Experience the trip of a lifetime as you travel to the far corners of Vietnam and Cambodia. Over three weeks, you'll enjoy history tours in Hanoi, cruise the limestone towers of Ha Long Bay, visit ancient citadels and river towns on the coast, and explore the famous Mekong Delta. Then fly to Cambodia and see Khmer temples at legendary Angkor, explore sacred mountains and caves in Battambang, and end with a sunset river cruise in Phnom Penh.


  • Go sightseeing in Hanoi and visit the karst towers and rice paddies of Ninh Binh
  • Embark on a multiday cruise across the jade waters of Ha Long Bay
  • Tour the Imperial City of Hue and ride a basketboat down the river in Hoi An
  • Discover wartime history in Ho Chi Minh City, and explore the Mekong Delta 
  • Visit the ancient Khmer temples at Angkor and the pagodas in Battambang

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrive in Hanoi (Vietnam), Water Puppet Show Hanoi
Day 2 Full-Day Hanoi Sightseeing Tour Hanoi
Day 3 Transfer to Ninh Binh, Visit Trang An & Hoa Lu Ninh Binh
Day 4 Transfer to Ha Long Bay, Board Two-Night Cruise Ha Long Bay
Day 5 Ha Long Cruise Day 2 Ha Long Bay
Day 6 Ha Long Cruise Day 3, Fly to Hue Hue
Day 7 Imperial City Tour, Royal Tombs & Thien Mu Pagoda Hue
Day 8 Transfer to Hoi An, Sightseeing in Ancient Town Hoi An
Day 9 Cycle to the Hoi An Countryside, Basket Boat Ride Hoi An
Day 10 Hoi An Free Day Hoi An
Day 11 Transfer to Da Nang, Fly to Ho Chi Minh City, Bamboo Circus Ho Chi Minh City
Day 12 Cu Chi Tunnels & Ho Chi Minh City Tour Ho Chi Minh City
Day 13 Day Trip to the Mekong Delta Ho Chi Minh City
Day 14 Fly to Siem Reap (Cambodia), Dinner & Apsara Show Siem Reap
Day 15 Day Trip to Angkor Temples Siem Reap
Day 16 Day Trip to Elephant Forest, "Hero" Rats & Wat Bo Siem Reap
Day 17 Transfer to Battambang, City Sightseeing Battambang
Day 18 Temples, Markets & Sacred Mountain Tour Battambang
Day 19 Transfer to Phnom Penh, Sunset River Cruise Phnom Penh
Day 20 Phnom Penh Highlights Tour Phnom Penh
Day 21 Depart Phnom Penh  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Arrive in Hanoi (Vietnam), Water Puppet Show

Watching Water Puppet Show (N)
See miniature interpretations of Vietnam's rich history at a water puppet show

Welcome to Vietnam! This culturally rich nation and its myriad natural wonders should be on everyone's bucket list of Southeast Asia destinations. It's filled with history, beauty, and legendary cuisine—and the best place to experience all of it in one place is in the capital of Hanoi. With a settled history dating back to around the third century BCE, there's no shortage of wonders worth discovering. Upon arrival at the airport, a driver will pick you up for the transfer to your hotel in or around Hanoi's historic Old Quarter

Later in the afternoon, you'll attend a traditional water puppet show. Known as mua roi nuoc in Vietnamese, this cultural expression dates back over 1,000 years, originating in the Red River Delta rice fields. When the fields were flooded, puppeteers used the water's surface as a stage to tell stories with intricately crafted wooden marionettes. The tradition endures today, and you'll witness one such colorful and elaborate performance at a local theater. 

Day 2: Full-Day Hanoi Sightseeing Tour

Among many other highlights, visit the sixth-century Tran Quoc Pagoda

Leave the hotel early on a private, full-day tour of Hanoi's historic landmarks. It starts around 8 am in the Old Quarter at Hang Be Market, a centuries-old commercial hub in the city. This is where locals come to shop for fresh produce, meats, seafood, and other items. Vendors here sell prepared foods, and plenty of stalls serve 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 ethnic groups in Vietnam. After lunch, continue to the 11th-century Temple of Literature, Vietnam's first-ever national university. Then, visit the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum, the final resting place of revolutionary leader "Uncle Ho," who died in 1969. Other highlights include visiting the 11th-century One Pillar Pagoda, a Buddhist temple regarded as the most unique pagoda in Asia due to its lotus-flower design perched on a stone pillar rising out of a pond. Afterward, you'll return to the hotel.

