How to Spend Two Weeks in Vietnam

Vietnam is without a doubt one of the most beautiful places on earth. It offers the perfect balance of rural villages and minority tribes with powerhouse cities.

Two weeks is enough for a taste of Vietnam, but far from being long enough to experience everything it has to offer. With only two weeks of annual leave, I planned a trip where I could experience the highlights of the country, unfortunately, Mother Nature had other plans as a typhoon struck meaning I had to miss out on parts of the trip. This is the original itinerary we planned, however, Hue, DaNang and Hoi An were avoided due to a typhoon. While this trip suffered more than a few mishaps, I still look back on it fondly and wouldn’t change a thing.. well, maybe being stuck for 18 hours on the train.

Planned Itinerary

  • Days 1 – 2: Hanoi
  • Days 2 – 3: Halong Bay
  • Days 5 -6: sapa
  • Day 7: Hanoi
  • Day 8: Hue
  • Day 9: DaNang –
  • Days 10-11: Hoi An
  • Days 12 – 24: Ho Chi Minh

Getting to Vietnam

Booking our flights with STA Travel to take advantage of student rates, we flew with Malaysia Airlines with a connection at Kuala Lumpur. We departed London Heathrow at 10:25 am and arrived in Kuala Lumpur at 06:45 am the next morning. The connecting flight left at 09:40 am and arrived in Hanoi at midday. In total, the return flights cost us £1,121.14 for us both.

We decided to tackle Vietnam from North to South, flying into Hanoi around midday on a Sunday, using a Grab taxi (basically Uber) to reach our accommodation. I recommend downloading the Grab app before your trip, it works the same as Uber.

London Heathrow

Day 1 – Hanoi

Hanoi was a bag of surprises and my second favourite city in Vietnam, second only to Sapa. Not only is it the country’s capital, which is kind of shocking as many assume it’s Ho Chi Minh, but it was full of unique experiences –  I’ve listed a few of my favourite ones here.

We checked into the Hanoi Old Quarter Hostel around 13:30, which we had booked in advance with to ensure we had somewhere for at least the first day, as when we knew we’d be slightly jet-lagged – that was a good move! We reserved the superior twin room for one night for US$27.26 in total.

Superior Twin Room at the Hanoi Old Quarter Hostel

Superior Twin Room

Note Coffee on Hoàn Kiếm Lake

Meandering the streets as we made our way to Hoàn Kiếm Lake we stumbled across Note Coffee. Note Coffee is a very colorful cafe adorned with customer-written notes lining the walls, we enjoyed a pit stop here with an egg coffee and great views of the lake. Later, we walked off our jet lag around the lake but soon had to discard that idea as every few steps we were stopped to practice our English with some young students.


We took a guidebook recommendation to eat at Pho 10 and enjoyed some very delicious Pho (pronounced fuh). There is a custom in Vietnam not to rest your chopsticks on top of or in the bowl, it is considered disrespectful.

Night Market

Knowing we wouldn’t have the opportunity again during our trip, we made a beeline for the night market that operates every Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. It was pretty huge so after a while – and a couple of impulse purchases – we retreated to our somewhat luxury hostel. The prices the time of writing in Vietnamese Dong were around 100,000 sunglasses (approx $3.30) and 35,000 t-shirts (approx £1.15) 60,000 trousers and 50,000 shorts, there were many selling the same item so you could haggle and consider other vendors for cheaper rates.

The Note Coffee, Hanoi, Vietnam

Day 2 – Hanoi

The original plan was to rise at the crack of dawn to check out the Long Bien Market, starting at 2 am it’s a wholesale fruit and vegetable, but it’s the hustle and bustle of the crows at 2 am that it said to make it remarkable – jet lag had other plans for us so we perused the Dong Xuan Market instead.

The Birthplace of Egg Coffee

Still feeling the effects of jet lag, it was coffee time. After some thorough research, we landed on Cafe Giang, the birthplace of the famous egg coffee. What better place to try it than in the very place it was created in Vietnam.

The entrance looks like an alleyway and is not obvious in the slightest, but our bravery paid off and we were seated on minuscule toddler stools whilst sipping the incredibly sweet coffee. Despite feeling like an overbearing giant, it was one of my favourite places in Hanoi.

Egg Coffee at Giang Cafe in Hanoi Vietnam

One Pillar Pagoda and Ho Chi Minh Museum

We had hoped to pay a visit to the one-pillar pagoda which is famously known as ‘the most unique pagoda in Asia’. It’s unique for its architectural structure that resembles a lotus flower –  the national flower of Vietnam. The pagoda is situated within the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum, the final resting place of President Ho Chi Minh whose body is preserved in a glass case. It was sadly closed on the day we tried to visit.

