On this epic 13-day journey, you'll discover Vietnam's unique highlights and hidden wonders, from Hanoi's Old Town to the backstreets of Ho Chi Minh City. In the former, go sightseeing and indulge in delicious street food before cruising through dramatic scenery in Ha Long Bay. Then it's time to see ancient sites in Hue and Hoi An, on the central coast, followed by quality time in Ho Chi Minh City and the Mekong Delta.


  • Tour the historic sights—and street food vendors—in Hanoi
  • Sail through the dramatic karst islets of Ha Long Bay on an overnight cruise
  • Take hands-on classes from locals, including two cooking lessons 
  • Let a local guide show you the UNESCO-listed Imperial City in Hue
  • Ride on the back of a Vespa for a memorable tour of Ho Chi Minh City

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrive in Hanoi, Explore Hanoi
Day 2 Afternoon Sightseeing & Street Food Tour Hanoi
Day 3 Day Trip to the Countryside, Cooking Class Hanoi
Day 4 Transfer to Ninh Binh, Cycling in Tho Ha, Visit the Galaxy Grotto Ninh Binh
Day 5 Transfer to Ha Long Bay, Overnight Cruise Ha Long Bay
Day 6 Ha Long Bay Cave Tour, Transfer to Hanoi, Fly to Hue Hue
Day 7 Tam Giang Lagoon Half-Day Tour Hue
Day 8 Imperial City Half-Day Tour, Transfer to Hoi An Hoi An
Day 9 Free Day in Hoi An Hoi An
Day 10 Transfer to Ho Chi Minh City, Explore Ho Chi Minh City
Day 11 Day Trip to the Mekong Delta Ho Chi Minh City
Day 12 Ho Chi Minh City Vespa Tour Ho Chi Minh City
Day 13 Depart Ho Chi Minh City  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Arrive in Hanoi, Explore

End the day with sunset cocktails overlooking Tay Ho (West Lake)
Welcome to Vietnam! This nation boasts thousands of years of settled history, and many of its ancient landmarks remain. There's plenty to see and do in Hanoi, your first destination on this epic 13-day adventure. Vietnam's capital is clearly a modern metropolis but it has quite the history, too, as it has been a central hub of government in the region dating all the way back to 200 BCE. 
Upon arrival at the airport, a driver will meet you for the 45-minute ride to your hotel in the city. After settling in, you can head out and explore on your own. Wander the labyrinthine streets of Hanoi's Old Quarter by foot or on a traditional cyclo (three-wheeled bike) as you pass temples, French colonial buildings, and Vietnamese "tube houses." These space-saving buildings can be as narrow as 6 feet (2 m) wide and 12 stories high. Later, perhaps head to the rooftop bar at the Pan Pacific Hotel and sip cocktails amid spectacular sunset views over Tay Ho (West Lake).

Day 2: Afternoon Sightseeing & Street Food Tour

See Hanoi's most historic sights, like the 11th-century Temple of Literature
Start the day with a leisurely breakfast and spend a few hours enjoying Hanoi at your own pace. Then, around 2 pm, you'll embark on an afternoon city tour. Famous landmarks you'll see on this guided excursion include the 11th-century Temple of Literature, which is dedicated to Confucius. This was the first-ever university in Vietnam, and even today, students burn incense and pray at its altars for academic success. You'll also visit the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum to see the final resting place of "Uncle Ho," the former president.

In the evening, you'll embark on another guided city tour to experience Vietnam's famous street food. Dishes you'll try include bun cha (grilled pork and noodles) and banh cuon (ground pork rice rolls). After stopping at outdoor barbecue stalls where chefs flame-grill meats and vegetables over fiery coals, you'll finish the tour with dessert. Perhaps try a famous egg coffee. This drink was innovated when, during shortages of fresh milk, egg yolks were used as a substitute. It eventually became a staple drink of Hanoi.

Day 3: Day Trip to the Countryside, Cooking Class

Explore the Vietnamese Countryside on a Ba Vi Eco Tour (N)
Learn from the locals on this cultural tour outside of Hanoi

In the morning, you'll head west from Hanoi on a full-day guided eco-tour of the beautiful Ba Vi countryside. Your first stop is Ri, a village where you'll enjoy welcome drinks and snacks with Mr. Duoc, a war veteran and tea plantation owner. Listen to Mr. Duoc's stories about life during the war and visit his workshop and tea fields, where you'll learn the process of selecting the very best tea leaves.

Next, you'll take a short drive to another village called Moc where Mrs. Chin will teach you how to cook Vietnamese dishes that you'll enjoy for lunch in her tropical garden. Then join Mrs. Chin for a walk around the village to visit families and learn how to make tofu, conical hats, and other regional products. Finish with an easy cycle ride through Vietnam's iconic rice paddies, followed by a Muong herbal foot bath, before returning to Hanoi.

