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Vietnam Highlights: 3 Week Itinerary from South to North

September 14, 2022
20 Min Read
Colorful boats on a beach in Vietnam
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Vietnam has it all: motorbike adventures, long beaches, historical towns, amazing food, and a diverse culture. It is a country where you can experience so much in so little time, but planning a trip to Vietnam can be daunting. Lucky for you, we’ve spent the last three years living and traveling in Vietnam, and we’ve created the best and most up-to-date itineraries! 

This is a three week itinerary in Vietnam complete with all the latest information to help you plan your trip. We’ve included the best places to visit, how long to stay at each destination, how to get there, and many of our best travel tips.

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Colorful boats on a beach in Vietnam

Travel Route For 


3 Weeks
  1. Ho Chi Minh
  2. Mekong Delta
  3. Mui Ne
  4. Da Lat
  5. Hoi An
  6. Ninh Binh
  7. Hanoi
  8. Sa Pa
  9. Ha Giang
  10. Ha Long Bay
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3 Week Vietnam Itinerary 

This 21-day Vietnam itinerary is designed to take you from South to North while experiencing the country's nature, culture, and cuisine. This guide is for you if you're visiting Vietnam for the first time and want to see as many highlights as possible.

You can also learn more about our top 17 travel tips and advice to help you plan your trip better. It includes visa requirements and other important information to be aware of before visiting Vietnam. 

Read: 17 Useful Tips Before Visiting Vietnam

A woman sells goods at a market in Vietnam

Day 1 & 2: Ho Chi Minh City

Recommended Duration of Stay: 2 Nights

Best Time to Visit: December to March

How to Get Around: Foot, Motorbike, Taxi

Ho Chi Minh City, also known as Saigon, is a city with millions of things going on at the same time. Here, you'll find the most exciting and best street food in the country. As well as, countless day trips and attractions to explore.  

Street food stalls in Saigon, Vietnam

How to Get to Saigon Center From the Airport

Car: The most convenient way to reach Saigon center from Tan Son Nhat International Airport (SGN) is to take a taxi or Grab. As most accommodations in Saigon are located in District 1, 3 or 4, you can expect to pay around 7 USD. Download the Grab mobile app before you arrive and buy a local sim card at the airport. 

Tip: If you want to enjoy a hassle-free arrival for an affordable price, book this Ho Chi Minh airport private transfer

A market in Saigon, Vietnam

Starting out in Ho Chi Minh City can be a bit chaotic. So, as you adjust to the heat, we recommend taking it easy when you arrive and settling into your accommodations first. 

Ho Chi Minh City is massive, and deciding where to stay depends on what you want to do and see. We recommend staying as close to District 1 (the center) as possible. Districts 3 and 4 are two more neighborhoods where we recommend staying. Find all Saigon accommodations here.

Bird-eye view Saigon's skyline.

You can also use this day to visit the city's main attractions, such as the Notre Dame Cathedral, the Saigon Central Post Office, and the War Remnants Museum. It is easy to visit on your own, but if you want something more convenient, book a guided tour of Saigon's main attractions. You can take a morning or afternoon tour of the City in the comfort of a jeep with a local guide.

Saigon's post office

Spend your second day visiting Saigon beyond the usual tourist attractions. Head to Chinatown in the morning to explore the vibrant market filled with traditional shops and local food stalls. 

If you’re into history, you can choose to visit the Cu Chi tunnels on this day instead. It is one of the popular things to do while in Ho Chi Minh, so expect a crowd. We recommend booking the morning guided tour which starts at 8:00am.

Book your Cu Chi tour now!

A woman smiles at the camera in Saigon, Vietnam

Ho Chi Minh City also has some of Vietnam's best street food. One option is to visit Saigon's largest flower market. At night, the street is packed with vendors selling local treats.

A walking food tour is also available, but for those seeking adventure, we recommend booking a street food motorbike tour. The guides will take you through a maze of tiny streets and let you experience the bustling traffic of Saigon as they show you Saigon's hidden gems.

