PRISTINE BEACHES, ANCIENT KINGDOM, IMPERIAL CAPITAL CITY AND PICTURESQUE COUNTRYSIDE; HOI AN & HUE, VIETNAM
Day 1 – Arrive Da Nang, Vietnam
There are non-stop direct flights to/from Da Nang, Vietnam from Seoul, South Korea (Asian Hub connecting international flights). Upon arrival at Da Nang International Airport, we transfer to our resort using the resort’s private transfer services (half an hour drive). Our evening arrival offers time for in villa-dining.
Day 2 – My Son Sanctuary, River Boat Cruise, Pottery Workshop
In the morning, we sample a Vietnamese breakfast buffet, bicycle through our resort and spend several hours on the beach. At noon, we enjoy lunch at the resort’s restaurant, tasting Vietnamese fresh salads and local seafood. After lunch, we start an organized five-hour excursion to My Son Sanctuary. We drive an hour to the picturesque valley to explore the ruins of the ancient Hindu temples constructed by the Champa Kings. As daylight fades away, we take a local boat across the river to Hoi An. We visit an old artisanal pottery workshop to watch their pottery making techniques. We return to our resort for dinner.
Day 3 – Tomb of Khai Dinh, Hue Imperial City
Our 12 hours’ excursion begins with an early morning drive to Hue Imperial City. Our two and a half hour route follows along a 21 kilometers long mountain pass, called the Hai Van Pass. On the outskirts of Hue and atop the hill, we explore the royal Tomb of Khai Dinh. The mausoleum, dedicated to the Emperor of Vietnam Khai Dinh, displays stunning porcelain decorated walls and the opulent royal tomb. A half an hour drive to the Hue Imperial City reveals an impressive symbol of Vietnam’s imperial heritage. Inside the fortified ramparts, the Hue Imperial City hosts palaces, residences, temples, gardens and the 7-storey Thien Mu Pagoda. We explore The To Mieu Temple and Thai Hoa Palace (Hall of Supreme Harmony) where thrones of Nguyen kings reside. A late lunch at a local restaurant offers a chance to sample Hue’s excellent cuisine. In the evening, we drive back to our resort via the Hai Van Tunnel.
Day 4 – Beach Day, Yoga Class, Christmas Eve Festivities
Today, we enjoy a relaxing time at the beautiful Ha Ma Beach, multi-kilometers long stretch of white sand beach. A picture perfect resort setting offers a pristine beach, three infinity pools, beautifully manicured grounds and excellent restaurants overlooking the ocean. A poolside lunch menu includes a delicious selection of local seafood and Vietnamese classic salads. An afternoon yoga class indulges us with extra relaxation and meditation. The Christmas Eve Festivities include a live Vietnamese music show and a wonderful buffet feast of Vietnamese and international dishes.
Day 5 – Bicycle Excursion, River Boat Tour, Village Visit
In the morning, Santa Claus and Elves visit our resort, bringing gifts on their Water Buffalo Cart. After Santa’s departure, we drive to the riverside and enjoy a river boat cruise to nearby Cam Kim Island. We cycle by the riverside, along the rice fields and arrive to a farmer’s house to learn how to make rice paper and noodles. We visit a local family to watch them weaving mats by hand. We visit traditional boat building small workshop, artist workshops and browse local souvenir shops. At lunch time, we drive to the Tra Que Herbs Village and sample organic and refreshing Hoi An specialties at the Tra Que Wheel Restaurant. In the afternoon, an excursion to Cam Thanh Island entails a pleasant boat ride along the water coconut palms. A visit to a local farmer offers a chance to briefly ride a water buffalo before returning to our resort.
