Vietnam is a beautiful country with so much to offer. It's a great idea to plan a trip to see the various sights and experiences it has to offer. In terms of travelling from South to North, this is a common route for travellers to take as it allows them to see a range of different landscapes, cultures, and attractions.
Some of the highlights of this itinerary include visiting the bustling city of Ho Chi Minh, the beautiful and scenic town of Dalat, the historic and cultural city of Hoi An, the majestic Ninh Binh, and the stunning Ha Giang. Overall, this itinerary provides a well-rounded experience of Vietnam and allows you to see some of the country's most interesting sights and activities.
Overview of the trip
Before you start your trip:
First and foremost I highly recommend you travel through Vietnam from South to North, as the sights and experiences you will have will become more interesting and enjoyable each day. This itinerary is designed for a month-long trip, so if you have less time, you may want to only focus on the northern part of the country.
If you do decide to do your trip from the North then start with the end of this itinerary
Ho Chi Minh City
Ho Chi Minh City, also known as Saigon, is the largest city in Vietnam and was the capital of the Republic of Vietnam (South Vietnam) before the country was reunified in 1975. It is now the economic and cultural centre of modern Vietnam.
Spend the first two days of your trip there. You do not need more than two days in Ho Chi Minh tbh, the city is lovely but at the end of the day it's just a city and I bet you didn't travel to Vietnam just to be there!
The Like Hostel & Cafe
The old Compass Caffee
Little Hanoi Egg Coffee
Cuc Gach Quan: This charming restaurant serves traditional Vietnamese food in a beautifully restored French colonial-style house.
Hum Vegetarian: This is a vegan restaurant
L'usine: This stylish cafe and boutique is a great spot for coffee, pastries, sandwiches and salads
Things to do
On your first day visit the Reunification Palace, War Remnants Museum, the Notre Dame Cathedral as well as the Central Post Office. The Reunification Palace: This historic building was the former residence of the President of South Vietnam during the Vietnam War. It is now a museum that offers a glimpse into the country's recent past. The War Remnants Museum: This museum provides an in-depth look at the Vietnam War and its impact on the country and its people. It is a sobering and thought-provoking experience.
In the evening, go to a sky bar to enjoy the skyline of Ho Chi Minh.
On your second day, book a tour to visit the Cu Chi Tunnels for more insight into the Vietnam War. These tunnels were used by the Viet Cong during the Vietnam War and offer a fascinating glimpse into the guerrilla tactics used during the conflict.
After finishing from Ho Chi Minh make your way to Dalat.
Transport from Ho Chi Minh to Dalat
In the evening of your second night, take a sleeping night bus from Ho Chi Minh Dalat. The journey will take around 7 hours.
Da Lat, a city located in the Central Highlands of Vietnam, its located up in the mountains and has a cool climate, beautiful landscape, and unique culture.
Tigon Dalat Hostel (This is the cheapest hostel I have stayed at throughout South East Asia)
Things to do
By 8 am you will arrive in Dalat, Once you have checked in, you can rent a scooter directly from the hostel and visit the Clay town south of Dalat. On your way back, take a cable car ride up to Tuyen Lam Lake and enjoy the stunning views. Then, visit the Hang Nga Guesthouse, also known as the "Crazy House," and explore its unique and surreal architecture.
On your second day, sign up with the hostel to do the water canyoning activity. It will take most of the day, but it is a lot of fun.
On your third day, wake up early and visit the Datanla Waterfalls. Take a ride on the slide that takes you down the side of the waterfall. Afterwards, visit the coffee plantation.
You can take the cable car ride located at Langbiang Mountain.
Visit the Dalat Flower Gardens and explore the colourful gardens filled with a variety of flowers.
Visit the Domaine de Marie Church, a beautiful and historic church built in the early 20th century.
Visit the Truc Lam Zen Monastery, a peaceful and serene place to learn about Buddhism and meditation.
Visit the Valley of Love, a beautiful and romantic spot with stunning views of the surrounding area.
Take a trip to Lang Biang Mountain and enjoy the beautiful views from the peak.
Transport from Dalat to Hoi An
Take a sleeping night bus from Dalat to Hoi An. The journey will take around 11 hours and can be arranged with the place you are staying at. Either your transportation will include being dropped from Da Nang to Hoi An or you will have to take a taxi to Hoi An, if this is the case then share a taxi with other backpackers as most people leaving from Dalat are headed to Hoi An.
Hoi An is a charming town located in central Vietnam that is known for its stunning architecture and rich history.
Vietnam Backpackers hostel.
Morning Glory Restaurant, which serves traditional Vietnamese dishes in a beautiful setting
White Marble Restaurant.
