We spent 3 weeks in Vietnam in September 2017, and I can honestly say that it was my favourite country we visited when in Southeast Asia.
That's right, it's even better than Bali ... maybe ... possibly ... OK I really can't decide!
Either way, it's the perfect mix of beautiful scenery, welcoming people, great-tasting food, breathtaking attractions and cheap accommodation.
However, with so much to see and do, this begs the question:
“Where should I stop in Vietnam?”
Firstly, a little bit on Vietnamese visas
Before diving into our 3 week Vietnam travel itinerary, I wanted to quickly address one of the biggest queries on everyone's mind … “what about visas?”
Well, for UK passport holders, and others from across Europe, you can normally visit Vietnam for up to 15 days.
If you wish to stay longer, you will need to purchase a visa before arrival.
We paid $46 for a visa that allowed us to stay for a month (be aware, the price of visas can fluctuate rapidly from one day to the next).
I would say this is definitely worth it, as the extra week or two allows you to see so much more of this beautiful country.
To find out more about your visa requirements, then you will need to check online or with your embassy.
One final tip: if you’re coming from Cambodia, then we picked up our Vietnam visas from a shop called “Lucky Lucky Motorcycle Rental” in Phnom Penh. They are very trustworthy amongst backpackers and easy to find.
Or, if you choose to fly across from Cambodia to Vietnam (which is certainly much less hassle!) then you can sort out a visa on arrival beforehand. There are plenty of sites that can help you with this, such as My Vietnam Visa.
Our 3 week Vietnam travel itinerary from South to North
OK great! Now, that that’s done, let's dig in!
The best way to travel Vietnam in 3 weeks is to either start in Hanoi in the North or Ho Chi Minh in the South.
We started in the South of Vietnam by getting a bus up from Kampot in Cambodia to Ho Chi Minh City (aka Saigon).
Here’s a map of our route.
We got a bus to and from each of these stops, and I will talk more about this hop-on, hop-off bus below the 3 week Vietnam itinerary.
Stop 1: Ho Chi Minh City - 3 nights
Most routes through Vietnam take you from Ho Chi Minh in the south to Hanoi in the North, or vice-versa. Ho Chi Minh is a great city to start in, and you can use it to buy any essentials you will need for the ride north, such as your bus ticket.
Stop 2: Mũi Né - 2 nights
We then took a bus roughly 6 hours Eastwards to the coastal town of Mũi Né. 2 nights was enough here for us, but you could easily spend weeks relaxing on their gorgeous beaches.
- Where we stayed in Mui Ne: Mui Ne Hills Budget Hotel
Stop 3: Da Lat - 2 nights
Getting from Mũi Né to Dalat means taking a 5 to 6 hour bus journey North-West. It's a beautiful place to visit as it is high in the mountains and much cooler than anywhere else you will visit in Vietnam.
- Where we stayed in Da Lat: Nguyen Minh Hostel
Stop 4: Nha Trang - 2 nights
Nha Trang is only about 5 hours from Dalat, and is a very popular coastal city. The place is flooded with Russian holidaymakers and more closely resembles a westernised holiday destination. However, when you dig below the surface, there are some truly memorable places to go here.
- Where we stayed in Nha Trang: Queen 7 Hotel
Stop 5: Hội An - 3 nights
We then got an overnight bus which takes you all the way up the coast to Hội An. We ended up spending an extra night here as a typhoon hit Vietnam whilst we were here. It was the worse one they've had in years! Seriously, check it out.
- Where we stayed in Hoi An: Riverside Pottery Village Homestay
Stop 6: Da Nang - No nights
We had planned to stay in Da Nang for a night but got stuck in Hội An because of the storm. We still managed to drive here for the day, and it really is a beautiful place to visit even just for a night. It's only an hour or so from Hội An.
Stop 7: Huế - 2 nights
Just a few hours up the coast from Da Nang you will find the historic city of Huế. The city has a rich and interesting history and is a place definitely worth visiting for anyone travelling through Vietnam.
- Where we stayed in Hue: Hue Garden Villa Hotel
Stop 8: Phong NHA - 1 night
Phong NHA is the perfect example of the beautiful and rural Vietnam you see on TV, and is a crucial part of any Vietnam backpacking itinerary. It’s just 5 hours from Huế by bus and you have to stay there. I wish we had more time to explore, rather than just 1 night.
- Where we stayed in Phong NHA: Mountain View Hotel
Stop 9: Hanoi - 3 nights
The Journey from Phong NHA to Hanoi was our second overnight bus through Vietnam. Many people choose to fly this remaining stretch or catch a train, but there is nothing wrong with the bus, which is far cheaper.
- Where we stayed in Hanoi: HC Old Quarter View House
Stop 10: Hạ Long Bay - 1 night
Perhaps the most famous place in Vietnam is Hạ Long Bay. It really is as beautiful as you see in the pictures. We did a typical 1 night, 2 day tour through the bay; but if you have more money, I would recommend staying for longer.
- Where we stayed in Ha Long Bay: Rosa Cruise
READ ALSO: Our favourite Hạ Long Bay Cruise
OTHER SITES: This site offers some of the best Vietnam tours available all over the country.
Total = 19 nights + 2 nights spent on overnight buses = 3 weeks
So there you are! That is the 3 week itinerary that we used in Vietnam. There are other places to stop, however, having spoken to other people who have travelled the country, we got to see the best places for sure.
Although we were, of course, limited in where we could visit due to our bus ticket.
Getting around Vietnam
Another reason why I love Vietnam so much is that it is by far the cheapest country I have ever travelled through. This is, of course, if you chose to get the hop-on, hop-off bus pass.
You can pick this up in most of the major cities, and you pay a fixed amount there and then to stop off in the places of your choosing.
Our pass cost us $37 and included most of the stops.
All of the buses (except for the journeys to and from Dalat) are by sleeper coach. They are perfectly comfortable, and you get your own private section to sleep in.
Although, if you are taller than 5 foot 8, then you might not agree with me regarding the comfort levels!
Alternatively, you could fly from some of the major cities or catch a train. These are of course more expensive, but not ridiculously overpriced.
Your other option, and the option I would have chosen if Cazzy was willing to ride her own scooter, is to buy a bike and drive through the country.
From North to South, Vietnam offers some of the most breathtaking views I have ever seen.
By having your own transport you could stop in even more places that aren't listed here, as you are limited by what public transport offers you.
I plan to one day go back to Vietnam and do exactly this, especially with regards to visiting the places North of Hanoi.
However, this does depend on your own personal love for mopeds and the confidence in your own abilities to survive the famous Vietnamese drivers around you.
Want an idea of what this is like? Just check out the Top Gear Vietnamese Special.
Whichever way you to decide to travel through Vietnam, if you are limited to 3 weeks or less, then the itinerary above will certainly not let you down.
3 weeks is plenty of time to travel from Ho Chi Minh to Hanoi and see all the beautiful stops along the way.
If you have any other places you think we should have visited in Vietnam then just let me know in the comments below, I would love to hear from you!
Similarly, if you have any questions about our route or how the bus pass works, just let me know.