Three weeks is just enough time to immerse yourself in the culture, nature, and history—both fascinating and infamous—of Vietnam and Cambodia. Start with tasty food tours in Hanoi, then visit the terraced rice fields and mountain villages of Sapa. After exploring ancient and modern coastal cities, fly to Ho Chi Minh City for Mekong Delta adventures and finish in Cambodia with tours of Phnom Penh, its beguiling capital.


  • Taste the flavors of Vietnam in Hanoi and cruise Ha Long Bay
  • Travel to the rice terraces of Sapa and visit ethnic hill tribe villages
  • Stroll the ancient streets of Hoi An and the Golden Bridge in Da Nang
  • Enjoy city tours of Ho Chi Minh City and visit the Mekong Delta
  • See the highlights of Cambodia's capital on a three-wheeled cyclo tour

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrive in Hanoi (Vietnam), Optional Activities Hanoi
Day 2 Pottery Workshop & Food Tour Hanoi
Day 3 Day Hike From Hanoi Hanoi
Day 4 Transfer to Ha Long Bay, Board Overnight Cruise Ha Long Bay
Day 5 Morning Ha Long Cruise, Transfer to Hanoi, Train to Lao Cai Lao Cai
Day 6 Transfer to Sapa, Visit Hill Tribe Villages Sapa
Day 7 Day Trip to Fansipan, Ta Phin Village & Coc Leu Market Sapa
Day 8 Free Day in Sapa, Train to Hanoi Hanoi
Day 9 Fly to Da Nang, Transfer to Hoi An, Village Bike Ride & Ancient Town Tour Hoi An
Day 10 Countryside Cooking Class, Sunset River Ride Hoi An
Day 11 Transfer to Da Nang, Visit Ba Na Hill & Golden Bridge Da Nang
Day 12 Countryside Day Trip, Basket Boat Ride Da Nang
Day 13 Fly to Ho Chi Minh City, Optional Activities Ho Chi Minh City
Day 14 Saigon Temples & Traditions Tour Ho Chi Minh City
Day 15 Market Visit & Cooking Class  Ho Chi Minh City
Day 16 Day Trip to the Mekong Delta, Transfer to Can Tho Can Tho
Day 17 Visit Floating Market, Transfer to Chau Doc via Tra Su Chau Doc
Day 18 Speedboat to Phnom Penh (Cambodia) Phnom Penh
Day 19 Phnom Penh Cyclo Highlights Tour, Sunset Cruise  Phnom Penh
Day 20 Phnom Penh Khmer Rouge & Killing Fields Tour Phnom Penh
Day 21 Depart Phnom Penh  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Arrive in Hanoi (Vietnam), Optional Activities

Venture onto Hanoi's wild streets to meet the locals

Welcome to Vietnam! This grand three-week adventure is as much about the people of Southeast Asia and their history as its boundless scenic beauty. And there's no better place to get a sense of Vietnam's rich culture than in Hanoi. This historic capital has been settled since the third century BCE. Its chaotic streets are a mix of the old and new, with ancient temples and historic silk shops brushing up against modern office towers and gleaming new hotels.

Upon arrival, a driver will pick you up at the airport for the approximately one-hour ride to your hotel in Hanoi's historic Old Quarter. This is the best spot to venture out and hit the highlights. Head out on foot, or hop on a three-wheeled cyclo, to visit mystical Hoan Kiem Lake or colorful Hang Gai Street to shop for fine silks and souvenirs. If you can't wait to sample the local cuisine, stop at Dong Xuan Market. Famed for its noodle shops, here you can try pho sot vang (noodle soup with pork and herbs) bun dau (tofu soup with rice noodles and fermented shrimp paste), and other treats. 

Day 2: Pottery Workshop & Food Tour

Try incredible local cuisine, like bun cha, on a food tour

Leave in the morning on a short drive from Hanoi to the Bat Trang Pottery Village, where you'll learn about the traditional handicrafts of the Red River Delta. Your guide will take you through the village, where you can peruse its many pottery shops. Stop for a workshop where you'll learn to make a piece of pottery, from turning the clay on a wheel to drying and decorating. You can take away your masterpiece as a souvenir.

