How to travel in Vietnam for two weeks
Vietnam has one big advantage for travellers trying to work out an itinerary – it’s long and narrow.
It pretty much means you do one of two things. You either go up the country or you go down it. Of course, you need to decide where you want to stop along the way and how long you’ll spend in each place. But it’s not like you have to sit there with a map calculating the most efficient route to get between all the places you would like to visit.
Ancient cities, beautiful beaches, enormous caves, charming towns, modern history – and lots of amazing food and drink. Vietnam has so much to see and it can be hard to work out how to make the most of your stay.
I’ve spent a fair amount of time in the country recently and want to use everything I’ve learned to put together an itinerary for travelling in Vietnam for you. I’ve chosen two weeks as the length of time because that seems to be the average duration that people travel in the country for. If you’re going for a shorter period, then skip a couple of the things I recommend. If you’re going for longer, I’ve suggested a few extra options. You might also prefer not to do some of the overnight travel I suggest and use your extra days for bus and train trips (that’s the way I tend to do it).
The first decision is north or south? I suggest travelling from the north to the south for two reasons. Firstly, most tourists actually go the other way so it means you’re going to find it easier to get bus and train tickets with less competition. Secondly, if you’re continuing your travels in Asia, you have a lot more options leaving from Ho Chi Minh City in the south (by land or boat into Cambodia and then Thailand, for instance). Flights are generally much cheaper to/from HCMC so that’s a consideration. But you can always get your international return flights into HCMC and then get a cheap domestic flight up to Hanoi for the day you arrive.
You can see my proposed route in this map:
In this two week Vietnam itinerary, I have tried to be quite specific with my recommendations. However, they are all based on things running smoothly and not being already booked out. Be prepared to go with the flow, make your own decisions based on your interests, and enjoy your travels!
Let’s get straight into some sightseeing in Hanoi. Vietnam’s capital has quite a few sights but the main ones can be covered within a day (or two half days). I would suggest heading first to the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum because there can often be a queue, so the earlier you get there, the better.
With the rest of the day, there are some more places you can visit. I would suggest choosing from the Vietnam Military History Museum, the Imperial Citadel of Thang Long, the Temple of Literature, Hoa Lo Prison and the Vietnam Fine Arts Museum.
In the evening, my favourite spot in Hanoi is an area known as ‘Bia Hoi Corner’. It’s at the corner of Luong Ngoc Quyen, Ta Hien and Dinh Liet (see it on a map here). You can join the locals who sit on tiny plastic stools on the footpath and drink glasses of fresh beer for about 5000 VND (US$0.20). You can also order snacks or meals. It’s not the most comfortable place in the city but it’s the most fun!
Where should you stay in Hanoi?
There are lots of budget hostels in Hanoi but I would recommend Luxury Backpackers which has great beds.
There are also lots of quite similar cheap hotels. A comfortable option is Golden Moon Hotel with breakfast.
For a really trendy hotel, you should try The Chi Boutique Hotel.
And if you want to really splurge, I think the nicest luxury hotel in the city is the Sofitel Legend Metropole.
Hanoi is not the kind of city you should do in a rush, which is why I have a second day here in the itinerary. There are a few options I would suggest for how to fill the day.
One option is to take it easy and see a few of the sights that you skipped on the first day but spend the rest of the time hanging out in the cafes and restaurants of the French Quarter.
There is heaps of amazing food in Hanoi so another great idea is to do a food tour. I would suggest this food tour. I guarantee you’ll try some things you wouldn’t have otherwise!
Speaking of tours, Hanoi is a good place to do one because there is so much depth to the city that you wouldn’t appreciate otherwise. If you would prefer to use a guide to see some of the sights I have recommended, I would suggest this day tour.
Before I move on to day 3, this is the point where I’ll mention the first of the optional extras that I haven’t included in this two week Vietnam itinerary. Hanoi is the city you would use as the base to head northwest into the Sapa region. Sapa is famous for its jungle trekking and ethnic minority cultures – although there is a fair amount of development now and you have to go even deeper to get authentic experiences.
To get to Sapa, you can take the train from Hanoi to Lao Cai. The trip takes about 8 hours. You can organise treks and homestay experiences in Hanoi in advance or plan everything when you get there. Once you are finished in Sapa, you will be able to come back to Hanoi and continue with my suggested itinerary.
Ha Long Bay
You really can’t go to Vietnam without visiting Ha Long Bay. Unfortunately it is quite crowded with tourists and boats and there are concerns about the way the environment is being protected – but it’s still a natural wonder that is not worth missing out on.
