With its fascinating history, stunning landscapes, yummy food, and vibrant energy, Vietnam will awaken all your senses and pull you in from all angles. It’s one of the most exciting destinations in South East Asia. When I was planning my Vietnam trip, I wasn’t sure exactly how to go about, and be able to see all the major attractions in my 2 weeks of time off. My journey started from North to South. This itinerary can easily be reversed if you’re coming from the other direction. Vietnam has too much to see in one trip, but if you have only 2 weeks and don’t have any plan of visiting Vietnam again in the future, this two-week itinerary will surely be a big help in getting you to start planning your trip.
Day 1: Washington, Dc. to Hanoi:
Day 2 : Hanoi
The best way to arrive into northern Vietnam from USA is flying into the capital city of Hanoi. The city is filled with charm and vibrance at every corner.
Suggested time in Hanoi: 1 day (but you’ll be coming and going from the city, too)
Where to stay in Hanoi: After you land in Hanoi, check-in to your accommodation. We stayed at a property booked via AirBnB for $90/night including breakfast and the experience was truly amazing. I recommend getting a property near Old Quarter as it is the most happening place in Hanoi.
Top Things to Do in Hanoi: Try to navigate the alleys and laneways of the Old Quarter.
Hanoi is famed for its alleyways. Outside of the Old Quarter these alleyways are where the majority of Hanoians live, inside of the Old Quarter they home markets, street food and shops. Wander and get lost, stop for a cafe sua da (iced vietnamese coffee) at Loft Stop Cafe at the Hoan Kiem District and continue to explore the town.
Visit the Ho Chi Minh Complex
The Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum is almost considered a pilgrimage to a lot of Vietnamese people. Queue to see the embalmed remains of the communist leader and then head next door to see his home in the grounds of the Presidential Palace. There is also a museum and One Stilt Pagoda on the site.
Other attractions in Hanoi include Tran Quoc Pagoda and Hoan Kiem Lake. If you have time left in your day in Hanoi then visit, otherwise you are not missing much.
Day 3-5: Ha Long Bay, Vietnam
Considered to be one of the “New” 7 Wonders of the World, Ha Long Bay is a mystical and beautiful place to visit and spend a night. With emerald green waters, limestone islands and mystical caves, Ha Long Bay draws travelers to her every day and is certainly Halong Bay is without a doubt one of the biggest highlights of any trip to Vietnam and my visit didn’t disappoint.
Suggested time in Ha Long Bay: 3 days, 2 night
Where to stay in Halong Bay:
Most visitors to Ha Long Bay take a tour from Hanoi. The company will pick you up from your hotel super early and take you by bus to the harbor. From here you’ll board your boat for the night and set out into the bay. No matter what your budget, I highly recommend you choose your junk boat tour wisely and spend a few extra dollars to get a better experience and higher quality boat. I booked my trip with the Royal Palace Cruise through booking.com before we arrived in Hanoi, and that was the best service. However, not all tours of Halong Bay are created equally, and I highly recommend you do some research before you book.
Top Things to Do in Ha Long Bay: Most trips include day visits to floating villages, taking rowing tours, and getting to jump off the boat into the cool refreshing water. The day trips are so relaxing and fun plus gives you a great insight to local living and seeing nature’s beauty up close.
Day 5: Ha Long Bay to Ninh Binh- I had booked my transportation to return directly to Ninh Binh from Halong Bay. It took about 4 hours to get to Ninh Binh and I arrived late at night.
Day 6-7: Ninh Binh- The Ha Long Bay on Land
If you enjoy peace and tranquility afforded by lush greenery, Ninh Binh has this and more. Famed for its beautiful landscapes and incredible scenery, Ninh Binh is one of the top destinations you should add to your list if you love getting out into nature.
Ninh Binh is the type of place where you need your own transportation. Sites are so far apart; some type of vehicle is necessary to get you around. Once you’re in Ninh Binh, you can ask your hotel or hostel for help renting a bicycle or motorbike. Most places rent them out or can point you to a good place to get one.
Where to Stay in Ninh Binh
A great place to look for hotels or hostels is actually not in Ninh Binh city itself but in Tam Coc, a smaller town nearby. It’s closer to many of the top sights of the area such as temples and famous rice fields and offers a nice experience of a small countryside town.
Suggested time in Ninh Binh: 2 days
Top Things to Do in Ninh Binh
Trang An Grottoes
Trang An is easily one of the most beautiful spots in Ninh Binh. It’s known for its lake and the eerie grottoes you can explore by boat. About 11 kilometers from Tam Coc, this place is reachable by motorbike or bicycle. Getting here early in the morning or late in the afternoon is the best way to avoid the crowds and have this unique spot almost to yourself.
Explore the Many Temples
Whether in the middle of a bunch of rice fields, tucked away on a mountainside or perched on top of a hill, Ninh Binh is full of temples to discover.
Hang Mua is probably the most impressive. After you climb around 500 steep steps to reach it, you are rewarded with some amazing views of Tam Coc, rice fields, forests, and mountains.
