Vietnam and Thailand Itinerary: How to Spend 3 Weeks in Vietnam and Thailand

If you are planning to visit Southeast Asia, this 3 week Thailand and Vietnam itinerary will show you the perfect way to spend 3 weeks in Southeast Asia.

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Southeast Asia is a popular travel destination for tourists from all over the world. It’s a region known for its rich history and culture, stunning natural beauty, friendly people and delicious cuisine. It’s a perfect destination for travelers seeking for a unique, fun and unforgettable experience.

There are many countries in Southeast Asia, including Brunei Darussalam, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos PDR, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Viet Nam, etc. Traveling through Southeast Asia to visit every country would take months or even a year.

From the pristine beaches of Thailand and the Philippines to the lush jungles of Indonesia and Malaysia, the region offers a wide range of natural wonders to explore. For the history buff, the ancient temples of Angkor in Cambodia and the colonial architecture of Hanoi in Vietnam offer plenty of cultural treasures to explore in Southeast Asia.

If you only have 3 weeks in Southeast Asia, you won’t be able to see every country. Therefore I suggest just 2 countries to explore: Vietnam and Thailand. Vietnam and Thailand are popular destinations to visit in Southeast Asia and you will have a great time there.

This 3 week Southeast Asia itinerary will cover the highlights of Thailand and Vietnam so you get a variety of different experiences in both countries.

Why Should You Visit Thailand and Vietnam?

Thailand and Vietnam are two of the most popular destinations in Southeast Asia, and for good reason.

Thailand, known as the “Land of Smiles,” is a country that offers a perfect balance of culture, nature, and relaxation. From the bustling city of Bangkok to the ancient temples in Chiang Mai, you can indulge in delicious street food, and experience the world-famous hospitality of the Thai people.

Vietnam is a country rich in history and culture. From the French colonial architecture of Hanoi to the ancient city of Hue, Vietnam is a country that offers a fascinating glimpse into its past.

Visitors can also explore the country’s stunning natural beauty, from the limestone cliffs of Halong Bay to the rice paddies of the north. Vietnam is also known for its delicious cuisine, with dishes like pho and banh mi that are popular around the world.

Vietnam Mua Cave Pagoda | Thailand and Vietnam itinerary and travel guide
Link to dress here

Thailand and Vietnam are two destinations that offer a perfect blend of culture, history, nature, and relaxation. From bustling cities to the peaceful countryside, there’s something for everyone in these two amazing countries. Whether you’re looking for a cultural experience, an adventure, or just some time to relax on the beach, Thailand and Vietnam are destinations that are sure to leave a lasting impression.

When is the best time to visit Thailand and Vietnam?

Thailand and Vietnam have a diverse geography and many micro climates within each country. But in general, Southeast Asia has a dry season and a wet season.

Dry season is generally from November to April and rainy season from May to October. It is best to not visit during rainy season as there can be flooding especially in Central Vietnam during that time.

Best months to visit Thailand

The best time to visit Thailand is between November and February, during the cool and dry season. This is also the peak tourist season, so expect higher prices and larger crowds.

Wat Mahathat, Ayutthaya in Thailand | Vietnam and Thailand itinerary

If you’re looking for a quieter time to visit, consider going during the shoulder seasons of September to October, although you may experience some rain.

If you prefer not to travel in the heat, you may choose other months to travel to Thailand rather than March to May. I went in April and it was 40C+ every day.

Best months to visit Vietnam

The best time to visit Vietnam is during the cooler and drier months of December to February. If you are visiting Central and South Vietnam, the winter months can be quite comfortable.

Ba Na hills golden hand bridge | Is the Golden Hand Bridge in Ba Na Hills Vietnam worth it?

Sapa in the North is best visited during July to September when you will see the green rice terraces while you may experience some rain, it won’t be like the coastal flooding in Da Nang.

In addition if you do plan to visit the mountainous regions of Vietnam, the winter months (November to March) can be quite foggy, so summer and fall months may be better.

How Do You Get Around Thailand and Vietnam?

It is very easy to get around Thailand and Vietnam, which is also why these two countries are often first choices for backpackers and foreign tourists. You can easily get around and travel within Thailand and Vietnam by flying, trains, buses, taxis, luxury vans, tours, tuk-tuks and renting motorbikes.

Vietnam sleeper train luxury cabin | Vietnam luxury sleeper train guide

In Southeast Asia, you can easily book trains and buses using 12go, which even includes reviews of the various buses and trains so it’s easier to help you decide which one to take.

If you are thinking about ride sharing services, the best app is Grab, since Uber and Lyft do not operate in Southeast Asia. You can link your foreign credit card to Grab (or you can pay cash after you take the ride).

Specifically within Thailand, metered taxis are a good option in Bangkok and other major cities, while tuk-tuks are a fun and affordable way to get around in smaller towns and shorter distances.

Hoi An motorbikes

The easiest way to travel within cities and towns in Vietnam is to rent a motorbike. If you cannot ride one, you can also ask your hotel to help you arrange private taxi and luxury van if you are planning to travel from city to city.

