Get ready for 15 days of nature adventures and cultural excursions throughout Vietnam. In the north, you'll go off the beaten track in Hanoi, hike along terraced rice fields, cruise the emerald waters of Ha Long Bay, and explore the spectacular Phong Nha Cave. Finish the trip in Ho Chi Minh City where one last adventure awaits: a trip to the famous Mekong Delta.


  • Experience Hanoi like a local on city tours
  • Go hiking and rafting in Pu Luong Nature Reserve
  • Venture into the otherworldly Phong Nha Cave
  • Take a boat cruise on Ha Long Bay
  • Tour Ho Chi Minh City and visit the Mekong Delta

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrive in Hanoi, Optional Activities Hanoi
Day 2 Hanoi Like a Local Tour Hanoi
Day 3 Transfer to Mai Chau, Hike to Xa Linh Village Mai Chau
Day 4 Transfer to Pu Luong Nature Reserve, Hiking & Rafting Pu Luong Nature Reserve
Day 5 Pu Luong Valley Hike, Return to Hanoi Hanoi
Day 6 Transfer to Sapa & Village Hike Sapa
Day 7 Trekking in Lao Chai Ta Van & Giang Ta Chai Sapa
Day 8 Visit Bac Ha Market, Transfer to Hanoi Hanoi
Day 9 Transfer to Ha Long Bay, Overnight Cruise Ha Long Bay
Day 10 Morning Cruise, Transfer to Phong Nha Phong Nha
Day 11 Day Hike to Tu Lan Caves Phong Nha
Day 12 Explore the Tu Lan Caves Phong Nha
Day 13 Transfer to Ho Chi Minh City, Night Jeep Tour Ho Chi Minh City
Day 14 Day Trip to the Mekong Delta Ho Chi Minh City
Day 15 Depart Ho Chi Minh City  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Arrive in Hanoi, Optional Activities

Free Day in Hanoi
Sunset over Hanoi's West Lake
Welcome to Vietnam! You'll arrive in the capital of Hanoi, a city with a long and storied history. It dates to the third century BCE, and even back then was a regional capital. In the intervening millennia the city has evolved into a modern metropolis yet retains many landmarks from its ancient dynasties and French colonial past. Upon arrival at the airport, a driver will pick you up for the ride into the city.
Spend the rest of the day exploring the streets of Hanoi's Old Quarter by foot or on a three-wheeled cyclo. For lunch, perhaps head to Bun Cha Huong Lien to try the beloved Hanoian dish bun cha (noodle soup with grilled pork). This restaurant is famous for having served the dish to guests former President Barack Obama and intrepid foodie Anthony Bourdain. Afterward, sip cocktails on the Pan Pacific Hotel's rooftop bar and enjoy the sunset views over Tay Ho ("West Lake") to wrap up your evening in style.

Day 2: Hanoi Like a Local Tour

Explore Hanoi Like a Local
Explore Hanoi like a local on today's off-the-beaten-path tour
Leave the hotel at 8 am on a full-day guided tour to see Hanoi's historic landmarks and experience the city like a local. It starts with a ride to historic Ba Dinh Square, where president Ho Chi Minh proclaimed the independence of Vietnam in 1945. Then head over to Lenin Garden, a park presided over by a bronze statue of Vladimir Lenin. This is a great place to people-watch, as the area is a popular local hangout. 
From there, your guide will lead you down Hanoi's alleyways, which are lined with family-owned shops that have been around for generations. Continue to the 11th-century Temple of Literature, an impressive architectural landmark that was Vietnam's first national university. To this day, students still pray at its altars for academic success. Next up is the Museum of Ethnology, which preserves the cultural heritage of the 54 different ethnic groups in Vietnam. Afterward, stop for lunch at a local restaurant.
Now that you've refueled, continue to Hanoi's Old Quarter to explore its warren of backstreets. This will lead to Nha Chung Street, an area abuzz with food stalls and vendors. Here, you'll visit a historic French colonial home for afternoon tea. Your host is a local who has lived in the neighborhood all his life and has many stories about this remarkable city and its past. End the day with one of Vietnam's more unique theatrical performances: a water puppet show. This cultural expression dates back over 1,000 years, having originated in the rice fields of the Red River Delta. Afterward, return to your hotel.

