Welcome to our Ten Day North to South Vietnam Itinerary! When we spent six weeks travelling around Southeast Asia, we took about two weeks beforehand to complete a detailed itinerary. However, we understand that not everyone has the time, or patience, to spend a solid fortnight working out a good Vietnam travel route.
So, we’ve done you a solid (or so we like to think) by sharing our exact itinerary, including tried-and-tested accommodation and activities right here! This is our actual north to south ten-day Vietnam itinerary, but it would also totally work if you wanted to travel the opposite way (travelling from Ho Chi Minh City to Hanoi) instead.
Vietnam quickly earned a place in both our hearts, even though we had very little idea about what to expect before we arrived in Hanoi. Thankfully, getting from Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh City is easy and cheap to do. We’d love to help you guys make the most from your 10 days in Vietnam, so read on for the best Vietnam itinerary you could hope to find!
Given the opportunity, we’d really like to return to Vietnam and take in some of the sights we weren’t able to see on this trip. However, this Vietnam itinerary takes in some pretty major key spots to allow you to get a good feel for the country. We like to see it as a good way to get the taste for it, before going back again!
Don’t forget to pin this now so you can find it again later!
Ten Day North to South Vietnam Itinerary
Days 1 and 2: Hanoi
How to get to Hanoi
The main airport serving the capital city of Hanoi is Noi Bai International Airport. There are three further airports, but most travellers will enter into Hanoi and Vietnam through Noi Bai.
There are buses that take you from the airport to the city centre, but we opted to book a private airport transfer through Booking.com. This cost us about £14 for the 45-minute trip. Obviously a bus would have been far cheaper, but as we were on a tight schedule and travelling with large backpacks, we preferred to be able to just dump our stuff in a car and be on our way.
Vietnamese traffic can be awful, so be prepared to sit in tailbacks. Rush hour can result in completely stagnant traffic, so be sure you give yourself enough time to get from A to B whilst in Hanoi.
What to do in Hanoi
People watch at The Note Coffee Cafe
After seeing this place many times on Instagram, we had agreed that it would be nice to visit during our time in Hanoi. We ended up finding it completely by accident, but it is pretty easy to spot! If you head for the Temple of the Jade Mountain, you’ll soon see it and it’s colourful facade from the edge of Hoan Kiem Lake.
We visited on a Sunday, so weren’t sure if we’d be lucky enough to find a seat. However, we ended up having a whole room to ourselves for a little bit. The coffee was good and pretty cheap, and the views out across the bustling Dong Kinh Nghia Thuc Square gave us plenty to watch and admire.
However, the main attraction of the cafe is hinted at in the name! For years, people from all over the world have been writing sticky notes and leaving them behind for others to read. Every single space is covered, and we were hard-pressed to find some empty spots to leave our own notes on.
Wander across Long Bien Bridge
Long Bien Bridge connects two districts of Hanoi. Stretching a huge 2.4km in length, it is of historical and architectural interest to many visitors to Hanoi. It is a pedestrian, train, and scooter bridge, with a bigger more modern bridge for cars located a short distance away.
Initially drawn by the cool train-track shots we’d seen online, and reassured by the sporadic nature of the trains travelling across the bridge, we set out to take a photo in the middle of the bridge. However, a guard at the train station stopped us from entering, and wouldn’t even let us take a photo on the platform without a ticket. Train tickets are pretty cheap, so if you’re more determined than we were you could easily just get a ticket and be done with it. We wouldn’t recommend disobeying the guard and hopping onto the tracks though.
However, we elected to wander across part of the bridge on the pedestrian path instead. It was chaotic, loud, and humid, but also a pretty cool way to fully immerse ourselves in the city vibes.
Explore the bustling Hoan Kiem Lake
Located next to The Note Coffee Cafe, Hoan Kiem Lake is a beautiful freshwater lake in the middle of the city.
You can walk across the vibrant red bridge to reach the Temple of the Jade Mountain, or just walk its perimeter to see Turtle Tower, one of the more famous sites to photograph in the area. There are loads of cafes, bars, and restaurants around the lake, and it’s a good place to spend a lazy morning.
If you’re looking for crowd-free photos though, you are best off going very early in the morning. We arrived at about 10 am and it was thronging with people. There was some sort of fun run going on, but even so, it’s in a very popular area so fills up quickly.
Grab an authentic Bia Hoi
This was one of our favourite things we did during our ten days in Vietnam. Bia Hoi is the name for the local beer, which is served up in glasses at the side of the road.
Oh, and did we mention that it costs 20p?