What to Pack for Vietnam and Thailand?

Since you will be spending 3 weeks in Southeast Asia, it is important you bring the right things with you to make the trip more enjoyable and easier.

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Summer clothes with layers: Southeast Asia is normally pretty warm so bring summer clothes. However if you are going between December and February and planning to visit mountainous regions, then be sure to bring layers with you as it can get chilly in the mountains.

Comfortable shoes: you will be doing a lot of walking in Vietnam and Thailand, so be sure to bring comfortable shoes (sneakers, sandals). If you are planning to hike, then be sure to bring hiking shoes.

Cash: Vietnam and Thailand are very cash heavy countries. Even though you can pay for hotels and most meals with a credit card, most attractions and vendors still only take cash. If you do not have enough cash, be sure to bring a no fee ATM card as withdrawing from local ATM machines give you the best exchange rate.

Body Wipes: if you are planning to take a sleeper bus or train, you won’t be able to shower until you go to a hotel.

Ear plugs & eye mask: These are super useful if you are trying to sleep on sleeper buses and trains since it could be loud and bright!

Medications: If you have prescription medications you should be sure to bring them. You can buy generic brands in Thailand and Vietnam if necessary.

Plug Adapter: If you are traveling to Southeast Asia from the US or UK, you will need to get a plug converter/ adaptor so you can charge your electronics.

For the most part, you can buy things you need such as toiletries, sunscreen, hats, lotion, and other necessities in Southeast Asia when you travel there. They are generally cheaper than what you get in the US or UK and it helps you to save space in your luggage.

3 Week Vietnam and Thailand Itinerary

Day 1 – 4: Bangkok, Thailand
Day 5 – 8: Chiang Mai (or the islands)
Day 9 – 13: Central Vietnam
Day 14 – 21: Northern Vietnam

Thailand and Vietnam are both large countries, so this 3 week itinerary can only show you parts of both countries that I think are unique and beautiful.

If you want particular experiences within Thailand or Vietnam, you can always customize this itinerary based on your interest.

Day 1 – 4: Bangkok, Thailand

Start your trip in Bangkok, Thailand’s vibrant capital city. You can spend a few days exploring the city’s temples, markets, and street food scene.

Day 1 in Bangkok

Assuming you are landing in Thailand on Day 1, you should take this time to relax and try to adjust jet lag. But if you are feeling up for it, you can visit Wat Paknam, a popular temple among locals and tourists alike due to its unique architecture and spiritual significance.

Wat Paknam in Bangkok Thailand | things to do in Bangkok Thailand

Wat Paknam is famous because of its role in making the Dhammakaya meditation method known in Thailand. It is also easily recognizable because of the seated 69m golden statue that was finished in 2021.

You can also spend some time visiting China Town, getting a Thai massage and checking out the fancy shopping center Icon Siam on your first day in Thailand.

Day 2 in Bangkok

During your 2nd day in Bangkok, start your day by visiting the Grand Palace, one of the most popular tourist attractions in Bangkok. The palace was once the home of the Thai kings and is a great example of traditional Thai architecture.

Bangkok Itinerary - Grand Palace

Within the Grand Palace complex, be sure to not miss the temple of the Emerald Buddha (Wat Phra Kaew), famous for the seated jade Buddha clothed in gold.

Wat Pho in Bangkok Thailand reclining Buddha
Wat Pho

After visiting the palace, slowly walk over to Wat Pho, known for its 46-meter-long reclining Buddha statue.

If there is time, you can also enjoy a river cruise around the city and get off at Wat Arun to enjoy the sunset.

Wat Arun in Bangkok Thailand at night | how to spend a few days in Bangkok
Wat Arun

Finish your night by visiting the famous Khao San Road, a vibrant street that is packed with bars, restaurants, shops and street vendors. You can try very interesting and exotic street food on Khao San Road.

Khao San Road in Bangkok Thailand | Best Thailand Bangkok itinerary

Day 3 in Bangkok

Most people who visit Bangkok opt for a couple of day trips not far from Bangkok after exploring the city.

The floating market near Bangkok is a popular tourist attraction where vendors sell their goods from boats on the water. There are several floating markets in and around Bangkok, but the most famous one is Damnoen Saduak Floating Market, which is located about 95km (1.5 hour drive) from Bangkok.


At the floating market, visitors can see vendors selling a variety of goods including fresh produce, local handicrafts, souvenirs, and cooked food from their boats.

You can combine Damnoen Saduak Floating Market with the famous Maeklong Railway Market (where a train comes through the market) with this tour.

At night after you are back from this day trip, be sure to go watch a Muay Thai match, the ancient martial art of Thailand. Unlike wrestling or boxing, Muay Thai involves the use of fists, elbows, knees, and shins to strike opponents.

