Heading to Vietnam? We share the perfect way to spend 3 weeks in Vietnam including a Vietnam itinerary, things to know and what to pack!
Vietnam is a fascinating country with bustling cities and hole-in-the-wall restaurants standing alongside breathtaking rice terraces and landscapes. But where to start when planning a trip to Vietnam? Today we share how to spend 3 weeks in Vietnam so that you can plan the perfect Vietnam vacation.
Things to know before you visit Vietnam
Vietnam is a cheap, diverse country in South East Asia and the perfect destination for newbie travellers. However, there are a few things you need to know before you go to Vietnam.
- Apply for your visa – When entering Vietnam, you may need to get a visa. Check the visa regulations for your passport in advance and use the Vietnamese Embassy website to apply for your visa in advance. In major airports, you can obtain a visa on arrival but expect long queues and have passport sized photos and USD available.
- Check Vaccination – Book an appointed with your GP or health centre at least 6 weeks before you travel to see which vaccinations are recommended for your trip. Remember that the more remote destinations you visit in Vietnam, the more jobs you may need.
- Book your first night – After a long flight, you do not want to spend your first evening searching for accommodation. Plus, Hanoi tends to be pretty quiet after 11pm so booking at least your first night in advance is essential.
- Currency – Vietnam use US dollars and Vietnamese Dong so it is best to have a bit of each. US dollars are used more in tourism (so hotels, tours, transport) but Vietnamese Dong is the best option for restaurants, shops, bars and market stalls. If you have a choice to pay with either currency, Dong usually works out cheaper.
- Use the travel agencies – In every major city of Vietnam, you will see hundreds of travel agencies lining the streets. Don’t be afraid to book tours or transport with these companies but make sure you shop around for the best price and package for you.
- Prepare to haggle – As with many destinations in South East Asia, you will need to haggle to get the best price in markets and independent shops. The rule to follow is, if there is a price advertised then that is probably a set price and you won’t need to haggle too much but if there is no price listed, offer 30% and work up to 50% of the original price.
What to pack for Vietnam
Vietnam is warm and laid back, so you do not need to worry too much about dressing up. Packing shorts, skirts and light weight t-shirts and vest tops are a must. However, there are a few extra items you need to remember to pack:
- A light pashmina and light weight long trousers – You will need to cover your shoulders and legs when visiting temples and these items will come in handy on long bus journeys or planes, when the air conditioning gets too cold.
- Layers – Certain areas of Vietnam are colder than others. Halong Bay for example can get chilly, as can Sapa. Pack layers especially if you re visiting from October to March.
- Waterproof Jacket – If you are visiting in rainy season, bring a waterproof jacket to keep you dry when the heavens open. We love these foldable, easy to carry jackets.
- Mosquito Repellent – Mosquitos are everywhere in Asia and although they are mostly not dangerous, they are annoying. Bring a mosquito spray or wristbands to avoid being bitten whilst you are out exploring.
- US dollars – As we mentioned before, these are needed for that visa on arrival.
- Dry Bag – There are lots of water activities around Vietnam, including kayaking and canoeing. Bring a dry bag to keep your items safe and dry during these days out.
- Stay safe – After a challenging year, we have all been reminded about how important it is to keep practising good hygiene. Whenever we travel, we use hand sanitiser throughout the day and these instant hand soaps are perfect before eating. No one wants to get sick whilst they are travelling but in countries where the tap water isn’t the best, these instant sprays include soap and water to wash up before eating.
When to visit Vietnam
The best time to visit Vietnam really depends on which region you are visiting and what experiences you are looking for. February to April and August to October are the best times to visit because of the warm but not unbearable weather, however this is high season so expect crowds and high prices. Visiting the north of Vietnam from October to April is a popular choice but December and January can be quite cold. To avoid typhoons, visit Central and south Vietnam from November to May.
How to get around Vietnam
Vietnam Itinerary 3 weeks
After exploring Vietnam multiple times and discussing itineraries with fellow travellers, we have put together a perfect itinerary for those who wish to spend 3 weeks in Vietnam – drop out a few nights in the major cities if you have less time.
