It’s safe to say Vietnam is one of my favourite destinations in Asia. There’s so much to love, from the busy, bustling streets of Hanoi to the unbelievable beauty of Halong Bay. In my experience, Vietnam offers a uniquely chilled out experience, where everything seems to be easy. I fell in love with the people, their warm, welcoming smiles and genuine, friendly manner. With its fascinating history and culture, delicious food and affordability, it’s no wonder Vietnam is a must-visit destination for so many travellers. If you’re planning your first trip to Vietnam and aren’t quite sure how much time you should spend there and what you absolutely must see and do, here’s my ultimate 7-day Vietnam itinerary!
Find yourself flights arriving into Hanoi – we flew direct from Sydney to Hanoi with Vietnam Airlines and found it to be easy, comfortable and reliable. To make your arrival seamless be sure to arrange your visa before departing home and, if you really want to make things easy, organise a private transfer from the airport to your hotel in Hanoi. Check-in to your accommodation, grab a much-needed shower and freshen up before heading out to explore Hanoi. Need a place to stay? I recommend Hanoi E Central Hotel and the Hanoi Elegance Ruby for budget-friendly travel or the Sofitel Legend Metropole for those with a bigger budget.
You’ll most likely be quite tired so keep things simple on your first day. Start by heading down to Hoan Kiem Lake and taking a stroll along the surrounding pathway, it’s a great way to get an initial feel for Hanoi’s very busy streets and snap a few photos of the famous red bridge and Turtle Tower, located in the centre of the Lake. The constant rush of scooters combined with the noise, sights and smells on the streets can be overwhelming at first, so stake out a seat with a view at one of the three Cong Caphe locations surrounding the lake and try your very first Vietnamese iced coffee. In my experience, Hanoi is best enjoyed from up high, looking down on the streets below from a quiet spot above, just soaking it all in.
End your day with a delicious dinner, sinking your teeth into the unique, fresh flavours of Vietnamese food. If street eats are your preference, sniff out some bun cha or pho bo, pulling up a tiny plastic seat and mixing it with the locals. Otherwise, try nabbing a seat at Madame Hien, one of my favourite places to eat in Hanoi. Sample all the street food favourites and authentic Vietnamese flavours in a gorgeous setting.
Hanoi to Halong Bay
Today is all about getting to Halong Bay and starting your cruise. Each of the companies we’ve cruised with before has included the transfer from Hanoi to Halong Bay in the cost of the booking, with pick up from your hotel door. The drive from Hanoi to Halong Bay takes around 3 1/2 to 4 hours with a rest stop at the halfway point, usually at a shop with snacks and assorted items aimed directly at tourists. In my experience, your transfer pick-up time is likely to be around 7:30am, arriving in Halong Bay at around 11:30am. To make the transfer a little easier, be sure to have some music to listen to or download a few shows or movies to your phone through the Netflix app.
Before you depart for your trip I recommend booking your Halong Bay cruise in advance, rather than winging it while you’re there. We’ve had two cruise experiences; luxe and less. Our less experience took place with Paloma Cruises and our luxe experience was with Paradise Cruise aboard the Paradise Elegance. I gotta say, the luxe experience was pretty special and, if your budget allows, it’s definitely my preferred pick of the two! It was just more luxurious and comfortable, making the entire experience more enjoyable (especially the food!) Chances are, you’ll only do one Halong Bay Cruise in your life, so I recommend doing it the best way possible.
Your first day aboard the ship will include a delicious lunch while cruising through Halong Bay and Bai Tu Long Bay followed by an excursion to Thien Canh Son Cave. Back in your suite, freshen up then head up to the sun deck for a pre-dinner cocktail while watching the sunset, followed by dinner.
Most visitors tend to opt for a one night Halong Bay cruise but when you wake up on day two of your cruise and see everyone else rushing off the boat, you’ll be grateful you have the extra time to soak it all in. I’ve done a two-day one night cruise and a three-day-two-night cruise and much prefer the three-day two-night option!
Your second day in Halong Bay really allows you to enjoy this incredibly beautiful destination properly. Start your day with Tai Chi on the sun deck or, if you’re tired, a cosy sleep-in followed by breakfast and coffee. Jump in the transfer boat and head out to one of the islands to explore for a few hours then layer on some sunscreen and jump in for a swim to cool down. Back on the boat and it’s time for lunch then an excursion to Vung Vieng Fishing Village. Learn all about the unique life of locals who call the village home, some spending their entire lives without walking on land.
Finish your day with dinner, drinks and a quiet night on your private balcony, watching the lights from the other ships reflecting off the water. Be sure to get a good night’s sleep as you’re in for another big day tomorrow.
