Although you can visit Vietnam for a beach holiday or just one or two locations, we think the best way of seeing what the country has to offer is a multi-destination holiday. Being a relatively small country compared to the likes of Thailand, you can easily fit in 4 or 5 destinations from North to South.
Picking key destinations to visit for your Vietnam holiday can be tough as there’s so much to see and do, with each place offering something different. Vietnam is a long, thin country, making it quite easy to get from A to B. Internal flights are quick and cheap, making them a much better option than buses or trains when you’re only visiting for 2 weeks.
You should ask yourself the following questions when deciding on an itinerary:
When am I visiting?
Weather varies quite a bit in Vietnam. In the winter months of November – January, the southern region is very hot, whilst central Vietnam experiences a large amount of rain and the north is cooler (although still comfortably warm).
What to you want from your Vietnam holiday?
If you want rich history and majestic colonial cities, Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh and Hue are the places to go. Hoi An and Sapa give a great sense of traditional Vietnamese life and Nha Trang, Mui Ne and Phu Quoc are the best places for beaches and leisure activities. Ha-long Bay is simply a must-see for all.
What we decided on:
We wanted a Vietnam experience that covered a lot of the main sites and attractions, both historic cities and natural landmarks. But we also wanted a good amount of relaxation, leisure activities and eating out/nightlife. We travelled in mid-November so the weather helped influence our length of stay in each place, although we found the temperatures and amount of rain to be pretty good throughout our two-week trip. Don’t let the rain influence your trip choices too much though. It usually rains heavy for a couple of hours and then brightens up. There are many online itineraries that cover a few more places than us but avoid the beaches and are generally more ‘hectic’. Our 14 nights are designed to see lots of sights, with a good amount of relaxation in between.
Our itinerary: 14 nights in total
Hanoi – 2 nights
We started our trip in Hanoi, the unbeknownst capital of Vietnam. You can find cheap direct flights to Hanoi from London Heathrow and many other European major airports.
Although Ho Chi Minh is the larger city of the two, Hanoi is the capital. The city has a very traditional appeal. The old town centre is formed around the mysterious Hoan Kiem Lake and almost all of the main sites are within walking distance. Hanoi has a big colonial influence from the days of the French occupation, although it still retains a lot of its traditional Vietnamese and Buddhist history. As with many cities in the country, there’s a distinct Communist influence. Government buildings and monuments are bold and have a distinct communism design.
In addition to an excellent night market, old town and lake, Hanoi has outstanding museums – ranging from the Military History Museum and Presidential Palace to the iconic Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum monument. Hanoi is excellent for sightseeing and history, but there’s also trendier side to the city. Corners and alleyways are sprawling with quirky cafes, bars and restaurants and it was one of the least touristy places we visited. Check out our two-day Hanoi itinerary for what to do in the city.
Ha Long Bay cruise – 1 night
Our Halong Bay cruise was no doubt the highlight of our trip. The mighty ‘Bay of the Descending Dragon’ is located a couple of hours drive away from Hanoi and many cruise companies include a transfer from your Hanoi hotel as part of the package. Ha-Long Bay and nearby Bai Tu Long Bay are UNESCO World Heritage Sites and there’s a high chance you’ve already seen pictures of the towering limestone cliffs in the bay.
An overnight cruise is the best way to see this amazing collection of rock formations, hidden coves, active fishing villages and caves. You’ll spend your time relaxing on an ‘indochina’ themed junk boat, enjoying delicious seafood meals whilst overlooking the bay and venturing to the shoreline to explore caves, villages and beaches.
A Ha-Long Bay cruise is simply a must-see for any trip to northern Vietnam and cruises are available for every budget. Check out our Ha-Long Cruise Comparison Guide here to find the perfect boat for you. We’d actually recommend on doing a 2-night cruise if you have the time and budget!
Back to Hanoi
After travelling back to Hanoi from our Ha-Long cruise in the early afternoon, we spent the rest of our day picking up some last-minute gifts and souvenirs from the market, wandering the old town for one last time and then getting ready to go to the airport.
<Fly to Da Nang>
Da Nang – 1 night
We arrived in Da Nang very late and were immediately greeted by a modern coastal city with high-rise apartment buildings, bright lights and new developments everywhere. Da Nang Airport is located right next to the city centre so you can get to most hotels in a cab within a matter of minutes.