Day 4: Transfer to Ninh Binh, Cycling in Tho Ha, Visit the Galaxy Grotto

Experience the stunning Ninh Binh province by boat and bicycle

Today your driver will pick you up at your hotel for the two-hour drive south of Hanoi to Tho Ha. This village is located in the Ninh Binh province of Vietnam's Red River Valley, which is famous for its riverine landscapes and karst mountains rising dramatically out of vast rice paddies. 

Upon arrival, you'll hop on a bike for a leisurely cycling trip around the village. Depending on the schedule, you'll ride 3-10 miles (5-16 km), passing sleepy villages and picturesque rural landscapes. Eventually, you'll arrive in the hamlet of Dong Tam and join the locals for regional activities like fishing, crabbing, and gardening. After an hour of fun masquerading as work, you'll return to town. There, a local family will welcome you into their home and teach you to cook the traditional cuisine of the region.

After lunch with your host family, you'll board a traditional rowboat at the Nha Le Pier and enjoy a trip into the Galaxy Grotto, a 2,953-foot (900 m) deep water cavern. This is a uniquely beautiful cave due to its massive stalactites that gleam in different colors, which is why it's known as the "Milky Way of the mountain." Afterward, hop in a car and transfer to your hotel where you'll stay overnight.

Day 5: Transfer to Ha Long Bay, Overnight Cruise

Pinch yourself as you sail in Ha Long Bay, the "descending dragon"

In the morning, you'll leave Ninh Binh with your driver for the 3.5-hour ride north to Ha Long Bay. Located on the Gulf of Tonkin, over 1,500 karst islets rise above jade waters and resemble the spine of some mythological creature ("ha long" actually translates to "descending dragon"). The unique beauty of this region is unlike anywhere else.

Upon arrival at the marina, you'll board a multi-level cruise ship for an overnight tour of this UNESCO World Heritage Site. After settling into your cabin, head up to the deck where a delicious seafood lunch awaits. Then spend some time relaxing on the sun deck as the ship sails across glassy emerald waters to the most secluded corners of the bay. Later that afternoon, you'll stop at a secret cove for a swim and a kayak trip to explore hidden beaches and grottoes.

Return to the ship just in time to participate in a cooking masterclass offered by the onboard expert chef. During the workshop, you'll learn to make traditional specialties like nem (Vietnamese fried spring rolls) and enjoy them for dinner. Spend the remainder of the evening relaxing, or head out on a small boat for a bit of night fishing with the locals.

Plan your trip to Vietnam
Chat with a local specialist who can help organize your trip.

Day 6: Ha Long Bay Cave Tour, Transfer to Hanoi, Fly to Hue

Relax in your comfortable cabin on Ha Long Bay

Wake up early to see the sunrise on deck, perhaps joining the morning Tai Chi session. Then enjoy an al fresco breakfast of coffee, tea, and pastries as the ship cruises to its next destination: Sung Sot Cave. This is the largest limestone cavern in Ha Long Bay, and you'll get to marvel at its massive stalactites on a caving excursion. From there, you can take a steep hike up to the top of Bo Hon Island, where you'll be treated to panoramic views of the bay.

Upon returning to the ship, you'll be served lunch as you cruise back to the harbor. Once there, hop in a vehicle for the 2.5-hour ride back to Hanoi where you'll catch a one-hour flight south to the city of Hue. Upon arrival at the airport, a driver will pick you up and transfer you to your hotel.

Day 7: Tam Giang Lagoon Half-Day Tour

Tour the mangrove forests and lagoons outside of Hue
Today you'll have the morning and early afternoon to enjoy Hue at your own pace. This historic city sits on the banks of the Perfume River and is most famous for its Imperial City, a walled citadel that was the capital of Vietnam during the Nguyen dynasty from 1802 to 1945. You'll see the citadel tomorrow, so feel free to take a leisurely walk around the city's historic streets and stop in at a local restaurant for lunch.
Around 2 pm, you'll meet a guide who will lead you to other highlights in and around the city. Your first stop is the architecturally significant, An Dinh Palace, which dates to the early 1900s. Then head just north of the city to the coast and Tam Giang Lagoon. Here you'll take a boat ride amid the colorful mangrove forests at Ru Cha. After casting nets with some local fishermen, head to a waterfront restaurant for fresh seafood before returning to Hue.

Day 8: Imperial City Half-Day Tour, Transfer to Hoi An

Half-Day Imperial City Tour of Hue
See the highlights of Hue's famous Imperial City

This morning you'll head out on a half-day guided tour of Hue's most famous enclave, the Imperial City. Within this walled enclosure are emperors' tombs, ancient pagodas, and the remains of an iconic citadel. You and your guide will enter this UNESCO World Heritage Site through the towering main gate, and the historic architecture will immediately make you feel like you're stepping back in time. During the tour, you'll visit impressive royal mausoleums dating to the 19th century, like the Tu Duc Royal Tomb and Khai Dinh Royal Tomb.

