I didn’t really know how I would feel about Vietnam. It seemed to be one of those places that people either love or hate. I was worried about the traffic, intrigued by the food, and looking forward to the natural beauty. I didn’t expect to fall in love with it, but over my time in the country that is exactly what happened. It could be tricky at times, there were definitely language barriers and I got lost plenty. But, I left with tons of great memories and tips to share. So if you are looking for a Vietnam itinerary, then I’ve got you covered. I spent nearly a month exploring this county but am going to be sharing how to make the most out of 2 weeks in Vietnam. Here’s what you need to know.
Getting into Vietnam
Vietnam has a number of airports but if you are coming from overseas, then chances are the cheapest deal will be to fly in and out of Ho Chi Minh City in the south. This is fine and works well with my Vietnam itinerary for 2 weeks in Vietnam, however, at the end, you will need to fly back to Ho Chi Minh City. If possible, to save time see if you can fly into Ho Chi Minh City and out of Hanoi. This will be easy for those travelling around SE Asia as flights are cheaper and more frequent from neighbouring countries.
If you are already in SE Asia, you can also enter Vietnam by land. I did this from Cambodia; there are a number of bus companies that will take you from Phnom Penh and across the border to Ho Chi Minh City. It’s an inexpensive and reliable way to enter the county. Ask your accommodation in advance if they can help you book with a reputable company.
It is also possible to travel from Laos to northern Vietnam. However, this is a very long (20+ hour) bus journey and is known to be pretty uncomfortable. Given on how inexpensive flights are in this part of the world (especially if you book in advance) I’d suggest just flying in.
Getting Around Vietnam
Vietnam is actually quite easy to get around, and there are a number of options to choose from. If you are particularly adventurous, you can rent a motorbike and drive through Vietnam. It’s very scenic but I do not recommend it unless you have previous motorbike experience.
Public transit in the form of busses and trains are another popular and affordable option. For long distances, such as Ho Chi Minh City to Hoi An, there are overnight buses. This is a popular method of transportation among backpackers and budget travellers thanks to the small cost, however, some people hate them. The driving can be reckless and more than one person has ended up sick instead of sleeping.
Given that I can’t sleep on busses (or planes, or cars- sigh.) I chose to fly for the long for the long trips (Ho Chi Minh City to Hoi An (Danang Airport) and Hue to Hanoi). For less than $50 CAD I was able to book a seat a day or two before I wanted to leave and was in my next destination in a little over an hour. Much faster, easier, and smoother though it is more expensive. That being said if you, like me, value your sanity and sleep more than an extra $30 bucks then flying is the way to go. Especially if you only have 2 weeks in Vietnam.
The Best Time of Year to Go to Vietnam
Vietnam isn’t as much of a seasonal destination as other countries, you can visit year-round however there are a few things that you will want to keep in mind. First off, the climate varies a lot through Vietnam. The south is hot and humid but the north, around Sapa, can actually get snow in the winter. So keep that in mind while you pack! Spring and Fall, as the shoulder seasons, tend to be the most popular times to go. The temperature is moderate without being cold and rainy or really hot and humid, and you skip the summer student crowds.
Getting a Visa for Vietnam
First off, chances are that you DO need a visa. If you are from Canada or the USA you CANNOT get a visa on arrival. You need to have one ahead of time. This can be done through the embassy of your home county or, if you are in Thailand or Cambodia ahead of time, you can arrange them there as well. I thought I was being smart by getting mine in Canada before I left. Turns out I paid nearly $100 more than I would have if I had just waited and gotten one in Cambodia. So learn from my mistake and shop around. Since visa restrictions and requirements are always changing, please do yourself a favour and don’t leave sorting your visa until the last possible minute.
2 Weeks in Vietnam: My Vietnam Itinerary
Ho Chi Minh City: 1 Day
Have you ever seen those videos of the insane traffic in Vietnam? That’s Ho Chi Minh City. This city is a bit of a crazy introduction to Vietnam, but I actually liked it for a short visit. The war museum is a must and there are a few other impressive buildings as well. Check my guide for one day in Ho Chi Minh City for the details.
Hoi An: 3 Days
Hoi An is pretty much everyone’s favourite place in Vietnam. The charming old town with the historic buildings and Japanese covered bridge, the lanterns that line the streets at night, and of course the fact that you can get custom-made clothing at a minimal price. Hoi An really is a must on every Vietnam Itinerary and while 3 days may seem like a lot if you only have 2 weeks in Vietnam, there is more than enough to keep you busy.
If you are looking to get custom clothes, start this process right away. The tailors usually need 3 days to complete your order and do the fittings. There are literally hundreds of tailors in Hoi An, some of which are better and more reputable than others. I highly recommend BeBe Tailors for both men and women. I had a few items made here that are fantastic quality and I know that it’s a proper business, not a sweatshop which, sadly, many other ‘tailors’ are.
Aside from the scenic old town and tailors, Hoi An also has a nearby beach to enjoy as well as the My Son ruins which are a fun day trip to explore.
Insider tip: One of the best foods in Vietnam can only be found in Hoi An. It’s called Cau Lau and is said to be made from special water in the area. Head to the Public Market to grab some for lunch, you won’t be disappointed!
