Vietnam is such an amazing and stunning country to travel around in. But I have to admit that I have, well, kind of a love-hate relationship with it after backpacking there twice. In 2015 I visited the country on a solo trip around Asia and I loved every moment of it. I wrote down a Vietnam itinerary for 4 weeks for myself from south to north and I had an incredible time. That was one of the reasons I returned to Vietnam in 2017. This time together with Daan. Unfortunately we had to change a big part of our plans due to extreme bad weather. Big parts of the country were therefore unreachable, but we also noticed for the first time that tourism can actually be a bad thing. Not to mention that we ended our trip in Vietnam with a road accident.
So yeah, my second time Vietnam wasn’t that great. But when I put all my Vietnam experiences on one big pile, I still see it as a fantastic country. It’s adventurous yet easy to travel. The food is heavenly, you will find busy but fun cities and beautiful nature, and you can meet so many other backpackers or digital nomads. This Vietnam itinerary for 4 weeks is a combination between my two journeys across Vietnam. I still haven’t seen everything I wanted to see, but I will give you some advice for alternative destinations in Vietnam as well.
I published this Vietnam itinerary for 4 weeks for the first time in 2015, but updated it after traveling through Vietnam for a second time.
Planning your Vietnam itinerary: how much time you will need
It is so easy to travel in Vietnam and that has partially to do with the shape of the country. It’s small but very long, and that is why so many people will travel from North Vietnam to South Vietnam or the other way around. That fact also makes it a great destination for backpacking Asia for the first time or solo. Thereby it doesn’t really matter if you go from north to south or the other way around. I personally like the north better as I think it’s more beautiful than the south, so I prefer to travel from south to north.
If it comes to the amount of time you need to travel in Vietnam, I would suggest at least four weeks (hence this Vietnam itinerary for 4 weeks for one reason). Obviously you can spend less time here, but Vietnam has so much to offer. You can’t avoid skipping places if you go less than a month. Don’t get fooled by the distances as well. You will need to calculate a lot of time to travel.
Vietnam Itinerary for 4 weeks
Day 1 till 4: Ho Chi Minh City
Both of my journeys through Vietnam started in chaotic but fun Ho Chi Minh City, also known as Saigon. It is a pretty modern city in Vietnam that has a lot to offer.
One of the places you definitely want to visit is the War Remnants Museum. I know, that doesn’t really sound like a fun thing to do in Vietnam to start your first day with, but in my opinion it’s a must do. You will learn a lot about the Vietnam War here, that still plays a huge role in the lives of the Vietnamese people. I would also recommend you to visit the Cu Chi Tunnels outside the city the day after to get a complete overview of this part of the Vietnamese history.
But there is of course way more to do in and around Ho Chi Minh City. Visit the Bay Then Market for example for souvenirs and some great food, go to the night market in District 1 or drink a cocktail on a rooftop bar like Skydeck Bar. Or book a tour to the impressive Mekong Delta where you sail along the mighty rivers, rice fields and floating markets.
Accommodation: Ho Chi Minh City is a very populair destination for digital nomads. Everything is cheap, internet pretty fast and there is so much to explore. District 1 is by far the most populair and lively area of Saigon. Here you can find great accommodations like the Sigoong Hostel. This modern hostel is very comfortabel, nicely decorated and a perfect getaway to explore Ho Chi Minh City. You can find other accommodations in District 1 here.
Day 5 till 7: Phu Quoc Island
Phu Quoc Island was really an example for us of how tourism can actually sadly destroy a beautiful place. The island has become extremely popular over the last couple of years. Of course there is a good reason for that: it truly is a bounty island with beautiful blue water, beaches, palm trees and a good vibe. However, because of that and all the tourists, people decided to build a lot of massive resorts on the island. Sadly enough the locals and all the beautiful spots have to move for that. Weird, isn’t it? I can actually say that all the good things are slowly disappearing.
I probably didn’t really make you enthusiastic to go to Phu Quoc Island now I’m afraid (sorry for that!). Anyway, I would also not say to straight away skip it in on your Vietnam itinerary. Because when you know where to go, you can actually still find some nice spots and fun places to sleep. (But please skip those awful resorts and choose some place to stay run by locals.) For us the best place wasn’t crowded Duong Dong, but the more relaxed Ong Lang Beach. Duong Dong can be fun to go to in the evening by the way. Especially to get coconut ice cream on the market. Yum!
