Get to the heart of Vietnam through its cuisine on this delectable 12-day itinerary. Start in Hanoi to breeze around the capital by Vespa and search out the city's best banh mi and bun cha. Board an overnight cruise through the fantastical islets (and fresh seafood) of Ha Long Bay, then head south to Hoi An for renowned street food and an immersive cooking class. Continue to Ho Chi Minh City to end your trip and awaken your senses with an incredible "dining in the dark" experience.

Highlights

  • Learn to cook Vietnamese classics with a master chef
  • See Hanoi like a local from the back of a vintage Vespa
  • Cruise through the magical islands & hidden coves of Ha Long Bay
  • Discover Hoi An's fragrant markets & famous street food
  • Descend to the Cu Chi Tunnels for a look at living history

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrive in Hanoi, Explore the City Hanoi
Day 2 Vietnamese Cooking Class with a Master Chef Hanoi
Day 3 Hanoi Vespa Tour Hanoi
Day 4 Transfer to Ha Long Bay & Board Cruise Ha Long Bay
Day 5 Disembark Cruise & Transfer to Hanoi  Hanoi
Day 6 Transfer to Hoi An, Evening Countryside & Food Tour Hoi An
Day 7 Free Day in Hoi An Hoi An
Day 8 Cooking Class at the Red Bridge Cooking School Hoi An
Day 9 Transfer to Ho Chi Minh City Ho Chi Minh City
Day 10 Ho Chi Minh City Half-Day Tour, Dining in the Dark Experience at Noir Ho Chi Minh City
Day 11 Explore the Cu Chi Tunnels, Sunset Dinner Cruise Ho Chi Minh City
Day 12 Depart Ho Chi Minh City  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Arrive in Hanoi, Explore the City

Free Day in Hanoi
A fruit vendor in Hanoi

Welcome to Vietnam! Upon arrival at Hanoi's airport, your driver will be waiting to transfer you to your hotel. Relax after the long journey, or head out to stretch your legs and get your bearings. Dating to 3000 BCE, Hanoi is one of the world's most ancient capitals. Traditional culture meets modern metropolis in its busy streets filled with motorbikes, outdoor markets, and curbside banh mi vendors. 

Spend your free time exploring the maze of narrow streets in Hanoi's Old Quarter at your own pace, or take a cyclo ride in one of the city's traditional three-wheeled bicycle taxis. For lunch, head to Bun Cha Huong Lien to try the beloved Hanoian meal of bun cha (noodle soup with grilled pork). This restaurant's interpretation of the dish is so famous that it's served guests like Barack Obama and Anthony Bourdain. To wrap up your evening in style, sip cocktails on the Pan Pacific Hotel's rooftop bar and enjoy spectacular sunset views over West Lake.

Day 2: Vietnamese Cooking Class with a Master Chef

Cooking Class with a Master Chef
Learn to create Vietnamese dishes alongside a master chef
Today you'll start your Vietnamese culinary journey with a cooking lesson alongside an esteemed professional chef. The experience begins with a one-hour walk to the local market for a fascinating look at this bustling center of the community. While you enjoy the sights and sounds around you, Chef Mai will show you how locals choose the best products for cooking and introduce you to the most important spices and flavors of Vietnamese cuisine. 

Afterward, continue to Mrs. Mai's home for a cooking class, harmonizing Vietnamese spices and your own taste to create the perfect recipes for you and your family. Then sit down to lunch, where your home-cooked dishes will be served alongside Vietnamese specialties prepared by the chef.

Day 3: Hanoi Vespa Tour

See highlights like Train Street on a scooter tour of Hanoi
Explore more of Hanoi like a local today from the back of a vintage Vespa scooter. Ride through the atmospheric streets of the Old Quarter, admiring its famous landmarks such as the Opera House and the impossibly narrow Train Street. Head toward Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum to see the President's Place, Parliament House, and other government offices while your guide shares stories about the history of Hanoi. Pass Huu Hiep Lake and the crash site of the US plane shot down during the 1972 bombing raids of Hanoi—a poignant reminder of recent history. 

Your next stop is a hidden village on an island in the Red River, where you can meet a resident family and learn more about local life. Then it's on to a nearby kumquat farm, where the small trees are grown as a traditional gift for the New Year—symbolizing health and peace. Stop for some famous "egg coffee," then head back to the Old Quarter via the Long Bien Bridge. This magnificent structure was built over a hundred years ago and connects the Hoan Kiem and Long Bien districts. The tour finishes with a hearty lunch at a local restaurant and a transfer back to your hotel.

Day 4: Transfer to Ha Long Bay & Board Cruise

Cruising & Kayaking in Halong Bay
A magical sunset over Ha Long Bay

This morning you'll bid Hanoi farewell for now and transfer east to the otherworldly beauty of Ha Long Bay—where you'll board an overnight cruise through one of the great wonders of the natural world. Located where the land meets the Gulf of Tonkin, thousands of karst islets dot the bay's serene emerald waters. Legend has it that the islands originated as precious jewels sprayed into the water by a great dragon. 

On arrival at the pier, board your ship and enjoy breathtaking views of limestone rocks and karst grottoes as you leave the harbor. A delicious seafood lunch awaits, and you'll have plenty of free time to enjoy the sundeck as the ship navigates the bay's most beautiful hidden corners. Stop in a secret cove to explore with some swimming or kayaking, then head back to the boat for an evening cooking class, where you'll learn to make nem (Vietnamese fried spring rolls) before sitting down to a delicious dinner. 

