Arrive in Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) and hit an ATM before heading to your hotel by taxi. Be sure to take the green-and-white Mai Linh taxi, the most reputable transportation company in Vietnam. As you exit the airport, the Mai Linh counter is on your right. A trip from the airport to the city center costs about 200,000 VND.
Spend the first day visiting top sites including the famed Ben Thanh Market in bustling District 1, and the War Remnants Museum. During the second day, join an organized tour to the Cu Chi Tunnels accessible by car or boat on the Saigon River. Agencies selling tickets are located on Pham Ngu Lao Street in District 1. Stretching from Saigon to Cambodia, this network of underground tunnels was used by the Viet Cong during the American War. Introduce yourself to authentic Vietnamese food at Dong Hoa Xuan in the Binh Thanh District. This hole-in-the-wall offers the city's best ca kho to, fish in a spicy caramelized sauce.
With an organized tour, travel four hours from Ho Chi Minh City to Can Tho, famous for its fruit orchards, floating markets, and riverfront promenade. En route, stop at the gateway province of Ben Tre, where locals live on coconut plantations. Countless agencies in Saigon's backpacker district of Pham Ngu Lao offer full-day tours to the Delta. While some simply cruise the labyrinth of waterways, others visit villages by way of horse-drawn carriage, bicycle, or rowboat.
Take a one-hour flight from Ho Chi Minh City to Nha Trang. Consider this your most relaxing destination in your Vietnam travels, and take full advantage of every moment. Check into one of the luxury resorts that line Nha Trang's coastline. Between spa treatments and beach walks, take a boat trip to the nearby island of Hon Mun for an afternoon dive. For a taste of culture, squeeze in a visit to the Po Nagar Towers before an evening meal at one of Nha Trang's Vietnamese restaurants.
Home to French architecture, tailor shops, art galleries, and the 16th-century Japanese Covered Bridge, it's easy to fall in love with Hoi An and perhaps even shift your itinerary in an effort to extend your stay. Catch a flight from Nha Trang to Hoi An, and upon arrival, spend some time getting lost in the Old Quarter. Sip on traditional Vietnamese coffee, get fitted for a custom-tailored suit, and shop to your heart's content. If you have time, visit the Chinese-built Assembly Halls and the famed Covered Bridge.
Dedicate the morning to sampling Vietnamese cuisine. Participate in a cooking course or join a culinary tour through the Central Market, the best place to try local dishes like cao lau (rice noodles) and banh bao vac (steamed dumplings). Spend the rest of the day at My Son Sanctuary, the former religious capital of the Champa kingdom. Dating back to the 4th century, this archaeological site is an hour's drive from Hoi An. For less history and more relaxation, swap My Son for an afternoon at Cua Dai Beach, Hoi An's main strand, known for its warm waters and soft sand.
Travel by train or bus along the scenic route to Hue. After checking into your hotel, get your history fix with a full day exploring the top three sites: The Citadel, the Thien Mu Pagoda, and one of the impressive mausoleums that pay tribute to past emperors. Be sure to reach the pagoda by way of dragon boat along the Perfume River. Dine in the tourist district near Chu Van An Street, or venture to a 19th-century garden house at Ancient Hue Restaurant.
Catch a morning flight from Hue one hour north to Hanoi. Plan to spend a full day in the city and account for the 45-minute drive from the Noi Bai International Airport to downtown Hanoi. Wander the bustling streets of Old Quarter, stopping along the way to shop or enjoy a cold pint on Bia Hoi corner, the beer mecca of Hanoi. Stroll around the picturesque Hoan Kiem Lake; its northern shore is home to Jade Island where Ngoc Son Temple stands. Be sure to sample pho at dinner, especially since this popular rice noodle dish originated in northern Vietnam. Finish the day with a live performance at the Hanoi Opera House or the Thang Long Water Puppet Theater. Try to get an early night before your 8 am shuttle to Halong Bay. Most hotels will store luggage for guests who take day or overnight trips to the coast.
Travel by shuttle four hours to Halong Bay. Select a tour company offering trips to floating villages, historic caves, pristine beaches, and Cat Ba Island. As Halong Bay's largest island, this area is home to lakes, waterfalls, caves, and a national park where the endangered Langur monkey lives.
End your trip with a day of history and culture. Begin with a visit to Ho Chi Minh's Mausoleum and Residence. This memorial in Ba Dinh Square gets extremely crowded, so be sure to arrive early. Boldly explore the bustle of Hanoi by hopping on a cyclo before finishing your trip in the Old Quarter for dinner and a musical performance of Ca Tru. This ceremonial singing can best be enjoyed at the Thang Long Ca Tru Theatre. Grab a nightcap at one of the rooftop lounge bars in this charming district.