Vietnam 3- Week Itinerary Road Trip with in-depth history, fascinating culture, beautiful beaches, enormous caves, delicious food, fabulous hiking, a buzzing city life, amazing people & landscape full of natural beauty
Best time to Visit Vietnam
Vietnam is over 1,000km (600 miles) in length of coastline and has huge regional diversity making it a year-round destination for travel. It is hard to say right or wrong time to visit Vietnam, if you plan on seeing the whole country
Vietnam Itinerary Top Attractions Road Trip
- Cu Chi Tunnels in Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City)
- Sand Dunes in Mui Ne
- Diving in Nha Trang or Phu Quoc Island (South)
- Imperial City in Hue
- Caves in Phong Nha – Ke Bang National Park
- The ancient town of Hoi An
- Hanoi Old Quarter
- Cruising in Ha Long Bay
- Trekking in Sapa
- Ninh Binh (Ha Long Bay on Land)
Basic Travel Costs of Vietnam Itinerary Road Trip
Vietnam currency is Vietnam Dong (VND), exchange rate around $1US = 23.000 VND
Vietnam is seriously cheap. If travelling on a backpacker’s budget (public transport, local food and dorms) you could easily average $25 USD a day or less. All included with western restaurants, private rooms and a splurge here and there, averaged cost for $40 a day per person
The room services are fantastic, as well as the service. Dorm beds start at 100,000 – 150,000 VND ($5 USD – $7 USD) whilst private rooms and hotels can be as cheap as 350,000 VND ($15 USD) with breakfast included
Cost of Food & Drink in Vietnam: Holy smokes. Vietnamese food is to die for! A bowl of Pho (beef noodle soup, Vietnam’s #1 dish) is easily found for 30,000 VND ($1.30 USD). However, sit down restaurants are slightly more expensive with an average dish ranging from 100,000 VND – 200,000 VND ($4 – $8 USD). 1 L of water at the convenience store is 15,000 VND ($0.60 USD) whilst a beer or soft drink at restaurants is about 25,000 – 35,000 VND ($1- $2 USD). Obviously, meals in touristic parts of the country are noticeably higher upwards of 250,000 VND ($10 USD) but to be honest, they aren’t as good as the street food! Vietnam was very hygienic so don’t be scared by the street food.
Cost of Transport in Vietnam: Transport in Vietnam is fast, clean, cost-effective and extremely easy to navigate. Buses are the cheapest way to get around Vietnam and run continuously from North to South and vice-versa. Long distance (15 hours) was no more than $20 USD. Trains in Vietnam are considerably more expensive than the bus ($30-45 USD on average), but you have to experience the train at least once. Fights with VietJet or Air Asia are sometimes cheaper than the train so be sure to check. Then, of course, the motorbike. Vietnam’s most used form of transport!
Recommended Vietnam 3-week Itinerary Road Trip
- Ho Chi Minh City – Mui Ne (3 days)
- Mui Ne – Da Lat (2 days)
- Da Lat – Hoi An (4 days)
- Hoi An – Hue (2 days)
- Hue – Hanoi (4 days)
- Hanoi – Ha Long Bay (3 days)
- Hanoi – Sapa (3 days)
- Sapa – Ninh Binh (2 days)
- Hanoi – Departure
Tip: Hanoi & Ho Chi Minh City are the 2 starting points in Vietnam and which direction you go depends on where you start. you can travel from South to North however, travelling from North to South as there are many places to continue on overland (Cambodia, Thailand) from Ho Chi Minh City vs Hanoi.
Day 1: HO CHI MINH CITY (3 days)
Arriving into HCMC (Saigon) will be a shock and a half (especially if this is your first time in Asia). The first thing you will notice is the crazy amount of motorbikes that take over the streets. If you have a Sim Card (they are super cheap) or WiFi, we recommend taking Grab taxi from the airport to your hotel, but a regular cab will cost 170,000 – 190,000 VND ($7 – $ 8 USD) and should take 30 minutes.
All of the top sights are within District 1 and can be reached via walking or a cheap cab ride. If you’re after the busy nightlife, Pham Ngu Lao and De Tham Street is known as the backpacker district of Ho Chi Minh City. This has a very similar vibe to Khao San Road in Bangkok.
Top Things to do in Ho Chi Minh City
- Notre Dame Cathedral
- Saigon Post Office
- Go Shopping
- War Remnants Museum
- Museum of Vietnamese History
- Ben Thanh Market for awesome street food.
- 1/2 Day Trip to Cu Chi Tunnels
HCMC is a large city and 3 days is not enough to see it all, but for a tight itinerary, you can definitely see the highlights including a one day trip outside of the city.
