The highlights of Vietnam are many, and you'll see a good deal of them over 10 incredible days. First, it's city tours of Hanoi followed by an overnight cruise around Hạ Long Bay, with its jade waters and limestone isles. After visiting the ancient coastal towns of Huế and Hội An, you'll finish the journey in the south with a Vespa tour around Ho hi Minh City followed by a boat trip/cycling adventure on the Mekong Delta.

Highlights

  • Discover the sights, sounds, and flavors of Hanoi
  • Visit the Gulf of Tonkin and cruise gorgeous Hạ Long Bay
  • Marvel at the Imperial Citadel, an ancient citadel in Huế
  • Explore the UNESCO river city of Hội An
  • Tour Ho Chi Minh City and travel up the Mekong Delta

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrival in Hanoi Hanoi
Day 2 Bicycle Tour of Rural Villages,  Cultural Tour of Hanoi Hanoi
Day 3 Hanoi to Hạ Long Bay Halong Bay
Day 4 Hạ Long Bay to Huế Hue
Day 5 Imperial City Tour, Boat & Bike Ride to Rural Villages Hue
Day 6 Discover Hội An Hoi An
Day 7 Fishing Villages & Hội An Tour Hoi An
Day 8 Ho Chi Minh City Vespa Tour Ho Chi Minh City
Day 9 Boat & Cycling Tour on the Mekong Delta 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 Rural Villages - Cultural Tour of Hanoi

See the Hanoi countryside by bicycle
See the Hanoi countryside by bicycle

This morning you'll visit several villages just outside Hanoi. This is a great opportunity to experience rural customs and traditions firsthand as you cycle from village to village and also tour these little communities on foot. Beyond interacting with residents, you'll visit local markets and temples to catch a glimpse of daily life. Then you'll attend a cooking demonstration of traditional Vietnamese cuisine before joining a local family for lunch. Afterward, in the early afternoon, you'll return to Hanoi.

Now it's time for a  city tour. You'll head to north Hanoi, to the Cầu Giấy District, 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. 

The day ends with a fun and informative bit of traditional Vietnamese entertainment: a water puppet show. It's an interesting concept, as 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 as it is performance.

After the show, you'll return to your hotel. For dinner you can sample Hanoi's diverse collection of world-class restaurants. Then perhaps head out to the colonial Old Quarter and visit one of its many bohemian cafés and bars.

Day 3: Hanoi to Hạ Long Bay - Explore

Get ready for a cruise
Get ready for a cruise

Wake up early and depart your hotel in Hanoi for a transfer by shared van 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, locally caught seafood. The first stop is the eastern end of Hạ Long and a place called Bai Tu Long Bay. It's a tranquil area, somewhat removed from the heavy tourist traffic, yet it still features the region's iconic karst islets plus some gorgeous beaches. Here you'll stop for a swim around various lagoons and even a sea cave. You'll also have the option to laze on a secluded island beach or explore by kayak.

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.

Day 4: Hạ Long Bay to Hanoi - Transfer to Huế

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, you can choose an activity such as kayaking around the bay or paddling around by rowboat. Afterward, you'll return to the cruiser where you'll have time to relax and enjoy lunch. Then you'll transfer to a dock on the mainland followed by a drive to Hanoi. Here you'll transfer to the airport and catch a one-hour flight to Huế. 

Sitting on the banks of the Perfume River, Huế abounds with rich culture and deep history exemplified in the well-preserved landmarks spanning different eras, like the Imperial City. It was actually during the Nguyễn Dynasty, beginning in 1802, that Huế was the capital of the nation. This lasted until the creation of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam in 1945 when the country declared independence from French Indochina and the capital was moved to Hanoi.

Upon arrival in Huế in the afternoon, you'll check into your hotel and will have the rest of the day to relax

Day 5: Imperial City Tour - Boat & Bike Ride to Rural Villages

The Imperial City
The Imperial City

After breakfast, you'll visit Huế's most famous locale: the Imperial City. One of Vietnam’s seven UNESCO World Heritage Sites, this vast, walled citadel was constructed in 1804 and is surrounded by a moat. You'll enjoy a fascinating guided tour of this well-preserved historic landmark that was once the center of government during the Nguyễn Dynasty.

After the Imperial City, you'll head to the waterfront and hop in a boat for a journey up the river. A leisurely lunch will be served on board, which you can enjoy while admiring the beautiful scenery as you pass along the banks of the Perfume River. 

The boat will then dock and you'll embark on an 8 mile (14 km) guided cycling tour of rural countryside villages. One of these, Thanh Tien, is famous for the paper flowers made by its residents. You can even try to make one yourself. Another village you'll visit is known for traditional folk paintings. Between these towns you'll cycle amid some of the most beautiful country scenery in Vietnam. The tour ends when you arrive back at your hotel around 5 pm.

