This unforgettable 11-day itinerary delivers the richest cultural experiences in Vietnam and Thailand. Arrive in Hanoi, where you'll discover Vietnam's ancient heritage on city tours and in cooking classes. After cruising the emerald waters of Ha Long Bay, you'll head south to Ho Chi Minh City to explore the famous Mekong Delta before wrapping up the trip in ancient Chiang Mai, Thailand.


  • Go on street food tours and take cooking classes in Hanoi
  • Take a boat cruise on beautiful Ha Long Bay
  • Visit Ho Chi Minh City and the Mekong Delta
  • Travel to Chiang Mai and visit an elephant sanctuary

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrive in Hanoi, Evening Street Food Tour Hanoi
Day 2 Hanoi City Tour Hanoi
Day 3 Day Trip to Ba Vi Countryside & Cooking Class Hanoi
Day 4 Transfer to Ha Long Bay, Overnight Cruise Ha Long Bay
Day 5 Morning Cruise, Transfer to Hanoi Hanoi
Day 6 Fly to Ho Chi Minh City Ho Chi Minh City
Day 7 Day Trip to the Mekong Delta Ho Chi Minh City
Day 8 Fly to Chiang Mai, Evening Temple Tour Chiang Mai
Day 9 Free Day in Chiang Mai Chiang Mai
Day 10 Visit Elephant Sanctuary, Tuk-Tuk City Tour Chiang Mai
Day 11 Depart Chiang Mai  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Arrive in Hanoi, Evening Street Food Tour

Discover the flavors of Hanoi
Welcome to Vietnam! You'll arrive in the capital of Hanoi, a city with over 2,000 years of history, much of it represented in its famous landmarks and historic neighborhoods. On arrival at the airport, a driver will pick you up for the ride to your hotel in the city. After checking in, you'll have some time to relax and unwind after your long fight.
Then, when the sun goes down, head out on an evening discover of Vietnam's famous cuisine. On this two-hour, mouth-watering tour of Hanoi, your guide will lead you to the best street-food spots in the city. Start with a trip to Thanh Ha Market, where you'll browse food stalls, try local delicacies, and learn about Vietnamese culinary culture. Then head to Dong Xuan Market, which is famous for its noodle shops, and sample treats such as pho sot vang (noodle soup with pork and herbs) and bun dau (tofu in soup with rice noodles and fermented shrimp paste).
Next, move on to Hanoi's Old Quarter. Here, your guide will teach you about the city's traditional celebrations as you stop at ceremonial cake stalls and sample French-influenced desserts. Another highlight is a stroll down Hang Cot Street, which is known for its sugared and salted fruits. End the tour at a local café for a cup of slow-dripped coffee or a sweet iced drink as you sit back and do some people-watching on Hanoi's bustling streets. 

Day 2: Hanoi City Tour

Take a stroll around the tranquil Hoan Kiem Lake
Leave the hotel early on a full-day guided tour to see Hanoi's historic landmarks. It starts near Hoan Kiem Lake, in the heart of the Old Quarter. Here, you'll visit Hang Be Market, which has been a commercial hub in the city for hundreds of years. This is where locals come to shop for fresh produce, meats, seafood, and other items. There are many vendors here selling prepared foods as well as stalls serving up Vietnam's famous street eats, so bring your appetite. Then head over to the Tran Quoc Pagoda. Dating to the Ly Nam De Dynasty of the sixth century, this is the oldest Buddhist shrine in Hanoi.
Next is the Museum of Ethnology, which preserves the cultural heritage of the 54 different ethnic groups in Vietnam. After lunch, you'll visit Hoa Lo Prison Museum. It was originally used by French colonists in Indochina as a jail for political prisoners, then later by North Vietnam to detain US POWs during the war. During this later period, it was known as the "Hanoi Hilton." The tour ends with a fun cyclo ride in the Old Quarter. A cyclo is a bicycle cab with a red roof, pedaled by a driver who sits behind you, allowing for an unobstructed view of the old streets of Hanoi. 

If you like, cap the day with one of Vietnam's more unique theatrical performances: a water puppet show. This cultural expression dates back over 1,000 years, originating in the Red River Delta rice fields. Today, performances involve puppeteers maneuvering intricately crafted wooden marionettes over pools of water. The result is a dramatization of Vietnamese folk tales brought to life with the help of musical ensembles. After the show, you'll return to your hotel.

