Three weeks allows for plenty of fun in Vietnam and Thailand. This grand Southeast Asia adventure begins with culture and food tours in Hanoi, then continues up and down Vietnam, from the jade waters of Ha Long Bay to the terraced mountains of Sapa. Then, it's time to hop over to Thailand to discover Siam and Lanna culture in Bangkok and Chiang Mai—plus river rafting and snorkeling in the spectacular south.


  • Wander through Hanoi's charming back streets and sample street food 
  • Stay overnight on a cruise that sails along UNESCO-listed Ha Long Bay
  • Visit northern hill tribe villages and the terraced mountains of Sapa
  • Experience the highlights of Bangkok and Chiang Mai on city tours
  • Explore coconut forests, go river rafting, and snorkel in Khao Lak

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrive in Hanoi (Vietnam), Optional Activities Hanoi
Day 2 Hanoi Guided City Tour Hanoi
Day 3 Day Trip to Bat Trang Pottery Village & Food Tour Hanoi
Day 4 Transfer to Ha Long Bay, Overnight Cruise Ha Long Bay
Day 5 Transfer to Hanoi, Free Time, Overnight Train to Lao Cai Lao Cai
Day 6 Transfer to Sapa, Visit Hill Tribe Villages Sapa
Day 7 Day Trip to Mount Fansipan, Overnight Train to Hanoi Hanoi
Day 8 Fly to Da Nang, Visit Ba Na Hill & Golden Bridge Da Nang
Day 9 Day Trip to Hoi An via Marble Mountains & Bay Mau Palm Forest Da Nang
Day 10 Fly to Bangkok (Thailand), Optional Activities Bangkok
Day 11 Explore Bangkok's Temples, Palaces & Markets Bangkok
Day 12 Day Trip to Ayutthaya, Afternoon Tea at the Oriental Bangkok
Day 13 Fly to Chiang Mai, Evening Foodie Tour Chiang Mai
Day 14 Day Trip to Doi Inthanon National Park Chiang Mai
Day 15 Day Trip to Lamphun Chiang Mai
Day 16 Fly to Khao Sok National Park Khao Sok 
Day 17 Khao Sok River Rafting Adventure Khao Sok
Day 18 Transfer to Khao Lak, Optional Activities Khao Lak
Day 19 Snorkeling Tour of the Similan Islands Khao Lak
Day 20 Mangrove Kayak Tour Khao Lak
Day 21 Transfer to Phuket, Depart  

Detailed Itinerary

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

Lose yourself in the energy of Hanoi's chaotic and captivating streets

Welcome to Southeast Asia! This epic three-week adventure begins in Hanoi. Vietnam's colorful capital is the best intro to this beguiling country, as it offers up all the highlights: culture, history, and, of course, delicious food. Upon arrival at the airport, a driver will pick you up for the one-hour ride into the city and your hotel, located in or near the famous Old Quarter

After settling in, feel free to venture out and explore. You won't truly experience Hanoi until you wander the back streets and boulevards of its historic Old Quarter—a neighborhood that dates back over 1,000 years. Browse the famous silk shops on Hang Gai Street, stroll the shores of Hoa Kiem Lake, and cross the iconic red-arched bridge to Ngoc Son Temple. This 19th-century landmark was built to honor Tran Hung Dao, a military commander who famously repelled two Mongol invasions.

When hungry, take part in Hanoi's world-famous street food. Continue walking around the Old Quarter, stopping at stands and local eateries to try favorites like bun cha (grilled pork and noodles), banh cuon (ground pork rice rolls), and cha ca (grilled fish cooked with turmeric and dill). Of course, you can't end the day without tucking into an aromatic bowl of pho. Vietnam's national dish is a rice noodle soup prepared with beef (pho bo) or chicken (pho ga). Commonly served for breakfast, this cultural experience (it's more than food) can be enjoyed any time of day.

Day 2: Hanoi Guided City Tour

Pay a visit to the 11th-century Temple of Literature in Hanoi

Meet your guide in the morning for a walking tour of Hanoi that focuses on its rich history. Begin in the city center at the Ho Chi Minh Complex, where Vietnam's revered revolutionary leader, Ho Chi Minh, lies embalmed in a mausoleum. Amble through the peaceful grounds to see the humble wooden stilt house where he once lived and the ornate One Pillar Pagoda, which sits in the middle of a lake and resembles Vietnam's national flower, the lotus.

