Vietnam Travel Route (3 or 4 weeks)
Traveling in Vietnam is mostly done by bus or train as there are limited direct flights between places. Three weeks is a good amount of time to travel in Vietnam.
If going as far as Ho Chi Minh, allow another week (4 weeks in total) to see the beauty of far southern islands like Phu Quoc or the extraordinary maze-like rivers of the Mekong Delta.
Day 1 – 3: Hanoi
Start your Vietnam route in the buzzing capital of Hanoi! This ancient city, centered around the misty Hoan Kiem Lake, is home to the best street food on the planet.
Spend at least two days here soaking up the sights, sounds, and flavors of this beautifully chaotic city. Get ready to get lost among the beautiful web of narrow streets with French-style buildings, and bravely attempt to cross the manic roads!
There is an international airport here that serves the rest of the world, as well as domestic flights to other parts of Vietnam. Because of this, it’s a good place to start on your Vietnam travels.
Where to Stay in Hanoi
The quality of guesthouses and hotels in Hanoi is extremely high for the money you’ll pay. Situate yourself in the Old Quarter or near Hoan Kiem Lake so that you can see all the things to do in Hanoi on foot.
Hike through the beautiful nature among mountains, paddies, and tribal villages, and stay with a local family to experience their way of living. Between May and September, see the rice fields at their greenest! Note: You will have to go back to Hanoi after Sapa before departing for Ha Long Bay.
Getting from Hanoi to Sapa
Bus: Regular direct buses depart Hanoi, taking 6 hours. This is the cheapest and quickest option. Get your bus or train tickets here.
Train: Both day trains and sleeper trains run from Hanoi to Lao Cai (8 hours). From there, take a minivan in 1 hour to Sapa.
These cruises normally include a return transfer from Hanoi and come in a variety of options. For example, a day cruise or a 2 night/3 day cruise. To properly enjoy the beauty of this magical part of Vietnam, spend 2 nights here relaxing and exploring your Vietnam route. Find a tour online.
Tip: Take the return transfer back to Hanoi from Ha Long Bay. You may need to spend one more night in Hanoi before continuing on the rest of the journey.
Day 10 – 12: Ninh Binh
Ninh Binh province is the natural paradise of Vietnam, home to charming villages, stunning rice fields, rivers, and the limestone mountains of Tam Coc. Enjoy a relaxing few days of seeing the beauty and tranquility of nature. Whether it be spotting wildlife or exploring the mountaintop temples, caves, and shrines, there is something every traveler will love.
Where to Stay in Tam Coc
Experience charming wooden bungalows, lotus ponds, and gardens filled with organically grown vegetables – there’s plenty to choose from in the Ninh Binh region.
Getting from Hanoi to Ninh Binh/Tam Coc
By car: Tam Coc is a 2 – 2.5-hour drive from Hanoi. Some guesthouses will offer a return journey to Hanoi for an extra fee.
Bus: Buses run regularly from Hanoi.
Train: There is a direct train from Hanoi to Ninh Binh. From Ninh Binh, you can reach Tam Coc in a 10-minute taxi ride.
Day 13 – 15: Phong Nha
Explore the spectacular area of Phong Nha, known as the ‘adventure capital of Asia’, and for good reason! There are hundreds of mammoth caves here, nestled between limestone mountains and wide winding rivers. Because of this, travelers can enjoy trekking, climbing, or abseiling through tunnels and rivers.
The most extraordinary of all the caves is Son Doong, big enough to fit in city skyscrapers. To reach this cave is a 4-day trek, with a long waitlist, so make sure to plan ahead if you want to incorporate this into your Vietnam travels. Many others, which are just as impressive, such as Hang En, can be visited in a day trek.
Getting from Ninh Binh to Phong Nha
Bus: To get to Phong Nha from Ninh Binh, there is a direct overnight bus (7 hours). This is the most efficient and direct option.
Train: There are also trains from Ninh Binh to Dong Hoi (8 hours). From Dong Hoi, it is a 1-hour taxi to Phong Nha.
