Vietnam from North to South – the Complete Guide
Vietnam is a country with a rich history and vibrant, fast-developing future. The true beauty of this land resides in its natural splendour: the gorgeous lush green mountains, long & white sand beaches and stunning national parks. And all of that is just a step away of busy cities full of fascinating cultural sites. And let’s not forget about the delicious cuisine! Vietnam was our first destination, only 3 month after we met. We loved every day of this journey and prepared for you the perfect guide & plan for your a 2 weeks adventures in Vietnam!
It all starts with a Cruise…
Before your travels, pre book a Halong Bay cruise online. It’s the easiest and best way to start your voyage with this guide to Vietnam in the most spectacular location. We booked with Indochina Junk based on the reviews and the pictures. They picked us up from the airport and everything was going smooth until…
We got a call from the company representative (via the driver), who said that all the cruises have been forbidden due to storm arriving in Halong Bay. Waiting for it to clear we stayed in Hanoi for 3 days, but it didn’t happen. We hope you will be more lucky!
Day 1-3 Sail through the Ha Long Bay
You will be picked up from the airport by your cruise company and drive 3 hours to Ha Long Bay.
This UNESCO World Heritage site is located in the northeastern a part of Vietnam. The emerald and turquoise waters are home to over 1600 islands. You will cruise though this spectacular natural bay on typical Vietnamese Sail Boat.
Day 4-5 Hike in the rice fields of Sapa
Next in this guide: Sapa beautiful village in located on the far north of Vietnam. It’s known for its stunning trekking tours and incredible views over rice terraces. Spend here minimum 2 days.
Day 6 Visit Hanoi
Hanoi is the capital and the biggest city in the north of Vietnam. Stroll through the Old Quarter. Make sure to visit the stunning temple in the middle of the Hoan Kiem Lake and try some of the delicious street food.
Day 7 Navigate through the underground caves in Dong Hoi
Board a night train from Hanoi to Dong Hoi. You will arrive around 7AM. Drop your bags off at a friendly homestay for the day. Then rent a scooter and drive to Paradise cave and Dark cave. The trip takes around 1,5h. The views on the way are breathtaking.
Paradise cave is the longest cave in Asia. It is one of the most magnificent and magical wonders in the world. There is an underground river in the cave. Therefore you will board a small boat, navigate the river and finally enter the cave with your boat. You will explore it from the boat and also have a chance to do it by foot.
After returning to Dong Hoi board an evening train to Hue. The ride takes 2H.
Day 8 Explore ancient city of Hue
On the 8th day of our Vietnam guide, wake up early to explore the Imperial Citadel housing the emperor’s residence, temples and palaces. Later on sail the traditional dragon boat through the Perfume River to the Thien Mu Pagoda. This temple is overlooking the river and is known for the gold and silver images of the Buddha. In the afternoon hike to the tombs of the Ancient Emperors.
Day 8 Ride a motorbike on Hai Van Pass
The Hai Van Pass, is a 21 km long mountain road. It leads through a scenic route and breathtaking views. The whole road from Hue to Hoi An via Hai Van Pass with stops will take few hours. It’s best experienced via motorbike or scooter.
Day 9-11 Visit Hoi An
The ancient town of Hoi An is very atmospheric. Walk around the Old Town and admire its stunning architecture. Make sure to pass by the Japanese Covered Bridge constructed in 1590s and wander through the night market. You can also take a day trip to My Son, Hindu temples constructed between the 4th and the 14th century by the kings of Champa.
Day 12 Explore Mui Ne area
Mui Ne is a beautiful stretch of sand and dunes along the coast in southern Vietnam. The surroundings are stunning. Rent a scooter and drive to Ta Cu Mountain. Visit the temple up in the mountain with a 50m long Buddha statue. In the afternoon have fun at the sand dunes. Rent a quad and drive up and down the red sand hills. One of the highlights of this Vietnam guide.
