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18 Days in Vietnam: From Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh City

Tip Highlights: Hanoi, Halong, Hue, Danang, Hoi An, Nha Trang, and Saigon/Ho Chi Minh City

This “18 Days in Vietnam” travel itinerary took me on an unforgettable journey from the charming streets of Hanoi to the vibrant energy of Ho Chi Minh City. I started in the North and made my way South, experiencing Vietnam’s diverse culture and beauty. In Halong Bay, I found serenity; in Phong Nha Ke Bang National Park, I delved into history. The ancient cities of Hue and Hoi An captivated me with their allure. My journey continued along the coast in Nha Trang, and finally, I immersed myself in the dynamic pulse of Ho Chi Minh City. This trip was a perfect blend of scenic landscapes, rich history, and diverse cultural experiences across Vietnam’s most remarkable cities.

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18 Days in Vietnam – from Hanoi to Saigon

During my “18 Days in Vietnam” journey, traveling from North to South, I mainly relied on trains and buses. The trains were a convenient choice, offering scenic views of the countryside and comfortable overnight options. Buses, frequently running between cities, were efficient and budget-friendly, perfect for shorter distances. For instance, the bus ride from Hue to Hoi An was a smooth experience. This combination of transport modes enriched my travel experience, seamlessly connecting me to the country’s many wonders. However, from Nha Trang to Ho Chi Minh City, if you can afford a bit more, you can opt for a one-hour flight, a time-saving alternative that provides a different perspective of Vietnam’s diverse landscapes.

And most of all, if you can drive, explore the cities by motorbike. Motorbike rentals in Vietnam are everywhere. Be careful, though – driving around is crazy, but you’ll get used to it! ūüėÜ

Arrive in Hanoi and dive right into its vibrant heart. Start your adventure in the Old Quarter. Here, wander through the maze of bustling streets and traditional shophouses. Discover the local markets brimming with life. For lunch, head to Pho Gia Truyen, famed for its delicious Pho. Next, take a leisurely stroll around Hoan Kiem Lake. This iconic landmark offers a serene escape amidst the city’s hustle. As evening falls, explore further. Savor dinner at Bun Cha Ta, renowned for its grilled pork and noodle dish. This first day in Hanoi perfectly blends cultural immersion with culinary delights, setting the tone for an unforgettable journey.

Day 2: Hanoi’s Cultural Harmony

Start with a morning visit to the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum, where you’ll connect with Vietnam’s storied past. Then, amble through the elegant Presidential Palace area, admiring its French colonial architecture. Refuel with brunch at Caf√© Pho Co, a hidden gem offering stunning city views and excellent coffee. In the afternoon, delve into history at the Temple of Literature, Vietnam’s first university. Just a short walk away, the Vietnam Fine Arts Museum awaits, showcasing the nation’s artistic evolution. Cap the evening with a trip to the impressive Lotte Tower to dine amidst breathtaking cityscapes. And oh – if you are a foodie kind of traveler, don’t skip going on this food tour in Hanoi! You’ll love it!

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18 Days in Vietnam – from Hanoi to Saigon

Day 3: Hanoi’s Spiritual and Scenic Splendors

Embark on Day 3 by exploring the serene Tran Quoc Pagoda, Hanoi’s oldest spiritual site. Nestled by the peaceful West Lake, it’s a perfect start to the day. Then, wander around the lively West Lake area, soaking in its vibrant atmosphere. For breakfast, indulge in a local favorite at Xoi Yen, known for its delicious sticky rice dishes. Next, head to the elegant French Quarter, where you’ll marvel at the sophisticated architecture and upscale boutiques. Don’t miss the St. Joseph’s Cathedral, a striking example of neo-Gothic design. For lunch, enjoy the exquisite French-Vietnamese fusion at La Badiane. Conclude your day with a cultural treat at the Thang Long Water Puppet Theatre, followed by a diverse culinary experience at Quan An Ngon. This day beautifully wraps up your Hanoi experience with a blend of spiritual, scenic, and cultural delights.

Where to stay in Hanoi

In Hanoi, accommodation options suit all budgets, each offering convenient locations and great reviews. For budget travelers, Hanoi City Backpackers Hostel stands out with its vibrant atmosphere and central location. Mid-range visitors find comfort at Golden Sun Hotel Рright in the middle of the city. For luxury seekers, Sofitel Legend Metropole Hanoi offers an exquisite experience, boasting historic elegance and top-notch service. 

