Visit beautiful Vietnam in 3 weeks and travel from the tropical south of the country to the remarkable karst scenery of the north. See Ho Chi Minh City, Hanoi, ancient Hoi An, stunning Ha Long Bay and much more. This fascinating Vietnam itinerary packs a lot into 3 weeks.
Is 3 weeks enough for Vietnam?
With 3 weeks in Vietnam, you can travel the length of the country and experience the highlights of each region. You’ll get a good feel for the history and culture, visit a number of incredible UNESCO world heritage sights, enjoy some stunning scenery and eat fresh, delicious food.
Spending a week in the southern, central and northern parts of the country you’ll get a good overview of Vietnam in 3 weeks. But you could easily extend this 3 weeks in Vietnam itinerary if you want to see all this delightful country has to offer.
How to spend 3 weeks in Vietnam?
This exciting 3 weeks in Vietnam itinerary, covers the length of Vietnam beginning in busy Ho Chi Minh City in the humid tropical south of the country. Formerly known as Saigon, Ho Chi Minh City is famous for crazy traffic, modern skyscrapers, French colonial architecture, and fresh, delicious food. The hectic pace eases when you escape to the tropical beach paradise of Phu Quoc Island, and visit the colourful floating markets of the Mekong Delta.
After a brief return to Ho Chi Minh City, you’ll travel to Central Vietnam to visit the historical Hoi An and royal Hue. Heading inland you’ll see the largest cave system in the world in Phong Nha Ke Bang National Park and enjoy more stunning karst scenery on a Ha Long Bay cruise. Hoi An, Hue, Phong Nha-Ke Bang and Ha Long Bay are all UNESCO World Heritage-listed and amazing places to visit.
This 3 weeks in Vietnam itinerary ends in the capital Hanoi, with its rich, vibrant culture and centuries-old architecture. With a mix of Southeast Asian, Chinese and French influences travelling in Vietnam is a fascinating experience.
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How long do you need in Vietnam?
2 or 3 weeks in Vietnam is enough time to get a taste of the country but there are large distances to cover and you could easily spend 4 or 5 weeks travelling more slowly. Vietnam is more than 1600 kilometres (1000 miles) long so, if you have 2 weeks or less, it’s best to focus on either the north or south of the country to make the most of your time.
But in 3 weeks or more, you can travel the length of the country. This varied Vietnam itinerary packs a lot into 3 weeks in Vietnam.
I’ve included alternatives and optional extras for those who have more time to spend, and you could easily stretch this 3 weeks in Vietnam itinerary to 4 or 5 weeks.
Beautiful Vietnam in 3 weeks itinerary
I loved compiling this Vietnam itinerary and I’ve listed the hotels that I stayed in as well as others that may be of interest. I hope it helps you with your trip planning for Vietnam!
Book your flights so that you fly into Ho Chi Minh City & leave Vietnam from Hanoi. Alternatively, you can do this 3 weeks in Vietnam itinerary in reverse.
Trains, buses and ferries can be booked in advance online with 12Go Asia
Day 1: Ho Chi Minh City
Arrive in bustling Ho Chi Minh City and spend the day getting your bearings in fascinating Vietnam.
Visit the Taoist Jade Emperor Temple, the Museum of Vietnamese History and escape from the craziness of the city into the lush Botanical Gardens. Grab a bite to eat at the food market and sample Banh Mi, a delicious meal that the locals love.
Where to stay in Ho Chi Minh City
Mid Range: Duc Vuong Hotel ** I enjoyed the fabulous service, the central location and the rooftop bar decorated with colourful lanterns.
Luxury: For an upmarket option try the Hotel Majestic This hotel gets exceptional reviews for its prime location near the river and restaurants and its excellent service
Day 2 – 4: Phu Quoc Island
Fly to Phu Quoc Island and arrive late morning. I flew with Vietnam Airways.
Enjoy a change of pace and relax in a tropical paradise with stunning beaches and perfect beach sunsets.
Relax on one of many beautiful tropical beaches, go snorkelling, visit the night market and try the street food. Phu Quoc island is quite big and it’s fun to explore the island by motorbike.
Relax on the white sandy shore of May Rut Island on this day trip from Phu Quoc. Admire views from the Hon Thom cable car, visit the beach of Buom Island, snorkel with tropical fish, and more.
