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20 Day Itinerary for Vietnam

Vietnam is one of the most beautiful countries in South East Asia. It is known for the picturesque beauty, culture and an excellent climate. Vietnam has the best mountains and clean, beautiful beaches. It has several ancient landmarks and activities to engage in. When it comes to exploring Vietnam, a couple of days are never enough. If you have time and if you do not want to miss out anything from this beautiful country, here is a complete 3-week itinerary for you.

Start in Hanoi (2 days)

Head to the Hoan Kiem Lake on your first morning in Hanoi. The lake surrounds the Ngoc Son Temple, which is an 18th century Pagoda sitting on a small island that is easily accessible via a wooden bridge. You will find a specimen of a huge turtle weighing 250 kg here. It was found in the lake. You can easily walk around Hanoi. Visit the Hoa Lo Prison, Opera House, and Saint Cathedral of Hanoi in Old Quarters. Once you visit all notable places at the Old Quarters, you can venture outside to One Pillar Pagoda, Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum, and the Temple of Literature.

Hanoi Old Quarter is where you will see many locals and tourists. It is an ideal example of colonial architecture besides narrow streets. It is an ideal destination for those who want to try local restaurants and cafes. Indulge in retail therapy at the Hanoi Weekend Night Market if you happen to be in Hanoi over a weekend. You will see several roadside stalls and you will get the best deal here. The street food in Hanoi is to die for!

Halong Bay, Vietnam
Halong Bay

One the second day, visit UNESCO listed Halong Bay. It is at a distance of 170 kilometers from Hanoi. You can arrange for a full day tour from the hotel or with a tour provider. Halong Bay is a must visit when in Vietnam. It is a beautiful natural wonder and attracts tourists from across the globe. No words can do justice to the beauty of Halong Bay. You can also take guided tours to explore the caves. After you are back from Halong Bay, head to the Thang Long Water Puppet Theatre. It comprises of 17 sketches using traditional puppets and is a one-hour performance but it is worth it. You will enjoy Vietnamese orchestra with the story and the musicians will play traditional music using their instruments. It is quite popular and tickets sell out well in advance. If you are looking for best pubs and bars, head to Old Quarter.

Take a 2-night cruise in Halong Bay or to Cat Ba Island (2 days)

Halong Bay Cruise
Halong Bay Cruise

If you want to enjoy the best of Halong Bay, take a two night cruise. If you are a first-timer in Vietnam, it is highly recommended to take the cruise. In this case, you can skip the day trip to Halong Bay and instead, spend the day exploring Hanoi. On the cruise, you will be able to discover beaches, islets and villages in a relaxed manner. A day trip might not be adequate to soak in the beauty of this place. There are budget cruise and luxury cruise for you to choose from. You can also engage in activities like fishing, swimming, trekking, kayaking and snorkeling. You can kayak in the remote area of the bay and trust me, it will be a breathtaking experience.

Cat Ba Island
Cat Ba Island

An important stop on the cruise is at Cat Ba Island. You will get to see floating villages, bars, hotels and restaurants set up against the beautiful backdrop of mountains. Another important island is Dau Be Island and it is a prominent diving and swimming spot. You can spot flying squirrels and golden monkeys here. Further, there is Bo Hon Island where you find the most famous caves of Halong Bay. You can take a boat ride to explore the caves.

Hue (1 day)

Gates to the entrance at Hue, Vietnam
Hue, Vietnam

Not many travelers include Hue in their itinerary. The imperial city of Hue in Vietnam has a lot to see and do. You can easily spend a day in Hue exploring the Imperial Citadel, Imperial Tombs, and Thien Mu Pagoda. Book an evening at the Royal Banquet for a truly luxurious experience. You will get a chance to dress up like Vietnamese Royalty and you will enjoy traditional music and royal dishes specially prepared for you.

Ninh Binh (2 days)

Woman cycling on road in Ninh Binh
Ninh Binh

Ninh Binh is Vietnam's Halong Bay on the land. The picturesque destination is about 100 km from Hanoi and is a lot quieter than all other destinations of Vietnam. It is known for natural beauty, less crowd and a relaxing atmosphere. At this hidden gem of Vietnam, spend time at the rice fields, temples, caves and pagodas. Take a boat ride in Trang An, go temple hopping and visit the Thung Naham Bird Garden.

