Embark on a memorable journey to see the best of Vietnam, from colonial Hanoi to the beaches of the south and beyond. It begins in the north, where you'll tour the capital, cruise Ha Long Bay, and ride a sampan through the Red River Valley. Then, in central Vietnam, you'll visit ancient cities, take cooking classes, and laze on white-sand beaches in Nha Trang before finishing the trip in Ho Chi Minh City.

Highlights

  • Tour historical Hanoi and try delicious street food 
  • Cruise the waters of Ha Long Bay and explore Ninh Binh
  • Visit the Imperial City in Hue and take a cooking class 
  • Relax on the beaches of the southern coast
  • See the highlights in and around Ho Chi Minh City 

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrive in Hanoi, Optional Activities Hanoi
Day 2 Hanoi Like a Local Hanoi
Day 3 Transfer to Ha Long Bay, Cruise & Activities Ha Long Bay
Day 4 Ha Long Bay Discovery, Transfer to Ninh Binh Ninh Binh
Day 5 Ninh Binh Day Tour Ninh Binh
Day 6 Explore More of Ninh Binh, Train to Dong Hoi Dong Hoi
Day 7 Day Trip to Phong Nha Caves, Transfer to Hue Hue
Day 8 Imperial City Tour & Cooking Class Hue
Day 9 Transfer to Hoi An & Hai Van Pass Hoi An
Day 10 Day Trip to An Bang Beach Hoi An
Day 11 Day Trip to Cam Thanh Village Hoi An
Day 12 Transfer to Nha Trang, Optional Activities Nha Trang
Day 13 Free Day in Nha Trang, Train to Ho Chi Minh City Ho Chi Minh City
Day 14 Day Trip to Cu Chi Tunnels Ho Chi Minh City
Day 15 Depart Ho Chi Minh City  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Arrive in Hanoi, Optional Activities

Hoan Kiem Lake, Hanoi

Welcome to Hanoi, the capital of Vietnam! Inhabited since the third century BCE, this city is packed with historical highlights dating from ancient times through the French-colonial era. Upon arrival at the airport, a driver will pick you up for the ride into the city and drop you off at your hotel. After settling in, you can head out and discover Hanoi's historical sights on your own.

Standout landmarks include the 11th-century Temple of Literature and the neo-Gothic St Joseph's Cathedral, which dates to the 1880s. One of the best places to learn about Vietnam's past is at the National Museum of History, which features exhibits from prehistory through the mid-20th century. Hanoi also has vibrant street markets, outdoor food stalls, and silk shops lining historic Hang Bai Street. You should also take a stroll along Hoan Kiem Lake, a great place to experience typical Hanoian life and Vietnamese culture.

Day 2: Hanoi Like A Local

Local life in Hanoi

Dive into Hanoi's rich culture as you explore its neighborhoods and sample the famous street food on a half-day tour. it begins in the late morning with a visit to the northern end of Hoan Kiem Lake, where you'll find Ngoc Son Temple (Jade Mountain Temple). It was built in the 18th century to honor Tran Hung Dao, a famous military commander, and is situated on an islet accessible by an arched red bridge.

Continue with a walk through the Old Quarter, where you can browse the markets, visit street vendors, and enjoy the many bohemian bars and cafés. This would be a good time to sample Vietnamese street food classics like pho (noodle soup), banh mi (baguette sandwich), or bun cha (grilled pork and noodles). Another Hanoi Institution is bia hoi, a common light beer best enjoyed outdoors while huddled at a little table and crouched on a plastic stool. A glass of the stuff will set you back about a quarter.

The day ends with traditional Vietnamese entertainment: a water puppet show. During this performance, the water acts as a stage while the puppeteers stand behind a screen and manipulate the wooden puppets using bamboo rods. Water puppetry has been practiced in Hanoi for over 1,000 years, and it's as much art as it is theater. After the show, you'll return to your hotel.

