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Welcome to Vietnam…
The land of chaotic cities, ornate temples, rich history and culture, beautiful beaches, egg coffee and bowls of Pho, lush-green jungle, limestone karsts and serene rice paddies. It had long been high up on my bucket list, and when I got the chance to spend 2 weeks in Vietnam one March it was a done deal. I spent a lot of time scrupulously researching and planning how to spend my time there, so I could get the best out of my 2 week Vietnam trip. And now I want to share with you my tried and tested 2 weeks in Vietnam itinerary plus exactly how much it cost, so you can have a bucket list worthy visit too!
Is 2 weeks enough for Vietnam?
You might be wondering: how many days do you need in Vietnam? Stretching just over 1,000 miles in length (~1,600km), Vietnam is a long and thin country which can be deceptive when planning a trip. You might think it’s an easy feat to cover all of the best bits in just 14 wonderful days, but you’d be wrong because there are so many amazing things to do in Vietnam which are spread throughout the country. But its shape does help to some extent, because it means you can go one of two ways – south to north or north to south (this particular itinerary follows the latter).
Although you could spend months uncovering its many layers, 2 weeks in Vietnam is enough to get a good taste of what the country has to offer and you can cover a lot of ground if you plan to precision. Honestly, I didn’t feel short changed and felt I had really become acquainted with the country by the time my 2 weeks were up. But you do need to make wise choices when planning your itinerary. I think that it is reasonable to visit 4 different places and take a day trip or two from your base cities/towns across a 2 week trip, so you have time to enjoy your surroundings without getting burned out.
2 weeks in Vietnam itinerary overview
|Day 1: International travel from home country to Vietnam|
|Day 2-4: Hanoi including 1 day trip out of the city|
|Day 5-7: Halong Bay and back to Hanoi on the evening of day 7|
|Day 8-12: Hoi An including 1 day trip out of the city|
|Day 13-15: Ho Chi Minh City including 1 day trip out of the city|
|Day 16: International travel from Vietnam to home country|
Ok, you caught me out. This itinerary actually allows for 14 full days in Vietnam, with 2 days for international travel either side, which is because at the time I visited, Brits were allowed to spend this long in Vietnam visa-free (be sure to double check up to date official information for your country before you go). If you need an exact 2 weeks in Vietnam itinerary including international travel, it would be easy to shave a day or two off by spending one less day in Hoi An and Ho Chi Minh City. This is the exact itinerary I followed and the trip was incredible, but please do adapt it to suit your travel needs!
My international flights arrived and departed from Ho Chi Minh City. Everyone that knows me knows that I am passionate about being able to travel far and well for less, so when I found bargain return flights with an airline who was trialling flights to the city, I snapped them up quicker than you can say go! I decided that I would start my trip in Hanoi, and work my way down to Ho Chi Minh City. So as soon as I landed in Ho Chi Minh City I had a flight booked to go straight up to Hanoi on the same day (it was the longest journey I have taken to date, but was so worth it to be able to start at the top and work my way down, and it worked out cheaper to do it this way).
Tip: Booking international flights that arrive and depart from Ho Chi Minh City is usually cheaper than booking international flights arriving into Hanoi and departing from Ho Chi Minh City, but see what works out cheapest for you.
Know before you go
Always check the entry requirements for the country you are visiting to see if you will need a Visa to enter, and that you have enough validity left on your passport.
Always have a good level of travel insurance for every international trip. This is a non-negotiable part of any trip abroad, as the unexpected can happen.
What is the best time to visit Vietnam?
Vietnam is a year-round destination, but which region of the country you want to see will dictate the best time to visit Vietnam because the climate differs in the north, central and south parts of the country.
Personally, I decided the best time to visit Vietnam for me was in March. This afforded me warm days and cool nights in the north, and hot weather with little rain in the central and southern parts of the country. Although each March will inevitably be a little different, I’d recommend this as one of the best months to visit Vietnam.
