Wonderful Vietnam- 15 Day Itinerary + Places to visit

vietnam itinerary

#TLFTravels: 

Vietnam itinerary and must visit places!

 

I just came back from wonderful, wonderful Vietnam after 17 long days. And if I had to sum up my experience in a word, it would be ‘’stunning’’. And my fam on Instagram seemed to agree. Since I got so many queries regarding my trip, I quickly thought of penning down this blog with the Vietnam itinerary and must visit places.

Vietnam is blessed with an abundance of natural beauty in every corner of the country. Limestone mountains, greenery, spellbinding caves and just so much water everywhere. It’s a wonderland, really. Not to mention, some of the experiences here (like the adventurous Dark Cave, Halong Bay, the lantern festival of Hoi An) are so unique and unparalleled. 

In my very honest opinion, Vietnam is totally a country worth exploring. While Asian countries like Thailand, Indonesia (Bali, in particular) and Singapore get the lion’s share of tourists, I do feel people need to add ‘’Vietnam’’ into their travel bucket list. 

You’ll need a whole frikkin’ month to properly experience and explore this beautiful place, but 15 days should suffice too. If you’re thinking ‘’ I don’t have 15 days, a week will do’’, let me just say- don’t bother. You can’t even begin to uncover the beauty of Vietnam in a week. 

I did a crazy lot of research before planning our trip and based on that research and my own personal experience, here’s a 15 day itinerary plus things to do in Vietnam: 

(Frankly, each of them is me giving you one more reason to visit):

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Pitstop 1: Hanoi 

Duration: 2 Nights/ 3 Days 

Must-have experiences: 

  • The Old Town: Don’t let the word ‘’old’’ fool you. This is where all the action is in Hanoi. From quirky cafes to shops to nightclubs, you have it all. What’s more, it’s right next to  Hoan Kiem Lake, where you can catch the sunset over the waters.

    #TLFTips: Plan your trip such that you’re in Hanoi on Friday or Saturday night. The Weekend Night Market sells amazing things like clothes, accessories, home decor, souvenirs and food. The prices are quite reasonable too. There are also street side performances to add to the experience!

  • Train Street: A legit train passes through a narrow street in Hanoi around 4-5 times a day. People gather here to see this amazing sight.

    And get this- when there’s no train, people set up little chairs and tables on the actual RAILWAY TRACK and serve you food and drinks. It’s so cool! Don’t miss this in Hanoi, because how many places lets you chill on an actual train track?

    #TLFTips: Check the timings of the train online and plan your visit for 45 minutes before the train so that you can see the train and also chill.

    train street hanoi


    train street hanoi

  • Tran Quoc Pagoda: To be honest, there are a lot of pagodas in Vietnam and you may get bored by the end of it but this one is worth a visit. It’s located right next to Westlake and is beautiful. The chants of prayer, the beautiful pagoda, the calming lake, it all makes for a soothing experience.
    vietnam itinerary and must visit places
  • Westlake– Once you’re done offering prayers at Tran Quoc Pagoda, find a spot to chill at Westlake. You’ll find plenty of small cafes by the lake where you can relax, sip some cold coffee and watch the sunset. The sight of the sun’s rays reflecting in the water and nearby buildings was a lovely view, indeed. My husband called this ‘’Manhattan Skyline for the poor’’. Lol, no offence!

    westlake hanoi

  • Visit Ta Hien Street (Beer Street): Make sure to end the day with a visit to Beer Street, which is basically 1. 5 kms of cheap beer (starting from Rs. 45, which is less than a dollar) and hot food. As per the Vietnamese custom, tiny plastic chairs and tables are arranged on the street, where you can drink, eat and people watch. Quite a fun experience, really!beer street hanoi
    beer street hanoi
    Other experiences: 
  • Get a massage. We got a 60 minute foot massage for just Rs. 450 (6$)
  • Visit St. Josephs Cathedral for a feel of Europe 
  • Have fruit tea at one of the local cafes. It’s actual fresh fruits and not artificial flavours! 
  • Enjoy a water puppet show 
  • Visit the Temple of Literature

    Transportation:
    Take a flight directly to Hanoi. In the city, you can rely on bike taxis (Grab) or Uber. Or you can rent a motorbike (automatic) for around Rs. 300 – Rs. 500 (4$-7$) per day, which is what we did.