We have tried our best to include the highlights of the country but of course, not very destination is included in this Vietnam 3 week itinerary. Our itinerary in Vietnam starts in Hanoi and works its way south but you can easily take the opposite route.
Hanoi – 3 nights
To begin with, start north. Hanoi is the capital of Vietnam and is the perfect place to start. You will notice a mixture of Southeast Asian, French and Chinese influences across the city but base yourself in the Old Quarter to soak in the real essence of Hanoi.
If you have one month in Vietnam, you can also take an overnight train from Hanoi to Sapa to explore the gorgeous rice terraces. If you have 2 weeks in Vietnam starting in Hanoi, this itinerary still works for you but you may want to miss out a few stops and use flights to get around.
We have a full Hanoi Travel Guide to help you plan your trip but here is a quick overview:
Getting to Hanoi
Most people arrive at Hanoi International Airport (Noi Bai International) with international flights from across the world serving the capital airport. From the airport, there are a few ways to get to the city centre and Old Quarter with the easiest option being a taxi or Grab (similar to Uber). Expect to pay about $15 for the 40 minute journey and remember to make sure your taxi driver uses the meter (hence why we stick to the Grab app).
Things to do in Hanoi
There are lots of different activities to choose from in the capital so we have grouped them together depending on their location but of course, change the days around if you wish. We have even more things to do in Hanoi too, if you are staying for longer.
Once you have arrived and checked in, you will want to get exploring straight away. We highly recommend staying in one of the hotels in the Old Quarter so you can see these sights on your first day.
The Old Quarter – The Old Quarter is known for its cute cafes, unique architecture and delicious restaurants and hole-in-the-wall food vendors. Try coconut coffee at Cong Caphe as you explore the old houses in the area then take a stroll around Hoan Kiem Lake. If you have time, walk over to the Ngoc Son Temple; an impressive temple in the heart of the lake.
Enjoy a Vietnamese lunch in the side streets; we have a full post on the best restaurants in Hanoi for you to choose from. Then, visit St Joseph’s Cathedral; one of Vietnams iconic landmark then walk the the side roads nearby to visit the bars and boutique stores nearby. Check out the delicious Trang Tien Ice Cream then take a short stroll down the road to the Hanoi Opera House.
As a great introduction to Vietnamese food, head to Hanoi Night Market and taste some of the best local dishes. Try some Pho Noodle Soup, Cha Ca and a Banh Mi Baguette Sandwich. For steamed rice rolls, look for Banh Cuon signs and adventurous eaters should try Ôc Len Xào Dùa; sea snails in Coconut Milk.
Serious Sightseeing – Today, you have had time to get over any jet lag and you will be filling your day with some serious sightseeing in Hanoi.
Get up early to visit the Tran Quoc Pagoda, the oldest Buddhist temple in Hanoi. Arrive here just after 8am to see the temple at its quietest. After you have finished exploring, head to the Paris Baguette West Lake cafe for an easy bakery breakfast or walk a little further to Cafe Cổ Ngư Lâu for gorgeous views across the lake whilst you eat.
After you have eaten, take the 15 minute walk (or order a Grab for the 5 minute drive) to the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum. This Mausoleum is the resting place of Vietnamese Revolutionary leader and President Ho Chi Minh. The Mausoleum is open from 7.30am but remember to dress appropriately; short shorts, sleeveless shirts, tank tops and mini-skirts are not allowed.
Not far from the Mausoleum (around a 2 minute walk away), is the One Pillar Pagoda; a unique a Buddhist temple originally erected in 1049.
If it isn’t 12pm yet, head over to the Ho Chi Minh Museum, open from 8am to 12 and 2 to 4.30pm. If it is past 12, stop for lunch nearby then head back here for 2. Either way, this museum is dedicated to the former president and offers an interesting look into the Vietnamese past.
In the afternoon, head over to the Hanoi Train Street BUT check the recent updates before visiting. The Hanoi Train Street was once open for all tourists until it saw way to many visitors disrupting the train route. This is a tight street, lined with cafes and restaurants sitting on either side of a train track. Throughout the day, trains travel along and visitors can feel the train skim past them, narrowly avoiding them. The street closed to tourism for a few months but as of March 2020, it is now open to those visiting the cafes and restaurants.
