10 Days in Vietnam via Ho Chi Minh City
A Very Detailed Travel Itinerary
Tours are for foo-ls. I tried my best to make that rhyme.
While Vietnam may seem a little daunting at first, the country is not difficult to travel – especially if you have a great blog to aid you, with details on every leg of the trip, written by a man who lived in the country for years and who has sex appeal that is on par with Don Draper fixing a sink.
While 10 days in Vietnam certainly isn’t enough time to see everything, this detailed itinerary will insure that you have 10 packed days of adventure, amazing food, mountains, rivers, and culture.
If you feel it’s too rushed, or you want to make a few changes, have a look at my full $20/day Budget Travel Guide to Vietnam.
For all things Vietnamese food, you can check out my Vietnamese food website Vietnamenu.com
You can also get a printable PDF version of this website, which has over 75 dishes translated and described, including photos and variations of the dish, and comes with a food dictionary that will help you decipher menus that aren’t in English. I put a lot of work into this and I’m offering it for free – all I ask of you is to sign up with your email address to get a weekly newsletter from me.
Get the Vietnamese Food Guide Here!
For more useful links for planning your vacation, check out my article:
Bookmark these 20 websites for Traveling Vietnam
And for building a bit of excitement: Books and Movies to get you Pumped for your Trip to Vietnam
Now, on with the itinerary! Enjoy your 10 days in Vietnam!
Ho Chi Minh City
Day 1 – Arrive and Get Situated
Depending when you arrive, where you came from, etc – this day may be a write-off for you, so I’ve left it open for getting settled in.
Arriving at Ho Chi Minh City’s Tan Son Nhat International Airport
Tan Son is close to the city center, so it’s a cheap taxi ride to get downtown. However, it can also be a terrible first impression of the country. There are many unlicensed taxis that will try and rip you off as a “welcome to Vietnam” gift.
The cheapest way to get downtown is to take the #152 bus for 5000 VND. When you exit the airport, go right and the bus will be on the left 100 meters or so down.
Some fake taxi drivers will tell you it’s not running, but unless it’s between 6:15PM and 6AM, they’re lying.
There’s also a new bright yellow tourist bus (#109) that costs a bit more (20,000 VND – about $0.90), but is more convenient for people with luggage. If you go to the bus’ information desk, the English speaking staff member will help you plan the best stop to get off at so you’re close to your hotel. The bus runs from 5:30AM to 1:30 AM, so even late arrivers can get downtown for cheap. The route is also convenient for travellers (international terminal – domestic terminal – Truong Son – Tran Quoc Hoan – Lang Cha Ca roundabout – Hoang Van Thu – Nguyen Van Troi – Nam Ky Khoi Nghia – Nguyen Dinh Chieu – Cach Mang Thang 8 – Pham Hong Thai – Le Lai – Ben Thanh roundabout – Ben Thanh Bus Station – Pham Ngu Lao – September 23 Park).
For those of you looking for convenience, a taxi ride downtown will only cost about 150,000 VND (less than $7). From the arrival hall, head left out the door to the taxi line. There is usually a representative from Vinasun or Mai Linh (the best taxi companies) that will hook you up with a car and tell the driver where you want to go. To be safe, have the address of the hotel and the main intersection written down in Vietnamese. Also, make sure the driver turns the meter on.
Where to Stay in Saigon
There are a ton of hotels in the backpacker ghetto. Most of them are guesthouses, or maybe even closer to a homestay. Still in district 1, but outside of the sometimes chaotic backpacker area, there are plenty of nice hotels that are priced right.
The cheapest rates are usually had by just showing up on the day and negotiating a little bit. I recommend having an idea of how much you can get it for by using Agoda, and then just ask them for whatever the price is without the Agoda fee. That being said, nice hotels will sometimes drastically drop their prices a day or two ahead of time. The people working at these hotels might not have the authority to lower the prices when you arrive, so if you find a really good deal, jump on it.
Use the Agoda search engine on the right to automatically search in Saigon and see what deals are avaialble. Anything you book through this link will give me a couple bucks and cost you nothing extra. I appreciate it!
Here are a few of my favorite places to stay in Ho Chi Minh City:
- Ly Loan Guesthouse – A family home turned guesthouse right off of Pham Ngu Lao (the backpacker street). The tiny alley that it’s located in is charming, although touristy. The mother who runs the ship speaks English and is very loving. She’s lived in the area for a long time, so she can make great recommendations and will surely make your stay a memorable one.
- La Hostel Saigon – The private doubles at La Hostel have everything you need, including a comfy bed which is sometimes hard to find in Southeast Asia, and a balcony. Being a hostel, there are a few common areas that allow for socializing, including a rooftop terrace.
