Out of all the virtues that Thailand and Vietnam possess, few attract more travelers than their rich cultural heritage and world-class cuisine. Discover these twin pillars of Southeast Asia, starting with food tours in Saigon, visits to organic farms in Hoi An, and fine dining on the jade waters of Ha Long Bay. Then, fly to Thailand and sample street food in Bangkok, visit ancient temples, and learn the art of northern Thai cuisine in cooking classes—all capped with relaxation on the tropical beaches of Phuket.


  • Indulge in delicious street food in cities like Saigon and Bangkok
  • Explore the famed Mekong Delta and visit organic farms in Hoi An
  • Travel to the rice paddies of Ninh Binh and cruise Ha Long Bay
  • Experience the best of Thailand, from cooking classes to canal tours
  • Visit elephant sanctuaries in Chiang Mai and laze on the beaches of Phuket

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrive in Ho Chi Minh City (Vietnam), Self-Guided Tour Ho Chi Minh City
Day 2 City Highlights Tour, Vespa by Night Tour Ho Chi Minh City
Day 3 Day Trip to the Mekong Delta Ho Chi Minh City
Day 4 Fly to Da Nang, Transfer to Hoi An, Optional Activities Hoi An
Day 5 Country Bike Ride, Visit an Organic Farm Hoi An
Day 6 Hoi An Cooking Class with a Local Chef Hoi An
Day 7 Fly to Hanoi, City Highlights Tour Hanoi
Day 8 Day Trip to Ninh Binh, Visit Temples & Mountains Hanoi
Day 9 Transfer to Ha Long Bay, Overnight Cruise Ha Long Bay
Day 10 Morning Cruise, Transfer to Hanoi Hanoi
Day 11 Fly to Bangkok (Thailand), Self-Guided Tour Bangkok
Day 12 Bangkok Temples & Canals Tour Bangkok
Day 13 Day Trip to Country Farms & Markets, Fly to Chiang Mai Chiang Mai
Day 14 Trekking in Doi Inthanon National Park Chiang Mai
Day 15 Day Trip to an Elephant Sanctuary, Thai Cooking Class Chiang Mai
Day 16 Chiang Mai Free Day: Temples, Hot Springs & Markets Chiang Mai
Day 17 Fly to Phuket, Beach Day Phuket
Day 18 Speedboat Tour of the Phi Phi Islands Phuket
Day 19 Phuket Free Day: Beaches, Watersports & Outdoor Adventure Phuket
Day 20 Massage at Oasis Spa, Free Afternoon Phuket
Day 21 Depart Phuket  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Arrive in Ho Chi Minh City (Vietnam), Self-Guided Tour

Start your trip in Ho Chi Minh City, a major metropolis on the Saigon River

Welcome to Vietnam! Despite this Southeast Asian nation's relatively small size, it abounds with beauty, diversity, and a rich history dating back thousands of years. It also just happens to be regarded as one of the world's great culinary destinations. You'll experience the full spectrum of culture and cuisine, starting with your arrival in Ho Chi Minh City, in the nation's south.

Formerly known as Saigon, Vietnam's largest city has managed to preserve its cultural roots and traditions in the face of a communist revolution, a devastating war, and ever-encroaching modernity. At the airport, a driver will be waiting to transfer you to your hotel in the city. After getting settled, you can venture out and explore the city on your own.

You could browse the popular Ben Thanh Market for clothes and souvenirs and sample some delicious offerings at the Street Food Market outdoor food hall. If your legs are tired from all that walking, pop in at one of the many spas for a relaxing foot massage. For unparalleled views overlooking the city, head up to the Skydeck on the 49th floor of Bitexco Tower. If it's later in the afternoon, hang out and enjoy a beer as the sun sets over the city skyline. 

Day 2: City Highlights Tour, Vespa by Night Tour

Taste favorites like bahn xeo (crispy pancakes) as you seek out the city's best street food on the back of a Vespa

Meet your guide in the morning for a half-day tour of Ho Chi Minh City. Highlights include Independence Palace, also known as the Reunification Palace. This famous building was the headquarters of the Saigon government during the Vietnam War (known locally as the American War) until its fall in 1975. Continue past 19th-century French colonial landmarks, like Notre Dame Cathedral and the Central Post Office, to the War Remnants Museum. During a tour, you'll witness exhibits that show the war through the eyes of the Vietnamese. After lunch at a local restaurant, you'll return to your hotel.