To embrace the beauty of Halong Bay, I opted for a 2-day/1-night cruise, an effortless and convenient choice. The journey from Hanoi to Halong Bay began with a comfortable morning bus ride. Aboard the cruise, my room boasted stunning views of the karst islands. Activities abounded: I kayaked through the majestic karst mountains, swam in the bay’s crystal-clear waters, and learned to make traditional Vietnamese spring rolls. A ride on a bamboo boat took me around awe-inspiring caves. Mornings started with peaceful tai chi lessons, and evenings offered the unique experience of fishing under the starlit sky. The cruise balanced relaxation with adventure, from swimming and kayaking to embracing the tranquility of Halong Bay. There are a few cruise itineraries here and choose whatever fits your budget.

Day 6: Hanoi’s Hidden Gems Before Night Train

With the night train to Dong Hoi (Phong Nha Ke Bang NP) not departing until evening, Day 6 offered a chance to uncover more of Hanoi’s hidden gems. I started the day at Caf√© Nola, a quaint spot known for its artistic decor and relaxed vibe, perfect for a leisurely breakfast. Then, I visited the bustling Dong Xuan Market, immersing myself in the local shopping scene and picking up unique souvenirs. For a slice of tranquility, I headed to the Hanoi Botanical Garden, a green oasis in the city. Lunch was at Banh Mi 25, where I savored their famous Vietnamese sandwiches. The day wound down with a casual stroll along the Hanoi Ceramic Mosaic Mural, a colorful artistic display that captures Vietnam’s spirit. Finally, I boarded the overnight train, ready for the next adventure in Phong Nha.

The train rolled into Dong Hoi around dawn, between 4:00 and 6:00 AM. I wasted no time. After a quick breakfast, I joined a one-day tour to Phong Nha Ke Bang National Park. First stop: the Wildlife Rescue Center, where I got up close with rescued animals and learned about conservation efforts. Next, adrenaline surged as I ziplined and kayaked in the thrilling Dark Cave. After the excitement, the tour continued with a serene boat exploration of the Phong Nha Cave. Its majestic beauty left me in awe. Despite having just one day, this jam-packed adventure perfectly captured the essence of Phong Nha’s natural wonders.

Where to Stay in Dong Hoi

In Dong Hoi, I found great accommodation options for every budget. For a cozy and affordable stay, Nam Long Plus Hotel was perfect, offering comfort and a friendly atmosphere. For a mid-range option, Sun Spa Resort & Villa stood out with its excellent facilities and prime location. For luxury, Vinpearl Hotel Quang Binh was unmatched, providing top-notch amenities and superb service. Each place, well-reviewed and conveniently located, added to the ease and enjoyment of my stay in Dong Hoi.

Early morning, I boarded a train from Dong Hoi to Hue, traversing through Vietnam’s scenic countryside for 5 hours. Upon arrival, I savored lunch at Hanh Restaurant, indulging in the local favorite, Bun Bo Hue. This cozy spot is famous for its authentic flavors and friendly service. The afternoon was dedicated to exploring the Imperial City, a historic hub brimming with cultural relics. As evening approached, I wandered along the peaceful Perfume River. Dinner at Ancient Hue offered a delightful blend of royal and contemporary Hue cuisine, set in a traditional house, perfect for unwinding after a day of exploration.

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18 Days in Vietnam – from Hanoi to Saigon

Day 9: Unveiling the Riches of Hue

On Day 9, I met a fellow hosteller who could drive a motorbike, so we explored the ancient city together. We began with a visit to the Thien Mu Pagoda, offering spiritual tranquility and stunning river views. Post-exploration, we headed to Les Jardins de La Carambole for lunch. This charming spot served a fusion of Vietnamese and French cuisine in a colonial setting. The afternoon was spent visiting the royal tombs, like the Tomb of Tu Duc, steeped in history and architectural beauty. We concluded the day with dinner at Nook Cafe & Bar, a relaxed setting with a diverse menu, perfect for a casual yet satisfying meal after a day full of discovery.

Where to Stay in Hue

Accommodation options in Hue, Vietnam, cater to all budgets. For backpackers, Hue Happy Homestay offers a cozy, friendly environment right in the city center. Those seeking mid-range comfort should consider Cherish Hotel, known for its excellent service and central location near major attractions. For luxury, Indochine Palace stands out with its elegant rooms and top-notch amenities, all within easy reach of Hue’s historical sites.

