Go off the beaten path in Vietnam as you tour Hanoi like a local, visit traditional villages in the Pu Luong Nature Reserve, and hike amid terraced rice paddies in the highlands of Sapa. After cruising the jade waters of Ha Long Bay, you'll stroll amid ancient history in cities like Hoi An before ending the trip with street food tours in Ho Chi Minh City and adventures down the Mekong River.


  • Experience the highlights and hidden treasures of Hanoi
  • Visit traditional villages in the Pu Luong Nature Reserve
  • Hike around the terraced rice paddies of Sapa
  • Cruise Ha Long Bay and stroll Hoi An's Ancient Town
  • See the floating markets and islands on the Mekong Delta

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrive in Hanoi, Optional Activities Hanoi
Day 2 Guided Walking Tour of Hanoi & Water Puppet Show Hanoi
Day 3 Transfer to Mai Chau, Xa Linh Village & Nature Hike Mai Chau
Day 4 Transfer to Pu Luong Nature Reserve, Hiking & Rafting Pu Luong Nature Reserve
Day 5 Pu Luong Valley Hike, Return to Hanoi Hanoi
Day 6 Transfer to Sapa & Village Hike Sapa
Day 7 Hike to Sapa Villages Sapa
Day 8 Visit Bac Ha Market, Return to Hanoi Hanoi
Day 9 Transfer to Ha Long Bay, Swim, Kayak & Masterclass Cooking Lesson Ha Long Bay
Day 10 Cruise Ha Long Bay, Transfer to Hoi An Hoi An
Day 11 Cycle to an Organic Farm, Cooking Lesson & Hoi An Walking Tour Hoi An
Day 12 Transfer to Ho Chi Minh City, Vespa Street Food Tour Ho Chi Minh City
Day 13 Mekong Delta Day Tour & Optional Countryside Bike Tour Ho Chi Minh City
Day 14 Morning Ho Chi Minh Highlights Tour, Depart  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Arrive in Hanoi, Optional Activities

Welcome to Hanoi

Chao ban! Welcome to Hanoi! The capital of Vietnam has a long and storied history dating way back to 3000 BCE when the area was first inhabited. In the intervening millennia, both Hanoi and the country have seen dynasties rise and fall, the arrival of colonial rule, liberation, and devastating wars. Yet despite the turmoil and changing times, Vietnam has retained its cultural heritage—and one of the best places to see it on full display is in Hanoi.

Upon arrival at the airport, a driver will pick you up and take you to your hotel. You can take the rest of the day to explore Hanoi on a self-guided tour. Hit the streets of the Old Quarter and browse the silk shops on Hang Gai Street. Tuck into some Vietnamese street food staples like pho (noodle soup), banh mi (baguette sandwich), or bun cha (grilled pork with rice noodles). Later, perhaps head to a rooftop bar in the trendy Tay Ho district for a sundowner complimented by views over West Lake.

Day 2: Guided Walking Tour of Hanoi & Water Puppet Show

The 11th century Temple of Literature, in Hanoi

Leave the hotel at 8 am on a full-day guided tour to see Hanoi's historic landmarks and experience the city like a local. It starts with a ride to historic Ba Dinh Square, where president Ho Chi Minh proclaimed the independence of Vietnam in 1945. Then head over to Lenin Garden, a park presided over by a bronze statue of Vladimir Lenin. This is an excellent place to people-watch, as the area is a popular local hangout. 

From there, your guide will lead you down Hanoi's alleyways, lined with family-owned shops that have been around for generations. Continue to the 11th-century Temple of Literature, an impressive architectural landmark that was Vietnam's first-ever national university. To this day, students still pray at its altars for academic success. Next is the Museum of Ethnology, which preserves the cultural heritage of the 54 different ethnic groups in Vietnam. Afterward, stop for lunch at a local restaurant.

Now that you've refueled continue to Hanoi's charming Old Quarter to explore its warren of backstreets. This will lead to Nha Chung Street, an area with food stalls and vendors. Here, you'll visit a historic French-colonial home for afternoon tea. Your host has lived in the neighborhood all his life and has many stories about this remarkable city and its past. End the day with one of Vietnam's more unique theatrical performances: a water puppet show. This cultural expression dates back over 1,000 years, originating in the Red River Delta rice fields. Afterward, return to your hotel.

