Hanoi | Dien Bien Phu | Hue | DMZ | Hoi An | Ho Chi Minh City
Cu Chi Tunnels | Mekong Delta
The Vietnamese left an indelible mark on the history of the 20th century. As the French War (1946-54) sounded the death knell of colonialism in Indochina, the subsequent American War (1965-75) became an international political, social, and cultural phenomenon that shaped the Cold War and irrevocably changed the world. Yet, so much more defines Vietnam.
This expedition immerses our travellers into the modern history and culture of this fascinating country. We engage Vietnam’s past through exclusive private meetings with key witnesses, as well as serious explorations – not mere visits – of iconic sites such as Ho Chi Minh’s Hanoi residence, Dien Bien Phu, the DMZ and the infamous Cu Chi tunnels. Staying in some of the country’s most opulent and character-filled hotels and sampling its rich culinary traditions, we experience Vietnam’s remarkable culture including extraordinary UNESCO World Heritage sites in Hanoi, Hue and Hoi An.
Throughout our journey, we aim to confront the conventional narrative of what is a highly contentious history. In the company of seasoned local and international experts, our in-depth exploration of the realities of events on the ground will uncover the captivating complexities of Vietnam’s past and help us understand the vibrant and beguiling country we see today.
Every Arcadia expedition provides you insider access to the most unforgettable and thought-provoking local experiences, curated exclusively by us for our travellers. Here are some of the Arcadia Exclusives on this trip:
Day 01 – Arrive Hanoi
On arrival at Noi Bai Airport, you are met at the arrivals gate by an Arcadia representative, who will assist you with a VIP fast track Immigration and Customs service. You will be then transferred by private vehicle to your hotel.
After our 6pm group welcome meeting, we stroll to a 19th-century French colonial villa to sample a tasting menu and begin our Vietnamese culinary journey.
Tonight we are joined for dinner by a member of the French Embassy in Hanoi, who will share with us the French perspective on the impact of colonialism on Vietnam.
Sofitel Legend Metropole Hanoi | Meals: D
Day 02 – Hanoi
This morning we visit Ba Dinh Square to take an in-depth look at the life of Ho Chi Minh, the charismatic leader who played a pivotal role in the nation’s journey towards independence.
We see the mausoleum where the former President’s embalmed body is maintained, visit his former residence and spend time at the fascinating Ho Chi Minh Museum, the best place in the country to learn more about his incredible story. Tracing Ho’s evolution towards anti-colonialism, nationalism and communism sets the scene for our expedition.
Following a lunch of the delicious Hanoi specialty Bun Cha, we visit Hoa Lo Prison, famously nicknamed the ‘Hanoi Hilton’ by US POWs. We explore the prison through the eyes of Mr Tam, a former officer, who was involved with the interrogation and classification of POWs. Mr Tam shares with us his stories and insight into the lives of servicemen such as John McCain, who lived within its walls.
We stop by the iconic Long Bien Bridge, a living relic built by the French in 1903. Heavily bombed during the American war, but always rebuilt quickly, the bridge has come to represent the resilient spirit of the Vietnamese people.
We finish our day with an exclusive look into our hotel’s wartime history, with a tour of its rediscovered bomb shelter led by a local historian. We learn the stories of guests such as Jane Fonda, who once sought shelter from U.S. air raids in these tunnels.
Sofitel Legend Metropole Hanoi | Meals: B, L
Day 03 – Hanoi
Today our focus is on Vietnam’s major 20th-century conflicts, with opportunities to explore the view from both sides. We first visit the Imperial Citadel of Thang Long, a UNESCO World Heritage site whose grounds house fortresses and imperial palaces. The focus of Hanoi’s military affairs for over 1000 years, the complex was used as a base for the North Vietnamese army during the American war. We visit the bunkers and preserved meeting rooms where top military brass planned the successful defeat of the US-backed Saigon regime.
Next we visit the Vietnam Military History Museum, whose artefacts and vivid displays offer a glimpse of life during both the French and American conflicts and an outline of Vietnam’s road to independence.
Lunch today is at KOTO, a social enterprise restaurant used as a hospitality training school for disadvantaged youth. We continue on to Huu Tiep Lake, where the remains of a U.S. B-52 bomber are a stark reminder of war and on to Truc Bach Lake, to visit a monument commemorating the shooting down of the plane piloted by John McCain, the late US Senator.
