Tropical beaches, misty mountains, prehistoric bays, sprawling cities & local towns. Vietnam is a very large and diverse country, requiring more than a couple of weeks to truly see it. We recently spent close to one month adventuring Vietnam with our 1 year old and can highly recommend it to everyone! Not only is it geographically diverse, but the locals are some of the friendliest people we have met. Then there is the matter of it being comparatively extremely cheap to travel.
The following is our one month in Vietnam itinerary that we suggest for you. This has been modified from our actual plan with the hindsight of how we might better have spent some of our time. Also we worked with quite a few hotels that impacted how long we stayed in some areas. We put in quite a lot of time maximising logistics to ensure minimal travel time. Note that our suggestion starts from South to North but of course it is totally reversible. Hopefully this blog will convince you that two weeks certainly isn’t enough and you definitely should try spend one month in Vietnam if possible!
Our suggested itinerary for one month in Vietnam
- HCMC – 5 nights
- Fly/Minivan to Da Lat
- Da Lat – 3 nights
- Fly/Minivan to Da Nang and then taxi/shuttle to Hoi An
- Hoi An – 3 nights
- Taxi/Shuttle to Da Nang
- Da Nang – 3 nights
- Train to Hue
- Hue – 2 nights
- Fly to Hanoi then transfer to Ha Long City to boat trip
- Lan Ha Bay – 1 night
- (Usually) included transfer back to Hanoi
- Hanoi – 3 nights
- Miniwan/Train to Sapa
- Sapa – 3 nights
- Minivan/Train back to Hanoi
- Hanoi – 2 nights
- Minivan to Tam Coc
- Tam Coc/Trang An – 3 nights
- Minivan to Airport
Total 28 nights
Our original one month in Vietnam Itinerary
- HCMC – 4 nights (2 nights were a collaboration)
- Da Lat – 3 nights
- Hue – 2 nights
- Da Nang – 3 nights (2 nights were a collaboration)
- Hoi An – 5 nights
- Ha Long City – 1 night
- Lan Ha Bay – 1 night
- Hanoi – 3 nights
- Tam Coc – 3 nights
- Hanoi – 1 night
Total 25 nights
Why did we change it?
- Added a day to HCMC. Ho Chi Minh City is a buzzing city and has loads of things to see and do, as well as a lot of nearby day trips. We barely scratched the surface and feel 5 nights will ensure you see everything. Some people may prefer 4 nights though so maybe gauge this one for yourself. We really did like HCMC though.
- Reorganised travel order between Hue, Da Nang and Hoi An. Shuttles are abundant at the airport so going straight down to Hoi An upon arrival means afterwards heading back up to Da Nang and then Hue in the same direction going north.
- Hoi An reduced to three days. Whilst this is an amazing part of Vietnam we felt like we had well and truly seen all the sites and eaten in all the hotspots after 3 nights. If however you are getting clothing made here. you may need to stay the extra day or two.
- Ha Long City has very minimal going on tourist wise. Even finding a decent place to eat, or anything open in general was difficult. We don’t recommend staying unless you want to reduce travel distances per day. Your best option would probably be flying from Hue to Hanoi and then taking your included transfer to your boat trip in Ha Long/ Lan Ha Bay. Although this will take longer it reduces the need to spend an unnecessary night.
- Add Sapa or Ha Giang to our trip. Ha Giang sounds amazing but slightly longer journey to get to than Sapa. 3 days in either would be the ideal amount of time to make the long journey worth it and to truly explore the remote wonders.
- We should have travelled direct from Tam Coc to the Hanoi airport instead of spending another night in Hanoi.
These small changes will ensure you aren’t spending too long, or short a time in each place. It also maximises efficiency of travel and you won’t be wasting any nights staying places that are unnecessary.
How should I spend my time in each spot?
