Vietnam is bursting at the seams with mouth-watering food, marvellous scenery, hospitable locals and a rich yet, troublesome history.
There is so much to see and do in this diverse country and it is so hard to squeeze it all into a one month visa. Therefore, I have written up my 4 week itinerary to help you with your planning.
You’re most welcome…
The Mekong Delta: Vinh Long – 2 nights
Lizzie and I began our adventure in Vietnam by travelling via bus from Kep in the South of Cambodia to Vinh Long in the Mekong Delta region of Southern Vietnam.
Whilst reading up on Vietnam, we’d seen that many backpackers choose to do a trip from Hanoi to The Mekong Delta via a tour. However, being the anti-tour gal I am and, having read some terrible reviews from people who had been on these excursions, we opted to get dropped off in Vinh Long on our way up – we were passing by after all.
The Mekong Delta aka ‘the rice bowl of Vietnam’ is a rich, luscious and fertile region brimming with colourful orchards, unique floating fisheries and fruit-laden boats chugging along the Mekong’s mud-brown waterways.
Out of all of the areas in the Mekong Delta, we chose to base ourselves in Vinh Long as we’d read that it wasn’t as geared up for tourists as other places such as, My Tho and Can Tho and was well-known for its homestays on An Binh island (a 5 minute ferry ride from Vinh Long). We spent two days on the island cycling around the dizzying, narrow walkways and exploring life for the Vietnamese on the water.
Bus/mini bus to Ho Chi Minh – approx. 2/3 hours
Ho Chi Minh/Saigon – 3 nights
The bustling city of Ho Chi Minh (formerly known as Saigon) is an overwhelming attack on the senses, but an attack I would happily experience over and over again.
Swarming with hoards of traffic, kaleidoscopic lights and buzzing street stalls, wandering around Ho Chi Minh is an excellent introduction to contemporary Vietnam.
It’s a contrast of old and new. Whilst locals and tourists mingle together on squat stools drinking sharp Vietnamese coffee and wolfing down a $1 bowl of Pho, on the outskirts of the city, the War Remnants Museum and Chu Chi Tunnels whisper of tough years gone by.
Be sure to put aside at least half a day for each of these unmissable sights.
Bus to Dalat – approx. 4/5 hours
Dalat – 2 nights
Dalat is a cool hill station 4 hours North of Ho Chi Minh. Once frequented by the French when they were desperate to escape the tropical heat of Saigon, Dalat now boasts an abundance of rustic French colonial villas, scenic fields sprouting with colourful crops and flowers and a bizarre crazy house.
Spend your first day renting a moped or going on an Easy Rider tour to explore the striking scenery on the outskirts of town before getting yourself a little lost/drunk in The Maze Bar at night.
You don’t need a huge amount of time in Dalat but enough to soak up the cool air and the fact that you’re still in Vietnam.
Overnight bus from Dalat to Hoi An – approx. 12/14 hours
Hoi An – 3 nights
For a lot of backpackers, the UNESCO protected city of Hoi An is the crème de la crème of Vietnam.
Flaunting rustic colourful buildings draped in shimmering lanterns, a ridiculous number of tailor shops sewing shite shirts made out of funky fabric at a reasonable price and vibrant rice paddy fields for as far as the eye can see, it’s no surprise that this riverside city is such a popular spot with travellers.
Rent a bicycle and cycle your way around the nooks and crannies of the city, learn how to make Vietnamese lanterns at a lantern workshop, book onto a cooking class to craft your own summer rolls and relax in the sunshine on Cua Dai beach 4 km Northeast of Hoi An.
Bus/train from Hoi An to Hue – approx. 2/3 hours
Hue – 2 nights
Located on the romantic Perfume River, Hue was once upon a time the capital of the Nguyen emperors.
With a magnificent imperial citadel oozing with regal charm at its core and an eerie abandoned water park with a graffiti-covered dragon on its outskirts, Hue is a unique contrast of ancient history and contemporary architecture.
If you’re rushed for time, you could easily cover the main sights of Hue in one full day.
Bus from Hue to Phong Nha – approx. 5 hours
Phong Nha – 2 nights
Phong Nha was Lizzie and I’s favourite spot in Vietnam and one, which is still yet to be swamped with tourists.
The countryside on the outskirts of the small town is pocketed with impressive caves, picturesque rice paddy fields and limestone karsts sprouting out of every horizon and the town itself is a small, laid-back haven.
Rent a moped and explore the striking caves this area is so well-known for before uncovering hidden waterfalls in the Botanic Gardens.
Overnight bus from Phong Nha to Ninh Binh – approx. 10/11 hours
Ninh Binh – 2 nights
Beside its cute name, I wasn’t a huggeee fan of Ninh Binh. However, I think that was simply because it was a touristier version of Phong Nha and by this point I was very biased.
Home to Tam Coc, the surrounding area of Ninh Binh offers some stunning scenery best appreciated from a boat. Take to the water and watch as the women row the boats with their feet before hopping on a bus to Vietnam’s crazy capital, Hanoi.
Bus from Ninh Binh to Hanoi – approx. 2/3 hours
Hanoi – 3 nights
Hanoi is… mental.
Inundated with hoards of chaotic mopeds, bicycles and horns, Hanoi lives up to every stereotype of a capital city.
The vibrant Old Quarter is dense with bustling markets, aromatic street food stalls and street-side bars selling bia hoi – the locally brewed beer, which you can buy for as little as 7p a pint. Whilst the tranquil Hoan Kiem Lake and ancient pagodas and museums that are dotted throughout the city, are a mellow contrast and escape to the Old Quarter’s mania.
Wander through the city’s colonial streets before catching a bus up to Vietnam’s enchanting North.
Bus from Hanoi to Ha Giang – approx. 4/5 hours
Ha Giang – 3/4 nights
The peaceful province of Ha Giang is so far North it borders China and is still very much untouched by tourists.
Most backpackers who want to unveil Vietnam’s captivating North travel to the tourist hub of Sapa, which is a few hours West of Ha Giang. However, with the promise of treks boasting the same striking scenery as Sapa and not another tourist in sight, Lizzie and I bee-lined for the less discovered land of Ha Giang.
We trekked through 16km of flawless scenery witnessing hill tribes going about their day-to-day lives and spiky mountain ranges like no other.
Note: a lot of backpackers who do make it as far as Ha Giang do so to complete the extreme three-day Northern ‘loop’ on motorbike, which is said to be the last frontier for adventurous travel in Vietnam. It is hardcore and is not for the fainthearted but is supposedly extremely well rewarded with the best scenery in Vietnam!
Bus from Ha Giang to Hanoi – approx. 4/5 hours. 1 more night in Hanoi before booking onto a tour of Halong Bay.
Cat Ba Island – 2 nights
Halong Bay aka. The Bay of Descending Dragons is the most visited spot in Vietnam and it is no surprise why. Rocky karst formations covered in vibrant, lush vegetation rise out of the waters giving the bay a mystical, other-worldly feel and local fishermen still go about their traditional lives on floating villages.
Lizzie and I decided to book onto the 3 day/2 night Hideaway Tour of Cat Ba Island and had an incredible time uncovering the enchanting history of this area. For more info on this trip as well as Cat Ba Island itself, have a read of my review here.