Explore the cultural and natural highlights of Vietnam on this 17-day trip. Arrive in Hanoi and indulge in a street food walking tour, followed by a day at Pu Luong National Park and dinner with a local host family. Next, explore the beauty of Trang An's caves, followed by an overnight cruise along Halong Bay and Bai Tu Long Bay. Then, trek through Phong Nha National Park and camp overnight before discovering the stunning Tu Lan Cave System. Next is Hue, and another dinner with a local family, as well as a tour of the ancient city. Head to Hoi An for some sightseeing, a free day, and a fishing village tour. The trip concludes in Ho Chi Minh City with a Vespa tour and a day trip to the Mekong Delta.

Highlights

  • Trek through Pu Luong National Park and visit the caves of Phong Nha
  • Enjoy an overnight cruise from Halong Bay to beautiful Bai Tu Long Bay
  • Join local Vietnamese families for dinner in Pu Luong and Hue
  • Take a Vespa tour of bustling Ho Chi Minh City
  • Embark on a Mekong adventure through markets, villages, and craft shops

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrival in Hanoi Hanoi
Day 2 Hanoi - Free Day Hanoi
Day 3 Travel to Pu Luong National Park Huyện Bá Thước, tỉnh Thanh Hóa
Day 4 Explore Remote Areas of Pu Luong Huyện Bá Thước, tỉnh Thanh Hóa
Day 5 Drive to Trang An Grottoes Ninh Binh
Day 6 Explore Halong Bay on an Overnight Cruise Halong Bay
Day 7 Return to Hanoi & Night Train to Dong Hoi Hanoi
Day 8 Trekking in Phong Nha National Park & Tent Overnight Phong Nha
Day 9 Tu Lan Cave Exploration Phong Nha
Day 10 Travel to Hue & Dinner With Locals Hue
Day 11 Boat & Bike Tour of Rural Hue Villages Hue
Day 12 Drive to Hoi An Hoi An
Day 13 Hoi An - Countryside & Ancient Town Tours Hoi An
Day 14 Hoi An - Free Day Hoi An
Day 15 Fly to Ho Chi Minh City & Vespa Tour Ho Chi Minh City
Day 16 BenTre Day Trip (Mekong Delta) Ho Chi Minh City
Day 17 Departure From Da Nang  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Arrival in Hanoi

Welcome to Hanoi!
Welcome to Hanoi!

Chao Ban, and welcome to Hanoi! A driver will meet you at the airport and take you to your hotel for check-in. Today is free and at your leisure. You can rest, or do some exploration to discover your own first impressions of Vietnam—depending on what time you arrive.

Day 2: Hanoi - Free day

Old Quarter Hanoi
Old Quarter in Hanoi

Today is on your own in Hanoi. Take more time to relax and recover after a long flight.
Then, at 6 pm, a guide will meet you at your hotel for the start of a street food walking tour. Walking distance is around 2.5 miles in the Old Quarter’s "36 Streets" to visit some famous and specialized food families, or the stalls, local restaurants, and shops where they run their businesses every day. Expect to watch and taste around 6-8 particular dishes, with vegetarian customization or special food, too. Your tour guide will introduce you to some popular, authentic food, so you feel comfortable sitting down and enjoying a few favorite dishes and nice drinks.

Following the tour, return to your hotel and enjoy the rest of the evening at your leisure.

Day 3: Travel to Pu Luong National Park

Mai Chau Village
Mai Chau Village

Depart from your Hanoi hotel at 8 am and head to Mai Chau on a scenic, 4-hour drive. Upon arrival at PoomCoom village in Mai Chau, take a short walk to visit the ethnic Thai people, and then lunch will be served.

At 1 pm, take a short car ride—about 1 hour—before embarking on a 3-hour hike through the beauty of the Pu Luong nature reserve. The trek is intermediate-level and requires some incline walking, but it’s worth the work to see the many impressive views of villages and terraces.   

Arrive at the Thai stilt homestay in the late afternoon. Then, enjoy some free time to rest and shower, followed by a traditional dinner with your host family, who will provide your shelter for the night.

Day 4: Explore remote areas of Pu Luong

Rice terrace field at Pu Luong
A rice terrace field in Pu Luong

Wake up early for breakfast and spend the morning exploring the Thai village. Meet some of your neighbors and learn about the local lifestyle and culture. Go for an easy hike along the rice paddies, if time permits, before lunch.

Then, continue trekking through more villages until you reach Hieu Village. Enjoy time at your leisure before it is time to interact with your host and enjoy dinner together. The evening includes another local homestay.

Day 5: Drive to Trang An Grottoes

Morning in Trang An
Float through local caves in Trang An

Wake up and have breakfast at your hotel. Then, head to Trang An around 8 am. The morning hours involve fewer tourists, providing more time to take in the tranquility and admire the natural beauty.

Upon arrival in Trang An, relax on a local rowboat trip. Meander within the karst landscape and float through some local caves. Later, indulge in local Vietnamese food for lunch. 

Next, travel a short distance to Hoa Lu, Vietnam’s 9th-century ancient capital, for some cultural sightseeing and storytelling of past kings. Return to your hotel around 4 pm.

