Immerse yourself in the highlights of Cambodia and Vietnam with this 14-day itinerary. See extraordinary UNESCO World Heritage Sites, taste culinary treasures and explore scenic landscapes across these two Southeast Asian nations. Embrace rich cultural heritage and learn about brutal historic events as you make your way from the unfathomable stone temples of Angkor to Vietnam’s fascinating capital. I hope your passport is current, because you are going to want to book this Cambodia and Vietnam itinerary immediately!
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Table of contents
- Cambodia and Vietnam travel route
- Getting to Vietnam and Cambodia
- Independent exploration versus custom tour
- Best time to visit Vietnam and Cambodia
- Day-by-day Vietnam and Cambodia itinerary
- Day 1 – Arrival
- Day 2 – Ha Noi
- Day 3 – Ha Long Bay Cruise
- Day 4 – Ha Long Bay Cruise continued
- Day 5 – Hué
- Day 6 – Hué to Hoi An
- Day 7 – Hoi An
- Day 8 – Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC)
- Day 9 – Cu Chi Tunnels and Cao Dai Holy See
- Day 10 – Cái Bè, Vietnam
- Day 11 – Phnom Penh, Cambodia
- Day 12 – Phnom Penh, Cambodia
- Day 13 – Siem Reap and Angkor Complex
- Day 14 – Departure
- Vietnam and Cambodia entry requirements
Cambodia and Vietnam travel route
We travelled this itinerary north to south as it is written below. However, as a cultural experience, we enjoyed Vietnam’s north more. We wouldn’t discourage you from going to the south, it is absolutely worth seeing, but we found it had more of a western influence and there was a different attitude towards tourists.
In the north of Vietnam, people generally left us alone, or politely took no for an answer the first time we declined a tailored suit etc. As we moved south (starting in Hoi An) there was a distinct increase in the tourist husle. Touts were more persistent and I got openly offered crack in the street one night in Ho Chi Minh City—dude, you have the wrooooong tourist! For this reason, we feel it would have been better to end on the highest note by travelling south and north instead. However, this may also depend on flight availability and cost from your point of origin. More on that…
Getting to Vietnam and Cambodia
There are direct flights in and out of Noi Bai International Airport (HAN) in Hanoi, Vietnam from London, Paris, Frankfurt, Sydney, Melbourne, Mumbai, Singapore, Kuala Lumpur, Jakarta, Taipei and Hong Kong among others from within Asia. There are currently no non-stop flights from the US, although there have been stirrings that there will be direct flights from the West Coast in the future—keep an eye on Vietnam Airlines and Bamboo Airways.
Direct flights in and out of Siem Reap International Airport (REP) connect Bangkok, Shanghai, Singapore, Kuala Lumpur, Phuket, Vientiane among a few other Asian cities.
Independent exploration versus custom tour
It is absolutely possible to travel this itinerary independently. Given it’s a fairly full and fast-paced program, I would highly recommend booking all flights, accommodation, transfers and day tours in advance.
If you’d prefer not to get bogged down in the logistical details, engage a locally-based tour company to help customize and coordinate your trip. We worked with a Vietnam-based tour company to help customize and coordinate our Cambodia and Vietnam itinerary. We still invested a lot of research and stayed active in the process to ensure our final itinerary was everything we wanted. However, we let them take care of the logistics and benefited from their local knowledge and contacts.
A custom itinerary like this is more expensive than a pre-packaged or group tour, but we got to see everything we wanted in the limited 14-days we had to travel. We didn’t have to worry how we were getting between destinations, and if something went awry, we could just call up our tour company and they would help resolve the issue.
Best time to visit Vietnam and Cambodia
This itinerary covers a geographic region that spans various climate zones. For optimal weather conditions across all destinations, the best time to visit Vietnam and Cambodia is during the dry season, November through to April. Typically, early dry season, November to February sees much cooler temperatures, and it heats up from March to April.
We travelled in late-December through early-January and found the north of Vietnam quite mild with cool evenings, overcast skies but little rain. The south of Vietnam and Cambodia was pleasantly warm with clearer skies and sun.
