My wife and I will be visiting Vietnam this November while on a cruise. We usually don’t like the shore excursions offered by the cruise line so I’m looking for some help from you veteran travelers to Vietnam. We are a couple in our mid 40’s and physically fit (for our age). We recently spent some time in China and realize that there is a significant Chinese cultural influence in Vietnam. We are more interested in things that are unique to this country. We are looking for help deciding if we should take a trip offered by the cruise line or head out on our own with your help. Below I list the cities we will visit, the amount of time we have in port and a list of the trips offered by the cruise line. Thanks in advance for any advice you have to offer.
Da Nang, Vietnam – 8:00 a.m. – 4:00 p.m.
Ancient Civilizations - Danang & Hoi An
Duration: Approximately 4 1 /2 hours
Tour through the center of Danang past some of the city's colonial styles buildings. Visit the Cham Museum, founded in 1915 by the French. The museum buildings alone are worth the visit. The open-air museum houses items from the VII to the XV centuries. The sculptures are outstandingly beautiful and reflect the Cham peoples' Hindu (and later Buddhist) beliefs. A stop will be made at China Beach (Non Nuoc Beach) where you will be able to take a walk on the sand or simply enjoy the picturesque scenery. Continue to Hoi An for a walking tour of this charming town. This living museum was recognized as a World Cultural Heritage Site in 1999. Today, the town still preserves hundreds of original houses, pagodas and bridges built of precious woods, making it a photographers delight. Visit the Phuoc Kien Temple, built in honor of Thien Hau, the Goddess of the Sea; Hoi An Museum; a handicraft workshop; the Bridge Pagoda and other interesting sites.
Da Nang City Highlights
Duration: Approximately 4 hours
Today's Da Nang is not only a city of great cultural value, but also a destination for world travelers. First you'll visit the Ho Chi Minh Museum, which has a section of military history including military weapons from America, China and Russia. There is also a replica of Ho Chi Minh's house in Hanoi as well as a museum with relics from Ho Chi Minh City. Continue to visit the Cham Museum; built in 1915, it houses the finest collection of Cham sculptures in the world, including hundreds of stone and terracotta sculptural works created between the VII & XV centuries. Hop on a pedal cab for a ride around Da Nang City. You'll be dropped off at the City Square where you will continue for a walk around this coastal town, once the capital of the Champa Kingdom.
Marble Mountain & Non Nuoc Carving Village
Duration: Approximately 4 hours
Your tour takes you to Marble Mountain with superb views over Danang and renowned China Beach. You will see the caves and grottos that Vietnamese utilized for all purposes - worship, shelter as well as hideouts during the Vietnam War. At the foot of the mountain is the stone carving village of Non Nuoc. The villagers earn their living by quarrying and carving stones into works of art. Close to the village is (China Beach (Non Nuoc Beach), once an R & R site for American soldiers, where you will have the opportunity to walk along the picturesque shores. Then is on to the Cham Museum, with hundreds of sand-stone artifacts displayed in chronological order.
Nka Trang, Vietnam – Noon – 8:00 p.m.
Highlights of Nha Trang
Duration: Approximately 4 1/2 hours
Bordered by a long beach of white sand and coconut trees, Nha Trang is considered as the most charming coastal town of Vietnam. One of your stops on this tour visits the Long Son Pagoda. Built in 1889, is the main and largest pagoda in Nha Trang. At the top of the hill, behind the pagoda, is a huge white Buddha statue, visible from afar. Next you'll visit Cham Towers of Ponagar, built between the VII and XII centuries, it is evidence of the ancient Cham civilization. Built only with loose bricks and with neither plaster, nor mortar, the towers have stood for many centuries. Continue to a local embroidery workshop where you'll see the work in progress. Enjoy a visit to the Dam market, one of Vietnam's most interesting local markets selling all sorts of goods. Before your return to the ship, enjoy a break at a local Hotel Beach.
Note: There are many steps at the Long Son Pagoda and Cham Towers. Comfortable walking shoes are recommended.
Apart from the charming beaches, Nha Trang has a peaceful countryside with beautiful scenery, fresh air and hospitable people. Along the roads, you can see green rice paddies stretching to the horizon. Get an insight into the lifestyles of the local people by visiting the Dien Son Commune Central. Stroll around to visit a kindergarten, health care station, market, pagoda and a communal house. You will also visit a local village to explore the daily activities of its people. Continue to one of the rice fields and step back in time when you see buffalos plowing the fields. Everything seems to be a painting full of rural activities. Depart for a visit to Dam Market. The market and surrounding streets hold the city's liveliest market places where you can find all sorts of goods and see lots of interesting bargaining. Before you return to the ship, enjoy a short break at a local hotel's Beach.
Town & Country
Duration: Approximately 4 hours
This combined tour will give you the opportunity to see both sides of this charming place. You start with a visit to the Cham Towers of Ponagar, with its terraced pyramidal roofs, vaulted interior masonry and small entrance hall , they are a magnificent example of Cham architecture, and a photographer's heaven. Next you will visit the Vinh Thanh commune to experience the local life. You will make a brief stop by the rice fields to view the rural activities. A visit to a local kindergarten will acquaint you with the local children. Continue to an old traditional house at the village where you will explore the daily activities while enjoying local fruits and drinks. Visit a mat workshop in Vinh Thai Commune and look into the art of weaving. You'll go back to Nha Trang City where you will visit an embroidery workshop before returning to the ship.
