The ultimate 3 week Vietnam itinerary: A guide to exploring Vietnam from North to South

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Visiting Vietnam is like stepping into a tornado full of culture, colour, food, history and breathtaking sights. Motorbikes, tuk-tuks and people weave through the roads and what can only be described as organised chaos- but it works. It’s one of those places you’ll visit and look back at and think ‘wow, that was crazy’, but in a good way. Having the chance to spend 3 weeks in Vietnam was amazing and I can’t wait to go back one day.

Vietnam is famous for being a hot spot on the backpacker trail and once you get used to the whirlwind style that is Vietnam, you’ll see that there are tonnes of things to do and places to go. I travelled from the North to the South of Vietnam for 3 weeks before crossing over into Cambodia and stopped off at loads places along the way.

So here is my guide to spending 3 weeks in Vietnam, full of adventure and experience!

When is the best time to visit Vietnam?

Choosing the best time to visit Vietnam is tricky. Generally, Vietnam has a dry season and a monsoon season, but the timings vary depending on the area you are in (north, central or south) making it tricky. Although ‘monsoons’ make you think of constant rain, this isn’t usually the case in Vietnam. There is a lot of rain but much of it is at night with beautiful sunny skies in the day still. If you’re looking for warm weather with minimal rain then travelling between March-April or October-November are perfect.

Visa requirements

Always be sure to check the embassy website in relation to the visa requirements for your passport. As a UK citizen, I am currently able to enter Vietnam for 15 days without a visa but for longer visits, UK passport holders can apply for an eVisa online to gain access for 30 days. The 30 days visa limits you to using certain entrance and exit points. You can read more about these details on the UK Government website here.

Accommodation in Vietnam

Both hotels and hostels are very budget friendly Vietnam. Jess and I actually ended up spending the most time in hotels or in private rooms in hostels for only a little bit more than a dorm room, so unsurprisingly we went for the hotels. By a little bit more, I mean the room would probably come in at £4 a night each. When we did stay in dorm rooms it could be for as little as £2 a night! Don’t let the price put you off! Of course, you could easily go for luxury for a very reasonable price anywhere in Southeast Asia, and Vietnam is no exception.

If you are travelling on a budget and have the flexibility, don’t worry about having to book up accommodation for the whole of your trip too much. It’s nearly almost fine to get somewhere and find somewhere on arrival. However, I would recommend checking the local tourism sites in case there are any big events on as accommodation will probably be scarce.

Vietnamese food

Street food, street food, street food! All over Vietnam, you will find food stalls and carts with tables and chairs on the pavement. The food is nearly always amazing and so fresh – you will literally see it being cooked in front of you! There are also BBQ stalls with some kind of meat or sweet potatoes cooking. Not gonna lie, you probably won’t know what it is but it’s usually pretty tasty (including the chicken claw I had one time!). Eating the street food is very cheap at about £1 for a rice or noodle dish, so it’s an excellent way to keep the costs down. My advice is to head to wherever the locals are eating as that will be the best food!

Transportation in Vietnam

Whether you fly into Vietnam or enter via overland crossings, getting around Vietnam is simple and cheap. You can use a combination of bus, trains and even motorbike (which is the BEST way to travel) and very little pre-planning is needed. Generally, buses are cheaper than trains but obviously slower and personally, I found to be less comfortable. But in reality, buses are how I mostly travelled throughout the whole of Southeast Asia and I never had a bad experience. Read more about transportation in Southeast Asia in my post here.

Thinking of going to Vietnam? You're going to love it! This vibrant country is full of food, culture and stunning sights to experience. Here is my ultimate 3 week Vietnam itinerary to get you inspired.

Streets of Hanoi

3 weeks in Vietnam at a glance

Route: Hanoi and Ha Long Bay, Ninh Binh, Hue to Hoi An by motorbike (via Da Nang), Nha Trang, Da Lat and Ho Chi Minh

 

Hanoi (3 days) and Ha Long Bay (Day trip)

Getting there: Noi Bai is the international airport at Hanoi and is about 45km from the city. From here you can get to the city by taxi, the City Bus or public bus. If you take a taxi, make sure you agree on a price before you set off.

Hanoi is the capital of Vietnam and is teaming with life. You will have probably heard of New York being called the City that never sleeps but I think Hanoi would be a strong contender for that title. Hanoi translates to the ‘city in rivers’ due to the 9 likes that the city is nestled around. There’s an intriguing mix of European and Chinese influences and it’s just a great city to walk around and see what you stumble upon. Busy doesn’t quite cut it, but I love it here!

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Top things to do in Hanoi:

  • Take a walk or cycle around Hoan Kiem Lake and visit the Ngoc Son Temple
  • Explore the quirky narrow streets in the Old Quarter
  • Visit the striking Red Stacked Pagoda
  • Watch a traditional water puppet show at the Thanglong Theatre
  • Join in with a few (or lots) of beers at ‘Beer Corner” on Ta Hein Street
  • Learn about Hanoi at the Imperial Citadel of Thang Long
  • Visit the temple of Literature and maybe see some new Graduate Doctors celebrating
  • Try some delicious street food

Day trip to Ha Long Bay from Hanoi

The limestone islands towering out from the waters make up Ha Long Bay, and it truly is unmissable. As one of the natural wonders of the world, it’s one of the top things to do in Vietnam, and you won’t understand its magnificence until you do.

