and has magnificent views of the lake below.

Lunch today is a highlight of many people’s visit to Inle Lake. Stop at a village for a private lunch at an Intha house. Enjoy traditional Inthar dishes while siting on cushions around a low table, a unique chance to learn about and experience Inthar culture firsthand.

Then, visit the lake’s villages to learn about the cottage industries. Visit the weaving village of Inpawkhone where beautiful textiles are produced from silk and lotus roots. Continue to a cheroot factory where typical Burmese cigars are made by hand.

Return by boat to the hotel for a relaxing afternoon at the hotel.

This evening, enjoy dinner at the hotel.

Overnight on Inle Lake

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Day 13 - Inle Lake - Nyaung Shwe - Heho - Bagan

After a leisurely breakfast, check out of the hotel and transfer to the town of Nyaung Shwe. Visit the local monasteries and nunneries as well as the colourful morning market where dozens of stalls are set up selling flowers, produce and other goods.

Enjoy lunch at Viewpoint Restaurant, widely regarded as the best Shan food in Myanmar.

Then transfer to Heho Airport for the flight to Bagan. Upon arrival in Bagan transfer to the hotel and enjoy the rest of the evening at leisure.

Overnight in Bagan

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Day 14 - Bagan - Exploration

Begin today with a visit to the Nyaung Oo Market where dozens of vendors come to sell their fresh produce and products.  The market is at its busiest early in the morning as the locals come to do their shopping. This is a great opportunity to observe the daily lifestyle of the friendly locals. Then continue to the glittering Shwezigon Pagoda, a prototype of later Myanmar stupas.

Next, visit Wetkyi-In Gubyaukgyi, a cave temple with exquisite jatakas mural paintings.  Continue to the elegant Htilominlo Temple, noted for its fine plaster carvings and glazed sandstone decorations.

Take a break midday to escape the heat and enjoy lunch at leisure. 

This afternoon visit the New Bagan area and one of its many lacquer-ware workshops.  Here  observe the traditional technique of making these handcrafted products from start to finish. The process takes incredible skill and patience and Bagan’s craftsmen are well renowned for their fantastic lacquer products.

As today comes to a close, travel to the boat jetty and embark on a sunset cruise.  Enjoy a cocktail and a stunning view of Bagan while cruising along the Irrawaddy River.

Spend the remainder of this evening is at leisure.

Overnight in Bagan.

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Day 15 - Bagan - Yangon

This morning, continue sightseeing Bagan at Ananda temple, an architectural masterpiece of the early-style temple. Nearby, Ananda Okkyaung is one of the few surviving brick monasteries from the early Bagan period.

Travel by horse carriage among the temples starting at Ananda and passing dozens of monuments. Stop along the way to take photos or explore hidden temples. The slower pace of the horse and cart is a relaxing way to see the wonders of Bagan from a different perspective.

After lunch, taken at leisure, be transferred to the airport for the flight to Yangon. Upon arrival, transfer to the hotel.

This evening enjoy a special farewell dinner. The elegant Le Planteur Restaurant serves a variety of French and Asian cuisines, freshly prepared by top chefs.

Overnight in Yangon.

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Day 16 - Yangon - Departure

This morning head to Bogyoke Market, also referred to as Scott Market, for its colonial architecture and inner cobblestone streets. Browse the aisles of handmade goods and look for the perfect souvenir from this Myanmar holiday. (note: Closed on Mondays and public holidays)

Spend the remainder of the day at leisure. Choose to go on additional sightseeing or shopping before transferring to the airport for the onward flight.

For those with more time we recommend joining one of our exclusive day trips to further explore the wonders of Yangon. Below are just a few ideas.

  • Art and Antiques Tour: This full day tour reveals the city’s rich history through its art and antiques. Visit several antiques shops tucked away in a residential neighbourhood where the goods echo the years past. Dine at a 100-year old colonial house filled with furniture and remnants of General Aung San’s revolutionary period and spend the afternoon exploring the city’s art galleries.
  • Yangon for Foodies: Get a taste for Burmese food and culture with our half day guided ‘Yangon for Foodies’ tour. Visit some of the city’s best fresh markets, sample tasty treats, sip a cuppa with the locals in a tea shop and enjoy a traditional curry lunch. From the sweet fried donuts to the strange fermented tea leaf salad, get to try it all! (Lunch included)
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It's a new era for this extraordinary and complex land, where the landscape is scattered with gilded pagodas and the traditional ways of Asia endure.

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Larb! Larb! Larb!

If you have already traveled to Laos, you will realize that it is one of the highlighted dishes of your trip.

Larb is basically a salad - made out of meat. (So, like, the best KIND of salad, right?). It’s a meat salad from Laos that has made its way into Thailand and other areas of Southeast Asia, as well as many countries in the world.

Like other dishes in Southeast Asian cooking, the dish combines savory flavors with fresh ones - fresh herbs like cilantro, scallions, and mint, and fresh lime juice. The addition of toasted ground rice also adds texture and nuttiness to the final dish.

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