At a local coffee shop, we meet with U.S. veteran Chuck Searcy. Chuck first came to Vietnam in 1967 to fight in the war, but became conflicted between U.S. policy and his newfound respect for Vietnam and its people. Learn about Chuck’s story and how he returned to Vietnam to help set up a disability program for children. Chuck remains active in post-war recovery efforts, helping to clear bombs and mines and providing support for families who continue to struggle in the aftermath of the war. During your chat, the U.S. veteran gives you a personal, first-hand account of his experiences in Vietnam and the progress that has been made in bringing closure to the tragic legacies of the war.
Tonight we go on a street food tasting tour, sampling delicious northern specialities like a local as we walk through the hidden alleyways and bustling markets of Hanoi’s charming Old Quarter.
Sofitel Legend Metropole Hanoi | Meals: B,L,D
Day 04 – Hanoi > Dien Bien Phu
The remote town of Dien Bien Phu, just kilometres away from the Laotian border, is home to one of the most significant historic sites of the 20th-century. It was here in 1954 that the Viet Minh defeated the French, marking the first time in modern history that a guerrilla army defeated a heavily-armed colonial military force in a major set-piece battle. Signalling the end of almost 100 years of French colonial influence in Indochina, events here led directly to later U.S. involvement in the region.
After arriving on our short flight from Hanoi, we begin our exploration of this seldom-visited historic site at the Dien Bien Phu Museum. We then immerse ourselves in some of the well-preserved battlefield sites, including Hill A1, one of the last French outposts to fall to the Viet Minh, and the bunker of French commander Colonel De Castries. A visit to the A1 Cemetery serves as a reminder of the human cost of the battle. More than 8,000 Vietnamese and 1,600 French troops lost their lives over the course of the 55-day battle.
Muong Thanh Dien Bien Phu Hotel | Meals: B,L
Day 05 – Dien Bien Phu
Travelling 20km outside of Dien Bien Phu, this morning we visit the headquarters of General Vo Nguyen Giap, who led the Dien Bien Phu campaign from this base located in a pristine forest. Considered one of history’s best military strategists, we explore how General Giap was able to achieve the seemingly impossible by positioning heavy artillery in the mountains surrounding the French positions while commanding 40,000 troops.
We then drive to Pa Khoang Lake to explore the natural wildlife and stunning scenery that characterises this part of Vietnam. We stop in at small villages of the Thai and Kho Mu ethnic groups, who continue to live in traditional ways, following centuries-old habits and customs.
Muong Thanh Dien Bien Phu Hotel | Meals: B,L
Day 06 – Dien Bien Phu > Hue
After exploring the local market at Dien Bien Phu, we begin our journey to Hue, flying to the old royal capital via Hanoi.
This evening we indulge in a special culinary experience at our 1930s French art deco hotel – the Governor’s Dinner. We begin with sunset cocktails on the terrace, overlooking the tranquil Perfume River, followed by a unique gastronomic exploration of Hue cuisine inspired by the colonial era.
Azerai La Residence | Meals: B,D
Day 07 – Hue
We begin our exploration of Hue at the Imperial Citadel, the seat from which the Nguyen Dynasty ruled between 1802 and 1945. Despite sustaining extensive damage during the American War, the citadel still contains over 100 buildings to explore, including the Forbidden Purple City, the former living quarters of the emperor. We explore in detail the imperial family’s reaction to the gradual French encroachment on its Empire and trace their ultimate demise in the face of Japanese occupation and the subsequent communist revolution.
Next, we visit the local Historical and Revolutionary Museum for an insight into the crucial role that Hue played in the American War, particularly during the Battle of Hue in 1968, a major flashpoint of the Tet Offensive.
We visit the home of a local historian who specialises in the culture and history of the Nguyen Dynasty and ancient Hue. The researcher, who is also a veteran of the Battle of Hue, happily shares with you his vast knowledge of Hue heritage and tradition as well as his own personal insights into life in the former imperial city since the time of the war. After a brief introduction and chat at his home, we head out for a walk to uncover more stories about the city’s cultural landmarks such as Dong Ba gate and the site of ‘Phase Line Green’ during the battle of Hue in 1968.
