10 Days in Vietnam: The Essential Itinerary for First-Time Visitors

June 10, 2019 Updated: June 10, 2019

Vietnam, a charming S-shaped country, will surprise tourists in every fascinating way. Vietnam is such an underrated destination, where perfect harmony exists between urban chaos and rural tranquility, mountains and coastlines, and where thousands of distinctive cultures span the whole country.

If you have only a scant 10 days and wonder how to plan flawlessly, you can customize your first trip following our itinerary below, to experience a journey from the most dynamic city in the South to the 1,000-year-old capital in the north of Vietnam. You’ll also find central Vietnam captivating, with the ancient beauty of Hoi An. This essential 10-day Vietnam itinerary covers all the must-see attractions as well as handy recommendations for those who are either traveling solo or in small groups, for an enjoyable first trip in Vietnam.

Read about 5 useful things to know for first-time visitors when traveling to Vietnam here.

Hoi An
Old Town Hoi An—the best place to visit in Vietnam. (Bestpricevn.com)

Day 1: Ho Chi Minh City Arrival

Setting foot in Ho Chi Minh City, still called Saigon by many locals, you will be overwhelmed by the streets jammed full with motorbikes as well as the tropical weather. Saigon is Vietnam’s largest city, with diverse spots from enduring historical architecture to chic and modern buildings.

Don’t waste your first day just resting up, as we highly recommend a one-of-a-kind traditional performance that you can’t find performed better anywhere else in Vietnam. The Water Puppet Show, which can be booked through a travel consultant, is an enduring traditional art, where talented puppeteers make their adorable puppets move perfectly on a water stage to folk music. We’ve been inspired by the amazing stories about Vietnamese fairy tales, folklore, and daily life of the countryside.

street vietnam
Street in Ho Chi Minh City. (Bestpricevn.com)

Ho Chi Minh City is known for its vibrant nightlife with Bui Vien Street, one of the city’s most active streets at night. Once the sun goes down, the street comes alive with walking areas, food stalls, street performances, and bars. 

What to Eat

  • Bun mam is a type of noodle soup flavored with fermented fish sauce, tamarind juice, and sugar. Despite a little sweetness, we get our fill with a mix of ingredients such as squid, prawn, pork, and eggplant.

Some of the best places to eat Bun mam are:

      • Bún Mắm Phan Bội Châu – 22 Phan Bội Châu Street
      • Bún Mắm Nêm Cô Nổ – 19 Nguyễn Thị Minh Khai Street
  • Hu Tieu, a subtler version of pho noodles, offers a various assortment of pork, pork rib, shrimp, squid, or fish, depending on your taste. This typical taste of Saigon can be found at both street stalls and restaurants.

You can try it at:

    • Hủ tiếu Ba Hoàng – 46 Võ Văn Tần Street
    • Quán Hủ Tiếu Mì Chú Sè – 52 Calmette Street

Day 2: Discover the Mekong Delta

On the second day escape from the bustle and hustle of Ho Chi Minh City to the lush and riverine tapestry of the Mekong Delta. For deeper insights into real Delta village life, take an organized tour to discover fruit orchards, rice paddy fields, and swamplands of the Mekong Delta. At Ben Tre, a water world in the Mekong Delta, embark a small sampan boat riding through small canals to witness daily life along the edge. We’re completely fascinated by the brick kiln factory, the coconut processing workshop, the local mat-weaving house, as well as the tasty fresh seasonal fruits.

farms vietnam
Visit local gardens and farms. (Bestpricevn.com)

It is a perfect day to enjoy the blissful scenery, from the boat views to the diversity of the Mekong waterways as you explore first-hand the fish farms and exotic fruit farms. While visiting a peaceful village, you can choose between a short walk, cycling tour, or Xe Loi ride tour to wander in the shade of picturesque coconut trees. After lunch, take a sampan boat along the coconut-lined water canals to enjoy the beautiful tropical scenery. We end the tour by taking the boat back to the pier and return to Saigon.

horse ride mekong delta
Horse ride in the Mekong Delta. (Bestpricevn.com)

Apart from sightseeing, you should indulge in the folkways of the water life by going net fishing with a local. You can either sit on the bank with a fishing rod or get muddy with a net and learn to be a fisherman. This is definitely an awe-inspiring experience since you do everything with your hands and traditional equipment.

Recommended Activity

A O Show is a vibrant artistic performance where you experience marvelous visual illusions and awe-inspiring acrobatics. With a view to showcasing the evolution of rural Vietnam to the modern-day landscape, the show is a convergence of talented artists performing gravity-defying acts with a diversity of props such as bamboos, woven baskets, and ropes.