Day 8: Early morning flight from Hanoi to Da Nang
Day 8-10: Da Nang / HOI AN
Da Nang is more than just a coastal city with beaches – it has mountains, amazing hiking trails, historical sites, and little quirks in the city to enjoy. Da Nang is about 30-45 min away from Hoi An. If you have plan to visit Hoi An as well, I suggest basing in Da Nang and do day trips to Hoi An. Hoi An is an incredible picturesque riverside city. A tourist hot spot these days because of its charms of the Old Town with its ancient buildings, tailor’s shops and Hoi An central market with nearby rice paddies and beaches.
Where to Stay in Da Nang: Da Nang has really nice riverfront view hotels. I stayed at SenRiver Hotel in the heart of DaNang for $50/night including breakfast.
Suggested time in Da Nang / Hoi An: 2 days
Top Things to Do in Da Nang/ Hoi An:
This mountain wonderland of amusement parks, incredible views, cable cars, and European villages is 35 kilometers to the southeast of Da Nang. Originally built by the French in 1919, this area was established as a getaway destination since it experiences much cooler temperatures than its surrounding environment. It is now home to a world record, known for its longest non-stop cable car and the growing-in-fame Golden Bridge. If you want to get away and far above the world, buy the 700,000 VND (30 USD) ticket which includes a two-way cable car pass and games in the Fantasy Park area. This area is great for families and for travelers wanting to explore the famous Sun World amusement parks that Vietnam is famous for.
Son Tra Peninsula
Son Tra peninsula is my favorite part of Da Nang. The foot of the peninsula is only 16 kilometers from the city center. I recommend renting your own motorbike for the day and exploring the steep and scenic military roads that were left over from the war. You can find hidden beaches, small hikes, statues and an 800-year old tree among other things on this peninsula.
Other attractions of Da Nang includes the Marble Mountains and the Dragon Bridge.
Wander around the Old Town
A curious combination of colonial French and Vietnamese, Hoi An is a UNESCO World Heritage Site that has certainly earned those stripes. Wander through the streets, which are lit by an array of Chinese lanterns at night, and its easy to pretend you’re in an exotic eastern fairytale. Don’t miss the Japanese bridge and make sure you spend some time exploring the temples – there are plenty of them. Take a boat trip on the river: Carving up the centre of Hoi An is a winding river.
Day 11-12: Saigon ( Ho Chi Minh) Saigon refers to the inner city area of Ho Chi Minh City. Renamed after the war in honor of the North Vietnamese leader.
Where to Stay in Ho Chi Minh: The area that most people end up in is District 1 where you will find backpacker accommodation and agencies selling tours and transportation to just about anywhere in Vietnam.
Suggested time in Ho Chi Minh: 2 days
Top Things to Do in Ho Chi Minh
Visit the Ben Than Market
This market is also home to an amazing array of fruit, vegetables and, best of all, stalls serving up food.
A day trip to the Cu Chi Tunnels
A large warren of tunnels built by the Vietnamese during the war. Not only did thousands of Vietnamese live in the tunnels during the war, a lot of the combat went on down there (hence the phrase “Tunnel Rats” to refer to western soldiers who entered the tunnels on search and destroy missions). The place is pretty spooky but also fascinating, and can be reached in less than an hour from HCMC.
I was not sure whether to include this or not. I took a day trip from the city to visit the floating markets of the Mekong Delta but was honestly very disappointed by the experience. I booked a popular tour through my hotel and it wasn’t great. Not only was the market over by the time we got to the river (I suspect you need to stay near the river to see it in full swing because it’s a morning market and it takes hours to get to the river from the city), the rest of the day involved going from one tourist selling stop to another. The Mekong Delta held promise, just do more research than I did, ideally visiting for longer than a day, and try not to take one of the popular package tours offered from HCMC.
Day 13-14: Ham Tien, Mui Ne: is a coastal city in the central region of Vietnam.This majestic destination has everything to be considered a paradise on earth: pristine beaches, red and white sand dunes, various types of seafood cuisines, friendly locals, and so much more.
Where to Stay in Mui Ne: I booked my hotel in Mui Ne last min, and I was lucky to find the beautiful Saigon Mui Ne Resort for my stay. I recommend staying at a resort with private beach, and within walking distance from the center.
Suggested time in Mui Ne: 2 days
Top Things to Do in Mui Ne
Discover the Fairy Stream
This little Vietnamese version of the Grand Canyon. The limestone formations along the walking path as well as the waterfall at the end are going to be a perfect location for your next Instagram pictures or family portraits in Vietnam.
Hike the Silky Sand Dunes
I highly encourage you to visit this natural wonder in the early morning (if you are a morning person- 5 AM) of the second day for the best experience. In fact, the sand dunes in this area is literally one of its kind in the whole lush and mountainous Vietnam. There are two types of dunes here: white sand dunes and red sand dunes. The dunes get full with tourists but if you arrive early and spot a quiet space, you can have some privacy.
Thank you for reading this blog post. I hope you find these tips and guides useful in planning your travel, vacation or holiday in Vietnam. If there’s any other information you need, ask in the comments below.