We stop by Dong Ba Market on the way back into town to discover a traditional market brimming with local produce and handicrafts.
Azerai La Residence | Meals: B,L
Day 08 – DMZ
An early start takes us to the DMZ (Demilitarized Zone) in Quang Tri Province. We spend a full day exploring one of the most fiercely contested strips of land in history, an area that served as the demarcation line between North and South Vietnam from 1954 until the end of the American War in 1975. Our route along the old Ho Chi Minh Trail takes in iconic war sites such as Khe Sanh, the Rockpile, Dakrong Bridge and Lang Vay. We explore the Vinh Moc tunnels, built by local villagers in the 1960s and 70s to protect guerrillas and civilians from constant U.S. bombings – another living example of the fortitude of the Vietnamese people in the face of overwhelming military power.
Visiting the Mine Action Visitor Centre, we meet the people behind Project RENEW, an NGO championed by U.S. veteran Chuck Searcy. The project helps to clear bombs and mines and provides support for struggling families, giving us a further understanding of the many challenges of post-war recovery efforts.
Azerai La Residence | Meals: B,L
Day 09 – Hue > Hoi An
Choose your own adventure
This morning our travellers can choose from the following included options in Hue:
Art and Architecture Tour of Hue
Explore Hue’s traditional and contemporary art and architecture through visits to Nguyen Dynasty buildings, palaces and gardens. Highlights include An Dinh Palace, a classic structure of the imperial city best known for its beautifully decorated Khai Tuong pavilion, and the wonderful Lady of Perpetual Help Church. We visit a famous art studio where locals create striking works of art using traditional hand embroidery techniques. We stop in at Tha Om Garden House for lunch, a charming collection of traditional Vietnamese houses set around a beautifully landscaped garden.
Countryside Motorbike Adventure
Embark on an adventure to discover the magnificent countryside and villages of rural Hue, riding on the back of a motorbike with a professional driver. We visit the tomb of Tu Duc, the Poet Emperor, and ride to Dong Thien Pagoda for a blessing, before enjoying a home-cooked lunch at a local nunnery. Next, we visit Thien Mu Pagoda, whose seven-story structure is one of the oldest religious monuments in Hue. We finish with a scenic boat ride along the Perfume River, taking in the enchanting scenery along the riverbanks.
This afternoon we drive via Lang Co beach and the spectacular Hai Van pass to Hoi An.
Anantara Resort Hoi An | Meals: B,L
Day 10 – Hoi An
This morning we take a guided walk through the laid-back ancient town of Hoi An, a UNESCO World Heritage listed site dating from the 15th Century. Walking the narrow streets and alleyways, we meet one of the town elders for a cup of tea while chatting with him about his life in the town.
We then visit a temple to meet a calligraphy master and learn about this ancient art. We stop by some local eateries to taste some Hoi An specialties and visit the Fukien Assembly Hall, an ornate Chinese-style temple, and the 400-year-old Japanese covered bridge, which has become an icon of the town.
The afternoon is free for you to enjoy at leisure.
Anantara Resort Hoi An | Meals: B
Day 11 – Hoi An
Choose your own adventure
This morning our travellers can choose from the following included options in Hoi An:
Culinary Masterclass at Red Bridge
One for the foodies, we begin at the colourful Hoi An market to experience its amazing sights, sounds and aromas. Chat with local sellers and taste some of the wonderful, freshly prepared foods on display. We then take a leisurely cruise along the river before arriving at Red Bridge, where you explore the herb and vegetable garden before heading to your cooking station to begin preparing some of Vietnam’s most loved dishes. The chef demonstrates the techniques before guiding you through the process that concludes by enjoying a meal of your own creation.
Memories of My Lai
The massacre of civilians at My Lai on 16th March 1968 was one of the pivotal moments of the American War. After details of this terrible tragedy were publicised in late 1969, public support in the U.S. for continuation of the war plummeted. We travel to Quang Ngai Province to the site of the massacre, where over 500 unarmed Vietnamese villagers were killed. We visit the museum to learn more about the horrors of this day and pay our respects at the memorial dedicated to the victims.
Explore the idyllic countryside that surrounds Hoi An on a bicycle ride through the snaking waterways and local rice paddies of this rural paradise. You’ll travel off the beaten path to visit small villages and meet local farmers, who take the time to show you their traditional farming tools and methods.