Day 3: Transfer to Ninh Binh, Visit Trang An & Hoa Lu

Travel down the waterways of Ninh Binh in a sampan raft

In the morning, meet your driver for the two-hour transfer south of Hanoi to the Red River Delta and Ninh Binh province. This rural area is one of the most scenic regions in the country, known for tranquil rivers snaking through vast green rice fields dotted with towering karst mountains. It's a scenic drive, during which you'll pass rolling green hills and vast expanses of verdant rice paddies. Upon arrival, you'll check into your countryside accommodation.

Then, head out on a day tour, first stopping at Trang An. This is the Vietnam you see in postcards, famous for its winding canals, rice paddies, and karst towers. Here, you can enjoy a bike ride between villages before hopping on a sampan (flat-bottom boat) for a leisurely tour down the waterways, exploring limestone caves as you go. 

Next up is Hoa Lu, a district that was the capital of Vietnam during the 10th and 11th centuries. After touring Hoa Lu's historic pagodas, you'll visit the Bai Dinh Temple. This sprawling complex covers 1,331 acres (539 ha) in Ninh Binh and is Vietnam's largest Buddhist pagoda complex. The oldest pagoda here dates to the 12th century, while the newest was built in 2003. It's a massively popular pilgrimage site, and you'll see all its highlights on a walking tour. At the end of the day, you'll return to your hotel.

Day 4: Transfer to Ha Long Bay, Board Two-Night Cruise

Ha Long Bay is a UNESCO Site famous for its otherworldly beauty

Today, you'll transfer by private car about 3.5 hours north to the coast and Ha Long Bay, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a 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 a ship for a two-night luxury cruise.

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 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. Spend the remainder of the evening relaxing, or cast a line off the ship's stern and do some squid fishing.

Day 5: Ha Long Cruise Day 2

Sun setting over the placid waters of Ha Long Bay

Start the day strong with an early morning tai chi session on the sun deck. Following this, you'll sit down for a light breakfast of coffee, tea, and pastries. Then, you'll participate in a host of daily activities, starting with a trip by transport boat to a nearby fishing village on the water. Later in the morning, you relax on a nearby beach and swim before returning to the cruise ship in time for lunch. After eating, explore sea caves by kayak, then enjoy some free time to relax before dinner, followed by a nightcap (and maybe some karaoke) at the onboard bar. 

Day 6: Ha Long Cruise Day 3, Fly to Hue

Wake up early to see one last sunrise in Ha Long Bay

Wake up and participate in another morning activity on the sun deck before enjoying an al fresco breakfast. The ship will then begin its return journey to the Ha Long harbor. The fun isn't over yet, however, as on the way, there will be one last stop to explore another limestone sea cave. Back at the port, you'll hop in a vehicle for the three-hour transfer back to Hanoi.

Once there, you'll continue on to the airport, where you'll catch a one-hour flight south to Hue. Located on the Perfume River, Hue was the ancient capital of Vietnam's feudal Nguyen Dynasty. This history is represented in its Imperial City, a massive citadel that's one of the most awe-inspiring human-made landmarks in the country. You'll see it soon enough; for now, transfer to your hotel and rest up for a big day of touring tomorrow. 

Day 7: Imperial City Tour, Royal Tombs & Thien Mu Pagoda

Construction on Hue's Imperial City began in the early 19th century

Get ready for an immersion into Hue's rich history on a full-day highlights tour. Meet your local guide in the morning and hop on a traditional dragon boat for a ride down the Perfume River to the sacred Thien Mu Pagoda. Dating to the early 17th century, this is one of the city's oldest religious sites, and its iconic 68-foot (21 m) octagonal tower is a symbol of Hue. While here, you'll also visit the Royal Antiques Museum to see its fine collection of artifacts from the Nguyen Dynasty (1802-1945), the last imperial dynasty in Vietnam. 

Continue to the Imperial City, the citadel where the former kings of Vietnam's last feudal dynasty ruled for nearly 150 years. You'll tour major landmarks inside this 520-acre (210 ha) complex. These include Flag Tower, Noon Gate, Nine Dynasty Urns, Nine Holy Cannons, and Thai Hoa Palace and its Khai Dinh Royal Tomb, where the 12th king of the Nguyen Dynasty is interred. Afterward, you'll head over to Dong Ba Market. At Hue's most popular municipal market, you can shop for fresh produce, street food, clothing, bags, souvenirs, and more. Later, you'll return to your hotel.