Day 3: Transfer to Mai Chau, Hike to Xa Linh Village

Set out into the countryside and hike the lush landscapes of the Mai Chau Valley

In the morning, a driver will pick you up for the four-hour ride west from Hanoi to the gorgeous Mai Chau Valley. Located in Hoa Binh Province, Mai Chau is famous for its mountain vistas and fertile valleys dotted with traditional stilt houses. The White Thai ethnic group primarily inhabits the villages here; however, your destination is Xa Linh, a community home to the Hmong hill tribe. 

When you arrive in Xa Linh, you'll unwind with a delicious home-cooked lunch. This will fortify you for the subsequent two-hour hike along mountain trails. Enjoy breathtaking scenery and views of lush green hills, rice paddies, and traditional villages. During the trek, you'll stop at a local primary school to chat with the kids (donations to the school are welcome). Another treat is a visit to Pa Co Market, a weekly hill tribe market. There are great items here, including hand-woven batiks and embroideries by the Hmong people. In the late afternoon, you'll return to Mai Chau village, where you'll overnight.

Day 4: Transfer to Pu Luong Nature Reserve, Hiking & Rafting

Trekking & Rafting in Pu Luong
See the rural countryside and villages of the Pu Luong Nature Reserve

Enjoy a leisurely breakfast in the village, then hop in the car for the 1.5-hour drive south from Mai Chau to Pu Luong. This nature reserve is home to the ethnic Thai people and, like Mai Chau, is known for its forested mountains and green valleys dotted with terraced rice paddies and traditional villages. Upon arrival, you'll check in to your resort and have some time to unwind before lunch.

After a delicious lunch amid spectacular views, it will be time to hit the trail again. You'll hike to hillside villages and meet the locals while learning about cultural traditions dating back centuries. Continue across a suspension bridge over the Cham River and stop at traditional wooden con nuoc (water wheels). Your guide will explain the mechanics of how these ancient yet efficient machines lift water from the river and distribute it through bamboo chutes to elevated farmland.

Then you'll arrive at a local fisherman's house, where you have a short rest before hopping on a traditional bamboo raft for a ride down the river. The guide will teach you how to paddle and steer as you float along the calm waters, enjoying the mountain and valley views along the banks. When you reach the wooden Tan Lap Bridge, you'll disembark and transfer to a local resort in time for dinner.

Day 5: Pu Luong Valley Hike, Return to Hanoi

Meet the locals as you explore more of Pu Luong
Today's 3-mile (6 km) trek through Pu Luong begins with a descent into the valley and a hike along rice terraces. Continue on small paths shrouded in thick vegetation until you emerge at the stunning village of Uoi, which is nestled among the palm forests. The scenery around this village is incredible, as it's filled with green farmland, rivers, ponds, forested mountains, and vast open pastures. After some time in Uoi snapping photos and meeting locals, you'll continue to Lan village. Here, you'll hop in a car for the transfer back to Hanoi, where you'll have the rest of the day free.

Day 6: Transfer to Sapa & Village Hike

More scenic hiking today as you trek between the villages around Sapa

A driver will pick you up in the morning for the ride north from Hanoi to the highland area of Sapa, which is known for its soaring mountains and endless terraces of green rice paddies. The drive takes around six hours, and upon arrival, you'll check in to your hotel. 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 sold by local Hmong women in colorful handmade attire.

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 a 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 Cat Cat, 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. 

