Vietnam's cultures unfold on this journey from Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh, traveling by car, boat, and air. Experience the sights and sounds of the country's busiest markets in Hanoi. Learn about Cham River life at an overnight homestay and ride through rice fields and open spaces. Spend time relaxing while sailing along calm Ha Long Bay. Discover the art of paper lantern-making and get fitted for a custom outfit in Hoi An. End the tour in Ho Chi Minh with one last bowl of pho.


  • Taste authentic pho in Hanoi's Thanh Ha Market
  • Sleep in a Cham River homestay
  • Cruise on Ha Long Bay's still waters
  • Learn how to make paper lanterns in Hoi An

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrive in Hanoi Hanoi
Day 2 Transfer to Pu Luong Nature Reserve, Hiking & Rafting Pu Luong Nature Reserve
Day 3 Explore Pu Luong Nature Reserve, Transfer to Hanoi Hanoi
Day 4 Transfer to Ha Long Bay, Cruise & Kayak Ha Long Bay Ha Long Bay
Day 5 Cruise Ha Long Bay, Transfer to Hanoi Hanoi
Day 6 Transfer to Hoi An, Explore Hoi An Hoi An
Day 7 Hoi An Cooking Class & Lantern Workshop Hoi An
Day 8 Hoi An Countryside Excursion Hoi An
Day 9 Fly to Ho Chi Minh City Ho Chi Minh
Day 10 Cu Chi Tunnels & Ho Chi Minh City Tour Ho Chi Minh
Day 11 Day Trip to Mekong Delta & Ben Tre Ho Chi Minh
Day 12 Depart Ho Chi Minh   

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Arrive in Hanoi

Tran Quoc Pagoda is the oldest Buddhist temple in Hanoi

Welcome to Vietnam! A driver will meet you at the airport in Hanoi for a transfer to your hotel in the Old Quarter. From there, get out and explore with a stroll to familiarize yourself with the neighborhood, walking past Tran Quoc Pagoda, the oldest Buddhist temple in Hanoi. Or, rest at your hotel and then go out in the evening for an optional food tour with a local guide. 

The adventure will begin at Thanh Ha Market to learn about Vietnam's most popular noodle dishes, such as pho, and the vegetables, meats, fish, and spices that are the most central ingredients. Then head to Dong Xuan Market, known for its noodle shops, where you can try pho sot vang (noodle soup with pork and herbs) and bun dau (tofu served in soup with rice noodles and fermented shrimp paste). From the market, see more of the Old Quarter, exploring a maze of streets and alleys. Taste preserved fruits on Hang Cot Street, and end the tour with a coffee at a busy café.

Day 2: Transfer to Pu Luong Nature Reserve, Hiking & Rafting

Hiking and rafting in Pu Luong
Learn how bamboo waterwheels are made along the Cham River

Today, discover Pu Luong Nature Reserve's forests, mountains, and villages, 30 minutes north of Hanoi. Arrive around noon from your hotel for your first stop at a homestay for lunch. After lunch, go for a walk with panoramic views as you pass rice terraces and then get back in the car, traveling over the Cham River on a suspension bridge.

Walking along the Cham River, learn about bamboo waterwheels and traditional ways of moving river water. Take a footpath to a local fisherman's house, then board a traditional raft for a scenic 1.5-hour trip down the river to reach Tan Lap Bridge. Arrive at your homestay and eat dinner with your hosts and then spend the night at their house along the river. 

Day 3: Explore Pu Luong Nature Reserve, Transfer to Hanoi

See the idyllic landscape of Pu Luong on a three-hour hike

After an early breakfast, leave the Cham River to descend into the valley to explore the nature reserve. Follow a 2.4-mile (4 km) and approximately three-hour trek along verdant paths until you reach a village sitting at the base of a towering mountain. Continue on through the valley, weaving among farmland, villages, and wild fields. At the end of the hike, go back to your homestay for lunch. 