Ho Chi Minh City (Phu My), Vietnam – Noon – Midnight
Colonial Ho Chi Minh City
Duration: Approximately 8 1/2 hours
On your scenic drive through the countryside you will cross many villages and rice paddies before arriving to this fascinating and intriguing city. There are new high-rise buildings and five-star hotels, street markets and colorful shops, sidewalk cafes and sleek new pubs. There are also old pagodas, built one or two hundred years ago, where visitors and locals alike can drop in to enjoy a minute of serenity, temporarily forgetting the noisy world outside. You will first visit the Revolutionary Museum, followed by the Reunification Hall (former Presidential Palace). The neo-Roman style cathedral Notre Dame, built between 1877 and 1880, with its high square towers tipped with iron spires, is one of the city's architectural landmarks and your next destination on this tour. After lunch / dinner, you will continue your panoramic sightseeing of the city before the return drive to the port of Phu My.
Note: On morning arrivals, meals will be lunch. On afternoon arrivals, meals will be dinner.
Cu Chi Tunnels & Overview of Ho Chi Ming City
Duration: Approximately 10 hours
Cu Chi Tunnels, nicknamed "underground village" is a labyrinth of interlaced tunnels of more than 250 km (155 miles) in length and used to be a guerrilla stronghold during the last Vietnam War. The tunnels were used as the base from which the Viet Cong mounted the operations of the Tet Offensive in 1968. Your scenic 3 hour journey through the countryside brings you to the underground tunnels. On arrival at Cu Chi, there will be a short presentation, which will explain the underground network. Although the tunnels are narrow for most Westerners, most of the complex has been opened and ventilated, and a short section has been widened to allow tourists to share the experience. You will stop at a local restaurant where you have a chance to have a box meal. Continue for a brief orientation drive through Ho Chi Minh City (time permitting) before returning to the pier.
Sights of Ho Chi Minh City
Duration: Approximately 9 1/2 hrs
Ho Chi Minh City (or Saigon as it is also called) is the largest city in Viet Nam with over five million inhabitants. The city is a kaleidoscope of lively activities where rickshaw drivers and motorbike riders adroitly negotiate the road side by side with brand new cars. Street vendors peddle an assortment of fruits of the season or news boys hawk the latest issue of a weekly foreign magazine just in front of a modern fashion shop, all with an ever-ready smile that makes the visit unforgettable. You'll board a hydrofoil for the scenic transfer to the city where you will start a drive through the French Colonial section. Here you will find grand old style buildings such as Notre Dame Cathedral, Central Post Office and City Square. You will visit the History Museum, which displays an excellent collection of artifacts illustrating the evolution of Vietnamese culture and many other cultures such as Oc Eo, Phu Nam, Champa and Khmer. The former Presidential Palace is now known as Reunification Hall. You will also have the opportunity to see the heart of Cholon, commonly known as Chinatown with its colorful market. A stop at a lacquer workshop will afford you the opportunity to watch skillful craftsmen at work and to purchase on the spot, a wide range of products including lacquer ware, ceramics, or wooden carvings. Lunch or dinner will be served at a local restaurant in the center of the city before your drive back to Phu My.
Vung Tau City Highlights
Duration: Approximately 5 hrs
The very popular local beach resort of Vung Tau, known as Cap St. Jacques during the French occupation, is a preferred destination for the residents of Saigon. The hillsides are dotted with attractive villas now converted into guesthouses. Your tour takes you on a scenic drive around Large Mountain, passing by Thich Ca Phat Dai Temple, Ben Dinh Fishing Village and Dau Beach. You'll stop for a visit of the White Villa, where you will be greeted by a folkloric performance. Built for the French Governor and later used as an exile place for the Vietnamese King Thanh Thai, the villa houses a collection of artifacts from the XVIII century, rescued from a sunken merchant ship. You'll enjoy the panoramic views of the beach and city from the former king's room. Continue for a visit to the Niet Ban Tinh Xa Temple to see the reclining Buddha, followed by a drive around the Small Mountain to see the statue of Jesus. Before returning to the ship, you will stop for refreshments and have a few minutes of free time to shop for souvenirs or browse in the stores.
Doug, The Danang-Hoi An tour should not be missed if only because of the side trip to Hoi An, a delightful old trading town with many 100+ old buildings. The museum there is also interesting.
Marble Mountain is a scenic area but overrun by kids insistent that you buy their post cards etc.
If you like beaches you'll like Nha Trang, however 4 1/2 hours is not enough time to hire a fishing boat to visit the nearby islands, enjoy some good seafood and see the sights. If you go, be sure to secure your bags and other valuables when walking on the public beach.
Either one of the Saigon tours look OK, but again there's not enough time to see this great city.
Skip Cu Chi unless you are a war buff.
Vung Tau is strictly a resort city. Not much more than the beaches and some Bhuddist temples.
As a first time visitor I'd go with the guided tours, otherwise your'e likely to wast your time getting around and get ripped off too. JERRY
I was just in Vietnam/Cambodia in early September.
You should see Hoi-An, it is a delightful city and very unique.
My view different from other answer - DON'T MISS the Cu Chi Tunnels! It's sad and interesting and fascinating, and truly a unique place. You don't have to be a war buff.
All tours will be 1/2 seeing things and 1/2 people trying to sell you things (i.e. if it ever says 'workshop', it means 'buy stuff'). I would choose the countryside tours. The country of VN is just beautiful, and the people are very nice and friendly. The cities (esp. Saigon) are very big and very busy.
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