Vietnam Trip: 15-Day Detailed Itinerary

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A 13- or 15-day trip to Vietnam can only be considered an “appetizer.” Thus I begin the article on my Vietnam itinerary with this statement.

One must be clear from the outset. Such a large and diverse country cannot be visited and understood in only two weeks! I would be lying if I wrote that in a few days you could discover it all.

A real trip to Vietnam would need at least 20 to 25 actual days on Vietnamese soil. Yet, in my wandering around the web before I left for Vietnam, gathering information on blogs and various sites, I often found itineraries from North to South that already at the time I was reading them seemed “drawn out” to me…now that I have been to Vietnam I can tell you that they are not only drawn out in time, from my point of view they are just absurd. You would go home without having the faintest idea of where you had been, you would not have time to perceive and be fascinated by the places.

Better one less stage done well than one more stage that simply becomes anonymous.

My approach was precisely this: an itinerary in Vietnam that, although overblown, would try to experience the place in a slower but conscious way.

My itinerary in Vietnam

The itinerary I propose is one that takes in North Vietnam and Central Vietnam and is doable in 13 to 15 days. If you have more days you could combine it with the South Vietnam and Mekong Delta part (that is why I think 25 days of travel is necessary).

My trip was slightly different from what I had planned and describe in this article. I had to modify it as the weather conditions would not allow me to visit Halong Bay; a typhoon arrived in the bay just on the days I was supposed to take the cruise, this forced me to have to redesign the itinerary. It was not easy at all but I finally succeeded.

On that note, if you haven’t read it yet, I recommend that you check out the post on how to make a travel itinerary, it may provide you with some additional insights.

Like any itinerary, I will also suggest possible detours and alternatives and where to find the appropriate information.

Travel to Vietnam: general practicalities and costs

Let us assume that this is a trip where I did not hire any transportation. In this section I will summarize all my choices and costs incurred so that you will have a clear idea for organizing your itinerary in Vietnam. Many of these topics can be found covered more extensively in this post on all the tips for traveling in Vietnam do-it-yourself.

Period: August.

Climate in Vietnam in August: This is a special time because a trip to Vietnam in August is a jackpot. You might find good weather or a typhoon, or both as happened to me. I must say that I was quite lucky, not finding days of persistent rain. By changing the itinerary I was able to escape the rains but they are still always lurking.

If it is possible to escape from the rains, it is not possible to escape from thehumidity. A trip to Vietnam in August means living with a great deal of humidity, which, combined with the heat, must be judged well. It will often be necessary to stop in the shade and hydrate continuously.

Flight to Vietnam: 520 euros A/R flying from Sofia to Hanoi with Qatar Airways.

As some of you know, I like to find impossible solutions to be able to save some money. In August, flights out of Milan are sometimes prohibitively expensive, so I have to ingenuity to manage to spend something less at the expense of comfort. Using Skyscanner Everywhere (CLICK to read the article) I try countless combinations until I find one that makes sense and is not too challenging. Flying Qatar from Milan to Hanoi would have cost about 400 euros more per person, with a lesser-rated airline the ticket would still have cost about 800 to 850 euros.

Flight to Sofia and back from Plodiv: 100 euros round trip including checked baggage with Ryanair.

Transportation Sofia Airport – Plodiv Airport: 60 euros for about 160 km

The return was supposed to be from Sofia, actually the Bulgarian national airline decided to change the time to the flight, bringing it forward. As a result I had to find another solution. If you also had to fly from Sofia, be aware that just over 150km away is Plodiv Airport from which you can depart.

Domestic flight A/R between Hanoi and Da Nang: 100 euros with Vietnam Airlines.

Again to be precise…as I wrote to you just before, I had to redesign my trip and instead of doing an A/R from Hanoi to Da Nang, I did an outbound Hanoi – Da Nang and a return Da Nang – Haiphong on the Cat Bi airport, the closest to Halong Bay (about 1.5 hours by road).

