Highlights of Vietnam - 15 Days
- Hit the streets of Hanoi's Old Quarter and enjoy a traditional water puppet show
- Hike around ethnic villages in the northern highlands
- Cruise the jade-green Ha Long Bay
- Walk the ancient streets of Hue and Hoi An
- Visit Ho Chi Minh City and travel down the Mekong River
|Day 1||Arrive in Hanoi||Hanoi|
|Day 2||Guided Walking Tour of Hanoi & Water Puppet Show||Hanoi|
|Day 3||Day Trip to Tho Ha Village, Countryside Bike Tour & Cooking Lesson||Hanoi|
|Day 4||Transfer to Sapa & Village Hike||Sapa|
|Day 5||Hike to Sapa Villages||Sapa|
|Day 6||Visit Local Villages, Return to Hanoi||Hanoi|
|Day 7||Transfer to Ha Long Bay, Cruising & Kayaking||Ha Long Bay|
|Day 8||Cruise Ha Long Bay, Transfer to Hue||Hue|
|Day 9||Imperial City Tour, Plus Khai Dinh Tomb & Boating at Tam Giang Lagoon||Hue|
|Day 10||Transfer to Hoi An, Afternoon Walking Tour||Hoi An|
|Day 11||Cycle to an Organic Farm & Cooking Lesson||Hoi An|
|Day 12||Transfer to Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnamese Culture Show||Ho Chi Minh City|
|Day 13||Cu Chi Tunnels & Guided Ho Chi Minh City Tour||Ho Chi Minh City|
|Day 14||Day Trip to the Mekong Delta||Ho Chi Minh City|
|Day 15||Depart Ho Chi Minh City|
Day 1: Arrive in Hanoi
Welcome to Vietnam! With thousands of years of history and culture, this nation is full of wonders dating back to antiquity. And there's no better place to start discovering it than the capital of Hanoi. This city is a bastion of living history that spans ancient dynasties to French colonialism and up to the modern age.
Upon arrival at the airport, your driver will be waiting to transfer you to your hotel in the city. After settling in, you can venture out on a self-guided tour to stretch your legs. Hit the streets of the Old Quarter and browse the silk shops on Hang Gai Street. When hunger beckons, tuck into Vietnamese street food staples like pho (noodle soup), banh mi (baguette sandwich), or bun cha (grilled pork with rice noodles). Bun Cha Huong Lien, one famous restaurant here served this popular dish to former president Barack Obama and intrepid foodie Anthony Bourdain.
Day 2: Guided Walking Tour of Hanoi & Water Puppet Show
This morning you'll immerse yourself in Hanoi's culture on a half-day walking tour. Start the adventure at a local coffee shop, where you'll meet your guide and head out into the city. Walking along historic streets, you'll pass architectural marvels and ancient landmarks. These include Hoan Kiem Lake, the 11th-century Temple of Literature (Vietnam's oldest university), and the 19th-century, neo-Gothic St. Joseph's Cathedral.
Then, take a walk along Nha Chung Street, which has food stalls and vendors hawking fresh produce. You'll head up an old wooden staircase to the second floor of a historic French-colonial home. The owner has lived here all his life, and he will host you for a beverage and a chat about this remarkable city, its past, and what he sees for the future. The tour ends with a delicious lunch at a vintage restaurant dating back to the 1950s and Vietnam's liberation from France.
After lunch, you'll visit another local: Mr. Phan Liem, a seventh-generation practitioner of the Vietnamese art of water puppetry. This theatrical expression has been part of the nation's culture dating back over 1,000 years, and your host has devoted his life to mastering it. The stage for these performances is a small pool (mimicking rice paddies), and the puppeteer stands behind a screen while manipulating the wooden puppets. Over a cup of tea, your host will explain the history of this art and then treat you to a private show. Afterward, you'll tour his workshop to see how he crafts these intricate puppets.
Day 3: Day Trip to Tho Ha Village, Countryside Bike Tour & Cooking Lesson
Today you'll venture outside the city for some countryside adventures. Your driver will pick you up at your hotel in the morning for the two-hour drive northeast to Tho Ha village. Located on the Cau River in Bac Giang Province, this traditional village is known for its artisanal pottery. Many of the town's walls are built not with brick but with remnants of earthen pots and jars. Due to its history and architecture, the village has become a popular destination for day-trippers from Hanoi in recent years. Some of its buildings and ancient gates date back to the 16th century.
Upon arrival, you'll hop on a bike for a leisurely cycling trip around the village. Depending on the schedule, you'll ride 3-10 miles (5-16 km), passing sleepy villages and picturesque rural landscapes. Eventually, you'll arrive in the hamlet of Dong Tam and join the locals for rural activities like fishing, crabbing, and gardening. After an hour of fun masquerading as work, you'll return to town. There, a local family will welcome you into their home and teach you to cook the region's traditional cuisine. After the lesson, you'll sit down to eat with your host family and return to Hanoi at the end of the day.
