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.
View Two weeks in Vietnam in a larger map
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)||-|
Where to go, how long to stay there, where to go next, east or west, north or south? How long have you got? How long do you need? Itinerary planning can be almost as maddening as it is fun and here are some outlines to help you get started. Remember, don't over plan!
Burma lends itself to a short fast trip with frequent flights thrown in or a longer, slower trip where you don't leave the ground. There isn't much of a middle ground. Ground transport remains relatively slow, so be wary about trying to fit too much in.
Roughly apple-shaped, you'd think Cambodia would be ideal for circular routes, but the road network isn't really laid out that way. This means you'll most likely find yourself through some towns more than once, so work them into your plans.
How long have you got? That's not long enough. Really. You'd need a few lifetimes to do this sprawling archipelago justice. Be wary of trying to cover too much ground - the going in Indonesia can be slow.
North or south or both? Laos is relatively small and transport is getting better and better. Those visiting multiple countries can pass through here a few times making for some interesting trips.
The peninsula is easy, with affordable buses, trains and planes and relatively short distances. Sabah and Sarawak are also relatively easy to get around.The vast majority of visitors stick to the peninsula but Borneo is well worth the time and money to reach.
So much to see, so much to do. Thailand boasts some of the better public transport in the region so getting around can be fast and affordable. If time is limited, stick to one part of the country.
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.