Vietnam is one of the most vibrant and culturally rich countries in Southeast Asia and I put together this Vietnam itinerary and guide to the best Vietnam luxury tours.
When you hear the word “Vietnam” the first thing that comes to mind might be the war that changed the face of a nation and transformed the way that America approaches conflict.
However, despite our misconceptions, Vietnam is much more than a burned-out battleground.
Vietnam is also home to some of the most stunning landscapes in the world, the hub of some of the oldest civilizations, and a thriving modern metropolis full of commerce and technology.
Base yourself out of either Hanoi or Ho Chi Minh City and with any itinerary, try to give yourself a day or two to just relax without being on a set schedule.
Take time to enjoy the beach, unexpected day trips, or maybe you just need to disconnect from social media and recharge.
Tips to Know Before Visiting Vietnam
1. Visa Requirements
Entry Requirements: You must have a valid passport and a visa (or pre-approval for a visa on arrival) to enter Vietnam.
Your passport must be valid for six months beyond your planned stay, and you must have at least one blank visa page.
Visit the Embassy of Vietnam website for the most current information. If you arrive in Vietnam without an appropriate visa (which could be an e-visa) or pre-approval for a visa on arrival, you will be denied entry.
Visas: When you apply for a visa to enter Vietnam, be sure to request the visa category that corresponds to your purpose of travel. Please refer to Vietnam’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs website for information detailing visa categories.
Please consult the Embassy of Vietnam website for more information.
If you plan to travel from Vietnam to Laos by land, you should request that an adhesive visa be affixed to your passport instead of a detachable one.
Lao immigration officials require proof that travelers have departed Vietnam, something that can only be shown with an adhesive visa.
Vietnamese officials remove detachable visas from passports when travelers depart Vietnam, leaving travelers with no proof of their Vietnam departure.
This situation can result in Lao officials requiring travelers to return to Vietnam.
2. Get Travel Insurance
Travel insurance is absolutely necessary no matter where you travel to. From motorbike crashes, theft, hiking accidents, and even missed flights. you need to be prepared.
Travel insurance is cheap, and although you hope you never need to use it, you’ll be more at ease knowing you’re covered in case of an emergency.
I use Allianz Travel Insurance for all my needs.
3. Download Uber App
I suggest downloading the Uber app because it is safe, cheaper, and more convenient. You can also avoid being stuck in traffic for hours because Uber offers motorbike options.
Uber Is a great way for first-timers to get from the airport to the city as you can avoid having to exchange cash at the airport for a high rate since you can connect your card to your account.
4. Copy of your passport
Having a copy is great and a back-up in case you end up losing or damaging your passport.
$1.00 US is approximately equal to 22,700 Vietnamese Dong, so be prepared to make it rain dollar bills when you are in Vietnam.
The largest note is 500,000 Vietnamese Dong which is equivalent to about $25.00 US, and the smallest is 500 Vietnamese Dong ($0.022).
The currency in Vietnam is of similar color and are therefore easily confused, so it’s best to carry small bills and stash away your larger ones in a different pocket to avoid being scammed.
Weather in Vietnam
The temperature in Vietnam typically ranges between 70°F and 95°F throughout the year. The average annual humidity is around 85%. Vietnam receives the majority of its precipitation during the monsoon season, but the rest of the year also receives regular rainfall.
Central Vietnam is hot and dry in the summer (January to August) and cool and rainy in winter, with monsoon-level rains in October and November.
Southern Vietnam has constant warm temperatures. Here the seasons are simple: rainy (May to November) and dry (November to May).
As in any country, weather depends on your region, but generally, Vietnam enjoys a warm, sunny climate with some temperature fluctuation from region to region.
Vietnamese Rainy Season (monsoon season): May to October
Vietnamese Dry Season: November to April
Do Not drink the tap water
The tap water in Vietnam is undrinkable, so avoid this at all costs. Even locals don’t drink tap water and most food vendors don’t even use it to cook.
Bottled water can be found literally anywhere, so stock a few in your hotel room.
One Week Vietnam Travel Itinerary
Now that you know what you need prior to departing for Vietnam – let’s get started with the itinerary.
This Vietnam travel itinerary and guide was put together if this is your first-time traveling to Southeast Asia.