After dark, continue discovering Ho Chi Minh City on a vintage-style Vespa. Meet your guide at the hotel and hop on the bike, first stopping at a rooftop bar for drinks amid panoramic views of the city's stunning skyline. Then, continue zipping along the streets and alleys, following the tantalizing aroma of Saigon's famous street food. Speaking of which, you'll stop at two restaurants to try some beloved Saigon dishes, like Vietnamese pancakes and spring rolls, washed down with a cold beverage. The final stop is at a café or bar to enjoy live music while sipping a cold beer.

Day 3: Day Trip to the Mekong Delta

Experience a more traditional way of life on the Mekong

Leave early on a transfer south to the lush Mekong Delta. Known as Vietnam's rice bowl, this region is full of mangroves, sugar cane plantations, and flourishing rice paddies. Board a boat for a ride down the Ben Tre River, one of the tributaries of the mighty Mekong. Along the way, you'll visit local businesses like a brick workshop and honey farm. The region is also famous for its coconut candies, and you'll see firsthand how these tasty confections are made.

Next, stop at a small riverside village for tea with a family that makes hand-woven rush mats. Then, explore the town by bike or xe loi (motor cart) and witness scenes of peaceful riverine life. You'll pass verdant rice fields, vegetable farms, and exotic fruit orchards. Have lunch at a restaurant on the banks of the river, then hop on a traditional raft and paddle down a creek. Afterward, you'll transfer back to Ho Chi Minh City and have the evening free.

Day 4: Fly to Da Nang, Transfer to Hoi An, Optional Activities

Hoi An's waterfront has been a center of commerce for centuries

It's time to say farewell to Vietnam's south and continue the journey north. Transfer to the airport in the morning and catch a 1.5-hour flight to Da Nang on Vietnam's central coast. From there, another driver will pick you up for the scenic hourlong ride 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. Hoi An's international legacy is represented in the assortment of architectural styles in its riverfront Ancient Town.

After settling into your hotel, you can venture out into Hoi An for a self-guided city tour. Highlights you'll see while walking the streets of Ancient Town include Hoi An Market, the Japanese Covered Bridge, and the historic Chinese meeting hall Phuc Kien, which dates to the 17th century. Afterward, you can participate in a lantern-making workshop. Japanese settlers brought the first lanterns to this region in the 16th century, and they've been a cultural icon ever since. 

Day 5: Country Bike Ride, Visit an Organic Farm

Cycle the countryside and tour a local farm to see time-tested methods of raising organic crops

Spend the day exploring the beautiful Hoi An countryside by bike. A guide will pick you up in the morning and drive you just outside town 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 will be at Thanh Dong, a 107,640-square-foot (10,000 sq m) organic farm tended to by 10 or so local families. Stroll the vegetable garden and learn how the farmers here have been cultivating produce and herbs organically using the same traditional methods they have for centuries. You'll even join in gardening activities like sowing seeds and picking vegetables.

Next, take a boat ride along the 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 their nets on the river. After eating, return to Hoi An, stopping at one last local village. Here, you'll spend time with a local family and participate in a short cooking class. When the meal is ready, everyone will sit down and feast together. Then, return to your hotel.

Day 6: Hoi An Cooking Class with a Local Chef

The regional cuisine of Hoi An is some of the best in Vietnam

Spend the morning enjoying Hoi An however you like. Enjoy a leisurely walk or rent a bicycle for a ride along the riverfront. 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.

Later in the morning, you'll learn about Hoi An's world-famous cuisine in a cooking workshop. The city's well-positioned port has drawn settlers from all over the world, resulting in a fusion of international street food, which you'll learn to prepare. Start with a boat trip to Hoi An's vibrant central market, where you'll browse fresh regional ingredients and meet the vendors.

