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Vietnam is a huge country with a variety of natural and man-made wonders to explore. Due to Vietnam’s size, it would be impossible to see everything in just one month. It IS possible, however, to get a taste of the friendly culture and extraordinary nature that Vietnam is famous for, and to see the best of Vietnam! In this Vietnam travel guide, I’ll lay out an ideal Vietnam Itinerary for 1 month (or less).
When to Visit- The Best Month to Visit Vietnam
Vietnam is best visited in the dry season when the temperatures are still mild. March and April are the best months to visit Vietnam because they are the driest months, and the temperature is not too hot yet.
We visited Vietnam in March, and the weather was wonderful. It hardly rained, and North Vietnam was very comfortable with temperatures in the 60s Fahrenheit.
How to get a Vietnam 1 month Visa
The first, and most important, thing you will need to sort out for your Vietnam trip is a Vietnam visa! Vietnam does NOT offer a visa on arrival like most of the other countries in Southeast Asia. But don’t stress! Getting a Vietnam Visa is relatively easy with a little advance planning.
Getting your Visa in your home country
If you are traveling by air to Vietnam from the United States the Visa process is relatively simple. You need to go to the Vietnam E-Visa website and fill out the E-Visa form.
After you submit the form you will receive an approval letter. Take this letter with you on your flight to Vietnam, and when you arrive at customs you will pay the visa fee ($25 USD for single entry or $50 USD for multiple entry), and they will provide you with a visa stamp.
Getting your Visa in Southeast Asia
If you are a US citizen traveling through Southeast Asia and plan to enter Vietnam by land crossing then you will need to obtain a visa before you cross the border from Cambodia or Laos into Vietnam (most travelers cross over from Cambodia).
This can easily be done at any travel agency in Siem Reap or Phnomh Penh. However, be aware that it will take 2-3 days to get your visa, so be sure to allow that time in your travel schedule!
If you are a US citizen and choose to travel by air from a Southeast Asian country into Vietnam then you can follow the instructions above for “getting your visa in your home country”.
Vietnam Transportation- Getting Around Vietnam
There are plenty of good transportation options in Vietnam. For long distance transportation, train travel was our preferred method. For short distances within cities we rented bicycles, motorbikes, and used the Grab app.
Vietnam Train Travel
Train travel is the best way to get around Vietnam! The first class sleeper cabins are very affordable and very comfortable. The train runs all the way up the coast from Ho Chi Minh City to Hanoi, and from there you can even take the train all the way to the northern border town of Sapa!
We took the train whenever possible, and were blown away by the beautiful coastal views out the train window.
Food and snacks are available to purchase on the train, but there’s not much on offer, so be sure to stock up on food and drinks before you board!
We booked our Vietnam train tickets through 12go.asia, a website where you can book transportation all over Southeast Asia. When booking your Vietnam train tickets be sure to book first class sleeper seats! The second class seating cars were often crowded, dirty, and hot, while the first class sleeper cars are clean and comfortable. It’s worth the extra money, trust me!
Grab is a rideshare app similar to Uber, and it is very popular in Vietnam. We used Grab to get around all of the urban areas we visited in Vietnam and had nothing but positive experiences with it!
Vietnam Itinerary 1 Month
Day 1-5 Ho Chi Minh City
Ho Chi Minh City is the perfect first top for your one month Vietnam itinerary. Also referred to as Saigon, Ho Chi Minh City is the charming cultural center of Southern Vietnam.
I have to admit, I was not excited to visit Ho Chi Minh. After having difficult experiences in Bangkok, Chiang Mai, and Phnom Penh I had settled into the idea that I would not enjoy any of the large cities in Southeast Asia. Boy was I wrong!
Ho Chi Minh City is clean, visually stunning, and a LOT of fun! I only scheduled a 2 day stay there, and I so wish that I had given myself more time to explore, and to eat all the incredible street food on offer.
