If you’re looking for the most adventure-packed and thrilling 3-week Vietnam itinerary, you’ve come to the right place!
This article is going to include a day-by-day account of a trip I finished in September and October 2018, filled with tips and tricks. I’m going to discuss the good and the bad while remaining completely unbiased.
This article is NOT monetized by affiliate links and sponsored mentions. I only write this to serve you my experiences on what I think is the most thrilling 3-week itinerary in Vietnam!
Let me apologize for a couple of things first. One, this is going to be a MONSTER article, with a lot of detail about things you should know about Vietnam. I’ve added a lot of maps and pictures, which makes this post long (but super helpful!). I’ve included a table of contents in order to help you out a little here.
Second, this post WILL make you want to go to Vietnam. So for those of you who aren’t yet planning to visit Vietnam, I’m sorry because reading this will make you want to go!
With all that said, let’s get started!
Table of contents
- Table of contents
- Some information regarding the goals of this 3-week itinerary for Vietnam
- Day 1-2: Arrival at Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon)
- Day 3: Mui Ne
- Day 4-5: Dalat
- Day 6-7: Hoi An
- Day 8-9: Hue and the Hai Van Pass
- Day 10: Phong Nha Ke Bang National Park
- Day 11: Ninh Binh (Tam Coc)
- Day 12: Hanoi
- Day 13-14: Ha Long Bay and Cat Ba Island
- Day 15: Getting to Ha Giang
- Day 16-19: The Ha Giang Motorbike Loop
- Considerations after having finished this 3-week Vietnam itinerary
As you can see from the table of contents, this post is divided into the main highlights of the trip. If you’re only looking to find information on one specific highlight, then I’d suggest you jump straight to that section.
But I’m obviously going to recommend that you stick around for the rest as well since you’ll learn exactly how we – my girlfriend and I – traveled through this country in such an efficient way. We got to see all these highlights in just 3 weeks (20 days to be exact!).
It was an epic itinerary, and we didn’t meet anyone during our trip that had the same ambitious planning! But we managed to pull it off.
Have a look at this animation of our entire trip, created in Google Earth based on our GPS locations!
This animated travel map shows you exactly where I’ve been during my 3 weeks in Vietnam
So this is based on our actual GPS records. My phone kept track of all our locations, which made it super easy for me to create this quick animation. It shows you exactly where we’ve been and how we traveled during this trip.
Don’t worry, the specific highlight sections contain more detailed maps! 😉
Some information regarding the goals of this 3-week itinerary for Vietnam
My girlfriend and I wanted to go to Vietnam for quite some time. We are pretty “productive” when it comes to traveling: we try to make the most of our time in any country.
That includes our 3 weeks in Vietnam.
We wanted to see everything that was on our list. Which we did.
Does that mean we’ve seen everything that Vietnam has to offer?
Not by a long shot.
You see, my girlfriend and I are nature lovers. That means we wanted to see the beautiful landscapes more than anything. Mountains, oceans, valleys, forests: those are the things we get excited about!
That means that we had to skip some other aspects of Vietnam. This had the following implications for our travel plan:
- We wanted to spend the least amount of time in the cities. Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) and Hanoi were relatively short stops on our itinerary. Some people stay longer (these cities have a boatload of cultural heritage), but my girlfriend and I are simply not that interested in those things. Or at least not at this moment in our lives. We completely skipped cities like Da Nang, Nha Trang, Hai Phong, and others. Those will have to come during a later visit!
- We had to take a couple of domestic flights in order to fit our schedule. We booked flights from Dalat to Da Nang (connecting to Hoi An) and from Dong Hoi to Hanoi.
- We had to plan everything as we traveled through the country. We wanted to remain flexible on our trip since the weather and availability can change overnight in Vietnam. We had to be flexible!
- This means we booked train and bus tickets 2 days prior to departure, and we booked most hotels and day trips 1 day prior to arrival. Only 1 activity was fully booked when we tried to book (the 3-day cruise to Ha Long Bay and Cat Ba Island). This meant we had a day of relaxing in Hanoi.