Look for small gatherings of Vietnamese men sitting on tiny plastic stools, or bright signs saying ‘BIA HOI’. You literally sit down and a server will rush a glass over to you. If you want more, do as the locals do and just wave at them. You never wait long for service, but don’t expect the next best craft beer to be served to you. It tastes fine but looks very watery. And don’t pay too much attention to their hygiene practices either – washing the glasses was a very quick ‘dip and leave to dry’ job.
Take in the sights at Train Street
Over the years, Train Street has become more closed off to tourists due to a number of incidents of stupidity. It goes without saying but if there is a train coming, don’t stand on the tracks. There are railings and guards stopping you from entering, but we did see one guard in particular turning a complete blind eye and letting tourists wander a little way up the tracks for a photo.
We were lucky enough to stumble upon one of the few cafes you can sit in still at the side of the tracks. Cafe A99 serves cheap beer and other drinks and has a handy train timetable on the menu so you know when the next train is due.
Why not book a half-day street food tour, to really get to grips with the city sights and smells? Book through GetYourGuide here.
Find Cafe A99 here:
Where to stay in Hanoi
We stayed here on our own 10 day trip to Vietnam and really loved it. Located right in the thick of things, it was easy to walk to attractions like Train Street, Hoan Kiem Lake, and Long Bien Bridge. A delicious buffet breakfast was included, and we were even fortunate enough to receive an upgrade to a suite!
A popular option on Booking.com, this gives travellers a more traditional hostel set up rather than a hotel.
You won’t be hard-pressed to find great budget accommodation options in Vietnam, and this is one of them. With breakfast included, and set down a quiet side road, this guest house would suit travellers of all types.
To search for more accommodation in Hanoi, click here.
Days 3 and 4: Ha Long Bay
How to get to Ha Long Bay from Hanoi
If you’re booking a cruise around Ha Long Bay, many offer a minibus transfer to and from Hanoi. Many will only pick up from the Old Quarter though, so bear this in mind when booking your accommodation in Hanoi. All of the hotels we included above are located within this area though!
If you aren’t taking a cruise, there is a public bus. This takes three hours. A taxi takes about two to two and a half hours.
What to do in Ha Long Bay
Kayak around the limestone karsts
We did a 2 day 1 night cruise during our time in Ha Long Bay, which included all of our activities. We aren’t really cruise people, which is why we chose the shorter duration. You could do 2 or even 3 nights on our boat, and others go for longer.
Once we had boarded the ship and eaten lunch, we moored up in a beautiful bay to go kayaking. We’d never tried kayaking before, and weren’t sure how well we’d do. Thankfully, it was pretty easy to get the hang of, and neither of us went overboard!
The whole place was so quiet, even though we weren’t the only boat around. We spent about 45 minutes paddling through limestone arches and exploring tiny empty beaches. We loved it.
In the evening, there was a welcome party for all the guests. We spent some time getting to know some of the other people on board and then tried our hands at squid fishing.
Using a really basic bamboo stick, some string, and a lure, we hopefully bobbed our lines around in the water beneath a really bright spotlight. We tried for about 15 minutes before getting bored and wandering back towards the bar. I don’t think anyone successfully caught a squid that night!
Bamboo Boat around Cat Ba National Park
The next morning, we hopped into traditional bamboo rowboats to explore Cat Ba National Park.
The National Park is famous for being used for the setting of Skull Island in one of the King Kong films. It was utterly breathtaking and completely silent. Somehow, it felt like all the noise had just been sucked out of the bay.
We were lucky enough to spot some monkeys high up on one of the cliff faces, before we headed back to the cruise to pack up and head back to shore.
Book a day cruise around Ha Long Bay
If you’d rather keep your feet on dry ground overnight, this day cruise is one of the most popular options. You get to see the bay in all its splendour, without forking out for an overnight cruise.
Where to stay in Ha Long Bay
We pushed the boat out (pardon the pun) for the Ha Long Bay leg of our Vietnam trip. Doris Cruise really lived up to our 5* expectations, from the service to the decor and food. It was a total highlight of our trip, and one we’d thoroughly recommend to everyone.
If a cruise isn’t your thing, but you still want those home comforts, why not try Diamond Luxury Hotel? The front seaview rooms offer dreamy views out towards Ha Long Bay, giving you a prime spot to watch the sunset.
Because we love ourselves a good budget option, take a look at this one. Set on the beachfront, with a restaurant and airport shuttle, it’s a great choice if you’re penny pinching.
To take a look at more accommodation in and around Ha Long Bay, click here.
Days 5 and 6: Da Nang
How to get to Da Nang from Ha Long Bay
From the cruise, we could have taken the minibus shuttle back to Hanoi with the others. However, we were flying down to Da Nang from Cat Bi Airport, which is the closest airport to Ha Long Bay. Cat Bi Airport is also confusingly sometimes called Haiphong airport, so bear this in mind to avoid having a last minute panic like we did.