Vietnamese Street Food
Everywhere you look in Ho Chi Minh there are little street food stalls offering the most mouth-watering food you can possibly imagine at rock-bottom prices. I recommend trying as much of it as possible!
Here I’ll go over some of the most common and delicious street foods you will run into in Ho Chi Minh City.
This is a Vietnamese sandwich, traditionally served on a french-style baguette, with different processed meats, fresh veggies, mayo, and a spicy sauce.
I don’t know how they do it, but the Vietnamese have managed to create the perfect sandwich in the form of banh mi. Every banh mi I ate was uniquely delicious, and I think I could actually live off of this one Vietnamese food alone.
Pho is probably the most famous street food on offer in Vietnam, and with good reason. Pho is a noodle soup that can contain a variety of veggies and meats. The real magic of Pho is found in the broth.
I’ve eaten plenty of Pho in the United States, and none of it came close to the flavor explosion I experienced in Vietnam. Definitely do not leave Ho Chi Minh City without sampling a few different Pho street stalls!
This is a noodle dish with grilled pork, noodles, and fresh veggies. While it looks similar to Pho, it is actually very different in flavor and consistency.
The Bun Cha I tried was quite spicy and very delicious! This is another item that varies depending on who cooks it for you, so be sure to sample a few different stalls.
The Vietnamese take their beer seriously, and there are LOTS of local beers to try in Ho Chi Minh! Many street stalls will have locally brewed draft beers available at extremely cheap prices (as cheap as 30 cents for a glass)!
We sampled many different beers in Ho Chi Minh, and we were repeatedly impressed with the quality and variety. As native Oregonians, Tom and I tend to be beer snobs, and it was really fun to try so many beers we enjoyed so far from home!
Day 5-10 Hoi An
From Ho Chi Minh, you can take an overnight train ride to the coastal city of Danang. It’s a 45 minute drive from Danang to Hoi An, and it’s easy to take a taxi (or use the Grab app) from the train station to the lovely Hoi An.
Hoi An is a huge tourist destination, but it’s one of the few extremely touristy towns that we felt still retained plenty of local charm. Hoi An’s Old Town truly feels like stepping back in time, and it’s well worth exploring for a day.
Hoi An is particularly famous for its tailor shops, and you can have a dress, suit, or pants made to your exact specifications within a few days. I decided to have a fun festival dress made while I was in town and it turned out exactly as I hoped for, and at a very reasonable price.
There is also much more to Hoi An than the touristy tailor shops that dominate its center. Rent a bicycle and ride through the rice patties surrounding Hoi An’s old town. Here you will get a taste of local life and possibly encounter a water buffalo grazing in the fields!
You can follow the rice patty paths all the way to the beach where you can easily spend a day lounging in the sun and sipping Vietnamese beer.
Where to Eat in Hoi An
Be sure to eat at the locally owned and operated Morning Glory restaurant. We ate there several times, and every single dish we tried was one of the best foods we’ve ever eaten. This was our top food experience in all of Vietnam so don’t miss out!
Along the river, in the Hoi An old town, there are several Bun Cha and Banh Mi stalls serving incredibly delicious versions of these street food favorites. Be sure to grab a bowl and a stool when you visit.
Finally, for cocktails, walk all the way to the end of the Hoi An night market. When you hit the water look to your left for the little cocktail cart. The lovely Vietnamese men that run this cart will make you a super cheap and delicious cocktail that you can sip while watching the boats glide by. This spot is best at sunset!
Where to Stay in Hoi An
We stayed at a few different properties in Hoi An, and our favorite hotel in Hoi An by far was Melody Villa Homestay. Vicky at Melody Villa takes great care of her guests, and gave us tons of useful tips to improve our visit to Hoi An.
Made-to-order breakfast and free bicycle rentals are included with your stay, and Melody Villa is conveniently located between Old Town Hoi An and the Hoi An beach, which makes it a perfect spot to explore from!
This recommendation is solely my opinion, I paid in full for my stay at Melody Villa Homestay.
