Ultimate Vietnam Itinerary: exploring North and South Vietnam!

by | Dec 20, 2016 | Asia Pacific, Blog, Latest Posts, Vietnam

With our Vietnam trip fast approaching we set to work to plan a perfect two week itinerary which would give us the opportunity to see as much of the incredible country as possible. Ho Chi Minh, Hanoi, Hoi An, Hue and Ha Long Bay were our destinations of choice as we embarked on our journey through Vietnam. Our itinerary worked out perfectly over the two weeks and we loved every second. For all you Vietnam trip planners: here’s our ultimate Vietnam itinerary to get you on your way!

Our Ultimate Two Week Vietnam Itinerary

We started and ended our Vietnam trip in Ho Chi Minh and we opted to travel in a loop through the country squeezing in as many must see sights as possible. Our two weeks saw us stay in 4 Vietnamese cities, visit 4 UNESCOs and make countless journeys in boats, buses, cars, taxis and trains!

Vietnam itinerary tip: We love a jam packed schedule but, if you prefer a slower travel pace, this itinerary easily expands to 3 weeks or one month by taking in more day/overnight trips or spending a little longer at each destination.

Our two week Vietnam route:

Ho Chi Minh –> Hue –> Hai Van Pass –> Hoi An –> Hanoi –> Ha Long Bay/Sapa –> Ho Chi Minh

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Days 1 and 2: Ho Chi Minh 

After a long day of flying from Dublin to Dubai to Ho Chi Minh we arrived in Vietnam in need of a good sleep and checked into the Renaissance Riverside Hotel Saigon where we spent our first few nights. We took a taxi from the airport and arrived at the hotel within 30 minutes of jumping in the taxi!

Vietnam itinerary tip: Our two weeks in Vietnam began and ended in Ho Chi Minh and we spent a few days at each end of the trip exploring the city and its surroundings. We opted to fly in and out of Ho Chi Minh as the flight prices were much lower than Hanoi coming from Europe.

The views from our room at the Renaissance Riverside Hotel Saigon!

The views from our room at the Renaissance Riverside Hotel Saigon!

We spent the next day exploring the best Ho Chi Minh sights from the historical War Remnants museum and the Reunification Palace to the bustling Binh Tay Market and the equally stunning Post Office and Notre Dame Cathedral. Our evening was spent at the famous water puppet show and eating awesome Vietnamese food over some local beers.

Vietnam itinerary tip: The two most reliable taxi companies are the white and green Mai Linh taxis and the white Vinasun taxis. Make sure the driver switches on the meter.

Ho Chi Minh accommodation: Our two favourite Ho Chi Minh hotels are the Renaissance Riverside Hotel Saigon with it’s beautiful rooms and fantastic rooftop swimming pool and the more budget friendly Beautiful Saigon 3 which has good accommodation and a fantastic location in the heart of the thriving backpacking district.

Ho Chi Minh Sightseeing:

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Saigon Notre Dame Cathedral

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The chaotic Binh Tay Market

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The Water Puppets

Day 3: Day trip from Ho Chi Minh to Mekong Delta/Cu Chi Tunnels

If you have an extra day to spend in Ho Chi Minh the Mekong Delta and the Cu Chi tunnels are two amazing day trip adventures that are a worthwhile addition to any Vietnam itinerary.

Cruising along the waterways of the Mekong Delta where the mighty Mekong River approaches the sea alongside boats, houses and floating markets while surrounded by lush greens, rice fields and local life is a unique Vietnam experience. The Cu Chi Tunnels are a huge network of underground tunnels which were prominent during the Vietnam war – they were used to hide Viet Cong soldiers and housed communications, supply routes, hospitals, food and weapon stores. It’s possible to enter one of the tunnels which has been enlarged for tourists.

Accommodation: Day trips run from Ho Chi Minh so continue your stay in the city.

Day 4: Fly to Hue

It’s time to fly up to the glorious ancient capital of Hue (check out our must see sights from our day in Hue here) and spend a day exploring the banks of the Perfume River. Our time in Hue was filled with pagodas, tombs and the Citadel and our evening with pho and river antics! Parts of Hue make up a UNESCO World Heritage sites and our favourite moment was hanging out with the locals at the Thanh Toan covered bridge and embracing the Vietnam countryside!