Day 6: Huế to Da Nang - Transfer to Hội An - Sightseeing

The waterfront of Hội An
The waterfront of Hội An

In the morning you'll depart by car on a two-hour drive to Da Nang. This route mostly follows the coast but also passes along the scenic Hai Van Pass, a mountain pass that affords spectacular panoramas of the limestone Marble Mountains and  Da Nang Bay, where the ocean meets central Vietnam. There will be ample opportunity to take photos, plus later you'll stop at the white-sand beaches of Lang Co Bay, located just outside Da Nang.

Afterward, you'll transfer to adjacent Hội An. This small city of just over 100,000 people sits on the banks of the Thu Bồn River and is a real treasure of Vietnam. Its Ancient Town is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the most impressive and historic city centers in the country. For this reason, you'll definitely want to head out and explore after checking in to your hotel.

Walking Hội An's ancient streets you'll see why it's so celebrated. This 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.

The most famous bridge is also of Japanese origin and was built back in 1719. Other city landmarks you'll want to visit include the Chinese Phuc Kien Assembly Hall and the local fish market. In the morning, when the fishing boats arrive, this riverfront marketplace comes alive with hundreds of locals haggling and jockeying for positions to get the freshest catch. After browsing the market, perhaps head to a local tailor shop to purchase some traditional clothing to take back home. 

Once you've walked around the city for a while, you'll return to the hotel and will have the remainder of the day free.

Day 7: Visit Fishing Villages & Hội An Tour

Traditional basket boats
Traditional basket boats

At around 8 am, you'll meet your guide at the hotel and transfer to the docks in town. From here you'll hop in a boat and travel a short distance down the river from Hội An to a traditional fishing village to get a glimpse into the lives of the locals as they ply their trade. Each day they head out on traditional basket boats called thung chai to cast nets for shrimp, crabs, and fish. You'll join right in, learning how to prepare the nets and tools before heading out on the water to do some fishing yourself.

After the fishing excursion, you'll take a leisurely ride in the basket boat down the river, passing along the coconut fringed banks on your way to a small village. Here you'll disembark and sit down to a delicious local lunch. Then it's time to hop on a bicycle for a scenic ride down a country road alongside green rice paddies and cornfields as you make your way back to Hội An.

After touring some of the more famous sights around Hội An, like the Japanese covered bridge and the historic Chinese meeting hall Phuc Kien, the tour will end around 5 pm.

Day 8: Hội An to Ho Chi Minh City – Vespa 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 embark on a guided tour of Ho Chi Minh City from a unique vantage point: the back of a scooter. Zipping through the city on a classic Vespa is the most exciting way to see the historic and famous sights. You'll even kick off the tour with a traditional Vietnamese iced-coffee at a Vespa-themed café.

The tour then kicks into high gear as you travel through Ho Chi Minh City's cool neighborhoods like Chinatown and pass landmarks such as the 19th-century Gothic/Renaissance Central Post OfficeNotre Dame Cathedral (built in the late 19th century with materials imported from France), and the Opera House, which was built in 1897. You'll also see the Reunification Palace, also known as Independence Palace. This is the former home of the president of South Vietnam, which was taken over when Saigon fell in 1975. 

You should know that this is an all-you-can-eat-tour, so come with an appetite!

Day 9: Boat Trip and Cycling Tour on the Mekong Delta

Travel down the Mekong
Travel down the Mekong

Today you'll experience firsthand the lifestyle lived by those on the Mekong Delta. In the morning you'll leave from your hotel to the waterfront province of Ben Tre. Upon arrival at the Hung Vuong Pier in Ben Tre City, you'll hop in a boat for a one-hour ride down a tributary of the Mekong River

As you travel amid the thick mangrove forests of this waterway, you'll see the morning hustle as fishing boats and coconut cargo ships pass back and forth, going about their daily business. You'll also travel down canals lined with jungles of looming coconut palms, and stop for a visit at a local coconut workshop. Here you can have a look at the various stages of coconut processing, from removing the husk to the peeling, which is all done by hand. The cocnut theme continues with a visit to a local candy mill. 

You'll disembark the boat at a local waterfront market in a small village commune before embarking on a brisk walk down a country road. There will even be time to stop in at at the workshop of a rural home where the owner earns their living hand-weaving sleeping mats out of sedge grass—a tradition in the region. 

You'll then get to experience some of the stunning countryside when you embark on a bicycle ride (or motorized scooter trip) through the coconut groves and vegetable gardens around the river. 

You'll get to experience some of the stunning countryside when you embark on a bicycle ride (or motorized scooter trip) through the coconut groves and vegetable gardens around the river. After a home-cooked lunch at a local farmer's home, you'll tour some fruit orchards and enjoy a bit more of the countryside before returning to Ho Chi Minh City by 5 pm.

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 Highlights of Vietnam: Hanoi, Ha Long Bay, Hue, Hoi An, & More - 10 Days
Map of Highlights of Vietnam: Hanoi, Ha Long Bay, Hue, Hoi An, & More - 10 Days
Nga
Written by Nga Le, updated Mar 6, 2020