- Tan Hoang Long Hotel – A nice hotel that’s located away from Backpackerville. Some rooms don’t have windows, so make sure to see it ahead of time or book on Agoda, which clearly marks the rooms that don’t have a window. This section of Saigon is a bit pricier but calmer and classier.
- Cozy House 160 – This new option in Saigon is modern, clean, and… well, NEW! The private doubles can be booked for around $25, a steal for this place. The location is outside of the backpacker haunt, and it’s a bit away from Ben Thanh Market, but it’s still within walking distance and you’ll appreciate the authentic Vietnam surroundings.
Where to eat in Saigon
For a good first dinner, you might want to check out Cyclo Resto. They serve a set menu 5 course meal that gives you a nice sample of the local cuisine for 150,000 VND each. Be warned, this is a tourist restaurant and it might be full of westerners, but the food is great and the setting is pleasant. It’s a good place to get your feet wet before diving into Vietnam’s amazing food culture.
If you do want to dive right in, this article will set you up: Top 11 Vietnamese Dishes and Where you can Try them in Saigon, or just go for a walk and take a chance on a place that’s busy with locals.
After dinner, if you’re up for a stroll you should walk around Ben Thanh market. The night market will be in full swing. If you want to buy something, be sure to negotiate.
Day 2 – Walking Tour of Saigon
This walking tour covers the main attractions of Ho Chi Minh City. It will take up most of your day.
Day 3 and 4 – Can Tho
Getting to Can Tho
Frequent buses to Can Tho leave from Mien Tay Bus Station. Mien Tay is in the west part of Saigon, but you can get there via the #2 bus from the bus station in front of Ben Thanh market. A taxi there will cost about $15.
A bus or minibus will depart for Can Tho every half hour to an hour, but I prefer to travel with Futabus because they’re comfy and they offer a drop off service to your hotel in Can Tho.
The Mekong Delta is Life
Their buses leave every half hour during the day, and every hour at night. You can choose a sleeper or a seater bus. The cost is 100,000 VND and it takes about 4 hours with just one stop. There are no bathrooms on the buses.
You can actually book your ticket on their website, or just get the ticket at Mien Tay bus station.
I’ve also heard that the company Thanh Buoi offers shuttle buses to your hotel in Can Tho, but I’ve never used them. Perhaps they’re a good backup option.
When you arrive in Can Tho, go into the office to arrange your shuttle ride to your hotel. Make sure you have the name and address handy. If you don’t have a hotel booked and you want to be dropped off at an area that has a lot of hotels, you can tell them the Saigon Can Tho Hotel. They should know it and it’s a short walk to multiple options.
If you have to take a taxi, make sure they use the meter. The cost should be about 65,000 VND.
Where to Stay in Can Tho
There are a lot of hotels in the city. Most people stay by the Can Tho river, but there are things to see, places to eat, and a decent night life up towards the university.
Here are a few options:
- West Hotel – my favorite in Can Tho. It’s a 4 star hotel with a great buffet breakfast, free bicycles, and a small outdoor pool on the 8th floor. While the pool is nice to cool off in, the real treat is the view. The hotel is actually located in Tan An market, so you can watch the people in the market and get a great view of the river. If this sounds too high-end for you, it’s possible to get a room in this place for $30 a night, so be sure to check your days.
- Kim Lan Hotel – This place is generally loved by everyone who stays there. Some of their rooms are a bit outdated, but they have a good selection for every budget. If you’re willing to pay a bit more, you can get a big bathtub and/or a balcony. Even if you don’t get a room with a view, you can enjoy the terrace on the 8th floor where breakfast is served.
- Queen Hotel – Just need the basics? This place will give you a clean place to sleep in a convenient location for only $15 a night.
Where to eat in Can Tho
- For dinner that night, you could try one of the Beer and BBQ places that are along Le Loi. There are a bunch of them, so pick whatever you think looks best. Beer Clubs are a relatively new thing in Vietnam. They’re kind of a combination of club and beer garden. Some will have young sexy Vietnamese girls spinning (or at least pretending to), but if you arrive around dinner time you should be able to have a relaxing meal, and then decide whether you’re turning the night up to 11.
- Also in that area is a BBQ place called A Sồi. Heading north on Le Loi, turn left at the stadium (80 Trần Quang Khải). They have some great BBQ in an authentic Vietnamese atmosphere, and no DJ.
- Can Tho has seen a boom in Korean and Japanese restaurants. Many of these are Vietnamese takes on the dishes, but they’re popular and pretty darn tasty. One place that gets a lot of love from the younger crowd is Mi Cay Naga. You can get a hot bowl of noodles with a variety of meats and veg for only a few bucks. They also have fried kim chi and takoyaki.