- Our plan contained only 2 days of relaxing and “float”. It was a VERY tight planning. 😉
Anyway, with all that out of the way, let’s get to the actual details of this trip. It starts on day 1 when my girlfriend and I arrived in Ho Chi Minh City after a long flight!
Day 1-2: Arrival at Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon)
Day 1: Arriving at Ho Chi Minh City
We arrived in Ho Chi Minh City early in the morning and were quite exhausted from our long flights.
We bought a local SIM card (they’re dirt cheap) from the many vendors in the departure hall, so we had access to the 4G network straight away! Super convenient.
After buying a ticket for the airport shuttle bus to the city center, we were introduced to the madness and chaos that is the Vietnamese traffic.
Oh my God, these motorbikes are both fascinating, thrilling, scary, crazy and awesome all at once. Watching the traffic from the safety of an air-conditioned bus was a lot of fun.
We found a nice little coffee shop in the city center and decided to just drop our bags and relax. We waited there until we were allowed to check-in at our first hotel. When we finally checked in, we just stayed in our room and relaxed, in order to recover from our jetlags!
Day 2: Getting to Mui Ne
We had one goal on day 2, and that was to catch the train to Mui Ne.
Booking a train in Vietnam was strangely enough quite challenging for us. You see, there is the Vietnam Railways website that shows all departure and arrival times, which is great. But we tried booking a ticket through this website multiple times, and they never allowed us to book our tickets.
We thought it had something to do with the platform closing sales a couple of days prior to departure, but it was pretty fuzzy.
Then we found this train ticket platform (https://dsvn.vn/) and read on Tripadvisor that this is what we needed. The problem we had with this is that the website is terrible to use, and doesn’t even have proper English translations… It was pretty frustrating, actually.
Then we found all these ticket brokerages, like 12go, and they were exactly what we needed. They had a clear and functioning website and sold the train tickets we wanted. Hurray! The only downside is these guys charge a nice little commission for all their hard work. We eventually ended up paying double the base rate for our tickets, but at last, we were set to go.
We caught our train from the Ho Chi Minh train station to the Ga Suối Vận train station, from which we took a cab to Mui Ne.
Day 3: Mui Ne
After a lovely night in the Mui Ne Ocean House, we were looking forward to our first highlight of the trip: the Mui Ne Sand Dunes. We woke up at 04:00 AM in order to hop on the early “sunrise tour”.
This trip was VERY underwhelming.
We arrived at the sand dunes way after the sun had already come up, which was disappointing. Then, we were dropped at a parking lot, where dozens of other tourists were grouped into lines in order to rent an ATV at an extra charge. My girlfriend and I skipped this experience, as we felt it was super tourist trappy and quite honestly not worth it. We took some pretty pictures of the area and continued on our trip.
The next stop was the Fairy Stream.
I’m not going to waste a lot of words on this “highlight”. Just skip it. It’s not worth it (however cheap it may be).
In the end, Mui Ne left a sour taste in our mouths. It wasn’t the start of the trip we expected.
Luckily, the next highlight (Dalat) was MUUUCH better.
If you’re short on time, I’d honestly recommend you to skip both Ho Chi Minh and Mui Ne and fly straight to Dalat after arriving in Ho Chi Minh City. These places were (by far) the least exciting places of our trip, and we’d much rather have spent a day extra in the North of Vietnam!
Our “Sunrise” tour was over before the end of the morning, after which we booked a bus via our hotel and continued our way to Dalat that same day.
Day 4-5: Dalat
Day 4: Motorbiking in and around Dalat
For our full day in Dalat, we rented a motorbike at our hotel and headed out to the beautiful hills and valleys in the area. This was a magical experience, and infinitely better than what we did in Mui Ne. We finally felt like our trip to Vietnam had properly started!
About renting a motorbike in Vietnam as a tourist:
I did a LOT of reading about the legal situation of driving a motorbike as a tourist. The plain and simple truth is that it’s illegal to drive a motorbike in Vietnam as a tourist unless you have a domestic driver’s license (which is impossible to get as a tourist). So basically, every tourist you see on a scooter is seriously f*cked in case of an accident.
Then why does every tourist in Vietnam seem to hire a motorbike anyway?
Because nobody in Vietnam cares. Every company and hotel will hire you a motorbike, without even asking for your license.