Hai Van Pass: 1 Day
The Hai Van Pass was probably my favourite day on my Vietnam trip and should definitely be included in your Vietnam itinerary. You can rent a motorbike and do it on your own or, you can do what I did and go with an easy rider program. This is when you hire someone to drive and you ride on the back- getting to enjoy the amazing views without the stress of driving a motorbike in a foreign country. I have a whole post on taking the Hai Van Pass from Hoi to Hue so be sure to give it a read.
Hue: 1 Day
Hue has a ton of history, but you can definitely see the best of it in one day. The Imperial City is a must; once a beautiful walled palace, it was sadly destroyed by bombings. Parts of it have been rebuilt and the colourful gates are beautiful.
Another highlight of Hue is the Imperial tombs. These impressive buildings look like palaces but are actually mausoleums. Each one is unique and different and while you won’t have time to visit them all, you can see a few. The tombs of Emperor Khai Dinh, Emperor TuDuc, and Emperor Minh Mang are the most impressive and definite must-sees. Make sure to get the discount pass that includes all three on one ticket.
Hanoi: 2 Days
Hanoi is another highlight on your Vietnam Itinerary and while you could spend longer, 2 days in Hanoi is perfect if you only have 2 weeks in Vietnam. The Old Quarter is full of winding streets that are perfect for exploring. You’ll notice that some of these streets are dedicated specifically for a certain item, for example, shoes.
Hanoi is also known for bun cha, another one of my favourite Vietnamese dishes. Its typically a lunchtime meal and I found some great street vendors serving it near St. Joseph’s Cathedral. If you love coffee, then be sure to track down Café Dinh. It’s located down a small alley by building number 13 on Dinh Tien Hoang. It’s a small local spot that is supposed to serve up some of the best Vietnamese coffee in the city. I’m not a coffee drinker but I went with my friends anyway and they loved it.
Finally, at night (especially on weekends) head to the Walking Street area which turns into a fun local hangout with markets, games, food, and more. We played tug-o-war with the locals and won! (Though I think everyone was more excited about the idea of three white girls willing to play with them than having a competition.) Another interesting cultural activity to check out is the Water Puppet Theatre.
Sapa: 2 Days
Sapa is a hiking paradise in northern Vietnam. The hills, often shrouded in mist or covered partially by cloud, are teeming with local villages and scenic rice paddies. There are even a few waterfalls and a number of viewpoints. I found Sapa itself to be a bit too touristic and built up for me, so I went to one of the smaller towns in the valley called Tavan. There were plenty of great hiking trails, no guides required and it was one of the highlights of my 2 weeks in Vietnam.
Insider tip: You can either bus or train to Sapa from Hanoi. I took the overnight train, however, it doesn’t go the full way and requires you to take a minibus for the last leg which will only depart when it is full and comes with an additional fee.
Halong Bay: 3 Days
Halong Bay is a UNESCO World Heritage site and for good reason: it truly is stunning. The most popular way to experience it is by taking a Halong Bay Cruise which I highly recommend you include on your Vietnam itinerary. There are dozens of companies and cruises to choose from, but if I can offer any advice it would be to splurge a bit. The cheap cruises are cheap for a reason while the more expensive ones offer better accommodation, food, and go a little further afield to escape the swarms. I also recommend doing a 2-night cruise, the 1 night was way too short especially since this was one of the best parts of my 2 weeks in Vietnam. Make sure to book your Halong Tour in advance as they book up quickly. Note that your tour will include transportation both from and back to Hanoi.
If you really can’t afford a cruise or have no interest, then instead head to Cat Ba island. It’s more of a backpacker type scene but is cool to explore and offers day trips in the bay.
Vietnam Safety Tips
I felt safe in Vietnam, but like every county in the world, you do need to be cautious. One of the biggest problems in Vietnam is theft which often happens in the street. Normally the perpetrator is on a motorbike and will snatch your belongings; phone, purse, wallet etc. out of your hand as they drive by. One poor girl I met had her crossbody bag snatched as she was walking, but the strap didn’t break and she was dragged as the bike drove away. After hearing that story I made sure to have my cross body bag facing away from the street, and tried to walk closer to the buildings and storefronts rather than by the curb. I also made sure to keep my cell phone in my bag as much as possible and instead relied on a paper map.
Must-Have Items for Vietnam
- A reusable water bottle: Tap water is not safe to drink in Vietnam, but you can help cut down on costs of bottled water by buying one of the big jugs that you can keep in your room and refill your bottle from that.
- A locking daypack: As mentioned above, robbery is a problem in Vietnam so keep your belongings safe by making sure your day bag is something you can lock. A backpack is a good pick because it’s more secure to you than a purse or shoulder bag.
- Activated charcoal: Vietnamese food is delicious, but it’s not always agreeable to everyone. Help avoid major tummy troubles with activated charcoal.
- Gravol: If you get car sick, then definitely make sure to bring Gravol. The roads in Vietnam are windy and the driving is… interesting to say the least.
- Sunscreen: It’s hot in Vietnam and you can easily burn. Protect your skin with a good, sunscreen. I like to recommend this one because it’s also reef safe- perfect for if you plan on swimming.
- Mosquito repellant: mosquitos are everywhere and Vietnam is no exception. Since dengue and malaria can both be found in Vietnam, do yourself a favour and make sure you are protected. These bracelets are deet free so you have no excuse!
Vietnam is an incredible place to visit. This Vietnam itinerary will give you a taste of what it has to offer and I can only hope you love it as much as I did. Your 2 weeks in Vietnam will go by quickly but should leave you with some incredible memories.