With three weeks in Vietnam and Cambodia, you can experience it all, from nature and city tours to cultural workshops and cooking classes. In Vietnam, embark on food tours in Hanoi, visit the rice terraces of Sapa, cruise Ha Long Bay, and see the ancient city of Hoi An. Then, travel from the former Saigon to the lush Mekong, stopping at floating markets on your way into Cambodia, where 1,000 years of Khmer culture awaits.


  • Try famous Vietnamese cuisine, like pho, right at the source
  • Enjoy food tours, pottery workshops, and more in Hanoi
  • Visit the rice terraces of Sapa and ride a cable car up Mount Fansipan
  • Cruise the waters of Ha Long Bay and tour the river city of Hoi An
  • Travel the Mekong into Cambodia and see famous temples at Angkor

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrive in Hanoi (Vietnam), Optional Activities Hanoi
Day 2 Pottery Workshop & Food Tour Hanoi
Day 3 Hanoi City Tour & Cooking Class Hanoi
Day 4 Hanoi Free Day, Train to Lao Cai Lao Cai
Day 5 Transfer to Sapa, Hike to Hill Tribe Villages Sapa
Day 6 Cable Car to Mount Fansipan & Heaven's Gate Sapa
Day 7 Sapa Free Day, Train to Hanoi Hanoi
Day 8 Transfer to Ha Long Bay, Board Overnight Cruise Ha Long Bay
Day 9 Morning Cruise, Fly to Da Nang, Transfer to Hoi An Hoi An
Day 10 Hoi An Countryside Tour & Cooking Workshop Hoi An
Day 11 Day Trip to Da Nang & Golden Bridge  Hoi An
Day 12 Fly to Ho Chi Minh City, Optional Activities Ho Chi Minh City
Day 13 Cu Chi Tunnels & Ho Chi Minh City Tour Ho Chi Minh City
Day 14 Day Trip to Cai Be, Transfer to Can Tho Can Tho
Day 15 Visit Floating Market, Transfer to Chau Doc via Tra Su Chau Doc
Day 16 Day Trip to Cham Ethnic Village & Temples Chau Doc
Day 17 Speedboat to Phnom Penh (Cambodia) Phnom Penh
Day 18 Temples & Killing Fields Tour Phnom Penh
Day 19 Transfer to Siem Reap, Cultural Tour Siem Reap
Day 20 Day Trip to Angkor Temples Siem Reap
Day 21 Depart Siem Reap  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Arrive in Hanoi (Vietnam), Optional Activities

Don't wait to tuck into an aromatic bowl of pho, one of Vietnam's most famous dishes

Chao ban! Welcome to Vietnam! Containing immense natural beauty and rich culture, this small Southeast Asian country has intrigued and captivated visitors for centuries. The capital of Hanoi encapsulates all of Vietnam's charms since not only is it the political and cultural heart of the nation, but it also boasts a long and storied history dating to the third century BCE. Upon arrival at the airport, a driver will pick you up for the ride to your hotel in or near the city's Old Quarter (historic center).

After settling in, you can stretch your legs on a self-guided walking tour. Remember, no visit to Vietnam would be complete without sampling its famous cuisine. So follow your nose around the Old Quarter, where you'll find an abundance of great street food and some of the best restaurants in the city. Don't miss pho, the famous beef and noodle soup that has all but conquered the world. There's nothing quite like tucking into a bowl of this aromatic broth in the place where it was invented.  

Day 2: Pottery Workshop & Food Tour

Experience Vietnam's culture in a traditional pottery workshop

Leave in the morning on a short drive from Hanoi to the Bat Trang Pottery Village, where you'll learn about the traditional handicrafts of Vietnam's Red River Delta region. Your guide will take you through the village, where you can peruse its many pottery shops. Stop for a workshop where you'll learn to make a piece of pottery, from turning the clay on a wheel to drying and decorating. You can take away your masterpiece as a souvenir.

As dusk falls, meet your guide and head back to Hanoi's Old Quarter for a delicious evening of culinary exploration. Stroll through the historic district's hidden lanes, savoring the city's best street food. Try local favorites like pho sot vang (noodle soup with pork and herbs), bun cha (grilled pork with rice noodles), and of course, the famous banh mi sandwich. Wash it all down with some sugar cane juice or perhaps a local rice wine. Afterward, head back to your hotel.

