15 Day Itinerary – Northern & Central Vietnam

Vietnam grants a free 15 day visa for citizens of the UK, France, Germany, Spain, Italy as well as many of the Nordic countries which is fantastic but, for such a large country, really isn’t a lot! We’ve put together an itinerary which will pack lots into your 15 days and albeit with a lot of travelling will allow you to really make the most of your time and experience all aspects that Vietnam has to offer from cities to beaches to rural countryside!

We used this site to get our visa and it came in a couple of hours! https://www.vietnam-evisa.org/

Hanoi – 3 nights

Fly into the capital of Vietnam and spend a few days being introduced to the Vietnamese culture and most importantly the Vietnamese cuisine! Three nights here will be plenty of time; allowing you to have a first lazy day meandering through the streets of the Old Town and Hoan Kiem lake to familiarise yourself with your surroundings….and the traffic! The next two days are best spent sightseeing the city so be ready to walk far and wide! The top attractions here include Ngoc Son Temple, Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum and house, Tran Quoc Pagoda, Temple of Literature and many museums. In the evenings be sure to tuck in to some of the sizzling street food, sip on a cold Bia Hoi whilst soaking up the vibrant and busy atmosphere!

For our reviews and tips on where to eat and drink check out our posts here!

Ha Long Bay – 1 night

With only 15 days an overnight tour to the majestic Ha Long Bay is probably going to be the best option!

There are so many tours which run to Ha Long Bay so make sure you do your research before you arrive as choosing a reputable agent can be overwhelming and you may not always be sure exactly what you are being sold. Check reviews and make sure what you’re getting is worth the price! A good tour should include food and some activities like kayaking so that you can actually get off the boat and explore the beauty of Ha Long Bay yourself!

We used a company called Handspan as recommended by a friend. This would normally be out of our budget but luckily it was a treat as part of a visit from my family! The tour was fantastic and if you have the cash to splash we would definitely recommend them. From start to finish it was very well organised by a group of friendly staff and the number of people aboard the boat was quite small so it still felt like an intimate trip. The food was delicious and the activities were well organised and allowed for some sensational views of the famous Ha Long bay!

Hanoi – 1 night

All good tours to Ha Long Bay will include a transfer to and back from Ha Long Bay to Hanoi and as this usually returns back in the evening, another night in Hanoi is on the cards. So get your drinking boots on and check out the local street bars.

Phong Nha – 2 nights

The quickest and of course the cheapest way to get to Phong Nha from Hanoi is via night bus. Although we are not huge fans of night buses we have to say our experience with the ones in Vietnam was comfortable and safe. The bus arrives in Phong Nha at the unfortunate hour of 4am but hopefully your hostel/guesthouse will let you check in early. The best backpacker jaunt here is Easy Tiger hostel which allows you to rest your head on one of the sofas in the reception! Aaaah!

Spend your two days in Phong Nha exploring the real rural landscape of central Vietnam. Some also say this is the Ha Long Bay of the land; the scenery is really epic and best explored by bike! Read more about what we did in our two day stay!

Hue – 1 night

Moving on to the historical city of Hue, where a night bus from Phong Nha will get you there early doors to ensure you can make the most of your day here.

Hue is famous for the Imperial City which was home to some of Vietnam’s Nguyen dynasty emperors. Take a few hours to explore the temples and palaces within its walls and be awed! If you still have time in the afternoon be sure to check out some of the important tombs around the city including Khai Dinh and Tu Duc.

Hoi An – 3 nights

Hoi An is most certainly a must visit for any trip to Vietnam and not only is exploring it mesmerising but just getting to this city can be a real adventure!

The winding Hai Van Pass is the road that connects Hue and Hoi An and we would say spending a day to cruise along this scenic road is a day well spent! Leave Hue early and arrive in Hoi An as the sun begins to set with a spectacular ride in between.

Read about our experience on the Hai Van Pass with Motorvina here!

You may arrive in Hoi An somewhat windswept and a little sore but we guarantee that by the end of your stay you’ll feel relaxed, refreshed and like you never want to leave! Amble the yellow streets of the quaint old town, muse it’s historical buildings, dip your toes in the sand at An Bang beach, while away hours in cafes and dine on some of the best food in Vietnam.

Hoi An is a little gem and will leave you wishing you had longer to soak up its colourful yet laid back atmosphere! Unfortunately, it’s time to return north for the last few days of your trip.

To save time the best option here is to fly from nearby Da Nang airport back up to Hanoi in the morning. Spend an afternoon finding a place where you can book a nights stay in advance for your very last night  in Vietnam. This way you can leave your main luggage here while visiting Sa Pa which makes moving around in this area a lot easier – trust us! We recommend Hanoi Backpackers original hostel as they are very accommodating with holding luggage. Then take your last night bus at 10pm to reach Sa Pa by morning.

Sa Pa – 2 nights

In a complete contrast from the jutting rocks of Ha Long Bay and the busy city streets of Hanoi, Sa Pa is the last stop on our itinerary. The deep valley, rolling rice terraces as far as the eye can see and fresh mountain air will take your breath away!

Sa Pa town is extremely touristy and nothing to write home about so we recommend getting more off the beaten track and staying down in the valley itself in one of the many village home-stays. We stayed in the village of Ta Van at the Sa Pa Volunteer Homestay which was in an incredible setting. The best and cheapest way to get down into the valley from Sa Pa town is to take a moto-taxi.

Spend your two nights taking in some of the picturesque walks or treks through the valley. These will take you through more local villages, over rice terraces, past waterfalls and will leave you speechless at every turn. Just to note the weather in Sa Pa can be pretty cold so be sure to take some warmer clothes!!

Read all about our experience here!

If you’re still feeling lively on your departure day try walking back to Sa Pa town. We made the 8km uphill walk and really didn’t regret it – plus there’s always a steaming bowl of Pho waiting somewhere on the other end! If this doesn’t take your fancy then catch a ride and spend the day visiting the Silver or Love waterfalls nearer to Sa Pa town.

Hanoi – 1 night

Take the 4pm bus back to Hanoi from Sa Pa where you will spend a last evening in the hustle and bustle reminiscing about the delights of last few weeks and most likely planning when you can return!

This itinerary holds a fair amount of travel and you have to get used to long night buses but, in the end, we think it is definitely worth it and you will no doubt fall in love with this awesome country!


C & J


2 thoughts on “15 Day Itinerary – Northern & Central Vietnam

  1. Hi C&J,
    I am so happy for you guys that you visited such a lovely place. I am planning to go to vietnam cos I like to vita along bay. Is Phong Na the place where we could raft or go on a boat which has the view of mountains and paddy fields in it?

    Thanks in Advance

    1. Hi Prasanna,

      We absolutely loved Vietnam, its a great place to visit! I think the place you are talking about is Tam Coc. You can canoe down a river through padi fields with a view of the mountains there. Check it out, hope you have a great time!

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