As part of South East Asia’s well-trodden backpacker route, Vietnam is a stunning destination full of history and character. For those who have not been, you’re missing out on a city that combines modernity with its colourful culture and pristine nature all at once.
In this ultimate Vietnam itinerary, we’ve chosen some of the key destinations for first-time visitors—spanning its capital city, Hanoi, to the populous Ho Chi Minh city and more.
Day 1: Feast, shop and sightsee at Hanoi
At this point, you’ve probably landed at Noi Bai International airport in Hanoi—the famed capital of Vietnam. Hanoi is one of the capital cities that you probably knew had much to offer—from preserved colonial buildings to vibrant nightlife, Hanoi is a must-visit for every holiday in Vietnam. Start off by fueling up at one of Hanoi’s famous lively streets: Old Quarter, which is located in the Hoan Kiem district. This is right at the heart of Hanoi; a hot tourist hotspot in Vietnam filled with rows of street shops selling souvenirs as well as Vietnamese cuisine.
You’re probably famished after the flight too, so why not begin with some beloved street specialities such as Pho or Banh Mi? For the latter, go for Pate Banh Mi located right on the corner of 11th street. This isn’t so much a restaurant but an open-air roadside stall. But for just 20,000 VND (~S$1.20), you’ll get a delicious toasted baguette stuffed full of fatty BBQ pork and fresh vegetables topped with spicy chilli sauce. Grab a plastic stool and order an iced cold beer to go along with a bowl—they go as cheap as 10,000 VND (S$0.60)!
For some light shopping after the meal, you can also check out Dong Xuan Market, Hanoi’s largest indoor market with fresh produce as well as wholesale fashion and accessories on the upper levels. After which, round off the day with a quiet walk at Hoan Kiem Lake. An area that is well-loved by both the old and young, this is where you’ll find people exercising and getting some fresh air. Best of all, it’s a picturesque destination with pagoda-like stone gateways—a great place to whip out your phone for photos!
With most tourist attractions of Hanoi centred around the Old Quarter, some recommended accommodations nearby include Hanoi La Siesta Hotel Trendy, Tirant Hotel and Luna Heaven Room. To get around, taxis may be your cheapest and best bet. Either that, or rent a motorbike for about S$10 a day if you already have a licence.
Day 2: Get acquainted with the country’s culture and history
With a full day ahead, it is time to explore what Hanoi has to offer. Get your fill with a hearty Vietnamese breakfast along the rows of stalls at Old Quarter again. This time though, try Pho Bat Dan—a stall that has been around since the 1960s; one that’s most known for its aromatic Beef Pho (50,000-70,000 VND, ~S$3-S$4.20) that is made with rich bone marrow. Its broth is famously sweet, all thanks to beef bones that are carefully stewed for hours. Unlike fancy restaurants, this stall stays true to self-served counters too. Expect long queues before dining, though the wait will most definitely be worth it!
After which, head to Ho Chi Minh Museum. This is Vietnam’s most famous museum with collections of national treasures and artefacts, and a place where you can go to better understand what helped shape Vietnam into the country it is today. Just a short car ride away is Hoa Lo Prison Museum; a spot that is definitely worth a visit too.
Considering that this place was used by French colonists to hold up to 2,000 political prisoners during the Vietnam war, you’ll get fascinating insights into the country’s history. Having said that, such a historical trip can be rather heavy as it points to the harsh realities of war—be prepared to pass through old prison cells and gruesome relics like the French guillotine, for instance, which was once used to execute Vietnamese revolutionaries.
If this day happens to fall between Friday and Sunday, consider dropping by Weekend Nightmarket Hanoi to enjoy some roadside street food and night shopping to round up the second day.
Day 3: Take a day trip out to Halong Bay
In just a 4hr bus ride, you’ll reach Halong Bay. Every travel adventure to Vietnam is never complete without a visit to the spectacular islands of Ha Long Bay. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, after all.
Here is where you can go kayaking and cave-hop, though the best way to explore the area is by hopping on a cruise from Halong City.
A typical day tour takes you through amazing attractions like the Ba Hang Fishing Village, a rustic floating village that is home to approximately 50 families who live in 5-10m² floating houses and rely on fishing for their daily income. You’ll also pass by Sung Sot Cave, a stunning cave that houses over 100,000 years-old stalagmites and stalactites (icicle and rock-shaped deposits). Pass through narrow passageways and be greeted with the work of mother nature; particularly high ceilings of interesting rock formations that resemble animals.
