Thirty days in Vietnam: the ultimate itinerary
Delicious cuisine, hectic traffic, gigantic caves and sandy beaches.
Vietnam is a varied country and that’s what I loved about it – in thirty days you can experience different landscapes, communities and even climates.
With plenty of expat-owned hotels, tour companies and restaurants, many visitors find themselves lingering here far longer than they ever imagined. Follow our thirty-day itinerary ideas, and you might find out why...
Hanoi (Day 1 - 3)
The bustling capital has a charming Old Quarter, elegant tree-lined streets and the beautifully still Hoan Kiem Lake. It's my favourite city in Vietnam, perfect for sampling street food and sitting on a small stool drinking bia hơi!
Bai Tu Long Bay (Day 4 - 6)
The looming limestone karsts and eery green waters simply have to be seen. Shun popular Halong Bay for quieter Bai Tu Long or Lan Ha Bay.
Phong Nha Ke-Bang National Park (day 7 - 9)
Slightly off the beaten track, Phong Nha became my favourite place in Vietnam. We took the sleeper train to Dong Hoi from Hanoi, and so Day 5 was spent primarily travelling from Bai Tu Long Bay back to Hanoi for our onward trip. The people are warm and welcoming, there's heaps of activities (it's home to one of the world's largest caves), and there's a restaurant called The Pub with Cold Beer. What's not to like?
Huế (Day 10 - 12)
We were unfortunate with the weather in Huế, but that didn't stop us from exploring its sprawling ancient Citadel and tombs of the emperors that once rules this imperial capital. Take a trip down the Perfume River and eat in some of its best restaurants - we had some of our best meals in Huế.
Hội An (Day 13 - 16)
It's easy to while away the days in Hội An. Its picturesque streets, excellent eateries and numerous attractions make it an atmospheric, if busy, place to settle for a couple of nights. If you only have two weeks, it's a beautiful place to finish your holiday.
Dalat (day 17 - 19)
This town, nestled in the Central Highlands, is a glorious place to cool down and escape the country's busy cities. The home of the Easy Rider tour and unassuming colonial architecture, it's the perfect introduction to Vietnam's lush countryside.
Mekong delta: Vinh Long & Can Tho (Day 20 - 23)
Sample fresh produce from Can Tho's floating markets, cycle along the river bank, and return to your homestay in Vinh Long or Ben Tre for a fish feast in the evening. Many people opt for a day tour from Ho Chi Minh City, but I strongly urge you to stay spend a couple of days here to get a glimpse of day-to-day life on the Mekong Delta.
Phu Quoc Island (Day 24 - 27)
Unwind on one of Phu Quoc's many beaches, rent a motorcycle or row your kayak to a nearby island for a snorkel. It's your
Ho Chi Minh City (Day 28 - 30)
No visit to HCMC is complete without visiting the War Remnants Museum, a brutal but brilliant place to gain an understanding of the country's plight during the Vietnam War. Wander along Dong Khoi Street, indulge at its Instagram-worthy cafes and take a day trip to the Cu Chi tunnel network.
Where else should you consider?
There were plenty of places I had to slash from my itinerary to squash my sightseeing into thirty days. If you're looking for more inspiration, here's where I was also considering...
Mountain towns: Sapa & Bac Ha
These towns north of Hanoi are known for their spectacular landscapes, lively markets, ethnic minority tribes and guided treks. It was between Bac Ha and Phong Nha for me, and I went with Phong Nha in the end.
Beaches: Nha Trang & Mui Ne
Nha Trang is one of Vietnam's top beach destinations, boasting plenty of watersports and long stretches of golden sand. It also contains numerous Champa sights. Mui Ne, once a small fishing village, is now the home of kitesurfing and is made up of a small stretch of low-rise, mid-range resorts.
National Parks: Ba Be & Cat Tien
Ba Be means Three Bays, and the park is made up of three connected lakes. Dense forests, hidden waterfalls and prolific bird life can be found here. Cat Tien is a popular place to spot wild gibbons in its tropical rainforest, and it offers excellent mountain biking.
Limestone Karsts: Ninh Binh & Cat Ba Island
Known as 'Halong bay on land', the geological beauty to the west of Ninh Binh town attracts plenty of attention. For those who want to spend more time beside the ocean, head to Cat Ba when you can rock climb and kayak among the karsts.