The day started with a morning bus from Hue to Danang, a journey of about 2-3 hours. The ride included the breathtaking Hai Van Pass, offering stunning coastal views and lush landscapes. In Danang, my first stop in the afternoon was the impressive Lady Buddha statue, standing tall and serene. The afternoon was a blissful retreat at My Khe Beach, known for its soft sands and clear waters. I stayed there until sunset. As evening set in, I strolled to the iconic Dragon Bridge, admiring its unique design and anticipating its weekend fire and water show. For dinner, I enjoyed local specialties at Tam’s Pub and Surf Shop, known for its delicious, affordable meals and friendly atmosphere.

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18 Days in Vietnam – from Hanoi to Saigon

Day 11: Immersing in the Charm of Hoi An

I asked the hostel receptionist how to get to Hoi-An from Danang. It was easier than I thought. A local bus ride from Danang to Hoi An felt like stepping into the daily life of a local. The ride lasted about 45 minutes. My day in this UNESCO World Heritage site began early, exploring its ancient streets in peaceful solitude. I visited the well-preserved Japanese Covered Bridge and the vibrant Hoi An Market. I allowed myself to get lost in the ancient town. For lunch, I stopped at Banh Mi Phuong, famous for its delicious and budget-friendly Vietnamese sandwiches. The evening in Hoi An was magical, especially after a serene boat ride on the river. Back in Danang, I ended the day with dinner at Mi Quang 1A, a must-visit for its namesake noodle dish.

Day 12: Exciting Excursion from Danang to My Son Sanctuary

Day 12 was an exhilarating blend of history and nature, starting with a one-day tour from Danang to My Son Sanctuary. I opted for the convenience of a guided tour, ideal for those less inclined to motorbike riding. The adventure began at My Son Sanctuary, a mesmerizing site of ancient Champa Kingdom ruins dating back to the 4th century. Immersed in history, I marveled at the intricate carvings and temple ruins set against a lush jungle backdrop. The tour then shifted to the stunning Marble Mountains, where I explored fascinating cave temples and soaked up the spectacular views. A visit to the serene Tam Thai Pagoda was the perfect ending to the day before heading back, filled with awe and appreciation for Vietnam’s rich cultural tapestry. OPTION: If you want to explore Bana Hills (the bridge with giant hands) for a day, go on a tour.

Where to stay in Danang, Vietnam

In Danang, Vietnam, accommodation options cater to all preferences. For budget travelers, The Glomad Danang Hotel offers a cozy and social atmosphere right by the Dragon Bridge. Mid-range seekers should consider Sanouva Danang Hotel, well-located and known for its comfort and excellent service. For luxury, InterContinental Danang Sun Peninsula Resort stands out. Nestled in a stunning beachfront location, it promises an unforgettable stay with world-class amenities and breathtaking views.

Day 13 marked a peaceful journey from Danang to Nha Trang. Early in the morning, I embarked on a 9-11 hour journey by train, opting for the scenic route. The ride was a relaxing experience, offering stunning views of Vietnam’s coastline and countryside. This tranquil travel day provided a perfect opportunity to unwind and reflect on the adventures so far. As the train rolled into Nha Trang, excitement built for the new experiences that awaited in this beautiful coastal city.

Day 14: Exploring Nha Trang’s Island Splendors

Day 14 in Nha Trang was an aquatic adventure, starting with a thrilling 3-island tour of 6 hours. The first island dazzled with its crystal-clear waters, ideal for snorkeling and observing vibrant marine life. Next, we ventured to a peaceful island, perfect for sunbathing and relaxation. The last island was a bustling hub, offering a variety of water sports. Between islands, I savored fresh seafood on the boat, a true taste of Nha Trang’s culinary delights. Back on the mainland, I wandered along the lively beachfront, soaking in the vibrant atmosphere. The day concluded with a delightful dinner at Lanterns Vietnamese Restaurant, known for its authentic flavors and cozy ambiance. This day perfectly captured the essence of Nha Trang’s coastal charm and lively spirit.

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18 Days in Vietnam – from Hanoi to Saigon

On Day 15, I made the most of my time in Nha Trang before the evening journey to Ho Chi Minh City. The day kicked off with a refreshing morning dip at the picturesque Nha Trang Beach. After soaking up the sun, I visited the fascinating Po Nagar Cham Towers, immersing myself in the area’s rich history. For lunch, I indulged in the local specialty, Bun Ca Sua, at Lac Canh Restaurant, renowned for its grilled fare. In the afternoon, I relaxed at the tranquil Thap Ba Hot Springs, enjoying a rejuvenating mud bath. As the day wound down, I boarded the SE train, settling in for a scenic 7-8 hour journey to Saigon, eagerly anticipating the next chapter of my Vietnamese adventure. Another option is to take a quicker 1-hour flight to Ho Chi Minh City.