Plane: To fly, go back to Hanoi and take a 1-hour domestic flight to Dong Hoi. From here, take the 1-hour taxi to Phong Nha.
Day 16 – 17: Hue
Hue is a lovely little city to spend a night and soak up the remarkable culture of Vietnam. It used to be the capital of Vietnam, a royal city on the banks of the wide Perfume River.
As such, it’s filled with ancient tombs, beautiful pagodas, and, most famously, the walled imperial city. Spend a few hours wandering around the ancient Imperial City, surrounded by a moat, and gain a glimpse into the royal history of emperors in Vietnam.
Because of its war-torn past, Hue is also home to many war/history museums, which are fascinating to visit. A cultural gem on your Vietnam route!
Getting from Phong Nha to Hue
Bus: From Phong Nha, take a direct bus to Hue. It can be done in 3 hours for as little as 6 USD!
Day Trip: Hai Van Pass to Danang
On your way from Hue to Hoi An, make a stop for the afternoon in Danang. To do this, hire a motorbike and ride the famous, exhilarating Hai Van Pass. This meandering road (20 km) worms through the hills and coastline 500 m above sea level! Because of its height, this is easily one of the most beautiful ways to see this part of the country. Make a stop in Danang to see the golden bridge or the weird and wonderful Ba Na hills.
Day 18 – 20: Hoi An (end of 3-week route)
Arrive in beautiful, colorful Hoi An! Discover lantern-lit streets and French-style architecture while taking romantic river strolls or relaxing bike rides.
This UNESCO world heritage site offers countless things to do, such as a ride in the traditional basket boats, as well as some of the best food you’ll experience while traveling in Vietnam. Try the famous Banh Mi sandwich here!
Hoi An is also the final stop of a 3-week route, and you can fly out from the nearby Danang airport.
Where to Stay in Hoi An
Depending on what kind of trip you want, you can stay either by the beach or situate yourself more centrally by the old town. It’s best to stay just outside of the old town, as the accommodation will be cheaper and both the beach and the old town will still be easy to reach.
Getting from Hue to Hoi An
Day 21 – 23: Dalat (start of 4-week route)
Dalat is the perfect place to see Vietnam’s nature at its finest. The green mountain town is situated in Vietnam’s Central Highlands. This is a region home to dense tropical forests, roaring waterfalls, and countless species of wildlife.
Spend time here spotting animals, taking the famous Da Lat cable car, or riding one of the many legendary motorbike journeys in the area. Because of its high location, there are nice mild temperatures all year round, so it’s a great spot to cool off from the heat of the lowlands.
Where to Stay in Da Lat
Stay in a beautiful villa overlooking the city and the surrounding green scenery, or opt for a comfortable hostel with a smaller budget.
Getting from Hoi An to Dalat
Bus: If heading straight to Dalat from Hoi An, take an overnight bus of 13/14 hours.
Train: Overnight train from Danang to Nha Trang (10 hours). From here, take the bus to Dalat in 4 hours.
Plane: Danang to Dalat is a 1.5-hour flight (more expensive than other ways of travel).
Day 24 – 25: Mui Ne
Mui Ne is famous for its relaxed beach vibe, but most importantly for its extraordinary white and red sand dunes! Visit the red sand dunes at sunset to see the fiery colors of the sun blend into the red of the sand.
Alternatively, visit the white sand dunes for adventurous activities like quad biking or sand dune sledding. This is a must-do on any Vietnam travel route!
Getting from Dalat to Mui Ne
Bus: Visit in a 4-hour bus ride from Dalat.
Day 26 – 28: Ho Chi Minh
Spend a few days in the sprawling metropolis of Ho Chi Minh! Formerly known as Saigon, this fantastic city is very modern, with broad tree-lined avenues, bright city lights, and skyscrapers. Get to know the various districts, eat incredible food, and make sure to visit the highly informative war museums. This is a must-visit when traveling in Vietnam!
Make sure to take a day trip to the Cu Chi Tunnels: a huge network of underground tunnels used by the Viet Cong soldiers in the war. Join a tour that gives you the opportunity to crawl through the tunnels yourself for a true-to-life experience.