Street-food stalls in Saigon,  Vietnam

Day 3: Ho Chi Minh to Mekong 

Recommended Duration of Stay: 1 to 2 Nights

Best Time to Visit: October to February

How to Get Around: Motorbike, Bicycle, Boat

When it comes to visiting the Mekong Delta in Vietnam, we have one rule: avoid the day tours! We recommend staying at least one night to properly explore the Mekong beyond the usual day trips from Ho Chi Minh. That's because the majority of tours in Ho Chi Minh City are the same: they're not authentic, and you'll be surrounded by a lot of tourists. 

We recommend staying at least one night to get a better experience of the Mekong Delta. Here are three places you can visit based on what you want to do and what you prefer. We also suggest taking the early morning bus from Ho Chi Minh City to give yourself more time to explore the Mekong.

Ben Tre

3 Hours from Saigon

Ben Tre, also known as the Coconut Kingdom in Vietnam, is the place to go if you want to unwind and enjoy the scenery in a relaxed setting. You can ride a bike and discover the coconut lined roads or take a small boat to the mangroves. 

Book your ticket to Ben Tre

Can Tho

4 Hours from Saigon

Can Tho is one of the most popular places to visit in the Mekong because of the Cai Rang floating market. We recommend staying the night in Can Tho and organizing your tour from there if you want to visit this famous floating market. The reason for this is that Can Tho has grown in popularity and can become extremely crowded at times.

Book your ticket to Can Tho

Long Xuyen

5 Hours from Saigon

Long Xuyen is less well-known than Ben Tre and Can Tho, but it is equally beautiful. There are numerous places and activities nearby, including a local floating market. Long Xuyen is a smaller city with a more laid-back vibe.

Book your ticket to Long Xuyen

Day 4: Mekong to Mui Ne

Spend the whole day exploring the Mekong and then take the night bus heading to the beach town of Mui Ne

Mui Ne is a coastal town in southern Vietnam famous for its red and white sand dunes, long beaches, and brightly colored fishing boats. There are many activities to do or you can just relax and try out some fresh seafood. Mui Ne's coastline is also lined with resorts and restaurants, which provide you with a variety of options.

How to Get to Mui Ne From Mekong

Bus: The best way to reach Mui Ne from the Mekong Delta is to take a bus. Depending on where you are, it should take you around 8 hours and a ticket costs around 18 USD. We recommend taking the night bus to avoid traffic and to give you more time to explore Mui Ne.

Book your ticket to Mui Ne

Day 5: Mui Ne

Recommended Duration of Stay: 2 Nights

Best Time to Visit: December to April

How to Get Around: Motorbike, Bicycle, Foot

A trip to Mui Ne would be incomplete without seeing the famous sand dunes. Take advantage of this day to explore Mui Ne's main attractions, which you can easily do on your own. If you prefer to have everything organized for you, you can book a jeep tour that will take you to all of the major tourist attractions. This includes seeing the sunrise on the white dunes, as well as visiting the red dunes, fairy stream, and fishing village.

In the afternoon, go to Ong Dia Rock Beach to watch the sunset. Many locals come here to spend the afternoon swimming or surfing. There are also many street food stalls along the boulevard where you can sit on small plastic chairs and watch the sunset. 

Read: Thing To Do in Mui Ne

The majority of Mui Ne's accommodations are in Ham Tien, along Nguyen Dinh Chieu Road. This is a great area to stay in because the majority of the restaurants and shops are located along the road. We personally liked staying in the area closer to the local fishing village. Find all Mui Ne accommodations here

Day 6: Mui Ne to Dalat

Dalat is a charming hill town known for its cuisine, coffee, and architecture. After hitting the beaches in Mui Ne, head to Dalat to enjoy a cooler climate. Whether you’re looking for adventure or just want to relax, Dalat has something to offer for everyone. 

How to Get to Dalat from Mui Ne

Bus: From Mui Ne, you can take a bus directly to Dalat. We suggest taking the morning bus as it only takes about 4 hours depending on the traffic. You can expect to pay around 9 USD for a ticket. 

