If you don’t have long to spend in the beautiful country, this 10 day itinerary for Vietnam will give you a glimpse of both north and south, from the bustling cities of Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh (Saigon), with the relaxing and chilled Halong Bay and Hoi An along the way.
Vietnam is a culturally diverse country shaped like a long, narrow, S, in South East Asia, known for it’s French colonial architecture, lush green landscapes, and flavoursome food. This stunningly beautiful country has everything to offer budget travellers, families and luxury cravers alike.
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Table of Contents
- When to visit
- Before you go
- Day 1 – Hanoi
- Day 2 – Hanoi
- Day 3 – Halong Bay
- Day 4 – Halong Bay
- Day 5 – Hoi An
- Day 6 – Hoi An
- Day 7 – Hoi An
- Day 8 – Ho Chi Minh
- Day 9 – Ho Chi Minh
- Day 10 – Ho Chi Minh
When to visit
It’s difficult to say when exactly is the best time to visit Vietnam, as it depends on which end of the country you’re visiting. So, for the purposes of this 10 day itinerary, where you will travel from north to south, there is no right answer.
The northeast monsoon season is from October to April and the southwest monsoon season is from May to September. If you want to completely avoid any bad weather whatsoever, December is your best bet.
I travelled in August and it rained for about 20 minutes one day and was glorious the rest of the time!
Before you go
Get your visa
Most nationalities will require a visa to enter Vietnam. You can apply for an e-visa here. It costs around $25 and takes 3 working days to be approved. You will need to make sure you have at least 6 months left on your passport when travelling. And don’t forget to print out a copy of your e-visa to take with you.
Sort your travel insurance
I can’t stress enough how important it is to have travel insurance before vising a country like Vietnam. This itinerary for Vietnam includes activities and adventures that attach some sort of risk. You’re going to want to experience everything while you’re there, right? Not sit out and wrap yourself in cotton wool for fear of anything happening.
However, things do happen unfortunately, and you need to make sure you’re protected. I met a mother and daughter while in Halong Bay and the mother ended up on crutches after a motorbike ran into her leg.
There are millions of motorbikes speeding around, strange food that you won’t be used to which could have an effect on you, and adventure activities you’re going to want to jump right into.
I recommend you visit World Nomads (who are also recommended by the likes of Lonely Planet and National Geographic) and as you can build the plan that suits you best. They also offer safety advice for the destination you’re travelling to. You can visit their website here.
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So now that we have all the background information and tips, let’s get into planning your 10 day itinerary for Vietnam.
Full Disclosure: I have previously mentioned in other posts that I’m not a backpacking type of traveller. In this itinerary for Vietnam, I have veered more towards 3 and 4 star hotels and activities. Obviously, you should choose accommodation according to your budget!
Day 1 – Hanoi
Hanoi is the capital of Vietnam, located in the north of the country. It’s a busy city, with a whopping 5 million motorbikes and mopeds filling the streets. You’ll see the locals carrying everything from TVs, to pets, to 5 person families on the back of one of these motorbikes!
Where to stay:
The O Gallery Premier Hotel & Spa is located right in the Old Quarter, giving you easy access to walking around the city.
You’ll be handed a refreshing welcome drink as soon as you arrive at the hotel. After checking in and freshening up in your room, it’s time to head out for a walk around Hanoi.
Train Street [UPDATED, REPORTEDLY CLOSED 2019]
Our first stop is the iconic Train Street located in Hanoi’s Old Quarter.
Known for the extremely narrow streets, at 3pm and 7pm each day a train speeds by, just inches away from the buildings and tourists, with locals scrambling to take in chairs, laundry and children.
Top tip: walk a little further up to the quieter area Lê Duẩn where you can get some good photos and watch the train go by without the crowds getting in the way.
Related: Train Street Hanoi: Closed Down
Street Food Tour
Next up is the Hanoi Street Food – Small Group Walking Tour, where you’ll stroll through the Old Quarter and sample fruit, bread and street food, while your guide gives you a knowledgeable history of Hanoi.
Hot Stone Massage
After a long day of travelling and walking around Hanoi, treat yourself to one of the many massages on offer in the hotel spa. Having come from Dubai, I couldn’t believe the price of a massage in Vietnam!
Day 2 – Hanoi
Hanoi Vespa Tour
There’s no better way to start the day than experiencing Hanoi just like the locals with this Hanoi Vespa Tour. You will (safely) zig zag through the busy streets of Hanoi on vintage vespas, meet some locals and stop for food along the way.
Museum / Bus Tour
If strolling around the city is more your style, why not take a walk and check out some of these Hanoi museums:
If you prefer to take in the sights from a bus, the Hop-On-Hop-Off tour is an excellent way of seeing the city. This is something I always do if I don’t have too long to spend in a city. My usual trick is to go around the route once and mark out the things I want to visit, then I hop off where I want during the second route.
Lotte Observation Deck
Head to see the sun setting over the Hanoi skyline on the 65th floor of the Lotte Observation Deck. If you’re not afraid of heights, step out on to the glass ledge and get your picture taken in the heart window.
