Delve into Vietnam's culture as you traverse its diverse landscapes on this 13-day tour. Start in Hanoi, where you'll enjoy Vietnamese cuisine and water puppet shows before heading north to trek through Sapa's towering rice terraces dotted with remote villages. Next, take an overnight cruise on Ha Long Bay and discover UNESCO-listed architecture in Hue and Hoi An. The adventure ends in the tropical south, where you'll sail through the lush Mekong Delta.


  • Experience Hanoi's history, cuisine, and performance art, like water puppetry
  • Trek through Sapa's rice terraces to remote ethnic villages in Vietnam's north
  • Cruise the paper-flat emerald waters of Ha Long Bay
  • Discover UNESCO-listed architecture in Hoi An and Hue
  • Sail through the lush Mekong Delta

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrive in Hanoi, Explore Hanoi
Day 2 Explore the History & Beauty of Hanoi Hanoi
Day 3 Transfer to Sapa, Muong Hoa Valley Hike Sapa
Day 4 Trek to Lech Dzao & Thanh Kim Villages Sapa
Day 5 Ta Phin Village Trek, Return to Hanoi Hanoi
Day 6 Transfer to Ha Long Bay, Overnight Cruise Ha Long Bay
Day 7 Morning Cruise, Fly to Hue Hue
Day 8 Hue Sightseeing Tour Hue
Day 9 Transfer to Hoi An & City Tour Hoi An
Day 10 Free Day in Hoi An  Hoi An
Day 11 Fly to Ho Chi Minh City Ho Chi Minh City
Day 12 Day Trip to the Mekong Delta Ho Chi Minh City
Day 13 Depart Ho Chi Minh City  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Arrive in Hanoi, Explore

Arrive in Hanoi and explore the city's Old Quarter

Welcome to Hanoi, Vietnam's high-energy capital and cultural heart. A private driver will take you to your hotel in the city center, where you can settle in before stepping out to explore. Spend the rest of the day wandering the labyrinthine streets of the Old Quarter by foot or on a three-wheeled cyclo, passing a mix of temples, French colonial buildings, and Vietnamese tubular houses.

Head to Bun Cha Huong Lien for lunch to try the popular Hanoian dish bun cha (noodle soup with grilled pork). This restaurant's interpretation of the dish is so famous that it's served guests like Barack Obama and Anthony Bourdain. Sip cocktails on the Pan Pacific Hotel's rooftop bar and admire sunset views over Tày Ho (West Lake) to wrap up your evening in style.

Day 2: Explore the History & Beauty of Hanoi

Hanoi sightseeing full day (L)
See some of the capital's top sights on today's tour

This morning, you'll take a guided tour of Hanoi's top sights, including the Ho Chi Minh Complex, where Vietnam's revered revolutionary leader, Ho Chi Minh, lies embalmed in a mausoleum. Wander the serene grounds to see the humble wooden stilt house where he once lived, as well as the ornate One Pillar Pagoda, which sits in the middle of a lake and resembles Vietnam's national flower, the lotus.

Continue to the Temple of Literature, Vietnam's first national university built in the late 11th century. Lauded for its stunning architecture, the temple is featured on the 100,000 Vietnamese dong banknote. In the afternoon, visit the fascinating Museum of Ethnology, which houses an extensive collection of costumes and artifacts from Vietnam's 54 ethnic minority groups.

End your day with a water puppet performance. This northern Vietnamese art form is thought to have originated in the flooded rice fields of the Red River Delta region, where villagers entertained themselves by using bamboo rods to move handmade wooden puppets through the water. The show depicts scenes of rural life and important historical moments set to music.

Day 3: Transfer to Sapa, Muong Hoa Valley Hike 

Drive to the mountain town of Sapa for some alpine vibes

The day starts with a six-hour drive north to the mountain retreat of Sapa. This former French colonial hill station is loved for its cool, alpine-scented air and surrounding rice terraces, which spiral toward the clouds. Settle in and wander the town's steep streets, where local H'mong women dressed in brightly-colored traditional clothes peddle handicrafts. Stop for a cup of coffee overlooking Sapa's mist-topped terraces and peaks.