Next, you'll head to Vy's Market Restaurant, which is run by beloved local cook Ms. Vy. The marketplace has a central courtyard surrounded by food stalls where you can watch cooks prepare signature dishes such as fresh cao lau (Hoi An noodles), spring rolls, soups, and rice crackers. Learn to cook some of these classics yourself during a 2.5-hour cooking class, then enjoy your creations for lunch. At the end of the experience, you'll get printed recipes and a Vietnamese cooking gift to take home.

Day 7: Fly to Hanoi, City Highlights Tour

The Temple of Literature is one of Hanoi's oldest and most impressive landmarks

Transfer back to Da Nang in the morning and catch a 1.5-hour flight north to Hanoi. The nation's capital delivers the quintessential Vietnam experience. The wild streets abound with energy, the street food is second to none, and there's history, culture, and adventure around every corner. Upon arrival, your driver will pick you up for the hourlong ride into the city and your hotel. 

After checking in, you'll meet a local guide for a half-day tour to discover Hanoi's renowned cultural heritage. It starts in the city's historic Old Quarter and the Temple of Literature, Vietnam's first national university, built in the late 11th century. Lauded for its striking architecture, the temple is featured on the 100,000 Vietnamese dong banknote.

Finish the tour at the Ho Chi Minh Complex, where Vietnam's revered revolutionary leader, Ho Chi Minh, lies embalmed in a mausoleum. Amble through the peaceful grounds to see the humble wooden stilt house where he once lived and the ornate One Pillar Pagoda, which sits in the middle of a lake and resembles Vietnam's national flower, the lotus. 

Day 8: Day Trip to Ninh Binh, Visit Temples & Mountains

Ninh Binh offers the famous Vietnamese landscapes often depicted on postcards

Leave in the morning on an adventure to the Red River Delta and Ninh Binh, a region loved for its ruined palaces and patchwork paddy fields bisected by snaking rivers. Your first stop is Hoa Lu, Vietnam's capital in the 10th and 11th centuries, which features decorative temples built in honor of former emperors and queens. Continue to the three-tiered Bich Dong Pagoda, home to cave temples filled with Buddhist statues and burning incense, then enjoy a drive through the lush countryside surrounded by villages and limestone mountains.

After lunch, you'll take a boat trip through the watery landscape of Trang An, a UNESCO Natural World Heritage Site. Float through four limestone grottoes and spot spiritual sites like Dia Linh Mountain among the dramatic karst scenery, which has earned the nickname "Ha Long Bay on land." You'll learn about the Tran Dynasty at the Vu Lam Royal Steps and visit a temple dedicated to Thanh Cao Son, a national hero who taught farmers vital irrigation techniques.

Day 9: Transfer to Ha Long Bay, Overnight Cruise

Take an overnight luxury cruise on the otherworldly Ha Long Bay

Rise and shine! Your driver will pick you up early for the three-hour drive north to the coast and the incomparable Ha Long Bay, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a natural wonder of the world. In this sweet spot on the Gulf of Tonkin, over 1,000 karst islets rise above emerald waters, resembling the spine of a giant reptile—hence the name "Ha Long" (it translates to "descending dragon"). Here, you'll board a multi-level ship operated by Orchid Cruises for a two-day luxury cruise.

Once aboard, you'll sit down for a gourmet lunch and then get underway. The ship will pass several islets before arriving in Lan Ha Bay, part of the Cat Ba World Biosphere Reserve archipelago. This is where the boat will drop anchor, and you'll embark in a smaller boat for a tour of Trung Trang Cave. This gaping cavern was carved out of limestone thousands of years ago.

After marveling at the massive stalactites and stalagmites, there will be the option for swimming in an emerald-green lagoon. You'll return to the ship in time for sunset, followed by happy hour cocktails, a cooking demonstration, and dinner. Enjoy an optional massage before retiring for the evening in your spacious cabin. Or, you can cast a line off the ship's stern and do a bit of night squid fishing.