Muay Thai match in Bangkok Thailand

If Muay Thai is not of interest to you, you can always grab a drink at some of Bangkok’s best rooftop bars such as Sky Bar at Lebua Hotel which was featured in the movie Hangover 2. Other nice rooftop bars include Moon Bar, Red Sky restaurant, Octave, and SEEN.

Day 4 in Bangkok

During your last day in Bangkok, you can either take a day trip to visit temples in Ayutthaya or explore the Erwan Museum and Ancient City in Samut Prakan, which is near Bangkok.

The city of Ayutthaya was the second capital of the Kingdom of Siam; it was once the largest and most prosperous city in Southeast Asia. However it was destroyed by the Burmese army in 1767.

ayutthaya Buddha head in the tree trunk | How to get to Ayuttaya from Bangkok

Today Ayutthaya is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, home to many temples and ruins, including the famous Wat Mahathat, known for its iconic Buddha head in the roots of a tree.

The Erawan Museum is a unique 3 story building shaped like a giant elephant and is home to a collection of art and antiques from Thailand and other Southeast Asian countries.

Ancient City Bangkok Thailand | Day trips from Bangkok
Ancient City

The Ancient City is a beautiful outdoor museum that showcases Thailand’s history and culture. You can see the replicas of ancient temples, palaces, and villages, and explore exhibitions showcasing traditional Thai art and culture at the Ancient City. It is also one of the most popular photo spots for Instagrammers because of its beautiful architecture.

If you are on a budget, take an overnight train (12-14 hours) or overnight bus (9-10 hours) to the next destination: Chiang Mai.

You should definitely get a Bangkok Explorer Pass if you are planning to do the day trips and cooking classes. You can save a lot of money with this pass!

Where to stay in Bangkok

Bangkok is a huge city so you can find accommodations that fit your budget, whether it is hostels or 5 star hotels. I have visited Bangkok a few times and stayed at various places ranging from really cheap to moderately expensive.

Lebua Hotel Bangkok
Lebua Hotel

Budget accommodation in Bangkok: Mad Monkey Hostel, the Yard Hostel, NaPpark Hostel, Once Again Hostel

Medium range accommodation in Bangkok: Villa Bangkok, Avani Plus Riverside, SKYVIEW Hotel, Kimpton Maa-Lai

Luxury hotels in Bangkok: Siam Kempinski Hotel, Shangri-La, Lebua, The Peninsula Bangkok

You can also book Airbnbs in Bangkok if you are traveling with a large party and prefer to stay together.

Day 5 – 8: Chiang Mai

If you are not taking the overnight train or bus from Bangkok, you can book an early flight from Bangkok to Chiang Mai.

Chiang Mai is the second largest city in Thailand and it is located in the northern region of Thailand. Chiang Mai is known for its rich history, culture, and natural beauty.

The city is surrounded by mountains and lush forests, and is home to many historic temples and landmarks. Chiang Mai also has a laid-back and relaxed vibe, with plenty of opportunities for outdoor activities.

Many people actually like the chill vibe in Chiang Mail more than Bangkok, but I think both cities are unique and are enjoyable in different ways.

Day 5: Chiang Mai

Chiang Mai was founded in 1296 and was the capital of Lanna Kingdom until 1558. As a former capital city, it is not surprising to find a walled old city protected by a moat.

During your first day in Chiang Mai, you can explore this fortified old city and visit the many temples there. Some of the most famous temples to visit in Chiang Mai include Wat Chedi Luang, Wat Phra Singh and Wat Chiang Man.

Wat Chedi Luang Temple in Chiang Mai, Thailand

Wat Phra Singh in Chiang Mai | Things to do in Chiang Mai
Wat Phra Singh

After spending some time exploring temples and walled city, you can take a half day cooking class. Chiang Mai is actually pretty famous for its cooking classes and you can check out local markets and cook a delicious Thai meal. Taking a cooking class was actually one of my favorite things to do in Chiang Mai.

One of the most popular things to do in Chiangmai among visitors is to visit its night markets, such as Chiang Mai Night Bazaar, Wua Lai Walking Street, or even the Chang Phuak Gate Night Market. At these night markets you can shop for souvenirs and try some delicious street food.

Chiang mai Night Market | how to spend 3 days in Chiang mai

Day 6: Chiang Mai

After spending the entire day yesterday in the city center of Chiang Mai, today you will venture out a little to do some light hiking and visit Doi Suthep-Pui National Park.

Wat Pha Lat is a serene and tranquil Buddhist temple nestled in the lush greenery of the Doi Suthep-Pui National Park. You can visit Wat Pha Lat by car or by foot via Monk’s Trail, which is a unique and rewarding experience.

Wat Pha Lat in Chiang Mai
Wat Pha Lat

After Wat Pha Lat, make your way to Wat Phra That Doi Suthep, one of the most popular Buddhist temples in Chiang Mai. It is located on the top of Doi Suthep mountain and can be visited by car or climbing up 309 steps.

