In just over two weeks, you'll visit the most scenic parts of northern Vietnam, plus hop the border for the highlights of Cambodia. The adventure starts with cycling in the country outside Hanoi, a trip to unspoiled nature reserves, and a ride down the Red River Delta. After cruising the jade waters of Ha Long Bay, you'll fly to Cambodia to explore the ruins of Angkor and dive into the nation's culture on a tour of Phnom Penh.


  • Visit rural villages and nature reserves in northern Vietnam
  • Ride a sampan down the scenic waterways of Ninh Binh
  • Cruise along the jade waters of Ha Long Bay
  • Hike around the massive archaeological site of Angkor
  • Tour Phnom Penh, Cambodia's capital

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrive in Hanoi, Optional Activities Hanoi
Day 2 Countryside Bicycle Tour & Flower Villages Hanoi
Day 3 Transfer to Pu Luong, Nature Hike Pu Luong Nature Reserve
Day 4 Hike to Pu Luong Villages & Rafting Pu Luong Nature Reserve
Day 5 Transfer to Ninh Binh Ninh Binh
Day 6 Trang An & Bai Dinh Temple Ninh Binh
Day 7 Transfer to Ha Long Bay, Cruise & Activities Ha Long Bay
Day 8 Cruise Bai Tu Long Bay & Caving Ha Long Bay
Day 9 Transfer to Hanoi, Fly to Siem Reap (Cambodia) Siem Reap
Day 10 Angkor Day Tour Siem Reap
Day 11 Angkor Wat Day Tour Siem Reap
Day 12 Day Trip to Phnom Kale & Banteay Srey Siem Reap
Day 13 Boat Tour of Tonlé Sap, Fly to Phnom Penh Phnom Penh
Day 14 Phnom Penh City Tour Phnom Penh
Day 15 Depart Phnom Penh  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Arrive in Hanoi, Optional Activities

Hoan Kiem Lake, Hanoi

Welcome to Hanoi, the capital of Vietnam! This city sits on the western bank of the Red River and is emblematic of the country's long and storied history. Hanoi has been settled since prehistoric times and, over the ages, has been the seat of power for various dynasties and foreign colonizers. You can see plenty of evidence of this rich history on Hanoi's streets, where ancient temples and French-colonial buildings sit alongside shimmering new office buildings.

Upon arrival at the airport, a driver will pick you up and transfer you to your hotel in the city. After settling in, you can head out and explore. Maybe start with a self-guided walk in Hanoi's Old Quarter to browse the street vendors and silk shops on Hang Gai Street. Then take a stroll around the city's central hub, Hoan Kiem Lake. At the north end is the Temple of the Jade Mountain, built in the 18th century to honor Tran Hung Dao, a military commander who famously repelled two Mongol invasions.

Day 2: Countryside Bicycle Tour & Flower Villages

Visit a traditional flower village in Vietnam

After breakfast at your hotel, a driver will pick you up for a short ride outside Hanoi to the countryside. This is a great opportunity to experience rural Vietnamese life while immersing yourself in this nation's culture and customs. On this combined walking/cycling tour, you'll travel between traditional villages on the Red River, browse local markets, and stop at historic temples. A major highlight is when a local family invites you into their home for a culinary demonstration before sitting down for a home-cooked lunch.

In the afternoon, you'll set out on a bike from the area of Dong Ngac on the Red River, cycling along backcountry roads between traditional flower villages. These little communities are famous for growing the countless daisies, roses, violets, and other flowers that end up filling the streets of Hanoi during Tet (Lunar New Year) celebrations. You'll stop in one such flower village, Lien Mac, to stroll the fields and meet the locals who tend to these crops. After a break for refreshments at a family home, you'll catch the van back to your hotel in Hanoi.

Day 3: Transfer to Pu Luong, Nature Hike

Landscapes in Pu Luong

Leave Hanoi early and embark on a four-hour scenic drive west to the valley of Mai Chau. On the way, you'll stop in Pom Coong. This village is home to the Thai people of northern Vietnam, who represent the second-largest ethnic group in the country. Here, you'll sit down to lunch with some friendly locals.

Then, take a short drive to the Pu Luong Nature Reserve. This protected area is the ancestral home of the Thai people and is comprised of forested mountains and green valleys dotted with terraced rice paddies and traditional villages. Embark on a two-hour intermediate-level hike that covers just over 3 miles (5 km). Along the way, you'll be treated to spectacular views of mountains, villages, and terraced rice paddies.

In the late afternoon, you'll arrive at your homestay, which is located in a traditional wooden stilt house. Cap the day by sitting down to dinner with your host family and enjoying a home-cooked meal.

Day 4: Hike to Pu Luong Villages & Rafting

Villager at work in Pu Luong

Wake up early for a home-cooked breakfast with your host family. With the help of your guide, you'll spend the rest of the morning chatting with locals in the village. It's a great opportunity for cultural exchange while learning more about the Thai people and their customs. Then, get the blood pumping with an easy and scenic hike along the fertile rice paddies and lush mountain valleys.

