This article will help you plan your 2 week Vietnam itinerary. It includes the best places to visit in Vietnam, where to stay and which activities and sights to see plus some useful travel tips that we’ve picked up during our four visits to Vietnam.
Vietnam in South East Asia is a country I adore. Ancient cities, fabulous food, fascinating culture and modern history. Then there’s the people, wonderful beaches, gorgeous scenery and those mad-crazy roads. There’s a lot about Vietnam to love. I’ve had four trips there so far, including a stint as joint tour leader and organiser for groups of 30 guests. You could say I’m well qualified to devise the perfect Vietnam itinerary.
We’ve travelled Vietnam from north to south and from south to north. We’ve planned and booked each part of our trips ourselves, from hotels and restaurants to flights, transfers and visa. We do it this way for all our trips – it enables us to do exactly what we want when we want and it saves us money on tour operators. I’m sharing my Vietnam travel tips and everything I’ve learned about the country to help you easily plan your own epic Vietnam programme and help save you money and time.
How many days is enough for Vietnam?
So, how many days is enough for Vietnam? It makes sense for me to share my 2 week Vietnam itinerary as most people are working and only have a certain amount of leave, It’s the minimum I’d recommend to pack in the best places to visit in Vietnam. It’ll be a busy two weeks but oh so worth it. If you have more or less time you can adjust for your schedule but I think two weeks to see the best Vietnam attractions is perfect for a first-timer.
Do you need a visa to enter Vietnam?
If you’re from the UK and you’re staying for 15 days or less you’ll be eligible for the 15-day visa exemption. If you’re staying more than 15 days you will need a visa. (see below how to apply – it’s the same as for US citizens).
All US citizens will require a visa to enter the country. There are different ways to go about this but the easiest way is to arrange an online Vietnam visa arrange an online Vietnam e-visa through a visa company. You’ll pay a little extra for the Vietnam e-visa but it’s worth it for the hassle you’ll save yourself. Apply several weeks before travel.
Alternatively, apply by mail or in person at the Consulate General of Vietnam as early as 6 months prior to the date of travel. The application does not necessarily need to be at the Consulate in person. Processing time takes up to 3 working days.
Your passport should be valid for a minimum of 6 months from the date you enter Vietnam. It will also need to be in good condition or you may be refused entry. Take a spare print-out of your departure flight for customs when you arrive.
The weather in Vietnam
Vietnam weather varies from one part of the country to another which throws up challenges for planning a trip. Vietnam has three distinct climates – the north, the central zone, and the south. This makes it challenging to find a time that works for the whole country. The south is warm and dry from December through February but the north, and sometimes the central region, can be quite cold at this time.
There are certain times when you will want to avoid specific regions of Vietnam because of flooding. Typhoon season runs from August to November and flooding can be bad. We had floods in Hoi An, downpours in Hue and our Halong Bay overnight boat trip was cancelled due to a typhoon – all in early October. In the north and south, the hot and humid weather is felt earlier in the year from May through October.
Generally, the best time to visit Vietnam to enjoy good weather right across the country is in Spring. March and April are usually the best months.
Getting around Vietnam
The country of Vietnam is long and narrow and the distances between north, central, and southern Vietnam are quite large. You can take the train or bus journeys are generally long, and will eat into your time. They’re generally not that comfortable although scenery out of the window is pretty spectacular. If you choose to travel this way The Man in Seat 61 is a great resource for timetable information and to book.
Vietnam has quite a few low-cost airlines including Vietnam Airlines, VietJet, and Jetstar that offer good value domestic flights. Bear in mind that both VietJet and Jetstar run notoriously late so keep your schedule flexible and don’t book any important tours on flight days.
2 Week Vietnam Programme
This 2 week Vietnam itinerary takes in the country’s highlights from north to south. We’ll fly into Hanoi and out of HCMC. Stops include Hanoi, Halong Bay, Hue, Hoi An and Ho Chi Minh City. There’s time factored in to kick back on the beach at Hoi An – it is a holiday after all. But you could add on Mui Ne and spend less time in Hoi An. It’s flexible. Feel free to message me or comment below if you have any questions. Happy to help.