Our cruise sorted a taxi out for us, and we were picked up and dropped off in about half an hour. The airport itself, although an international one, is very small. Don’t rush through security, as delays are common and there isn’t much to do once you are through and into the gates.
There is an overnight sleeper train that runs from Hanoi to Da Nang, but as our schedule was tight we opted to take a short internal flight instead. It cost very little (about £25 each). We hopped in a taxi when we landed and were at our accommodation in about 15 minutes.
What to do in Da Nang
Hire a scooter and drive up the peninsula
Scooters are by far the most efficient way to get yourself around in Vietnam, and they are so cheap to hire. We’d recommend getting accustomed to them in quieter places first though, as Da Nang has some crazy roundabouts!
On a good day, one of the best ways to spend the day is to take a scooter up to the peninsula to explore the coast and Son Tra Mountain. We have friends who live in Da Nang, and they were gutted that we chose to visit in the rainy season. It made scooter travel less fun, and meant that they couldn’t take us up there.
Visit the Insta-famous Golden Bridge in Ba Na Hills
Located just outside of Da Nang, this bridge has gained huge amounts of fame through visitors posting their snaps on social media.
The bridge, sometimes called the Golden Hands Bridge, depicts two huge hands rising out of the hillside and supporting the pedestrian walkway that spans them. It was built to connect the cable car station with the surrounding gardens, and offers an amazing lookout over the area on a clear day.
Our best advice to visit would be to go as early as you possibly can. We didn’t visit as we were busy catching up with our friends, but accounts from other friends who have visited all mention how crowded it gets.
Book a fantastic GetYourGuide tour here to make sure you find all the best spots first!
Da Nang has some great beaches nearby, which is partly why it is becoming such a popular place to visit in Vietnam.
The beach that was closest to where we were staying is My Khe Beach, which is super long and sandy. It’s also good for surfing, but it was bloody cold when we were there and there was no chance we were going anywhere near the sea!
Just south of Da Nang city are the Marble Mountains. These five limestone and marble hills are actually a pilgrimage site, with peaks, caves, tunnels and temples.
It’s a good place to spend a few hours, exploring the viewpoints and temples, as well as learning about some wartime history of the area.
Where to stay in Da Nang
This is where we stayed, as it was close to where our friends live. It’s set outside of the city but is pretty much beachfront, and the area had some great bars to explore. It was a basic hotel but the staff were nice and the included breakfast was really good.
This resort looks like something out of Beauty and the Beast. It honestly is one of the most fairytale-esque ‘hotels’ we have ever seen, and it even has its own cable car to help guests get up the mountainside to the top, where the resort is perched.
A great little hostel to base yourself out of if you’re a true budget traveller. It’s not far from the beach, and has a strong selection of bars and restaurants within walking distance nearby.
For more accommodation in Da Nang, click here.
Days 7 and 8: Hoi An
How to get to Hoi An from Da Nang
It is really quick and easy to travel to Hoi An from Da Nang. We ordered a Grab car with our friends, and it took about 20 minutes to drive to our hotel. Definitely make sure you download the Grab app if you’re going to be travelling in Southeast Asia – you can use it to call a taxi and order takeaways!
What to do in Hoi An
Explore the Ancient Town
Ahh Hoi An… where do we begin? This place is just insanely pretty. All the walls in the ancient town are washed in yellow paint, and the river running through it comes alive with colours and lanterns at night.
Why not have a go at making your own traditional Vietnamese lanterns? This class, booked through Viator, a TripAdvisor company, is a great way to spend the morning in Hoi An! Plus, the lanterns are collapsible, so you can easily bring them home in your luggage.
The streets are small and narrow, but when we went (December) we were still able to have a lot of them to ourselves come the evening. Spend time wandering around the market stalls, and if you are there for a few days, get a dress or a suit tailored for you!
Hire bikes and explore the area around Hoi An
Bikes are the best way to get around Hoi An, as a lot of the town itself is pedestrianised. If you cycle for a few minutes out of town, you reach the rice paddies. There are so many paths across the fields, all leading to different little rural towns and villages.
We spent the morning exploring these settlements and the countryside around Hoi An, before heading out towards the beach. There are loads of little beach bars, but the sea was looking a bit wild when we were there! There is an easy cycle path along the side of the main road back into Hoi An itself, so it’s an easy ride if you don’t fancy taking the scenic route like we did.
Book yourself onto a cycle tour here – we were lucky to have friends who knew their way around but if we had been alone we would definitely have got lost!