Ho Chi Minh City (5 nights)
This lively city formally known as Saigon is full of tourist activities both near and a bit further afield. It is also known for its many French colonial styled buildings. Staying in the city centre is definitely worth it as there is so much within a close proximity. Be prepared for long days walking, but also lots of coffee stops at street side stalls and yummy Banh Mi sandwiches.
- Notre Dame Cathedral of Saigon – A French built church from the 1800’s
- Independence Palace – Site of the end of the Vietnam War
- Ben Thanh Market – One of the earliest surviving structures of Saigon. This massive daily market sells everything from food to both counterfeit and luxury items.
- Saigon Central Post Office – A beautifully preserved example of French colonial architechture
- Walking Street – Right in the city centre a tree lined plaza often full of street artists and m. Make sure to visit the cafe apartment when you are here. A whole apartment building that has been converted to cafes
- Opera House – A French colonial styled opera house built in 1897
- War Remnants Museum – A sobering look into the devastation of the Vietnam War
- People’s Committee of Ho Chi Minh building – A French colonial styled city hall in vibrant yellow colour scheme.
- Pink Church – A Roman Catholic Church that has been painted bright pink
- Bitexco Financial Tower – Enclosed observation skydeck to view the city from above
- Sri Dandayudhapani Temple – A unique Hindu temple with a unique colour scheme and series of arches
- Cu Chi Tunnels – Explore just some of the vast network of tunnels the Vietcong used during the war in the dense Vietnamese jungle. You’ll learn lots about the war and see various eye opening exhibits.
- Mekong Delta – A visit to Saigon should be paired with a trip to the famed Mekong Delta and witnessing landscape made up of rivers, islands, and swamp land and what life is like for those who live there.
Da Lat (3 nights)
Ah Da Lat what a gem of a place. Ok, so it is a bit out of the way on the way to Hoi An but adding a stop here is highly worth it. With one month in Vietnam, you certainly shouldn’t miss Da Lat. This mountainous region is covered in forests, lakes, waterfalls and plantations of all things from coffee to flowers. The air here is cool and has a certain freshness to it, it’s unlike anything we had expected. Seriously we were caught out and didn’t have any warm weather gear, oops. Luckily Vietnam has so many baby stores and we were able to make do with our puffer jackets that had been stuffed in the bottom of our bags!
Make sure to visit a few of the famous coffee shops here, most of them have unique twists to them and super cool photo opportunities. There is also a good circuit for a day trip that will ensure you hit all of the spots surrounding Da Lat. We will write a blog on that soon so keep your eyes posted.
- Domaine de Marie Convent – This Roman Catholic Church follows the Vietnamese and French styles. It’s dramatic pink limestone walls are worth a look.
- The Crazy House – A Gaudi inspired ‘crazy’ looking house that you can tour. Very Alice in Wonderlandy.
- Xuan Huong Lake – A massive manmade lake right in the centre of town surrounded by lush greenery. You can even take a pedal boat out on the lake.
- French Quarter – A neighbourhood of Da Lat where the French Colonists used to have holiday villas, largely built in the 1920’s.
- Central Market – Right in the centre of town a market sprawls down the street. Yes you can buy lots of clothing and wares but the best part is all of the food! Da Lat has various specialties that you just have to try.
- Linh Phuoc Pagoda – Every wall, ceiling, pillar, and statue in the pagoda are decorated with thousands of small pieces of broken glass and porcelain!
- Cable car to Truc Lam Pagoda – The best-kept shrine in Dalat at the top of a mountain overlooking pristine forests and Tuyen Lam Lake.
- Datanla Falls – A set of falls you can easily reach from the centre of town
- Elephant Falls – A bit further afield but very impressive
- Da Lat Flower Gardens – If flowers are your thing they have over 300 kinds on show here.
- Linh Son Pagoda – A beautiful green, white and gold colour-schemed pagoda overlooking Da Lat city
- Da Lat Cathedral – A French colonial church in brilliant yellow
- Linh Quy Phap An Pagoda (Gate to Heaven) – A pagoda atop a mountain that has a ‘gate’ looking out over the clouds below you
- Tuyen Lam Lake – An enormous lake in a pine forest, dotted with enormous luxury French styled mansions and hotels.
