Dive deep into the culture of Vietnam over 11 action-packed days that will take you from Ha Long Bay in the north to Ho Chi Minh City in the south. It begins in Hanoi with tours of historic landmarks, cooking classes, and a boat cruise. Then head to the coast to visit the Imperial City of Hue, the ancient streets of Hoi An, and finish in the former Saigon, where you'll visit war sites and French-colonial buildings.


  • Tour Hanoi and see a water puppet show
  • Take a cooking class and cruise Ha Long Bay
  • Visit Hoi An and the Imperial City of Hue
  • See the highlights of Ho Chi Minh City

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrive in Hanoi, Optional Activities Hanoi
Day 2 City Tour & Water Puppet Experience Hanoi
Day 3 Day Trip to Ba Vi Countryside & Cooking Class Hanoi
Day 4 Transfer to Ha Long Bay, Overnight Cruise Ha Long Bay
Day 5 Morning Cruise, Fly to Hue Hue
Day 6 Hue Guided Sightseeing Tour Hue
Day 7 Transfer to Hoi An Hoi An
Day 8 Hoi An City & Food Tour Hoi An
Day 9 Fly to Ho Chi Minh City Ho Chi Minh City
Day 10 Cu Chi Tunnels & Ho Chi Minh City Tour Ho Chi Minh City
Day 11 Depart Ho Chi Minh City  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Arrive in Hanoi, Optional Activities

Train tracks in Hanoi's Old Quarter

Welcome to Vietnam! This country holds thousands of years of history spanning the ages from the Bronze Age through royal dynasties, French colonialism, a communist revolution, and up to the present day. You can see the remnants of all this history in Hanoi, the capital of Vietnam and one of the oldest cities in the world (it's been permanently settled since around 200 BCE). This is the best place to begin a grand tour of Vietnam that will take you from one end of the country to the other.

Upon arrival at the airport, a driver will be waiting to transfer you to your hotel in the city. After settling in, you can head out and have some fun. Spend the rest of the day exploring the labyrinthine streets of Hanoi's Old Quarter by foot or on a traditional three-wheeled cyclo as you pass temples, French-colonial buildings, and Vietnamese "tube houses." These space-saving buildings can be as narrow as 6 feet (2 m) wide and 12 stories high. Later, perhaps head to the Pan Pacific Hotel's rooftop bar and sip cocktails amid spectacular sunset views over Tày Ho ("West Lake").

Day 2: City Tour & Water Puppet Experience

See a traditional water puppet show in Hanoi
Leave early on a full-day guided tour of Hanoi's historic landmarks. First, you'll visit the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum, which houses the embalmed body of revolutionary leader "Uncle Ho," who died in 1969. Continue to the 11th-century One Pillar Pagoda, a Buddhist temple regarded as the most unique pagoda in Asia due to its lotus-flower design perched on a stone pillar rising out of a pond.
Next, you'll take a stroll around Hoan Kiem Lake. This central body of water is always abuzz with activity, as locals come here to socialize, practice Tai Chi, and pray at Ngoc Son ("Jade Mountain Temple"), which sits on an island and dates to the 19th century. You'll also visit architectural wonders like the 11th-century Temple of Literature and Tran Quoc Pagoda. The ladder is a Buddhist shrine dating to the reign of Emperor Ly Nam De in the sixth century, making it the oldest such temple in the city. Then, head over to Tày Ho and grab a bowl of steaming pho (noodle soup) for lunch.
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 Ba Vi Countryside & Cooking Class

Learn to make traditional Vietnamese dishes 

In the morning, you'll head west out of Hanoi on a full-day guided eco-tour of the beautiful Ba Vi countryside. Your first stop is Ri Village, where you'll enjoy welcome drinks and snacks with Mr. Duoc, a Vietnam War veteran and tea plantation owner. Listen to Mr. Duoc's stories about life during the war and visit his workshop and tea plantation, where you'll learn how to pick the best leaves.

Next, take a short drive to Moc Village, where Mrs. Chin will teach you how to cook Vietnamese dishes you'll enjoy for lunch in her tropical garden. Join Mrs. Chin for a walk around the village to visit families and learn how to make tofu, conical hats, and other regional products. Finish with an easy cycle through Vietnam's iconic rice paddies, followed by a Muong herbal foot bath, before returning to Hanoi.