Day 3: Hanoi City Tour & Cooking Class

Hanoi City Tour and Cooking Class
Visit some of the most famous landmarks in Hanoi, like the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum

Set off after breakfast to discover Hanoi's beauty, history, and cuisine on a private, full-day tour. First, you'll visit the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum to see the final resting place of "Uncle Ho." Adjacent to it is the 11th-century One Pillar Pagoda, a Buddhist temple regarded as the most unique pagoda in Asia due to its lotus flower design perched on a stone pillar rising out of a pond.

Another highlight is a visit to the Vietnamese Women's Museum, which occupies four floors and showcases women's role in Vietnamese culture and society. The first part of the day ends with a stop at Thang Long, an imperial citadel dating to the 11th century. This UNESCO World Heritage Site was Vietnam's political and cultural center for several dynasties.

Later, transfer to Hoang's, a restaurant in the Old Quarter that doubles as a cooking school. Here, you'll learn to prepare some of the most traditional and delicious Vietnamese dishes. These include green mango salad, fried Hanoi spring rolls, Vietnamese pancakes, and of course, the famous pho. It begins with a visit to a nearby market where you'll pick up the requisite ingredients. Then return to the restaurant and begin the two-hour cooking workshop. When the private class is over, you'll sit down and enjoy your culinary creations. Later, you'll return to the hotel. 

Day 4: Hanoi Free Day, Train to Lao Cai

Leisure Day in Hanoi!
Turtle Tower in Hoan Kiem Lake is dedicated to a famous god

The day is yours to enjoy Hanoi. If you haven't already, perhaps take a stroll around Hoan Kiem Lake. Located in the Old Quarter, at its north end is the Temple of the Jade Mountain, built in the 18th century to honor Tran Hung Dao, a famous military commander. In the center is Turtle Tower, a small stone tower built to commemorate the mythological Golden Turtle God, Kim Qui.

If you like, take the rest of the afternoon to stroll the Old Quarter and do some shopping. Then transfer to the station, where you'll board an overnight train bound for Lao Cai. This northern region is known for its beautiful mountain landscapes, diverse ethnic cultures, and its role as a gateway to the famous town of Sapa and its iconic terraced rice fields. 

Day 5: Transfer to Sapa, Hike to Hill Tribe Villages

Enjoy the trip to Lao Chai
Hike the terraced fields around the Muong Hoa Valley and meet local tribespeople

On arrival at Lao Cai station, you'll have breakfast and take a scenic transfer to Sapa. During the trip, you'll pass winding rivers and gorgeous mountain valleys dotted with rice and cornfields, gardens, bamboo forests, and humble villages populated by Vietnam's ethnic minorities. These groups originated in southern China and emigrated to places like Vietnam, Laos, and Thailand over several centuries.

After arriving in Sapa, you'll check into your hotel, freshen up, and then head out to a few nearby villages. At the village of Lao Chai, for example, you'll witness the daily life of the Black Hmong, who are renowned for their handicrafts and traditional dress—colorful garments that they make by hand. From here, you'll enjoy sweeping views of Muong Hoa, the largest valley in Vietnam, which contains some of the country's most picturesque rice fields. 

Continue hiking along terraced rice paddies to Ta Van, a village home to the Giay people. They're known for their rich culture and traditional wooden stilt homes rising above the rice fields. This area marks the beginning of the expansive Muong Hoa Valley, and from a high point on the main road, you'll be treated to panoramic views of the villages and soaring mountains surrounding them. At the end of the afternoon, you'll transfer back to Sapa. 

Day 6: Cable Car to Mount Fansipan & Heaven's Gate

Travel up to the summit of Mount Fansipan by cable car

Start the day with a short drive a few miles west to Mount Fansipan, Vietnam's tallest mountain, nicknamed the "Roof of Indochina." The journey to the top involves a thrilling cable car ride that ends at a garden complex dotted with pagodas and Buddha statues. From there, you can either hike or take a funicular train the rest of the way to the summit. At the 10,212-foot (3,134 m) peak, you'll enjoy 360-degree views of cloud-topped mountains and can see across the border into China. 

Afterward, meet your driver and continue to the O Quy Ho Mountain Pass in the Hoang Lien Son range. Also known as Heaven's Gate, it's the highest mountain pass in Vietnam at 6,676 feet (2,035 m) and contains some of the north's most epic scenery. During the ride, you'll make several stops to take photos and admire sweeping views of Fansipan and the Sin Chai Valley. The area is often shrouded in blankets of mist and clouds, which complements the dramatic scenery. Later, you'll transfer back to Sapa.