In the north of the country (e.g. Hanoi, Halong Bay), November-April is cool and dry with the coldest months being December-January when temperatures can plummet to as low as 10°C. May-October can be rainy, hot and humid in this region.
In central Vietnam (e.g. Hoi An), September-November sees the highest rainfall with January-August being tropically warm and humid.
In the south of Vietnam (e.g. Ho Chi Minh City), you can expect it to be wetter from May-October and generally dry, hot and humid from November-April.
Tip: If you decide to visit the north of Vietnam in March, make sure you pack a light jacket – don’t expect it to be tropically warm just because it’s in Southeast Asia. If you visit December-January, make sure you pack accordingly because it can get surprisingly cold.
What is the best currency to use in Vietnam?
The best currency to use in Vietnam is the Vietnamese Dong.
International departure: Day 1
Day 1: Allow at least 1 full day to be lost for international travel to Southeast Asia if you are travelling from outside the region.
Tip: Consider researching private transfers as an option for getting to/from the airports in Vietnam as you will pre-pay for these when you book and avoid any taxi scams. I highly recommend Hanoi Transfer Service, which I used to book all airport transfers for my Vietnam.
Hanoi: Day 2-4
You’ll start your 2 weeks in Vietnam in the northern city of Hanoi. Hanoi is the capital of Vietnam and is one of the best cities to visit in Asia! The Old Quarter is brimming with colonial architecture and narrow lanes, and is crammed with people scoot-scoot-scooting on their mopeds in every direction. Crossing the road is a task in itself, and you will quickly become abnormally comfortable with practically risking your life on a very regular basis in order to reach the other side. But despite the chaos of day to day life, Hanoi retains a relaxed and charming vibe.
Fact: The street names in Hanoi’s Old Quarter translate into the trades they once specialised in, for example, Hang Bac (Silver) Street.
Day 2 & 3: Spend time getting acquainted with Vietnam by wandering the Old Quarter. Get lost in the quaint streets and experience some of the best things to do in Hanoi, like Hoan Kiem Lake and the tranquil Ngoc Son Temple. Sample some egg coffee or egg hot chocolate at Giang Cafe (highly recommended), and wander to Train Street. In the evening, watch a water puppet show at Thang Long Water Puppet Theatre, enjoy some Vietnamese cuisine at Aubergine Cafe, and finish off by drinking some ice cold Bia Ha Noi at one of the many bars around the buzzing Ta Hien (Beer) Street.
Tip: If you want to go and watch the Water Puppet Show in the evening, head to the Thang Long Water Puppet Theatre and book your tickets on the same morning (or in the days before) as they can sell out quickly and you will want good seats.
Day 4: On day 4 of your Vietnam 14 day itinerary, take a day trip to stunning Tam Coc and enjoy the scenery of Ninh Binh Province. This can usually be organised through your accommodation or failing that, a local tour agency. Enjoy the epic views from Mua Cave viewpoint, meander down the Tam Coc River in a small bamboo boat, and perhaps visit the ancient capital of Hoa Lu.
Halong Bay: Day 5-7
Ah, dreamy Halong Bay, one of my favourite places in the whole wide world. Halong Bay was the reason Vietnam was on my Southeast Asia bucket list, and I cannot wait to return! Limestone karsts covered in lush-green jungle jet up out of the emerald water, and when a mist falls over the bay the aura is nothing less than enchanting. A Halong cruise of this UNESCO World Heritage Site is a must-do for your 2 week Vietnam trip, and I promise you will not be disappointed.
Day 5, 6 & 7: Board a 3 day/2 night cruise of Halong Bay. I spent a lot of time deliberating on whether I should go for 1 or 2 nights. After scrutinising numerous Halong Bay cruise itineraries and making rather a lot of pros and cons lists, I decided on a 3 day/2 night cruise and it was the best decision I made. In order to truly enjoy this once-in-a-lifetime experience, a 2 night cruise is an essential component on your 2 week Vietnam backpacking itinerary. A 1 night cruise will allow you to see the main sights, but will likely feel rushed! A 2 night cruise allows you to go deeper into the bay, have a day kayaking, and gives you more time to absorb the majestic surroundings.