Head to bed to catch up on sleep or head out to the many bars and restaurants. Alternatively, see the famous ‘Dragon Bridge’ lit up on a night-time, breathing fire in an epic display.
The next morning, we wandered around the beautiful beach, which is one of the cleanest beaches we’ve ever seen in South-East Asia!
<Taxi transfer to Hoi An via Marble Mountain>
After lunch we headed straight to our next destination – Hoi An. Halfway between Da Nang and Hoi An is the towering Marble Mountain, a large series of caves that have been mined for marble rock for centuries to make everything from statues to staircases. The caves themselves have been turned into Buddhist shrines and are waiting to be explored. There’s also a lift that takes you to the top of the mountain. Here you’ll find a series of impressive Buddhist Temples, more caves and amazing views of the Da Nang coastline. There is lots of climbing so wear some sturdy shoes!
Marble Mountain was the perfect place to visit en-route to Hoi An and although our stay in Da Nang was very brief, it was well worth visiting. We would have happily stayed a couple of nights if we had more time.
Hoi An – 3 nights
Hoi An was the place we were most looking forward to. It’s known as one of the most beautiful and traditional towns in Vietnam and many travellers fall in love at first sight. On arrival, we found Hoi An to be small and very ‘green’. It didn’t have the hustle and bustle of Hanoi. Both rice fields and palm trees surrounded the outside of the town and the historic town centre is a pedestrian only zone.
We stayed in the Hoi An Essence Hotel, which was truly excellent for the price we paid. It had a luxurious yet ‘eco’ vibe and was a very peaceful place to relax during the day.
Hoi An itself is actually quite touristy. Local vendors and ‘Tuk Tuk’s’ are apparent throughout and visitors with cameras are on every corner. Saying that, the town was still very beautiful. The streets are lined with colourful paper lanterns, houses are decorated in traditional Vietnamese ‘indochina’ décor and there are lots of things to see and do.
Top attractions include the night market, daytime Central Market, Japanese walking bridge, undertaking a cooking class and much more. View our full recommendations list of things to do here. The highlight of our time in the town was joining a full-day bike tour and exploring the local villages and rice fields, seeing how the locals live and sampling street food and drink.
<Fly to Phu Quoc>
Phu Quoc – 4 nights
After travelling the country for just over a week and visiting lots of places in a short amount of time, we wanted plenty of downtime and relaxation. After all, who doesn’t love relaxing on a dreamy South-East Asian beach? We deliberated a lot on finding the best beach to go to. Phu Quoc is known to be the quietest and secluded beach area but it involves a flight and more travelling to get to. Central Vietnam was ruled out due to it being rainy season during our trip and Mui Ne was a close second option.
You can fly to Phu Quoc direct from Da Nang or via a brief stopover in Ho Chi Minh. The journey takes around 4-5 hours in total but once you’re on Phu Quoc Island you can relax and enjoy the simple life. Unlike a lot of beach resorts and islands, Phu Quoc has an ‘off-the-beaten-track’ appeal. It’s small, there isn’t a great deal of hotels to choose from (although there are some excellent places to stay) and there are not an endless number of things to do. It’s a place where you can relax in a nice hotel or beach hut during the day and enjoy fresh seafood and cocktails on an evening.
Some areas of the island are more secluded than others (the north and east), where you’ll find more going on near the west coast, including beach bars, clubs and restaurants. As the island is so small, you can easily catch a taxi to different resorts.
We spent our days on Phu Quoc winding down on the beach, swimming in the ocean and snorkelling. One unique attraction on the island is Phu Quoc Prison, where you can take a guided tour of the prison grounds and learn about the horrific happenings of past times. It’s a strange thing to do on an island paradise but it’s very interesting.
<Fly to Ho Chi Minh>
Ho Chi Minh – 3 nights
Ho Chi Minh (also known as Saigon) is the cosmopolitan centre of Vietnam. It’s a large, diverse city with high end fashion, shopping malls and luxury hotels. However, it also has a traditional side and it’s a melting pot of cultures from around the world. You won’t find too many high-rise buildings and there’s plenty of market stalls, exciting places to eat and sights to see.
