Mua caves ninh binh vietnam mountain

The Perfect Vietnam Travel Itinerary: One Week, Two Weeks, and Three Weeks

Vietnam is a vibrant and enchanting country located in Southeast Asia that offers a plethora of experiences for travelers. Whether you’re looking to explore bustling cities, relax on pristine beaches, immerse yourself in Vietnamese language and cultural traditions, or taste some of the world’s most delicious cuisine, Vietnam has something for everyone.

Mua caves ninh binh vietnam mountain

If you’re planning a trip to Vietnam, it can be overwhelming to decide where to go and what to do. With so many options available, it’s important to create a travel itinerary that suits your interests and preferences. In this blog post, I’ll share a comprehensive Vietnam travel itinerary from my own personal experience that covers the best destinations, attractions, and activities that the country has to offer.

From Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh City, from the Mekong Delta to Halong Bay, this guide will help you plan the Vietnam trip of your dreams. Whether yo uhave one week or one month, this guide will have something for everyone!

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Where did I go in Vietnam?

In total I spent 17 days traveling in Vietnam. For some, this might be too much but for others it is far too short. I’ll admit, I saw a lot of Vietnam in a short amount of time condensing as much as I could in that period. I wish I could have had another week or two to visit a few more places on the list and spend more quality time in certain places.

Hai Van pass hue and hoi an vietnam

I think if you want to do all of Vietnam and do it justice, you’ll need at least 3 weeks. Otherwise, I think with 2 weeks you definitely have enough time to see the highlights of the country. I think the north of Vietnam is the most beautiful and is the most “quintessential” Vietnam when it comes to conjuring up images of the country. The incredibly beautiful countryside, mountains, rice terraces are on full display in the north.

halong bay vietnam cruise

Some of the highlights of my trip to Vietnam include the following:

  • Hanoi
  • Ninh Binh
  • Halong Bay
  • Sapa
  • Hue
  • Han Song Doong Caves
  • Hoi An
  • Ba Na Hills
  • Ho Chi Minh City
  • Mekong Delta
  • Phu Quoc Island

If any of these places sound like the places you want to visit as well, then this is the itinerary for you. Note that I skipped Nha Trang and Dalat after reading up on it and talking to other travelers who weren’t particularly impressed by the areas.

Vietnam travel itinerary north to south

My Full Vietnam Travel Itinerary

The itinerary starts in Hanoi, the capital of Vietnam. This historic city is home to a vibrant history and is a great base for jumping off to the various highlights of Vietnam. The airport is also home to numerous international flights from Europe and Asia alike. I much preferred Ho Chi Minh City to Hanoi but the city is still worth at least a day to explore.

Mua caves ninh binh vietnam mountain

From Hanoi, I spent the next 3 days in Halong Bay on a 3 day 2 night cruise of this world famous UNESCO site. From Halong Bay, it was a long bus ride in Vietnam’s world renowned lie flat bus seats to the countryside town of Sapa (sorry no airports here). Sapa is known for its incredible landscapes and rice terraces that stretch for miles and miles in the horizon.

halong bay vietnam cruise

From Sapa, I went back to Hanoi where I took a flight to the town of Hue. Hue is one of the imperial capitals of the old Vietnamese dynasties and for me was the jumping off point to the Han Son Doong caves. These caves are the largest in the world and will truly take your breath away. I only did a day trip but more serious cave explorers can opt for anything up to 6 days trekking and camping in these caves!

From Hue, I took a scooter ride through the Hai Van pass to the colonial town of Hoi An. This is probably the most beautiful town in Vietnam as far as architecture goes. Colonial and Chinese influences on the city stand strong as you walk through the cobblestone streets. Hoi An is a great place to relax and unwind while visiting one of the dozens of bespoke tailors the city has to offer. Yes, you can get incredibly high quality custom made clothes here for an absolute bargain. They even turn it around in record time. From Hoi An, I also visited the famous Ba Na hills which is home to perhaps one of the most beautiful bridges in the world.

Hue temple vietnam

From Hoi An, I boarded a flight from nearby Da Nang to Ho Chi Minh city. Ho Chi Minh City, or Saigon, is the modern metropolis of Vietnam that’s home to a vibrant restaurant, bar, and business scene. I spent 3 nights here with one of the days on a day trip to the Mekong Delta. I really enjoyed my time in Saigon and could definitely see myself spending more time here.

Pink church Ho Chi minh city

Finally, from Saigon, I took a flight to Vietnam’s only major island of Phu Quoc. This beach destination is a great getaway from the hustle and bustle of the mainland to unwind and enjoy its beautiful beaches. It also just happens to be home to a completely modern and life size replica of an Amalfi coast town. I’m not joking when I say they literally have a town the size of Positano built in the south of Phu Quoc. It is as ridiculous as it is amazing and a must visit in my opinion.

Vietnam phu quoc ocean bay resort

Phu Quoc is also home to one of the longest cable car rides in the world. It spans 8000m and stretches over the ocean through multiple islands and is an absolutely stunning experience. From Phu Quoc, I flew back to Saigon and then onwards back home!

Best time of year to visit Vietnam

Vietnam is a large country that covers multiple climate zones making it difficult to plan for if you want to see the entire country. The North has a very different climate than the south so you might be rainy season in one zone while dry season in the other. Generally, the seasons can be broken down as such.

halong bay vietnam cruise

Northern Vietnam

The best time to visit Northern Vietnam including places like Hanoi, Halong Bay, Ninh Binh, Sapa, and Ha Giang is from September to November and from March to May. During these months, the weather is mild, and the skies are clear, making it ideal for outdoor activities and sightseeing. In December, January, and February, the region experiences cold weather and foggy conditions, which can make it difficult to see some of the scenic sites.

