From island escapes in Phu Quoc and the street food and culture of Hoi An, to the natural beauty of Halong Bay and Sapa, this 3-week Vietnam itinerary shows you the very best of the country.
After months of planning, we finally set off on our epic adventure around Vietnam in November. I was nearing the end of maternity leave and we thought it would be an amazing way to round off our first year as parents. Yes, that means it wasn’t just the two of us on this trip, we also had an 8-month-old baby along for the ride!
Vietnam is a country I’d been desperate to visit for years. I can’t deny that the vibrant cuisine played a big part! I was ready to feast on warming bowls of pho, zingy vermicelli salads and aromatic curries! I was curious about the culture too, with places like Hoi An high on my list of places to visit. I’d also heard that Vietnamese people were very family oriented, so I hoped it would be a welcoming destination to visit with our bubba Cooper.
My partner had visited Vietnam ten years before on a backpacking trip. He was keen to show me some of his favourite places, but also tick off a few new destinations too. Our three weeks in Vietnam started in the south, and gradually followed a route north. As the country is long and thin, most people you meet will follow an itinerary from north to south or south to north.
We chose to start in the south and travel north as we were keen to kick off our trip with some beach time on Phu Quoc island. One of the best things about this adventure? We’d be escaping the miserable grey days of autumn / winter in the UK! Time to swap 6 degree overcast days for 30 degrees and sunshine.
In this 3-week Vietnam itinerary I’ll share a few of my highlights from our trip as well as some travel tips to make the most of your time in the country.
The Ultimate 3-Week Vietnam Itinerary
In a nutshell, here’s a quick look at how I’d recommend spending 3-Weeks In Vietnam
- Days 1 – 5: Phu Quoc
- Days 5 – 10: Hoi An
- Days 10 – 13: Da Nang
- Days 13 – 16: Halong Bay
- Days 16 – 19: Hanoi
- Days 19 – 21: Sapa
Before you travel, I’d recommend reading my guide to what to wear in Vietnam. I’ve included tips for clothes, accessories and other items you might not have thought about.
How to spend 3 weeks in Vietnam
Days 1 – 5: Phu Quoc
We started our trip in Phu Quoc, a paradise island to the southwest of the country. Here you’ll find pristine white sandy beaches, palm trees swaying in the breeze, fresh seafood and a range of hotels to suit all budgets.
To reach the island, we flew from London to Ho Chi Minh City, then caught a connecting flight with VietJet Air to Phu Quoc. The flight takes under one hour and short flights like these are pretty cheap.
We checked into Lahana Resort and Spa, one of the top-rated hotels on the island. I selected this resort as we were looking for a hotel with a swimming pool, breakfast and spacious rooms. We also wanted to be able to walk to the beach and the main restaurant district. It was absolutely perfect!
We loved our stay. The grounds were so lush and green, with a beautiful fish pond and waterfall to explore. The infinity pool was right next to the restaurant and was a lovely to place to relax or grab a bite to eat. It was also great for families. There’s a kids club to play in and all the staff were very welcoming. I’d recommend this hotel in a heartbeat!
In terms of things to do in Phu Quoc, there are lots of interesting places to visit on the island. As we were travelling with our baby, it was harder to do the more adventurous options as you’d need to hire a scooter or book a tour. Here are a few places you might want to get out and explore:
Sao Beach (Star Beach)
A beautiful beach around 45-minutes’ drive from Duong Dong town. It’s famous as a place you can see starfish in the water.
Suoi Tranh Waterfall
A 4-metre-tall waterfall with a gorgeous hike to reach it. There are lots of caves and rock pools to see too. It’s around 10-minutes’ drive from Duong Dong.
Hon Thom Cable Car
Take in the views over the southern coast of Phu Quoc and visit Hon Thom island. This cable car even holds the world record for being the world’s longest 3-wire cable car.
Boat trip and snorkelling
One of the most popular day trips from Phu Quoc is this boat tour. You’ll get to visit four different islands and snorkel in the beautiful turquoise waters. It’s a great way to see some of the lesser-visited paradise spots nearby, as well as more of Phu Quoc National Park.
