How to Spend One Week in Vietnam

A street vendor transporting goods using baskets and a carrying pole in Hanoi's Old Quarter
A street vendor transporting goods using baskets and a carrying pole in Hanoi's Old Quarter | © Nicola Ferrari RF / Alamy Stock Photo
Photo of Sam Roth
4 September 2021

Vietnam is a vast and varied stretch of land brimming with remarkable natural beauty and fascinating history. However, with so much to see, it can be difficult to know how to organise your time. To ensure you get the most out of your Vietnamese adventure, check out our reliable itinerary.

Fancy spending more than a week in Vietnam? Consider joining Culture Trip’s immersive 12-day Vietnam adventure, which includes Hanoi, Hoi An and Lan Ha Bay among several other fantastic destinations.

Day 1: Arrive in Ho Chi Minh City

A taxi from Tan Son Nhat airport to the city centre will take 20-30 minutes. Be sure to take a Vinasun or Mai Linh taxi as others are often overpriced.

After checking in to your hotel, get out and explore the streets. There is no better way to observe authentic Vietnamese culture than to walk through the city. Find a curbside plastic stool and enjoy a ca phe sua da (iced coffee) with the locals.

Head towards Nguyen Hue, the main walking street in the city, to admire French-colonial architecture. The Peoples Committee Building on top of the street is one of the most striking in Vietnam. If you’re up for a drink, make your way to the roof of the nearby Rex Hotel.

From Nguyen Hue, hop on one of the many motorbike taxis and make the short trip to Ben Thanh Market. This cavern of tightly packed stalls has everything from clothing and accessories, to jewellery and local food. Walk toward the back and grab a bowl of pho for dinner.

To sample the dizzying nightlife of Ho Chi Minh, walk over to the Pham Ngu Lao area and find a seat on one of the plastic stools along Bui Vien. Enjoy a cheap beer and bathe in the neon lights of backpacker mania.

Monument to the Workers’ Struggle on a roundabout in the centre of Ho Chi Minh | © Arterra Picture Library / Alamy Stock Photo

Day 2: Cu Chi Tunnels

Rise early to catch the shuttle van to down to the Saigon River for a luxury speedboat tour to the historic Cu Chi Tunnels, just outside the city. The rivers give life to Vietnam and there’s no better way to observe them than by boat.

After arriving, join your guide and learn about the role the tunnels played in the war. For those who don’t get claustrophobic, venture down and shimmy your way through the secretive underground channels.

The boat should get you back to the city just in time for an evening drink. Head to the Majestic Hotel, just around the corner from Nguyen Hue, to watch the river meander. For dinner, head to one of these recommended restaurants and try some of the best contemporary Vietnamese food in town.

A man demonstrates the use of a trapdoor in the Cu Chi Tunnels | © Graham Prentice / Alamy Stock Photo

Day 3: Hanoi

Leave Ho Chi Minh early so you have a full day in Hanoi. Once you’ve arrived, head to the Old Quarter and start exploring the city’s rich culture. There are plenty of walking tours available to book if you’d like to be led by a local guide. This energetic nest of narrow alleys and brick buildings is home to countless merchants and artisans and is a great way to learn about Hanoi’s past.

Make your way down hidden passageways and have lunch at Highway 4. The English-speaking staff will take you on a tour through Vietnam’s culinary history.

After lunch, grab a xe om (motorcycle taxi) and head to Hoan Kiem Lake. Spend the afternoon lounging under 100-year-old trees and let the sounds of the city slip away. For dinner, have an authentic street-side Vietnamese meal. Try a bowl of bun bo hue from any of the vendors nearby.

Take time to explore the streets of the French Quarter in Hanoi | © Suzy Bennett / Alamy Stock Photo

Day 4: Tam Coc in Ninh Binh

Get an early start – Ninh Binh province is one of the most beautiful in all Vietnam, making the two-and-a-half-hour ride well worth your time. Spend the day exploring 10th-century temples, biking across open rice fields and floating down the Ngo Dong River into mysterious caves. The towering limestone peaks enclose Tam Coc in its own little world.

The Tam Coc Caves make a fascinating trip from Hanoi | © mageBROKER / Alamy Stock Photo

Day 5 and 6: Ha Long Bay

Pack a towel and some suncream and take a private van to what is Vietnam’s most famous tourist attraction. Ha Long Bay, a Unesco site, is made of thousands of limestone karsts jutting out of the sea. There are dozens of cruises that leave throughout the week from Ha Long City – some lasting a day, others up to two days – plus hostels and hotels in Hanoi often have special deals, so it’s worth checking with the front desk before heading out.

Once your boat sets sail, find a seat on the deck and watch the rock structures grow before you. On a two-day cruise, you’ll have the opportunity to kayak and cliff dive into incredible blue lagoons.

One word of note, due to the popularity of Halong Bay, the area can get quite crowded so it’s important to choose the best cruise. Not all are equal and some venture from well-trodden areas, providing a much better view of the natural beauty.

You can stay on a traditional junk-style boat in Ha Long Bay | © Hemis / Alamy Stock Photo

Day 7: Heading Home

Take a van or bus back to Hanoi to catch your flight out. If you’ve got time, explore the Temple of Literature and take a look at Ho Chi Minh’s Mausoleum.

People queuing to visit Ho Chi Minh’s mausoleum on Ba Dinh Square, Hanoi | © J Marshall - Tribaleye Images / Alamy Stock Photo

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