Two Week Vietnam Itinerary
If like me, you work full time and can’t just jet off for an unspecified amount of time, you probably only have two weeks to explore a new place. With this in mind, I thought I would let you know how I packed 7 major areas into just two weeks of travelling around Vietnam. This two week Vietnam itinerary will showcase some of the best cities, without making you wish you had booked another holiday to recover from this one!
We flew direct from London to Ho Chi Minh City. The flight took 12 hours and cost £450 return. We left Heathrow at 11.10am and arrived in HCMC at 6am the following day. From here we flew directly to Hanoi to begin our adventure, arriving at lunchtime.
Our route was: : London – HCMC – Hanoi – Halong Bay – Tam Coc – Hue – Da Nang – Hoi An – HCMC – London
What to do?
We had two nights in Hanoi to explore. The first day we explored around Hanoi old quarter, with a long walk getting our bearings. We enjoyed walking around the night market (open every Friday – Sunday evening) and tasting our body weight in street food. We then retired for an early night.
The next morning we ate breakfast in the hostel before heading out. We headed to the huge indoor market, Dong Xuan and looked at the massive array of souvenirs we could buy. We then walked around Hoàn Kiếm Lake, past the Opera House and on to the Women’s Museum (2 hours) and then on to the Temple of Literature. We then took a very long walk past the flag tower of Hanoi, the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum and on to One Pillar Pagoda. From there we walked finally to Trấn Quốc Pagoda, and then got a taxi back to our hostel to bed. The next day we were collected from our hostel at 8am to head on a two night trip to Bai Tu Long Bay.
Where to stay?
We stayed at Hanoi Old Town at 95 Hang Chieu street, Hoan Kiem district, Hanoi. It was clean, tidy and very centrally located. I would definitely recommend them. They also sorted out our airport transfer so we didn’t need to worry about it.
At 8am we were collected by bus to head to our next destination. We had booked a two night, three day trip with Lan Ha Legend Cruises to visit Halong Bay, Lan Ha Bay and Bai Tu Long Bay. On the bus we met the other tourists and after a 5 hour bus and boat ride we arrived on board. The rooms were small but gorgeous and the boat was so cool! Each room had an en suite and the boat was large with plenty of space. We ate lunch as a group as we sailed past Halong Bay bay, deeper into the bays and away from all the other boats. We then Kayaked through quiet bays and under rock formations for an hour or so, before re-boarding the boat and jumping into the sea and having a swim. Then it was time for dinner and drinks. Happy hour is ‘Buy two drinks, get the third free’. This was fine as beer was under £1 per can. We also had a ‘cooking class’ which was pretty fun. We made spring rolls.
On day two, apparently the water was too rough for us to do what was planned; hiking and cycling around an island. Instead we visited Cat Ba Island for the day and ate lunch on a floating restaurant. We then went to visit a cannon and then on to Hospital Cave. This is the remnants of a hospital built into a cave during the Vietnam war. It was eerie and we were the only people there. These could have been so much better though if our guide spoke even a little English. As it was, he was silent and we didn’t really know what we were looking at in either place. We then had half an hour of ‘free time’ which turned into over 2.5 hours of boredom in sweltering heat. Apparently our transport was in the garage and so we had to wait around for them to fix some part of it. We were a 10 minute walk maximum from Cat Ba National Park but weren’t allowed to head there without the guide and he was more interested in chatting to locals and drinking beer than in guiding us. When we finally arrived at the entrance to the National Park, we all wanted to walk around but weren’t allowed as the boat was coming to collect us shortly. All 6 of us were extremely unimpressed with the way the tour was handled and did complain when we got back on the boat. The main complaint was that we hadn’t been given an English speaking guide and we wasted a whole day not knowing what we were actually looking at. We each received £20 refund, pittance for the fact we wasted our only whole day and the tour cost £160. I would not recommend Legacy Legend Cruises. The only good thing of this day was Ling, our other tour guide. She was training though and I felt extremely sorry for her as the other guide was rubbish.
We then had the opportunity to swim again in the sea before dinner. We all got pretty drunk and celebrated being back on the boat rather than walking around or aimlessly waiting!
On our last day on the boat, we woke up, ate breakfast and then kayaked again. I love kayaking. It was extremely peaceful and blew away the disappointment of the previous day. We were then taken by boat and bus back to Hanoi to continue the rest of the trip on the mainland. We boarded a train from Hanoi to Ninh Binh to begin leg 3 of our trip.