- Closer to the river, there’s GONY (Glory of New York). They serve western (pizza, sandwiches) and Korean food (noodle soups). They also have a nice spa upstairs if you want a quick massage.
If you’re not quite sold on my suggestions, a good source for food in Can Tho is this Instagram account. Just look for something delicious and the photo usually has the address and name of the restaurant in the description. You can even show the photo at the restaurant when you want to order.
Your Can Tho Itinerary
For your Can Tho itinerary, refer to this guide:
Day 5 – Cho Lon, Saigon’s Chinatown
Alternate route: Sleeper bus to Dalat
If you’re feeling super adventurous, and don’t generally care about comfort, you can take a sleeper bus from Can Tho to Dalat. The trip takes 11 hours. It leaves during the day at 7AM, or at night 8:30PM. There are plenty of horror stories about taking sleeper buses in Vietnam — most of them are about how uncomfortable it is for a taller person. I’ve had good and bad experiences. The upper level is definitely better than the lower. If you are traveling in a group of 5, you could reserve the entire back row and have a giant slumber party — as long as you don’t mind snuggling. Personally, I’d avoid this, but I don’t get much sleep when I’m crammed into a tight space. Maybe a person that can sleep on planes would be okay on a Vietnamese sleeper bus. It’s your call, but don’t say I didn’t warn you.
Head back to Can Tho’s bus station to get a ride back to Saigon’s Mien Tay bus station. Buses leave very frequently.
When you get to Mien Tay, you can either take a taxi (about 75,000 VND) to district 5 (Cho Lon), or find the #10 or #25 bus. The bus is real cheap, but it can be confusing if you don’t have a way of telling where you are. The ride will take about 30 minutes.
Where to stay in Cho Lon
- Truong Giang Hotel – A good option. Nothing special but it’s in the area you want to be, it’s cheap, and it’s clean.
- Phoenix Hotel – Nicer but pricier and a bit far from the area you want to explore.
After checking in, head out on a Cho Lon walking tour:
Places to Eat in Cho Lon
- Cơm Gà Đông Nguyên map
If you head up to Hai Thuong Lan Ong and turn left you’ll hit a roundabout. Turn right on Chau Van Liem. After 2 blocks you’ll take a left on Nguyen Trai. Com Ga Dong Nguyen will be on your immediate left. They serve chicken rice, a seemingly simple dish that surprises you with its flavor. The non-English menu is filled with various options, but you should go for their specialty: Cơm Gà Đông Nguyên. For a bit more money you can get it with heo quay (roasted pork).
- Pho Le map
Arguably, the best pho in Saigon. This popular place would be about a 20 minute walk from Truong Giang Hotel, but it’s a short and cheap taxi ride. Some say they use too much MSG, but maybe that’s why it’s so good.
- Cà Ri Dê Ấn Độ map
Even further away, but 100% worth it, is this curry goat place. If you like spicy food, this place will knock your socks off. I’m not usually a fan of Vietnamese curry (it’s too sweet for my liking), but I’m pretty sure this place was started by an Indian guy. It’s hidden away in back alley, but the locals flock here in the evenings, putting down tables wherever there’s space. You can get an order of curry with banh mi (Vietnamese baguette) or rice, and be sure to order up some beers. They go well with the meal, plus you’re going to need something to cool your mouth down with.
- Bánh Bao Thọ Phát map
At pretty much all times of the day, it’s possible to get a tasty snack at this place. Banh bao is a stuffed steamed bun. In Vietnam, it’s usually filled with ground pork and a quail’s egg. This place has those, but they also do some Chinese versions including xa xiu (BBQ pork), and some dessert versions (coconut, green tea, and a sweetened egg yolk).
- Bột Chiên Không Tên map
Right on the Hai Thuong Lan Ong roundabout is a bot chien stand that is pretty awesome. Most bot chien is. Bot chien is kind of a rice flour cake that’s chopped into chunks and fried up with egg. It’s a great late night, stuff-some-food-in-your-face, kind of snack. Unfortunately, the stand doesn’t open until around 4PM.
- Panda BBQ map
Vietnamese BBQ is always a lot of fun, and quite delicious. This place is about a 15 minute walk from Truong Giang Hotel. At 4:00PM, it opens and soon after gets lively with people grilling up meats right on their table. Try the bo nuong phomai, slices of beef wrapped in cheese.