Before you decide to rent a motorbike in Vietnam, please consider the following things:
- You have to be AS SAFE AS POSSIBLE. Reckless driving will get you killed.
- Driving a motorbike in Vietnam is extremely intensive. You have to be 100% focused at all times, as Vietnamese people simply don’t give a damn about your safety.
- Any damage you inflict on others and yourself will not be insured.
- Be prepared for challenging road conditions
- You have to be confident in your own driving skills
With that out of the way, let me tell you that driving a motorbike in Vietnam is a LOT of fun. I’ve rented a motorbike on 2 additional occasions and it was always great. My girlfriend and I shared a motorbike and made sure to put safety first at all times. We did NO reckless driving or speeding whatsoever. Our experiences have been great.
You have to decide for yourself if you’re willing to take the risk. If you decide not to rent yourself, you can always find Easy Riders who can transport you to the highlights in your area. I have no experience with these guys, but heard nothing but great stories.
In the end, we paid 150.000 VND for a full day of rental at our hotels (this translates to $7 or something…) and we were on our way!
We visited the Elephant Waterfalls, the Pongour Waterfalls, and a beautiful coffee plantation. These were all magnificent stops and I highly recommend them! At the end of the day, we wanted to also visit the Lang Biang mountain, but at that time it was pouring rain. So we returned to our hotel (soaking wet) and called it a day. A very successful and fun day!
This Vietnam trip was finally shaping up to our high expectations!
Day 5: Relaxing in Dalat and catching our flight to Da Nang (Hoi An)
Our 5th day was relatively uneventful as our only goal was to catch our flight to Da Nang. This was our first domestic flight and it was crucial that we were on time. The airport at Dalat is small so it doesn’t host that many flights. We needed to catch our flight if we wanted to keep up with our ambitious planning!
So we explored the city of Dalat in the morning, visited the lake and the Crazy House (both were nice, but honestly not that special in my opinion), and stayed at an amazing coffee shop.
We luckily made our flight and checked in to a lovely hotel room in Hoi An at the Phuc Thao Villa!
Day 6-7: Hoi An
Day 6: Relaxing and exploring Hoi An
If you go to Vietnam for the typical cozy streets filled with lanterns, then you’ll love Hoi An!
We rode around with our bikes (the hotel let us use theirs) and enjoyed the beautiful weather and the many shops and stalls. Hoi An is a beautiful town, and it was amazing to stroll through the alleys.
Hoi An is also very small, so after a nice lunch, we decided to go back to the hotel and to relax at the pool. We were pretty exhausted from the previous busy days!
In the evening, we had the best Vietnamese dinner EVER at the Ms Nam restaurant and were more than ready for the next day!
Day 7: Diving at the Cham Islands!
This day was one of the highlights of our trip!
My girlfriend and I booked a diving excursion to the Cham Islands and were really excited about it.
We had booked this trip via our hotel the day before, and spend 1.900.000 VND (about 85 USD) each for 2 dives. We were picked up at our hotels and hopped on the boat towards the islands. Let the diving begin!
I was pretty anxious about diving, especially since it was my first time and I worried that my ears wouldn’t adjust to the pressure. The diving guides were super friendly and reassured me that things would be just fine. And they were.
The diving was fantastic. After reaching the target depth – it took me about 10 minutes to descend and adjust to the pressures – it was magical.
I saw so many beautiful fish, plants and coral patches. It was absolutely beautiful.
I filmed the first dive with a cheap knock-off GoPro that I had received as a company gift once. Unfortunately, the supposedly waterproof casing wasn’t so waterproof after all. After about 4 minutes of filming, my camera died and never turned on again. Ah well, that only gave me more time to focus on the beautiful things that were right in front of me!
The second dive was great as well, just like the rest of the excursion. After a nice lunch on the main Cham Island, we were taken back to the mainland and dropped off at our hotel. The crew of the Hoi An Diving Center was brilliant, and both my girlfriend and I really enjoyed our day.
Day 8-9: Hue and the Hai Van Pass
Day 8: Driving a motorbike across the Hai Van Pass into Hue
This was another special day.