Day 8: Transfer to Hoi An, Sightseeing in Ancient Town

Private Transfer Hue to Hoi An
The Hai Van Pass is one of the most scenic stretches of coast in Vietnam
Plan your trip to Vietnam
Chat with a local specialist who can help organize your trip.

After breakfast, meet a driver for the 2.5-hour ride south from Hue down the coast to the river city of Hoi An. During this scenic 13-mile (21 km) drive, you'll cross over the magnificent Hai Van Pass. Also known as the "Cloudy Pass" due to the great tufts of white that often settle on these coastal mountains, the viewpoints here on clear days are incredible. On the drive, you'll make plenty of stops to snap pictures of the seaside vistas. Upon arrival in Hoi An, transfer to your hotel.

Then, meet a local guide for a sightseeing tour of Hoi An's beautiful waterfront and historic Ancient Town. The city was a major trading port dating back to the 16th century, and its waterfront is lined with old merchant buildings, tea houses, boutiques, ancient shrines, and more. One highlight you'll visit is the 400-year-old Japanese Covered Bridge, built by Japanese immigrants as a link to the Chinese quarter across a small stream. Nearby is the Assembly Hall of the Chaozhou Chinese Congregation, which dates to 1845.

Afterward, you can browse the waterfront market for fresh produce and seafood. Perhaps order a custom-made suit or outfit—Hoi An is famous for its tailors. Cap the evening with dinner in Ancient Town, followed by a riverfront stroll to see Hoi An's famous colored lanterns.

Day 9: Cycle to the Hoi An Countryside, Basket Boat Ride

Take a bike ride to the country and ride in a traditional basketboat

Leave the city in the morning on a bicycle for a ride into the surrounding countryside. 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 and the waterfront region of Cam Thanh. 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.

Later, you'll participate in a cooking workshop where locals will teach you how to prepare regional specialties like green papaya salad, spring rolls, pancakes, fish in a clay pot, or lemongrass chicken. Afterward, you'll return to Hoi An and will have the evening free. 

Day 10: Hoi An Free Day

Explore Hoi An's colorful streets on foot or by bicycle

Today is yours to discover more of Hoi An on your own. Like elsewhere in Vietnam, this city is a foodie's dream, and you'd be remiss if you didn't indulge. Sip an egg coffee, or try banh mi baguette loaded with pate, veggies, egg, and herbs. And don't miss the shrimp-stuffed, white-rose dumplings—a local specialty.

Better yet, join a street food tour and bike your way in and around the historic center—a great way to indulge in the food scene while soaking up the city's charm and culture. Alternatively, grab your towel and get yourself to one of Hoi An's beaches, like An Bang or Cua Dai. And in the evening, take a stroll along the riverside to admire some of the town's prettiest buildings.

Day 11: Transfer to Da Nang, Fly to Ho Chi Minh City, Bamboo Circus

See a "bamboo circus" at the historic Saigon Opera House tonight

Your driver will pick you up at the hotel this morning for the one-hour ride north to the airport in Da Nang. There, you'll catch a 1.5-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 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.

In the evening, you'll get dressed up for a night out at the Saigon Opera House, a stately French colonial theater venue dating to 1898. The production you'll enjoy tonight is a "bamboo circus"—a one-hour spectacular inspired by Vietnamese folk culture. It consists of live music, dancers, acrobatics, visual arts, and songs, with the performers utilizing traditional bamboo props/items like baskets, blinds, and poles, to reveal the rich culture of rural Vietnam. 

Day 12: Cu Chi Tunnels & Ho Chi Minh City Tour

Reunification Palace is just one of the landmarks you'll visit on a Ho Chi Minh City tour

Wake up early and meet your driver for the two-hour transfer north of the city to the famous Cu Chi Tunnels. This immense network of underground passages was constructed in 1948 to protect the Viet Cong guerrillas from French attacks. They also served as living quarters, communications hubs, and supply routes with storage areas and hospitals. A visit here reveals Vietnam's wartime history and the hardships faced by the thousands of soldiers who survived the French and American wars. You can even crawl through a section of the tunnels to experience their narrow dimensions.

Following lunch at the local restaurant, you'll return to Ho Chi Minh City for a highlights tour. First up is Reunification Palace (also known as Independence Palace), the Saigon government's headquarters during the American War (as the Vietnam War is known locally). Follow that with visits to historic 19th-century landmarks like Notre Dame Cathedral and the Central Post Office. You'll also stop at Ben Thanh, one of the largest municipal markets in the city.