While March to May might be a dry season in the region, you’ll also want to consider the burning season in neighboring Cambodia and Laos. Slash and burn farming techniques means the smoke reaches North Vietnam and you will find the air pollution becomes a bit extreme. I visited Hanoi in April and while the forecast called for sunny skies, it was anything but. A layer of smog prevented any sun from shing through which extended to Halong Bay and Sapa (albeit not as bad in the countryside).

Central Vietnam

The best time to visit Central Vietnam including destinations like Da Nang, Hoi An, Hue, and Dalat is from January to August, when the weather is generally dry and sunny. The months of September to December can be rainy and prone to typhoons, which may impact travel plans. Central Vietnam has the least variability of the regions but it can get scorching hot in the summer months. I visited in the end of April and had one day where it was real feel 47c!

Southern Vietnam:

The best time to visit Southern Vietnam is from December to April, when the weather is dry and less humid. May to November is the rainy season, with a high risk of tropical storms and floods.

Areas in the south of Vietnam include Saigon, Phu Quoc, Can Tho and Nha Trang.

I traveled in April and went north to south over the span of about three weeks. I found the weather to be pleasant the entire time I was there minus the smog covered skies of Northern Vietnam. The weather was extremely hot in central Vietnam however.

How to get around Vietnam

Vietnam is a very easy country to travel around given how well connected the country is. There is a very comprehensive network of flights, buses, and even trains.

Buses are generally the cheapest option but you won’t find much of a savings nowadays compared to flights. Airlines like Vietjet, Bamboo Airways, and Vietnam Airlines have an extensive network of flights from the major cities of Vietnam at very affordable prices.

If you do take buses, many of the buses in Vietnam are sleeper buses offering lay flat beds. I did take an overnight bus from Ha Long Bay to Sapa which was a fantastic experience.

vietnam sleeper buses

Day 1-4: Hanoi

Hanoi is the second largest city in Vietnam and is the cultural hub of the country. Hanoi is known for its centuries old architecture with a profound influence from the Chinese during the thousand year occupation of the area and most recently the French who colonized Vietnam for 100 years.

Hanoi Vietnam City
Hanoi Vietnam City
Hanoi Vietnam City

Personally, I didn’t find Hanoi to be the prettiest city but there is a palpable SE Asian charm the city holds that is hard to explain. The city is absolutely chaotic and home to some of the worst traffic I’ve seen. Even after traveling to almost 100 countries worldwide, the hecticness of Hanoi even got to me after a few days.

The problem I think arises from the fact that the streets and sidewalks are too small for the population of the country. The French influence likely wanted to create a typical European old town within Hanoi but they didn’t account for the population growth. The sidewalks are nowadays scooter parking which means there is no where to really walk except for the small make shift lane between the sidewalk and the road.

Hanoi Vietnam City

Nevertheless, if things ever get too hectic for you, simply use Grab to call a taxi or scooter taxi for a very cheap price to escape the chaos.

What to do in Hanoi?

As the bustling capital of Vietnam, Hanoi is a city that’s packed with history, culture, and stunning natural landscapes. Whether you’re a seasoned traveler or a first-time visitor, there’s something for everyone to see and experience here.

Hanoi Vietnam City

Another must-see attraction is the Hoan Kiem Lake, which sits at the heart of the city and is surrounded by beautiful parks and gardens. You can take a leisurely stroll around the lake, visit the Ngoc Son Temple, or simply sit by the water and watch the world go by.

Hanoi Vietnam City

For those who love the performing arts, the Hanoi Opera House is a must-see. This elegant building is a stunning example of French colonial architecture and hosts a range of cultural events throughout the year.

For a glimpse into Vietnam’s rich history and culture, the Temple of Literature is a stunning example of traditional Vietnamese architecture and is also the country’s first university. It’s a peaceful oasis in the midst of the bustling city and a great place to learn more about the country’s past.

Hanoi Vietnam City

And no visit to Hanoi would be complete without a visit to the Thang Long Water Puppet Theatre, which offers a unique and entertaining way to learn about traditional Vietnamese culture. The puppet shows take place on a water stage and feature live music, singing, and storytelling.

Hanoi Vietnam City

Train market of Hanoi

Similar to the Amphawa Train market of Thailand, Hanoi is home to its own train track that runs through the city. In a specific stretch in the old quarter, there is a collection of different cafes and bars where you can soak in the views and lights.

train market hanoi

The train tracks are still in use and there are daily trains that run through these tracks, particularly at night. Grab a seat at one of the beautiful cafes in this road and watch the train coming within centimeters of you!

train market hanoi
Train approaching!

Eating Pho in Hanoi

Pho is the national treasure of Vietnam and easily one of the most recognizable dishes from Vietnam around the word. Pho originates from Hanoi and is eaten all over at all times of the day. Hanoi style pho offers your typical thin rice noodles in a light but delicious beef broth. The soup is then topped off with fresh cut beef and various herbs including cilantro, onions, and lime. It’s absolutely delicious and it’s a must try for anyone visiting Hanoi.

pho noodles in vietnam hanoi

Compared to its southern neighbors in Saigon, the pho in Hanoi is noticeably lighter and more refreshing in my opinion. Both variations are incredible but you’ll be focused on the lighter version here.

pho noodles in vietnam hanoi

For the best pho in Hanoi, make sure to visit these stops

  • Pho 10 Ly Quoc Su
  • Pho Gia Truyen Bat Dan
  • Pho Khoi “The Bald”

Eat Bun Cha in Hanoi

Bun Cha is one of the best things to eat in Hanoi and was popularized around the world by Anthony Bourdain’s famous dinner with Obama in 2016 that was a part of his Parts Unknown TV show.

bun cha hanoi noodles

Bun Cha is simply grilled pork over charcoal, pork meatballs over charcoal, with rice noodles in a clear fish sauce. It’s served with a variety of different herbs, vegetables, and chilis. The combination is delicious and I ended up eating Bun Cha multiple times during my stay in Hanoi.

