HaLong Bay is best accessed via Hanoi and traveling east for about 4 hours by tour van or private car/taxi to HaiPhong Harbor. Here you will be escorted aboard your boat. Most Vietnam travelers arrange for a 1 or 2 night cruise on a modern Chinese style junk boat, there are some colonial-style cruisers also. These boats can accommodate 8 – 20 or more guests. These cruises are known for the excellent cuisine that is prepared on board – usually fresh sea food and vegetable from nearby farms.
The main attraction of HaLong Bay is the hundreds of sandstone islets that are found throughout the bay. Be prepared to take a lot of photographs as you cruise across the still waters of HaLong Bay.
In addition to “Island Watching”, you can go kayaking, swimming or take a trek on one of the larger islands, such as Cat Ba Island. You will see “Floating Villages”, where local families live and make their living from the sea. Be sure to plan you day to appreciate both the sunsets and sunrises over HaLong Bay.
You can then travel to Hue by air, railway, tour bus or even rent a car. Hue is the former imperial capital. Here ou can visit the tombs of the former emperors, such as the Thien Mu Pagoda, dating back to 1602 and walk through its graceful gardens.
On north bank of the Perfume River, is the famed Citadel, built by Emperor Gia Long in 1804. Surrounded by a moat and walls 20 meters thick the Citadel contains the Forbidden Purple City, home to the Emperor and his court.
Be sure to sample Hue’s world famous cuisine. You might even consider taking a short cooking class to learn more about Hue cuisine and prepare your own culinary masterpiece.
After spending a bit of time in Hue you can travel a few hours south to HoiAn by tour bus or private car/taxi.
The third of the UNESCO World Heritage Sites was Vietnam’s “Window on the World” before the arrival of the French. Ships from all over the world called on this port city to trade with each other and the inhabitants of HoiAn. The Chinese, Japanese, Dutch, Portuguese, Spanish and French traders all influenced life in HoiAn. Some more than others – the Chinese and Japanese merchants contributions can still be seen in the well preserved architecture of the ancient village. The most famous landmark in HoiAn is the “Japanese Bridge” with its unique Buddhist Pagoda on one side.
Take a walk along the riverfront, shop in the local market or have a silk dress or suit custom tailored, and explore the many restaurants, old houses, craft shops and art galleries, where local artisans sell their works. Relax on Cua Dai Beach for a few hours – your can get there by taxi or rent a bicycle from your hotel.
The fourth of the UNESCO World Heritage Sites can be experienced on a day trip from Hoi An – visit the Cham ruins at My Son. Your My Son visit might be best arranged by an private tour arranged through your hotel or one of the many travel agencies in HoiAn. An early start is recommended because of the popularity of the Ruins and it is about a 2 hour journey west of HoiAn.
My Son was built by the Cham Empire between the 4th and 14th Centuries. It is Vietnam’s most important Cham Ruins. The Ruins are fairly well documented so as to provide visitors with an interesting history of the area. Some of the organized tours also arrange a return to HoiAn by river boat, visiting various craft villages on the way.
DaNang is the major city in the area and it is served by an international airport. It is also home to one of the most complete Cham Museums in the world. If you have the time, you should visit the Cham Museum before you head for the My Son Ruins located about 70 kilometers southwest of DaNang.