Plan your trip to Vietnam
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Day 10: Morning Cruise, Transfer to Hanoi

Wake up at dawn, enjoy the sunrise, and travel back to the harbor
Wake up early to witness a sunrise over the jade waters of Ha Long Bay. Then, if you'd like, head to the top deck for a morning tai chi session. After a light breakfast, you can relax in a lounger and enjoy the scenery as the ship cruises to the Ha Long Bay pier. There will also be time for a kayak ride followed by late brunch before docking around noon. Then, hop in a vehicle for the 3.5-hour ride back to Hanoi, arriving in the midafternoon. The rest of the day is yours to explore Vietnam's capital.

Day 11: Fly to Bangkok (Thailand), Self-Guided Tour

Day or night, there's no shortage of excitement in Bangkok

It's time to bid a fond farewell to Vietnam, as this morning you'll board a 1.5-hour flight to Bangkok. Sitting on the Chao Phraya River, Thailand's dynamic capital is known for its chaotic energy, world-class street food, buzzing nightlife, and awe-inspiring Buddhist sights. Upon arrival at the airport, a driver will transfer you to your hotel. Then, you'll have the rest of the day free for optional activities.

When hungry, you'll want to indulge in Bangkok's famous street food. One of the best spots to delight in quick eats is the sprawling Chinatown neighborhood. Alternatively, you can visit the upscale Siam Paragon shopping mall or have a beer on Khao San Road amid the youthful backpacker atmosphere. And if you're here on the weekend, don't miss Chatuchak Market—with more than 15,000 stalls, it's one of the world's largest outdoor markets and sells everything from clothes and flowers to food and antiques.

In the evening, perhaps watch a Muay Thai boxing match (Thailand's national sport) or head for Warehouse 30, a gallery space where you can experience Bangkok's contemporary art scene. And there's always the option for a fun tuk-tuk (auto rickshaw) ride through the sultry Bangkok night amid the glow of neon lights.

Day 12: Bangkok Temples & Canals Tour

Wat Arun is one of the iconic temples of Bangkok

It's another early start, as your guide will pick you up at the hotel for a full-day tour of the city's most remarkable sights. It begins at the elaborate Wat Traimit. Known as the Temple of the Golden Buddha, the site is home to one of the world's largest solid gold Buddha statues.

Continue to the 16th-century Wat Pho temple and see the 150-foot-long (45 m) reclining Buddha. Spend time at the sensational Grand Palace, once home to the king of Siam, and visit its Coronation Hall, Funeral Hall, and the famous Emerald Buddha. This 15th-century figurine is made from one solid piece of green jade, with clothing made of diamonds and gold.

In the afternoon, tour the city on a long-tail boat. Cruising Bangkok's tranquil klongs (canals) is a great way to see traditional Thai houses and witness a more relaxed pace of life outside the city bustle. Wrap up your sightseeing with a visit to Wat Arun (Temple of Dawn), a temple with a soaring central spire that's one of the icons of the city. Later, you'll return to your hotel.

Day 13: Day Trip to Country Farms & Markets, Fly to Chiang Mai

Watch from a safe distance as trains pass right through Mae Klong Railway Market

Leave the city behind today on a guided tour of Thailand's coastal "Salt Road." Head out early for Samut Songkhram Salt Farms to watch local farmers tending to their fields, creating shimmering crystal pyramids of salt to dry in the sun. Then, hop on a train through the Mae Klong Railway Market, a raucous experience that has to be seen to be believed. Vendors set up their stalls on an active railway track, and each time a train approaches, they swiftly retract their awnings and merchandise to make way for the passing locomotive.

After enjoying the spectacle, visit a local coconut sugar farm next to learn how to make sugar from coconuts. Then, continue to the Damnoen Saduak Floating Market, where vendors sell their wares from long-tail boats. Jump in a boat yourself and glide through the canals to get up close and personal with the merchants selling street food, fresh fruits, and handcrafted souvenirs.

After exploring the canals and strolling along the banks, you'll transfer to the airport in Bangkok for the 1.5-hour flight to Chiang Mai. Nicknamed the "Rose of the North," this city was the capital of the Lanna Kingdom from the 13th to 18th centuries, existing apart from the Kingdom of Siam (Thailand). Much of Chiang Mai's distinctive architecture and historic landmarks remain today, including its moat-encircled Old City. At the airport, a driver will pick you up for the ride to your hotel in the center.

