This 11-day adventure covers the highlights of Vietnam from north to south. In the former, you'll tour the historic streets of Hanoi, visit rural mountain villages, and cruise the jade waters of Ha Long Bay. Then, spend time on the central coast enjoying the culture of ancient Hoi An before finishing the trip in Ho Chi Minh City and a boat ride down the famous Mekong Delta.

Highlights

  • Walk the streets of Hanoi and cycle around rural villages
  • Hike along rice paddies in the mountains of Pu Luong
  • Cruise the waters and islets of Ha Long Bay
  • Explore Hoi An and travel the Mekong River

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrive in Hanoi, Optional Activities  Hanoi
Day 2 Bike Tour of Rural Villages, Hanoi City Tour Hanoi
Day 3 Transfer to Pu Luong Nature Reserve Pu Luong Nature Reserve
Day 4 Morning Hike & Return to Hanoi Hanoi
Day 5 Transfer to Ha Long Bay, Cruise & Activities Ha Long Bay
Day 6 Fly to Da Nang, Transfer to Hoi An Hoi An
Day 7 Hoi An Free Day Hoi An
Day 8 Hoi An Group Cooking Class Hoi An
Day 9 Hoi An Beaches, Transfer to Ho Chi Minh City Hoi An
Day 10 Mekong Delta Day Trip Ho Chi Minh City
Day 11 Depart Ho Chi Minh City  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Arrive in Hanoi, Optional Activities

Hoan Kiem Lake in Hanoi

Chao Ban! Welcome to Hanoi. The capital of Vietnam is one of the oldest metropolises in the world, as it's been inhabited since 3000 BCE. And while the streets here are filled with remnants of Hanoi's ancient and colonial past, it's also a modern city, both traditional and progressive. Glimmering office buildings sit alongside the French colonial Old Quarter, and the old Hang Gai silk shops and outdoor markets are never far from trendy new restaurants and the city's buzzing nightlife venues.

A driver will meet you at the airport and take you to your hotel. After settling in, you can head out and explore. Maybe start with a self-guided walk in the Old Quarter, where you can browse the markets and street vendors. Then take in some local history and mythology with a stroll around Hoan Kiem Lake. At the north end is the Temple of the Jade Mountain, built in the 18th century to honor Tran Hung Dao, a military commander who famously repelled two Mongol invasions.

Day 2: Bike Tour of Rural Villages, Hanoi City Tour

Ride a bicycle to rural villages

After breakfast, you'll go for a bike ride between several villages outside Hanoi. It's a great opportunity to experience the rural traditions of these communities. Beyond interacting with residents, you'll also visit local markets and temples to catch a glimpse of daily life. Then you'll attend a cooking demonstration of traditional Vietnamese cuisine before joining a local family for lunch. In the early afternoon, you'll return to Hanoi.

Next, head out on a city tour starting in the Cau Giay District and the Vietnam Museum Of Ethnology. This massive complex preserves the cultural heritage of the 54 different ethnic groups in Vietnam. Highlight exhibits include full-scale replicas of village homes, plus ancient artifacts like traditional jewelry and wedding/funeral clothing. Afterward, you'll visit the infamous Hoa Lo Prison, a POW camp during the Vietnam War nicknamed the "Hanoi Hilton."

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 centuries, and it's as much art as it is theater. After the show, you'll return to your hotel and, in the evening, can visit the colonial Old Quarter to enjoy one of its many bohemian cafés and bars.

Day 3: Transfer to Pu Luong Nature Reserve

Hike in Pu Luong

Leave Hanoi early and embark on a four-hour scenic drive west to the valley of Mai Chau. On the way, you'll stop in Pom Coong. This village is home to the Thai people of northern Vietnam, who represent the second-largest ethnic group in the country. Here, you'll sit down to lunch with some friendly locals.

Then, take a short drive to the Pu Luong Nature Reserve. This protected area is the ancestral home of the Thai people and is comprised of forested mountains and green valleys dotted with terraced rice paddies and traditional villages. Here, you'll embark on a three-hour intermediate-level hike that covers just over 5.5 miles (9 km). Along the way, you'll be treated to spectacular views of mountains, villages, and rice paddies. In the late afternoon, you'll arrive at your homestay, which is located in a traditional wooden stilt house. A real highlight is sitting down to dinner with your host family to enjoy a home-cooked meal.

Day 4: Morning Hike & Return to Hanoi

Traditional water wheels in Pu Luong

After an early breakfast with your host family, you'll say goodbye to your new friends and embark on a leisurely stroll around a Thai village. As you go, you'll be able to stop at the homes of some locals and learn more about their daily life and cultural traditions. After a bit more hiking along rice paddies amid stunning mountain scenery, you'll hop in a van for the ride to a local restaurant where you'll have lunch. After that, you'll make the trip back to Hanoi, arriving late afternoon.

Day 5: Transfer to Ha Long Bay, Cruise & Activities

Cruise Ha Long Bay
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Wake up early and hop in a shared van for the four-hour ride from Hanoi to Ha Long Bay. This UNESCO World Heritage Site is one of the true natural wonders of the world. In this sweet spot where the land meets the Gulf of Tonkin, over 1,000 karst islets rise above emerald waters, and the seascape takes on an otherworldly quality.