Ha Long Bay is about 3.5 hours from Hanoi and bus tours run there regularly. It’s a long day with an early start but the best way to get to see this sight when you’re short on time. If you do have the time, I would recommend taking one of the stunning overnight cruises around the islets to give you longer to soak in the atmosphere more.

 

Ninh Binh (2 days)

Getting there: A short bus or train ride. I took a train during the day which cost just 44,000VD.

Just over 2 hours from Hanoi, Ninh Binh is a pretty town to stop off at and break up the journey towards Hue. It has a very local feel to it and certainly feels a lot calmer than manic Hanoi. One night here give you the chance to explore the town and enjoy some delicious food before you jump on an overnight bus to Hue.

Top things to do in Ninh Binh:

  • Take a tour of the river to Tam Coc Caves. You will experience people rowing with their feet, tonnes of wildlife and a visit to the Bich Dong Pagoda. It’s such a unique trip and one of my favourites from my time backpacking.

Hue (2 days)

Getting there: Overnight bus

Hue was actually the capital of Vietnam between 1802 and 1945 when the country was ruled by Emperors. It’s distinctive Citadel wall and what lies inside makes it a unique city to visit and a great place to explore for a couple of days. It has a relaxed atmosphere and is considered to be one of the most picturesque cities in Vietnam.

SOMETHING ABOUT THE PERFUME RIVER HERE?

Top things to do in Hue:

  • If you’re feeling brave, rent a bicycle and cycle around Hue and the Citadel wall to get a great idea of the layout
  • Explore inside the Citadel walls
  • Travel by water to experience some of the 80km stretch of the Perfume River

Day trip from Hue to Hoi An via Danang (1 day)

Getting there: Take a motorbike tour!

This trip was honestly one of the highlights of my whole time travelling and I truly believe it’s something you have to do once while you’re in Vietnam. I would definitely recommend Le Family Riders – it’s a family run business and they are the friendliest people. You will get picked up early in the morning and prepare yourself for a full day of adventure. Find out more about what you can look forward to in my review here.

Top things you will see travelling between Hue and Hoi An:

  • The beautiful Thanh Toan bridge
  • Rice fields
  • Elephant Springs where you can cool off with a refreshing dip
  • Have lunch by the water in tranquil Lap An and enjoy some delicious fresh local food
  • Experience the famous twisting roads if the Hai Van Pass
  • Walk along the beach at Danang
  • Explore the natural beauty of the 5 Marble Mountains

Hoi An (3 days)

While Hue is known as the most picturesque city, Hoi An is known for being the most romantic in Vietnam. Full of colourful lanterns, food, beautiful historic buildings and an interesting mix of Chinese, Japanese, French and of course Vietnamese, Hoi An is a fascinating place to explore. With tailors on every corner, it’s also the perfect place to get an item of clothes made to fit you!

 

super cute and famous for its tailors. If you want an item of clothing handmade to fit you then this is the place! Jess and I spent a day trawling the stores to look at fabrics before we each got a dress made. Don’t forget to haggle as well! Another great thing to do here is to have a cooking lesson and learn to make some real Vietnamese food, and then, of course, scoff the lot afterwards!

This city is also full of wonderful colours and architecture including the Japanese Covered Bridge, Tan Ky House and the Old Town area as well as the My Son temples being within reach for a day trip. Just get walking and you will stumble across loads.

Top things to do in Hoi An:

  • Explore the old town area
  • Visit the Japanese Covered Bridge
  • Learn to cook some Vietnamese food at one of the many cooking classes (and eat it afterwards)!
  • Take a day trip to the UNESCO world heritage My Son temple site. Many of these Hindu temples were sadly destroyed during the Vietnamese war, but the remains of the temples left are beautiful and hold strong historical importance
  • Enjoy the street food along the river
  • Browse the fabrics at the many tailor shops and get an item custom made for you
  • Shop at the bustling night market on An Hoi Islet
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Nha Trang (2 days)

Getting there: Overnight bus

With a long stretch of beach lined with skyscrapers, Nha Trang feels a world away from Vietnam. It has a strong touristy feel about it and lots more formal restaurants and bars. For me, after a couple of months in Asia, it was a welcome break back to my norm. But don’t worry, there’s still plenty of culture to be explored here and it’s also a great place to relax after a busy trip.

Top things to do in Nha Trang:

  • Visit the Long Son Pagoda with the beautiful laid down Buddha as well as another Buddha at the top of a hill, offering amazing views of the city.
  • Experience the nightlife and indulge in some delicious cocktails
  • Unleash your inner kid and take the cable car over to the Vin Pearl theme park for rides, parades and a water park

Da Lat (2 days)

Getting there: Overnight bus

Da Lat is another city in Vietnam that will make you wonder where you are. With a strong European influence embedded into the architecture and landscape, you will almost feel like you’ve been transported to the other side of the world. Da Lat was developed by the French as a resort in the early 1900s and attracts tonnes of tourists each year.