In all honesty, we didn’t do loads in Phu Quoc! We wanted to start our trip with time to kick the jetlag, enjoy the weather, relax by the pool and eat some great food. We loved our daily trips to the beach, usually choosing to hang out around Aloha Beach Bar. Sipping cocktails as the sun started to set was a magical experience!
We had some excellent food in Phu Quoc. Here are details of our favourite meals on the island:
Phở Lý Quốc Sư – Amazing pho in a very casual and understated eatery, close to Duong Dong night market. Pho is more of a morning / lunchtime dish, so bear that in mind.
Banana Garden – We loved the lemongrass chicken here, along with the zingy green mango salad.
Sunlight Restaurant Phu Quoc – We had a great lunch here of prawn coconut curry, fresh spring rolls and a papaya salad. Service was excellent and food of a very high standard.
Mì Tê Street – We stumbled upon this street-food style noodle bar. The dishes were delicious, with flavoursome broths and tasty toppings. It felt like a fusion of ramen and pho. Cheap and tasty!
Tween’s Kitchen – Our final evening meal was here. I had a very tasty coconut curry and Macca had a griddled fish. We loved the ambience too – a really lively spot at night.
Banh Mi Saigon – This banh mi shop was very highly rated. The Vietnamese sandwiches were tasty, but we didn’t think they lived up to the hype. However, they may well be the best on the island, who knows!
Hi Coffee – The Vietnamese coconut coffee was delicious here. We also tried the salted coffee – unusual but definitely worth trying as it’s a speciality in Vietnam.
One other thing I’d add to your Phu Quoc itinerary is a trip to the Night Market in Duong Dong. This area is pedestrianised in the evenings and you’ll find stalls selling everything from unique Vietnamese delicacies to clothes and souvenirs. It’s a really vibrant place to visit!
Some of the stalls might turn your tummy a bit – there are lots of weird and wonderful sea creatures on display (giant sea snails anyone?!) However, it’s definitely worth trying a few things. We enjoyed the BBQ skewers and the Korean pound cakes. There were also quite a few places to try rolled ice cream, for a bit of novelty!
Days 5 – 10: Hoi An
From Phu Quoc, we caught a flight to Da Nang, a city which is under an hour’s drive from Hoi An. Originally this was a direct flight, but with Bamboo Airways seemingly going under during our visit (doh!) we had to book a new route via Ho Chi Minh. It was a long travel day, so definitely see what options are available when you book. Alternatively, you could insert a few days in Ho Chi Minh city at this point in your 3-week Vietnam trip.
Our time in Hoi An was one of the highlights of our time in Vietnam. It’s a city where you really feel immersed in the Vietnamese culture from the second you arrive. Scooters toot and beep past you constantly. As you wander the streets you’ll catch glimpses of local life, with people washing clothes and dishes outside, or selling their wares in large baskets. I loved it straight away!
The historic old town is very charming, with its yellow buildings and scattering of ancient temples. It’s a UNESCO World Heritage site known for its well-preserved architecture, and you’ll see a real blend of different architectural styles, including Chinese, Japanese, French, and Vietnamese influences.
It’s also a town synonymous with two things: lanterns and tailoring. As night falls, the city is illuminated by thousands of colourful lanterns in every colour of the rainbow. You’ll see them in shops and restaurants, as well as bobbing along the Thu Bon River. You can even take a boat trip along the river to release your very own floating lantern, all while making a wish.
In terms of things to do in Hoi An, these were our highlights:
Visit a tailors and have some custom-made clothing made
We had several items of clothing made at Ba Ri Tailors in the old town and can’t recommend this shop enough. They were very professional, quick and helped us through each step of the process. Macca had a beautiful linen suit made, as well as several shirts in a variety of fabrics.
I had a beautiful dress made in a ginkgo leaf fabric. If you’re looking to have some garments made, start the process on your first day in the town so you have a few days for fittings and adjustments.
Go on a food tour of Hoi An
I’ve written a detailed blog all about our food tour in Hoi An. This was such a great way to immerse ourselves in the culture of the destination and try lots of delicacies that we might not have discovered on our own.
I loved discovering local dishes including cao lau and mi quang (noodle-based dishes), bun thit nuong (a flavoursome vermicelli salad with pork) and banh xeo (Vietnamese pancakes).
