Day 1: Hanoi
Stroll around the narrow streets of Hanoi’s Old Quarter, with its heady cocktail of colorful shop displays, exotic aromas, and loud calls from street vendors. Pop into the Memorial House Museum and the Bach Ma Temple, then check out the streets specializing in particular crafts, most famously Hang Gai, or Silk Street or Hang Ma Street, or Votive Paper Street. After a classic Vietnamese lunch at Red Bean (94 Ma May Street), wander south to the pretty Hoan Kiem Lake, then delve into the leafy boulevards of the French Quarter. Visit the Opera House and the National Museum of Vietnamese History, both of which testify to the city’s colonial past. Dine at Namaste (46 Tho Nhuom Street) on superb Indian cuisine.
Days 2 and 3: Halong Bay
Join a tour from Hanoi to Halong Bay and spend a night in the magnificent landscape of limestone pinnacles rising dramatically from the emerald green waters. Take a cruise around the bay, paddle a kayak, explore illuminated caves, and make use of the many photo opportunities. Dine on succulent seafood at 1958 restaurant on Tuan Chau Island, overlooking the bay, or on the water itself at one of the many floating restaurants.
Days 4 and 5: Hue
Devote a day to exploring the Imperial City in the heart of the Hue Citadel, the nation’s capital from 1805 to 1945. Don’t miss the Thai Hoa Palace with its splendidly decorated throne hall and the beautifully restored The Mieu temple. End the day with a sumptuous multi-course dinner of imperial cuisine. The next day, take a boat trip along the Perfume River, stopping off to visit a few of the Royal Tombs, all of which have lavish ornamentation and are set in delightful gardens. For a taste of the famous local street food, head to Le Hanh.
Day 6: Danang
In the morning travel by taxi or hire a driver to take you to the Marble Mountains just south of Danang. Enjoy the views along the coast and stop off to explore atmospheric shrines sheltered in huge caves. Then return to the city to visit the Museum of Cham Sculpture, which contains exquisite stone carvings created by this ancient civilization. In the evening, take a stroll by the Han River, whose banks are lined with restaurants, and admire the dramatic Dragon Bridge, which literally breathes fire after 9 pm every evening.
Day 7: Hoi An
Take a walk around Hoi An’s atmospheric Old Quarter, the highlight of a trip to Vietnam for many visitors. Admire its ornate Chinese pagodas, ancient tea houses, and long, narrow tube houses. Be sure to try the local gastronomic delights served at its famous restaurants, such as Morning Glory Original.
Day 8: My Son
Spend the day exploring My Son, the most important religious center of Cham culture. Although damaged during the Vietnam War, the ruins here are still impressive and are reminiscent of Angkor Wat in Cambodia. Many of the brick towers are overgrown, lending the site an irresistible mystique, but restoration work is ongoing. The nearest place to stay in Quang Ngai, where the best eating options overlook the river.
Day 9: Quy Nhon
A large port town with a broad swathe of the beach, Quy Nhon will give you an authentic experience of Vietnam without being hassled by hawkers. Visit the twin Cham towers of Thap Doi Cham, sample delicious seafood, and take a motorbike ride along the coast road south of town, stopping off at picture postcard beaches lapped by azure waters.
Days 10 and 11: Nha Trang
Vietnam’s premier beach resort, Nha Trang, has a few interesting historical sights that can be visited in a morning. Begin at the Gothic-style Nha Trang Cathedral, before heading for the ornate hilltop Long Son Pagoda. From here, visit the well-preserved Po Nagar Cham Towers, one of the most important Cham sites in Vietnam. Spend the afternoon lounging on the beach, before heading out for a seafood dinner at Lanterns. The next day, take a boat trip to the islands, which lie just offshore, for a day of snorkeling and sunbathing. Round off the day at a floating bar.
Days 12 and 13: Mui Ne
The long stretch of beach at Mui Ne is a great place to spend the morning windsurfing or kitesurfing; there are several places along the 12-mile- (20-km-) beach that offer instruction for beginners. Afterward, take off for the enormous red and white sand dunes on the fringes of the resort. Rent a plastic sled for some sand sledding, a great and fun way to experience these geological wonders. Devote the rest of the day to snoozing on the beach, relishing fresh seafood, or pampering yourself at a spa.
Day 14: Ho Chi Minh City
Begin at Independence Palace, a symbol of Vietnam’s political history, and learn about the last days of the Vietnam War. From here, head to Dong Khoi, the city’s main street, to see the Notre Dame Cathedral and Central Post Office, which serve as reminders of the city’s French colonial past. Walk down Dong Khoi toward the Saigon River, stopping briefly to look at the elegant People’s Committee Building Relax over a leisurely lunch in one of the many elegant restaurants along here. In the afternoon pick up a few distinctive souvenirs in the shops on Dong Khoi before visiting the 49th floor of the Bitexco Financial Tower for a bird’s eye view of the city center. End the day experiencing the vibrant nightlife – try the street food around Ben Thanh Market followed by a drink at one of Dong Khoi’s many clubs and bars