Day 10-14 Phong Nha National Park
From Hoi An take a bus to the town of Phong Nha, gateway to Phong Nha National Park in Vietnam. Vietnam is home to the largest cave system in the world, primarily located in Phong Nha National Park.
There are a myriad of cave tours available in Phong Nha, and I recommend that you include a variety of experiences in your Phong Nha itinerary!
Phong Nha Cave
Phong Nha Cave is a great way to begin your exploration of the area. This is the cave that the national park is named for, and while it is very popular with tourists, it really lives up to the hype!
To visit Phong Nha Cave you will board a small river boat in town, and travel a few miles to the entrance of the cave. Here the boat will enter the cave and you will experience the underground river that runs through this spectacular cave.
After 1 kilometer you will disembark from your boat and walk through the cave to the exit, giving you a chance to view the spectacular inner chamber of the cave up close.
If you’d like to explore further into Phong Nha Cave you can schedule a kayak tour in town.
Hang Vom Cave
Tom and I decided we would splurge on one big cave tour in Phong Nha National Park, and we’re so glad we did!
Hang Vom Cave was only discovered in 2012 making it the most recently discovered cave in the area that is open to tourists.
The only way to reach this cave is to join a group trek and hike several strenuous miles into the jungle. Don’t worry, the hard work will be well-rewarded when you reach the cave!
Not only did we get to venture deep into the cave to view stalagmites, underground streams, and some crazy cave insects, but this tour also gave us the opportunity to swim inside this giant cave.
There are several cave tours available in Phong Nha National Park, and I would recommend researching the tours that best fit your interests and fitness levels.
Phong Nha Accommodation
We stayed at Highway 20 Homestay in Phong Nha, and it was one of the best accommodation experiences we had in all of Southeast Asia!
Highway 20 Homestay is owned and operated by Vinh, one of the friendliest people you will ever meet. He helped us plan our entire stay in Phong Nha, and we even had dinner with his family twice during our stay.
The rooms at Highway 20 Homestay are absolutely beautiful. Vinh built them all himself, and he used local, re-purposed materials to create comfortable, attractive rooms for his guests. It was so nice coming back to such a lovely room after a hard day hiking through the jungle!
This recommendation is solely my opinion, I paid in full for my stay at Highway 20 Homestay.
Day 14-18 Ninh Binh
Once you’ve had your fill of Vietnam cave exploration, hop on a bus to the town of Ninh Binh! Often referred to as “Ha Long Bay on land”, Ninh Binh province is home to miles of beautiful limestone karsts jutting up from the mostly flat, green landscape.
Ninh Binh offers a variety of activities for visitors, including cave and boat tours. Additionally, the nationally renowned Bai Dinh Temple Spiritual and Cultural Complex is reason enough to visit the area.
Tam Coc, which translates to “three caves” consists of three natural caves that can be reached on one long boat ride. The boat will take you through rice fields, through the caves, and then back to the village where local women will try to sell you all kinds of souvenirs.
This is a very touristy activity so try to get there early in the morning before the tourist buses arrive and the river gets crowded.
Bai Dinh Temple Spiritual and Cultural Complex
Reserve a full day to explore this giant complex full of temples and spiritual relics! We didn’t know what to expect when we arrives at Bai Dinh, and we were pleasantly surprised by the magnificent scope and beauty of this site.
Interestingly, we encountered very few western tourists here. This is a very important site for the Vietnamese, and most of the people visiting were locals. This made for a meaningful cultural experience, as we found ourselves chatting with local tourists throughout the day.
Visit this site now before word gets out, and it becomes over-crowded like so much of Southeast Asia!
Day 18-25 Hanoi
Next up you’ll visit Hanoi, the urban center of North Vietnam! From Ninh Binh to Hanoi it’s an easy 2 hour bus ride.
Hanoi is a fascinating city with plenty to see, do, and EAT! We rented an apartment here for a week (through Airbnb), and would recommend you do the same. Hanoi is VERY busy, and having an apartment to escape to helped us avoid getting overwhelmed.
