** Updated July 2018
WHERE ARE THE best places to visit in Vietnam? A 1 MONTH ITINERARY
Vietnam is a beautiful contrast of a country, and one we fell in love with instantaneously.
Despite the fact it has been almost 5 years since we last visited, Vietnam is one of those special places that stays with you long after you leave. Even now I find myself day dreaming about our Vietnam travels and the sleepy little town of Hoi An or the pulsating city of Ho Chi Minh.
Vietnam is a country with an itinerary for everyone, and 1 month here is ample time to explore the highlights. It has diverse landscapes, exotic food, a challenging history and fascinating traditions make it an absolute dream to discover. From the mountaineous region of Sapa in the north, to the tranquil beaches further south it is sure to offer something for everyone. It is also home to the world's largest cave and of course, the world heritage site of Ha Long Bay.
With such a harrowing history there is so much to learn about Vietnam, however this once war raveged country is now a rapidly developing nation which seamlessly entwines the traditional with the modern. In addition to it’s landscapes and history, Vietnam is also a culinary experience like no other. The food is simply delicious, Pho is to die for and the claypot dishes from the South are immense. I think during our one month in Vietnam we must ate about 1000 summer rolls and we never once got bored. And let’s not even start talking about the seafood sold on the beaches…
Although we would recommend spending as long as possible in this country, a 1 month trip of Vietnam is a good amount of time to travel the country and to slowly start scratching beneath its surface.
Our travels of Vietnam started in Sapa in the north, before exploring the bustling city of Hanoi where we then took a hop on, hop off bus down the rest of the country stopping in Hue, Hoi An, Nha Trang, Mui Ne and Ho Chi Minh City. This is our recommended 1 month itinerary for Vietnam which includes where to go, what to do and how long to spend there.
Visit Hanoi - 2 Days.
Hanoi is a city which most people either love or hate.
If Hanoi is your first taste of Vietnam then the city will blow your mind.
There are motorbikes everywhere, driving in all directions. The noise of constant beeping and street hawkers selling food from woven baskets fill the streets. It is noisy and crowded, it invades your personal space and I loved every second of it.
2 days is just enough time to explore this fascinating city's chaotic centre. Wander around the Old Quarter; visiting temples and the various markets where live produce is sold to bartering locals. I would highly recommend staying in Downtown Hanoi Backpackers, a hostel on Ma May street which provides a free walking tour of the city. It is without a doubt, the best hostel we stayed in throughout all of Asia. Other highlights include Hoan Kiem Lake and Hoa Lo Prison.
In the evenings be sure to visit Bia Hoi where you will sit on little plastic chairs, drinking cheap local beer and chat to new found friends.
If you plan on staying in Hanoi Backpackers then we would recommend you book ahead as this place is very popular and books up quickly!
Sapa - 3 Days
Sapa is an overnight train ride from Hanoi, hidden in the northernmost region of Vietnam, near the Chinese border. It is a world away from the hectic city of Hanoi and comes complete with mountains, waterfalls and rice terraces to explore.
The town itself is small and filled with friendly locals, you will see lots of hilltride members here who hike to the town from their remote villages. Dressed in colourful clothes, each tribes garments are different to the next to distinguish between the different tribes.
I would recommend spending at least 1 night in the town itself but there is so much to Sapa than its centre. Most travellers come here to explore the rice terraces and hike through its steep, picturesque hillsides. If you aren't a fan of hiking then you can rent a motorbike and drive along the winding roads to take in the views.
Whilst in Sapa, we opted to do a homestay; this involves trekking through the hills of Sapa with a local guide and staying with a Vietnamese hill tribe family overnight. This was one of the best experiences we had in South East Asia as we were able to meet locals, and experience a day in the life of people who are completely self sufficient, shun technology and have no desire for money or material things. We opted for the 2 day, 1 night homestay however you could easily explore this region for much longer and get caught up in its natural beauty.
When in Sapa town, then we loved the restaurant Viet Emotion - seriously good and authentic Vietnamese food.
Ha Long Bay - 2 Days
Ha Long Bay is a UNESCO world heritage site which features over 1500 rainforest topped, limestone cliffs which rise out of emerald waters. The majority of these islands are completely uninhabited and unaffected by human presence. This spectacular setting can be viewed by a boat tour. The boat weaves its way around the cliffs enabling you to relax on the top deck and absorb the magnificent setting before you.
Tours vary from 1 day up to 5 days and you can opt to visit different islands scattered throughout this national park. We chose a 2 day, 1 night boat cruise which we booked at a tour agency in Hanoi. We went to a few different tour companies and what they offered was very similar, we paid $66 USD each for our cruise. All food was included (and very good!) and it also included a trip to Sung Sot cave as well as kayaking around the cliffs. You will also see floating villages where the population live almost their entire lives at sea, only venturing to land when it is utterly essential.
