My three week backpacking itinerary through Vietnam

Over the past couple of months, you’ve been able to read all about my backpacking adventure through the beautiful country of Vietnam.

During those three weeks, we were able to check off most of the hightlights, but of course one could easily spent half a year travelling this country as there is just so much more to see and discover. Yet I found three weeks a good amount of time for some first impressions.

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Opposed to my trip to the US, this time my blog posts came cronologically, so you can basically already reconstruct my itinerary just by rereading my posts.

Yet I still wanted to give you a more detailed overview on how much time we spent in each place and whether more would have been necessary or not. This way you’ll have a better base to make your own itinerary.

I’m going to start off with a map, so it’s easier to visualise our journey through the country and follow the rest of the post.

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As you can see, we’ve travelled almost the entire lenght of the country. And this was easily done in three weeks.

We started our trip in Ho Chi Minh City, with the main reason that this was the cheapest flight option. One can easily start the trip in the north, in Hanoi and travel south. In the end I actually liked going south to north as I found the north had more highlights and it would have been a different experience to see the south after already having seen the most beautiful things up north.

Our flight from Brussels arrived around 6pm in the evening, so after getting our visa settled, there wasn’t much time left for exploring. We simply went for dinner and this way got some nice first impressions and atmosphere.

On our first full day, we explored a few of the highlights of Ho Chi Minh City in the morning and in the afternoon visited the Cu Chi Tunnels with Sinh Tourist. This was perfectly doable in one day.

On the evening of our first day, we had already booked the next two days. On day two and three, we discovered the Mekong Delta. Often people try to discover this area in one day, but I definitely recommend two to get a more indepth experience.

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On the morning of our fourth day, we just headed for the airport in Ho Chi Minh City. At 10am we had our pre-booked flight to Da Nang. After a short flight of 1 hour and 20 minutes, we arrived in Da Nang and used the rest of the day to visit Monkey Mountain complex and the area around the Dragon Bridge. For Da Nang we didn’t really need more time.

The next morning, we took the bus to Marble Mountains. We thought that this would only take about an hour to visit, but we were glad that we had all the time we wanted to visit everything as this site really amazed me. I think we easily spent over two hours wandering the area. Then we went back by bus and from our hostel in Da Nang we took a taxi to Hoi An. We arrived in the city of Hoi An around 2 pm. That afternoon we visited the main sights in the old center of Hoi An.

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The morning of our sixth day was spent shopping in Hoi An. My friends really wanted to get a few pieces tailor made and were determined to find the perfect shop to get it all done. It’s also nice to just check out the many cute and cool stores all over the city. It’s definitely worth it to allow half a day for this. In the afternoon we borrowed the bikes from our hostel and drove to the outskirts of the city for some more rural sights. Another day perfectly spent.

At 8am on our seventh day, a private driver was waiting to pick us up for a morning trip to the My Son Sanctuary. For that visit I would have liked to have about half an hour more. We didn’t really have to rush through it, but we didn’t have time to really take it all in. And it was a nice site so it deserved more of my time, in my opinion. Sadly we had an agreement with our driver, so there was no changing that. By noon we were back in Hoi An and the rest of the day was spent picking up and altering our new clothes.

Another 8am wake-up call the next day as another private driver was ready to take us along the scenic route from Hoi An to Hue. I highly recommend taking at least five hours for this distance as it’s one of the most beautiful roads of all Vietnam and there are many beautiful places that require at least a short photo stop. The rest of the day, we discovered Hue.

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The next day was also reserved for the highlights of Hue, but Hue didn’t really agree with us, so by noon we were sick of it. We spent the rest of the afternoon sitting along the water, which was also fun, but a bit waste of time. Yet I’d still say you definitely need a day to see most of this city. In the evening, we went to the train station to catch the night train to Ninh Binh around 10pm.

On day 10, we arrived in Ninh Binh a little after 9am, and had the whole day to visit the sights. By the time we finally got our ass into gear, it was already after noon. Trang An had gotten quite busy by then so that’s the only sight we were able to do that day. It was still worth it though.

