Hey guys – I’m back! 🙂 I’ve just arrived back in the UK after a big 6-week adventure through Vietnam and The Philippines. This is the first post I have written since coming home, and it’s hard to know where to begin! After much thought, I’ve decided to start by sharing my Vietnam Travel Itinerary, because I think this could be massively helpful for anyone planning their own trip to this incredible country.
We began our adventure in Hanoi (North) and had 3 weeks to make our way all the way down to Ho Chi Minh City (South). On our way we stopped at (what I researched to be) the all-time highlights of Vietnam, including Sapa, Ha Long Bay and Hoi An. I loved our route, and if you’re planning to travel through Vietnam, I can’t recommend this route enough. (If you’re flying in to Ho Chi Minh City, you could also do it the other way around).
So grab a cuppa, get comfy and let me guide you through this 3-week Vietnam travel itinerary.
Hanoi was the starting point of our trip, which threw us into the deep end of Vietnamese culture. Delicious street food, crazy traffic and smelly streets are all part of daily life in Hanoi and if it’s your first time in Asia, you can expect to feel a bit of a culture shock on arrival. We based ourselves at the fantastic Nexy Hostel in Hanoi’s Old Quarter (the most characterful and popular area for travellers).
On Day 1 we took a morning stroll around the atmospheric Hoàn Kiếm Lake before following our Vietnam Lonely Planet Guide Book walking tour through the narrow streets of the bustling Old Quarter. Whilst walking past the lake we bought tickets for an evening performance at the Lotus Water Puppet Show, a strangely unique experience that is synonymous to Vietnam and more specifically, Hanoi.
Day 2 was spent across town visiting the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum Complex which is home to the Ho Chi Minh Museum and Former President Ho Chi Minh’s former home. By night we dined with the locals and slurped on hearty beef Pho in one of the many street cafés on Pho Bat Dan.
Hanoi isn’t the most friendly or relaxing place to start your travels, so I’d recommend spending 2-3 nights here tops. It’s worth noting that Hanoi is the central point in which to get to both Halong Bay and Sapa, as all the transport runs from here.
How many nights: 2
How we got there: We flew from Manchester to Hanoi via Dubai with Emirates
Where we stayed: Nexy Hostel in Hanoi Old Quarter (clean, contemporary, great location)
Hanoi in 3 words: Chaotic, Fascinating, Exotic
Next up was Halong Bay, undoubtedly one of Vietnam’s most famous assets. The best way to experience Halong Bay is by booking an overnight cruise package, which all include return transfers from Hanoi (this can be done online or at one of the many travel agents in Hanoi). There aren’t really many hotels around the bay, so it’s definitely best to stay on board one of the many cruise ships. We booked a 2-day, 1 night Glory Legend Cruise with Pelican Cruises.
At $110 USD per person, we opted for one of the more luxurious cruises, but we were more than impressed by what we got for our money. Although a little tired around the edges, the cruise ship itself was a charming teak wood junk boat. The en suite cabin was clean and spacious with floor to ceiling sliding windows, the staff were fantastic and the all-inclusive a la carte food was absolutely delicious. There is also the option to do a 3 day, 2 night cruise but we felt that 1 night was more than enough.
How many nights: 1-2
How we got there: Inclusive return transfer from Hanoi (3.5 hours each way)
Where we stayed: Glory Legend Cruise Ship with Pelican Cruises
Halong Bay in 3 words: Spectacular, Memorable, Unique
The return transfers from our Halong Bay Cruise brought us back to Hanoi, so we spent 1 more night in Hanoi before travelling up to Sapa the next day. Located close to the Chinese Border in the northernmost part of Vietnam, Sapa is known for it’s breath-taking valley of lush green rice terraces, ethnic Hmong women and rural minority villages. The only real reason to go to Sapa is for the incredible trekking and homestay experiences (if hiking isn’t your thing, I would recommend skipping the Sapa part of the itinerary).
The town of Sapa itself isn’t very picturesque, but it’s the incredible surrounding scenery that attracts the travellers. If you appreciate stunning panoramas, nature, the great outdoors and vivid landscapes, it’s worth taking the 6-hour journey to get here.