As well as the city, the countryside around it is beautiful and will take you back to what Vietnam is about. Full of coffee plantations, small villages and pagodas it’s  well worth taking a break from the city to explore the countryside.

Da Lat has a very European feel. Many of the buildings look more like a piece of Europe has been dropped down and the town has grown around it. To be honest, it’s kinda cute but the only thing to do here is a trip to the countryside to see the local industries and the silk factory. It’s ok but if you miss it you won’t have lost out.

Top things to do in Da Lat:

  • Walk around the streets to see take a look at the European style buildings
  • Take a stroll around the lake
  • Visit the very aptly named ‘crazy house’
  • Hop on a motorbike tour to experience the countryside and waterfalls around Da Lat
  • Shop and eat to your heart’s content at the Da Lat night market located around Nguyen Thi Minh Khai Street, Le Dai Hanh Street and Tang Bat Ho Street

Ho Chi Minh (3 days)

Getting there: Overnight bus

You will have started your 3 weeks in Vietnam in a city buzzing with life, and you’ll finish it in another. Ho Chi Minh feels like it has 100 things happening all at once, all the time, but in a good way. Its a city for everyone whether you want a luxe holiday or a budget backpackers trip. Similar to Da Lat, there is a Fench colonial style dotted throughout the city but of course, you can’t visit Ho Chi Minh without learning about the city’s role in the war.

This city is steeped in history, culture and has a mixture of everything from high end down to street vendors. It’s amazing for shopping, eating and general mooching.

Make sure you visit the War Remnants Museum to learn about the history of Vietnam, the Jade Pagoda (one of the most impressive Pagodas in Vietnam), the Notre Dame Cathedral and the Post office – sounds silly but it’s a beautiful building. Chill out in September 23 park where you will probably see some wedding photoshoot going on (this is everywhere, I don’t quite understand it, but anyway) and in the evening head to the nearby Pham Ngu Lao area for drinks and nightlife.

Top things to do in Ho Chi Minh:

  • Check out the Notre Dame Church and the beautiful Post Office for some great examples of the colonial style buildings
  • Visit the War Remnants Museum to find out about the Vietnam War and the impact it had and has on the people
  • Chill out in the September 23 park
  • Experience the Emporer Jade Pagoda, one of the most impressive pagodas in Vietnam
  • Visit the Reunification Palace and to learn about Vietnam’s communist history
  • Shop at the Ben Tahn markets to pick up some bargains and try some delicious street food
  • Get lost in China Town to enjoy some more food and visit some of the fascinating temples in the area

Have you been to Vietnam? Where did you go and what was your favourite place?

Thinking of going to Vietnam? You're going to love it! This vibrant country is full of food, culture and stunning sights to experience. Here is my ultimate 3 week Vietnam itinerary to get you inspired.#vietnam #3weeksinvietnam #explorevietnam #southeastasia #backpacking

3 week Vietnam itinerary

17 Comments

  1. Kathy Craigie on

    We also did 3 weeks in March last year and managed to see Hanoi, HaLong Bay, Sapa, Dalat, Danang, Hoi An, Ho Chi Minh and Mekong Delta. Modes of transport Inc trains, planes, motorbike and local bus. Can’t wait to go back and see more of this incredible country.
    Great write up ?

  2. mathewsalex on

    What an incredible and exciting trip! I would love to go one day–it looks amazing.

  3. We crossed Vietnam in just over 3 weeks as well. At first we were overwhelmed by the busy streets and aggressive drivers in Hanoi too, but you’re right, you’ll get used to it and start seeing the charm of the city. We didn’t do all the stops you did, as we did a two day trip to Halong Bay (seems like you had way better weather) and Sapa (tea plantations are worth it though) from Hanoi and Brecht spent a week in the hospital in Hue (probably dengue, probably caught in Sapa). Hue isn’t one of our favourite stops though, but we did like Hanoi and Hoi An. Cute is indeed the word I’d use for Hoi An too, and it’s perfect for window shopping, very photogenic city! One stop you skipped and we loved: Mui Ne. Would have loved to spent some more time there, but our time in Vietnam was coming to an end by then.

  4. Hey there! 2 years ago I visited Sri Lanka and Cambodia and was planning for Vietnam also but I did not make it 🙂 Thats a great post for my next time try to Vietnam!

  5. Vietnam looks like a beautiful and intriguing country. I love how you’ve given a guide for each place you visited. I bet Halong Bay was incredible, even if though you were only there for a day.

    • lsell1991 on

      Thank you! That photo is actually one of my favourites- she’s got some serious talent rowing with her feet!

  6. Vietnamese people have their wedding photos taken before their actual wedding day and tend to pose in various places in different outfits, including both a ‘western’ style white wedding dress and a Vietnamese au dai. It’s rather lovely!

    • lsell1991 on

      Ah I did wonder if it was for that reason but then I wasn’t sure if it’s was a photoshoot for a business! How cute though! I bet their photos are amazing!

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