Book your ticket to Dalat

Coffee cups with mountains in the background in Dalat, Vietnam

Once you arrive in Dalat, rent a motorbike and explore the scenic mountain town. You can drive along Tuyen Lam Lake and enjoy the fresh mountain breeze, or you can stop by at many of the coffee shops in town. Dalat is well known for its coffee culture and you’ll find plenty of cafes that serve good coffee and amazing views of the mountains. Here are our Favorite Coffee Shops in Dalat.

In the evening, head to the night market and get a taste of the food delicacies in Dalat. You can also check out our list of Best Foods to Try and where to get them. 

Read: Best Coffee Shops in Dalat

Book your hotel close to the night market, where many restaurants and most of the main attractions are. Otherwise, stay anywhere close to Le Van Tam Street. This area offers great mountain views and lots of cafes nearby. Find all Dalat accommodations here.

A woman sells vegetables at a market in Dalat

Day 7: Dalat

Recommended Duration of Stay: 2 Nights

Best Time to Visit: December to March

How to Get Around: Motorbike

Wake up early and catch the sunrise on Da Phu hill. It is an excellent location to watch the sunrise over the mountains of Dalat. The mountains peeking out of the low hanging clouds make for a breathtaking view. Remember to bundle up as it can get quite chilly in the mornings. 

Read: The Ultimate Guide to Dalat

Trees on a mountain slope in Dalat, Vietnam

After breakfast, drive to Cau Dat and explore the tea plantation. The drive to Cau Dat takes about 35 minutes by motorbike from Dalat center. On your way back, you can also stop by the Linh Phuoc Pagoda and marvel at its impressive architecture.

On the other hand, if you want to do something more adventurous, you can join a canyoning tour and explore Dalat's fantastic canyons and gorges.

Linh Phuc Pagoda in Dalat, Vietnam

On the other hand, if you want to do something more adventurous, you can join a canyoning tour and explore Dalat's fantastic canyons and gorges.

Day 8: Dalat to Hoi An

Today you’ll travel from Dalat to Hoi An. Hoi An is one of the most popular places to visit in Vietnam and a must-see on any trip to the country. It is located in the central region and is easily accessible.

a woman walks through the streets of Hoi An with her bicycle.

How to Get to Hoi An from Dalat

Plane: The quickest way to get to Hoi An is to fly. We recommend taking an afternoon flight from Dalat Airport (DLI) to Da Nang Airport (DAD). The drive from the center of Dalat to the airport takes about 35 minutes, so you can take your time in the morning. 

Book your ticket to Da Nang

A woman rides her bicycle with mats tied to the back in Hoi An, Vietnam

Once you arrive in Da Nang, take a taxi or a Grab car to the old quarter of Hoi An, which takes about 40 minutes. You can spend the rest of your day walking around the well preserved colonial streets of Hoi An. 

Spend the night near the old quarter to be close to most of the restaurants, or stay around the Cam An area to be closer to the beach. Find all the Hoi An accommodations here.

Yellow facades in Hoi An, Vietnam

Day 9 & 10: Hoi An

Recommended Duration of Stay: 3 Nights

Best Time to Visit: April to August; December to March

How to Get Around: Foot, Motorbike, Bicycle

A trip to Vietnam isn't complete without a visit to the famous old town of Hoi An. For your first full day in Hoi An, spend the morning walking around and discovering the old quarter. The colorful lanterns that hang all over town make Hoi An romantic with every corner full of photo opportunities. 

Colorful streets in Hoi An, Vietnam

You can easily discover the town's small alleys on foot or by bicycle and there are numerous restaurants and shops to visit. Try the infamous Mót herbal tea, which can be very refreshing after a long day of walking through the ancient town.

A coffeeshop in Hoi An, Vietnam

There are also plenty of street vendors nearby where you can sample some of Hoi An's specialties, such as the Cao Lau rice noodle, which is only available in Hoi An. If you want to learn more about Hoi An's culinary scene, you can take a food tour led by a local guide that will take you to the most authentic street food in Hoi An. 

Looking for a unique Vietnamese food experience? Book a street food tour!