Take a night bus to Ho Ci Ming and board a morning flight to Phu Quoc island.
Day 13-16 Relax on the Phu Quoc Island
This idyllic island is known for long white sand beaches and turquoise waters. Relax for few days, taking in the beauty of the nature.
↬ TIP : Have dinner at Mango Bay. Their hot pot was the best food we have even had.
Day 17 Day in Hi Chi Ming
Take a long stopover on your way back home to explore Ho Chi Ming. Visit the Bin Thay Market and Jade Emperor Pagoda, an incredibly atmospheric Taoist temple.
Before your evening flight have a drink(s) at the rooftop of the iconic Rex Hotel to enjoy the last day of this Vietnam Guide.
Extend your trip by staying in resort town of Da Nang and taking a trip to newly opened Golden Bridge. This instafamous spot lies high in the mountains and has an interesting architecture: two giant stone hands holding up the bridge.
Alternatively, travel south of Hi Chi Ming to Mekong Delta. It’s home to beautiful floating markets and villages, local home stays, and is a very authentic experience.
When to go
In the southern part of Vietnam, the dry season goes from December to late April/May, and rainy season occurs from May to the end of November.
In Northern Vietnam, the weather is most pleasant from October to December.
As the weather changes so much depending on the area, it’s hard to pick the best time to go. The truth is that even with the occasional monsoon rain Vietnam is just an incredible destination.
Most visitors will need a visa to enter Vietnam. There are 3 ways of applying for the visa:
Apply and pay online for an e-visa (this is the easiest option).
Apply for a visa in person at a Vietnamese consulate outside of Vietnam.
Go through an agency to secure a “visa approval letter” that will be exchanged for a visa upon arrival in the airport.
↬ Note : All must be done BEFORE your travels and your passport must be valid for at least 6 months.
We suggest you apply for a visa online. The online application costs 20 USD. You’ll then receive by email a VOA approval letter signed by Vietnamese immigration that you print out and show on arrival. You will then pay your visa stamping fee in US dollars, cash only. The single-entry stamping fee is 25USD, a multiple-entry stamping fee is 50USD. It’s the cheapest and easiest way.
There are more bikes than cars in the streets. Renting a scooter in Vietnam is very easy and cheap. You don’t have to look for a rental shop, as almost everybody owns a bike and will gladly rent it out for a day.
Riding a motorbike in Vietnam is easy and fun. Most roads are in good conditions. We will just advise against driving in the big cities like Hanoi or Ho Chi Ming where the traffic is very heavy. We rode a bike almost everywhere, sometimes 150 km a day and never had any problems. It also was Hamilton’s 1st time on a scooter. It takes a day or two to get to understand the Vietnamese way of driving. But after that training, you can ride anywhere in the world for sure.
Traveling by bus is very easy as you can get to almost every part of the country. The common way of traveling are night buses with beds instead of sits. It’s a comfortable solution for long distances. However bear in mind that the beds are very short ?
Flying in between big cities is a good option as well. The tickets are not too expensive and small airports are located in many major spots in the country. You can for example fly from Hanoi to Hoi An to save time.
Trains are popular way of transportation, however mostly in the northern part of the county. From Hanoi you can get by train to Sapa or Hue. There are many night trains as well where you will get a bunk bed instead of a sit.
Food in Vietnam
The Vietnamese cuisine is known as one of the best in the world. Each meal we had was delicious. We highly suggest you to eat local and avoid the big touristic restaurants. The ingredients are always fresh and very tasty. And the whole meal will cost you as little as 2-3 EUR! Make sure to try the Pho: the traditional noodle soup with either chicken, beef or tofu. It’s packed with boiled veggies and it’s so yummy!
There is a big variety of palaces to stay in Vietnam. From home stays, though small hotels to big chain resorts. The rooms are usually very cheap and a night at a nice boutique hotel costs around 30 EUR for 2. Home stays will be even cheaper, some starting already at few euros per night.