Book a Vietnamese cooking class
If you’re foodies like us, I’d definitely suggest booking a cooking class in Hoi An. Our tour took place in the Coconut Village, a short drive from Hoi An centre.
During the class we learned to make so many dishes, and they were all really tasty. We cooked spring rolls, Vietnamese pancakes and even an aromatic beef pho. It was one of the best cooking classes we’ve done on our travels as it was so interactive. It’s also been lovely to return home with some dishes to recreate! You can read more about our experience here.
Go on a basket boat in the Coconut Village
This is a really fun tourist activity! You can either book a tour from your hotel in Hoi An, or catch a taxi to the Coconut Village and organise it yourself. The traditional Vietnamese basket boats are circular boats that take you through Bay Mau Coconut Forest.
There’s a chance to hop in a spinning boat if you want a wilder ride or you can just enjoy the scenic views! There are some fun stands along the way, including karaoke, live music and someone casting fishing nets. Yes, it’s very touristy, but it’s one of those tourist activities that’s actually fun!
Other things we enjoyed in Hoi An included visits to the temples, lots of shopping (great market here and plenty of souvenir shops too), night strolls along the river looking at all the lanterns, top food and drink including a few cocktails by the river. Hoi An is such a wonderful place, I’d recommend several days in the old town so you can enjoy multiple experiences.
Days 10 – 13: Da Nang
Da Nang is a built-up city on the central coast of Vietnam. It’s home to skyscrapers and modern businesses, as well as a long sandy beach, historical sites and unique natural wonders. There are some interesting attractions within a drive of Da Nang too. If you’re remotely short on time, I’d skip Da Nang. In my opinion, it’s the least exciting place on this itinerary. However, if you’ve got a bit of room in the itinerary, I think there are a few places worth visiting.
Visit My Khe Beach
We love beach cities! It’s great to have the option of vibrant city life and chilled out beach time side by side. My Khe Beach is a pristine stretch of white sand along the coastline of Da Nang. It’s known for being one of the most beautiful beaches in Vietnam. There’s a promenade along much of it, and a scattering of beach bars selling cocktails, smoothies and food.
Take a trip to the Marble Mountains
This was my favourite thing to do in Da Nang and something I’d add to your 3-week Vietnam itinerary. The Marble Mountains are a cluster of five limestone and marble hills. When you visit you can catch a lift to the start point and explore several caves and pagodas, all while admiring the natural beauty all around.
Some of the caves are pretty cramped and require a few clambering skills (something I wished we hadn’t attempted with a baby strapped to us!). There’s a main viewpoint which offers amazing panoramas of the landscapes. It’s a unique place to visit in Vietnam. You could also visit from Hoi An if you had a bit of extra time there.
See the Dragon Bridge show
If you’re visiting Da Nang on a Friday or Saturday, then don’t miss the Dragon Bridge show! This unusual bridge across the Han River is in the shape of a dragon and is illuminated in the evenings.
Then at 9pm on Friday and Saturday nights it hosts a unique fire and water show. Large flames erupt from the dragon’s mouth, followed by huge sprays of water! It’s pretty bizarre, but it feels like a large event! So many people turned out when we went, and there was a vibrant night market nearby so you could really make an evening of it.
Visit Linh Ung Pagoda
We had a bit of unsettled weather in Da Nang, so one day we took a taxi ride up to Linh Ung Pagoda. This pagoda is up on a hill and is something you’ll spot from miles away.
Here you can see Lady Buddha, the tallest Buddha statue in Vietnam at a height of 67m. It was a very impressive and peaceful place. We also went inside the pagoda, explored the gardens and enjoyed panoramic views over the coast of Da Nang.
Visit Asia Park theme park
We ran out of time for this, but we were tempted to book a day ticket to Asia Park. This theme park is located in Da Nang city centre. It’s home to several rollercoasters and big rides, some fun kids’ attractions, as well as the huge Sun Wheel – a 115m tall Ferris wheel.
Explore the Ba Na Hills and see the Golden Bridge
Have you seen the photos of the amazing Golden Bridge in Vietnam which is supported by giant hands? It’s an incredible sight, isn’tit? It’s located in Ba Na Hills, a little way from Da Nang. It’s actually part of a mountain resort complex owned by the Sun World Group. That means you’ll need to buy a ticket to enter, and spend a day at the resort.