Continue to nearby Tay Ho (West Lake) and Tran Quoc Pagoda. This Buddhist shrine sits on an island and dates back to the reign of Emperor Ly Nam De in the sixth century, making it the oldest of its kind in the city. Next, visit the Museum of Ethnology, which houses an expansive collection of costumes and artifacts from Vietnam's 54 ethnic minority groups.

After a break for lunch, you'll visit the 11th-century Temple of Literature. Vietnam's first national university. Its well-preserved Confucian temple architecture is so impressive that the structure is featured on the 100,000 Vietnamese dong banknote. Later, you'll return to the Old Quarter, where you'll have some time to do some shopping on your own.

Day 3: Day Trip to Bat Trang Pottery Village & Food Tour

Get your hands dirty making beautiful Vietnamese pottery

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.

In the evening, you'll participate in a two-hour coffee workshop to learn the secrets to brewing the perfect cup of ca phe sura da (Vietnamese coffee with condensed milk). Afterward, return to the Old Quarter for a delicious culinary odyssey. As you stroll the hidden lanes and back streets, your guide will lead you to the city's best street food stalls. Try local favorites like pho sot vang (noodle soup with pork and herbs) and the famous banh mi sandwich. Wash it all down with sugar cane juice or a local rice wine. Afterward, head back to your hotel.

Day 4: Transfer to Ha Long Bay, Overnight Cruise

Experience the magic of Ha Long Bay on an overnight cruise

After an early breakfast, your private driver will pick you up at the hotel for the three-hour transfer north to the legendary Ha Long Bay. Located on the Gulf of Tonkin, over 1,500 karst islets rise above jade waters, resembling the spine of a mythological creature ("ha long" translates to "descending dragon"). The unique beauty of this region is unlike anywhere else and thus has earned UNESCO World Heritage status.

Upon arrival at the marina, you'll board a luxurious ship for an overnight cruise. After settling into your cabin, head to the dining room, where a delicious lunch awaits. Then, relax on the sundeck as the ship sails across glassy emerald waters to secluded corners of the bay. Later, you'll stop at a secret cove for a swim and a kayak trip to explore hidden beaches and grottoes. Dinner will be served on board the ship, followed by activities. 

Day 5: Transfer to Hanoi, Free Time, Overnight Train to Lao Cai

Watch a sunrise and take part in a tai chi session on deck

Wake up with a sunrise over the jade waters and karst towers of Ha Long Bay. Perhaps join a morning tai chi session on the deck. After a light breakfast, you can relax in a lounger and enjoy the scenery as the ship cruises to the Ha Long Bay pier. There will be time for a late brunch in the dining room before you dock around noon. Then, hop in a vehicle for the three-hour ride back to Hanoi, arriving around 3 pm.

If you like, take the rest of the afternoon to stroll the Old Quarter, pick up more souvenirs, and enjoy more delicious street food. Then, transfer to the station, where you'll board an overnight train bound for Lao Cai. This northern region is known for its soaring mountain landscapes, diverse ethnic cultures, and its role as a gateway to the famous town of Sapa and its iconic terraced rice fields. 

Day 6: Transfer to Sapa, Visit Hill Tribe Villages

A trip to Sapa is like stepping back in time 

On arrival at Lao Cai station, have breakfast, then 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, renowned for their handicrafts and traditional dress—colorful garments 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 7: Day Trip to Mount Fansipan, Overnight Train to Hanoi

Hike up to prime viewpoints on the otherworldly Mount Fansipan

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 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 and board an overnight train to Hanoi. 

Day 8: Fly to Da Nang, Visit Ba Na Hill & Golden Bridge

Golden Hand bridge
Golden Hand Bridge is one of the most famous human-made landmarks in the country

It's time to bid a fond farewell to Hanoi, as this morning, you'll transfer to the airport for the 1.5-hour flight south to Da Nang. Located on the central Vietnamese coast, all around this dynamic and modern city lies the beauty and culture that has made Vietnam a tourism hotspot. Besides the long golden beaches and high mountain passes, Da Nang also boasts a thriving restaurant scene.

