This is a luxury tour hosted by author and journalist Jimmy Thomson and guided in Vietnam by local professional tour guides. Jimmy has written two books about the Australian Army engineers’ involvement in the Vietnam War – including their discovery of the Cu Chi Viet Cong tunnels - and is a huge fan of the book and movie The Quiet American (2001) and the Catherine Deneuve film Indochine. On top of that, Jimmy has just finished his second crime novel, set mostly in Saigon. This will be Jimmy’s ninth tour of
Vietnam and sixth as host, so who
better to give you a cultured travellers’
 guide to this wonderful country, its culture and its people. Vietnam. The following is a preliminary guide to the tour – there may be changes but they will always result in you getting more out of the trip and never less. On the few occasions when meals are not included, Jimmy will lead or direct guests to his favourite cafés and restaurants.

 

Day 1 Arrival Saigon

Welcome to your Vietnam adventure. You will be met at the airport and driven to your hotel in Saigon to check in and relax. Upon arrival, your guide will be transfer you to your hotel. Welcome drinks at Bar Bleu of the fabulously quirky Myst Dong Khoi hotel (above). Jimmy will greet and go through itinerary and then you can join him for a stroll down the fabulous Dong Khoi (better known in The Quiet American as the Rue Catinat) for a drink at the iconic Majestic Hotel’s rooftop bar and onto the Rex. The Majestic was a favourite haunt of both Graham Greene and Thomas Fowler, his hero from the Quiet American, so a perfect start to our tour.
Accommodation: The Myst Dong Khoi



     

DAY 2 Cu Chi Tunnels and Cao Dai Temple Tour


Today we visit in one day two of the most popular places of interest near Ho Chi Minh City: a historical site of Cu Chi Tunnels and a glimpse into the world’s youngest and perhaps most mysterious religion. In Tay Ninh. you will visit the famous Cao Dai Holy See Temple, which is a fusion of Buddhism, Taoism, Catholicism and a few other religions. Learn about the unique religion and the temple organization, and watch the noon mass.
It’s worth noting that it was on the road from Tay Ninh to Saigon that Fowler and Pyle were ambushed by Viet Minh guerrillas, when Pyle saved Fowler’s life, in the Quiet American.
After a traditional lunch, we head to Cu Chi, a sample of the immense network of tunnels, dug by resourceful guerrilla fighters to provide communication and supply routes, hospitals, food and weapon caches and living quarters during numerous conflicts. including the ‘American’ War. Jimmy has written two books featuring the Cu Chi Tunnels, and how they were discovered by Australian troops, and en route will tell you a few stories that aren’t part of the official history.
Our local guide will lead you through the bunkers and booby trap exhibit and you will even get the opportunity to clamber through a tunnel and fire a real AK47 (should you wish). After that, you will transfer back to Saigon by speedboat down the Saigon River (the most relaxed way back to the city) with a chance to observe the life on and its banks.
Meals: Breakfast, Lunch. Accommodation: The Myst Dong Khoi       