After a busy day of sightseeing, relax in one of the many restaurants and bars in the area. For sport lovers, we recommend the New York Sports Bar for decent priced drinks and tasty food, including western options for fussy eaters.
Begin the day by heading straight to the Temple Of Literature, a Confucius temple with gorgeous courtyards and shrines to admire.
After exploring, you have probably built up an appetite so it is time to eat. We have two options here depending on your preference:
Option 1 – A Cooking Class: Hanoi is a great location to take a cooking class; there a plenty of options and the food in the North of Vietnam differs to the dishes in the South, so if you love to cook, try a course in both places.
Families can spend the evening at the Thang Long Water Supper Theatre whilst those looking for a cold drink and great view should head to the Legend Beer Bar.
Read this 2 days in Hanoi guide if you are short on time in Vietnam.
Halong Bay - 2 nights
For the next 2 nights, you will be cruising around Halong Bay. We have taken a 1 night and 2 night trip before and both options are fine, depending on your budget and how much time you have.
Halong Bay is iconic and for good reason. Labeled as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, this bay is stunning, full of jagged limestone karsts protruding from the water. It is a unique experience and a must in Vietnam. Just make sure you choose your cruise wisely using these tips for Halong Bay.
Browse the cruises available and we highly recommend booking your trip in advance, using reviews to help you make the best choice. We love the cruises listed on Indochina Junk Cruises – Marguerite Cruiser offers great 3 day, 2 night cruises, whilst our most recent trip was on the Alisa Cruise which offered fantastic food and we would highly recommend for a 2 day, 2 night cruise (see video series below).
Expect to pay around $75 – $100 for a budget 2 day, 1 night trip or $150 – 200 for a more luxurious options. There are some excellent cruises around the bay that charge up to $400 for a 3 day, 2 night trip but either way, we recommend you book in advance to get the best prices.
Most cruises will stop at a few places around the bay, including Sung Sot Cave, a local fishing village and an island beach. Cruises often include a brief cooking class, optional kayaking and occasionally, morning yoga.
Companies generally tend to include a transfer service to and from your hotel in Hanoi and the port but these are often small, overcrowded mini-vans. We recently opted for a private driver to take us to the boat, costing us around $60 for a large car for 4 people.
Halong Bay packing list:
- Comfortable shoes for rocks
- Hiking clothings
- A warm jacker for the colder evenings
- A rainjacket or poncho
- A towel
- A camera (waterproof if you want to take photos of kayaking)
- Snacks (meals are included but you may want some snacks)
Short on time? Skip Ninh Binh and fly to Hue.
Ninh Binh - 2 nights
After finishing your cruise, head over to Ninh Binh; a city just over 4 hours away the bay. There are a few different ways to travel between the destinations and we have a full post to help you get from Halong Bay to Ninh Binh.
Ninh Binh is a beautiful province and is a must for your visit with plenty of things to do in Ninh Binh.
After arriving here around lunch time, you are probably feeling a little hungry. Head to one of the many restaurants for some local food or visit the restaurants near D Lounge Van Tuy for some snail restaurants. Cho Bop Market is another option for a quick lunch if you are looking to try a few local meals and snacks.
You can visit the Phat Diem Cathedral in the afternoon the head over to Cầu ngói Phát Diệml a unique bridge made of wood.
Get an early morning taxi to visit this famous landscape. Tam Coc is similar to Halong Bay but its karsts are surrounded by green rice paddies and there are a lot less people.
Once you have explored the landscapes and take a boat around the river ways, you could head further on to Bich Dong Pagoda which dates back to the 15th Century.
You may choose to take a day tour of the area if you want to see everything Tam Coc has to offer; Klook has lots of options to choose from.
Hue - 3 nights
From Ninh Binh, you can catch a long journey train (around 11.5 hours), get a bus (just under 11 hours) or take a flight (6 hours).
The former capital of Vietnam, Hue is an interesting and impressive place to visit in Central Vietnam.