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Pitstop 2: Halong Bay 

Duration: 1 Night/ 2 Days  

Do not leave Vietnam without visiting Halong Bay. Picture this – 24 hours on a cruise, surrounded by limestone mountains, blue-green waters, blue skies and peace. It’s like a dream. A beautiful dream that you can’t get enough of. 

While doing a Halong Bay Cruise, it’s very important to book the right cruise. We opted for ‘’Rosa Boutique Cruises’’ and they were very good. Do enough research before booking. 

A good cruise will cost you anywhere between Rs. 10,000 to Rs. 25,000 (140$-360$) per cabin for one night and 2 days (including accommodation on the cruise, food and activities for 2 people) 


Must-have experiences: 

  • Chill on the sundeck of your cruise, just breathing in the calm and admiring the views 
  • Wake up early morning to catch the sunrise 
  • Go kayaking in the middle of the sea
  • Swim in the middle of the sea (but if you see any jellyfish, get out ASAP. I got stung and it almost ruined my trip. It’s too painful!) 
  • Engage in some light fishing 
  • Indulge in fresh seafood 
  • Explore water caves

    halong bay vietnam
    halong bay vietnam
    vietnam itinerary and must see places
    halong bay vietnam
    vietnam itinerary and must visit places


    Transportation:
    Your cruise will be able to pick you up from Hanoi and take you to Halong Bay. Discuss with them beforehand.

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Pitstop 3: Ninh Binh 

Duration: 2 Nights/ 3 Days 

Must-have experiences:

  • Trang An Boatride: ‘’Ninh Binh’’ is known as the ‘’Halong Bay on land’’ because the limestone mountains and green waters continue all the way here. While in Ninh Binh, the 3 hour Trang An boat ride is a must do. You’ll go on a paddle boat for an enchanting journey between hills, water caves, hidden pagodas and even the movie set of King Kong!It’s like entering a magical world, maybe a parallel universe and was one of the best experiences in  Viietnam. Exploring the narrow water caves by boat and being spellbound by all that natural beauty was just too good.#TLFTips: Visit early in the morning to skip the crowds and beat the heat. Carry lots of water and snacks because 3 hours is no joke!

    trang an ninh binh
    tam coc ninh binh
    trang an ninh binh
    vietnam itinerary and must visit places

  • MUA Caves hike: My friend, the view from the top of the ‘’dragon mountain’’ will spoil you for all other views. After hiking up around 500 steps, you get to feast your eyes and your soul on mountain top views. You’ll see green paddy fields, more mountains, more water and beautiful skies. It’s also a great place for pictures!mua caves ninh binh
    mua cave ninh binh
  • Bich Dong Pagoda: An ancient pagoda set in the mountains, looking like something out of a dream is Bich Dong Pagoda. Take a moment to admire its beauty and then, hike up to experience everything that this pagoda has to offer.

    bich dong pagoda

    Other experiences:

  • Ride around the paddy fields and find a cosy spot to catch the sunset 
  • Visit the ancient town of Hoa Lu if culture and history is your thing 
  • If you can’t get enough of boat rides, do Tam Coch boat ride (though it’s not as stunning as Trang An) 
  • Do some bird watching at Thung Nam Bird Garden

    ninh binh vietnam

    Transportation:
    You can take a shared bus costing Rs. 500- Rs. 650 (7$-10$) per person or book a private cab costing Rs. 3500 – Rs. 5000 (50$-70$) per cab from Halong Bay. Your cruise guide will be able to guide you, based on your preference. We took the shared bus. It was pretty comfortable, with AC. But in between, they made us change buses and almost misplaced our luggage, so vigilance is key.
    In Ninh Binh, we rented out a 2 wheeler for Rs. 300 per day.

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Pitstop 4: Phong Nha Ke Bang 

Duration: 2 Nights/ 3 Days   

Phong Nha happens to be home to some of the world’s largest caves. The biggest one, Son Doong Cave, is so big that it can fit whole cities like New York and London inside it! There are some other pretty amazing caves too.