Tip: To try and avoid Halong Bay cruise overwhelm, be sure to check out these super useful tips for how to pick your Halong Bay cruise. You can often pay a little extra for transfers from Hanoi to/from the port in Halong Bay (approx. 170km apart).
Evening of day 7: After spending day 5-7 on the cruise, I decided to return to Hanoi for 1 night instead of rushing off to my next destination on the same day. If there were any delays in getting back to Hanoi from Halong Bay, it could have caused missed onward departures equalling a whole lot of stress. So if you’re going to follow my two weeks in Vietnam itinerary to a T, then use the evening of day 7 in Hanoi to absorb the atmosphere of the Old Quarter before preparing to head on to Hoi An.
Hoi An: Day 8-12
Historic Hoi An is a beautiful UNESCO World Heritage town and former Southeast Asian trading port with oriental influence evident in its architecture. In order to reach Hoi An by train or plane, you will need to arrive in the nearby city of Da Nang and transfer from there, which takes usually just under 1 hour by road. You can arrive straight into Hoi An by sleeper bus, but I opted to arrive via plane because it was more time efficient for a 2 week Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh itinerary. (note: it can take upwards of 16 hours to reach Da Nang from Hanoi by train, and upwards of 18 hours to arrive into Hoi An by sleeper bus.)
Day 8: After arriving in to Da Nang Airport from Hanoi, take a private transfer to Hoi An and spend some time settling into your hotel and familiarising yourself with the area. Hoi An is home to some of the most beautiful and affordable hotels, so why not relax by the pool this afternoon? Perhaps head to Nhan’s Kitchen for your evening meal, where you can find the most amazing passion fruit chicken (it might sound odd, but it’s super tasty).
Day 9 & 10: Spend 2 days experiencing some of the best things to do in Hoi An by bicycle. Lock the bikes up and walk through the ancient town, and purchase a sightseeing ticket to enjoy admission to temples, heritage buildings, and theatrical performances. Eat Banh Mi at Phi Banh Mi for lunch and enjoy some refreshing iced coconut coffee at a nearby boutique cafe. In the evening, head to one of the bars in the ancient town along the side of the Thu Bon River. Enjoy happy hour drinking Larue and watching as day turns to dusk and the lanterns light up the town and river.
Tip: Book a hotel that offers free use of bicycles, because this is the best way to get around Hoi An and outlying areas, such as the rice paddies and to the beach. Just be careful when cycling on the road, because the traffic can be a little unpredictable!
Day 11: Take a half day trip to the UNESCO World Heritage Site of My Son via bus and return into Hoi An by boat. Go in the morning before the heat soars and take insect repellent because it’s located in jungle-ous terrain. Marvel at the remainder of the complex surrounded by the lush green forest, mountains and streams, and contemplate the devastation the war caused to this spiritual centre. Take a moment to rest and recuperate after the tour. In the evening, wander the night market in the ancient town (yes, there are whole cooked frogs hanging from these stalls, and yes, it is a good idea to buy a conical hat).
Tip: From Hoi An, you can do many day trips. These can usually be arranged through your hotel or a local tour provider for very reasonable rates, such as to the Golden Bridge in Ba Na Hills, Hai Van Pass, or the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Hue or My Son.
Day 12: Grab a bicycle from your hotel and spend some time cycling across the paths that span the rice paddies, eventually ending up at An Bang Beach. Park your bike for the day and enjoy some downtime on the sand. Look out for the basket boats and enjoy the waves beneath the warm southeast Asian sun.
Tip: A lot of the restaurants and bars have sunbeds on An Bang Beach which they will allow you to use in exchange for buying a (reasonably priced) drink!