Day 3: Transfer to Ha Long Bay, Cruise & Activities

Spend time on Ha Long Bay

Your guide will meet you at 7:30 am, and you'll leave Hanoi on a bus ride to Ha Long Bay. This UNESCO World Heritage Site is one of the true natural wonders of the world. Located on the Gulf of Tonkin, over 1,000 karst islets rise above emerald waters, creating a seascape unlike anything else in the world. 

You'll arrive at the port at about noon and then board a passenger ship for an unforgettable overnight cruise. After checking into your cabin, the ship will get underway and you'll enjoy a traditional Vietnamese lunch on deck. One of the first places you'll stop is Sung Sot (Surprise) Cave, the largest cavern in Ha Long. Located on Bo Hon Island, a walking tour will take you through a passage over 1,650 feet (500 m) long and about 98 feet (30 m) high, adorned with massive stalactites and stalagmites. 

Next, visit Titop, a sloping karst islet rimmed by a white-sand beach. Here, you can go swimming and spend time relaxing on the beach. A hike to the top of the island reveals the best views of Ha Long Bay. After some time at Titop, meet the group on the top deck of the boat to enjoy the sunset (wine and fresh fruit included). Then, sit down for dinner, and afterward, you can opt for activities like games and movies or head out on a nighttime squid-fishing excursion.

Day 4: Ha Long Bay Discovery, Transfer to Ninh Binh

The Trang An scenic area in Ninh Binh province

Enjoy an early breakfast on deck as you cruise deeper into this UNESCO World Heritage Site. Afterward, there will be a break for about an hour to do some kayaking. Then, at 9:30 am, you'll return to the boat. Take time to refresh and relax as the ship sails past floating fishing villages, karst islets, and other stunning scenery. Later in the morning, you can join a cooking class to learn how to make traditional Vietnamese spring rolls before sitting down for an early lunch.

At around 2 pm, the boat will return to the marina. From there, you'll hop on a bus for the 3.5-hour drive south to the Red River Delta and Ninh Binh province. This rural area is one of the most scenic regions in the country, known for tranquil rivers snaking through vast green rice fields dotted with towering karst mountains. Upon arrival, you'll check in to your accommodation and will have the rest of the day free. 

Day 5: Ninh Binh Day Tour

The Bai Dinh Temple

In the morning, you'll hop aboard a sampan (flat-bottom boat) for a leisurely three-hour tour down the waterways of this rural paradise. As you go, you'll marvel at landscapes of vast, unspoiled nature that seem like a throwback to ancient times—despite the fact that Ninh Binh is located a mere 57 miles (92 km) south of bustling Hanoi.

Ninh Binh is perhaps most famous for the temple and pagoda relics at Hoa Lu, a region that was the capital of Vietnam during the 10th and 11th centuries. Besides stopping at Hoa Lu, you'll also cruise down the waterways at Trang An, a UNESCO World Heritage Site whose grottoes and landscapes are regarded as the most beautiful in an already stunning region.

In the afternoon, you'll visit the Bai Dinh Temple. This sprawling complex covers 1,331 acres (539 ha) in Ninh Binh and is the largest Buddhist pagoda complex in Vietnam. The oldest pagoda here dates to the 12th century, while the newest was built in 2003. It's a massively popular pilgrimage site, and you'll see all its highlights on a walking tour. Afterward, you'll return to your hotel.

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Day 6: Explore More of Ninh Binh, Train to Dong Hoi

Mua Cave Mountain

Enjoy another morning exploring Ninh Binh province. During this three-hour tour, you'll visit Hang Mua (Mua Cave). Located just a few miles from the village of Tam Coc, this area isn't so much a cave as it is a mountain. The mountain ridge and viewpoint here are so incredible that the area has been called "inland Ha Long Bay" and the Great Wall of China—of Vietnam.

Reaching the top requires hiking up 500 stone steps. It's an arduous process, but once at the summit, you'll be rewarded with panoramic views looking out over Ninh Binh province. Having worked up an appetite, take a break for lunch followed by a leisurely bicycle ride along the rice fields around Tam Coc. Then, return to your accommodation to relax and freshen up. After dinner, head to the station, where you'll catch an overnight train south to Dong Hoi.