Hanoi Night Market
If visiting during the weekend, you must head over to Hanoi Night Market, located in the Old Quarter. The market starts at 8pm on weekend nights. You will meander your way down the 3 KM of streets full of street merchants selling food, clothes and souvenirs.
Don’t stock up on too many souvenirs during this part of your trip though, as we still have 3 others areas in Vietnam to visit!
Day 3 – Halong Bay
I booked a two night Halong Bay Cruise with Stellar of the Seas Cruise and it was one of the highlights of my trip. You will be picked up at your hotel in Hanoi (as long as it’s within the Old Quarter) and driven 2.5 hours to the cruise. Don’t worry, you get to stop for a quick pee break along the way!
This ship is one of the only ones to have a swimming pool on board. The staff are wonderfully attentive. So much so, one came to knock on my room door to make sure I didn’t miss dinner as they noticed I wasn’t there yet!
All the rooms have balconies so you can sit out in the evening and watch the sun setting over the bay.
After a 3 course lunch, it’s time for Kayaking! While writing this, I keep wanting to type ‘this was my favourite part of my trip to Vietnam’ but I realise I can’t say that about everything!
Kayaking around the bay is just serene and wonderful and serene.
After Kayaking, there are sunset cocktails and a Vietnamese cooking demonstration before the BBQ dinner.
Day 4 – Halong Bay
Your Halong Bay Cruise continues with a speedboat ride to a neighbouring island. If you’re up for it, you can cycle around the island (it’s a little hilly!) or you can go by buggy.
You’ll meet the locals of the village and test some of their homemade alcohol. Now, this is no ordinary alcohol! There are huge jars with snakes, bees and scorpions….. oh and the alcohol is in the jars! While I’m not a big drinker, I’m a big fan of trying something new and, well, it was interesting!
On the way back, you’ll stop off at a small secluded beach for some swimming and then it’s back to the cruise for dinner.
Day 5 – Hoi An
After breakfast the cruise ends, and you have a farewell with the staff and crew. You’ll be dropped back to your hotel in Hanoi. I found myself incredibly lucky that the O Gallery Premier Hotel & Spa had previously told me that they would give me a room for an hour to freshen up before heading to the airport.
A short 90 minute flight and you will arrive in DaNang, and just a 45 minute drive later, you’ll be in Hoi An.
Hoi An is a UNESCO World Heritage Site on the central east coast of Vietnam, which is filled with history. It was the place in Vietnam which stole my heart and I dream of day when I can go back and spend more time there.
Where to stay
I stayed in the wonderfully unique Belle Maison Hadana Hoi An Resort & Spa. As you walk into the lobby, you get a real Vietnamese feel with the beautiful lantern like lighting. The staff here were wonderful and no request was too big.
If you have any energy left after a long day of travelling, you can take a short 10 minute walk down to the Ancient Town. Although if you’re anything like me, you’ll stop in all the shops along the way to look at shoes and clothes, making the journey slightly longer!
Or if you don’t fancy a walk, why not hop in the outdoor pool for an evening swim (or just laze in the pool like I do).
Day 6 – Hoi An
Underwater walking with Seatrek VietNam was probably my favourite experience (I know I’ve said that quite a bit already but wait until you see what I did). In fact, it was probably one of my favourite travel experiences to date!
You’ll be picked up from your hotel in the morning and driven to Cua Dai Wharf where you’ll take a traditional Vietnamese boat out to nearby Cham Island. Once there, you have the opportunity to swim, snorkel and then it’s time for the underwater walking!
I was lucky enough that by the time it was my turn, most people had already been, and I was on my own with the guide. He took my Go Pro and filmed the entire time!
Next you’ll head to Bai Chong Beach for a delicious seafood lunch, followed by a lazy afternoon lying on hammocks on the beach with a beer in hand.
One of my favourite things about this day was that I met a lovely South Korean family who adopted me for the day and we remained in touch afterwards too!
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Day 7 – Hoi An
Today is all about taking in the history and culture of beautiful Hoi An. Here are my picks for the day:
Visit a tailor
Hoi An is famous for its tailors and textiles. While you may not have time to have a suit or dress made from scratch (this usually takes around 3 days), you can always have a look at what they’ve already made and they will alter for you there and then. I ‘accidentally’ bought 4 dresses in one shop…oops!
Ancient Town and Japanese Bridge
There are over 800 historic buildings in Hoi An, leading to the Ancient Town being named a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Take a stroll around the old town either by yourself or join a walking tour and be guided through the Ancient Town, Japanese Bridge and historic buildings.
Reaching Out Teahouse
Enjoy a quiet and peaceful cup of tea or coffee in this charming café, located in the bustling centre of Hoi An. The Reaching Out Teahouse is run by speech and hearing impaired staff and you are asked to write down your order and enjoy the silence and tranquil atmosphere.
Afterwards, head to their workshop where they sell beautiful handmade crafts and souvenirs to bring home.