In the afternoon, take a four-hour transfer back to Hanoi. Settle into your hotel and get ready for an early departure in the morning for your Ha Long Bay cruise, or go out and experience more of Hanoi's nightlife. 

Day 4: Transfer to Ha Long Bay, Cruise & Kayak on Ha Long Bay

Cruising & Kayaking in Ha Long Bay
Relax during a Ha Long Bay cruise

It's an early departure from Hanoi this morning, as you meet your guides at approximately 7:30-8 am. A four-hour transfer takes you east to Ha Long Bay, where you'll board your overnight cruise. This UNESCO-listed natural wonder is known for its glassy waters and more than 2,000 limestone islands covered in forests. Named for their shapes, the islands are rich in legends, which you'll learn as you sail across the bay, savor a seafood lunch, and have time to relax on deck.

In the afternoon, stop at a secret swimming and kayaking cove, or if you'd rather rest and recharge, you can relax on the beach. Back on board, join a cooking class with instructions on making nem (fried spring rolls). In the evening, watch the sunset on the boat or head out with the locals on an adventure in night fishing. Bring your catch back to the boat to share with the crew. Then settle into your cabin for a restful sleep on the calm bay.

Day 5: Cruise Ha Long Bay, Transfer to Hanoi

Cruising Ha Long Bay
See the floating villages of Ha Long Bay as you cruise

Surrounded by calm and beauty, enjoy an early breakfast on the deck while watching the sun rise over Ha Long Bay's emerald waters. Follow breakfast with a tai chi class to get energized for the day's activities. As the boat sets sail, there will be a stop to visit a limestone cave full of stalagmites and stalactites. Back on deck, eat brunch, and sail back to the harbor.

From the harbor, take a transfer to your Hanoi hotel, traveling approximately four hours west. Settle into your Hanoi hotel for the night and get ready to travel to Hoi An in the morning.
Plan your trip to Vietnam
Chat with a local specialist who can help organize your trip.

Day 6: Transfer to Hoi An, Explore Hoi An

Hoi An sightseeing
See Vietnam's many cultural influences in Hoi An

In the morning, meet your driver for a transfer to the airport, where you'll catch a flight traveling approximately one-hour south to Danang. At the airport, your driver will be waiting to drive you an hour south to your Hoi An hotel. Then spend the afternoon and evening walking around the city. 

A 16th-century trading center, Hoi An's architectural and cultural influences are Chinese, Japanese, and French, as you'll see as you navigate its cobblestone streets. Pass over the hundred–year–old Japanese Bridge and then enter Phuc Kien Hall and learn about its dedication to a sea goddess. For dinner, head to the fish market or a local restaurant and try local dishes such as com hen (sauteed clams), nem lui (ground pork), and cao lau (pork and greens). 

Day 7: Hoi An Cooking Class & Lantern Workshop

Learn about Hoi An's lanterns that are a symbol of the city

With a full day to see Hoi An, you have many options, whether you want to stay in town, relax on the beach, or take a class. To fully experience the area's markets and learn about its cuisine, hop on a bicycle and follow your guide to a local market. A chef will explain the ingredients needed to prepare a meal for lunch. Then, board a basket boat to ride through a palm garden to reach the kitchen, where you'll cook dishes such as green papaya salad, spring rolls, pancakes, fish in a clay pot, or lemongrass chicken. Enjoy what you've cooked with your teacher, and then cycle back to your hotel after lunch.

Japanese settlers brought lanterns to Hoi An in the 16th century as a symbol of good fortune. In the afternoon, learn more about the lanterns that you see decorating Hoi An's streets as you get back on your bicycle to follow your guide to a lantern workshop. There, you'll hear about the history of the lanterns and how they are made, and then create one to take home. After the demonstration, bike back to Hoi An to return to your hotel or see more of the city.