We had heard a lot about traveling the Hai Van Pass. It is one of the most hyped-up highlights of Vietnam, mostly because of this Top Gear famous episode.
We rented a single motorbike at Motorvina in Hoi An. The great thing about this company is that they allow you to drive the motorbike one way, and they will transport your backpacks and any luggage to a central pick-u point for your convenience!
This way, we experienced this glorious motorbike road trip without having to worry about our backpacks!
It took us a full day – including a LOT of photo stops – to reach our next hotel in Hue. We first covered a lot of busy highways in Da Nang. After some time, we finally reached the pass itself, and it was really spectacular. Driving on a pass like this is amazing and the weather was pretty good as well!
We initially wanted to stop at the Elephant Springs, but later decided against it because of the weather. It started to get cloudy…
We decided to continue our way to Hue, but unfortunately traveled a big part of it on the boring and busy highway. In all honesty, this was not really fun or what I expected.
So shortly before reaching Hue, we decided on a small detour along the coast, which was MUCH BETTER.
My advice to you? Try to avoid the highways and stick to the roads that run along the coast. They are much prettier. It will take a little longer, but it’s much more enjoyable this way!
30 minutes before our arrival, it started pouring rain again, so we eventually arrived at our hotel in Hue soaking wet! We didn’t care, as we were lucky enough to experience the Hai Van Pass is good weather!
We returned our motorbike, collected our backpacks and spent the rest of the evening relaxing in our hotel room. We needed some rest after this long and exciting day!
Day 9: Exploring the Cital of Hue and catching a train to Dong Hoi
We had 2 goals for our 9th day on the road.
- To catch (and book) our train to Dong Hoi
- To visit the Imperial Citadel of Hue
We spent a good part of the morning trying to book a train ticket again. After struggling to figure out the many websites that either offer or broker a train ticket, we asked the staff of our hotel to help us.
The friendly Vietnamese woman behind the reception booked us 2 train tickets within 3 minutes!
That meant we had the rest of our day to explore the historical city center of Hue. Our train left at 15:30, so we didn’t have much time.
We walked to and paid the entry fee for the Citadel, which was 2x 150.000 VND, so about 13 USD total. Even though my girlfriend and I don’t necessarily get excited about these historical buildings, it was still a very cool experience! What surprised us most was the absence of any other tourist in the area!
We were quite obviously traveling Vietnam in the off-season, but we didn’t expect these tourist attractions to be this deserted! It was awesome since I personally don’t really like to wait in line and to wrestle my way through dozens of tourists.
After having seen the Citadel, we called a cab and caught our train to Dong Hoi! The train ride was pretty nice, as it gave us another brief moment to relax and refuel our batteries.
It was another successful day!
Day 10: Phong Nha Ke Bang National Park
We had booked an excursion from Tripadvisor to visit a number of caves in the Phong Nha Ke Bang National Park. I was really looking forward to this day, as this area hosts some of the world’s biggest caves!
On this day, we were visiting the Dark Cave and the Phong Nha cave.
We started with a quick ride on a zip line into the mouth of the Dark Cave.
The Dark Cave is a spectacular cave with a river of water in it. We had to swim through the entrance and crawl our way to a natural pool of mud: a very cool experience!
The Phong Nha Cave was just as special. This cave is ENORMOUS. Our excursion guide took us on a boat through the huge cave system, until we were allowed to explore the cave ourselves by foot. These caves are truly spectacular and not to be missed when you’re in Vietnam!
Our tour ended at 16:00, after which we headed back to civilization.
The tour guide dropped us off at the Dong Hoi Airport since we had booked our second and last domestic flight to Hanoi!
Day 11: Ninh Binh (Tam Coc)
This was one of the busiest days on our 3-week itinerary.
We had arrived the prior night in Hanoi by plane, and we were picked up at 08:30 in the morning for our next excursion. This excursion would take us to Ninh Binh, where we were going to visit Tam Coc in the Trang An Complex!
They say that the Trang An Grottoes are the equivalent of Ha Long Bay, only then above water. We were excited!
But before we arrived at the beautiful Trang An Grottoes, our excursion first stopped at the Bai Dinh Temple. This temple is apparently the largest of its kind in Vietnam and therefore a tourist highlight. To be honest with you, my girlfriend and I weren’t impressed by it.
