Discover the highlights of Vietnam and Thailand on this 13-day adventure that combines active excursions and seaside relaxation. In Vietnam, you'll dive right in with city cultural tours and scenic boat rides amid the towering karst mountains of Ninh Binh. Next, hop the border into Thailand, where you'll visit Bangkok's famous temples, take a day trip to Phang Nga Bay (and James Bond Island), and laze on the white-sand beaches of Phuket.


  • Ride a bike along Vietnam's rice paddies followed by an herbal foot bath
  • Explore Cat Ba National Park with a half-day trekking and biking tour
  • Travel on Bangkok's electric trains, boats, and tuk-tuks on a sightseeing tour
  • Choose between glorious beaches (and fun activities) in Phuket

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrive in Hanoi, Explore Hanoi
Day 2 Day Trip to the Countryside, Cooking Class Hanoi
Day 3 Transfer to Ninh Binh, Cycling in Tho Ha, Visit the Galaxy Grotto Ninh Binh
Day 4 Transfer to Cat Ba National Park, Trekking & Biking Excursion Cat Ba Island
Day 5 Transfer to Ha Long Bay, Overnight Cruise Ha Long Bay
Day 6 Morning Cruise, Transfer to Ho Chi Minh City Ho Chi Minh City
Day 7 Visit the Cu Chi Tunnels, Ho Chi Minh City Tour Ho Chi Minh City
Day 8 Fly to Bangkok, Explore Bangkok
Day 9 Experience Bangkok Like a Local Bangkok
Day 10 Transfer to Phuket, Explore Phuket
Day 11 Boat Trip to Phang Nga Bay Phuket
Day 12 Free Day in Phuket Phuket
Day 13 Depart Phuket  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Arrive in Hanoi, Explore

Stroll down Hanoi's colorful streets to experience some fun culture shock
Chao Ban! Your 13-day adventure in Southeast Asia begins in Vietnam, a country with a settled history dating back thousands of years. Even the capital of Hanoi has been a regional center of government since 200 BCE. Many historical landmarks from throughout the ages remain in Hanoi to this day, and you'll get to see a few of them on a self-guided tour. 
Upon arrival at the airport, a driver will pick you up for the one-hour ride into the city. After checking in to your hotel, you can head out and explore. Maybe start with a walk in Hanoi's Old Quarter to browse the markets and street vendors. Be sure to try some Vietnamese street food staples like pho (noodle soup), banh mi (baguette sandwich), or bun cha (grilled pork with rice noodles).
For some sightseeing, visit 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," Vietnam's former president. Finish the day with a sunset walk around Tay Ho (West Lake) and enjoy the views.

Day 2: Day Trip to the Countryside, Cooking Class

Day Trip to Ba Vi Countryside & Cooking Class
Leave the city and experience traditional culture in the countryside
After breakfast in Hanoi, your driver will pick you up for a full-day guided tour of the beautiful Ba Vi countryside. Your first stop is the village of Ri for welcome drinks and snacks with Mr. Duoc, an American War veteran and tea plantation owner. Listen to Mr. Duoc's stories about life during the war and visit his workshop and tea plantation, where you'll learn how to pick the best leaves.

Next is a short drive to another village called Moc, where Mrs. Chin will teach you how to prepare Vietnamese dishes that you'll enjoy for lunch in her garden. Afterward, join Mrs. Chin for a walk around the village, during which you'll visit families and learn how to make items like tofu, conical hats, and other regional products. Finish with an easy bicycle ride along Vietnam's iconic rice paddies followed by an herbal foot bath. At the end of the day, return to your hotel in Hanoi.

Day 3: Transfer to Ninh Binh, Cycling in Tho Ha, Visit the Galaxy Grotto

See the highlights of Ninh Binh, one of the most beautiful regions of Vietnam

It's time to head south! This morning your driver will pick you up for the two-hour drive to Tho Ha. This traditional community 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, 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, so much so that Galaxy Grotto is known as the "Milky Way of the mountain." When you leave the cave, hop in a car and transfer to the hotel where you'll overnight.