You'll arrive at the marina around noon and board the ship. After a seafood lunch, you'll get underway, first traveling northeast to Bai Tu Long Bay. This protected marine ecosystem is home to rare plants and animals, as well as about 40 islands. Here, the boat will drop anchor, and you'll have time for kayaking, swimming, or just sunbathing on the boat. In the late afternoon, everyone will gather on the top deck to witness the golden sunset over the water, followed by a dinner of more fresh seafood.

Day 6: Flight to Da Nang, Transfer to Hoi An

The floating villages of Ha Long Bay

Begin your final day in Ha Long Bay with a marvelous sunrise on deck. Spend the rest of the morning enjoying more activities and visiting floating villages. After returning to the ship for lunch, you'll cruise back to the pier and transfer to Hanoi, where you'll catch a 1.5-hour flight south to Da Nang.

At the airport in Da Nang, a driver will meet you for the 1.5-hour trip south to Hoi An. This small city of just over 100,000 people sits on the banks of the Thu Bon River and is a real treasure. Its Ancient Town is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the most well-preserved historic city centers in the country. Upon arrival, your driver will take you to your hotel, where you'll overnight. 

Day 7: Hoi An Free Day

Spend the day exploring Hoi An
Today is yours to explore Hoi An on your own schedule. Perhaps start with a self-guided walking tour around its Ancient Town, where you can browse handicrafts and visit local markets. Be sure to stop at famous city sights like the Japanese Covered Bridge and the historic Chinese meeting hall Phuc Kien. You can also take a boat up the Thu Bon River to the gorgeous countryside for a bike ride around traditional fishing villages. 

Day 8: Group Cooking Class

Farming the traditional way in Tra Que

In the morning, you'll head to a local café where you'll meet your group for this full-day cooking class and foodie experience. From the café, everyone will hop in a vehicle for the ride just outside Hoi An to Tra Que Vegetable Village. For hundreds of years, the farmers on this 98-acre (40 ha) plot of land have been growing the highest quality herbs and vegetables through totally organic methods and without electric machinery. On a tour of the fields, you'll pick fresh herbs like sawtooth coriander and mint to use during the cooking class.

After enjoying an herbal beverage at a local home, you'll stop by a market to shop for more fresh produce. Then it's off to the cooking school, where your group will work alongside the professional chef/teacher as you learn to prepare traditional food from scratch. All told, you'll cook four famous dishes, including pho, Vietnam's national dish. When the lesson is over, everyone will sit down to enjoy the delicious meal. Following this is a cruise back down the Thu Bon River to Hoi An and your hotel.

Day 9: Hoi An Beaches, Transfer to Ho Chi Minh City

Spend the morning on the beaches of the Cham Islands

One of the best excursions in Hoi An is a day trip to one of its stunning nearby beaches. No matter your interests, there's a stretch of sand here to suit your needs. An Bang is a white-sand paradise with a party vibe; farther north is Ha My, less crowded and perfect for sunbathing. Or, continue beyond the coast to the Biosphere Reserve Cham Islands. This group of islets is popular for day trips and offers great snorkeling and diving amid its hundreds of species of corals. 

At the end of the day, your driver will pick you up for the hour ride north to Da Nang and the airport. You'll catch a 1.5-hour flight south to Ho Chi Minh City, formerly Saigon. This city is a captivating mix of the old and the new. Despite a communist revolution and devastating war, it has retained much of its unique cultural mix of Asian and western traditions. Upon arrival at the airport, a driver will be waiting to transfer you to your hotel.

Day 10: Mekong Delta Day Trip

Take a ride down the Mekong

A driver will pick you up early for the two-hour transfer to My Tho, the first city on the main arm of the mighty Mekong River. When you get there, you'll drive over the Rach Mieu suspension bridge, which offers panoramic views of the Mekong and its surrounding islands. Continue to the city of Ben Tre, where you'll board a boat for an hour-long cruise on the Ben Tre River, a tributary of Ham Luong, the fourth branch of the Mekong.

Sit back and relax while you drift down the waterway into a peaceful canal. Stop for a visit at famous local businesses like a coconut-husking workshop and a coconut candy factory. Then browse a waterfront market before stopping at a workshop where skilled craftspeople hand-weave sleeping mats out of sedge grass—a tradition in the region.

You'll then experience the beautiful countryside when you embark on a bicycle ride (or motorized scooter trip) through the coconut groves and cucumber farms. Enjoy lunch at a local home before continuing to explore exotic orchards and vegetable gardens on foot. The tour finishes with a peaceful paddle along the river on a traditional wooden sampan. Afterward, your boat will be waiting to take you back to Ben Tre and on to Ho Chi Minh City.

Day 11: Depart Ho Chi Minh City

Farewell, Vietnam
After one last leisurely breakfast at the hotel, you'll transfer to the airport in Ho Chi Minh City to catch your flight home. This concludes your grand adventure across Vietnam. Until next time!

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Map

Map of Vietnam Panorama: Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh - 11 Days
Map of Vietnam Panorama: Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh - 11 Days