Day 4: Transfer to Sapa & Village Hike
Leave Hanoi behind this morning as a driver picks you up at your hotel for the ride north to Sapa's highland area, known for its soaring mountains and endless terraces of green rice paddies. The drive takes around six hours, and you'll check into your hotel on arrival. Unwind after your long journey on a walk around the town's steep streets. Breathe in the cool alpine air, stop for a cup of Vietnamese coffee, and browse the handicrafts on offer from local Hmong women in colorful, traditional dress.
Finish the day on a hike (or drive) between rural villages outside of town, which is a great excuse to meet locals from the ethnic hill tribes. The first leg of the trip will take you about 1 mile (2 km) from your hotel along hilly roads to the village of Cat Cat. Nestled amid terraced rice paddies and sitting on streams that converge into a romantic waterfall, this traditional village home to the Black Hmong ethnic tribe is high in the running for the most beautiful town in the country.
After touring the town, continue on a dirt trail through the mountains along a narrow river amid terraced fields and vegetable patches on the way to Y Linh Ho village, another slice of rural Vietnamese paradise denoted by golden fields and bamboo homes. The area is populated by the Dao people, an ethnic tribe who adorn themselves with handmade indigo-blue clothing decorated with batik flower patterns. Here, you'll stop by the river for a rest and to snap photos. Then, hike back to the main road, where a car will be waiting to return you to Sapa.
Day 5: Hike to Sapa Villages
For day two of your Sapa outdoor adventure, you'll embark on a six-hour trek between the Lech Dzao and Thanh Kim villages. Situated about 12 miles (20 km) southwest of Sapa, Thanh Kim Valley is home to the Red Zao and Hmong people, who have maintained their cultural traditions for centuries despite the influence of modern life.
After transferring to the village by car, you'll hit the trail on a path following the scenic mountainside. About an hour later, you'll reach Thanh Kim Valley. From here, the trail descends to a river, where you'll cross an old stone bridge leading to Lech Dzao village.
Day 6: Visit Local Villages, Return to Hanoi
In the morning, take a 15-minute drive from Sapa to visit Sa Seng and Sau Chua, two traditional villages of the Black Hmong ethnic tribe. You'll enjoy sweeping views of the Sapa mountains and rice paddies during the drive. After turning off from the main road, leave the car and continue on a two-hour hike to the villages located in a valley below. The scenic path will take you through terraced fields to the Sau Chua stream, which connects the villages. Once there, you'll meet Hmong people and even be welcomed into a local home. Afterward, you'll return to the car.
Once back in Sapa, a private car will transfer you six hours back to Hanoi. You'll check in to your hotel and have the evening free.
Chat with a local specialist who can help organize your trip.
Day 7: Bus to Ha Long Bay, Swim, Kayak & Masterclass Cooking Lesson
Wake up early and board a limousine 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" translates to "descending dragon"). The unique beauty of this region is unlike anywhere and thus has been bestowed with UNESCO World Heritage status.
Upon arrival at the marina, you'll board a multilevel 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 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 afterward. Spend the remainder of the evening relaxing, or head out on a small boat for some night fishing with the locals.
Day 8: Cruise Ha Long Bay, Transfer to Hue
Wake up early and head to the deck to catch the sunrise gilding the bay waters. Then sit down and enjoy breakfast in the open air as you cruise around towering karst islets. The rest of the morning is yours to relax and enjoy the views or partake in one or two more optional activities, like kayaking around Ha Long Bay's famous floating villages. Then sit down to an early lunch before disembarking at the marina and catching the limo bus back to Hanoi.
Upon arrival in Hanoi, you'll immediately transfer to the airport by car. Here, you'll catch a flight a little over an hour south to the coastal city of Hue. This historic city sits on the banks of the Perfume River and is most famous for its walled citadel, which was the imperial capital of Vietnam during the Nguyen dynasty from 1802 to 1945. When you arrive in Hue, a driver will be waiting at the airport to transfer you to your hotel.
Day 9: Imperial City Tour, Plus Khai Dinh Tomb & Boating at Tam Giang Lagoon
This morning you'll head out on a half-day guided tour of Hue's most famous enclave, the Imperial City. Capital of the Nguyen Dynasty from 1802 to 1945, within this walled enclosure are emperors' tombs, ancient pagodas, and the remains of an iconic citadel. You and your guide will enter this UNESCO World Heritage Site through the towering main gate, and the historic architecture will immediately make you feel like you're stepping back in time. During the tour, you'll visit impressive royal mausoleums dating to the 19th century, like the Tu Duc Royal Tomb and Khai Dinh Royal Tomb.
After touring the Imperial City, you'll have lunch in Hue. Then, in the afternoon, meet another guide who will lead you to other highlights in and around the city. First up is the Vietnamese/European architectural marvel An Dinh Palace, which dates to the early 1900s and is the last residence of Hue's emperors. Then head just north of the city to the coast and Tam Giang Lagoon. Here you'll take a boat ride amid the colorful mangrove forests at Ru Cha. After casting nets with some local fishermen, head to a waterfront restaurant for a fresh seafood meal before returning to Hue.
