Vietnam is culturally and geographically diverse, which you'll see first-hand on this 12-day highlights tour that will take you throughout the country. From the towering karst formations of Ha Long Bay to the coconut groves of the Mekong Delta, and from the ancient merchant houses of Hoi An to the French colonial landmarks of Ho Chi Minh City, you can't help but fall in love with this special place.


  • Cycle through rural Vietnam and explore its farms and villages
  • Cruise, kayak, and swim in gorgeous Ha Long Bay
  • Taste Vietnam's finest cuisine in the culinary hotspot of Hoi An
  • Tour the historical landmarks of Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrive in Hanoi, Optional Activities Hanoi
Day 2 Hanoi City Tour Hanoi
Day 3 Transfer to Cuc Phuong National Park Cuc Phuong National Park
Day 4 Van Long Boat Tour, Transfer to Ninh Binh Ninh Binh
Day 5 Transfer to Ha Long Bay, Cruise to Bai Tu Long Ha Long Bay
Day 6 Transfer to Hoi An via Da Nang Hoi An
Day 7 Countryside Visit & Hoi An City Tour Hoi An
Day 8 Hoi An Free Day Hoi An
Day 9 Transfer to Ho Chi Minh City, Vespa Tour HCMC
Day 10 Transfer to Ben Tre, Explore the Mekong Delta Rural homestay in Be Tre
Day 11 Bike Ride & Transfer to Ho Chi Minh City HCMC
Day 12 Depart Ho Chi Minh City  

Day 1: Arrive in Hanoi

Welcome to Hanoi

Chao Ban! Welcome to Hanoi. The founding of this city dates to 300 BCE, making it one of the world's oldest capitals. Upon arrival at the airport, a driver will pick you up and transfer you to your hotel in the city. After settling in, feel free to head out and explore on a self-guided tour.

Hit the streets of the Old Quarter (historic center) and browse the silk shops on Hang Gai Street. Tuck into some Vietnamese street food staples like pho (noodle soup), banh mi (baguette sandwich), or bun cha (grilled pork with rice noodles). Later, perhaps head to a rooftop bar in the trendy Tay Ho district for a sundowner amid great views over West Lake.

Day 2: Hanoi City Tour

Quan Thanh Temple

Begin today's city tour after breakfast with a trip to see "Uncle Ho" at the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum. Here, you'll learn all about the fascinating life of the revolutionary leader and why he's revered by the Vietnamese people. Next stop is the 11th-century Temple of Literature, the site of Vietnam's first university. After enjoying a traditional music performance, you'll sit down to lunch will be served at a local restaurant; be sure to try the pho. 

In the afternoon, you can visit one of the numerous museums or temples around Hanoi, such as the Museum of Ethnology, the Women's Museum, or the Taoist Quan Thanh Temple. Then, take a trip in a cyclo (three-wheeled bike taxi) around Hoan Kiem Lake and Hanoi's fascinating Old Quarter. It's one of the best places to witness typical Hanoi life and Vietnamese culture. If you really want to get around like a local, rent a scooter and zip along the city streets.

The day ends with traditional Vietnamese entertainment: a water puppet show. During this artistic performance, which has been practiced for over 1,000 years, the water acts as a stage while the puppeteers stand behind a screen and manipulate the wooden puppets using bamboo rods. After the show, you'll return to your hotel.

Day 3: Transfer to Cuc Phuong National Park

See langurs at the Primate Rescue Center

Leave early on a 3.5-hour drive south out of Hanoi deep into the Red River Delta region and Ninh Binh province, which is famous for its vast green rice paddies and towering karst mountains. Your destination is Cuc Phuong, Vietnam's oldest national park, which covers 12,355 acres (5,000 ha), and protects exotic flora and fauna. Speaking of which, upon arrival, you'll visit the Primate Rescue Center where you can meet rescued monkeys like langurs. After lunch, you'll embark on a 6-mile (9 km) hike in the park, during which you can spot insects and reptiles.

Afterward, head over to your bungalow in the park, where you'll overnight. Enjoy dinner here, then head out again on a nocturnal nature hike. It's a great opportunity to spot creatures such as civets, owls, large insects, flying squirrels, and bats. At the end of the hike, return to your bungalow. 

Day 4: Van Long Boat Tour, Transfer to Ninh Binh

Riding a bamboo boat
Take a ride in Van Long

Enjoy some free time to relax after breakfast. Then visit other park highlights like the botanical gardens and a forest of millennia-old trees. Here you can do more nature spotting, as the area abounds with a variety of birds, mammals, reptiles, and butterflies.

Then, transfer to Van Long Nature Reserve, which protects one of the few remaining wetland ecosystems in the region. Hop on a bamboo boat and take a leisurely ride down the waterways and across the freshwater lakes as you enjoy the spectacular scenery. Not only does the area offer great birding (keep an eye out for herons and kingfishers), but it's also the last remaining habitat for the endangered Delacour's langur. After the ride, continue on to Ninh Binh City for your overnight stay.