Location: Saigon Opera House at No. 7 Cong Truong Lam Son, Ben Nghe Ward, District 1, Ho Chi Minh City

Timeline: 6 p.m. and 8 p.m. every day

Ticket: The prices depend on three different seating areas, which range from US $30 to US $70 per adult.

What to Eat

  • In the land of coconut trees, don’t ever miss something made from coconuts. We can’t forget the taste of sweet, aromatic and buttery steamed coconut rice. It is a perfect mixture between the soft flavor of coconut rice and the salty, crispy roasted shrimps.
  • Another Ben Tre must-try specialty is coconut and sea salad, which combines crispy and fresh, cool, bitter flavors from coconut flesh, shrimp, squid, carrots, cucumbers, and herbs.

Day 3: Visit Cu Chi Tunnels & Flight to Da Nang-Hoi An

In the early morning, we drive out 55 km (34 miles) from Ho Chi Minh to Cu Chi District, where the Cu Chi Tunnels have long existed in a marvelous network of underground tunnels. The Cu Chi complex spans more than 200 km of tunnels (124 miles), containing a main axis system with numerous branches connecting to underground hideouts, shelters, and other tunnels. During the Vietnam War, the Cu Chi Tunnels were used as a rendezvous point by the Viet Cong.  

cu chi tunnel vietnam
Cu Chi Tunnels. (Bestpricevn.com)

After lunch, we go to Ho Chi Minh and take a tour that shows us the most significant landmarks from French colonial architecture to Vietnam’s turbulent past at the Museum. Our first stop is the Reunification Palace, a beautifully preserved palace that used to be the residence of the President of the Republic of Vietnam. 

Afterward, we visit Notre Dame Cathedral, the remaining stronghold of Catholicism constructed in an all-red brick façade in the Romanesque architectural style, and the Old Post Office, one of the most symbolic buildings in classical French colonial architecture. At last, we stop at a local market where you can find diverse souvenirs and practice your bargaining skills with the friendliest, liveliest and most convivial people here.

After a long day, we return our hotel to enjoy leisure time for the rest of the day before transferring to the airport in Ho Chi Minh on the flight to Da Nang, traveling to Hoi An at night.

You can easily book flights between Ho Chi Minh to Da Nang on the BestPrice Travel website, where you can choose and compare options from four different domestic airlines: https://www.bestpricevn.com/flights/flight-to-Da-Nang.html

What to Eat

  • You can try a variety of traditional cuisines on your way to and around Cu Chi District. In particular, Bo To Xuan Dao is a restaurant offering dishes of tasty soft beef, which is uniquely marinated and grilled on a charcoal stove. The open space restaurant is located a few hundred yards from An Suong overpass.

Day 4: Hoi An Half-Day Tour

Starting the day for breakfast at the hotel, we take a stroll around the most appealing ancient town in Vietnam, with its 850 heritage-protected colonial designed buildings. Beyond a maze of narrow streets, wooden bridge and old-aged houses, there are a few temples, museums, and preserved sites to explore. You will be attracted by a multitude of shops filled with handicrafts, lanterns, and the silk for which the town is famous. Our itinerary would be incomplete if we didn’t take a boat cruising on the Thu Bon River to enjoy the laid-back riverside life and let colorful lanterns drift along the stream.

balcony view hoi an vietnam
Balcony in Old Town Hoi An. (Bestpricevn.com)

We find the “real” Vietnam in unexpected moments like a back street or turning down an alley, or speaking to the old lady selling Chinese scrolls. In hidden nooks and crannies, there are art galleries, cafes, gastronomic gems, and ceramics for sale. Sitting down after a half day discovery, we enjoy cold drinks, since the weather here is either hot and dry, or hot and wet. After dinner, we return to our hotel in Hoi An and rest so we have enough energy for the next day.

Recommended Activity

Hoi An Memories Show is a musical cultural performance offering a multitude of breathtaking effects and intricate choreography by skilled dancers. This show will definitely be a feast for your eyes, offering you a glimpse of how Hoi An developed from a farming village to a vibrant destination. For those in search of deep spirituality, you will have a chance to travel back in time while exploring traditions from 400 years ago.

Location: Hoi An Impression Theme Park, No 200 Nguyen Tri Phuong, Cam Chau, Hoi An, Quang Nam

Timeline: From 7:30 p.m. to 8:45 p.m. every day, except Tuesdays

Ticket: The prices vary from US $22 to US $35 per adult, depending on three different seating areas. Children above 39 inches tall have to half pay compared to adult’s tickets.