Train Street

Instead, we found our way to the train street. This was without a doubt the most harrowing thirty seconds of my life. I was fortunate to experience the famous Maeklong Railway Market in Thailand, and this was so much worse than that! Firstly, there really is nowhere to hide beside doorways, and secondly, the train comes passed at some speed! I’d highly recommend experiencing this as I don’t believe there’s anywhere quite like it, you can find the details here.

I do also recommend experiencing it at the Maekong Railway Market in Thailand too.

Train Street, Hanoi

Mosaic Wall

Somewhere between train street and the puppet performance, we strolled along Ceramic Road that’s home to the largest mosaic in the world. I’m not sure why we ended up here, only that it resulted in a cocktail on a rooftop bar overlooking the West Lake. I also know that we hired a Grab taxi to take us to the theatre on time.

Thăng Long Water Puppet Theatre Performance

A bit of an odd curiosity but a very unique cultural experience. To the sound of live traditional Vietnamese folk music water puppets tell the tales of traditional Vietnamese folk tales and legends. We caught the 8pm performance.

Beer Corner (Hoan Kien Bia Hoi)

We rounded off the evening at beer corner, another odd curiosity. Beer corner is the intersection of two streets where bars line the outside with the tiniest plastic chairs you’ve ever seen, doesn’t sound so offhand right? Well as soon as the police start walking around the chairs are taken away and you’re left standing! It’s a great place to sample some of the local beer – Bia Hoi.

Temple of Literature / Tran Quoc Pagoda / West Lake

Days 3 to 4 – Halong Bay

The next two days we enjoyed an overnight cruise to Halong Bay with Golden Lotus Cruises. We were picked up before 08:30am from our hostel and transferred to the terminal. Over the next two days we enjoyed Halong Bay, Sung Sot Cave, a cooking class and Ti Top island before we returned to Hanoi around 16:30.

We had enough time to grab something to eat, enjoy another beer and meet at the pickup location for our next adventure at 9pm the same evening – a sapa overnight homestay. That evening we caught the 10 pm sleeper bus to Sapa.

You can read about our full experience here.

Days 5 to 6 – Sapa

Sapa was hands down my very best experience in Vietnam, and even one of my favourite travel experiences of all time. We opted to join a group tour with one of the well-known hostels in Hanoi. We spent two days in Sapa, and overnight in the village of Ta Van. In all honesty, I was quite unprepared for this so here are the five items I wish I’d packed for trekking in SaPa.

You can read my full homestay experience here.

Day 7 – Hanoi

On day six we departed Sapa at 10 pm and arrived back in Hanoi at 5am for day seven. We spent some hours sleeping it off in the hostel and enjoyed breakfast there. The original plan was to enjoy some luxury pampering at either the Lotus Spa or the Trill Rooftop Cafe and Pool, it was closed during our visit for some reason so we ended up back at the Note Coffee instead. Later that evening we caught the 20:10 Reunification Express sleeper train to Hue.

We booked our tickets with Vietnam Railway which cost $112.32 (USD) for two in a Soft Berth (4 berths). The cabins are numbered and so are the beds with blankets and pillows provided. There was space to place our rucksacks under the bed, and our boarding passes were checked on entering the train which arrived and departed on time.

The berths we were in had four beds and a small table in between, the bottom bunk was enough room to be seated uprights. There was air con, plugs but no wifi.

Reunification Express sleeper train to Hue

Top Bunk on the Reunification Express Sleeper Train

Days 8 to 9 – Hue and Hanoi 

We arrived in Hue at 09:30 and departed the train to torrential rain. At this point we weren’t sure what to do, the taxi drivers were telling us the whole area was flooded, but calling our accommodation they informed us it was absolutely fine. We took a risk, it was a bad one, we drove there and drove all the way back because yep! It was dangerously flooded.

What was supposed to be a luxurious stay in an overwater villa at the 5* Vedana Lagoon Resort & Spa turned into a bit of a nightmare. We reserved a Water Front Deluxe with Lagoon View for one night at $120.96 on which fortunately we received back in full.

We missed the next few days of our itinerary due to the typhoon, we had planned to enjoy the sights and activities of DaNang and HoiAn. What actually happened is we ended up stuck in Hue for 18 hours on a train before the sleeper train returned to Hanoi and we flew into Ho Chi Minh instead. We were also able to cancel all other reserved accommodations for HoiAn and DaNang free of charge.