Hanoi – 2 nights / Halong Bay – 1 night / Hue – 2 nights / Hoi An – 5 nights / Ho Chi Minh City – 3 nights (optional add on – Mui Ne – kitesurfing)
Hanoi: Days 1 – 3 (2 nights)
Your Vietnam adventure starts in Hanoi in the north. Vietnam’s capital is a colourful city full of character, history and French Colonial influences. It’s frenzied, busy and the perfect introduction to Vietnamese culture. You’ll need at least 2 days in Hanoi. Add on a day in Hanoi and stay one day less in Hoi An if you want more culture and less beach. Hanoi’s very walkable so you’ll be able to see most places on foot.
What to see and do in Hanoi
The Old Quarter – immerse yourself by wandering the streets and soaking up the atmosphere. It’s full on – the traffic, the chaotic pavements, the people, the infectious Hanoi vibe. Explore the neighbouring French Quarter with its elegant colonial buildings like Hanoi Opera House, the embassy buildings and historic hotels. The wide streets are tree-lined and it has a very European feel. A cyclo (rickshaw) tour is a great way to see the French Quarter.
Read my 2 day Hanoi travel guide for more detailed information
Just south of the Old Quarter you’ll find Lake Ho Hoan Kiem. Hoan Kiem Lake. Towards the bottom of the lake you can see Thap Rua Tortoise tower. It’s prettier at night when lit up and reflecting on the water. The lake is a good reference for finding your way round the city.
Jade Island is connected by the bright red Húc bridge. Cross it and explore the Temple of the Jade Mountain. Inside the temple you can see a preserved giant turtle and learn about its role in a Hanoi legend. It’s a good place to escape the frenzy of the city for a few moments.
Visit the Ho Chi Minh mausoleum and the nearby One Pillar Pagoda and Ho Chi Minh’s stilted house where he worked and lived. A 20-minute walk will take you to the Temple of Literature and a further 20 minutes to Hanoi’s icon train street. Definitely one for the gram.
Hanoi has a fabulous food scene so join a street food tour on your first night. Finish up your evening at a beer hall or a spot with epic traffic watching potential. There are some good rooftop bars at Dong Kinh Nghia Thuc Square. Vietnam has some of the cheapest beer in the world. Bia Hơi will cost you less than 50 cents.
*Please note that the iconic ‘beer corner’ in the old quarter now has restrictions in place on pavement drinking.
Best places to stay in Hanoi
- Luxury: Sofitel Legend Metropole Hanoi – Beautiful historic 5 star Hotel in the French Quarter
- Mid range: Melia Hanoi – Good location, walking distance Hoan Kiem Lake. Outdoor pool and spa. (We stayed here and would stay again)
- Boutique: Acoustic Hotel and Spa – Beautiful French boutique style hotel with jacuzzi and bar on the rooftop
- Budget: Old Quarter View Hanoi Hostel – Adults-only accommodation with restaurant, bar and shared lounge.
- Or find your own perfect accommodation
Halong Bay Cruise: Days 3 – 4 (1 night)
If you do one thing during your Vietnam adventure do this! Halong Bay is one of the best places to visit in Vietnam. Beautiful doesn’t even begin to describe it and a junk cruise should be a top priority for your itinerary.
Ha Long Bay translates to Bay of the Descending Dragon and has recently become one of the new seven natural wonders of the world. It’s a mystical landscape where thousands of limestone karsts burst breathtakingly skywards from the depths of the sparkling, emerald-green South China Seas.
To visit Ha Long Bay you’ll need to take a tour of some sort. Most cruises in Halong Bay now depart from Got Pier (Hai Phong) which is only 2.5 hours from Hanoi. Choose between one or two night tours. There are many junks of different budgets, sizes, and styles. Some sail in Halong Bay and others Bai Tu Long Bay, the quieter of the two bays. You’ll be spending one or two nights on the boat so I’d advise you to do your research and book what works best for you.
