Traveling in Vietnam with Intrepid Travel on their Vietnam Express Southbound 10-day tour is everything that’s terrific and transformative about travel.
This was my 2nd Intrepid tour, completely different from the incredible Okavango Experience, but just as unforgettable, educational, gratifying, and culturally immersive in a way that is unique to Vietnam and the travelers and guide I was lucky enough to explore and experience with.
In this guide, I’ll not only share my complete review of my time with Intrepid Travel in Vietnam, but I’ll also do my best to explain the intangibles about why small group travel with Intrepid is so special.
Spoiler Alert! If you’re considering the Intrepid Travel Vietnam Express Southbound tour, don’t hesitate. Book it and go with an open heart and curious mind for a not-to-be-forgotten trip!
Tour Review: Intrepid Travel Vietnam Express Southbound
This 10-day Vietnam Express Southbound tour starts in the north, in Vietnam’s capital city of Hanoi, and ends in Ho Chi Minh City in the south.
In between, the tour itinerary takes you to popular spots in Vietnam including Halong Bay, Hue, Hoi An, and the Mekong Delta. And, in a way that’s unique to Intrepid, you not only see those must-see sights but also learn about the country’s history, culture, and experience local daily life.
It’s that last part about the local culture, daily life, and the people you meet along the way that’ll flash through your mind long after your trip to Vietnam is done.
What Happens While Traveling in Vietnam with Intrepid
It would be easy to share a list of all the popular sights and activities you’ll see and do while in Vietnam with Intrepid. But I’d be leaving out so many moments that make this trip so much more than just another Vietnam sightseeing trip!
When you travel with Intrepid, you get to mix must-see sights, off-the-beaten-path stops, and interactions with locals you wouldn’t be able to have otherwise had you traveled independently.
Intrepid’s Vietnam Express Southbound Itinerary
No doubt if you’re considering this tour, you’ve read through the day-by-day itinerary on Intrepid’s website. I’ve put together this video to show how memorable just these highlights are all by themselves.
But, there are so many other unforgettable moments you don’t see in the trip outline. These moments are unique to your group and your guide but give a glimpse of how amazing it is to travel with a company like Intrepid that whole-heartedly believes in the powerful impact of authentic local experiences.
What You Don’t See
I purposefully didn’t include activities I did outside of the tour. However, if you look at the Intrepid itinerary, you’ll notice the first day doesn’t start until 6 pm and the last day is open for the group to do independent activities or depart as warranted by their travel plans.
I took these opportunities to see more of Vietnam. Before the 6 pm meeting on Day 1, I joined the Urban Adventures Hanoi Morning Highlights Tour and then used the afternoon to wander independently and visit the Ho Chi Minh Complex and Stilt House. It was great to have this time to do some sightseeing in Hanoi.
On the last day, I went with Urban Adventures to tour the Cu Chi Tunnels just outside Ho Chi Minh City…an absolute must! The tunnels and how they were built and used are utterly fascinating. Back in the city just after midday, I independently visited Independence Palace and did some more shopping at the Ben Thanh Market.
If you’ve never traveled with a tour before or with Intrepid, you’re probably wondering about some of the logistics, as well as who you’ll be traveling with.
Before You Go:
Intrepid requires travel insurance for all travelers no matter which tour it is. World Nomads provides travel insurance for all types of trips, travelers, and budgets.
Vietnam requires U.S. residents to get a Visa to enter the country. Luckily, it’s an easy process that can be done online. You can apply for one at the Vietnam e-Visa web portal. You have to upload a photo of yourself and pay $25. After that, it takes about 3 business days to get your e-Visa. It’s valid for a single entry 30-day Vietnam Visa.
Southeast Asia has a hot, humid climate. And, countries like Vietnam also dress conservatively. This combination means you want lightweight, loose-fitting clothing with enough skin coverage. Moisture-wicking fabric is also great for travel because when you want to wash it out, it dries quickly.
Specifically for this Intrepid Vietnam tour, pack a sleep sheet (or an old sheet you can use and leave behind to lighten your bag) and this compressible pillow for the train from Hanoi to Hue like I did. I slept comfortably on a clean sheet! And, what I love about that pillow is it packs down small but expands to be nearly the size of a regular pillow. (I took it on my other incredible Intrepid trip to camp in the Okavango Delta, too!)
On the Trip:
Who is the guide?
Intrepid hires and works with guides who are locals that live in and are experts on the places visited on the tour itinerary. By doing so, it’s a win-win for you, the traveler, and the local community.
First, some of the money you pay for the tour pays these guides. Enough said, right? No matter where we are from, we all know how empowering and impactful a job is for the individual, their families, and communities.