As dusk falls, meet your guide and head back to Hanoi's Old Quarter for a delicious evening of culinary exploration. Stroll through the historic district's hidden lanes, savoring the city's best street food. Try local favorites like pho sot vang (noodle soup with pork and herbs), bun cha (grilled pork with rice noodles)), and of course, the famous banh mi sandwich. Wash it all down with some sugar cane juice or perhaps a local rice wine. Afterward, head back to your hotel.

Day 3: Day Hike From Hanoi

Embark on a day hike from Hanoi to countryside villages
Wake up early and meet your driver for a ride outside the city to experience Vietnam's famously beautiful countryside. There, you'll embark on a leisurely guided hike along verdant rice paddies between small villages. As you go, you'll chat with locals, learning a bit about their daily life and cultural traditions. Around noon, you'll hop in a van for the transfer to a local restaurant for lunch. After some more time to explore, you'll return to Hanoi around 5 pm.

Day 4: Transfer to Ha Long Bay, Board Overnight Cruise

The Ambassador is the largest luxury cruiser operating in Ha Long Bay

Leave Hanoi around 8 am for the 3.5-hour transfer north to Ha Long Bay, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and natural wonder of the world. In this sweet spot on the Gulf of Tonkin, over 1,000 karst islets rise above emerald waters, resembling the spine of a giant reptile—hence the name Ha Long (Descending Dragon). Here, you'll board the Ambassador, which enjoys the distinction of being Ha Long Bay's largest luxury cruise ship. Once aboard, you'll set off on a two-day cruise you won't soon forget.

After enjoying a welcome drink, you'll sit down for a delicious buffet lunch in the formal dining room and watch through the windows as the stunning Ha Long scenery passes by. This cruise includes a few activities/excursions, and the first is a visit to Tung Sau Pearl Farm, an area dedicated to growing Ha Long's famous pearls. Here, you'll not only learn the handmade techniques of pearl harvesting, but you can also hit the water on a kayak ride. Another option is a hike up a nearby karst mountain to enjoy panoramic views of Ha Long from 328 feet (100 m) up.

Or, should you choose, stay on board the ship and enjoy its various amenities. Opt for an afternoon of pampering at the onboard spa, soak in the outdoor Jacuzzi, or treat yourself to afternoon tea at the Piano Lounge. At sunset, the ship will drop anchor at Coconut Tree Island. At the bar on the sundeck, you'll enjoy a sundowner cocktail, canapés, and live music before returning to the dining room for a multicourse set menu of gourmet cuisine. Afterward, sip on different wines from the onboard collection and perhaps head to the deck for a bit of squid fishing before retiring for the evening.

Day 5: Morning Ha Long Cruise, Transfer to Hanoi, Train to Lao Cai

Spend the morning relaxing on deck before returning to Hanoi

Wake up early and start the day strong with a tai chi session on the sundeck. After a light breakfast, the ship will cruise to Sung Sot, the bay's largest and most magnificent cave. On a brief excursion, you'll venture into the cave and marvel at its ancient stalactites and stalagmites.

Later, you'll return to the ship and cruise to the Ha Long Bay pier, enjoying a late brunch as you go. Then, hop in a vehicle for the 3.5-hour ride back to Hanoi, arriving around 3 pm. After some free time to stroll the Old Quarter, you'll transfer to the station and board an overnight train north to Lo Cai. This northern region is known for its beautiful mountain landscapes, diverse ethnic cultures, and its role as a gateway to the famous town of Sapa and its iconic terraced rice fields.

Day 6: Transfer to Sapa, Visit Hill Tribe Villages

Enjoy the trip to Lao Chai
Hike the terraced fields around the Muong Hoa Valley and meet local tribespeople

On arrival at Lao Cai station, you'll have breakfast and take a scenic transfer to Sapa. During the trip, you'll pass winding rivers and gorgeous mountain valleys dotted with rice and cornfields, gardens, bamboo forests, and humble villages populated by Vietnam's ethnic minorities. These groups originated in southern China and emigrated to places like Vietnam, Laos, and Thailand over several centuries.