Hai Van Pass from Hue to Hoi An (1 day)

Hai Van Pass
Hai Van Pass

If you are only going to do one thing from this list, do this. The Hai Van Pass or Sea Clouds Pass give a breathtaking view of the mountains and blue skies overlooking the South China Sea, Tien Sa Port, Da Nang City and Son Travel Peninsula. The highest pass in Vietnam is 25-km long and stands about 500m above the sea level. The pass is famous for motorcyclists. The pass remains at the top of the bucket list of all travelers. The distance to Hai Van Pass from Hue is about 80km and can take 1.5 hours. The distance to the pass from Hoi An is 60 kms and can take about an hour. It is worth going to the pass. Honestly, it is the drive to the pass that makes it worthwhile.

Hoi An (4 days)

The beautiful city of Hot An
Hoi An

Hoi An is the best example of a Southeast Asian trading port. The streets and buildings reflect the influences and have produced this heritage site. The only way you can reach Hoi An is by road. It takes about 30 minutes from Hai Van Pass. There are several things to see and do in HoiAn. It is a living museum with old town architecture and heritage buildings including Japanese designed bridge, Chinese temples, wooden shop houses, pagodas, old canals and many French colonial houses. Ho iAn was declared a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1999 and it attracted tourists from across the world.

Visit Hoi An old town, Hoi An riverside and the Japanese designed bridge. The riverside is the best place to be in the night as the area is lit by old style lanterns, making it a wonderful spot. If you love the sea, Hoi An offers two clear beaches only five kilometers away from the town centre. This picturesque town is known for great food, cosy atmosphere and fun shopping.

Da Nang (1 day)

Boating in Da Nang
Da Nang

You can hire a car from Hoi An to Da Nang, it will only take 45 minutes. Da Nang is a coastal city known for beautiful beaches. The centuries old pagodas are famous in Da Nang. Additionally, there are clear beeches, verdant national parks and French colonial buildings. Known as the tourist capital of South Central Vietnam, the city is an ideal location for nature enthusiasts. Visit My Khe Beach, Marble Mountain, Dragon Beach, Monkey Mountain, Phap Lam Pagoda and Cham Museum.

Ba Na Hills (1 day)

Golden Bridge in Vietnam
The Golden Bridge

Located at a distance of 45 kilometers from Da Nang is the Ba Na Hills. You will have to take a cable car to get inside the park. The cable car is the longest and the highest cable car system in the world. At the hills, visit the French Village, Jardin D' Amour, Debay Wine Cellar, Fantasy Park and the Golden Bridge. If you think that one day is not enough, you can book a hotel right outside the park.

The Golden Bridge is a popular tourist attraction. The bridge is supported by two massive stone hands. It is an amazing place filled with majestic beauty. If you happen to visit here during monsoon, you will feel like you are walking on the clouds.

Ho Chi Minh City (2 days)

Ho Chi Minh city pagoda
Inside a pagoda at Ho Chi Minh City

Saigon or Ho Chi Minh City is the financial hub of Vietnam and an important destination in your itinerary. The popular tourist destination is known for culture, architecture, ornate temples, pagodas and rooftop bars that overlook the city. At Vietnam's biggest city and business capital, there are many things to do and see. You can easily spend your two days exploring the city. Head to Binh Tay Market, Cu Chi Tunnels, War Remnants Museum, Cao Dai Temple, Bitexco tower and sky deck, Reunification Palace, Mariamman Hindu Temple and Notre Dame Cathedral. For a unique dining experience, head to Noir Dining in the Dark. It is a restaurant where you eat in pitch black and you are served by bling staff. Apart from that, there are street food stalls on all roads.

Phu Quoc (3 days)

Phu Quoc, Vietnam
Phu Quoc

To reach Phu Quoc, take a one hour flight from Ho Chi Minh City. The island is in southern Vietnam and is a magical place, to say the least. Here you will find white sand beaches and luxury resorts. It has a UNESCO listed national park, funky bars and an energetic vibe. It is ideal for those who want to get away from the hustle and bustle of the city. Simply relax and enjoy the beauty of this island. It remains less crowded and is clean and picturesque. Apart from the Phu Quoc National Park, there is CauTemple, Waterfalls, Sung Hung Pagoda, Fishing village and a temple. You can also enjoy an entire day hiking, camping, bird watching and photography.

End trip in Ho Chi Minh City

Head back to Hi Chi Minh City and catch your flight back home.

*All images have been taken from Unsplash.