Hello guys, my name is Tony Trung and I’m travel blogger of A21 Tours. This blog will give you all the insight you need to know while planning your trip to Vietnam.
Vietnam is the right place for you if you are seeking for epic adventures, unique experiences, mouth watering foods and ancient historical sights. Vietnam has fast become one of Asia’s top travel destinations due to its well established tour circuit, friendly people and chilled out visa situation.
Vietnam is generally split into two regions, the north and south. You could focus on one region if you only have less than one weeks. In this post, I’ve put together an itinerary that is perfect for a first-time trip to the North of Vietnam. By following it, you would experience the chaotic cities and sleepy rural villages, mountains and beaches, palm trees and pines. For those of you who have more time, please refer to our 1-week or 10-day schedule at the following link.
A note about this itinerary: While travelling, I prefer to have a little wiggle room in the itineraries so I can stay longer in places that I really like. If you’re not strict on your travel time in Vietnam, you can adjust the times you stay in one place as you see fit.
Day 1: Airport – Hanoi
Morning: Airport – Hanoi
> First thing to do at the airport
Starting at Noi Bai airport, after receiving your luggage, the first thing you should do is to get a prepaid micro SIM with data. Connecting to the internet in a country where not many people speak your language is very important. Get the SIM while you still in the airport is wise, since buying SIMs in the city could be much harder due to complicated traffic. There are shops that selling these SIMs in the airport. FYI, Vinaphone and Viettel are the two biggest brand provide telecom service in Vietnam, it would be reliable to purchase the SIMs from those brands.
> Getting to your hotel
There are 3 ways for moving from the airport to Hanoi: Shuttle bus no. 86 for tourists (see here), call a Grab taxi or use the Airport Transfer Service by A21’s private car services, which is suitable for group traveling.
- Bus number 86: The operation hour is from 5am to 10pm. Ticket price is 30,000 VND (1.5 $) and extra-fee for your luggage if it excesses the regular size. The bus stops at Hoan Kiem Lake, Long Bien Station and terminates at Hanoi Central Railway Station. After getting off the bus, you need to use other transfer services to get to your hotel. This could be tricky if you can’t speak Vietnamese. Also, after a long flight, feeling really tired, the last thing you want to do is finding a way to get form the bus station to your hotel.
Note: Pay attention to the bus hours as they don’t operate during the night time.
- Grab taxi: Mind out for potential scam if you taking Grab at Noi Bai airport. Some drivers on grab at Noi Bai airport are just traditional taxi driver who also have accounts on Grab, and they use that account to get your request. Once you hopped on, they’ll ask you to cancel your ride in the app, then they turned on their meter and from there they run their traditional taxi service. If it happens for you, please intentionally take off the car as it not only protect you from a scam but also help to eliminate the opportunistic behavior like that.
- Private Car service by A21 Tours: This is the most convenient way to get from the airport to the city, suitable for one who. Prices start at 380K VND (~$16), you will be picked up at the airport’s lobby and transferred by a professional driver to your hotel. You don’t need to worry about haggling, since prices are fixed. With this option, you can expect to reach Hanoi city center in 40-60 minutes, It’s a bit faster than taking a taxi because you’re met by your driver at the arrival hall, so there’s no waiting time.
> What to eat for lunch in Hanoi
The best dish to try for lunch in Hanoi is Bun Cha. Originating from Hanoi, this dish consists of grilled pork patties and noodles served with lettuce, herbs and a dipping sauce. We several delicious meals of Bun Cha in Hanoi and it was too hard to choose a winner so I’m sharing our 2 favorites! One was in a small shop on the northeast corner of St. Joseph’s Cathedral and the other was at a restaurant called Bun Cha Ta at 21 Nguyễn Hữu Huân.
Afternoon: Explore Hanoi city
After having lunch and checking in the hotel room, you will have an entire afternoon to explore Hanoi. Here are some places you should visit:
- Walking around Hoan Kiem Lake, visiting Ngoc Son Temple: Nearly all tourists visiting Hanoi wander round Hoan Kiem lake in the center of the city, just south of the Old Quarter and many of them spend an hour or so at the picturesque temple at the NE corner. The temple is situated on a small island called Jade Island and is accessible by crossing a lovely little bridge called the Rising Sun Bridge (Huc Bridge). There is a small entrance charge to visit this famous temple that was constructed nearly 300 years ago to commemorate Tran Hung Dao’s 13th century victory over the Yuan Dynasty. On the weekend, the streets around Hoan Kiem Lake will be walking streets with many interesting activities such as street music, folk games. attracting a lot of visitors. There are many ways to visit the lake: dynamic motorbikes, relaxing cyclo or new tram.