Getting from Mui Ne to Ho Chi Minh
Bus: 5-6 hours.
Train: 4-5 hours train from Phan Thiet (a 30 min drive from Mui Ne) that takes you directly to Ho Chi Minh.
Head to the north of the island to explore the Phu Quoc National Park. Here you will find perfectly preserved nature, mountains, and dense forest that’s home to an abundance of incredible wildlife. Phu Quoc is definitely a perfect spot to relax, swing in a hammock, and enjoy the peace of nature after your adventurous Vietnam travels.
Where to Stay on Phu Quoc Island
Phu Quoc is one of the few islands that Vietnam has. It’s not new to tourists, so it is popular, but it’s luckily still not developed enough to be crowded. There’s a variety of accommodations on the island, from budget guesthouses and homestays to luxury hotels.
Getting from Ho Chi Minh to Phu Quoc
Bus + Boat: It is possible to take the bus to Rach Gia or Ha Tien (ferry piers) in 7-8 hours. From here, take the ferry to Phu Quoc in 2.5- 3 hours.
Plane: There is a direct 1-hour flight from Ho Chi Minh to Phu Quoc. This is a little more expensive, but it’s the most efficient way of travel.
Alternative Vietnam Route Options
If your time in Vietnam is limited, spend 3 weeks up until Hoi An and save the south for another trip! If you have more than one month, spend more time in the Mekong Delta and Phu Quoc. Remote places like Sapa and Dalat, which take more time to get to, can be removed from the Vietnam route if time is tight.
What’s Vietnamese food like?
Vietnamese food is one of the healthiest cuisines in the world! The fresh, salty, sweet, and sour Vietnamese flavors mixed with herbs and spices bring beautiful harmony to your taste buds. Most dishes are not spicy, but chili flakes are always served on the table separately.
Costs of Traveling in Vietnam
Travel in Vietnam is exceptionally affordable! Delicious food can be bought from street vendors at a very cheap price, and there are very well-priced hotels and guesthouses throughout the country.
Travel is very cheap by bus, but extend your budget if you want to take domestic flights as these can be more expensive. Expect to travel on a budget of 10-20 USD per person and 20-50 USD per person for a bit more comfort.
How to Get Around in Vietnam
Vietnam’s infrastructure is varied. Although the roads are generally good, the traffic can be bad, so it’s good to always allow for delays when using public transport.
The main way to travel in Vietnam is by bus, and although this is slower, there are excellent sleeper buses which means you don’t have to take days off the itinerary. Good train routes operate down the coast of Vietnam, which also offer sleeper services.
Vietnam has a handful of domestic airports, but if you want to travel to more remote places, prepare to take the bus! (Find cheap flight tickets)
Best Time to Visit Vietnam
The climate of Vietnam is different from north to south. In the north, the weather is very seasonal, with hot, humid, and rainy summers and cold, dry winters. In the south, it is hot throughout the year, with the drier months between November to April and the wetter months between May and October.
Avoid visiting Vietnam during public holidays like TET, as prices will be much higher. It’s also good to note that most shops will be closed and transport services will be greatly reduced.
Do I Need a Visa to Travel to Vietnam?
Yes! Apply for an electronic visa online before traveling to Vietnam. The e-visa costs 25 USD and is valid for 30 days of travel. It takes 3 days to be approved but allows for more time just in case of delays or problems with the application. For a 90-day visa, apply beforehand using a reputable agency or by visiting the Vietnamese embassy in your home country.
Note: As of 2023, citizens of 25 countries can travel to Vietnam without having to apply for a visa and can stay in the country for 14 to 45 days (depending on nationality). Make sure to check beforehand if you’re country is on the exemption list and what conditions apply.
Safety in Vietnam
Vietnam is a very safe country to travel through. Even so, always keep your belongings with you, and be wary of pickpockets and scams. If traveling by motorbike, be very wary of the chaotic traffic on the roads, always wear a helmet, and make sure you have insurance.