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Tet : The Vietnamese Lunar New year

Optional Pre-Tour Extension to Halong Bay (January 10 & 11, 2011)
Hanoi to Halong Bay

Kayaking Halong BayThe Gulf of Tonkin was once the haunt of Vietnamese and Chinese pirates, but it is in Halong Bay the romance of old Vietnam still lingers, with majestic karst islets randomly scattered and the odd red sailed junk clipping across the waters. With over 3,000 limestone and dolomite islets sprinkled over an area of 1,500 square kilometers, UNSECO World Heritage Site Halong Bay offers a wonderland of karst topography.

After breakfast, transfer by private car to Halong Bay through the scenic landscape of the rural northeast (3 hours). Arrive Halong port and board traditional wooden cruiser for private tour of Halong Bay with special seafood lunch banquet prepared on board. After exploration of the Hung Dao Cave, the largest grotto in Halong, begin paddling Halong Bay, exploring the bay by kayak, including floating villages, hidden beach coves, caves and lakes. Dinner banquet prepared by talented, onboard chef featuring fresh seafood from the bay (you are welcome to share hands-on preparation and cooking with the chef). (B,L,D)


Overnight on private boat with crew of five.

Halong Bay offers great opportunities for exploration by kayak, allowing access to floating villages, caves and deserted beach coves. This karst wonderland, a UNESCO World Heritage site, has over 2,000 limestone islets calming the South China Sea glassy smooth. The abundance of beach coves and caves have also served pirates well over the centuries. The boats on Halong Bay vary dramatically in quality, we lease only newer boats every season.

 
Halong Bay to Hanoi
Sunrise on the misty bay. After breakfast of baguettes, fresh strawberry jam, omelets, hot noodle soup, and a strong jolt of Vietnamese coffee to warm up, continued exploration of the bay by kayak until late morning. After farewell lunch with crew, return to Hanoi by private car (with optional stops at villages or touristy crafts cooperatives along the way).

 

After arrival in Hanoi, balance of evening free to explore the capital's fabulous culinary delights (ask us for recommendations and reservations if needed). (B,L)


 
Begin Tet Tour (January 12, 2011)
Arrive Hanoi, Vietnam

Arrive decades-old Noi Bai Airport, where ancient Russian MIG fighters still take to the air. The cultural and political capital of Vietnam, Hanoi has slumbered largely unchanged since the sixties. Step back in time on the French-built, tree-lined boulevards and old quarter, which has been continuously inhabited for over 1,000 years (Hanoi celebrates it's millennial anniversary in October, 2010).

 

Meet escort after clearing immigration* and customs at Noi Bai Airport and transfer to accommodation on Hoan Kiem Lake. Afternoon and evening at rest after the long flight. Dinner reservations and transport to one of Hanoi's finest restaurants.

* Note: visa required in advance of arrival (please check your pre-tour packet for forms and detailed instructions)

Airline
Private car transfer from Hanoi's Noi Bai Airport
METROPOLE
OSCAT/AEA,
31 Hai Ba Trung, Tel: (84-4) 934 0666 (Emergency evacuation coverage provided for all travelers)

 
Hanoi
Vietnam Bicycle Tour HanoiToday, sightseeing at Hanoi's more interesting landmarks, rising at dawn to wander the morning markets and witness Hanoians engaging in Tai Chi and other exercises before driving to visit the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum where "Uncle Ho" lies in state. Also visit to the nearby centuries-old Temple of Literature. After breaking for lunch featuring Cha Ca, a delicious 5th-generation turmeric grilled fish dish, at Cha Ca Va Long, exploring by foot in the central lake area and bustling Old Quarter, pausing to visit a local family in their traditional "tube" house.

 

As we wander the city, we'll note preparations for Tet being made, with special items such as cards, lanterns and kumquat trees being offered for sale.

 

In the evening, delightful water puppets theater — a performance art unique to Vietnam, before dining at one of the capital's fine local restaurants. (B,L.D)

 

Bia Hoi, or happy hour, is a post-work custom unique to Hanoi, with draft beer and snacks served up in street cafes. Other culinary treats? The best pho in the country is from Hanoi, don't miss a piping hot bowl (ask your guide for the better places).