Where to stay on Phu Quoc Island
Mid Range: Sunshine Bungalows These basic bungalows are set in a pretty tropical garden and are close to the beach. I enjoyed my stay here. The bungalow had everything I needed, including a safe, and reception arranged my onward travel and tours.
Luxury: If you’re after more luxury try the Shells Resort & Spa With a pool & its own private beach it gets excellent reviews.
Day 5 – 6: Can Tho & the Mekong Delta
Travel to the mainland on the Superdong Ferry + bus to Can Tho US$27 (via Rach Gia all transfers are included)
Spend the night at Can Tho in the Mekong Delta. Book an early morning boat tour to the colourful floating markets and dine in an outdoor restaurant beside the Mekong River.
Rise before dawn for a boat tour of the colourful floating markets on the Mekong River. I can recommend Itieu Tours. Call in at the Can Tho Ong Temple and the Truc Lam Temple and Monastery in Can Tho.
Then take an afternoon Futa bus back to Ho Chi Minh City. The trip takes around 3 – 4 hours.
Where to stay in Can Tho
Mid Range: Holiday One Hotel This comfortable hotel is a little bit out of town. I enjoyed relaxing by the pool and was a bit taken aback to find the entire street under a few inches of water when I returned to the hotel after dinner. The street floods with the King tides and no one bats an eyelid.
Luxury: The five-star Sheraton Can Tho offers luxurious accommodations with spectacular river views and amazing service.
Day 7 -8: Ho Chi Minh City
Spend a couple of days exploring Saigon and beyond. Visit the impressive Independence Palace and learn about Vietnam’s tragic modern history at the War Remnants Museum. Visit the Notre Dame Cathedral, and the Central Post Office of Saigon and eat at the food market. Try some Banh Mi for breakfast. it’s a traditional crispy bread roll with a savoury filling.
Take a bus trip to the stunning Cao Dai Great Temple from Ho Chi Minh City and see the Cao Dai followers dressed in white robes praying during a religious service. Watching the worshippers kneeling in lines, dressed in white is a fascinating experience.
The Cui Chi Tunnels are also outside Ho Chi Minh City and when you visit you can relive history and see how the local Vietnamese people survived during the brutal civil war.
South Vietnam itinerary extension
If you have a couple of extra days, catch a bus to Cat Tien National Park – stay overnight inside the park at the Green Cat Tien and track wild gibbons at dawn.
TIP: the gibbon trek tour leaves very early in the morning and you must sleep inside the park to see the wild gibbons & do the night wildlife spotting safari. Book in advance through the Cat Tien National Park office.
Then catch an afternoon bus to Da Lat & stay a couple of nights at the Fortune Doi Hoi Hotel. From there you can travel by bus to Nha Trang and stay at the Nhi Phi Hotel. Chill out on the beach for a day or two then take an overnight sleeper train to Danang.
Where to Stay in Ho Chi Minh City
Return to the same hotel or choose another:
Mid Range: Try the new Zazz Urban Ho Chi Minh Hotel in District 5.
Luxury: The Myst Don Quoi is a five-star hotel with stunning river views and spacious, comfortable rooms. It gets exceptional reviews for its great location and service.
Day 9 – 12: Hoi An
I took an afternoon flight from Ho Chi Minh City to Danang with Vietjet Air and a taxi from the airport to Hoi An.
Brimming with old-world charm, the historical town of Hoi An is a favourite destination for sightseeing and shopping. During the day you can visit beautiful traditional Vietnamese houses and Chinese Temples and shop for souvenirs or clothing. At night the Old Town lights up with colourful lanterns and the night market is bustling with many clothing and souvenir stalls and a great selection of street food.
Visiting Hoi An Ancient Town is a highlight of this Vietnam itinerary. The Chinese Assembly Rooms, temples & wooden shophouses, the Japanese Covered Bridge, French Colonial buildings, and ornate Vietnamese houses with strings of colourful lanterns are all wonderful to visit. At night Hoi An lights up and you can visit the night market and take a boat out on the river.
Hoi An is a great place to go shopping. You can have your clothes made to measure by a local tailor.
A Vietnamese cooking class is a great way to learn about local food. I loved the Green Bamboo traditional Vietnamese cooking class. We spent the day shopping at the local market, cooking and eating some delicious traditional food. This course is popular so book in advance.