Day 3: Transfer to Mai Chau, Xa Linh Village & Nature Hike

Visit the Mai Chau Valley

In the morning, a driver will pick you up for the four-hour ride west from Hanoi to the gorgeous Mai Chau Valley. Located in Hoa Binh Province, Mai Chau is famous for its mountain vistas and fertile valleys dotted with traditional stilt houses. The White Thai ethnic group primarily inhabits the villages here; however, your destination is Xa Linh, a community home to the Hmong hill tribe. 

When you arrive in Xa Linh, you'll unwind with a delicious home-cooked lunch. This will fortify you for the subsequent two-hour hike along mountain trails. Enjoy breathtaking scenery and views of lush green hills, rice paddies, and traditional villages. During the trek, you'll stop at a local primary school to chat with the kids (donations to the school are welcome). Another treat is a visit to Pa Co Market, a weekly hill tribe market. There are great items here, including hand-woven batiks and embroideries by the Hmong people. In the late afternoon, you'll return to Mai Chau village, where you'll overnight.

Day 4: Transfer to Pu Luong Nature Reserve, Hiking & Rafting

The ancient water wheels of Pu Luong, still in use today

Enjoy a leisurely breakfast in the village, then hop in the car for the 1.5-hour drive south from Mai Chau to Pu Luong. This nature reserve is home to the ethnic Thai people and, like Mai Chau, is known for its forested mountains and green valleys dotted with terraced rice paddies and traditional villages. Upon arrival, you'll check in to your resort and have some time to unwind before lunch.

After a delicious lunch amid spectacular views, it will be time to hit the trail again. You'll hike to hillside villages and meet the locals while learning about cultural traditions dating back centuries. Continue across a suspension bridge over the Cham River and stop at traditional wooden con nuoc (water wheels). Your guide will explain the mechanics of how these ancient yet efficient machines lift water from the river and distribute it through bamboo chutes to elevated farmland.

Then you'll arrive at a local fisherman's house, where you have a short rest before hopping on a traditional bamboo raft for a ride down the river. The guide will teach you how to paddle and steer as you float along the calm waters, enjoying the mountain and valley views along the banks. When you reach the wooden Tan Lap Bridge, you'll disembark and transfer to a local resort in time for dinner.

Day 5: Pu Luong Valley Hike, Return to Hanoi

Local people
Local life in Pu Luong

Wake up early and embark on a scenic three-hour hike deeper into the valley. During this 2.4-mile (4 km) excursion, you'll follow nature paths down to the base of mountains as you cross rivers, pass rice paddies, and stroll through local villages. At the end of the hike, you'll stop at a local house for a home-cooked lunch. Afterward, you'll meet your driver for the four-hour ride back to Hanoi.

Day 6: Transfer to Sapa & Village Hike

Hike the mountains of Sapa

Leave Hanoi behind today as a driver picks you up at the hotel for the ride north to the highland area of Sapa, which is known for its soaring mountains and endless terraces of green rice paddies. The drive takes around six hours, and you'll check in to your hotel on arrival. Unwind after your long journey on a walk around the town's steep streets. Breathe in the cool alpine air, stop for a cup of Vietnamese coffee, and browse the handicrafts sold by local Hmong women in colorful handmade attire.

Finish the day on a hike (or drive) between rural villages outside of town, which is a great excuse to meet locals from the ethnic hill tribes. The first leg of the trip will take you about a mile (2 km) from your hotel along hilly roads to the village of Cat Cat. Nestled amid terraced rice paddies and sitting on streams that converge into a romantic waterfall, this traditional village home to the Black Hmong ethnic tribe is high in the running for the most beautiful town in the country.

After touring Cat Cat, continue on a dirt trail through the mountains along a narrow river amid terraced fields and vegetable patches on the way to Y Linh Ho village, another slice of rural Vietnamese paradise denoted by golden fields and bamboo homes. The area is populated by the Dao people, an ethnic tribe who adorn themselves with handmade indigo-blue clothing decorated with batik flower patterns. Here, you'll stop by the river for a rest and to snap photos. Then, hike back to the main road, where a car will be waiting to return you to Sapa. 