Day 14: Trekking in Doi Inthanon National Park

Doi Inthanon National Park is one of the gems of northern Thailand

Rise early and leave Chiang Mai on a full-day tour of nearby Doi Inthanon National Park. This 482-square-mile (1,250 sq km) protected area is named for Thailand's highest mountain, Inthanon, which towers 8,400 feet (2,565 m) above sea level. Upon arrival, visit the Hmong Tribal Market, where local hill tribes trade various kinds of vegetables, fresh fruits, and flowers from their farms. Pick up some snacks for your two-hour hike on the Pha Dok Siew nature trail. As you follow your guide, they'll impart fascinating info about the local flora and fauna.

Along this route, you'll stop at a hill tribe village populated by the Karen people for a cup of locally-grown coffee. Then, continue the trek, stopping at panoramic viewpoints to admire the grandeur of Doi Inthanon and the surrounding valleys. Another highlight on the trail is Wachirathan Waterfall, an impressive cascade that plunges 262 feet (80 m).

From the falls, you'll follow the Ban Mae Klang Luang nature trail, a forest route that runs down to a river. You'll eventually reach Pa Dok Siew, another grand waterfall, where you can cool off with a swim. Afterward, stop at another Karen village for a brief tour of a coffee-roasting house (and another fresh cup of coffee) before returning to Chiang Mai.

Day 15: Day Trip to an Elephant Sanctuary, Thai Cooking Class

There are few things elephants love more than bathing

You're in for a treat, as this morning, you'll hop in a vehicle and head to the forests outside the city and the Elephant Jungle Sanctuary. This is just one of many centers in the region that rescue abandoned and abused elephants. These organizations earn money through tourism, opening their doors to visitors who can admire these magnificent creatures in a humane and eco-friendly way.

The half-day activity begins when you change into a mahout (caretaker clothing), after which you'll meet the elephants and spend the morning feeding them. You'll also take them to the river to bathe and brush them—a highlight for both the elephants and visitors. Back at the center, enjoy a snack of fresh fruit with the group and guides. Then, it's time to say a bittersweet goodbye to your new elephant pals and transfer back to Chiang Mai.

Later in the afternoon, you'll transfer to a local cooking school for a four-hour hands-on lesson on preparing classic Thai dishes. But this experience isn't solely in the classroom—you'll first head to a local market to pick up fresh produce and ingredients for the meal. Back at the workshop, you'll cook a full menu that includes a Thai appetizer, curry, stir-fry, soup, and salad. Overseeing the process will be an expert chef who will ensure your finished dishes are both authentic and delicious.

Day 16: Chiang Mai Free Day: Temples, Hot Springs & Markets

Chiang Mai is filled with ornate temples, like Wat Phra Singh

Enjoy a day exploring the streets of Chiang Mai without schedules and itineraries. If you like, discover Lanna culture and history in the Old City through its many wats (temples). One highlight is Wat Phra Singh, an opulent 14th-century temple complex. For shopping, don't miss the San Kamphaeng Road. Also known as Handicraft Highway, it stretches for 11 miles (18 km) and is the place to buy artisanal crafts like pottery and silverwork.

If time permits, you can visit San Kamphaeng Hot Springs, a 90-minute drive from the city. This open-air spa features hot-water geysers shooting 65 feet (20 m) into the air. The springs are a great place to soak in mineral baths while enjoying the landscaped gardens.

After dark, head to the city's ancient gates to browse Chiang Mai's night markets. Chang Puak Night Market at North Gate is always bustling and offers a great range of authentic Thai cuisine. Try the khao kha moo (stewed pork leg) served by the amiable lady with the cowboy hat. Besides her excellent food, she's become famous thanks to visits from wandering celebrities like Anthony Bourdain. Later, take the tuk-tuk back to your hotel—or stay out a little longer and enjoy the nightlife. 

