There is no surprise that tourist numbers are growing so impressively in Vietnam in recent years because the Country has so much to offer the traveller. Rich in history and culture, it is still a largely rural country with a great natural environment, ideal for tourists wishing to hike and explore as well as meet ethnic tribes for whom life has changed little in decades.
The coastline is stunning, measuring well over 3,000 kilometres north to south before heading west towards Cambodia. Vietnam covers several degrees of latitude so not surprisingly, there are regional variations, both climatically and geographically.
Should you wish to really get into the heart of Vietnam and get an in depth understanding of the Country, the ideal way to do that is with an 18-day tour itinerary, starting up in the north and gradually heading south.
18 DAYS IN VIETNAM
Day 1: Hanoi arrival. The Capital of the Country is a great place to start 18 days in Vietnam and after a long flight, it is likely that you will want to rest and perhaps get a little sleep. You can ask for any help you need but otherwise there is nothing arranged with the tour starting in earnest after everyone is refreshed on Day 2.
Day 2: Hanoi City Tour. You may have noticed on your way in from the airport how busy the City is. Don’t worry; you won’t have to do any driving yourself and the City Tour is your first real introduction to this wonderful city.
Ho Chi Minh is known as the ‘’Father of the Nation’’ and his Mausoleum is a great place to begin your tour of the City. It looks across to Ba Dinh Square where he read the Declaration of Independence in 1945. The One Pillar Pagoda and the Temple of Literature, Vietnam’s first university dating back to the 11th Century follow before it is time for some lunch.
You will learn more of the ethnic groups of Vietnam in the Museum of Ethnology before walking around the bustling Old Quarter with its many street vendors busy preparing food and the Dong Xuan Market, the largest in the City.
After seeing Bach Ma Temple, Hanoi’s oldest, the final destination on the City Tour is Hoan Kiem Lake, a popular spot for locals, with the bridge over to Ngoc Son Temple. Water puppetry is a traditional art and you are certain to enjoy a show.
That’s enough for your first full day, except of course for dinner.
Day 3: Hanoi - Ninh Binh (Hoa Lu & Tam Coc). The third day of your Vietnam 18 day tour is a day trip into Ninh Binh Province to the south of Hanoi. Tam Coc has been described as ‘’Halong Bay inland’’ because of its stunning scenery.
It is a region of limestone mountainsthrough which you can cruise in a sampan between the many fertile fields. The 10th and 11th Century capital of Hoa Lu in the Province has several attractions of its own including the Phat Diem Cathedral and the Bai Dinh pagoda.
At the end of the day, it is back to Hanoi for overnight.
Day 4: Hanoi - Drive to Sapa
The next day it is north up to the Highlands close to the Chinese border. Sapa is at its heart and is known for its market as well as the Terraces where local tribes grow their rice. In this terrain, it is important to use every piece of land and the Terraces are designed to retain water so that rice can be grown. The Terraces go through a series of different shades of green until harvest time when they are a beautiful colour of gold.
Overnight in Sapa.
Day 5: Sapa hiking tour
Hikers will love the many trails that lead from Sapa. Indochina’s tallest mountain, Fanispan is not far away though from a time point of view if you want to get to the summit, the cable car is the way to do it.
The ethnic tribes in the region are one of the attractions. While they come into market, you can also do your own exploration of local villages.
Tonight, is the second of your two nights in Sapa.
Day 6: Sapa - Drive to Hanoi
The drive back to Hanoi will still have you enjoying your surroundings, a beautiful environment until you get back into the bustling city for an overnight stay before your next major highlight.
Day 7: Hanoi - Halong Bay Overnight cruise
A Vietnam 18 daysholiday would never be complete without a trip to the UNESCO World Heritage site of Halong Bay due east of Hanoi in the Gulf of Tonkin. There are many hundreds of limestone karsts reaching out of the Bay, all but a handful uninhabited and ripe for exploration; the grottoes are a real highlight of a visit to Halong Bay.
Local fishing villages surround the bay, the villagers’ houses on stilts and you will love an overnight stay on a modern-day junk, enjoying a drink before dinner watching the sun setting. There is time for a swim or simply relax but make sure you are up early in the morning to enjoy the equally stunning sunrise.
Day 8: Halong Bay - Hanoi - Flight to Hue
It is time for Hanoi once again after enjoying Halong Bay but this time it is to catch a plane for the one hour flight south to Hue, the Capital of the Nguyen Dynasty when the French were the colonial masters. The Dynasty ruled throughout the 19th Century and the early decades of the 20th Century. Whilst there was significant damage to Hue during the Vietnam War, the City Tour the next day will still reveal a great deal that appeals to visitors; palaces, temples, pagodas and royal tombs, sufficient to earn the City UNESCO World Heritage status as well.