 

Hanoi to Hue

Vietnam Bicycle Tour HueAfter breakfast, we'll return to Noi Bai Airport for a one-hour flight to Hue, the serene ancient Imperial Capital of Vietnam on the central coast. After arrival, lunch at our hotel before bicycle testing and orientation "cycling Vietnamese-style" — heading out on our bikes, touring along the Perfume River through the Imperial Citadel, a familiar site from TV images during the 1968 Tet Offensive, and to the peaceful Thien Mu Pagoda, Vietnam's most important Buddhist temple with panoramic views over the riverfront. As we loosen our legs, we'll admire how little Hue seems to have developed in contrast to booming Hanoi.

 

Late afternoon free for massage at the hotel followed by tea on the hotel veranda, or continued biking around what is arguably Vietnam's most pleasant city. For dinner, we'll transport by cyclo (pedicab) to a private dinner at a traditional wooden mandarin style home near the river to partake of Hue's local delicacies such as crab soup, banh xeo — Vietnamese crepes, and frozen creme caramel. (B,L,D)

 

Airline Vietnam Airlines []
LA RESIDENCE
Hue Central Hospital, 16 Le Loi, Tel: (84-54) 382-2325


Leaving Hanoi, we leave behind the artistic heart of the country, one not only flourishing but rapidly evolving. Rather than formal movements, contemporary Vietnamese art has been shaped more by political and social influences including colonial occupation, wars of liberation, partitioning of the country, socialism, and ultimately economic and cultural isolation (from which the country is now emerging). With no developed or strong artistic traditions to draw from, artists have looked to village life for inspiration, yet with new freedom are exploring modern subjects and mediums (Le An Dung's from Hanoi work is typical of this mix of old and new).

 
Hue

Vietnam's most tranquil city remains largely unchanged by economic expansion in the south. After breakfast, bicycling out onto the boulevards along the Perfume River and out into the countryside through seldom-visited villages, pausing to explore two of the finest examples of Vietnamese Imperial architecture, the Tu Duc and Khai Dinh Royal Tombs. After, return to Hue by bike taking a longer cycling route through the countryside, pausing for refreshments near the river and visiting secondary tombs by preference.

 

After returning to Hue, lunch along the river before continued riding out to visit Thien Mu Pagoda, Vietnam's most important Buddhist monument, before cycling tired legs back to our hotel for relaxing or optional massage before dinner. In the evening, optional transport by traditional, pedal-powered pedicab to dinner on your own. (B,L)

Not to miss: late afternoon drink at the lounge atop the Imperial Hotel with panoramic views over the city, looking out with your map to figure out where you cycled today. Where are the restaurants? It appears Hue would be the perfect setting for restaurants, with the Perfume River cutting through the city like the Seine through Paris. Alas, the people of Hue have no time for it, the city is renowned for education and deeper interests. Indeed, Ho Chi Minh was from the area.

 
Hue to Hoi An

Hoi An bikingFollowing an early breakfast, pedaling over the river through the Imperial Citadel — memorable to most Americans from the intense, month-long fighting that took place here during the 1968 Tet offensive. Continued riding along one of the most beautiful coastal settings in the world, passing emerald green rice fields fronting blue lagoons and over the Hai Van Pass affording dramatic views of the sweeping bay around Danang.

 

Pause at Lang Co Lagoon for a seafood lunch before an optional conquering the six-mile pass on our bikes, then continue by bus onto Hoi An, a quaint town that is typically everyone's favorite stop. After relaxing and freshening up, we'll boat along the Thu Bon River further upstream to dine at the pleasant Red Bridge Restaurant. (B,L)

Life Resort
Family Medical Practice, 50 Nguyen Van Linh, Danang, Tel: (84-511) 358-2699
Thai Binh Duong (Pacific) Hospital, 06 Phan Dinh Phung, Hoi An (84-510) 392-1888

 

Hoi An

City tour of Hoi An by foot and bicycle, touring the ancient Japanese port of trade frequented by Portuguese, Chinese and other traders. We'll see Tet preparations in full swing, including a Tet market in the center of town. Decorations are beginning to go up and you will see locals fixing up their houses and decorating.