Yes, it’s pretty and big, but not why we were traveling in Vietnam.
Anyway, after a fantastic lunch, we headed to the actual Trang An Grottoes Scenic Landscape Complex. We first cycled around for a while, which was relaxing. On our bike ride, we saw some of the famous goats that were scraping the side of the steep mountains. It was a very strange but cool sight.
We then entered a small dragon boat on which we toured across the peaceful waters between the many limestone mountains.
This was truly magnificent.
The calm waters in combination with the fierce limestone peaks were just fascinating to witness. This boat trip lasted over an hour, and each minute was breathtaking.
We were back in Hanoi at 19:00, and after a quick bite, we were ready for bed!
Day 12: Hanoi
After a number of VERY busy and exhausting days, we were really looking forward to a day of peace and rest.
We initially had tried to enter our next trip – to Ha Long Bay – on this day, but it was already fully booked. So we had to wait a day. We really didn’t mind, as this gave us the perfect opportunity to relax and refuel our batteries, so to speak.
And relaxing, we did!
We booked a long massage at the lovely Cinnamon Spa in Hanoi and explored the old quarter of the city. In our opinion, Hanoi doesn’t really have a lot to offer besides the typical Vietnamese chaos, markets, and shops, so we decided to take things extra easy. We walked around the lake a bit, enjoyed a nice coffee and just relaxed in our hotel.
It was exactly what we needed.
Day 13-14: Ha Long Bay and Cat Ba Island
Day 13: Hopping on a cruise to Ha Long Bay
On our 13th, my girlfriend and I finally got to see Ha Long Bay.
It was one of the things I looked forward to the most.
Luckily, the weather forecast for the trip was perfect: clear blue skies without a single drop of rain. We were very lucky!
We had booked a 3-day trip to Ha Long Bay and Cat Ba Island with Vega Travel. It cost us $185 per person, which included most meals during our trip. And before I cover the details of this multi-day tour, I’d like to say that this tour was absolutely fantastic.
We were picked up at our hotel in the morning, and after a pleasant bus ride to Ha Long, we checked into our room on the cruise boat at 12:00.
The cruise headed off to the beautiful Ha Long Bay right away!
We were served a great lunch on board and were able to relax for a moment until we reached the actual bay. It was really exciting as we slowly neared the beautiful limestone rocks. It was an amazing sight to see: these rock giants shooting out from the water with a vertical cliff.It reminded me of Milford Sound in New Zealand in a way.
After we arrived at the famous Ha Long Bay, we were able to kayak in a remote area of the bay and even entered a number of small islands. The weather was absolutely beautiful, which made us smile from ear to ear non-stop.
The evening was super relaxing on the boat: we made fresh spring rolls (Vietnamese specialty!) and had an awesome dinner followed by relaxing drinks on the top deck of the boat. It was the PERFECT day.
Day 14: Continuing our cruise to Cat Ba Island
After a lovely night on board of our cozy, old and charismatic boat, we woke up to a lovely breakfast and sunrise! It was still very early at 6:00, but for a reason: the day was going to be packed with activities!
It started with a visit to the Surprise Cave, another epic and huge cave inside one of the limestone mountains. It was really spectacular: as if the Ha Long Bay wasn’t beautiful enough already…
We then climbed to the top of Titop Island, a small rocky limestone mountain with a beautiful viewpoint at the top. It was – again – a beautiful day with sun and a clear blue sky. After an intense climb, my girlfriend and I cooled off in the nice waters on the beach. It was really nice!
It was only 10:00 by then, so we still had a LOT of cool activities on our planning.
We set sail to Viet Hai, a small and remote village on Cat Ba Island. On arrival, we rode a bicycle on the island after which we hiked to a local viewpoint for a spectacular view. We saw a lot of eagles circling the sky here, which was really cool.
After we returned to the boat, we finally enjoyed an amazing lunch at 13:00.
We then were given the opportunity again to kayak through the Cat Ba Bay and jump in the refreshing waters. At 16:00, we arrived at Lan Ha Bay, where we were staying in a hotel for our 14th night in Vietnam.