Day 6: Explore Halong Bay on an overnight cruise

Halong Bay
Cruise around Halong Bay

Depart for Ha Long Bay around 7:30 am from your hotel in Ninh Binh. Arrive at the port around noon, after an approximate 4-hour ride. Once welcomed on board, an escort will show you to your cabin. Then, the trip will be explained briefly. Enjoy a fresh and local seafood lunch while you cruise to Bai Tu Long Bay. Along the way, stop for a swim and visit a mysterious cave. Afterward, you can relax at a secluded island-beach or explore the bay via kayak. In the evening, have dinner and take in the sunset. The rest of the evening is yours aboard the boat.

Plan your trip to Vietnam
Chat with a local specialist who can help organize your trip.

Day 7: Return to Hanoi and take a night train to Dong Hoi

Sunrise on Bai Tu Long Bay
Sunrise on Bai Tu Long Bay

Today, take the chance to enjoy the fresh air and gentle breeze of Bai Tu Long Bay—a hidden gem—early in the morning. Have breakfast on board at 7:30 am, then take a morning cruise around the magnificent scenery to a short, rustic rowboat operated by the locals of the bay.

Then, head back to the cruise for your check-out from the cabin and have lunch on the boat as you slowly cruise back to port. Disembark the boat at 12:30 pm, then hit the road back to Hanoi around 4:30 pm.

Have dinner on your own in Hanoi, and then head to the train station to catch your overnight train to Dong Hoi.

Day 8: Trekking in Phong Nha National Park and overnight in a tent

Hung Ton valley view
Hung Ton valley view

Arrive at Dong Hoi early in the morning and travel to Phong Nha for breakfast before venturing off to the village of Tan Hoa, located about 44 miles away. Following a safety briefing and gear check, the trek begins with a 1.5-mile hike across fields of peanut crops, giant water buffaloes, towering corn stalks, and down to the Rao Nan River.

The adventure accelerates with a 99-foot climb up a rocky hill to a small jungle opening—where you can catch your breath—before a 328-foot descent in elevation down to Hung Ton Valley. Lunch will be enjoyed in the Hung Ton Cave opening, and then the excursion picks up again with some serious trekking from Hung Ton Valley over to Mango Mountain, then back down into Tu Lan Valley (just short of 2 miles).

By mid-afternoon, the Tu Lan campsite will be on the horizon. Go for a well-earned swim beneath the waterfall. Continue swimming through Ken Cave, located next to the campsite, and after that, it’s back to camp for a delicious barbeque dinner.

Relax and get some rest in a hammock or tent among the trees tonight.

Day 9: Tu Lan Cave exploration

Swimming in Tu Lan cave
Swim through Tu Lan cave

The second day in Tu Lan starts with a hearty breakfast and more cave exploration.

Start with a brief swim across the river into the heart of the Tu Lan Cave System, and break to enjoy the blue lagoon entrance before making your way 591 feet downstream through the Tu Lan Cave entrance. Make your way up to explore the dry part of the cave—which may involve some climbing and squeezing—at which point, the dry exit will be in sight. Then, trek a short way through the valley into the Kim Cave dry entrance. Stay for a while, and then it’s off on another swim (1,476 feet) and trek (1,640 feet) through Hang Kim to To Mo Valley.

Enjoy a picnic lunch next to a stunning waterfall by the Hung Ton Cave mouth. Then, try to follow a dry path before swimming out through Hung Ton wet cave.

Next is the exploration of a dry passage, and then a trek down into Hung Ton Valley (just short of a half-mile).

Then, arrive in Tan Hoa, followed by a chance to take in the scenery—with a cold drink in hand.

Showers are available for those who would like to refresh and change clothing. Departure back to Phong Nha is at around 4 pm, with arrival in Phong Nha by 6:30 pm.

Day 10: Travel to Hue and have dinner with locals

Cook Vietnamese food with a local family
Cook Vietnamese food with a local family

Today, take advantage of a whole morning free in Dong Hoi for some relaxation. Lunch is on your own, followed by a transfer to your hotel in Hue. The journey will take around 4 hours.

Around 5 pm, your guide and driver will pick you up at your hotel and take you to the home of a local family for dinner. The host family members will provide an authentic experience that goes beyond the ordinary tourist encounter. Enjoy an enriching cultural exchange over the meal. Get in touch with the family members—learn about daily life, culture, habits, and their way of living in a traditional Central Vietnamese home.

Join in on the process of cooking. Prepare the dinner from local ingredients and cook typical dishes with homeowners under their welcoming instructions. This is an interesting way to learn about Vietnamese fare, as well as the culinary culture. Visualize the differences between Vietnam’s food and your country’s fare. Take in the cozy, at-home eating style, and then say goodbye to your host and the family members. Then, return to your hotel in Hue.

Day 11: Boat and bike tour of rural Hue villages

Royal Citadel
Royal Citadel, Hue

Depart from your hotel in the morning to visit the imperial city, and learn all about the royal kingdom of the past. Then, board a boat along the Perfume River, with stop at Thien Mu Pagoda.