Must-have experiences: 

  • Dark Cave: Go on a wild adventure in Dark Cave. You’ll start off with a zipline, followed by swimming to enter the cave. Once inside, you’ll explore the cave in full darkness (except for your headlight), have fun with an underground mudbath, swim in a cave lake, kayak yourself out from there and then spend your time cooling off in the clear, beautiful waters of the springs.
    I call Dark Cave a ‘’natural adventure park’’!dark cave phong nha
    dark cave phong nha
    dark cave phong nha
  • Phong Nha Cave is another highlight here. You’ll have to take a boat and enter the cave, where you can admire the formation of stalagmites and stalactites. You’ll even be allowed to get down from the boat and explore the cave by foot for a bit.phong nha cave
    phong nha cave
    phong nha cave

    Other experiences:
  • Paradise cave (The world’s longest cave)
  • Botanical gardens (hike + mini waterfalls) 
  • Mooc Springs
    #TLFTips: Avoid Mooc Springs like the plague during the weekends. The serene area is transformed to a chaotic, noisy place with local tourists. We hated our experience here and walked out within 10 minutes because of the crowds. Otherwise, it’s small but lovely. 
  • Relax in a swimming pool with a beer. We recommend the one at Easy Tiger Hostel. 
  • If it’s post monsoon and the rivers are full, you can experience tubing at Pub With Cold Beer. Otherwise, please avoid the place during summers.phong nha ke bang
    phong nha ke bang

Transportation:
You can take an overnight sleeper AC bus to Phong Nha. It can be booked from any travel agency in Ninh Binh or you can ask your homestay to book it for you. The prices are approx Rs. 650 – Rs. 800 ($9-$11.5) per person.

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Pitstop 5: Hoi An 

Duration: 2 Nights/ 3 Days or 3 Nights/ 4 Days 

Must-have experiences: 

  • Lantern Festival (Old Quarter): Okay, no matter what you do, just make sure you’re in Hoi An for the monthly lunar lantern festival. It’s beautiful and magical. Locals and tourists gather in the Old Quarter to leave lanterns into the river, as a peace offering to the Gods. Additionally, every street and shop is decked with these lanterns. I felt like I was in the Disney Movie Rapunzel! This was definitely the highlight of our stay in Hoi An.

    #TLFTips: You can find the date of the festival with a simple google search, mentioning the month. Be there in the Old Quarter by 5: 30 PM!hoi an lantern festival
    hoi an lantern festival
    hoi an lantern festival
    hoi an lantern festival
  • Old Quarter: Explore the colorful, vibrant streets of Old Quarter by foot. Each shop and restaurant there is so charming, you’ll feel like you’re in a fairytale town! To add to it, every corner is blooming with flowers, that go well with the yellow walls. You’ll find some great places for insta worthy pictures!hoi an old town
    hoi an old town
    hoi an old town
  • An Bang & Cua Dai Beach: Hit the An Bang or Cua Dai beach. The former if you’re into busy beaches with a lot of people and restaurants and the latter if you like quiet, lonely beaches. Take an evening dip in the beach and end your day with a sunset and some beer in one of the beach-side restaurants. We recommend Dolphin or Soul Kitchen on An Bang Beach.
    P.S- This is not one of those scenic, beautiful beaches. Expect crowds!

  • Move aside, Breakfast at Tiffany’s! At Hoi An, we have Breakfast at Rosie’s! Rosie’s is the standalone place that makes delicious smoothie bowls that are a delight, along with some good English breakfast. It’s a must visit.
    P.S- English breakfast may not seem like a big deal now, but when you’ve been having Pho and Banh Mi everyday, this will be a godsend.

    rosie's hoi an

    Other experiences:
  • Drive to Da Nang if you feel like checking out the 3rd largest city in Vietnam 
  • Visit Marble Mountains if you’re in the mood for mountains, caves and pagodas 
  • Have fun at Ba Na Hills Adventure Park if you want to have fun (This is a costly affair, though. The park + cable car may come up to Rs. 5000/ 70$ approx per person) 
  • Go on a bamboo boat ride and learn about water coconuts at Cam Thanh coconut village.bamboo boat hoi an


    Transportation:
    You can take an overnight sleeper AC bus to Hoi An. It can be booked from any travel agency in Phong Nha or you can ask your homestay to book it for you. The prices are approx Rs. 650- Rs. 800 per person. Within the town, we rented out a two-wheeler.