Although Ha Long Bay is a tourist hot spot, and you will no doubt be one of many visitors on the hundreds of boats which tour this stunning area, where you are in Vietnam for 1 month or 1 week, no trip would be complete without witnessing this national treasure.
Hoi An - 7 Days
Hoi An is one of our favourite places on the whole planet. It is a magical, sleepy little town which will not fail to charm you. With it's cobbled lanes lit up by low hanging lanterns, an idyllic river which flows languidly through the town and a beautiful Japanese bride connecting both sides of the town, it is the definition of picturesque.
We could have stayed in Hoi An forever and been more than content simply watching the world go by at one of its riverside cafes. However, our 1 month itinerary didn't allow for that so instead we spent a week here. Hoi An has such an old world charm about it and it is so easy to say "lets just stay one more day".
However, just because the pace of life is slow doesn't mean there is nothing to fo. The town is filled with local tailors and no trip would be complete without leaving with a custom made outfit. We would also recommend renting a bike and exploring beyond the town; An Bang beach is only a short cycle away. Another reason we loved Hoi An so much was the food! It was incredible, especially the local dish called White Rose which is simply beyond delicious. Hoi An is the only place in Vietnam where you can try this dish as it's one families secret recipe! If you are planning on doing a cooking class anywhere in Vietnam, then Hoi An has to be the place.
If you are looking for the best place to try White Rose, then head to Miss Nams (number 5) which is just across the Japanese bridge. It's one of the outdoor "restaurants" which are all lined up in a row with wooden tables and chairs. Alternatively, if you are looking for a slight fancier meal then Good Morning Vietnam is a great place.
Nha Trang - 8 days
Nha Trang is a beachside city, and remembering that Vietnam has very little nightlife, this place is a breath of fresh air. Cool bars and modern restaurants fill the streets.
There is so much to see and do here which is why a minimum of 8 days is needed to see it all.
Of course, there is the gorgeous beach for relaxing days, and you can jump across the water via cablecar to Vinpearl - Nha Trang's very own water and amusement park! You can rent a motorbike and drive to see the White Buddha which overlooks the city or pay a visit to the nearby Thap Ba Hot Spring and the town of Da Nang isn't too far away either. There are waterfalls to visit and you can also go on a snorkelling trip and visit little islands off the coast.
Nha Trang is alive and loud with lots to see and do, I can guarantee that you will never be bored in this city.
One of the best meals we had in Nha Trang, if not Vietnam was in a restaurant called Lanterns - their claypot dishes are exquisite! In addition to having great food, they also raise money for a great cause! Lanterns works with local schools and orphanages providing support, scholarships and food supplies. I would definitely recommend!
Mui Ne - 2 days
We've met people that have loved Mui Ne, however we certainly didn't.
Although Vietnam isn't known for having locals as friendly as neighbouring Thailand or Cambodia (blame communion and the Americans for that) in general, we found the people of Vietnam relatively friendly. However, this was a completely different story in Mui Ne where we just felt very unwelcome. The beach was also dirty, which dead fish and birds strewn along the sand. Overall, we were very underwhelmed by Mui Ne but you may wonder why we still recommend you spend 2 days here...
The Sand Dunes.
Although Mui Ne itself didn't impress, the nearby sand dunes blew us away and made the stop off here during our 1 month trip more than worth it. Only a short motorbike ride away, you should aim to go for sunrise (or sunset) and watch the sky illuminate with beautiful colours before you over a mass of white sand. If you are looking for some exhilaration, then there are "Red" sand dunes nearby where you can rent a board and try your hand at sand boarding!
Mui Ne is a really popular spot for kite boarders, so if you kite board or want to, this place could impress you more than it did me! Ve Tam's is also a great little guesthouse to stay in!
Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC) - 5 days
HCMC is a collision of the old and new Vietnam.
It has a rich history and is steeped in tradition yet it has 21st century shopping malls, skyscrapers and rooftop bars. It's chaotic, it's loud but it is also utterly exciting. You can't help but get caught up in this vibrant city's fast pace of life.
Here, you will taste the most delicious street food, learn about the brave Vietnamese in the War Remnants Museum and drink with fellow backpackers at yet another Bia Hoi. From the city you can go on day trips to the nearby Chu Chi tunnels to learn about how the Vietnamese outsmarted the Americans to survive the war and you can take a boat trip along the Mekong Delta, visiting various islands along the way.
HCMC is an explosive contradiction and spending 5 days here simply absorbing the city's vitality makes for an exciting visit full of discovery.
Vietnam is probably our favourite country in South East Asia, we just adored the landscapes and the food, and were left heart wrenched after learning about its history. We look back on our Vietnam travels with the fondest of memories, and this one month itinerary ensures you see all the highlights of the country. We hope you have the best time exploring the country we love! If you have any questions then just comment below and we will try and answer everything we can!