New Tour : Vietnam – War and Peace

Since Sandy Macgregor and I wrote the military histories Tunnel Rats and Sappers War, I have been to Vietnam five or six times.  During those trips I have realised that there is a lot more to the people than the war and a lot more to the country than tunnels.

So I am putting together a small group tour.  There will be 10 or 12 of us and, as well as visiting some fantastic places -including the tunnels, of course – and seeing world class sights like Halong Bay and the amazing Paradise Caves we’ll be meeting real Vietnamese families and talking to them about their lives.

It will cost about $4,000 (land only) and $6,000 including all flights so contact me on if you want more details

Street Food at night in the 'Western' area of Saigon
Street Food at night in the ‘Western’ area of Saigon

I’m calling it Vietnam: War and Peace and it is a very different tour from the military  history tour. As you will see below, it promises to be an experience you will never forget with a combination of amazing people and natural wonders that will give you stories to tell for many years to come.

I will be joined by a local English speaking guide and a young Vietnamese Australian who will give you insights into this amazing country that you could never hope to find in any standard tour.

A lot depends on the final numbers but this is how it is shaping up.  It will be cheaper if you fly there and back on Vietnam airlines (because they only charge $50 per internal flight if you fly there with them) and if you share a room.  The cost including flights is looking at about $4500 per person.  Breakfasts are included but other meals are only included where mentioned below (to guestspeople the flexibility to eat and drink as much or as little as they want).

Anyway, this is how it’s looking.  If you are interested, email me on

DAY 1: 

Saigon: Cables ... motorbikes ... street stalls ... and the Bitexco Tower
The Bitexco Tower

On arrival in Saigon you will be met by Jimmy and  a Travel company representative and transferred to your hotel.

Ho Chi Minh City is Vietnam’s commercial capital and a city of extraordinary energy. Nowhere is Vietnam’s rush to modernise more visible but despite this Saigon, as it is still known, is a friendly and welcoming place.  There are many reminders of its turbulent past as well as clear signs of why Vietnam is now one of the top 20 economies in the world.

This evening enjoy a welcome dinner at a local restaurant.


DAY 2  –   SAIGON ( Breakfast)

MORNING – begin a walking tour of Saigon’s famous and historic city landmarks.
The tour will take you through the heart of the city along Dong Khoi Street (formerly Rue Catinat), past the Ho Chi Minh Square, Municipal Theatre and Notre Dame Cathedral. We’ll then take a tour of of the Reunification Palace (formerly the Presidential Palace, complete with secret escape tunnels) and War Remnants Museum. Apart from displaying some relics from the recent past – like the guillotine used to execute Vietnamese freedom fighters and the tiger cages in which they were held captive – the museum has a stunning exhibition of photographs of the “American” war taken mostly by western press journalists.  Keen photographers will count this as a highlight of their trip.

EVENING – Visit and dinner with a local family where we can find out about life in Vietnam’s largest city and enjoy an evening of real (rather than tourist) culture.  In South-east Asia it is not considered rude to ask people how old they are, what they do for a living, their marital status and how much they earn so be prepared for some very frank and open but friendly chats.


Notre Dame Cathedral, Saigon
Notre Dame Cathedral, Saigon


DAY 3  –   SAIGON ( Breakfast)

Visit the famous guerilla tunnels at Cu Chi, approximately 70km Northwest of Ho Chi Minh City. This morning you will be picked up early at your hotel and transferred to the cruise jetty in the city centre where we will take a boat up river to the tunnels which featured in Jimmy and Sandy’s book Tunnel Rats.  On arrival you will be guided through the famous tunnels used by the communist guerrillas during the Vietnam War. The tunnel network stretches over 250km and extends to three levels underground providing you with a remarkable insight into the hardships, courage, determination and terror of a guerrilla war.  We may also visit Tay Ninh, home of the unique Cao Dai sect which is a mix of Buddhism, Taoism, Confucianism and Christianity.

AFTERNOON:  Free time for shopping or relaxing in the city.  This may be your chance to get fitted for some new made to measure clothes.  We will organise dinner at one of the better restaurants in the city – again, avoiding the typical tourist spots to get a taste of real Vietnam.