Along with this, you, the traveler, get a guide with first-hand cultural and location-based knowledge who inevitably opens doors for an immersive, authentic look at daily life.
Nam was the guide for our group and not only could he talk about the history of a specific temple or make sure the group allowed enough time to get from one place to another, but he also recommended local places to eat, showed us how to smoke that bamboo tube pipe you see people passing in Hanoi, and stopped in the countryside at a burial site to explain more about the rituals and beliefs Vietnamese have about death and their ancestors.
Who travels with Intrepid?
From 20s-70s, hailing from all over the world, Intrepid travelers are adventurous travel-lovers who welcome authentic experiences no matter where they are.
Both of my Intrepid groups have been a perfect blend of exactly that combination. There have been Americans, Aussies, Europeans, and Canadians traveling solo, as a couple, with friends, or as a family whether for a first-time out-of-college travel experience or celebrating a 30-year wedding anniversary.
The best part is they’re all travel-lovers who are ready to explore! And, if you’re lucky like I’ve been, you’ll come away with travel memories and lasting friendships.
What are the accommodations like?
Intrepid has different types of tours, Basix, Original, and Comfort. This Vietnam Express Southbound tour is Original. Hotels are typically comfortable 3-star hotels for this type of tour.
All the hotels from Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh were modern with relatively spacious rooms located conveniently in each city so we could walk to restaurants, shops, markets, and popular sights. Not all Intrepid tours stay at the same hotels but for reference, this is the hotel our group stayed at in Hue.
The one exception was in Hoi An, where the hotel was a 10-minute walk outside the old town and more of a 2-star hotel compared to the others where we stayed.
This Vietnam Express Southbound tour has 2 nights not spent in hotels, too.
In Ha Long Bay, we slept on our own junk boat. Each of us had our own cabins with ensuite bathrooms, fans, and air conditioning. Since I was traveling on my own, I had a cabin with 2 twin beds. On the main deck, there was an enclosed dining room, with outdoor deck seating at both ends of the boat.
We also took an overnight train from Hanoi to Hue. Intrepid books “First Class” cabins but it’s important to understand trains in Vietnam are not like the sleeper trains you might find in Europe, for example. We had private cabins for only our group but each cabin has 2 sets of bunks, sleeping 4 people in each. I shared with 3 other girls in the group and slept comfortably. The bathroom is shared among the car occupants.
I did bring my own sleeping sheet and used my travel pillow and recommend you do the same. I loved waking up early to watch the Vietnamese countryside fly by from my window.
How does the group travel?
For the majority of the time, you’ll travel by private, air-conditioned van arranged by Intrepid. We did also take the boat out for the day and night onto Ha Long Bay, the train to Hue, and a short flight to get from Hoi An to Ho Chi Minh. We flew on SkyTeam Alliance member, Vietnam Airlines.
What happens for meals?
Expect some of the best food ever! Not just with the included meals, but also because you have a local guide at your disposal who can recommend the best places to eat depending on what you want or need to meet any dietary restrictions. I’m a vegetarian and never lacked for anything delicious to eat.
Breakfasts are included in the tour, and typically part of the hotel breakfasts which offered complete western and Vietnamese breakfast foods. A few lunch and dinners throughout the 10 days are part of the tour, as well.
On the first night in Hanoi, our group had a delicious first meal together at KOTO, a restaurant partnered with the Intrepid Foundation. (If you didn’t know, Intrepid is a B Corp, which means they’ve committed to be a force for good and to put purpose before profit.) KOTO is a program that trains disadvantaged kids in hospitality and culinary skills.
Lunch and dinner were included on the Ha Long Bay cruise. We had a feast of local specialties that were prepared onboard with more than enough to satisfy our whole group. I’m a vegetarian and the group also had a few picky eaters, as well as someone who needed gluten-free meals. All of us were accommodated.
We had an incredible (all vegetarian!) lunch at a Buddhist monastery. I wish I could go back and get more cooked banyan fruit!
The tour also included another feast lunch at a house restaurant in the Mekong Delta.
Should You Book the Vietnam Express Southbound Tour with Intrepid?
If you’ve read and watched this far, Intrepid’s Vietnam Express Southbound tour is calling your name!
This tour is right for you if you want to spend time sightseeing in Vietnam, but you also have a genuine curiosity about the Vietnamese people, culture, and daily life.
You’ll absolutely love this tour if you want a mix of group time, where the logistics are taken care of, and free time, when you can explore or relax as you want.
And you’ll definitely want to join in if you enjoy meeting other travel-lovers from around the world who are just as game as you to experience new things, taste new foods, and let the transformative power of travel expand their minds and hearts.
What questions do you have about traveling on the Vietnam Express Southbound tour with Intrepid?
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