Vietnam is a very versatile country with a friendly population and amazing landscapes. Impressive limestone mountains, beautiful rice terraces, high waterfalls, extensive beaches and bustling cities. You can find it all there. I traveled Vietnam for about 1 month during my 3 month backpacking itinerary in Southeast Asia. In this article I share my travel route through Vietnam with all the highlights and tips!
This Vietnam itinerary is perfect if you want to combine Laos and Vietnam. But you can also do this itinerary if you want to travel Vietnam only. In that case you start in Hanoi or in Ho Chi Minh City.
But what’s more fun: from north to south or from south to north? I found the north of Vietnam a lot more beautiful than the south. So the coolest thing is perhaps to start in the south and end in the north so that the area becomes more and more beautiful.
- Vietnam itinerary
- Transport and traffic in Vietnam
- Visa Vietnam
- Duration Vietnam itinerary
- Best travel time Vietnam itinerary
Vietnam itinerary in 1 month
Dien Bien Phu
The border town of Dien Bien Phu was my first acquaintance with Vietnam. I traveled over land during this itinerary from Laos to Vietnam. Dien Bien Phu is not a very interesting city, but it does have a fascinating history. For example, the French army was defeated here in 1954 during the battle of Dien Bien Phu. One of the few sights in the city is therefore the monument located on the hill. From this hill you have a great view of the city.
The locals are not yet used to tourists. I noticed that because many people looked at me and many also waved as I walked through the city. I really enjoyed experiencing this during the trip.
There are few accommodations in Dien Bien Phu, but the ones out there are dirt cheap. An accommodation in Dien Bien Phu that I recommend is the Phadin Hotel. After spending several nights in grubby hostels, this hotel was awesome. The relatively luxurious rooms cost almost nothing and you’re also close to the bus station. Ideal!
From Dien Bien Phu I traveled in about 8 to 8.5 hours to Sapa, the mountain village in the north of Vietnam. I didn’t think the city itself was special, but the surroundings are amazing. You will find the most impressive rice terraces and many travelers do a trekking here. In my opinion, a trekking in Sapa is highly recommended. It’s the perfect way to get in touch with the locals and admire the amazing surroundings.
As for accommodations, there is plenty of choice in Sapa. One place that I definitely recommend is Little View Homestay on the outskirts of the city with a very nice view during breakfast.
You can read everything about Sapa and the trekking here.
From Sapa you travel in about 6 hours by sleeper bus to Hanoi, the capital of Vietnam. If you’re only traveling through Vietnam, Hanoi is likely to be the starting point or the end point of your Vietnam itinerary. This chaotic city has its charm and is without a doubt a feast for the senses. Motorbikes drive everywhere with a lot of honking!
There are more than enough accommodations in Hanoi, but a must stay is in Hanoi Old Quarter. You are then in a pleasant neighborhood in the center close to most attractions.
You can read more about Hanoi and the top 6 things to do here.
From Hanoi you will travel to Cat Ba by bus and boat in about 5 hours. The island of Cat Ba is located in the northeast of Vietnam and is one of the most beautiful alternatives to the touristy Ha Long Bay. From Cat Ba you can easily and cheaply visit the non-tourist Lan Ha Bay and that is highly recommended. Sail with a boat in the sea along the many limestone rocks. In addition, the island has more beautiful things to offer. Perfect for a few relaxing days!
Read all about Cat Ba and 7 awesome things to do here.
Ninh Binh/Tam Coc
After Cat Ba, exchange the sea for the interior. It takes about 5 hours by bus to Ninh Binh. Ninh Binh province is also referred to as the country’s Ha Long Bay due to its many limestone cliffs. Here you do not sail on the sea, but on the river past impressive mountains and rice fields. The region also has many temples and an impressive viewpoint.
Stay in Ninh Binh province in the small cozy town of Tam Coc and not in the eponymous town of Ninh Binh. A guesthouse that I can highly recommend is Phi Hung’s Unique Homestay. I enjoyed it very much there, mostly because of the very hospitable family that runs the guesthouse.
