A guide to the 10 best Vietnam day trips to take from Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon), Danang or Hoi An.
You could spend a lifetime travelling around Vietnam and still not experience everything this incredibly diverse country has to offer. When I lived in Hanoi, I got to travel around most of the North – yet there’s still so much of Vietnam I’m yet to see.
Guided tours aren’t for everyone, but there’s no denying that an organised day trip with air-conditioned transfers and an English-speaking guide is one of the most convenient ways to get around Vietnam. A tour is also a surefire way to gain a deeper, more complete look at Vietnam’s nature, history and culture.
While I always suggest travelling slow, I know not everyone has the luxury of time. Whether you’re planning a short visit to Vietnam or you just want to pack as much as possible into your Vietnam itinerary, taking advantage of an organised side trip from one of the major hubs is a brilliant way to cover more ground.
This guide to the 10 best Vietnam day trips covers North Vietnam, Central Vietnam and South Vietnam. You’ll be surprised how many Vietnam must-sees and amazing destinations you can cover in a single day!
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Here are the booking sites and services I personally use whenever I travel to Vietnam.
– Find affordable flights to Vietnam on Kiwi.com, a booking site that mixes and matches airlines to find the best route (there’s a money back guarantee if you miss a connection).
– Use iVisa to check if you need a tourist visa for Vietnam and apply for an expedited e-visa online.
– Pre-book a private hotel transfer from Hanoi Airport or Ho Chi Minh City Airport.
– Pre-order a local 4G sim card for pickup at your first Vietnam hotel.
– Find the best hotel deals in Vietnam on Agoda, book a Vietnam hostel, or find a unique Airbnb.
– Reserve your Vietnam Rail tickets for the train to Sapa, Da Nang, Hue or Saigon.
– Buy your domestic bus or plane tickets in advance using Baolau or 12GoAsia.
– Find the best cooking classes and foodie experiences in Vietnam. Here are my top 15 Vietnam food experiences to help you decide.
– Find the best city tours and day excursions in Vietnam. Check out my top 10 best Vietnam day trips for more inspiration.
– Consult my comprehensive Halong Bay guide to find the best cruises & tours.
– Try an alternative tour or DIY experience with social enterprise Backstreet Academy.
– Pick up a copy of the latest Lonely Planet guidebook for Vietnam.
Top 10 Vietnam day trips overview
Here are quick links to the 10 Vietnam day trips mentioned in this post.
- Day trip to Bai Tu Long Bay from Hanoi
- Day trip to Ninh Binh (Tam Coc) from Hanoi
- Day trip to Perfume Pagoda from Hanoi
- Day trip to Hue from Danang
- Day trip to Ba Na Hills & the Golden Bridge from Danang
- Day trip to My Son Sanctuary from Hoi An
- Day trip to Marble Mountains from Hoi An
- Day trip to the Mekong Delta from Ho Chi Minh City
- Day trip to Cai Be Floating Market from Ho Chi Minh City
- Day trip to Cao Dai Temple from Ho Chi Minh City
Best day trips from Hanoi
Hanoi, Vietnam’s capital and largest city in the North, is well-positioned for a number of full-day trips. Spectacular karsts and caves, ancient capitals and Buddhist pagodas can all be accessed in a couple of hours by road.
And of course, Hanoi is the departure point for Vietnam’s crowning glory and most popular tourist attraction: the UNESCO-Listed Halong Bay.
1. Bai Tu Long Bay
If you’re concerned about over-tourism on Halong Bay, Bai Tu Long Bay is a nice alternative. It has the same limestone karst landscape as its more-famous cousin, but because far fewer boats are permitted to sail here, it’s a lot quieter and less polluted.
Bai Tu Long Bay is located just north of Halong Bay. Cruises depart from the same jetty, roughly a 4-hour drive from Hanoi.
Sleeping on a junk and waking up amongst the karsts is a terrific experience, which is why I usually recommend spending at least one night on the bay. However, it’s still possible to see Vietnam’s most famous UNESCO landscape in a day from Hanoi.
This full day trip starts with pick up at your hotel in Hanoi Old Quarter at 8am. You’ll then be transferred to the port by shuttle bus. You get a full 6 hours on the water, which is pretty generous for a day trip. This includes a tour of a floating village, a cave experience (with kayak hire or row boat charter included in the tour price), a short cooking class and a traditional Vietnamese lunch on board.