We were provided with meals and water from a train guard, he was uniformed but he spoke no English. We grew more concerned when they were removing people – seemingly locals – from the train and leaving tourists on it. Eventually, I rang the British Embassy and explained the situation, they were able to speak to the guard on the phone and translate what was happening back to us. It was worthwhile doing, except for the £90 phone bill that fortunately Virgin reimbursed half off.

Typhoon Flooding

Typhoon Flooding

Day 10 – Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh 

Eventually, the train travelled back to Hanoi where fortunately we are able to easily change our existing flight to HoChiMinh from Hoi An, to fly from Hanoi instead which gave us a little longer in Hanoi, and extend our airb&b stay.

With a few spare hours in Hanoi, we decided to check out some sights that we weren’t able to during the first few days of our itinerary. We went back to Note Coffee, dwindled away an afternoon in a book cafe and visited the Lotte Observation Deck.

Our new flight time with JetStar left Hanoi at 8:25pm and arrived in Ho Chi Minh around 10:25pm. I had been in contact with our AirB&B host to confirm our arrival time and the new dates, we were provided with some instructions for his uncle to meet us and give us the key and a map of where to find it. We didn’t feel completely safe with this arrangement, and the Airbnb itself was very basic and full of mosquitoes. We were asked – for safety reasons – to switch off the electricity when we would go out as it’s dangerous for the air conditioning to continually run.

This is the Airbnb we booked for four nights costing £54.38 total – not recommended.

Tranquil Book Cafe, Hanoi, Vietnam

Tranquil Book Cafe, Hanoi

Lotte Tower Observation Deck in Hanoi Vietnam

Lotte Tower Observation Deck

Day 11 – Ho Chi Minh

With an extra day to explore Ho Chi Minh, we stopped by the Saigon Central Post Office, the war remnants museum, and had our traditional dinner in Hard Rock Cafe (to collect a t-shirt), we found a reputable tour company in which to book tours to the Cu Chi Tunnels and Mekong Delta for the next couple of days.

As the world’s second-largest consumer of Heineken second to Mexico, Vietnam’s Bitexco Tower in Ho Chi Minh was playing host to a temporary Heineken experience. For 35,000 (less than £2) we could enjoy an entire Heineken experience inclusive of two Heinekens, a bottle of water, and various interactive rooms along your experience ending in the world bar above the sky deck.  Not only that we got to leave with a personalized bottle of Heineken and knowledge of how to get the perfect pour! At the time, it was only open for one year as the world’s second Heineken experience after its home in Amsterdam, and the only one in Vietnam.

Day 12 – Mekong Delta and Floating Markets

The next day we headed out on a Mekong Delta Day Tour including the floating markets. The Mekong Delta actually passes through China, Myanmar, Thailand, and Cambodia before reaching Vietnam, serving the region with more than half of its rice and fish produce.

While we did get to visit a couple of floating markets, we did also have unsuspecting stops at a honey seller, a lunch of elephant fish was included in the price, and a stop at a pottery place. The boat ride itself was pleasant, even with the strong engine vibrations, sitting in the sun with the water lapping against the wooden hull and vegetation – it was bliss.

On reflection, I don’t feel we made the right choice with the tour so it’s just as well I don’t recall the tour company we used. I would recommend visiting the floating markets and other nearby attractions on a better tour. If you’re thinking to visit the floating markets in Thailand, just don’t.

We spent our evening enjoying a local beer at the Rex Hotel Rooftop Bar.

Mekong Delta, Vietnam

Mekong Delta

Day 13 – CuChi Tunnels

Our next tour, with the same tour company, was the Cu Chi Tunnels Half-Day Tour. Given the nature of what we were seeing, it was infinitely better than the trip the day before without any unsuspecting stops.

The Cu Chi Tunnels were dug by the Viet Cong (VC) in the Vietnam War, which involved an extensive network of tunnels that ran tens of thousands of miles of tunnel underneath the Cu Chi district. The tunnels were used for housing troops, transporting and storing supplies, and mounting surprise attacks and booby traps.

The tunnels were preserved and today can be visited as war memorial parks, where visitors can learn more about how they were used before crawling through a widened tunnel to get a first-hand glimpse at what life was like underground.

The experience made me a little weak in the knees and I’m not one for claustrophobia, and we only travelled a few metres underground! It was extremely hot and busy but it really was worth a visit in my opinion.

Cu Chi Tunnels

Descending into the Cu Chi Tunnels

Day 14- Ho Chi Minh to London

As was the case on the inbound flights, we changed to Kuala Lumpur. We departed Ho Chi Minh at 6.55 pm and arrived in Kuala Lumpur at 9:50 pm. Our connecting flight to London Heathrow departed at 11:15 pm and arrived at 4:55 am the next day.

Social Share Buttons and Icons powered by Ultimatelysocial