Day 6 – Hoi An Ancient Town
Today, we visit a picturesque seaport, Hoi An Ancient Town. A 15 minutes’ drive from our resort guides us to the old quarter. We walk through the Central Market and notice unique spices, tropical fruits and fresh vegetables. We stroll along the narrow streets and old wooden architecture, where many restaurants and cafes now reside. The historic journey leads us to the Phuoc Kien Assembly Hall displaying a distinct Chinese influenced architecture, Museum of Trade Ceramics with a collection of ancient artifacts and the 17th century Old House of Quan Thang. We purchase custom made attire at a known tailor shop and pause for a lunch. We continue to the Thu Bon River to explore the symbol of Hoi An, the Japanese Bridge. We board a small river boat that takes us by the riverside and the old quarter. In the evening, we admire the multi-colored lanterns illuminating the streets and have dinner at an outdoor terrace overlooking the river.
Days 7 – Marble Mountains, Beach Day
An early morning 20 minutes’ drive from our resort guides us to the Marble Mountains, a pilgrimage site with Buddhist Temples built inside natural caves and grottoes. The cluster of five hills serves as a relaxing and spiritual place in nature. We return to our resort for lunch and spend the rest of the day on the beach.
Day 8 – Da Nang, Vietnam Departure
Our morning passes with a wonderful breakfast and relaxing time on the patio in our villa. At noon, we transfer to Da Nang International Airport for our flight.
Note: Our Vietnam Itinerary can be followed individually or can be combined with our Guangzhou, China Itinerary. There are direct flights to Guangzhou, China from Da Nang, Vietnam by Hainan Airlines.
Central Vietnam – The ancient land of Champa civilization is today Central Vietnam. China ruled parts of Vietnam for centuries and deeply influenced Vietnam’s culture. The period when French colonized Vietnam is defined by the introduction of Christianity, the Latin alphabet and elements of French cuisine. Central Vietnam has a fascinating history, multifaceted culture, natural topography and superb cuisine. The dazzling beaches, imperial monuments, royal tomb, ancient riverside town and picturesque countryside await visitors to Central Vietnam.
Hoi An Ancient Town – The Hoi An Ancient Town, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is situated in in the estuary of the Thu Bon River, in Vietnam’s Quang Nam Province. Hoi An was an important seaport and trading center from the 15th to the 19th century. Hoi An Ancient Town is an old quarter with preserved wooden architecture, including temples, assembly halls, pagodas and old houses. The Central Market shows a wonderful variety of local spices, specialty products, unique fruits and vegetables. The Phuoc Kien Assembly Hall was originally a Kim Son Pagoda but after it was destroyed, it was reconstructed by the Chinese merchants. This impressive architecture reveals a strong Chinese influence in Hoi An. The Museum of Trade Ceramics has a collection of artifacts from the 9th to the 19th centuries. The Old House of Quan Thang is a 17th century shop-house, showing artistic carvings and an arched roof. Hoi An’s abundant tailor shops display colorful fabrics and provide custom tailor services at reasonable prices. The walk through the old quarter reveals a great number of multi-colored lanterns decorating the narrow streets, bustling coffee shops and a pretty waterfront with passing riverboats. The 17th century Japanese Bridge, the most photographed symbol of Hoi An, has a constant influx of visitors and couples taking wedding pictures.
My Son Sanctuary – Established in South East Asia, the ancient Champa Empire was one of the very foundations of Vietnam. The My Son Sanctuary, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, was constructed by the Champa Kings between the 4th and 13th centuries. In the secluded valley encircled by the lush mountains, the ancient ruins of the Hindu Temples served as a worship place to the God Shiva, considered the protector of the Champa Kingdom. The sanctuary was constructed using red bricks and shows statues of gods, animals, plants and priests. The statues and carved symbols illustrate the culture and artistry of the Champa people. After the fall of the Champa Kingdom, the sanctuary was abandoned, stayed hidden and much later was rediscovered. During the Vietnam War, the sanctuary was damaged by the American forces when Viet Cong (communist army supporting North Vietnam) hid in the ruins. The bomb craters are still visible today. Reminding us of Machu Picchu, in both its religious significance and remoteness within hidden valleys, we were in awe by the beauty and majesty of those red structures beautifully assembled and still rising.
