Images of the lush green rice paddies of Ninh Binh or towering cliffs of Ha Long Bay come to mind when you think of Vietnam. But in truth, this country has so much more to offer.
The treasures that Vietnam deliver, both well-known and hidden, are enough to fill libraries full of guidebooks and you will find yourself inspired and invigorated by its natural and cultural wonders.
A seven-day Vietnam itinerary is a tight squeeze, with more than 1,000 miles of country to explore (we actually recommend extending to two weeks in Vietnam if you can). But if seven days in Vietnam is what you’ve budgeted, we’ve got you covered! With a carefully planned itinerary and enough Vietnamese coffee to fuel an army, you’ll can still see the best that this country has to offer.
Here is a look at how you can hit all the highlights of Vietnam from north to south in only one week.
Tips for Planning Your Itinerary
- With only seven days in Vietnam, every second will count. So book your inbound flight to arrive as early as possible and your outbound flight for late in the evening. Avoid mid-day flights when traveling between cities in Vietnam as this takes up a whole day.
- You might want to consider booking some private tours, such as this Mekong Delta/Cu Chi Tunnels tour, this Ninh Binh day tour, and this Ha Long Bay cruise. These tours are curated specifically to your needs, hitting only the highlights that pique your interest. Having a tour guide by your side also helps you overcome your initial culture shock and prevents time wasting as you try and figure out the language, transportation, and cultural nuances.
- Do your research! With only one week to see the county, you should know exactly what you will be doing and what to expect. This will be a tight schedule and there won’t be much time for spontaneity. Find out what to pack, how to dress, and how to get a visa.
- If jam-packed itineraries aren’t your thing, you should consider only doing one of the three main regions of the country on a one-week trip to Vietnam. Choose either the South, Central, or Northern region and focus on enjoying more sights at a slower pace.
Days 1-3: Southern Vietnam
Day 1 – Ho Chi Minh City
Arrive in Ho Chi Minh City early in the morning and hit the ground running with a sightseeing tour. Most of the city’s best attractions aren’t too far from each other and are located in Districts 1 and 3.
The Notre Dame Cathedral is the historical center of the city and a good starting point. From there you can go see the iconic Central Post Office, Independence Palace, and the War Remnants Museum.
I suggest having lunch at the Ben Thanh Market where you can fully start exploring the culinary treasures on offer – Bun Thit Nuong and Banh Mi are staples around these parts – learn more about typical Vietnamese foods here.
Hop on a water taxi (which is part of the public transport system) and take a ride on the Saigon River to see icons like Landmark81 and the Bitexco Tower. Try to pin Tan Dinh Church on your map too.
This pink church is a fun addition to your day and won’t take up much time. You will be spoiled for choice when it comes to dinner options but if you want to keep with the street-food theme of HCMC, head to Turtle Lake.
It’s not as much a lake as it is a fountain but here you will find dozens of vendors selling food from the back of their bikes. The preparation methods are reason enough to pay a visit.
Day 2 – Cu Chi Tunnels and Mekong Delta
Your second day will be spent outside the city, learning more about historically and culturally significant attractions.
North of the city is the infamous Cu Chi Tunnels, a strategic network of tunnels that helped the Vietcong gain control of the region. You will walk through the tunnels, see the horrendous traps set in the forest, and even test your skills at a shooting range.
Next, you will drive south towards the rice bowl of Vietnam, the Mekong Delta. Take a sampan ride down the Mekong River and wind through the palm-fringed waterways to see local life in action.
Take in the quintessential southern Vietnam scenery. On this Cu Chi Tunnels and Mekong Delta tour, you’ll get to descend into the tunnels, visit Dragon, Unicorn, Phoenix, and Tortoise Islands, see how the famous Mekong Delta coconut candies are made, and taste local fruits with honey tea.
Day 3 – Hoi An
Wander through the yellow-washed streets and explore the Hoi An Market. Here you will browse for fine silk products and beautiful hand-made lanterns. Walk across the Chùa Cầu bridge which is more than 400 years old and stroll along the Bon River.
At night, the riverbank comes alive with hundreds of lanterns lighting up the shopfronts and reflecting in the glistening water. You can take a ride on one of the rowboats that lazily bob down the river and light your own lantern to send down the river.
While in Hoi An, there are two dishes you simply must try, so grab a bowl of Cao Lau for lunch and find a bowl of tumeric rich Mi Quang for dinner. I also recommend falling in line for a Bahn Mi at Banh Mi Phuong, a favorite spot for the late, great Anthony Bourdain.
By now you would have noticed that Vietnamese coffee is a must to keep going with such a tight schedule and sticky heat. The central Vietnamese specialty coffee is coconut coffee – a blend of coconut cream, ice, and condensed milk served with a coffee portion that will get your heart rate up quickly.
Days 4-7: Northern Vietam
Start your day with another early flight to Hanoi in northern Vietnam to kickstart the second half of your trip.
Day 4 – Hanoi
You can spend your first day in the city strolling through the Old Quarter and around Hoan Kiem Lake. The lake’s iconic Ngoc Son is one of the most iconic temples in Vietnam.
One of the most interesting things you can do in Hanoi is visit the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum where the late leader’s body lies embalmed and on full display.
There are a few interesting places to visit and you can plan your day based on what you find most interesting. Consider Tran Quoc Pagoda, the One Pillar Pagoda, and St. Joseph’s Cathedral.
Stopping for egg coffee along the way is a must and for dinner, you should indulge in a bowl of Bun Cha served with crispy spring rolls. If you are feeling a little fancy, book a table at Pizza 4P’s. “Pizza in Vietnam?” you might be asking.
But this restaurant has become legendary among locals and visitors alike for its Italian-Asian fusion pizzas and you can be sure that you won’t find anything like it elsewhere.
Day 5 – Ninh Binh
Northern Vietnam is a hotbed of day trips just waiting for you to take your pick but one you should not miss is a day tour to Ninh Binh. This enchanting area is less than two hours from the Vietnamese Capital yet it seems very far away as you enter a world of rice paddies and limestone cliffs.
On the way, you will stop at one of Vietnam’s ancient capitals, Hoa Lu. This will be a leg day you won’t soon forget as you will conquer the 500 steep steps up to Mua Cave and the dragon draped over the back of the mountain.
Days 6 and 7 – Ha Long Bay
You should finish off your 7-day trip to Vietnam on a high with an overnight trip to Ha Long Bay. This is the most visited place in Vietnam and undoubtedly one of the things you can’t miss out on.
Book a one-day cruise (if you don’t want to spend the night) or an overnight cruise on one of the boats that sail among the ocean cliffs of Ha Long Bay. You will board the ship and be taken to your luxury cabin where you can enjoy a drink on a sea-facing balcony.
Your day will be filled with feasting, swimming, and cave exploring. The golden sunset over the emerald water of the bay will be a sight you won’t soon forget and the misty sunrise on your last morning is equally as beautiful.
On the last day, you will make a few more stops in the bay to see more rock formations and caves and work in one last dip. You will be transported back to Hanoi after lunch where you can enjoy one last dinner in the capital.
If you aren’t ready for the action to end quite yet you can head out to one of Hanoi’s night markets where the electric vibe will be sure to give you a proper sendoff.
Buy some last-minute souvenirs to get one last taste of Vietnamese street food before bidding this fabulous destination farewell (although I’m sure it won’t be forever!)