Travelling through Vietnam from top to tail -- Hanoi to Saigon or the reverse, is by far the most common way first time travellers and backpackers approach the country. Long and thin, Vietnam is well suited to a trip like this -- just don't forget just how long it really is!
Starting in the capital Hanoi, you head out first to Ha Long Bay before heading south, hitting pretty much all the tourist highlights of Vietnam -- Hue and the DMZ, Hoi An, Nha Trang and Mui Ne before finishing it off in Saigon.
You can do this trip in either direction, and with Vietnam's international border crossings with Cambodia, Laos and China, it is easy to blend this into more extended trips.
The suggested minimum time for a trip like this is ten days to two weeks, though three to four weeks will be a far more comfortable pace. Vietnam is a bigger country than you may think, and the land transportation can be very slow.
1) Hanoi -> Ha Long Bay (stunning scenery)
2) Hanoi -> Hue (Imperial capital, temples, trips to DMZ)
3) Hue -> Hoi An (riverside town, shopping, tailoring, )
4) Hoi An -> Nha Trang (Beaches, boat trips)
5) Nha Trang -> Mui Ne (beaches, sand dunes)
6) Mui Ne -> Ho Chi Minh City (museums, nightlife, day-trips)
One day: Fly domestically from Hanoi to Hue
Two days: Skip Halong Bay (not recommended)
Two days: head south from Ho Chi Minh City to explore the Mekong Delta from Can Tho.
Three days: head north from Hanoi to the mountain town of Sapa.
This trip links in easily with the Cambodia one month adventure.
To help you work out how you'll get around, we've listed the trip durations for the various forms of transport available. Note that with the exception of flight times, these are average trip times, so no hate mail if you take the slow train.
|VIETNAM: Top to tail|
|Hanoi||Ha Long Bay||-||-||3:00||-|
|Hue||Hoi An||-||4:00||2:30 (Da Nang)||-|
|Hoi An||Nha Trang||-||10:00||9:00 (Da Nang)||-|
|Nha Trang||Mui Ne||-||7:00||7:00 (Ma Lam)||-|
Stuart McDonald co-founded Travelfish.org with Samantha Brown in 2004. He has lived in Thailand, Cambodia and Indonesia, where he worked as an under-paid, under-skilled language teacher, an embassy staffer, a newspaper web-site developer, freelancing and various other stuff. His favourite read is The Art of Travel by Alain de Botton.
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Long and thin, Vietnam looks straightforward, but the going is slow and the distances getting from A to B can really bite into a tight trip plan. If you're not on an open-ended trip, plan carefully.
This is where itinerary planning really becomes fun. Be sure to check up on our visa, border crossing and visa sections to make sure you're not trying to do the impossible. Also, remember you're planning a holiday -- not a military expedition.