If you follow this Vietnam itinerary, it will cover both the north and south along with a few small towns that not full of tourists.
This itinerary will include things to do, where to stay, and what to eat so you will not miss a thing on your first trip to Vietnam.
Kick-off your tour of Vietnam in the capital city of Hanoi. Spend your days eating standout pho (the street food here is out-of-this-world) and getting lost in the city’s Old Quarter.
The must-dos: Hoa Lo Prison (first operated by the French colonists housing political prisoners and later used to hold American POWs during the Vietnam War);
Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum, where the embalmed body of the country’s first president rests; and Hoan Kiem Lake, Hanoi’s answer to Central Park’s reservoir
If you need a libation post-sight-seeing, head to Lantern Lounge (leave your shoes at the door!) for a local 333 beer, and a round of chess.
Where to stay in Hanoi
Hotel de l’Opera
Hotel de l’Opera as the name suggests, this five-star boutique sits steps away from Hanoi’s historic Opera House. Designed to awe, the hotel plays off its sleek French colonial architecture with simple and elegant furnishings.
Amenities include a year-round pool for an escape from the busy city, spa and massage treatments at Sante Spa, and an acclaimed restaurant in the hotel’s atrium.
Don’t forget to sunbathe or enjoy cocktails on an outdoor terrace overlooking the urban action below.
From Hanoi head north on the overnight train to Lao Cai and transfer to the quaint mountain town of Sapa.
At nearly 5,000 feet above sea level, the climate here is a lot cooler than the rest of Vietnam, but the jaw-on-the-floor views at nearly every turn are well worth the $20 you might have to shell out for a knock-off Northface jacket (seriously, it can get that cold in Sapa).
WHAT NOT TO MISS:
- Visit the excellent Sapa Museum that showcases the history and ethnology of the Sapa area.
- Drive through the scenic Tram Ton Pass, Vietnam’s highest mountain pass.
- Get a feel of daily life in the area at the bustling Sapa Market.
- Embark on hikes through the stunning mountains and pass through traditional villages along the way.
Where to stay in Sapa
Victoria Sapa Resort & Spa
The best accommodation in the area by a long way, Victoria Sapa Resort & Spa puts SaPa on the luxury travel map.
Boasting plenty of on-site activities including a kids club and billiards room, days can also be spent trekking, mountain biking, or wandering through local markets.
The property is overlooked by Indochina’s highest peak, Mount Fansipan, which is just calling out to be climbed.
Continuing the French legacy the resort resembles an alpine ski lodge more than it does Vietnamese hill station hideaway. The menu also provides a mix of French and Vietnamese cuisine. A wonderfully luxurious stay in the mountains.
3. Ha long Bay
Embark on a two-day cruise on the Imperial Legend; you’ll sail past the gigantic limestone islands (more than 1,600 of them), which comprise a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The best spot on the boat? Right below the wheelhouse at the bow of the ship, where you can dangle your feet over the edge—but the roof deck during a morning tai chi session is a close second.
Set meal times make it easy to mingle with other passengers, and if you’re looking to show off your set of pipes, don’t miss the karaoke at night.
Where to stay in Ha Long Bay
Novotel Ha Long Bay
Located next to the famous Bai Chay beach, Novotel Halong Hotel offers the perfect comfort and service to all visitors. The hotel consists of 225 rooms, from the Standard room to the 1-Bedroom Suite.
Each accommodation in the hotel is designed in the spirit of bringing an easy lifestyle and the most comfortable amenities. With large windows and mirrors, guests can enjoy a panoramic view of Halong Bay from above.
4. Hoi An
After Halong Bay, make your way down the coast to Hoi An in Central Vietnam, a charming fishing village bisected by the Thu Bon River.
Start your day with a mouthwatering sandwich from Banh Mi Phuong (Anthony Bourdain dubbed this place the best version of the country’s famous sandwich) before carving out a day to hop from one cozy cafe to another (a stop at Dive Bar is a must).
Also on the itinerary? A visit to a tailor (Hoi An is well-known for custom-fitted threads) to get measured for a new suit, dress, or to pick up a leather messenger bag.
Schedule a morning cooking class with Red Bridge Cooking School and then cycle to Hidden Beach (just about four kilometers away) for an afternoon of sand and surf.