Wat Phra That Doi Suthep in Chiang Mai, Thailand
Wat Phra That Doi Suthep

Once at the top, you can marvel at the stunning golden pagoda, which is believed to enshrine a relic of the Buddha. You will also have a sweeping panoramic view of the surrounding area from the temple’s terrace.

If you don’t want to have to find your way and transportation to Doi Suthep, you can book this sunrise tour that takes you there.

In the afternoon you can relax at a cafe in Chiang Mai or get a Thai massage (I highly recommend getting a massage everyday while you are in Thailand!).

If you did not get a chance to watch a Thai boxing match in Bangkok, you can watch one in Chiang Mai in Thailand’s first ever Muay Thai stadium.

Day 7 & 8: Day Trips From Chiang Mai

There are a number of fun half day and full day trips you can do from Chiang Mai, which is also why people love visiting Chiang Mai.

Zip lining in Chiangmai Thailand | Best things to do in Thailand

If you seek adrenaline and adventure, then you will love zip lining near Chiang Mai. I screamed my way across the jungle when I went zip lining in Chiang Mai but you are probably more brave than me.

Chiang Rai White Temple in Thailand

A visit to the iconic White Temple in Chiang Rai is a must for anyone in the region. The White Temple, also known as Wat Rong Khun, is a unique Buddhist temple that is designed, rebuilt and owned by a local artist. Besides the White Temple, Blue Temple and Black House are also popular points of interest in Chiang Rai.

Where to stay in Chiang Mai

Budget Accommodation in Chiang Mai: Tanita House, Stamps Backpackers, Family Home Chiang Mai

Medium Range Hotels in Chiang Mai: Cross Chiaing Mai Riverside, U Chiang Mai, El Barrio Lanna

<Alternative Day 5 – 8 in Thailand>

If temples are of no interest to you, don’t worry, you can still enjoy Thailand!

Thailand is famous for its white sand beach and islands, in fact many people fly to Thailand just for its beautiful beaches and water activities.

Phuket boat in Thailand | Is Phuket worth it?

Instead of going up to Chiang Mai, you can fly down south to Phuket from Bangkok.

Phuket is a vibrant beach town with a lot of resorts, restaurants and bars. There are also numerous day trips to the various islands and beaches from Phuket. In fact Phuket is where most first time visitors to Thailand stay.

If you want to get away from the bustling and hustling of Phuket, you can always stay at the more quiet Krabi or Phi Phi Island and still enjoy all the water activities and white sand beach.

Phi Phi Island in Thailand
Phi Phi Island

Day 9 – 13: Central Vietnam

Central Vietnam is a popular region of Vietnam that offers a rich history, interesting culture, delicious cuisine and beautiful scenery.

Central Vietnam is home to some of the country’s most iconic attractions, such as the ancient city of Hue, the UNESCO World Heritage site of Hoi An, the beautiful Marble Mountains, and the fun filled Ba Na Hills.

You will spend the next 4 days exploring Da Nang, Hoi An and Hue.

Before traveling to Vietnam, make sure you have the necessary Vietnam tourist visa and document to enter Vietnam.

Day 9: Da Nang

Catch the first flight out from Chiang Mai (or Phuket) to Da Nang to maximize your day in Da Nang.

Da Nang is the largest city in Central Vietnam, known for its beach, Marble Mountain, religious sites, and its proximity to Ba Na Hills, Hue and Hoi An.

To maximize your day in Da Nang, I would recommend picking either the Marble Mountain area or So’n Tra Mountain to visit. If you have a lot of time you can also try to visit both of these sites.

Marble Mountain is actually 5 limestone peaks in Da Nang; these 5 peaks are known as the five elements in nature: water, fire, earth, wood and metal.

Marble Mountain Danang Vietnam

There are a number of pagodas, caves and towers on Marble Mountain and it is one of the most visited areas in Da Nang.

The most famous attractions on Marble Mountain include the Linh Ung Pagoda and Non Nuoc Pagoda, Tam Thai Pagoda, Huyen Khong Cave, Hoa Nghiem Cave and Non Nuoc Stone Carving Village. You will also get beautiful a view of the coast line from Marble Mountain.

Lady Buddha Da Nang
Lady Buddha

Son Tra Mountain (Monkey Mountain) is also a famous attraction area in Da Nang, famous for Son Tra Linh Ung Pagoda (not to be confused with the one on Marble Mountain) and its Lady Buddha (the tallest Buddhist statue in Vietnam) and Ban Co Peak.

Where to stay in Da Nang

If you are looking for a luxurious experience, then I would highly recommend Intercontinental Danang on Son Tran Mountain. You can take a cable car from the hotel to the beach and have complete privacy. There is also a very Instagram worthy and delicious restaurant onsite at the hotel.

Other highly popular beach resorts in Da Nang include Sala Danang Beach Hotel, HAIAN Beach Hotel and Monarque Hotel Danang.

Day 10: Ba Na Hills

Ba Na Hills is an amusement park about 40 minute drive from Da Nang city center. Insta-famous for its Golden Bridge, Ba Na Hills is a nice day trip from Da Nang for the entire family.