The afternoon is free for you to enjoy at leisure.
Anantara Resort Hoi An | Meals: B, L
Day 12 – Hoi An > Ho Chi Minh City
This morning we transfer to Danang airport to connect with our flight to Ho Chi Minh City.
After checking in to our hotel we embark on a specially curated tour of Ho Chi Minh City. Offering unique insights into the city’s incredible story – from its beginnings as a swampy Khmer outpost to its contemporary place as one of Asia’s most dynamic commercial centres – along the way we’ll consider major themes in the city’s development and explore its turbulent past. We visit places that give us an opportunity to consider the haphazard arrival of the French in the 19th-century, Indochinese and Vietnamese Modernist architecture, the 1968 Tet Offensive, the collapse of the US-backed South Vietnamese Government in 1975, and the city’s journey through post-war poverty.
It is an amazing tale of drama, intrigue and fascinating characters. We visit city icons such as the Notre Dame Cathedral, the French-built Post Office, the Saigon River plus many lesser-known parts. We finish with a tasty Vietnamese family-style dinner at an atmospheric café, where we will learn more from our hosts about traditional cuisine and its central role in society.
Hotel Des Arts Saigon | Meals: B, D
Day 13 – Ho Chi Minh City
Uncover the stories of Ho Chi Minh City’s dynamic past, starting at the Reunification Palace, the former residence of the South Vietnamese president. Then, visit the Pittman apartment building, whose rooftop featured in Hugh van Es’s iconic image of the helicopter evacuation of Saigon and came to symbolise America’s failed ambitions in the region.
Next, we head to the War Remnants Museum, which provides a vivid account of the American war told from the standpoint of the victors. We then visit a local street market where a secret, underground weapons bunker lies hidden under a trap door in a narrow house.
After a rest at our hotel, we will be taken for drinks to the rooftop bar of the iconic Rex Hotel, a favourite hangout of journalists, CIA operatives and military officers during the war and home to the ‘five o’clock follies’, the military press briefings where the credibility gap between official reports and the reality on the ground were increasingly questioned by cynical reporters.
Tonight we venture out for an authentic taste of Ho Chi Minh City’s buzzing nightlife from the back of a Vespa. Riding pillion with your professional driver, this street food adventure sets off into the frenetic, chaotic and fascinating scene that is Ho Chi Minh City at rush hour. We zip through side streets and alleyways to experience popular spots for street seafood before ending the evening with cocktails and live music at an intimate venue.
Hotel Des Arts Saigon | Meals: B, D
Day 14 – Cu Chi Tunnels
Cu Chi, 70km northwest of Ho Chi Minh City, was one of the most strategically important areas of the American War. The 200kms of tunnels were a key logistical and offensive network used by guerrillas, first against the French in the 1940s and 50s and then the U.S. and their allies in the 60s and 70s.
We set off early in the morning to a less visited section of the tunnels to gain a meaningful sense of the history and atmosphere of this special place, a place that further represents the remarkable determination and survival instincts of the Vietnamese people. We focus on the tragic events that occurred here and consider in detail the tunnels’ role in the final victory of communist forces.
Hotel Des Arts Saigon | Meals: B
Day 15 – Mekong Delta
Today we venture to the picturesque Mekong Delta, exploring life past and present in this delightful area of lush green waterways, tropical fruit orchards and friendly villages.
We visit Ap Bac, the site of an important battle that took place in January 1963. The victory of the Viet Cong energised the communists and demonstrated for the first time that successful armed resistance was possible.
We continue to Vinh Long, a bustling market town in the centre of the Mekong Delta and enjoy a scenic river journey by boat to observe the traditional culture and unique way of life in this remote region. We visit a small village where the people make pottery by hand and see their traditional brick kilns. Continuing by boat to a local home for some fruit and a hot cup of tea, we stop by to see some of the cottage industries along the way.
Head to the home of local war veteran Le Van Hung for lunch and a personal chat about his wartime experiences. Part of the Viet Cong, Hung’s life changed forever when his small Mekong village suffered intense bombing from the South Vietnamese and American armies.
After returning to Ho Chi Minh City, tonight we gather together for our farewell dinner at one of the city’s best restaurants.