Unlike a lot of other day tours that have you back in the bus by 4pm, this one includes sunset from the boat. For this reason, you’ll return to Hanoi pretty late – but trust me, it will be worth it.
For more Bai Tu Long Bay day tour options, the best overnight cruises and full details on how to get to Halong from Hanoi independently, check out my comprehensive Hanoi to Halong Bay travel guide.
2. Ninh Binh (Tam Coc & Trang An)
Ninh Binh Province is one of my favourite places in Vietnam. It’s often referred to as ‘Halong Bay on land’ because the landscape is decorated with the same limestone karst formations. Ninh Binh is well and truly inland, however – it’s roughly a 2.5 to 3-hour drive from Hanoi. It’s close proximity to the capital is another reason I recommend Ninh Binh as one of the best Vietnam day trips from Hanoi.
A trip to Ninh Binh involves taking a sampan boat tour around the karsts and caves at either Tam Coc-Bich Dong or the UNESCO-Listed Trang An Landscape Complex.
One of Vietnam’s ancient capitals, Hoa Lu, is located close by and is home to a number of significant pagodas and edifices. The largest temple complex in Vietnam, Bai Dinh, can also be included when you visit Ninh Binh from Hanoi.
This private tour is great value for money – it includes transfers from your Hanoi hotel, a Vietnamese lunch, and tickets for all the attractions, including a 90-minute boat ride at Tam Coc. You’ll be accompanied by an English-speaking guide for the duration of the day, and because it’s a private tour, you can choose your pick up time (I suggest leaving Hanoi a tad earlier than the recommended 8am).
Another thing I love about this itinerary is the inclusion of a short bike ride to Hang Mua, where you have time to summit the Lying Dragon Mountain for Ninh Binh’s best view.
Note that this itinerary does involve a bit of physical activity including the bike ride and the climb, so it’s not suitable for anyone with mobility issues. As an alternative, this day tour combines a visit to the Bai Dinh temples with a boat ride at Trang An.
3. Perfume Pagoda
The Perfume Pagoda or Huong Pagoda is a sacred pilgrimage site 60km west from Hanoi. Depending on traffic, it can take under 2 hours to get there from the capital.
This part of Northern Vietnam is very lush. A trip to the Perfume Pagoda is a nice way to get some fresh air and find some respite from Hanoi. What’s really special about this place is the way you get there.
The main pagoda is built into the limestone Huong Tich mountains and can only be accessed via a long waterway. A never-ending stream of sampan boats ferries pilgrims up the Yen stream, through blankets of lotus flowers and between misty, atmosphere karsts and mountains. At the end, a series of uphill paths connect the different shrines and grottoes.
This small group tour to the Perfume Pagoda from Hanoi will teach you a lot about Vietnamese culture and religion. After visiting the main cave, you have the option of trekking or taking a cable car back to the pier. Lunch is served at the foot of the mountain and included in the tour price. Transfers to and from the Old Quarter are done by air conditioned coach, and you’ll be back in the city by approximately 6pm.
If you prefer to travel by private car, this tour follows the same itinerary but gives you the flexibility of a private guide and your own transportation.
Top tip: Because the Perfume Pagoda is a popular pilgrimage site, it gets extremely busy around certain religious holidays. It’s recommended to avoid visiting in the lead-up to Tet – it’s simply too crowded. I recommend checking with the tour provider before you book to make sure your travel dates don’t coincide with any festivals.
Where to stay in Hanoi
La Siesta Hang Be is a luxury boutique hotel with a very reasonable nightly rate. The Old Quarter location is ideal, and you won’t find a more stylish interior design anywhere else in Hanoi. Check rates and availability on Booking.com.
Essence Hanoi Hotel is another solid choice for the Old Quarter. It’s positioned close to ‘Bia Hoi Corner’, and one of the best restaurants in the city is located right in the lobby. Read my review of Essence Hanoi Hotel or check rates and availability on Booking.com.
A great budget-friendly hotel in Hanoi is Tung Trang Hotel. Run by a beautiful and welcoming family, it’s located right in the beating heart of the Old Quarter. Check rates and availability on Booking.com.