The famous Bun Cha restaurant that Bourdain ate at is called Bún Chả Hương Liên. It’s one of many Bun Cha restaurants in Hanoi and one of the best. The price is only 65k VND (about $2.5) per dish.

Egg Coffee in Hanoi

Egg coffee is a staple and must try coffee in Hanoi. The baristas here will whip thoroughly egg yolks and mix in coffee with sugar. The resulting drink is something of a slightly sweet cappuccino. Egg coffee is an absolute institution in Hanoi and while I was highly skeptical of it in the beginning, I’m a huge fan.

Hanoi Vietnam City cafe dinh egg coffee

Egg coffee was first introduced in the 1940s during the French War of independence. There was a milk shortage in the city and a very creative barista decided to get create and whip eggs as a substitute for milk. The resulting product was beloved by people and has become an icon of the city to this day.

Hanoi Vietnam City cafe dinh egg coffee

The best place to try an egg coffee is without a doubt at Cafe Dinh. Grab a coffee and sit on the balcony overlooking the lake.

Don’t eat at restaurants with high ratings

Whatever you do in Hanoi, do not eat at the restaurants with high reviews on TripAdvisor and Google Maps. These restaurants are not bad by any means but they are also nothing exceptional. They farm the reviews by asking their customers very nicely to leave reviews on TripAdvisor and Google Maps after they’re done eating. In return, you’ll find ratings like 4.8 or 4.7 on Google Maps and think that it’s a must visit.

When you arrive, you’ll find that the food is serviceable but is nothing special. The prices are also 3-4x the price you’d find on the street at much tastier establishments. The telltale sign of this is of course the extremely high percentage of Western tourists at these restaurants. Sometimes, there would not even be a single Asian person in the entire restaurant so you know you’re not getting the real stuff. Some examples of these restaurants are Met Restaurant and Hong Hoai’s Restaurant. Again, nothing bad about the food but you’re paying 3-4x the price for a “less hectic Western friendly” setting which kind of goes against the whole point of Vietnam anyway!

Day Trip to Ninh Binh and Mua Caves from Hanoi

The day started early as our group set out from Hanoi to make the two-hour journey to Ninh Binh, a beautiful province located in northern Vietnam. As we approached the area, the scenery became more and more breathtaking. The limestone karsts rising from the fields, the emerald green paddies, and the winding rivers created a landscape that was unlike anything I had seen before.

Mua caves ninh binh vietnam mountain
Mua caves ninh binh vietnam mountain
Ninh Binh temples Vietnam
Ninh Binh temples Vietnam

We arrived at Tam Coc, a scenic area known for its river boat tours. We boarded a traditional wooden rowing boat, and soon we were making our way down the Ngo Dong River, which winds through Tam Coc. The river was lined by rice paddies and towering limestone mountains, and it felt like we were floating through a postcard.

Ninh Binh temples Vietnam

The boat ride was incredibly peaceful, and our boatman expertly maneuvered through the water, using his feet to propel the boat forward. Along the way, he pointed out various points of interest, including local villages and rice paddies.

Mua caves ninh binh vietnam mountain

After the boat ride, we made our way to the Mua Caves. The climb to the top of the hill was steep, but the view from the top was absolutely breathtaking. From the summit, we had a panoramic view of the surrounding countryside, with lush green fields and towering limestone mountains as far as the eye could see.

Ninh Binh temples Vietnam

The caves themselves were also impressive. As we descended into the caves, we were struck by the cool, damp air that enveloped us. The natural formations inside the cave were intricate and beautiful, and we spent some time exploring the different chambers and admiring the stalactites and stalagmites.

Ninh Binh temples Vietnam

After visiting the caves, we stopped for lunch at a local restaurant, where we enjoyed a delicious meal of traditional Vietnamese dishes. We tried fresh spring rolls, pho, and various meat and vegetable dishes, all of which were delicious and satisfying.

Day 4-6: Halong Bay

From Hanoi, it’s time to proceed to the next part of the itinerary which is the world famous Halong Bay.

Halong Bay, or descending dragon in the local language, is a mystical, magical, incredibly scenic place that is world famous for its natural beauty. It was rated as one of the new 7 natural wonders of the world so it should be an amazing place where you discover constant wonders at every turn.

halong bay vietnam cruise

Booking a Halong Bay Cruise

The only way to see Halong Bay is by booking a boat cruise that sails through the park. There are hundreds of different boats that sail through Halong Bay and it can be a daunting task to figure out which boat to go with.

halong bay vietnam cruise
halong bay vietnam cruise
halong bay vietnam cruise

The first question you need to answer is how long you want to cruise for? You can choose anything between a day trip from Hanoi to multiple nights on the boat. Some of the cruise boats are big enough just to make a day trip while other boats are proper cruise boats that can fit 100 people and are equipped to sit out at sea for weeks at a time.

halong bay vietnam cruise

After reading plenty of blog posts, I decided I wanted the full experience and to not rush it by booking a 3 day 2 night cruise throughout Halong Bay. Again, there are multiple boats that make this trip so you just need to read the reviews and see what you like.

