– By Ophelie. 9mn reading –
Vietnam travel itinerary 14 days, from South to North: sounds straight forward. But a lot of travellers rush from one touristic place to another. And miss the (rough) charm of Vietnam and its hidden gems. My travel mates and I had the chance to build a unique Vietnam itinerary, with a good balance between highlights and less-known places. I share it with you!
Vietnam itinerary – Unique route passing by off-the-beaten places
- Day 1 and 2 – Ho Chi Minh
- Day 3 and 4 – Mui Ne
- Day 5 and 6 – Dalat
- Day 7 – Na Trang
- Day 8 and 9 – Hoi An
- Day 10 and 11 – Da Nang
- Day 12 – Hue
- Day 13 and 14 – Hanoi
Days 1 to 2 Vietnam itinerary: once mythic Saigon, now modern Ho Chi Minh
An easy starting point to your Vietnam itinerary: the country’s biggest city Ho Chi Minh, previously Saigon. If you’re coming by bus from Cambodia, like we did, Ho Chi Minh is the most convenient starting point.
- By plane: From Europe, app. 600$ for 20hrs flight. From USA app. 900$, from 24hrs duration. From Australia app.450$ for app. 17hrs flight.
- By bus from Cambodia: border crossing at Tân Châu. 15$ from Phnom Penh.
What to do in Ho Chi Minh
It’s a big city, with a traffic monster. Intimidating at first. But once you get immersed into the daily life, Ho Chi Minh becomes appealing. For you girls: shopping there is cool! Nice little shops with pretty clothes, and of course for cheap.
Ho Chi Minh’s night life? Busy! Go for a drink on one of the rooftop bars, for a clubbing night on Bui Vien street… there are a lot of options. Also, don’t get surprised by the girls coming to you on the streets: Ho Chi Minh has a dark side, with prostitution being quite public. Just be mindful of your own security.
At day time, the historical Saigon has other surprises to offer. It was under French authority until 1945, and some parts of the city have kept a sweet French vibe (no patriotism from me, or just a little bit!). Then, the city hold a strategic position during the Vietnam war in the 1960’s and was US headquarters before being occupied by the North Vietnamese troops. It became at this point Ho Chi Minh, an economical hub spot of the country.
My friend wanted also to take a day to explore the Mekong. And that’s what we did, with a tour. I wasn’t enthusiastic, but compromises make good travels, right? I suggest it to you, if you’ve seen enough of the city already. The advantage of these tours is to take you on the mythic Mekong and to fishing villages.
Ben Than Market
Notre Dame cathedral – All materials imported from France, 19th century
Fine arts museum
Thien Hau temple and pagoda (Buddhist), in China town
Mekong tour – Cruise 1 day or 1 afternoon. Book it at your accommodation or in travel agencies in town. From 70$.
Coastal gem Mui Ne – fresh air on your Vietnam itinerary day 3 to 4
How to get to Mui Ne from Ho Chi Minh? By bus 5 to 7hr, $6-10
Mui Ne isn’t a common stop on touristic Vietnam itineraries. And that’s why you shouldn’t miss it! Known in the country for kite surfing, the fishing village of Mui Ne is a little piece of heaven. Windy place, it’s well-known by locals for kitesurfing. Best is to rent a motorbike to go super easy to the beach, the sand dunes and the Fairy Stream.
Sightseeing in Mui Ne
What to do on this third day of your Vietnam itinerary? First, chill out! Mui Ne’s beach is the perfect place to enjoy the waves and get a rest from the bus trip (before tackling the next one!).
Get your feet wet by walking the Fairy Stream
A few miles out of town, there is a strange thing. A muddy stream, passing along red and white stalactites made of clay. And finishing at a remote green paradise and a clear-waters waterfall. You’ll walk bare foot in the stream.
Time: 1 to 1.5hrs
Entrance fee if you go between 9am – 5pm: 20,000 VND
Address: Phan Thiet Province. From Mui Ne, take the road towards Huỳnh Thúc Kháng, passing by the fishing village. The Stream starts under a bridge.
Spend the afternoon at Mui Ne sand dunes
The white dunes are the spectacular ones, 40mn away from town. They are a clean empty land of white sand. I had a lot of fun taking photos there. Best is to go for sunset. My tip: Be aware of scams here! Better not to buy anything. And park outside of the park place if possible, since they try also here to scam you.
Where to sleep at Mui Ne?
Back in 2018, we stayed at Mad Monkey Backpackers, on the village hills. If you’re looking for a relaxed crowd of people to party at night, it’s the place. During the day, there is also a huge swimming pool and a restaurant to enjoy.