After taking the journey down to Hue, you will want to spend the afternoon relaxing and trying some local food. Some popular places to eat include Bun Bo Hanh, Bun Bo Hue My Tam, Com Hen Ba Cam and Com Hen 17.
Start the day exploring the Imperial City. This was the home of the Emperors from the 1900s to the end of World War II, offering temples and museums for visitors. There is about 3 hours worth of sightseeing to be done here and tickets cost 150,000 VND.
Either hire a car, scooter or even take a boat tour and head out to visit the Ancient Tombs. Located along the Perfume River, the tombs is a must-see stop on your Vietnam trip.
Tomb of Khai Dinh is one of the most elaborate tombs to visit, constructed in 1925 whilst the Tomb of Tu Due is equally impressive, massive and more preserved. Aim to arrive at these two tombs before 10am when the tour buses tend to arrive.
Travel the Hai Van Pass
Famous from the Top Gear episode, you can drive across the Hai Van Pass when leaving Hue. This scenic, zig zagging road is a favourite for many travellers because of the gorgeous ocean views. You can take a motorbike, private car or even a jeep along the route.
There are several stops along the way if you have the time to explore the max:
- Fishing Village on the Tom Giant Lagoon
- Bach Ma National Park
- Long Co Beach
- My The Beach
- The Marble Mountains
Hoi An and Da Nang - 4 nights
Hoi An; voted one of the best towns to visit in the world, isn’t actually our favourite place in Vietnam but it is worth a visit. The town of Hoi An is covered in colour lanterns alongside the canals and little boats, offering a wonderful charm. However, Hoi An is incredibly popular with tourists and it’s far too small to hold the amount of visitors it receives each year.
Explore the old town of Hoi An once you arrive in Hoi An but expect the crowds to increase as the day progresses. You can see lanterns lit up every night, eat at the local cafes or get yourself a suit or dress made at one of the many dressmakers. As the evening rolls around, head to the night market to pick up some trinkets, souvenirs and cheap clothes.
On your first full day of Hoi An, we recommend heading to the beach. An Bang is a popular option with a selection of restaurants and bars nearby whilst Cua bai Beach is a quieter option.
You can choose to stay in Hoi An itself during this trip or spend a night or two in Da Nang. This is Vietnam’s answer to a seaside town. The coastal city is growing quickly and on our last trip in early 2020, the coastal line was still developing, with a lot of construction work across the town. However, there are plenty of beach bars and restaurants to choose from and some fantastic day trips to be had from here.
We recommend heading to the Marble Mountains for some amazing hiking and viewpoints. These are 5 separate hills made of limestone that you can get up close to. Plus, you will find Buddhist pagodas and shrines dotted among the mountains.
History buffs can visit the Cham Museum, the Phap Lam Pagoda and the Da Nang Cathedral. My Son Sanctuary is another beautiful UNESCO World Heritage Site to visit, with a collection of ruins and ornate carved pillars.
Looking to relax a little more? Spend the say on My Khe Beach, a 20 mile beach in Da Nang. Here you can sunbath, snorkel, surf, jet ski or pig out at the amazing seafood restaurants lining the beach.
In the evening, head over to the Dragon Bridge which lights up each evening and spits out fire and water at 9pm on the weekends.
Ba Na Hills
For something a little different, head to Ba Na Hills. This is an attraction with gorgeous gardens, amazing views meet theme park. Head up the hill via cable car to visit the fantasy park entertainment zones including a wax museum and rides, before heading over to the Golden Bridge. You will recognising this bridge from social media, but this is a pedestrian bridge supported by a giant hand above gorgeous sea views.
Nha Trang - 3 nights
If you have the full 3 weeks to explore Vietnam, make sure you continue along the coastline to Nha Trang. This area is known for its white beaches and scuba diving; perfect for spring and summer travel. You can expect budget backpacker options here as well as luxurious hotels.
Getting from Da Nang to Nha Trang:
- The Bus – A popular option for budget travellers is by catching the bus. This is an 11 hour bus ride with overnight options available; tickets cost around $11 and canoe booked online at 12Go.