Sound of Silence Coffee Shop
Things to do
Visit the Ancient Town: Hoi An's Ancient Town is a UNESCO World Heritage site and is full of beautiful architecture, colorful lanterns, and charming streets to explore. Be sure to visit some of the city's famous landmarks, such as the Japanese Covered Bridge, the Phuc Kien Assembly Hall, and the Quan Cong Temple.
Go at 6 pm to the old quarter to see the light show at the river
Take a boat trip on the Thu Bon River: The Thu Bon River is a beautiful place to relax and take in the natural beauty of the region. You can hire a boat to take you on a trip up the river, or you can rent a kayak and explore on your own.
Shop for souvenirs/suits: Hoi An is known for its tailor shops, where you can have custom clothing made for a fraction of the price you would pay at home. You can also find a variety of other souvenirs, such as ceramics, lanterns, and traditional handicrafts. If you want to get a tailored suit here (highly recommend) then get it from Blue Chic.
Relax on the beach: Hoi An has some beautiful beaches that are perfect for swimming, sunbathing, and water sports. Be sure to visit An Bang Beach or Cua Dai Beach for a day of relaxation.
Take a cooking class: Hoi An is known for its delicious food, and you can learn how to cook some of the local dishes by taking a cooking class. These classes are usually held in the morning, so you can spend the rest of the day exploring the city.
After this head to Hue but do this by doing the Hai Van Pass. The Vietnam backpackers can arrange it. This is a scooter ride from Hoi An to Hue along the coast and you must do it. It is famous for being featured on Top Gear.
Hai Van Pass (From Hoi An to Hue)
Transport from Dalat to Hue:
If you are staying at the Vietnam backpackers Hostel then you can pay them to deliver your bags to Hue and will provide you with a scooter. If you decide to skip the Hai Van Pass then take a bus from Hoi An to Hue.
The Hai Van
Pass is a beautiful mountain pass that is located in central Vietnam. It stretches for about 21 km (13 miles) and is part of the Hai Van Mountain Range, which runs along the coast of central Vietnam. The pass is located on National Highway 1A, which connects the cities of Hue and Da Nang, and it is known for its stunning views of the coastline and the surrounding mountains.
The Pass offers beautiful views of the coast and the surrounding landscape with its winding roads and beautiful scenery. At the top of the pass, there is a military checkpoint and a small souvenir shop, as well as a rest area where you can take a break and enjoy the views.
The Hai Van Pass has a rich history, as it has played a significant role in the development of Vietnam. In the past, the pass was an important trade route, and it was also a strategic military position. Today, the pass is a popular tourist destination and a beautiful place to visit.
Hue is a city in central Vietnam that was the capital of the Nguyen Dynasty from 1802 to 1945. The city is located in Thua Thien-Hue province and is known for its historic buildings and monuments, many of which are part of the Hue Citadel, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The citadel, which covers an area of around 500 hectares, was built in the early 19th century to serve as the palace of the Nguyen emperors. The city also features several Buddhist pagodas, including the famous Thien Mu Pagoda, as well as the Imperial City, which was the residence of the Nguyen emperors.
Hue Melody Hostel
Tinh Gia Vien
Dong Ba Market
Things to do
Explore the abandoned theme park. While technically not open to the public, there is no official entrance and you can access it by walking past the barrier. You will be stopped by a local asking for some money to go through. Initially, he will tell you that you are not allowed to go in but negotiate with him and he will let you through.
Visit the Hue Citadel: The Hue Citadel is a UNESCO World Heritage site and the former capital of Vietnam. It is surrounded by a moat and walls and contains a number of temples, palaces, and other historical buildings.
Explore the Thien Mu Pagoda: The Thien Mu Pagoda is a beautiful Buddhist temple located on the banks of the Perfume River. It is known for its seven-story octagonal tower, which offers stunning views of the surrounding area.
Visit the Imperial City: The Imperial City is a large complex of palaces, temples, and other buildings that were built during the Nguyen Dynasty. It is a great place to learn about the history and culture of Vietnam.
After this take a night bus to Phong Nha.
Transport from Hue to Phong Nha
Take a night bus from Hue to Phong Nha. The journey will take you around 5 hours.
Phong Nha National Park is that it is home to the largest cave in the world, Hang Sơn Đoòng. The cave was discovered in 1991, but it wasn't until 2009 that it was fully explored. The cave measures over 9 kilometres in length, and it is so large that it has its own climate and ecosystem. Inside the cave, scientists have discovered a number of previously unknown species of plants and animals, including a species of spider that is found nowhere else on Earth.
Green Riverside Cosy Home
Tropical Valley Homestay
Things to do
Visiting the Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park, which is home to the world's largest cave, Son Doong Cave, and exploring the beautiful Phong Nha Cave. The most two famous caves are dark and paradise cave.
You can also visit the local markets, take a boat tour of the surrounding rivers, or go rock climbing in the nearby mountains.
After this take a night bus and head to Ninh Binh.