This day was absolutely fantastic, and the tour guide did an amazing job to stuff it full of cool activities! Needless to say, my girlfriend and I were – again – quite exhausted when we got to our hotel!
Day 15: Getting to Ha Giang
Day 15 was special: we woke up on Cat Ba Island and eventually went to sleep in Ha Giang. I can tell from experience that that is a LONG distance in Vietnam!
Let me explain how we did it.
We woke up in our hotel on Cat Ba Island as part of our 3-day cruise expedition that we started on day 13. We had carefully checked the planning of this tour: we’d be back in Hanoi by 17:00.
We didn’t want to spend an extra day in Hanoi, so we booked a sleeper bus to Ha Giang for 19:00! According to our nice tour guide, this would not be an issue at all. We booked the sleeper bus via one of the many ticket brokerages. We probably paid a couple of dollars of premium (commissions), but eh… We didn’t really care.
We woke up quite early again to get back to our cruise, which set sail back to Ha Long. It took us about 2,5 hours to reach the city of Ha Long, where we arrived at 11:00. We immediately hopped on the bus back to Hanoi, where we arrived at 15:45, well before the anticipated arrival time!
This meant there was even enough time for my girlfriend to go back to the Cinnamon Spa to get another massage!
We had a simple fast food dinner and we’re well on time to catch our sleeper bus to Ha Giang!
Now, this sleeper bus was quite the experience.
We first had to get transported to the actual sleeper bus, via a minivan. And that 30-minute minivan ride was quite stressful. The driver drove like a madman, there were no seatbelts in the van (not rare in Vietnam), and the driver even got pulled over for speeding!
When we eventually reached the actual sleeper bus, we were in for a nice surprise. We had seats all the way in the back, where there are two levels of 5 seats. The bus was entirely full, so that meant I was sandwiched between a local Vietnamese dude and my girlfriend. Also, I’m quite tall – for those of you who don’t know, I’m from the Netherlands – so the seating arrangement wasn’t really comfortable to begin with!
Needless to say, I didn’t do much sleeping on this sleeper bus.
Luckily, the 4G network in Vietnam is surprisingly stable and fast, so I was able to watch The Office all the way! 🙂
We eventually arrived in Ha Giang at 03:30 in the morning. The planned arrival time was 01:00, so something obviously went wrong here. But we made it! That was all that mattered to us! We checked into our 24-hour hotel and crashed on the beds as soon as we closed the door behind us.
It was a long and stressful day, but we made it all the way from Ha Long Bay to Ha Giang!
Day 16-19: The Ha Giang Motorbike Loop
This was the start of the final part of our trip to Vietnam, and it was going to be EPIC.
But wait… Why didn’t we go to Sapa? Isn’t Sapa supposed to be really beautiful as well?
Here’s my take on that.
Sapa vs. Ha Giang
My girlfriend and I had read a lot about both Sapa and Ha Giang before reaching this area of Vietnam.
Sapa has a lot of nice rice paddies, green valleys, and mountain trekking opportunities. A lot of people regard it as one of the most beautiful areas in Vietnam.
But we also read stuff we didn’t like that much. For example:
- Sapa is becoming busier and busier by the year. A lot of tourists find their way up there, and we’ve unfortunately heard some stories that it’s losing a bit of its authenticity.
- The rice paddies were mostly harvested and clear at the time of our travels (early October). This was supposedly not the case in Ha Giang
- The top things to do in Sapa are related to trekking. While this is great, we had 4 days left to spend and didn’t want to spend them all trekking in a relatively small area.
So it was actually a pretty easy decision for us. We chose to travel to Ha Giang instead because of the following reasons:
- Ha Giang has an awesome motorbike loop which perfectly fits inside a 4-day window.
- Ha Giang is one of the most authentic Vietnamese provinces, mostly untouched by tourism (although it is growing).
- We’ve heard good things about the Sapa nature, but it apparently does not compare to the ruggedness and varying nature of Ha Giang. The mountains, valleys, remote villages and mountain passes of Ha Giang seemed (by far) the most fun and memorable to us.
Ha Giang, it is!
