Vietnam & Cambodia Itinerary

A curated itinerary to help you plan a trip to Vietnam and Cambodia.

 A strangler tree over Ta Prohm Temple. Fun fact: A scene in Tomb Raider was filmed here.

A strangler tree over Ta Prohm Temple. Fun fact: A scene in Tomb Raider was filmed here.

Explore ancient temples, float the Mekong Delta, and eat all the Pho.

When I started planning a trip to Vietnam & Cambodia, I wasn't sure what to expect. I had been to Thailand previously, but heard that Vietnam & Cambodia were less touristy and developed, so as a result, harder to navigate. Through my extensive research, I ended up planning what I believe is the perfect Vietnam & Cambodia itinerary. In this post, I'm sharing that itinerary with you. 

Some background information...

Cambodia & Vietnam have a fascinating history filled with both prosperity and terror. During the Khmer Empire (9th-15th century), which spanned Cambodia and part of Southern Vietnam, SE Asia was extremely civilized due to it's trade relations with China. During this time, the Angkor Temples were built in what is now the city of Siem Reap. Not only are these temples one of the seven wonders of the world, they are engraved with carvings that tell the country's story. 

This region of Southeast Asia is ripe for a variety of traveling experiences and offers widely different geography and cuisine.  You can visit gorgeous, white sand beaches as well as wander through endless rice terraces, all while falling in love with the extreme kindness of the locals.   

For me, traveling is about immersing myself in a new culture and learning about the way that other people live. The culture in the United States is vastly different from Asia, and experiencing it first hand was my favorite part about this trip. Below I share my curated itinerary to Vietnam & Cambodia in hopes that it inspires you to visit! If you have questions, leave them in the comment section below or reach out at am@twobluepassports.com

xxA

 Walking through streets of Siem Reap, Cambodia.

Walking through streets of Siem Reap, Cambodia.

Vietnam & Cambodia Itinerary

+ Siem Reap, Cambodia (2 days)

I recommend starting your trip in Cambodia and staying for just two days. This is enough time to explore the Angkor Temples, wander the night market and relax with the infamous fish foot massage if you dare. Check out my Cambodia blog post for everything you need to plan your trip here, as well as the top 10 must-see temples. 

 Contemplating the meaning of life at Preah Khan. 

Contemplating the meaning of life at Preah Khan. 

+ Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) (3 days)

From Cambodia, book a flight to Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC) and begin your tour of Vietnam in the south. Ho Chi Minh City, previously called Saigon, is the largest city in Vietnam and used to be a part of the Khmer Empire (Cambodia). The city was a bit overwhelming for me because of the sheer size and chaos, but is still a must-see while you're there. I recommend spending two days exploring the city and then taking a one-day tour to the MeKong Delta in the south.  

HCMC is made up of 24 districts, but the most popular for tourists are District 1 and 3. In District 1, you'll find tour agencies lining the streets, so I recommend starting there and booking your day at the MeKong Delta right when you arrive. I also recommend booking a food tour with Saigon Street Eats. This was the highlight of my time in HCMC!

In HCMC, I spent time exploring the city without a detailed schedule. Here are a few places I found that I recommend checking out. 

+ Eat at My Banh Mi in District 1 for the best Banh Mi you'll find in HCMC. Don't know what Banh Mi is? It's a delicious Vietnamese sandwich on a baguette. You must try it in Vietnam!
+ The Chill Skybar in District 1 is a great place for dinner and drinks. You can look out over the city from the top of a 27th story tower. 
Tân Định Church is an incredible place for photographs. It's located in District 3 and it's pink! 
+ A trip to any city in Asia is not complete without a trip to the market. The Ben Thanh Market is the largest in HCMC. You'll find clothing, textiles, handicrafts, souvenirs and an array of local food options.

 Rowing along the Mekong Delta.

Rowing along the Mekong Delta.

+ Hoi An (4 days)

Hoi An was my favorite destination on this trip. This UNESCO World Heritage site is located between HCMC in the south and Vietnam's capital in the north, Hanoi. From the 15th to the 19th century, Hoi An was a popular trading port and luckily was left untouched during the Vietnam war, so it is very well preserved. Come here for delicious food, shopping, beaches and history.