Day 4: Venture out to Da Nang Beach for more stunning nature
To make the best out of your travels to Vietnam, consider heading to Da Nang beach. In the interest of time though, it is best to take a flight (this takes 1hr 20mins compared to 16hrs by car and 18hrs by train). A domestic flight via VietJet Air or Vietnam Airlines, typically costs between S$140 to S$250.
This coastal city is most known for its sandy beaches, Buddhist sanctuaries and pagoda temples, as well as the famed Marble Mountains. Set aside two hours to explore these mountains but be fully prepared with comfortable shoes as you’ll be expected to walk uphill for a fair bit. The entrance fee to these mountains is currently priced at 40,000 VND (~S$2.40). For a more laidback activity, visit My Khe Beach—one of the most popular beaches in Da Nang, Vietnam—to enjoy a chill afternoon swim, beach-bumming or even some surfboarding (200,000 VND, ~S$12 rental per hour). Just be sure to lather up on the sun care!
Day 5-6: Set foot on Ho Chi Minh for more food and explorations
Commonly known as Saigon, Ho Chi Minh is another popular city in Vietnam that should not be missed. All it takes is an hour plus flight from Da Nang! (Tickets range between S$100 to S$130). After all that adventure and walking earlier on, you might want to take it easy for the next two days.
For the shopaholics, take a gander at Ben Thanh Market, where you can find souvenirs, an array of t-shirts with witty slogans and even imitation branded goods for laughs. Alternatively, make your way to 42 Nguyen Street—a quaint building and hidden gem that has been turned into a shopping centre filled with more fashion goods and accessories. You might also want to drop by Giac Lam Pagoda—it is the oldest temple in Ho Chi Minh City that dates way back to 1744. Another fun fact: At the entrance of this historic site sits a sacred Bodhi tree that was a present from a visiting monk from Sri Lanka in 1953.
For a more localised and unique experience, opt for a day tour (about nine hours long) to the Mekong Delta where you get to explore the distinctive delta landscape on a motorised river boat. A typical tour includes full transport—from hotel pick-up, to the actual boat ride and drop off. While on the ride, you’ll cruise along stunning mazes of rivers and bypass temples, rice paddies as well as iconic fishing villages with stilt houses. You’ll even get to stop by areas like Tortoise Islet for a traditional Vietnamese lunch and An Khanh—a beautiful province where you’ll taste delicious seasonal fruits paired with honey tea. To wrap things up, head on over to the many bars that keep the night alive. With places like Blancy’s Lounge and Apocalypse Now, enjoy the nightlife street of Ho Chi Minh and revel in the sizzling music and fun ambiance.
Clearly, there will not be a dull moment in the colourful city of Ho Chi Minh—for more ideas on where to visit, check out our article on what to see and do in Ho Chi Minh city.
There is simply so much to do and much to love about Vietnam. Truth is, one trip can only cover so many attractions. Of course, you can always return again to cover more bases—who says you have to stop at one visit? Nonetheless, we hope that this has helped you narrow down some great spots to add to your own itinerary!
Things to note when travelling in Vietnam
- Vietnam uses the PC-Covid mobile app (Apple / Google Play) for contact tracing purposes. Visitors are reminded to download and use it during their journey.
- Proof of valid travel insurance covering Covid-19 is required, with a minimum cover of USD10,000.
- Face masks are required in public and crowded places, if gathered within an enclosed indoor space such as public transportation, or if you exhibit symptoms of Covid-19.
- Due to the nature of the pandemic, do visit Vietnam’s official websites for the latest information on Covid-19 restrictions affecting travellers.
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Best time to visit: Between November to April, when rainfall is low and temperatures are milder. For less humid temperatures, visit between December and January.
Currency: The official currency of Vietnam is the Vietnamese Dong (đồng).
Transportation: The two common modes of transportation in Vietnam are taxi services or motorbikes. Rentals of motorbikes can be easily found along many streets (like Ngõ Huyện street in Hanoi and Phạm Ngũ Lão street and HCMC). It typically costs S$10-$15 for the entire day, and a driving licence is mandatory.
Book Now: A direct flight from Singapore to Vietnam takes less than 4 hours. Currently, there are flights to Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City and Da Nang, with an upcoming new route to Hai Phong.