- Lots of purpose built ‘theme parks’ of sorts and cafes full of unique photo opportunities e.g the Buddhas Hand, Clay Tunnel & Sunny Farm
Hoi An (3 nights)
This ancient trading port is now classed a UNESCO heritage site so has been preserved from the ages of time. People largely ride around on pushbikes whilst the buildings look very much the same as they did 200 years ago. Beautiful buildings are matched by the beautiful culture of Hoi An. By night the streets and river running through town are lit by coloured lanterns and each month they hold a lantern festival over the full moon period. The area is also famous for its varied cuisine from the rest of the country and the prevalence of lots of tailors to create whatever your heart desires.
- Bicycle ride through the ancient town and its yellow walls then out in to the rice fields beyond
- Get a suit/dress/shoes etc whatever your heart desires made by a local tailor
- Witness the nightly lantern displays down by the Tue Bon river, perhaps go for a short boat ride
- Grab a Banh Mi from the Banh Mi Phuong where Anthony Bourdain got one (P.s they are soooo good and so cheap!)
- Visit the night market where there are loads of delicacies to eat, lanterns to purchase and clothes to peruse
- Japanese Covered Bridge is worth a visit in the old town an 18th century beautiful bridge
- Tam Quan Chua Ba Mu Pagoda – A stunning complex built in the 1600s with amazing colours and architechture.
- Visit nearby An Bang beach that is relatively unspoiled by rampant development
Da Nang (3 nights)
Da Nang is a thriving beach city with a lengthy strip of beach resorts and plenty of nearby tourist sites. It is centrally located in Vietnam and a perfect stepping stone to various other major highlights on the tourist trail such as Hue and Hoi An. Its the perfect spot for a few days of tropical relaxation.
- Check out the Dragon Bridge. This dragon bridge spans 666m over the Han River, lighting up and breathing fire each weekend.
- Visit the many pristine tropical beaches. My Khe Beach is known for its surfing and luxury hotels whilst Lang Co Beach features a lagoon on one side and a palm tree flanked beach on the other!
- There are quite a few beautiful temples nearby such as the Phap Lam Pagoda.
- In terms of natural beauty you must make sure to visit the Marble Mountains. Just moments form the city this cluster of five limestone and marble hills offer stunning views of the coastline. Additionally Son Tra Mountain gives amazing views as well but is slightly further away.
- My Son is a glimpse into the past of a lost kingdom. This UNESCO World Heritage Site comprises over 70 partly ruined Hindu temples built from the 4th century dedicated to Lord Shiva. many parts were destroyed in the Vietnam War.
- Ba Na Hills are a popular day trip from Da Nang up in the mountains where there are refreshing cooler temperatures. There are insane views stretching to the sea and a mock French medieval village. The most popular attraction though would have to be the mammoth golden hands bridge.
Hue (2 nights)
Not far from Da Nang is the old royal city and capital of Vietnam, lasting from 1802-1945. Earning a World Heritage Site status, Hue is full of ancient wonder. From the Imperial City, to various monuments, tombs and pagodas, you really can walk in the footsteps of history. Located alongside the Perfume River this diverse city is not only visually pleasing but full of amazing culture and oh so many delicious delicacies.
From Da Nang you can either take the train or drive, both with their own perks. The train hugs the coast through stunning rainforest, open fields and farmland. No matter where you sit, the views are spectacular, plus you have to experience the train at least once in Vietnam! Whilst by driving you will go over Hai Van Pass, made famous by the show Top Gear. This winding pass seems to go forever up giving sweeping views of the landscape and out to sea.
- Walk in the footsteps of royalty at the Imperial City, The enormous grounds are able to be strolled around freely.
- Thien Mu Pagoda is a dramatic ominous looking tiered pagoda.