Travel route: Ho Chi Minh City > Mui Ne by bus (The Sinh Tourist, $5 USD, 5 hours)
Road Trip HCM to MUI NE (2 days)
Some Tourist buses from Ho Chi Minh to Mui Ne runs everyday. Mui Ne is a tiny town so the bus will likely drop you within a short walk to your hotel. The biggest attraction for travellers visiting Mui Ne is the sand dunes & windsurfing.
relaxed by the pool, devoured some delicious food and got an early sleep to experience the sand dunes at sunrise the following morning. You can organise your transfer from the hotel reception to Da Lat that afternoon at 12:30 pm for 139,000 VND/$6 USD.
Travel route: Mui Ne > Da Lat by bus (139,000 VND/ $6 USD, 4 hours. Book with your hotel)
Road Trip MUI NE to DA LAT (2 days)
You will arrive into the bustling city of Da Lat shortly after 4:00 pm and immediately notice the difference in climate. Finally a break from the permanent sweating!
Due to its location in the hills of the Highlands, Da Lat is mountainous and incredibly scenic, making it one of the most popular places in Vietnam to undergo an array of adventure sports such as canyoning, white water rafting & mountain bike riding. Be prepared for a full, squishy bus ride to get there.
Travel route: Da Lat > Hoi An (via Nha Trang) by bus (119,000 VND/$5 USD, 4 hours)
Option 2: Break up your trip from Da Lat to Hoi An with a stop in Nha Trang. Nha Trang is Vietnam’s famous beach resort with plenty of high-end resorts, high rise buildings, nightlife and a long sandy beach.
Onward Travel: Nha Trang > Hoi An by bus (299,000 VND/ $13 USD, 11 hours)
DA LAT to HOI AN (4 days)
The journey from Da Lat (or Nha Trang) to Hoi An wasn’t a short one, but it wasn’t terrible either. You’ll stop in Nha Trang after 3 hours for a 2-hour break before changing buses to the overnight sleeper bus at 7:00 pm.
The trip to Hoi An takes 11-hours, and whilst it sounds awful, coming from someone who gets car sick, it isn’t so bad! The seats lay flat, you stop for dinner, and you can save a night’s accommodation to arrive bright and early for a day of exploration in Hoi An.
Hoi An is magical. With its beautiful night markets, old merchant houses, sophisticated restaurants, colourful alleyways and a contagious atmosphere, it’s impossible not to fall in love from the get-go. Be sure to take part in a cooking class, get tailor-made clothes, roam the markets, explore the countryside, relax on the beach, bike through the rice fields and eat till your heart’s content.
Onward Travel: Hoi An > Hue by motorbike (6 hours)
Road Trip HOI AN to HUE (2 days)
Hue is often overlooked on the Vietnam itinerary tourist road trip but in order to experience one of the most beautiful roads in the world – The Hai Van Pass, you must reach Hue via motorbike or car!
Hue itself was formerly the capital of Vietnam for almost 150 years from the start of the 1800s and is, therefore, the most historic city in Vietnam.
The Imperial City, an enormous compound where the emperors lived and ruled their lands from, is one of the most visited sites in Hue. Due to its size, it will take hours to roam around so head there early to avoid melting in the sun.
Onward Travel: Hue > Hanoi by overnight sleeper bus at 5:30 pm (The Sinh Tourist, 199,000 VND/ $8 USD, 13 hours) or train for $53 USD at a variety of times.
Option 2: Break up your trip between Hue and Hanoi with a stopover in Phong Nha to visit the world’s largest cave.
Option 3: Take the overnight train from Hue to Ninh Binh directly. The train takes 10 hours and costs between $33 and $45 USD
- Read more: Central Vietnam Guide You need to Know
HUE to HANOI (4 days)
Arriving in Hanoi from the sleeper bus at 6:30 am, you’ll likely be feeling rather tired but the busy capital of Vietnam will have you on your toes in no time. Drop your bags at your hotel (in the old quarter) and head on out for a sneaky Banh Mi (sandwich) at Banh Mi 25. They open at 7:00 am daily, just in time for the overnight arrivals. De-lic-ious!
The old quarter of Hanoi is the busiest area of this city and is where a lot of the restaurants, bars, cafes, museums are concentrated. Observe the daily life of the locals from the windows of a coffee shop, roam the Hoan Kiem Lake, visit the Hoa Lo Prison, watch the Thang Long Water Puppet Show (lame but kind of interesting, buy tickets at the door for 100,000 VND/$4 USD), NOT online prior), take a street food tour with Hanoi Food Tours or grab a beer for $.25c at “beer corner” – the busiest intersection of the city buzzing with atmosphere.