Continue the boat journey downstream with beautiful views along the sides of the river. Have lunch on board, while sailing down the Perfume River.

The afternoon starts with an 8.7-mile biking tour to visit the flower village of Tien Non. Discover different types of flowers, then cycle a bit more to stop in the Thanh Tien paper flower-making village, where you can try your hand on your own. After that, visit a village where traditional folk paintings are crafted, and ride some more through the beautiful and peaceful countryside of Hue, before hitting the road back to your hotel at about 5 pm.

Day 12: Drive to Hoi An

The coastal view from Hai Van Pass
The coastal view from Hai Van Pass

Have breakfast at your hotel, then head out on the 4-hour drive to Hoi An. There is great sightseeing en route. Anticipate stops at Lang Co Beach, Hai Van Pass, Cham Museum, and the Marble Mountains, depending on time. Reach Hoi An in the evening, and enjoy the night on your own.

Day 13: Hoi An - Countryside and ancient town tours

Row along the village of water coconut
Row along the village of water coconut

At 8 am, meet at your hotel for a very short ride over to the boat docks. Take a boat to a fishing village, and see and experience the life of a fisherman here. Prepare the fishing tools, and go fishing. Then, embark on a short basket boat row along the village of water coconut before lunch.

Then, cycle along the country road, through the paddy fields of rice, coconut, or corn, heading to the main town of Hoi An.

Continue the afternoon with some sightseeing; explore the famous cultural sites around Hoi An, and end your trip at approximately 5 pm. Then, return to your hotel.

Day 14: Hoi An - Free day

Japanese Bridge
Japanese Bridge

Today, enjoy a free day in Hoi An. Note that if you have the chance and desire, you can purchase great-quality, tailor-made clothes at reasonable prices—Hoi An is well-known for its impeccable tailors. You can also visit the Japanese Bridge, the numerous temples, and the beautiful merchant townhouses, or indulge in a relaxing beach day.

Day 15: Fly to Ho Chi Minh City and Vespa tour

Tour Ho Chi Minh City
Tour Ho Chi Minh City

Enjoy breakfast at the hotel, then travel to the airport in Da Nang for a morning flight to Ho Chi Minh City. Touch down and make your way to the hotel for check-in. Then, embark on a city group Vespa tour—the group consists of less than eight people. Discover the Chinese district of Saigon, stop to see a sweet-smelling flower market, and visit a breathtaking-yet-hidden Buddhist pagoda.

Next, visit the must-see landmarks, such as the famous Saigon Cathedral and Post Office, which were designed by Gustave Eiffel. Then, receive a brief history lesson in front of the Reunification Palace. Depending on the time of day you wish to take the tour, the excursion begins or ends with lunch at Café Zoom. In the late afternoon, travel back to the hotel, and enjoy the night on your own.

Day 16: BenTre day trip (Mekong Delta)

Local life on river
Explore life on the BenTre River, along the Mekong Delta

At 8 am, a driver will pick you at your hotel for a 2-hour ride to MyTho, the first town on the main branch of Mekong. On arrival to MyTho city, drive to the RachMieu suspension bridge, with its panoramic view of the Mekong and its four, surrounding islands.

On arrival in BenTre, board a 1-hour cruise on BenTre River, a tributary of Ham Luong–the fourth branch of the Mekong River. Sit back and relax on board, drift down the busy branch of the Ham Luong and into the peaceful canal. Visit a brick kiln and a coconut shell-husking workshop. See the daily life of farmers and try the hard work involved with the husking of the coconut that is unique to the region.

As the boat cruises the inner, natural waterways, visit a coconut candy workshop, the main product that made BenTre famous. Disembark at a local market of NhonThanh commune, and start a 1,640-foot walk on a village road to explore the market products. Visit a farmer workshop that makes sleeping mats, an old tradition of handweaving a sedge mat or rush mat. Then, the Mekong adventure continues—see what life is really like for locals by exploring this quiet island by bicycle, or via a more relaxing mode, by hopping on a Lambrettatriporteur, an old, 1960s traditional tricycle in South Vietnam. This Lambretta adventure winds around the coconut palms, bitter melon, or cucumber farms, and over to a farmer's house to break for lunch and some relaxation.

In the afternoon, explore a bit more of the coconut farms and fruit orchards of the village on foot. It’s about a half-mile walk through the village, and the villagers welcome you on their wooden sampan for some paddling on a small waterway. Your boat will pick you up again to cruise back to the boat landing in BenTretown. Then, drive back to Saigon. The tour ends in Ho Chi Minh City around 5 pm.

Day 17: Departure from Da Nang

Hoi An ancient town
Farwell, Vietnam!

Wake up and enjoy a final Vietnamese breakfast at the hotel. Depending on your flight, you may have some more time to shop for souvenirs. Then, a driver will take you to the airport for your departure flight home. Safe Travels!

Map

Map of Vietnam Nature and Culture Tour: Hanoi, Hue, Ho Chi Minh City, & More - 17 Days
Map of Vietnam Nature and Culture Tour: Hanoi, Hue, Ho Chi Minh City, & More - 17 Days
Nga
Written by Nga Le, updated Nov 20, 2019