Planning Your Trip to Vietnam
Travelers with limited time can rejoice that Vietnam is small enough to experience the highlights in just a few days. That said, the ideal timeframe is about 10 days, as it takes at least this long to immerse yourself in Vietnam's rich culture. You could hit the road and tour the southern cities all the way up to the north coast. Or see the highlights of northern Vietnam like the capital of Hanoi, Hạ Long Bay, and the country villages around Sapa Valley.
If you have the flexibility, two weeks is a perfect length of time to spend in Vietnam. In this broader schedule, you can travel the country's length, from the colonial streets of Hanoi and the terraced rice paddies of Sapa to Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon) and the gorgeous Mekong River Delta. In between, there will be time to visit ancient fortresses in river cities like Huế and Hội An.
And if you can only spare five days, not to worry. It's still possible to experience the highlights—you'll want to focus on one region. Shorter itineraries include deep dives into the culture and history of Hanoi, road-tripping along the central coast, hiking in northern nature reserves, and hitting the Ho Chi Minh trail in southern Vietnam.
Vietnam in 5 Days
With only five days to spare in Vietnam, it's best to either hit the cultural highlights in a single area or embark on a village-to-village hike in the unspoiled nature reserves of the mountainous north.
A mix of culture and adventure in northern Vietnam is a solid option. Spend a couple of days in Hanoi, a city at once modern and traditional. Discover its heart by strolling tranquil Hoàn Kiếm Lake, visiting the Hang Gai silk shops, sitting down to a bowl of phở, and visiting landmarks like Ba Dinh Square and the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum. Then go to the Red River Delta to ride on a sampan boat amid stunning scenery like karst mountains and endless rice paddies. End the journey in Hạ Long Bay with a ride around the Gulf of Tonkin on a traditional Chinese junk (sailboat).
Or head to the opposite end of the country and experience the highlights of Vietnam's south. It kicks off in Ho Chi Minh, a modern metropolis that, like Hanoi, is still home to many colonial landmarks from years past. It was also the site of a devastating war, and a city tour includes stops at historic sites like the Vietcong tunnel network at Củ Chi and the Reunification Palace, which fell in 1975. Then experience a slower lifestyle with a boat ride down the Mekong River, stopping at local villages and floating markets.
Active adventurers who want to go off the beaten path will love hiking the Pù Luông Nature Reserve. Upon arrival in Hanoi, you'll transfer south to this unspoiled area that covers almost 44,000 acres of green valleys and terraced hills dotted with ethnic villages. At the end of your daily hikes, you'll overnight in the homes of local families and enjoy home-cooked meals. Trails cover a few miles each day, and as you trek from village to village, you'll pass through jungles and rice paddies, stopping at waterfalls, enjoying picnics, and marveling at sunsets from spectacular viewpoints.
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Vietnam in 1 Week
Even with just a week, you can put together a great Vietnam itinerary that includes traveling from the highlands to the coast, enjoying the beaches of the south, hitting the northern highlights, and more.
This north and central trip combines the northern highlights with a venture to the central coast and Hội An. Stroll the French colonial Old Quarter of Hanoi, take a street-food tour, and visit Hoàn Kiếm Lake to see its 18th-century Temple of the Jade Mountain. After taking an overnight boat ride around the 1,000 karst islets around Hạ Long Bay, transfer to the colorful river city of Hội An. Famous for its well-preserved Ancient Town, you'll stroll Hội An's waterfront (which comes alive after dark with colored lanterns) and ride to nearby villages along the Thu Bồn River on a bicycle.
If cycling is your passion, enjoy this two-wheeled adventure around Vietnam's highlands and coast. It begins with your arrival in the city of Da Lat, in the heart of Vietnam's coffee country. Hop on your bike and travel on remote backroads from the pristine southern highlands down to the coastal resort area of Nha Trang. A train ride leads north to the city of Qui Nhơn, from which you'll pedal along the scenic coast, passing dune peninsulas, rolling green hills, and war memorials. The trip winds down with a stop in Tam Kỳ for a tour of the fresh fish market, and it ends when you roll into Hội An.
