Vietnam Itinerary 10 Days: 3 Perfect Northern And Central Vietnam Routes

by Mark and Kristen Morgan
Vietnam itinerary 10 days 3 perfect northern and central vietnam travel routes hitting sapa hanoi halong bay ninh binh tam coc phong nha hue and hoi an

 North and Central Vietnam is filled with stunning, cultural and chaotic places to visit. With just 10 days to formulate your Vietnam itinerary, you will need to be organized and get creative with your plans.

Hanoi, Sapa, Halong Bay, Ninh Binh, Phong Nha, Hue and Hoi An all feature in our example itineraries. Based on our own experiences in Vietnam, we have created 3 very different travel routes for you to consider.

But let’s start with some questions.

Once you’ve answered them, you should be able to narrow down the most efficient way to spend your 10 days itinerary in Vietnam.

  • Q1 – Which places in Northern and / or Central Vietnam do you want to visit the most? 
  • Q2 – How much time would you like to spend in each place?
  • Q3 – What can – and more importantly can you not – afford to do in Vietnam? 

Planning this trip will not be as straightforward as you might have hoped because it is challenging to decide which places you will cut from your visit.

Our example itineraries will help you appreciate what is achievable in 10 days. Remember, travel time between places can wipe out huge chunks of your day so it’s best to limit how often you move.

Let’s get right into your options!

Are you considering adding more time to your Vietnam trip? Read through our detailed 3 week Vietnam Itinerary for the perfect travel route.

*Please note this post may contain affiliate links. If you click on one of them, we may earn a small commission at no extra cost to you! We recommend only products we use and as always, all ideas or opinions expressed in this post are entirely ours. Thank you for the support and happy travels!*

We would suggest 3-4 weeks as being the perfect amount of time to spend in Northern and Central Vietnam. But we know that kind of travel time can be difficult to obtain.

A North and Central Vietnam Itinerary lasting 10 days will allow you to see most of the spectacular views and experience some of the best highlights. Remember, you can always return to Vietnam another time!

Which approach works best for you?

  • Concentrate on one particular region this trip with a plan to return for the rest another time.
  • Already know the places you want to go but they are spread out across North & Central Vietnam.
  • The smash and grab strategy. Cram everything in and sleep on the flight home at the end.

We will cover each of these eventualities because every one of us travels in a different way.

Some will prefer luxury while others will be on a tight budget. Some will be in Vietnam to hike whereas others just want to see incredible landscapes.

Each example itinerary is based on 10 full days and covers North and/or Central Vietnam.

How Much Of Your 10 Days Vietnam Itinerary Should You Book In Advance?

Choosing whether or not to book in advance is always a tough call when traveling to new places.

On one hand, you have complete flexibility, independence and the ability to negotiate prices on site. And on the other you have convenience, security and nothing to worry about when you arrive.

With just 10 days, you are better off having everything booked before your trip so you don’t waste time searching, bartering etc when in Vietnam.

Itinerary 1 – A Chilled 10 Days in Northern Vietnam

Itinerary 10 Days North Vietnam Only

The first 10 day itinerary concentrates solely on the North. This is the perfect schedule for the following:

  • Those who want a taste of Vietnam, but will return in future to explore Central / Southern areas.
  • Anyone who does not like the idea of rush visiting and prefers to have at least 1 day relaxing.
  • First time visitors to Vietnam, the North arguably has the most diverse tourist sites.

Hanoi is the major hub for the North and it’s the ideal place to set up your base. There are no shortages of cheap flights into Hanoi so be sure to grab yourself a bargain by being flexible on dates and times.

You will return to Hanoi on several occasions throughout this itinerary. Although that might seem counterintuitive, we can tell you from experience that it’s the easiest – and more importantly quickest – means of getting from one place to the next.

Base yourself centrally for ease of access to tour departure locations. We recommend you find a hotel in either Hanoi’s old quarter or French quarter.

Before you book, confirm that your hotel will allow you to store your backpack / suitcase when you travel to Sapa, Halong Bay and Ninh Binh. You can simply take the necessities in a day pack to each place by using the same hotel as a base in Hanoi and returning after each leg of the trip.

Note: There are direct bus connections from Sapa to Halong Bay and Halong Bay to Ninh Binh for those who prefer to travel independently (not part of a tour). You will have to carry your backpacks and organize your own transport but it saves going back into Hanoi after each leg.

Breakdown of Days 1-10

Day 1Relaxing full day in Hanoi. Explore the old and French quarters.
Day 2Break out the comfortable shoes. Leave the old quarter to discover greater Hanoi.
Day 36 hour bus ride to Sapa (7am-1pm). Check into hotel and explore Cat Cat Village.
Day 4Cable car to Fansipan mountain. Relax around Sapa town.
Day 5Trekking tour part 1. Homestay with Ethnic minority.
Day 6Trekking tour part 2. Take a 4pm-10pm / 5pm-11pm bus back to Hanoi.
Day 7 9am departure to Halong Bay. Full day in the bay, overnight on cruise.
Day 8Halong Bay, half day. Return to Hanoi in the evening.
Day 9Bus/train/tour to Ninh Binh/Tam Coc early. Full day in Tam Coc (Trang An, Mua Cave).
Day 10Tam Coc Bich Dong Pagoda. Bus/train/tour back to Hanoi and airport.