Day 16: Riding the motorbike from Ha Giang to Yen Minh
After a short night of sleep (about 4 hours) we started our 16th day with a nice omelet and a baguette.
We rented a motorbike for 4 days at QT Motorbikes and Tours. They supplied us with a great semi-automatic, 3 gear motorbike. We also purchased the insurance, since we wanted to be covered for any accidents and breakdowns of our scooter! This cost us about $55, which we thought was very fair!
Especially since our motorbike was in top condition. It performed really well during our trip.
We were also able to leave one of our backpacks at the motorbike shop, which allowed us to share a single motorbike again! It’s always nice to be able to chat while driving across this beautiful country. This also allowed us to change drivers when necessary, and to shoot some pictures and movies from the back of the motorbike!
So we left Ha Giang and departed for Yen Minh in the early morning.
It was clear from the beginning that this was going to be one of the highlights of our trip to Vietnam. I think the pictures below speak for themselves. The limestone mountains and green hills were amazing to drive through. The weather was decent – it was cloudy but dry – so we were able to shoot some amazing pictures.
After driving about 100 kilometers – which took us until 15:30 – we arrived in Yen Minh where we immediately checked into our next hotel. Yen Minh is a pretty basic village, with a lot of clearly visible Chinese and old Soviet influences. There’s a lot of symbols and former propaganda with the typical hammer and sickle emblems.
Some restaurants also served dog food, to the horror of my girlfriend. We were more than okay with just eating our basic fried rice! 🙂
Anyway, the first day of our Ha Giang motorbike loop was great, and we were looking forward to the remainder of the trip!
Day 17: Riding the motorbike from Yen Minh to Dong Van
Our 17th day in Vietnam and 2nd day on the Ha Giang motorbike loop took us all the way to the North pole of Vietnam!
We headed off early in the morning again, and the weather was, unfortunately, looking worse. It was a lot more cloudy than the day before and drizzling with a bit of rain. Luckily, we had expected this type of weather and had bought thick ponchos. These kept us warm and dry throughout the morning.
It eventually stopped raining in the afternoon and the weather turned out to be pretty nice for the rest of the day!
Anyway, we headed up all the way to the northernmost point in Vietnam: the Lunc Cu Flag Tower.
We climbed this beautiful flag tower and were served with a spectacular view of the Vietnamese and Chinese mountains. It was absolutely breathtaking. The weather had already cleared up at this point! 🙂
On the way towards the next village Dong Van, we passed the Chinese border within a couple of dozen meters. We saw a clear path leading to a hole in the barbed wire, and knew we had to stop for a brief visit to China!
We had read about this opportunity on other blogs, so we knew we were not the only ones to enter China this way. We quickly crossed the border to snap a couple of pictures. After 2 minutes or so, a group of soldiers in military suits (and guns!) approached us from about 100 meters.
We didn’t wait for them to have a friendly talk with us and just quickly skipped back to the safety of Vietnam!
We then continued our way to Dong Van, all the while traveling through magnificent mountain passes and deep valleys. This was truly an epic motorbike road trip.
Day 18: Riding the motorbike from Dong Van to Du Gia
Our 3rd day on the Ha Giang motorbike loop was the most epic of all: we traversed the Ma Pi Leng Pass!
As usual, we left early in the morning and headed out on our motorbike. I had read so much about the Ma Pi Leng Pass and its sheer beauty. That’s why I was extra happy to see the weather was actually pretty nice this day! We were really lucky in that it didn’t rain and it was pretty clear of clouds and fog!
Driving the motorbike was as amazing as ever, but when we reached the Ma Pi Leng Pass, my girlfriend and I were smiling from ear to ear.
This was the stuff that I dreamt about when planning our trip to Vietnam. I’ll let the pictures speak again here. This Ha Giang motorbike loop was easily one of the highlights of our trip, and we felt on top of the world on our small motorbike.
After another 100 kilometers, we arrived in the very small and remote village of Du Gia. We found a nice hotel here and enjoyed the great local cuisine (and the obligatory happy water a.k.a. rice wine!)
We didn’t drink too much of it though since we had one more day to survive on our motorbike!