- Temple of Literature (Van Mieu – Quoc Tu Giam): This temple is also called with another name is the first national university in Vietnam. It has been built for more than 10 centuries before, it’s the place where you can understand the local culture and the education management system of ancient local people.
- Enjoying the sunset on Long Bien Bridge: This bridge is associated with the history of Vietnam anti-French and anti-American wars witnessing the change of the capital Hanoi. In the sunset, the sunbeams mixed with the yellow, brown of Long Bien bridge to create a romantic scene on the river. This will be the moment you seatback, slowing down after a long and exhausting day.
- The Railroad street: The blend of ancient and modern or the sumptuous culture of Asia and Europe has created the street its own beauty. Nowhere in Hanoi would have the railroad and local houses so close. Here you could have some snacks in a coffee shop, hang out a bit and wait for the train to come through. Each time the train crosses, the distance between the train and the door is only one arm. This risk is the distinctive charm of the road. After the train runs past, people quickly return to their usual pace of life.
- Vietnam Museum of Ethnology: Fantastic insight into Vietnamese culture with many photographs and artefacts, even small villages are recreated here. The museum describe the cultures and early inhabitants of Vietnam. You can see here various tribes solutions to obtaining food, creating shelters, making textiles, and finding spirituality. If you are interested in the indigenous groups of Vietnam, where and how they have lived, their different traditions, this museum is well worth visiting.
What to eat for dinner: For those who are in love with local cuisine, join the Hanoi Food Tour to discover some delicious dishes in Hanoi with a local guide. Hanoi attracts visitors not only for its natural landscapes, historical relics but also by a rich and diversified cuisine that makes visitors remember it forever. If you are a fan of street food, Hang Sach, Ta Hien, Ly Quoc Su, Dong Xuan Market, Nha Tho Street are famous dining areas.
Day 2: Halong bay – the must-see experience – Night bus to Sapa
When you’ve done exploring Hanoi, head for Ha Long Bay and enjoy a one-day boat tour.
A Halong bay cruise one day tour (6-hour cruise on a wooden boat) on Halong Bay gives you an interesting experience of observing thousands charming limestone karsts and isles in various shapes and sizes. This one-day option can be considered as a convenient shortened version of the 2 day trip to Ha Long for those who do not have much time.
On this trip, you will be picked up at your hotel, transferred to Halong, get on a wooden boat and form here the journey begin. The boat will take you to some outstanding destinations of Ha Long: enjoy Tuan Chau Island; discover Surprise Cave – the longest and most beautiful cave of Halong Bay; go kayak at Luon cave in the afternoon, go trekking to conquer the summit of Titop. The cruise will end at around 6pm.
The next destination recommended for you is Sapa town, a romantic mountain town in north-west Vietnam. After exploring the ocean, it’s high time for some mountains adventure in the North Vietnam. From Halong bay, you have two options to get to Sapa:
Option 1: After the boat tour ended at the ferry, take a cab to Halong city for dinner, if you’re looking for the local seafood experience, you might want to try Linh Dan Restaurant. If you want a european style dinner, 3Vins Restaurant & Wine Bar is a place to consider. After having dinner, you’ll catch the bus to Sapa at 9 pm (arrive in Sapa at 5am on the next day).
This option would provide 3 hours of free time in Halong before catching the bus. (see more about Sleeping bus on Halong Sapa route)
Option 2: You return to Hanoi with the group, then take the train or sleeper bus Hanoi to Sapa. This option would save $11 because Hanoi – Sapa tickets are $11 cheaper than Halong – Sapa tickets.
|Transfer on between Hanoi, Halong and Sapa|
|Route||Price||Deparute time||How long?|
|Hanoi – Sapa bus||$11||7 AM, 14 PM & 22 PM||5.5 hours of transfer|
|Halong – Sapa bus||$22||7 AM, 11 AM, 15 PM & 21 PM||9 hours of transfer|
|Hanoi – Halong bus||$16||6 AM, 9 AM , 11 AM, 15 PM & 17 PM||2.5 hours of transfer via Express way|
Day 3: Sapa: Fansipan in the morning, Cat Cat village in the afternoon
> What to do when you arrived
Arriving in the early morning at Sapa, you should have a breakfast, Good Morning View Restaurant is a fine place to stop by. Then, check in at your hotel, leave your luggage here and take a cable car (about 700,000VND or $30/pax) to reach Fansipan peak. The cable car taken in the morning will take you to the top at about 10 am when the sky is clear and the view is beautiful.
