Essential Vietnam Itinerary, 10 Days
Visitors to Vietnam mostly follow the main transport route, Highway 1, known as the spine of Vietnam. The distances involved in traversing this long, skinny country means most visitors fly, rather than travel by road, to take in the major cities—the bustling hub of Ho Chi Minh City, the beachfront resort town of Nha Trang, the ancient trading port of Hoi An, the former Imperial capital of Hue, and the cultural and political capital of Hanoi. A visit to Vietnam isn't complete, however, without a visit to the mesmerizing Mekong Delta, and the captivating Halong Bay. This Essential Vietnam itinerary covers all these must-see attractions, but we’ve provided optional add-ons for those who have more time to explore further afield.
Days 1–2: Ho Chi Minh City
Arrive in Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) and hit an ATM before heading to your hotel by taxi. Spend the first day visiting top sites including the Reunification Palace, the Central Post Office, and the Notre Dame Cathedral in bustling District 1, as well as the controversial War Remnants Museum. Take a nighttime food tour (essential to book these ahead of time to avoid disappointment) for an overview of the country’s delicious and varied cuisine. On the second day, rise early to join an organized day tour to the Cu Chi Tunnels, accessible by car or boat on the Saigon River. Stretching from all the way to Cambodia, this network of underground tunnels was used by the Viet Cong during the war. Further your Vietnamese food education with the set menu at Cyclo Resto.
Day 3: Mekong Delta
(Excursions from HCMC take 7–9 hours)
Take an organized tour to the Mekong Delta. For richer insights into life on the delta, with its networks of waterways and narrow motorbike-only paths, fruit orchards, rice paddies, busy markets, and friendly locals, take a river cruise with Les Rives or a reputable bicycle tour, such as those offered by Mekong Bike Tours.
Day 4: Nha Trang
(1 hour by plane from Ho Chi Minh City, 7½ hours by train)
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 or snorkel. For a taste of culture, squeeze in a visit to the Po Nagar Cham Towers before an evening meal at one of Nha Trang’s celebrated restaurants.
Days 5 and 6: Hoi An
(1 hour and 15 minutes by plane to Danang, then a 45-minute taxi ride to Hoi An)
Home to French and Chinese architecture, tailor shops, art galleries, and the 16th-century Japanese Covered Bridge, Hoi An is an easy place to fall in love with. Catch a flight from Nha Trang to Danang (and then a taxi 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. Visit the famed Chinese-built Assembly Halls, and if you have time, take a bicycle tour of the surrounding countryside.
Dedicate the morning of Day 6 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 the 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 An Bang Beach, a favorite with locals, known for its warm waters, soft sand, and excellent seafood restaurants.
Day 7: Hue
(About 2½ hours by train or 3 hours by bus from Danang)
Traveling by train to Hue will give you some spectacular views of the South China Sea on one side and the Hai Van Pass on the other. 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 converted colonial villa to dine at Les Jardins De La Carambole.
Day 8: Hanoi
(1 hour and 10 minutes by plane or 14½ hours by train from Hue)
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 airport to downtown Hanoi. Wander the bustling streets of Old Quarter, stopping along the way to shop or enjoy a cold one on Bia Hoi corner, the beer mecca of Hanoi. Visit the Temple of Literature and the nearby Fine Arts Museum, or 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 because 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.
Day 9: Halong Bay
(Excursions from Hanoi take 11–12 hours)
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. Organize the tour company ahead of time, as this is a long day. As Halong Bay’s largest island, Cat Ba is home to lakes, waterfalls, caves, and a national park where the endangered Langur monkey lives.
Day 10: Hanoi
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. Spend some time strolling through this area, which includes the pretty One Pillar Pagoda. Head back to 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 Theater. Grab a nightcap at one of the rooftop lounge bars in this charming district.
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