Ba Na hills cable car

Ba Na Hills also has one of the longest cable cars in Vietnam and the whole ride in itself is an attraction and takes about 20 minutes from the bottom of the hill to the amusement park.

Golden Bridge Ba Na Hills | Is Golden Bridge at Ba Na Hills worth it?
Golden Bridge

Aside from the famous Golden Bridge, Ba Na Hills also has a indoor amusement park, French village, religious sites such as Linh Ung Pagoda (different from the ones in Da Nang), beautiful French gardens, a wax museum, many different restaurants, and even a Starbucks.

If you want to avoid crowds and get the best photo at Golden Bridge, you should stay one night up in Ba Na Hills at the Mercure French Village hotel so you can have early access to the cable car to Golden Bridge the next morning.

Day 11: Hoi An

After taking your photos at the Golden Bridge and grabbing breakfast, it is time to check out and travel to Hoi An. From Ba Na Hills you can get a taxi or Grab to Hoi An, which is about 1 hour away by car.

Hoi An was an international trading center in Vietnam back in the 16th and 17th centuries. Because of its trading activities, there were many foreign merchants that came to Hoi An and set up their own quarters.

Ba Mu Temple in Hoi An | Where to go in Hoi An Old Town
Ba Mu Temple
Hoi An yellow wall instagram spots

The Old Town of Hoi An has a number of architectural monuments such as shrines, temples, pagodas, ancient houses and they are preserved intact. It is now an UNESCO World Heritage Site.

While in Hoi An, you can get a tourist ticket (passes to see up to 5 attractions) and visit some of the most famous places in Hoi An, which include:

  • Japanese Covered Bridge
  • Assembly Halls (Phuc Kien, Quant Trieu, Trieu Chau, Hai Nam)
  • Old houses (Tan Ky, Quan Thang, Duc An, etc)
  • Communal Houses
  • Museums
Japanese Covered Bridge in Hoi An

But to be honest, Hoi An is best experienced just by walking around the different streets, admiring the lanterns and architecture, people watch at a cafe, getting custom dresses and shirts made at a tailor, checking out Hoi An night market and taking an evening boat ride on the Hoai River.

Hoi An lanterns | Best places to visit in Hoi An

Hoi An boat ride at night

If you have more time, you can also check out the beach at Hoi An or take a day trip to either Cham Island and My Son (ancient ruins), or take a coconut forest basket boat.

Where to stay in Hoi An

Most visitors stay near the ancient town of Hoi An although you can also stay at a resort near the beach.

If your plan is to spend most of your time exploring the old town of Hoi An, then I would highly recommend these hotels:

Q Villa in Hoi An Vietnam
Q Villa
  • Q Villa Hoi An: We stayed here during our trip. The room was large, bright and clean and it was within walking distance to everything.
  • Serenity Villa: one of the best valued accommodations in Hoi An with a pool and within walking distance to the Hoi An night market and other tourist sites

Read Next: One Day (24 Hours) in Hoi An itinerary and travel guide

Day 12 & 13: Hoi An & Hue

Spend early morning in Hoi An to explore and take some photos while there is no crazy crowd like the previous afternoon. Early morning is actually the best time to explore Hoi An if you want photos since most tours come later in the day.

You can also grab some delicious pho at Phở Tùng, one of the best reviewed Pho restaurants in the old town. Or you can get Bahn Mi (Vietnamese sandwich) from the famous Bánh Mì Phượng, the most popular Bahn Mi places in Hoi An after it was featured in Anthony Bourdain’s – No Reservations.

Banh Mi Phuong restaurant in Hoi An

After a morning in Hoi An, take a bus or private taxi to Hue, the ancient capital of the Nguyen Dynasty in Vietnam.

Hue Imperial Citadel in Vietnam
Imperial Citadel

Abandoned water park in Hue Vietnam
Abandoned Water Park

Hue is a large city and the main attractions include:

  • Imperial Citadel: walled citadel including palaces of the imperial family
  • Thien Mu Pagoda: 7 story Buddhist temple by Perfume River east of Imperial Citadel
  • Ancient tombs: tombs of Emperor Tu Duc, Emperor Khai Dinh, Emperor Ga Liang, Emperor Minh Mang
  • Dong Ba Market: the oldest market in Hue
  • Abandoned Water Park
  • Hue Night Walking Street: a street full of restaurants and bars
Minh Mang Tomb in Hue Vietnam
Minh Mang Tomb
Tu Duc Tomb
Tu Duc Tomb

With about a day and half in Hue, you will be able to see all the main attractions, try some delicious local food before either taking an overnight train to Ninh Binh or taking a short flight to Hanoi.

Where to stay in Hue

Hue is a large city and personally I think the best places to stay in Hue are either close to the imperial citadel or the Night Walking Street.

Budget Accommodation in Hue: Hue Melody Hostel, located right at the lively night walking street area.