The highlights of any trip to Ho Chi Minh have to be the Cu Chi Tunnel tour and Mekong Delta tour. Ho Chi Minh as an area is very humid and tropical and is surrounded by the mighty Mekong River, rice fields and marshland. We made sure to fit in both tours during our stay. The Cu Chi Tunnels tour was interesting and gave you an insight into the US-Vietnam war from a South Vietnamese point of view. You can crawl down inside the tunnels, look at weaponry and learn about how the Vietcong hid from allied troops. It was quite a tourist trap, which took the shine off it a bit, but still worth seeing nonetheless.
The Mekong Delta tour on the other hand is a must-see! Ride down the mighty river in a small motorboat whilst a tour guide points out the main villages and explains life on the river. You’ll float through a big river market, UNESCO World Heritage mangrove site and lots of picturesque scenery.
Spend the rest of your stay in the city sampling southern Vietnamese street food (which is spicier than the north), shopping, visiting museums and wandering the eclectic mix of colonial city streets. The War Remnants Museum should be top of your list for sightseeing. It’s an excellent tribute to the Vietnamese War for both sides and has a diverse range of war artefacts and vehicles.
We stayed in Ho Chi Minh for a full 3 nights and think it was the perfect amount of time to see many of the main sites and to get a good feel for Saigon city life.
<Fly back home from Ho Chi Minh via Hanoi>
We hope you liked our 2-week itinerary and were inspired by some of the destinations to create your own. We recommend researching flights and the weather at the time of year you’re going, and then choosing destinations based on what you want to see the most. Our itinerary is great for first time visitors to Vietnam but can also be great for returning holiday seekers. Simply substitute destinations with new places you want to check out.
Some excellent places that you should also visit:
We’d like to think that our itinerary covered a lot of the main cities and sites of Vietnam, however it’s impossible to see everything in 2 weeks! Other top places to visit include:
Sapa – Sapa is a remote concentration of mountains, rice fields and local villages in the far north of Vietnam (making it a little awkward to get to). You can get there by bus from Hanoi and it offers one of the most authentic experiences of countryside life.
Hue – Hue is one of the most historic towns in the country. It’s made up of ruins, monuments and main Citadel centre from the Nguyen Dynasty. It has its own airport but flights aren’t very frequent. The best way to get here is a 3-hour drive from Da Nang.
Nha Trang – Nha Trang is located just south of Hoi An. It’s very much a city with a beach resort. It has a long promenade and miles of nice beaches. It’s also one of the best places in Vietnam for nightlife and attracts many backpackers.
Mui Ne – Mui Ne is one of Vietnams main beach areas. It has a number of beach resorts, both basic and luxury and has a high volume of Russian tourists. The main allure to this far south area is the impressive red and white sand dunes. These vast dunes spread across the southern coast and are so vast you’d think it was a dessert. You can get to Mui Ne by train from Ho Chi Minh Station.
Vietnam travel tips:
- Vietnam struck us as a very safe country to visit. People were friendly and a lot more relaxed in nature than nearby countries, probably due to less tourism influence. Saying that, always be cautious when visiting each place and book your transport with reputable transfer or taxi companies. Local ‘non-brand’ cabs will try to rip you off.
- Vietnam is an insanely cheap country to visit. Being a two-week holiday, we’d recommend splashing out and trying some 4 or 5-star resorts for places where you’ll spend more time in your hotel. It’s great to come home to somewhere amazing when you’ve been sightseeing all day.
- Food hygiene is quite poor in Vietnam due to lenient regulations and we actually got sick for a few days. Always use bottled water for drinking and brushing your teeth and try to eat in busy restaurants with good reviews. Avoid shellfish unless you’re in a luxury hotel and limit the amount of meat you eat. Of course you should still try as much tasty Vietnamese food as you can!
- If you’re only visiting Vietnam for 2-3 weeks, we recommend flying between the major cities in north, central and south Vietnam. Bus and train travel is very time consuming and tiring and flights are cheap! You want to save your time and energy for exploring.
- One of the first things you’ll notice on arrival is how crazy the roads and traffic are. Be very cautious when crossing roads, use crossings where available and put up your hand in a ‘stop’ motion to drivers when crossing the road. Always wear your seatbelt in taxis.
- Always research tours fully before booking and look at reviews. You can sometimes save money when booking on arrival in Vietnam but there’s less chance of something going wrong when booking a top-rated online tour.