Ho Chi Minh City: Day 13-15
I arrived in to Ho Chi Minh City by flying from Da Nang (the closest airport to Hoi An), and then took a private transfer from Ho Chi Minh City Airport to my hotel. You might think that the amount of mopeds in Hanoi was impressive, but the density of them in Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon) will blow your mind. Here, the roads are filled with a relentless tsunami of mopeds, and you need to watch out for the rogue ones which stray onto the footpaths too. Ho Chi Minh City is chaotic and humid, but the most wonderful place to experience!
Day 13 & 14: On the morning of day 13, transfer from Hoi An to Da Nang Airport and fly to Ho Chi Minh City – use a private transfer to get to your hotel. Spend day 13 and 14 of your 2 weeks in Vietnam itinerary experiencing some of the best things to do in Ho Chi Minh City, such as the War Remnants Museum and Saigon Notre Dame Cathedral. Head to Ben Thanh Market for a spot of retail therapy and walk down to the backpackers Bui Vien Street.
Day 15: Take a day trip to the unmissable tunnels of Cu Chi to learn about the vast area this network of underground tunnels covers. Go into the underground tunnels, and follow their narrow routes for a taste of what life was once like here (note: you get out at an emergency exit if you need and this experience is probably not one for the claustrophobic). In the afternoon, why not relax by the pool before dinner?
Tip: Rooftop pools in Ho Chi Minh City are an amazing place to unwind and are a great viewpoint from which you can watch and hear the chaos of the city below, so definitely book a hotel with one of these.
Return home: Day 16
Day 16: Allow at least 1 full day to be lost for international travel from Southeast Asia if you are travelling from outside the region.
Tip: If you need an itinerary which incorporates your international travel into the 14 days exactly, then shave a day off of your time in Hoi An and Ho Chi Minh City. I like to have plenty of time in each destination to allow me to slow down.
2 weeks in Vietnam itinerary summary
It would be impossible to see everything in Vietnam in just 2 weeks. Despite being long and thin, it is a deceptively enormous country with great diversity. This 2 weeks in Vietnam itinerary merely encompasses some of the best places to visit in Vietnam and is easily achievable if, like me, you have limited time off work. You could cut some of the days off in Hoi An, and spend some time elsewhere in the country, such as the Mekong Delta. But I think it is important to slow down and not spread yourself too thinly, because otherwise you risk forfeiting actually being able to enjoy your experience. And there’s always next time, right?
How much does 2 weeks in Vietnam cost per person?
Economy return flights from London Heathrow to Ho Chi Minh City = £364.00pp
Regional flights (x3)
Hold luggage included in prices
Ho Chi Minh City to Hanoi = £69.50pp
Hanoi to Da Nang = £51.80pp
Da Nang to Ho Chi Minh City = £61.50pp
Return private transfer from Hanoi Airport to/from Hanoi city centre = £19.82pp*
Return shared transfer from Hanoi to Halong Bay for cruise = £18.27pp
Return private transfer from Da Nang Airport to/from Hoi An = £22.18pp*
Return private transfer from Ho Chi Minh City Airport to/from Ho Chi Minh City centre = £24.85pp*
All hotels, no hostels
3 nights in Hanoi including breakfast = £44.00pp*
Halong Bay full board 3 day/2 night cruise = £175.00pp*
1 night in Hanoi following cruise = £7.00pp*
5 nights in Hoi An including breakfast, pool and free use of bicycles = £42.00pp*
3 nights in Ho Chi Minh City including breakfast and rooftop pool = £60.00pp*
Total = £959.92pp
for 2 weeks travelling around Vietnam!
*The cost for anything marked with an asterisk is per person (pp) based on 2 people sharing.
Note: Price excludes the costs for travel insurance, spending money (tours, food, occasional taxis, drinks etc.), costs to travel to/from UK airport for international flights, and visas (if required). I don’t book accommodation based on star rating, and book purely based on reviews, location and value for money. All accommodation is private hotel rooms (I’m not a hostel type of girl, I like my privacy and home comforts) or apartments, and all flights are economy. Prices for certain things may have changed since the time I took this trip, so please only use this as a guide to help you set your own savings target.
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