Explore the romantic scene of the old quarter at night as you pass by many lanterns. Head to the night market if you're looking to buy lanterns as a souvenir, there you’ll find many vendors lined up. Otherwise, you can take a Vietnamese lantern making class. You can also take a boat cruise down the river while admiring the night view of the town. 

Read: 10 Things To Do in Hoi An

Lantern lit stalls in Hoi An, Vietnam

Dedicate your second day in Hoi An for day trips. One of the most popular day trips you can take is a visit to the My Son Sanctuary. This is an Unesco Cultural Heritage site which is about an hour away from Hoi An old town. My Son Sanctuary can be visited on your own or a guided tour from Hoi An. The benefit of a guided tour is a local guide who will be able to tell you more about Vietnam's history and culture.

In the afternoon, you can either spend some time exploring Hoi An's rural areas or unwind in the historic district. We suggest you check out the Precious Heritage Art Gallery. It is a masterpiece that honors and celebrates Vietnam's rich cultural heritage. The museum is free to visit and is open every day from 8am to 8pm. The gift shop near the entrance also sells photo books and postcards.

Bird-eye view of a man working in the rice-fields

Day 11: Hoi An to Ninh Binh

Use this day to travel from Hoi An to Ninh Binh, the land version of Halong Bay. Ninh Binh is quite far from Hoi An, so you'll need the whole day to travel. You can choose between flying or taking the train. We suggest departing on the evening of day 10 if you plan to travel by train.

Book your accommodation near the Tam Coc area to be closer to the main attractions in Ninh Binh. From here, you can enjoy breathtaking views of rice fields and karst mountains. Find all Ninh Binh accommodations here.

A woman wearing a Non La in Vietnam

How to Get to Ninh Binh From Hoi An

Plane: The quickest way to get to Ninh Binh is to fly to Hanoi first. From Hoi An, take a car to Da Nang Airport and fly to Hanoi Airport. You can take a bus from the airport to Ninh Binh, which takes about an hour and 30 minutes.

Train: The most straightforward, but longest option is to take the train. The train from Hoi An to Ninh Binh will take at least 14 hours. For a more comfortable ride, take a train from Da Nang. A ticket costs 25 USD.

Book your tickets to Ninh Binh 

A dragon statue in Ninh Binh, Vietnam

Day 12: Ninh Binh 

Recommended Duration of Stay: 2 Nights

Best Time to Visit: Late May to beginning of June

How to Get Around: Motorbike, Bicycle

Any visit to Vietnam should include a stop in Ninh Binh to see the limestone mountains, pagodas, and vast rice fields. Head to Trang An or Tam Coc on your first full day in Ninh Binh to see some of the best views in Ninh Binh that can only be reached by boat.

Read: Ultimate Guide to Tam Coc Boat Tour & Plan your Trip to Ninh Binh: 2 Day Itinerary

Tam Coc river surrounded by rice-fields in Ninh Binh

Take a Trang An boat tour to see more of the area's caves and temples. If you visit between May and June, however, you should take the Tam Coc tour. The rice fields along the karst mountains are at their most beautiful during these months.

Read: Trang An Boat Tour: A Guide to Ninh Binh's Best Attraction

Trang An complex in Ninh Binh

If you're taking the tours, our best advice is to arrive as early as possible to avoid the crowds. By 10am, day tours from Hanoi will arrive, bringing a swarm of tourists to these areas.

In the afternoon, we suggest climbing up the steps of Hang Mua Cave to catch a glimpse of the sunset as you get a 360-degree view of the lush fields below. Remember to bring plenty of water and mind your steps as you walk along the cliff.

Read: Hang Mua Viewpoint: A Must Visit Destination in Vietnam

Hang Mua viewpoint in Ninh Binh

Day 13: Ninh Binh to Hanoi

Hanoi is the capital city of Vietnam and has plenty to offer. From numerous museums for history buffs to an abundance of mouth-watering street food and coffee shops for foodies. Hanoi is also a good base to travel to other destinations in the north of Vietnam. 

A man rests on his rickshaw in Hanoi, Vietnam

How to Get to Hanoi from the Ninh Binh

Bus: There are plenty of buses running from Ninh Binh to Hanoi. The drive takes about 2 hours depending on the traffic and a bus ticket costs about 9 USD. We suggest taking the morning bus from Ninh Binh to give you more time to explore Hanoi in the afternoon. 