After lunch, you'll continue trekking to more villages until you reach the remote village of Hieu. Nestled at the foot of mountains amid palm trees and natural waterfalls, it's a slice of tranquil paradise in Vietnam. You'll even take a scenic ride on a bamboo raft down the river here. Afterward, you'll arrive at the ecolodge where you'll spend the night.

Day 5: Transfer to Ninh Binh

Welcome to Ninh Binh

For your last morning in Pu Luong, spend time with your guide, meeting and talking to villagers. Then you'll take an easy 1.5-hour walk to a town in the reserve where a van is waiting for you. After lunch at a local restaurant, you'll leave on a 2.5-hour drive from the highlands to the province of Ninh Binh. This gorgeous valley is part of the Red River Delta and is famous for its towering karst rock formations dotting the landscape. Eventually, you'll arrive in the town of Tam Coc, where you'll check in to your hotel.

Day 6: Trang An & Bai Dinh Temple

The Bai Dinh Temple

This morning you'll board a sampan (flat-bottomed boat) for a 2.5-hour journey down the river to the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Trang An. This scenic area is part of a tributary of the Red River and, besides its stunning forests and limestone mountains, is also home to otherworldly river caves inhabited by humans for thousands of years.

Upon arrival in Trang An, you'll transfer by vehicle down a country road to Hoa Lu. this region is steeped in history, as it was actually the capital of Vietnam in the 10th and 11th centuries. It's also home to Bai Dinh Temple, the largest Buddhist pagoda complex in Southeast Asia. Sitting on a massive area of around 1,331 acres (539 ha), it boasts pagodas that date to the 12th century as well as structures that were built as recently as 2013. 

After lunch, you'll tour some of the highlights of the area, like the 13th-century Thai Vi Temple, the 15th-century Bich Dong Pagoda, and Thung Nham, a bird garden home to over 40 species, including storks, herons, and tropical starlings. At the end of the day, you'll return to your hotel in Ninh Binh. 

Day 7: Transfer to Ha Long Bay, Cruise & Activities

Take a cruise on Ha Long Bay

Leave Ninh Binh behind today as you transfer by car about four hours north to the coast and Ha Long Bay, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the true natural wonders of the world. In this sweet spot where the land meets 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 ("Descending Dragon").

At the marina, you'll board a ship and will set out on a two-night cruise. Enjoy a fresh seafood lunch as you head east to Bai Tu Long Bay, a protected marine ecosystem home to rare plants and animals, as well as about 40 islands. When you arrive, you'll hop in a kayak and paddle out to Cap La, one of the floating villages famous in the area. Then return to the cruiser and relax on deck until it's time for dinner. Later, the boat will anchor near the island of Cong Do, where you'll spend the night.

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Day 8: Cruise Bai Tu Long Bay & Caving

Visit floating villages

Wake up early to see the sunrise over Ha Long Bay, then enjoy breakfast on the deck in the fresh air. Throughout the morning, the ship will pass several interesting sights, including island towns and floating fishing villages like Cong Dam. In the latter, you'll stop for a kayak ride around some tropical lagoons.

After lunch in the area, you'll return to the ship and continue cruising the waterways around Cong Do Island. Eventually, you'll arrive at Hon Co Island, home to the secluded cave Thien Can Son, and you'll get to explore its network of caverns. Then, the boat will return to Cap La, and you can spend time in the village before dinner. 

Day 9: Transfer to Hanoi, Fly to Siem Reap (Cambodia)

The streets of Siem Reap, Cambodia

After an early breakfast on the deck, the ship will cruise to the fishing village of Vung Vieng. Here, you'll tour the community in a traditional rowboat and meet some locals. Return to the ship and enjoy lunch with a view as you travel back to the marina, arriving at around noon. 

At the marina, a driver will pick you up for the ride back to Hanoi and the airport, where you'll catch a flight to Siem Reap. This town in northwest Cambodia sits on the shores of Tonlé Sap Lake and is the gateway to the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Angkor. These ruins were once the capital city of the Khmer Kingdom from the 9th to the 15th centuries. Upon arrival in Siem Reap, you'll transfer to your hotel and have the evening free. For dinner, try some Khmer curry, a local specialty.

Day 10: Angkor Day Tour

The Temple ruins of Ta Prohm

Get ready for a full-day tour of Angkor. In the morning, meet your guide and head into the park. The first landmark you'll visit is the 10th-century temple Prasat Kravan. Comprised of five brick towers, in the center are sculptures of Vishnu and his consort Lakshmi. There are also bas-reliefs depicting scenes from the sacred Hindu text "Bhagavata Purana."