Itinerary 2 – 10 Days Split Between Northern & Central Vietnam

Split Itinerary North and Center Vietnam 10 Days

Splitting your 10 days across the North and Center of Vietnam is the best way to set up your itinerary for the following:

  • Those who know exactly which places they want to visit such as Hanoi, Halong Bay and Hoi An.
  • Anyone not interested in trekking in Sapa which saves a few days to be used elsewhere.
  • Those on a tight budget who can’t afford Halong Bay cruises at US$200-600 per night.

This itinerary is the most open to your own interpretation depending on your plans.

Hanoi will be your most likely point of arrival into Vietnam. The majority of people following this itinerary will arrive and leave from Hanoi, making this a round trip route with a flight to Da Nang and back to Hanoi.

However, for backpackers who are already in Southeast Asia, you might be able to find a cheaper flight into Da Nang. Therefore you could travel in reverse order (Central to Northern Vietnam) as another option. Consider where you are headed after Vietnam and check flights out of Hanoi or Da Nang to that place, ie Bangkok.

Internal flights between Hanoi and Da Nang are extremely affordable but remember to check baggage allowances. Sometimes the cost of checking a bag can be more than the plane ticket.

We have included Halong Bay as the only place besides Hanoi to visit in the North but you can replace Halong Bay with either Sapa or Ninh Binh depending on your budget and intentions.

Breakdown of Days 1-10

Day 1Relaxing full day in Hanoi. Explore the old and French quarters.
Day 2Break out the comfortable shoes. Leave the old quarter to discover greater Hanoi.
Day 39am departure to Halong Bay. Full day in the bay, overnight on cruise.
Day 4Halong Bay half day. Return to Hanoi evening.
Day 5Fly Hanoi – Da Nang. Arrange onward travel to Hoi An.
Day 6Explore the countryside and beaches around Hoi An.
Day 7 Spend the whole day in Hoi An ancient town, lovely atmosphere.
Day 8Drive 100 miles to Hue by motorbike over the scenic Hai Van Pass.
Day 9Cycle/motorbike to Hue’s abandoned water park. Pedestrian night walking streets.
Day 10Early start, check out Imperial City grounds. Transport to Da Nang and fly to Hanoi.

Itinerary 3 – Whirlwind 10 Days Crushing Northern & Central Vietnam

Itinerary Vietnam 10 Days Whirlwind North & Center

The rush job itinerary, 10 days of constant transport and sightseeing is only advisable for the following:

  • Those who love to race through a country and tick off every box on the list in a short time frame.
  • The super organized and efficient traveler who is ready to adapt to any sudden change in the itinerary.
  • Travelers who view squandering money on non essentials – such as hotels – a waste of the budget!

This whirlwind itinerary encompasses each of the 7 major tourist hotspots in Northern and Central Vietnam but it is not for the fainthearted. You will be wrecked by the end!

This is the only way to see all of the best places in one hit across 10 days. The route we have designed is the quickest possible way you can travel (with no delays or interruptions) and still see/do the major sites at each stop.

However, this option includes some pretty awful transport routes, such as an overnight 7 hour sleeper bus leaving Tam Coc at 8pm and arriving into Phong Nha at 3am. Yes we know how unappealing that sounds – we’ve got the t-shirt!

Now you have a decision to make.

Do you think you can cope with the pace? If not, which 1 or 2 of the places can you leave out?

We would tentatively suggest that you cut Phong Nha from this particular itinerary, even though it was one of our favorite parts of Vietnam. Phong Nha will cause you to lose too much time to justify a 1 day visit, unless you have booked one of the awesome adventure cave tours.

A sleeper train from Ninh Binh to Hue through the 6th night would arrive the 7th morning (as opposed to arriving the 8th lunchtime and cramming).

Breakdown of Days 1-10

Day 1One day to blast around the best bits of Hanoi.
Day 26 hour bus to Sapa. Begin trekking tour part 1 immediately and homestay.
Day 3Trekking tour part 2, followed by 6 hour bus back to Hanoi.
Day 49am departure to Halong Bay. Full day in the bay, overnight on cruise.
Day 5Halong Bay half day and bus directly from Halong Bay to Tam Coc (Ninh Binh).
Day 6One full day in Tam Coc. 8pm overnight sleeper bus to Phong Nha takes 7 hours.
Day 7 One full day in Phong Nha exploring caves and botanic gardens.
Day 8Early bus to Hue. Explore Imperial City and Abandoned Water Park.
Day 9Drive 100 miles Hue to Hoi An over scenic Hai Van Pass & through Da Nang.
Day 10Spend one full day in Hoi An ancient town. Da Nang airport to Hanoi or onwards.

Relevant Vietnam Travel Guides

We hope our three options for your 10 days Northern and Central Vietnam itinerary help you plan your visit!

Don’t miss these 30 key things to know before visiting Vietnam and you might be interested to see how much 1 month travel in Vietnam cost us.

Please let us know if you need any help planning your itinerary.

Happy Travels!

Trivia: Vietnam is the worlds biggest producer of which condiment?

Black Pepper

Vietnam produces around 160,000 tons of black pepper each year, which accounts for roughly 35% of the world’s entire production.

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10 days in Vietnam three awesome itineraries
10 Days North and Central Vietnam 3 awesome itineraries
Northern and Central Vietnam 3 perfect example itineraries

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