 

Much of Hoi An's rare wooden architecture remains in this small, pleasant town. We will explore the elegant pagodas, bustling riverfront marketplace and distinctive cuisine. After lunch of traditional Cao Lao soup, easy cycling to Cua Dai Beach on the South China Sea for beach combing. Late afternoon Vietnamese cooking demonstration in town featuring local specialties by one of Vietnam's most talented chefs, or free time on your own for "on the spot tailoring" Hoi An is known for, or a boat excursion on the river. (B,L)

 
Day 7

Hoi An to Qui Nhon

Quin Nhon Rest StopEarly morning departure driving for a few hours until we reach our cycling point. Here, after refreshments including that now-addictive Vietnamese sweet coffee, we'll mount up to explore the small rice villages and coastal plain, where sandy beached front emerald rice fields.

 

After lunch, continued cycling along a route with scenic ocean views and villages canopied by swaying coconut palms. After skirting the city on our bikes, we'll arrive at the favorite Life Beach Resort in Qui Nhon, overlooking a deserted beach cove. Brief time to enjoy the tranquil waterfront or massage before a fabulous dinner banquet prepared by native french chef. Local specialties include lemongrass fish delicately baked in palm leaves. A well deserved night's rest to the sound of the ocean waves. (B,L,D)


LIFE RESORT

 

Qui Nhon to Nha Trang

Bicycle Touring on Vietnam's Central CoastOur bike ride from Qui Nhon to Nha Trang today covers some of Vietnam’s most scenic coastline, featuring deserted blue lagoons and stone promontories overlooking the waters below. Fishing villages dot the coast here, their bays filled with brightly colored boats. Not many travelers here, so lots of attention can be expected. We will stop to visit a family and learn how they celebrate Tet.

 

Lunch and a dip in the clear waters at scenic Dai Linh Beach. From here we'll pack up the bikes and shuttle another hour and a half until we arrive at the renowned Ana Mandara located on the waterfront. One of the finest resort hotels in Asia, a wonderful place to relax on the sand. Arranged dinner featuring shrimp spring rolls, fried squid with pineapples, steamed crab, fresh fish and other seafood delicacies. (B,L,D)


SIX SENSES ANA MANDARA RESORT

 

Nha Trang

Bicycle Tour Rest in Nha TrangIf the weather is great, we'll boat out for a half-day snorkeling, returning after floating in the transparent waters off the coast. Those who cannot bring themselves to leave the resort are welcome to lounge by the pool or on the sand (photo right) with broad views out over the bay. If the weather is overcast, we'll tour Nha Trang by bicycle although like any beach town the world around, interesting sites are limited, the Po Nagar Cham ruins being an exception.

 

Afternoon free to soak up the good vibes of Vietnam's largest beach town. A festive town year-round, it may be hard to spot what is being expressed for the lunar new year and what is not part of the tradition.

 

The evening nightlife spans the spectrum from disco to Jimmy Buffet bamboo bars on the sand, but mind the wallet -- pickpockets are among the shady characters who work the waterfront here, both local and foreign. (B)

 

Nha Trang to Dalat

Cycling into the Dalat PinesAfter a wonderful breakfast at the Ana Mandara, we'll shuttle one-hour outside of Nha Trang into the foothills of Vietnam's Central Highlands. Here the hardy will mount their bicycles to conquer the longest climb of the trip, a gradual but 30-kilometer (18 miles) long climb, taking us from the hot lowlands into the cool, crisp plateau of forests and sparse villages. Nearing the top, others will begin cycling one of Vietnam's most attractive and least driven roads, rolling hills through jungle and forest for about forty miles before we reach the outskirts of Dalat. Here, we'll spy the strawberry and other unique crops that Dalat is known for as we breeze into the city on our bikes, regrouping to ride the last little rise to our hotel.

