This packed two-week itinerary includes all the highlights of Vietnam from south to north. Beginning in Ho Chi Minh City, you'll tour the historic metropolis once known as Saigon plus take a river trip up the Mekong Delta—and that's just the beginning. The rest of the trip combines sightseeing in Hanoi and the river town of Hội An plus cruising the jade-green waters and towering green islands of Hạ Long Bay.

Highlights

  • Visit Ho Chi Minh City and travel up the Mekong Delta
  • Explore the UNESCO river town of Hội An
  • Tour the historic Imperial City at Huế
  • Discover the sights, sounds, and flavors of Hanoi
  • Visit the Gulf of Tonkin and cruise gorgeous Hạ Long Bay

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrival in Ho Chi Minh City Ho Chi Minh City
Day 2 Visit Củ Chi Tunnel & Cao Dai Temple Ho Chi Minh City
Day 3 Ho Chi Minh City to Cần Thơ - Tour the Mekong Delta Can Tho
Day 4 Cần Thơ Tour – Flight to Da Nang – Transfer to Hội An Hoi An
Day 5 Visit Fishing Villages & Hội An Tour Hoi An
Day 6 Visit Bà Nà Hills & Golden Bridge Hoi An
Day 7 Hội An Free Day Hoi An
Day 8 Hội An to Huế - Visit the Imperial City Hue
Day 9 Mausoleum Tour of Huế - Flight to Hanoi Hanoi
Day 10 Bicycle Tour of Rural Villages - Cultural Tour of Hanoi Hanoi
Day 11 Hanoi to Hạ Long Bay - Explore Halong Bay
Day 12 Cruise Bai Tu Long Bay - Visit Local Fishing Villages Bai Tu Long Bay
Day 13 Bai Tu Long Bay to Hanoi Hanoi
Day 14 Departure from Hanoi  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Arrival in Ho Chi Minh City

Sunset over Ho Chi Minh City
Sunset over Ho Chi Minh City

Welcome to Vietnam and 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.

You'll see and feel Ho Chi Minh's surging energy firsthand during the private transfer from the airport to your hotel. After check-in, you'll have the remainder of the day free to spend as you see fit. You can relax in your hotel room and have dinner in, or head out and get carried away in the energy of the city.

Day 2: Visit Củ Chi Tunnel & Cao Dai Temple

Cao Dai Temple
Cao Dai Temple

After breakfast, you'll leave Ho Chi Minh by car for a guided day trip. The first stop is a short drive north to Củ Chi, which is home to a massive tunnel network. It became famous during the Vietnam War as the Viet Cong's base of operations, particularly during the Tết Offensive of 1968.

This 155-mile (250-km) tunnel network once sheltered over 16,000 Vietcong guerrillas. First constructed in 1948 to guard against French air and ground sweeps, the tunnels then served as supply routes, storage facilities, hospitals, and living quarters for Vietnamese fighters throughout the American war. Here you'll have the option to go into the tunnels and get a glimpse of the harsh conditions faced by Vietcong guerrillas who lived here, plus see the innovative booby traps they left for unlucky enemy soldiers.

From there, you'll drive into the countryside of Tây Ninh Province on a scenic route that passes along fertile green rice paddies. After a stop at a rice paper workshop to see locals produce paper made by hand, you'll continue to the city of Tay Ninh. Here you'll visit the Cao Dai Great Temple. The city and the temple are noteworthy as it was here that Caodaism was born in 1926. This religion is unique to southern Vietnam and combines aspects of Buddhism, Confucianism, Taoism, Hinduism, Christianity, and Islam.

The ornate temple dates back to 1933, and westerners will see echoes of Christian cathedrals in its design, particularly in its front twin steeples. Inside, visitors will find a long nave with high ceilings and a dome painted sky blue complete with images of clouds and saints. Beyond this, the interior features patterned floor tiles and colored columns plus various other iconography and statuary. During a visit for noon mass, you'll tour the interior and also witness the lively religious ceremony. 

At the end of the day, you'll return to Ho Chi Minh City by private transfer and will have the evening free.

Day 3: Ho Chi Minh City to Cần Thơ - Tour the Mekong Delta

Local life on the river
Local life on the river

After breakfast, you'll leave Ho Chi Minh City on a 2.5-hour drive to Cai Be. Upon arrival at the mighty Mekong River, you'll board a boat and visit this area's famous floating market. At 4 am every day 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.

You'll then cruise across the river to Dong Phu Island. Here you'll disembark the boat and tour the gorgeous rural countryside by bicycle. It's a relaxing and unforgettable excursion as you cycle under the green forest canopy, exploring fruit orchards and witnessing the daily life of local farmers.