Day 6 – Saigon to Da Lat
Save time by flying
Since Dalat is about an 8 hour bus ride away, you will be able to shave off around 4 hours by flying (1 hr in the air, plus arriving to the airport early and the time it takes to get from the airport to downtown).
Four hours might not seem like much, but sometimes the price difference is even less. It’s possible to get a flight for as low as $10. The bus ride is about $9.
An even better move would be to time a return flight from Dalat so that you’re at the airport for when you are flying out from Saigon. Just be sure to give yourself a healthy chunk of time to make that second flight. Jetstar is notorious for delays. I’ve had better luck with Vietjet, but it’s still something to consider.
If you do end up flying instead of driving, you’ll have some extra time to play with. I suggest heading up to Cu Chi to see the famous Vietnam War tunnels.
Buses leave to Dalat very frequently. You can go from Mien Tay (East station) or Mien Dong (West station), but since you’re coming from Chinatown you are better off heading to Mien Tay (it’s closer and there are more buses).
The cost will be about 210,000 VND ($9ish) and it will take around 8-9 hours.
As mentioned before, I like Futabus, which operates 2 types of buses to Dalat – sleepers or seaters. Some people hate sleepers, so you’re probably better off getting a seater.
The ride starts a little blah, but after a few hours you’ll get into the hills and get some great visuals, mostly from the right-side of the bus. The switchbacks may be a little scary for the faint-of-heart, but the roads are in pretty good shape.
When you arrive, be sure to take advantage of Futa’s free shuttle bus to your hotel by going into the bus office, or straight to the shuttles (follow the locals and ignore the taxi drivers that pounce).
Otherwise, the bus station is only about 2 kilometers from downtown, so a metered taxi ride shouldn’t cost much.
Where to Stay in Dalat
Since there are so many hotels in Dalat, it’s possible to get a good deal. Check the Agoda search to the right and see what’s available. Otherwise, these selections below are my favorites.
- Paris Hotel – Probably the best budget hotel. The location is great and you can upgrade for a bit extra to get a balcony.
- Du Parc Hotel – A fancy, but older hotel. It was built in 1932, making it one of the oldest hotels in the city. The restaurant/bar across the street, where you get your all-you-can-eat breakfast buffet, is even older and pretty darn classy. It’s possible to get a room here for $30/night.
- Gold Dream Hotel – If you’re booking last minute, this hotel drops its prices considerably. The majority of the rooms have excellent views of the city. They also have some of the best dorm rooms you can find in Dalat.
Places to Eat in Dalat
- For great budget bites, head down Nha Chung Street (the street running south between the Du Parc Hotel and the cathedral). There you’ll find some of the local specialties like: banh can (quail eggs fried into little cakes and served topped with a salad mixture), bánh canh xuân an (soup with thick noodles), banh trang nuong (grilled rice paper with egg, cheese, green onion, and more – folded like a calzone), and mi quang (the famous central Vietnam noodle soup, but in Dalat they do it differently). These dishes are all budget bites and very tasty.
- For a different take on Vietnamese BBQ, I suggest Chu BBQ. Instead of grilling meat on the table over coals, this place brings you a brutally hot tile and then dumps meat on top of it. It took us aback, like literally we had to move back and away from the sizzling fat and deadly smoke, but the food was great and when it was other people getting the smokey meat bomb, it was pretty entertaining. You might struggle to order here as there is no English on the menu, and it’s written on the wall (so it’s hard to point at it). A few words that will help you: bò = beef, heo = pork, muối ớt = chili salt, cơm chiên = fried rice, and bia = beer.
- Kho’i BBQ is another great place for BBQ in Dalat. It’s located behind the market, where there’s great opportunities for people-watching. Plus, the restaurants decor is quite nice. I suggest trying their bo la lot (beef wrapped in a special leaf), heo rừng nướng sa tế (satay pork), and they also had a decent salad which is sometimes hard to find in Vietnam. Kho’i means smoke in Vietnamese.
Dalat, Vietnam: Cool, cool.
Day 7 – Dalat Walking Tour
Check out this do-it-yourself walking tour of Dalat that will take up the majority of a day and show you the highlights of the city.
Day 8 – Langbiang Hike
The best way to get to Langbiang is to rent a scooter and drive yourself. It’s a nice and easy ride – 12 km and about 40 minutes. Of course, if you’ve never driven a motorized bike, this is probably not the time to learn.
Instead, take a local bus to Langbiang mountain.
You can get most local buses from a bus stop north of the market around the corner of Khu Hoa Binh and Nguyen Van Troi.
The green bus #5 runs from 6:00AM to 5:00PM, departing once an hour. Langbiang is the last stop and it will take around 1 hour to reach it. The cost should be around 12,000 VND. Just get on the bus and sit down. Someone will be around to ask you where you’re going and take your money.
