2 weeks in Vietnam: Itinerary covering highlights at a relaxed pace

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Vietnam is a long narrow country. Most likely, you will be starting from Hanoi and travelling your way down, or starting from Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) and going up. Flights are cheap and connect the main cities well. If the food doesn’t win you over, the history – the country has been ruled by the Chinese, French and other powers – and the natural beauty will. This 2-week itinerary is at a relaxed pace for travellers who want a mix of top sights, culture, food with enough time for relaxing on the beach and doing adventure activities.

Two-week itinerary overview –

Hanoi (1 night) – Ha long bay (1 night) – Danang (5 nights covering Hue and HoiAn) – Ho Chi Minh City (2 nights) – Con Dao island (4 nights) – Ho Chi Minh City (1 night)


Day 1: Hanoi

We took an overnight flight to Hanoi via Bangkok; there are no direct flights between India and Vietnam. Tired as we were, I still wanted to make use of the half-day that we had in Hanoi. I had got in touch with HanoiKids earlier and two students were waiting at the scheduled time in the hotel lobby. This is a group of university kids who take you to see places in their city, all for the chance to practice their English and to get some insight into your culture. I can’t recommend them enough! It is best to email them at hanoikidsvn@gmail.com to set up a date, time and places to visit.

 

2 weeks in Vietnam
I tried the egg coffee at a hole-in-the-wall cafe in the Old Quarter – thick, creamy, intense, and a complete delight.

In hindsight, spending just half a day in Vietnam’s capital is a shame. This city demands a couple of days to be explored at leisure – all the history that reveals French and Chinese occupation, the evolving art scene, the stately buildings in the French Quarter and the wild and wonderful craziness of the Old Quarter.

Day 2-3: Halong Bay

Halong bay is a spectacular scatter of limestone karsts and isles topped with rainforests, in emerald waters. It is a popular tourist destination.

We had booked an overnight cruise with a local company (http://www.dragonlegendcruise.com). This included pick-up from the hotel and drop-off at the airport the next day. The 4-hour ride from Hanoi to Halong bay goes through some not-so-scenic and dilapidated areas so I wouldn’t recommend a day trip at all. The only way to experience this UNESCO heritage site is spending a night or two in a junk – you go much further, the bay is serene when the day trippers leave.

Vietnam highlight: Halong bay
Don’t miss the late evening and early morning at Halong bay; it is magical.
2 weeks in Vietnam
Dragon Legend, our luxury boat

 

Also read: Two-week itinerary for Croatia

Day 4 – 7: Danang, Hue, Hoi An

We had taken an evening flight from Hanoi to Danang the day before and checked into the Nam Hai – boasting of a kilometre-long stretch of one of Forbes “best beaches in the world”. This made for a good base for several areas – visiting the historic town of Hoi An, exploring the imperial city of Hue as a day trip, taking a leisurely cycling trip to experience the village life and paddy fields and lazying around at the resort pool and the beach.

Do read: Beach + History + Food + Nature: 4 awesome reasons to visit Central Vietnam

2 weeks in Vietnam
Evenings area pleasant time to visit Hoi An; do visit the restaurants and cafes there.

 

2 weeks in Vietnam
Don’t miss out on the village life near Hoi An

Day 8 – 9: Ho Chi Minh city

We took a morning flight from Danang to Ho Chi Minh city. My first impression was that of a large metropolis, a financial hub, with people hurrying around with their life. We were staying with friends, and used the afternoon to explore the central district, checking out several art galleries, boutiques and a quirky cafe.

The next day was a visit to Cu Chi tunnels, about 2 hours drive from the city. It is good to carry some water and snacks with you for the trip, although there is a restaurant on the site. Friends had generously given us their car and driver for the trip to Cu Chi tunnels, but there are several tour companies that provide this as a day trip option from Ho Chi Minh city.

2 weeks in Vietnam
If you are not claustrophobic, do go down one of the tunnels.

Day 10 – 13: Con Dao islands

As with most of our holidays, the kid is happiest with a relaxed stay featuring a beach. We had researched on the Vietnam islands and stumbled upon Con Dao. Na Trang is for party goers and Phu Quoc for both couples and families, but this sleepy island where nothing much happens suited us perfectly.

Con Dao islands have been protected for decades as a national and marine park. There are thick forests on these islands, as well as lovely beaches, bays and coral reefs. Our stay was at Six Senses, located on Con Son, the largest island in this chain. There is a direct 45-minute flight from HCMC to Con Son daily.

Read my review on Six Senses Con Dao

2 weeks in Vietnam
Breakfast view at Six Senses, Con Dao.

Con Son is perfect for mountain biking and scuba diving and we tried both. Pristine as it is now, it is difficult to imagine Con Son as ‘hell on earth’ – thousands of prisoners were confined in jails during the French rule (many visitors today take the Prison tour). After exposing the 5-year-old to the Cu Chi tunnels, we decided to give the prison tour a miss.

2 weeks in Vietnam
The pristine Con Dao island

 

Day 13: Flight back to HCMC, buying gifts and taking the evening flight back home.