Luxury Accommodation in Hue: Melia Vinpearl Hue, we loved staying here! It’s in the tallest building in Hue, with an indoor pool, gym and other luxury amenities but at a moderate price.

Melia Vinpearl Hue
Melia Vinpearl Hue

Hue is quite big and the tombs are not in the city itself. The best way to get around Hue is to rent a scooter or hire a private taxi to take you around the different spots. I would not recommend using Grab outside of the city as you may not be able to get cars in the outskirts of town.

Day 14 – 21: Northern Vietnam

Northern Vietnam is a stunning region that is characterized by its beautiful mountain landscapes, diverse ethnic communities, and rich cultural heritage. The region is home to many of Vietnam’s most iconic destinations, including the UNESCO World Heritage site of Halong Bay, the rice paddies of Sapa, the incredible landscape of Ninh Binh, and the stunning waterfall of Cao Bang.

You will spend the next week of your 3 week Thailand and Vietnam trip exploring some of the best spots in Northern Vietnam before flying home from Hanoi.

Day 14 & 15: Ninh Binh & Hanoi

If you flew to Hanoi from Hue, you would need to take an early morning bus or private taxi or luxury van from Hanoi to Tam Coc in Ninh Binh. Or if you took a overnight train from Hue to Ninh Binh, you will need to ask your hotel to book you a taxi from Ninh Binh Train Station to Tam Coc to start your day.

Ninh Binh Mua Cave view in Vietnam
Mua Caves

Ninh Binh is a popular region in Northern Vietnam, about 2-3 hours by car from Hanoi. Located southeast of Hanoi, Ninh Binh is often referred to as “Halong Bay on Land” due to its striking karst landscape, which is made up of towering limestone cliffs, lush forests, and meandering rivers.

Trang An Boat ride
Trang An Boat ride. Link to dress here
Bai Dinh Pagoda
Bai Dinh Pagoda

Ninh Binh is also home to many ancient temples, pagodas, and other historical sites and view points and it is no wonder it is one of the most popular day trips from Hanoi. With about 2 days in Ninh Binh, you can see some of the best attractions:

  • Mua Caves: beautiful view points of the entire area
  • Bai Dinh Pagoda: one of the largest Buddhist temple complexes in Southeast Asia
  • Hoa Lu Ancient Capital: ancient capital from the 10th to 11th century
  • Bich Dong Pagoda: ancient pagoda nestled at the foot of a towering mountain
  • Tam Coc Boat Ride: a scenic 1.5 hour boat ride in the town of Tam Coc that takes you through the rice paddies and limestone cliffs and caves
  • Trang An Boat Ride: a beautiful 3 hour boat ride that has 3 different routes and lets you see caves and religious sites with the option of getting off at each site

If you have more time in Ninh Binh, you can also check out Van Long Wetland Nature Reserve, caves, Thung Nham Bird Park and Cuc Phuong National Park.

The best way to get around Ninh Binh is to rent a scooter but you can also hire a private taxi to get around or even take tours. If you don’t want to stay in Ninh Binh you can also take tours from Hanoi. If you want to take tours from Hanoi, I highly recommend this tour and this tour which cover all of the best attractions listed above.

Tam Coc Pier in Ninh Binh Vietnam
Tam Coc Pier

If you decide to travel around Ninh Binh by scooter or taxi, then I would recommend visiting Bai Dinh Pagoda, Hoa Lu Ancient Capital and Trang An Boat ride on the first day since they are not too far from each other.

On the second day you can go to Mua Caves, Bich Dong Pagoda and take the Tam Coc boat ride. Mua Caves do get really crowded once all the tours come, so it’s best to visit early in the morning to avoid the crowd. All of these are not too far from Tam Coc so they should be done together.

Where to stay in Ninh Binh

Most people stay in the town of Tam Coc when they visit Ninh Binh because there are a lot of restaurants and bars.

Tam Coc Horizon Bungalow

We personally stayed at Tam Coc Horizon Bungalow and I only have good things to say about them. We had our own bungalow and the staff was extremely accommodating and friendly. They even provided us with a bag of snacks and fruits when we were leaving.

Hanoi in the afternoon on Day 15

Photo of a busy intersection in Hanoi Vietnam that's popular with tourists

Finish your Ninh Binh excursions around noon so you can take a bus or luxury van back to Hanoi to explore this wonderful capital city of Vietnam.

