Experience the best of northern Vietnam on this weeklong getaway. You'll tour the historic streets of old Hanoi, travel to mountain villages home to ethnic communities, and hike around the terraced rice fields of Vietnam's highland region. The adventure culminates with an unforgettable boat ride in the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Hạ Long Bay.

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrive in Hanoi Hanoi
Day 2 Tour Hanoi and Take the Train to Lào Cai Sapa
Day 3 Explore Sapa and Sa Seng  Sapa
Day 4 Hike to Country Villages Hanoi
Day 5 Drive from Hanoi to Hạ Long Bay Halong Bay
Day 6 Tour Hạ Long Bay  Hanoi
Day 7 Departure from Hanoi   

Day 1: Arrive in Hanoi

Than Nien Street, Hanoi
Hanoi beautifully illuminated at night

Welcome to Vietnam! After arrival at Hanoi's airport, you'll take some time to relax and unwind at your hotel. If you're feeling energetic, head out to explore the city on foot.

Dating to 3,000 BCE, Hanoi is one of the most ancient capitals in the world. Today, it's a mix of the old and the new, a city defined by the contradictions of a rapidly developing yet deeply traditional society. Walk around the French colonial Old Quarter, absorb the energy of Hanoi's motorbike-packed streets, browse through outdoor markets and silk shops, and try bánh mì from a street food vendor. Go for a stroll around Hoàn Kiếm Lake. At the north end of the lake is an arched red bridge leading to Jade Island and the Temple of the Jade Mountain. This temple was built in the 18th century to honor Tran Hung Dao, a military commander. Nearby, in the center of the lake, is Turtle Tower, a small stone tower built to commemorate the Golden Turtle God, Kim Qui. According to Vietnamese myth, he reclaimed a magical sword from Emperor Lê Lợi in order to return it to the Dragon King. 

Day 2: Tour Hanoi and Take the Train to Lào Cai

Trấn Quốc Pagoda reflected in water

In the morning, you'll embark on a guided tour of Hanoi, first stopping at Hang Be Market. Located in the heart of the Old Quarter, just a five-minute walk from Hoàn Kiếm Lake, this municipal market has been open for over 100 years. It offers a wide variety of products, from fresh produce, meat, and fish to dry goods, flowers, and clothing. More than a center of commerce, Hang Be is a meeting point for locals from all walks of life, and spending time here is a great way to get to know the people of the city.

Afterward, your guide will lead you north to West Lake (Hồ Tây) and the Trấn Quốc Pagoda, the oldest Buddhist temple in Hanoi. Dating to the 6th century, it was built during the reign of Emperor Lý Nam Đế during his dynasty of 544-548 CE. This 11-story, 49-foot (15-meter) Buddhist shrine has undergone several changes and renovations over the years, but it is still home to Buddhist monks who pray every day at various shrines on the temple grounds.

After touring the pagoda, you'll veer south and visit the Temple of Literature, which was built in the 11th century and is dedicated to Confucius. This temple was the first university in Vietnam, and it's still a place where students burn incense and pray at the altars for academic success. Next, you'll head to Ba Dinh Square and visit the outside of the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum, the dominating structure that serves as the final resting place for the revolutionary leader. You'll cap this full-day tour with a stop at the nearby One Pillar Pagoda, one of the most iconic Buddhist temples in the city.

Your tour of Hanoi ends as the sun goes down. However, your great Vietnam journey is only just beginning. After enjoying dinner on your own, you'll transfer to the Hanoi Railway Station and board an overnight train bound for the mountainous region of Lào Cai. 

Day 3: Explore Sapa and Sa Seng 

The rice terraces of Sapa

On arrival at Lào Cai Railway Terminal, you'll have breakfast, then hop in a car for the drive up to Sapa. The route is jaw-droppingly scenic. During the drive, you'll pass winding rivers and gorgeous mountain valleys dotted with rice and cornfields, gardens, bamboo forests, and humble villages populated by Vietnam's ethnic minorities. You'll stop along the way in Sa Seng, a village home to one such group, the Black Hmong people. You'll know them by their traditional dress of colorful turbans, blouses, leg wraps, aprons, and scarves, which are all made by hand, often from hemp cloth.

