How we spent 37 days in Vietnam, and you can too!
Vietnam is deceptively large. We spent five weeks here and still could travel for five more without repeat destinations! Vietnam is very diverse — desert sand dunes give way to high altitude pine forests, urbanites from megapolises wouldn’t look twice at a tourist, while minority villagers just might poke a Westerner to see if they are real – so no two destinations are alike, and there is plenty to choose from.
If you have a single entry visa, aim to travel Vietnam north to south or vice versa. If you can enter Vietnam multiple times, it might make sense to cut over from the middle of the country into Laos, and come back into Vietnam in the north (which is what we did).
We followed the itinerary below for Vietnam, and the only thing we would do differently is we would stay a little longer (maybe forever…j/k, or are we?)
Three Days in the Mekong Delta
If you are coming from Cambodia, start in Hatien, which is a wonderful introduction to small town Vietnam. Get your bearings here for a day, take a toboggan ride, hang out in some monasteries, and get a head start on delicious Vietnamese food. Next, bus it to Can Tho, where you can check out a floating market. We would also recommend familiarizing yourself with xe om method of getting around.
Four Days in Saigon
From the Mekong Delta, Saigon deserves a few days of attention. The city offers many parks, museums, and urban hip youth who chill at secret cafes, or just on side walks. Here’s our secret tip for Saigon: climb to the top of (well almost) of Vietnam’s highest building the Bitexco tower – but skip the Skydeck, and instead head over to one floor higher (floor 50) and enjoy the view from the EON cafe.
Five Days in Central Vietnam
Do yourself a favor, and jump on the back of a motorbike with the Original Easy Riders. Make your way from Saigon to spectacular scenery of Mui Ne, crazy (literary) awesome attractions in Dalat, and see and taste a bit of everyday Vietnam in between before finishing your tour in Nha Trang – a resort town filled with package tourists from Russia (a sight in itself – trust, we would know 😉
Three – five days in Hue and Hoi An
Take the train or sleeper bus from Nha Trang to Hue, the former imperial capital. Check out the royal tombs in Hue. *From Hue we crossed the border into Laos. However, if you plan to travel Vietnam in one go, your first stop from Nha Trang would be in Hoi An, where you should give yourself at least three full days if you want to make clothes. If not, one day for the town and one for the An Bang beach would suffice.
Make sure you follow in the footsteps of Top Gear and do the Hai Van pass adventure on motorbike between Hoi An and Hue (or vice versa). You can do this yourself. Or, there are plenty of guide companies that will take you on this half day epic ride. In our opinion if you don’t have another chance to ride the motorbike in Vietnam –it’s the number one must do: its easy, relatively inexpensive compared to a longer trip, and the views are spectacular.
Two Nights at Phong Nha
From Hue keep going up to the Phong Nha Ke Bang National Park. This area of Vietnam saw heavy fighting during the American (Vietnam) War, and somber memorials are scattered everywhere. Stop by and pay your respects. We stayed two nights in Son Trach village – the closest settlement to the park – and did the 7 km trek into Paradise Cave, which took us past the tourists and was absolutely spectacular (if expensive).
Three days to Explore Mai Chau and Phu Yen
If you are doing the motorbike thing – either on your own or with a guide – head over to Mai Chau and Phu Yen for mountainous roads that open up to breathtaking vistas, friendly small towns and minority villages where you just might be the first visitor in a long while (or ever).
Scenic side of the road, somewhere between Phu Yen and Mai Chau, Vietnam.
A week in Hanoi
If you aren’t on a motorbike, or just prefer big city lights, head to Hanoi, where you can easily spend a week or longer just taking it all in. You can also jam pack your schedule with all the must dos in just two or three days — make sure to check out the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum. *We didn’t do either Sapa or Halong Bay, but both of those destinations are both easily reached from Hanoi.
If you would like to see a day by day re-cap of our trip, check out the 4 o’clock section (or click the Vietnam category). We made a short video at 4 pm every day that we were on the road! See the tips, tricks & resources guide for our best Vietnam recommendations. And finally, our where to stay page provides lodging reviews by yours truly.