Vietnam is an amazing country, from top to bottom and from side to side. It’s endlessly diverse landscapes, food and culture keep even the most distracted of minds occupied. The only downside, if you can call it that, is that there is perhaps too much to see in one trip. We’re going to share the best way to spend 2 weeks in Vietnam to get you started on planning your trip.
A Vietnam Itinerary for 2 Weeks
The country is long, a little over 1000 miles to be explored. Planning such a trip can be daunting, but we’ve got your back. Having lived in Hanoi, northern Vietnam, for over two years, we know the north pretty well. So, here we go, two years of travel and exploration of a region condensed into a 2-week itinerary for Vietnam. Let’s do this.
Before going to Vietnam, keep in mind you DO need a visa. You can get your visa quick and easy on iVisa. Don’t forget this step.
The best way to arrive into northern Vietnam is flying into the capital city of Hanoi. The city is filled with charm and vibrance at every corner. There are two rules in Hanoi: expect the unexpected and the only consistency is inconsistency.
Suggested time in Hanoi: 3 days (but you’ll be coming and going from the city, too)
Top Things to Do in Hanoi in 3 Days
Walk around Hoan Kiem Lake
This lake is one of the most famous symbols of Hanoi, and its banks are considered sacred to Vietnamese people. A wander around here is lovely at any time of day, but head over as the sun is setting (and the temperature is dropping) to see people playing badminton, jogging and enjoying coffee on the street with friends.
Try to navigate the alleys and laneways of the Old Quarter
Hanoi is famed for its alleyways. Outside of the Old Quarter these alleyways are where the majority of Hanoians live, inside of the Old Quarter they home markets, street food and shops. Wander and get lost, stop for a cafe sua da (iced vietnamese coffee) on a little plastic stool and continue on your way.
Visit the Ho Chi Minh Complex
The Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum is almost considered a pilgrimage to a lot of Vietnamese people. Queue to see the embalmed remains of the communist leader and then head next door to see his home in the grounds of the Presidential Palace. There is also a museum and One Stilt Pagoda on the site.
Roam arond the Temple of Literature
Not far from the Ho Chi Minh Complex is Vietnam’s first university: The Temple of Literature. The Temple of Literature is still of great importance amongst local people (particularly students) today. If you happen to visit around exam period, you’ll see students here studying and paying respect to Confusious, and after exams posing for pictures around the gardens.
What to Eat in Hanoi
Hanoi is famed for its amazing street food, and it certainly lives up to its reputation. Although a recent “sidewalk ban” has reduced the amount that is actually on the street, you can still pick up a bowl of pho or bun cha for around $1.50. You can also try Hanoian egg coffee, which is surprisingly awesome! Unfortunately, the same sidewalk ban has also put an end to the famed beer hoi corner, which was almost considered a rite of passage amongst backpackers in the country. Head to a beer hoi hall (you’ll see them everywhere) to try a glass of $0.35 fresh beer.
Read More: A luxury guide to Hanoi
Ha Long Bay, Vietnam
Considered to be one of the “New” 7 Wonders of the World, Ha Long Bay is a mystical and beautiful place to visit and spend a night.
Suggested time in Ha Long Bay: 2 days, 1 night
Most visitors to Ha Long Bay take a tour from Hanoi. The company will pick you up from your hotel super early and take you by bus to the harbor. From here you’ll board your boat for the night and set out into the bay. Most trips include swimming, a beach stop, kayaking and a visit to Surprising Cave.
Nights on the boat are pretty chilled. For those looking to let loose with a bit more party, the 3-day, 2-night Castaway tour is where it’s at: they have a private island filled with activities from rock climbing to kayaking to beach volleyball at the bar to keep you entertained. And lots of parties.
Suggested time in Sapa: 2-3 days
The mountainous region of Sapa is breathtaking. The area is famed for it’s views across rice paddies, hiking and the minority tribe of the H’Mong people. An easy walk downhill to Cat Cat Village is the easiest option for exploring, and is rewarded with a beautiful waterfall (the walk back up is a little more painful for those that are perhaps not in awesome shape). For more challenging hikes, H’Mong ladies wander the town offering hiking and homestay trips. This will get you off the beaten path a little and give you a little insight into the rice wine loving culture of the people here. And give you a good bit of exercise, too.
Ninh Binh, Vietnam
This beautiful part of the north is relatively un-trafficked by backpackers aiming to see the entire country in just a few weeks. And what a shame for them to miss it, but what a treat for those with the time to enjoy it! The area is known as Ha Long on land, due to its lime peaks, and is surrounded by picturesque rice paddies. Although Tam Coc is the more famous site to visit in Ninh Binh, we’d recommend heading for Trang An, which is an easy cycle away. The tour will take you through caves and stop off at tranquil pagodas.
Read More: getting super cheap flights to Asia
Cuc Phuong National Park
Suggested time at Cuc Phuong National Park: 2 days
About an hour from Ninh Binh is Cuc Phuong National Park which offers some awesome guided tours through dense rainforest. There is also an Endangered Primates Rescue Centre at the park which can be visited with a guide. There are also guided night walks, for those that want to get a look at some of the animals. However, we’d recommend just going for the day. Enjoy a cycle or hike through the rainforest before returning to Ninh Binh for the night.
Phuong Nha National Park
Suggested time in Phuong Nha National Park: 2 days
This area has gained in popularity in recent years. It’s home to the world’s largest cave. The area is still very peaceful. Also, it is easy to get out of the town if you’d prefer to stay somewhere quiet. Head down to the river for a boat tour into a cave that was used for shelter during the Vietnam/American war. You could also go on a tour to explore the muddy dark cave.
Read more: getting insurance for traveling in Vietnam
Vietnam is an amazing country from top to bottom, and it can be challenging to see everything on one trip. I hope this two-week itinerary for Vietnam has helped give you an idea of what to see and do in the north of the country.
The people, culture, and traditions change throughout the country, but we have a particularly fond spot in our hearts for the north. If you’d like more information about the north of Vietnam check out our Hanoi guide and please feel free to get in touch!
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Great itinerary. I’ve been to Vietnam a few times and really love the country now. I’ve been to all of your suggestions except Sapa, which I always seem to run out of time for. But I also love the south and wouldn’t sacrifice my time there to only see the north! :)
This is a wonderful article! Instead of going to Sapa we considered taking a flight south to Hoi An or Danang for a few days, can you advise? Looking at being there early October. Is it a waste to go to the beach if the weather isn’t going to be great? Would it be best to stay in the north?
Thank you in advance, I love your blog!
Hi Robin, I’m just leaving a reply here cause I have the exact same question and I’m curious to find out the answer.
Hello! We are going to Vietnam in early October too. As I read almost everywhere the weather in ocotber is not the best for visiting the center Vietnam because of the monsoom season, so we were initialli thinking to spend most of the time in the north, but now we are rethinking and we decided for: Hanoi- Halong bay-Sapa-Bac Ha- Hanoi again and then Hoi an and maybe Hue if we still have some time. What do you think about that?
The article is very useful, thank you!
Some fantastic suggestions here, thank you for your insight! How do you recommend back to Hanoi at the end of the itinerary? Flight or bus/train from Phuong Nha? Also do you suggest booking accommodation in advance or winging it as we travel? Many thanks :-)
This is a very detailed itinerary, the best I’ve ever read. Vietnam is a beautiful place, thanks for the great work.