After checking into your hotel, you'll venture out on a guided tour of one of the most impressive landmarks in Vietnam. The 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), you'll enjoy panoramic views of Quang Nam province 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. After a break for lunch, you'll return to Da Nang via cable car.

Plan your trip to Vietnam
Chat with a local specialist who can help organize your trip.

Day 9: Day Trip to Hoi An via Marble Mountains & Bay Mau Palm Forest

Exploring Coconut forest and Hoai river!
Ride traditional basket boats down palm-lined rivers

Travel an hour down the coast today toward Hoi An, a peaceful port town that lies on the Tho Bon River and is fringed by tranquil rice paddies and beaches lapped by the South China Sea. Visitors are drawn to Hoi An for its ancient architecture, lantern-lined streets, and skilled tailors who can whip up a custom-made outfit in as little as 24 hours. On your way to Hoi An, stop at the Marble Mountains, a cluster of five limestone peaks home to caves, tunnels, and temples. 

Later, tour the nearby 208-acre (84 ha) Bay Mau Palm Forest. Peruse the bamboo handicraft center, where locals have been creating goods from coconut and bamboo since the beginning of the 19th century. Afterward, take a trip in a Vietnamese bamboo basket boat through the mangroves; you'll get the chance to paddle and try your hand at crab fishing.

Continue to Hoi An, designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site for its colorful architecture and old merchant homes. Explore some highlights, including the 400-year-old Japanese Covered Bridge, the Chaozhou Chinese Congregation Assembly Hall, and the market where stalls brim with regional specialties. End the day with an atmospheric lantern boat ride before returning to Da Nang. 

Day 10: Fly to Bangkok (Thailand), Optional Activities

In Thailand's glittering capital, there are exciting (and tasty) surprises around every corner

Rise and shine because it's time to hop across the border! In the morning, you'll transfer to the airport in Da Nang for the 1.5-hour flight to Bangkok. Thailand's capital is beloved for its energy, delicious street food, neon nightlife, and myriad Buddhist temples and landmarks. Upon arrival, your private driver will transfer you to your hotel in the city. 

The rest of the day involves sightseeing on a self-guided tour. You can start with a boat ride on the Chao Phraya River (the city's arterial waterway) and a tour around Bangkok's famous klongs (canals). Disembark at Wat Saket, also known as the Golden Mount, which dates back to the Ayutthaya era, making it one of Bangkok's oldest temples. Climb 320 steps to watch the glorious sunset over the city from the 262-foot-high (80 m) temple.

Afterward, satisfy your taste buds at the Michelin-starred street food stall, Jay Fai, where you can enjoy their famous crab omelet. End the day on the lively Khao San Road, or head to Chinatown to browse the traditional food stalls and markets. 

Day 11: Explore Bangkok's Temples, Palaces & Markets

photo credit:
Take your time exploring Bangkok's Grand Palace with its ornate temples

This morning, you'll take a guided tour of Bangkok, starting with a trip to Wat Arun, also known as the Temple of Dawn, since it's named after the Indian dawn god, Aruna. Take a ferry across the Chao Phraya River to Wat Pho, which houses a giant reclining Buddha statue.

Next is the Grand Palace, a complex of intricate temples and palaces built in 1782, which served as the royal family's home for 150 years. Today, the palace is used for royal ceremonies such as weddings, funerals, and state banquets. Highlights include the Reception Hall, Coronation Hall, and Wat Phra Kaew, which houses the Emerald Buddha statue.

Finish the trip with an exhilarating tuk-tuk ride to Chatuchak Market. With more than 15,000 stalls, it's one of the world's largest outdoor markets and sells everything from clothes and flowers to food and antiques. Pick up some souvenirs and sample some street food snacks before returning to your hotel for the evening. 