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

Day 7: Hike to Sapa Villages

A family in the rice fields near Sapa

This morning, you'll head out on a full-day tour to visit some of the isolated villages around Sapa. Start with a 5-mile (8 km) drive to the O Quy Ho Pass in the Hoang Lien Son Mountains, where you'll stop to snap photos and admire views of Mount Fansipan and the Sin Chai Valley. From there, pass forests and waterfalls as you make your way to Ban Khoang commune, home to the Black Hmong and Red Dao ethnic groups.

Take a guided walk to learn about rural life here, then drive to the Ta Giang Phinh Valley, where the Black Hmong people live in riverside hamlets. Enjoy lunch by the water and a two-hour walk through wild and unspoiled nature. As you hike, you'll spot locals plowing the fields, harvesting crops, and selling handicrafts in village markets. Later in the afternoon, your driver will take you back to Sapa.

Day 8: Visit Bac Ha Market, Return to Hanoi

Hill tribe women at Bac Ha Market

Your driver will pick you up this morning for the three-hour drive through mountain roads to the weekly Bac Ha Market. The long trip is well worth it, as Bac Ha is the region's largest and most colorful market. Every Sunday morning, various ethnic groups, like the Flower Hmong, Phu La, Black Dzao, Tay, and Nung minorities, gather to buy and sell local products.

You can find everything here, from fresh produce and embroidery to livestock such as chickens, pigs, horses, and buffalo. It's also a great place to mingle with locals, as it is packed with folks who've traveled long distances to meet friends and enjoy some rice wine at the end of a long week. After lunch at the market, you'll drive back to Hanoi.

Day 9: Bus to Ha Long Bay, Swim, Kayak & Masterclass Cooking Lesson

Cruise Ha Long Bay

Wake up early and board a shuttle bus for the four-hour drive east to the coast and Ha Long Bay. Located on the Gulf of Tonkin, over 1,000 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 and thus has been bestowed with UNESCO World Heritage status.

Upon arrival at the marina, you'll board a multi-level cruise ship for an overnight tour. After settling into your cabin, head up to the deck, where a delicious seafood lunch awaits. Then you can spend hours 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 afterward. Spend the remainder of the evening relaxing, or head out on a small boat for a bit of night fishing with the locals.

Day 10: Cruise Ha Long Bay, Transfer to Hoi An

Hoi An's riverfront

Wake up early and head to the deck to catch the sunrise gilding the bay waters. Then sit down and enjoy breakfast in the open air as you cruise around towering karst islets. The rest of the morning is yours to relax and enjoy the views or partake in one or two more optional activities, like kayaking around Ha Long's famous floating villages. Then sit down to an early lunch before disembarking at the marina and catching the shuttle bus back to Hanoi.

Upon arrival in Hanoi, you'll transfer to the airport by car and catch a 1.5-hour flight south to Da Nang. A driver will meet you at the airport for a one-hour drive down to Hoi An. Sitting on the Thu Bon River, this historic city was a major trading port with the West from the 15th through the 19th centuries, attracting merchants from around the globe. Its international legacy is represented in the assortment of architectural styles in Hoi An's Ancient Town. Upon arrival, you'll check in to your hotel and have the rest of the day to explore on your own.

Day 11: Cycle to an Organic Farm, Cooking Lesson & Hoi An Walking Tour

Cycling in Cam Thanh & Thanh Dong Organic Farm Visit
Village life around Hoi An

Spend the first half of the day exploring the Hoi An countryside by bike. A guide will pick you up in the morning and drive you just outside the city to a riverfront village where you'll pick up the bicycle. Then, embark on a roughly 4-mile (6 km) journey through unspoiled countryside dotted with coconut forests, rice paddies, and fish farms. Your first stop is at Thanh Dong, a 107,640 square foot (10,000 sq m) organic farm tended to by 10 or so local families. Stroll around the vegetable garden and participate in activities like sowing seeds and picking vegetables.

Next, hop in a Vietnamese circular basket boat (called a thung chai) for a ride along the Do River to a popular waterfront restaurant, where you'll have lunch. As you float down the water, you'll spot farmers in conical hats picking rice in green paddies as fishermen cast nets out on the water. After eating, head back toward Hoi An and stop at one last local village for a cooking class, during which you'll prepare traditional Vietnamese dishes.