Day 8: Hoi An Countryside Excursion

Take an afternoon  trip down the rivers near Hoi An

On your second free day in Hoi An, you could head for the countryside with a cycling trip along the water with a local guide. To fully experience life on the river, board a boat for a cruise to meet fishers and learn about net fishing. Then trade the boat for a smaller basket boat to take a trip down a coconut palm-lined waterway. Enjoy a seafood lunch and then make your way back to Hoi An for a free afternoon to explore. 

Back in Hoi An, see the city's master tailors at work and get fitted for a custom-made jacket, suit, or dress to take home with you. Spend the evening watching the sunset on the river and enjoy dinner at a restaurant to savor your last night in Hoi An. 

Day 9: Fly to Ho Chi Minh City

Feel the energy of Ho Chi Minh as you tour its streets and markets

This morning a driver will meet you at your hotel for a transfer to Da Nang International Airport, where you will take a one-hour flight south to Ho Chi Minh. At the airport, meet your driver for a transfer to your hotel and then set off to explore Ho Chi Minh, also known as Saigon. With a population of approximately 9 million, it's Vietnam's largest city, and there are endless possibilities to explore.

Set off with a local food expert to markets and food stands. At Ben Thanh Market, browse food stalls, and try banh xeo (pancakes) and banh mi (sandwiches). In District 5, see ceremonial cake stalls while learning about how these cakes are eaten for special occasions. For a break and to end the tour, take a seat in a small and busy café to try a sweet iced coffee or slow-drip hot brew while people-watching. Return to your hotel to rest because there will be more time to explore the city tomorrow.

Day 10: Cu Chi Tunnels & Ho Chi Minh City Tour

Cu Chi Tunnels and Ho Chi Minh City Tour
Navigate Ho Chi Minh with your local guide

Start today's explorations with a visit to the Cu Chi Tunnels, about 37 miles (60 km) north of the city. You'll travel through a landscape of lush rice fields before arriving and exploring the network of 136 miles (220 km) of underground channels— used for hiding, communications, sending supplies, and living quarters for Vietnamese soldiers during the Vietnam War. After the tour, eat lunch on your way back into the city.

In the afternoon, you'll see Independence Palace, also known as Reunification Palace, which was built on the former Norodom Palace and designed by architect Ngo Viet Thu. Continue your tour to learn about French Colonial architecture, such as Notre Dame Cathedral and the Central Post Office. Then, visit Ben Thanh market to eat more street food such as banh mi and com tam—you may even want to buy some spices to take home with you. At the end of the tour, go back to your hotel as it's an early departure for tomorrow's day trip.

Day 11: Day Trip to Mekong Delta & Ben Tre

Day trip to Mekong Delta (Ben Tre)
Steer your bicycle on paths along the Mekong Delta

Ben Tre and its Ham Luong Dock are this morning's destination, traveling just under two hours south of Ho Chi Minh. From the dock, board a boat for a cruise along the Ham Luong River, a tributary of the Mekong River. See an idyllic area lined with small islands and experience the sights and sounds of life on the river. As you explore villages along the riverbanks, you'll get the chance to meet the locals and watch how brick is hand-fired and painted, and coconuts are processed in a variety of ways for cooking and products to eat and to use around the home.

After a stop for tea, catch a ride on a xe loi (rickshaw) or pick up a bicycle to follow a shady path, traveling among rice fields and vegetable gardens. Join a local family for lunch, and in the afternoon, ride on a sampan wooden boat along the canal and then catch another boat to the dock. From there, travel back to Ho Chi Minh and spend your final night in Vietnam exploring more of the city.

Day 12: Depart Ho Chi Minh

Say farewell to Vietnam for now
Enjoy your last morning in Vietnam, visiting a local market in Ho Chi Minh after breakfast, or if you have time for lunch, savoring one last bowl of steaming noodles. Take a transfer to the airport for your flight home or on to your next destination. 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 12 days in Vietnam, 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 Vietnam Culture & Heritage: Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh  - 12 Days
Map of Vietnam Culture & Heritage: Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh - 12 Days
Written by Hien Do, updated Dec 31, 2022