Day 7: Day Trip to Phong Nha Caves, Transfer to Hue

Phong Nha Cave

This morning, you'll arrive at the train station in Dong Hoi, which is the capital city of the northern coastal province of Quang Binh. At the station, a driver will pick you up for the one-hour ride north and inland to Phong Nha National Park. This area is most famous for its massive cave system and grottoes, which you'll get to explore.

First up, though, is a unique wildlife experience—a visit to Duck Stop. This family-run duck farm offers an experience that's fun for both adults and children. When you arrive, you'll be given some snacks and animal food, which you can hand out to the group of ducks mingling at your feet. You can even spend time with the resident water buffalo.

After touring the duck farm, you'll head out on another unforgettable adventure: a visit to Hang Toi (Dark Cave). This branch of the Phong Nha Cave stretches about 3 miles (6 km), and its internal ceiling rises as high as 262 feet (80 m). There's a variety of activities you can enjoy in and around this cavern, including swimming in grottoes, riding a zipline, and soaking in a natural mud bath. Afterward, you'll transfer three hours south to Hue, a historic coastal city sitting on the banks of the Perfume River. Upon arrival, you'll check in to your hotel and have the evening free.

Day 8: Imperial City Tour & Cooking Class

The Imperial City of Hue

You're in for a treat, as today you'll learn about Vietnam's imperial legacy on a living history tour. After meeting your guide, cross the Truong Tien Bridge and enter the walled Imperial City, a UNESCO World Heritage Site that was built in 1804 and was once the seat of Vietnam's government. It was home to Vietnam's royalty, where the emperor, his family, courtiers, and a few others lived within this compound protected by a moat and tall brick walls. It's a remarkably well-preserved landmark, but some of the damage caused during the Vietnam War can still be seen on the citadel's walls today.

Afterward, head to the harbor, where a boat will be waiting to take you up the Perfume River to a local garden house. Here, you'll enjoy great views of Thien Mu Pagoda. Dating to the 17th century, the pagoda's most prominent feature is Phuoc Duyen, a seven-story tower that is a symbol of Hue. You'll also take a cooking class and learn how to make authentic Vietnamese food from scratch. At the end of the experience, you'll sit down to enjoy the delicious cuisine you've prepared. 

Day 9: Transfer to Hoi An & Hai Van Pass

Hoi An's canals and Ancient Town

After breakfast at the hotel, you'll hop in an open-top Army Jeep and transfer 2.5 hours south along the coast to the historic city of Hoi An. This is a unique experience, as the vehicle you'll be traveling in has been in use since wartime. Even better, the route you'll be taking passes some of the most stunning scenery on Vietnam's central coast. You'll even stop for lunch on the beach.

The real highlight is when you wind your way up the Hai Van Pass. This section of National Route 1 spans 13 miles (21 km) through the Annamite Range. At the top of it, you'll stop the Jeep and get out to enjoy great views overlooking the coastal mountains and snap photos.

You'll arrive in Hoi An later in the afternoon and will check in to your hotel. This city sits on the banks of the Thu Bon River and was a major trading port with the West from the 15th through the 19th centuries. Known for its canals and well-preserved Ancient Town, in this UNESCO World Heritage Site, you'll find a hodgepodge of architectural styles spanning different eras and cultures. These include old Chinese shops and traditional Vietnamese homes—there's even the famous Japanese Covered Bridge. After settling in, feel free to head out and explore this area on foot.

Day 10: Day Trip to An Bang Beach

An Bang Beach

In the morning, you'll travel a couple of minutes north of town for some downtime on An Bang Beach. The golden sands here stretch 2.5 miles (4 km) and are a perfect spot to while away the hours. The vibe is laid back, and there are plenty of waterfront bars and restaurants for entertainment. You can make it an active day on the water by paragliding, jet-skiing, or riding a paddleboard. Or, spend the time lazing in a hammock with a good book, listening to the waves lapping at the shore, and enjoying the sea views with the Cham Islands dotting the horizon. At the end of the day, you'll return to your hotel in Hoi An.