Hanoi Train Street
Hanoi Train Street

Hanoi Train Street
Link to dress here

There is a lot to see, do, drink, and eat in Hanoi. The main attractions in Hanoi near the Old Quarter include:

  • Hanoi Train Street: a street full of cafes famous for its daily train passing
  • Temple of Literature: a stunning example of traditional Vietnamese architecture and a symbol of the country’s dedication to education and scholarship.
  • Hoan Kiem Lake (and Ngoc Son Temple): a picturesque lake in the middle of Old Quarter surrounded by historical landmarks and popular attractions
  • One Pillar Pagoda: a famous Buddhist temple in Hanoi known for its unique architecture
  • Quan Thanh Temple: a historic Taoist temple that is one of the four Sacred Temples in Hanoi
  • Ho Chi Minh’s Mausoleum: the resting place of President Ho Chi Minh that offers an insight into Vietnam’s history
  • Imperial Citadel of Thang Long: a UNESCO World Heritage Site in Hanoi
  • St. Joseph Cathedral: a famous neo-Gothic cathedral; its architectural style resembles Notre Dame in Paris and it was constructed during the French colonial period
  • Hanoi Night Market: a vibrant weekend night market in the center of Old Quarter that sells food, souvenirs and clothing items
  • Ta Hien Beer Street (best visited at night): a busy street with restaurants and bars and seating outside that is lively at night

After visiting Hue, you may be less interested in some of the religious and historical sites above and that’s ok!

Hanoi Beer Street at night
Hanoi Beer Street

You can simply enjoy Hanoi by wandering through the narrow streets of Old Quarter, people watch at a Cafe and try Egg Coffee, finding street food at every corner, shopping for souvenirs or clothes, or simply grabbing a drink and dinner at Ta Hien Beer and taking in the lively vibe of the city.

The Note Cafe in Hanoi Vietnam
The Note Cafe

Where to stay in Hanoi

Most people stay in Hanoi Old Quarter when they visit Hanoi for the first time. There are so many restaurants, cafes and shops in the Old Quarter and most tours will also only pick up from hotels in the Old Quarter.

There are plenty of accommodations for all budgets in the Old Quarter and they are within walking distance to all the attractions and restaurants.

Babylon Premium Hotel in Hanoi Vietnam
Babylon Premium hotel

Budget Accommodation in Hanoi: Old Quarter View Hostel, Hanoi Central Backpackers Hostel

Medium ranged Accommodation in Hanoi: La Storia Ruby Hotel, L’Heritage Diamond Hotel

Luxury Accommodation in Hanoi: Babylon Premium Hotel & Spa, Meritel Hanoi

I have stayed at a number of the hotels listed above during my most recent trip and have only good things to say about the staff and location of these hotels.

Day 16 & 17: Halong Bay & Hanoi

Halong Bay is one of the most popular natural attractions in Vietnam and it is especially convenient to visit Halong Bay from Hanoi.

Halong bay cruise sunrise

Most people visit Halong Bay by doing a cruise and there are different types of Halong Bay cruises:

  • One day cruise (no overnight)
  • 2 Day 1 Night cruise
  • 3 Day 2 night cruise

There are also visitors that spend a night or two on Cat Ba Island, the largest island in Halong Bay instead of doing a cruise.

Cat Ba Island Halong Bay in Vietnam
Cat Ba Island

If you are planning to take a Halong Bay Cruise which most visitors do, there are cruises for all budget types, from as little as $100 a person to over $1000 a night per cabin.

You can ask your hotel to help book a Halong Bay cruise or book one yourself either on the cruise’s websites or Some of the most luxurious cruises include Orchid Premium Cruise, Emperor Cruises, Elite of the Seas, Stellar of the Seas.

Orchid Classic Halong Bay Cruise deck

Most people book a 2 day 1 night Halong Bay Cruise and the schedule generally looks something like this:

Day 1 of 2 day Halong Bay Cruise

  • 8am pick up from Hanoi
  • 12pm boarding Halong Bay Cruise
  • 1pm Lunch
  • 2 – 4pm activities such as cave exploring, beach, kayaking, swimming – depends on your particular cruise company
  • 4-6pm: Happy hour on board
  • 6pm: dinner
  • Evening: squid fishing and relaxing

Day 2 of 2 day Halong Bay Cruise

  • 6:30am cooking class or Tai Chi
  • 8am Breakfast
  • Morning activity, brunch and checking out
  • 3pm back in Hanoi

When you are back in Hanoi around 3-4pm, you have more time to explore Hanoi and take an overnight train from Hanoi to Sapa.

See my complete guide on Halong Bay to see if it’s worth visiting.

Day 18 – 20: Sapa

Sapa is a popular city in northern Vietnam, about 380km away from Hanoi. The town is situated at an altitude of 1,600 meters and is surrounded by breathtaking mountains and rice terraces.

Sapa is home to several ethnic minority groups, including the Hmong, Dao, and Tay; you can visit their villages when you trek through Sapa.

If you took an overnight train from Hanoi, you would arrive in Lao Cai, a city near the border of China, around 6am. You will need to ask your hotel or trekking company to help arrange van transportation from Lao Cai train station to Sapa town.

If you took an overnight bus from Hanoi, you will arrive in Sapa instead of Lao Cai, but you might need transport from the bus station to Sapa Town.

Some of the most popular activities in Sapa include trekking through rice terraces and ethnic minority villages, Fansipan, Cat Cat Village and checking out Sapa Town itself.

Trekking in Sapa

Trekking is one of the best things you can do in Sapa if you want to get away from the town and see rice terraces and experience nature and how the Hmong people live.