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

Day 5: Transfer to Ha Long Bay, Cruise to Bai Tu Long

Cruise the emerald waters of Ha Long Bay

After breakfast, leave Ninh Binh on a four-hour van ride up the coast to Ha Long Bay. Located on the Gulf of Tonkin, this UNESCO World Heritage Site is comprised of over 1,000 karst islands rising out of jade waters. Upon arrival, you'll board a cruise ship and settle into your cabin. The food on board is a real highlight, so once the ship gets underway, you'll enjoy a lunch of fresh local seafood. The boat will then cruise to adjacent Bai Tu Long Bay, where you'll stop for a swim and explore a mysterious cave. Afterward, relax at a secluded island beach or explore the bay in a kayak before returning to the ship.

Day 6: Transfer to Hoi An via Da Nang

Sunrise over Ha Long Bay

Early risers can enjoy the sunrise and the quiet, breathtaking beauty of Ha Long's seascapes. Breakfast will be served around 8 am, followed by a short rowboat ride with locals around the bay. Later on, you can take one more swim and then return to the boat for lunch as you cruise back to the harbor. There, you'll catch a shuttle back to Hanoi.

Upon arrival in Hanoi, you'll transfer to the airport and catch a 1.5-hour flight south to Da Nang. A driver will then meet you at the airport for a one-hour drive down to Hoi An. Sitting on the Thu Bon River, this historic city was a major trading port with the West from the 15th-19th centuries, attracting merchants from around the globe. Its international legacy is represented in the assortment of architectural styles in Hoi An's Ancient Town. Upon arrival, you'll check in to your hotel and have the rest of the day to explore on your own.

Day 7: Countryside Visit & Hoi An City Tour

Ride in a traditional basket boat

In the morning, you'll meet your guide and the two of you will head outside of Hoi An for a half-day tour of the countryside. After leaving the city, you'll arrive at a fishing village and hop in a Vietnamese basket boat (called a thung chai) for a ride along the nipa palm forests of the Thu Bon River. You'll even get to try your hand at traditional net fishing. After lunch on the waterfront, hop on a bicycle and ride back to Hoi An, passing rice paddies and farms as you go. Back in town, you'll take a guided tour of the city's historic landmarks, including its temples and Japanese Covered Bridge.

Day 8: Hoi An Free Day

Picturesque Hoi An
Hoi An's waterfront

Explore Hoi An at your own pace. Perhaps start with a self-guided walking tour around its Ancient Town, where you can browse handicrafts and visit local markets. Be sure to stop at famous city sights, like the historic Assembly Hall of the Chaozhou Chinese Congregation. You can also leave the city and visit an organic farm in the countryside to see how locals have been growing produce using traditional methods for centuries.

Day 9: Transfer to Ho Chi Minh City, Vespa Tour

Ho Chi Minh City

After breakfast, transfer to the airport in Da Nang for an early morning flight to Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon). After checking in to your hotel, head out for a guided city tour by Vespa. On this exciting outing, you'll ride through the Chinese district of the city to see hidden Buddhist pagodas and stop to browse a fresh flower market.

Along the way, you'll pass 19th-century French colonial landmarks such as the famous Saigon Cathedral and the Post Office, which were designed by Gustave Eiffel (of Eiffel Tower fame). Then, get a brief history lesson with a stop at Reunification Palace, which was the presidential residence until the fall of Saigon in 1975.

Day 10: Transfer to Ben Tre, Explore the Mekong Delta

Enjoy some time on the Mekong

This morning, your driver will pick you up for the two-hour drive south from Ho Chi Minh City to the river town of Cai Be, located in the famous Mekong Delta region. Upon arrival, board a boat to visit a floating market, then cross the mighty Mekong River to Dong Phu Island. Here, hop on a bicycle for a ride along country paths under a green canopy of coconut palms. You'll ride past fruit orchards and local farms where you'll witness the slow pace of rural life as farmers tend their crops.

Have lunch on the island, then board the boat again for a 1.5-hour cruise down the Mekong to the Cho Lach canals. Here, get back on your bike and ride to a local nursery with gardens and fruit orchards. Later, take another short cruise to the river city of Ben Tre, where you'll have dinner and spend the night at a local farmer's house.

Day 11: Bike Ride & Transfer to Ho Chi Minh City

Cycling through the Mekong region

Enjoy a hearty breakfast at the homestay, as it will fortify you for the big day of cycling ahead. The 22-mile (35 km) route follows along the river and Ben Tre's coconut palm-lined country roads to Pau. There, you'll enjoy lunch accompanied by seasonal fruit and then visit a coconut-candy workshop to see how workers prepare the region's famous sweets. If there's time, you'll also get to participate in a handicraft workshop. From Pau, you'll transfer back to Ho Chi Minh City, arriving in the early evening. 

Day 12: Depart Ho Chi Minh City

HCMC at night
Goodbye, Vietnam

In the morning, enjoy a bit more of Ho Chi Minh City and do some last-minute souvenir shopping. Then, a driver will pick you up and transfer you to the airport for 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 more ways to spend 12 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 Highlights of Vietnam - 12 Days
Map of Highlights of Vietnam - 12 Days