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My first trip to Vietnam was a magical one, even though we turned up without any real plan. It was the most expensive flight I’d ever booked because I’d mainly travelled Europe until then. And I basically winged it. I hope this Vietnam itinerary means you won’t have to do the same!
There are lots of fun things to do in Vietnam whatever your interests. The food is incredible, the recent history is humbling and the cities are full of surprises. Whatever you choose to do there, I know you’re going to love it. But I hope this Vietnam travel itinerary will make your trip even more magical for you than it was for me.
How to use this Vietnam itinerary
I put this travel itinerary together to cover three weeks in Vietnam, but you can use it no matter how long your Vietnam trip will last. I specifically made this itinerary for a 3-week trip because I think that’s an ideal length to see the best bits of Vietnam. My first trip lasted just over 2 weeks and, even though it was enough, it would have been nice to have a few more days.
Here’s how to adapt this 3 week itinerary however long you plan to stay in Vietnam:
Vietnam itinerary – 7 days
7 to 10 days in Vietnam is a good amount of time to get a taste for the country. You can really immerse yourself and see the highlights of Vietnam in a week – but not much more.
One week in Vietnam is enough to travel all the way from north to south if you don’t spend in each place. If you want to see both Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City, it will be much easier to arrive in one and leave from the other. We’ll talk about which way round to do it in a bit.
How to adapt this Vietnam itinerary for 1 week
With just 7 days to explore, you’ll want to focus on just a couple of places. I would recommend choosing the north or south of Vietnam (see below) and taking a couple of day trips. It’s possible to travel the entire length of Vietnam in a week – I’ve done it! – but won’t have time for any of the extra day trips or excursions.
Read on to figure out what is most important to you. Then, you’ll be able to choose a few highlights to piece together your own itinerary.
Vietnam itinerary – 2 weeks
Even though I’ve put this itinerary together for 3 weeks in Vietnam, it could well have been a two week itinerary. In fact, that’s how long I actually spent there, even if it did feel a little rushed.
With 2 weeks in Vietnam, you can easily explore both the north and the south. I suggest spending one week based in Hanoi and the north, then a second week travelling down to Hoi An and Ho Chi Minh City.
How to adapt this Vietnam itinerary for 2 weeks
It’ll be easy to plan a two week itinerary from this guideline. As we go through, I’ve left a little bit of wiggle room at each destination. That means you can choose what you want to do and skip the bits you’re not bothered about.
Anywhere from 12 days to 15 days in Vietnam is a good amount of time for your first trip. Just cut out a couple of excursions if your time in Vietnam is on the shorter side.
More than 3 weeks in Vietnam
This itinerary has been written for a 3-week trip. There’s enough to keep you busy during your time in Vietnam without making your trip feel too rushed or hectic. If you have longer than three weeks, you may want to take it at a slower pace.
How to adapt this Vietnam itinerary for more than 3 weeks
If you have more than three weeks in Vietnam, I would still recommend sticking mostly to the same itinerary. Rather than trying to cram more in, I’d suggest spending a little longer in each place. You can use that extra time to re-visit your favourites spots or, better yet, take a few excursions to nearby places. Or perhaps leave some days for relaxing by the pool (most hotels have great pools!).
Up to 5 days in Vietnam
Even though I would recommend two weeks in Vietnam as a minimum, you can still enjoy it in much less time. If you only have a few days in Vietnam, you’ll want to choose one place to explore. Two at most.
How to adapt this Vietnam itinerary for a short trip
Your best bet is to choose whether you want to see the north of Vietnam or the south, which you’ll find more about below. It will also make sense to base in just one city – I recommend one of the three I go into detail about below. A good option would be to spend a couple of days in the city and one or two days on day trips.
The best Vietnam route
There are many ways to travel Vietnam, but most people travel north to south, or vice versa.
Choosing a Vietnam travel route
Your route around Vietnam will ultimately depend on the amount of time you have. It will also depend on where you want to go most.
The two biggest cities are in the north (Hanoi) and the south (Ho Chi Minh City). If you’re not bothered about visiting smaller towns like Hoi An, then the quickest way to travel between them is by plane. If you have a little more time or want to see other towns, the train is a great option.
For a trip lasting two weeks, you’ll be able to visit 2-3 of the cities below. If you’re only visiting two, you’ll have plenty of time to travel by train. If you want to squeeze in all three cities (and really make the most of them), though, you still can. Flying will save you a lot of time and shouldn’t cost much more.
North to south – or vice versa?
Honestly? It doesn’t really matter. I always like to jump right into the capital, and Hanoi is a great starting point. In my opinion, it’s a better place for getting a feel for Vietnam than Ho Chi Minh City.
That said, I would go to HCMC first if the flights made more sense. Check the flight prices and times before you make a decision.
Planning a north Vietnam itinerary
Most first time visitors head straight to the north of Vietnam – and it’s easy to see why! North Vietnam has some of the most stunning scenery in Asia.
If you’re planning a trip to the north and have time to explore, I recommend splitting your time between three places: Hanoi, Halong Bay and Sapa. They’re all very different and, between them, you’ll see a great selection of Vietnam’s highlights.
Travel tip: Download the SkyScanner app to find the best flight prices.
Things to do in south Vietnam
Ho Chi Minh City (or Saigon) isn’t the only attraction in south Vietnam. The southern half of the country is home to the Mekong Delta, with rice paddies, floating markets and small villages.
The famous Nha Trang coastline is also in the south. If you want to see some beautiful beaches that could rival those of Palawan, Philippines, make sure you add Nha Trang to your Vietnam itinerary.