Next, head to Srah Srang ("Royal Bath"), a reservoir dug in the 10th century that was used for ritual bathing. Continue to Banteay Kdei and Ta Prohm, both of which are Buddhist temples dating to the 12th century. Ta Prom has been left mostly untouched since it was first discovered, and the result is that its stone walls and towers are slowly being absorbed by encroaching trees, lichens, and creeping vines.

Other highlights include Neak Pean, an artificial island in a man-made pond topped by a Buddhist temple, and Preah Khan, a temple complex built by King Jayavarman VII and dedicated to his father in 1191. Adorning its stone walls are impressive sculptures of garudas—mythological, eagle-like beings. At the end of the day, you'll return to your hotel in Siem Reap.

Day 11: Angkor Wat Day Tour

Angkor Wat

Today, you'll visit Angkor Thom (literally "Great City"), which comprises the ruins of what was once the most impressive royal city of Cambodia's Angkor period. Looming over the site is Bayon Temple. Comprised of 54 Gothic towers, Jayavarman VII commissioned it in the 12th century, whose smiling face and glaring eyes are represented in its 216 stone sculptures. Other structures you'll visit here include the Terrace of the Elephants (featuring sculptures and bas-reliefs of elephants) and the Terrace of the Leper King, known for its carvings of demons and mythological figures.

After Angkor Thom, you'll tour the most famous temple of all: Angkor Wat. This 12th-century complex covers 200 acres (81 ha) and is roughly the size of Beijing's Imperial Palace. Its five towers are so iconic that they're actually emblazoned on the Cambodian flag. The complex itself is considered the premier example of Khmer art and architecture. On this walking tour, you'll immerse yourself in the ruins as you stroll through its galleries, libraries, pavilions, and courtyards. Cap the experience with a sunset from the top of Pre Rup, a 10th-century Hindu temple. 

In the evening, continue the guided tour with a trip to Siem Reap's famous night market. Located in the bustling Pub Street district, you'll find an array of different food and beverage options. There are also plenty of bars and nightclubs to enjoy. 

Day 12: Day Trip to Phnom Kale & Banteay Srey

The elaborate stonework at Banteay Srey

Meet your guide this morning for a day trip that takes you to Phnom Kulen, the most sacred mountain in Cambodia. Supposedly, at the mountain's peak back in the ninth century, King Jayavarman II declared himself a god-king. The mountain is part of a national park that's famous for both its unspoiled nature and abundance of Angkorian temples. After touring the temples, you can hike up to the famous waterfalls in the area to snap great photos.

On the way back to your hotel in Siem Reap, you'll visit Banteay Srey. This 10th-century Hindu temple is made of pink sandstone, and almost every inch is adorned with intricate designs. The name Banteay Srey translates to "Citadel of Women," and it's likely women did the elegant carvings depicting scenes from the Sanskrit epic "Ramayana." Whoever built it, Banteay Srey is regarded as the finest example of Khmer art in the world.

Day 13: Boat Tour of Tonlé Sap, Fly to Phnom Penh

 Village on Tonlé Sap Lake

In the morning, transfer to Tonlé Sap Lake by boat and visit the floating village of Kompong Pluk. The village moves with the current of the lake and is designed like any other community, complete with floating houses, floating schools, a floating police station, etc. After touring the village, you'll transfer to the airport and catch a flight to Phnom Penh, the capital of Cambodia. A driver will meet you at the terminal and transfer you to your hotel in the city. 

Day 14: Phnom Penh City Tour

The Silver Pagoda, Phnom Penh

Today you'll head out and see the highlights of Cambodia's capital on a guided tour. There's a lot to see in this city of over two million people. It was founded in the 14th century and became the capital after the fall of the Angkor Kingdom. There's been a lot of history in the intervening centuries, much of it represented in the city's famous temples, museums, and Art Deco buildings from the French Colonial era. 

But not all of Phnom Penh's history is easy, as you'll see during a visit to the Choeung Ek Memorial. This stupa, made up of some 8,000 human skulls, is a sobering monument to the infamous Killing Fields. Hundreds of thousands of people were tortured, executed, and left in mass graves by the Khmer Rouge. Learn more about this vital subject on a guided tour of the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum, a former school that served as a Khmer Rouge torture center.

The afternoon portion of the tour focuses on the more uplifting aspects of Phnom Penh. A good example is Wat Phnom, a hillside park that showcases the unique artistry of Khmer architecture. Continue along the river to the 19th-century Royal Palace, where Cambodian royalty resides. Also, here is the Silver Pagoda, one of the most impressive Buddhist temples in Southeast Asia. A few blocks away is the National Museum, full of ancient Khmer artifacts dating from the 1600s. At the end of the day, you'll return to the hotel.

Day 15: Depart Phnom Penh

Farewell, Cambodia

Enjoy a leisurely breakfast at your hotel. Then, at the appropriate time, your driver will pick you up and transfer you to the international airport, where you'll catch your flight home. Safe travels!

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Map of Discover Northern Vietnam & Cambodia - 15 Days
Map of Discover Northern Vietnam & Cambodia - 15 Days