DAY 3 Saigon- City by Day, Street Food by Night Tour

After a typically sumptuous breakfast in the Myst Dong Khoi, we take a stroll along Dong Khoi Street to the Saigon Opera House. From a bomb shelter to housing the parliamentary Lower House, the Opera House has had an interesting history. Restored in 1995 the Opera House has returned its roots and is once again a working theatre. On the way we pass shops selling amazing hand-carved sailing ships of all sizes, from small enough to fit in a bottle to larger than a motorbike.
Next, we stroll to the city’s Central Post Office which was (legend erroneously has it) designed by the renowned French architect Gustav Eiffel (of tower fame). Nevertheless, it’s a fabulous building redolent in recent and not-so-recent history and an absolute must-see.
If you’re lucky you can meet the octogenarian who used to write letters for illiterate locals and still has his own permanent seat at a bench. And you can imagine yourself as a journalist filing war reports from old- fashioned phone boxes, some of which have been converted to secure ATM booths.
And from the square in front, before developers move in, be among the last to see the rooftop which featured in the famous picture (left) of the last chopper out of Saigon in 1975.
Moving on, we visit the Reunification (formerly Presidential) Palace (above), once a symbol of the South Vietnamese Government. It was here on 30 April 1975, that the war ended when a North Vietnamese Army tank crashed through its gates. See the war room, the banquet hall and the presidential office with the unusual gifts received by various presidents from world leaders.
Somewhat quaintly, all Government buildings close for lunch so we will take their cue and head to Pho 2000 to have the famous noodle soup at the very table at which president Bill Clinton dined when he visited Saigon.
Across the road, is Ben Thanh Market - the scene of many anti-war protests and now a thriving market for locals and tourists alike. Sharpen your bargaining skills as you try to distinguish between fake designer goods and genuine ‘knock-offs’.
In the afternoon, continue to the War Remnants Museum. Here, your guide will tell the story of the city’s darkest and most tragic hours during the Vietnam War. Captured helicopters and planes in its courtyard alongside a relatively new exhibition showing the punishments and tortures meted out to members of the Viet Cong. From a real guillotine, actually used to execute prisoners, to 'tiger cages', this is an exhibit for those of a stronger constitution.
Inside the main building there is a stunning exhibition of photographs taken by European Press photographers during the war, as well as an exhibit on the effects of Agent Orange that are still being felt today.
After a welcome rest in the hotel, get set for an evening culinary adventure away from the tourist areas and into the heart of the city, where the locals go to eat. These small pop up restaurants are a nightly feature that often disappear during the day.
It is a great opportunity to try all those weird and wonderful foods you see but just are not sure what they are. Pull up a tiny stool and taste a selection of different types of Vietnamese favourites from tasty banh mi baguettes, noodle dishes and flamed grilled barbecue skewers, maybe even rice paper pizza! End the night with dessert from one of Saigon’s best little place for sweet soups.
Meals: Breakfast, Dinner. Accommodation: The Myst Dong Khoi


Day 4 Mekong Delta Full day Tour (by boat)

Enjoy a scenic speedboat day trip to discover the tangled maze of rivers and vast paddies found in the Mekong Delta on our culture-centric tours. Departing by boat from Ho Chi Minh City (also known as Saigon), you will explore areas of the Mekong Delta that few other tourists get to experience.
You will experience the old-world river life of the Mekong Delta, and enjoy a lesser-seen glimpse into rural Vietnam as it trundles along a slow tempo, as it has done for centuries.
Travel by modern speedboat and enjoy countless photo opportunities of the idyllic scenery and local people as you cruise past buffaloes ploughing fields, fruit orchards and rice paddies during our Mekong Delta tour.
Our tour provides close-up looks at small-village life along the river particularly during your time spent at a local family’s homestead, where you will be invited to enjoy fresh coconuts and fiery Mekong Delta whisky. You will have a traditional Mekong Delta lunch including fried elephant ear fish, a delicious specialty of the region, at a local house!
Meals: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner. Accommodation: The Myst Dong Khoi

Day 5 Saigon – Hoi An

Our driver will transfer us to Saigon airport for your flight to Da Nang. Upon arrival there you will be driven to the Unesco protected village of Hoi An (above).
Jimmy will introduce you to this fascinating town where you can visit a tailor and order clothes that you can pick up 24 hours later before you leave. Choose something from the “look book” of international magazines and have it made in your size (or wait till you get to Hanoi).
Afterwards we will have dinner at one of the many top class local restaurants in town. Although Hoi An doesn’t feature in The Quiet American novel, its traditional jetties were used to represent the Saigon docks in the 2001 Australian film and we will visit them too.
Meals: Breakfast, Dinner. Accommodation: LA RESIDENCIA - Little Boutique Hotels & Spas

Day 6 Hoi An- Walking and Cooking Tour

This morning visit the local produce market before cruising along the Thu Bon River to the Red Bridge Cooking School. Here you will tour the school’s herb gardens and enjoy an informal cooking lesson. Your chef will explain the secrets of popular Hoi An specialties.
The town is famous for dishes like Cao Lau, a medley of a yellow noodles, pork slices and pickled hot peppers, and Mi Quang, a noodle dish featuring boiled quails eggs and chunks of baked rice cakes.
Then we take a tour of Hoi An, a former trading port that welcomed Chinese, Dutch, French, Japanese, Portuguese and Arab merchants between the 16th to 18th centuries.
Today Hoi An is famous for its restored architecture, homemade silk, expert tailors and delicious noodles and seafood. Its relaxed vibe and pedestrian streets make this town a pleasure to walk around.
The tour includes stops at several famous landmarks, including Chua Ong Pagoda, dating back to 1653 and built in honour of the Chinese general Quan Cong, who is worshipped by many as a symbol of loyalty and justice.
Next, pop into Phuc Kien Assembly Hall, to see the Jinshang Temple, which is dedicated to the goddess of the sea and the protector of sailors.
From there it is a short walk to Tan Ky House, a 200- year-old ancestral house and finally, stroll across the often photographed 17th century covered bridge (right) built by Japanese craftsmen. The beautifully built bridge doubles as a temple and is a major landmark of Hoi An. End your afternoon with a boat trip along Thu Bon River.
Meals: Breakfast, Lunch Accommodation: LA RESIDENCIA - Little Boutique Hotels & Spas