Hue Accommodation: Eldora hotel (booked through Agoda) where we paid around $60 per night for a twin room. The hotel was excellent and saved the day when we were abandoned at Da Nang airport by a local transport company! If you fancy splashing out check out the five star La Residence Hue, a former governor’s residence which is now a luxury boutique hotel.

Hue Sightseeing:

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Thien Mu Pagoda

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The Perfume River

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The Imperial City, UNESCO fun!

A day in Hue Vietnam must see sights (18)

Thanh Toan covered bridge

Day 5: Hoi Van Pass to Hoi An

One full day in Hue is just the right amount of time to see all the major sites so set off for Hoi An early the next day travelling via the Hai Van Pass. The ocean cloud pass is a beautiful description of the drive between Hue and Hoi An (check out our Hai Van Pass adventures in more detail here!). We were in awe of the stunning beaches, incredible views, miles of ocean and maze of twisty roads and a stop at the Marble Mountains allowed us to indulge in some Buddha spotting and incense burning. The drive between Hue and Hoi An is one of the many highlights of Vietnam.

Accommodation: we stayed in a junior suite river view at the Royal Riverside Hoi An hotel which cost around $55 and which we booked through Agoda. The hotel was excellent and we loved the pool, the excellent breakfast and our river view room. The Essence Hoi An hotel is another amazing choice and offers luxury at a reasonable price.

Hai Van Pass sightseeing:

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Local life at a fishing village en route to Hoi An

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Miles of ocean on the Hai Van Pass

The Marble Mountains

The Marble Mountains

Day 6 and Day 7: Hoi An

Hoi An is one of the most beautiful places in Vietnam so it’s worth scheduling a few days to explore and this will also allow you to take advantage of the booming clothing industry and pick up some hand made clothes (allow some extra days if you are planning on adding to your wardrobe). We were excited to arrive and it quickly became one of our favourite Vietnam gems. Hoi An is frozen in time and it’s fantastic to wander through the lantern lined streets of the UNESCO ancient town (UNESCO number 2, yay!). Crammed full of bicycles, tailors and souvenir shops we were in awe of the simpleness of life and our Hoi An days flew by.

Vietnam itinerary tip: every month Hoi An celebrates a Full Moon Lantern festival on the 14th day of each lunar month. The electricity and lights are switched off in the Old Town, motorcycles are banned and candle lit lanterns light up the river and the town (read about our night at the Lantern Festival here and our guide to the festival with dates here). It is incredible and well worth scheduling your Hoi An visit to coincide with the festival!

Accommodation: we stayed in a junior suite river view at the Royal Riverside Hoi An hotel which cost around $55 and which we booked through Agoda. The hotel was excellent and we loved the pool, the excellent breakfast and our river view room. The Essence Hoi An hotel is another amazing choice and offers luxury at a reasonable price.

Hoi An sightseeing:

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The iconic Japanese Bridge in Hoi An

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The streets of Hoi An

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Posing at the ancient wall

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So many tailors!

Day 8: Half Day trip from Hoi An to My Son

Hoi An provides the opportunity chance to visit another UNESCO site, the stunning My Son, a collection of Hindu temples dating back as far as the 4th century. The lush jungle setting only adds to its allure and the bombed ruins are like a mini version of Angkor Wat. Our morning spent exploring My Son felt a million miles away from normal life and we loved every second of it!

Hoi An accomadation: a junior suite river view at the Royal Riverside Hoi An hotel which cost around $55. The hotel was excellent and we loved the pool, the excellent breakfast and our river view room. The hotel arranged our trip to My Son and a driver to take us to Da Nang airport. The Essence Hoi An hotel is another amazing choice and offers luxury at a reasonable price.

My Son:

The ruins at My Son

The ruins at My Son

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UNESCO time!

Days 9 and 10: Hanoi

Leave Hoi An and fly from Da Nang to Hanoi to spend some time in the Vietnam’s capital and explore the North of the country. The Old Quarter of Hanoi was our favourite part of the city with it’s mix of chaotic alleys, local street sellers and quaint bars marked by tiny stools on the streets. The energy of Hanoi is incredible and our favourite game was spotting the craziest scooter cargo: trees, pigs and multiple family members were the clear winners!