DAY 4  –   SAIGON – HUE – DONG HOI ( Breakfast)

This morning transfer to the airport for your flight to Hue. Upon arrival we drive to Dong Hoi en route via the amazing 2.8kms of tunnels at Vinh Vinh MocMoc. Unlike their counterparts in Cu Chi, the Vinh Moc tunnels (left) remain unaltered and therefore offer an authentic view of underground life. These were more built to shelter the population than

as a military installation so it truly is and underground village and you

can walks around relatively freely as you explore the subterranean passageways.


DAY 5 –   DONG HOI (Breakfast)

We drive to the famed caves at Phong Nha. The park has some beautiful limestone formations, grottoes and caves and forest. The park also contains the largest primeval forest in Vietnam and the biggest limestone mountain range on the planet. It contains the largest cavern in the world and the longest chain of caves in south-east Asia.

Phong Nha cave is probably the best-known and can be explored at extreme leisure – you are in a boat on the river that flows through.  However, the jewel in the crown – for those who can handle the 500 steps to the entrance – is the Paradise Cave which was only relatively recently discovered and was opened with lights and a large 1km wooden walkway in 2011.

Paradise Cave from the entrance
Paradise Cave from the entrance

But for the less mobile the Phong Na is still worth the trip with many fascinating rock formations with names such as The Lion, Fairy Caves, Royal Court and Buddha. Phong Nha also boasts underground rivers, large caverns and passageways and broad pristine sandbanks.

Following our exploration of the caves we return to Dong Hoi.


DAY 6  DONG HOI – HANOI (Breakfast)

Deail from Memorial Wall in "Hanoi Hilton" former prison
Deail from Memorial Wall in “Hanoi Hilton” former prison

Transfer to Dong Hoi airport for flight to Hanoi. On arrival in Hanoi transfer to your hotel.   Hanoi is a charming and richly historic city of lakes, shaded boulevards and public parks with a population of  about four million. It is the capital of Vietnam and some have called it the Paris of the Orient. Its centre is an architectural museum piece, its blocks of ochre buildings retaining the air of a provincial French town of the 1930s. It is also home to a frenetic Old Quarter of trading streets where traditional and modern goods are traded from centuries old “tunnel houses” and narrow streets buzz with colour and activity.



We journey east (approximately 170km or 3 hours) to Hon Gai, the gateway to Halong Bay. En route you’ll see workers farming their rice using traditional methods of cultivation (such as buffalo instead of tractors). Halong Bay achieved international fame as a key location in the French film ‘Indochine‟ starring Catherine Deneuve. The bay has assumed an important position in Vietnamese legend for many centuries however and continues to capture the imagination of visitors.

On arrival transfer to the port and board your boat for the cruise out to the Bay, enjoying a fresh seafood lunch on board along the way. Considered Vietnam’s greatest natural wonder, Halong Bay boasts over 3,000 islands that jut out of the sea to provide a spectacular natural environment. Amateur geologists will note that this is the same kind of rock formation as we found in Phong Na – karsts – and yes, there will be more caves.

We visit some of the beautiful cave and islets around the bay, then enjoy a sumptuous dinner on board before retiring to bed.


DAY 8 – HALONG BAY – HANOI ( Breakfast)

After breakfast on boat, you will visit the Halong Bay’s largest cave named Sung Sothaiau1 (Amazing Cave) in one hour. Around 9:30 a.m, change to day boat then cruise toward to Viet Hai Wharf belonging to Cat Ba National Park. Taking a 5km ride, we’ll go to Viet Hai village to explore the lifestyle of local residents. We’ll also visit the amazing Viet Cong hospital and R&R centre built inside a mountain during the war against the French.

Disembark and check in your hotel in Cat Ba Island. Free to explore Cat Ba town on your own activities. Cat Ba is a popular centre for rock climbing and has ta similar vibe to some of the adventure holiday or ski resorts spots we know in Australia and New Zealand.