Read everything about the top 7 activities in Ninh Binh/Tam Coc.
It’s about an 8 hour drive from Ninh Binh/Tam Coc to Phong Nha. In the area of Phong Nha you can visit several impressive caves, including even the largest cave in the world! After all, you have to dig deep into the pouch for this. Fortunately, the other caves are very affordable and worth a visit. It’s also amazing to scooter through the Phong Nha Ke Bang National Park.
The city may not be that big, but there is more than enough choice of accommodations in Phong Nha.
You can read more about the top 7 activities in Phong Nha here.
After a 9 hour bus ride you will arrive in Hoi An. This cozy city is one of the most popular destinations during a Vietnam itinerary. The center is characterized by beautiful buildings, colorful lanterns and cozy eateries. Even the old center itself is on the UNESCO World Heritage List. The city also has a beach where you can relax. There is plenty to do in Hoi An!
Read the 10 things to do in Hoi An here.
Many backpackers travel from Hoi An to Da Lat, a bizarre 14-hour drive. But why would you do that if you also have a great stop in between? That’s why I recommend using the beautiful Quy Nhon as a stopover. The drive from Hoi An to Quy Nhon takes 5 to 6 hours.
Quy Nhon is a big city with beautiful surroundings and you can enjoy yourself for a few days. Here you will find extensive beaches and special temples that you do don’t have to share with anyone else. Crazy right? Tourism is still in its infancy, which makes it an interesting destination.
Despite the few tourists, there are plenty of accommodations in Quy Nhon. A must in the center near the boulevard is John & Paul Inn. An accommodation next to the beach outside the center is without a doubt Life’s A Beach.
View all the tips and sights of Quy Nhon here.
From Quy Nhon to Da Lat it’s a 7 hour sleeper bus ride. Here you visit the most beautiful waterfalls. As far as I am concerned, you travel out of the city as quickly as possible, into the beautiful surroundings. A tour with an Easy Rider on the back of the bike is also highly recommended and a popular option to visit the impressive surroundings.
The city is quite large and therefore there is plenty of choice of accommodations in Da Lat.
Read more about the sights and cool waterfalls in Da Lat.
The beach destination of Mui Ne is a 4-hour drive from Da Lat. You can especially kite and windsurf or just relax on the beach. The special red and white dunes are also recommended.
The accommodations in Mui Ne mainly consist of resorts with lots of Russians and few guesthouses or hostels. On the other hand, I had a good time with the backpackers walhalla Mui Ne Hills for a few days. With a number of swimming pools and daily activities, this accommodation is highly recommended.
You can read more about top 5 activities in Mui Ne here.
Ho Chi Minh City
Last but not least, Ho Chi Minh City, formerly known as Saigon. This gigantic city in the south of Vietnam is characterized by high buildings, busy streets and many eateries. You will find fancy restaurants and clubs, but also cheap cafes and street food. In Ho Chi Minh City, visit the impressive Cu Chi Tunnels that were used in the Vietnam War or cruise the Mekong Delta.
I celebrated New Year’s Eve with many other Dutch people and then traveled on to Cambodia.
Transport and traffic in Vietnam
This Vietnam itinerary contains a lot of destinations and the distances in Vietnam are quite big. Fortunately, transport is very well arranged in Vietnam. You cover most distances with a sleeper bus: a large bus with three rows of deck chairs. Opinions about these buses are quite divided among backpackers. Some hate it, others love it. As a tall person, it can be a bit hard to get comfortable.
Sometimes I slept like a baby, but other times I didn’t sleep at all. The disadvantage is that many bus companies in Vietnam fill the buses with people and stuff to earn extra money. For example, I once slept in a night bus where the aisle was littered with locals. I was in the front of the bus, but I had to go to the toilet urgently. And that was, you guessed it, in the back of the bus. I managed to climb over the seat backrests in a moving bus, but it was quite a challenge. And of course I had to go back again…
Transport to your next destination is easy to book at your accommodation where you are currently staying. Almost every ho(s)tel sells the bus tickets or knows a place nearby where you can buy them. It’s often better to inquire about bus tickets in several places. For example, prices are usually higher at popular hostels than at some tour agencies and often they use the same bus company.