Day 12: Day Trip to Ayutthaya, Afternoon Tea at the Oriental

Wat Mahathat is one of many Buddhist temple ruins in Ayutthaya

The day begins with a 90-minute drive from Bangkok through verdant countryside and paddy fields to the UNESCO-listed city of Ayutthaya. This 14th-century archaeological site was once the capital of the Siam Kingdom (the forerunner to Thailand), and today, you can wander among its over 300 historical sites, including the ruins of palaces, temples, and monasteries. Break for lunch before visiting the Portuguese Archaeology Museum, which offers a glimpse of the role the Portuguese played in Ayutthaya's history through trading and weaponry. 

Back in Bangkok, you'll enjoy refinement and elegance as you sit down for a traditional afternoon tea service. This urbane experience occurs in the luxurious Author's Lounge of the 19th-century Oriental Hotel (now the Mandarin Oriental). There, amid white linens and elegant French decor, you'll enjoy a scrumptious service that includes delicate finger sandwiches, decadent pastries, fresh-baked scones, homemade jams, and more—dress smart! 

Day 13: Fly to Chiang Mai, Evening Foodie Tour

For regional Thai specialties, you can't beat the night markets at Chiang Mai

Bid farewell to Bangkok this morning and fly just over an hour north to Chiang Mai. Set in the cooler, mountainous north of Thailand, this was once the capital of the Lanna Kingdom and still retains its moat-encircled Old City. Chiang Mai is a cultural mecca, home to historic architecture and over 300 temples where orange-robed monks live and worship. Settle into your hotel and then head out to wander the streets of the Old City.

When the sun goes down, you'll get a taste of the city on a food tour. Board a tuk-tuk (auto-rickshaw) to Warorot, the city's century-old market. Browse the stalls, stopping to sample seasonal fruit and sai oua (northern Thai sausage), accompanied by iced tea. Next, head to the vibrant Night Bazaar, where you'll try typical dishes such as bua loi, a coconut broth with pandan-filled dumplings.

Afterward, you'll transfer to another of Chiang Mai's night markets at the city's ancient gates. Chang Puak Night Market at North Gate is always bustling and offers a great range of authentic Thai cuisine. Try the khao kha moo (stewed pork leg) served by the amiable lady with the cowboy hat. Besides her excellent food, she's become famous thanks to visits from wandering celebrities like Anthony Bourdain. Later, take the tuk-tuk back to your hotel—or stay out a little longer and enjoy the nightlife. 

Day 14: Day Trip to Doi Inthanon National Park

The views from Doi Inthanon are unrivaled throughout Thailand

You're in for a treat this morning as you embark on a full-day tour of Doi Inthanon National Park. This 482-square-mile (1,250 sq km) protected area is named for Thailand's highest mountain, Inthanon, which towers 8,400 feet (2,565 m) above sea level. Leave early with your driver on a two-hour transfer into the park, then hit the trail on a steep hike to the summit.

There, you'll bask in the cool air and marvel at panoramic views. You can also continue hiking to crashing waterfalls and spot exotic birds, like the green-tailed sunbird, and flowers, like orchids and rhododendrons. If you like, take a short walk to a small stupa (burial monument) containing the remains of Chao Inthawichayanon (1817-1897), the last independent ruler of Chiang Mai. 

Day 15: Day Trip to Lamphun

Despite its many charms, Lamphun remains (mostly) a secret

Venture well off the beaten tourist trail today with a trip to Lamphun, an ancient city 25 miles (40 km) south of Chiang Mai. Established in the ninth century, it's one of the oldest hubs in Thailand and once served as the capital of the powerful kingdom of Haripunchai. Like Chiang Mai, Lamphun is dotted with temples and encircled by ruins of walls and a moat. Despite this, it's barely visited by tourists, and you'll notice an undisturbed feel.

Start your private tour at Wat Phra That Haripunchai, built in the 12th century by King Haripunchai; the focal point is a striking 167-foot-tall (51 m) golden pagoda thought to contain relics of Lord Buddha. Continue to Wat Jammathevee, which features a unique chedi that was famously struck by lightning, then end with a walk through Pa Sang village, where you'll see locals weaving textiles on looms. Later, you'll return to Chiang Mai.