After a stop in Sa Seng, you'll continue to another Black Hmong village called Hang Đá. Here you'll enjoy a picnic lunch followed by a tour of the village with your guide. Then you can work off the meal with some hiking to different vantage points offering panoramic views of the fertile green Mường Hoa Valley.

Finally, you'll get back in the car and drive the rest of the way to Sapa. This alpine town is surrounded by rich green forest and is set amid steep mountains with terraced rice fields carved into the slopes. Sapa is particularly beautiful during mornings when blankets of mist settle around the mountains. After checking into your hotel, you'll have the rest of the day free to head out and explore the town on foot.

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Day 4: Hike to Country Villages

Sapa
Hmong workers working in the fields near Sapa

Wake up early for a half-day hike through the breathtaking Sapa Valley. From town, you'll head down the mountain on a road passing along terraced rice paddies and green hills. The scenery will likely be even more stunning due to a thin layer of morning mist, which adds an ethereal quality to the Sapa countryside. You'll hike along a narrow trail amid the fields, then cross Mường Hoa River on your way to the Black Hmong village of Lao Chai. After walking along the river for a time, you'll cross a suspension bridge and arrive at another village, Tả Van Giáy. Here, you'll visit a fascinating collection of ancient rock carvings depicting everything from images of man to decorative patterns.

After seeing the rock carvings, you'll stop in at a village home for a traditional lunch. Then the hike continues through a bamboo forest to Giang Ta Chai, another small country village, this one home to Red Dao people. The Red Dao are one of the oldest ethnic minorities in Vietnam, having arrived in the 18th century even before the Hmong people.

The day culminates with a walk to a nearby waterfall. You'll rest here for a bit before embarking on an uphill hike to a road where a car will be waiting to transfer you back to Sapa. From there, you'll transfer to the Lao Cai Railway Station to catch an overnight train to Hanoi.

Day 5: Drive from Hanoi to Hạ Long Bay

An elevated view of Hạ Long Bay

Your destination today is the coastal retreat and fishing community of Hạ Long Bay. This UNESCO World Heritage Site is one of the true natural wonders of the world. In this sweet spot where the land meets the Gulf of Tonkin, over 1,000 karst islets rise above emerald waters. Legend has it that these islands originated as precious jewels that were sprayed into the water by a great dragon who was doing battle with invaders in Hạ Long Bay centuries ago. Mythology aside, you can't deny the otherworldly beauty of the seascape here. 

On arrival, you'll board a boat that will depart from the port for an unforgettable tour of the bay. Not only will you enjoy fresh seafood for lunch and dinner, but you'll overnight aboard the ship as well. This will give you an opportunity to see the sunset over the water.

Day 6: Tour Hạ Long Bay 

Sunset over Hạ Long Bay

Begin your day with a Tai Chi session on the boat's deck. It's the perfect place to integrate your mind and body, and the sunrise over the bay complements the practice perfectly. With a rejuvenated spirit and newly healthy qi (life energy), you'll sit down for breakfast. Then the boat will sail to the floating village of Cua Van, arguably one of the most unique towns in the world. Cua Van, home to around 800 residents, is comprised of floating houses situated in a remote section of Hạ Long Bay. The main industry here is fishing, but the residents live the same way they would on dry land: working, going to school, and socializing. The major difference is that rather than drive to and from work and school, they travel by boat.

Choose an activity such as kayaking around the bay or venturing around the community by rowboat to see more of local life on the waters. After the tour, you'll return to the boat where you'll have time to relax. Later, you'll transfer to a dock on the mainland and then to a local village, where you'll enjoy a special "water puppet show" performed by native artists. This is a real treat: the show is a traditional art form that's been practiced by rural peoples of the Red River Delta for generations. The surface of the water acts as a stage while the puppeteers stand behind a screen and manipulate the wooden puppets using bamboo rods beneath the water. 

Day 7: Departure from Hanoi

Walking in Vietnam's terraced fields

After breakfast at the hotel, you'll transfer to the airport in Hanoi to catch your flight home. This concludes your Vietnam adventure. Safe travels!

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Map

Map of Best of Northern Vietnam - 7 Days
Map of Best of Northern Vietnam - 7 Days