The Hindu temple ruins at My Son are another popular day trip and I enjoyed hiring a pushbike and cycling to An Bang beach.
Where to stay in Hoi An
Mid Range: Green Apple Hotel** I loved staying here and especially enjoyed the wonderful service. The rooms are new and spotless though perhaps a bit clinical. I enjoyed the pool and the shuttle service to the old town. Bike hire is also available.
Luxury: If you’re after something more upmarket try the Allegro Hoi An. A Little Luxury Hotel & Spa Guests love the stunning rooms, building and decor and the wonderful service.
Day 13: Hai Van Pass
On day 13 of your 3 weeks in Vietnam, you’ll head off on an adventure Southeast Asia style on an Easy Rider motorbike tour. Your driver will strap your luggage on the back of his bike and show you the sights between Hoi-An and Hue.
I loved the stunning coastal scenery over the famous Hai Van Pass and I was collected from Hoi An and delivered directly to my hotel in Hue. Along the way, we explored Marble Mountain, Danang beach, the Dragon Bridge, and Elephant Falls, and stopped at several stunning viewpoints.
A day tour from Hoi An is a great way to see the local sights! Discover one of the most beautiful regions of Vietnam; from the modern delight of Da Nang city and its stunning coastline to the mysterious caves of Marble Mountain, over Vietnam’s longest suspension bridge, through Hai Van Pass and on to Lang Co Beach.
Day 14: Hue
With just 3 weeks in Vietnam, you’ll spend only one day in royal Hue, the ancient capital of Vietnam. I was able to see the sights of Hue on a day tour that included the Royal Palace, the Royal Tombs and a Perfume River Cruise.
Where to stay in Hue
Mid Range: Serene Shining Hotel and Spa This comfortable hotel is located right on the river and I had a lovely water view from my window.
Luxury: The Melia Vinpearl Hotel Hue has an exceptional location and spectacular city views.
Day 15 – 17: Phong Nha-Ke Bang
Take the bus to Phong Nha Ke Bang for US$12 (5 hours) – the bus passes right past the Lake House Resort in Phong Nha and the driver was happy to drop me off. Make sure you arrange this in advance.
Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park is a great addition to this Vietnam itinerary. It’s not on the main tourist trail but the spectacular caves of Phong Nha-Ke Bang are a hidden gem. Stunning karst scenery and phenomenal limestone caves make Phong Nha a superb place to visit.
Visiting the amazing Phong Nha Cave by boat, I was awestruck by the phenomenal size of Paradise Cave. Trekking through the Phong Nha Botanical Gardens was also an experience. These botanical gardens are a series of jungle trails and require some strenuous walking. After sliding through the mud I found myself at the bottom of a pretty waterfall. I then had to haul myself up the side of the waterfall using ropes to reach the exit and my ride back to the hotel.
Where to stay in Phong Nha
Mid Range: Lake House Resort**I loved staying at the Lakehouse in this scenic location. My bungalow was huge and had a private balcony right on the water and the service was wonderful. It’s a bit out of town but the bus stops right at the front door.
Luxury: Victory Road Villas also gets exceptional reviews for its beautiful surroundings. It’s a gorgeous villa with fabulous views.
Day 18: Dong Hoi to Hanoi
On Day 18 of this Vietnam itinerary, you’ll take a bus to Dong Hoi to meet the overnight sleeper train to Hanoi.
Book your bus and train e-tickets in advance online. I used & can recommend 12go Asia
Vietnam in 3 weeks – itinerary extension
As an extension to this 3-week Vietnam itinerary, you could stay a while longer in Phong Nha. Book a tour and spend several days hiking and exploring the more inaccessible caves in Phong Nha Ke Bang National Park. You could also break the trip to Hanoi and stop for a night or two at Ninh Bin / Tam Coc for more stunning scenery and temples.