Day 17: Fly to Phuket, Beach Day

Kick back on Phuket's stunning white-sand beaches

Say goodbye to northern Thailand as you meet your driver this morning for the transfer to the airport and the two-hour flight south to Phuket. Thailand's largest island is known for its powdery beaches, neon nightlife, and world-class resorts. It's also home to diverse landscapes ranging from dense rainforest to palm-fringed beaches and craggy limestone cliffs. Upon arrival, you'll transfer to your hotel. After checking in, you can spend the rest of the day exploring.

If you like, head to a famous stretch of sand, like Patong, Kata, or Freedom Beach, for sunbathing and watersports like snorkeling and kayaking. However, the natural highlights of Phuket extend beyond the coast. The island has diverse landscapes, including forested hills, mountains, limestone cliffs, lagoons, and tropical forests. Many offer great hiking, like the trail to the Black Rock viewpoint, which looks out over beautiful Cape Krathing.

Day 18: Speedboat Tour of the Phi Phi Islands

Take a day trip to Maya Beach, surrounded by towering limestone cliffs

Early this morning, you'll transfer to the pier and board a speedboat for a full-day tour of the famous Phi Phi Islands. From the dock, it's an hour's trip to Phi Phi Lee, also called "Maya Beach." One of the most picturesque destinations in Thailand, Maya Beach is a secluded bay hemmed in by towering limestone cliffs on a romantic isle. If it looks familiar, it was featured in the 2000 film "The Beach."

Once here, you'll take a dip in the water in designated swimming areas and snap photos at other nearby highlights like Pileh Lagoon and Viking Cave. On the way north to the larger island of Phi Phi Don, you'll pass Monkey Beach, named for its community of crab-eating macaques. Here, you'll have time for snorkeling, followed by a delicious lunch. Later in the afternoon, visit Bamboo Island for more swimming or sunbathing on the beach. At the end of the day, you'll return to Phuket by boat and transfer back to your hotel.

Day 19: Phuket Free Day: Beaches, Watersports & Outdoor Adventures

Don't miss Big Buddha, one of the most iconic human-made landmarks in Phuket

Take the day to pursue any activities you'd like. Perhaps start with a trip to Karon View Point to see the whole city laid out in front of you and enjoy the grand vistas of Phuket's beaches. Follow up with a visit to the Big Buddha, a giant statue nearly 150 feet (45 m) tall and considered one of the island's most important landmarks. Stop in at the monastery of Wat Chalong or head to the Old Town district, where you can browse an outdoor market or dine at one of its many restaurants.

Of course, you can always make a beeline for the beach to sunbathe, kick back with a cold drink, or swim. For aquatic views of Phuket, embark on a snorkeling tour or visit the aquarium at Cape Panwa to stroll its underwater glass tunnel. If you're feeling adventurous, head to the forest and soar over the jungle canopy on a thrilling zipline tour. When the sun sets, enjoy a fresh seafood dinner, browse a night market, or revel in the nightlife at Bangla Road.

Day 20: Massage at Oasis Spa, Free Afternoon

Finish the trip with a relaxing body treatment at a local spa

You've enjoyed plenty of outdoor activities on this three-week itinerary; now it's time to relax and decompress. To that end, this morning you'll transfer to the renowned Oasis Spa. Nestled between palm-fringed beaches and tranquil lagoons, Oasis is consistently ranked one of the best luxury day spas in the region. 

When you arrive, you'll be led to your private treatment villa overlooking the lagoon. Begin today's session in the outdoor shower and herbal steam room, followed by personalized treatments that include a traditional Thai massage. After two hours of relaxation and revitalization, you'll transfer back to your hotel and will have the rest of the day free.

Day 21: Depart Phuket

Enjoy views of the Andaman Sea as you depart Phuket
You've eaten your way through Vietnam and Thailand while enjoying life-affirming adventures and cultural experiences. Now, it's time to pack up those memories and carry them on to the next journey. In the morning, your driver will transfer you to the airport in Phuket, where you'll catch your flight home. Until next time!

More Great Vietnam Itineraries

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


A note on diacritical markings: In order to support the best technical experience and search functions, diacritical markings have been omitted from this article.


Map of Culture & Cuisine in Vietnam & Thailand - 21 Days
Map of Culture & Cuisine in Vietnam & Thailand - 21 Days
Written by Hien Do, updated Jan 24, 2024