When we arrived in Sapa we booked a 2-day 1-night trek lead by a local tribe of Hmong women. They know the land like the back of their hand and will guide you through muddy mountainous landscape with ease, but be aware they’ll probably try to sell you some of their handmade goods at the end of the trek.
I would recommend doing a homestay on the second or third night in Sapa. This way you can leave your large backpack with your hotel and collect it on your return. Don’t worry about booking your trek until you arrive in Sapa; you will be approached by Hmong women when you get off the bus asking you to join their independent tours, or you can book something more official through one of the Sapa booking offices. There are various options depending on how much ground you want to cover.
How many nights: A total of 4 nights, 1 being a homestay
How we got there: On a 6-hour sleeper bus from Hanoi, which can be booked at any Hanoi travel agent
Where we stayed: Elysian Sapa Hotel + homestay (Great location, basic and clean rooms)
Sapa in 3 words: Adventurous, Active, Cultural
What to bring: Hiking boots, a day sack and a waterproof jacket
Hue & The Hai Van Pass
After Sapa we returned back to Hanoi via Sleeper Bus and caught a flight from Hanoi to Hue. Hue is located on the Perfume River and is best known for its ancient Imperial city. If you love your history, it would definitely be worth allowing 2 or 3 nights in Hue to explore further. By night the riverside is buzzing with cafes, street entertainment and market vendors, which you can find on the riverside walking street. There are also plenty of options to cruise down the Perfume River and try a cooking class while you’re at it. Sadly we didn’t have time for this because of our schedule. We only stayed there 1 night and used it as our Easy Riders Launch Pad.
Our Easy Riders experience was incredible and definitely a highlight of our trip! It involved riding from Hue to Hoi An on the back of a retro Honda motorbike. The drivers are very experienced and know the roads well, so act as your tour guides and show you points of interest along the way.
On the way you’ll visit waterfalls and fresh water springs, but the most exciting part is driving through the famous Hai Van Pass; a 20km stretch of spectacular coastal road and panoramic scenery. The Hai Van Pass is historically significant to the Vietnam war as it was taken over by the Americans and at its highest point the bullet-damaged bunkers and patrol towers still stand today. It was was made even more prominent when Jeremy Clarkson and co featured it on UK Top Gear. A motorbike adventure through the Hai Van Pass is by far the funnest and most exhilarating way of getting from Hue to Hoi An (or vice versa) and for only $45 per person, it’s a bit of a steal too.
How many nights: 1 (but would recommend 2-3)
How we got there: On a 1 hour flight from Hanoi to Hue with Vietnam Airlines
Where we stayed: Hue Boutique Homestay (central location, friendly staff, basic rooms)
Hue in 3 words: Commercial, Historic, Atmospheric
Hoi An was without a doubt my favourite place on our 3 week tour. If you only have time to visit 1 place in Vietnam, make sure it’s here! With it’s lantern-lit streets, colourful buildings and charming boutique shops, Hoi An is a slice of the exotic orient that we Westerners dream of discovering.
The old town area is pedestrianised at night and without the influx of noisy scooters, the whole place feels extremely relaxed. Spend your days getting lost in the many tailors, where you can custom order handmade boots, shoes, suits and dresses for unbelievably cheap prices. The Japanese Covered Bridge is an iconic sight lit up at night and taking a long boat ride along the Thu Bon River at dusk is a magical experience. Hire push bikes and cycle to An Bang beach for the day, which is located only 3km from the town. Hoi An is also the place where we feasted on the most amazing Vietnamese cuisine, so make sure you enjoy your fair share of fresh Banh Mi baguettes.
My favourite restaurant in Hoi An was called Morning Glory, which is located on one of the most picturesque streets in the Old Town. It’s a little more expensive than your average restaurant, but the food is out of this world. If you’re looking for a charming boutique hotel in central Hoi An, I highly recommend the Vin Hung Library Hotel. With a fantastic breakfast buffet, rooftop pool, quirky interiors, friendly staff and great location, it’s the perfect place to stay in Hoi An.