Visa for Vietnam: thanks to an agreement between Italy and Vietnam, Italian citizens can enter Vietnam and get a free visa for stays up to 15 days. If your itinerary in Vietnam includes more than 15 days then you must go ahead and apply for a visa. Same if you want a multiple entry visa, in fact even under 15 days if you want to enter and leave Vietnam you need to pay for the multiple entry visa. General prerequisite is to have a passport with residual validity of not less than 6 months.

Regarding the situation described in this itinerary, if you make a trip to Vietnam and you are an Italian citizen the convention is valid even if your flight leaves from another country, as in my case happened in Sofia. The Qatar stewardess initially asked me for my visa, after I explained she checked in the computer and let me through without any problem.

For more details regarding the visa, I wrote this article where I also explain how to apply for the electronic visa online before I leave. (very helpful).

Read also -> Getting a Visa for Vietnam.

Areas of Vietnam affected: Hanoi, Sapa and surrounding villages, Halong Bay and Bai To Long, Hoi An

Excursions/Activities Done: Trekking with overnight homestay in Sapa, the Halong Bay cruise and parasailing on An Bang beach in Hoi An.

Domestic transportation in Vietnam: used Taxis of all kinds, Mini-Van, Luxury Van and private car transportation. Getting around is cheap especially if you follow a few tips such as using Grab (post soon)

Euro/Dong Vietnamese exchange rate: the currency used in Vietnam is the Dong and the exchange rate as of today (August 2018) is 1 euro = 26700 – 26200 Dong. They do not have coins, they are all banknotes and the smallest denomination is 1000 Dong, about 4 cents. It feels like walking around with Monopoly bills…once you have them in your hands you will tell me if that is not the case.

Hotel booking: all booked using the portal , now almost the only portal I go to when looking for accommodations for a trip.

Hotel Costs in Vietnam: accommodations are very cheap. In my case I paid from 15 euros for a double room the hotel near the airport in Hanoi to 30 for the hotel in Hoi An. The majority of the hotels included breakfast. Of course, there are also even cheaper solutions at the expense of comfort.

Food costs: street food as in many other Asian countries is definitely cheap, with a few thousand Dong you manage to have a meal for two. A dinner in a street restaurant in Hanoi can cost you almost 200,000 Dong, the equivalent of 8 euros.

Even cheaper are the street shacks. If you want to eat with something more upscale you can easily do so in more renowned restaurants, the cost still remains low in relation to the Western world. The most expensive dinners were in Hoi An where I spent about 500,000/600,000 Dong for two people.

viaggio in vietnam itinerario
A plate of noodles in the mountains of Sapa

Time zone in Vietnam in August: 5 hours ahead of Italy. When it is noon in Italy, it is 5 p.m. in Vietnam.

Insurance: taken out online for 100 euros (valid for 2 people) including removal of deductible.

Wi-Fi: I think the Vietnamese without Wi-Fi would be that tad uncomfortable. They are addicted to the Internet connection. Every hotel, every bar, every restaurant and even some city centers have Wi-Fi available. Even in our homestay among the rice paddies in Cat Ba, maybe there were pictures missing and the walls were rough brick, but the Wi-Fi connection was more powerful than at my home. I have a curious anecdote about Wi-Fi passwords that you will find in the Vietnam travel tips post.

Data connection: I used it little because I did not purchase a local sim. Those few times I did activate the data connection, there was no problem with reception.

Itinerary in Vietnam day by day

As I told you, I report what was to be the main itinerary of my trip to Vietnam, structured like this: Hanoi -> Sapa -> Ha Long Bay -> Hoi An -> Hanoi

At the end of the itinerary you will also find some possible excursions to add.

Day 1 – 2: Hanoi, the capital of Vietnam and Train to Sapa

The first few days in Vietnam are about making your first contacts with this Southeast Asian culture. And how better to do so than by starting in its capital, a concentration of inconsistencies with irresistible charm. Hanoi I believe belongs to that category of cities that“you either love them or you hate them,” a bit like Bangkok…fact is that I am among those who love them.

itinerario viaggio in vietnam ad hanoi
A boy admires the view of Hoam Kiem Lake in Hanoi

On the first day, we toured the old district and the surroundings of Hoan Kiem Lake getting to know and discover the chaotic lifestyle of Hanoi residents. On the second day, however, we visited the northwest part of the city among pagodas, Temple of Literature, Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum and much more. Beware of the heat especially if you were to visit Hanoi in August.