If Airbnb is more your thing, here is my curated list of the best quintessentially Hanoian Airbnb apartments. Remember to use this link when you sign up and you’ll get $55 AUD credit towards your first booking.
Best day trips from Danang
Danang (Da Nang) on Vietnam’s Central Coast is a great place to base yourself for a few days. Not only is Danang home to some of the best beaches in Vietnam, it’s also strategically located between two of the country’s most beautiful and historically significant cities: Hue and Hoi An.
Inland from Danang, you’ll find a majestic landscape of forests and mountains – with one of the Vietnam’s strangest day trip locations nestled inside.
4. Hue Royal Citadel
Hue was the capital of Vietnam’s Nguyen Dynasty. It’s more than worthy of a few days of your time, but if you’re pushed, you can see the main historical sights in a day trip from Danang. Hue is a wonderful hands-on experience of history and a must-see if you’re interested in learning about Vietnam’s dynastic past.
With limited time in Hue, you should focus on seeing two things: The UNESCO-Listed Royal Citadel in the centre of town (Hue’s main attraction), and the royal tombs dotted around the countryside just outside the city.
It’s a 3-hour drive to reach Hue from Danang. This epic 10-hour day trip includes a stop at the scenic Hai Van Pass along the way to break up the first leg of the journey. In Hue, you’ll visit the Citadel while your guide narrates the key buildings, including the Forbidden Purple City and the Emperor’s private residence.
Lunch comes included. In the afternoon, you’ll board a boat for a jaunt along the Perfume River, visiting Thien Mu Pagoda (another Hue icon) and the impressive Khai Dinh Royal Tomb.
If you have longer in Hue, make sure you check out the abandoned dragon water park.
5. Ba Na Hills & the Golden Bridge
Hue has been a significant for eons. In complete contrast, Ba Na Hills and the Golden Bridge have only risen to prominence in recent years – thanks in no small part to Instagram.
If you just can’t leave Vietnam without capturing that shot for your feed, your best bet is to visit on this day trip from Danang. In all seriousnous, Ba Na Hills (the area where the bridge is located) does make for a nice side trip – and it’s only an hour’s drive inland from Danang when travelling by car.
Ba Na Hills, a former colonial hill station like Sapa and Dalat, is high-altitude, so you’ll get a nice break from the heat (remember to pack a jacket) and some fresh air. On this itinerary, you’ll ride the 5km cable car over Vong Nguyet Hills to get to the settlement, where you’ll visit the old French horse stables, a French cellar and flower garden, Le Jardin D’amour, plus a couple of significant pagodas.
There’s an opportunity to summit Chua Mountain for a view of Danang city before walking the Insta-famous Golden Bridge. A major plus to this tour is that everything is included in the price – including lunch, private car transfer, tickets for the cable car, and all entrance fees.
Alternatively, this shorter 6-hour tour starts from Danang at 3pm. After a guided walk through the French quarter, you’ll enjoy a buffet dinner before crossing over the Golden Bridge at sunset.
Where to stay in Danang
If you want to stay near the water, Sala Danang Beach Hotel is 100m from My Khe Beach. There’s an ocean-facing infinity pool, panoramic water views from the high-rise restaurant, and the modern suites are beautifully decorated. Check rates and availability on Booking.com.
Best day trips from Hoi An
Hoi An’s lantern-lit Ancient Town is one of the most atmospheric and captivating places in Vietnam. It features prominently on most travellers’ itineraries – and for good reason.
If you tire of Hoi An’s hubub and notorious heat, it’s good to know that there are a few excellent Vietnam day trips within earshot of the city.
6. My Son Sanctuary
My Son Sanctuary is barely an hour’s drive inland from Hoi An, yet many tourists skip it. The UNESCO World Heritage Site consists of a series of religious sanctuaries and towers built between the 4th and 13th centuries. A relic of the Champa Kingdom, the designs have their roots in Hinduism – you may notice some similarities to the temples of Angkor in neighbouring Cambodia.
This half-day tour from Hoi An to My Son starts with a car transfer to the site from Hoi An. Following a detailed walking tour of the historical site and a visit to a nearby pottery village, you’ll be transferred back to Hoi An in style – by boat along the Thu Bon River. There are morning and afternoon departures depending on your preference and schedule.