Day 5: Disembark Cruise & Transfer to Hanoi

A fruit cellar rowing on Ha Long Bay

Take your breakfast on the ship's deck today to enjoy panoramic sunrise views of Ha Long Bay. After a morning full of optional activities like swimming and kayaking, you'll sit down to an early lunch before reaching the dock and disembarking. A transfer will take you back to your hotel in Hanoi, where the remainder of the day is at your leisure.

Day 6: Transfer to Hoi An, Evening Countryside & Food Tour

Sample street food favorites like banh mi in Hoi An
Your driver will be waiting to transfer you to the airport this morning to catch a flight south to Danang. Upon arrival, another transfer takes you to your hotel in the beautifully preserved riverside town of Hoi An. Rest up, then join your guide as evening falls for a tour of Hoi An's off-the-beaten-path highlights. Start in a local farming village about 2.5 miles (4 km) from the town center. Here you can learn more about the local farmers' daily life before returning to Hoi An and immersing yourself in a foodie's paradise with the flavorful local cuisine.

Begin your culinary exploration with a selection of well-known local dishes such as white rose dumplings, banh beo (steamed rice cakes), banh nam (rice dumplings), my quang (flavorful rice noodles), Hoi An pancakes, barbeque pork rolls, and the famous banh mi sandwich. Wrap up your food tour with the best Vietnamese coffee before exploring more of Hoi An by night or heading back to your hotel.

Day 7: Free Day in Hoi An

Explore historic Hoi An on foot or by bicycle
Take today to explore Hoi An at your own pace. The best way to experience this charming town is to rent a bicycle at the hotel and cycle toward the riverside or the beach. At the beach, you'll find warm, calm waters and small cafés where you can relax with a fresh fruit drink. Head to Madam Khanh Banh Mi or Banh Mi Phuong for a classic bahn mi sandwich at lunchtime, or stop at one of the many local tailor shops to have clothes, bags, or shoes made overnight. 

In the evening, go for a stroll through the Old Town, which has a fairy tale feel after dark as the shops light their glowing lanterns and colorful performances fill the street. 

Day 8: Cooking Class at the Red Bridge Cooking School

Visit a local market for ingredients used in today's cooking class
Meet your guide at the hotel this morning and start the day with a welcome drink at Hai Cafe. Then visit Hoi An's colorful market to experience its amazing sights, sounds, and aromas. Interact with the local sellers and learn about all the ingredients used in the cooking lesson later.

Next, you'll board a boat for a leisurely cruise along the Hoi An River to the Red Bridge Cooking School. On the way, get a close-up view of local river life and keep your camera ready for the many scenic photo-ops. Visit the school's herb garden, then learn about some of Hoi An and Vietnam's most well-known dishes. The two-hour cooking class starts with Red Bridge chefs demonstrating each recipe before you prepare the same dish by yourself. After a brief introduction to Vietnamese food carving (plate decoration), you'll sit down to a delicious lunch.

Day 9: Transfer to Ho Chi Minh City

Historic meets modern in Ho Chi Minh City
Trade the quiet streets of Hoi An for the big city today as your driver transfers you to the airport to catch your flight south to the energetic metropolis of Ho Chi Minh. Despite a turbulent history and devastating war, this city, formerly Saigon, has retained its fascinating mix of Asian and western traditions, with French colonial landmarks rubbing shoulders with 21st-century skyscrapers.
 
After transferring to your hotel and setting in, head out to get your bearings. You could visit Ben Thanh market, a famous spot for street food and shopping, or check out one of the many local spas for a relaxing foot massage. When you're ready for a break, sit down with a beer at Bitexco Tower and enjoy panoramic views across the city.

Day 10: Ho Chi Minh City Half-Day Tour, Dining in the Dark Experience at Noir

Ho Chi Minh's 19th-century Notre Dame Cathedral
Today's tour starts at the Independence Palace, also known as the Reunification Palace. This widely-recognized landmark of Ho Chi Minh City was designed by the architect Ngo Viet Thu and was the sight of the fall of Saigon, which ended the Vietnam War. Continue past the beautiful structures from the French colonial times, such as the Notre Dame Cathedral and the historic Central Post Office, to visit the War Remnants Museum and its vast displays of the Indochina wars. Have lunch at a local restaurant and return to your hotel.

This evening you'll awaken all five senses and experience a culinary journey through taste, smell, touch, and sound at Noir: Dining in the Dark Saigon. Start with a welcome drink while listening to the restaurant's concept and mission. Proceed to the dining area to savor a unique fine dining experience in the complete darkness as you work your way through an exquisite, multi-course set menu.

Day 11: Explore the Cu Chi Tunnels, Sunset Dinner Cruise

Explore the Cu Chi Tunnels
Learn about life during wartime in the Cu Chi Tunnels
Today you'll take a deep dive into Vietnamese history and explore the famous Cu Chi Tunnels, used as a shelter for Vietnamese soldiers during the war. Learn about why the tunnels were constructed and how they helped people survive in the harsh wartime conditions. Wander the remaining tunnel systems, which include the living areas, kitchens, and martial facilities, as well as hidden doors and dangerous traps. Finish the tour with a serving of special tea and cassava (a typical meal of guerilla food during the war).
 
Back in Ho Chi Minh, celebrate your final night in Vietnam with a romantic sunset dinner cruise along the Saigon River. Admire a fascinating contrast of historic and modern buildings as darkness falls, savoring a set menu of flavorful dishes specially created by top chefs. 

Day 12: Depart Ho Chi Minh City

Goodbye, Vietnam!

Your Vietnam adventure draws to a close today as you transfer to the airport to catch your departing flight. 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 12 days in Vietnam, or discover the best time to visit Vietnam.

 

Map

Map of Flavors of Vietnam: Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh - 12 Days
Map of Flavors of Vietnam: Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh - 12 Days
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Written by Do Hien, updated Sep 14, 2022