Where to stay in Hoi An
This hotel was such a good find, and totally exceeded our expectations. The rooms were a good size for 2 adults, and one of them had a balcony overlooking the street and river. Breakfast was included, and we hired bikes from them the whole time we were there. Centrally located but still quiet, we’d definitely stay here again.
Hoi An has some decent luxury accommodation options, being such a popular tourist destination. Complete with a pool and located very centrally, this hotel is the perfect place to relax after a day exploring the old streets of the town.
This basic, but well-reviewed, hostel offers free parking, a pool, and a bar. It’s close to a lot of attractions in Hoi An, and great for budget travellers.
To search for more accommodation in Hoi An, click here.
Days 9 and 10: Ho Chi Minh City
How to get to Ho Chi Minh City from Hoi An
From Hoi An, we caught a Grab back to Da Nang airport. We then flew on another cheap internal flight (£30 each) to our final stop on our 10 day Vietnam itinerary – Ho Chi Minh City.
What to do in Ho Chi Minh City
Go sightseeing around the French Colonial buildings
Ho Chi Minh is an interesting place. From starting in the north, and ending in the south, we moved from the higgledy-piggledy streets of Hanoi and Hoi An to the sprawling metropolitan city of Ho Chi Minh. If we’re being completely honest, we didn’t enjoy HCMC as much as we did the other places on our travels backpacking from Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh City.
That said, HCMC has some amazing French Colonial buildings to enjoy. We spent the morning wandering around the streets near our hotel, but it soon got too hot to keep going. The south of Vietnam is warmer than the north, so we’d been getting warmer the further along our trip we went.
Some buildings to take a look at including the ‘pink church’, or Tan Dinh Church as it is actually called, the Notre Dame Cathedral of Saigon, Ho Chi Minh City Opera House, and Saigon Central Post Office.
The best way to see everything would be to take a small-group walking tour. We didn’t do this, but kinda wish we had, as we had no idea about a lot of the buildings we were passing by.
Ben Thanh Market
This huge, undercover marketplace in the centre of the city can be intimidating. We wandered in, walked down a few of the stall rows, and quickly exited – it was just a bit much for us!
If you’re more of a market-person than we are though, make sure to check out the textiles and crafts, as well as the food stalls. And keep your wits about you, as with any market it’s a hotspot for pickpocketing.
There are a LOT of museums in HCMC. Not being big museum people ourselves, we skipped these all, but if you love nothing more than a good museum stroll, head to the Ho Chi Minh City Museum, and the War Remnants Museum.
Cu Chi Tunnels
These iconic tunnels are just outside of the city, and unfortunately, we didn’t have enough time to get out to see them.
The tunnels were used extensively during the Vietnam War as hiding spots during battle for the Viet Cong soldiers, as well as serving as communication and supply routes, hospitals, food and weapon stores and living quarters for numerous North Vietnamese fighters.
To book your own tour on Viator, click here.
Head to Backpacker Street for some nightlife
We were staying just on the other side of Backpacker Street, which is essentially a long road filled with neon lights and bars offering cheap drinks. Drinks in Vietnam are pretty cheap anyway, so we explored here for a bit before heading to a cool Vietnamese restaurant for some cheap eats.
Where to stay in Ho Chi Minh City
Located in District 1, just around the corner from Backpacker Street, Saigon Cozy Hotel is where we based ourselves during our stay in Ho Chi Minh City. It is a bit tricky to find, tucked away down a very narrow alleyway that we were convinced was going to lead us to our doom when trying to find the hotel at 11pm, but it was such a great hotel. Incredibly cheap, with a great a la carte breakfast included, the owner was so accommodating and friendly.
Oh my goodness, this hotel! We came here one evening to have posh cocktails in the rooftop bar, Saigon Saigon, and we fell in love. It’s super swanky, with very attentive staff members and beautiful decor. PLUS, they do a great happy hour. We had cocktails for about £6 each watching the sun sink below the city skyline.
This cute boutique hotel offers beautifully decorated rooms as well as a restaurant, bar, a shared lounge and garden. It gets good reviews, and offers cheap airport shuttle service.
To find other places to stay in Ho Chi Minh City, take a look at Booking.com here.
10 days in Vietnam
Phew! What a long blog post that one turned out to be! It’s no surprise, as we crammed A LOT into our Vietnam travel itinerary.
There is a lot to see in Vietnam in 10 days, and we would love to go back one day to see more and spend longer there. It has fast become one of our favourite places to travel, and we’re glad we created such a full itinerary to allow us to see and do as much as possible in the time that we had there.
We really hope this blog post helped you to plan your trip to Vietnam, and we’d love to hear how it went!
Why not check out some of our other blog posts about our six-week whistlestop tour of Southeast Asia?
For Bali, click here.
Click here for Nusa Lembongan.
Click here for Siem Reap.