Day 13: Day Trip to the Mekong Delta

Travel amid coconut groves and lotus flowers on the waterways of the Mekong Delta

This morning, you'll transfer south to the lush Mekong Delta. Known as Vietnam's rice bowl, this region is full of mangroves, sugar cane plantations, and flourishing rice paddies. Board a boat for a ride down the Ben Tre River, one of the tributaries of the mighty Mekong. Along the way, you'll visit local businesses like a brick workshop and honeybee farm. The region is also famous for its coconut candies, and you'll stop at a factory to see how these tasty confections are made. 

Next, you'll visit a small riverside village for tea with a family that makes hand-woven rush mats. Then, explore the town by bike or xe loi (motor cart) and witness scenes of peaceful riverine life. You'll pass verdant rice fields, coconut groves, vegetable farms, and exotic fruit orchards. Have lunch at a restaurant on the banks of the river, then hop on a traditional raft and paddle down a creek. Afterward, you'll transfer back to Ho Chi Minh City and will have the evening free.

Day 14: Fly to Siem Reap (Cambodia), Dinner & Apsara Show

Witness hundreds of years of Khmer history in a single cultural performance

It's time to say goodbye to Vietnam. After breakfast, transfer to the airport and catch a one-hour flight to Siem Reap. Welcome to Cambodia! This town in the northwest of the country sits on the shores of the great Tonlé Sap lake and is the gateway to the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Angkor. These ruins were once the capital city of the Khmer Empire from the ninth to 15th centuries. Upon arrival in Siem Reap, you'll transfer to your hotel.

Later, you'll sit down for an Apsara dinner and dance performance. This traditional Khmer art form dates back to the seventh century and is even depicted on the walls of Cambodia's ancient temples. Apsara is defined by its elegance, with dancers in ornate costumes moving deftly and deliberately to the music of flutes and reed instruments. Afterward, return to your hotel to rest up for tomorrow's busy day of sightseeing at Angkor.

Day 15: Day Trip to Angkor Temples

Spend a day exploring Cambodia's 10th to 13th-century temples and ruins, like Angkor Wat

It's time to see the star of the show. In the morning, meet your guide and visit one of the most famous temples in the world: Angkor Wat. This 12th-century complex covers 200 acres (81 ha), and its five towers are so iconic they're actually emblazoned on the Cambodian flag. On this walking tour, you'll immerse yourself in the ruins as you stroll through its galleries, libraries, pavilions, and courtyards.

The tour continues in Angkor Thom (literally "Great City"), once the most impressive royal city of Cambodia's Angkor period, and its looming Bayon Temple. Comprised of 54 Gothic towers, Jayavarman VII commissioned it in the 12th century, and his smiling face and glaring eyes are represented in its 216 stone sculptures. Other structures you'll visit include the Terrace of the Elephants (featuring sculptures and bas-reliefs of elephants), Phimeanakas (a three-tiered pyramid), and the Terrace of the Leper King, known for its carvings of demons and mythological figures.

End the day with a visit to Ta Prohm, a 12th-century Buddhist temple whose crumbling towers have been all but absorbed by the surrounding jungle. Here, you'll receive a blessing from a Buddhist monk wishing you prosperity, happiness, and a safe trip. Afterward, you'll return to Siem Reap.

Day 16: Day Trip to Elephant Forest, "Hero" Rats & Wat Bo

Heroes come in all shapes and sizes

Elephants hold significant historical importance in Cambodia, prominently featured across the culture, from art and religion to royalty and architecture. This morning, you'll transfer north of Siem Reap to the foothills of Phnom Kulen (Kulen Mountain) and the Kulen Elephant Forest, an elephant sanctuary and rehabilitation center. Here, you'll get to spend time with these majestic animals, many of which have been rescued/retired from the tourism industry. Throughout the morning, you'll interact with the elephants in their natural environment, walk with them, and maybe give them a bath.

In the afternoon, you'll visit the APOPO Visitor Center. Located in a village on the road to Angkor Wat, this global nonprofit trains African giant pouched rats (fondly nicknamed "heroRATS") to save lives by detecting landmines. Cambodia is one of the most mine-afflicted countries in the world in no small part due to the Vietnam War, the Khmer Rouge dictatorship, and civil war. See how these "hero" animals go about the business of clearing mines in a live simulated demo.

