Vietnam is a great place to bring the whole family, as you'll find out when you travel the country over 10 action-packed days. This itinerary features ample city tours plus an overnight cruise on the gorgeous emerald waters of Hạ Long Bay. You'll also experience the cultural heritage of Vietnam as you travel by bicycle to the Mekong Delta to visit organic farms and floating market villages, where you'll learn to fish from traditional basket boats.

Highlights

  • Discover the sights, sounds, and flavors of Hanoi
  • Visit the Gulf of Tonkin and cruise gorgeous Hạ Long Bay
  • Explore the countryside around the UNESCO river city of Hội An
  • Take a bicycle tour of Ho Chi Minh City
  • Travel up the Mekong Delta and visit floating markets

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrival in Hanoi Hanoi
Day 2 Bicycle Tour of Dong Ngac & Hanoi Hanoi
Day 3 Hanoi to Hạ Long Bay - Trinh Nu Cave Halong Bay
Day 4 Tour Hạ Long Bay - Transfer to Hanoi Hanoi
Day 5 Hanoi to Da Nang - Transfer to Hội An & City Tour Hoi An
Day 6 Bicycle Tour of Organic Farms & Fishing Villages Hoi An
Day 7 Hội An to Ho Chi Minh City – Guided City Tour Ho Chi Minh City
Day 8 Ho Chi Minh City to Cần Thơ - Cycling Tour Can Tho
Day 9 Cần Thơ to Ho Chi Minh City Ho Chi Minh City
Day 10 Departure from Ho Chi Minh City  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Arrival in Hanoi

A street vendor in Hanoi
A street vendor in Hanoi

Welcome to Vietnam!

Upon arrival at Hanoi's airport, you'll transfer by private vehicle to your four/five-star hotel for check-in. No doubt you'll be tired after the long journey, but after taking some time to relax and unwind you should head out and explore on foot. This modern yet traditional metropolis is well worth it.

Dating to 3,000 BCE, Hanoi is one of the most ancient capitals in the world. That said, it's a mix of the old and the new—a city defined by the contradictions of a rapidly developing yet deeply traditional society. Here glimmering office buildings sit alongside the French colonial Old Quarter. Rarely at rest, the kinetic energy of Hanoi's motorbike-packed streets spills over into the outdoor markets, Hang Gai silk shops, curbside bún chả /bánh mì vendors, and eclectic nightlife scene. 

You can start your walk on the streets of Old Town, visiting markets and street vendors, and then take in some local history and mythology with a stroll around Hoàn Kiếm Lake. At the north end of the lake is an arched red bridge leading to Jade Island and the Temple of the Jade Mountain. This temple was built in the 18th century to honor Tran Hung Dao, a military commander who famously repelled two Mongol invasions.

Nearby, in the center of the lake, is Turtle Tower, a small stone tower built to commemorate the Golden Turtle God, Kim Qui, who, according to Vietnamese myth, reclaimed a magical sword from Emperor Lê Lợi in order to return it to the Dragon King. You should know that it's legends like these around which Vietnam's rich culture is based.

After a brief walk and taking in Hanoi's famous sights, feel free to dine out in Old Town. There's no shortage of incredible eateries in this neighborhood that run the gamut from delicious street food to fine dining to trendy fusion restaurants.

Day 2: Bicycle Tour of Dong Ngac & Hanoi

Dong Ngac Communal House
Dong Ngac Communal House

You're in a for a treat, as after breakfast you'll head to the far north of Hanoi, where near the banks of the Red River lies the small neighborhood/village of Dong Ngac, which is home to about 1,000 residents. To call it a "throwback" is an understatement—this ungentrified district dates back over hundreds of years, and little has changed in the intervening centuries. Some of its communal houses date to the 1600s and remain amazingly well-preserved. 

Upon arrival you and your guide will hop on bicycles and ride around the neighborhood streets, first stopping at a local market. These commerce areas double as social centers for the neighborhood residents, and they're always abuzz with activity. Your tour guide will lead you around the various stalls and point out the local products and fresh produce on offer. 

You'll venture deep into the village on this tour, first stopping at the most famous landmark in Dong Ngac, the Communal House. Built in 1635 during feudal times, it serves as a temple of worship as well as a shrine to honor over 100 laureates (the residents of Dong Ngac pride themselves on their legacy of academic excellence). The Communal House also features a traditional architectural style, and when you look at it from above it resembles the head of a dragon. 

Later in the morning, you'll visit the home of a local family for a cooking class. This is a very special experience in which you'll learn to prepare some traditional Hanoi dishes. There's no need to be intimidated because even if you have little kitchen experience the host will demonstrate all cooking steps and you can simply follow along. The best part is once the class is complete you'll sit down with your new friends and enjoy a delicious lunch of everything you just cooked. 