Come nighttime, Hoi An’s famous lantern-lined streets create a magical riverside setting; buy a floating candle from one of the local Vietnamese women and lower it into the river before heading over to the night market on Nguyen Hoang Street.
Where to stay in Hoi An
Situated on the unspoiled shores of Hoi An Beach, Four Seasons The Nam Hai, Hoi An, Vietnam offers luxurious villas with iPod docks and free WiFi access. It boasts 3 beachfront pools and a spa.
Four Seasons The Nam Hai, Hoi An, Vietnam is a 30-minute drive from Danang International Airport. Hoi An Town is a 10-minute drive away.
Spacious villas feature walk-in closets. They offer flat-screen cable TV and BOSE sound systems. Bathrooms come with a rain shower. A tea/coffee maker and a minibar are available.
5. Ho Chi Minh City
Continue heading south to Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam’s bustling metropolis with a population of close to eight million people (and almost just as many motorbikes!).
Learn about the Vietnam War at the War Museum, shop for goods at Ben Thanh Market, and wash down your fried rice with a Bia Saigon lager at Tiny’s Cafe, down a side alley.
If you’re craving a taste of Western food, beeline it to Pizza 4P’s (order the burrata prosciutto pizza) or Quan Ut Ut for Vietnam’s take on American barbecue.
Continue your history lesson of the Vietnam War with a day trip to the Chu Chi Tunnels, a labyrinth underground network over 250 kilometers long, used as protection from the aerial bombings.
End your stay in Ho Chi Minh whizzing through traffic (beep, beep!) with a nighttime ride on the back of a motorbike. (We recommend the Back of the Bike Tours outfitter.)
During the four-hour trip, you’ll taste some of the city’s gastronomic delights such as goi du du bo ho and bun thit nuong.
Where to stay in Ho Chi Minh City
The Grand Ho Tram Strip
Billed as Vietnam’s first beachfront integrated luxury resort, The Grand Ho Tram Strip certainly aims to live up to its name in both size and decadence.
Set on a long stretch of isolated beach two hours southeast of Ho Chi Minh City (accessible via helicopter or a complimentary shuttle that makes the trip multiple times a day).
The hotel promises non-stop entertainment with a casino, a championship golf course, three swimming pools, 11 food and beverage outlets, a night club, and more.
6. Mekong Delta
Slow the pace down with a two-day trip to the Mekong Delta. Stop at Ben Tre to meander the palm-lined waterways in a dugout canoe, and visit Coconut Island to try the namesake candy.
Then, make your way to Can Tho (your home base for the night). The next morning, cruise to the traditional floating market to buy some fruit or let the minibar boat come to you (beer, anyone?).
Round out your Mekong Delta trip with a bicycle ride around a banana farm before transferring back to Can Tho to catch your flight to Phu Quoc Island.
Where to stay in Mekong Delta
Azerai Can Tho
Set 1.5 km from Ninh Kieu Pier and 2.5 km from the city center, Azerai Can Tho features air-conditioned rooms with free WiFi throughout the property in Can Tho. The accommodation offers a 24-hour front desk and luggage storage for guests.
All rooms in the resort are fitted with a flat-screen TV and a private bathroom equipped with free toiletries, while certain rooms will provide guests with a patio. Guest rooms have a seating area.
Guests can dine in at the on-site restaurant, which serves a variety of Vietnamese and grilled/BBQ dishes.
The accommodation offers a year-round outdoor pool and a fitness center, which features a pilates and yoga studio, spa, and sauna facilities.
7. Phu Quoc Island
Finish your Vietnam vacation by spending two or three nights on idyllic Phu Quoc Island, in the Gulf of Thailand, just 50 kilometers from the mainland.
Days here are meant to be lazy: tan, swim, drink, repeat. It’s best to rent a motorbike (don’t worry, there will be virtually no traffic), to explore the island’s beaches.
Our favorite picks? Scoot to Rach Vem Beach on the northern part of the island for its seclusion and starfish, Ganh Dau Beach (also on the northern tip) for its cerulean waters, and Bai Sao Beach on the southern end for its palm-tree-lined sugary sand (the latter is a little more crowded than the northern stretches of coastline).