The best way to explore the island is to rent a scooter and to drive around. Especially the north is pretty much untouched by tourists (but changes on Phu Quoc Island go extremely fast!). You can find a lot of local fisher men and markets around here. You can actually still see how some Vietnamese live without all the tourists around.
Accommodation: We had such an amazing time in the extremely basic and small Island Life Hostel at Ong Lang Beach. They are closed during the rain season unfortunately. For any other accommodations on Phu Quoc Island you can take a look here.
Day 8 & 9: Mui Né
From Phu Quoc Island you will need to travel back to Ho Chi Minh City to get any further up north (unless you came from Cambodia. I would recommend you to go to Phu Quoc Island straight away and visit HCMC after that. It will save you a lot of precious time.)
Mui Né is an old fishing village that became very popular with kitesurfers because of the strong winds around Mui Né. Backpackers and other tourists love in generally to visit the Fairy Stream. Here you walk barefoot in a stream of mud, surrounded by red sand dunes, weird rocks and some palm trees.
If you are in Mui Né, make sure you will visit the red and white sand dunes as well. I was surprised to see those giant sand dunes after being surrounded by green jungle for months. One of the funniest thing to do there is sandboarding. And don’t forget to take a look at the round fishing boats along the coastline.
Accommodation: When I was in Mui Né I stayed at the populair East Ham Tien Beach, like most travelers do. You can find a lot of great accommodations here in all different price ranges. Some of them have their own private beach or swimming pool as well. You can check all the accommodations for East Ham Tien in Mui Né here.
Day 10 & 11: Da Lat
Time for a little bit of action! Da Lat is where it all begins. The reason why so many backpackers are coming to Da Lat? Canyoning! Yes indeed: abseiling waterfalls, rock climbing, jumping off rocks, sliding in rivers. I never felt so much adrenaline in my body as when I was in Da Lat.
A bit too much action for your taste? You can also rent a motor bike or join the Easy Riders for a ride in the area (you can hop on the back). Highlights of this trip will probably be the Pongour Falls and Elephant Falls.
Accommodation: A lot of hostels in Da Lat are family-run businesses. Therefore a lot of them organize family dinners every night. Great fun! Especially when you travel on your own. Make sure you go to Cozy Nook Hostel or Dalat Family Hostel for that. Or check out all the other accommodations in Da Lat.
Day 12 & 13: Hoi An
You might hear some different stories about Hoi An along your way in Vietnam. Some say it’s a magical place. Others don’t like it. I absolutely love it. Why? I can’t deny that it’s really touristy in Hoi An, but there is some kind of authentic and magical vibe hanging around and the city centre looks amazing. It’s one of the few places that hasn’t been destroyed during the Vietnam War. So a lot of historical buildings here actually survived this horrible event. That’s why Hoi An made it to the UNESCO World Heritage List as well. Especially in the evening it’s a magical place.
My favorite activity was just to wander around the streets of Hoi An and to explore every corner of it. It is also known for all the tailor shops around town. They can literally make any type of clothing you want. The beach is also really close by.
Accommodation: There are a lot of great hostels and hotels around for some smaller budget. Are you looking for some extra comfort without paying the jackpot? Make sure you check out the Acacia Heritage Hotel, breakfast and swimming pool included. Or check out some other great accommodations in Hoi An here.
Day 14 & 15: Hué
The city of Hué itself is not entirely worth a visit in my opinion. But what you should definitely do is driving the Hai Van Pass. This road lies between Hoi An and Hué and some people say it’s actually one of the most beautiful drives around the world.
You can drive this road on your own on a motor bike or with an organization like Easy Riders. You can jump on the back of the motor bike and they can also take care of your luggage. This way you can easily enjoy this impressive journey along the coastline and through mountains.
But if you end up in the city centre of Hué, make sure you pay a visit to the ‘Forbidden City’ Tu Cam Thanh and the Thien Mu Pagoda for a piece of history. An activity that has become pretty populair with backpackers these last years, is visiting the ‘lost theme park’ Ho Thuy Tien. It’s literally a ghost theme park, but it’s not easy to get in there.