Day 3: Day Trip to Ba Vi Countryside & Cooking Class

Day Trip to Ba Vi Countryside & Cooking Class
Visit the Ba Vi countryside on today's excursion

In the morning, head west out of Hanoi on a full-day guided eco-tour of the beautiful Ba Vi countryside. Your first stop is Ri village, where you'll enjoy welcome drinks and snacks with Mr. Duoc, a Vietnam War veteran and tea plantation owner. Listen to Mr. Duoc's stories about life during the war and visit his workshop and tea plantation, where you'll learn how to pick the best leaves.

Next, take a short drive to Moc village, where Mrs. Chin will teach you how to cook Vietnamese dishes that you'll enjoy for lunch in her tropical garden. Join Mrs. Chin for a walk around the village to visit families and learn how to make tofu, conical hats, and other regional products. Finish with an easy cycle through Vietnam's iconic rice paddies, followed by a Muong herbal foot bath, before returning to Hanoi.

Day 4: Transfer to Ha Long Bay, Overnight Cruise

Take a cruise on the still waters of Ha Long Bay
Plan your trip to Vietnam
Chat with a local specialist who can help organize your trip.

Meet your guide this morning for the four-hour drive east to the coast and Ha Long Bay. Located on the Gulf of Tonkin, over 1,000 karst islets rise above jade waters and resemble the spine of some mythological creature ("ha long" translates to "descending dragon"). The remarkable beauty of this region is unlike anywhere and thus has been bestowed with UNESCO World Heritage status.

Upon arrival at the marina, you'll board a multi-level cruise ship for an overnight tour. After settling into your cabin, head up to the deck, where a delicious seafood lunch awaits. Then you can spend hours relaxing on the sun deck as the ship sails across glassy emerald waters to the most secluded corners of the bay. Later that afternoon, you'll stop at a secret cove for a swim and a kayak trip to explore hidden beaches and grottoes.

Return to the ship just in time to participate in a cooking masterclass offered by the onboard expert chef. During the workshop, you'll learn to make traditional specialties like nem (Vietnamese fried spring rolls) and enjoy them for dinner afterward. Spend the remainder of the evening relaxing, or head out on a small boat for some night fishing with the locals.

Day 5: Morning Cruise, Transfer to Hanoi

Savor another morning on Ha Long Bay

Wake up early and head up to the deck to watch the sunrise gilding the bay waters. Then sit down and enjoy breakfast in the open air as you cruise around towering karst islets. The rest of the morning is yours to relax and appreciate the views or partake in one or two more optional activities, like kayaking around Ha Long Bay's famous floating villages. Then sit down to an early lunch before disembarking at the marina and catching the limo bus back to Hanoi and your hotel.

Day 6: Fly to Ho Chi Minh City

Bustling city streets in Ho Chi Minh City
In the morning, your driver will pick you up at the hotel for the ride to the airport in Hanoi. There, you'll catch a two-hour flight south to Ho Chi Minh City. Upon arrival, another driver will pick you up and transfer you to your hotel. Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon) is fascinating in that it has managed to preserve its cultural roots and traditions in the face of a communist revolution, a devastating war, and ever-encroaching modernity. After getting settled, you can venture out and explore the city on your own.

Day 7: Day Trip to the Mekong Delta

Travel the Mekong's waterways by boat
Today's day trip takes you south out of Ho Chi Minh City to the famous Mekong Delta. Known as Vietnam's rice bowl, this region is full of coconut groves, fruit orchards, and vast green rice paddies. Once at the delta, you'll board a boat for a ride on the Ben Tre River, one of the tributaries of the mighty Mekong. Along the way, you'll pass waterfront villages and stop at local businesses like a brick workshop and honey farm. The area is also famous for producing coconut candies, and you'll visit one of these local factories to see how these treats are made and sample the finished product.
Next, you'll stop at a small riverside village for tea with a family that makes hand-woven rush mats. Then hop on a bicycle or xe loi (moto cart) for a ride around and outside of the village. It's a scenic trip during which you'll pass fertile rice fields, vegetable farms, and orchards. After lunch at a riverside restaurant, you'll get in a smaller, traditional boat for a leisurely ride down one of the Mekong's canals. Then it will be time to return to Ho Chi Minh City.