Where to stay in Nha Trang, Vietnam

In Nha Trang, accommodation options cater to all preferences. For budget travelers, Mojzo Inn offers a friendly atmosphere and is just steps from the beach. Those seeking mid-range comfort will find Green Beach Hotel Nha Trang ideal, known for its central location and excellent service. For a touch of luxury, Sheraton Nha Trang Hotel & Spa stands out with its stunning sea views and first-class amenities. Each of these well-reviewed options ensures a convenient and enjoyable stay, making your time in Nha Trang memorable.

Day 16: Unveiling the Rich History and Culture of Ho Chi Minh City

  • 8:00 AM: Start at the War Remnants Museum.
  • 9:30 AM: Travel to the Reunification Palace.
  • 11:00 AM: Visit the nearby Notre-Dame Cathedral and Central Post Office.
  • 12:30 PM: Lunch at Nha Hang Ngon. It’s known for serving a variety of street food-style dishes from all over Vietnam, making it a great spot to sample different flavors in one place.
  • 2:00 PM: Head to the Jade Emperor Pagoda.
  • 3:30 PM: Visit the Giac Lam Pagoda.
  • 5:00 PM: Spend the evening exploring Binh Tay Market for shopping and experiencing local life.
  • 7:00 PM: After exploring Binh Tay Market, a great dinner option is Pho Le, known for its delicious and affordable Pho. This local favorite offers a flavorful broth and fresh ingredients, providing a genuine taste of one of Vietnam’s most famous dishes. It’s a simple, no-frills place but highly regarded for its food quality.

Day 17: Journey into History and Nature – Cu Chi Tunnels and Mekong Delta

Day 17 in Ho Chi Minh City began with an exciting full-day tour, combining the historic Cu Chi Tunnels and the serene Mekong Delta. First, we delved into the Cu Chi Tunnels, a vast underground network that played a crucial role in the Vietnam War. Here, I crawled through safe parts of the tunnels, gaining a unique perspective on the ingenuity and resilience of the Vietnamese soldiers. The experience was both enlightening and humbling. Next, we journeyed to the Mekong Delta, a world away from the city’s hustle. Cruising along the river, I observed the daily life of locals and enjoyed a traditional lunch at a riverside restaurant. The day was filled with contrasting experiences, from the historical tunnels to the peaceful riverbanks, offering a comprehensive glimpse into Vietnam’s rich tapestry.

Day 18: Farewell Saigon – A Final Day of Discovery

On my last day in Ho Chi Minh City, with an evening flight ahead, I seized the opportunity for more exploration. The day began at 8:00 AM with a leisurely breakfast at L’Usine, a trendy caf√© known for its excellent pastries and coffee. At 9:30 AM, I strolled through the historic Saigon Opera House, admiring its stunning French colonial architecture. By 11:00 AM, I was exploring the vibrant Ben Thanh Market, a perfect place for last-minute souvenirs and experiencing the local hustle. For lunch at 12:30 PM, I chose The Lunch Lady, famous for its daily rotating menu of Vietnamese dishes. Then I went back to my hotel to pack and rest, before heading to the airport, wrapping up the Saigon experience beautifully.

Where to stay in Ho Chi Minh City

In Ho Chi Minh City, accommodation options cater to all preferences. For budget travelers, Unique Hideout is perfect, offering a vibrant atmosphere and central location. Mid-range visitors find comfort at The Alcove Library Hotel, known for its cozy ambiance and unique design. Those seeking luxury should consider The Reverie Saigon, a pinnacle of opulence with breathtaking city views. Each of these stays ensures convenience, excellent service, and positive reviews, making your time in Ho Chi Minh City memorable and comfortable.

18 Days in Vietnam – What a Trip it was!

Reflecting on my journey, “18 Days in Vietnam” from Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh City was an unforgettable experience. I started in the charming streets of Hanoi, journeyed through the breathtaking landscapes of Halong Bay, and delved into the rich history of Hue and Hoi An. Each destination unveiled its unique allure, from the serene Phong Nha caves to the vibrant streets of Nha Trang. Saigon’s dynamic energy was the perfect finale. This 18-day trip in Vietnam was more than a travel itinerary; it was a mosaic of culture, history, and natural beauty, leaving me with memories I’ll cherish forever. Vietnam’s warmth and diversity have truly captivated my heart.

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