- Visit the royal tombs; the tomb of Tu Duc, the Tomb of Minh Mang and the Tomb of Khai Dinh.
- Stroll along the Perfume River and watch locals go about their daily life
- Visit the Hue Abandoned Water Park. Ok so whilst you’re technically not allowed to go here, apparently you can ‘donate’ to the guards. Abandoned a long time ago this place has been left to be swallowed by nature. Very eerie.
- Check out the ancient Tiger Fighting Arena from the early 1800’s. Thankfully this places grim history is now just that, history. But it is still a unique place to check out!
Lan Ha Bay (1 night)
So you’ve probably heard about Ha Long Bay. Well these days it’s understandably very popular with tourists. That’s why Lan Ha Bay is a much better option. Much less boats operate here making it much more serene as well as less polluted. The best way to see this dramatic landscape is by taking up a boat cruise of the area.
Lan Ha Bay covers 7,000 ha, and is made up of around 300 karst islands and limestone sea rocks. There are numerous islands, caves and even beaches just begging to be explored. A true natural beauty. To be totally honest, one night is definitely enough time to get a feel for it. There are a lot of boat operators available from budget to luxury but waking up to that early morning mist covering the mountains is breathtaking. Most tours will include excursions to visit caves, floating villages or to Cat Ba Island, as well as activities like kayaking. You would be absolutely crazy not to visit Lan Ha Bay if you were visiting Vietnam ever, let alone if you were there one month!
Hanoi (5 nights)
Hanoi is the thriving capital city of Vietnam. A chaotic metropolis with stores and housing sprawling for miles. This bustling city is rich with centuries old architecture and culture. Taking heavy influence from Southeast Asia, the Chinese and the French. With a large lake right in the centre of the city, there is a hub of activity spreading outwards.
- Ideally stay in the Old Quarter. Here the streets are narrow and arranged by trade. There is a street for tools, one for toys, one for flowers etc!
- Watch some morning yoga or go for an afternoon stroll at Hoan Kiam Lake in the centre of the city. Whilst here cross the small bridge to the Ngoc Son Pagoda.
- Visit the 11th century Imperial Citadel of Thang Long, a World Heritage Site. The 40m central flag tower is often used as a symbol of Hanoi.
- Visit the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum and either go inside to see his preserved body in a glass case, or just admire the large marble building from afar.
- The night market is on every night by the lake and worth checking out for some people watching if nothing else. Lots of great street food available too.
- The Hanoi Opera House was built in 1911 modelled after the Paris Opera House and is a stunning piece of French colonial influenced architecture.
- Get educated on the atrocities of the war at the Hoa Lu Prison where they used to house prisoners of war during the Vietnam War. Now a museum, this eerie place is full of relics and information relating to the war.
- Hanoi Train Street is a unique collection of cafes right by the train line. Seriously right on it. Make sure to time your visit with a train so you can sip a coffee whilst watching the train go past a mere metre away from you.
- Banh Mi 25 do the best Banh Mi sandwiches in town. We at there at least three times. They have even put a bit of a fusion twist on some of their rolls with the inclusion of avocado or various types of bbq meats.
- Wise up at the 1000 year old Temple of Literature, a park full of temples, pavilions and shrines dedicated towards Confucius.
- St Josephs Cathedral is a grand Catholic Church from the 1880’s that bears a strong resemblance to the French Notre Dame. It is the oldest church in Hanoi and very impressive.
- The Presidential Palace was a mansion built between 1900 and 1906 to house the French Governor-General of Indochina and a beautiful example of the architecture of the time.
- Bach Ma Temple, a beautiful 11th century temple right in the heart of the old quarter. .
- The Lotte Tower Observation Deck gives you an epic view over the city from 65 floors up.
- The Long Bien Bridge is a historic steel cantilever bridge connecting two distracts of Hanoi. Really cool site.
- Visit the 6th century Buddhist temple, Tran Quoc Temple. There is a beautiful 11 floored stupa filled with statues and covered in gemstones.
