Hanoi (Vietnam’s Cultural Heart)
The North of Vietnam is the country’s true cultural heart. Its art, its music and dance, its cuisine, its heritage, architecture and rich tapestry of life all starts with Hanoi and makes its way south. Hanoi may not have the prosperity or modern wealth of its southern counterpart, but it does provide the visitor with a far greater cultural understanding and experience of what Vietnam is all about to the Vietnamese.
Faded colonial architecture, some restored beautifully, sits side by side hidden pagodas and temples. Tree lined boulevards are filled with local street side cafes and restaurants. Its shaded parks provide respite from the summer heat or the trickle of winter rain and are always filled with life within. Its street markets and street culture continues to play out as if one is wandering through a set of a play or a movie on how life used to be in Asia. Yes, Hanoi is modernising, but it is wise enough to know that what brings visitors here and what keeps the fabric of Hanoi society together is its heritage and distinctly Vietnamese traditions.
This is the very fabric that helps us build tour product with an air of exclusivity about it, whether a private evening exploration of the Temple of Literature or a simple visit to a rural Buddhist pagoda where time has stood still, Hanoi enchants and delivers on all fronts.
Early Morning Markets, Rituals, Residential Streets & Local Cafes
Hanoians tend to rise at dawn, and this short early morning tour gives an opportunity to experience a side of the city and its culture that few visitors are privy to. After departing your hotel very early in the morning visit the fresh vegetable wholesale market (named Cho Rau Dau Cau) which operates daily from 0400 - 0630 am. This is where the farmers from the countryside bring their wholesale produce to the city for sale. Early in the morning it has to be Hanoi’s busiest spot and simply disappears by 7am. Next visit the lively and very colourful flower market (Cho Hoa) which is a photographers’ delight and again its most active early in the morning. You will see vendors carting their flowers off on the back of their bicycles and riding through the Hanoi streets.
Continue to Hanoi’s nearby West Lake area, where you may choose to take a brisk walk or a bicycle ride around the paths of the quiet foreshore and the nearby residential streets, which are a popular place for the Hanoi local residents to socialize and enjoy their early morning exercises.
There is the opportunity for the energetic to join with the locals in some Tai Chi. Visit a small local pagoda rarely frequented by foreigners, and take a break for a traditional Vietnamese coffee with the locals by the lake before returning to your hotel.
Behind The Scenes At The Opera
The Opera House is one of the most photographed sites in Hanoi, with most visitors to the city including a stop to view the outside of this iconic building during their city sightseeing tour. It is usually not possible during the day to visit the inside of the building, however indus experiences can now offer our clients the unique opportunity to attend an evening performance (Vietnam National Symphony Orchestra or an alternative special performance if scheduled) which is held at this historic venue on selected dates.
Amid the flow of history, The Hanoi Opera House stands as the architectural, cultural and political symbol of the 1000 year old Capital. Constructed by the French colonial administration between 1901 and 1911, it was modelled on the Palais Garnier in Par-is, and is considered to be one of the architectural landmarks of Hanoi. Its design is influenced by the European architectural style under the Renaissance period. Besides its use as a theatre, the Hanoi Opera House has also been a historical witness to the most significant events the city’s recent history including the Revolution of Hanoi in 1945 and the first key meetings of the National Assembly in 1946. Completely restored in 1995 the Opera House is now a cultural center of the country and a cultural landmark in Southeast Asia.
Enjoy a glass of champagne at the Opera Garden prior to the performance and a private talk on the history of the building. After the performance you have exclusive access to visit the backstage area to be introduced to some of the performers – a unique experience to meet and interact with these talented musicians. This special evening is capped off with a late dinner at one of Hanoi’s finest restaurants. Please note, selective dates will apply for this excursion. Please contact us for further information.
Hanoi’s Street Food With Culinary Expert
Private tour is available on Mon/Thu/Sat from 9:45 AM~14:15PM
Daniel Hoyer is a well-known Hanoi chef and a renowned culinary writer, who authored Culinary Vietnam amongst other titles, and presides over the kitchen at Provecho. A morning spent with Daniel allows the opportunity to see one side of Hanoi from his perspective, using food as an insight to Vietnam. Daniel takes guests to places tourists wouldn’t normally venture on their own where most guidebooks neglect to mention, hence guests will see daily life in the city as it has always been.