Transport from Phong Nha to Ninh Binh
Take the night bus from Phong Nha, The ride takes about 8 hours and leaves at around 9 pm. You will be dropped at the city entrance, the Banana Tree Hostel is just a 5-minute walk away if you decide to stay there. It might be a good idea to book a room there for the night you leave since check-in is at 2 pm and you'll arrive at the hostel at 4 am.
Ninh Binh is a province located in northern Vietnam, known for its natural beauty and cultural heritage. The area is known for its limestone cliffs, rice paddies, and picturesque waterways, which have earned it the nickname "Ha Long Bay on land."
Ninh Binh is also home to a number of important historical and cultural sites. The province is the location of the ancient capital of Vietnam, Hoa Lu, which was the capital during the Dinh and Early Le dynasties in the 10th and 11th centuries.
Banana tree hostel
Minh Khoi Restaurant and Foods Banh Mi
An Tam Coc Restaurant & Coffee
Things to do
Visit the famous Tam Coc caves and take a boat ride along the river to see the stunning scenery. In the evening, visit the Bich Dong Pagoda, a beautiful and historic temple located on a hillside overlooking the river.
Visit the Hang Mua Viewpoint for a beautiful sunset view over the surrounding area
Visit the Trang An Scenic Landscape Complex, a UNESCO World Heritage Site known for its stunning natural beauty and impressive karst formations. Take a boat ride through the caves and visit the temples and pagodas located within the complex.
Visit the Bai Dinh Temple, a large and impressive temple complex with beautiful gardens and many ancient statues and artefacts.
Explore the Hoa Lu Ancient Capital, the site of Vietnam's first capital city. Visit the temples and tombs of the kings who ruled here in the 10th and 11th centuries
From Ninh Binh you will have multiple options for where to go next. Either Cat Ba/Ha Long, Hanoi, Ha Giang or Sapa. My recommendation is to leave Hanoi to last and head to Cat ba
Cat Ba & Ha long Bay
Transport from Ninh Binh to Cat ba/ Ha long Bay
You can either arrange transport from the place you are staying at or book it with one of the transport stores in the city. There are loads of them around.
Cat Ba Island is located in the Gulf of Tonkin in northern Vietnam and is part of the larger Cat Ba Archipelago. The island is known for its beautiful beaches, limestone cliffs, and lush forests, and if you are looking to escape the hustle and bustle of the city then this island is perfect for that.
Ha Long Bay is located in the Gulf of Tonkin and is a UNESCO World Heritage site and one of the most popular tourist destinations in Vietnam, known for its stunning seascape of limestone islands and islets. The bay is home to a diverse range of habitats, including tropical rainforests,
Catba Buffalo Hostel, this hostel is out of the city, however, the moped rental is the cheapest I have come across throughout my stay in Vietnam. If you can't drive a moped then my recommendation is to choose another hostel.
Luna's House Hostel
The Beach Bar & Grill
Quiri Cocktail & Restaurant
Quân Cát Bà
Good Morning Cat Ba
Cha Ca La Vong
The Island Ba
Sunset Bar & Grill
Things to do
You can book a bout tour trip to visit Ha Long Bay and Cat Ba Island
Explore Cat Ba National Park: The park is home to a diverse range of flora and fauna, including many species that are found nowhere else in the world. Visitors can hike through the park to see its beautiful landscapes and wildlife, or take a guided tour to learn more about the park's ecology and history.
Take a boat tour: Cat Ba Island is surrounded by stunning coastal scenery, and one of the best ways to see it is by boat. You will tour to explore the island's many limestone cliffs, caves, and small fishing villages and also do Kayaking and Canoeing. You will also be able to visit Ha Long Bay. This way you will be able to save significantly, compared to if you do a tour from Ha Long Bay itself.
If you decide to do a cruise trip in Ha Long Bay, then signup to do it with the Buffalo Hostel in Hanoi!!
After finishing from either Cat ba or Ha Long Bay, head to Sapa.
Transport from Cat ba/ Ha long Bay to Sapa
You can book a bus with the place you are staying at. The journey will take around 9-11 hours. I arrived at Sapa at around 3 am and thus have somewhere booked at Sapa beforehand so you can rest.
Sapa is a beautiful town located in the mountains of northern Vietnam. It's a popular destination for travellers, known for its stunning scenery and diverse culture.
The town is surrounded by towering peaks and terraced rice fields. You can take a trek through the hills to visit local hill tribe villages and learn about the traditional way of life.
Sapa is also home to several different ethnic minority groups, including the Hmong, Dao, and Tay people. This cultural diversity is reflected in the town's colourful markets and lively festivals, which are great opportunities to learn more about the local culture and customs.
My recommendation is to stay at a homestay rather than a hotel or a hostel, in order to have the best and authalic experience.
Mama Chi's homestay
Hill Station Sapa, This restaurant is located on a hilltop and offers panoramic views of the valley below.