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Day 7: Trekking in Lao Chai Ta Van & Giang Ta Chai

Trekking In Lao Chai Ta Van and Giang Ta Chai
Meet the residents of the Muong Hoa Valley
After breakfast, your driver/guide will pick you up for the 30-minute ride south of Sapa into the breathtaking Muong Hoa Valley, home to the largest terraced rice fields in the region. If you're visiting during May-Oct, it will coincide with the harvest, which offers a chance to see the local farmers tending their crops.
Today's six-hour trek begins in the Black Hmong village of Lao Chai and continues to Ta Van. Meet the villagers, who are members of the Zay ethnic minority and are well known for their brightly colored handmade clothing. Spend some time here on a cultural exchange, then continue the hike. This next leg will take you along the terraced ride paddies amid stunning views of Vietnam's tallest mountain, Mount Fansipan (10,324 ft/3,147 m). 

Stop for a picnic lunch on the way to the Red Dao village of Giang Ta Chai. Notice the traditional clothing worn by both men and women here, which is religious in nature and combines elements of Confucianism, Buddhism, and Taoism. Dao women in particular wear red turbans adorned with silver coins and tassels. At the end of the trek, you'll return to Sapa by car.

Day 8: Visit Bac Ha Market, Transfer to Hanoi

Locals in traditional dress at the Bac Ha Market

Your driver will pick you up this morning for the three-hour drive through mountain roads to the weekly Bac Ha Market. The long trip is well worth it, as Bac Ha is the region's largest and most colorful market. Every Sunday morning, various ethnic groups, like the Flower Hmong, Phu La, Black Dao, Tay, and Nung minorities, gather to buy and sell local products.

You can find everything here, from fresh produce and embroidery to livestock such as chickens, pigs, horses, and buffalo. It's also a great place to mingle with locals, as it is packed with folks who've traveled long distances to meet friends and enjoy some rice wine at the end of a long week. After lunch at the market, you'll drive back to Hanoi.

Day 9: Transfer to Ha Long Bay, Overnight Cruise

Board a cruise to explore the emerald waters of Ha Long Bay

Wake up early and meet your driver for the 2.5-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" actually translates to "descending dragon"). The unique 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. 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 boat for dinner, then spend the rest of the evening relaxing, or head out on a small boat for a bit of night fishing with the locals.

Day 10: Morning Cruise, Transfer to Phong Nha

See more of the bay this morning before cruising back to port
Rise early for a tai chi lesson on deck followed by a hearty breakfast. Spend the rest of the morning enjoying the passing scenery and embark on optional tours to floating villages. After an early lunch on board, you'll disembark at the marina and transfer back to Hanoi.
Back in Hanoi, you'll transfer to the airport, where you'll catch a one-hour flight south to the city of Dong Hoi, located on Vietnam's central coast. Upon arrival in Dong Hoi, a driver will pick you up for the one-hour ride inland to Phong Nha National Park. This area is most famous for its massive cave system and grottoes, which you'll hike to tomorrow. Today, check in to your hotel located in the park and rest up for the coming adventure.

Day 11: Day Hike to Tu Lan Caves

Phong Nha - Trek to Tu Lan cave complex
Swimmers at the Phong Nha cave grottoes
Today your guide will pick you up for a full-day hike to the Tu Lan cave systems. First, you'll transfer 43 miles (70 km) to the village of Tan Hoa. After a safety briefing and gear check, the journey begins with a short hike from the village along farmland to the Rao Nan River. There, you'll head up a rocky hill and then descend into the Hung Ton Valley. After a stop for a picnic lunch, the action picks up again along some challenging trails to Mango Mountain. By mid-afternoon, you'll arrive in the Tu Lan Valley, where the famous cave system is located. This is where you'll make camp.

You can then spend the rest of the day relaxing. Perhaps visit a waterfall or go swimming in the grotto at Ken Cave, located next to the campsite. In the evening, return to camp for a barbecue dinner surrounded by the sounds of nature. Afterward, settle into your comfy hammock or tent for a good night's rest. 