- The Train – The railway link runs along the coastline and is a picturesque option for those that love train travel. The fastest journey takes 8.5 ours whilst the longest takes up to 11 hours.
- Fly – Our favourite option is to fly. The journey takes just over an hour and you can get flights for as little as $20 using VietJet Air.
When you arrive in Nha Trang, check in, drop your bags and get exploring. Stay in the Loc Tho area to be near the best restaurants and bars. This seaside area is full of random architecture and and fun markets so there is plenty of things to see on your first day in Nha Trang.
Places to visit in Nha Trang beyond the beach:
- Thap ba Ponagar Godness Tower – Founded before 781 C.E, this ancient temple is a must see in Nha Trang.
- Long Son Pagoda – This white Buddha sits at the top of a set of stairs, overlooking the city. This is also one of the best things to see in Nha Trang.
- Nha Trang Market – an expansive local market, spanning 3 floors and filled with boutiques and stalls selling food and souvenirs.
- Agarwood Tower – a lotus shaped beachfront building.
- Vinpearl Nha Trang – An amusement and entertainment centre complete with games and even a water dancing performance. Perfect for the evenings.
Nha Trang is known for its waterfalls with famous falls such as the Ba Ho and Fairy Spring Waterfalls. Spend your first day visiting the different falls; there are lots of tours available or you can hire a private driver.
Then spend your afternoon at the beach; Nha Trang is known for its BEAUTIFUL beaches.
Ho Chi Minh City - 3 nights
Ho Chi Minh City is the largest city in Vietnam and makes for a great final destination on your itinerary. It is a busy, buzzing city and a great option for those looking to experience a fast-paced city in Asia.
We have a full Ho Chi Minh City Travel Guide for those planning a visit to this diverse city.
When you first arrive, you will want to spend some time getting to know the city. Head to Ben Thanh Market. This is a unique Saigon spot surrounded by streets and streets of hostels, bars and cafes. Inside the market, you can browse the handicrafts, textiles, souvenirs and local food before trying an egg coffee in a nearby cafe.
As the sunsets, head over to Ngu Yen Hue Walking Street. This is a street with no mopeds speeding down it and a great place for a bit of shopping before an evening of eating and drinking.
Cu Chi Tunnels
Plan a tour (whether a group or private driver) to the Cu Chi Tunnels. We recommend heading here early to beat the afternoon sun and the crowds. This is a world-famous site created in the Vietnam War by the Viet Cong for the Tet Offensive in 1968.
After a long day exploring the tunnels, you can head to Chinatown. Like many countries in Asia, there is a huge Chinese influence in the country and HCMC is home to a vibrant, fascinating Chinatown in Cho Lon District 5.
In the district, you will also fine the Thien Hau Pagoda; a 19th century temple deduced to the Chinese sea goddess and surrounding by burning scented sticks.
On your last full day in Vietnam, start your day early and head to the War Remnants Museum. This is a reminder of the horrendous Vietnamese war and be warned, there is some thought provoking and gut wrenching photographic exhibitions here. You will also find pieces of authentic military artefacts used in the war such as a helicopter, fight jet and tank.
The museum opens at 7.30am and we recommend getting here early. Catch a taxi or use the grab app; this should cost just 50,000 VND (around $2) from District 1.
After exploring the museum, you may want to see some more colonial architecture in the city. The Saigon Post office is worth a visit along with the Statue of Ho Chi Minh.
Spend the afternoon relaxing (or packing) before heading on a sunset boat trip. There are two ways to take a trip along the river; using the public boat or a tour boat. Public boats can be take from the Bach Dang Pier near the statue of Tran Hung Dao. It takes around 45 minutes and shows the key sights of the city; costing around 15,000 VND (around $0.65). For those looking for a boat with food and drink you can pay anything between $30 – $100 for a luxurious cruise down the river; check out Bonsai Cruise for the best option for your trip.
So it is your last day and you are probably getting ready for your flight home BUT if you do have some time for a quick breakfast, why not try one of these options in the city:
- The Old Compass Cafe – This is a healthy breakfast option in Saigon, offering traditional western breakfasts as well as Banh Mi and eggs. You can also get some really good Vietnamese drip coffee here too.
