Here is a basic itinerary for 12 days in Vietnam, starting in Ho Chi Minh City and ending in Hanoi. I made this itinerary up as I went, without having booked any buses or flights between countries prior to arriving in Vietnam. I had a few loose ideas about what I wanted to see and where I wanted to go, but that all changed when I got there! Here are some options for you, I hope it helps – enjoy your trip to Vietnam!
A quick overview of my time spent in Vietnam:
Day 1 & 2: Ho Chi Minh City – sightseeing, scooter tour by night
Day 3 & 4: Mekong Delta – 2 day tour with homestay, night bus to Nha Trang
Day 5: Nha Trang – Four Islands boat tour with snorkeling, we were also approached by ‘Easy Riders’ who convinced us to go on a 3 day back-of-the-bike tour through the Central Highlands.
Day 6 & 7: ‘Easy Rider’ tour from Nha Trang – Lak Lake – Dalat: Prawn farms, cacao plantations, traditional long house homestay, waterfall, Weasel poo coffee, near Cambodia border, visited a rural school, rural communities
Day 8: Dalat – Nha Trang. Flew to Hanoi: out for drinks exploring the ‘beer corner’ in the Old Quarter.
Day 9: Hanoi (Christmas Day! sightseeing, eating, booking tours)
Day 10 & 11: Halong Bay tour
Day 12: Hanoi – Our last day! Sightseeing and meeting people, planning our trip to Thailand.
So there it is! It doesn’t sound like much, but every day was action packed. Here is my itinerary with more day-to-day details.
Vietnam itinerary in a little more detail:
- Arrived in Ho Chi Minh 9am
- Took a taxi into the City, dropped my backpack a the Hostel (Duc Vuong on Bui Vien Street – highly recommend, right in the heart of the backpacking community)
- Learned how to cross the road!
- Wandered around the City to the Ben Tahn Markets
- got 2 massages
- Went to several travel agents and bargained a good price for the Cu Chi Tunnels Tour
- Cong Vien Park – approached by Vietnamese University Students – sit down and learn about the city in exchange for helping them with their English.
- 8:30am picked up from Hostel and taken to Cu Chi Tunnels. I feel like you can’t visit Ho Chi Minh without visiting this amazing place! It is definitely worth having a tour guide for this trip, as they describe the features of the tunnels. Don’t be fooled by paying more for a smaller tour group, I paid more for a group of about 10 people, we ended having about 25 people in our group. All tours are similar, shop around to find a good deal.
- Back to the City at 5:30pm, booked a scooter ‘Saigon by Night’ tour for 6:30pm – definitely recommend!! $30 AUD for a 4hr tour, dinner, snacks, drinks, sightseeing. Shop around for this at any travel agent.
- Mekong Delta tour, cruising around the Mekong Delta
- Homestay organised through tour guide. You can choose between a homestay or hotel. Go with the homestay! A great way to meet fellow travellers. They taught us how to make rice paper rolls, and would even dye our hair and paint our nails if we wanted. The rooms were awesome little brush huts, so basic and such a good experience.
- Mekong Delta tour day 2, cruising around the floating markets and visiting temples. Arrived back in Ho Chi Minh about 5:30pm and jumped on the night bus to Nha Trang.
- Arrived in Nha Trang at 5:30am. Frantically searched for accommodation and a travel agent to book a tour. We managed to book the Four Islands tour for 8:30am. It was pretty cool: snorkeling, or diving if you pay a bit more but I don’t think it is worth it, we had a raunchy tour guide who ended up stripping and erotic dancing in the middle of the boat, food is provided, there is a aquarium tour too. It wasn’t the best tour I had been on, but still worth it! On the way back to our hostel we were approached by two ‘easy riders’. Long story short – after taking us for a whip around the town on their motorbikes and some delicious vietnamese food and beer, they convinced us of going on a three day motorbike trip through the central highlands, leaving 7:30am the next morning! For more details on my easy rider tour and why you should do it too, click here
- What a banger! We jumped on our bikes and cruised through the city. Our guides would stop off at interesting stuff along the way, like prawn farms and cashew nut factories, and would stop and introduce us to locals. They taught us about the war and the ongoing effects, it was such an amazing start! We drove 260km from Nha Trang to Lak Lake, staying in a traditional long house, showering in the back of a little restaurant (using a tiny ripped tea towel as a towel :p), elephants chilling in the paddocks by our homestay and cruising through the village. SO AMAZING!