halong bay vietnam cruise

These multi-night cruises all follow very similar itineraries by visiting various viewpoints, kayaking through the cliffs, visiting remote villages in the park, and cave tours. Food is served entirely on the boat which is a buffet style offering of different local dishes. This whole trip kind of reminded me of my Nile cruise in Egypt where we also stopped along the way to visit different temples.

halong bay vietnam cruise

Cruising Halong Bay with the MGloria boat by Dora Cruises

I ended up booking 2 nights on the Mgloria boat. It’s one of the newer boats that belong the fleet of other Halong Bay cruises from Dora. The price was reasonable at around $250 per night for 2 people and the pictures looked very nice. The rooms were spacious and comfortable offering views of the bay.

halong bay vietnam cruise

You could easily spend much more money if you wanted to as I saw plenty of incredible looking boats like the Elite Seas, Scarlet Pearl, or Steller of the Seas. Additionally, you could spend much less to stay on older and more economical boats.

halong bay vietnam cruise

Going on the Halong Bay cruise itself

Finally, what exactly did I do on my cruise? For starters, every boat starts by picking you up from your hotel in Hanoi in the morning. Sometimes this is included in the price of the booking and sometimes you’ll have to pay extra. I opted for a one way pickup because I was going to Sapa directly from Halong Bay.

halong bay vietnam cruise
halong bay vietnam cruise

The car ride from Hanoi to Halong Bay takes just over 2 hours by driving. Upon arrival, we checked in at our cruise headquarters on land where we dropped off our luggage and paid the rest of the fare. A smaller boat picked the group up from the pier and we rode for about 1h to the cruise boat which was already sailing within the Halong Bay National Park. Along the way, it was already beautiful and you could clearly see the towering limestone cliffs that Halong Bay is famous for.

halong bay vietnam cruise
halong bay vietnam cruise

Upon arrival, we got a briefing about the ship and then had our lunch. After lunch, we went on a kayak trip around the park which was beautiful as expected. After this, we chilled on the boat and enjoyed the beautiful sunset before dinner.

halong bay vietnam cruise
halong bay vietnam cruise

The second day was a full day within the park. We docked at a local island where we then cycled to a remote village and learned about the history of the region. This was followed by more kayaking around a much more remote and more beautiful part of the national park.

The third day, we went to a nearby cave (which was not really a cave) and took a small row boat to explore. We departed from the boat at 11am and headed back to the main pier where I went to my bus for Sapa.

halong bay vietnam cruise

The main cruise boat is cruising in the national park full time and the smaller transport boat is constantly ferrying customers to the boat and customers from the boat back to the pier. If you do the 2 night itinerary, you are essentially doing the same thing as the people that book the 1 night itinerary but with the extra full day on the remote island. Other cruises have different itineraries but they are all sort of the same and pretty basic.

halong bay vietnam cruise

There is a lot of trash and overcrowding at Halong Bay

As you’d expect from a popular destination like this in SE Asia, it gets extremely packed. At any given point while the ship was docked, I could count at least 20 other boats around me which spoiled the natural beauty a bit. In addition, there is trash all over the park which is unfortunate but I suppose not surprising.

halong bay vietnam cruise

Honestly, I wish the boat would just pick a different area to dock given how big the national park is and how easy it would be to avoid other boats. On the first night, we even docked next to a party cruise ship which was blasting party tunes until 11pm.

In some ways, I found my experience at Halong Bay a little underwhelming and can’t but help to think if Halong Bay is overrated!

Day 6-9: Visiting Sapa

From Halong Bay, I took an 8h bus ride from Halong Bay town to the village of Sapa in Vietnam’s far north. Sapa is world famous for its incredible rice fields that rival the rice fields from Bali. I honestly think Vietnam’s north is by far its crowning jewel. It’s vastly unique compared to other parts of the region I’ve visited and is unmatched in its beauty.

Arriving in Sapa

Sapa is a charming mountain town that is known for its natural beauty and vibrant ethnic culture. With its lush rice terraces, cascading waterfalls, and towering mountains, Sapa is a paradise for nature lovers and adventure seekers alike. In this blog post, we will explore the natural beauty of Sapa and share the best things to do in this picturesque town.

Rice Terraces of Sapa

The rice terraces of Sapa are among the most beautiful in the world. These stunning terraces are carved into the sides of the mountains and create a breathtaking patchwork of green, gold, and brown. The best time to see the rice terraces is during the harvest season from September to October, when the fields are filled with farmers harvesting their crops. There are many hiking trails that wind through the rice terraces, offering visitors a chance to explore this stunning landscape up close.

The rice terraces here are so picturesque it could sometimes be mistaken for a winery when viewing from afar. It reminds me a lot of the wine region in Piedmont as well as the wine region in the Douro Valley of Portugal.

aerial view of a farm field

Waterfalls of Sapa

Sapa is home to several beautiful waterfalls that are worth visiting. The Silver Waterfall is located about 12 kilometers from Sapa and is a popular destination for visitors. This waterfall cascades down the mountainside and creates a misty spray that fills the air. Another popular waterfall is the Love Waterfall, which is located about 14 kilometers from Sapa. This waterfall is surrounded by lush greenery and is a peaceful oasis in the midst of the mountains.

Fansipan Mountains

Sapa is home to several towering mountains that offer breathtaking views of the surrounding countryside. Fansipan Mountain is the highest mountain in Vietnam and is located near Sapa. Hiking to the top of Fansipan is a popular activity for adventurous visitors. The trek to the summit takes several days and requires a good level of fitness, but the reward is an unforgettable view of the surrounding landscape. Another mountain worth visiting is Ham Rong Mountain, which is located in the center of Sapa. This mountain offers panoramic views of the town and is also home to a beautiful orchid garden.