The Best Halong Bay Cruise
These Ha Long Bay cruises come highly recommended. Read my Halong Bay Cruise review and discover why Bai Tu Long Bay is the best part of Halong Bay to visit.
Bai Tu Long Bay makes up three quarters of the Ha Long Bay heritage site but isn’t so touristy or overrun with cruise boats. I can highly recommend a cruise to this part of the bay and some cruises also include a visit to Vung Vien floating village.
- Halong Bay 2 Day Luxury Cruise with Kayaking, cooking class and Vung Vien floating village visit
- Stunning Bai Tu Long Bay 2 Day Cruise
- or choose from these Ha Long Bay and Bai Tu Long Bay cruise and day trips
Backpackers will find this Halong Bay cruise for backpackers article useful.
Halong Bay Cruise Tips:
Book your cruise before you arrive in Hanoi and your cruise company will include a private transfer from your Hanoi hotel to the departure point in Halong Bay.
Book your cruise early on in your Hanoi stay. Bad weather conditions can sometimes mean cruises are cancelled and you’ll need to transfer your cruise to the following day. If you’re heading out of Hanoi then this won’t be possible.
There’s a toll for the new road from Hanoi so make sure your tour company isn’t saving costs by taking the old, longer route which will add 1.5 hours to your journey.
Hue: Days 4 – 6 (2 nights)
Hue, and the Imperial City is the place to discover the ancient heart and soul of Vietnam. Located at the mouth of the Perfume River, Hue was the imperial capital of Vietnam’s Nguyen dynasty between 1802 and 1945.
Start your visit to Hue at the citadel. The walled city was the seat of power when Hue was the imperial capital of Vietnam. The complex of buildings was only accessible by the emperors, their families, concubines and anyone who was granted special permission. Anyone else who entered was punished with death. Once you’ve passed over the moat and through the vast city gates explore ornate palaces, temples, gardens and courtyards.
Take a boat trip on the Perfume River and visit the Thien Mu Pagoda. Stairs lead from the river directly to the seven story Buddhist temple. Other temples near to Hue include Tu Hieu Pagoda and Huyen Tran Princess Temple.
Go tomb hopping in Hue. There are a number of imperial tombs to visit just outside and upriver from the city. They’re all individually designed – some by the intended occupant. You’ll discover large, opulent and majestic tombs and some smaller one less well preserved ones too. Tomb of Tu Duc is set in beautiful gardens and Khai Dinh’s has amazing views. Don’t miss these two.
Best Places to Stay in Hue:
- Luxury: La Residence, Hue 5***** hotel
- Mid range: Alba Spa Hotel
- Boutique: Beaulieu Boutique Hotel
- Budget: Four Seasons Hotel
- Or find your own perfect accommodation
Hoi An: Days 6 – 11 (5 nights)
Hoi An is a must-do stop on your Vietnam itinerary and one of the highlights of this trip. This gorgeous little town punches well above its weight in terms of things to do and see. It’s one of the most atmospheric places I’ve set foot in. Entering the ancient trading port is like stepping back in time and the photogenic town is somewhere I’d go back to in a heartbeat.
Start at the UNESCO world heritage site of Ho An Ancient Town, it’s where you’ll find most of Hoi An’s attractions. Ancient merchant houses with faded yellow paint and small ornate temples stand side by side. Spend time just wandering from one pretty street to another.
The Japanese Covered Bridge
Don’t miss the Japanese Covered Bridge which dates from the seventeenth century. It’s the town’s symbol and you’ll cross it a few times during your stay. To see more of Hoi An’s heritage pay a visit to some of the old houses like the Phung Hung House and Phuc Kien Assemby Hall. The Hoi An Museum of History and Culture will help you learn more about the town.
Get some clothes made at one of the town’s tailors – the banter is half the fun. The market is great to visit day or night time. There’s loads to look at in the market and some pretty weird things to buy. Scorpion in a jar anyone?
A cooking class is one of my favourite things to do in Vietnam and we’ve done a few over various visits to Hoi An. There are a variety of cooking classes to choose from. Most start with a tour of the market and a boat ride before learning to make some tasty Vietnamese dishes which you’ll eat for your lunch.
