This grand tour of Vietnam covers the best in the country, from Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh City. After touring the historic sites in Vietnam's capital, spend time in the unspoiled nature reserve of Pu Luong and the stunning landscapes of the Red River Valley. Following this is a cruise around Ha Long Bay, a tour of organic farms at ancient Hoi An, and a visit to highlights around Ho Chi Minh City, like the Mekong River.


  • See the most historic city sights in Hanoi
  • Hike to villages in Pu Luong and ride a boat through Ninh Binh
  • Cruise the jade waters of Ha Long Bay and visit Hue's Imperial City
  • Tour the most famous sites of the south, like the Mekong Delta

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrive in Hanoi Hanoi
Day 2 Hanoi City Tour Hanoi
Day 3 Transfer to Pu Luong Nature Reserve Pu Luong Nature Reserve
Day 4 Transfer to Ninh Binh Ninh Binh
Day 5 Sightseeing in Ninh Binh Ninh Binh
Day 6 Transfer to Ha Long Bay, Cruise & Activities Ha Long Bay
Day 7 Fly to Da Nang, Transfer to Hue Hue
Day 8 Hue City Tour, Bike to Rural Villages Hue
Day 9 Transfer to Hoi An Hoi An
Day 10 Visit Tra Que Village & Hoi An City Tour Hoi An
Day 11 Fly to Ho Chi Minh City Ho Chi Minh City
Day 12 Ho Chi Minh City Free Day Ho Chi Minh City
Day 13 Day Trip to Tay Ninh & Cu Chi Tunnels Ho Chi Minh City
Day 14 Mekong Delta Day Trip Ho Chi Minh City
Day 15 Depart Ho Chi Minh City  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Arrive in Hanoi

The exciting streets of Hanoi

Welcome to Vietnam! This country boasts a long and storied history, which is no more evident than in its capital city of Hanoi. First inhabited some 3,000 years ago, this is one of the oldest capitals on the planet. Waiting for you at Noi Bay International Airport will be a personal driver who will take you to your hotel in the city. After that, you can explore Hanoi on a self-guided tour.

Perhaps start with a walk through the Old Quarter, where you can browse the markets, visit street vendors, and enjoy a drink at one of the many bohemian bars and cafés. Then take in some local history and mythology with a stroll around Hoan Kiem Lake. At the north end is the Temple of the Jade Mountain, built in the 18th century to honor Tran Hung Dao, a military commander who famously repelled two Mongol invasions.

Day 2: Hanoi City Tour

Temple of Literature, Hanoi

In the morning, head out to discover the beauty and history of Hanoi on a full-day tour. First, you'll visit the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum to see the final resting place of "Uncle Ho." Continue on to the 11th-century Temple of Literature, which is dedicated to Confucius. Fun fact: this temple was the first-ever university in Vietnam, and even today, students burn incense and pray at its altars for academic success.

After a lunch of traditional pho (Vietnamese noodle soup), you can visit one of the numerous museums and temples around Hanoi. Top options include the Women's Museum, the National Historical Museum, and Quan Thanh, an 11th-century Taoist temple. Another highlight is the Museum of Ethnology, which preserves the cultural heritage of the 54 different ethnic groups in Vietnam.

Later in the afternoon, take a bicycle ride around Hoem Kiem Lake to experience typical Hanoian life and Vietnamese culture. Finish the tour with some traditional Vietnamese entertainment: a water puppet show. It's an art that has been practiced in this part of Vietnam for centuries. Afterward, you'll return to your hotel.

Day 3: Transfer to Pu Luong Nature Reserve

Pu Luong Nature Reserve

Leave Hanoi early and embark on a four-hour scenic drive west to the valley of Mai Chau. On the way, you'll stop in Pom Coong. This village is home to the Thai people of northern Vietnam, who represent the second-largest ethnic group in the country. Upon arrival, you'll sit down to lunch with some friendly locals.

Then, take a short drive to the Pu Luong Nature Reserve. This protected area is the ancestral home of the Thai people and is comprised of forested mountains and green valleys dotted with terraced rice paddies and traditional villages. Here, you'll embark on a three-hour intermediate-level hike that covers just over 5.5 miles (9 km). Along the way, you'll be treated to spectacular views of mountains, villages, and terraced rice paddies.

In the late afternoon, you'll arrive at the ecolodge where you'll spend the night, located in the traditional village of Don. The lodge sits in an idyllic part of Pu Luong, overlooking terraced rice fields and surrounded by towering palms. 

Day 4: Transfer to Ninh Binh

The Red River Valley of Ninh Binh

After breakfast with your host family, you'll say goodbye to your new friends and embark on a leisurely stroll around a Thai village. As you go, you can stop at the homes of locals and learn more about their daily life and cultural traditions. After a bit more hiking along rice paddies amid stunning mountain scenery, you'll hop in a van for the ride to a local restaurant where you'll have lunch.