After arriving in Sapa, you'll check into your hotel, freshen up, you'll head out for a day tour of the countryside to meet its residents. At the village of Lao Chai, for example, you'll witness the daily life of the Black Hmong, who are renowned for their handicrafts and traditional dress—colorful garments made by hand. From here, you'll enjoy sweeping views of Muong Hoa, the largest valley in Vietnam, which contains some of the country's most picturesque rice fields. 

Continue hiking along terraced rice paddies to Ta Van, a village home to the Giay people, known for their rich culture and traditional wooden stilt homes rising above the rice fields. This area marks the actual start of the expansive valley of Muong Hoa, and from a high point on the main road, you'll be treated to panoramic views of the villages and soaring mountains surrounding them. At the end of the afternoon, you'll transfer back to Sapa. 

Day 7: Day Trip to Fansipan, Ta Phin Village & Coc Leu Market

Ride the cable car and funicular railway to the top of Mount Fansipan
Plan your trip to Vietnam
Chat with a local specialist who can help organize your trip.

Start the day with a cable car ride to the top of Fansipan, Vietnam's tallest mountain, often referred to as the "Roof of Indochina." The cable car ends at a garden complex dotted with pagodas and Buddha statues, from which you can either hike or take a funicular train journey to the top of the mountain. Admire 360-degree views of cloud-topped mountains from the 10,212-foot (3,134 m) peak, peering across the border into China. 

Next, drive through clouds of mist along the scenic Hoang Lien Son Pass, which connects Lai Chau and Lao Cai provinces, for more staggering views of northern Vietnam. Continue on to the equally beautiful Ta Phin, a rural village home to the Red Dao and Hmong people. Another highlight is a stop at the Coc Leu Market, the largest commercial center in Lao Cai province. It's a great spot to meet local traders and browse fresh produce, handicrafts, electronics, and other products. Afterward, you'll return to your hotel in Sapa.

Day 8: Free Day in Sapa, Train to Hanoi

Spend one last morning enjoying the scenery of Sapa
The day is yours to enjoy Sapa however you wish. Perhaps kick off the morning with a cup of strong Vietnamese coffee amid stunning views of mist-shrouded peaks. Then head out and explore the town. Wander Sapa's hilly streets, stop at the Stone Church (a French colonial landmark dating to 1902), and shop for handicrafts sold by local Hmong women in traditional dress. To learn more about the area, visit the Sapa Culture Museum, which features exhibits in English. Later in the day, you'll transfer to the station in Lao Cai for the overnight trip back to Hanoi.

Day 9: Fly to Da Nang, Transfer to Hoi An, Village Bike Ride & Ancient Town Tour

Some buildings in Hoi An's Ancient Town date to the 16th century

Arrive in Hanoi in the early morning. At the train station, a driver will pick you up for the transfer to the airport for the 1.5-hour flight south to Da Nang. Then, transfer an hour by private car down the coast to Hoi An. Sitting on the Thu Bon River, this historic city was a major trading port with the West from the 15th through the 19th centuries, attracting merchants from around the globe. When you arrive, you'll head to your hotel located near the river and drop off your bags. 

You'll get to tour Hoi An's famous Ancient Town later in the day. For now, meet a guide and hop on a bicycle for an experience in rural Vietnam you won't soon forget. Pedal about 2 miles (3 km) outside of town to Tra Que Vegetable Village, a model of sustainable farming. For centuries, farmers on this 98-acre (40 ha) plot of land have been growing the highest quality herbs and vegetables through totally organic methods and without electric machinery.

Afterward, you'll return to Hoi An for a city tour, where your guide will lead you to the top sites in Ancient Town. These include Hoi An Market, the Japanese Covered Bridge, the 17th-century Chinese meeting hall Phuc Kien, and a museum showcasing artifacts from the prehistoric Sa Huynh people. Afterward, you can participate in a lantern-making workshop. Japanese settlers brought the first lanterns to this region in the 16th century, and they've been a cultural icon ever since.