Day 4: Transfer to Ha Long Bay, Overnight Cruise

Transfer to Ha Long Bay, Cruise Ha Long Bay
A colorful sunset over serene Ha Long Bay

After breakfast, your driver will pick you up for the 2.5-hour drive to the coast and Ha Long Bay. Located on the Gulf of Tonkin, over 1,500 karst islets rise above jade waters and resemble the spine of some mythological creature ("ha long" actually translates to "descending dragon"). The remarkable beauty of this region is unlike anywhere else and thus has been bestowed with UNESCO World Heritage status.

Upon arrival at the marina, you'll board a multi-level cruise ship for an overnight tour of this UNESCO World Heritage Site. 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. Spend the remainder of the evening relaxing, or head out on a small boat for a bit of night fishing with the locals.

Day 5: Morning Cruise, Fly to Hue

See more of Ha Long Bay in the morning
Plan your trip to Vietnam
Chat with a local specialist who can help organize your trip.
Rise early for a tai chi lesson on deck, followed by a hearty breakfast. Spend the morning and afternoon enjoying the scenery until around 5 pm, at which point the boat will make its way back to port. On the way, the ship will stop at a limestone cave for a tour to see the hanging stalactites and towering stalagmites.
Back at the harbor, you'll hop in a vehicle for the 2.5-hour ride back to Hanoi. There you'll catch a one-hour flight south to the central coast and the city of Hue. Upon arrival at the airport, a driver will pick you up for the ride to your hotel.

Day 6: Hue Guided Sightseeing Tour

The Imperial City in Hue
This morning, you'll head out on a guided tour 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. Needless to say, there's a lot to see in and around Hue, and you'll need the entire day to see it. Adding to the fun, you'll zip along the city streets in a traditional three-wheeled cyclo.
The first major stop on the tour is the Imperial City where the former kings of Vietnam's last feudal dynasty ruled for nearly 150 years. 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.
Later, you'll visit the Royal Antiquities Museum, which houses fascinating artifacts, including a collection of bronze pottery, Chinaware, Phap Lam enamel, court garments, and the personal belongings of former emperors. Then, hop back in the cycle for a short ride to Dong Ba Market. At Hue's most popular municipal market, you can shop for fresh produce, street food, clothing, bags, souvenirs, and more. Later in the afternoon, you'll drive outside the city to a village famous for the incense sticks its residents produce. After visiting a couple of royal mausoleums, you'll then return to Hue. 

Day 7: Transfer to Hoi An

Private Transfer Hue to Hoi An
Hoi Van Pass, on the way to Hoi An
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 trip, you'll drive 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.
Then you'll continue on to Hoi An. Sitting on the Thu Bon River, this historic city was a major trading port with the West from the 15th through the 19th centuries, attracting merchants from around the globe. Its international legacy is represented in the assortment of architectural styles in Hoi An's Ancient Town. Upon arrival, you'll transfer to your hotel and have the rest of the night free.

Day 8: Hoi An City & Food Tour

Take a stroll along Hoi An's historic waterfront 
Today, you'll enjoy a half-day guided city tour that combines Hoi An's historic highlights with its delectable cuisine. It's a foodie's dream, as the tour kicks off with breakfast from a local street food vendor followed by a leisurely stroll around Hoi An's Ancient Town. Here, you'll see some of the most impressive architectural landmarks in the city, including the arched Japanese Covered Bridge and the 19th-century Assembly Hall of the Chaozhou Chinese Congregation.
After all that walking, you'll no doubt have worked up an appetite. That's why next up is the Central Market, one of the busiest municipal markets in the city. At its food court, you can order delicious and cheap eats like fruit smoothies and noodle dishes. Be sure to try cao lao, a regional specialty. Within the market itself are vendors selling everything from fresh produce and crafts to toys and clothing. After the tour, you'll return to your hotel.

Day 9: Fly to Ho Chi Minh City

Fly south to Ho Chi Minh City today
In the morning, your driver will pick you up at the hotel for the one-hour ride north to the airport in Da Nang. There, you'll 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. After getting settled, you can venture out and explore the city on your own.

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

Tour Ho Chi Minh City landmarks like Reunification Palace

After breakfast, 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. You'll even crawl through a section of the tunnels to experience their narrow dimensions.

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 Reunification Palace, which was the headquarters of the Saigon government during the war. Continue to the War Remnants Museum for a vivid look at the American War through the eyes of the Vietnamese. Afterward, you'll visit Ben Thanh, one of the biggest markets in the city.

Day 11: Depart Ho Chi Minh City

Goodbye, Vietnam
Unfortunately, today, you've reached the end of the road. Enjoy one more leisurely breakfast at the hotel, do some last-minute souvenir shopping, and then transfer to the airport in Ho Chi Minh City for your flight home. See you next time! 

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Map of Vietnam North to South Culture Tour - 11 Days
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