Day 19: Hanoi
With only 3 weeks in Vietnam, you’ll have just a couple of days in the capital Hanoi. But you’ll have time to see Hoan Kiem Lake, Ngoc Son Temple, the Temple of Literature and Train Street, watch a dazzling local circus performance in the evening and visit the busy Night Market for shopping and street food. Visit the One Pillar Pagoda and the Tan Quoc Pagoda nearby. Try and buy some delicious local Vietnamese Coffee
I loved staying in the historical Old Quarter in Hanoi and enjoyed the French colonial charm of Vietnam’s capital. The experience of queuing at the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum with thousands of locals to see the embalmed body of Ho Chi Minh was a bizarre cultural awakening and the first dead body I’ve seen. Nearby the One Pillar Pagoda and the Tan Quoc Pagoda are also fun to visit and getting around Hanoi on the back of a motorbike taxi or in a tuk-tuk was lots of fun.
Where to stay in Hanoi
Mid Range: I stayed in the old quarter at the Hanoi Graceful Hotel I loved the intricately carved bed head and the quaint balcony in my room and the central location.
Luxury: The Oriental Jade Hotel is a small, upmarket hotel with a personal touch and a rooftop pool. The location in the Old Quarter is exceptional and so are the reviews.
TIP: A Ha Long Bay 2-Day Cruise is likely to be a highlight of your 3 weeks in Vietnam. Experience the limestone karst rock formations of Ha Long Bay in luxury aboard a 4-star junk boat cruiser. Immerse yourself in the everyday lives of the locals and get spectacular views from Ti Top Island.
Days 20 & 21: Ha Long Bay
A highlight of your 3 weeks in Vietnam is taking an overnight cruise on stunning Ha Long Bay. The emerald waters of lovely Halong Bay are dotted with tiny jungle-covered islands and there are lookout points and limestone caves to visit.
My overnight cruise included a bus to Halong Bay with hotel transfer (4 hours) all meals & activities, sightseeing stops, kayaking and morning Tai Chi.
TIP: Leave your luggage in storage at your hotel and take a small overnight bag on the cruise.
End this Vietnam itinerary with some more sightseeing in the capital, Hanoi before you collect your luggage and connect with your flight home.
North Vietnam – Itinerary extension
If you have a few extra days you can spend an extra night or two enjoying stunning Halong Bay or take an overnight train to Sapa for hiking in the mountains, stunning scenery, beautiful rice fields, & colourful markets.
How much does 3 weeks in Vietnam cost?
I budgeted around AUD$100 (US$70) per day. I stayed in 2 – 3-star hotels and ate at least 1 restaurant meal each day. I also enjoyed the street food markets, travelled by tuktuk, bus, ferry and sleeper train and took a couple of domestic flights to get around the country.
The best time to visit Vietnam
The best time to visit Vietnam is in spring from March to April. There’s less rain and temperatures are milder throughout the country.
Vietnam is 1600 kilometres long, and the weather patterns vary considerably from the north to the south of the country. It’s hot humid and tropical in the south of Vietnam while the weather in the north is more temperate. This variety makes Vietnam a good destination to visit year-round.
Vietnam in January
I travelled to Vietnam in January and began my trip in the tropical south of the country in Ho Chi Minh City, Phu Quoc Island and the Mekong Delta. The weather was very hot and humid and there was little rain.
In Central Vietnam in January, the weather in Hoi An and Hue was still very hot and humid but there was some rain. In winter, the caves in Phong Nha Ke-Bang are often flooded. While the main tourist caves were open to visitors the deeper caves were closed for caving expeditions from October to December and in January, the terrain was muddy for hiking in the National Park and the botanical gardens.
In North Vietnam in January, it’s winter and the weather is cooler. In the capital Hanoi, the days are still pleasant with top temperatures around 20°C /68 °F and there is some rain and snow in the mountains. Visiting Ha Long Bay was still very enjoyable in January although the weather was not as warm as at other times of the year.
What to Pack for Vietnam in January
For travel to Vietnam in January you need to pack light, cool clothes for the south of the country. Long pants and long-sleeved shirts are a good idea as the local people dress quite modestly. Take a sarong or scarf when visiting temples and ensure your knees and shoulders are covered.
Carry a raincoat or umbrella for Vietnam in January because the weather can be wet, and pack a warm jacket for Hanoi. If you’re travelling to Sapa in the mountains, you can expect frost and snow and cold-weather clothes will be needed.
For peace of mind make sure you buy travel insurance before you go, especially if you are travelling solo. I use Travel Insurance that covers me for overseas medical, lost baggage, and other expenses and I can concentrate on enjoying my trip without worrying about something going wrong.