Experience the best of Vietnam from the south to the north as you tour highlights and off-the-beaten-path gems. Starting in Ho Chi Minh City, you'll embark on day trips to the famous Mekong Delta where you'll visit nature reserves and the famous floating markets. Then fly north to Hanoi for city tours plus excursions to the remote mountain villages of Pu Luong and a cruise on the emerald green waters of Ha Long Bay.


  • See the highlights of Ho Chi Minh City 
  • Visit floating markets and river towns in the Mekong Delta
  • Go hiking and rafting in the Pu Luong Nature Reserve
  • Tour Hanoi and cruise Ha Long Bay

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrive in Ho Chi Minh City, Optional Activities Ho Chi Minh City
Day 2 Boat Trip to Can Tho, Optional Activities Can Tho
Day 3 Floating Market, Transfer to Chau Doc & Sam Mountain Chau Doc
Day 4 Tra Su Boat Tour, Fly to Hanoi Hanoi
Day 5 Hanoi Free Day Hanoi
Day 6 Transfer to Pu Luong, Hiking & Rafting Pu Luong Nature Reserve
Day 7 Trekking to Kho Muong & Uoi Villages Pu Luong Nature Reserve
Day 8 Transfer to Hanoi, Optional Activities Hanoi
Day 9 Transfer to Ha Long Bay, Overnight Cruise Ha Long Bay
Day 10 Morning Cruise & Sea Cave, Transfer to Hanoi Hanoi
Day 11 Depart Hanoi  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Arrive in Ho Chi Minh City, Optional Activities

The People's Committee Building, in Ho Chi Minh City
Welcome to Vietnam! You'll be arriving in the south, which has its own distinct culture compared to the rest of the country. Nowhere is this better exemplified than in Ho Chi Minh City, the largest metropolis in the country. Formerly known as Saigon before its fall in 1975, this city has not only survived but has thrived. Today it's a captivating mix of modern skyscrapers and historic buildings dating back to the days of French colonialism. 
Upon arrival at the airport, a driver will pick you up and transfer you to your hotel. Then you can head out on a self-guided tour to see the city's highlight landmarks like Reunification Palace (once the headquarters of the Saigon government), the People's Committee Building, Notre Dame Cathedral, the Central Post Office, and the Saigon Opera House. Perhaps hop over to Chinatown, where you can stop at the 18th-century Ong Bon Pagoda, a tailor's market, and traditional medicine shops.

Day 2: Boat Trip to Can Tho, Optional Activities

Set off into the Mekong Delta to busy Can Tho
This morning you'll transfer south to the lush 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 two-hour ride on the Ben Tre River, one of the tributaries of the mighty Mekong. Your destination is Can Tho. This city on the banks of the Hau River is famous for its floating markets where hundreds of boats and junks ply the waters selling fresh fruits, vegetables, and other agricultural products.
Upon arrival in Can Tho, you'll check in to your hotel and will have the rest of the day free to explore. You can visit local workshops to see how the area's residents utilize coconut fibers and husks to make everything from candies to floor mats. To see as much of the region as possible, hop in a xe loi (motorized rickshaw) for a ride around the city, or rent a kayak and paddle down the canals to a waterfront restaurant for lunch. Afterward, you can enjoy many other activities including fishing, cycling around the fruit orchards, or taking a cooking class. 

Day 3: Floating Market, Transfer to Chau Doc & Sam Mountain

View of Chau Doc from Sam Mountain
Leave around 7:30 on a boat ride to visit the Cai Rang Floating Market, which is one of the largest and liveliest in the region. While it's open all day, it's best to get an early start as the market is busiest before 9 am. During these hours, your guide will lead you through the throng of tiny wooden boats piled high with flowers, coconuts, and fresh produce. You'll also learn how to barter with traders as you mingle with locals and experience the infectious energy of market life. Later, you'll have breakfast on the waterfront during which you can try hu tieu (a pork noodle dish).
Plan your trip to Vietnam
Chat with a local specialist who can help organize your trip.
After the market, you'll transfer 3.5 hours by car north up the delta to the border with Cambodia and Chau Doc. This culturally diverse river city is home to Cham, Chinese, and Khmer ethnic groups, and it's a popular destination for its nearby pilgrimage sites. One highlight you'll visit after arriving here is Sam Mountain. At just 754 feet (230 m), this is the tallest mountain in the Delta region, and you can reach the top on foot or by moto-taxi. Once at the top, you'll be rewarded with incredible views of the countryside. Also, there are lovely gardens, historic temples, pagodas, and tombs to visit.

Day 4: Tra Su Boat Tour, Fly to Hanoi

Chau Doc - Tra Su Sanctuary - Ho Chi Minh City
The lush wetlands of Tra Su
This morning you'll head a few miles outside Chau Doc for a boat tour of another regional highlight: the 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 make the five-hour drive east to Ho Chi Minh City and take a two-hour flight north to Hanoi, the capital of Vietnam. Upon arrival, a driver will pick you up and transfer you to your hotel.