The morning experience starts with a visit to either the Chợ Hôm or Chợ Châu Long market to learn about and taste some of the ingredients used in the local cuisine and to admire the buying and selling rituals of a Vietnamese market. Daniel will introduce the guests to some of the vendors, explain about the ingredients for sale and assist with purchasing items to take home. Many photo opportunities will be available in this bustling, vibrant and colorful scene. After-wards enjoy a Vietnamese Cà Phê (coffee) or Trà (tea) with the locals at one of Daniel’s favourite side-walk cafes. Here Daniel will give an overview of the Vietnamese food scene, particularly in Hanoi, and discuss the daily life and culture of Vietnam from a well-informed expatriate’s perspective.
Continue your exploration of the city and its street food and then enjoy lunch with Daniel at one of Hanoi’s Pho Cuong establishments, to enjoy traditional grilled beef and rice noodle rolls with fresh herbs, along with several other favorite local snacks.
Red River Buddhist Pagoda (with Meditation and Lunch)
This morning journey out of the hustle and bustle of Vietnam’s crowded capital into the quiet and traditional countryside areas of the Red River Delta to visit one of the finest pagodas in northern Vietnam - But Thap. Known as Vietnam’s first Buddhist center, the pagoda was first built under the dynasty of King Tran Thanh Tong (1258-1278) and rebuilt in 1647 in the Le Dynasty by Buddhist priest Zhus Zhus.
With more than 100 compartments, But Thap is larger than most other pagodas in the north of the country. Inside the pagoda are more than 50 statues of different sizes with the most remarkable a thousand-hand-ed and thousand-eyed Guanyin, which is described as a sculptural masterpiece of Vietnam. Leaving But Thap pagoda, guests will visit nearby Bong Lai pagoda and here they will enjoy the unique chance to practice meditation with the monks for thirty minutes followed by a special vegetarian lunch prepared by the Pagoda’s resident nuns from natural ingredients.
Guests may interact with the nuns to understand more about their practice of Vietnamese Buddhism, their life experiences and their charitable activities within the community.
Hanoi’s French Legacy by Vintage Car (with Lunch)
Hanoi has been referred to as ‘Asia’s most Asian city’, however the legacies from the period of French Co-lonialism still permeate the city and adds to the al-lure of Vietnam’s capital.
Spend today exploring Hanoi’s historical vestiges by vintage car and your local guide. First visit St. Joseph’s Cathedral, a neo-Gothic edifice with twin bell towers to match those of Notre Dame de Paris, completed in 1886. Next, the vintage car will bring you to the Hanoi Opera House, which stands as the architectural, cultural and political symbol of this 1000 year old Capital. Constructed by the French colonial administration between 1901 and 1911, it was modelled on the beautiful Palais Garnier in Paris.
Drive and walk down Phan Dinh Phung Street, arguably Hanoi’s, if not Vietnam’s most attractive boulevard filled with both restored and rustic French built villas. Your guide will point out some of the hidden treasures here. Continuing the drive along some of Hanoi’s charming streets before stopping for lunch at La Verticale, often acknowledged as the city’s finest French eatery. The French owner and chef Didier Courlou has created this timeless establishment renowned for its fine French cuisine with a Vietnamese twist, located in a four-story 1930’s French townhouse.
This afternoon visit the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the University of Medicine and the History Museum, with its distinct Indochine style. Late afternoon visit the Long Bien Bridge – one of the most iconic landmarks in the capital and now regarded as a symbol of the city’s tenacity and spirit. Commissioned by the French Governor General of Indochina, when the bridge opened in 1903 it was one of the longest bridges in Asia, and was of strategic importance in securing the areas north of the city and providing ac-cess to the seaport at Hai Phong. There is the chance to walk all or part way across the bridge to enjoy the views and take advantage of the photographic opportunities.
Hue & Danang (the Centre)
With such a short distance between them no two cities could be more at odds with each other. Hue, the former Imperial Capital, exudes charm and history and is very much enriched by its intrinsic culture and traditions that continue to this day with little outside interference. With its restored Imperial Citadel, its lands decorated with magnificent tombs of the Emperors, its ancient pagodas and serene Perfume River, Hue is possibly Vietnam’s prettiest city and its inhabitants intend to keep it that way.
With so much to offer, culturally, Hue has an abundance of tour product to warrant an extended stay and yet, the beaches of Danang, its cutting-edge resorts and the tourist friendly town of Hoi An tends to attract the long stayer in search of relaxation, shopping and luxury. But away from that, the region holds many surprises in its diverse landscape and hidden areas of beauty. From ancient relics of a former civilisation to rural villages of ethnic minorities that still maintain their authenticity, to serene countryside where rice is cultivated and buffalos roam, Danang and its environs offers far more than may meet the eye.
Explore and stay a little longer in this region as these experiences will be the ones remembered most.