Read also: Hanoi, best things to do in Vietnam’s capital city

In the evening we took the overnight train to Sapa so that we would be in Sapa in the morning of the next day.

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The overnight train to Sapa from Hanoi

Day 3 – 5: Sapa, Trekking and Homestay

The train arrives in Lao Cai early in the morning. In Lao Cai an endless series of minivans take everyone off the Sapa train where trekking to indigenous villages can begin. One can choose one-day or multi-day itineraries; in my case I opted for a 2-day, one-night trek.

Here is my article: Sapa, trekking among the rice fields

I added an additional night to see Sapa city and get some rest. Sapa city did not excite me but in the end I think stopping an extra day was the right choice to catch my breath.

On the third and final day in Sapa (the fifth of the trip) I took the overnight train back to Hanoi arriving in Hanoi the next day

vietnam del nord itinerario sapa
Among the paddy fields of Sapa in northern Vietnam

Day 6 – 8: Hanoi, Bai to Long Bay Cruise and Transfer to Hoi An

I will preface this by saying that this was the itinerary in Vietnam that I had defined. In fact, as mentioned earlier, I had to modify it.

Arriving in Hanoi early in the morning is perfect to combine it with the cruise to Ha Long Bay because many companies offering service in the bay “load” the various tourists in Hanoi’s Old Quarter around 8 a.m. This way you are able to fit in arriving with the overnight train from Sapa and departing with the Ha Long cruise.

You are transferred to Ha Long from where you leave for a cruise, which in my case was 3 days and 2 nights. There are also cruises of 2 days and 1 night but they do not allow you to go too deep into the bay and so you return to land with only a vague sense of what Halong Bay is all about.

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The view from the boat in Halong Bay

The return is always by luxury van and takes tourists back to Hanoi’s old quarter.

My itinerary for this trip to Vietnam was to leave the same evening for Da Nang so as to optimize travel and days, arriving in Da Nang the same evening and reaching Hoi An by transfer from the airport.

la baia di halong itinerario vietnam
Sailing in Halong Bay

Day 9 – 10: Hoi An

A full day exploring Hoi An, the town famous for its fantastic lanterns.

Read also: Hoi An, the romantic city of lanterns

A tour of the town and a detour to An Bang beach 4 kilometers from the center of Hoi An. In the evening, Hoi An is a little gem to discover and admire. Just beware that the Vietnamese close their businesses early, so around 11 p.m. you may already find several streets without lit lanterns.

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The classic lantern photo in Hoi An in central Vietnam

Day 11 – 12: Cham Island with overnight in Homestay

I include them in the itinerary because I had planned the excursion with homestay night at Cham Island on my own and not through organized excursions. From what I had read this would have been perfect because at 3 p.m. the island empties out completely and those who stay overnight in a homestay are able to enjoy the tranquility of the sea and the beauty of these islands. Consider them because I think they are a very viable alternative to the popular beaches of Hoi An.

Day 12 – 13: Return to Hoi An, Da Nang – Hanoi flight, return flight

I had planned to return on the evening of Day 12, sleep near the airport and leave the next morning on my return flight.

How did my trip to Vietnam actually go?

I am writing this to you because it could be a good and excellent alternative to the itinerary I had planned and described to you in the previous lines.