Afterward, return to Siem Reap and cap the day with a visit to Wat Bo, a marvel of Khmer architecture. This 18th-century Buddhist temple is located in the heart of the city and has been an icon throughout its history, from the French colonial era to modern times. Wat Bo remains a vital touchstone in preserving Cambodia's Buddhist heritage, as it also serves as a monastery where monks engage in daily religious practices. At the end of the afternoon, you'll return to your hotel.

Day 17: Transfer to Battambang, City Sightseeing

Battambang is a colorful city known for its ancient temples and colorful statues

Meet your driver in the morning for the three-hour transfer to Battambang, located at the northwest edge of the country. This city is the capital of the province of the same name and is famous for its beautiful colonial architecture and, like Siem Reap, its ancient Khmer temples.

Upon arrival, you'll check into your hotel and head out on a sightseeing tour. Highlights include a walk around famous French colonial landmarks as well as a visit to the central market. For a bit of fun, you'll head over to the Bamboo Train—an old railway track offering rides on a rickety old bamboo platform.

Day 18: Temples, Markets & Sacred Mountain Tour

The massive Buddha is one of the star attractions at Wat Ek Phnom

You haven't seen the last of Cambodia's breathtaking temple ruins. After breakfast at the hotel, a driver will pick you up for the transfer to the Sangker River and Wat Slaket, an ornate centuries-old pagoda that today is the residence of the provincial Buddhist patriarch. A little way north, you'll find Wat Ek Phnom. This Angkorian temple dates to the 11th century and features a mix of architectural styles and intricate carvings that reflect Hindu and Buddhist influences. The site contains multiple buildings, a courtyard, and (most famously) a large Buddha statue in repose.

Afterward, you'll visit a local market to see how the famous prahoc is made. This traditional fish paste has been a staple of Khmer cuisine for centuries. Later, you'll transfer southwest of the city to Phnom Sampeou. Steeped in legend, this mountain features prominently in Cambodia's cultural and religious lore. It also boasts a number of wonders worth exploring, including various caves home to everything from Buddhist shrines and temples to bat colonies. One cave was even used as a killing chamber during the infamous Khmer Rouge era in the 1970s.

Day 19: Transfer to Phnom Penh, Sunset Cruise

Head out on the river in Phnom Penh as the sun goes down

Bid farewell to northern Cambodia as a private car picks you up at the hotel for the scenic drive south to Phnom Penh. Cambodia's dazzling capital sits on the mighty Mekong River and is lined with elegant French colonial buildings. All around, you'll find cafés, bars, street-food vendors, and night markets abuzz with activity. Upon arrival, you'll transfer to your hotel in the city.

Later, make the most of your first night in Cambodia's capital with a relaxing sunset cruise on the tranquil Tonlé Sap River, a tributary of the larger Mekong, which also runs through Phnom Penh. You'll board at the pier and set out on a traditional wooden boat, enjoying views of the city lights as the sun sets over the water. Watch as the fishermen bring in their boats, enjoying the riverfront scenery with a refreshing beverage in hand.

Day 20: Phnom Penh Highlights Tour

Visit Royal Palace - Silver Pagoda - Tuol Sleng Museum - Russian Market
Explore the highlights of Phnom Penh, like the Royal Palace

Wake up early for a guided tour of Phnom Penh. Your first stop is in the city center at the Independence Monument, built in 1958 to memorialize Cambodia's independence from France. Then, stop at the Royal Palace, which was commissioned by King Norodom in 1866. Explore the grounds and its Silver Pagoda, so-named because of its floor, which is adorned with 5,000 silver tiles. Inside are Buddha statues encrusted with gold and emeralds.

After lunch, you'll stop in at Tuol Sleng Museum (S-21 Prison), which chronicles the Cambodian genocide. This former school was used as a prison by Pol Pot's security forces. More than 17,000 people held at S-21 were taken to the extermination camp at Choeng Ek to be executed. From there, continue on to Psar Toul Tom Pong, known as the Russian Market. This large municipal market is a great place to hunt for souvenirs, pottery, curios, silks, and more. At the end of the day, you'll 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
Your grand journey through Southeast Asia winds down today here in Cambodia's dynamic capital. In the morning, a driver will take you to the airport, where you'll catch 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 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 Ultimate Highlights Tour of Vietnam & Cambodia - 21 Days
Map of Ultimate Highlights Tour of Vietnam & Cambodia - 21 Days