Caving in Vietnam

Backstage Pass to Vietnam Tour

Country: Vietnam

16 Days | $6,910

Journeys Within Founder and CEO, Andrea Ross, recently returned from an inspection tour of Vietnam inspired to create a new itinerary that offers special access to Vietnam’s best sights and experiences with luxurious accommodations along the way.

The new 16-day “Backstage Pass to Vietnam” tour begins in Saigon, exploring the cultural and culinary heritage of the city. Clients will continue their exploration of southern Vietnam with a trip to the Cu Chi Tunnels, where guerilla fighters constructed an amazing underground base and village during the French Resistance and Vietnam War, followed by dinner in the home of a veteran of the Vietnamese-American war.

Leaving Saigon, guests will fly to the historic port city of Hoi An in central Vietnam to wander through the Ancient Town and ride bicycles around Cam Kim Island where families still produce traditional crafts such as ornate furniture, coracle basket boats and sleeping mats by hand. A beautiful drive through the countryside of central Vietnam brings guests to Hue where they can explore the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Hue’s Imperial City and Citadel, and enjoy dinner in the home of former Nguyen Dynasty princess Ngoc Son – now occupied and preserved by a multi-generational family of Vietnamese historians and feng shui experts.

Leaving Hue, guests will pass through the infamous DMZ on the way to Phong Nha where a three-day underground caving adventure in the mountainous region awaits. In Hanoi, guests will get an intimate back-door look at the city via bicycle tour along the banks of the Red River, stopping along the way to learn about local village life, traditional handicrafts, and agriculture in the area.

Finally, guests will board a private seaplane for an overnight trip to Halong Bay – another UNESCO World Heritage site. Views of the bay from the air are truly breathtaking, and overnight accommodations aboard a private junk boat sailing amidst the limestone islands jutting out of the bay is the perfect way to end this insider’s look at the highlights of Vietnam.


Day 1 Saigon: Arrival and AO Show with Dinner

Welcome to Vietnam! On arrival you will be met in immigration for your fast-track arrival service. Look for the person with our welcome sign for you. Hand over your photo, visa letter and passport to the person meeting you. You will then be invited to sign the visa form already completed on your behalf before receiving the visa label in your passport. Collect your luggage and clear customs. Your guide/driver will be waiting for you at the arrivals meeting area just outside the airport entrance doors to transfer you to your hotel.

Your special evening will begin at 5:15pm in the lobby of the Caravelle. Carl will be there to meet you and he will escort you across the road to the Saigon Opera House and introduce you to the AO Show organizer, who will give you a 15 minute exclusive pre-show tour of this historical building which is more than 115 year old. Enjoy a drink in the WOW lounge before settling into your seats for the contemporary acrobatic and theatrical dance show which starts at 6:00pm. Let the traditions and culture of Vietnam captivate you as the story plays out. After the show you will have the opportunity to meet the performers and take photos with them in the Opera House Lobby. Walk across to the Moët & Chandon Champagne Corner at the Caravelle Hotel and enjoy a glass of champagne and live lounge music with Carl, who will discuss the AO Show experience with you. Take a short history tour of the hotel with him, including the famous Saigon Saigon Bar, finishing in the Reflections Restaurant. Between 8:00pm and 8:30pm, Carl will say good night and direct you to the Restaurant Manager who will seat you for your dinner at Reflections.

Meals Included: None

Overnight at Caravelle Saigon – Heritage Saigon Suite

Day 2 Saigon: Culture and Culinary Experience by Motorbike and Tuc Mai House Music

Saigon is a vibrant and bustling city. Relax as you sit behind your trusted driver on a motorbike for a journey where you can combine some of the classic historical highlights the city has to offer (Reunification Palace, museums, pagodas, Cho Lon…), and getting real insight into local life behind the main streets. Meet and chat with locals, try the local cuisine at the different locations you stop by and learn about daily life. Get to know Saigon with a refreshing twist to suit your culinary and cultural tastes. Our guides are the experts, and they will discuss the plan with you in advance so that you get the very best experience designed just for you. Helmets will be provided.