Uncovering The Mysterious Cham (private access)
My Son, located approximately 70 km southwest of Danang, was the former capital of this mysterious ancient Cham civilization. The Cham religion was primarily derived from Indian Hinduism and the ruins at My Son, are the most extensive and best-preserved Cham relics in Vietnam. The My Son complex is comprised of seventy Hindu-like towers and temples that connect to each other with complicated red brick designs.
This important archaeological site represents the longest continuous occupation for religious purposes within Southeast Asia as a whole, and is now under UNESCO protection as a World Heritage Site and conservation efforts under way.
Begin your visit early afternoon first to explore the My Son complex with our local guide, where there is time to explore the ruins. Learn about the restoration efforts, and you may even be able to enjoy the traditional Cham dance performance at the site (only show starts at 2:30PM). After departing My Son travel to Danang, where we have arranged special after hours access to visit the world renowned Cham Museum to complete your under-standing of the Champa kingdom, its culture and his-tory.
The museum was built by the French in 1915 and most of the artefacts it houses were retrieved from My Son, and thus saved from the ravages of war that followed.
You have the exclusive privilege of being able to wan-der through the museum in the early evening after closing time, when all other visitors have departed, whilst enjoying a glass of wine. Wander in solitude along the frangipani lined entranceway to the halls of stone work and art from different periods of the Champa kingdom with our escort, an expert on Cham history and culture.
Royal Architecture, Feng Shui Principals, Emperors & Mandarins – Hue’s Religious Practices & Mysterious Beliefs
Hue used to be the Capital of the Nguyen dynasty, the last royal monarchy in the history of Vietnam. The architecture of the Ancient Capital of Hue reflects a deeply Vietnamese traditional soul. In 1993, the complex of Hue monuments was included in UNESCO list of World Cultural Heritage. First visit the Imperial Citadel with a distinct focus on the beliefs behind its structure and royal architecture with an expert guide.
Then visit one of the royal tombs, each with its own characteristics, some small, some grand. Guests will learn about the eastern philosophy of Feng Shui which influenced their construction and underlies their design.
Hidden in the nearby forest is the delightful Tu Hieu Pagoda and monastery. It best represents the religious architecture of Hue where most of the population is devoted to Buddhism. Arriving prior to noon see the monks praying inside. Later head further into the residential districts where one can find the traditional Hue garden homes. These are wooden houses, elaborately carved and decorated, located in the middle of large gardens with beautiful bonsai and ancient trees. Hue’s garden houses used to be the living places of royal relatives, royal officials, elite families, poets and writers during the time when Hue was the capital of Vietnam. Today ancestors are worshiped in the main buildings while their descendants are living in the divided parts of the home. It can be said that these garden houses are a link between royal and folk architecture from the time when Hue was the epicentre of Vietnamese culture.
Lunch will be hosted at the exclusive garden house named Tha Om which only excepts one booking per day.
After lunch, continue to visit the European quarter in Hue which had been constructed on the Southern bank of the Perfume river during French rule to see some of the colonial style buildings from this era.
Hidden Emperor’s Tombs, Countryside Lanes, Riverside Settings, Gia Long Tomb By Bicycle (with picnic lunch)
Discover the countryside and hidden back roads of Hue by bicycle on this captivating excursion to visit the lesser known Tomb of Emperor Gia Long. Gia Long was the first of the Nguyen dynasty emperors. After more than 20 years of almost continuous warfare, he succeeded in ending the Tay Son rebel-lion and, for the first time unifying all of what we recognize today as Vietnam. His tomb is located 18km from Hue making it the most distant of the major tombs. It’s a sprawling, serene complex set in picturesque hill country. While few of the structures re-main, Gia Long’s sarcophagus survived the Vietnam War era battles that destroyed other structures here.
Being the furthest from Hue, Gia Long’s tomb is the least visited and the most difficult to get to, but arguably the most significant - his tomb was the template for those of the Emperors that followed. Depart early in the morning and ride out of the town centre along the smaller roads, fol-lowing the banks of the Perfume River.
Along the way pass landscapes of traditional Vietnam, with charming views over the river and the surrounding countryside. Meander tranquil country roads largely free of other tourists, passing by small villages, some local craft workshops, small shrines and pagodas, and then taking a local ferryboat across the Perfume River with the locals.
After crossing the river, continue cycling the short distance along the village pathways to the tomb.
After taking time to explore the tomb enjoy a picnic lunch to appreciate the tranquil setting. Afterwards cycle back to the river where you may elect to either cycle or travel by vehicle back to Hue city centre for the remainder of the day.
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