Tomb of Khai Dinh – The Tomb of Khai Dinh is situated on the outskirts of the Hue City. Atop a hill, an impressive mausoleum was constructed by the order of the Emperor of Vietnam, Khai Dinh. Khai Dinh, an Emperor from the Nguyen Dynasty, funded the construction with large tax increases. The emperor was not liked by the Vietnamese people, in part due to his acting jointly with the French colonists. The mausoleum was built during a period of 11 years and shows strong influences of French architecture. We climb the stairs to the Thien Dinh Palace and notice a courtyard filled with stone structures of mandarins, soldiers and horses, memorials to the Emperor. The middle Hall of the Thien Dinh Palace displays an elaborate interior décor with porcelain decorated walls, a distinct ceiling with nine dragons and the opulent Tomb of Khai Dinh.
Hue Imperial City – The Hue Imperial City served as a Capital City of Vietnam during the reign of the Nguyen Dynasty and until the year 1945. Located on the banks of the Perfume River, Hue Imperial City Complex encompasses the Citadel, the Imperial City and the Forbidden Purple City. The Citadel, ramparts and moat surround and protect the Imperial City. Inside the Imperial City complex there are palaces, residences, temples, gardens and the 7-storey Thien Mu Pagoda (Pagoda of the Celestial Lady). The Forbidden Purple City, situated within the Imperial City, served as private living space for the emperor and his family. It was largely destroyed during the Vietnam War. The stroll through the ancient city reveals inviting courtyards, gardens, temples and lakes. The To Mieu Temple is dedicated to the Nguyen Emperors (temple was constructed during the period of 1821-1822). The Thai Hoa Palace (Hall of Supreme Harmony) houses beautiful thrones of Nguyen kings. The palace was used for grand ceremonies, such as coronations, royal birthdays and grand audiences. Hue Imperial City, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, symbolizes Vietnam’s imperial history and diverse culture.
Villages & Mountains – Vietnam’s beautiful countryside is best explored by bicycle or motorbike. The best time to observe the classic images of Vietnam’s golden and green rice fields is during the rice harvest season. Our bicycle tour takes place in December and follows a rural landscape and riverside scenery. A river boat from Hoi An, takes us to the nearby rural Cam Kim Island, where residents preserve traditional artisanal industries, including building traditional wooden boats, making rice paper, carpentry, weaving mats by hand and fishing. The visit to the Cam Thanh Island continues with a boat excursion on a Vietnamese bamboo basket boat along the water coconut palms. Another day, a half an hour route from Hoi An takes us to the five limestone hills called Marble Mountains. This pilgrimage site houses unique Buddhist Temples built inside the natural caves and grottoes. Another suggested excursion leads to the Truong Son Mountain range and a cableway to the Ba Na Hills overlooking wonderful scenery on clear and sunny days. Located approximately one hour from Hoi An, the Son Tra Peninsula is a national park with pristine beaches and dense jungle with hiking routes and rare Red Shanked Doucs (monkeys).
Rice Paper Making – Rural life in Central Vietnam is very simple. We ride bicycles across the countryside and arrive to farmer’s home to learn how to make Vietnamese rice paper and noodles. We walk into the kitchen and observe a traditional old stove that is manually heated using dried rice hulls. Traditional rice paper making techniques are preserved in this simple home. The rice is soaked in water for few hours and then pressed into smooth rice milk. A thin layer of rice mixture is spread on the flat stove and after a short time the rice paper is moved onto the mats to dry in the sun. After they dry, they are roasted in a charcoal fire giving them a distinct flavor and crunchy texture. The rice papers, either plain or with sesame seeds, are often served on the side with many Vietnamese dishes. The thicker rice paper is also used to create the classic delicate rice noodles served in soups and noodle dishes. We settle outside at the terrace and enjoy roasted rice paper and a thin sandwich (made of two layers of roasted rice paper and one layer of fresh rice paper) served with soy based sauces on the side.
