Vietnam Itinerary – Best Places to Visit – Frequent Traveler

Discover the best locations to explore with this detailed Vietnam itinerary by guest contributor Kat Smith.

After living in Vietnam for 3 years, I can confidently say that I love the country. The fresh food, the smiling locals, the low cost of living and of course the incredibly diverse landscape. While you most likely don’t plan on spending years in the country, you’ll want to take advantage of the time you have planned.

To have a truly memorable trip to this Southeast Asian hotspot, you’ll want to go there with an open mind. Vietnam can feel a bit rough when you first get a good look at the country from the back of a Grab taxi. However, it’s all part of the charm. Enjoy the crumbling French architecture, the haphazard street restaurants on every corner and the hordes of motorbikes that make you feel like your ride could crash at any moment.

If you let it, Vietnam will become a part of you. You will slowly sink into the way of life and realize that there is real beauty behind the no problem (no problem) mentality.

Before you book your flight, let’s discuss the basics of planning a great trip to Vietnam.

Vietnam Itinerary

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Deciding when to go

Here’s the deal: Vietnam is hot. So hot that some days the air is so thick with humidity that it feels like you are breathing water. That said, the weather is not warm all year round across the country, the different regions do get more variation.

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South Vietnam

The south of the country, think of places like Ho Chi Minh City and the Mekong Delta, has only 2 seasons: rainy and dry. In the rainy season, May-September, you can expect incredible monsoons that flood the streets in just minutes. Do you remember that scene in Forest Gump when he talks about the rain? That’s pretty good.

That said, the rain works almost like clockwork. In general, the monsoon starts around 4 PM and ends around 7 PM. There is some variation in it, but most days this timing is true. If you are traveling south during the rainy season I would plan to be indoors during this time or in shoes that don’t interest you.

Central Vietnam

Central Vietnam, areas such as Da Nang and Hoi An, are getting a bit more diversity in their weather. They still mainly get two seasons, rainy and dry, but the rainy season in the area brings significantly cooler temperatures. The rainy season lasts from about October to February. During this time, the rain is as heavy as a monsoon, with typhoons common on the coast.

The rainy season feels different in Central Vietnam, not only because of the lower temperatures, but also because it tends to rain all day and then bless you with days of sunny weather and low temperatures. The further north or south you go, the more extreme the temperatures will be.

Daily life in Da Nang Vietnam

North Vietnam

The north of Vietnam is closer to 4 seasons than just 2. That’s mainly because the temperatures change much more drastically than in the central or southern regions. The rainy season is much like the rainy season in the south, which comes from May to September and brings hot weather and heavy rainfall for only a few hours a day.

Spring and fall are both pleasant with warm to cool temperatures. Winter in the north gets shockingly cold, especially if you go up into the mountains. If you plan to be in the north of the country from October to March, you’ll want to pack more pants than shorts, thick socks, and a good pair of sweaters.

5 Best Places to Include in Your Vietnam Itinerary

As I said, Vietnam is a super diverse country. The landscape in the north is nothing like the south. So the activities you can do and the things you can do depend not only on when you choose to visit, but also where. While this list is not exhaustive, these are certainly some of the most loved places in Vietnam.

To keep it simple, I’ll start from the north and work my way south.

Ha Giang

Simply my favorite place in Vietnam, Ha Giang is an adventure lover’s dream destination. The Ha Giang Loop has become famous for its winding narrow roads through intense terrain of limestone mountains, deep gorges, winding rivers and small, small towns. It’s really just epic.

If you can confidently ride a motorcycle, or like to trust a local driver, this loop is for you. It takes 3-5 days to complete. At night you will spend the night in various towns near the Chinese border. It really is a trip of a lifetime if you are looking for something completely different.

Ha Giang Vietnam.  One of the must-see destinations in Vietnam

Bai Tu Long Bay

Most people who come to Vietnam have heard of Ha Long Bay, but have you heard of its sister, Bai Tu Long Bay? Located in the same area as Ha Long Bay, this bay shares the same limestone and marine scenery, but it’s just a little further north, so not nearly as popular with tourists.