What to Eat

  • Phuong Bread is the legendary banh mi of Hoi An. It’s is a genius combination of ingredients including homemade mayonnaise, chili paste, and mild paté with local herbs. More surprisingly, it costs roughly one US dollar for an unforgettable taste. See more at https://banhmyphuong.com/
  • Ba Buoi Chicken Rice consists of a rice recipe with an incredible chicken sauce. With a history of six decades, Com Ga Ba Buoi makes this dish with a rich broth, strong taste, and a firm texture. Go to 22 Phan Chu Trinh Street Hoi An and taste it.

Day 5: Explore My Son Sanctuary or Cam Thanh Village?

Spending one day in the World Heritage-listed Hoi An, you may like to wander the Central Market and through the street stalls selling paintings, woodwork, ceramics, lanterns, and much more. Interestingly, Hoi An is also famous for its talented tailors who can make sophisticated works to order within a few hours. For those still feeling adventurous, why not hire a bicycle or a motorbike, and tour the surrounding countryside?

We are recommended a range of optional activities to discover the wonderlands outside of the tranquil old quarter:

Firstly, a half-day trip to My Son Sanctuary is highly suggested to discover My Son Sanctuary, which is home to a collection of Champa ruins nestled amongst the mountains in a geological basin of the Quang Nam province. The elaborate World Heritage-listed temples reflect the rich cultural traditions of the Cham civilization.

If you are in search of a rural atmosphere, take a tour to Cam Thanh village to experience farm life. Thanks to the farmers, we get to know how the Vietnamese villagers prepare and fertilize the land as well as their daily working routines like raking the ground, sowing, watering, picking greens, and many more gardening activities.

Also, a cruise along the Thu Bon River, a trip to the nearby Cua Dai Beach, or a Hoi An Vespa tour is a wonderful experience.

What to Eat

  • Cao Lau is a special ashy noodle with a fragrant dark broth, char-siu pork, fresh herbs, and some fried croutons. The sophisticated recipe, kept only by local chefs, makes Cao Lau one element of Hoi An’s food trinity, along with bread and chicken rice.

Day 6: Hoi An – Da Nang – Flight to Hanoi

On your way from Hoi An to Da Nang, you can take the opportunity to explore the city of Da Nang, even despite limited time. We absolutely take the time to marvel at four masterly parallel bridges in the city, including the Han River Swing Bridge, which rotates approximately 90 degrees on its axis every day at 1 a.m.; the Dragon Bridge, showing fire-breathing performance on weekends and holidays; Tran Thi Ly Bridge, the most ancient bridge from the French colonial period; and Thuan Phuoc Bridge, the longest suspension bridge in Vietnam. In addition, you can also contemplate the romantic Love Bridge where couples often come to hang love locks on the guardrail.

After a short flight from Da Nang Airport to Noi Bai International Airport in Hanoi, we check in at our hotel in the center of the city and enjoy some free leisure time to relax.

You can find the flight here: https://www.bestpricevn.com/flights/flight-to-Hanoi.html

What to Eat

  • Bun Thang is rice vermicelli made with nearly 20 nutritious ingredients, including chicken, egg, pork, dried shrimp, squid, spring onion, coriander, ginger, mushroom, beet, and other more. Also you can ask the cook to omit unfamiliar ingredients if you prefer. It’s a tasty and economical dish.
  • Pho Cuon Ngu Xa, or Pho Rolls. Inside Pho Rolls, a mixture of beef, cilantro, lettuce, mung bean sprouts, and endives is delicious with a dipping sauce made of garlic, chilies, lime and fish sauce.

Day 7: Hanoi City Tour

To be flexible, select a car or motorbike, and go on a morning or afternoon tour around Hanoi, and explore according to your personal interests. We choose a morning tour which departs from the hotel at 8:30 a.m. for a visit to Vietnam’s first university, the Temple of Literature. Founded in 1076, Quoc Tu Giam was established in a temple to educate Vietnam’s royalty, mandarins, and members of the elite.

We continue with a visit to the iconic One Pillar Pagoda, which is located in the Ho Chi Minh mausoleum complex.

one pillar pagoda vietnam
One Pillar Pagoda. (Bestpricevn.com)

Finally, we wrap up the morning with the picturesque West Lake and the sixth-century Tran Quoc Buddhist Pagoda. Tran Quoc Pagoda is regarded as the most ancient pagoda in Hanoi with its history of more than 1,500 years.

Tran Quoc pagoda
Tran Quoc Pagoda. (Bestpricevn.com)

Recommended Activity

  • The Quintessence of Tonkin is an outdoor spectacle showcasing traditional Vietnamese culture in a contemporary and innovative way. The skilled local farmers perform a mesmerizing set of six magical elements themed around Poetry, Buddhism, Nostalgia, Music & Painting, Joy & Festivities, and Peace & Harmony. 

