For years, Vietnam was a dream destination for me. I had seen beautiful photos, heard great things from friends who had been and had also been greatly impressed by the visuals in the movies I’d watched set in the country. Not only that, I tasted delicious local food in Vietnamese restaurants at home and was hooked. Now after having been there, I can confirm it’s all that I dreamed it to be. Two weeks is a decent amount of time to spend in the country and really experience it, although of course with just a 2 week Vietnam itinerary you have to prioritize where you want to go as there’s so much to choose from.
It’s generally quite easy and cheap to travel around the country. Although I like to do things on my own, and in some cases, I found it a lot easier to join group tours! Here’s my 2 week Vietnam itinerary…
Perfect 2 Week Vietnam Itinerary
Arrival in Ho Chi Minh City in the evening
After a long plane ride from France, I flew into the humid and bustling Ho Chi Minh City in December, escaping the cold of Europe and excited to get started with my 2 week Vietnam itinerary. Although my boarding card referred to my arrival destination as Ho Chi Minh City, it’s, in fact, more commonly referred to by locals and expats alike as Saigon. This was the name of the city until 1975 when it was captured by North Vietnamese troops.
Now that I was at the beginning of my adventure, my first job involved getting from the airport to my hostel: a random seven dollar stay I’d found online which was located in the backpacker’s area of the city. From the airport, you can quite easily take the bus to the city, but it doesn’t run very late into the evening and as I had arrived at around 10pm this wasn’t an option for me. Therefore, I took a taxi to the backpacker’s area of the city and to my hostel!
Day 1: Ho Chi Minh and Cu Chi Tunnels
When I started planning my trip to Vietnam I knew that one of the places I really wanted to visit was the Cu Chi Tunnels, one of the top places to visit in Vietnam. The tunnels are the main tourist site in Ho Chi Minh City and as someone with an avid interest in history, visiting them was an absolute must. They served as the location for a number of military campaigns during the Vietnam War – or the American War as it is referred to by the Vietnamese. During that time, they were used for a number of reasons including living quarters, hiding spots and routes for communications and transport of supplies.
In the morning I enquired at the reception of my hostel as to the best way to reach the tunnels and was told that there was no public transport and it was necessary to take a group tour. The tours left in the morning and the afternoon at 8am and 1pm, and I decided to take the 1pm tour to ensure that I was feeling well rested after my travel the previous evening.
The car ride there took approximately two hours and then my group was taken on a guided tour of the grounds and the tunnels. We actually had the opportunity to go down into the tunnels themselves, which was extremely interesting, but to be honest not something I particularly enjoyed. The tunnels are tiny and I found it hard to imagine anyone spending more than ten minutes in them let alone a few days, a week or more. The rest of the tour included looking at some of the gruesome traps set to catch American soldiers during the war.
When I arrived back at my hostel I met with my friend, Hope who I would be travelling with for the rest of the trip. We bought a ticket from a travel agent to visit the Mekong the following day and spent the rest of the evening in Saigon Saigon Rooftop Bar catching up and taking in the view. There are a good number of great rooftop bars all over the city and it’s definitely worth having a drink at one of them.
For dinner simply I bought some delicious noodles with vegetables and egg from a street stall for only $1USD! You can’t beat that.
Day 2: Mekong Delta Tour
Full day Mekong Tour – The full day Mekong Tour actually didn’t start out as pleasantly as we had hoped. After getting up extremely early to catch our bus, it was a good 40 minutes late. Then although we had paid for the tour there wasn’t enough space for everyone on the bus, and given that we were the last arrivals that meant no seats for us! I was forced to sit on a stool at the front of the bus beside the driver for half of the trip. It was quite uncomfortable and overall quite unusual. My friend kindly swapped seats with me for the remaining half of the trip.
Our boat trip involved stopping to visit a honey bee farm where we had the opportunity to get our photo taken holding a python (I passed on the chance!). Our other stops included visiting a coconut candy workshop and a crocodile farm. We had the opportunity to go on smaller boats with local women rowing and this was a nice authentic experience. I did find some of the stops a bit overly touristic, but overall it was extremely worthwhile taking a trip on the Mekong.
That evening, tired from our day, we had a few drinks and a bite to eat in the backpacker’s quarter of Saigon. There are a variety of bars on Bui Vien Street and it is always packed with people, making it the perfect place if you’re looking for a good night out.
Day 3: Ho Chi Minh to Mui Ne
We left early from Ho Chi Minh City the following day to go to Mui Ne, as visiting this seaside town is known to be one of the top things to do in Vietnam. The bus there took approximately five hours. Unfortunately, it was a sleeper bus which I found quite uncomfortable given that it was the daytime and I didn’t want to have to lie down on the sleeper seats. You’re kind of forced to lie down even if you don’t want to on these buses. I also imagine they’re not the most comfortable experience for tall people – lucky I’m a shorty at least!
As soon as we arrived, we checked into our accommodation and then found a tour agency to take us on a half day tour of the famous Mui Ne Sand Dunes. They usually have two departures – one in the morning and one in the afternoon, so we were just on time for the later trip. The trip involved visiting both the white and red sand dunes (these are approximately a one hour drive from each other), a fairy stream and also stopping for a short time to take some photos of the colorful boats in the ocean at a fishing village. We watched the sunset from the white sand dunes and it was truly a lovely experience.
I didn’t get much beach time in Mui Ne. I didn’t factor it in as the beach is best suited for those who want to practice windsurfing or take some lessons. It’s quite windy, which is perfect for windsurfing, but as you can imagine, it’s not very pleasant for sunbathing. The wind just blows sand into your face while you’re lying down trying to rest or read – don’t bother giving it a go! Of course, it’s still worth popping down to the beach in any case. There are a number of restaurants along the beach that you can head to any time of the day to get some local food and enjoy the view of the ocean and windsurfers.
