16 Day Itinerary in Vietnam

The sound of flip-flops smacking against the ground, buckets of mystery liquid on the streets, and the call of the dried cuttlefish vendor can only mean one thing– Vietnam. Every couple years, we make our way back to the motherland to discover just how much it has changed. Follow along on my 16 Day Itinerary in Vietnam during May 2016 with friends and family with listings of each place that we stayed at.

Day 1: San Francisco – Taiwan – Saigon

Lodging: Nhat Ha 1 (District 1)
TPE (Taiwan) has got to be one of my favorite layover spots. What’s not to love about Hello Kitty everything everywhere, Taiwanese dumplings, and enough shopping to launch you into Asian pop star status. We happened to arrive on the very last day of the Soul Saigon Pool Party and dove right in for 50,000 VND per ticket (the electronic music might set you into a catatonic state, but you can’t complain about being in a roof-top pool, having a drink in hand, and climbing the rock wall). 

Day 2: Saigon

Lodging: Nhat Ha 1 (District 1)
Meander through the Ben Thanh marketplace and score a pair of knock-off Ray Bans to get your trip started on the right foot. Being friendly but firm will get you far in here. 


Day 3: Saigon to Vung Tau

Lodging: Lan Rung Resort and Spa
Take a 1.5-hour speedboat from Ho Chi Minh to Vung Tau for 200,000 VND. Purchase your ticket at the dock or try asking your hotel (some have courier services).

Day 4: Vung Tau

Visit Lan Rung Resort and Spa mid-week to avoid the weekend guest crowd. Do take advantage of their professional spa and opt in for that much-needed Swedish massage. Nothing says happiness like a fresh durian smoothie pool-side. New to durian? Don’t smell it, just eat. 

Day 5: Vung Tau

Lodging: Lan Rung Resort and Spa
Climb 811 steps to Tuong Dai Chua Kito Vua (Jesus Statue) to catch a great view of Vung Tau along one of his arms. Don’t be shy about slathering a healthy serving of sunblock and topping off with a hat. The silver lining can be found in the abundance of stone benches donated by devout worshipers along the entire route.

Vung Tau is one of the best places to learn how to ride a motorbike. Rent a bike or two right outside of the resort, and take in views of the coast, smells of squid drying under the sun, and sounds of merchants calling to one another from their stalls. For the intermediate or advanced riders– head up to the Vung Tau Lighthouse 

Day 6: Vung Tau to Saigon

Lodging: Nhat Ha 1 (District 1)
Take a final motorbike ride and savor the last bite decadent breakfast buffet before departing Vung Tau.

Craving something a little different once you’re back in the big city? Several Japanese restaurants can be found at the intersection of Ly Tu Trong and Truong Dinh. I was delighted to find Murakame’s Udon and Tempura, and was even more excited to try their clam broth. 

Day 7: Saigon

Lodging: Nhat Ha 1 (District 1)
Take yourself on a walking tour to the Central Post Office, conveniently located in the city center where you can tack on other famous sites such as the Saigon Notre Dame Cathedral and Saigon Opera HouseVenture to district 4 to grab dinner; they have a plethora of kick-back eateries at a fraction of the price. 

Pro Vietnam tip: Get a picture painted by a local artist (plan for 7 day’s lead time). You’ll have to scroll to the bottom to see what I commissioned…

Day 8: Saigon to Dong Hoi

Lodging: Muong Thanh Holiday Quang Binh Hotel
Take a VietJet flight from SGN to VDH (Dong Hoi) to get yourself situated close to Paradise Cave. Spend the evening relaxing at the hotel and don’t forget to order a few Tiger beers at the pool.

Day 9: Dong Hoi to Hue
Lodging: Orchid Hotel

There’s something to be said about the allure of dark, bat-filled, mysterious caves. We organized a tour with 7km Paradise Adventure Tour for 2,400,000 VND per person, which included transportation to Hue afterward. They only allow one tour group per day, so this certainly makes for an exclusive experience. 

Pro tip: There are no bathrooms in these caves, so do your business beforehand! 