And to truly go off the beaten path, choose an insider's guide to Vietnam. You'll tour Hanoi on a Soviet-era motorbike as you visit unique landmarks like the notorious "Hanoi Hilton" prison and the black-market shopping district. After an overnight train to the coastal city of Dong Hoi, you'll explore Phong Nha, the longest cave in Southeast Asia. Then visit the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) on the road to Huế to tour its well-preserved Imperial City (a 19th-century citadel). You'll spend the remainder of the trip visiting nearby river villages, dining with locals, browsing local markets, and enjoying food tours.
Check out this article for more seven-day itineraries.
Vietnam in 10 Days
Ten days allows enough time to see multiple regions of Vietnam comfortably, including the north, south, coast, and highland national parks.
A solid 10-day itinerary is a highlights tour of Vietnam. Discover Hanoi, a city whose history dates back 3,000 years. See its culture up close with a bicycle ride between rural villages, and enjoy traditional Vietnamese entertainment with a water-puppet show in Hạ Long Bay. After visiting the Imperial City of Huế, you'll take a scenic boat ride up the Perfume River, then to Hội An for sightseeing and a ride down traditional basket boats. Up next is the southern metropolis of Ho Chi Minh City, the highlights of which you'll see on the back of a Vespa before taking another boat ride—this time down the Mekong.
An excellent honeymoon idea is this romantic sojourn in northern Vietnam. The newlywed bliss begins with the highlights of Hanoi. Then journey further north to the mountains near Sapa and stay in a secluded bungalow. Here, divide your time between relaxing and hiking along rice paddies and waterfalls to ethnic villages. Then cuddle up in a private cabin as you cruise Hạ Long Bay before visiting Hội An to enjoy the waterfront's romantic colors lit up by floating lanterns. Visit nearby fishing villages, relax on the beaches, and strengthen your partnership with a cooking class where you'll learn to make traditional phở.
Alternatively, make it a family adventure with this cultural tour of Vietnam. You'll arrive in Hanoi and dive right into the culture by enjoying the great restaurants and incredible street food. Everyone will love a bicycle tour around the Red River's small villages. Then it's an overnight cruise around Hạ Long Bay, stopping for a cave tour and kayak ride around floating villages. The adventure continues in Hội An with a bicycle tour to organic farms and fishing villages. After a guided walking tour of Ho Chi Minh City, more cycling fun is in store with rides around the city of Cần Thơ, on the Mekong Delta.
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Vietnam in 2 Weeks
Two weeks is ample time to experience the very best of Vietnam, combine the highlights with hidden gems or double up by adding a trip to Cambodia.
This comprehensive best of Vietnam tour is the trip of a lifetime. It starts with a couple of days of exploring Ho Chi Minh City and visiting the floating markets of the Mekong River before transferring to Hội An. After cycling to nearby villages, you'll head into the wilds of Bạch Mã National Park, where you'll travel to the highest mountain pass in the country at 1,627 ft (496 m). After hiking mountain trails and admiring the exotic wildlife, return to Hanoi for city tours and excursions to countryside villages. Spend the last days cruising Hạ Long Bay, exploring caves, meeting locals, and enjoying kayak paddles.
If you want to see the highlights plus enjoy authentic experiences far off the tourist trail, consider these impressions of Vietnam. This packed itinerary begins with the main Hanoi attractions, then takes you into the mountains of the Mai Châu District, where you'll visit an ethnic Thai village. Over the next few days, get to know residents, cycle between villages, go caving, and travel down waterways on a bamboo raft. Spend more time with locals in Hạ Long Bay before taking a heritage tour of Huế, where you'll visit markets and royal tombs. The trip wraps up in Hội An with visits to nearby villages and a basket ride down the river.
In two weeks you can also discover Vietnam and Cambodia. The Vietnam portion includes seeing the sights in Hanoi, including the 11th-century Temple of Literature (dedicated to Confucius) and the Trấn Quốc Pagoda, the oldest Buddhist temple in Hanoi. Following this are boat rides in Hạ Long Bay, trips on the Thu Bồn River, culinary adventures in Hội An, and a deep dive into the former capital of French Indochina: Ho Chi Minh City. Then hop a flight to Cambodia and pay a visit to the 9th-century city of Angkor. Here you'll tour Angkor Wat, the largest religious temple on the planet.
Check out this article for more 2-week itineraries.
More Great Vietnam Itineraries
Looking for more inspiration for your trip to Vietnam? Check out these other Vietnam itineraries, with outdoor adventures, cultural trips, and best-of tours to hit the highlights.