Visit Ethnic villages in Sapa

Sapa is home to several ethnic minority groups, including the Hmong, Dao, and Tay. These villages are known for their traditional customs, handicrafts, and costumes. Visitors can explore these villages and learn about the unique culture of each group. Some popular villages to visit are Cat Cat, Lao Chai, Ta Van, and Ta Phin. In these villages, visitors can see traditional homes, observe handicraft demonstrations, and purchase locally-made souvenirs.

Bac Ha Market

Located about 70 kilometers from Sapa, Bac Ha Market is a colorful and lively market that is held every Sunday. This market is a gathering place for people from all over the region, including the Hmong, Tay, and Dao ethnic groups. Visitors can browse through the stalls and purchase traditional handicrafts, textiles, and fresh produce. The market is also a great place to try local dishes such as thang co (a spicy soup made with horse meat) and banh chung (a sticky rice cake filled with mung beans and pork).

Day 10-11: Hue Town

The next part of this itinerary is to head down south to the city of Hue. From Sapa, the only way to get here is via a bus back to Hanoi. From Hanoi, I took a flight because it was so cheap already and much faster than a bus. I used Hue as a base to visit the Hang Son Doong caves as well as scootering south to the town of Hoi An through the iconic Hai Van Pass.

Hue palace vietnam
Hue palace vietnam
Hue palace vietnam

From Hanoi, you can either fly, take a bus, or take a train to Hue. I opted to fly since it was the fastest route (1 hour) as well as being an affordable option. The overnight buses are also very affordable and comfortable as they come with fully reclining seats.

Hue palace vietnam

The city was founded in 1687 by Nguyen Phuc Chu, who established the Nguyen Dynasty, which ruled Vietnam until the early 20th century.

Hue palace vietnam

Under the Nguyen Dynasty, Hue became the capital of Vietnam and a center of political, cultural, and artistic activity. The city’s Imperial Citadel, which was built in the early 19th century, is a testament to the wealth and power of the Nguyen Dynasty. The Citadel is a vast complex of palaces, temples, and gardens, surrounded by a moat and walls that stretch for nearly 10 kilometers.

Hue palace vietnam
Hue palace vietnam

Day Trip to the Hang Son Doong Caves

For starters, the Hang Son Doong caves are the biggest caves in the world. That’s pretty much all you need to know before booking a day trip to this amazing place. It is as impressive as the description and then some.

hang son doong caves vietnam biggest caves in the world

These caves have become world famous for its multi day hikes where you camp and climb deep into its cave system. For the less adventurous, don’t worry as there is a day trip from Hue that takes you to the same caves to give a small taste of what’s inside. It’s a 2.5h drive from Hue through the town of Dong Hoi and onwards to the caves.

hang son doong caves vietnam biggest caves in the world

The “Fairy Tale” chamber was the highlight of the tour. The sheer size of the cave was breathtaking, and I was struck by the intricate and delicate formations that surrounded me. Our guide shared fascinating stories about the cave’s history and geological significance, which added to the overall sense of wonder and amazement.

Overall, I wish I could spend more time in the caves but I’ll have to save that for another trip.

Alternatively, you could fly into Dong Hoi instead of Hue which would make it a shorter journey. From Dong Hoi, you can take a bus to Hoi An or Da Nang (no flights).

Day 12-15: Hoi An

Hoi An is without a doubt one of the highlights for any visit to Vietnam. This colonial style town is located in the center of Vietnam just south of Da Nang city. For my Vietnam Itinerary, I spent three nights in Hoi An which were some of my most memorable days in the country.

Below is a list of the things to do in Hoi An but make sure to read my detailed post about Hoi An for the full list!

Hoi An Vietnam beautiful old town

History of Hoi An

Hoi An is a small city located on the central coast of Vietnam with a history that dates back more than 2,000 years. The city was once known as Faifoo and was a bustling port town on the Silk Road, attracting traders from Japan, China, the Netherlands, Portugal, and other countries.

In the 16th and 17th centuries, Hoi An became a hub for international trade in silk, spices, porcelain, and other luxury goods, and its cultural fusion of Chinese, Japanese, and European influences can still be seen in its architecture. Despite falling into a period of decline in the late 19th century, Hoi An has experienced a resurgence in tourism since the 1990s, and was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1999, making it one of Vietnam’s most popular destinations for visitors interested in history, culture, and architecture.

Walk around the old town of Hoi An

The Old Town of Hoi An is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, with well-preserved buildings and streets that date back to the 15th century. The Old Town is best explored on foot or by bike, and visitors can wander through narrow alleys, admire the ornate Chinese and Japanese architecture, and explore the many art galleries, boutiques, and cafes.

Hoi an old city bike photo

Note that Hoi An is an incredible touristic town with equal parts foreign tourists and local tourists. The streets are small as you’d expect from an old town so the crowds really add up. For the best time to see the streets, walk around in the morning before the crowds arrive. Walking around during night to see all of the lit up lanterns is a must. Hoi An is the city of lanterns after all.

Hoi An Vietnam beautiful old town

At night, you can also take a romantic boat ride along the river in one of the traditional canoes. I preferred the views of the boats and their iconic lanterns from the Japanese bridge.

Hoi An Vietnam beautiful old town

Madam khanh bahn mi

Without a doubt, Madam Khanh’s Bahn mi shop is one of the best bahn mi’s I’ve had in all of Vietnam. The bread is crispy but not dry, the sandwich is stuffed with an assortment of meats, fresh vegetables, and tasty sauces that amalgamate perfectly. I only paid 30k VND per sandwich is less than $1.50 USD. I ended up coming back to this place multiple times during my stay in Hoi An.