After a day on the beach, mosey on over to The Pepper Tree Restaurant for cocktails, and as the sun dips below the horizon, raise your glass to the life-changing adventure.
Where to stay in Phu Quoc Island
La Veranda Resort Phu Quoc
What Not To Miss in Vietnam
1) Street Food:
I don’t want to accuse French cuisine of being overpriced because it really is excellent. But not all of us can afford $200 a plate.
Vietnam, on the other hand, has perfected street food. It takes street food to a new level. It really is the most common way that people eat out.
You’ll be able to experience the amazing cuisine, from Bánh mì to pho, for just a few dollars per meal.
Some locals even say that the cheaper it is, the better it tastes, because those are the places that sell enough volume to make smaller profit margins work (and they sell so much because they’re delicious!)
Speaking of food, Vietnam is also one of the best places you can go for fresh fruits and seafood. Honestly, I don’t know why I have to say anything more than “$2 pho” to convince everyone to go, but I’ll continue…
2) Friendly Locals (outside of the tourist trails):
I’ve heard a lot about how travelers to Vietnam have really bad experiences with the local people, whether that’s because of petty theft (which is all too common in the big cities) or negative interactions with people plying their trades to tourists.
It’s true that people catering to tourists might try to screw you over. But in all fairness, tourists as a general rule tend to be obnoxious and clueless, so can you blame them?
Here’s the thing: the minute you get out of the major tourist traffic, you’ll find that Vietnamese people are extraordinarily kind and warm.
Even though Vietnam was a war-torn country (with America to blame) just a few decades ago, things have changed greatly, and the culture of the country towards Westerners reflects that.
As this article states, the average age in Vietnam is 29 (10 years younger than America) and people are focused on the future, not the past. This accounts for the amazing energy and enthusiasm that you’ll find everywhere you go.
3) Astonishing Scenery:
Vietnam is home to beautiful, iconic scenery. Whether it’s layers of rice paddies ringing tall mountains in Sapa or towering sea cliffs in Ha Long Bay, Vietnam’s outdoors are second to none.
Vietnam is also home to numerous fascinating caves, some of which are still in the process of being discovered.
Make sure you take the time to get out of the city and enjoy stretches of wilderness. And remember that some of the most well-known sites (like Sapa and Ha Long Bay mentioned above) will also be crowded with tourists.
Go beyond them! There’s more than one Vista to see.
4) Fascinating History
As we mentioned above, Vietnam’s history is lengthy and tumultuous. And although there are amazing monuments and museums dedicated to the history of Vietnam’s war with the States, there’s a lot more than that to see concerning Vietnam’s history.
Vietnam is actually home to some of the most ancient civilizations, thanks to its agriculture-friendly climate and defensible position.
The Đông Sơn era during the late Bronze Age created much of the history of Vietnam’s culture and forms the foundation for what we often think of in terms of ancient Saigon.
However, in about 900 A.D. Vietnam was colonized by foreign powers–first from ancient China, and then from Europe.
Vietnam’s history is characterized by uprisings against foreign rule, and it’s evident in the architecture and art, as you see the play of different cultures in French colonial villages and ancient Buddhist monasteries.
Some Tips for Easier Travel in Vietnam
So now that you’re feeling motivated to visit Vietnam after reading my Vietnam itinerary and travel guide, here’s some of the best advice I have on your trip so that you can get the most out of your time there:
- Haggle. This is a general rule for saving cash in just about any travel experience (hawkers will always try to fleece the foreigners… it’s almost universal) but it’s especially true in Vietnam, where they know westerners will pay roughly what they’d expect to pay in America or Europe, unaware that cab rides, food, and trinkets are a fraction of the cost in Vietnam.
- Protect yourself from getting sick. Yes, it is a foreign country and you’ll be wandering all over, so take a few precautions to stay healthy. Eat only fresh or hot street food, protect yourself against bugs, and take breaks so you don’t get fatigued, and allow your immune system to dip.
- Get out of the city. The energy and electricity of Vietnam’s major cities are intoxicating. And yes, you can find some of the most interesting hubs of history in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City. However, the city’s crowds and bustles can also be smelly and annoying, and exhausting. So take the time to get out of the city.
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