Day 9: Hue City Tour
The highlight of Hue is the Imperial Citadel. There is plenty to see on this day tour including the Forbidden Purple City, the Edict Pavilion, Supreme Harmony Palace and the Flag Tower. The Huong River provides a great viewpoint for Hue’s highlights.
The Imperial Tombs are on the opposite bank with the pond and gardens of Emperor Minh Mang’s Tomb a tranquil setting. Enjoy Thien Mu Pagoda and the peaceful village of Thuy Bieu just outside Hue.
Day 10: Hue - Drive to Hoi An
You are just past the midway point of your Vietnam tour 18 days in total and today you will drive down to Hoi Anto enjoymore of Central Vietnam, this time the trading port of Hoi An whose importance began during the time of the Champa Kingdom. Over the centuries, there have been obvious influences from the outside world with the Japanese Covered Bridge which contains a small pagoda just one of those examples.
The Old Town is filled with examples of Chinese architecture. Overall, Hoi An is a fascinating place famous for its colourful lanterns. After the sun sets the effects of these lanterns is even more vivid.
Day 11: Hoi An biking and farming tour
Despite the growth of cities like Hanoi, Danang and Ho Chi Minh City, it is important to remember that Vietnam remains largely rural. You will have seen that as you drive around and today there is the chance to enjoy the farming countryside close to Hoi An.
Cycling is a great way to do that because the rural roads are quiet without any of the traffic found in cities. You will cycle with fields either side growing crops for the many villages. The villages themselves are fascinating and the local people inevitably have a smile of their faces; they are naturally hospitable and happy to give you refreshments if you need them.
Day 12: Hoi An Free Day
By the time you reach Day 12, you may be in need of a rest. Hoi An is the place where you will get a free day and you may decide that it is time for the beach. This stretch of coastline in Central Vietnam has seen resort development precisely because of the lovely sandy beaches and the warm sea.
Alternatively, you may just like more time exploring Old Hoi An and perhaps do some shopping; its lovely lanterns will fold down flat and are therefore easy to pack and not heavy. In any event, the choice is entirely yours.
Day 13: Hoi An - Danang - Flight to HCMCity - Cu Chi Tunnels
An early departure and flight from Danang down to Ho Chi Minh City allows you to visit the Cu Chi Tunnels which the Vietcong used as shelter during the Vietnam War. They were a means of transport and communication, a place for storage and where families lived away from the eyes of the Americans. They are very narrow so you may not be able to go inside but nevertheless they are a sight to see.
Day 14: HCM City - Ben Tre - Can Tho (Mekong Delta)
While Ho Chi Minh City is the commercial centre of Vietnam and there are plenty of skyscrapers dominating the skyline, the real attraction is the French Colonial architecture which is found in one small district of the City. They include the Post Office, City Hall, the Opera House, Notre Dame Cathedral and much more.
HCM City is the heart of the South and the setting off point to the Mekong Delta, the most fertile region of the Country.
Your next destination is that Delta as you head for Ben Tre, a city 85 kilometres south of HCMC. You will have time to enjoy the environment of the Delta over the next couple of days, but one of them will involve a very early start.
Day 15: Cai Rang Floating Market - Flight to Phu Quoc from Can Tho
The Mekong’s Floating Markets open at dawn, selling fresh produce both regionally and nationally. It is worth the early start to see the colours and all the activity of a floating market to realise how important the Mekong is to Vietnam’s economy.
After time on the River, it is back to Can Tho for a short flight to the island of Phu Quoc in the South China Sea off the Cambodian Coast but very much Vietnam.
Day 16 - 17: Phu Quoc Free Days
Phu Quoc’s tourist infrastructure has developed in recent years and it is a comfortable place to relax after your busy time travelling. The beaches and warm waters are a delight for swimming, snorkellingor even scuba divingwith plenty of advice on other things to do away from the coast. Phu Quoc is one of a number of small islands and you may like to sail to some or perhaps go fishing?
With comfortable accommodation and the freshest of seafood for dinner, this island break is a great way to end your holiday.
Day 18: Phu Quoc - Flight to HCMC – Departure
The next day, you are off to the local airport to return to the Mainland for your flight back home out of HCMC. You will take with you the best wishes of everyone in Vietnam, some wonderful memories and an album full of amazing photographs. Until the next time, we wish you well.