Day 16: Fly to Khao Sok National Park

Stay in rustic accommodations in the jungles or on the lakes of Khao Sok

This morning, you're off to Thailand's south, famous for its long beaches, crystalline waters, postcard islands, and great diving/snorkeling. It begins with your transfer to the airport in Chiang Mai, where you'll take connecting flights to Surat Thani. Located close to the mouth of the Taki River on the Gulf of Thailand, this area is the gateway to many of Thailand's most breathtaking islands—including Ko Samui, Ko Tao, and Ko Pha Ngan.

Upon arrival, a driver will collect you for the two-hour transfer to Khao Sok National Park, an area teeming with flora and fauna, limestone mountains pocked with caves, and the oldest evergreen rainforest in the world. It's also chock full of giant lakes and dense forests, ideal for canoeing and jungle trekking. When you arrive, you'll head to your jungle lodge deep in the rainforest and settle into your own traditional Thai-style private treehouse with sweeping river or valley views.

Day 17: Khao Sok River Rafting Adventure

Hop aboard one of Thailand's most ancient forms of transport

Take a step back in time this morning as you take a ride along the Sok River. You'll be traveling on one of Thailand's oldest forms of transport, the bamboo raft. These traditional vessels used to ply the ancient trading routes that once stretched from the Andaman Sea on Thailand's west coast to the Gulf of Thailand in the east.

During this two-hour guided excursion, you'll float down slowly running waters and enjoy the scenery. This includes towering limestone mountains and wildlife roaming the banks, like gibbons, kingfishers, tapirs, and more. You'll also disembark the boat for a hike through the jungle to a rubber tree plantation and cave. At the end of the tour, you'll transfer back to your accommodation.

Day 18: Transfer to Khao Lak, Optional Activities

Welcome to Khao Lak, where the order of the day is relaxation
This morning, meet your driver and transfer 1.5 hours from the park to the Andaman Sea coast and Khao Lak. Translating to "white sand beach," Khao Lak has a well-earned name due to its soft, powdery white sands. Upon arrival, check in to your hotel and enjoy some free time to relax. If you like, spend the rest of the day sunbathing and swimming off the beach fronting your resort hotel. There's also the option to go kayaking or canoeing around an offshore island.

Day 19: Snorkeling Tour of the Similan Islands

Snorkeling Trip Around Similan Islands with Speedboat
Speedboat around the Similan Islands with stops for snorkeling

After breakfast at the resort, you'll board a speedboat and head over to the Similan Islands, an archipelago of nine isles off the coast of Khao Lak—four of which are open to the public. The entire archipelago is a national park that protects its unspoiled coastlines and offshore coral reefs. You'll take advantage of these ideal marine conditions on a full-day tour of the islands.

During the morning portion of the trip, a speedboat will take you to a couple of prime snorkeling spots for two hours in the water with an experienced guide. Around noon, you'll stop at an island for a picnic lunch on the beach. Following this, embark on a short hike up to a lookout point offering great views over the bay. Enjoy more snorkeling in the afternoon to spot tropical fish, sea turtles, rays, moray eels, seahorses, and (possibly) reef sharks. Afterward, you'll return to Khao Lak.

Day 20: Mangrove Kayak Tour

Take part in a kayaking adventure in Khao Lak

Today, you'll embark upon a private kayaking tour through Khao Lak's dense mangroves. Travel by long-tail boat to the floating base camp, where you'll hop aboard a kayak and follow your guide through a tangle of snaking mangrove forests inhabited by monkeys, otters, and rainbow-colored birds.

Paddle through this floating forest, stopping for refreshments at the base camp. Afterward, continue your journey to a secret lagoon where you can take a cooling swim among nature before returning to the pier. Return to Khao Lak for a final evening by the sea.

Day 21: Transfer to Phuket, Depart

Farewell, Thailand
All good things must come to an end, and today, you'll say goodbye to Southeast Asia (for now). Your driver will pick you up in the morning for the two-hour transfer south to the airport in Phuket, where you'll catch 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 Thailand, 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 Highlights & Adventure in Vietnam & Thailand - 21 Days
Map of Highlights & Adventure in Vietnam & Thailand - 21 Days
Written by Tina Oo, updated Jan 24, 2024