15-20 day Vietnam travel guide | Itinerary


February 20, 2022

Vietnam is the world's second largest coffee exporter, the fourth largest exporter of motorbikes and has the largest cave in the world. There you can experience both urban life, where crossing the street can be a challenge, and discover ancient caves in more rural areas. The cities are chaotic and picturesque at the same time. You'll find that much of local life happens on the streets. They pull up a bench and gather to have a coffee, play a board game or get a manicure. And what about the scenery... a combination of mountains, amazing rice paddies, caves, rivers and incredible beaches.

Some history...

Vietnam is a country with a lot of history and culture. They were invaded by China, Mongolia, Khmers, and in the 19th century occupied by the French. In 1945, under the command of communist leader Ho Chi Minh, they declared independence. But it was not until 1954, under the Treaty of Geneva, that it became official. It was divided into North (communists) and South (anti-communists). The North (Viet Minh) tried to "liberate" the South. The Viet Cong, communist insurgents, were born. And... here comes the USA, which, faced with the threat of the spread of communism throughout Asia - the well-known Domino Effect - sends troops to the South and starts 17 years of war with Vietnam. In 1973, the Viet Cong won and the Paris Peace Agreement was signed, ending the war. Today it is the Socialist Republic of Vietnam.

That was a brief summary of its history over the last century. Undoubtedly, a country whose history has been battered, but which has managed to bounce back. We travelled through it from south to north and there are plenty of reasons why we loved it. Its landscapes, nature, culture, gastronomy, shopping and much more.

When to visit Vietnam?

Vietnam has a tropical climate, so we can divide the seasons into two: dry and wet. The length of the territory has to be taken into account, so the climate differs greatly between the north and the south.

Dry season: November to April. Temperatures are mild. In the north it can get quite cold, especially in places like Sapa, where it can be very foggy and sometimes even snowy.

Rainy season: In southern Vietnam it usually runs from May to October and in the north from May to August.

Vietnam Visa

To enter Vietnam you need a tourist visa. In the past it used to be a bit tedious because to enter through the international airports you needed an invitation letter which could only be obtained through an agency and this made it a bit more expensive.

Nowadays it is possible to get a visa online for both land and air entry. This visa allows you to stay in Vietnam for 30 days. Once inside it is possible to extend it.

E-Via Price: $25 USD

Here we leave you the website of the government of Vietnam, as there are many that seem to be but in reality are agencies that charge you much more expensive: Official website to apply for the Vietnam VISA

If you have a Spanish passport and you are going to travel in Vietnam for 15 days or less, you don't need a visa.

How to get around Vietnam?

Distances in Vietnam are very long. You have the possibility to move by plane, train or bus.

Flights are usually pretty cheap but we found the sleeping bus to be the best way to travel around Vietnam. While we often couldn't sleep on the routes because the driver would honk his horn every 3km, it's a very economical way to get around and it has a lot of timetable options. Most of the bus tickets we bought at the hostels but you can also buy them in the hostels. get them online here.

Budget Vietnam

For us it was the cheapest country in Southeast Asia. Here's a little bit about the prices for a backpacker budget. We spent an average of $18 USD per day each.

  • Food: Dishes in local restaurants range from $1-$3 USD. Western dishes are a bit more expensive at $4-$5 USD.
  • Drinks: Water 0.5 USD, coffee $1 -2 USD, beer $0.6 USD.
  • Accommodation: A private room can cost $7 USD and a hostel bed $3 USD. We have been able to get a private double room in Cat Ba for as little as $3 USD.
  • Transport: Long-distance bus rides are between $8 and $10 USD each way. We spent a total of $76 USD each on transport, including the flight we took from Ho Chi Min to Da Nang.
  • Motorbike rental per day: between $4 and $5 USD. And $0.80 USD per litre of petrol.

Route through Vietnam

The two most important airports in Vietnam are Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City. So you're likely to arrive at one of these.

As we were in Cambodia, we decided to cross the border into Vietnam by land, with Ho Chi Minh City as our first stop. That's why our itinerary starts from south to north. If you arrive in Hanoi you can follow the same itinerary in reverse.

  • Day 1 and 2: Saigon
  • Day 3: Da Nang
  • Day 4 and 5: Hoi An
  • Day 6 and 7: Hue
  • Day 8: Phong Na
  • Day 9, 10 and 11: Tam Coc
  • Day 12: Cat Ba (Halong Bay)
  • Day 13, 14 and 15: Hanoi

Day 1 and 2. Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon)

Also known as Saigon, it is one of the most important cities in the country. It's big, chaotic, noisy and busy. It must be the city with the most motorbikes in the world, there are around 8 million. But, to be honest with everything we had heard, we were expecting a much dirtier and disorganised city than it really is.