Here are some of my top picks for Hoi An:

+ On our first night, we ate at the Morning Glory restaurant in downtown Hoi An. It was so delicious that we went back a second time! Morning Glory is part of a restaurant family owned by Ms. Vy, a local female entrepreneur who skillfully plans each menu to perfection. She has over 10 restaurants and I was lucky enough to try two of them...
+ Mermaid Restaurant is the first of Ms Vy's locations and was also incredible delicious. The website says it is currently closed for maintenance, but check back before your trip and plan to have a meal here. 
+ In addition to restaurants, Ms Vy has her own cooking school. I was unfortunately not able to attend, but have heard that it is an incredible experience and highly recommend taking a cooking class while in Hoi An. 
+ Visit the An Bang Beach for a relaxing day in the sun. You can take a taxi from down town and there are restaurants lining the sand. 
+ Go to Banh Mi Phuong and order your second banh mi sandwich of the trip. Check out this video of Anthony Bourdain eating at this very restaurant!
+ Spend a day exploring Hoi An's historical sites. I recommend visiting the Tran Duong House in Hoi An's French Quarter. 

 An Bang Beach, Hoi An

An Bang Beach, Hoi An

+ Ha Long Bay (3 days)

Ha Long Bay is a UNESCO World Heritage site known for the thousands of limestone islands that span the open water. The area was heavily mined during the Vietnam war, and there are still restricted areas where active mines may lay. The most popular experience in Ha Long Bay is to stay in a boat for a few nights and explore. We booked our Ha Long Bay tour through Indochina Junk Cruises and highly recommend the experience. We opted for the 3 day/2 night Dragon Legend junk boat and Yen Duc Village tour. The tour includes transportation to and from Hanoi, (the capital city) so we flew from Da Nang to Hanoi and scheduled a pick up from there. You will have the opportunity to wake up on the water, swim and kayak in the bay and explore a cave on one of the islands. All you need to do is book your boat and the rest of the itinerary will be planned for you!

+ Hanoi (2 days)

Hanoi is the capital and second largest city in Vietnam. Northern Vietnam is a very different experience from Southern Vietnam, so take some time to explore the highlights and learn about the differences between Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City. With just two short days in Hanoi, I didn't have much of an agenda and spent time walking around the Old Town and eating pho from street vendors. 

Here are a couple places I stumbled upon that I highly recommend visiting:

+ Visit Hoàn Kiếm Lake and walk across the bright red bridge that leads to Jade Island. This tiny island on the lake houses Temple of the Jade, built in honor of a military leader in the 18th century. I spend a day walking around this lake and eating pork buns off of the street.
+ Take a walking tour of Hanoi's Old Quarter. The streets give you the true Hanoi experience and are lined with shops, street vendors and locals. Check out this guide for everything you need to know to plan your day there.

For more Hanoi recomendations, check out my friend Jessica's Ultimate Guide to Living like a Local in Hanoi.  

+ Sa Pa (2 days)

End your trip in Sa Pa in northwest Vietnam for a once in a lifetime experience trekking through rice fields. You can take a night train from Hanoi that takes just about 9 hours (see the Getting Around section for more details). Sa Pa still has the charm of a town that hasn't been overrun by tourists, especially once you trek down the rice terraces and discover the villages of the Hmong people, an ethnic minority tribe that lives in the hills of Sa Pa.

The food is delicious, there's a casual nightlife scene, and you can indulge in some top notch spa treatments. I highly recommend Sapa Sisters for your trekking tour. 

I've written an entire blog post to help you plan your trip to Sa Pa. Check it out here

 Trekking with the  Sa Pa Sisters  of the Hmong Tribe. 

Trekking with the Sa Pa Sisters of the Hmong Tribe. 

 Sa Pa rice terraces from above.

Sa Pa rice terraces from above.

 Our tour guides from Sapa Sisters were so strong. During the trek, they practically carried us through the mud. If it wasn't for them, we may not have made it.