Day 7 Hoi An to Hanoi

Your guide will meet you at your hotel and transfer you to the airport for your flight from Da Nang to Hanoi (don’t forget your tailoring).
Upon arrival at Hanoi airport a local guide will be waiting to transfer you to your hotel.
Afternoon is free time but Jimmy will recommend interesting walks in the Old Quarter of the Vietnam capital, near our hotel, taking shops selling unique souvenirs, such as charming replicas of revolutionary posters on hand-made paper.  Or take a stroll around the lake, with a stop for coffee and gelato.   
If you missed out in Hoi An, you can take advantage of the tailoring in Hanoi and have a replica of that favourite suit or jacket (the one you wear so often it’s almost worn out) made while you are in town before enjoying dinner at a local restaurant.

Day 8 Hanoi- Full Day City Tour

Begin the morning with a visit to the  Ho Chi Minh mausoleum and hear about the man who led Vietnam’s campaign for independence from French colonial rule. After dedicating his life to the liberation of his country from foreign rule, Ho Chi Minh died in 1969 and his body was preserved for posterity.
Then wander the grounds to see the one pillar pagoda and the presidential palace. Next, visit the 11th century relic, the Temple of Literature, which was built in homage to the Chinese scholar Confucius. In the afternoon, start with the Museum of Ethnology that is widely acknowledged as the best in the country, with an extensive display dedicated to Vietnam’s 54 ethnic minority people.
Take a breezy cyclo-ride through the Old Quarter’s 36 streets, named for the products that were sold from their shops. Today, vendors on Tin and Bamboo Streets still sell the same wares. Next, is the Ngoc Son temple set on a tiny island on the picturesque Hoan Kiem Lake and how it got its name from a legend of an emperor, a magic sword and a giant turtle! End your day with a delightful water puppet show, a traditional art that is still being performed today.
Meals: Breakfast, Dinner. Accommodation: Apricot Hanoi Hotel (Optional upgrade: Sofitel Legend Metropole Hanoi Hotel)

Day 9 Hanoi – Ha Long Bay - 2 Night Cruise

Leave the noise of the city behind as you board a seaplane and take in the impressive aerial views over Hanoi, flying 45 minutes to Halong Bay, before taking a 15-minute scenic flight over Halong. Called “Bay of Descending Dragons” in Vietnamese, the archipelago of Halong Bay is a UNESCO World Heritage Site composed of almost 2,000 islands and jungle-clad limestone pillars.
From up high you will have amazing views over this magnificent landscape of limestone pillars pushing up out of the green waters. See the islands of Cong Do, Ba Ham with their pretty lagoons and fly out to Dau Be on the edge of the Gulf of Tonkin.
Leave the chaos of Hanoi behind as you transfer to Halong Bay, arriving at Tuan Chau Island for check in at the exclusive Paradise Suites Hotel lounge. Board your ship and home for the next few nights, the luxurious Paradise Prestige, a beautiful wooden junk with all the fineries and exclusive services, sail into the bay enjoying a welcome drink and brief orientation. Have lunch, and house drinks, which are inclusive as you head into the remote Bai Tu Long Bay.
Sail into the northern end of Halong, a more peaceful and less known part of the bay, allowing for more tranquillity on your journey. Stop at Thien Canh Son Cave, a geological  marvel with majestic formations. Then, sip  cocktails on the sundeck, before docking at Cong Do Island for the night.
Enjoy an authentic Vietnamese cooking demonstration, before tucking into your elegant a la carte dinner at the Prestige restaurant. Afterwards, we’ll have a special screening of Indochine in the restaurant and you can go squid finishing or just take in the stars above before bed.
Meals: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner. Accommodation: Paradise Prestige Cruises (Deluxe 3D2N)
Note: Ha Long Bay itinerary subject to change or cancellation due to weather conditions