Onward Travel: Hanoi > Ha Long Bay (It is 4 hours away but stay in Hanoi, not in Ha Long Bay)
Road Trip HANOI to HA LONG BAY (3 days, 2 nights)
You can’t really visit Vietnam without a visit to the infamous Ha Long Bay. There are SO many tour operators and cruise companies offering these trips so take your time choosing a company that’s right for your budget.
You can also visit Visit Halong Bay for other options.
Many companies offer specific boats, extras and photos, yet deliver something completely different. It isn’t worth the savings to have an unsafe, unhygienic, old dirty boat for your vacation! Those limestone karsts should be viewed from the comfort of a decent ship. You can go as a day trip, 2 days or 3 days. If possible, extend to the 3 days. It’s so worth it!
All tours should include pick up and drop off to Hanoi and you’ll arrive by 4:00 pm (or there about’s). After, grab some dinner and jump on the night train to Sapa.
Onward Travel: Hanoi > Sapa by overnight train (Chapa Express, 10:00 pm, $41 USD, 8 hours).
- Book a private car Hanoi to Halong Bay
HANOI to SAPA (3 days)
The overnight train from Hanoi to Sapa was nice. The beds were comfortable, proper blankets, soft pillows, water, bananas and a fairly decent bathroom. If you plan to start your trek the morning you arrive in Sapa, we suggest taking the overnight train VS the overnight bus for a longer, hopefully, more comfortable, sleep.
Sapa is famous for its extremely lush green vegetation, ethnic hill tribes, beautiful mountains, rivers and of course, hiking trails.
Recommend a 2 night, 3-day trek to get deeper into the highlands for a more “authentic” experience.
Onward Travel: Sapa > Hanoi by bus (Sapa Express, 4:00 pm, $16 USD 6.5 hours)
Onward Travel: Hanoi > Ninh Binh by bus (Tourist bus, 8:30 am, $10 USD, 2 hours) via one night in Hanoi.
- Book a car from Hanoi to Sapa
Road Trip HANOI to NINH BINH (2 days)
Do not visit Vietnam and miss out on Ninh Binh. Nicknamed “Ha Long Bay on Land”, Ninh Binh is indescribably amazing and only 100km south of Hanoi. Take a train from Hanoi for $15 USD at 6:00am/9:00 am or 8:10 pm, the local bus which leaves once every hour OR the tourist bus from your hotel for $10 USD
- Book a private transfer Hanoi to Ninh Binh
The karst limestone mountains that rise up from the rice paddies and river banks are so picturesque it feels as though you are in a movie set. We strongly recommend at least 2 days to explore Ninh Binh. It’s a relaxed, peaceful town and shouldn’t be rushed. Rent a motorbike or bicycle, take a boat ride with women paddling with their feet, visit the largest pagoda in South East Asia, climb to the top of Mua Caves or get lost in the rice fields.
Onwards travel: Ninh Binh > Hanoi Airport (luxury vehicle, 2 hours, $30 total USD)
- Read more: Northern Vietnam You Need to Know
Top Tips for Vietnam Itinerary Road Trip
- Grab yourself a Sim Card at the airport. $5 for 17 GB of data (although WiFi is everywhere).
- Overland travel is efficient and fast, however, occasionally flights are cheaper than the trains. Always check.
- Be wary of driving a motorbike without an international driver’s license, the police will pull you over and you may have to pay your way out. This can range from just $10 USD – much higher depending on the cop
- The restaurants with kindergarten chairs and tables will always have the best, inexpensive street food. Don’t be scared to eat here!
- Eat Vietnamese food until you can’t possibly eat anymore!
- Have some flexibility in your schedule. New places pop up all the time!
- Use Grab when in the main cities. It’s far cheaper.
- Don’t forget to bargain at the markets.
- Overnight buses are comfortable and clean. You’ll save yourself a night’s accommodation by taking one.
- ALWAYS double check when you book with a company that it is the right company. Unfortunately, Vietnam has a problem with companies stealing other company’s names and changing only the smallest of words (or none at all) to trick tourists. eg. Tony Vietnam Adventures vs Tony Vietnam Travel. If you’re unsure, ask your hotel
Did this post inspire your to plan a trip on Vietnam Road Trip? If you would like to book one of these road trip in Vietnam. please contact Tour Guide Vietnam . Com to book a private car transfer, so you can sit back and enjoy the Vietnam beautiful scenery.
Recommended Vietnam Road Trip Itinerary
- Northern Vietnam Tour Package
- Day Trips from Hanoi
- HALONG BAY HANOI SHORE EXCURSIONS
- Hire a Car with English – speaking Driver in Vietnam
- Vietnam family Tour North to South 14 Days
- Treasure Vietnam Discovery 18 Days
Questions About Vietnam Road Trip Travel?
Do you have any questions about traveling to Vietnam? Ask me anything in the comment section below. We’ll do our best to help!