There is another equally as famous bahn mi shop in town called Bahn Mi Phuong but I found that Madam Khanh made the better sandwiches!

Get tailor made clothing

Hoi An is famous throughout Vietnam and SE Asia for being the tailor made clothing hotspot. There are many other destinations throughout SE Asia that offer tailored made clothing but Hoi An has incredibly low prices that seem hard to believe at times.

Hoi An tailor made clothing

I wasn’t planning to get anything made in Hoi An because I had no idea about the tailoring scene but after venturing around to a handful of shops, I decided to take the plunge. I ended up getting a linen suit made and 2 linen shirts for about $215 USD which is an insane deal. Most shops operate in the same way by offering you different garment types of all colors. Once you’re satisfied with the design, they will take your measurements. A first “draft” of the clothing will be done in a day where you’ll return to get additional alterations done since the first draft is never the final product. Yes, they are that fast!

All in all, I was very satisfied with the product I received. Linen is all the rage these days and probably the only thing I can wear in hot climates like Singapore and Bali where a normal dress shirt is useless.

Note that if you are serious about getting tailored made clothing, I would stay at least 3 days in Hoi An. This way, you’ll have enough time for multiple fittings to get the clothing done perfectly.

Bike in the rice fields

Biking in the rice fields is a great activity to do in Hoi An. Just outside Hoi An lies a plethora of rice fields, iconic fishing boats, mangroves, and more. Simply rent a bike pretty much anywhere in the city to take on your adventure around the rural areas of Hoi An. My hotel had a bike rental for free.

hoi an biking rice fields
hoi an bike tour rice field vietnam fortress

If you don’t want to bike far, simply put “Lo Gach Cu Cau Tre” into your Google Maps which is an iconic fortress just south of Hoi An. There are a few cafes and restaurants nearby where you can admire the fortress surrounded by the rice fields.

hoi an biking rice fields

Don’t expect to see incredible terraced rice fields like you’d find in Sapa or Jatiluwih, Bali but they are still a great way to get out of Hoi An.

hoi an biking rice fields

Ba Na Hills

Ba Na Hills is an incredible day trip to make from Hoi An. I opted for a day trip that combined Ba Na Hills and My Son Sanctuary by getting my own private driver (for about $50 for the entire day).

Ba Na Hills Da Nang Vietnam
Ba Na Hills Da Nang Vietnam

Ba Na Hills is famous for the Golden hands bridge which is probably one of the most beautiful bridges I’ve ever seen. The area is also home to a modern European style village equipped with castles and palaces. Asians love European architecture like the Chinese creating a replica of Cesky Krumlov in the north of China so it’s only fitting the Vietnamese created one of their own on top of the Ba Na mountains.

Ba Na Hills golden bridge Da Nang Vietnam

To get here, you’ll need to drive 80 minutes from Hoi An (60 minutes from Da Nang) to the base of the Ba Na hills where you’ll take a very long cable car that climbs 1.5km to the peak. From here, you can view the famous golden hand bridge. Expect huge crowds of people on this bridge as it is one of the most popular attractions for local Vietnamese tourists.

Ba Na Hills golden bridge Da Nang Vietnam

I didn’t bother to walk to the French village with its castles and palaces because it’s more of an amusement park than anything else. Plus, after you’ve seen the real stuff like the Burg Eltz Castle or Neuschwanstein, there’s no reason to look at anything else!

Ba Na Hills Da Nang Vietnam
Vietnamese really love European stuff…

Total cost for this visit is 900k VND which is quite pricey in my opinion. Nevertheless, the photos from the bridge are very cool.

Ba Na Hills Da Nang Vietnam
Ba Na Hills Da Nang Vietnam

My Son Sanctuary

Visit the My Son Sanctuary: This UNESCO World Heritage Site is located about 40 kilometers from Hoi An and is a must-visit for anyone interested in ancient architecture and history. The My Son Sanctuary was a center of the Cham civilization, which flourished in central Vietnam from the 4th to the 13th centuries. The site features well-preserved temples, towers, and sculptures that are a testament to the Cham’s impressive engineering and artistic skills.

The temples remind me a lot of Angkor Wat in Cambodia which makes sense given how close these two places are to one another. I think if you’ve visited Angkor Wat, there is no reason to make the day trip to My Son as i tis smaller and far less impressive.

Where to stay in Hoi An:

There are a plethora of great accommodations in Hoi An. As you’d expect from most of Vietnam, there are many incredibly affordable options that offer great value for money.

Budget (Under $50)

Middle End ($50 – $150)

High End ($150+)

Day 15-18: Ho Chi Minh City

From Hoi An, it’s time to board a flight from Da Nang airport to the largest city in Vietnam, Ho Chi Minh City. This bustling city is the heart and center of Vietnam’s growth story. It is incredibly different than Hanoi as it is the shiny, new, energetic city of Vietnam.

Ho Chi minh city vietnam

Ho Chi Minh City, also affectionally referred to by locals as Saigon, was once the capital of the capitalist South of Vietnam before the Vietnam war. After the communist north captured the city in the 1970s and was victorious over the Americans, they renamed the city to Ho Chi Minh city in honor of the late revolutionary leader.

photography of city buildings

I was not a big fan of Hanoi but I very much liked Saigon. It’s much more my type of city with bigger sidewalks, modern cafes, great food options everywhere, amazing cocktail bars, and beautiful rooftops. Don’t get me wrong, Hanoi is a great city and must visit but my personal preference is with Saigon.