After lunch, you'll take a short van ride back to Hanoi and embark on a tour in and around the city center. Your first stop is the north of the city and the Vietnam Museum Of Ethnology. This massive museum complex preserves cultural heritage by offering information on the 54 different ethnic groups in Vietnam. Some highlight exhibits include full-scale replicas of village homes plus ancient artifacts like traditional jewelry and wedding/funeral clothing. 

Then, you'll get back on a bicycle for a one-hour cycle tour of Hanoi’s historic Old Quarter and Hoàn Kiếm Lake. The day ends with a fun and informative bit of traditional Vietnamese entertainment: a water puppet show. The surface of the water acts as a stage while the puppeteers stand behind a screen and manipulate the wooden puppets using bamboo rods beneath the water. Water puppetry has been practiced in Hanoi for generations, and it's as much an art form as it is performance.

Day 3: Hanoi to Hạ Long Bay - Trinh Nu Cave

Hạ Long Bay
Hạ Long Bay

After breakfast, you'll depart your hotel in Hanoi for the drive to Hạ Long Bay. This UNESCO World Heritage Site is 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 and the seascape takes on an otherworldly quality.

The eastward drive from Hanoi takes about four hours, and you'll arrive at the port about noon. Here you'll board a pleasure boat for an unforgettable overnight cruise along the bay. After a welcome aboard the ship, you'll be led to your cabin followed by a short trip briefing.

Once the ship gets underway, you'll enjoy a lunch of fresh seafood. The journey passes by some stunning sights including unique karts islets like Trong Mai and the floating fishing village of Cua Van. The first destination is Trinh Nu Cave. It's massive, covering an area of over 21,000 square feet and featuring a wide array of stalactites and stalagmites. That's not all, though; after hiking the cave you'll hop in a kayak and paddle around the emerald waters fronting the white sands of gorgeous Trinh Nu Beach.

You'll return to the boat just in time to watch the incomparable sunset from the top deck ship before sitting down for a dinner of more delicious, fresh seafood. Afterward, you can retire to your cabin for the evening or join the staff for a bit of night squid fishing.

Day 4: Tour Hạ Long Bay - Transfer to Hanoi

Take a kayak ride around the bay
Take a kayak ride around the bay

Begin your day with a Tai Chi session on the cruiser's sundeck accompanied by complimentary tea and coffee. It's the perfect locale to integrate your mind and body as the sunrise over the bay compliments this internal martial art perfectly. With a rejuvenated spirit and newly healthy qi (life energy), you'll sit down for a light breakfast to be served on board.

After eating, the boat will sail to the floating village of Cua Van, which is easily one of the most unique towns in the world. Cua Van, home to around 800 residents, is comprised of floating houses situated in a remote section of Hạ Long Bay. The main industry here is, naturally, fishing, but the residents live the same way they would on dry land: working, going to school, and socializing. The major difference is that rather than drive to and from work and school, they travel by boat.

Upon arriving at Cua Van, you can choose an activity such as kayaking around the bay or venturing around the community by rowboat to see more of local life on the waters. After the tour, you'll return to the cruiser where you'll have time to relax and enjoy brunch.

In the late morning, you'll transfer to a dock on the mainland and then to a local village. Here you'll enjoy a special "water puppet show" performed by local artists. This is a real treat as the show is a traditional art form that's been practiced by rural peoples of the Red River Delta for generations. The surface of the water acts as a stage while the puppeteers stand behind a screen and manipulate the wooden puppets using bamboo rods beneath the water. 

After the show, you'll return to Hanoi and check into your hotel.

Day 5: Hanoi to Da Nang - Transfer to Hội An & City Tour

The lanterns of Hội An
The lanterns of Hội An

After breakfast, you'll transfer to Hanoi's airport where you'll catch a 1.5-hour flight south to Da Nang. This waterfront city isn't your final destination, however. You'll then transfer another half-hour by car down the central coast to Hội An, which is located on the delta of the Thu Bồn River and is one of the most well-preserved ancient cities in the country. 

Walking the streets of Hội An's Ancient Town, you'll see why it's so celebrated. This UNESCO World Heritage port city boasts over 2,000 years of history, with its heyday occurring from the 7th-10th centuries when it was a major player in the spice trade with Indonesia. By the 1600s, Hội An was a thriving international port, and you can see remnants of this in its Chinese temples, Japanese merchant homes, and covered bridges.

This afternoon, you'll tour the waterfront Ancient Town, which is lined with historic wooden houses that have been given new life as cafés and boutiques. You'll certainly also notice the abundance of colorful lanterns here. Believed to bring good luck, the lanterns have been icons of Hội An ever since the first Japanese settlers arrived in the 16th century. You'll learn about this history and culture when you join in a class overseen by an expert craftsman in which you learn to create your own official Hội An lantern.

Day 6: Bicycle Tour of Organic Farms & Fishing Villages

Rural life outside of Hội An
Rural life outside of Hội An

At 8 am a guide will pick you up from your hotel and the two of you will set off on bicycles from Hội An along the river to the nearby countryside village of Tra Que, which is known for its organic vegetable farms. This scenic route passes by gorgeous green rice paddies, flourishing gardens, and local markets. You can stop as often as you like to take photographs and chat with locals, as your guide will act as a translator.