- Our 2nd day of the easy rider tour. We stopped off on the road when we saw some locals milling corn. We helped them out for a while, helping load the corn up on the truck. It was a lot of fun getting to know the locals. We tried raw cacao, went to a silk worm farm (which was pretty sad :(), went to the waterfall near Dalat and bumped into some guys from our Mekong Delta tour, and made our way to the beautiful French influenced Dalat.
- Heading back down the pituresque Central Highlands. We tried Weasel Poo coffee which was sooo delicious, saw some more beautiful countryside, and the biggest highlight was getting to go to a little country school and meeting all the children and giving them lollipops! Our guides took us off the beaten track, meeting people who had never met foreigners before. It was absolutely mind blowing! You should definitely do this!!
- At the end of the day we got to Nha Trang airport and made our way to Hanoi. It was Xmas Eve and we were greeted at our hostel with some mulled wine! SO delicious. It was soooo much colder here than South Vietnam. We explored the famous ‘beer corner’ on our hostel doorstep conveniently. We were immediately convinced to move to Vietnam to teach English by some teachers at the beer corner.
- Today was Christmas! It didn’t feel like it though :/. I ended up buying like 6 helium Christmas theme balloons to make it feel more Christmasy. Today we roamed the city, went to the markets in the Old Quarter and booked a Halong Bay tour. It was incredible how much you could bargain the tour for. We opted for the standard tour package, not budget, but not the ritz!
- Halong Bay Cruise! Takes like 4hrs to get to Halong Bay which was crazy. Also, I could immediately tell our ‘bargain’ cruise was going to be very budget! Our maxi van full of people was full to the brim with no space to move whatsoever, with terrible suspension that sent everyone flying into the roof over every little bump, but I wouldn’t have it any other way! We actually only spent like an hour cruising around the bay, and then parked up in among the Islands which was beautiful.
- Halong Bay day 2, at 6:30am we went kayaking around Halong Bay, where we had algae-ridden kayaks – yet another downfall of having the budget cruise. The cruise boat next to us had really flash kayaks. I started the morning by sitting in a puddle of slimy algae, it was an experience! But once i got use to that, the kayaking itself was pretty spectacular! I honestly recommend you getting a better tour than I did if you want to experience more of Halong Bay. Ours was a very budget cruise, which was great, but we didn’t really move around a whole lot, we just stayed in one place the whole time. The food was amazing. The free kegs of beer were great! I had a lot of fun, but I don’t think I got a true feel of Halong Bay.
- After the Kayak we made rice paper rolls and headed back to our tiny van for the 4hr journey back to Hanoi.
- Back in Hanoi, we cruised around the city on a cyclo, which was hilarious because the bike felt as if it were buckling under our weight. I felt terrible for our driver! But he followed us down the street until we jumped on! Poor guy. You could walk faster than the rate we were going. I don’t understand how people look so miserable when they are being pushed around on the cyclos, I had so much fun! Definitely do it. It cost us like 100,000 dong for 40mins, that’s crazy cheap.
- We caught up with friends and went to King Pirates Pub. It was so much fun, dressing up as pirates. I had the best Mojitos I have ever had at this pub!
- We are out of here! We spent our last day in Hanoi eating. Hanoi has some amazing food, and we could not leave without eating everything we could! Off too Thailand to start a new adventure.
- Use reputable taxi company. VINASUN is very good! Make sure your taxi is metered and that the meter is working!
- Take photos of scooters you hire in case they try to pin damage on you and make you pay.
- Take a risk, go on an easy rider tour! It was such an authentic way to experience the real and untouched Vietnam, I couldn’t recommend it more!
- Shop around! We were able to half the prices of most of our tours by asking different travel agents. Don’t be rude about it though, being polite goes a long way here! Our Cu Chi Tunnel Tour cost less than half of the other people on our tour. Our Mekong Delta tour cost about $30 AUD for 2 days. You’ll be surprised how much the prices drop, even on the tours with the prices printed on professional pamphlets!
- Always leave time for delays. Most of our tours were delayed by at least an hour, so make sure you don’t have something else booked for when you are meant to be back in the city.
- If you take the night bus, be weary of the people waiting at your destination with pamphlets coaxing you to choose their accommodation. I have met people who went with some of these guys who end up taking you to their hostel/accommodation that is well out of the city, and at that time of the morning, it will be difficult to get a ride back into town if you choose not to stay with them!
- If you are not worried about spending a bit more money to get a better experience on tours, then spend a little more! However, on some tours like the Cu Chi Tunnels tour, paying a bit more does not always pay off, but a tour such as the Halong Bay Cruise would definitely have different experiences. Further to Tip 7, do not trust the reliability of the books that the tour agencies bring out when you are choosing your tour. Our tour booklet looked amazing! But the boat we were on was not that boat!