It is important to note that from a price and crowd perspective, November to April is when everyone wants to visit. Therefore, you will experience more crowds at attractions along with higher flight and accommodation prices. The shoulder seasons in May and late-October are a good alternative that balances weather, crowds and price.
For a unique cultural experience, you may also want to consider visiting Vietnam during its most important holiday, Tet Nguyen Dan, which falls in January or February (depending on the lunar calendar). Though this will be a particularly busy and expensive time to travel.
In Cambodia, Bon Om Touk is a water festival in November. The celebration marks the end of wet season with the biggest regattas and ceremonies taking place in Phnom Penh and around Tonle Sap, near Siem Reap.
Day-by-day Vietnam and Cambodia itinerary
Day 1 – Arrival
Arrive in Ha Noi, Vietnam’s capital city located in the country’s north. Check into your accommodation. I recommend basing yourself in the charming Old Quarter which is central to many sights in the city.
If there is still daylight remaining, take a wander around Hoan Kiem Lake to see Turtle Tower, Huc Bridge and absorb your new surroundings. Then take a rooftop perch at the not-so-secret Café Pho Co, concealed behind a silk shop in the Old Quarter. Combat jetlag by ordering a delicious Ca Phe Sua Nong (Vietnamese drip coffee with condensed milk) and enjoy the view.
Day 2 – Ha Noi
On your first full day in Ha Noi, spend some of your morning exploring the Ho Chi Minh Presidential Palace Historical Site. This complex includes Ho Chi Minh’s mausoleum, the French-colonial Presidential Palace and the humble stilt house that President Ho had built as a less ostentacious alternative. This is a big site, so try to limit your visit to two-hours, we have lots more to see!
Follow up with a visit to the Temple of Literature. The historic complex was home to Vietnam’s first national university and continues to be an important Confucian place of worship. The Temple is the perfect place to seek tranquility in the bustling capital.
Take a lunch break. I highly recommend Koto Restaurant very close to the Temple of Literature. Koto is a hospitality training facility for a non-profit serving disadvantaged youth. The food is delicious and it is popular, so it is best to make a booking in advance.
After lunch, spend an hour in the Vietnam Museum of Ethnology for an introduction to the countries 54 officially recognized ethnic groups. Enjoy over 15,000 artefacts including photographs, clothing, jewellery and homewares. Don’t miss the Museum’s outdoor exhibits with replicas of traditional Vietnamese homes and a water puppet stage.
Return to the Old Quarter for a walking tour. Discover gorgeous architecture, cozy laneways and bustling commercial streets divided into guilds, each dedicated to a specific trade.
Following dinner, don’t miss the opportunity to experience a water puppet show. Water puppetry is a unique artform that developed on flooded rice fields of northern Vietnam to provide entertainment and recount folklore.
Day 3 – Ha Long Bay Cruise
Transfer from Hanoi to your cruise departure point for a night on UNESCO World Heritage-listed Ha Long Bay. Budget-conscious travellers might ride the public bus from Ha Noi. However, I recommend balancing affordability and convenience by taking a shuttle bus. These range from minivans to 45-seat buses. Many of these are run by the cruise operators, so enquire with your operator. The journey usually takes 2.5-3-hours.
Board your vessel and enjoy the amazing scenery as you cruise out into the Gulf of Tonkin. Ha Long Bay consists of over 1600 limestone islands and islets that rise vertically from the milky green waters creating stunning scenery. Depending on your tour, you may visit a fishing village or have access to kayaks for self-exploration.
Day 4 – Ha Long Bay Cruise continued
Your Ha Long Bay cruise continues on day four. You’ll likely pass beautiful spots like Trong (Drum), Trinh Nu (Virgin) Cave and Me Cung Caves, Coc Ngoi (Toad) Islet etc. The one spot almost guaranteed to appear on every curis itinerary is Sung Sot Cave (aka Surprise Cave). The cave is composed of two enormous chambers eroded into a cliffside. Their interiors are adorned with stalactites and stalagmite, colourfully lit. From the exterior you can capture that iconic top-down view of the Ha Long Bay you’ve almost certainly seen on your Insta feed.
After a morning of exploring, the boat will return to the dock. Transfer to Noi Bai International Airport (HAN) in Ha Noi for an evening flight south to Vietnam’s former capital, Hué. Check into your accommodation for the night.