  • day 1 : Hanoi
  • day 2: Hanoi – Overnight train to Sapa
  • day 3: Trekking in Sapa with overnight in homestay
  • day 4 : Trekking in Sapa with night in Sapa
  • day 5: Sapa – Overnight train to Hanoi
  • day 6: Hanoi – Flight to Da Nang – Transfer and overnight in Hoi An
  • day 7: Hoi An
  • day 8: Hoi An
  • day 9: Hoi An
  • day 10: Flight from Da Nang to Haiphong – Ha Long transfer – Cruise begins
  • day 11: Cruise in Halong Bay and Bai To Long
  • day 12 : Cruise in Halong Bay and Bai To Long – Return to Hanoi
  • day 13: Return flight

Alternatives to be included in a Vietnam itinerary:

  • West Hanoi area you could include the beautiful village of Mai Chau set in a landscape reminiscent of Sapa: rice paddies and lots and lots of nature and tranquility.
  • North Zone of Hanoi find an area still little traveled by tourism and that would be wonderful to get to know. It is not usually included in the itineraries of those making their first trip to Vietnam because, although it is beautiful, it takes up too much time because of the still reduced transportation. It is that portion of Vietnam between Hanoi and Hà Giang. If you have a lot of time or otherwise want to focus your trip in the North of Vietnam alone, well I can only envy you if you get to see this part of Vietnam.
  • South Hanoi area find the classic but unparalleled excursions at Tam Coc and Trang An. I was not able to include them because of the various unforeseen events that happened to me but they are a must for anyone visiting Vietnam.
  • Sapa area in addition to trekking and visiting the anonymous city of Sapa, I recommend that you consider climbing Fansipan, the highest mountain in Indochina (3143 meters). You can choose two ways: by a rather strenuous trek or by cable car, which is more expensive but obviously faster and more comfortable. Beware of the weather, I did not go because it was cloudy and at that altitude there is no point in going unless it is clear because visibility would probably be almost zero.
  • Da Nang area you could include a day trip to Huè to visit its citadel or a visit to the Marble Mountains.
  • Hoi An Zone you could take a biking experience in the countryside and touch on everyday life, or you could visit My Son, a monumental complex a short distance from the city (1 hour’s drive, about 40 km).

Recommended hotels for a trip to Vietnam

I arranged the itinerary at home and, as is my usual practice, in organizing the trip I preferred to book all the hotels in advance being able to choose with peace of mind. I always leave myself room for a possible free cancellation that I can use during the trip if there are unforeseen events that do not allow the trip to continue as budgeted.

Prices quoted are for 1 night per double room, NOT per person. They include a private bathroom. Most include breakfast. For this trip to Vietnam, I must say that they all turned out to be excellent choices, so I highly recommend them.

Hanoi -> Splendid Boutique Hotel (click to see hotel) – 30 euros

Located in the old quarter of Hanoi within walking distance of the market and night market street. I believe it was perfect. Very clean and with staff who spoke decent English as well as being very courteous. They can also arrange pickup from the airport to downtown Hanoi and vice versa. Also, very importantly, they keep your bags until the evening and you can even take a shower before you leave, even in the evening because they have a small room used as a shower room. The ideal solution if you have to leave by train to Sapa in the evening.

Value for money: 9

Hanoi Airport -> Dragon Airport Hotel (click to see hotel) – 15 euro

Very few meters from the airport was the right choice to spend the night while waiting for the morning flight. I had a very early flight home and to avoid the traffic in Hanoi I preferred to sleep partly at the airport. It is only 500 meters from the international departure terminal, do NOT get taken to the domestic departure terminal otherwise it is 2 km. Clean and functional hotel

Value for money: 7

Sapa city -> Sapa Elegance Hotel (click to see hotel) – 22 euros

Sapa city is becoming more touristy with each passing day, so the various accommodations have also improved in services. For the derisory price of 22 euros including breakfast, I found this hotel on a slightly uphill street a few dozen meters from the church. It is a very clean hotel and the staff is really very courteous. I can only recommend it, plus it offers laundry service, which after trekking in Sapa is essential.

Value for money: 10

Hoi An -> Windbell Homestay Villa (click to see hotel) – 28 euros

Hoi An is a town that to say beautiful is putting it mildly. The old quarter of Hoi An is definitely crowded, so I preferred to also enjoy some peace and quiet by sleeping for 4 nights in this hotel with a pool (very nice) about 800 meters from the center. By foot it is about 10 minutes, while by cab it ranges from 16,000 Dong to 30,000 Dong. Many rooms overlook the pool directly. I had a very good time and recommend it because it is in a quiet area.

Value for money: 8


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