Sapa (3 nights)
Sapa is a picturesque mountain town found in the northwest of Vietnam, close to the Chinese border. This previously sleepy town has succumb to tourism and is now a major tourist destination. And for good reason, with dramatic views over the Hoang Lien Son mountain range and the stunning steeply tiered rice terraces. Many choose to go on hikes between rural villages and stay with local families in homesteads to get a taste of local life. These days, Sapa is much easier to get to than when it was established as a hill station by the French in 1922. You can take a minibus in roughly 5 hours, or take an overnight luxury train.
- Mount Fansipan is the countries highest peak at 3,143m. You can either trek for 2+ days or take the 6km cable car ride, taking just 15 minutes.
- Sapa is famous for its waterfalls and Silver Waterfalls is worth a visit. A series of flows that cascade from 200m. Love Waterfall is slightly further upstream.
- Whilst visiting Silver Waterfalls make sure to check out the Tram Ton Pass. The high-test pass in Vietnam looking down over the terraced mountains from 1900m.
- The Muong Hoa Valley is an unreal vista where the Hoa Stream seemingly carves through the mountains with various villages between.
- Do some mountain trekking, there are loads of trails around from a few short hours to overnighters and even longer. The Cat Cat and Ta Phi trails are short day treks you can do without a guide.
- Visit some of the nearby local villages and stay in a traditional family home, experiencing community life. Cat Cat village is one of the oldest in the region and famous for being the home of the H’mong ethnic group. Ban Pho Village is home to the Bay Ha tribe and famous for it’s corn wine making industry.
- Visit the ethnic minority market in Bac Ha. The small town market is full of traders from the various nearby tribes.
- The Fairy Cave is similar scenery to that of Ha Long Bay and a fantastic spot to swim after a days trekking.
- Sapa Lake is right in the heart of town and a great place to chill out and watch the locals and tourists going about their days.
Tam Coc (3 nights)
With no idea of what to expect after having done little research, Tam Coc was perhaps our favourite place in all of Vietnam. Only a couple of hours from Hanoi this impressive landscape is reminiscent to that of Ha Long Bay but inland. Limestone mountains pop up seemingly everywhere amongst the vast fields of rice paddies. If they filmed Jurassic Park here it would not have been out of place whatsoever. This is dramatic landscape if ever we’ve seen it. Well they did actually films Indochine and King Kong here. We highly recommend staying somewhere in the rice fields to get a better feel for the area, around Hang Mua is ideal.
- Take a two hour long boat ride with a local who rows with their feet! This is the main drawcard of the area and really showcases the dramatic landscape to its best. Your rower carefully navigates through caves barely high enough to fit through and you pop out in the spectacular wilderness dominated by towering peaks and lush jungle.
- The flat plains of the area make it perfect for bike riding. Heading out into the rice fields along small trails makes you feel as if you have gone back in time.
- Bich Dong Pagoda is built into a mountain, you literally have to climb through it to the reach the top. Dating back to 1428 this impressive temple complex’s entrance is just as stunning as the pagoda. Connected to the mainland by a stone bridge and guarded by a large stone gate.
- Climb the Hang Mua caves trail. With a steep manmade staircase like the Great Wall of China, this tough climb goes 500 steps to the peak. Half way up the trail splits in two offering a route to a dramatic pagoda jutting out of the limestone cliff, the other going to the peak where there is an enormous stone dragon.
- Hoa Lu was an ancient citadel, home to the first two imperial dynasties of Vietnam. This imperial city was strategically hidden amongst the mountains and bordered by a river. Various temples to visit here worshipping the imperial kings.
- The Bai Dinh Pagoda complex is a massive complex devoted to Buddha and is full of many temples and over 500 statues of Buddha of all shapes and sizes.
Hopefully this has helped you in planning one month in Vietnam. Have you been to Vietnam or are planning a trip? Leave a comment below!