Vietnam travel itineraries
The carefully created travel itineraries in our Vietnam travel guide will inspire and help you make the most of your trip. Combining the classic tourist sights and busy cities with laidback beaches, quiet temples and remote mountain villages, where you’d be hard-pushed to find another visitor, there’s an itinerary to match your interests and suit your time frame – whether you have a month to travel in Vietnam, or just a week or two. And don’t worry about seeing everything – each of the routes will give you a good taste of the country.
If you have a month to travel around Vietnam the Grand Tour could be the one for you: it’s the classic itinerary, packing in the essential sights, bustling cities, beautiful beaches, rural Vietnam, and much more. If you have a week or two and want to focus on Vietnam’s ethnic minority groups residing in the north, the Ethnic Culture tour is ideal. And if you have just a week and want to get off the beaten track go for the Unseen Mekong Delta itinerary.
Below is a sample itinerary, ideal for the first-time visitor to Vietnam:
You’ll get a taste of everything with this itinerary: big cities, historical and cultural sights, idyllic beaches, boat trips, intriguing caves, unspoiled countryside, homestays in rural villages, and more. Allow sixteen days, or longer if you want to take things at a more relaxed pace.
Start off your tour in Vietnam’s capital and enjoy its busy yet laid-back vibes. Visit some of the principal sights in Hanoi: the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum, and the nearby One-Pillar Pagoda, the Military History Museum, or the Ethnology Museum, and the Temple of Literature, Vietnam’s principal Confucian sanctuary and its historical centre of learning. Wander around the Old Quarter and take a stroll around Hoan Kiem Lake. Sample delicious street food and watch a traditional water puppet show in one of the famous theatres.
2. Ha Long Bay
Take a two-day boat tour around some of the two thousand or so dramatic limestone islands and intriguing caves of the World Heritage Site Ha Long Bay, Vietnam’s top draw. Enjoy the magical scenery while swimming in the emerald green waters around Titov island beach. Tours can be arranged from Hanoi.
3. Mai Chau and Ninh Binh
Hop on a bicycle and explore the surrounding rice paddies nestled against forested mountains, and wander around Mai Chau’s bustling morning market. Then visit the nearby White Thai villages to spend the night in a homestay.
Drive to Ninh Binh, the ideal base from which to visit beautiful Tam Coc, essentially a miniature landlocked version of Ha Long Bay, and an easy cycle ride from Ninh Binh. Take a boat trip through the limestone tunnels and between karst hills to the three long, tunnel caves at Tam Coc itself.
Travel to the engaging city of Hue and take a day-long boat trip along the Perfume River to visit the Thien Mu Pagoda and Hon Chen Temple, the Imperial City, and the Tu Duc mausoleum. At the end of the day have a wander through the lively Dong Ba Market.
The next morning take a bicycle, or tour by cyclo, along the north bank of the river to tranquil Kim Long village, where mandarins and other Imperial officials built their houses surrounded by lush gardens, in the late nineteenth century.
5. Hoi An
Drive to Da Nang via the Hai Van Pass, or “Pass of the Ocean Clouds”, taking in the superb views of Da Nang Bay. Stop off at the Cham Museum in Da Nang, with its impressive display of terracotta and sandstone figures. Then continue to Hoi An.
Wander the narrow streets, soaking up historic Hoi An’s charming old-world atmosphere, with its old merchants houses and wooden-fronted shops. Visit some of the sights, such as the Phuoc Kien assembly hall, the Museum of History and Culture and the beautifully preserved eighteenth-century Tan Ky House. It’s worth tying in your visit to coincide with its monthly lantern festivals – candle-lit paper lanterns meandering down the river is a magical sight.
The riverside town of Hoi An © Judyta Jastrzebska/Shutterstock
6. Nha Trang
Cosmopolitan Nha Trang combines cultural highlights with stylish restaurants and lively bars, and 6km of glorious sandy coastline offering prime opportunities for swimming, snorkeling and other watersports.
Then head for one of the city’s gorgeous beaches, such as Tran Phu beach, closest to the city action and backed by a great promenade, the quieter Hon Chong beach, or the more secluded and pristine Bai Dai beach.
7. Da Lat
Move on to Da Lat, 1500km high in the Lang Bian Plateau. Visit the splendid Summer Palace of Emperor Bao Dai, and the gaudy Crazy House. Enjoy the Da Lat flower gardens and then set off for Ho Chi Minh City, stopping en route to visit tea, coffee, or rubber plantations.
8. Ho Chi Minh City
Embrace the bustle of the metropolis and see some of city’s main sights: the Notre Dame Cathedral, the History Museum, the Jade Emperor Pagoda, the Reunification Palace, the War Remnants Museum. Take a wander around Cho Lon, the city’s Chinatown, sample street food at Ben Thanh market and, come sundown, stroll along pedestrianized Nguyen Hue.
An alternative day-trip is to the wonderful countryside around Ben Tre in the Mekong Delta. Explore by boat the many creeks along the Ben Tre coastline and stop off at rice-wine and sugar processing workshops.