There are dozens of tour operators and hundreds of places that will sell you a place on them. The choice can be overwhelming – particularly when there are some shady deals that sometimes occur, where you can think you’re buying one thing and end up with another.
If you want to try your luck and buy a deal at one of the shops in Hanoi, you may get a good trip for a cheap price. But it’s hard to guarantee exactly what you’ll end up with. Unless you have a good recommendation from someone else, I would suggest booking with one of the international companies that will give you security of purchase.
You can go as a day trip but that is far too rushed. My suggestion for this itinerary would be to do one night in Ha Long Bay, staying on board one of the junk boats. The good news is that’s the standard way that people visit the region so there are lots of tours.
Both of those trips will pick you up from your hotel in Hanoi and drop you back to Hanoi the next day.
Most of this day will be spent in Ha Long Bay and then arriving back in Hanoi in the late afternoon. The choice you need to make is whether you want to stay the night in Hanoi or get the train straight to the next destination. I’ll give you the details of both options in the next section.
Today I would suggest exploring the area of Ninh Binh, about 100 kilometres south of Hanoi. It has beautiful landscapes of karst limestone mountains with rivers winding between them.
To save a bit of time, you can travel from Hanoi to Ninh Binh the evening before, after getting back from Ha Long Bay. You should be able to get the 19:30 train, which arrives at 21:49 (as a backup, there’s a 20:10 train that arrives at 22:25).
If you choose to travel in the morning instead, you can do the 06:00 that arrives at 08:22 or the 09:00 that arrives at 11:21. I recommend booking train tickets in advance here.
Once you get to Ninh Binh, there are two potential areas to explore – Trang An and Tam Coc. Both are alike and both are beautiful. They look a bit like Ha Long Bay… but without the bay. The karst limestone mountains rise up from rice paddies and riverbanks.
If you only want to visit one, I would suggest Trang An. It’s quite nice to borrow a bike from your accommodation and cycle there. Once you arrive, you’ll buy a ticket for a boat ride. The boats are small (maximum four people) and they’re rowed by hand (or foot) by your guide. The trip along the river takes up to three hours and you’ll go through caves and see some great sights. The experience at Tam Coc is very similar.
You have another choice here. Do you stay the night in Ninh Binh or get an overnight bus or train to the next stop, Phong Nha? I’m going to suggest an itinerary where you do the travelling the next day. It gets a bit too tiring if you’re always travelling overnight with no rest. However, if you go overnight, you can get the train from Ninh Binh to Dong Hoi that leaves at 21:49, 22:25 or 00:13 and then get the local bus from Dong Hoi to Phong Nha. Book tickets in advance here.
There are also sleeper buses – I would suggest asking a local hotel or tour operator for the times.
Where should you stay in Ninh Binh?
My favourite place in Ninh Binh is definitely the relaxed Nguyen Shack with its charming bungalows.
For a comfortable budget hotel, you can try Nam Hoa Hotel right near Tam Coc.
A lovely homestay option with amazing views is the Limestone View Homestay.
And for a stunning luxury resort, you can’t go past Emeralda Resort with a wonderful pool.
Phong Nha Ke Bang
If you’ve travelled overnight, you will have arrived early. If you want to be a day ahead, skip to my suggestions for Day 7. Otherwise, have a rest day and enjoy the countryside around Phong Nha. You should be able to hire a bike from your hotel.
If you stayed in Ninh Binh, you’ll need to get to Phong Nha. The trains leave at either 08:22 or 11:21 to Dong Hoi and then you’ll get the local bus from there. Book tickets in advance here.
There may also be direct tourist buses in the morning from Ninh Binh to Phong Nha. I would suggest asking your accommodation to see what the options are. Either way, you’ll spend most of the day on the road and be ready to rest when you arrive.
Where should you stay in Phong Nha?
For a good backpacker option, I would recommend staying at the friendly Nguyen Shack.
A good choice for a budget hotel in a convenient location is the Thanh Phat.
And for a lovely experience a little bit out of town, Jungle Boss Homestay will look after you well.
The reason you’ve come to Phong Nha is to see the caves. Did you know that the world’s largest cave is here? It’s so large that you could fly a Boeing 747 through it!
Unfortunately you won’t be able to see this cave. Only a very smaller number of people are allowed in each year and it’s super expensive and there’s a long wait. But the caves you can see are still very impressive.
All of the hotels and tour operators in town offer a fairly similar range of options for tours around the area. You can choose which one is best for you – I would suggest making sure that Paradise Cave is included (it’s the highlight). It could be a good idea to book ahead and having something locked in, so this tour is a good option.