Dalat, the hidden place on your Vietnam itinerary - Day 5, 6
Mui Ne to Dalat: By bus 5hr, 7$
I really liked this place. And I’m sure, you will too. Maybe now in 2022, Dalat is less of a hidden place as it was back in 2018. At this time, Dalat wasn’t usual on a standard 2 weeks Vietnam itinerary. No matter what, if you like to travel to remote places to get better the local life, then Dalat is absolutely to put on your own Vietnam itinerary.
Why to go to Dalat
The bus trip itself is stunning. You pass through gorgeous valleys with vertiginous canyons, rivers and forests. And also along villages, where people have settled down with not much. Another Vietnam, far away from the touristic sceneries on the coast or Saigon’s hectic streets.
Your destination waits at 1.500m of altitude. For me, Dalat is one of the best places to see in Vietnam, not only for its Nature but also for the uncommon things you’ll find in town. It’s also in Dalat that we had closer contacts with Vietnamese folks. We ended up having dinner with the family owning the guest house where we were staying. At their own family table. And all of that without communicating in English!
Things to do in Dalat
- Datanla falls – a waterfall nested in the forest, 20mn by motorbike. There is a rollercoaster taking you to the bottom of the hill. You can also walk.
- Night market and The Maze Bar
- Crazy house – A surprising guest house, inspired by the architectural French style of Art Nouveau (1900s). Now a museum. Fee: 40,000 VND (2$)
Our Vietnam itinerary goes North – Na Trang, the city-gate
Bus Dalat to Na Trang: 4hr, 10$.
Na Trang to Hoi An: 11hr, 11$.
I’ve to say, Na Trang didn’t make a good impression on me. It seemed to me to be a mini ‘Miami’, version Vietnamese. There are resorts, offices along the beach. And the main attraction: an amusement park on an island, which you can see from the beach. The other cool thing we found: snakes, scorpions and other pretty animals in jars. That was quite an eye-catcher.
Na Trang will be the ‘gate’ to the North on your 2 weeks Vietnam itinerary. Most busses connect here for a few hours between Dalat and Hoi An. And it’s one of the longest bus ride on our Vietnam itinerary. A sleeper bus usually runs this route. Our ride was quite a challenge. Very long. Be prepared!
The pearl of your 14 days in Vietnam: colorful Hoi An, days 8 9
Top 1 on the list of the best places to see in Vietnam: Hoi An! Without a doubt, this town is a must-see on a Vietnam itinerary. Maybe I fell in love with Hoi An partly because of its obvious French style… but also surely for its colourful streets, its charm, the joyful and somehow romantic atmosphere. A nostalgic thought here, since it’s at Hoi An’s harbor that the chaotic love story of my Asian travels started, when my travel mate asked me to go together on a road trip to Laos.
Hoi An, Vietnam: what to do there?
Walk in the historical town, listed at UNESCO:
Not only one of the best places to see in Vietnam for the eyes, Hoi An old town is also the witness of a traditional Asian trading port, coming straight from the 15th century. You’ll also find the cutest cafes, yummy French or vegan food, local shops with handcraft stuff… and the colourful streets are the perfect playground for Instagram selfies and beginner photographers.
The main attraction of Hoi An ancient town is Chùa Cầu. A beautiful footbridge with a temple atop. It was erected in the 16th century by Japanese merchants, to cross the canal. It became an important connection with the Chinese enclave on the other side. The legend says that the temple was built to trap the monster Namazu, responsible for earthquakes.
In the Old Town, my three favorites to add to your sightseeing day: Phap Bao temple (above), Phuoc Kien pagoda and Tan Ky merchant house. Full of colors and History. There are many other temples to see and here you’ll find a more detailed list. And about Tan Ky: it’s the town’s oldest house, built in 1741. With beautiful antiques and decorations, it was the symbol of rich merchant families trading with Japanese and Western ships in the international Hoi An of the 18th century.
Go to the beach
Surprise: the cutest Vietnamese town has also very nice beaches! Easily accessible by bus or motorbike in 10mn, it’s quite crowded. But it’s worth the trip, to relax and wash off the tiredness of long bus journeys.
Have some fun at night
Hoi An is a lively town. In the area of the night market, bars are filled with travellers. Take a walk first in the market, have some street food. Then, you can relax on the river shore before heading to bars.
Da Nang - Day 10, 11
Hoi An to Da Nang by bus: 1hr, 2$
Next stop on our 14 days Vietnam itinerary: Da Nang. Be reassured: the bus journey isn’t too long this time!
Da Nang is definitely another style than our previous stop. I needed a second travel to Vietnam to really enjoy this city and discover its beautiful surroundings by spending more time there. But in 2 days, you still can see more than the not interesting city centre!