Try Com Tam

Com Tam is to the south of Vietnam what Bun Cha is to the north of Vietnam. Com Tam is grilled pork ribs over charcoal served with broken rice. Broken rice is a staple in Vietnam nowadays but was once eaten by poor farmers in the Saigon region during difficult times. I actually might even prefer broken rice as it has a softer texture and absorbs flavor easier.

There are many places to eat this Saigon delicacy but I went to Com Tam Nguyen Van Cu which came as a recommendation from my hotel. It did not disappoint. The ribs are tender and sweetly marinated. Top it off with cilantro, chilis, and fermented fish sauce and it is the ultimate combo.

See the city of Saigon

Ho Chi Minh City, formerly known as Saigon, is a bustling metropolis in southern Vietnam with a rich history and culture. The city has undergone many changes over the years, but its French colonial architecture and vibrant street life remain a testament to its past. One of the best ways to explore the city and discover its hidden gems is by taking a walking tour.

Ho Chi minh city coffee road

Ho Chi Minh City has several neighborhoods that are worth exploring on foot, each with its own unique character and charm. One of the most popular areas for walking tours is District 1, which is home to many of the city’s top tourist attractions. Here, visitors can admire the French colonial architecture of buildings such as the Notre Dame Cathedral and the Central Post Office, both of which were designed by Gustave Eiffel. They can also stroll along the wide boulevards lined with cafes and boutiques, or wander through the colorful alleys of the city’s bustling markets.

ho chi minh city post office

Another must-see area in Ho Chi Minh City is Chinatown, also known as Cho Lon. This vibrant neighborhood is home to many of the city’s ethnic Chinese residents and is characterized by its narrow streets lined with shops selling everything from herbs and spices to traditional Chinese medicine. Visitors can explore the ornate pagodas and temples that dot the area, including the famous Binh Tay Market, which is a great place to shop for souvenirs and sample the local cuisine.

Cu Chi Tunnels and Mekong Delta Day Tour from Saigon

The Cu Chi Tunnels and Mekong Delta are two of the most popular day trips from Ho Chi Minh City, offering a glimpse into Vietnam’s rich history and culture. This is probably the most popular day trip from Saigon and you’ll see this tour advertised everywhere.

cu chi tunnel vietnam

It’s a whole day trip (10-11 hours) and most providers follow the same itineraries.

The Cu Chi Tunnels are an extensive network of underground tunnels used by the Viet Cong during the Vietnam War. Located about 70 kilometers northwest of Ho Chi Minh City, the tunnels were used for living quarters, supply routes, and hospitals.

cu chi tunnel vietnam

Visitors can explore a small section of the tunnels, see the traps and weapons used by the Viet Cong, and learn about the daily life of the soldiers who lived there. You can even shoot from an AK-47 or M16 rifle that was used during the war. Just note that the money for this goes directly to the Vietnamese department of defense.

cu chi tunnel vietnam

The Mekong Delta is a vast network of waterways and fertile land in southern Vietnam. It’s home to a vibrant agricultural community, and visitors can explore the region’s rice paddies, fruit orchards, and floating markets. A typical day trip to the Mekong Delta might include a boat tour of the canals, a visit to a local village to learn about traditional crafts and customs, and a taste of local food.

cu chi tunnel vietnam
mekong delta vietnam boat tour

Day 18-21: Phu Quoc Island

Finally, at the end of this trip is sunny beach getaway at the biggest island of Vietnam, Phu Quoc. Phu Quoc has become very developed in recent years and has become to the premier island destination for Vietnamese and various other Asian countries. This is the only tropical island Vietnam has as it borders closely the Cambodian islands.

Phu Quoc beaches vietnam

Phu Quoc is something like a mix of Koh Phangan and Koh Samui in Thailand. It is very developed in areas and much more rustic in others. The roads are wide and very nicely paved (probably easier when this is the only island you need to worry about as a country). There are plenty of big and beautiful resorts of all price ranges in Phu Quoc as well as cheaper homestays and hostels near the city center.

Mediterranean italian town in phu quoc vietnam

Visit Sao Beach in Phu Quoc

Regularly voted as one of the best beaches in SE Asia, Sao beach in the southeast of Phu Quoc island is

sao beach phu quoc vietnam

Visit the “Mediterrananea Town” in the south of Phu Quoc

Yes you heard me right. Phu Quoc is home to a full sized live replica of a southern Italian town. This insane vanity project is run by Sun Group which is a huge real estate developed in Vietnam. Trust me when I saw that this is probably one of the craziest places I’ve ever seen.

Mediterranean italian town in phu quoc vietnam

I’m not talking about a few buildings that are Italian themed, I’m talking about a full town the size of a proper Amalfi coast town with all of the buildings, churches, cobblestone streets, and more that you’d expect from a picturesque Italian town. It’s a bit of a dystopian setting if I’m honest because it’s mostly empty and home to hundreds of Gothic style apartment buildings that are completely empty on the inside.

Mediterranean italian town in phu quoc vietnam cable car

Walk down the street and you won’t be faulted for mistaking you’re in Italy. There is even a church, inspired by the St. Mark’s basilica in Venice with a belltower that rings every hour on the hour. Eventually, there will likely be even Italian restaurants and gelato shops all over the “town”. There is also a small replica of the Roman Coliseum just for good measure.

