21 Day Vietnam Itinerary: Sites, Sights, and Bites
Updated: Nov 30, 2022
If you know me, you know I will not shut up about how much I love Vietnam. If you are thinking of taking a trip to Vietnam, stop thinking and do it! I've traveled to this gorgeous Southeast Asia country 3 separate times; once on a 6-day trip, once on a 2-week trip, and once on a month-long excursion.
Vietnam is a great country to visit for any length of time. I've carved out this 21 day Vietnam itinerary going from south to north for those with a bit more time here, but if you aren't planning on spending a full 3 weeks in Vietnam, feel free to chop it up any way you please to suit your needs.
Unfortunately, this itinerary is loosely based on a trip I had planned out for myself in 2020 aka peak covid. While I got to hit most of the places listed below, some visits got cut short or scrapped altogether due to the pandemic. Prices will also be excluded as things have changed since the pandemic hit.
To make your way through this 3 week Vietnam itinerary, you've got plenty of options. The most common ways are via bus, night train, and motorbike. You can easily rent a motorbike from one city and return it in another city, or you can buy one for pretty cheap and sell it at your final destination. If you're not sure how to get your stuff attached to the back of your bike, don't worry someone will definitely be able to show you the ropes (quite literally) so don't be afraid to ask!
Being the fake backpacker that I am, I opted for the bus for most of my trip, but I did try out the motorbike a couple of times!
Ho Chi Minh City
Kick off the first day of your excursion in Ho Chi Minh City, the city formerly known as Saigon (you'll still hear it referred to as such from time to time)!
The capital city of South Vietnam until the end of the Vietnam War, HCMC is home to a wealth of history. Most of the tourist sites here are related to the Vietnam War and French colonization periods. You can check out any of the city's many historical museums such as the War Remnants Museum, the Museum of Vietnamese history, the Ho Chi Minh Museum, or the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum.
It's pretty common to take a boat trip along the Mekong Delta and there are numerous options depending on the length of your trip and how far out you want to venture. Based on your trip requirements, a boat ride can even go out to Phnom Penh over in Cambodia.
For those who like a more immersive experience, check out the nearby Củ Chi tunnels which were used by Viet Cong soldiers as hiding spots during combat. Here you get to see firsthand what it felt like for the soldiers as you have the option to go through a small stretch of tunnel for yourself. I opted out because I was feeling suuuuper claustrophobic. Trust me when I tell you that these tunnels are NOT big. I don't want to give away too much of the experience so I'll just say that this place is a must visit.
Backpackers looking to meet fellow backpackers may feel most comfortable staying on Bùi Viện Street. This is a lively area known as "Backpackers Quarter"and it really comes alive at night!
Pro tip: If you're looking for tours with a local guide, walk around backpackers quarter and go into any hostel or travel agency (there are plenty). They all offer exactly the same tours and will all pick you up at your hostel/hotel, just at different prices. In my experience, the hostels offer tours at a much higher markup, but it's worth shopping around. Put your haggling skills to good use here!
A beach lover's paradise, Mũi Né is a great place to chill and get in on some water sports. The wind conditions here make it one of the best places for surfing, stand up paddling, kite-surfing, wind surfing, sailing,...you get the point. Lessons are also available for pretty much all the water sports if you've never done one, but want to give it a shot! For complete beginners, it's recommended to have a couple days of lessons before you'll get the hang of things.
In addition to its beautiful beaches, Mũi Né is also famous for its white and red sand dunes. Take a sunrise tour of the white sand dunes (or go at any time if, like me, you're not an early morning person and missed your alarm). your local tour guide will drop you off at the base of the dunes where you can either take a quad bike to the top of the dunes for an extra fee or walk 30 minutes to the top. Personally, I'd recommend the quad bike as it's much quicker plus it provides you with a burst of adrenaline which I'm sure will be handy if you've opted to go early for the sunrise.
After the white dunes, your guide will bring you to the red dunes, which are smaller but just as beautiful. Here you can take in the views and then rent a plastic board you'll use to sled down the dunes. So much fun!
The last stop on the tour will be to a fishing village and market. This small village is where local people come to buy and sell the fresh catches from the night before. You'll also see some fishermen making their catches for the day.
Mũi Né is easily accessible from Ho Chi Minh City via bus
A small town previously colonized by the French, Đà Lạt features many remnants left behind from this era. It is adorned with quaint villas and boulevards, and idyllic cafes decorate the streets. Cool temperatures in this town also make it perfect for wine production. While you might not have been looking for a budget France, Đà Lạt is pretty darn close.
Don't let the small town charm fool you - Đà Lạt is an adrenaline junkie's dream! The list of things to do here includes canyoning, rock climbing, mountain biking, and trekking. Even just taking a motorbike out for a casual ride in the late afternoon is rewarding as the views are just stunning. Via motorbike you can get to Xuan Huong Lake and rent a pedal boat for a relaxing time.
One of the more quirky tourist attractions in Đà Lạt is the Crazy House designed by Vietnamese artist Đặng Việt Nga. Just as the name implies, Crazy House is a Dali-esque house made up funky walkways, windy stairs, and kooky trees that really brings out your inner kid.
In the same vein, you might want to try Maze Bar for a more adult version. While I never got to try it myself, pretty much every tourist you'll run into will tell you about this kooky bar made up of winding mazes. Not sure how much of the confusion lies in the layout of the bar itself vs the cocktails had while there, but all in all it sounds like a fun time!