We stayed in Tam Coc for one night, arriving in the evening. We had a jam packed schedule, and really made the most of our time here. Firstly we had a little walk around the tiny town and ate dinner at a street food restaurant while watching the World Cup. A huge plate of chicken rice and a beer set us back £1! We headed back to our accommodation for an early night for a full day ahead.
Awaking at 9am we quickly ate breakfast before enquiring about hiring a moped. Tam Coc is an extremely quiet place and the only place I felt comfortable riding a scooter. For £3 we hired the moped for the day and filled it with fuel costing £1.20. Leaving the moped in our hostel for the morning, we headed out on a Sampan boat ride along the river. Described as Halong Bay on land, Tam Coc is absolutely stunning and my photos just do not do it justice. The rowers actually row the boat with their feet! The 90 minute boat ride cost £13 for the both of us and was incredible. Watch out half way through when the sampan floats to a little ‘market’ and you are encouraged to buy drinks and food for your guide. We spend about £2 on a drink and some nuts.
In the afternoon we took the moped to Hang Mua (Mua Caves) about a 10 minute drive away. 500 stone steps carved into the hill take you to a temple, and the spectacular views across Tam Coc are worth it. The wonderful landscape of mountains, rivers and valleys are breathtaking. The climb was pretty painful in the heat but I am incredibly glad I did it. For more photos and info, click HERE.
We then headed back to the hostel to collect our things and head to the train station to catch the overnight train to Hue. It took 11 hours and wasn’t particularly pleasant (we shared a 6 person carriage with 4 old, creepy men. I would advise booking the slightly more expensive 4 person carriage…) but it got us to Hue at 8.30am and saved on accommodation.
Where to stay in Tam Coc?
We stayed in a little bungalow at Tam Coc Riverview Homestay and it was wonderful! The address is Van Lam Hamlet, Ninh Hai, Hoa Lu, Ninh Binh 430000. It cost us £10 each per night and the beds were HUGE!
On arrival we grabbed a taxi from outside the station (£3) and checked in to the room. We then headed straight out for a private boat ride along the Perfume River (organised with reception). This hour ride gave us time to soak up some sun and stopped us at Thien Mu Pagoda (Pagoda of the Celestial Lady) for 30 minutes to have a look around. From here the boat then took us to the Imperial City and then left us to our day. The Imperial City cost just £5 to enter and we stayed for around 2 hours wandering around. For more information click HERE to see what we did.
After this, we caught a taxi back to our hostel (£2) and headed out to one of the many spas for a massage. A 60 minute massage cost just £10! We then ate and went back to the hostel as we had another early morning.
The next day we awoke early to join our next tour. The hotel had organised for us to travel to Bach Ma National Park for a day of walking and swimming. We walked through the jungle following the 5 lakes trail, swam and ate lunch by the lakes. There are many critters within the jungle, including some scary looking spiders. I am terrified of them and this was the only thing I didn’t like! For more info click HERE to see what we did.
We arrived back at the hostel for 6pm and then explored Hue on foot before heading to sleep to continue our travels.
From Hue we then headed to our final destination, Da Nang. We travelled by train and it took 2.5 hours and cost £12. We left Hue at 10.13am and arrived in Da Nang at 1pm. The train was comfortable and we had pre-booked a seat via Baolau.vn.
Where to stay in Hue?
We stayed in HongThien 1 Hotel, in a fantastic location, complete with swimming pool. The address is 35/6 Chu Van An, Hue and cost us £20 per night for a double room. The total for 2 people for 2 nights was £40.
Da Nang & Hoi An
This was our time to chill out and recharge. We had 4 nights here, staying in the Funtastic Beach Hostel. More about this later!
As soon as we arrived, we dumped our bags at the hostel and headed to Pham Van Dong Beach, a 5 minute walk away. We ate at a restaurant right on the beachfront and just enjoyed the peace and quiet. At around 5pm the beach suddenly became full of locals and got very crowded.
We had booked a local food tour for the first evening and we excitedly headed out to the Tourist Information centre on the other side of the bridge to meet our guide. All of the guides are learning English and use it to practice. The food tour took us to 3 different restaurants and enabled us to try 5 local dishes. The food was incredible and our guide Mai was lovely. However I will tell you this… we both got ill! The vegetables were washed in tap water rather than bottled water (I did ask Mai, and she confirmed that this was the case, but we felt rude not eating it) and we are always advised not to eat salad and vegetables on holiday as our stomachs are not used to the bacteria in the water that it is washed in.