Day 5 – Hué
Hué is located at the foot of the Annamese Cordillera mountain range, on the Perfume River. The city was the seat of power through the Nguyen dynasty’s rule over Vietnam from the early-19th to mid-20th centuries. The key sights in Hué date from this time. They are collectively enscribed in the UNESCO World Heritage List under the title Complex of Hué Monuments. Start your day with the core property of the Complex, the Imperial Citadel. These impressive remains of a walled palace encompass a 10-km moat, ornate palace, gated courtyards, formal gardens and pavilions. Take a few hours to explore this amazing sight.
After lunch, take a boat ride on the Perfume River to Thiên Mụ Pagoda. The original pagoda was constructed on the orders of Emporer Nguyen Hoang in 1601. The current octagonal tower was built in 1844, and dedicated to manushi-buddha. Beyond the pagoda is a small monastery including pavilions, stele, statues and an oversized brass bell said to be audible from 10-km away.
Next take in the imperial tombs of Nguyen family royals. The most accessible of the seven sites are those of Emperors Minh Mang, Tu Duc and Khai Dinh. The tombs were built on the orders of the kings themselves preceeding their deaths. Though the word “tomb” is a misnomer, or really an understatement. They are entire complexes with ornamental gates, lavish residences and waterways.
Day 6 – Hué to Hoi An
Transfer to Hoi An by your choice of private car, bus, train or even motorbike. I encourage you to travel by road, for the sweeping coastal vistas as you travel over Hai Van Pass. Make a tour of your commute by hiring a car and driver who can make stops at sights along the way such as Marble Mountains and My Khe Beach.
Day 7 – Hoi An
Learn how to make some of your favourite Vietnamese dishes with a cooking class in Hoi An. We had a great experience on a half-day market visit and cooking class with Red Bridge Cooking School. If you prefer to spend the day cycling around the rice paddies or at the beach, you can still enjoy an evening class.
Burn off that condensed milk in your Vietnamese coffee with an afternoon walking tour of the Hoi An Ancient Town. The UNESCO World Heritage Site is considered a well-preserved example of a Southeast Asian trading port and dates back to the 15th-century. The town architecture is incorporates many influences including French, Japanese, Chinese and local styles.
I can’t recommend Bale Well highly enough for a casual dinner. Located in a back alley on the site of an old well, it isn’t secret but less frequented by the mainstream tourist crowd. Prepare yourself for a set menu that will see you rolling your own rice paper rolls. The food is divine and the staff are great fun. Bale Well is one of the most memorable food experiences we’ve had while travelling, period!
Take an after-dinner walk around the Ancient City to see why Hoi An is known as the “City of Lanterns”. The bamboo and silk lanterns adorn the city with vibrant colour during the day, and at night they illuminate the streets with a romantic charm.
Day 8 – Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC)
On day 8 of your Cambodia and Vietnam itinerary, take a morning flight from Da Nang Airport (DAD) to Tan Son Nhat Airport (SGN) in Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon).
The region where HCMC is located was originally part of Cambodia and was seized from the Khmer in the 17th-century. It was the capital of French-occupied territory in southern Vietnam and the capital of South Vietnam until the end of the Vietnam War. Today, it’s the largest city in Vietnam by population and is the country’s financial hub. The Western influence is evident in HCMC than in any other part of Vietnam we visited.
After lunch, take a city tour to learn about the history and architecture of HCMC including the Notre-Dame Cathedral Basilica of Saigon and Central Post Office.
Explore the War Remnants Museum, which covers the First Indochina War (1946-1954) through to the Second Indochina War (aka Vietnam War, 1955-1975). It is a fascinating look at the “other side of the story”— that highlights the tragedies of war and colonialism. There are both indoor and outdoor exhibits located in what was formerly the US Information Agency.
Finish the day with some shopping and people-watching at Ben Thanh Market.