In addition, you can easily book tickets to your next destination via 12Go.Asia. This website is used by many backpackers and I also sometimes bought tickets here.
The easy way to get from A to B is still with the scooter/motorbike. This way you are free to drive anywhere. Petrol doesn’t cost much and you often rent a scooter for about 150,000 – 200,000 Dong for a day.
However, some driving experience on a scooter is advisable when you decide to drive in Vietnam. The best tip I have for you is to go with the flow, drive calmly, and most importantly, avoid making unexpected movements. Always wear a helmet and preferably also cover your arms, your legs and wear closed shoes.
Using a taxi is also a great option in Vietnam. You can choose a local taxi, but also Grab taxis. Grab is the Southeast Asian variant of Uber and works perfectly. You can see in advance what you pay for a ride, which can be very nice.
On foot and by bicycle
A very nice option to explore a city is by bicycle. You rent a bicycle for a few euros a day. As a cyclist you ride on the road or on the sidewalk.
Crossing the street is sometimes quite a task in Vietnam and certainly requires some prior knowledge, especially in large cities such as Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh. When crossing, always walk calmly and at about the same pace. The traffic then chooses to drive in front or behind you. Therefore do not make unexpected movements and do not run! Traffic seems incredibly chaotic in Vietnam (and it is in comparison with most countries), but there is certainly logic behind it. Everyone interacts, drives calmly and makes no unexpected movements. If you do that too, you will be fine.
Most nationalities need a visa for Vietnam. It’s not possible to get a Visa on Arrival, but instead you need to arrange your visa in advance.
When traveling to Vietnam by plane, you have two options:
- applying for an E-Visa online or
- arranging your visa at the Vietnamese embassy.
When traveling overland to Vietnam, you only have one option:
- arranging your visa through the Vietnamese embassy. The e-visa is only valid if you fly into Vietnam.
Prices visa Vietnam
Applying for an E-Visa online (only valid when you enter the country via an airport), including stamp costs, costs approximately:
- 30 days of single entry = $ 35
- 90 days of single entry = $ 40
- 30 days multiple entry = $ 68
- 90 days multiple entry = $ 80
The prices of applying for the visa at the Vietnamese embassy vary a bit per country. I arranged my visa in Luang Prabang in Laos before traveling to Vietnam. This was easily arranged and within a few working days I already had my visa.
Prices for the visa at the Vietnamese embassy in Luang Prabang were:
- 30 days of single entry = $ 55
- 90 days of single entry = $ 75
- 30 days multiple entry = $ 75
- 90 days multiple entry = $ 90
Think carefully about the start date of the visa that you must fill in on the form. From this date, your visa will start anyway, regardless of whether you arrive later. You must leave the country exactly 30 or 90 days after this completed start date (depending on which visa you choose). So try to estimate this date as accurately as possible.
Duration Vietnam itinerary
This Vietnam itinerary can be completed in about 1 month. You will then stay at each location for about 2 to 3 days. If you prefer to take it easy, you can of course also take longer. But keep in mind that you need a 90-day visa.
I arranged a single entry visa of 90 days so I could take it easy. I took exactly 41 days for this Vietnam itinerary.
Best travel time Vietnam itinerary
Vietnam can be visited all year round, but every part has periods of rain. Traveling during the rainy season has its advantages and disadvantages. For example, the rice fields are at their best, but there is sometimes a risk of flooding in some places.
The best time to travel to North Vietnam is globally from November to March. It’s then dry and pleasantly warm. The rainy season runs approximately from June to October with most precipitation falling in July and August. However, the rice fields are at their best in our summer months. It can get very cold in winter.
The best travel time for Central Vietnam is roughly from January to July. Here the rainy season runs from September to December, with a lot of rainfall.
The best time to travel to South Vietnam is approximately December to April. It rains considerably from May to September.
So you could say that the best travel time for the Vietnam itinerary is between December / January – March.