Day 4: Transfer to Cat Ba National Park, Trekking & Biking Excursion

Cat Ba National Park Trekking
Hike up the limestone mountains at Cat Ba National Park
Wake up early today and hop in the car for the four-hour drive north from Ninh Binh up the coast to Cat Ba Island. Sitting in the jade waters of Lan Ha Bay, this rugged island is the largest in an archipelago of hundreds of other isles. Cat Ba is also comprised of a national park of the same name, which is both a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a biosphere reserve. The island is known for its thick jungles blanketing towering limestone mountains, and its rare and endangered animals like the white-headed langur.
Plan your trip to Vietnam
Chat with a local specialist who can help organize your trip.
Stretch your legs after the long drive on a half-day trekking excursion through the park. Along with an expert guide, you'll climb through the jungle up to various viewpoints offering incredible panoramas over the bay. The route will take you from one side of the park to the other, and at the end of the trail, you can hop on a bicycle and ride around the island. At the end of the day, transfer to a hotel on the island where you'll stay the night.

Day 5: Transfer to Ha Long Bay, Overnight Cruise

Cruise the jade waters of Ha Long Bay

After breakfast, a private car will pick you up for the drive from Cat Ba to the marina at nearby Ha Long Bay. This UNESCO World Heritage Site is comprised of over 1,500 karst islets rising above jade waters. Interestingly, these formations resemble the spine of some mythological creature, which makes sense considering the name, as "ha long" translates to "descending dragon."

Upon arrival at the marina, you'll board a multi-level ship for an overnight cruise. After settling into your cabin, head up to the deck where a delicious lunch awaits. Then you can spend 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.

Day 6: Morning Cruise, Transfer to Ho Chi Minh City

Wake up early and see the sunrise over the bay
Wake up early and head to the deck to watch the sunrise, perhaps while joining a Tai Chi session. Then sit down and enjoy breakfast in the open air as you cruise around towering karst islets. After a leisurely morning spent on the water, you'll return to the port in Ha Long Bay. From there, transfer back to Hanoi and catch a two-hour flight south to Ho Chi Minh City. A driver will meet you at the airport and transfer you to your hotel in the city. You'll then have the remainder of the evening free in Vietnam's largest city.

Day 7: Visit the Cu Chi Tunnels, Ho Chi Minh City Tour

The former headquarters of the Saigon Government is now a museum

After breakfast, you'll be picked up for a two-hour drive north of the city to the infamous Cu Chi Tunnels. This immense network of underground passages was constructed in 1948 to protect Viet Cong guerrillas from French attacks. They also served as living quarters, communications hubs, supply routes, and even hospitals. A visit here offers a stark insight into the country's wartime history and the hardships faced by the thousands of soldiers who survived the French and American wars. You can even crawl through a section of the tunnels to experience just how narrow they really are.

Following Cu Chi, you'll have lunch at the local restaurant before returning to Ho Chi Minh City. Then it will be time to tour the highlights. Your guide will take you to historic 19th-century landmarks like Notre Dame Cathedral and the Central Post Office. Next, visit the Reunification Palace, which was the headquarters of the Saigon government during the American War. You'll also visit Ben Thanh, one of the biggest markets in the city for souvenirs and street food.

Day 8: Fly to Bangkok, Explore

Visit Bangkok's iconic temples like Wat Phra Kaew (Temple of the Emerald Buddha)
It's time for the next leg of your international adventure! Your driver will pick you up in the morning and transfer you to the airport in Ho Chi Minh City, where you'll catch a 1.5-hour flight to Bangkok. Thailand's dynamic and growing capital merges history and modernity, and there's plenty to see from grand palaces, ornate temples, and iconic landmarks like the mighty Chao Phraya River.
Upon arrival at the airport, a driver will pick you up for the 40-minute ride to your hotel. After checking in, you can head out on a self-guided tour. Perhaps start with a visit to Chinatown—a city within a city—and the best place to begin a street-food tour. As for Bangkok's major palaces and temples, make your way to Wat Phra Kaew (Temple of the Emerald Buddha). This 18th-century landmark is perhaps the most iconic Buddhist temple in the country, but the real treasure is inside where you'll find a 26-inch (66 cm) jade statue of a meditating Buddha. 

Day 9: Experience Bangkok Like a Local

See Bangkok's highlights while riding public transportation, like water taxis
Get ready for a full-day tour where you'll experience Bangkok like a local—by riding public transportation. People here get around the city in various ways, including by bus, train, and boat. The day’s adventure begins with a ride on the Skytrain, an electric train that glides quickly above the traffic below. Hop off near the Chao Phraya River, where you'll board a public boat—another popular commuter option. As you cruise down Bangkok's main waterway, relax and watch as the city skyline morphs from gleaming highrises to traditional stilt houses.