Cities to visit in Vietnam
However long spend in Vietnam, you’ll probably want to base yourself in these cities most of the time. From there, it’s easy to jump onto day trips to the surrounding gems. Plus, there’s loads to see in each of the cities themselves! Here are the best bits:
What to add to your Hanoi itinerary
As you’d expect from a capital city, there’s a LOT to do in Hanoi. Here are my favourite things to try:
Sip on a Vietnamese egg coffee: And when I say sip on it… I mean guzzle it down in one. This Hanoi speciality brew is made with raw egg yolk. It doesn’t sound delicious but it REALLY is.
Many cafes now serve egg coffee but Giang Cafe claims to have invented it, so head there for the original.
Watch a water puppet show: This was both one of the strangest and most fun experiences I had in Hanoi. It may have even been the moment I fell in love with the place.
The water puppet show is exactly what it sounds like – a puppet show with water. It takes place in a small, old theatre, and the entire thing is in Vietnamese. But it’s probably one of the best nights you’ll have in Hanoi. I promise.
Take a city tour: The first thing you’ll notice in Vietnam is just how many bikes and scooters there are. These two-wheeled vehicles are an important part of the Hanoi’s character, so what better way to get to know the city?
Sample the street food: Vietnam is still my favourite foodie destination of all. The food in Vietnam is affordable, delicious and available on all street corners.
If you want a real introduction – or to take the guesswork out of what you’re eating! – I recommend joining a street food tour.
Overnight excursions and day trips from Hanoi:
Halong Bay: A little bit of a tourist hotspot, but still one of my favourite places in Vietnam. Halong Bay has such incredible scenery that it’s hard not to fall in love with.
You have lots of options when it comes to Halong Bay cruises. From 1-day trips to several day cruises, budget-friendly boats to luxury sails, there’s an option for every traveller. My only advice is to make sure you go! Check all of the options here to find the best Halong Bay cruise for you.
Trekking in Sapa: Sapa is home to a number of ethnic villages. Visiting Sapa is a great opportunity to get to know Vietnam on a deeper level and is the highlight of many people’s trip.
Ideally, you’ll want to spend at least one night in Sapa. Look for a 2-day trip that includes a home stay if you can (like this one). Budget-conscious travellers may prefer to hop on the sleeper bus and explore for a day.
What to add to your Hoi An itinerary
Tour a temple or two: One of my best memories of Hoi An is simply strolling around and stumbling upon Chinese temples. You can use the temples to guide a walk or just walk and see which temples you come across. Either way, you’re not going to be disappointed!
Take it easy: Hoi An is adorable. From the hanging lanterns to the perfectly still river, Hoi An has a much calmer vibe than the big cities. It’s the perfect mid-way stop between Hanoi and HCMH to rest, relax and enjoy a long drink at a slow pace. If you’re a beach person, nearby An Bang beach is a very short taxi ride away.
Design your own wardrobe: People travel to Hoi An from all over the world to get custom suits, dresses and other attire made. People even get their wedding dresses made here!
The town is home to many dressmakers, all of whom can whip up your wildest creations in just a day or two. Go crazy and create something unique or get a perfectly fitted staple made for an incredibly cheap price. If you’re not a creative soul, there are plenty of books full of ideas and inspiration.
Cook your own dinner: Some of the best food in Vietnam is in Hoi An. And speaking to the locals, it’s clear that food means a lot to them.
Many of the Hoi An hotels offer cooking classes. If yours does, book yourself in! If not, find a local place to take a cooking class. You won’t regret it (especially as you get to eat the food after!).
Hoi An tours
Visit a fishing village: The area around Hoi An is famous for fishing. On this half-day tour, you can can meet local fishermen, row a bamboo boat and enjoy a floating lunch.
Time travel to the Champa Kingdom: My Son is the spiritual capital of the ancient kingdom of Champa. On this full-day trip, you’ll learn about the history of Hinduism while exploring the 7th century temples.
What to add to your Ho Chi Minh City itinerary (Saigon)
Take a tour of the Reunification Palace: The Independence Palace is an impressive building with an eerie presence. Combined with a visit to the War Memorial Museum, it makes for a slightly sombre morning or afternoon. But there’s no better way to appreciate Vietnam’s difficult history, something no visitor can be blind to. Visit both with an English-speaking tour guide for just £15 on this half-day tour.
Climb the Bitexco tower: If you love a good view, head straight to the Bitexco tower. At the top, you’ll be able to appreciate just how huge Ho Chi Minh City is. You’ll also be able to stop for a drink or snack in the bar. Yes, it’s overpriced, but I still recommend the banana split! Click here to reserve your fast-track tickets.
Knock out some karaoke: Karaoke isn’t just something you do at night in Japan. It’s also a very popular way to spend a few hours in Vietnam, whatever the hour.
For a truly authentic experience, head to any local karaoke bar. It might not be obvious and there’s a good chance they’ll try to turn you away, thinking you were looking for somewhere else. Persist, ask for a menu, get Google Translate ready (you downloaded these travel apps, right?) and enjoy a meal before heading upstairs to belt out an entire Taylor Swift album while being waited on. And, er, of course you’re reading the lyrics from the screen…
Day trips from Ho Chi Minh:
Explore the Upper Mekong: Ho Chi Minh City is perfectly located for exploring the Mekong Delta region. This full-day excursion includes a personal cruise along the river – all for less than $20.
Cao Đài Temple and Củ Chi Tunnels: The Cao Đài temple and Củ Chi tunnels are some of the coolest spots to explore near HCMC. This trip includes lunch at a local restaurant, as well as entry to both.
Wherever you choose to explore and however long you decide to spend in Vietnam, I’m sure you’ll love it. It’s a truly magical country – easily one of my favourites – and I hope this guide has helped you put together the best Vietnam itinerary for you!