To get to Bai Tu Long you would take your boat cruise in the same place as for Ha Long Bay, you would just sail an extra hour or two. That extra 90 minutes makes all the difference. Much of the time we were here we didn’t see another boat. Having this view to ourselves really made it that much more special.

Bai Tu Long Vietnam

Include Hoi An in your Vietnam itinerary

What kind of Vietnam itinerary would this be if I didn’t include Hoi An? Honestly, this small, picturesque town deserves all the hype it gets. The narrow yellow alleys, the French colonial architecture and the surrounding rice fields really make it an idyllic place to spend a few days.

While Hoi An is a photographer’s dream, it is also a fashionista’s. Here you can get tailor-made clothing that fits your frame exactly. All you have to do is show up and present the tailor a photo of an outfit you like. Together you can draw and redesign the fit to your liking. You then choose from way too many fabric options and all you have to do is come back in a day or two to try on. Usually you need 2-3 fittings to get the garment to fit just right. Most of my wardrobe is from Hoi An and after years of wear and tear, the pieces still hold up.

Rooftop view of Hoi An Vietnam

da lat

If you need a reprise of the warm weather, a short trip from Saigon will take you to the mountains. The mountain town of Da Lat is where most southerners head for at least a long weekend in the heart of summer when they just can’t take it anymore.

While the crisp mountain air might be enough to lure you in, it’s also a cute little town with plenty to do. They have great food and coffee shops, but the real advantage of Da Lat is the outdoor adventures. Here you can choose from hiking, cycling, chasing waterfalls or ziplining.

Knife

This lesser-known island is sure to make you work for her, but it’s worth it. Off the south coast, it’s further afield than more popular island getaways, such as Phuc Quoc. Once a French prison, most of the island is now a national park. The island is a mix of lush jungles and clear, turquoise water.

If you are looking for the best beaches in Vietnam, this island is for you. You can take a flight or a boat here, but there are not as many available as to other places. If you have the flexibility and time built into your schedule, Con Dao should make it off your list.

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Must try food

Food is an important piece of the travel puzzle for me, and Vietnam did not disappoint. It took me a little longer than usual to find my favorites, but once I did, I craved them all the time. In Vietnam you can expect the food to be fresh, relatively healthy and cheap. All in all, that’s a win in my book.

Personally, I think the best food can be found here on the streets. If you’re a seasoned traveler, your stomach may just turn it. If you’re not, you may have better luck eating at restaurants or being quite picky about which street foods you often consume.

While in Vietnam you must try:

  • Quang noodle: A noodle soup most common in Central Vietnam.
  • Xôi Gà: Sticky rice with chicken, most common for breakfast.
  • Banh xeo: Vietnam’s version of a savory crepe.
  • Bánh Mì ốp La: The best egg sandwich you will ever have.
  • Vietnamese Grilled Oysters: This is the best way to serve oysters and comes with peanuts, fish sauce and lime.
No trip to Vietnam would be complete without the local dishes like Mi Quang.  to try

A few tips for beginners

Before I send you off to the wonderful world of Vietnam, there are some tips for beginners that you should know.

  1. Traffic is insane, but there is a method to the madness, just don’t expect people to follow most traffic rules.
  2. Only drive when you are ready. If you want to drive in Vietnam, you should get used to the traffic flow before driving, even if you are used to driving in other countries.
  3. Vietnamese is a tonal language, which was very difficult to imitate personally. The accents also vary widely from north to south. However, many people speak English.
  4. You will feel more than comfortable here. There is good internet, excellent accommodation for a low price, fresh food, friendly people and many amenities to spoil yourself.
  5. The country is bigger than you think, and the travel time can take a while, especially if you travel by bus or train. If you’re only going to be in the country for a few days or weeks, I recommend flying or limiting your trip to one region if possible.

With this travel guide to Vietnam, you are more than ready for an unforgettable trip to this little piece of Asian paradise. Enjoying!

Author Bio:

Kat Smith, the founder of A Way Abroad, is sometimes a nomad, sometimes an expat. She has been living all over the world since 2013. After living in Vietnam for 3 years she is currently working online from Montenegro but who knows where she will end up next.

Kat can also be found on Instagram at – A Way Abroad

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