Memos from Asia

A Complete Two-Week Itinerary for Your First Vietnam Trip

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How many days should you spend in Vietnam? For me as a Vietnamese tour guide, two weeks is a good start for a first-time visitor. Two weeks is enough to travel the length of Vietnam without getting a hurry sickness. At the end of the day, the most important matter is designing a perfect itinerary that fits.

Saigon, Vietnam

To help you come up with the best travel plan that covers all highlights, I’ve compiled a 2-week itinerary as a sample. Let’s dive right in!

Let’s start with Southern Vietnam first and make your way up North. In this region, choose Ho Chi Minh City (aka Saigon) as your base and travel further to the Mekong Delta. You need less than a week for both of these areas.

Three Nights in Ho Chi Minh City

Saigon is such a lively and vibrant city. I recommend three full days to explore without rushing. With over 10 million residents and expats working and sharing the same lifestyle, Saigon is the economic hub of the entire country.

Saigon from above

The best thing to do in Saigon is riding around the city with a rental scooter. Check out the main attractions during the day and save the night for street eating!

People riding motorbikes on the street of Saigon

To learn about Saigon in a deeper level, drop by Cu Chi Tunnels and War Remnants Museum for some insight about the Vietnam War. Saving these two destinations for the first day is a good idea as you may need some decent time to travel between the two places.

On the second day, roam around Saigon Central Post Office, Notre Dame Cathedral, and Opera House to admire the French colonial architecture.

Saigon Central Post Office

The last day in Saigon should be saved for Chinatown where the largest Chinese community in Vietnam has resided for over three centuries.

In between the spots, feel free to drop by Bitexco Financial Tower for an ice-cold cocktail while enjoying the panorama from one of the tallest skyscrapers in the city.

Bitexco Financial Tower

By nightfall, sign up for a food tour with Back of the Bikes for a complete street eat adventure. You will have a chance to sample all of the most iconic food in Saigon while sneaking through the dynamic traffic scene.

A food stall selling broken rice in Saigon

Two Nights in Mekong Delta

On the next day, hop on an express bus organized by Futa Busline and travel to Vinh Long. This is a dreamy riverside province in the heart of the Mekong Delta. Spend the first night at an authentic homestay and tour around the traditional red pottery factories along the Co Chien River.

On the second day, it’s time for a bicycle ride around the island to discover the peaceful and charming landscape of the tropical fruit plantations.

Head to Can Tho by nightfall and spend a night there before hitting Cai Rang floating market early in the next morning. Cai Rang is one of the most talked-about floating markets in Asia with thousands of boats docking to trade.

Now that you have completed your first five nights in the South of Vietnam. It’s time to head for Central Vietnam with a short flight from Can Tho to Da Nang.

Two Nights in Hoi An

Upon your arrival in Da Nang, head straight to Hoi An Old Quarter and spend your next two nights here. Hoi An Old Quarter is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. This magical place is a paradise on Earth pictured by the yellow walls facing the romantic Faifo River.

Hoi An, a dreamy town

Hoi An is the ancient town sketched by a patchwork of alleys and lanterns. It is unarguably one of the most photogenic gems in Vietnam.

The colorful lanterns lit up at night

As a prominent trading port in Southeast Asia from the 15th to the 19th century, Hoi An is the harmony of Japanese, Chinese and Vietnamese culture.

If the Japanese Covered Bridge represents Japan, then the ancient tube houses are the reflection of Chinese culture, while the food is the Vietnamese quintessence.

Let’s spend your first das wandering around Hoi An Old Quarter. Afterwards, make a quick trip to An Bang Beach before returning to Da Nang! An Bang Beach was featured as one of the best 100 beaches in the world by CNN in 2016. (Hidden Hoian, https://hiddenhoian.com/see-and-do/an-bang-beach-guide/ )

Sunset at An Bang Beach

Two Nights in Da Nang

Da Nang is the most outstanding metropolis in Central Vietnam. To many foreigners, Da Nang is a must-visit destination in Vietnam. However, it is indeed a small beach city and one night is enough to embrace the soul of Da Nang.

Da Nang by night

If you’re a first-timer to the city, don’t forget to stroll around My Khe Beach. The beach was voted by Sunday Herald Sun as one of the world’s top 10 Asian best beaches. (Vietnam Online,
https://www.vietnamonline.com/news/my-khe-among-worlds-six-most-attractive-beaches.html )

Other than that, the Golden Bridge at Ba Na Hills is another worthy point of interest.

The phenomenal Golden Bridge in the heart of Ba Na Hills

On the following day, visit the Museum of Cham Sculpture for an insight into the Champa Kingdom. Champa was a mighty empire once ruling the land that now belongs to Central Vietnam until the 19th century.

One Night in Hue

Hue is connected to Da Nang by the magnificent Hai Van Pass looking over Lang Co Lagoon. It would be a huge mistake if you skip Hue during your vacation in Da Nang.

Hue is the former royal capital of Vietnam. This was where the Nguyen Dynasty established a base for the court and ruled the country from 180twoto 1945.

Hue, The Imperial City

The charming beauty of Hue is reflected through the ancient Thien Mu Pagoda, the emperor’s tombs, and the Imperial Citadel. Hue is a small dreamy town and you only need one full day there to experience all the finest quintessence this city has to offer.

Two Nights in Hanoi

Hanoi welcomes you after a short flight from Da Nang with the chilly breeze of a Northern city. As the current capital and culture hub of Vietnam, Hanoi is filled with the French colonial apartments, the vibrant street food scene, and the honking scooters.

A busy street in downtown Hanoi

One place you must visit in Hanoi is the Old Quarter. If you’re short in time, just spend it all there! Or even better, two nights would make a complete trip in Hanoi without missing a thing!

Hanoi Old Quarter is the most chaotic part of the city. You will sneak through the small alleyways, cross by the street vendors, or dance the night away on Ta Hien Beer Street.

Ta Hien beer street

Hanoi has an incredible atmosphere. The Old Quarter is somehow chaotic, but Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum is tranquil and solemn. Then you have Hoa Lo Prison deliver a sorrow and thrilling vibe of what the Vietnam War was all about.

Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum

On the last day, you may like to explore Duong Lam Ancient Village on the outskirts of Hanoi before moving to Ninh Binh in the afternoon.

Two Nights in Ninh Binh

Most people will only recommend one day to spend in Ninh Binh. For me, you need at least two nights to fully uncover the hidden beauty of this mountainous town.

This city is the kingdom of limestone karst and caves. It was once the ancient capital of Hoa Lu in the 10th century.

Ninh Binh from above

My favorite place to be is Trang An which nestled amongst the sheer mountain cliffs. The boat ride here lasts for three to four hours which allows you to mesmerize the mystic caves covering the crystal-clear water.

A mystic cave in Trang An

After Trang An, don’t forget to make your way to Bai Dinh Pagoda. This is the largest Buddhist temple in Vietnam.

The massive complex of Bai Dinh Pagoda

On the second day, make your way through Thung Nham Bird Park. The best time to admire the wildlife of 40 bird species is during autumn. Thung Nham is home to 50 thousand birds that cover the sky every sunset to shelter in the wetland.

(Thung Nham Bird Park)

I hope that this article helps you come up with the best itinerary! Two weeks may seem like a rush to some of you, but it’s more than enough if Vietnam is only a part of your bigger journey to Asia.

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