2 week itinerary for Vietnam at a relaxed pace

Also read: Hvar: one of the 10 most beautiful islands in the world

 


Which is your favourite country to visit in South-east Asia?

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Author: zestinatote

Hi! I am Shweta, the zest behind this blog . I play several roles – parent to a 6-year old, adventure enthusiast, travel blogger, generally open to trying out new things in life. Besides travel, I love books and theatre and art. I would love to hear from you; do drop a comment. Join me on Instagram / Twitter @zestinatote.

19 thoughts

    1. I had researched on Sapa, and was quite tempted. It was either that or Halong bay. But 2 weeks itinerary demand something will get left out, especially since we dont like to rush from one place to another.

  1. This part of the world is very unknown to me…it’s very interesting. I’ve heard of Hanoi but that’s about it. That being said those Con Dao islands look stunning, I’m not sure if I’d only be able to stay there for a few days

  2. We traveled through Vietnam a couple of years ago and had a similar itinerary from north to south. However, we didn’t go to any island or beach to “rest”, since we took the last days to visit Mei’s relatives in Saigon, and the places where her family used to live back in the 70s. We’ve heard a lot about Na Trang, but never of Con Dao islands, which sounds much more interesting. So thank you for sharing this!

    1. You know how it is with a child, some downtime at a beach resort makes the vacation so much more fun for her. Con Dao is definitely more interesting than Nha Trang. You must have had a good time catching up with family in Saigon. We stayed with friends there, and apart from catching up with them, didnt like the city as much as Hanoi or Hoi An or Hue.

  3. I’m pretty sure I could bring myself to do everything on this list except going down into one of those tunnels. It didn’t even look like you would fit. I’m having a panic attack just writing about the photo of you going down there, ahhh!! Either way, Vietnam is one of my top destinations to get to next in Asia. I’d love to check out some of the places you mentioned especially the beach Nam Hai.

    1. Ha ha…Mia, yes going down the tunnel is not everyone’s idea of fun. But a visit to Cu Chi tunnels without that experience is also good. The guides are informative, there is a model made of the tunnels at 4 levels and their interlinkages and a display of arms / ammunition used in the war. (It turned out to be a bit much for my 5 year old, I admit)

  4. The two main reasons I want to visit Vietnam are, the food and the beautiful scenery. I love Thai food and any opportunity to try the authentic thing is a good day for me.

    Visiting Halong bay is a must for me as well. I have seen so many photos of it and I just have to see it myself. I have never heard about Con Dao islands, but I am sure I want to visit it. Love its turquoise water.

    1. Simon, Vietnam with its long coastline has many beautiful beaches; you are sure to find something that you love. And yes, their food is really good, both street food and high-end restaurants. Thai food is great, but Vietnamese is better!

  5. This is an awesome itinerary, and I’m glad to see Ha Long Bay included, because that’s on my bucketlist. Thanks for the tip on spending overnight – I’ve heard you have to be very careful and properly research the tour operator you choose, otherwise may get stuck with extreme party crowds which can ruin the magic of the experience.

    The red doors at the Hue citadel are another highlight I would like to see – so beautiful and instagram worthy! Cu Chi tunnels too are a point of interest for me – you’ve literally put together the perfect itinerary – I love the mix of nature, history and food. Seriously, thankyou!

    1. Thanks Meg. Another place that may be of interest to you is the War Museum in HCMC. We didnt go because friends said it would be too gory for my daughter. I was already a bit guilty about exposing her to some of the facts of the American Vietnam War at Cu Chi. Hope you have a lovely time in Vietnam whenever you visit. And eat non-stop 🙂 the food is heavenly.

  6. I like that you mention the slow pace to discover Vietnam. That’s one of the most important requirements to experience a country and its culture. I wouldn’t travel anymore if I hadn’t time to travel at a slow pace.

    1. In the past few years, we have realised that slow pace, some downtime at a beach resort and not too many change in locations works best for us. Gives us time to experience more, even if it means we dont cover all the top attractions in a new place.

  7. AMAZING! My best friend is from Hanoi, and just so happens to be a chef. Yep, I am one of the lucky ones who gets to experience her incredible food and without having to travel. BUT… I am obsessed with the country and think everyone should visit at least once. Like ya said, the food is next level.

    My favourite place in south east asia is Myanmar for the spiritual experience, Vietnam for food, Thailand for massage/spa and Cambodia for the history, but a mix of all these things can be found in each place. I guess I cant really answer that question, I love south east asia – FULL STOP! 🙂

  8. This looks like a great itinerary. We haven’t made it to Vietnam yet but it’s definitely on the list. Will keep your itinerary in mind for when we finally go. I had never heard of the Con Dao islands but they look lovely. Nice to hear about new places. The egg coffee looks interesting!

    1. Thanks for dropping by Cindy. Con Dao islands were once used to be ‘hell on earth’, lock thousands of prisoners under French rule. They are really pristine, under visited. Most international tourists go to Phu Quoc or Nha Trang.

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