So the next morning both of us were tag teaming to the toilet. however it didn’t last long and by around 2pm we were back on the beach. Eleanor even built a sandcastle for the first time ever and we both enjoyed laying on the sun loungers (£1.30 per day each).
The next day we took the free shuttle bus to Marble Mountain, around a 10 minute drive away. Marble Mountain is a cluster of 5 mountains each named after the elements; water, fire, earth, wood and metal. There are many shops around that you can purchase marble sculptures and trinkets from and I bought a pestle and mortar to bring home with me. They no longer excavate marble from the mountains, instead shipping it in. This place is stunning and should definitely be on your list of places to visit in Vietnam. The view points are incredible too.
From Marble Mountain we then caught a taxi back to Da Nang (£5) to get the shuttle bus to Hoi An for the afternoon. The bus runs every hour from Da Nang Tourist Information centre and costs £7 for a return trip. This is much less than the 30 minute taxi ride would cost. Also to note, we were annoyed that we had decided to stay in Da Nang rather than Hoi An until this point. Hoi An is incredibly busy and although stunning, one afternoon was enough. It was incredibly stressful to navigate the small roads with thousands of people trying to do the same and Da Nang is much quieter.
We ate dinner at Nu Eatery in Hoi An, sampling steamed buns, banh mi and noodles. Although the food doesn’t look great in the photos it was bloody gorgeous. The restaurant caters to westerners rather than locals which was a shame but the food was amazing. Dinner cost me £6 and was one of the most expensive dinners we had. I bought a lantern souvenir for my parents (£2) and Eleanor bought me a stunning painting for my birthday for £30.
For our final full day in Da Nang we headed to the beach for a full day of sunbathing. For £1.20 we hired a lounger for the day with a parasol and just chilled out. We both read our kindles, I drank cans of beer (50p each) and we ate deep fried hot dogs on sticks for lunch! The total spend for the beach day was £6! This included sunlounger, lunch, water, beer and an ice cream! We then had dinner before heading to bed for our final adventure…
Where to stay in Da Nang?
We stayed at the Funtastic Beach Hostel. The address is 5 Hà Bổng, Phước Mỹ, Sơn Trà, Phước Mỹ Sơn Trà Đà Nẵng 550000. We had a twin room at £13 per night for the both of us.
TO READ MORE ABOUT OUR DA NANG ADVENTURE, CLICK HERE
Ho Chi Minh City
The next morning we flew to Ho Chi Minh City from Da Nang Airport. We couldn’t use our bank cards to book online so the Tourist Information did it for us. It took just over an hour and cost £40 each. Once at Ho Chi Minh we left our baggage in lockers (£10 per day) and grabbed a taxi into the city.
We only had 12 hours here so tried to pack as much in without exhausting ourselves. The taxi dropped us as Notre Dame cathedral which was unfortunately undergoing renovation. The front was covered in scaffolding and you couldn’t enter, but it was still incredibly pretty. From there we dodged the traffic clogged roads and walked to the War Remnants Museum which has a series of themed rooms depicting some of the devastation the Vietnam War had on locals. From journalist photographs to the effect of Agent Orange Chemical repercussions, it is harrowing and more than once I was in tears. It took us about 2.5 hours to get around it.
From there we headed to Baozi, a bao restaurant about a 30 minute walk from the museum. The food here was incredible and the staff were lovely. However we also saw the biggest cockroach I have ever seen scuttling across the floor. It put us off our food a little.
From there we took a walk to the Bitexco Financial Tower for our last view of Ho Chi Minh City. I had read somewhere that instead of going on the tour, just head straight to the bar on the 52nd floor. I would really recommend this. We sat at a table by the window and had a couple of beers for less than the price of an entrance ticket. We watched the sun set over the rest of Ho Chi Minh and it was a great ending to an amazing trip.
We had very little time left but took a walk to Uncle Ho’s Park, about 10 minutes from the Bitexco Tower. It has a huge statue of President Ho Chi Minh and is on the walk to the Saigon Opera House. In the evening the Opera House lights up fantastically and you can see it from the Bitexco Tower!
From here we grabbed a taxi back to the airport to fly home. We left at 00.45am and arrived back into London at 7.40am.
If you are looking to go to Vietnam and only have a short amount of time in this incredible country, I really would recommend doing this Vietnam itinerary. It was simple and virtually stress free, we packed a heck of a lot in and also had some down time towards the end of the trip. The only thing we regret not seeing is Sapa in the North of Vietnam, but have said we will go back to complete this part of the trip at a later date. If you have been to Vietnam, let me know your favourite place!
For more travel posts, please click HERE