I’ve heard mixed reports about visiting the bridge. It can be really crowded and many say it’s not worth the hype. It was a little too far to travel on this trip with our son, but it was somewhere we’d seen the photos of and hoped to visit! I wouldn’t say it’s a must if you’re spending 3-weeks in Vietnam, but if you have some days to play with, it’d make for some cool photos!
Days 13 – 16: Halong Bay
No doubt a trip to Halong Bay will already be on your 3-week Vietnam itinerary! It was definitely the highlight of our trip and my favourite destination we visited in Vietnam.
Located in north-eastern Vietnam, Halong Bay is a UNESCO World Heritage Site renowned for its natural beauty. In this region, there are 1,600 limestone karsts and islets, all topped with lush vegetation. The most common way to explore this area is on a cruise.
I’ve written a blog all about our cruise experience on board the Emeraude Classic. It was absolutely amazing – I’d definitely recommend booking with the same company.
Most Halong Bay cruises run for 2 days / 1 night. It’s quite a quick itinerary, but it includes stops at Ti Top Island, Sung Sot Cave, the pearl farm and includes all meals and on-board activities. My detailed guide to Halong Bay cruises has lots of info about what to expect from your trip.
If you have longer, I’d recommend looking into 3 day cruises. We actually extended our trip in Halong Bay and spent one day on a private cruise. If you book the longer trip, you’ll get to see more of Ha Long Bay’s most beautiful spots, without big crowds. On our extra day we went on a rowing boat through a cave and emerged in an emerald green lake, ventured inside an abandoned cave, and even kayaked to a secret beach! All of these moments were extra special because we didn’t have hordes of tourists nearby!
Halong Bay really is an incredible destination and an absolute must for your 3-week Vietnam itinerary. Sailing past the islands, spotting pristine beaches, seeing the sunset and sunrise in this magical place – they’re all experiences I’ll never forget.
In terms of getting to Halong Bay, we caught a short flight from Da Nang to Haiphong. From Haiphong it’s under an hour to Tuan Chau Marina, from where the Halong Bay cruises depart. We wrote one day off as a travel day, and stayed at Paradise Suites Hotel (a very smart, yet cheap hotel right in the marina) the night before our cruise. This felt a lot more manageable than trying to get from Da Nang to Halong Bay by lunchtime.
Days 16 – 19: Hanoi
Once we returned from our Halong Bay cruise, we caught a bus to Hanoi, which took around 3-hours. Hanoi is the capital city of Vietnam and after visiting the other places I’ve recommended, wow did it feel big!
Crossing the road in Hanoi is an adventure. On the busiest streets you’ll see rows and rows of scooters, slaloming in and out of traffic, while pedestrians attempt to slot in between them. At times it felt like there was a whisker between me and a speedy bike! Terrifying.
I didn’t warm to Hanoi instantly as it felt so hectic. I think having a small baby to protect made it feel even more stressful. However, after half a day of exploring, I started to really enjoy the city. I’d definitely include it in your itinerary, but you don’t need to spend days and days there.
We stayed at the Flower Garden Hotel, which was ideally located a short walk from the Old Quarter, but not in such a crazy / hectic part of the city. One of our favourite spots locally was Trúc Bạch Lake. They had swan pedalos on the lake, and lots of lovely bars and cafes dotted around the perimeter. It felt relatively peaceful.
If you’re looking for some activities to fill a few days in Hanoi, here’s what I’d recommend:
Explore Hanoi’s Old Quarter
My favourite area was Hanoi’s Old Quarter. This bustling area has narrow streets and traditional houses. It’s known for its lively markets, street food, and a mix of ancient and colonial architecture.
You’ll spot street vendors with mountains of colourful fruits and flowers for sale, and spot eateries with locals slurping warming bowls of pho. One of the prettiest spots is Hoan Kiem Lake, where you’ll the iconic Huc Bridge and Ngoc Son Temple.
Visit the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum
We took a walk to the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum to see where the embalmed body of Vietnam’s legendary leader is kept. This building is in a very grand square, with several guards marking it. After a quick security check, the square was free to enter, but it’s important to follow the dress code carefully.