Day 11: Day Trip to Cam Thanh Village

Ride a basket boat through Cam Thanh

In the morning, you'll travel a few minutes south of Hoi An to Cam Thanh, a traditional village nestled amid the 207-acre (84 ha) Bay Mau palm forest. The villagers here are known for producing high-quality handicrafts made from coconut and bamboo. They've been doing this since the 19th century, and you'll get to visit the local handicrafts center to see the skill and artistry that goes into these items. 

Afterward, do like a local and ride through mangrove forests in a traditional basket boat. These boats, which are called thung chai, are used by locals to travel the waterways as well as for fishing. You'll get to paddle the boat on your own and can even try crab fishing. 

Later in the afternoon, you'll return to Hoi An and can spend the rest of the day exploring on your own. Hoi An is famous for the quality of its clothing, so you might want to order a custom-made outfit from one of the local tailors. For the best sunset views, head to one of the city's nearby beaches, known for their soft golden sands. 

Day 12: Transfer to Nha Trang, Optional Activities

Chilled Beach Day in Nha Trang
Relaxing beach day in Nha Trang

Today you'll transfer to Da Nang and catch a one-hour flight to the coastal resort town of Nha Trang. Known for its palm-fringed beaches, fresh seafood, and offshore islets, it's a great place to come and relax. Upon arrival at the airport, a driver will transfer you to your hotel, and then you'll have the rest of the day free. To soak up the sunshine, head to Tran Phu, the city's main beach, which stretches 3 miles (7 km). For dinner, feast on great seafood, like crab and lobster, at one of the many restaurants on the main oceanfront road. 

Day 13: Free Day in Nha Trang, Train to Ho Chi Minh City

Ride the Vinpearl Cable Car in Nha Trang

You'll have the entire morning free in Nha Trang. If you like, you can return to the beach for more sunbathing and swimming. A major highlight, however, is to ride on the Vinpearl Cable Car, which runs from the mainland to Hon Tre Island, located just offshore. This cable car has the distinction of being the longest in Vietnam, as it runs 10,892 feet (3,320 m). It also travels at heights of up to 377 feet (115 m) and offers incredible views of Nha Trang and around the coast. 

Later in the afternoon, you'll transfer to the station in Nha Trang, where you'll board a train for the five to seven-hour ride south to Ho Chi Minh City, formerly Saigon. You'll arrive late, and when you do, a driver will be waiting to transfer you to your hotel.

Day 14: Day Trip to Cu Chi Tunnels

Explore the Cu Chi Tunnels

In the morning, transfer north of Ho Chi Minh City to the rural district of Cu Chi. Within this area is a 155-mile (250 km) tunnel network that was the Viet Cong's base of operations during the Vietnam War. It was particularly vital during the Tet Offensive of 1968, at times housing up to 16,000 guerilla soldiers. On a tour of the tunnels, you'll see the bedrooms, air-raid shelters, meeting rooms, kitchens, and more. Strolling these warrens offers a visceral glimpse into the hardships of life in such conditions. Plus, you'll see some innovative booby traps the guerillas left for unlucky enemy soldiers.

After the tunnel tour, you'll return to Ho Chi Minh City. If you have the time and energy, you should see the sights on a self-guided tour. The city itself is a captivating mix of Asian and western cultural traditions, which is represented in its architecture and landmarks. Highlights include the 19th-century Opera House, Notre Dame Cathedral, and the Central Post Office. Neither should you miss Independence Palace, which was home to the president of South Vietnam until the fall of Saigon in 1975.

Day 15: Depart Ho Chi Minh City

Goodbye Vietnam

Your great adventure across Vietnam has, unfortunately, come to an end. After breakfast at the hotel, you'll transfer to the airport, where you'll catch your flight home. See you soon!

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Map

Map of Vietnam North to South  - 15 Days
Map of Vietnam North to South - 15 Days