- Vintage Emporium – For a beautiful setting in District 2, head to this cafe for a friendly, low key breakfast. They also have indoor and outdoor seating.
- Cafe Marcel – A popular location for expats in Ho Chi Minh City, this French Cafe offers DELICIOUS brunch options including build-your-own breakfast sandwiches and oh-so-sweet desserts and pastries.
- Au Parc – This is a fancy cafe in a colonial styled shophouse. They offer mediterranean food and all types of breakfasts from around the world.
- L’Usine Cafe – Offering English breakfasts, avocado on toast and everything in between, this vintage industrial styled cafe had three locations around district 1.
- Mekong Merchant – This cafe can be found in District 2 and is charming. Eat in a rustic courtyard with western breakfasts available.
Visiting Vietnam FAQ
For budget backpackers, it is best to plan for around $50-$60 a day. If you plan on staying in private rooms and eating at sit-down restaurants, aim for at least $80-$100 a day. However, if you are traveling as a couple who are staying in the same room, expect to pay around $120 for both of you.
Vietnam has a lot to offer and two weeks is enough to visit the two major cities (Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City) then visit the beautiful Halong Bay and perhaps an additional destination; Hoi An is a gorgeous water town or for those looking for the beach, head down to Da Nang or Nha Trang.
It really depends on what you are looking for. Budget travel is cheap in both countries but cheaper dorms can be found in Thailand. However, sit down meals and private rooms are more affordable in Vietnam. Plus, Vietnam offer night buses and trains for cheaper prices than Thailand. Overall, we found 3 weeks in Vietnam to be cheaper than Thailand.
As expats living in Thailand (and a whole website dedicated to our love of Bangkok), then we are going to say no. Thailand is easier for travellers, it offers more variety and getting around is more convenient. HOWEVER, the history and natural beauty of Vietnam is incredible so it should be a place you visit!
An average meal in Vietnam will cost $3-$8. You can pick up street food for as little as $1.50 but tis may not be enough to fill you. Sit down restaurants or hole-in-the-wall vendors sell full meals for around $5. Travelling as a couple, we would spend have a Banh Minh or coffee and pastry for breakfast, a sit down Vietnamese meal for lunch in a local restaurant and then a more western meal for dinner; perhaps in a nicer restaurant or bar. We spend around $70 for both of us, including alcohol.
Vietnam is a great place to buy clothes but it can be hard to find a decently priced place. Because the country is known for cheap clothing, many tailors have taken advantage of this and now tailored suits and outfits are not as cheap as they once were.
August offers the cheapest flights to Vietnam. It is rainy season during this time but you can get great last minute deals from many countries in the west. The most expensive month to fly to Vietnam is January, November and December as these are considered the high season.
Vietnam is warm all year but March to April offers good weather (but not too hot), light rainfalls and light crowds.
Both destinations are popular but the capital of Hanoi shows a more traditional lifestyle. Plus, it is just a few hours drive to Halong Bay; one of Vietnam’s most beautiful sites. Ho Chi Minh City is more catered for those looking for a little more luxury when they travel.
You will want at least 3 days to visit the Cu Chi tunnels, the museums, try the local food and visit the markets.
You will want at least 3 days to explore the Old Town, visit the nearby beaches in Da Nang but also have an extra day to visit My Son (the remains of an ancient temple).
Yes, Vietnam offers a tourist route from Hanoi down the coast to Ho Chi Minh City. Plus, long distance cars are affordable compared to western prices. Domestic flights are also affordable but make sure to book luggage before arriving at the airport.
Start in Hanoi then head to Halong Bay for the natural beauty. Then head south, following the coastline to Hue, Hoi An, Da Nang, Nha Trang and Ho Chi Minh City.
Overall, Vietnam is a safe place to solo travel and a good place for new travellers too. You can expect plenty of dorm rooms, budget transport options and many, many fellow travellers to get to know.
We hope you have a great time in Vietnam – let us know what you are most looking forward to and where you are heading to in the comments below!
Before you go, here are a few more helpful posts to help you plan your trip: