Vietnam was a fixed-feature on my bucket list for years before I finally took the plunge – and ever since leaving, it’s taken up prime position on my countries to return to list. Wondering how to plan your 30 day trip to Vietnam? I’ve tried and tested the perfect itinerary to see and experience the most of this jaw-dropping country for this first time, with everything you need to know about where to go, and what to do along the way.
How Long to Spend in Vietnam
Vietnam is a surprisingly big country. While it is minuscule on the map, it is l-o-o-o-ng which makes travel time excessive, particularly when there’s a bunch of mountains in your way. While travelling Vietnam I noticed a common theme: most travellers are spending at least two weeks in Vietnam. Consider this the absolute minimum amount of time you should spend, and if you take this option try and limit your visit to the northern half of the country (the second half of this blog post) where you can get all the variety with shorter travel times.
If you can, visit Vietnam for one month. Why? When we visited for thirty days it was still not enough time. Our visas gave us just 30 days entry though, so we made it work. Based on that, this itinerary is designed to fit into that 30 day visa period, while still jumping feet-first into all the best highlights and giving you enough diversity to show Vietnam is actually a whole bunch of countries in one.
How to Get Around in Vietnam
Best Option: Bus
Undoubtedly the easiest option to get around Vietnam is by bus. Vietnam lacks a rail system, but their bus system is well-developed and extremely well-connected.
The majority of their long-distance buses are sleeper buses, which are as good as they sound. They typically have full-length leather seats that recline almost flat – and they’re super cheap. The most we paid for one trip was $36 AUD ($25 USD, €22 EUR), but most were half that price.
The challenges of taking the bus were communicating at the bus station, or communicating with the bus driver, particularly at stops. Thankfully, many bus tickets can be bought online, and drivers are typically used to tourists on the main routes.
Alternate Option: Limousines
These aren’t limousines in the traditional sense, but more like a large car fitted out with luxury seating, TV screens, and charging points. Each limousine will typically seat around 7 people, and you can pay by the car or by the seat.
Limousines are typical if you have a transfer included on the nicer cruise options between Hanoi and Ha Long Bay, but also run other routes that can be booked direct, including Hanoi to Sapa. The cost typically isn’t too much more than a bus and include pickup directly from your hotel.
If you do take a limousine, request particular seats. The four seats behind the driver are always far more comfy than the bench-like back row which absorbs all the shock from the back wheels. Some limousine companies will also sell the seats next to the driver, which are far less luxurious.
Travelling through Vietnam on a motorbike is fantasy of many travellers. While it’s undoubtedly very cool and allows you to see the country on your own terms, it presents its own problems logistically: buying or renting a bike, navigating, bad weather, long distances, and negotiating the traffic and crazy driving that Vietnam is infamous for. However, if you’re up for the challenge it would be a trip to remember.
Flying domestically in Vietnam is significantly more expensive than the bus system, but does save some good time. I would recommend only flying large distances where taking the bus is too much of a feat. We only took one flight during out Vietnam trip, from Da Lat to Hoi An.
Rent a car
There is the possibility of renting a car for your trip around Vietnam, but unless you have the budget to rent a driver as well I wouldn’t recommend it. Traffic in Vietnam is a huge challenge, and many of the rural roads are nowhere near Western standards. To drive Vietnam would add a whole extra element of stress to the journey.
How much to budget for accomodation in Vietnam
One of the best things about south-east Asia is that it is ridiculously cheap. It’s also why it’s one of the better-worn backpacker paths, giving travellers the opportunity to eat, drink, do, and go where they please with little regard for their wallet.
The same particularly goes for accommodation. In Vietnam at the bottom end of the scale you can get a hostel bed for as little as $5 AUD (€3 EUR, $3.4 USD) per night. We stayed at one location in Phong Nha that had a six bed room, a private bathroom, a pool, and a full hot breakfast included for just $6 AUD per night.
There also exist fancier hotels, like the Hilton, or independent large hotels, but they’re really not necessary. These can easily run over $200 AUD (€120 EUR, $140 USD) per night and don’t give you that many more benefits – apart from perhaps forgetting you’re in Vietnam.
If you don’t need a fancy hotel, but you want something a bit better than a hostel bed, go for the mid-range.
Mid-range gives you a great opportunity to enjoy some nicer accommodation than what usually comes into backpackers price ranges, but doesn’t turn your cheap SEA holiday into an expensive one. A very basic double room in Hanoi or Ho Chi Minh could be as little as $20 AUD (€12 EUR, $14 USD), and a nicely decorated Airbnb private room with a bathroom hovers around the $30 AUD price mark (€18.5 EUR, $20 USD).
How to get the best deal on accommodation in Vietnam
We prefer to book our accommodation normally through Booking.com and Airbnb – but, we did find in some instances Agoda.com had slightly cheaper prices. If you’re like me and get that sweet sweet adrenaline rush when you save a dollar, make sure you do a quick search and compare prices across all the websites.
If you end up booking an Airbnb and it’s your first time, book it through this link for $55 AUD (€34 EUR, $37.5 USD) off your booking! So you know, if you I’ll also receive a small amount of cash from Airbnb, which helps me keep bringing you some sweet itineraries 😚
How much to budget in Vietnam
Vietnam is undeniably a backpackers dream. While it may not be as cheap as it’s neighbours Laos or Cambodia, most backpackers will find they can relax their budget while exploring Vietnam.
30 Days in Vietnam: how much to spend on food
While prices for food are jacked up in tourist areas, it’s still uncommon to pay more than $10 AUD for a Western style meal (€6 EUR, $7 USD). But, one of the best things about Vietnam is the food – it is INCREDIBLE.
If you’re happy to skip the Western meals and indulge on all the pho and banh mi you can forget about budgeting overall – a full serve of one of these is as little as $1.50 AUD (€1 EUR, $1 USD). That’s not a typo.
30 Days in Vietnam: how much to spend on activities
While we normally prefer to explore on our own, we unexpectedly ended up taking a lot of tours in Vietnam. They were affordable, and allowed us to access areas that we would otherwise be unable to go to, like the floating markets in Can Tho.
In the major cities you can often find free walking tours, and free food walking tours – taking a free food tour is highly recommended, and you normally just need to pay for the guides food along the way while they practice their English with you. Take advantage of these.
Most entry fees to major attractions will hover around the $2-$7 mark (€1.2-4.3 EUR, $1.4-4.8 USD), and many are completely free.
30 Days in Vietnam: how much to spend on travel
If you’ve already made the decision to bus around Vietnam, great job! You’ve chosen the cheapest option. Our most expensive bus was $36 AUD ($25 USD, €22 EUR), but the majority of them will run you half that price.
Where to go in 30 Days in Vietnam
The following itinerary takes you across 11 different cities or regions in Vietnam, each one different to the last! If you’ve looked at a map of Vietnam you’ll notice that it’s a long, thin country. Most of the travel in this itinerary follows the eastern side of the country, which is where the majority of the cities are.
Should I travel Vietnam from north to south, or south to north?
Unless the activities you want to do in the top or the bottom are so drastically different that it would change the order you want to do things, you’re pretty safe going either way. We chose to go south to north because we liked the idea of ending our trip with Ha Long Bay for a bit of rest and relaxation, but there’s not real disadvantage to going north to south.
If you can’t make up your mind, check the price of flights into the either Ho Chi Minh or Hanoi – and choose the cheapest option 😉
Vietnam in 30 Days Itinerary
Alright, alright, enough incredibly essential information! Where are you going and what will you see? Drumroll please…
Ho Chi Minh City
Vietnam Itinerary Days: 1, 2, & 3
Enter Vietnam into the hustle and bustle of Ho Chi Minh City, often called Saigon by the locals. Prepare for some culture shock: while the streets are wide, they’re brimming with scooters, motorbikes, and cars all fighting for prime positioning on the road. The footpaths are filled with people sitting on plastic stools, gathered around tv sets or watching extremely bad karaoke. It’s an assault on the senses, and it’s both brilliant and debilitating.
Take some time out in this city to relax and get used to the hustle and bustle. If its summer, you may need to escape the heat and make the most of the airconditioning in your room during the day, and venture out only at night. But when you do go out – wow. Send your tastebuds into a spiral at a food paradise like Binh Tay Market or Ben Thanh Market. Marvel at the amazing architecture of the Saigon Cathedral of Notre Dame, or the grandeur of the Central Post Office across the road.
Take a step back to not so long ago in history at the War Remnants Museum, a sad but unmissable experience. If you’re looking for retail therapy head to Dong Khoi street, the Oxford Street of Vietnam. Let your senses be assulted by the lights, noise, and crushing amount of people on Pham Ngu Lao Street, otherwise known as Foreigner Street where the music plays long into the night.
Vietnam Itinerary Days: 3, 4, & 5
Jump on a bus to make the long trip down to Cần Thơ, right on the Mekong Delta. You may be tempted to skip this riverside city when visiting Vietnam due to the 3-4 hour bus ride – but trust me when I say it’s worth it. Why? Two words: floating markets.
What is a floating market? It’s a market that takes place entirely on boats. Picture a boat laden with pineapples pulling up next to a boat serving hot pho in the middle of the river. There’s a coffee boat, a banana boat, a watermelon boat, all coming from near and far to meet each other at these floating markets.
How do you get a boat? Great question. You can hire a boat, an ultra-strong woman to row it, and a tour guide for 1,350,000 VND ($85 AUD/$58 USD/€52 EUR). You’ll leave your hotel while it’s still dark, and set out on your boat as the sun rises behind you. When you reach the floating market you’ll eat a breakfast of steaming hot pho, fruit, and INCREDIBLE coffee. On the day trip you’ll see:
- A large and small floating market
- A fruit garden where you can pluck the fresh fruit off the trees
- A noodle making factory
- Small canals
TIP: We booked our tour guide direct, his name was Harry and he was incredible – energetic, almost perfect English, and super funny! If you would like to go with him you can contact him via WhatsApp on +84 39 229 1791. (I don’t get any kickback if you book with Harry, this is an entirely genuine recommendation for an incredible experience in Can Tho with a fun guy)
Vietnam Itinerary Days: 6 & 7
You’ve floated lazily along the river, now it’s time to hit the sand. Mui Ne is where it’s at when visiting Vietnam, a fishing town famous for its huge sand dunes and kitesurfing. This is the perfect place to relax for a while if you need a few days to chill out, and as is usual in Vietnam accommodation is ridiculously cheap.
TIP: When searching for accommodation in Mui Ne we found a hotel group that had a backpacker, standard, and luxury hotels – and the reviews noted that upgrades across the hotel were routinely given! We took a chance and booked a cheap budget room, and were upgraded to their luxury hotels basic room instead – bonus! Check out Mui Ne Hills Budget Hotel – it’s also owned by a Dutch guy, so we found standards to be a little higher than in other places.
In Mui Ne there are a bunch of activities to be done – we chose to do an sunrise private Jeep tour to max out what we could see on a day. Go ATVing across the giant white sand dunes as the sun rises, before walking with the fishermens wives at a traditional fishing village.
Then, wade your way down the local ‘fairy stream’ and then head to the red sand dunes where for just a few dollars you can rent a makeshift sandboard from a local woman who’ll then send you zooming down the dunes – you will get covered in red sand in unmentionable places.
It costs around $30 USD for a four hour tour with a private driver (who typically doesn’t speak English), and the ATV experience will run you an extra $9 USD per person to be zoomed up to the high point of the sand dunes – a thrilling, but terrifying, experience.
Vietnam Itinerary Days: 8, 9 & 10
With sand in your lungs from Mui Ne, head up to the fresh mountain air of Da Lat. Originally a French outpost, this beautiful city is filled with incredible architecture, delicious coffee, and amazing flower farms.
The highlight of your trip here is flying around the countryside on the back (or the front, if you’re game) motorbike. Bargain down and customise a tour, and see flowers galore, gushing waterfalls, a typical Vietnamese countryside village, incredible views, and a silk worm factory – where you can eat a silk worm carcass (it’s crunchy and surprisingly delicious). If you’re a coffee fan, you may like to try the famous weasel coffee for a small fee.
Vietnam Itinerary Days: 11, 12, 13 & 14
We gave bussing around Vietnam a rest for this section because time is short, and busing from Da Lat to Hoi An takes a looong time – and a short flight wasn’t that expensive!
So now that you’ve landed (or groggily stepped off a bus), set about seeing the stunning ancient city of Hoi An. Among this city’s walls are gorgeous traditional yellow buildings. We recommend renting a bike (most accommodation have them available here!) and pedalling around to take in the best sights.
During the day you can wander through the old town, or jump on a boat to snorkel or scuba dive the Cham Islands. At night is when this city really comes alive, with lanterns strung from every tree, and lantern boats to gently carry you around the river.
Vietnam Itinerary Days: 15 & 16
Can’t get enough of ancient cities? Neither can we, and we’re already halfway through 30 days in Vietnam! Pack your bags and head to Hue, the former seat of Nguyen Dynasty emperors and former capital of this beautiful country. Sitting on the banks of the Perfume River, Hue is a place that shouldn’t be missed off your Vietnam itinerary.
Stroll down the riverside walkway and enjoy the breeze and any festivals that may be occurring, visit the tombs of ancient emperors, tuck into some delicious Hue cuisine, like Bun Bo Hue, the father of pho, and Banh Trang Trung, the local variation of the Vietnamese pizza.
Step into the grandeur of the Imperial Citadel, filled with moats, carved gates, and grand pavilions, and if you’re looking for something off the beaten track you can always bribe a security guard to get into an abandoned theme park.
Vietnam Itinerary Days: 17 & 18
Phong Nha is a must-see place when visiting Vietnam. The town’s tourism has absolutely boomed over recent years, with accommodation facilities in the city springing up everywhere and creating a price war that has driven prices to the ground. Good for tourists, not so good for locals.
The major drawcard of Phong Nha is its proximity to Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park, host of some of the best caves in the world. The area also has hiking trails, countryside lanes, and rivers ripe for kayaking or swimming.
You don’t need too long here, unless you’re a caving fanatic, but it’s a great place to stop by, check out the sights, and save some dollars on accommodation.
TIP: We stayed at Central Backpacker’s Hostel for just $6 AUD per night, each in a six-bed dorm with breakfast included. Super cheap, and despite being a party hostel they lead all the party-people to the town’s bars at 11pm, so you can still get some well-deserved shut-eye.
Vietnam Itinerary Days: 19 & 20
In the last ten days of your 30 days in Vietnam, head on over to Ninh Binh – while we didn’t actually make it to this majestic rural area due to a problem with buses from Phong Nha, it was such a shame to drop it because the photos look incredible!
This city is off the beaten path for travellers in Vietnam and is famous for its stunning natural landscapes and river systems. Looking for limestone or dreaming of drifting on water through caves, temples and lakes? Ninh Binh is the place to be. While I can’t tell you how amazing it is from experience, you can find a full guide to exploring Ninh Binh for all the information from someone who has been there.
Ha Long Bay
Vietnam Itinerary Days: 21 & 22
Been dreaming of Ha Long Bay? Me too, for a long time. While a cruise through this amazing natural landscape is a bit more expensive than most other activities in Vietnam, it’s super worth it and well worth indulging on.
The water in Ha Long Bay is crystal clear, and the scattered islands that erupt out of the water, covered in greenery is simply like nothing else. While this area developed a bad reputation for mass amounts of litter, the region has since cleaned up its act – we didn’t see anything on our two night cruise.
Most cruises will run for between one and three nights at a time, and you can get pretty good discounts if you offer to book direct with them. Find the cheapest deal online, then contact the cruise company to see if they can beat it. If you’d prefer to go for a less touristy option, check out options for cruising through the Cát Bà Islands instead!
TIP: Most pick-up services for Ha Long Bay and Sapa depart from Hanoi, so us this city as a base for the next few days. You can book transport from Ninh Binh to Hanoi and arrive early in the morning to catch your ride to Ha Long Bay. When you come back from Ha Long Bay, stay a night in Hanoi if you need, before heading out to Sapa and then returning to explore the city.
Vietnam Itinerary Days: 23, 24 & 25
Trekking through the rice fields of Sapa is absolutely captivating, unique, and unforgettable. While it’s a trek in itself to get out to this rural paradise, the 5-6 hour trip is soon forgotten.
To make the most of your time in Sapa, book into a stunning natural homestay tucked away in the rice fields. Many will offer breakfast and dinner, and can book a guide from a local tribe to take you around the rice fields themselves.
These guides often come with an army of young helped who don’t speak English yet, but effortlessly hop through the fields and steady your unexperienced feet on the slippery mud along the way. At the end they’ll try to sell you handwoven items from the bags they’ve been carrying – it’s pretty hard to resist, but you can say no.
The green terraced rice fields really are the main event here, and while you can spend weeks exploring this corner of the world, one day of trekking is enough to give you the full Sapa experience.
Vietnam Itinerary Days: 26, 27, 28, 29, & 30
After enjoying the serenity of Sapa, it’s time to head over to Hanoi, the capital of Vietnam. Hanoi is one of the most ancient capital cities in the world, and is filled with beautiful architecture, bustling city-life, and vibrant nightlife.
Coffee culture is a huge part of visiting this city and trying ca phe trung, egg coffee, is a must on any travellers bucket list. Check out the Old Quarter, where the 36 streets are named after the goods that were originally traded there, or see the embalmed corpse of the man who originally led Vietnam to reunification and independence, Ho Chi Minh himself.
Of course, the incredible food of Hanoi is available every which way you turn, but if you need a guide you can request a free walking food tour. A local student gets to practice their English with you, and you just need to pay for their super-cheap food on the way. This was one of the most rewarding experiences we had in Hanoi, and gave us a great chance to learn about the life and attitudes of a student in the area.
For some time out, stroll alongside the picturesque Hoan Kiem lake, or head to a spa for a relaxing and affordable massage to round out your trip.
That’s it! The ultimate and complete itinerary to get the most out of 30 days in Vietnam. Are you planning a trip? Leave any questions in the comments below!