After enjoying lunch on the island, you'll cruise by boat to Vinh Long, the capital of the province of the same name and a major transit hub on the Mekong. In the afternoon, you'll hop back on a bike, spending a couple of hours cycling around the area's vast rice fields and traditional riverside villages. This in-depth trip offers great insight into rural Vietnamese life and traditional farming methods.

You'll then head to Cần Thơ, a riverfront city near to Cai Be and which is also home to some floating markets. You'll check into your hotel and can end the evening on a relaxing walk along Cần Thơ's waterfront promenade.

Day 4: Cần Thơ Tour – Flight to Da Nang – Transfer to Hội An

The historic waterfront city of Hội An
The historic waterfront city of Hội An

Enjoy the Mekong Delta 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 some aquatic shopping, you'll leave the crowded waterways for a tranquil cruise up a quiet canal and a visit to a country orchard to pick some exotic fruit. You'll then transfer to the airport in Cần Thơ for the 1.5-hour flight to Da Nang.

Upon arrival in Da Nang, you'll transfer by car about 30 minutes to adjacent Hội An and check into your hotel. This colorful city sits on Vietnam's central coast at the entrance to the Thu Bồn River and has a long and storied history. You'll get a sense of it as you stroll its old streets along the waterfront. Feel free to spend the evening relaxing and enjoy dinner out in town.

Day 5: 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.

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Day 6: Visit Bà Nà Hills & Golden Bridge

The giant stone hands of Golden Bridge
The giant stone hands of Golden Bridge

After a morning pickup from your hotel, you'll drive north from Hội An up into the Trường Sơn Mountains and the Bà Nà Hills. In the cool weather atop these misty mountains sits a large resort built by French colonialists in 1919 as a leisure destination. You'll get a 360° view of the area on the Bà Nà Cable Car, which, at 19,032 feet (5,801 meters), is the longest non-stop cable car in the world. It's a fun ride that takes you high over the hills and offers panoramic views all the way to Da Nang and the coast.

After disembarking, you'll partake in an activity not immediately associated with Vietnam: wine tasting. As it happens, Bà Nà Hills is also home to Hầm Rượu Debay, a bar with an extensive wine cellar. After enjoying a glass or two, you'll visit the nearby Golden Bridge, a 490-foot (150-meter) pedestrian bridge that winds its way around the green hilltops of Bà Nà. Its most incredible feature is the pair of giant stone hands designed to look like they're supporting the bridge.

Afterward you'll enjoy lunch at a local restaurant followed by a stroll through the replica French Village and its impressive castles. Then head up to the highest point in Da Nang: King Peak. Situated at an altitude of 4,878 feet (1,487 meters), it features the best views over the mountains. Also here is the Linh Tu Pagoda, a temple dedicated to the Holy Mountain Mother, a kind of patron saint of the Bà Nà Hills. Legend has it that those who make the pilgrimage here are rid of their worldly greed and fears.

Afterward, you'll head back down the mountain and Hội An, arriving in the late afternoon.

Day 7: Hội An Free Day

Take an evening stroll along the river in Hội An
Take an evening stroll along the river in Hội An

Today you'll have the freedom to enjoy Hội An however you see fit. To learn more about the history of the city, you can visit the Hội An Museum, which houses a number of fascinating artifacts dating from early dynasties to the colonial period. Or eschew the culture for some pure, unabashed fun in the sun with a trip to An Bang Beach. The white sands and sky-blue waters here are the stuff of dreams.

It's when the sun sets, however, that Hội An really comes alive. You should definitely consider an evening stroll, as the waterfront is particularly romantic after dark when the river lights up as colored lanterns and floating candles illuminate the night sky. Along these lines, you can visit Hội An's Lantern Market to pick up a traditional lantern to take home.

Day 8: Hội An to Huế - Visit the Imperial City

The Imperial City of Huế
The Imperial City of Huế

After breakfast and leave Hội An for the four-hour road trip north to Huế. It's a long drive, but the route along the coast is beautiful and you'll be able to stop along the way for photos at highlight locales like the Hải Vân mountain pass and white-sand beaches. 

Upon arrival in Huế in the afternoon, you'll check into your hotel and will have a bit of time to relax. Don't get too comfy, though, because you'll soon be heading out for a mini-tour of this charming, off-the-beaten-path coastal city in Vietnam.

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. 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.