Once at the village, you'll stop in at the home of a  local family and chat with them about traditional farming and rural life outside of Hội An. Afterward, you'll visit a local shrimping farm and then head to the Cam Thanh coconut forest, a unique mangrove ecosystem. The scenery here is spectacular, as the rich green fronds of the palms on the riverbank arch over the water.

In Cam Thanh, village fishermen will show you how to prepare nets to catch fish and crabs on the river estuary. You'll then join them in a traditional basket boat on the water to do a bit of fishing yourself. Once back on the shore, you'll sit down for a traditional lunch in a local village restaurant overlooking the water. Afterward, you'll hop in a car for your transfer back to your hotel in Hội An.

Day 7: Hội An to Ho Chi Minh City – Guided City Tour

Welcome to Ho Chi Minh City, formerly Saigon
Welcome to Ho Chi Minh City, formerly Saigon

Take the morning to relax and then, at the appropriate time, you'll transfer to the airport in Da Nang for a 1.5-hour flight to Ho Chi Minh City. Once upon a time, this metropolis in southern Vietnam was known as Saigon. Despite a communist revolution and devastating war, the city has retained much of its unique cultural mix of Asian and western traditions. In fact, many of its French Colonial landmarks still stand today. 

The biggest change to Ho Chi Minh City is that it's only gotten bigger, busier, and more energetic. The streets swell with mopeds whizzing past markets and modern shopping districts as the sidewalks overflow with vendors selling everything from delicious street food to golden lucky cats. This city has it all: French-era Art Deco buildings, ancient Buddhist temples, hidden alleyway eateries, outdoor night markets, Chinese pagodas, 21st-century skyscrapers, and hotels and restaurants for every budget.

After checking into your hotel you'll have a bit of time to relax and unwind. In the afternoon, you'll immerse yourself in the city on a guided walking tour.

Major points of interest include the 19th-century Gothic/Renaissance Saigon Central Post Office and Notre Dame Cathedral (built in the late 19th century with materials imported from France). You'll get a feel for the energy of the city as you walk along Dong Khoi Street (formerly Rue Catinat) to the Gothic Opera House, which was built in 1901. Along Le Loi Boulevard, you'll pass other landmarks including City Hall, the French-colonial Rex Hotel, and Bach Dang, the most famous ice cream shop in the city.

You'll cap the tour with an ascent to the 68th floor of the Bitexco Building, which at 859 feet (262 meters) is Ho Chi Min City's largest building. From the sky deck, you'll be treated to panoramic views of the city skyline.  

Day 8: Ho Chi Minh City to Cần Thơ - Cycling Tour

Local life on the river
Local life on the river

After breakfast, you'll leave Ho Chi Minh City on a 3.5-hour drive to Cần Thơ, a waterfront city on the mighty Mekong Delta. Its most famouos for its floating market, where each day at 4 am dozens of wooden paddleboats laden with fruits, vegetables, and other products take to the water and sell their goods to passersby. It's a market with quite a long history, dating back to the Nguyễn Dynasty of the 19th century.

Upon arrival at Cần Thơ, you'll hop on a bicycle and ride to the family home of local blacksmiths who've been practicing the trade for generations. After gleaning insight into their knife-making skills, you'll leave the home and visit with some other locals before riding to an orchard and enjoying some fresh-picked fruit. To cap the day of cultural tourism you'll visit another family home where under their guidance you'll prepare delicious artisanal banana cake. 

Later in the afternoon, you'll head back to your hotel in Cần Thơ, where you'll have some time to relax before dinner.

Day 9: Cần Thơ to Ho Chi Minh City

Spend the morning on the floating market
Spend the morning on the floating market

Enjoy the Mekong a bit longer, because in the morning you'll head out by boat to the Cai Rang Floating Market. Located in the middle of Cần Thơ, this is the largest floating market on the Mekong Delta. After doing some aquatic shopping, you'll then visit a local family who earns their living making handmade noodles—a trade that goes back three generations.

Then, after a light and relaxing breakfast at a restaurant next to quiet canals, you'll head back to Ho Chi Minh City, where you'll overnight.

Day 10: Departure from Ho Chi Minh City

Goodbye, Ho Chi Minh City
Goodbye, Ho Chi Minh City

Take the morning to enjoy one last stroll around Ho Chi Minh City. At the appropriate time, you'll transfer to the airport to catch your flight home. This concludes your grand Vietnam adventure. Until next time!

Map

Map of Family Cultural Tour of Vietnam: Hanoi, Ha Long Bay, Hoi An, & More - 10 Days
Map of Family Cultural Tour of Vietnam: Hanoi, Ha Long Bay, Hoi An, & More - 10 Days
Linh
Written by Linh Do, updated Dec 30, 2019