Visiting Vietnam in two weeks is easy and it should be a must do for every traveller. There’s something really special and genuine about this country. From the Sapa’s Mountains to the green rice plantations, from the river Mekong to the colonial past of its cities.
During our two weeks itinerary we discovered Vietnam’s astonishing beauty and fascinating history but, most of all, the kindness and the smiles of its inhabitants. We went from North to South visiting three cities, Hanoi, Hoi An and Ho Chi Minh City, along with some remarkable natural wanders.
Visiting Vietnam in 2 weeks from north to south
5 places not to miss
Vietnam is culture, food, tradition, white sanded beaches, pagodas, rivers, rice paddies and much more. In our top 5 absolute highlights you will find the perfect mix for a first glimpse into this extraordinary country.
1. Hanoi & Halong Bay
Located in the North of the country, Hanoi is Vietnam’s capital and an extraordinary mix of East and West. Its streets are crowded with scooters constantly blaring horns contending for right of way. Colonial buildings and pagodas offer a glimpse into the history of French and Chinese occupation. If you want to immerse yourself in the everyday life of the local people walk down the streets of the Hoan Kiem District, aka the Old Quarter.
➳ Find all: Hotel in Hanoi
THINGS TO DO IN HANOI:
Feel like a local
Stop somewhere for a homemade Beer Hoi and a bowl of Pho Bo: sit on on one of the small plastic chairs on the sidewalk, surround yourself with locals and enjoy the friendly atmosphere feeling like you are truly a part of this vibrant city.
Visit Halong Bay
Vietnam’s most photographed site, Halong Bay is a place of ethereal beauty. 1,600 limestone pillars and tiny islets covered by forest rise from the emerald waters of the Gulf of Tonkin. To experience the beauty of the place you can adventure in daily or multi-day cruises. For less crowded alternatives head straight to Cat Ba Island from where trips to less-visited Lan Ha Bay can be easily set up or visit the beautiful Bai Tu Long Bay instead. Bai Tu Long Bay is part of Halong Bay World Heritage site and remains an extensive unexplored area.
Tip: keep an eye on the weather forecast. Bad weather affects the visibility and can even spoil your trip, which happened to us! The best time to visit the bay is from March to June and from October to November, avoid public holidays (30 April 30 and 1 May).
Sapa is the travellers dream: trek opportunities, homestays, stunning panoramic views and a multitude of ethnic minorities. Visiting Vietnam in January we missed all this beauty since the mountains were badly covered in snow. The best time to visit Sapa is from August to December.
2. Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park
Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park, in the central part of Vietnam, hosts spectacular underground rivers and hundreds of cave systems of extraordinary scale and length, including the world’s largest cave: Hang Son Doong. The visit to this cave must be booked months in advance, a good fitness level is required and, most important, the 5 days expedition costs around 3.000$. Good news is, there’s many other stunning caves open for visitors daily. This remote rural part of Vietnam offers one of the most authentic faces of Vietnam. Rice paddy fields, traditional Vietnamese villages, water buffalos and friendly locals.
We spent 3 days at the Phong Nha Farmstay, a stunning French Colonial style accommodation surrounded by farmlands and mountains and we told you everything about our adventure in our post Phong Nha–Ke Bang National Park: Vietnam’s last paradise.
To explore the National Park we joined the full day Discovery National Park Tour, which included the Ladies Cave & War Martyr Memorial, the spectacular Paradise Cave and, after lunch, an adventurous afternoon zip-lining, kayaking, swimming and mud bathing inside the Dark Cave.
➳ Find all: Hotels in Phong Nha
PHONG NHA-KE BANG NATIONAL PARK: VIETNAM’S LAST PARADISE
3. Hoi An
With an important past as a French colony, Hoi An is the most graceful and romantic city of Vietnam. Mecca for gourmet and fashion lovers, Hoi An offers interesting Vietnamese cooking class’ and great tailor made suits. Ancient Town, UNESCO World Heritage Site, is home of some of the most incredible Japanese merchant houses, Chinese temples and ancient tea warehouses as well as the famous Japanese Bridge. To visit those sites you can buy a multiple entry ticket (price: 120,000 VND for 5 entries).