Accommodation:  Hanoi Old Quarter is an amazing part of Hanoi to stay in and we tried two excellent hotels either side of our Ha Long Bay trip. The Golden Art Hotel is a little gem with good rooms, a great Old Quarter location and rooms run at about US $50 on Agoda. We also loved our nights at the Serene Premier Hotel which again had great rooms, a great location and a US $50 price tag on Agoda.

Hanoi Sightseeing:

Hanoi's beautiful Hoan Kiem Lake: the lake of the Restored Sword

Hanoi’s beautiful Hoan Kiem Lake: the lake of the Restored Sword

The maze of Hanoi streets

The maze of Hanoi streets

Party time!

Party time!

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Hanoi barbers!

Your flowers match my shorts! Colourful Hanoi!

Your flowers match my shorts! Colourful Hanoi!

Days 11 and 12: Ha Long Bay

Ha Long Bay is a 3.5 hour bus journey from Hanoi and Ha Long Bay trips set off mid afternoon via minibus (our cruise included return minibus transfers from Hanoi directly to the Ha Long Bay marina). The mystical waters of Ha Long Bay are almost movie like with the towering limestone islands jutting out of the emerald waters. Our cruise was excellent and we had so many incredible experiences: kayaking through the bay, swimming off the back of the boat, exploring Cat Ba Island, visiting a local floating village and descending into the Surprise Grotto at Sung Sot caves.

AccommodationAfter a huge amount of research into the various cruises, we opted to go on a 2 night/3 day cruise with Bhaya cruises, a luxury cruise operator on Halong Bay. Check them out on Agoda here (seriously, being able to book the Halong Bay cruises directly through Agoda is amazing and the prices were cheaper than what our Hanoi hotels quoted us. For all the details on what we did during our 3 day cruise read Halong Bay Cruise, Vietnam: cruising through the mythical waters of Halong Bay or for a review of Bhaya, check out our cruise round up here. Our cruise included transfers from Hanoi, meals and excursions to Cat Ba Island, kayaking through the Bay, a visit to a local floating village and a pearl farm as well as the beautiful Surprise Grotto at Sung Sot caves.

Ha Long Bay

Ha Long Bay

Chilling out at the floating village

Chilling out at the floating village

Local boats at Ha Long Bay

Local boats at Ha Long Bay

Cat Ba Island

Cat Ba Island

Day 13: Ha Long Bay to Hanoi

With an evening return to Hanoi from Ha Long Bay it’s time to spend a chilled evening in the city taking in a puppet show and some Vietnamese beers!

Vietnam itinerary tip: The mountain town of Sapa, with its stunning hikes and incredible vantage point overlooking the terraced rice fields of the Muong Hoa Valley is an excellent addition to a northern Vietnam itinerary or as an alternative to Ha Long Bay. Sapa is accessible by bus or train from Hanoi with overnight transport being a popular option.

Accommodation:  Hanoi Old Quarter is an amazing part of Hanoi to stay in and we tried two excellent hotels either side of our Ha Long Bay trip. The Golden Art Hotel is a little gem with good rooms, a great Old Quarter location and rooms run at about US $50 on Agoda. We also loved our nights at the Serene Premier Hotel which again had great rooms, a great location and a US $50 price tag on Agoda.

A final evening in Hanoi:

Hanoi puppets!

Hanoi puppets!

Reflecting: almost home time!

Reflecting: almost home time!

Day 14: Home time! Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh

Most international flights are cheaper from Ho Chi Minh and so we returned to southern Vietnam for our final night in the country. We opted for a Tiger Tours night food tour which involved zipping about the city on the back of a scooter, an adventure in itself, and eating delicious Vietnamese food!

Ho Chi Minh accommodation: Our two favourite Ho Chi Minh hotels are the Renaissance Riverside Hotel Saigon with it’s beautiful rooms and fantastic rooftop swimming pool and the more budget friendly Beautiful Saigon 3 which has good accommodation and a fantastic location in the heart of the thriving backpacking district.

The view from our bike! Braving the infamous Ho Chi Minh traffic on a scooter!

The view from our bike! Braving the infamous Ho Chi Minh traffic on a scooter!

Cruising through Hoi Chi Minh!

Cruising through Hoi Chi Minh!

Any questions on our Vietnam itinerary? Ask us in the comments below!

1 Comment

  1. Very nice itinerary! We would definetely add Ninh Binh on it! Easy access from Hanoi it has great nature and the “terrestrial Halong Bay” =)

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