The boat stops near the iconic Wat Pho Buddhist temple complex and the Grand Palace, which has been the royal residence since the days of the Siam Kingdom in 1782. After a tour of these remarkable sites, you'll break for lunch and then hop aboard Bangkok's most iconic mode of transport: tuk-tuk. On this portion of the tour, your driver will zip you through Soi Ban Batra, a quiet community home to local artisans. Here, visit a family-run workshop that produces alms bowls for monks, and learn about the daily lives of the resident Buddhist monks.

The last portion of the tour will take you on a "bus boat" through the city’s canals, where you'll get an up-close look at the slower pace of life on the waterfront. Then it’s a short walk to the Jim Thompson House. This is the former home of American entrepreneur and collector Jim Thompson, known as "the Father of Thai Silk." Interestingly, this house from 1959 was constructed from parts of several country homes that were reassembled in Bangkok. Today the house is a museum featuring an impressive collection of Asian art and antiquities. After the tour, return to your hotel.

Day 10: Transfer to Phuket, Explore

The Phuket area offers stunning stretches of sand like Freedom Beach

After breakfast, meet your driver for the ride to the airport, where you'll catch a 1.5-hour flight south to Phuket. This resort city is famous for its sun-kissed tropical beaches and wild nightlife—yet you can always find some peace and quiet. Upon arrival at the airport, another driver will transport you to your hotel, and then you're free to discover the best of Phuket.

If you like, head to one of the area's famous stretches of sand, like Kata, Nai Harn, and Freedom Beach. Here, you can go shopping, partake in delicious tidbits from food vendors, and enjoy watersports like snorkeling and kayaking. That said, the natural highlights of Phuket extend beyond the coast. The island has diverse landscapes including limestone cliffs, lagoons, and tropical forests. Many nearby mountains offer great hiking, including the trail up to the Black Rock Viewpoint, which looks out over beautiful Cape Krathing.

Day 11: Boat Trip to Phang Nga Bay

Cruise and paddle your way through Phang Nga Bay

Today you'll take a cruise to the famous Phang Nga Bay. The adventure starts with a transfer to Ao Por Pier, where you'll enjoy tea and coffee before boarding a luxury boat. Then you'll sail north amid the karst islets dotting the Andaman Sea. The first stop when you enter Phang Nga Bay is Panak Island, where you'll paddle a canoe through sea caves and mangroves accompanied by a local guide. Return to the boat for a delicious buffet lunch.

In the afternoon, you'll visit Khao Phing Kan. This romantic island is most known for Ko Ta Pu, a towering limestone islet about 130 feet (40 m) offshore. Its famous nickname is "James Bond Island" because it was a shooting location in the film "The Man with the Golden Gun." On Khao Phing, you'll spend time at a secluded beach for swimming and sunbathing, then around 3:30 pm, return to the boat and transfer back to Phuket.

Day 12: Free Day in Phuket

Phuket Beach
While away the hours on Phuket's white sand beaches
Today is your free day to enjoy Phuket however you wish. If you like, spend all day sunbathing at one of the area's prized beaches, or relax by the hotel pool with a tropical drink. For something more active, embark on a snorkeling/diving tour, a zipline adventure, or a hike through the tropical forests and limestone mountains. You can also visit the aquarium in Cape Panwa to see a variety of marine species. These include sea turtles, sharks, mantas, eels, dolphins, and many more. At night, consider indulging in Phuket's legendary nightlife along raucous Bangla Road.

Day 13: Depart Phuket

Get up early to enjoy one last sunrise in Thailand
Your grand Southeast Asian adventure comes to a close today. If you like, wake up early and enjoy a leisurely breakfast while watching the sunrise over the water in Phuket. Then, at the appropriate time, your driver will transfer you to the airport for your flight home. Safe travels! 

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Looking for more inspiration for your trip to Vietnam? Check out these other Vietnam itineraries, explore more ways to spend 13 days in Vietnam, 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 Explore the Heart of Southeast Asia -13 Days
Map of Explore the Heart of Southeast Asia -13 Days
Written by Ha Dinh, updated Apr 13, 2023