It is a city steeped in history and was a key location during the Vietnam War. It has many attractions and interesting places to visit.

We decided to dedicate two days to it.

Although we liked it a lot, we think that if you don't have enough time Ho Chi Min is one of those places that you can't miss.

Ho Chi Minh City Saigon
The Cafe Apartments
Ho Chi Minh City Saigon
Tan Dinh catholic church

Day 3. Da Nang

In the early morning of the 3rd we took a flight from Ho Chi Min to Da Nang. It is possible to do this trip by bus but it takes about 14 hours, while a flight takes only 1 hour and 20 minutes. As the price difference is very small ($20 USD for the bus and $30 USD for the flight) we opted to fly.

In Da Nang we took advantage of the day to visit the incredible Ba Na Hill complex.

Da Nang
Golden Bridge Ba Na Hills
The Golden Bridge

Day 4 and 5. Hoi An

The next day we took a public bus from Da Nang to Hoi An, which takes about 30-40 minutes.

Hoi An is considered the most beautiful city in Vietnam, as its old town is so beautiful and the buildings are so well preserved that it was declared a World Heritage Site by Unesco.

We spent 2 full days there. If you don't have much time, 1 full day will be enough to visit it.

Hoi An
Hoi An

Day 6 and 7. Hue

In the morning we took a bus to Hue. It takes about 4 hours, so by 12:30 we were at our next destination.

The imperial city was the capital until 1945. It has a citadel that has been declared a World Heritage Site. It also has several imperial tombs to visit. Hue is also home to the abandoned water park, you've probably heard of it.

We stayed for a day and a half. In the afternoon of the second day we took a bus to Phong Nha. The bus takes 4 hours to make the journey.

Abandoned water park Hue
Imperial City Hue

Day 8. Phong Na

Phong Na is where most of Vietnam's caves are located. It consists of a park that was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site and has a total of 300 caves, only 20 of which have been explored. The largest cave in the world is located here: Son Doong.

In addition to exploring the caves at Phong Na, the surrounding scenery is beautiful and ideal for motorcycling.

We only stayed 1 day in Phong Nha and it was enough to visit 2 caves and the surrounding area. If you have time there is a 2 day tour where you sleep in a cave, it must be something spectacular.

In the evening we take a bus to Tam Coc which takes between 8 and 9 hours.

Phong Na Caves
Phong Na Caves

Day 9, 10 and 11. Tam Coc or Ninh Binh

Also known as mainland Halong Bay. It is so called because of the similarity in its landscapes of immense rock formations, formed millions of years ago, but with the particularity that they are surrounded by extensive land and rice fields, instead of the sea.

Tam Coc or Ninh Binh? Most of the tourist attractions are located around Tam Coc. This is a small town that is growing by the day. We loved it, we found it super quaint and local. Just outside Tam Coc is Ninh Binh, a much larger town with more accommodation, and where many travellers stay. We opted for Tam Coc, as many travellers recommended it to us and we thought it was the best choice.

We stayed 2 and a half days in Tam Coc. In the afternoon of the 3rd day we took a bus to Cat Ba.

What to see and do in Tam Coc | Ninh Binh

Mua Caves

Day 12. Cat Ba (Halong Bay)

Cat Ba is a small island that is becoming famous among backpackers, as it offers tours to Halong Bay much cheaper than from Hanoi.

We only stayed for one day, which was enough to see Halong Bay.

Day 13, 14 and 15. Hanoi

Finally we arrived in the country's capital! For us a chaotic and super picturesque city. With a great gastronomic offer, temples and markets everywhere.

We spent almost 3 days in this city, but we think that 2 days is enough.

Do you havemore days in Vietnam?

Here are some other essential places to visit:


This place in the north of Vietnam, almost on the border with China, has incredible landscapes: mountains and rice paddies, a perfect combination of colours. It's worth bearing in mind when to visit this area. In January and February it's usually very cold and sometimes very foggy, so you won't be able to enjoy the scenery.

There are many 2-3 day tours departing from Hanoi, but it is best to go on your own.

Photo: @vietnamtravelers

Ha Gian Loop - 4 days motorbike tour

This is an approximately 300km loop by motorbike through some of the most spectacular scenery in northern Vietnam. Rice terraces, karst mountains, remote villages and ethnic minorities.

You can do the route on your own, or there are also tours organised by agencies.

Ban Gioc Waterfall

These are the most famous waterfalls in Vietnam. They are located in the north of the country, on the border with China, in the city of Cao Bang. It is one of the most important natural jewels of Vietnam.

Photo: @vietnamtravelers

Phu Quoc Island

Did you know that Vietnam also has paradise beaches? Phu Quoc is an island in the south of the country near Cambodia with dream beaches.

Photo: @vietnamtravelers