Day 10: Transfer to Hoi An, Afternoon Walking Tour
After breakfast, a driver will pick you up at your hotel for the 2.5-hour ride south from Hue down the coast to Hoi An. During this scenic 13-mile (21 km) drive, you'll cross over the magnificent Hai Van Pas. 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. You'll make plenty of stops on the ride to snap pictures of the coastal vistas.
Eventually, you'll arrive in Hoi An. Sitting on the banks of the Thu Bon River, this historic town was a major trading port with the West from the 15th through the 19th centuries. It attracted international merchants ranging from the Chinese and Japanese to the Spanish and Dutch. During a three-hour tour of Hoi An's Ancient Town, you'll see firsthand the international assortment of architecture here. One example is the arched Japanese Covered Bridge; another is the Assembly Hall of the Chaozhou Chinese Congregation. You'll also browse local markets, which sell fine textiles like silk.
Day 11: Cycle to an Organic Farm & Cooking Lesson
Spend the day exploring the countryside by bike. A guide will pick you up in the morning and drive you just outside Hoi An to a riverfront village where you'll pick up the bicycle. Then, embark on a roughly 4-mile (6 km) journey through unspoiled countryside dotted with coconut forests, rice paddies, and fish farms.
Your first stop will be at Thanh Dong, a 107,640 square foot (10,000 sq m) organic farm tended to by 10 or so local families. Take a stroll around the vegetable garden and learn how the farmers here have been cultivating produce and herbs organically using the same traditional methods they have for centuries. You'll even join in gardening activities like sowing seeds and picking vegetables.
Next, hop in a Vietnamese circular basket boat (called a thung chai) for a ride along the Do River to a popular waterfront restaurant, where you'll have lunch. As you float down the water, you'll spot farmers in conical hats picking rice in green paddies as fishermen cast nets out on the water. After eating, head back toward Hoi An and stop at one last local village. Here you'll spend time with a local family and participate in a short cooking class. Everyone will sit down to feast on a family-style Vietnamese dinner when it's done. Then you'll return to your hotel.
Day 12: Transfer to Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnamese Culture Show
In the morning, your driver will pick you up at the hotel for the one-hour ride north to the airport in Da Nang. 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.
You'll witness this city's rich heritage in the evening when you attend the A O Vietnamese Culture Show. This one-hour spectacle is a remarkable mix of bamboo circus, acrobatics, contemporary dance, Vietnamese music, and visual art. The show takes place in the iconic Saigon Opera House, built by the French in 1898. Performers use a variety of props, such as woven baskets, to depict the transition from rural to modern-day Vietnamese life.
Day 13: Cu Chi Tunnels & Guided Ho Chi Minh City Tour
After breakfast at the hotel, transfer two hours out 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, complete with storage areas and even hospitals. A visit here will give you a better understanding of Vietnam's wartime history and the hardships faced by the thousands of soldiers who survived the French and American wars.
Following Cu Chi, you'll have lunch at the local restaurant before returning to Ho Chi Minh City. Then it will be time to tour the highlights. Your guide will take you to historic 19th-century landmarks like Notre Dame Cathedral and the Central Post Office. Then visit the former Presidential Palace, which was the headquarters of the Saigon government during the American War. Continue to the War Remnants Museum for a vivid look at the American War through the eyes of the Vietnamese. At the end of the tour, you'll dabble in the city's street coffee culture before returning to your hotel.
Day 14: Day Trip to the Mekong Delta
Leave your hotel at 8 am on a 1.5-hour drive out of the city to the waterfront hub of Ben Tre. From here, you'll embark on a full-day tour around the Mekong River Delta. At the pier, leave the car and hop in a motorboat, where you'll take off down the Ben Tre River, a tributary of the Mekong.
Your first stop will be at the famous Cai Be Floating Market, where local vendors ply the waters selling everything from fresh produce to flowers right from their boats. Then, leave the main waterways and venture down smaller canals for a peaceful and relaxing ride. You'll pass fish farms and see locals milling about along the banks as you go. The next stop will be at An Binh, an islet famous in the area for its fruit orchards.
Enjoy lunch at a local heritage house and follow that with a stroll around the orchards as you sip a cup of tea. Continue touring the village here, stopping at a workshop that makes artisanal items from local products like rice paper and coconut candy. Should you choose, you can embark on an optional bicycle ride. As you ride along the village pathways, you'll pass schools, churches, traditional homes, pagodas, and gorgeous countryside. Then, visit brick kilns to see how the locals create beautiful clay pottery. Afterward, you'll meet a car for the ride back to the city.
Day 15: Depart Ho Chi Minh CityFor your last morning in Vietnam, enjoy a leisurely breakfast at your hotel. Then perhaps visit a local market and grab a cup of strong Vietnamese coffee before it's time to transfer to the airport and catch your flight home. Until next time!
More Great Vietnam Itineraries