One of the trickiest things for do-it-yourself travel planners to work out, especially when visiting a destination for the first time, is how to arrange the itinerary so that you make the most of your time on the ground, without trying to pack too much in. So in this post I have outlined a sample 2 week itinerary for Vietnam based on our experiences there over four separate trips between 2010 and 2015.
Our first trip to Vietnam was in September 2010, when we spent just over two weeks there. We’ve returned three times since, the most recent time in January 2015 when we spent two and a half weeks in Ho Chi Minh City alone. Our experiences there have inspired me to put together a suggested two week itinerary for first-time visitors to Vietnam which hits some of the highlights, without the pace being so frantic that everything in this rich and diverse country speeds past in a blur.
Whenever we visit a foreign land we like to pace ourselves so that we get an opportunity to scrape a little below the surface of a destination. So, this itinerary focuses primarily on the two big cities of Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) and Hanoi, but throws in some diversions along the way.
- 4 nights in Ho Chi Minh City
- 3 nights in Hoi An
- 2 nights in Hue
- 2 nights in Hanoi
- 1 night on a junk at Halong Bay
- 2 nights in Hanoi
Read on for the full suggested list of what to do within this time. Suggested activities or things to see are in dot points under each day, with links to where I’ve written posts about those activities.
You may also like to read:
- Novels and memoirs set in Vietnam
- 10 memorable Vietnam experiences
- The most Googled questions about toilets in Vietnam
A sample 2 week itinerary for Vietnam
Day 1: Arrive in Ho Chi Minh City
Ho Chi Minh City (also known as Saigon) is the largest city in Vietnam, and is famous for the role it played in the Vietnam (American) War. A city of distinct contrasts, HCMC is a vibrant combination of the old and the super-new. Beautiful French-colonial architecture sits alongside skyscrapers of glass and steel.
- Start to explore District 1 sights – Cathedral, Post Office
- Learn how to cross a road in Vietnam
- Relax over a sunset drink at either Saigon Saigon bar at The Caravelle Hotel or the ‘Five O’Clock Follies’ rooftop bar at The Rex Hotel
Days 2-4: Ho Chi Minh City
- Have a bowl of pho for breakfast
- Ben Thanh and Tan Dinh Markets
- Reunification/Independence Palace tour
- Cu Chi tunnels half-day tour going by speed boat with Les Rives (formerly Saigon River Express) and/or their Mekong Delta full day tour
- Ho Chi Minh Fine Arts Museum
- Cholon (Chinatown)
- Shopping along Dong Khoi. I have written a guide to shopping in Ho Chi Minh City.
- Sophie’s Art Tour
- Dinner at Noir: Dining in the Dark
- A O Show at Saigon Opera House
- There are lots of great options for dinner – see my guide to unique restaurants in Saigon
Day 5 -Fly from Ho Chi Minh City to Danang, ground transfer to Hoi An
Hoi An on Vietnam’s central coast is best known for its well-preserved Ancient Town, which is located on the banks of the Thu Bon River. An important trading port in times gone past, the influence of visiting trader cultures is see in the architecture which is a mix of eras and styles. The town is also known as the ‘tailoring town’ and a huge number of tailors are ready to whip up any creations you desire.
- The drive from Danang Airport to Hoi An takes around 30 minutes. Most ground transport drivers will be more than happy to detour via the Marble Mountains en route (beware of the persuasive ways of the salespeople at the marble showroom where you will inevitably be dropped off by your driver, as he/she will be on commission)
- Follow this link for answers to some of the most Googled questions about Hoi An
- On arrival in Hoi An, find a tailor and start the process to have some clothes tailor-made
- Walk around the Ancient Town as the sun sets
- If your stay coincides with a full moon festival (14th day of each lunar month) read this post for what you can expect of a full moon festival in Hoi An
Day 6 & 7 – Hoi An
- ‘The Last Great Taste of Hoi An’ street food walking tour
- Half-day tour to My Son
- Cooking school – we did our class at Secret Garden
- Countryside half-day cycling tour (we used Heaven & Earth Tours)
- Ancient town tours with a guide
Day 8 – Hoi An to Hue
North of Danang and Hoi An in central Vietnam, Hue was the seat of Nguyen Dynasty emperors and the national capital from 1802-1945. The 19th-century Imperial Citadel, which is surrounded by a moat and thick stone walls, is a major attraction, as are the tombs of the Nguyen emperors which are dotted throughout the Perfume River valley.
- Ground transfer to Danang, then there are two options to get to Hue – either continue by road over the Hai Van Pass, which is a spectacular mountain pass, or take the Reunification Express Train from Danang to Hue. Apparently, on a good day, the views of the coastline from the right-hand side of the train as you head north are stunning.
- If you have time when you arrive in Hue, take a boat tour from the city centre along the Perfume River to the Thien Mu Pagoda (Heavenly Lady Pagoda). Otherwise, arrange for that to be included in the following day’s tour
Day 9 – Hue
- Full day tour of the Emperor’s Mausoleums and the Imperial Citadel. We arranged a private guide and driver through Mandarin Cafe for our most recent trip. (You can also read a post from an earlier trip about our first tour of the Emperor’s Mausoleums)
Day 10 -Fly from Hue to Hanoi
Hanoi in the north of the country is the capital of Vietnam and the second largest city. Its history stretches back over 1,000 years, with the culture representing a blend of East and West – traditional Sino-Vietnamese and French colonial influences. At the centre of the city is the Old Quarter, a chaotic arrangement of narrow streets grouped according to trades.
- On arrival in Hanoi, head to the Old Quarter and wander through the streets which each specialise in a different goods.
Day 11 – Hanoi
- Day tour with Hanoi Kids – these volunteer student guides will include whatever sights interest you, but have a few suggested tour itineraries on their website. We took Option 1: Ho Chi Minh Complex, Temple of Literature, Sword Lake area and Old Quarter.
Day 12 – Overnight on a junk at Halong Bay
Designated a World Heritage site in 1994, Halong Bay, in northeast Vietnam is known for its stunning geological feature of thousands of towering limestone (kaarst) islands rising out of a bay of emerald. Junk boat tours ply these waters, with many visitors staying on a junk for a night or two.
- The drive from Hanoi to Halong Bay takes about 4 hours, so you are picked up around 8am and embark the junk at Hon Gai International harbor around 12 noon
- We did the 2 days/1 night itinerary on one of the Red Dragon junks operated by Indochina Junk which included a visit to a floating village
Day 13 – Halong Bay to Hanoi
- Return to Hanoi by road (4 hours)
- Thang Long Water Puppet Theatre
- Hanoi Night Markets
Day 14 – Hanoi
- Huc (Sunbeam) Bridge on Hoan Kiem Lake
- Hanoi Fine Arts Museum (Bao Tang My Thuat)
- Dong Xuan Market
Day 14 (late) or Day 15 – Depart Hanoi
What would you put top of your Vietnam itinerary list?
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Creating an itinerary packed full of memorable moments is no accident. If you would like to know my method for doing it, download your free copy of my e-guide: Memorable Moments: How to pack your travel itinerary full of opportunities to create those memories.