Then, make the 2.5-hour trip from Pu Luong into the lowlands and Ninh Binh province. This gorgeous valley is part of the Red River Delta and is famous for its towering karst rock formations dotting the landscape. You'll arrive in the riverfront village of Tam Coc just in time for another meal at a local restaurant. Afterward, check into your hotel, and you can spend the rest of the day relaxing.

Day 5: Sightseeing in Ninh Binh

Visit the Bich Dong Pagoda

Wake up for an early breakfast, then spend time browsing the local market near your hotel. Afterward, hop in a sampan (traditional boat) for a scenic ride down the river. Upon returning to Tam Coc, you'll visit some of the other highlight landmarks in the area. These include the 13th-century Thai Vi Temple, the 15th-century Bich Dong Pagoda, and Thung Nham, a bird garden home to over 40 species, including storks, herons, and tropical starlings. 

Day 6: Transfer to Ha Long Bay, Cruise & Activities

Take a ride on Ha Long Bay
Plan your trip to Vietnam
Chat with a local specialist who can help organize your trip.

Today you'll transfer by car about 3.5 hours north to the coast and Ha Long Bay, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and 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, resembling the spine of a giant reptile—hence the name Ha Long ("Descending Dragon"). Here, you'll board a ship for a two-day cruise.

Once aboard, you'll sit down for a delicious lunch and then get underway. The ship will pass a number of islets before arriving at a secluded lagoon in Lan Ha Bay, which is part of the Cat Ba World Biosphere Reserve archipelago. Here, the boat will drop anchor, and you'll take a kayak tour. During the excursion, you'll pass through narrow waterways around the karst mountains and visit the area's famous floating villages. Continue through a natural tunnel to a lagoon where you can swim in the water and relax on a secluded beach.

In the late afternoon, you'll return to the boat, and everyone will gather on the top deck to witness the golden sunset over the water. Then, join a cooking class on board the ship, during which the experienced chef will teach your group how to prepare traditional Vietnamese dishes. Later, you can opt for activities like games and movies or head out on a nighttime squid-fishing excursion.

Day 7: Fly to Da Nang, Transfer to Hue

Fly to the historic city of Hue today

Begin your final day in Ha Long Bay with a marvelous sunrise on deck. Then the ship will return to the pier, where you'll transfer back to Hanoi by car. At the airport, catch a 1.5-hour flight south to the coastal city of Da Nang, from which it's another 2.5 hours north by car to Hue, a historic city sitting on the banks of the Perfume River. Here, your driver will drop you off at your hotel.

If you have the energy, feel free to explore Hue on your own. To experience the beating heart of the city, stop by Dong Ba Market. This is the oldest municipal market in Hue, selling everything from fresh produce to handicrafts. There's also an abundance of great street food here. If you're hungry, order a bowl of bun bo, a hearty local soup made with vermicelli rice noodles and beef. For something sweet, try che, a dessert soup made with beans, jelly, and coconut milk.

Day 8: Hue City Tour, Bike to Rural Villages

Phuoc Duyen, at Thien Mu Pagoda

In the morning, embark on a guided tour of Hue's Imperial City. One of Vietnam's seven UNESCO World Heritage Sites, this walled citadel was built in 1804 and is surrounded by a moat. You'll tour this well-preserved landmark, once the center of Vietnam's government during the Nguyen Dynasty. Then take a scenic boat ride down the Perfume River, stopping at the 17th-century Thien Mu Pagoda. Its most prominent feature is Phuoc Duyen, a seven-tiered, octagonal tower that has become an icon of Hue.

After touring the pagoda, continue the pleasant journey downstream, enjoying lunch on the boat as you go. Eventually, you'll arrive at Tien Non, the most famous craft village in Hue. Residents here began making the town's famous artificial flowers centuries ago, as they withstood the elements better than real flowers. They serve both cultural and spiritual purposes: villagers decorate their homes with them during Tet, they wear them on clothing, and they use them to worship ancestors ceremonially. Here, you'll visit a flower-making workshop and can even try to make one yourself.

Then, hop on a bicycle and ride to another village, this one famous for its traditional folk paintings. After admiring the local art, you'll spend more time riding around Hue's stunning countryside. Later, transfer back to the city and your hotel.  

Day 9: Transfer to Hoi An

Hoi An's Ancient Town

This morning you'll leave Hue on a 2.5-hour road trip south to Hoi An. It's a long drive, but the route along the coast is beautiful, and you'll be able to snap photos at white-sand beaches and at the Hai Van Pass, which offers great views over the coastal mountains. Upon arrival in Hoi An, you'll check into your hotel and will have a bit of time to relax.