Trekking in Sapa rice terrace view

The most popular trekking tours in Sapa include day treks (from 9am to 3pm) or 2 day 1 night treks with an overnight homestay in one of the villages.

You can either book a trekking tour with a tour guide, trekking company or some people do trek in Sapa by themselves without a guide. We used Sapa Sisters and the guide was really informative and friendly.


Fansipan is known as the “roof of Indochina” and it is the highest mountain in Vietnam.

Fansipan Cable Car

Before cable cars were built, people used to trek 2-3 days to go to the peak of Fansipan. But now there is a cable car that can take visitors up to Fansipan without doing the overnight treks. The cable car only takes about 15-20 minutes to take you up to Fansipan, and you will need to hike about 15 minute to the top of the peak.

On a clear day you can see the beautiful view of the surrounding area and mountains from Fansipan Summit at 3143m (10312 feet). It generally takes about half a day to visit Fansipan.

Cat Cat Village

Cat Cat Village is a popular tourist town about 2km (20-30 minute walk) from Sapa town.

Cat Cat Village near Sapa, Vietnam cloudy day

You can either take a taxi or simply walk to Cat Cat Village from the center of Sapa. On a clear day you will see a beautiful view of rice terraces as you take a leisurely stroll to Cat Cat Village.

You need to purchase a ticket to enter Cat Cat Village. Once inside, you can explore the narrow alleys, rose gardens, photo spots, cafes, bamboo forest, the famous waterfall CatScat (this is how the name Cat Cat Village came about).

Cat Cat Village waterfall

Many visitors rent traditional ethnic minority clothing when they visit Cat Cat Village. The shop owners will help you with make up and hair as well, so it is a pretty fun experience. It usually takes at least 3-4 hours to fully explore Cat Cat Village.

Explore the town of Sapa

The town of Sapa is an attraction in itself. There is a large lake that many people check out. There are also a lot of restaurants that are popular among tourists.

There are a number of photo spots (usually at cafes and restaurants) that visitors go to take Instagram worthy photos. On a clear day you can get a nice view of the rice terrace from certain spots in Sapa town.

Some of the most popular photo spots in Sapa include Swing SaPa, Ansapa Village, and Moana Sapa.

Where to stay in Sapa

Sapa has a number of nice hotels, some offer fantastic views of the valley and rice terraces.

  • Topas Ecolodge: one of the most scenic lodges in Sapa with a gorgeous pool and view of the rice terraces
  • Sapa CatCat Hills Resort: beautiful hillside Sapa Hotel with an outdoor pool
  • Laxsik Ecolodge: thinking about getting your own lodge? This ecolodge is the perfect choice for you with an amazing mountain view and an outdoor pool
  • Pistachio Hotel Sapa: famous for its pool and view, Pistachio Hotel is located in the town of Sapa and is within walking distance to restaurants and attractions.

If you have more time in Thailand or Vietnam, you can check out the beaches of Thailand by flying to Phuket and going to Koh Phi Phi or Krabi and do some snorkeling or just lying on the white sand beach.

If you do not want to visit Northern Vietnam, you can certainly travel south from Da Nang and visit cities such as Da Lat, Ho Chi Minh City or the beautiful island of Phu Quoc.

I hope this 3 week Vietnam and Thailand itinerary will inspire you to explore the beautiful countries of Southeast Asia, a destination for every dream.

How Safe is Thailand and Vietnam?

Thailand and Vietnam are very safe countries for travelers, even for solo female travelers. This is also why there are many backpackers that love to travel to Vietnam and Thailand.

Both Thailand and Vietnam have a low crime rate and the locals are friendly and helpful. However as with any tourist destinations, there is always petty crime so be sure to watch your belongings.

If you are planning to rent motorbikes in Thailand and Vietnam, be sure to drive defensively and wear a helmet. You should also consider getting travel insurance when traveling by motorbikes.

World Nomads provides travel insurance for travellers in over 100 countries. As an affiliate, we receive a fee when you get a quote from World Nomads using this link. We do not represent World Nomads. This is information only and not a recommendation to buy travel insurance.

Another potential risk while traveling in Vietnam and Thailand is food safety. Be sure to eat at reputable restaurants to minimize the risk of food poisoning. Some people also advise avoid getting ice but I never had any issues, in fact I have never gotten food borne illness in Thailand and Vietnam.

You should also be aware of scams targeting tourists, such as taxi and tuk tuk scams that overcharge tourists using “meters”. Always be aware of any “too-good-to-be-true” deals offered by tour operators and vendors.

Halong Bay cruise in Vietnam with swimming pool

Useful Resources to Plan Southeast Asia Itinerary

For transportation within Southeast Asia

  • 12go for train and bus booking
  • Grab app for getting taxis

For hotel booking within Southeast Asia

For booking tours within Southeast Asia

  • Klook: Singapore based tour booking website with the most number of tours and budget prices
  • Getyourguide and Viator are also good websites to book tours

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