Day 9 – Cu Chi Tunnels and Cao Dai Holy See
Take a full day tour outside the city to visit the Cu Chi Tunnels and Cao Dai temple. The Cu Chi Tunnels (pronounced: ku-chee) were dug by the Viet Cong—farmers turned guerilla army—over a 25-year period and used during the Indochina wars against France and U.S.-backed Saigon. The Viet Cong hid out and lived in the subterranean network of tunnels and rooms which were also used as supply routes and hospitals. It is fascinating to learn about the evolution of the passages. You can enter the tunnels at designated points, but beware, the mildest claustrophobia sufferers will find the tight spaces difficult to handle especially in the tropical heat. There are plenty of above-ground exhibits and activities to keep you occupied too.
After lunch, visit the Cao Dai Holy See in Táy Ninh, centre of the Caodaist church. The religion was officially established in Vietnam in 1926 blending elements of Confucianism, Taoism, Buddhism, Roman Catholicism and Vietnamese folk religion. The temple reflects this diversity and is infused with symbolism from all these spiritual influences. You can enter if dressed modestly, ensuring your chest, shoulders and knees are covered. Services can be quietly observed from a mezzanine inside.
Day 10 – Cái Bè, Vietnam
Take another day trip out of the city to Cái Bè, in the heart of the Mekong Delta. Board a sampan boat to cruise up the Mekong River, the 12th largest river in the world. Witness life on its delta with stilted, overwater homes and floating markets. Transfer to a smaller boat to explore the canals of Vinh Long. There you can visit traditional candy factories, bee farms, orchards and other cottage industries.
Return to Ho Chi Minh City for the evening.
Day 11 – Phnom Penh, Cambodia
Take a morning flight from Tan Son Nhat Airport (SGN) in HCMC to Phnom Penh International Airport (PNH). Spend an afternoon visiting the Royal Palace, the National Museum and/or the Central Market in Cambodia’s capital city.
Day 12 – Phnom Penh, Cambodia
Spend a half-day taking a guided tour of Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum (S-21 Prison) and Choeung Ek Genocidal Centre (Killing Fields). Though these are heavy sights, it is essential to bear witness to the atrocities of the Khmer Rouge regime to understand Cambodia past and present. These memorial sites are places of genocide and need to be approached respectfully. You can visit by a public bus, negotiating a tuk-tuk or half-day tour.
Take a late-afternoon flight from Phnom Penh International Airport (PNH) to Siem Reap International Airport (REP).
Day 13 – Siem Reap and Angkor Complex
Start your one full-day in Siem Reap taking an Angkor Complex tour, beginning with sunrise over the famous Wat. Explore the incredible… before continuing onto some of the other highlights of the complex and UNESCO World Heritage Site. Live out your Tomb Raider fantasies at the temple of Ta Prohm, and continue to the ancient walled capital of Angkor Thom.
Enjoy dinner in Siem Reap and an evening Apsara dance show. This style of dance is named for female spirits of water and clouds that appears in Hindu and Buddhist cultures. They are depicted in various artforms form sculpture to painting. In dance, their graceful movements are choreographed to narrate folklore and religious stories.
Day 14 – Departure
On the final day of your Vietnam and Cambodia itinerary you’ll likely depart from via Siem Reap International Airport (REP). If you have some time before your flight, wander the French Quarter and check out Psah Chas market (also spelt as Phsar Chas, Psar Chas or Psar Chaa) for souvenirs.
Vietnam and Cambodia entry requirements
Entry to Vietnam will require a tourist visa which can be applied for on arrival or online as an e-visa. The e-visa is a much more simple and efficient option. It is granted for 15-30 days, with single (USD25) or multiple entries (USD50). You can apply online at the official portal here. You’ll need a digital scan of your valid passport’s bio page (the one with your photo and details on it) and a passport-style photo. Beware, there a lot of companies online that are official-looking (even more-so than the actual official site) but are third-parties who will apply for a visa on your behalf while adding a fee.
Cambodia also offers an e-visa with online application for easy entry. See the official site here for steps to apply. A single entry visa (USD36) and requires a scan of your passport’s bio page plus a standalone passport style photo.
Both countries require you to have a minimum 6-months validity on your passport from the date of your planned arrival.
Cambodia requires full Covid-19 vaccination and you are advised to carry your vaccination card/certificate. Unvaccinated passengers will be required to take a rapid antigen test on arrival at their own cost.
See advice on packing for your Cambodia and Vietnam itinerary, in this post full of Southeast Asia packing tips.
Peace, love & pho,