Visiting Cat Cat in the afternoon
Cat Cat village not only attracts tourists by its wild natural poetry scenery but also by the traditional cultural characteristics of the H’Mong people here. You will really enjoy the harmony of the gentle dance of the beautiful H’Mong boys and girls or even dance with them.
Coming to Cat Cat in the beginning of the year, visitors also have the opportunity to participate in the “Gau Tao”, a traditional festival with the intention to seek happiness for the residents. Moreover, local people still preserve a lot of time-honored customs and unique practices. One of those practices is “wife pulling”. When a boy falls in love with a girl, he will organize a party to invite his friends to make plans to “pull” the girl home and keep her for three days. Then, if the girl agrees to be his wife, the official wedding ceremony will be conducted. If the girl disagrees, they drink wine together and become friends.
> Freely explore Sapa town at night
Night in Sapa is quite cold, you should prepare warm clothes. For youngsters who up for challenge their biggest limits, outdoor camping is a great option: set up camps, sit back together for great barbecues, drink warm wine, watch stars and chill out. Also, you can explore the nightlife in the city of Sapa. Enjoy the quiet, tranquil of this mountain town before returning to rest and prepare for trekking on rice field terrace the next day.
Day 4: Sapa trekking – Hanoi
Trekking in Sapa is a must try for tourists in Sapa. This trip will take you to the H’Mong village and the Day (the name of drewerl ethnic) village. You should book a day trekking tour or rent a local person (like the H’Mong women you met in the town) as a guide. They will introduce the customs, culture, and people here. Moreover, the scene in Lao Chai valley – Ta Van is beautiful. Have lunch at Lao Chai village, then go to Ta Van village.
In the afternoon, return to Sapa and explore the central market with plenty shops of the local ethnic minority. Then, have dinner at Sapa then back to Hanoi by night bus or train. Aira Sapa Restaurant might be the spot to try out.
In case you want to return to Hanoi sooner, you can take the bus at 3 pm from Sapa, to Hanoi at 9 pm. Still have enough time for a lavish night in Hanoi.
To choose the right transport between Hanoi & Sapa read more at https://a21tours.com/from-hanoi-to-sapa-train-or-bus/
Day 5: Hanoi city – Flight back
On the last day of this journey, explore Hanoi freely through the streets of the old quarter before going to Noi Bai Airport.
There are some shopping venues:
- Trang Tien plaza: Located in the heart of Hanoi, at 24 Hai Ba Trung street, Hoan Kiem District, opposite to Hoan Kiem Lake, near the Hanoi Opera House, it has the area of up to 20.000m2 with 6 floors to sell a variety of luxurious goods.
- Aeon Mall: a Japanese style shopping center that attracts many customers because of Japanese sales, Japanese quality. Supermarkets on the first floor sell fresh sushi and fresh food daily at an affordable price.
- Dong Xuan market: As the main wholesale market in the North, offers a wide range of products such as clothing, footwear, household items, toys, fabrics with traditional designs, candy, souvenirs, food, etc. On Friday, Saturday and Sunday, there is a night market at Dong Xuan market.
- Hom market: Considered as the paradise of clothes, bags and other fashion accessories, the Hom market always attracts Hanoi women to see and go shopping
- Hang Gai Street: Also known as Silk Street, the lively Hang Gai is one of the famous shopping areas of Hanoi. The street is famous for its silk shops and tailor-made tailors. Stalls, tailors, street vendors, and art galleries are decorated with backdrops combining traditional and modern architecture.
To go from Hanoi to the airport, you have 3 choices as public bus, Grab car, and book a Private car to the Airport at the price of $12 for 4-seat car.
With this 5-day schedule, we provide you with the 3 must-see destinations in the North of Vietnam. Hope you this trip fit you well.
Note: If you have an extra day, it is worth to stay in Halong Bay for one more day, to make a 2 days 1 night cruise on the bay and experience the nightlife there.