 

After arrival, we'll enjoy some time at the stylish Dalat Sofitel Palace, completely restored to it's former colonial glory. After freshening up, we'll venture into town to dine at a local family place and stroll the downtown area to witness the lunar new year festivities taking place. (B,L,D)

 

DALAT SOFITEL PALACE

 
Dalat to Saigon
Bike Tour Vietnam Ho Chi Minh CIty TourToday exploring one of Vietnam's more unique, or unusual towns, depending on your perspective. Living at 3,000 feet, largely Catholic, and relatively prosperous the locals of Dalat look and feel different. Cowboys on the central lake? Yes, for serving the Vietnamese tourists who come to Dalat for the flowers and beauty, but like some fun mixed in as well (how Vietnamese). We'll explore one of the country's most interesting markets and other sites by bike, riding around the pleasant city's rolling hills. After lunch, we'll ride back to the hotel and dismount our bicycles for the last time. After refreshments and packing, we'll shuttle to Dalat airport for a one-hour flight to Saigon.

 

After arrival, transfer through what seems to be half of the city's five million scooters to hotel on central square. Lucky we're not doing any biking here! After 1945, Saigon was the largest and the most developed city in Asia and today, it is again a boomtown and one of Asia's most-rapidly-changing cities. Dinner free tonight and the options are the best in the country. (B,L)

 

CARAVELLE
OSCAT/AEA, 65 Nguyen Du Street Clinic, Tel: (84-8) 3829-8520

Saigon may be a shock after the rest of Vietnam, with nearly five million scooters and a rush of development the city is well on its way to becoming another Bangkok (although a uniquely Vietnamese one). Die hard curry fans should not miss lunch at the Saigon Mosque, the funky cafe in the rear serves up a hybrid Indian/Vietnamese 3rd-generation dishes.

 
Saigon
Tet Cycling in VietnamTet... today is the day. We'll awake to streets filled with flowers and Vietnamese celebrating new year's day (right). All of Saigon is out and the city has been made over to mark new years. We'll take in central district activities while
venturing out to explore Saigon's notable attractions, visiting central Saigon's historical sights by car, including the War Remnants Museum, French Colonial-era architectural attractions such as the Art Deco Post Office (designed by Eiffel), Notre Dame Cathedral, Reunification Palace and other historic and contemporary sites by preference and time permitting. Also, sampling various coffees (Vietnam is the world's second largest producer) and street cafes.

 

Farewell dinner at a popular outdoor restaurant with dishes prepared live for diners and featuring Tet and Saigonese specialties. (B,L)

 
Optional Post-tour Extension to Angkor

Saigon to Siem Reap, Cambodia

Angkor Cycling TourNo trip to Southeast Asia is complete without visiting the Khmer ruins at Angkor in neighboring Cambodia. A short, 50-minute hop away from Saigon lies the "Nile Valley of Asia," spectacular temples spread of hundreds of square miles on the northern plain near Tonle Sap Lake. On or off-bike, this UNESCO World Heritage site should not be missed.

 

We can arrange touring from two to five days, including all flights, accommodation, and escort. Also consider an optional stopover in Phnom Penh, the vibrant capital city.

 

Cambodia Flag [View our Cambodia Tour Itinerary]

 

Legend:
this flight is operated by another carrier
e-Ticket is available for this flight
B=Breakfast, L=Lunch, D=Dinner
 

Where's the mileage?

Bike Tour Vietnam at leisureOf course mileage varies from day to day, but the amount of cycling each day is entirely up to you -- we can please anyone's preference from ten to one hundred miles (we do, after all, organize trips for families with small children to pro cyclists looking for ultra-high mileage in the off season).

 

We typically ride after breakfast until lunch. Some will continue from there, others may not, shuttling ahead to stroll villages, towns, or other attractions and activities. We never have anyone finish their trip and comment they wish they had ridden less or more, we'll make sure you ride what you want to.