In the afternoon, you'll embark on a three-and-a-half-mile (6 km) trek south of Sapa, along the scenic Muong Hoa Valley to Y Linh Ho Village, home to the Black Hmong people. Continue downwards through rice fields to visit more tiny ethnic villages, Lao Chai and Ta Van, where you'll meet the Dzao people. You'll enjoy lunch either at a restaurant or a local family home. Afterward, your driver will take you back to Sapa.

Day 4: Trek to Lech Dzao & Thanh Kim Villages

Peaceful village on the trek route
Trek through local Red Dao and Hmong villages

Today, you'll tackle a six-hour trek between Lech Dzao and Thanh Kim villages. Situated about 12 miles (20 km) southwest of Sapa, the Thanh Kim Valley is home to the Red Dao and H'mong people, who have maintained their unique cultural traditions for centuries despite the influence of modern life.

Follow a mountainside trail to the Thanh Kim Valley, descending to a river. Here, you'll cross a stone bridge to the village of Lech Dzao. With the help of your guide, chat with the locals here and learn about their rural way of life. There's even a chance to learn embroidery techniques using traditional looms from the Red Dao women. Afterward, return to your hotel via a path through the rice terraces.

Day 5: Ta Phin Village Trek, Return to Hanoi

Watch the local way of life on another trek
Plan your trip to Vietnam
Chat with a local specialist who can help organize your trip.

This morning, you'll begin another guided trek through Sapa's show-stopping landscapes. As you trek, take in forest and terrace views, breathing in the fresh, pine-scented air. Take a break at Matra, a H'mong village home to around 50 families, known for its silversmiths and flax weaving loom traditions, which you'll get to see.

Continue another three hours to Ta Phin Village, where a mix of Red Dao and Hmong villagers reside. Visit Ta Phin's French-colonial-era monastery and shop for locally-made handicrafts. You'll also get to explore some nearby caves. During the trek, you'll have lunch with a family; the day ends with a private transfer back to Hanoi.

Day 6: Transfer to Ha Long Bay, Overnight Cruise

Hanoi - Halong Bay - By shuttle bus
Start your overnight cruise on Ha Long Bay

This morning, take a shuttle bus to the northwest coast, where the land meets the Gulf of Tonkin, to begin your overnight tour of Ha Long Bay. Sail across the paper-flat waters, taking in views of over 2,000 limestone karsts steeped in Vietnamese legend. A delicious seafood lunch onboard awaits, followed by plenty of time to sit on the sun deck as you sail to the most remote corners of Ha Long Bay.

In the afternoon, stop at a secret cove where you can swim and kayak to hidden beaches and grottoes. Look for formations like Kissing Rock, which appears on Vietnam's 200,000 dong note. The ship's expert chef will lead a cooking masterclass, teaching you to make specialties like nem (Vietnamese fried spring rolls) for dinner. Spend the evening relaxing or join the locals for a spot of night fishing to end the day.

Day 7: Morning Cruise, Fly to Hue

Halong Bay - Hanoi by shuttle bus- Fly to Hue
Stop at famous rock formations such as Kissing Rock

Wake early for breakfast on the ship's deck, watching the sun rise over the emerald waters of Ha Long Bay, deemed one of the New Seven Wonders of Nature. The morning is yours to absorb the view or join optional activities like Tai Chi and kayaking past floating villages and forested islands.

Visit a limestone cave dripping in stalagmites and stalactites before sailing back to the harbor, enjoying brunch along the way. A shuttle bus will be waiting to take you back to the airport in Hanoi for a quick trip south to Vietnam's former royal capital, Hue, where you'll be transferred straight to your hotel.

Day 8: Hue Sightseeing Tour

Take a tour of Hue's ancient Imperial City

Spend today on a guided tour of Hue, starting with a trip to the moat-encircled Imperial Citadel, home to the powerful Nguyen Dynasty between 1802 and 1945. Tour the remains of this UNESCO World Heritage Site's shrines, pavilions, and palaces with a guide. Next, take a cyclo ride through the Old City to Tinh Tam Lake and Thien Mu, an elegant pagoda and official icon of Hue, which sits on a hill overlooking the Perfume River.