 

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Pitstop 6: Ho Chi Minh City 

Duration: 2 Nights/ 3 Days or 3 Nights/ 4 Days 

Must-have experiences: 

  • Nguyen Hue Boulevard: Take a walk on Nguyen Hue Boulevard during sunset. It’s a walking city, set amidst tall buildings and a busy square. But go a little ahead, and you’ll find charming flowers and a pretty sunset. If it’s a weekend, live performances begin here around 7 PM. They put up quite a lovely show and it’s fun to watch.

  • Saigon Skydeck: Be mesmerised by the bird’s eye view of the city from the 49th floor in Skydeck. It’s the tallest building in the city and offers panoramic views. The large, winding river, the crazy traffic, colourful lights, scattering of buildings. We loved it!

    #TLFTips: Club this with the ‘’World of Heineken Tour’’ in the same building to learn about Heineken and get beer bottles with your name on it. The entrance to Skydeck is Rs. 600 but with Heineken tour, it’s Rs. 750. For just an extra Rs. 150 per person, you get to know the history of the brand, beer and chips in their bar which is on the 60th floor and customised beer bottles. It’s a good deal!

    skydeck ho chi minh
    skydeck ho chi minh

  • The Cafe Apartment Block: Have coffee or lunch in The Cafe Apartment Block. This is basically a residential apartment that’s been converted to a building full of cafes and stores. It’s really unique and quite lovely. They have good cafes and a nice view of the busy surroundings. We recommend The Maker Cafe and Partea Tea Shop.

the cafe apartment ho chi minh
the cafe apartment ho chi minh

  • Saigon River: Take a walk along the Saigon River and explore the surrounding area by foot. For sunset, you can grab a seat by the river and have a beer. A relaxing way to end the day!

    saigon river
    saigon river

Other experiences: 

  • Visit the fully pink Tan Dinh Church for a very Instagrammable photo 
  • Check out the Notre Dam Church and the colourful Post Office (both of which are side by side)
  • Go on a dinner cruise on the Saigon River for around 2 hours (approx cost is Rs. 5000/ 71$ per person)
  • Shop for some fresh food, clothes and more at Ben Tanh Market (though we found better stuff in Hanoi) 
  • End the day at a rooftop bar. Prices here are way more than India. For just 2 beers, 2 cocktails and a cup of peanuts, we paid Rs. 2400 ($35)
  • If you have time, do a day trip to the Mekong Delta and Can Tho floating market.

    tan dinh church
    post office ho chi minh


Transportation:
The journey by land from Hoi An to Ho Chi Minh is too much. We took a taxi from Hoi An to Da Nang and then a flight from Da Nang. The flight was approximately Rs. 3500/ 50$ per person. In Ho Chi Minh, we strongly suggest you DON’T rent a bike because the chaos and traffic is insane! Accidents are rampant and vehicles are out of control (Yes, I’m from India and yet I’m saying this so you can imagine). Best option is Grab or Uber. 

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Apologies for the verryyyy long post, but I hope you’ll find it useful. And I hope you like my Vietnam itinerary and must visit places when you actually go there. 

I would like to give a disclaimer here that our trip wasn’t all fun and games. They were few incidents, some scams and more, which happen to a lot of tourists there. I’ll be writing another post on ‘’Things to know before travelling to Vietnam’’ so stay tuned.

That said, I would still stress on the fact that if you’re looking to lose yourself in spectacular sights, lots of adventure and hard core backpacking, you’ll love Vietnam.

You can check out my Vietnam story highlights here for a better understanding.

And please feel free to email me at thelifestylefiesta@gmail.com or DM on Instagram if you need more information. 

If you’re looking to club Vietnam with another Asian country, check my Bali blog post. 

Happy travelling! 

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