Hotel Des Arts Saigon | Meals: B, L, D
Day 16 – Depart Ho Chi Minh City
With the expedition coming to an end, take a private transfer to Ho Chi Minh City airport or embark on further touring.
Drive from Hanoi to the emerald waters and limestone outcrops of this serene spot. You’ll board the beautiful Paradise Luxury Sails for your overnight cruise through the bay. In the evening, enjoy a freshly made seafood meal as you watch the sunset over the dramatic seascape. Spend the next morning exploring more of the uninhabited islands and magnificent caves here before heading back to Hanoi.
Australian War Sites
Departing Ho Chi Minh City
We offer a full day tour from Ho Chi Minh City exploring the main areas of deployment for soldiers serving under the Australian Task Force during the Vietnam War. We visit the old base at Nui Dat and explore the battlefield and memorial cross at Long Tan, scene of the fierce 1966 clash recognised as Australia’s deadliest battle of the entire war.
Six Senses Con Dao
Departing Hanoi & Ho Chi Minh City
The island of Con Dao, off Vietnam’s southern coast, is a tropical paradise protected as both a national and marine park. The glorious Six Senses resort is set on its own private beach and represents the ultimate in barefoot luxury. Check in to your pool villa and let the indulgence begin.
Professor Pierre Asselin
Considered one of the leading authorities on Vietnam’s modern history, Pierre has spent over 20 years visiting and researching the country. He is Dwight E. Stanford Chair in the History of US Foreign Relations at San Diego State University.
Pierre has been granted rare access to archives by the Vietnamese government and his interest in internationalism and transnationalism during the Vietnam War has taken him to various other document repositories, including the Algerian National Archives.
He is the author of A Bitter Peace: Washington, Hanoi, and the Making of the Paris Agreement and Hanoi’s Road to the Vietnam War, 1954-1965. His latest book, Vietnam’s American War: A History explores the Vietnamese communist experience during the Vietnam War with a focus on how the Vietnamese David succeeded in defeating the American Goliath.
Pierre recently started work on his fourth book project, a history of the “global Vietnam War” casting the American war in Vietnam as an international political, social, and cultural phenomenon that irrevocably changed the world and served as harbinger for myriad transnational causes. In addition to relating the history of the conflict itself, the book will address the war’s effects in the United States, Western Europe, the Communist World, and the Third World.
Sofitel Legend Metropole Hanoi
Built in 1901 in classic French colonial style, the iconic Metropole is widely considered to be Vietnam’s best luxury hotel. Centrally located on the edge of Hanoi’s bustling Old Quarter, this elegant property is effortlessly charming and has developed its own fascinating historical narrative.
Azerai Le Residence
Situated on the banks of the fabled Perfume River, this art deco gem was built as the residence for the colonial French governor in 1930. The luxurious rooms ooze colonial charm whilst the riverside terrace, overlooking Hue’s ancient citadel, is the ideal place for an exotic sunset cocktail.
Hotel des Arts Saigon
Ho Chi Minh City
As much an art museum as a 5 star boutique hotel, the Hotel des Arts Saigon marries 21st Century comforts with 1930’s romance and style. The owner’s personal collection of antiques and paintings adorn every wall, evoking a classic ‘Indochine Francaise’ sense of style.
- Domestic flights as per itinerary
- Meals as per itinerary (15 breakfasts, 8 lunches, 6 dinners) including welcome and farewell dinners
- Private airport transfers (arrival and departure)
- Fast track immigration and customs service upon arrival at Hanoi airport
- Visa Approval Letter and Vietnam visa fee for visa on arrival
- Accommodation as stated on a twin-share basis
- Porterage at airports and hotels
- All land transport by private air-conditioned vehicle
- Services of an Arcadia Expedition Leader and English-speaking local guide throughout
- Sightseeing as specified including entrance fees to sites mentioned in itinerary
- Reusable responsible travel water bottle with daily drinking water provided
- Gratuities/tipping for local guides, drivers, hotel staff and restaurants for included meals
- All taxes
- Return international flights
- Passport and visa charges
- Items of a purely personal nature (i.e. telephone calls, laundry etc)
- Excess luggage
- Lunch and dinners not specifically mentioned as included in itinerary
- Travel insurance