This evening, your guide and driver will transfer you to the Mai Family Home. The stories of Vietnamese history and culture can be heard and understood through its traditional music. Mr. Truc and Mrs. Ngo (husband and wife), along with the other members of the family, are experts at playing traditional Vietnamese musical instruments such as the monochord zither, bamboo xylophone, and stone lithophone, among others. They have been granted special permission to share their knowledge with guests in Vietnam and for an hour you will be taken on a journey back in time. Enjoy a private concert as they tell you stories and play their traditional melodies. Then you will have the opportunity to try your hand at playing the instruments in their collection. At the end of the evening with these wonderful people, you will have unique personal insight into the culture and history of Vietnam. You will then be taken to a restaurant for your dinner and later returned to your hotel.

Meals included: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner

Overnight at Caravelle Saigon – Heritage Saigon Suite

Day 3 Saigon: Morning at Leisure, Afternoon at the Cu Chi Tunnels and Dinner with Vietnamese Veteran

You have the morning free to relax or explore on your own.

This afternoon, your guide will take you for an excursion to the Cu Chi Tunnels (about a 90 minute drive). Here you will learn about and have the opportunity to descend into the tunnels where the guerilla fighters constructed an amazing underground base and village network during the French Resistance, and the Vietnam War. Finally, to end your trip, you will be taken to the private home of a war veteran of the Vietnamese American war. Here you will have the opportunity to meet and chat with him and their family whilst enjoying a delicious home-cooked dinner before heading back to Saigon ready for your evening at leisure.

Meals included: Breakfast, Dinner

Overnight at Caravelle Saigon – Heritage Saigon Suite

Day 4 Saigon: Villages and Markets of the Mekong Delta

This morning you will be driven to Phu Nhuan Bridge in Phu An village, located in the Mekong Delta approximately 2 hours away from Saigon. Here you will board a small private boat to explore this small shady river and begin with a short cruise. Take a break along the way at a unique village, where you can enjoy a walk around the area, meet some of the friendly locals and learn more about how they cultivate the many rice paddies in the area. Return to your boat and continue along the river for a further 50 minutes, until you reach colorful Cai Be. Continue on for a short distance until you reach Tan Phong Island, where you will step ashore for a short bike ride of about 40 minutes (the ride may be longer or shorter depending on your preferences), taking in the island’s luscious gardens and peaceful village life. At the end of the bike ride, you will have lunch in a beautiful traditional garden house and be presented with local dishes, such as Elephant Ear Fish rolled and wrapped with rice paper, as well as different Vietnamese vegetables and fruits served with tamarind dipping sauce. After lunch, if time permits, you may then enjoy being rowed along in a traditional sampan boat alongside the banks of the fruit gardens and through the narrow shady canals. Enjoy the waterways a little longer as you cruise on back to Cai Be where your private transport will be waiting for you. Relax on the drive back to your hotel in Saigon (a drive of about 2 ½ hours), where you should arrive around 5:30pm.

Please note: The latest recommended time for your guide to meet you and set off this morning is 7:30am. The earlier the start the better, so as to catch the market in Cai Be when it is most active. You have the option to begin with Cai Be and end with Phu An village. Your guide will discuss the day with you in advance.

Meals included: Breakfast, Lunch

Overnight at Caravelle Saigon – Heritage Saigon Suite

Day 5 Saigon to Hoi An: Arrival and Wander the Ancient Town

You will be picked up at your hotel and taken to the airport for your flight – Vietnam Airlines VN108 departing Saigon at 09:00 & arriving in Danang at 10:20. Your guide will meet you at Danang airport for your private transfer to your hotel in Hoi An for check-in.

Your guide will meet you at your hotel and take you on a walking tour of Hoi An. Visit the Ancient Town, which is home to the beautiful Chua Cau, or roofed bridge, as well as Hoi Quan, the ancient meeting places, some ancestral family homes and some of the lovely hidden pagodas. You will end your time in the Ancient Town with a meal at a local restaurant.

Meals included: Breakfast, Lunch or Dinner (Discuss with your guide)

Overnight at Boutique Hoi An Resort – Deluxe Room

Day 6 Hoi An: Cam Kim Island Bike Ride

Your guide will transfer you to the rendezvous point for your bike ride. After setting up your bicycle, catch a private 30 minute boat cruise over to Cam Kim Island. You will hop off at a secluded point to start your unique bike experience. Along the way you will meet the families that produce traditional crafts such as ornate furniture, coracles and sleeping mats. If you wish, you will have the chance to experience a short ride in a coracle basket boat made of bamboo on one of the small canals on the island. With your guide, follow the winding paths in and out of the country hamlets before heading back to the local ferry point for a different 15 minute boat ride back to Hoi An mainland.