Location: Baara Land, Da Phuc Village, Quoc Oai District, around 12 miles west from Hanoi.

Timeline: From 8 p.m. to 9 p.m. every day, except Mondays

Ticket: The tickets range from Silver, Golden to Platinum Section with the prices between US $34 and US $51 per adult.

  • Others: Hanoi also offers a Water Puppet Show, which is uniquely different from the show in Ho Chi Minh City. Alternatively, Tu Phu (Four Palaces) Show, taking place on Thursdays and Saturdays, is an extraordinary show about the rituals practiced in the Vietnamese indigenous religion, with music, colors, and lively dance performances.

Day 8: Hanoi – Ha Long Bay – Overnight on Cruise

We decide to add Ha Long Bay to our essential itinerary. Voted as a Wonder of Nature by the New Seven Wonders Foundation, Ha Long Bay has a complex of over 1,900 islets, from pristine beaches, limestone caves to floating villages. Hence, the only way to discover the outstanding natural beauty of “Dragon descending to the sea” is to experience it onboard an overnight cruise.

We’re ready for pick-up at our hotel at 8 a.m.. Halfway to Ha Long City, we stop at Hong Ngoc Humanitarian Center. At the center, you can have time for relaxation and see local craftsmen at work.

Upon arrival at the pier, we embark on the boat and set sail on a splendid cruise through the limestone cliffs and emerald waters of Ha Long Bay. Lunch and dinner are served as you cruise amidst the spectacular scenery of this UNESCO World Heritage Site. We visit several magnificent caves and go for a swim at Titov and Soi Sim Beach. However, this alternative plan depends on each cruise’s itinerary of the day.

You can take a look at top 10 best cruises list at: https://www.bestpricevn.com/travel-guide/article-top-10-best-cruises-in-halong-bay-190.html

halong bay
Sunset in Halong Bay. (Bestpricevn.com)

Day 9: Ha Long Bay – Hanoi

Despite not being early birds, we wake up to the sounds of the sea to greet the breaking dawn over the mesmerizing ocean views. A night aboard a cruise is a worthwhile memory for any first-time visitor because of the pleasant service, appetizing meals, and relaxing entertainment.

kayak halong bay vietnam
Kayaking in Halong Bay. (Bestpricevn.com)

After breakfast, the cruise takes us to discover the most glorious caves in Ha Long. This wonderland is an extraordinary natural ecosystem with distinctive formations and creatures, which are out-of-this-world. Around 10 a.m., the boat starts cruising back to the harbor while brunch is served, then we continue cruising through the bay along the way to contemplate more of the fascinating formations. It is weird to hear some unusual names and shapes of impressive rock formations. At noon, we return to shore and transfer to our hotel in Hanoi. Once again, we have time to unwind and discover the alluring capital on our own.

What to Eat

  • Give authentic Vietnamese food a try during your days in Hanoi. We can’t forget the savor of Bun Cha, Pho Bo, Cha Ca, which propel Vietnamese traditional flavors to the top of the world’s cuisines.
  • Egg coffee, called Ca Phe Trung is a taste of creativity and uniqueness. The secret recipe might contain sweetened condensed milk with egg yolks whisked in. Giang Cafe, the first place that comes to mind, serves the best soft and creamy egg coffee in Hanoi.

Day 10: Hanoi Departure

We have a sleepy start on the last day due to some leisure time in the morning. This is a treasured moment to visit the Old Quarter. We wander around Hoan Kiem Lake and the surrounding little streets to buy the best souvenirs to bring home.

There are specialized streets selling distinctive items, so it’s convenient to find a gift you may be looking for. The Old Quarter is home to artistic and handicraft products including lacquerware, silk, and textiles, embroidered fabrics and bags, conical hats, coffee beans, tees, paintings, and many more adorable items. Remember to use your bargaining skill to negotiate more affordable prices.

We return to the hotel to pack and check out at noon. Because hotel rooms are usually available until then, you should consider choosing a departure flight that allows for time to transfer to the airport. We are picked up on time and don’t waste much time in the waiting area. It’s the end of our first vacation to beautiful Vietnam, and there’s no denying that the hidden beauty of this S-shaped country is mysteriously appealing to anyone with itchy feet.

We hope that our Vietnam 10-day itinerary will be valuable for newbies planning their travels to Vietnam. Of course, 10 days aren’t sufficient enough to explore the endless surprises offered by impressive history, captivating landmarks, and fascinating cuisine.

But that’s what the BestPrice Travel is for. Consider this essential itinerary suggested by our trusted agency, with all the must-see destinations as well as the top must-do activities and best cuisine, as you plan a dream trip to fulfill your wanderlust.