The Terraced Field Restaurant:
La Maison de la Beauté
Sapa Coffee House
Black Hmong Coffee
Sapa O'Chau Café
Things to do
Contact Mama Chi beforehand on Whatsapp at 0084916542958. Do a 3-day, 2-night trek. During the trek, you will stay with Mama Chi in a local village on the outskirts of the city. This was one of my personal favourite experiences in Vietnam and I highly recommend it, especially if you go towards the end of August when the rice fields are in full bloom. Mama Chi will pick you up from Sapa and start your trek to her village. She will also arrange for your backpacks to be transported prior to starting your trek.
After finishing from Sapa, take a night bus to Ha Giang.
Transport from Cat ba/ Ha long Bay to Ha Giang
Take a bus from the main bus station to Ha Giang, you will be dropped off at the Hostel/Hotel you are planning on staying at. It will take around 5 hours to get there.
If you decide to do one thing whilst you are in Southeast Asia and more specifically Vietnam then it should be the Ha Giang Loop!!
The point here is not to see Ha Giang city itself but rather the surrounding areas.
The Ha Giang loop is a popular moped route that takes you through the breathtaking landscapes of the Ha Giang province in northern Vietnam. The loop is approximately 300 kilometres long and takes about 3-4 days to complete. It's a winding road that takes you through some of the most beautiful and remote parts of Vietnam. Along the way, you'll pass through lush forests, rolling hills, and terraced rice fields. You'll also have the opportunity to visit some of the region's most picturesque villages, where you can learn more about the local culture and meet the friendly and hospitable people who call these places home.
Things to do
Do this loop with Jasmine Hostel which is located in the city of Ha Giang. You don't need to book in advance with them as there is a tour going on every day. When you get there you will be presented with two choices, either a 3 or 4-day tour. You Must do 4 days, the 4th day was arguably the best when I did it, so doing 3 days means you will be missing out, however, if you are short of time then 3 would still suffice and you'll still be treated to breathtaking views of the surrounding mountains and valleys.
When you are back to Ha Giang city, make your way to the capital of Vietnam Hanoi
Transport from Ha Giang to Sapa
On the 4th day from the Loop when you are back to Ha Giang city, take a bus straight to Hanoi. Make sure to book the bus in advance as they fill up quickly and you might end up wasting a day.
Hanoi is the capital and second-largest city of Vietnam, and has a rich history dating back to the 11th century. It was the political and cultural center of Vietnam during the French colonial period, and it played a key role in the country's fight for independence. The city was heavily damaged during the Vietnam War, but much of its historic architecture has been restored and preserved.
Vietnam backpacker hostel
Nhan'd Kitchen Restaurant
Banh Mi Phuong
Ba Dam Vegetarian Restaurant
Good Morning Vietnam
Cafe Giang (This has the best egg coffee throughout Vietnam - Highly recommended)
Bun Cha Dac Kim
Cha Ca La Vong
Note coffee cafe
Things to do
Visit the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum. It's a large memorial that houses the embalmed body of Ho Chi Minh, the founder and first President of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam. The mausoleum was built in 1973, three years after his death, and is modelled after Lenin's Mausoleum in Moscow, Russia. The mausoleum is open to the public and you can see Ho Chi Minh's embalmed body lying in state, however, the opening hours are limited, and it is closed on Monday and Friday and only open for a few hours a day the rest of the week. You are also required to dress respectfully, and you can't take any pictures inside.
Visit the bustling Old Quarter and explore the narrow streets and local markets
Take a boat trip to the Hang Ba Giat area, where you can see the beautiful karst formations and lush forests along the river.
Visit the famous Train Street. The train comes by two to three times a day. located in the neighbourhood of Hanoi's Old Quarter. It is a narrow lane that runs parallel to a railway track, with houses and cafes built right up to the edge of the track.
Visit the Bai Dinh Temple, the largest temple complex in Vietnam
Visit the Hoa Lo Prison Museum, also known as the "Hanoi Hilton," to learn about the history of the Vietnam War.
Explore the Thang Long Imperial Citadel, a UNESCO World Heritage Site that was the political and cultural centre of Vietnam for many centuries.
Visit the Temple of Literature, a beautiful temple dedicated to Confucius and the study of literature and the arts.
Visit the Hoan Kiem Lake and the Ngoc Son Temple
If you are a coffee lover then this is a perfect place to buy coffee too. You will find a lot of stores in the old quarter.
You can also visit the Hanoi Opera House.
Visit the famous Water Puppet Show, a traditional performance art form unique to Vietnam. Do note that the show is in Vietnamese.
In conclusion, Vietnam is a country that offers a diverse range of experiences from stunning natural landscapes, to the traditional way of life in the countryside and the amazing coffee it has. This is why it's one of my favourite countries I have been to.