This evening I suggest you stay in Phong Nha but be prepared for possibly a very early start.
There are a few ways to get to the next stop, the city of Hue. Ask at your hotel for the direct tourist bus options – there may be one at about 4am that will get you into the city at about 8am. Otherwise there are trains from Dong Hoi at 05:50, 06:39, or 07:40. Keep in mind that the first local bus from Phong Nha to Dong Hoi leaves at 05:30 and takes about 90 minutes so you’ll need to find another way to the station if yuou want one of the early trains. If you get the 07:40 train, you’ll arrive in Hue at about 10:27. You can book your train tickets in advance here.
Hue is an old centre of power and was effectively the capital of Vietnam for almost 150 years from the start of the 1800s. The main sight in Hue is the Imperial City, which is the enormous compound where the emperors lived and ruled their lands from. It will take you several hours to walk through it and see everything.
If you’re interested in getting a guide to show you through the Imperial City, which will certainly give you a much better understanding of the site and the history, I would suggest this half day tour, if you arrive in time.
Other than the Imperial City, there are just a few other things to see and do in Hue. I would suggest this whole day tour of the sights, or you could do this tour with local people in the surrounding area, or you could do this tour with a focus on food.
You might also be interested in checking out an old abandoned water park which is pretty creepy… but cool.
Although the next stop, Hoi An, isn’t too far away, I would probably stay in Hue for the night. After an early start this morning, it would be nice to be able to have a hotel to leave luggage in the morning and have a rest in the afternoon.
Where should you stay in Hue?
For a good backpacker option, I would suggest staying at Why Not. Yes, that’s its real name.
A good choice for a budget hotel in a great location is the Four Seasons Hotel.
For a wonderful relaxing ecoresort a little bit out of the city, Pilgrimage Village Boutique Resort & Spa is a great place.
And for luxury by the beach, have a look at Ana Mandara Hue Beach Resort.
In the morning, it’s time to head to Hoi An. You will either need to get the train to Da Nang (leaving at 08:56) and then the local bus to Hoi An (the local yellow bus costs 20,000 VND (US$0.80)) or you can find a direct tourist bus. Book tickets in advance here.
Hoi An is a magical city and one of the most beautiful spots in Vietnam. It was a trading port from the 15th century to the 19th century and the architecture and layout from that period has been well-preserved. Be warned – it’s crowded – but it’s still a wonderful place to explore.
My suggestion for the day would be to just wander around the city and explore the streets and the shops. Make sure you cross over the river with small bridges to the islands, which can be a little more relaxed.
If, however, you would like to be guided or to do some activities, here are a few suggestions. Hoi An is a particularly good place to do a Vietnamese cooking school and this one comes highly recommended. If you’re not so keen on the cooking but like the idea of the eating, then there’s this food tour through Hoi An.
If you would like to do something a little more cultural, there are lots of options. You can go on a local fishing experience, do some underwater walking, learn about the rice farms, or make traditional lanterns.
There’s also a beach in Hoi An, which has some lovely seafood restaurants. It is a nice place to visit around sunset, if you have time, and you can cycle there from the main part of town.
Where should you stay in Hoi An?
There are a lot of cheap hostels in town but I recommend Tribee Cham for location and atmosphere.
There are also lots of budget hotels but one of the nicest is Hoi An Heritage Homestay.
For lovely relaxed villas, you should try Cozy Hoian Boutique Villas.
And if you are looking for the best in town, you need to check out Hotel Royal Hoi An MGallery.
On your second day in Hoi An, I would highly recommend taking a tour out to My Son in the morning. My Son is an ancient complex of temples built by the Champa people over a thousand years between the 4th and 14th centuries. It’s the closest thing that the Vietnamese have to Angkor and it’s pretty spectacular, even if much of it has been destroyed.
You’ll find lots of hotels and tour operators offering trips to My Son from Hoi An. It might be easier just to shop around yourself because they’re all quite similar, even if they have different prices. However, if you would like to make a booking in advance, I would recommend using this guided tour.
You should get back in the afternoon and have time to hang out in one of the Hoi An bars or cafes for the afternoon.
In the evening, though, I would recommend getting on an overnight bus or train for your next stop, Nha Trang. Ask your hotel for tourist bus options. For the train, you’ll need to get the local bus to Danang and then the train leaving at 22:47 will get you to Nha Trang at 08:35. Book tickets in advance here.