Halong Bay to Hanoi
Your boat will dock back in the harbour at around 10:30am so you’ve got plenty of time to catch a sleep-in and have breakfast. Back on land you’ll climb aboard your transfer bus and make your way back to Hanoi, arriving around 4pm. Check-in to your accommodation and freshen up before setting off again. Make your way to Hanoi’s Old Quarter and spend a few hours wandering the streets, letting your instincts guide you through winding streets, pausing to purchase silk and artwork, street food or souvenirs. If you love photography, the Old Quarter is a great place to explore as photo opportunities are seemingly endless.
As the day draws to a close it’s time to feast! You might like to have dinner at Anh Tuyet’s, one of my all-time favourite spots in Hanoi (it’s also Anthony Bourdain approved!). If a rooftop dinner with unbeatable views sounds more appealing, head directly to The Gourmet Corner or Cau Go. Both offer delicious meals and great views while still being affordable.
Find yourself an early flight from Hanoi to Da Nang and arrange a transfer to get you to the little town of Hoi An. We had a great experience flying with Vietnam Airlines, finding our seats spacious and comfortable. The service was fantastic and our flight was on-time and reliable. Tick, tick and tick!
Drop your bags at your accommodation then set off on foot. I find the best way to explore Hoi An is with a DIY walking tour, wandering the gorgeous streets, marvelling at the French influence, gorgeous buildings, bright lanterns and quaint shops. Stop in at local stores to pick up clothing, artwork, cute knickknacks, gifts and more. If you’re passionate about photography you’ll find no shortage of photo opportunities in Hoi An.
Experience the French influence on local food by stopping in at a local cafe for an exceptional pastry and coffee. Nab a seat with a view looking down on the streets below and do a spot of people watching while enjoying your tasty treats. We loved the Cargo Club. When your hunger grows, head to Mai Fish for lunch and get stuck into their menu of delicious, fresh options. Coffee culture in Vietnam is fantastic and you can make the most of it by scheduling a stop at favourites like Mia Coffee or Reaching Out Tea House which serves fair trade brews and employs locals who are speech and hearing impaired.
Spend some time relaxing in your hotel by dipping in for a swim or indulging in a massage. As the sun begins to set its time to head out for dinner. You can’t go past Morning Glory, a well-known restaurant and favourite among visitors. If the menu there doesn’t quite take your fancy try Banh Mi Phuong, Aubergine 49, Streets or Nu Eatery instead. After dinner, take a walk through the town, down to the river, where you’ll find brightly coloured lanterns floating down the water, pooling underneath boats and along the shore. Get a good rest at your hotel, ready for another big day tomorrow. Budget travellers might like the Vinh Hung Emerald Resort or Essence Hoi An Hotel while those with more cash to splash might like the Sunrise Premium Resort.
Day Six and Seven
While Hoi An is absolutely gorgeous and well worth the visit, it is also a popular destination for travellers. Escape the hustle and bustle by making your way to Lang Co, around 1 1/2 hours drive from Hoi An. What I love about Lang Co is it takes you away from all the main tourist spots, allowing you to sink into holiday mode to unwind, relax and recharge. Unlike well-known spots like Hoi An, Halong Bay and Hanoi, Lang Co seems to be under the radar – for now!
Start you Vietnam beach break by checking into your accommodation. We spent one night each at Angsana Lang Co and Banyan Tree Lang Co, both on the same Laguna Lang Co property. For those looking to splash out on something extra special, treat yourself to a private villa at Banyan Tree, complete with an absolutely gorgeous, luxe villa and your own private pool. You’ll love the seclusion and total decadence Banyan Tree offers, you can’t help but feel like a total VIP! The food here is fantastic and I’d definitely recommend booking in for at least one session at the spa.
If you’re keen to make the most of the beach, try getting yourself a room at Angsana. We loved the private plunge pool attached to the room, allowing us to step straight out of the bedroom into the pool. The beach here is absolutely gorgeous but if you aren’t keen to get all sandy, no worries because the pool is one of the most epic I have ever seen! Spend your days swimming, eating and relaxing on this absolute beachfront property, letting all your troubles melt away. There are also some great activities on offer like archery, stand up paddle boarding and ATV tours.
Either way, you can’t go wrong. Both properties offer the chance to unwind and relax in a part of Vietnam I had never heard of until I visited. You’ll love the secluded feel of both resorts and how you find yourself feeling a world away from everything without missing out on any of Vietnam’s signature charm and hospitality. So, settle in for two well-deserved nights of rest and relaxation in Lang Co before heading back to Hanoi via Da Nang then departing onto your next destination or back home, all the better for having experienced all Vietnam has to offer.
Note: I haven’t included Ho Chi Minh/Saigon on this itinerary. We visited a few years ago and while it was great to see, it didn’t feel like any essential must-do. I preferred the smaller cities and unique experiences to the big city experience.
Phoebe is a travel writer and photographer with a love for storytelling and making people laugh. Matt is a videographer and photographer with a passion for the great outdoors and big adventures. Together we inspire big adventures through our guides, videos, vlogs and photographs. Find out more about us here.