Day 7: Sapa Free Day, Train to Hanoi

Spend one last morning enjoying the scenery of Sapa
Plan your trip to Vietnam
Chat with a local specialist who can help organize your trip.
The day is yours to enjoy Sapa however you wish. Perhaps kick off the morning with a cup of strong Vietnamese coffee amid stunning views of mist-shrouded peaks. Then head out and explore the town. Wander Sapa's hilly streets, stop at the Stone Church (a French colonial landmark dating to 1902), and shop for handicrafts sold by local Hmong women in traditional dress. To learn more about the area, visit the Sapa Culture Museum, which features exhibits in English. Later in the day, you'll transfer to the train station in Lao Cai for the overnight trip back to Hanoi. 

Day 8: Transfer to Ha Long Bay, Board Overnight Cruise

Overnight Cruise at Halong Bay!
Get ready for a memorable overnight trip around Ha Long Bay

Arrive back in Hanoi in the early morning. Then, meet your driver and transfer from the train station 3.5 hours north to the legendary 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 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 multilevel 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 sundeck as the ship sails across glassy emerald waters to secluded corners of the bay.

Later in the afternoon, you can participate in a cooking class offered by the onboard expert chef. During the workshop, you'll learn to make traditional specialties like nem (Vietnamese fried spring rolls). Following dinner, you can spend the remainder of the evening relaxing or cast a line from the back of the boat and do some night squid fishing.

Day 9: Morning Cruise, Fly to Da Nang, Transfer to Hoi An

Hoi An's ancient waterfront is a highlight of Vietnam

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 free to relax and enjoy the views or partake in one or two more optional activities, like kayaking around Ha Long Bay's famous floating villages. After an early lunch, you'll disembark at the marina and catch the transfer bus back to Hanoi.

Once back in the city, transfer to the airport and catch a 1.5-hour flight south to Da Nang. Then, it's another transfer one hour down the coast 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. Once here, you'll check in to your hotel and have the evening free.

Day 10: Hoi An Countryside Tour & Cooking Workshop

Explore the countryside around Hoi An by bicycle and visit an organic vegetable farm

Immerse yourself in rustic Vietnamese cuisine on a combined market visit/cooking workshop. This full-day culinary adventure will take you back to the countryside, but not before visiting a local market to pick up the requisite fresh ingredients. Then, with a full bicycle basket, leave Hoi An and pedal along a riverside backroad, passing shrimp farms, fishing villages, and Cam Thanh. This waterfront village is famous for its lush mangroves and 208-acre (84 ha) coconut palm forests. Here, you'll hop in a traditional basket boat (called a thung chai) for a ride down the Thu Bon River.

Afterward, you'll transfer to the Tra Que Vegetable Village. For centuries, the farmers on this 98-acre (40 ha) plot of land have been growing the highest quality herbs and vegetables through totally organic methods and without electric machinery. Upon arrival, visit a local home and enjoy a welcome drink. Then, meet your chef/instructor, who will show you the tricks and techniques for preparing delicious regional dishes. For lunch, sit down with your instructor and feast on your creations.

Later, return to Hoi An and enjoy some leisure time. Stroll the riverfront promenade and admire the faded yellow colonial architecture and Japanese/Chinese merchant buildings, browse the galleries of Ancient Town to discover Hoi An's burgeoning art scene, or relax at a café by the river and while away the hours sipping strong Vietnamese coffee. You can also visit Hoi An Central Market to mingle with locals and sample an array of specialty foods.

Day 11: Day Trip to Da Nang & Golden Bridge

Hoi An City Tour
The Golden Bridge is one of the most impressive human-made landmarks in Vietnam

Today, you'll visit one of the most impressive landmarks in Vietnam. Meet your driver/guide in the morning for the transfer back to Da Nang. Your destination is Ba Na Hill, a mountaintop resort/theme park that was once a popular vacation spot for the French during the colonial period. Today, it's one of the most popular tourist destinations in the country.

At the station, you'll ride a cable car to the famous Golden Bridge, a 492-foot-long (150 m) pedestrian bridge supported by two giant stone hands. Here, at 4,900 feet (1,500 m) in altitude, you'll enjoy panoramic views of Quang Nam province laid out below. You can also visit landmarks like Linh Ung Pagoda and the massive 100-foot (30 m) Buddha. Then, explore the charming French Village, home to a Gothic-style cathedral and French restaurant. After a break for lunch, you'll return to Da Nang via cable car and transfer back to Hoi An.

Day 12: Fly to Ho Chi Minh City, Optional Activities

Ho Chi Minh City is a modern metropolis with French colonial landmarks

In the morning, you'll transfer to the airport in Da Nang and board a 1.5-hour flight to Ho Chi Minh City. Formerly known as Saigon, Vietnam's largest metropolis is a wonderland of contradictions, as famous for its French colonial and wartime history as its modern skyscrapers and chaotically fun streets.