Day 10: Hue

Lodging: Orchid Hotel
Hue is jam-packed with historical sites and great food. With only a single day in the city, we opted to visit the Imperial City, paid homage to Thich Quang Duc’s (known for his honorable act of self-immolation to protest Buddhist persecution) at Thien Mu Pagoda, followed by lunch at Les Jardins de la Carambole. Make sure you try infamous Hue dishes such as Banh Khoai, Bun Bo Hue, Banh Loc Goi, and Com Hen. The word “banh” appears quite frequently in the Vietnamese language but manifests itself in so many different ways. But generally speaking, all “banh” dishes are delicious. 

Day 11: Hue to Prao

Motorbike tour Hue Adventures in Prao
Try not to crash (as I had) within several minutes of departing for a 270km motorbike ride. Like a gang of comrades in Sons of Anarchy, we rode along the Ho Chi Minh road and took in the incredible scenery before stopping in for a night of rest in Prao Town.

Shake it up: Buy outrageous face masks and do a gift exchange. It’ll make for some interesting pictures, I promise.

Day 12: Prao to Da Nang

Lodging: Diamond Sea Hotel
Vietnam is composed of 54 ethnic groups, so it’s not uncommon to pass by small tribes throughout the country. We stopped for a visit with the Ta Oi (also known as Paco) tribe and continued on towards Da Nang. Our last stop took us up the Hai Van Pass to explore a crumbling bunker used by Americans during the war. Minutes after we set foot into the hotel, a steady rain poured from the sky for several hours. Use these moments as an opportunity for cooking classes, power naps, and slow contemplation.

Day 13: Da Nang

Da Nang is home to several quarries, so it’s no surprise that their religious sites boast impressive quantities of stonework. Visit Lady Buddha and get lost in endless carvings and handiwork. Wrap up the evening with a visit to the preserved trading port, Hoi An. It is a beautiful place to visit during sunset but has become quite touristy. Prepare your pockets to pay inflated meal prices and try to get your hands on traditional regional dishes such as Mi Quang, Banh Beo, or Banh Xeo.

Day 14: Da Nang to Saigon

Lodging: Alagon Saigon Hotel and Spa (District 1)
Pay a visit to the Marble Mountains in the early morning before the heat reaches its’ peak. There are Buddhist grottos of all shapes and sizes and you can even take a mini adventure detour by climbing the rocks within some of the caves. Vietnam Airlines has multiple, affordable flights flying every one or two hours from DAD (Da Nang) airport to SGN.

Day 15: Saigon

Order up some 333 beers and pull up a chair curbside to people watch on Bui Vien street. It’s teeming with nightlife, bars, foreigners, and top 40’s music. Look around on the second story balconies, and you’ll find the older folks are doing exactly the same thing from their flats. 

Day  16: Saigon

Lodging: Alagon Saigon Hotel and Spa (District 1)
Don’t forget to pick up the picture you had commissioned last week. You’ll be the belle of the ball if you come home with paintings of pets for your buddies.

If you haven’t tried snails yet, the perfect place exists for you– The Gioi Oc, which literally translates to Snail World. Order up the Oc Len Xao Dua (sea snails in coconut milk) and watch the plate disappear before your very eyes. 

Vietnam is fluid; ever changing just as the ocean tides do. I encourage you to explore outside of Saigon and sway feet up in a hammock along a village road. Relish every moment of the breakfast buffet (I have yet to find any other place that offers such a spread), don’t be shy to ask for the price that you want in the market, and finish everything that has been put into your bowl. Welcome the brash interactions in the big city– there is nothing quite as liberating as to expressing yourself with energy too. 
**Please note this post has been created from my personal recommendations and may contain affiliate links. Your purchase helps to produce thoughtful content on The Petite Adventurer at no additional cost to you. Cheers and many thanks for your support.

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  1. Hey Becky! If it is your first time to Vietnam, I would recommend spending at least 2 nights in Hanoi and then 1-2 nights at Ha Long Bay. There's nothing quite like the hustle and bustle of Saigon (aka. Ho Chi Minh City) so do stay for 2-3 nights there if you can. One of my personal favorites is also traveling way up north to Sapa to visit with the ethnic minorities and view the stunning hillside rice paddies, however please note this will take some time to get to and it's quite remote. Above all else, do try the many fruit shakes that Vietnam has to offer (I may be writing a post on that soon).


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