Hop on another bus from Đà Lạt to Hội An on the central Vietnam coast. I marked this city as a 3-day venture, but be warned - you might just fall in love with it and want to spend more time there! Almost every backpacker I met intended to stay in Hội An for a short period, only to extend their trip on the last day (myself included).
Located on the central coast of Vietnam, Hội An is a charming, laid back city. Lanterns dot the sky and make for an especially beautiful scene at night when they're all lit up. Now that we're a little further north in the country, here is where the food starts to get good. Of course I am a fan of food anywhere in Vietnam, but in my humble opinion it only gets better the more north you go.
Cao lầu is an absolute must try Hội An specialty and you can find it in pretty much any local restaurant here. I was hooked after my first bite and may or may not have eaten it at least once every day I was there. Cao lầu is a dish composed of marinated char siu pork slices with fresh veggies and herbs placed atop rice noodles. A tiny bit of broth (just enough to keep the noodles moist) is splashed over the whole thing and it is served with flaky rice crackers on the side. Now I know it sounds like it could be just about any Vietnamese dish, but believe me when I tell you, you won't find it outside of Hội An and its surrounding areas. Locals like to say that the noodles are soaked in water from an ancient well in town - the Ba Le well.
Aside from trying out all the tasty dishes around, you might want to have an outfit tailor-made here. Hội An is known for its many talented tailors and abundance of high quality, yet outrageously cheap, fabrics. The main street is littered with tailor shops that have every fabric imaginable in any pattern you could possibly want. From suits to swimwear to casual wear, you can have anything you want made here. If you have a photo of a look you want, just show the tailor and they'll have it ready for you in a day or two!
While your clothes are being made, why not use the rest of the day to take a bicycle ride through the ancient town? Many shops have bikes available for rent for the day. Once you've had your fill of cycling, take a couple of hours to chill on An Bang beach. Nothing but vacation vibes over here - take it all in.
Next stop on the Vietnam tour is Huế. The road between Hội An and Huế is one of Vietnam's most iconic routes called the Hải Vân pass. Instead of taking the bus, which doesn't go over the pass, I highly recommend renting a motorbike and driving yourself there as it a short drive which only takes around 4-6 hours depending on your speed. The pass is suitable for beginners as it is well paved (with the exception of one small section that is a dirt road, however it is well traveled and not rocky) and there are no steep climbs. However, if you don't feel comfortable on 2 wheels for such a long stretch, you can rent an easy rider where a guide will drive you in a truck. The views along the Hải Vân pass are ones you surely won't want to miss.
Huế itself is a city filled with history and there are many tour options for you to take once you arrive. You will see loads of people with motorbikes offering to take you through the city's most historical sites for a small fee. Just decide on which spots you want to hit and they'll take you there with the most efficient route. These tours can often take up a full day so some people opt to split it up into two half day excursions. Famous sites include the Imperial City, the tombs of the Ancient Emperors, and the Từ Hiếu Pagoda. It's also nice to take a lovely stroll along the Perfume River.f
Perhaps one of Huế's greatest open secrets is its abandoned water park. Though it is technically condemned and strictly closed to visitors, you can ask one of the aforementioned people with motorbikes if they can take you there. There is a guard at the park who says you can't be allowed in but will usually accept a small bribe (think roughly $20USD) to let you in. Not that I've done this...
Wondering what to eat in Huế? Bún bò huế, a close relative of the ever popular phở, is the city's specialty. Made up of tender slices of beef and pork as well as meat balls and, in some versions, pig blood, this rich and spicy soup is packed with flavor. No shade to phở, but once you try bún bò huế you'll see that it blows phở out of the water.
Finally, we've made it to northern Vietnam - more specifically the capital of Vietnam: Hanoi! When I think of Hanoi, the first thing that comes to mind is the food. If you haven't done a food tour in any of the previous cities, worry not because food here is king. My favorite dish from here was bún chả, composed of delicious pork meatballs over a plate of rice noodles in a light, sweet broth and served with a side of fresh herbs and vegetables. Another Hanoi must is the famous Vietnamese egg coffee - however as a non-coffee drinker myself I can't comment much on this other than to say it received rave reviews from my travel companions.
In your free time have a nice, easy stroll through the Old Quarter (or at least as easy as it can be considering the dozens of motorbikes zooming around). Take a look through the various local markets and see if you don't make a unique find!
Another famous tourist spot here is the train street. It's a super narrow street hidden in the back roads of Hanoi. Tourists get a thrill by standing on the "sidewalk" pressed up against the houses or cafes as the train rushes past.
Note: If you try to go to the train street by yourself, police will stop you from standing along it. The only way to be granted entry is to purchase something at one of the cafes on the street and be permitted to stand on the portion of the road that lies on their property. So support a local business, grab a cup of that sweet Vietnamese egg coffee, and wait for the signal that indicates the train is on its way!
Hanoi makes a good base point for several day or multi-day trips. Top trips include Halong bay, Sapa Town rice paddies, Ninh Bình, and the infamous Ha Giang Loop. My visit to Ninh Bình got cut short and visit to Ha Long bay got canceled because of covid, but I will forever remember my Ha Giang loop trip fondly (be warned it is MUCH more difficult than the Hải Vân Pass).
With only 3 weeks in Vietnam, you can see, do, and eat so much! If you visit any of these places, let me know in the comments which part was your favorite!