Day 10 Ha Long Bay

Rise with the sun to experience Tai Chi on the sundeck taking in the majesty of the Gulf of Tonkin. Have breakfast before kayaking around the area. After a swim at the beautiful and isolated Ban Chan beach, tuck into lunch as you sail to Vung Vieng Fishing Village.
Take in the tranquillity of this traditional floating village with its array of freshly caught seafood, as you drift on a bamboo boat. After, return to the ship and enjoy cocktails or sparkling wine on the sundeck. Watch the magnificent sunset over the bays thousands of inlets, as the golden rays twinkle over the jungle covered karsts and jade waters.
You are welcome to read, relax or watch the Vietnamese cooking demonstration before your royal dinner at the Prestige restaurant. After, take in the serenity of the bay under the stars or go squid fishing if you missed the opportunity last night. Relax under the moon, as you see the beauty of the bay around you, finding peace of mind before bed.
Meals: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner. Accommodation: Paradise Prestige Cruises (Deluxe 3D2N)

Day 11 Ha Long Bay to Hanoi

Wake up early for one last Tai Chi class as you sail back to the marina. After a luxurious breakfast, enjoy a relaxing spa treatment before checking out and driving back to Hanoi through a Unesco conservation area where farmers still use buffalo to plough their fields and harvest rice by hand.
Back in Hanoi, we check in for our final night in Vietnam’s most luxurious hotel – the Sofitel Legend Metropole (above) where they still maintain the room where Graham Greene completed the Quiet American.
In the evening, depending on the wishes of the majority of guests, Jimmy will host a farewell dinner either at a fantastic new Hanoi restaurant or in the former Rue La Vuong for the legendary Cha Ca La Vuong – in the original restaurant that requires no menu because there is only one dish ... a delicious fish and vegetable casserole. This was the dish that sustained the Viet Minh through the night as they plotted against the French.

Day 12 Hanoi to home

And so, after enjoying a fabulous breakfast, picking up our new, hand-made clothes and last-minute souvenirs, we say a fond farewell to Vietnam ... with transfers to the airport.
Meals: Breakfast

Optional photography tour
For early-bird keen photographers there will be the option of a sunrise photography tour (at extra cost) on the last day. You will be transported to the starting point at 4.30am for your special tour where you can explore the historical Long Bien Bridge and lively Long Bien Market, through the lens of your camera, discovering their charms and uncovering their secrets, on this exclusive private photography tour.
Guided by a seasoned professional photographer, visit the legendary Long Bien Bridge as well as the bustling Long Bien Market, learning the best tips and techniques for capturing the unique spirit of these historic sites.
The tour begins on the famous Long Bien Bridge. Opened by the French colonial government in 1909, this bridge became world famous during the Vietnam War when it was repeatedly bombarded, but remains in use to this day. Then, proceed to the lively Long Bien Market to capture its colourful and vibrant atmosphere.
Finally, enjoy a delicious Pho breakfast and traditional Vietnamese near the old water tower. Here, participants will have a chance to review their photographs and receive feedback from the guides before being transferred back to the hotel at 8.30am.

INCLUSIONS

  • Accommodation as listed above including all breakfasts.
  • Meals as listed in the itinerary
  • English speaking local guides for each tour
  • Tours and transfers as mentioned by private air-conditioned vehicles
  • Ha Long Bay and XO tour join with group.
  • Entrance fees for all visits as mentioned in the itinerary
  • Internal Flights:
    Saigon – Da Nang
    Da Nang – Hanoi
    (Return flights from Hanoi to Saigon are part of a Vietnam Airlines international flights package.  If you book another airline, you should book flights to return from Hanoi.)

    EXCLUSIONS

  • Travel insurance (compulsory)
  • Visa on arrival (we will arrange this for you before departure and it will be added to your final invoice)
  • Spending money
  • Tips & gratuities
  • Activities not listed
  • Meals not listed
  • All alcoholic drinks
  • International departure taxes
  • International flights

Please contact us if you would like to know more about this eclectic itinerary!

Jimmy Thomson’s ‘Romance and Intrigue’ Presentations

Having written two books about Australians in the ‘American War’, and having fallen in love with the country along the way, our travel host Jimmy Thomson has a unique insight into Vietnam, its history, its people and the Western creative impulses it inspires.
Every couple of days (at least) during the tour Jimmy will give a talk in a relaxed environment followed by a discussion.  They will be more like seminars than lectures, but they will be informative and entertaining.
Here are some topics to which we can add (or subtract) according to the wishes of the group. These are in addition to the expert local knowledge provided by our professional tour guides as we travel around.