Early morning is the best time to enjoy the quiet side of Hoi An with a good Vietnamese coffee in your hand. Visiting the city on foot or on a bike will give you the time to soak up the atmosphere. Most of the hotels and home stays have free bikes for the guests.
At dusk, thousands of colourful street silk lanterns light up the city, lively rooftop restaurants start serving tasty traditional food and colourful boats gently crowd the river.
➳ Find all Hotels in Hoi An
EXPERIENCES NOT TO BE MISSED IN HOI AN:
Take a Vietnamese cooking class
Even if you aren’t a wannabe Masterchef kind of person this unforgettable experience will open your mind to new tastes and flavours. We booked our cooking class with the Hoi An Eco Cooking Class and we couldn’t be more happy with the choice. During a quick tour to the local market the chef, Mr. Kien, explained the ingredients and the basics of the Vietnamese cuisine. On a typical round shaped basket boat, named coracle, we went crab fishing, then we spent 3 hours cooking an entire delicious menu. We learedn how to prepare sweet & sour sauce, wet spring roll, Pho Bo beef noodles, rice pancakes and much more! Price: $32 per person
4. Ho Chi Minh City
Ho Chi Minh City, or Saigon, is Vietnam’s largest and most frenetic city. During your stay you can’t miss a visit to two important cultural sites: War Remnants Museum and the Cu Chi Tunnels.
The first is a powerful display of the brutal effects of war on Vietnamese civilian victims, a real eye opening experience (Price: 15.000 Dong, hours 7.30am-noon & 1.30-5pm, address: 28 Ð Vo Van Tan – Ho Chi Minh City)
The second one, located 30 km outside the city, is a tunnel system stretching from Ho Chi Minh City to the Cambodian border. Visiting this site you will understand how this network gave Viet Cong a strategic control over this large rural area and how the tunnels became a complex underground city including hospitals, weapon factories and living quarters. You can book the tour at every travel agency, the price variates depending on how many people the tour hosts.
➳ Find all Hotels in Ho Chi Minh City
5. Mekong Delta
Exploring the Mekong Delta you will discover the unique way of life of this rural area. Boats, houses and markets float upon mud-brown streams creating a symbiosis between humans and water. Heart of the Mekong Delta, the big city of Can Tho is often referred to as Vietnam’s rice basket. Here, rice paddies, orchards and mangrove forests cover the remains of Viet Cong bunkers and thousands of tourists come to visit the famous floating markets.
Best time to visit Vietnam
Hard to define what the perfect time to visit Vietnam is. Weather changes drastically depending on the regions. In January we went from snowing Sapa to tropical Saigon, easily reaching 35° different between the two regions. Generally, you should head North between October and December. The central part reaches the perfect weather conditions between January and July. Saigon and the Mekong river can be visited from November to March. Easy eh?
How much time do you need to visit Vietnam
We went from North to South in two weeks and that is the minimum time we would recommend to enjoy and discover Vietnam. If you’d like to include Sapa or, perhaps, a beach destination, three to four weeks time are a must.
Travel Vietnam on a budget
If you are wondering how much Vietnam costs the answer is: it depends on your style of travelling. We slept in simple but comfortable accommodation, we ate delicious street food and moved around using cheap transport and we survived on around 20€ per day.
How to move around Vietnam
We chose an unexpectedly comfortable night bus to go between Hanoi to the Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park. From there a shared taxi drove us to Dong How where we took a train to Da Nang. Here, another shared taxi took us to Hoi An (probably the easiest way to move between the two cities, bus’ can be a nightmare). From Da Nang to Ho Chi Minh City we took a 20€ inland flight.
Food and drinks you must try in Vietnam
In Hanoi try the delicious Pho noodles soup and the Vietnamese fresh spring rolls. While in Hoi An, the food capital, look for Cao Lou (a Japanese style noodle dish), Banh Mi sandwich and for the Banh Bao, aka ‘white rose’ (a fluffy flower shaped dumplings).