Nha Trang is one of Vietnam’s famous beach resorts. Don’t imagine a quiet tropical getaway, though. This is a beach with plenty of development and a fair bit of partying.
I’ll be honest – it’s not my favourite part of Vietnam. But it’s a convenient place to break up the trip from Hoi An to Ho Chi Minh City and the beach is a nice place to relax. If you’re keen to hit the bars, then you may like it here. If you want to sunbake, you’ll probably like it here. If you just want a day to chill, then you can do that here too.
There are no particular things I would suggest doing here. As I say, it’s really just a day at the beach. So enjoy!
If you completely hate the idea of Nha Trang, you can just push through to Ho Chi Minh City and have an extra day there, or do one of the extra options I’ve included along the way.
Where should you stay in Nha Trang?
If you’re looking for a backpacker place with a bit of atmosphere, Mojzo Dorm is your best option.
There are so many hotels and the prices change a lot with the seasons. Seaway Hotel often has great deals.
A cozy option (unlike all the big hotels) that’s worth considering is Little Home Nha Trang Apartment.
But if you are after one of the big luxury hotels, your best bet is probably the Novotel.
With my suggested itinerary, I’m going to take you straight to Ho Chi Minh City next. However, you can do a detour and go inland, through a city called Dalat. It’s not one of the usual tourist stops in Vietnam but it does offer something different. It’s a charming alpine city with a relaxed atmosphere and a few things to see, including the Crazy House .
There’s also some great hiking and other adventure activities you can do in the surrounding area.
If you do have a spare day or want to skip Nha Trang and see something different, it’s worth considering.
It’s quite a long way from Nha Trang to Ho Chi Minh City so you need to make a decision about whether you spend all night or all day travelling. In this itinerary, I’m choosing to spend the day on the road because the last leg was overnight.
So I would recommend getting the train from Nha Trang either at 08:35, which gets you in to HCMC at 16:05 or at 11:44, which gets you in at 20:03.
If you choose to travel overnight, the train leaves Nha Trang at 22:12 and arrives at 05:20. This gives you an extra day, which you could use to relax or maybe consider the extra option to Can Tho that I’ll mention at the end. To book your tickets in advance, click here.
Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon)
I have allocated two days in Saigon and it’s such a big city that you may find that’s not nearly enough. But having said that, it doesn’t have as many obvious ‘sights’ as Hanoi. The best way to spend your time here will be to explore and immerse yourself in the culture.
I would suggest using this first day to orientate yourself and see what sights exist. These include the Reunification Palace, Ben Thanh Market, War Remnants Museum, the Museum of Vietnamese History, the Ho Chi Minh Museum, and the City Hall (from the outside).
You’ll notice that there are a lot of trendy cafes and restaurants in central Ho Chi Minh City. For better or worse, there are some big changes going on. I have included some recommendations for places to eat and drink in my post about the city.
Where should you stay in Ho Chi Minh City?
For a modern and quiet hostel, I would suggest Townhouse 373 which has a great location.
A comfortable budget option is Tripwriter Hotel… and I like the name!
For a stylish design hotel, you should try Cinnamon Boutique Hotel.
And if you want to splurge, I think one of the coolest new hotels in the city is The Myst Dong Khoi.
Ho Chi Minh City is enormous and by your second day you’ll probably come to realise how overwhelming it can be. I don’t always use guides or do local tours when I travel but this is one of those cities where you’ll get so much more out of your stay if you do.
I have mentioned a couple of tours in the previous day’s information that show you the sights so you may want to consider one of them if you didn’t end up seeing much. There are also some great food tours – most are in the evening. I would recommend this easy walking food tour or this food tour by motorbike (you’ll just be the passenger).
Ho Chi Minh City is also the staging point for day trips to see the Cu Chi Tunnels and that would be an option for today. This tour to the Cu Chi Tunnels is a great way to do it.
You could also spend the day seeing some of the Mekong Delta. It’s much better to go for more than just a day trip because you’ll get a bit further in (see my next optional extra) but if you don’t have time, then try this Mekong day tour.
If you have a bit of extra time, I would suggest heading into the Mekong Delta from Ho Chi Minh City and see a bit of this beautiful part of the country. Things are very relaxed around the Mekong and there’s a different atmosphere to all the places so far.
One of the easiest places to use as your base for accommodation is Can Tho. From there, you can do boat trips or head by bus to some of the other smaller towns in the region.
And that’s it! A very comprehensive guide for how to spend two weeks in Vietnam. I hope you have found it useful. Please let me know in the comments below if you have any more questions or any suggestions you would like to add for other travellers. In the meantime, have a great trip!