Upon arrival, transfer to your hotel, check in, and can spend the rest of the day exploring Ho Chi Minh City's streets. When you're ready for a break, grab a beer or soda in a bar at the 861-foot (262 m) Bitexco Tower and enjoy panoramic views of the city.

Day 13: Cu Chi Tunnels & Ho Chi Minh City Tour

Reunification Palace is one of the wartime landmarks you'll visit in Ho Chi Minh City

This morning kicks off with a two-hour transfer north of the city to the famous Cu Chi Tunnels. This immense network of underground passages was constructed in 1948 to protect the Viet Cong guerrillas from French attacks. They also served as living quarters, communications hubs, and supply routes with storage areas and hospitals. A visit here reveals Vietnam's wartime history and the hardships faced by the thousands of soldiers who survived the French and American wars. You'll even get to crawl through a section of the tunnels to experience their narrow dimensions.

Following lunch at the local restaurant, return to Ho Chi Minh City for a highlights tour. Your guide will take you to historic 19th-century landmarks like Notre Dame Cathedral and the Central Post Office. Then, visit Reunification Palace, the Saigon government's headquarters during the American War (as the Vietnam War is known to locals). Afterward, you'll browse the handicrafts, jewelry, and food stalls at Ben Thanh, a famous market with a long and storied history dating to the 17th century.

Day 14: Day Trip to Cai Be, Transfer to Can Tho

Travel to Cai Be, known for its massive floating market

It's time to say goodbye to city life as you leave Ho Chi Minh City this morning and venture into the famed Mekong Delta. At 8 am, a driver will pick you up from your hotel for the 2.5-hour ride 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 have some time to stroll between small villages and alongside fruit orchards. You'll even visit a workshop run by a local family that makes "pop rice." Since Vietnam is the "rice bowl of Vietnam," the delta region produces much of this crop, and this tasty puffed rice snack has become a staple of the local diet.

At the end of the afternoon, you'll hop on a local bus for the 1.5-hour ride south to Can Tho. This river city is famous for being home to Cai Rang, the largest and most iconic floating market in the Mekong Delta. During the trip, you'll pass more beautiful Mekong scenery, like fertile rice paddies and traditional villages. Upon arrival, you'll check into your hotel.

Day 15: Visit Floating Market, Transfer to Chau Doc via Tra Su

Travel up the Mekong and visit the Tra Su bird sanctuary

Leave early on a boat to the Cai Rang Floating Market. It's liveliest before 9 am, and your guide will lead you through the throng of tiny wooden boats piled high with flowers, coconuts, and fresh produce. Like in Cai Be, you'll barter with traders as you mingle with locals amid the infectious energy of market life.

Afterward, you'll transfer 3.5 hours by car north up the delta to Chau Doc, at the border with Cambodia. This culturally diverse river city is home to Cham, Chinese, and Khmer ethnic groups and is a popular destination for its nearby pilgrimage sites.

Your last stop of the day is at Tra Su Sanctuary. This nearly 2,000,000-acre (800,000 ha) wetland forest is a protected area for wading birds like storks, herons, and egrets. Most of the park is closed, but you'll enjoy a 20-minute boat tour along the canals through sunken forests to admire the exotic birdlife. Afterward, you'll return to your hotel in Chau Doc.

Day 16: Day Trip to Cham Ethnic Village & Temples

Ba Chua Xu Temple is dedicated to one of the most famous regional goddesses

Enjoy more shopping on the water this morning with a stop at the floating market in Chau Doc. Then, you'll visit a nearby floating fish farm. Watch as workers tend to hundreds of thousands of fish in enclosures below the water's surface—a major part of the regional economy.

Next, meet your driver for the transfer outside the city to a village populated by the Cham people. This ethnic minority has a long history dating back to ancient times. Onetime rulers of the Champa Kingdom (from the second to 17th century CE), today they remain part of the rich cultural mosaic in this part of Vietnam/Cambodia. During a visit, your guide will introduce you to locals, and you'll learn about their religion. Interestingly, while the Cham people initially practiced Hinduism, many eventually converted to Islam. Part of the tour even includes a visit to a local mosque.  

After lunch, you'll visit Ba Chua Xu Temple. Located in a serene setting at the foot of sacred Sam Mountain, this is just one of many impressive temples in the area. This one is dedicated to Ba Chua Xu, a goddess in the local folk/Indigenous religion who is revered for her benevolence and protection. A popular pilgrimage site, devotees believe that Ba Chua Xu brings prosperity, good fortune, and blessings to those who pay homage.