If you want to skip the boat ride and spend a bit longer at the temples, this 4-hour itinerary includes transfer to and from Hoi An by road.
Pro tip: The area where My Son is located is very hot and exposed. Avoid visiting in the summer months, and choose the early start time of 7.30am to avoid the heat of the day.
7. Marble Mountains
The Marble Mountains is a cluster of 5 striking rock formations that emerge from the landscape near the coast. They are located roughly halfway between Hoi An and Danang. Most people end up visiting from Danang, but it’s also possible to visit on a quick afternoon getaway from Hoi An.
This efficient 4-hour tour includes hotel pick up in Hoi An. After climbing the stairs to the summit of Mount Thuy for a view, you’ll get a chance to visit some of the caves, tunnels and Buddhist sanctuaries pressed into the side of the cliff.
On the way back to Hoi An, you’ll stop off at one of the villages where sculptors fashion souvenirs and gaudy homewares from locally quarried stone.
Where to stay in Hoi An
Luxury Little Riverside Hoi An is located inside the Ancient Town and is undoubtedly the loveliest hotel in the city. Just look at the photos if you don’t believe me! Check rates and availability on Booking.com.
If you don’t mind staying a bit out of the centre, Bay Sand Villa Resort is a phenomenal riverside property on the island adjacent to the Ancient Town. The outdoor pool and sprawling private terraces make this hotel perfect for families or anyone who wants some chill time. Check rates and availability on Booking.com.
Best day trips from Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon)
There’s enough going on in Vietnam’s biggest metropolis, Saigon, to keep you occupied for many lifetimes. When you need a breather, remember the verdant Mekong Delta is right on Ho Chi Minh City’s doorstep.
8. Mekong Delta
The Mekong Delta is a marshy, fertile area that covers the southern portion of Vietnam. It’s characterised by slinking waterways, coconut palms, and stilted villages perched on the river banks.
This part of Vietnam is unlike anywhere else in the country, making it a must-see in my eyes. There’s no better day trip from Saigon than an escape to the Delta, where daily life takes on an entirely different pace and time seems to slow down.
The Mekong Delta is extremely popular, so it’s important to choose a tour that’s not going to take you to the most crowded spots at the worst time of day. I love this ‘non-touristy’ day trip because it makes a point of taking you on the path less travelled.
As you bike along country roads through rice paddies and coconut plantations, you’ll have a chance to learn about rural life in the Delta. This itinerary also packs in a visit to an Orchid Farm, the Cao Dai temple, and a few local workshops. A traditional Vietnamese lunch and coconut water (what else!) come included in the price.
9. Cai Be Floating Market
Much like the Hmong Bac Ha Market near Sapa, Cai Be Floating Market has become extremely popular with tourists in recent decades. This inevitably means that the market has lost a bit of its local charm. Despite this, it’s still one of the biggest floating markets in the world, which makes it worth experiencing in my books.
Cai Be is located around 100km south-west from Saigon, so it takes around 2.5 hours to reach by car. It’s usually recommended to overnight in the nearby town of Vinh Long to be able to reach the market in the early morning (it starts to dwindle by noon). However, if you’re coming on a day trip from Saigon, you can still see the market in action provided you leave the city early enough.
The main advantage to this private market tour is that you have the choice of four departure times. I highly recommend starting as early as possible at 7am (or ever earlier, if you can negotiate it).
After a guided tour of the market, you’ll be shown around a few of the Delta’s workshops, including a rice paper factory, a honey farm and a coconut candy workshop. Enjoy a cup of lotus tea while being serenaded by folk musicians before boarding a row boat for a trip down one of the canals. The tour concludes with a short bike ride through one of the local villages before returning to Saigon – it really does pack a lot in!
10. Cao Dai Temple
If you’re looking for an off-beat day trip from Ho Chi Minh City, Cao Dai Temple fits the bill perfectly. Located in Tay Ninh, 2.5-hours north-west of Saigon near the Cambodian border, this curious religious site is the original meeting place for one of the world’s most curious sects.
Caodaism evades explanation – you really need an experienced guide to give you the full breakdown. Their elaborate temple incorporates elements of a Christian church, a Buddhist temple and a mosque, with Disney imagery and a curious range of icons. It really has to be seen to be believed.