Day 19: Riding the motorbike from Du Gia back to Ha Giang and getting back to Hanoi
Our final day on the Ha Giang motorbike loop featured one of the most remote areas of the Ha Giang province. It was really relaxing to drive through these quiet areas.
It surprised us just how varied the road conditions were. Some roads are absolutely perfect: wide and perfectly covered by a smooth layer of asphalt. And then there’re patches were you have none of that. In fact, there were patches where we had to get off our motorbike because it was nothing more than a bed or rocks and dirt.
It was still a really cool experience!
We got back to Ha Giang at 15:00 in the afternoon, after which we had to wait 5.5 hours before our (VIP) sleeper bus picked us up. So we decided to just book a room in a hotel, in order to shower, re-organize our backpacks and to enjoy the comfort of a bed prior to a LONG journey ahead of us.
You see, this was our last full day in Vietnam. Our trip was practically finished the moment we returned our motorbike to the shop.
All that was left for us was to get back to Hanoi Airport with the (VIP) sleeper bus, arrive at the Airport at 03:30, and then catch our flights to Bangkok and Amsterdam. Our flight to Bangkok was scheduled for 9:20, so we had a pretty big amount of wiggle room, in the event that something would go wrong.
It was an intense journey, but we eventually got back to the airport! Now we just had to catch our flight and this trip would be over!
Day 20: Catching our flight back to the Netherlands
When we arrived at the departure hall of Hanoi Airport, we were already super tired. Or at least, I knew I was. Despite the VIP sleeper bus, I still wasn’t able to sleep for a minute.
We eventually boarded our flight to Bangkok, and after a stopover of just an hour, we were on our way back to the Netherlands. We were back home 14 hours later.
It was a long journey.
We traveled all the way from Ha Giang to Hanoi, To Bangkok and back to Amsterdam in about 40 hours. I didn’t sleep a single minute during that entire time.
Can you imagine how long it took for me to fall asleep when I finally lied down in a comfortable bed? I don’t think it took me more than 30 seconds!
And that was officially the end of our 3-week trip to Vietnam.
Considerations after having finished this 3-week Vietnam itinerary
After returning to the Netherlands, it was nice to enjoy the relative silence and calmness of my home country.
Vietnam is an insanely beautiful country, but especially the cities can get pretty hectic. I must admit, staying in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City had a negative influence on my mental health.
The constant chaos, stress, humidity, noise, and smog in those cities eventually started to bother me. Even when our stays in both cities was relatively short.
Was our trip too busy?
I mentioned before that we didn’t meet a single traveler who had a similarly ambitious itinerary. Most people who spent 3 weeks in Vietnam visit just these places:
- Ho Chi Minh City
- Hoi An
- Ha Long Bay
Most 3-week itineraries stop there.
We wanted to utilize our 3-week stay with the most efficient and optimized planning. That way, we were able to visit the following places:
- Ho Chi Minh City
- Mui Ne
- Hoi An
- Dong Hoi / Phong Nha Ke Bang National Park
- Ninh Binh / Tam Coc / Trang An Grottoes
- Ha Long Bay
- Cat Ba Island
- Ha Giang motorbike loop
Can you spot the difference?
If I have to be honest with you, I would personally advise you to skip Ho Chi Minh City and Mui Ne.
These places were by far the most underwhelming places we visited in Vietnam. I’d much rather have spent extra time in Ha Giang, Hoi An or Ninh Binh instead.
Or I would take these 2 extra days and use them to just relax at a lovely pool or something.
In the end, my girlfriend and I were pretty exhausted when we got back to the Netherlands.
We had pretty much experienced the perfect Vietnam holiday. Everything had gone as we planned. We didn’t get sick. We managed to see everything that we planned. And the weather was great as well!
But this itinerary might have been a little too exhausting for us. I want to be honest with you here. I’m not saying that this itinerary is not suitable for you. I’m just warning you that what we did in 3 weeks is incredibly ambitious and taxing.
Rewarding? Amazing? Incredible? YES!
But exhausting as well.
It’s probably not a coincidence that both my girlfriend and I got sick after returning from this trip. I think our bodies had had enough. 😉
Pretty happy to be back in the Netherlands again, after a perfect but exhausting trip!