Upon arrival back in Hoi An, you'll head out to discover this historic city. During a three-hour guided tour of the Ancient Town, you'll see firsthand the remarkable diversity of architecture here. One example is the arched Japanese Covered Bridge; another is the Assembly Hall of the Chaozhou Chinese Congregation. You'll also browse local markets, which sell fine textiles like silk. You may even want to get a custom suit fit, as Hoi An is famous for its tailoring.

Day 12: Transfer to Ho Chi Minh City, Vespa Street Food Tour

Feast in Ho Chi Minh City

In the morning, your driver will pick you up for the one-hour ride north to the airport in Da Nang, where you'll catch a 1.5-hour flight south to Ho Chi Minh City. This southern metropolis is fascinating in that it has managed to preserve its cultural roots while maintaining a modern edge, as evidenced by its soaring new skyscrapers. Upon arrival, you'll transfer to your hotel, settle in and get ready for an evening tour.

As night falls, you'll discover Ho Chi Minh City in the most exciting and delicious way possible: on a moped food tour. Meet your guide at the hotel and hop on a vintage Vespa. Then hit the road on a mouthwatering exploration of the city after dark. The first stop is at a bakery to try fresh bread rolls before heading to a vintage coffee shop tucked in a back alley. And that's just to start.

Continue zipping along the city's bustling streets to an old apartment complex that comes alive at night with hundreds of food and drink stalls. After sampling a few savory tidbits, you'll visit a 50-year-old dessert shop to try homemade sweet soups. Your guide will lead you to an off-the-beaten-path restaurant for multiple courses starring the freshest seafood in the city. End the night at a cozy bar tucked away in a quiet alley as you sample local beers and craft cocktails while chatting with friendly locals. Feel free to cut loose, as a taxi will be waiting to take you back to your hotel. 

Day 13: Mekong Delta Day Tour & Optional Countryside Bike Tour

Travel the waterways of the Mekong

Leave your hotel at 8 am on a 1.5-hour drive out of the city to the waterfront hub of Ben Tre. From here, you'll embark on a full-day tour around the Mekong River Delta. At the pier, leave the car and hop in a motorboat, where you'll take off down the Ben Tre River, a tributary of the Mekong.

Your first stop will be at the famous Cai Be floating market, where local vendors ply the waters selling everything from fresh produce to flowers right from their boats. Then, leave the main waterways and venture down smaller canals for a peaceful and relaxing ride. You'll pass fish farms and see locals milling about along the banks as you go. The next stop will be at An Binh, an islet famous in the area for its fruit orchards.

Enjoy lunch at a local heritage house and follow that with a stroll around the orchards as you sip a cup of tea. Continue touring the village here, stopping at a workshop that makes artisanal items from local products like rice paper and coconut candy. Should you choose, you can embark on an optional bicycle ride. You'll pass schools, traditional homes, pagodas, and beautiful countryside as you ride along the village pathways. Then, visit brick kilns to see how the locals create beautiful clay pottery. Afterward, you'll meet a car for the ride back to the city.

Day 14: Morning Ho Chi Minh Highlights Tour, Depart

City Hall, Ho Chi Minh City

This may be your last morning in Vietnam, but the adventure isn't over yet. After breakfast, you'll meet your guide for a half-day guided tour of Ho Chi Minh City's highlights. You'll see historic 19th-century landmarks like Notre Dame Cathedral and the Central Post Office. Then visit the Presidential Palace, which was the headquarters of the Saigon government until it fell to the Viet Cong in 1975. Continue to the War Remnants Museum for a look at the American War through the eyes of the Vietnamese. 

After a break to enjoy the city's street coffee culture, it will be time to depart. Your driver will transfer you to the airport in Ho Chi Minh City, where you'll catch your flight home. See you soon!

More Great Vietnam Itineraries

Looking for more inspiration for your trip to Vietnam? Check out these other Vietnam itineraries, explore more ways to spend two weeks in Vietnam, or discover the best time to visit Vietnam.


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Map of Authentic Vietnam - 14 Days
Map of Authentic Vietnam - 14 Days
Written by Hien Do, updated Mar 2, 2023