How many nights: 3 (but would recommend 4-5 if you have time)
How we got there: On a motorbike tour from Hue with Easy Riders
Where we stayed: Vin Hung Library Hotel (luxurious, boutique, great value and location)
Hoi An in 3 words: Colourful, Enchanting, Quaint
6. Nha Trang
The penultimate stop on our itinerary was Nha Trang, the beach resort capital of Vietnam. There isn’t any culture or history here, but if you need a break from the backpacking and want to chill on the beach for a few days, Nha Trang is a good option. It’s also en route to Ho Chi Minh City, so even if you’re not keen on staying here, 1 or 2 nights by the beach will break up the journey nicely. If you only have 1-2 weeks in Vietnam, combining just Hoi An and Nha Trang could be a great option.
We were lucky enough to be staying at the idyllic Six Senses Ninh Van Bay as part of my collaboration with Kuoni. The resort is actually a 20-minute boat ride away from Nha Trang in a location all of its own. Because of where we stayed, I can’t really comment much on Nha Trang itself, but keep an eye out for a full review and video of our Ninh Van Bay experience coming to the blog soon!
How many nights: 2 (but would recommend 3 or 4 for a relaxing beach break)
How we got there: An 8 hour sleeper bus from Hoi An to Nha Trang
Where we stayed: Six Senses Ninh Van Bay (ultra luxurious, butler service, villas with private pool)
Nha Trang in 3 words: High-rise, touristy, characterless
Ho Chi Minh City
Our final destination was Ho Chi Minh City, which is still known as ‘Saigon’ by the Vietnamese. Although Hanoi is the capital of Vietnam, Ho Chi Minh City is much more commercial and cosmopolitan. It’s the financial centre of Vietnam, so expect to find lots of highrise buildings and international brands.
Be sure to visit the bustling Ben Thanh Market to pick up some souvenirs and feast on delicious bites in the trendy Shoreditch-style Ben Thanh Food Market. Ho Chi Minh City was one of the worst affected cities in the Vietnam War, and the deeply destructive history is retold in the American War Museum. With it’s extremely graphic photography exhibitions and prisoner of war camp replica, a visit to this museum is both fascinating and shocking in equal measure. However, it’s definitely worth a visit and is the best place to learn about Vietnam’s turbulent past. Day trips from Ho Chi Minh to the Mekong Delta and Chu Chi Tunnels are also definitely worth working into your trip.
To embrace Ho Chi Minh’s cosmopolitan side, be sure to visit one of the city’s many rooftop bars and marvel at the colourful skyline. We went to Chill Skybar, located on the 25th floor of the AB Tower. It’s probably the most expensive bar in the city, but the setting and views are worth paying for (if you turn up for happy hour, a couple of their deliciously on-trend cocktails won’t break the bank).
How many nights: 3
How we got there: An 11 hour sleeper bus from Nha Trang to Ho Chi Minh City
Where we stayed: Himalaya Phoenix Saigon Hostel (basic room, quiet central location, free breakfast, helpful staff)
Ho Chi Minh City in 3 words: Cosmopolitan, Crazy, Fast-paced
Whilst this itinerary only provides a brief snapshot of what we got up to in Vietnam, I really hope that some of you can take this away and adapt it for your own travels! If you have more than 3 weeks in Vietnam, you could extend the amount of time spent in each place, and even work in some additional stops (consider Danang and My Son). If you have less than 3 weeks, you could link up a few of the places mentioned in this post. However you use it, I hope this comes in useful and could not recommend visiting this fascinating country enough.
Our trip wouldn’t have ran so smoothly without the daily guidance of our Vietnam Lonely Planet Travel Guide. With poor quality Wi-Fi throughout Vietnam, you can’t rely on the internet for all of your information, and this book told us absolutely everything we needed to know whenever we needed it. It helped us find amazing restaurants, navigate our way around each city and made sure we didn’t miss any of the top sights. Without this book our travels would honestly have been 10x harder. It’s the best £15 you’ll ever spend.
Want to read more about Vietnam? I’ve also blogged about 12 things you need to know before visiting Vietnam.
What did you think of my Vietnam Travel Itinerary? Are you planning your own itinerary for Vietnam? Or are there any tips or recommendations you think you could add? Either way, if you enjoyed this post, please leave me a comment in the box below. Jess X