Meals included: Breakfast, Lunch

Overnight at Boutique Hoi An Resort – Deluxe Room

Day 7 Hoi An to Hue: Trip to My Son, Tra Que Village Lunch and Tha Om Ancient House

Your guide will meet you at your hotel this morning and you will head inland to My Son, a fascinating archaeological site with ruinous temples featuring both Hindu and Buddhist influences. Walk through the beautiful park where a stream flows through the center and various temples dot the landscape. Your guide will explain many of the temples and point out interesting features. At 10:30am and 3pm daily there is a 15 minute indoor “Cham Apsara dance” show that you may wish to see. Tra Que Village is known for farming fresh organic produce for both culinary and medicinal uses. You will end in Tra Que and experience a little of the life in the village.

From here, your guide will accompany you on the 3 ½ hour private road transfer to Hue. The route will take you along the spectacular central coastline and the edges of the Annamite Mountain Range to where it meets the sea. During the drive, your guide will also run through the next phase of your itinerary. Once you arrive in Hue, check in to your hotel.

Your guide will take you to Tha Om Ancient House located in Kim Long Village near Thien Mu Pagoda in Hue. This is a beautiful home with gardens exemplifying the use of Feng Shui in ancient architecture. The owner of the home is from mandarin royal family descent and designs houses. He will give you a personal tour and you can then stay and enjoy a home cooked meal with the family served in the Ancient House.

Meals included: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner

Overnight at La Residance – Superior River Room

Day 8 Hue: Motorbike Tour and Lunch with Buddhist Nuns

Hue is a historical location with strong cultural ties to its heritage and former dynastic rulers. Relax as you sit behind your trusted driver on a motorbike for a journey where you will gain insight into both past and present cultural traditions. Chat with the locals you encounter on your journey – families making conical hats, sellers in the local markets, fishermen on the rivers, rice farmers and villagers tending their local gardens and family temples. Take a moment at the Thanh Toan wooden bridge, built in 1786, where your guide will have a few treats in store for you. Continue by motorbike to Thuy Xuan to enjoy a vegetarian lunch around 1pm or 1:30pm cooked by the resident Buddhist nuns. You will be able to hear the same Buddhist nuns chanting at 2pm. On the return journey you have the option to either travel by a combination of boat and motorbike, or travel by motorbike for the full distance to take in the rural countryside. If you wish, you can stop to see the nearby Crying Elephant Temple where elephants were worshipped, and the Ho Quyen Arena where tigers and elephants once fought, gladiator style, to the death for the entertainment of royals. Our guides are experts, and they will discuss the plan for today in advance with you so that you get the very best experience. Helmets will be provided.

Meals included: Breakfast, Lunch

Overnight at La Residance – Superior River Room

Day 9 Hue to Phong Nha: Tour of the Citadel and DMZ

Your guide will meet you at 8am at your hotel. With your guide you will explore the old capital city, now a well-known World Cultural Heritage Site. Often referred to as ‘ancient’, Hue’s Citadel is comparatively modern in European terms. Built over thirty years in the early part of the 19th century, the Citadel encompasses three ‘courts’ covering a total of 6km. The Imperial City, built along the same lines as the Forbidden Palace in Beijing, was the country’s administrative center. Senior mandarins, court officers and civil servants would have entered by the ‘Ngo Mon’ (noon gate). Directly behind were the Dai Trieu Nghi (great rites courtyard) and the Thai Hoa Palace (throne hall) where the Emperor would meet foreign rulers and emissaries, high-ranking ministers and other dignitaries. At the heart of the Imperial City was the ‘Tu Cam Thanh’ (Forbidden Purple City). Only members of the royal family, the Emperor’s concubines, and trusted senior mandarins and officers such as the royal doctor were allowed through the sole entry gate. Inside were various palaces and the Emperor’s private apartments. Despite more than fifty years of decay and attrition, the Citadel is still imposing, and recent renovation work has restored several of its buildings to their previous glory.