Day 10: Countryside Cooking Class, Sunset River Ride

At the end of the day, board a raft and cruise down the Thu Bon River

Immerse yourself in rustic Vietnamese cuisine on a combined market visit/cooking workshop. Today's adventure will take you back to the countryside, but not before first visiting a local market to pick up the requisite fresh ingredients. Then, with a full bicycle basket, leave Hoi An and pedal along a riverside backroad, passing shrimp farms, fishing villages, and Cam Thanh. This waterfront village is famous for its lush mangroves and 208-acre (84 ha) coconut palm forests—so don't forget your camera.

Eventually, you'll end up back at Tra Que, where you'll visit a local home and enjoy a welcome drink and brief rest. Then, meet your chef/instructor, who will show you the tricks and techniques for preparing delicious regional dishes. For lunch, sit down with your instructor and enjoy your creations. Afterward, return to Hoi An and take some free time to visit any sites you might have missed yesterday. 

When the sun goes down, you'll enjoy one of the most popular activities in the region: a boat ride down the Thu Bon River through Ancient Town. Complimenting this memorable culinary experience will be the colored lights from the riverbank glimmering on the water's surface. As you go, do like the locals and light your own paper lantern with a candle and release it into the water, making wishes and offering good health prayers for your loved ones. At the end of the tour, you'll return to your hotel.

Day 11: Transfer to Da Nang, Visit Ba Na Hill & Golden Bridge

Golden Hand bridge
The Golden Bridge is one of the most impressive human-made landmarks in Vietnam

Today, you'll visit one of the most impressive landmarks in Vietnam. Meet your private driver/guide in the morning for the transfer back to Da Nang. Your destination is Ba Na Hill, a mountaintop resort/theme park that was once a popular vacation spot for the French during the colonial period. Today, it's one of the most popular tourist destinations in the country.

At the station, you'll ride a cable car to the famous Golden Bridge, a 492-foot-long (150 m) pedestrian bridge supported by two giant stone hands. Here, at 4,900 feet (1,500 m) in altitude, you'll enjoy panoramic views of Quang Nam province and Da Nang below. You can also visit landmarks like Linh Ung Pagoda and the massive 100-foot (30 m) Buddha. Then, explore the charming French Village, which boasts a Gothic-style cathedral and French restaurant. After a buffet lunch, you'll return to Da Nang via cable car and get settled into your hotel there.

Day 12: Countryside Day Trip, Basket Boat Ride

Exploring Coconut forest and Hoai river!
Explore the waterways near Hoi An in a traditional basketboat

You're headed back to Hoi An today for more nature tours and cultural experiences. Once in the city, leave the car and hop on a bicycle for a ride to the country. During this half-day excursion, you'll follow the river around farms and villages, stopping to chat with locals along the way.

Eventually, you'll arrive near the mouth of the river. Here, you'll hop in a Vietnamese circular 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. Afterward, you'll transfer back to Hoi An.

Day 13: Fly to Ho Chi Minh City, Optional Activities

Welcome to Saigon, Ho Chi Minh City!
The largest city in Vietnam is both modern and historic

In the morning, you'll transfer to the airport and board a 1.5-hour flight to Ho Chi Minh City. Formerly known as Saigon, Vietnam's largest metropolis is a wonderland of contradictions, as famous for its French colonial and wartime history as it is for its modern skyscrapers and captivatingly chaotic streets.

Upon arrival, transfer to your hotel, check in, and enjoy free time at leisure for the rest of the day. Perhaps trawl for treasures at Ben Thanh Market, a popular spot for street food and shopping, or visit a spa for a massage to relieve the tension after the long flight. When you're ready for a break, grab a beer in a bar at the 861-foot (262 m) Bitexco Tower and enjoy panoramic views of the city.