There’s also an orange bus that is operated by FUTA. You can catch it in the same spot. It says Langbiang on the side of it. I’ve never taken it, but I’m sure it’s affordable and a decent ride.
When you get dropped off, you will see a house-like gate and parking lot. This is the entrance to Langbiang. Inside it, you’ll find an abundance of Jurassic-Park-like jeeps that can be hired to go to the lookout point and back. The cost will depend on how many people are riding, but you should be able to wait for the car to fill and only pay 50,000 VND each.
You can also hire a horse (some with zebra stripes painted on them) with a guide to take you up. You’ll have to negotiate the price.
That being said, the reason to come here is to hike up the mountain, so don’t even go into the parking lot, and instead take the unpaved road to the immediate right of the gate. The path to the top isn’t perfectly clear (we got lost), but with my help you’ll be good as gold.
About 280 meters down the road, the path will curve right – don’t turn here… you want to go up the embankment to the path. It’s an obvious path, but it looks like private property.From there, you’ll follow a well-trodden path between barbed-wire fences, then into a pine forest. The trail goes pretty much straight up the hill to a paved road. Turn right and you’ll see a ticket booth. You can either continue on the road to the radar tower/lookout point (great views, food and cafes, lots of tourists, opportunities for tacky photos), or pay 20,000 VND at the ticket booth and hike to the top of the mountain. Honestly, the views from the radar tower might be better (you can see the river), but you’ll find more peace at the top and it’s more of an accomplishment.
To get to the top and back will take about 3 hours.
Back at the bottom, you can explore the town a little bit. There are many K’Ho people that live in this area. You could visit K’Ho Coffee, a cooperative that works with the locals to grow some of Vietnam’s best beans. Contact them to arrange a tour, or try just popping in. Their farm is about 2 kilometers from the Liangbiang bus stop. There are also some modest restaurants to grab lunch or dinner, and rest your weary legs before catching the bus back to the city.
Day 9 – Return to Saigon
The Best of Saigon
Buses back to Saigon take around the same amount of time (8-9 hrs). They leave every 30 minutes in the morning. See the schedule here. If you get your hotel to call, you may be able to get a free hotel pickup. However, some hotels might charge you a service fee. The regular price for a one-way ticket should be 270,000 VND. A taxi ride to the bus station is only around 40,000 VND. A very limited amount of buses go to Mien Dong instead of Mien Tay. If you can get one of these, you’ll be closer to downtown and to the airport.
By the time you get back to Saigon, there won’t be much time for anything but dinner, so you may want to consider staying closer to the airport. Saigon’s airport is in an exciting and authentic area. There are some decent hotels, and some good food options.
Arriving at Mien Tay
You can take a taxi (make sure they use the meter) to the airport area for around 200,000 VND, or one downtown for around 100,000 VND.
Alternatively, take the bus:
To the airport – bus 119 leaves every 30 minutes and takes about an hour. You’ll be dropped off at 58 Trường Sơn (about a 10 minute walk to the airport).
To downtown – bus 02 takes 45 minutes and leaves every 10 minutes, dropping you off at Ben Thanh Market.
I can’t really recommend staying in the Mien Tay Bus Station area. You’re better off taking a taxi to Cho Lon and finding a hotel there.
Arriving at Mien Dong
A taxi to the airport area is only 100,000 VND, while you should be able to get downtown for about the same.
Bus #42 leaves frequently and drops you off at Ben Thanh Market.
For the airport area, you’ll have to catch the bus on the street outside of the station. Take bus #64 to Công viên Hoàng Văn Thụ (a park on Hoàng Văn Thụ street), then walk north up Trường Sơn for about 20 minutes. Please note: the stops probably won’t be announced, the bus doesn’t stop if no one wants to get off, it’s a bit chaotic – use at your own discretion. You can always get off and jump in a taxi.
For a decent hotel somewhat close to Mien Dong (about a 20 minute walk), try Sunshine Hotel.
Best Hotels close to Saigon’s airport
Day 10 – Fly out
I hope you enjoyed your 10 days in Vietnam. The country can be difficult at times, but I find if you stay off the well trodden tourist trail you will avoid most of the things people find annoying about the country. A 2014 survey found that only 6% of international tourists that come to Vietnam return. I hope this 10 day itinerary helped to make you one of those 6% who come back, because there’s lots more to see.
You can get information about living in Vietnam here.
And don’t forget to download my ultimate guide to Vietnamese food. It took me two years to put this together. It has over 75 dishes and a food-dictionary that will help you translate menus.