If you like, you can venture out and explore Hoi An on your own. This small city of just over 100,000 people sits on the banks of the Thu Bon River and is a real treasure. Its Ancient Town is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the most well-preserved historic city centers in the country. 

Day 10: Visit Tra Que Village & Hoi An City Tour

Local farmers in Tra Que Village 

Meet your guide this morning and hop on a bicycle for the 2-mile (3 km) ride outside Hoi An to Tra Que Vegetable Village. For centuries, the 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. Upon arrival, you'll be greeted at the home of some local farmers with an herbal beverage.

Then, change into work clothes and take a stroll along the fields, observing how the farmers work the lands in the exact same way they've been doing for over 300 years. You'll even join in, helping to add fertilizer and water the crops. Then return to the house where you'll kick back and relax in a refreshing way: by soaking your feet in herbal waters. 

Afterward, you'll join a cooking class taught by the host family. During the workshop, you'll not only learn to prepare traditional Vietnamese dishes, but you'll do so using organic produce grown right on the property. Following this, you'll sit down to lunch with the family and enjoy your delicious creations. Then it will be time to return to Hoi An, where your guide will lead you on a city tour of the top sites. These include Hoi An Market, the Japanese Covered Bridge, and the historic Chinese meeting hall Phuc Kien. Afterward, you'll return to your hotel.

Day 11: Fly to Ho Chi Minh City

Ho Chi Minh City
In the morning, your driver will pick you up for the hour ride north to Da Nang and the airport. Here, you'll catch a 1.5-hour flight south to Ho Chi Minh City, formerly Saigon. This city is a captivating mix of the old and the new. Despite a communist revolution and devastating war, it has retained much of its distinctive cultural mix of Asian and western traditions. Upon arrival at the airport, a driver will be waiting to transfer you to your hotel.

Day 12: Ho Chi Minh City Free Day

The Reunification Palace

Today is yours to explore Ho Chi Minh City on your own. Perhaps head out on a self-guided tour. You can stop at the War Remnants Museum to see exhibits covering the First Indochina War and the American War. Then visit 19th-century landmarks like the Central Post Office, Notre Dame Cathedral, and Opera House. Another highlight is the Reunification Palace, also known as Independence Palace. This is the former home of the president of South Vietnam, which was taken over when Saigon fell in 1975.

Day 13: Day Trip to Tay Ninh & Cu Chi Tunnels

Cao Dai Temple, Tay Ninh

Your driver will pick you up at 8:30 am for the scenic drive north out of the city to Tay Ninh. Here you'll visit the Cao Dai Great Temple. The city of Tay Ninh and its 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. You'll witness an actual Caodaism ceremony when you take part in noon mass.

After lunch, head back toward Ho Chi Minh City, stopping at Cu Chi. This area is home to a 155-mile (250 km) tunnel network that became famous during the American War as the Viet Cong's base of operations, particularly during the Tet Offensive of 1968. You'll have the option to go into the tunnels and see the harsh conditions faced by the 16,000 Vietcong guerrillas who lived here, plus the innovative booby traps they left for unlucky enemy soldiers. You'll arrive back at your hotel around 5:30 pm. 

Day 14: Mekong Delta Day Trip

The Mekong River

A driver will pick you up early for the two-hour transfer to My Tho, the first city on the main arm of the mighty Mekong River. When you get there, you'll drive over the Rach Mieu suspension bridge, which offers panoramic views of the Mekong and its surrounding islands. Continue to the city of Ben Tre, where you'll board a boat for an hour-long cruise on the Ben Tre River, a tributary of Ham Luong, the fourth branch of the Mekong.

Sit back and relax while you drift down the waterway into a peaceful canal. Stop for a visit at famous local businesses like a coconut-husking workshop and a coconut candy factory. Then browse a waterfront market before stopping in at a workshop where skilled craftspeople hand-weave sleeping mats out of sedge grass—a tradition in the region.

Then experience the beautiful countryside when you embark on a bicycle ride (or motorized scooter trip) along the coconut groves and cucumber farms. Enjoy lunch at a local home before continuing to explore exotic orchards and vegetable gardens on foot. The tour finishes with a peaceful paddle along the river on a traditional wooden sampan. Afterward, your boat will be waiting to take you back to Ben Tre and on to Ho Chi Minh City.

Day 15: Depart Ho Chi Minh City

Ho Chi Minh City at night

Depending on your flight schedule, you'll enjoy a leisurely breakfast at your hotel before transferring to the airport for your flight home. This concludes your greatest hits tour of Vietnam. Safe travels!

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Map of Ultimate Vietnam: Cities, Countryside & Waterways - 15 Days
Map of Ultimate Vietnam: Cities, Countryside & Waterways - 15 Days