Day 5: Hanoi Free Day

Free Day in Hanoi
Tay Ho ("West Lake"), in Hanoi

Today is yours to explore Hanoi at your own pace. Spend the day exploring the labyrinthine streets of the Old Quarter by foot or on a traditional three-wheeled cyclo, as you pass temples, French-colonial buildings, and Vietnamese "tube houses." These space-saving buildings can be as narrow as 6 feet (2 m) wide and 12 stories high. Be sure to try street food staples like pho (noodle soup) and bun cha (grilled pork with rice noodles). Later, perhaps head to the Pan Pacific Hotel's rooftop bar and sip cocktails amid spectacular sunset views over Tay Ho ("West Lake").

Day 6: Transfer to Pu Luong, Hiking & Rafting

Hiking and rafting in Pu Luong
Traditional bamboo water wheels in Pu Luong

After breakfast, you'll hop in the car for the four-hour drive from Hanoi to Pu Luong. This nature reserve is home to the ethnic Thai people and is known for its forested mountains and green valleys dotted with terraced rice paddies and traditional villages. Upon arrival, you'll check in to your resort and have some time to unwind before lunch.

After a delicious lunch amid spectacular views, it will be time to hit the trail. You'll hike to hillside villages and meet the locals while learning about cultural traditions dating back centuries. Continue across a suspension bridge over the Cham River and stop at traditional wooden con nuoc (water wheels). Your guide will explain the mechanics of how these ancient yet efficient machines lift water from the river and distribute it through bamboo chutes to elevated farmland.

Then you'll arrive at a local fisherman's house, where you have a short rest before hopping on a traditional bamboo raft for a ride down the river. The guide will teach you how to paddle and steer as you float along the calm waters, enjoying the mountain and valley views along the banks. When you reach the wooden Tan Lap Bridge, you'll disembark and transfer to a local resort in time for dinner.

Day 7: Trekking to Kho Muong & Uoi Villages

Trekking to Kho Muong  and Uoi Villages
Trekking through the reserve
Wake up early and set out on a full-day guided hike through Pu Luong. This 8-mile (13 km) route begins with a descent down into a valley amid terraced rice fields. After following trails shrouded in vegetation, the forest then opens up as you arrive at the base of a mountain and Kho Muong, a traditional village of stilt houses. You and your guide will take a break here to engage with locals for a cultural exchange. Then visit the Bat Cave, a gaping karst cavern where the first ancestors of the Muong ethnic group once lived. As the name would suggest, it's also a habitat for four different species of bats.
After dining with a local family in a traditional stilt house, you'll continue trekking 4 miles (7 km) through the jungle. The winding trail passes lush mountains and will take you to the village of Uoi, which is nestled in the middle of the forest. The scenery around this village is incredible, as it's filled with green farmland, rivers, ponds, forested mountains, and vast open pastures. Then you'll transfer back to your resort Pu Luong by vehicle.

Day 8: Transfer to Hanoi, Optional Activities

The Temple of Literature, in Hanoi

In the morning, you'll make the four-hour drive back to Hanoi and check in to your hotel. Then you can stretch your legs on a self-guided tour of Hanoi's historic landmarks. One example is Ba Dinh Square, where president Ho Chi Minh proclaimed the independence of Vietnam in 1945. Perhaps visit the Museum of Ethnology, which preserves the cultural heritage of the 54 different ethnic groups in Vietnam. Then head over to the Temple of Literature, Vietnam's first-ever national university. To this day, students still pray at its altars for academic success.

Day 9: Transfer to Ha Long Bay, Overnight Cruise

Hanoi - Halong Bay - By shuttle bus
A traditional junk sailing on Ha Long Bay

Wake up early and board a shuttle bus 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" actually translates to "descending dragon"). The remarkable beauty of this region is unlike anywhere else 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 boat for dinner, then spend the rest of the evening relaxing, or head out on a small boat for a bit of night fishing with the locals.

Day 10: Morning Cruise & Sea Cave, Transfer to Hanoi

Savor a final morning cruising in Ha Long Bay
Rise early for a tai chi lesson on deck followed by a hearty breakfast. Spend the morning and afternoon enjoying the scenery until around 5 pm, at which point the boat will make its way back to port. On the way, the ship will stop at a limestone cave for a tour to see the hanging stalactites and towering stalagmites. Back at the harbor, you'll hop in a vehicle for the 2.5-hour ride back to Hanoi and your hotel.

Day 11: Depart Hanoi

Sunset over Hanoi
And just like that, your grand tour of Vietnam has come to an end. Depending on your schedule, you can spend your last morning in Hanoi shopping for souvenirs, touring the Old Quarter, strolling Hoa Kiem Lake, and enjoying a few more bites of street food. At the appropriate time, your driver will pick you up for the ride to the airport, where you'll catch your flight home. Safe travels!

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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 Vietnam Cities & Nature Tour  - 11 Days
Map of Vietnam Cities & Nature Tour - 11 Days
Written by Long Dao, updated Mar 9, 2023