Day 8: Fly to Chiang Mai, Evening Temple Tour

Chiang Mai's Doi Suthep at night
In the morning you'll transfer to the airport in Ho Chi Minh City where you'll catch a two-hour flight out of Vietnam and into Chiang Mai, northern Thailand. This city has a unique cultural heritage, as it was the capital of the independent Lanna Kingdom from 1296 to 1558. Many vestiges of this history remain, like ancient walls, moats, and Buddhist temples. Upon arrival, a driver will meet you at the airport and transfer you to your hotel.
In the evening, you'll tour Chiang Mai's famous wats (temples) to see their evocative beauty when lit up at night. Head out at twilight for a visit to Wat Umong, a 700-year-old temple nestled in the forest at the foot of Doi Pui mountain. Wat Umong is famous for its underground tunnels, large stupa (shrine), and crumbling Buddha statues.
Next up is Doi Suthep, Chiang Mai's most famous temple. 306 steps lined with nagas (mythological serpents) lead up to the temple complex. Inside is an impressive copper stupa topped by a five-tiered gold parasol and which contains relics of Lord Buddha. From the temple, you'll also be treated to great views of Chiang Mai lit up below. After the tour, you'll return to your hotel.

Day 9: Free Day in Chiang Mai

Tour the 14th-century Wat Phra Singh temple
Laid-back Chiang Mai is the perfect place to explore at your own pace. In recent times the city has become wildly popular with visitors not only for its historical sites but also for its night markets and incredible street-food scene. You'll have the entire day free to explore all this and more.
First, venture behind Chiang Mai's ancient walls for a walking tour of its Old City and famous landmarks like Wat Phra Singh, a 14th-century Buddhist temple. For shopping, don't miss the San Kamphaeng Road. Also known as "Handicraft Highway," it stretches for 11 miles (18 km) and is the place to buy artisanal crafts like pottery and silverwork. And when the sun goes down, Chang Klan Road is the place to be, as it comes alive with merchant stalls and street-food vendors.
If time permits, you can visit San Kamphaeng Hot Springs, about a 1.5-hour drive from the city center. This open-air spa puts on quite the show in the form of a geyser of hot water that shoots 65 feet (20 m) into the air. It's a great place to soak in mineral baths while enjoying the beautiful scenery. For more adventure, travel a couple of hours from Chiang Mai to Bua Tong National Park for a jungle hike and to climb the famous "Sticky Waterfall." The white stones that comprise this cascade are hard and spongelike rather than slippery, making them easy to climb up.

Day 10: Visit Elephant Sanctuary, Tuk-Tuk City Tour

Feed rescued elephants on today's memorable excursion

Leave Chiang Mai around 7 am on a 1.5-hour drive to a sanctuary for elephants rescued from the tourist trade. Upon arrival, change into mahout (elephant caretaker) clothes and let the fun begin. You'll get to spend the morning feeding, washing, and making friends with the elephants. After a delicious Thai lunch, you'll cool off in the on-site swimming pool and enjoy the mountain views. Later, join the elephants in a mud bath, then walk with them to the river, where you can wash, swim, and play with these animals. At the end of the day, you'll say goodbye to your new friends and transfer back to Chiang Mai.

Later in the afternoon, you'll embark on a half-day city tour of Chiang May by tuk-tuk (auto rickshaw). Landmarks you'll visit include the 14th century Wat Pra Singh, one of over 200 ancient Buddhist temples located around the city and a fine example of Lanna architecture. There's also Wat Chedi Luang, a massive temple (it stands 280 ft/85 m) that was partially destroyed by an earthquake in 1545. Then visit Warorot Market where you can browse clothes, food, and other items alongside locals. At the end of the day, you'll return to your hotel.

Day 11: Depart Chiang Mai

Private transfer from Chiang Mai to Chiang Mai International Airport (CNX)
Goodbye, Thailand
Unfortunately, your combined Vietnam/Thailand adventure has reached its conclusion. At the appropriate time, a driver will pick you up and transfer you to the airport in Chiang Mai, where you'll catch your flight home. See you soon!

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Map of Insider's Vietnam & Thailand Adventure - 11 Days
Map of Insider's Vietnam & Thailand Adventure - 11 Days
Written by Hien Do, updated Mar 9, 2023