This is a must-visit spot in Hanoi. This museum walks you through the history of women’s roles in Vietnamese society from ancient times, through the Vietnam War, all the way up to modern times.
I learned so much about Vietnamese culture through the engaging exhibits in this museum. Be sure to stop and watch the video about modern Vietnamese women in Hanoi, it was eye-opening.
Vietnam Military History Museum
I recommend reserving an entire day to explore this extensive museum which documents the Vietnam War (or the American War, as it is known there) extensively.
While this is certainly a sobering museum to visit, it is fascinating learning about the American War from the Vietnamese perspective.
The Vietnamese people were incredibly welcoming to us everywhere we went, and this museum was no exception. We felt very comfortable exploring this site.
There is an indoor and outdoor section to Vietnam Military History Museum, and I recommend getting there as soon as it opens in the morning to avoid the tour buses that will inevitably begin pouring in after lunch.
The West Lake area of Hanoi is where many expats and young Vietnamese professionals live, and it’s a fantastic spot for a night out.
The eastern edge of West Lake boasts a variety of bars and restaurants, and it’s the perfect spot if you’re craving some American food after three weeks in Vietnam!
We had a delicious burger at Chops Tay Ho, and then walked down the street to enjoy a lakeside cocktail at one of the many nearby bars.
Old Quarter and Hoan Kiem Lake
If you only have a few days in Hanoi then the Old Quarter is the place to go! Street food rules in this busy section of the city, and you can hardly walk 10 feet without running into a stall serving something mouth-watering!
On the southern edge of the Old Quarter you’ll find Hoan Kiem Lake. On the weekends the streets surrounding the lake will be closed to motorized traffic, and this is the BEST time to visit this area!
Be sure to stop and speak with the Vietnamese students who are practicing their English skills in the park. It’s a lot of fun to chat with these adorable kids who are learning to master English!
Day 25-29 Ha Long Bay OR Sa Pa
After Hanoi you have two very popular options to choose from: Ha Long Bay or Sapa.
Ha Long Bay
Ha Long Bay is probably the most popular tourist attraction in Vietnam. You’ve likely seen the epic photos of junk boats sailing through the bay.
The most traditional way to experience Ha Long Bay is on a 2 or 3 day Ha Long Bay cruise. The most reliable cruises are spendy, but if you can afford it this could be a once in a lifetime Vietnam experience.
If Ha Long Bay cruises are outside your budget, consider staying on Cat Ba Island for a few days. This island borders Ha Long Bay, and you can catch day cruises into the bay at significantly cheaper prices than the expensive, multi-day cruises!
In the verrrrrry northern tip of Vietnam lies Sa Pa, a small town that has become the trekking capital of Vietnam. From here you can take organized treks ranging from 1 day to 1 week into the mountains surrounding the town.
On most of these treks you will stay with locals in their homes overnight, making this an excellent way to experience the local culture.
Keep in mind that Sa Pa has become extremely popular in recent years, and much of the town is dedicated to tourism. Do your research before you book a trek, and make sure the company is reputable and reliable before you set off into the mountains.
Day 30-31 Return to Hanoi
Most of your transportation options out of Vietnam will originate in Hanoi, so be sure to leave yourself enough time to get back to the city and get to the airport!
We absolutely loved our month in Vietnam. In fact, Tom and I both agree that Vietnam was our favorite country in Southeast Asia. The people in Vietnam were warm and friendly, the food was the best we’ve eaten anywhere, and the natural beauty of the country blew us away.
If you are trying to decide on a country to visit first in Southeast Asia, I would recommend putting Vietnam at the top of your list!
Would you like to read more about our travels? Here we explain how we traveled Southeast Asia for 6 months with just carry-on bags!
Check out our 6 month Southeast Asia Backpacking route!
We spent 2 years traveling all over North America by RV, read about our adventures here!
Every summer we return to the USA to attend all our favorite festivals, read about those here!
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