Accommodation: I slept in the really cheap but perfectly clean Sunshine Hostel. They do have dorms but also private rooms if you wish to have some more privacy.
Day 16 & 17: Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park
This might be one of my favorite destinations in Vietnam: the Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park. It’s not that crowded if it comes to tourism (yet) and the nature is just stunning. It’s great to have a drive around and to see all those limestone rock formations, the jungle and caves.
To definitely put on your Vietnam itinerary for 4 weeks: a visit to Paradise Cave and Dark Cave. You can visit the caves on your own or book a tour if you prefer to go with a bunch of people. Paradise Cave is beautiful from the inside while you can go ziplining and swimming at the Dark Cave. Awesome.
Accommodation: Phong Nha Coco House with a scenic view over the river is the place to be if you want to stay somewhere nice and peaceful. Looking for other travelers to talk with? Easy Tiger Hostel is the place for backpackers!
Day 18 till 20: Hanoi
Hanoi is the capital of Vietnam and lies in the north. It’s often the place where people start traveling when they travel from north to south. It is also a great getaway for your travels to Sapa and Halong Bay. But the city itself has a lot to offer as well. Just walking around the busy streets of Hanoi is already a small adventure. They made the city in a sort of peculiar way. For example: you can find one street with twenty shops and they will all sell the exact same products.
If you go to Hanoi, make sure you visit the Hoan Kiem Lake, the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum and the Hanoi Train Street. Like Ho Chi Minh City, Hanoi became a very populair city to work at as digital nomad.
Accommodation: Old Quarter is the most fun part of the city to stay. There is a lot going on there and you can find cheap beer at Bia Hoi Corner. That’s all you need, right? You can find great hostels and hotels in Old Quarter in Hanoi here.
Day 21 till 23: Sapa
Sapa (or Sa pa) is one of the destinations in Vietnam you don’t really want to miss, but make sure you go in the right season. Everything here is about the beautiful rice fields (they were dried out when we were there), the hills and the people. You can book a tour for multiple days to walk around in the area and to sleep in a homestay. You can also take a taxi from Sapa Town and arrange everything on your own. I did it both ways and enjoyed them both!
Accommodation: We slept for a couple of days at Stunning Homestay. This homestay is really basic (as they all are, that’s the experience!), but located very central in Sapa and the owners were very friendly.
Day 24 till 27: Halong Bay
The last and maybe the most populair destination on your Vietnam itinerary for four weeks will be Halong Bay. And I can tell you, it is impressive to see. You can sail along all those hundreds of rocks that pop out of the ocean, watch monkeys on islands and you can snorkel or canoe around in caves.
There are so many ways to book your tour to Halong Bay. The first time I booked a tour in Hanoi for a couple of days. But the last time we traveled from Hai Phong to Cat Ba Island. It was so much cheaper and so much more fun. And Cat Ba Island is a great island to visit as well.
Accommodation: There are not that many great accommodations on Cat Ba Island but they are cheap and will definitely do. We slept in an extremely spacious private room for just € 2,- per person. And I am not even kidding. You can find all the accommodations for Cat Ba Island here.
If you want to see even more of Vietnam:
Like I said before, Vietnam has so much to offer. That’s why I still haven’t seen all the places I wanted to visit, but here are a few more that are supposed to be totally awesome. I would suggest to put these on your Vietnam itinerary as well if you do have the time.
Ninh Binh: Eventual as an alternative for Phong Nha you can go to Ninh Binh. It’s all about the backcountry here as well and you can visit tons of limestone rock formations and rice fields. You can also take a boat trip through Tam Coc or Trang An.
Bian Gioc Waterfall: According to a lot of people the most beautiful waterfall of Vietnam is the Bian Gioc Waterfall close to the Chinese boarder. Take a look at Google I would say. Or in real life.
Bai Tu Long: A beautiful alternative for Halong Bay. Bai Tu Long is absolutely less crowded, but it will be more expensive.
Nha Trang: Not to add on your Vietnam itinerary for four weeks but to skip: Nha Trang. I am pretty sure you will read all about Nha Trang while searching for information about Vietnam on the internet. But like most people will say: skip it. Unless you like to stay in an awful city full of ugly resorts.