After lunch, travel out of the city to the architecturally-renowned tombs of Hue's former emperors. Begin at Khai Dinh Tomb, which combines eastern and western design, featuring giant dragons, murals, and mosaics. After the tour, enjoy a free evening in Hue, sampling its famed cuisine and wandering along the riverfront.

Day 9: Transfer to Hoi An & City Tour

Head south to Hoi An via the impressive Hai Van Pass

This morning, head three hours south along the coast to Hoi An. The journey is incredibly scenic and includes traveling over the impressive Hai Van Pass, known as the "Ocean Cloud Pass," for its aerial views over the coast. Ask your driver to make a photo stop along the way.

Upon arrival, you'll explore Hoi An on a half-day walking tour. Strategically located on the Thu Bon River, this peaceful port town attracted settlers worldwide between the 15th and 19th centuries. Today, the city is recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site for its fusion of architecture and culture, which you'll navigate with a guide. The pedestrian-only streets in Hoi An are perfect for a walking tour.

Visit old merchant houses and the 400-year-old Japanese Covered Bridge built to access the Chinese Quarter across the water. Marvel at the intricate woodcarvings in the Assembly Hall of the Chaozhou Chinese Congregation and browse the colorful market, where stalls brim with local specialties, including silk, which skilled tailors can transform into a custom-made outfit for you in as little as 24 hours.

Day 10: Free Day in Hoi An 

Stroll Hoi An's picturesque waterfront on your free day

Enjoy a free day in Hoi An. Take some time to relax in a café with a robust Vietnamese drip coffee and stroll through the vibrant markets to pick up tropical fruit and sample a bowl of herby pho (noodle soup). If you fancy some exercise, rent a bike to visit the surrounding countryside and beaches, which are loved for their pale, soft sands.

For dinner, try regional dishes such as com hen (sauteed clams), nem lui (ground pork), and cao lau (pork and greens). Wander along the waterfront, passing boats bobbing on the water and fishermen hauling in the day's catch. The streets have a fairy-tale feel after dark, illuminated by lanterns. Pick up some souvenirs from the market or order your custom outfit at a tailor's shop.

Day 11: Fly to Ho Chi Minh City

Catch your flight to Ho Chi Minh City and explore Vietnam's largest metropolis

Today, you'll be transferred to Da Nang Airport for your flight south to Ho Chi Minh City. Settle into your hotel and then head out to explore Vietnam's largest metropolis. You'll discover a city filled with winding alleyways, sprawling markets, and soaring skyscrapers set among decorative temples and French colonial landmarks.

Stroll the maze-like alleyways and markets and soak up the street life. If there's time, you can visit some architectural highlights, such as the Central Post Office. and the replica of Notre Dame Cathedral, which features spike-topped towers and stained-glass windows imported from France. For dinner, there's no shortage of street food stalls to peruse, or you can book a table at Padma De Fleur, one of the most renowned restaurants in the city.

Day 12: Day Trip to the Mekong Delta

Day Trip to the Mekong Delta (Ben Tre)
Explore Mekong Delta villages

This morning, you'll drive south to the lush Mekong Delta. Known as Vietnam's rice bowl, this region is full of mangroves, sugar cane plantations, and waterlogged paddies. Board a boat to sail the Ben Tre River, one of the tributaries of the mighty Mekong. You'll visit local businesses like a brick workshop and honey farm along the way. Tour one of the coconut candy workshops that Ben Tre is famous for to sample these tasty treats and learn how they're made.

Next, you'll stop at a small riverside village for tea with a family that makes hand-woven rush mats. Explore the village by bike or xe loi (motor cart) to observe daily life. You'll pass lime-green rice fields, vegetable farms, and exotic fruit orchards. Have lunch on the banks of the river before trying your hand at rowing along a creek. Afterward, head back to Ho Chi Minh City for a laid-back evening.

Day 13: Depart Ho Chi Minh City

Say goodbye to Vietnam as you catch your onward flight

After savoring a final Vietnamese breakfast, spend a few hours soaking up the atmosphere in Ho Chi Minh City, perhaps shopping for souvenirs in the markets, before your flight home. Safe travels!

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Map of Vietnam Cultural Journey - 13 Days
Map of Vietnam Cultural Journey - 13 Days
Written by Long Dao, updated Oct 31, 2023