Book your ticket to Hanoi

Once you arrive in the Hanoi, spend the rest of your day discovering the old quarter. You can walk around the peaceful Hoan Kiem Lake towards sunset and then head to the night market to try out some of the local street food dishes in Hanoi. Also, don’t miss out on some of the most popular Hanoi specialties, including Bun Cha and Hanoi egg coffee. 

Busy streets in Hanoi, Vietnam

Spend the night in the old quarter so you can walk to the majority of the restaurants and popular tourist attractions. Find all Hanoi accommodations here.

Day 14: Hanoi

Recommended Duration of Stay: 2 Nights

Best Time to Visit: October to February

How to Get Around: Foot, Motorbike

There are numerous museums and temples to visit in Hanoi. You can spend this day exploring the main attractions, such as the Military Museum, Thanh Long Imperial Citadel, Temple of Literature, and Tran Quoc Pagoda on the west lake. It's easy to visit these locations on your own, or you can book a guided tour that will take you to all of Hanoi's must-see attractions.

Book your Hanoi sightseeing tour now!

Temple of Literature in Hanoi, Vietnam

If you want to discover beyond Hanoi’s old quarter, we suggest renting a motorbike and driving around the countryside. You can head to the incense village located in Quang Phu Cau, which is about an hour drive from the Hanoi center. Here you’ll find locals making and drying fields of incense. 

Visit the Thanh Long water puppet show in the evening to find out more about a distinctive aspect of Vietnamese culture. We recommend purchasing your tickets in advance, because they sell out quickly during high season.

A woman sells goods at a market in Hanoi, Vietnam

Day 15: Hanoi to Sapa or Ha Giang

This is likely to be one of the most difficult decisions you will make during your Vietnam trip. We are unable to choose between Sapa and Ha Giang. That is why, if you have the time, we recommend going to both! Whatever you choose, just make sure to avoid the weekends as it gets busy during these times.

However, if you must choose between Sapa and Ha Giang, you have to consider what type of activity you prefer more. If you want to trek through rice terraces and learn more about Vietnamese culture, Sapa is the place to go. The Ha Giang loop, on the other hand, is ideal for sightseeing and going on a motorcycle adventure through winding roads that offers breathtaking scenery.

Yellow ricefields in Sapa

How to Get to Sapa from Hanoi

Train: For a more comfortable ride, take an overnight train from Hanoi heading to Lao Cai. The ride takes around 8 hours and departs from 9 to 10pm. A ticket costs around 30 USD. From Lao Cai train station, take a bus heading to Sapa town. There are multiple buses leaving from the station and tickets are also sold on the train.

Bus: Taking a bus is the easiest and fastest way to get to Sapa town. We suggest taking a night sleeper bus which usually takes about 6 hours for about 15 USD per ticket.  

Book your ticket to Sapa 

People walk in the mountains of Sapa

How to Get to Ha Giang from Hanoi

You can do the Ha Giang loop on your own or as part of a tour. If you book a tour, contact your tour company as they may arrange your transportation from Hanoi.

Read: 6 Ways to Get from Hanoi to Ha Giang

Bus: Otherwise, your best option is to take a bus from Hanoi heading to Ha Giang City. From there, you can arrange a motorbike to rent for your trip. We recommend taking the sleeper bus at night to avoid traffic and to save money on lodging. The trip takes about 6 hours and prices start at 7 USD. 

Book your ticket to Ha Giang

A small town surounded by mountains in Ha Giang

Day 16 & 17: Sapa or Ha Giang


Recommended Duration of Stay: 3 Nights

Best Time to Visit: March to May; September to November

How to Get Around: Foot, Motorbike, Bicycle

Travel from Hanoi to Sapa and enjoy the picturesque rice terraces and ethnic villages. Sapa can be very touristy if you stay primarily in the main town. You'll also notice that most of the tours available are the same, so expect crowds, especially during peak season.