Mediterranean italian town in phu quoc vietnam
Mediterranean italian town in phu quoc vietnam
Mediterranean italian town in phu quoc vietnam

Take the Hon Thom Cable Car

Without a doubt, a visit to Phu Quoc is no longer complete without taking the world record breaking Hon Thom cable car. It’s located in the dystopian Italian town from the above section and travels to An Thoi island which is also home to the beautiful water park.

cable car phu quoc italian town

The Hon Thom cable car system has several impressive features. It is currently the longest non-stop three-way cable car system in the world, covering a distance of 7,899 meters. It also has the world’s tallest cable car tower, standing at 160 meters tall. The system is made up of 69 cable cars, each of which can carry up to 30 passengers, with a total capacity of up to 3,500 passengers per hour.

cable car phu quoc italian town

This cable car truly is an engineering marvel. Not only is it 8000 meters long, but it rises high up over the ocean offering magnificent views of the islands nearby as well as the fake Italian town. It is absolutely incredible that they built something like this not just in Vietnam, but anywhere in the world.

cable car phu quoc italian town

The cable car operates multiple times during the day and takes about 20 minutes to run its course. The cost is 600k VND and this price includes the admission to the water park. It’s totally worth it in my opinion. I had no idea there was a water park included and made no plans to prepare myself for big slides but when in Rome am I right?

This is without a doubt one of the highlights (if not totally unexpected) of my trip to Phu Quoc. Absolutely allot yourself one day to tour this brand new Italian town and then take the cable car through the ocean 8km to the water park.

Day by day breakdown of my Vietnam itinerary

This is the day by day breakdown of my trip through Vietnam. Although I went for 3 weeks, I will break down exactly how you should plan a two week trip, one week trip, or even a three week trip if you have the time.

One week itinerary for Vietnam – North

For one week in Vietnam, I would focus on either the north, or the central/south combination. I still think the north of Vietnam is the most unique and beautiful part of the country so if you have to choose somewhere, I would elect to go with the north first.

Day 1: Arrive in Hanoi, explore the city of Hanoi
Day 2: Full day in Minh Binh tour
Day 3: Overnight trip to Halong Bay
Day 4: Leave for Sapa in the afternoon
Day 5: Full day exploring Sapa
Day 6: Sapa and surrounding
Day 7: Sapa and surrounding
Day 8: Leave to return to Hanoi

One week itinerary for Vietnam – Central and South

For one week in Vietnam, I would focus on either the north, or the central/south combination. I still think the north of Vietnam is the most unique and beautiful part of the country so if you have to choose somewhere, I would elect to go with the north first.

Day 1: Arrive in Ho Chi Minh City
Day 2: Full day in Ho Chi Minh City
Day 3: Day trip to the Cu Chi tunnels and Mekong Delta
Day 4: Fly to Da Nang, stay in Hoi An
Day 5: Full day in Hoi An
Day 6: My Son Sanctuary day trip
Day 7: Ba Na Hills day trip
Day 8: Fly out of Da Nang back home

One week itinerary for Vietnam

For one week in Vietnam, I would focus on either the north, or the central/south combination. I still think the north of Vietnam is the most unique and beautiful part of the country so if you have to choose somewhere, I would elect to go with the north first.

Day 1: Arrive in Hanoi, explore the city of Hanoi
Day 2: Full day in Minh Binh tour
Day 3: Overnight trip to Halong Bay
Day 4: Leave for Sapa in the afternoon
Day 5: Full day exploring Sapa
Day 6: Sapa and surrounding
Day 7: Sapa and surrounding
Day 8: Leave to return to Hanoi

Two week itinerary for Vietnam

For two weeks Vietnam, there’s definitely enough time to explore the whole country, albeit not in great detail. Two weeks is just enough time to do a north to south trip in Vietnam which is what I did.

Day 1: Arrive in Hanoi, explore the city of Hanoi
Day 2: Full day in Minh Binh tour
Day 3: Overnight trip to Halong Bay
Day 4: Leave for Sapa in the afternoon
Day 5: Full day exploring Sapa
Day 6: Sapa and surrounding
Day 7: Sapa and surrounding
Day 8: Leave to return to Hanoi, fly to Hue
Day 9: Day trip to the Hang Son Doong caves
Day 10: Explore Hue in the morning and transfer via the Hai Van pass to Hoi An
Day 11: Full day exploring Hoi An
Day 12: Day trip to My Son Sanctuary or the Ba Na Hills
Day 13: Hoi An to Ho Chi Minh City
Day 14: Full day in Ho Chi Minh city
Day 15: Day trip to the Mekong Delta and Cu Chi tunnels
Day 16: Fly home

Three week itinerary for Vietnam

For three weeks Vietnam, now you really have time to relax and explore the country at a more reasonable pace. With three weeks, I would consider spending even more time in the north and explore the Ha Giang region. There is a famous multi day scooter circuit through this region that you can do and the views look absolutely stunning.

Day 1: Arrive in Hanoi, explore the city of Hanoi
Day 2: Full day in Minh Binh tour
Day 3: Overnight trip to Halong Bay
Day 4: Leave for Sapa in the afternoon
Day 5: Full day exploring Sapa
Day 6: Sapa and surrounding
Day 7: Sapa to Ha Giang
Day 8: Ha Giang Circuit
Day 9: Ha Giang Circuit
Day 10: Ha Giang Circuit
Day 11: Leave to return to Hanoi, fly to Hue
Day 12: Day trip to the Hang Son Doong caves
Day 13: Explore Hue in the morning and transfer via the Hai Van pass to Hoi An
Day 14: Full day exploring Hoi An
Day 15: Day trip to My Son Sanctuary or the Ba Na Hills
Day 16: Hoi An to Ho Chi Minh City
Day 17: Full day in Ho Chi Minh city
Day 18: Day trip to the Mekong Delta and Cu Chi tunnels
Day 19: Phu Quoc
Day 20: Phu Quoc
Day 21: Phu Quoc

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