Day 14: Saigon Temples & Traditions Tour

Vinh Nghiem Pagoda mixes traditional Vietnamese architecture with modern elements

Today, you'll dive deep into the culture of old Saigon on a culture and architecture tour. First, meet your driver for the ride to Phuoc Hai. Also known as the Jade Emperor Pagoda, this Tao Buddhist temple features an eye-catching red facade. Founded by a Chinese immigrant in the early 20th century, the interior ceiling depicts scenes from Chinese legends and mythological stories. Also inside is the famous statue of the Jade Emperor (Ngoc Hoang), a principal deity in Taoism and Chinese mythology.

Later, you'll travel to the northeast side of the city and Cho Lon (Chinatown). Here, you'll stop at Thien Hau, an 18th-century temple dedicated to the Chinese sea goddess Mazu. Last on the day's itinerary is Vinh Nghiem. This iconic Buddhist temple dates to the early 20th century and is known for its distinct architecture that blends modernity with elements of traditional Vietnamese temples. Notably, the pagoda houses a seven-story tower adorned with delicate carvings. After touring the pagoda and tower, you'll return to your hotel.

Day 15: Market Visit & Cooking Class 

Vietnamese Cooking Class in Saigon!
Use fresh market ingredients to prepare a few of Saigon's classic dishes

Like all of Vietnam, Ho Chi Minh City is a foodie's dream. You'll dive right into its culinary heritage this morning on a combined market visit/cooking class. First, meet your group at the historic Ben Thanh Market, established during the French colonial period in 1912. Your guide will lead you around this massive complex, which is home to hundreds of stalls and vendors, as you shop for fresh produce. 

Once you have the requisite ingredients, you'll begin the cooking class in the midmorning. Learn tips and techniques under the guidance of a pro chef as you prepare some of Vietnam's traditional and tasty dishes. All told, you'll cook a three-course meal, which should be ready by lunchtime. Then, everyone will sit down and enjoy their delicious creations.

Day 16: Day Trip to Cai Be, Transfer to Can Tho

Shop for fresh produce on the water at this floating market

It's time to say goodbye to city life as you leave Ho Chi Minh City this morning and venture into the famed Mekong Delta. At 8 am, a driver will pick you up from your hotel for the 2.5-hour ride to the heart of the delta region and the town of Cai Be, which sits on the Mekong River. During the drive, you'll be treated to scenes of traditional countryside life.

Upon arrival in Cai Be, you'll visit its famous floating market. Each morning, hundreds of boats ply the waters selling fresh produce, and your guide will introduce you to this world of aquatic commerce and teach you how to barter like a local. Then you'll have some time to stroll between small villages and alongside fruit orchards. You'll even visit a workshop run by a local family that makes "pop rice." Since Vietnam is the "rice bowl of Vietnam," the delta region produces much of this crop, and this tasty puffed rice snack has become a staple of the local diet.

At the end of the afternoon, you'll hop on a local bus for the 1.5-hour ride south to Can Tho. This river city is famous for being home to Cai Rang, the largest and most iconic floating market in the Mekong Delta. During the trip, you'll pass more beautiful Mekong scenery, like fertile rice paddies and traditional villages. Upon arrival, you'll check into your hotel.

Day 17: Visit Floating Market, Transfer to Chau Doc via Tra Su

Transfer from Can Tho to Chau Doc via Tra Su Forest
Start the day with a visit to the busy Cai Rang Floating Market

Leave early on a boat to the Cai Rang Floating Market. It's liveliest before 9 am, and your guide will lead you through the throng of tiny wooden boats piled high with flowers, coconuts, and fresh produce. Like in Cai Be, you'll barter with traders as you mingle with locals amid the infectious energy of market life.

Afterward, you'll transfer 3.5 hours by car north up the delta to Chau Doc, at the border with Cambodia. This culturally diverse river city is home to Cham, Chinese, and Khmer ethnic groups and is a popular destination for its nearby pilgrimage sites.

Your last stop of the day is at Tra Su Sanctuary. This nearly 2,000,000-acre (800,000 ha) wetland forest is a protected area for wading birds like storks, herons, and egrets. Most of the park is closed, but you'll enjoy a 20-minute boat tour along the canals through sunken forests to admire the exotic birdlife. Afterward, you'll return to your hotel in Chau Doc.