Day 4 and 5: Da Lat
The next day, we took the four-hour bus ride to Da Lat. We arrived quite late in the day and learned that it was impossible to join any of the tours as they all left in the morning. Instead, we had a nice day walking around the town, visiting all the interesting street stalls and trying the tasty street food.
Dinner: For dinner, we actually skipped out on local food and ate at Vuong Pizza in the town center – it was simply delicious and they also do good cocktails.
The next morning we were up early and ready to take a tour of Da Lat. It’s possible to tour around by yourself if you rent a scooter or motorbike, but personally, I didn’t feel comfortable with this option. The traffic on the roads in Da Lat is quite dangerous and fast, so for us, the group tour was definitely the best option.
The trip included visiting Van Thanh Flower Village, an ethnic minority tribe, a beautiful coffee plantation, the incredible Elephant Waterfall and Linh An Pagoda. It was a great day with lots of good photos resulting! That evening we took a flight from Da Lat to Da Nang airport, and from here we took a 30-minute taxi ride to Hoi An, our next destination.
Day 6 and 7: Hoi An and Cham Islands
We spent a full day exploring the Ancient Town of Hoi An and taking photos of the beautiful lanterns, buildings, and temples. In Hoi An you also have the option to go to the beach near the city. Just so we could get a dip in the ocean and a little walk we visited An Bang beach which was approximately a 20-minute cycle from our hotel. It’s extremely easy and popular to rent a bicycle in Hoi An, and a lot of hotels even offer them for free.
Dinner – Who knew Hoi An would have such delicious Greek food? We ate the most delicious meal at MIX Restaurant in the Old Town. I learned just how filling souvlaki can be! At the end, we were given a Greek-style chocolate fudge from the owners of the restaurant for free and although we were stuffed we forced it down as it was so delicious.
As an alternative beach destination, you could also check out Danang.
On the second day of our trip we a snorkeling tour of the Cham Islands which we arranged through our hotel. The tour involved spending most of the day on a boat, soaking up the rays, stopping at different snorkeling spots, seeing some beautiful underwater life and also eating lunch and relaxing on the main destination of Cham Island before heading back to Hoi An.
Dinner – We had a delicious Bahn mi (a Vietnamese sandwich) at Queen Bahn Mi. This restaurant is extremely popular among tourists and for a good reason. The food here will leave you both extremely satisfied and stuffed for only 1USD or so!
Day 8: Exploring Hue
Hue is only a short bus ride away from Hoi An. One day is enough time to spend in Hue, allowing you to visit the Imperial City. This is a walled enclosure within what was once the Imperial Capital of Hue. Inside the enclosure, you will see beautiful ancient buildings including temples and places of worship as well as impressively stunning gardens.
After spending a day in Hue I took a flight in the evening to head to Hanoi. It’s possible to hop on a night bus, but it takes approximately 16 hours, and I wasn’t prepared for that! I heard that the sleeper train in Vietnam is also an interesting experience, so it may be worth looking into if you’re interested in overland travel.
Day 9: Ninh Binh
After all the travelling it required a lot of commitment to wake up the next day to visit the town of Ninh Binh for a day trip from Hanoi. We hired a taxi to get to the train station at 6am and then travelled onwards to Ninh Binh, a trip which took approximately two and a half hours.
Once we arrived in Ninh Binh, we found a café where it was possible to rent motorbikes and scooters. We didn’t need to show a license to rent them but I recommend people of course only ride one if you feel comfortable. If you’re in a group it’s not so costly to rent a car either. It’s possible to cycle as well if you prefer but if it’s a very hot day I wouldn’t recommend it. In Ninh Binh there’s so much to see. We chose to visit Bai Dinh Temple and took a boat trip at Tam Coc and just had a great time exploring overall!
Lunch – We had lunch at a delicious restaurant called Chookie’s in Ninh Binh. Great burgers and sandwiches!
Day 10: Hanoi
Exhausted from travelling, we decided it would be nice to spend a more chilled day exploring Hanoi and eat some good food. We spent the day walking around the city’s Old Quarter and also visited Tay Ho which is a great place for sitting beside the lake and having a traditional Vietnamese coffee. We visited the Women’s Museum where I learned some really interesting information about the role of women in Vietnamese society and throughout history. After that, we went to the top of Lotte Tower, Hanoi’s tallest building to take in the view of the city and have a few cocktails. If you have more than a day or two in the city, be sure to read our list of the top things to do in Hanoi.
Coffee – Sit outside beside the lake in Tay Ho and have a coffee at Maldives Cafe
Dinner: We went to Hanoi Social Club in the Old Quarter which serves a lot of delicious western food and good cocktails. I loved their vegan burger!
Day 11 -13: Halong Bay tour
Another one of the must dos on the list is the Halong Bay tour. If you ask in your hotel or hostel you can find a wide variety of tours to suit your needs. There are mid-range tours, luxury tours and of course party tours! We did a more mid-range tour which cost approximately 150USD for the one night option, but if you have time to stay for two nights you definitely should, as this option includes a visit to Cat Ba Island which is meant to be truly beautiful.
It was so lovely to sit out on the deck at night under the stars in Halong Bay. Most trips include a guided visit to caves and some kayaking. There is a stop at an overly tourist beach, which was my least favourite part of the tour, but overall the trip was really pleasant.
Day 14: Mai Chau
Finally, we did a one day trip to Mai Chau Valley which involved visiting a hill tribe, some cycling and taking in views of the beautiful mountains, forests and terraced rice paddies. The perfect destination for nature lovers!
And then, just like that, it was all over. The journey was so incredible. Vietnam is my favorite destination in the world and I will definitely be going back.