Dramatic landscapes in Ha Giang, Vietnam

We recommend skipping Sapa's main town and instead staying in one of the smaller villages nearby. Then, hire a local guide to take you on a hike through the rolling rice terraces and don’t forget to sample some of Sapa's delicacies, such as black mountain pig with rice wine!

Sapa Sisters is one of the trekking tours we discovered that supports local Hmong women through ethical tourism. You can learn more about their tours and whether they are a good fit for you by visiting their website.

Rice terraces in Sapa, Vietnam

Ha Giang 

Recommended Duration of Stay: 4 Nights

Best Time to Visit: March to May; September to November

How to Get Around: Motorbike 

If you want to have an amazing motorbike experience, this is the place to go! The Ha Giang region is a legendary destination with extraordinary scenery that is a must-see on your Vietnam trip. It has dramatic limestone peaks, winding roads, and isolated minority villages.

Read: Vietnam on Motorbike: Discover the Ha Giang Region

Mountain surround a town in Ha Giang, Vietnam

A motorbike loop is the best way to see some of Ha Giang's most breathtaking views. Note that in recent years, Ha Giang has gained popularity and can be quite busy especially during the weekend. So we suggest avoiding the weekends and holidays to get the most out of the Ha Giang trip. 

We did a three-day motorbike loop with Ha Giang Hideaways and highly recommend them. They've taken care of everything, from transportation to food and lodging. The loop was one of the best experiences we'd had in Vietnam.

Book your guided motorbike tour with Ha Giang Hideaways!

A statue in Meo Vac, Vietnam

Day 19: Sapa or Ha Giang to Halong Bay

Use this day to travel to Halong Bay. You can spend the full day exploring Sapa or the Ha Giang loop. Then take the night bus to Halong Bay so you can arrive at the port early in the morning, giving you enough time before you board your cruise.

A portrait of a young girl in Y Ty, Sapa

How to Get to Halong Bay

Bus: You can take a bus from Ha Giang or Sapa to Ha Long City for around 3 USD and organize your boat tour there. If you book ahead of time, inquire with your tour company about free or discounted transportation. The drive takes about 8 hours to get to Halong City. 

Book your ticket to Halong Bay

Tip: We recommend to plan ahead and book your Halong Bay cruise in advance to ensure that you can find a cruise that fits your budget and schedule.

Day 20: Halong Bay 

Recommended Duration of Stay: 1 Night

Best Time to Visit: October to December

How to Get Around: Boat Tour

One of the best ways to end your Vietnam trip is to take a relaxing river cruise through Halong Bay, also known as the Bay of Descending Dragons. This UNESCO World Heritage Site is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Vietnam. 

A boat in Halong Bay

With 3000 towering limestone islands to explore, you could easily spend the entire day relaxing and admiring the scenery as you board one of the many boats that offer tours. You can also participate in activities such as kayaking and exploring caves and hidden beaches, depending on the tour you booked. To make the most of what Halong Bay has to offer, we suggest booking a one night boat tour instead of a day tour. 

Read: What to Expect When Visiting Ha Long Bay

Day 21: Halong Bay to Hanoi

From Halong Bay, head back to Hanoi to catch your flight home. You can spend another night relaxing in Hanoi or you can go directly to the airport from Ha Long City. The drive takes about 3 hours and you can easily book a transfer online or through your Halong Bay tour company. 

Book your ticket to Hanoi 

You could also consider spending the night in Hanoi before flying home. Especially if you have an early flight or simply do not want to rush and eliminate the possibility of missing your flight.

Book a private car here for hassle-free airport transfer.

A street vendor in Hanoi, Vietnam

And there you have it!

The perfect 3 week Vietnam travel itinerary. We hope this travel guide provides all the information needed to help you plan your trip to Vietnam. You can always change it to fit your needs. We’re sure that there’ll be places you’ll enjoy more than we did, so take your time and adjust accordingly. You can also start your trip from the North and work your way down to the south of Vietnam.

Now, read our list of the top 17 things you should know before visiting Vietnam to better prepare you for your upcoming trip. 


Tell us which place you are most looking forward to visiting in the comments down below!

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