Your first stop will be Huế's most famous locales: 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 tour of this well-preserved historic landmark that was once the center of government during the Nguyễn Dynasty.

Next, go shopping at Dong Ba Market. This is the oldest municipal market in Huế and it sells everything from fresh produce to handicrafts to clothing. You'll also find an abundance of great street food here. If you're really hungry, order a bowl of bún bò, a hearty local soup made with vermicelli rice noodles and beef. For something sweet, try chè. This Vietnamese dessert soup is often made with beans, jelly, and coconut milk; however, in Huế you can get it mixed with other ingredients like taro, corn, and lotus seeds.

Day 9: Mausoleum Tour of Huế - Flight to Hanoi

The imposing yet beautiful exterior of the Tomb of Khải Định
The imposing yet beautiful exterior of the Tomb of Khải Định

Today you'll leave for Hanoi but not before visiting two of Huế's most impressive mausoleums. These are home to  the remains of emperors from the famous Nguyễn Dynasty that lasted from 1802 to the fall of French colonialism in 1945. 

First up is the Tomb of Khải Định, otherwise known as the Ứng Mausoleum. Located just south of the city on Chau Chu Mountain it was built for the 12th emperor of the Nguyễn Dynasty, Khải Định, with construction having been completed in 1930. Its ominous yet ornate exterior of blackened stone belies an opulent interior bursting with colorful mosaics. The overall architecture here is an interesting mix of Oriental and Western styles.

Next, you'll visit Minh Mang’s Tomb, the final resting place of the Confucian emperor who ruled from 1820-1840 at the height of the Nguyễn dynasty. It's a testament to Minh Mang’s influence that his final resting place is a complex sitting on a 44-acre lot home to some 40 monuments comprising the royal tomb. On a tour, you'll visit highlights like the Honor Courtyard, Stele Pavilion, and Bright Pavilion. There are also a number of attractive lakes, pavilions, and gardens leading up to the burial mound itself. 

After the tour, you'll return to your hotel in Huế and transfer to the airport for the 1.5-hour flight to Hanoi. Upon arrival, a driver will take you to your hotel for check-in. You'll then have the remainder of the day free to enjoy Vietnam's capital.

Day 10: 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 11: 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 12: Cruise Bai Tu Long Bay - Visit Local Fishing Villages

Sunrise over Hạ Long Bay
Sunrise over Hạ Long Bay

Wake up early to see the sunrise over Hạ Long Bay, which is one of the truly spectacular sights in the world. Early risers will also find that the waters are nice and calm before the boats get underway. And there's no better way to begin a day this tranquil than with a bit of Tai Chi right on the deck. You'll then enjoy a western-style breakfast before setting off on a cruise along Bai Tu Long Bay. 

Throughout the morning the ship will pass several interesting sights, including island towns and floating fishing villages like Cặp La and Cong Dam. Eventually, you'll enter the limits of Bai Tu Long National Park, a protected marine ecosystem home to rare plants and animals as well as about 40 islands. Here, you'll visit the Vung Vieng village and interact with locals who not only make their living fishing these waters but live on them as well.

Around midday, you'll head back to the boat and enjoy lunch on deck. For the remainder of the afternoon, you can choose to spend your time kayaking and swimming at Cong Dam or simply relax on the boat. If the weather allows, the boat might just stop at some caves and grottoes on the way back to the anchor point. Later, dinner will be served and you will have the remainder of the evening free.

Day 13: Bai Tu Long Bay to Hanoi

Enjoy a bit more of Hạ Long Bay
Enjoy a bit more of Hạ Long Bay

Savor one last sunrise over Bai Tu Long Bay followed by an early breakfast. Afterward, the boat will make a couple more stops at some highlight locales. These include the white-sand beach at Hon Co Island and the hidden Thien Canh Son Cave, a gaping cavern that's actually one of 59 known caves in the Hạ Long area.

You'll return to the port of Hạ Long Bay around 11 am. After one last lunch on board the ship, you'll disembark and make the drive to Hanoi, arriving around 5 pm. You'll then check into your hotel and will have the evening free.

Day 14: Departure from Hanoi

Goodbye, Vietnam
Goodbye, Vietnam

After breakfast at the hotel, you'll transfer to the airport in Hanoi to catch your flight home. This concludes your Vietnam adventure. See you soon!

Map

Map of Highlights of Vietnam: Ho Chi Minh City, Ha Long Bay, & More - 14 Days
Map of Highlights of Vietnam: Ho Chi Minh City, Ha Long Bay, & More - 14 Days
Nga
Written by Nga Le, updated Jan 6, 2020