Hoi An Central Market
Along the banks of the Thu Bon River, you’ll find stalls selling spices, textiles and handcrafts galore. Don’t forget to stop at various carts to try out some traditional Vietnamese food.
Just across the river from Hoi An is An Hoi where you’ll find one of the most beautiful markets in Vietnam, the Lantern Market. Be sure to ask before taking a picture of the lanterns, or better still, buy a lantern first and then take a picture!
Day 8 – Ho Chi Minh
Today you’ll head back to DaNang airport and take another 90 minute flight to Ho Chi Minh.
Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam’s largest bustling city (which was previously named Saigon), is the second most visited city in Vietnam for tourists.
If you’re an avid backpacker, you should definitely head to the Backpackers Quarter for some inexpensive hostels, restaurants and souvenir shops.
Where to stay
I stayed at the Winsuites Saigon Hotel located right in the centre of Ho Chi Minh. Back in August 2019, the hotel had just opened and, while there were a few teething problems, the staff more than made up for them with free afternoon tea and a late check out (which is something that’s always high on my list!).
Water Puppet Theatre & River Cruise
I booked this tour as I had heard about the water puppet theatre before arriving and it also included a river cruise dinner.
The water puppet theatre is…..well let’s just say it’s hard to describe. But it’s funny, weird and wonderful! It’s exactly what it says, a show using puppets, set on water. It’s a cultural gem and while it’s all in Vietnamese, it’s not too difficult to understand what’s going on.
Then enjoy a river dinner cruise while watching local entertainment.
Day 9 – Ho Chi Minh
Cu Chi Tunnels
While in Ho Chi Minh, a day trip to the Cu Chi Tunnels an absolute must. Given that I didn’t have that much time in Ho Chi Minh, I didn’t really fancy spending hours in a bus (classic me) so I opted for this luxury speedboat half day tour.
You will be collected from your hotel first thing in the morning and taken on a one hour speedboat trip as far as the tunnels.
The Cu Chi Tunnels are a series of connecting tunnels which were used by soldiers during the Vietnam War to house troops and store supplies. The soldiers dug these tunnels themselves – tens of thousands of them.
You have the opportunity to go into a small area of the tunnels on this tour. Now, I’m short. I’m just over 5ft (not quite the 1”). And I had to crouch down to make my way through the tunnel. So I cannot even begin to imagine how those soldiers got around. And in complete darkness too!
Tip: Bring a sun hat and comfortable walking shoes.
Ben Thanh Market
It’s your last evening in Vietnam. While Ben Thanh Market is only selling souvenirs, textiles and handcrafts in the morning, head there with your appetite in the evening for some street style food from over 20 vendors. And you know it’s good and true Vietnamese food as the market is full of locals too.
Day 10 – Ho Chi Minh
Before heading to the airport this afternoon, take in some last-minute sightseeing.
War Remnants Museum
To gain some insight into the history of the Vietnam war, head to the War Remnants Museum in District 3 (you can grab a taxi or uber for a few dollars).
Here, you will see military planes, tanks and helicopters outside the museum. And inside you’ll find some horrific exhibits and images. I say horrific, as they are. But they are also necessary to remind us of what went on at that time.
I left the museum with a heavy heart. Feeling somewhat uneasy and disappointed that my own schooling had not once mentioned this horrific event in our history classes. I was embarrassed that I knew nothing of it.
Notre Dame Cathedral
This stunning piece of architecture is located in Paris Square in District 1 of Ho Chi Minh City.
It is said that back in 2005, the Virgin Mary statue outside the Cathedral shed a single tear, leading to thousands flocking to the Cathedral in the hope of witnessing this for themselves.
They began renovating the Cathedral in 2015 with the hopes of having it finished by 2020. However, as of August 2020, it’s still not open to the public. Best to check this out before you visit, although it’s still lovely to see from the outside.
A few tips
- Pick up a sim card for a little as $10 as soon as you get to the airport
- Arrange airport transfers with your hotels before you arrive if you don’t want to navigate public transport
- If you have a long flight, treat yourself to lounge access – you may be surprised to find some that don’t charge too much. And some even accept miles. You should also check out my list of ultimate essentials for a long haul flight for a more comfortable flight.
I write this itinerary exactly one year to the day since I visited Vietnam. It hardly feels like a year since I was there. Vietnam will forever be in my heart and while I normally try to visit new countries before returning to ones I’ve been to before, I would absolutely make an exception for Vietnam.
I must admit, while my 10 day itinerary for Vietnam is packed full of adventure, there are so many other places I want to visit in Vietnam, so watch this space for another itinerary – maybe this time a 30 day itinerary for Vietnam!
Have you been to Vietnam? What was your favourite area?
If Vietnam is on your Bucket List, let me know if you’re planning a trip and maybe I can help you out with your itinerary!
Already planning a trip? Here are my go to websites:
For activities: Get Your Guide
For hotels: Booking.com
For flights: Skyscanner
For travel insurance: World Nomads