The French Connection

How France colonised S.E. Asia and left an indelible mark on the cultures and cuisines of the countries they ruled up to World War II and beyond. We look at their legacy, from buildings to beer, and even a written language like no other.

The Quiet Englishman

Author, journalist, communist and spy – how Graham Greene travelled the world reporting on trouble spots for both newspapers and his MI5 masters, leaving brilliant novels in his wake.

The Original Tunnel Rats

It’s a little-known fact that Australians were the first to explore the now legendary tunnels of Cu Chi.  We tell the story of a rag-tag band of Australian sappers (army engineers) and how they came to discover the Vietcong’s underground city.

Graham Greene’s Saigon

Many of the old buildings where Greene and his characters spent their time are gone – but some remain … along with the sense of elegant hedonism that marked the last days of French rule depicted in The Quiet American. We explore the great hotels, cafes and bars of Greene’s Saigon.

The Religion of Many Faiths

The Cao Dai sect is a conflation of many of the world’s great religions: Christianity, Bhuddism, Taoism, Hinduism and Islam. John F Kennedy and Confucius are numbered among its saints. Around our visit to the spectacular Cao Dai cathedral in Tay Ninh, we discuss what it was that attracted conflicted Catholic Graham Greene to this remarkable religion.

Between the Wars

The seeds of the American war were sown immediately after World War II when the defeated Japanese and the occupying British colluded to hand the country back to French rule.  
The French were eventually driven out by forces led by a young Ho Chi Minh but, as The Quiet American predicts, a “third force” was getting ready to “save” the country from Communism.  We chart the growing influence of the USA that led, inevitably to what we call the Vietnam War.

Movie night 1 - The Quiet American

The first attempt to film Graham Greene’s novel was the 1958 movie starring Audie Murphy which flipped the drama by making the American the hero and the Englishman (played by Michael Redgrave) the sinister villain. Greene was furious.
Australian director Philip Noyce redressed the balance with his 2001 remake starring Michael Caine and Brendan Foster which was much more faithful to the book and earned Caine an Oscar nomination.
We’ll watch the latter movie and discuss the politics behind both versions (the remake was issued a year late in the USA, due to the social and political fall-out from 9/11). And we’ll talk about the locations around us in Saigon and Tay Ninh and how some of them have hardly changed.

Movie night 2 – Indochine

When luminous French actress Catherine Deneuve made this film in 1992 the number of tourists visiting the country was barely over half a million a year.  Today, 25 years later, it’s more than 10 million and a lot of that has to do with the stunning images in Indochine that showed the world the wonders in and around Ha Long Bay.  
That’s where we plan to be when we watch this movie about a French plantation owner who raises a Vietnamese princess as her own daughter in the dying days of colonial France – and then finds herself competing with the girl for the romantic attentions of a young navy officer.

More than just Pho

There’s a very good reason Vietnamese food is becoming popular all around the world.  It’s light, tasty, healthy and combines the best aspects of food from neighbouring countries like Thailand and China.  
And then there’s the French influence evident in everything from bread, patisseries and beer to that uniquely Vietnamese lunchtime favourite Banh Mi.  We’ll discuss and taste what makes Vietnamese food so appealing.

Ca Phe Society

On his recent trips to Saigon and Hanoi, Jimmy discovered a number of trendy cafés trading on what he calls ‘Communist Chic’.  There’s the waitresses in battle fatigues selling baguetttes and condensed milk with coconut ice cream drenched in coffee – for breakfast! –  in Ca Phe Cong.  Then there’s the hidden Secret Garden on the fourth floor roof of a building with no lift.  The Propaganda café (right) has wonderful ‘inspirational’ murals (and great banh mi). The Saigon Oi has a lift to its fifth floor premises … however it will cost you 15 cents to ride it.  But wherever you go there’s the addictive Ca Phe Deng Da (iced black coffee) to keep you going.  And almost every café has high speed wifi – why wouldn’t you drop in?
Other discussion topics may be added on request from guests who have booked on the tour

More about Jimmy Thomson. Back to the Vietnam with Jimmy Thomson tour page.

Please contact us if you would like to know more about this eclectic itinerary!