Day 18: Speedboat to Phnom Penh (Cambodia)

Welcome to Phnom Penh!
Phnom Penh's 19th-century Royal Palace is home to Cambodian royalty

Time to bid farewell to Vietnam. In the morning, you'll board a speedboat on the Mekong River for the four-hour ride north into Cambodia and its capital, Phnom Penh. This grand metropolis of over two million people was founded in the 14th century and became the capital after the fall of the Angkor Empire. There's been a lot of history in the intervening centuries, much of it represented in the city's famous temples, museums, and Art Deco buildings from the French colonial era.

At the port, you'll meet a driver and transfer to your hotel in the city. Once you've settled in, feel free to head out and explore. This busy capital enjoys a scenic location at the junction of the Mekong and Tonlé Sap rivers. You'll want to stroll its walkable riverfront, which is lined with parks, restaurants, and bars. And definitely don't miss the Central Market, a sprawling Art Deco masterpiece built in 1939 during the French colonial period.

Day 19: Phnom Penh Cyclo Highlights Tour, Sunset Cruise 

See Phnom Penh like the locals on a three-wheeled cyclo

Dive into Phnom Penh this morning on a cyclo tour—three-wheeled transports that are integral to public transportation. First introduced in the 1930s, they remain one of the best ways to see the sights. Start with a visit to the Independence Monument, built to commemorate Cambodia's independence from France. Then, ride to the Royal Palace, which dates to 1866, and the Silver Pagoda. Located on the palace grounds, the pagoda is named for its mesmerizing floor, comprised of 5,000 silver tiles. 

Continue to the National Museum (or Musee des Beaux-Arts). French archaeologist and painter Georges Groslier designed it in 1917, and it contains an impressive collection of Khmer artworks (mainly sculptures) spanning the ages. End the day at Phnom Penh's Psar Toul Tom Pong, commonly known as the Russian Market—a great place to hunt for last-minute gifts and souvenirs.

Before you head back to your hotel for the evening, make the most of your last night in Cambodia with a relaxing sunset cruise on the Mekong River. You'll board at the pier and set out on a traditional wooden boat, enjoying views of the city lights as the sun goes down across the water. See the fishermen bringing in their boats for the day and locals heading home from work, and have a refreshing beverage as you travel along the river.

Day 20: Phnom Penh Khmer Rouge & Killing Fields Tour

A visit to Toul Sleng Prison Museum and Killing Fields of Choeung Ek
Visit Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum and the Killing Fields of Choeung Ek

In the morning, join a local guide for a sobering three-hour tour focusing on Cambodia's harrowing Khmer Rouge era (1975-1979). It was during this time that Pol Pot's brutal military dictatorship claimed the lives of over two million Cambodians or about 25% of the country. While certainly not a "feel good" experience, this tour is vital to understanding the recent history of Cambodia and how it looms over national culture and in the hearts of its people even today.

Historic landmarks you'll visit include the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum and the Choeung Ek Killing Fields. Also known as S21, during the genocidal Pol Pot regime, Tuol Sleng was converted into a detention center, where prisoners were interrogated before being sent to the Killing Fields to be brutally tortured and murdered. At the end of the day, return to your hotel.

Day 21: Depart Phnom Penh

Sun setting over the statue of the Statue of King Father Norodom Sihanouk in Phnom Penh
It's been three event-filled weeks filled with no shortage of memorable adventures. Now, it's time to say a bittersweet goodbye to Southeast Asia. A driver will pick you up in the morning for the ride to the airport, where you'll catch your flight home. Until next time!

More Great Vietnam Itineraries

Looking for more inspiration for your trip to Vietnam? Check out these other Vietnam itineraries, explore different ways to spend three weeks in Vietnam and Cambodia, 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 Nature & Culture in Vietnam & Cambodia - 21 Days
Map of Nature & Culture in Vietnam & Cambodia - 21 Days
Written by Tina Oo, updated Dec 15, 2023