Our tour guides from Sapa Sisters were so strong. During the trek, they practically carried us through the mud. If it wasn't for them, we may not have made it.

 These ducks are sporting blue feathers, caused by the indigo dye that the Hmong Tribe uses to color their clothing and garments. Billy Madison, I found your blue duck. 

These ducks are sporting blue feathers, caused by the indigo dye that the Hmong Tribe uses to color their clothing and garments. Billy Madison, I found your blue duck. 

 The view from our Airbnb in Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City). #nofilter

The view from our Airbnb in Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City). #nofilter

Where to Stay

Below are the links to each Airbnb accommodation we chose in Cambodia & Vietnam. I recommend booking these in advance! If you're more of a hotel person, you can search directly from the form below. 

 Ha Long Bay views. 

Ha Long Bay views. 

Getting Around

Siem Reap

Siem Reap has a small downtown area that's very walkable, but you'll need transportation as you explore the Temples. Since our Airbnb was outside of town, we relied on a tuk tuk which is a small motorized cart driven by a local. Tuk tuks are easily accessible in Siem Reap but make sure you negotiate the price before accepting a ride. 

Ho Chi Minh City

We flew from Siem Reap to HCMC and took a cab from the Airport to our Airbnb. When we arrived, we quickly found out that Uber has presence in Vietnam. While there are cabs, Uber seemed to be the safest and easiest way to get around the city. 

Hoi An

To get to Hoi An, you'll need to fly into Da Nang which is about a 45 minute drive from the Airport. Our Airbnb host set up a driver for us that only cost us 300,000 VND (~$15 USD) and most hotels have bus options that you can ask about when you book. If you take a Taxi, just make sure to negotiate the price ahead of time and don't spend more than $20. 

Once in Hoi An, we were able to easily walk around downtown and our Airbnb called us Taxis to get to and from the beach. 

Ha Long Bay

Fly from Da Nang to Hanoi, and schedule your Ha Long Bay tour to pick you up in Hanoi. 

Hanoi

We did a lot of walking in Hanoi, but it is a big city! I recommend using Uber to get around Hanoi. 

Sa Pa

Take the night train from Hanoi to Lao Cai station near Sa Pa. We went through Sapaly and while spending the night on any bumpy train isn't my idea of a good time, the service was acceptable and got us safely to our final destination. You'll need to get a bus or taxi from the train station to your accommodation. Some hotels will set this up for you so plan ahead for this if possible. Once in Sa Pa, you'll be able to walk anywhere you need to go. 

 One of our amazing meals on a food tour with Saigon Street Eats. 

One of our amazing meals on a food tour with Saigon Street Eats. 

TBP Insider Tips

> I recommend booking transportation and accommodations before you arrive. For example, lock down your Ha Long Bay trip and buy Sa Pa train tickets. 

> As an American, I needed a travel visa for both Cambodia and Vietnam. Make sure to check with your local government to plan ahead for this. If you're also a U.S. Citizen, you can check out this website to learn how to get your Vietnam visa. Cambodia was a bit easier, with a website to purchase an e-Visa and print out before you arrive.

> About a month before you leave, visit a travel doctor/clinic to pick up your Malaria pills and any other medications you need to protect yourself on the trip. 

> When exploring the temples in Cambodia, make sure to cover up your knees and shoulders. I was once turned away from a temple for wearing tight leggings so loose options are always best.

> Pack sunscreen and bugspray! This is my favorite sunscreen that you can purchase directly from the link. I've also tried these bug repellent bracelets and wipes that are both great for traveling.

> Be careful crossing the streets in SE Asia. My best practice is to find locals that are also on their way across and follow closely in their footsteps. 

> Beware of Taxi scams. My friends and I were scammed in HCMC before we discovered we could use Uber. It was a scary experience because we didn't know the language and the driver wouldn't pull over. Have a map with you and make sure you have a general idea of where you're supposed to be going if you take taxis. Stay aware of your surroundings!

> To stay connected while you're in Southeast Asia, check out Tep Wireless. I've used them a few times now and they offer a pocket wifi for a very reasonable cost! 

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