From here you will head north toward Dong Hoi, stopping for lunch along the way. As you drive, you will pass through the infamous DMZ, where some of the bloodiest battles were fought during the Vietnam/American War. Time permitting, you may stop to take a fascinating tour of the Vinh Moc Tunnels, kept as a monument to the determination of the Vietnamese to continue living in their traditional village areas. Whole villages moved underground and lived in these tunnels and caverns. Visit a small church showing the signs of mortar attack in the area and visit US bases kept as museums containing photographs and memorials of the war. Cross the Ben Hai River, used to demarcate the division between North and South Vietnam. An hour further on from Dong Hoi you will arrive in Phong Nha around 7pm and will check into your hotel.

Meals included: Breakfast, Lunch

Overnight at Oxalis Home – River View Room

Day 10 Phong Nha Caving Day 1 – Phong Nha, Tan Hoa and Tu Lan

You will be picked up in Phong Nha between 8:00 am and 8:30 am at your hotel and driven to the little village of Tan Hoa for your initial safety briefing. You’ll then set off across sweeping fields for 2 ½ kilometers to the Rao Nan River, where you will climb about 50m up a rocky slope to find the entrance of Secret Cave for your first cave discovery. You’ll then trek through Hung Ton Valley and up Hung Ton Mountain and trekking a further 2 kilometers along the mountain ridge will bring you to Mango Mountain, where the reward will be a picnic lunch. From here, the trek will continue into and through Tu Lan Valley for 2 more kilometers. You’ll finish your afternoon on a more relaxed note with swimming around the waterfall, followed by a BBQ dinner, and singing around the campfire until sleep overcomes you.

Meals included: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner

Overnight at Campsite in a tent or hammock

Day 11 Phong Nha Caving Day 2 – Tu Lan, Hang Kim and To Mo

This morning brings another full day of adventure. Shortly after breakfast, you will swim 200m directly into Tu Lan Cave. Once you pass through the cave, you will trek 2 kilometers back through the valley to loop back to camp for more waterfall swimming, a rest, and picnic lunch. Following lunch, another 200m swim into Ken Cave will be followed by a short trek to Hang Kim where you will continue swimming and exploring on through To Mo Valley to the To Mo Cave campsite. Enjoy another beautifully prepared dinner, and the unique experience of camping inside a cave set deep in the Vietnamese jungle.

Meals included: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner

Overnight at Campsite in a tent or hammock

Day 12 Phonh Nha Caving Day 3 – To Mo, Tan Hoa and Phong Nha

Enjoy a delicious breakfast this morning before taking a morning swim about 200m upstream past the waterfall and through Hung Ton Cave. Investigate a dry passage which leads to a 15 m ladder climb up to the entrance of Hung Ton. Trek across Hung Ton Valley and over the hill to La Ken Valley (about 2 ½ kilometers), before stopping to enjoy lunch by the river and visiting Hung Chuot. In the early afternoon, return across the Rao Nan River, the beautiful fields, and back to Tan Hoa (about a 2 ½ kilometer trek), where a cold drink will be waiting for you. Showers are available for those who would like to clean up and change. The tour returns to Phong Nha by 5:30pm.

Meals included: Breakfast, Lunch

Overnight at Oxalis Home – River View Room

Day 13 Phong Nha to Hanoi: Arrival, Half Day City Tour, Water Puppet Show, and Vietnamese Dinner

Your guide will go with you for the journey to Dong Hoi airport for your flight connection – Vietnam Airlines VN1590 departing Dong Hoi at 08:55 & arriving at 10:15 in Hanoi. Arrive at Noi Bai airport where you will be met by your guide and driven the 1 hour journey to Hanoi.

Begin your half day by discussing with your guide what you would like to do and see. There are so many options that we like to leave it up to you and your guide to decide what suits you best. Some interesting highlights that you may want to consider are the Temple of Literature, the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum and his House on stilts, One Pillar Pagoda, Quan Thanh Temple, and Tran Quoc Pagoda, the Ethnology Museum, and the Art museum.

Attend a water puppet show to experience a truly traditional Vietnamese evening.

Enjoy a relaxing meal sampling the delicious cuisine of Vietnam. Your guide will be on hand to transfer you to and from the restaurant, and to help you select your meal.