Make sure to spend time by the river where you’ll find lantern shops and lots of bars and restaurants. When you’re ready to relax then hit An Bang beach.
Read more about my favourite things to do in Hoi An, Vietnam
Best Places to Stay in Hoi An
- Luxury: Palm Garden Beach Resort and Spa 5***** (located on Cua Dai beach. We stayed in a beach bungalow here and loved it)
- Mid range: Ann Retreat and Spa
- Boutique: Anio Boutique Hotel
- Or find your own perfect accommodation
Sadly, much of Cua Dai beach was eroded after a typhoon in 2014 so if you’re looking for a beach hotel opt for An Bang.
Detour to Mui Ne
If you don’t want to spend 5 nights in Hoi An then head to Ho Chi Minh City and then on to Mui Ne on the coast for a couple of nights.
Ho Chi Minh City: Day 11 – 14 ( 3 nights)
The final stop on your 2 week Vietnam itinerary is the vast city of Ho Chi Minh, which is still often known by its old name, Saigon. Whatever you choose to call it it’s a lively, vibrant city with some epic landmarks. It’s a great place to finish your Vietnam adventure.
Start your sightseeing in the city centre at Ho Chi Minh City Hall, a beautiful French colonial style building. Nearby are two other major landmarks, the elegant Notre Dame Cathedral of Saigon, and the beautiful Saigon Central Post Office. Be sure to go inside the post office.
To see the Ho Chi Minh City from above head to the Bitexco Tower and the Saigon Skydeck on the 49th floor. The views of the city stretch out before you.
Spend time at the Caravelle Hotel’s rooftop bar, Saigon Saigon, for more views of the city and a great night time atmosphere. Definitely have a gin and tonic on the terrace and stay for the party atmosphere in the evening.
Ben Thanh Market is fabulous for a wander and a great sources of souvenirs. After 18:00 hours you can get a meal here at the night market. An evening street food walking tour will give you a taste of the city’s fabulous food scene too.
The Reunification Palace, built in the 60s , was the palace for the President of South Vietnam during the Vietnam War. It’s the spot where a tank rolled through its gates in 1975 and the Vietnam War officially ended. The tank is still parked up outside. Take the tour of the building where you can see the offices, presidential rooms, and war rooms. A real 1970s time warp.
If you want to learn more about the Vietnam War and the war against the French Colonialists then spend some time at the War Remnants Museum. Many exhibits are very moving and depict some of the more horrific aspects of war and especially the effects of Agent Orange. It’s not suitable for children and not for the faint-hearted but I think it’s important to visit.
Outside Saigon – The Cu Chi Tunnels
Spend one of your days in Saigon by heading out of the city. The famous Cu Chi Tunnels should be part of your Ho Chi Minh itinerary. The narrow tunnels were built by the Viet Cong as part of their strategy against US forces. The tunnels allowed the Vietnamese soldiers to ambush troops, but also acted as living spaces and supply routes.
When exploring the site, you’ll see how cleverly hidden the entrances were and some of the traps which they used on their enemy. You can actually enter one stretch of tunnel and walk through it.
Where to stay in Ho Chi Minh City
- Luxury: Caravell Saigon 5***** hotel near to opera house with fabulous rooftop bar and outdoor pool. Highly recommended.
- The Rex 5***** hotel is a good option if you’re in the city for New Year’s Eve as they do a fabulous banquet with views from the rooftop terrace of the celebrations below. There’s an outdoor rooftop pool.
- Mid range: Alagon Zen Hotel and Spa 4****
- Boutique: Bali Boutique Hotel
- Budget: Joviale 3*** Hotel
- Or find your own perfect accommodation
And that’s it! My comprehensive guide for how to spend 2 weeks in Vietnam. I hope you find it useful. There are so many fabulous places and wonderful experiences to enjoy in your Vietnam programme and if you’re anything like me you’ll keep going back for more.
If you have any questions or suggestions for my Vietnam itinerary drop a comment below or get in touch via the contact page.
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