This itinerary covers the hustle and bustle of Hanoi, the chilly highlands of Sapa, the majestic peak of Fansipan, and the laidback cruises along Ninh Binh’s grottoes.
DAY 1: HANOI
If this is your first time in the country, the Old Quarter area surrounding Hoan Kiem Lake makes a great place to find your bearings, stock up on food and toiletries, and get pestered by street vendors.
How to get to Hanoi’s Old Quarter from Hanoi Airport: Noi Bai International Airport’s bus stop is just on the right side of the terminal’s exit. Buses run every 15 to 20 minutes. It takes about an hour to reach the city centre.
- City bus number 7 Kim Ma bus station (5000 VND)
- City bus number 17 to Long Bien bus station (5000 VND)
You have several hours before leaving for your next destination, so use the time to acquaint yourself with the locality. The following places are within walking distance from Hoan Kiem Lake, but if you decide to take a cab, make sure to have the address written down or displayed on your phone to avoid confusion.
Ngoc Son Temple
Conveniently located on the northern part of Hoan Kiem Lake, the small island the temple sits on is connected to the shore by an iconic red bridge.
Address: Dinh Tien Hoang, Hang Trong, Hoan Kiem, Hanoi, Vietnam
Opening Hours: Daily, 8am to 5pm Admission: 30,000 VND
Admission: 30,000 VND
Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum
A marble monument which keeps the embalmed body of Ho Chi Minh, the founder and first leader of the Vietnamese Communist Party.
Address: So 1, Hung Vuong, Dien Bien, Ba Dinh, Hanoi, Vietnam
- Summer: 7.30am – 10.30am (Tuesday to Thursday); 7.30am – 11am (Saturday & Sunday)
- Winter: 8am – 11am (Tuesday to Thursday); 8am – 11.30am (Saturday & Sunday)
- Closed 4 September to 4 November
Temple of Literature
The site of Vietnam’s first university where the imperial exams used to be held.
Address: 58 Quoc Tu Giam, Dong Da, Hanoi, Vietnam
Opening Hours: 8am – 5pm. Closed on Mondays.
Admission: 30,000 VND
Don’t be too ambitious with your Hanoi city tour as you would want to make your way to Gia Lam Station early so that you’ll arrive Ha Long before nightfall. Buses depart every 30 minutes from 6am to 6pm and cost around 120,000 VND. It takes around 4 hours to reach Bai Chay Bus Station in Ha Long. Make sure to tell the bus driver and conductor that you are alighting in Ha Long as most buses don’t terminate at Ha Long.
How to get to Gia Lam Station from Old Quarter: City Bus Number 34 (5,000 VND) Alternatively, tourist bus transfers are available from tour agents in the Old Quarter.
DAY 2: HA LONG
A Ha Long Bay boat tour arranged via tour agent or your hostel would cost around 600,000 VND, taking you to several islands for approximately 4 hours. This would be your best bet if you enjoy slow boat rides, touristy islands, forgettable caves, substandard lunch on the boat, and pouty gap-year backpackers.
Or you can do an independent trip to Cat Ba Island, the biggest island in Ha Long Bay. Take a ferry (70,000 VND) from Tuan Chau Ferry Wharf and enjoy the view as the ferry weaved its way through towering limestone karsts. After an hour, you’ll arrive at Ben Pha Pha Gia Luan Wharf. Take a bus to Cat Ba Town (25,000 VND), a 30-minute ride. Arriving at Cat Ba, rent a motorbike (150,000 VND with full-tank of petrol) and tour around the island, but don’t get carried away, as you need to make your way to Sa Pa tonight.
Make sure to book your sleeper bus to Sa Pa beforehand (370,000 VND) and wait for its arrival at Bai Chay Bus Station on the mainland. You should also book your Fansipan hike (approximately 1,300,000 VND, depending on tour agents) beforehand.
DAY 3 & 4: SAPA & FANSIPAN
Arriving in Sapa very early in the morning, you just have enough time to enjoy local breakfast before leaving for your trek. There are three popular routes to reach Fansipan’s summit: Tram Ton, Cat Cat, and Sin Chai. For most tourists, Tram Ton is the route of choice as it is the easiest of the three. It’s still going to take two days and one night, so come prepared.
After the descent, you may take some time to freshen up. Take a minibus from Sapa to Lao Cai (50,000 VND) and take the train back to Hanoi from its train station (350,000 VND).
DAY 5: BACK TO HANOI
Waking up after a 10-hour train ride, you have the chance to do further exploration. The train station is located not far from the Old Quarter, so it’s time to continue where you left off on your first day in Vietnam.
National Museum of Vietnamese History
The museum houses some of the finest artifacts of Vietnamese history, from the ancient era to the more recent events.
Address: 25 Tong Dan, Trang Tien, Tong Dan, Trang Tien. Hoan Kiem, Hanoi, Vietnam
Opening Hours: Daily, 8am – 5pm
Admission: 40,000 VND
Thang Long Water Puppet Theatre
Located within the Old Quarter area, this is certainly the most convenient place to watch the art of water puppetry.
Address: 57B Dinh Tien Hoang, Hoan Kiem, Hanoi, Vietnam
Daily Shows: 3.30pm, 5pm, 6.30pm, 8pm, and 9.15pm
Admission: 40,000 – 60,000 VND
After you’ve had your fill of Hanoi, take the 3-hour train ride to Ninh Binh (85,000 VND) and a motorbike taxi to Tam Coc (40,000 VND) and find your lodging there.
DAY 6: NINH BINH
To make things easier, you can either rent a bike (20,000 VND) or a motorbike (120,000 VND with full-tank of petrol) to get around.
Relax as your boatwoman takes you along the river, between rice paddies, surrounded by karstic rock formations.
Pier Operating Hours: Daily, 7am – 3.30pm
Admission: 80,000 VND per person; 100,000 VND per boat
Trang An is just as beautiful as Tam Coc, and more popular among Vietnamese tourists who see it as a kind of pilgrimage site.
Pier Operating Hours: Daily, 7.30am – 4pm
Admission: 150,000 VND per person
Hoa Lu Ancient Capital
This site includes two 17th century temples, the Dinh Tien Hoang Temple and Le Hoan Temple, dedicated to the founder of the Dinh Dynasty and its successor, the Le Dynasty.
Admission: 20,000 VND
DAY 7: SAYING GOODBYE TO VIETNAM
Take a train back to Hanoi. If your flight is in the early afternoon, you need to make haste to go back to the airport. If your flight is not until later in the evening, consider touring the Old Quarter and Dong Xuan Market for one last round to buy souvenirs for friends and family back home.
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Featured image by Wina via Photoblog