Appetizers – Two kilometers from Hoi An, the Tra Que Herbs Village grows excellent quality aromatic fresh herbs, including mint, basil and coriander, commonly used ingredients in the Vietnamese cuisine. Nestled in the small village, the Tra Que Wheel Restaurant serves a delicious appetizer, Tam Huu. The sautéed shrimp and pork belly are wrapped together with fresh mint, basil, coriander and green onion, creating the refreshing, flavorful and colorful dish. Nuoc Cham, a Vietnamese sauce made with lime juice, fish sauce, sugar, water and chili peppers, is served on the side for dipping. A classic Vietnamese spring roll called Cha Gio, is also on the menu in Tra Que Wheel Restaurant. A ground pork mixture is wrapped in rice paper, deep fried and served with a classic Vietnamese sauce on the side. The delicate meat stuffing wonderfully complements the crunchy rice paper, creating a delectable appetizer. During our lunch, several guests are participating in a cooking class, learning the secrets of the Vietnamese cuisine.
Banana Flower – In Central Vietnam, the cuisine evolved together with Vietnam’s historic journey from the ancient Champa Empire, to the dominance of China and Vietnam’s colonization by France. Banh Mi, a Vietnamese Baguette served with specialty meats, vegetables and herbs, is a classic example of food influenced by the French cuisine. French colonists also introduced coffee to Vietnam. French coffee was too expensive for the non-elite Vietnamese, so farmers discovered and created a different type of coffee. In Hoi An Ancient Town, visitors can buy the unique Kopi Luwak Coffee that is made from the ripest coffee berries eaten, digested and excreted by the civet cats and then roasted. Central Vietnam’s culinary character is also defined by fragrant fresh herbs added as a main ingredient or condiment to the majority of recipes. The Banana Flower, also known as Banana Blossom, has an edible heart that adds subtle flavors and freshness to salads and soups. A walk through the Central Market in Hoi An illustrates the diversity of the local products, herbs, fruits and vegetables that complement today’s unique and delicious Vietnamese cuisine.
Banh Xeo – The savory crêpe Banh Xeo originated in Central Vietnam, and is a popular dish throughout Vietnam. Banh Xeo, a French influenced crêpe, is prepared with rice flour, water and turmeric that gives it its yellow color. The crispy crêpe is stuffed with a whole shrimp, thin layer of pork meat and fresh bean sprouts. Banh Xeo is served with fresh herbs, delicate rice paper and spicy sauce for dipping. We take the rice paper, place the crêpe and herbs inside, wrap it together and lightly dip into a sauce. Banh Xeo is equally appetizing and delicious.
Four Seasons Resort The Nam Hai, Hoi An, Vietnam – In the Quang Nam Province, the Four Seasons Resort The Nam Hai occupies a beautiful property along a 1-kilometer stretch of the Ha Ma Beach. Central Vietnam is a historic hub with few UNESCO World Heritage Sites. The resort offers organized luxury excursions to the heart of Vietnam’s fascinating culture as well as free shuttle to nearby Hoi An Ancient Town. The Four Seasons Resort The Nam Hai offers luxury villa accommodations overlooking the ocean, gardens and palm trees. The expansive grounds, infinity swimming pools, peaceful spa setting, long stretch of beach and nice restaurants create a wonderful resort atmosphere. The breakfast buffet provides a wonderful balance of Vietnamese and international dishes. Bicycles are provided for each villa to explore the grounds while transfer buggies are available upon request anytime. In the evening, red lanterns illuminate the walking pathways along the restaurants and swimming pools. The resort’s restaurants create inventive dinner festivities with local specialties and music. This special resort offers a lot of everything: pristine beaches, luxury villas, excursions to historic sites and a superb cuisine.