Meals included: Breakfast, Dinner

Overnight at Sofitel Metropole Hotel – Luxury Room

Day 14 Hanoi: Exploring the Outskirts by Bicycle

You will leave the city noise behind this morning as you meet your guide and set out into Hanoi’s countryside on this easy 20km route. Take the scenic option out of the city’s Old Quarter and into the countryside where you will pass Long Bien Bridge which was built by a famous Eiffel construction company at the beginning of the 20th Century. Your first stop will be the oldest Bat Trang Pottery Village in Northern Vietnam, where you will get a chance to learn about their traditional handicraft. Climb back on the bike to continue exploring the area, passing small temples, and learning more about the religion in this area. Discover the luxury living area of a Hanoian, where you will see lovely villages and homes surrounding by flowers and trees. Head back into Hanoi for a refreshing lunch, after which you will discover the beauty of the back roads as you cycle along the banks of the Red River. Enjoy the beauty of rural life as your guide describes traditional activities before stopping at a local Bonsai garden. Stop off at a local home where you can enjoy a cup of tea and some refreshing fresh fruits with the owner. Continue cycling through the relaxing banana and vegetable farming area in the middle of the Red River Island. Your last stop will be Quang Ba, another traditional pottery village where you will see how the ceramics are transported to stores in Hanoi. Keep your eyes open on the cycle back for colorful fields of flowers — you may even spot local growers picking the brightest buds to take to city shops! Continue cycling on the back road along the river to get back to the bike shop in Hanoi. Your guide will assist you to get a taxi back to your hotel.

Meals included: Breakfast, Lunch

Overnight at Sofitel Metropole Hotel – Luxury Room

Day 15 Halong Bay Day 1: Seaplane to Halong Bay, Halong City to Bai Tu Long Bay and Thien Canh Son Cave

This morning your guide will meet you at your hotel at 8am. Today, you leave bustling Hanoi behind with a sea plane transfer to Halong Bay. Your guide will take you to the Noi Bai airport where you will board your sea plane at 10am. Check-in is required half an hour before departure, and should take no longer than 5 minutes. After about 45 minutes, you will find yourself soaring over stunning Halong Bay. The final 15 minutes of your flight will be a wonderful sightseeing opportunity, before landing at the Ha Long Tuan Chau Marina, where a cruise guide will meet and transfer you to the pier.

Arrive at Ha Long City by midday where you will transfer to the pier to board your junk. Enjoy a welcome drink before relaxing with a fresh seafood lunch, while cruising in the magnificent Bai Tu Long Bay (the peaceful northern part of Ha Long Bay, commonly overlooked by most visitors). Take in the breathtaking serenity of your surroundings. Mid-afternoon you can jump in for a quick swim in the crystal clear waters before your visit to Thien Can Son Cave. A short cruise further will bring you to Hon Co Island where you can spend the late afternoon swimming, kayaking, or simply relaxing on the white sandy beach. You will finish the day on board with dinner around 7pm followed by time to relax and reflect on your day.

Meals included: Lunch, Dinner

Overnight at Princess Junk – One Cabin Private Charter

Day 16 Halong Bay Day 2: Vung Vieng Fishing Village to Halong City, Drive to Hanoi and Departure

Today’s early start with breakfast around 7:30am is a wonderful opportunity to admire the bay waking up around you. An hour later you will be taken in a traditional rowboat to meet the local people who call Vung Vieng fishing village their home. Learn all about their daily life, the floating school and fish farms. Enjoy your lunch as you cruise back to Hon Gai Harbor to disembark at the pier around midday. Your guide will meet you as you disembark and will transfer you back to Hanoi. Your journey will take around 3 ½ hours through the historical countryside of the Red River Delta which is peppered with hundred-year-old villages. Along the way you will have the opportunity to take a comfort break and stretch your legs. You will arrive at Noi Bai airport in time to connect with your departure flight.

Meals included: Breakfast, Lunch

Tour Rate: $6,910 per person based on 2 people traveling (double occupancy), with a $5,070 single supplement.

Price includes:

  • Air tickets Saigon – Danang / Dong Hoi – Hanoi
  • Boat tickets as specified above
  • Accommodation as specified above
  • Air-conditioned car/van with driver
  • Licensed English speaking guides
  • Tours and admission fees as mentioned above
  • Meals as specified in itinerary, including water
  • Vietnam Visa on Arrival

Price excludes:

  • Personal expenses
  • Airport tax
  • Drinks (except water) and meals not mentioned in itinerary
  • Tips
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