After touring the Imperial City, you'll meet a driver for the 2.5-hour ride south from Hue down the coast to Hoi An. During this scenic 13-mile (21 km) drive, you'll cross over the magnificent Hai Van Pass. Also known as the "Cloudy Pass" due to the great tufts of white that often settle on these coastal mountains, the viewpoints here on clear days are incredible. You'll make plenty of stops on the ride to snap pictures of the seaside vistas. Upon arrival in Hoi An, transfer to your hotel.

Day 9: Free Day in Hoi An

Ride a bicycle in Hoi An's car-free streets
Today is yours to enjoy Hoi An however you like. Enjoy a leisurely walk or rent a bicycle and ride along the quiet streets (motorized vehicles are banned in the city). Later, perhaps get measured for a custom-made outfit (Hoi An is famous for its expert tailors), or head to one of the city's nearby white-sand beaches. For dinner, try local dishes such as com hen (sauteed clams), nem lui (ground pork), and cao lau (pork and greens).
You should save some time to see the historic landmarks in Hoi An's Ancient Town. There are a number of architectural gems here, like the arched Japanese Covered Bridge and the Assembly Hall of the Chaozhou Chinese Congregation. You can also browse local markets selling colorful souvenirs and fine silk textiles.

Day 10: Transfer to Ho Chi Minh City, Explore

Check out the markets in Vietnam's largest city for souvenirs and street food
This morning your driver will pick you up at the hotel for the one-hour ride north to the airport in Da Nang, where you'll catch a short flight south to Ho Chi Minh City. Upon arrival, another driver will pick you up for the ride to your hotel. Vietnam's largest city is fascinating in that it has managed to preserve its cultural roots and traditions in the face of a communist revolution, a devastating war, and ever-encroaching modernity.
After getting settled, venture out and explore the city at your own pace. A great place to start is by visiting Ben Thanh, a famous market for street food and shopping, or check out one of the city's many spas for a relaxing foot massage. Later, perhaps grab a beer at the 861-foot (262 m) Bitexco Tower and enjoy panoramic views across this sprawling city.

Day 11: Day Trip to the Mekong Delta

Shop for fresh produce on the water at this floating market
Rise and shine! At 8 am a driver will pick you up from your hotel for a trip outside of Ho Chi Minh City to one of the most famous regions in the country: the Mekong Delta. You'll drive south for about 2.5 hours to the heart of the delta region and the town of Cai Be, which sits on the Mekong River. During the drive, you'll be treated to scenes of traditional countryside life.
Upon arrival in Cai Be, you'll visit its famous floating market. Each morning hundreds of boats ply the waters selling fresh produce, and your guide will introduce you to this world of aquatic commerce and teach you how to barter like a local. Then you'll visit a workshop run by a local family that makes "pop rice." Since Vietnam is the "rice bowl of Vietnam," the Mekong Delta region produces much of this crop, and this tasty puffed rice snack has become a staple of the local diet.
In the early afternoon, you'll stop at another local home for a traditional lunch followed by some free time to relax in a hammock. Or, hop on a bicycle for a leisurely ride along the delta's famous fruit orchards. Later, you'll return to the car for the ride back to Ho Chi Minh City.

Day 12: Ho Chi Minh City Vespa Tour

See Ho Chi Minh City like a local on a Vespa tour
This morning you'll embark on a tour to see the backstreets of Ho Chi Minh City like a true local—on the back of a Vespa. After a safety briefing, you'll hop on the back and hang on as your professional guide leads you around the city on a day tour. You'll pass through local neighborhoods with apartment buildings, shops, and restaurants dating to the 1960s. There will be plenty of stops to appreciate the historic architecture and do a little street photography. You'll even stop at the lively Ban Co Market, where you can sample some delicious street food.

The tour continues with a ride to District 5 and District 10, both traditional neighborhoods where you'll witness a slice of local life. Then stop in Chinatown and take a walk along Hai Thuong Lang Ong and Trieu Quang Phuc, streets that are lined with traditional food and medicine shops, clinics, and stores selling Chinese herbs. After visiting the 18th-century Thien Hau Temple (dedicated to Mazu, the Chinese goddess of the sea), you'll sit down for a lunch of local favorites like com tam (broken rice) and bun bo (beef noodle soup). 

Day 13: Depart Ho Chi Minh City

Until next time, Ho Chi Minh City!
The day has come to say goodbye to Vietnam! Bid a fond farewell as your driver transfers you to the airport in Ho Chi Minh City, where you'll catch your flight home. Safe travels!

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Map of Authentic Vietnam  - 13 Days
Map of Authentic Vietnam - 13 Days