Day 12: Explore the Tu Lan Caves

Explore the various Tu Lan caves on today's spelunking excursion
Wake up early and tuck into a hearty breakfast before entering the maze-like Tu Lan system on a spelunking adventure. To arrive at the cave, follow your expert guide on a brief swim across the river. Then relax in a blue lagoon before swimming another 591 feet (180 m) downstream to the cave's entrance. Walk through this first cave—which may involve a bit of climbing, until you reach the exit.
Then, hike a short way through the valley to the entrance of Kim Cave, which features a natural window of light that illuminates the cavern. Set off on another swim through cave grottoes and trek 1,640 feet (500 m) to reach the exit and the To Mo Valley. Enjoy a picnic lunch next to a waterfall by the mouth of Hung Ton Cave, then follow a dry path into the cavern and swim across another grotto to reach the exit.
After hiking through another dry cavern, you'll emerge from the system and trek down into Hung Ton Valley. Finally, you'll arrive in the scenic village of Tan Hoa, where you'll stop for a well-deserved refreshment to celebrate completing the two-day hike. At around 4 pm you'll hop in the vehicle for the ride back to Phong Nha.

Day 13: Transfer to Ho Chi Minh City, Night Jeep Tour

Experience Ho Chi Minh City by night with an open-air Jeep tour
In the morning, you'll transfer back to Dong Hoi and the airport, where you'll catch a 1.5-hour flight south to Ho Chi Minh City. Formerly known as Saigon, this southern metropolis is fascinating in that it has managed to preserve its cultural roots while maintaining a modern edge, as evidenced by its soaring new skyscrapers. Upon arrival, you'll transfer to your hotel, settle in and get ready for an evening tour.

When the sun goes down, you'll hop in an open-air Jeep for a tour of Saigon by night. During this 2.5-hour experience, you'll get to see the city when it's less crowded and the temperatures have cooled. You'll drive by historic 19th-century landmarks like Notre Dame Cathedral and the Central Post Office. Then head over to the Presidential Palace, which was the headquarters of the Saigon government until it fell to the Viet Cong in 1975. Cap the trip with a visit to a rooftop bar where you'll enjoy panoramic views of the city as you enjoy a cocktail or soft drink.

Day 14: Day Trip to the Mekong Delta

Visit a busy floating market on the Mekong
In the morning, leave Ho Chi Minh City behind as you embark on a full-day trip to the famous Mekong Delta. Known as Vietnam's rice bowl, this agricultural region is full of verdant rice paddies, mangrove forests, coconut groves, and sugar cane plantations. The two-hour drive south from the city will take you to the waterfront town of Ben Tre. Here, you'll board a boat to the Cai Be Floating Market, a busy wholesale market crowded with vendors selling fresh fruit and vegetables from their boats, with shopkeepers and locals bartering for goods.

Continue on a row boat through narrow canals surrounded by fish farms and rural villages. You'll stop at the island of An Binh and visit a local homestay to enjoy lunch. Afterward, stroll around the orchard and enjoy tea and traditional music in and around this lovely home. Then walk or take a bike ride around the village at An Binh. You can visit workshops along the riverbank where Mekong residents produce goods such as coconut candy, rush mats, and pottery. The trip ends with a boat trip to the river city of Vinh Long, where you'll catch a bus back to Ho Chi Minh City.

Day 15: Depart Ho Chi Minh City

Goodbye, Vietnam
After an early breakfast, spend your last remaining hours in Vietnam soaking up the atmosphere, visiting local markets, and perhaps doing some last-minute souvenir shopping. At the appropriate time, your driver will pick you up for the ride to the airport in Ho Chi Minh City, where you'll catch your flight home. 

More Great Vietnam Itineraries

Looking for more inspiration for your trip to Vietnam? Check out these other Vietnam itineraries, explore more ways to spend 15 days in Vietnam, or discover the best time to visit Vietnam.
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Map of Vietnam Trekking & Caving Adventure - 15 Days
Map of Vietnam Trekking & Caving Adventure - 15 Days
Written by Hien Do, updated Mar 8, 2023