Early in the morning on the next day we headed for Tam Coc and then after that two hour boat trip, visited the Mua Caves with the highlight of the area; the lying dragon mountain.  Before arriving I already knew Ninh Binh was beautiful but I had never expected it to have so much to offer. There didn’t seem to be much information available online, but the brothers of our hostel have us so many tips that we easily could have spent another day in the area. But sadly, we had booked a train at 5pm to take us to Hanoi, where we arrived late in the evening.

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Day twelve was completely dedicated to discovering the northern part of Hanoi. One day is more than enough to see everything there, even slow-paced. In the evening we then took the night train to Sapa. This train left around 10pm so we still had most of our evening in Hanoi.

And then the next two days were all about hiking through the gorgeous rice terraces of Sapa. Two days is a minimum for this place, but I wouldn’t have said no to three days either. It’s just so beautiful.

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Early in the morning on day fifteen we arrived back in Hanoi. Then we went for the remaining highlights of the city that we weren’t able to cover in the first full day. Two full days is enough to see most of the city, in my opinion. But if you can, make sure you are in Hanoi over the weekend. The traffic free nights around the Hoan Kiem lake are the best!

Another two day trip was planned for the two days after. Then we went on our two day cruise through Halong Bay. While the trip itself wasn’t bad, I would opt to do it differently the next time. I’d make it a three day trip with a stop on Cat Ba Island.

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Day eighteen we went on a daytrip to visit the Perfume Pagoda. I’m glad we got to see and experience it, but if I had a do-over, I would have skipped that and maybe added another day in Ninh Binh or even in Halong Bay. But it all depends on what you’re interested in more. The area around the Perfume Pagoda is really beautiful as well, but I just had expected more of the pagoda itself. In the evening we checked into our five-star hotel/ apartment Diamond Westlake Suites and enjoyed some down time.

The next morning we had planned to relax a bit more and maybe get a massage, but our hotel kind of disappointed with their facilities. So we just hung out around the place before heading to the airport for our flight back to Ho Chi Minh City. We arrived late afternoon, checked into our next five star apartment; Sherwood Residence before heading for dinner with a girl we’d met on our Mekong Delta trip.

Our last morning, we enjoyed the pool at our hotel before I took a motorcycle taxi to see the last view sights in Ho Chi Minh City. And then it was time to go to the airport for our flight back home. Insert sad face.

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So that was our entire trip in short. For more info you can just click the links interested and it’ll take you to the blog post about it. And to make it easier, here you have everything once more, in a little schedule:

Day 0: Flight + arrival in Ho Chi Minh City late in the evening
Day 1: Ho Chi Minh City + Cu Chi Tunnels
Day 2: Two day Mekong Delta Trip
Day 3: Mekong Delta Trip
Day 4: Morning flight to Da Nang + afternoon in Da Nang (Monkey Mountain)
Day 5: Monkey Mountain + early afternoon taxi to Hoi An
Day 6: Hoi An
Day 7: Private driver to My Son Sanctuary + afternoon Hoi An
Day 8: Early morning depature by private driver to Hue (Scenic Route) + Hue
Day 9: Hue + night train to Ninh Binh
Day 10: Arrival in Ninh Binh + Visiting Trang An
Day 11: Ninh Binh – Visiting Tam Coc & Mua Caves (Lying Dragon Mountain) + Evening train to Hanoi
Day 12: Hanoi – Night train to Sapa
Day 13: Arrival in Sapa – Two day trek with Sapa Sisters
Day 14: Trek with Sapa Sisters – Night train back to Hanoi
Day 15: Hanoi
Day 16: Two day cruise Halong Bay
Day 17: Halong Bay
Day 18: Perfume Pagoda
Day 19: Hanoi + afternoon flight back to Ho Chi Minh City
Day 20: Ho Chi Minh City + evening flight back home.

I hope this helped you in constructing your own itinerary and getting the most out of your Vietnam trip!

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