Day 17: Speedboat to Phnom Penh (Cambodia)

Welcome to Phnom Penh!
Welcome to Phnom Penh!

Time to say goodbye to Vietnam. In the morning, you'll board a speedboat on the Mekong River for the four-hour ride north into Cambodia and its capital, Phnom Penh. This grand metropolis of over two million people was founded in the 14th century and became the capital after the fall of the Angkor Empire. 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.

At the port, you'll meet a driver and transfer to your hotel in the city. Once you've settled in, feel free to head out and explore. This busy capital enjoys a scenic location at the junction of the Mekong and Tonlé Sap rivers. You'll want to stroll its walkable riverfront, which is lined with parks, restaurants, and bars. And definitely don't miss the Central Market, a sprawling Art Deco masterpiece built in 1939 during the French colonial period.

Day 18: Temples & Killing Fields Tour

The 14th-century Wat Phnom Temple holds a central place in Phnom Penh's history

Leave in the morning on a full-day city tour that covers two disparate yet equally vital aspects of Cambodia's history and culture. First is a stop at the National Museum (or Musee des Beaux-Arts). French archaeologist and painter Georges Groslier designed it in 1917, and it contains an impressive collection of Khmer art and artifacts—particularly sculptures—from throughout the ages. You'll also visit Wat Phnom (Phnom Penh's namesake), a 14th-century temple that's the tallest religious structure in the city. From its location on a hill, you can enjoy views over the city's wide tree-lined avenues.

The latter half of the tour focuses on Cambodia's harrowing Khmer Rouge era (1975-1979). During this time, Pol Pot's genocidal military dictatorship claimed the lives of over two million Cambodians or about 25% of the country. Historical landmarks you'll visit include the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum and the Choeung Ek Killing Fields. Also known as S21, during the regime, Tuol Sleng was converted into a detention center, where prisoners were interrogated before being sent to the Killing Fields to be brutally tortured and murdered. At the end of the day, return to your hotel.

Day 19: Transfer to Siem Reap, Cultural Tour

Stroll the lively streets of Siem Reap, the gateway to Angkor

Meet your driver early and leave Phnom Penh on a scenic 4.5-hour transfer north to Siem Reap. This town in northwest Cambodia sits on the shores of Tonlé Sap, part of the Mekong River system, and is the gateway to the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Angkor. These ruins were once the capital city of the Khmer Empire from the ninth to the 15th centuries.

Upon arrival in Siem Reap, you'll transfer to your hotel. Then, meet another guide for a quick city tour. One highlight is a visit to Artisans D'Angkor, a community workshop where rural Cambodians train in the art of traditional Khmer craftsmanship. Finish the day at one of the city's lively open markets, where you can mingle with locals.

Day 20: Day Trip to Angkor Temples

Angkor Wat is one of the most famous ancient temple complexes in the world

Leave early today on a full-day tour to the ruins of Angkor, a kingdom in the Khmer Empire that flourished from the ninth to the 15th centuries. Today's excursion focuses on Angkor Wat, the largest and most famous temple in this ancient archaeological site. This 12th-century complex covers 200 acres (81 ha), and its five towers are so iconic they're emblazoned on the Cambodian flag. On this walking tour, you'll immerse yourself in the ruins as you stroll through its galleries, libraries, pavilions, and courtyards.

Continue to the South Gate and Angkor Thom (literally "Great City"), which comprises the ruins of the most impressive royal city of Cambodia's Angkor period. During its heyday in the 12th-13th centuries, it was also a formidable defensive area, protected by 26-foot (8 m) walls and a wide moat. It boasts 54 towers decorated with over 200 smiling faces of Avolokitesvara, the Buddhist deity of compassion.

The tour ends at Ta Prohm, a 12th-century Buddhist temple whose crumbling towers have been all but absorbed by the surrounding jungle. Afterward, you'll return to Siem Reap for a tuk-tuk ride around town. Capping your day will be a blessing ceremony performed by a Buddhist monk to wish you prosperity, happiness, and a safe trip.

Day 21: Depart Siem Reap

Buddhist monks pass by one of Angkor's ancient Khmer temples
And just like that, your grand three-week adventure through Southeast Asia has reached its conclusion. Certainly, you've packed in enough adventures to last a lifetime. In the morning, a driver will transfer you to the hotel for your flight home. Safe travels!

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 Cambodia, 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 Epic Cultural Tour of Vietnam & Cambodia - 21 Days
Map of Epic Cultural Tour of Vietnam & Cambodia - 21 Days
Written by Tina Oo, updated Dec 15, 2023