It’s an older French colonial town, transformed into a business and educational hotspot in Central Vietnam. That’s why you won’t like it at first sight if you aren’t a city person. But as soon as you get outside of the hectic places, there is actually stunning landscapes to see.
Best things to do Da Nang
Ride the Hai Van Pass – 21km long coastal road in the mountains. Among the best worldwide drives. By motorbike.
Visit the Buddhist temple Chùa Linh Ứng Bãi Bụt – The largest temple in Da Nang, with the giant statue of Lady Buddha (Mercy). On the way to Son Tra peninsula, overviewing Danang and the coast.
Watch fireworks at night at Dragon Bridge
Go to the Marble Mountain – Impressive complex of 5 marble and limestone hills, with temples and caves, rising up in the city. Fee 40,000 VND (1,75$). 20mn by bike from city centre.
Ride to fishing villages, remote beaches on the outskirts – I really liked Bãi tắm Mân Thái Beach: Take photos of colourful fishing boats with the city as background (direction Son Tra, at the exit of the city centre)
Walk on the famous Golden Bridge – 150m long footbridge, hold by 2 giant hands, crossing a mountain road, at the Ba Na hills resort. Entrance fee 30$
Day 12 – Short stop at Hue
Da Nang to Hue: bus 4hrs, 9$
The iconic Hanoi, last stop on your Vietnam itinerary
Hue to Hanoi by bus: 11hr, 11$
By plane: 3hr, 87$
Hanoi, or the far North! As hectic as Saigon, but with a different flair: Hanoi is alternative, and also snob. The French quartier is marked by massive buildings, with a European old-fashioned architectural style. The administration of the country is here. And there is also the Hanoi underground: busy narrow streets, with cute cafes, street food, bars and everything happening.
I had the best coffee-banana smoothies in a small coffee shop in Hanoi. And couldn’t live without them for the whole stay.
Best places to see in Vietnam, Hanoi
Hanoi’s French quarter
When I told you that Hanoi looks ‘snob’, I was referring to the French quarter. It’s actually a very nice part of the city. Massive buildings, wide paved roads, elegant architecture give a touch of fresh air to the city. Cultural places like the French Opera house or the national Museum, but also the prison (don’t look for logic in Vietnam!) are located in the French quarter. It’s a sober, appealing mix of neoclassicism, Art Deco and greenery.
And here, it’s what I meant with ‘alternative Hanoi’. I enjoyed roaming these narrow, chaotic – and still totally charming – streets. The best banana-coffee smoothies are here! Alike the buildings in the French Quarter, the cute old houses, cafes and other buildings are preserved due to a lack of money for modernising. Hanoi’s charm and French heritage is still to be seen!
‘Train street’ in the Old quarter, Hanoi
Location: Ngõ 224 Lê Duẩn
At first, it seems silly: a train track as a cool place to visit? But I’ve to admit: it’s really one of the best places to see in Hanoi! This track is out of the ordinary: it runs right in the middle of a narrow street with houses on both sides. Colorful facades, people outside cooking, doing their washing… and a train rushing suddenly in the middle. Very impressive also when the train passes a few inches away from you. Obviously, be very careful since trains pass for real on this track, and at full speed.
Hoàn Kiếm Lake
As I told you, Hanoi really has two faces. Besides hectic narrow streets, you’ll also find oasis of peace right in the city center. The ‘lake of the returned sword’ is an oasis of fresh water, with a curious construction in the middle – Turtle tower. This island was built to welcome the king when he was fishing on the lake, back in the 15th century. For sure, it’s a nice spot to go for a walk at day or at sunset.
Hanoi night market
Not to miss on your last Vietnam itinerary days: Hanoi night life. Not only small, lively bars to dance the whole night, but also the famous Weekend night market will be highlights of your stay. Starting near Hoan Kiem Lake, the market stretches onto the Old Quarter. Street food, shopping, or even cultural shows: it’s a very local activity before heading to the bars – many live music and small bars with a lot of character! Hanoi likes markets – find the top ones in this blog article.
1 day trip from Hanoi – Ha Long Bay
You can’t finish your Vietnam itinerary without seeing Ha Long Bay. I agree with you, it’s a touristic place. Normally, I wouldn’t recommend such a spot but Ha Long Bay belongs to these best places to see in Vietnam. We went at low season, with a tour (no other choice, I tell you) and at my own surprise, it was good. The bus will take you from Hanoi to Ha Long Bay ferries, and then to water caves and other beautiful islands scattered across the bay. At low season, it was really peaceful. Let’s hope, mass tourism isn’t going to devastate it… thinking here of the sad spectacle I saw at the Greet Barrier Reef in Cairns.
Check out other solo travel blog posts!