This full-day tour from Saigon couples a guided tour of the Cao Dai Temple with a visit to the (in)famous Cu Chi Tunnels. If the temple leaves you with your head in the clouds, the war history at the last stop will certainly bring you back down to earth. Note that AC transfers, lunch and all entrance fees are included in the tour price.
Where to stay in Ho Chi Minh City
The Hammock Hotel Ben Thanh in District 1is walking distance from all the major sights, including the eponymous Ben Thanh Market. With spartan rooms, a rooftop terrace, a 24-hour open pantry and self-service laundry, you’ll never want to leave. Check rates and availability on Booking.com.
The Hut Boutique Hotel Notre Dame in District 3 features similarly design-oriented rooms with a common lounge and on-site cafe/bar. The bespoke decorations and Saigon-style balconies will make you feel like a local. Check rates and availability on Booking.com.
For a centrally located hostel in the backpacker zone of District 1, try Baoanh Hostel. The best thing about this property is that it’s located down a quiet street, so you can still get your beauty sleep while staying in the thick of it. Check rates and availability on Booking.com.
What to bring with you on a Vietnam day trip
- An anti-theft backpack. Petty crime is unfortunately still a big issue in Cambodia, especially in Phnom Penh. Invest in an anti-theft day pack and remember to be extra careful with your belongings when you’re in a tuk tuk or walking down the street. If you hate chunky backpacks, here are my favourite minimalist backpacks (including anti-theft options) for using in a city like Phnom Penh.
- A reusable waterbottle. Don’t contribute to Cambodia’s plastic waste problem! A reusable waterbottle is absolutely essential – I love my S’Well water bottle for warm climates because it doesn’t sweat. Silicone bags, a reusable straw and a portable cutlery set will also come in very handy.
- Sunscreen. Most face creams sold locally in Cambodia contain skin whiteners, while international suncare brands such as Banana Boat can be prohibitively expensive. I highly recommend bringing a tube (or two) of your favourite sunscreen from home. I recently started using this brand and I absolutely love it. I use this one on my face.
- Entertainment for long bus journeys. If you don’t suffer motion sickness, an e-reader is great for passing the time on long bus journeys. If you have a travel buddy, pick up a headphone splitter – probably my favourite travel gadget of all time – so you can share a screen or a podcast.
- A lightweight cotton scarf. This is my number one travel item for Southeast Asia. A light cotton scarf has a thousand uses: Use it to cover your shoulders when you go inside a pagoda, or cover your mouth when you’re tuk-tuking down a dusty road. If you don’t have a favourite, you can always pick one up when you arrive from one of the many ethical souvenir shops in Phnom Penh.
- A pumice stone. After a few hours taking your shoes on and off continuously to go in and out of temples, your tootsies are going to get filthy (trust me!). A pumice stone comes in handy for cleansing your feet at the end of the day.
Should you tip your tour guide?
Tipping is not part of Vietnamese culture nor is it mandatory. As a general rule, people are not expected to tip drivers, wait staff in restaurants, or indeed tour guides.
However, tipping has become increasingly mainstream in the past 10 years, and now many tour operators expect tourists to tip guides and drivers.
Whether or not you choose to tip your guide is entirely up to you. You’ll notice that most operators list gratuities as an exclusion – but there’s no pressure to leave a tip if you weren’t happy with the service.
Having said that, it’s important to consider that local wages in Vietnam are still quite low, and many guides rely on tips to supplement their income. If you had a good experience on your tour, then it’s a nice gesture to leave a small tip – say the equivalent of 4 to 5 USD. Remember to tip your driver or boat captain a few dollars, too.
More Vietnam travel resources
- Where to stay in Hanoi: The best Airbnbs in the Old Quarter and my favourite Old Quarter boutique hotel
- Where to find the best handmade souvenirs in Hanoi
- My top tips for being a responsible traveller in Hanoi
- How to visit Hanoi’s morning markets
- Guides to Ngoc Ha and Truc Bach, my two favourite local Hanoi neighbourhoods
- How to take a day trip from Hanoi to Duong Lam Ancient Village
- My guide to visiting Bac Ha Market near Sapa
- Where to stay in Sapa
- Why you should try a homestay experience in Vietnam
- Travel guides for my favourite Vietnam destinations: Hai Phong City, Pu Luong Nature Reserve, Ha Giang, Da Bac, and Dalat