As we visited in November, it wasn’t possible to see Ho Chi Minh’s embalmed body. Apparently it’s sent to Russia for cleaning and maintenance every October and November! However, I read that his well-preserved body is dressed in a khaki suit and he lies in state under a glass sarcophagus. Maybe I’ll catch him next time!
Go on a street food tour of Hanoi
If you didn’t go on a food tour in Hoi An, Hanoi is another excellent place to explore Vietnam’s cuisine. Some of the most popular dishes in the city include chicken and beef pho (noodle soup), pho cuon (fresh spring rolls with a thick outer layer), cha ca (turmeric fish), bun cha (grilled pork with noodles), banh mi (Vietnamese sandwich). You’ve simply got to try them!
See Hanoi’s famous Train Street
I wasn’t sure whether to recommend this or not. To be honest, it’s very overhyped and a little dangerous… but you might be curious about visiting (as were we!) This is a skinny street with train tracks running through the middle. It’s grown in popularity and is lined with cafes where tourists sit watching the trains hurtling through. It’s quite the sensory rush with the deafening thunder of the train on the tracks and the gusts as it passes!
There seemed to be a lot of politics over the policing of the street and there were various guards and bollards in place when we visited. There have been incidents of tourists wandering the tracks trying to snap selfies, and almost getting run over.
We couldn’t even work out how to get into any of the cafes, until a guy offered to show us to his. It all felt a bit dodgy, but soon enough we were perched on stools on the 1st floor, with a perfect view over the tracks (and at a safe distance too!) If you decide to see what the Train Street hype is about, be careful!
Other popular things to do in Hanoi include going to see a traditional water puppetry show, trying the many unique coffees in the city (egg coffee, coconut coffee, salted coffee to name a few), seeing a performance at the spectacular Hanoi Opera House and shopping in the city’s markets.
Days 19 – 21: Sapa
There are a few ways to travel from Hanoi to Sapa, but the most popular tourist route is the 8-hour overnight train. These usually leave Hanoi around 9 or 10pm and arrive in Sapa between 5-6am. These have cabins with beds and while it won’t be as comfy as a hotel, it’s all part of the fun of travelling around Vietnam!
Sapa has very different scenery to what you’ll have seen on your 3-week Vietnam trip so far! Located in the northern mountains of Vietnam, it’s a captivating destination known for its stunning landscapes, unique culture and epic outdoor adventures.
If you’re deciding what to do on your last few days in Vietnam, here are a few things you can’t miss.
Go hiking in Sapa
Sapa is renowned for its breath-taking natural beauty and the best way to see it is on foot. As you explore you’ll see terraced rice fields, lush green valleys, and towering mountain peaks. There are lots of places you could visit, but some of the most popular include Cat Cat Village, Lao Chai, and Ta Van. You might find it helpful to book a trekking guide or guided tour, so that you’re not worrying about navigating.
Visit one of Sapa’s waterfalls
Sapa is dotted with beautiful waterfalls and natural springs. Silver Waterfall (Thac Bac Waterfall) is 200m high waterfall and is absolutely spectacular. It’s located around 30 mins drive from the centre of Sapa. Meanwhile, to the west of the main town is Love Waterfall (Thac Think Yeu). This 10m high waterfall is also gorgeous, and you can swim in the natural pool by it.
There’s also Cat Cat Waterfall (Thac Tien Sa) located in the village of the same name. This one is just a few km from Sapa, so you can visit on foot if you fancy a walk!
I hope this 3-week Vietnam itinerary helps you with your trip planning. It’s such an amazing country, you could easily spend far longer there. Other places we didn’t visit, but I’d love to return to include Nha Trang (beach destination), Dalat (wine region), Phong Nha, (amazing caves) Hue (via the Hải Vân Pass), Ninh Binh and Tam Coc. We also barely saw Ho Chi Minh City on this trip as we were always using it as a hub to pass through. Could another trip be on the cards already?! Who knows!
Looking for other information about visiting Vietnam, check out these posts:
- Visiting Halong Bay With Kids: The Best Family Cruise Experience
- 10 Tips For Visiting Vietnam With A Baby
- What To Wear In Vietnam For Women And Men: Vietnam Packing Guide
- Review: Hoi An Food Tour: Vietnamese Street Food and Traditional Dishes
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