DAY 9 –  CAT BA – HANOI ( Breakfast, Dinner)

Another opportunity to explore Cat Ba National Park before heading back to Hanoi with short break on the way back. This evening you will have

Cat Ba town
Cat Ba town

the chance to visit and eat with a local family in Hanoi in their own household. You will be picked up this evening at your hotel approximately 6:00pm by a student from the Hanoi University. It is here that the Students in Free Enterprise Organisation was founded. This was set up to show visitors the true Hanoian way of life and promote interaction with the older generations to share their life experiences and stories.

You will travel by taxi with the student to the local family”s house in Hanoi. On arrival the owners will show you around the house and photos dating back generations.  They will explain to you the function of the alter or ancestor room, a common trait in nearly all Vietnamese households. There will often be many family members in the household and during your tour of the house a traditional dinner is being prepared and  you are free to join in to help with the cooking  or just observe. Then you can enjoy the fruits of your labour with a traditional Vietnamese dinner as the hosts introduce each dish. After dessert you may wish to enjoy a cup of tea with the family and look through some old family photo albums or hear some traditional folk stories or traditional instruments.

Then it’s back to your hotel having enjoyed an experience of Vietnam that few tourists even know about.


DAY 10 – HANOI (Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner)

This morning we continue our look at Hanoi by visiting the Ho Chi Minh Quarter.

One-pillar Pagoda
One-pillar Pagoda

We begin at the Old Citadel, walking along beautiful tree-lined boulevards until we get to Ba Dinh Square, site of the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum and where Ho Chi Minh first declared independence from French rule in 1945.

Ho Chi Minh is without question one of the great figures of twentieth century history and this morning we’ll take time to visit the Ho Chi Minh Quarter for a look at the life of the father of modern Vietnam.  We visit the humble house on stilts from which “Uncle Ho”, as he is affectionately known, ruled Vietnam until his death in 1969.

Continue on to the intriguing Ho Chi Minh Museum, an amazingly surreal exhibition of the life of Ho Chi Minh, set in the context of major events of the twentieth century and Vietnam’s struggle for independence. We’ll also view the Presidential Palace and One Pillar Pagoda.

We’ll have lunch at KOTO Restaurant. KOTO – which stands for Know One Teach One – was started by Australian restaurateur Jimmy Pham as a way of giving Hanoi’s street kids skills they could use to make a better life for themselves.  Every year they recruit and train a batch of young people in food service industry skills and every year their ‘graduates’ are snapped up by the city’s top hotels and restaurants.

After lunch visit the infamous ‘Hanoi Hilton’ – Hanoi’s former central prison made famous first for the incarceration of the leaders of Vietnam’s National Liberation movement and later US Air force pilots shot down over North Vietnam. The site of the prison was recently developed, however one wing has been retained as a museum.

Dinner with a local family.


Day 11- HANOI – SAIGON (Breakfast)

This morning transfer to the airport for your flight to Saigon. On arrival transfer to your hotel. Rest of the day is free at your leisure to explore, check mout the city markets and pick up those clothes you ordered just ten days ago.



Mekong 2This morning you will be met at your hotel at 8.30am by your guide for a full day tour traveling south from Ho Chi Minh City to My Tho, the gateway to the Mekong Delta.

Known as the “rice bowl” of Vietnam, the Delta is the most fertile  region in the country, and the main producer of rice and tropical fruits. From My Tho, you board your boat and travel to one of the islands located in the middle of the Mekong River. On the island visit a fruit orchard and sample some of the local produce, before boarding a smaller sampan that winds along narrow canals.

You will also have the opportunity to visit a local family’s house and enjoy their hospitality and share with them some tea  or rice wine. After lunch (included) in My Tho return to Ho Chi Minh City by mid to late afternoon.



Enjoy breakfast at your leisure and then have a relaxing day in the city and perhaps visit the Bitexco tower with its 40th floor viewing galleries and a spectacular 360 panorama over Saigon and beyond.  Or you could have a less relaxing day going round the shops and markets in your last-chance bargain hunt. Hotel rooms will all be available for a late check out until 6pm when we make our way to the airport for our flight home to Australia.