This nine-day adventure celebrates the history and culture of Vietnam's north while taking you to the most beautiful areas in the region. First, tour the highlights of ancient Hanoi and ride bicycles through the countryside. The excitement kicks into high gear with trekking through the highlands, riding sampans down rivers in Ninh Binh, and cruising the jade waters of Ha Long Bay.


  • Take city tours of Hanoi and cycle the countryside
  • Trek to highland villages in the Pu Luong Nature Reserve
  • Ride a wooden raft down the waterways of Ninh Binh Province
  • Visit floating villages and karst islets on a cruise around Ha Long Bay

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrive in Hanoi, Optional Activities Hanoi
Day 2 Bicycle Tour of Rural Villages, Hanoi City Tour Hanoi
Day 3 Transfer to Pu Luong Nature Reserve Pu Luong Nature Reserve
Day 4 Hidden Trails of Pu Luong Pu Luong Nature Reserve
Day 5 Transfer to Ninh Binh & Trang An Ninh Binh
Day 6 Transfer to Ha Long Bay Ha Long Bay
Day 7 Bai Tu Long Bay Optional Activities Ha Long Bay
Day 8 Tour Bai Tu Long Bay, Transfer to Hanoi Hanoi
Day 9 Depart Hanoi  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Arrive in Hanoi, Optional Activities

Turtle Tower, on Hoan Kiem Lake

Chao Ban! Welcome to Vietnam! This country has a long and storied history dating back thousands of years. You'll arrive in Hanoi, which was first settled back in 3000 BCE, making it one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world. Upon arrival at the airport, a driver will meet you for the one-hour ride into the city. There, you'll check in to your hotel. After getting settled, you can head out and explore. Start with a self-guided walk in Hanoi's Old Quarter, where you can browse the markets and street vendors.

Then take in some local history and mythology with a stroll around Hoan Kiem Lake. At the north end is the Temple of the Jade Mountain, built in the 18th century to honor Tran Hung Dao, a military commander who famously repelled two Mongol invasions. In the center of the lake is Turtle Tower, a small stone tower built to commemorate the Golden Turtle God, Kim Qui, who, according to myth, reclaimed a magical sword from Emperor Le Loi in order to return it to the Dragon King.

Day 2: Bicycle Tour of Rural Villages, Hanoi City Tour

Visit local markets

This morning, you'll go for a bike ride between several villages outside Hanoi. It's a great opportunity to experience the rural traditions of these communities as you zip between villages. Beyond interacting with residents, you'll visit local markets and temples to catch a glimpse of daily life. Then you'll attend a cooking demonstration of traditional Vietnamese cuisine before joining a local family for lunch. In the early afternoon, you'll return to Hanoi.

Then, head out on a city tour starting in the Cau Giay District and the Vietnam Museum Of Ethnology. This massive complex preserves the cultural heritage of the 54 different ethnic groups in Vietnam. Highlight exhibits include full-scale replicas of village homes, plus ancient artifacts like traditional jewelry and wedding/funeral clothing. Afterward, you'll visit the infamous Hoa Lo Prison, a POW camp during the Vietnam War that was nicknamed the "Hanoi Hilton."

The day ends with traditional Vietnamese entertainment: a water puppet show. During this performance, the water acts as a stage while the puppeteers stand behind a screen and manipulate the wooden puppets using bamboo rods. Water puppetry has been practiced in Hanoi for centuries, and it's as much art as it is theater. After the show, you'll return to your hotel and, in the evening, can visit the colonial Old Quarter to enjoy one of its many bohemian cafés and bars.

Day 3: Transfer to Pu Luong Nature Reserve

The terraced rice fields of Pu Luong Nature Reserve

Leave Hanoi early and embark on a four-hour scenic drive west to the valley of Mai Chau. On the way, you'll stop in Pom Coong. This village is home to the Thai people of northern Vietnam, who represent the second-largest ethnic group in the country. Here, you'll sit down to lunch with some friendly locals. Then, take a short drive to the Pu Luong Nature Reserve. This protected area is the ancestral home of the Thai people and is comprised of forested mountains and green valleys dotted with terraced rice paddies and traditional villages.

You'll arrive at a trailhead and embark on a two-hour trek through the reserve. During this scenic hike, you'll pass beautiful rural landscapes free of activity save for the occasional farmer and grazing water buffalo. There will be the occasional hill to climb, but once at the top, you'll be rewarded with lovely views of villages and rice terraces below.

In the late afternoon, you'll arrive at your homestay, which is located in a traditional wooden stilt house. A real highlight is sitting down to dinner with your host family to enjoy a home-cooked meal. Be sure to get to bed early, as tomorrow morning, you have another big day of hiking amid incredible highland scenery.

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Day 4: Hidden Trails of Pu Luong

Traditional water wheels of Pu Luong

Get an early start, as today, you have a five-to-six-hour hike ahead of you. First, though, enjoy a home-cooked breakfast with your host family. After saying goodbye to your new friends, you'll begin day two of the Pu Luong hike. The route follows remote trails and is filled with more stunning scenery as you hike across lush valleys and maybe even stop at hidden waterfalls. Halfway through the trek, you'll break for a picnic lunch, then continue out of the valleys until you reach the main road. Here, a driver will pick you up and transfer you to a lodge in the reserve, where you'll overnight.  

Day 5: Transfer to Ninh Binh & Trang An

Take a ride to Trang An

Get ready to enjoy the gorgeous Vietnamese countryside. After breakfast, you'll leave the Pu Luong Nature Reserve for the three-hour drive from the highlands to Ninh Binh Province. This gorgeous valley is part of the Red River Delta and is famous for its towering karst rock formations dotting the landscape. You'll arrive just in time for lunch at a local restaurant.

Then, hop aboard a sampan (flat-bottomed boat) for a journey down the river to the nearby UNESCO World Heritage Site of Trang An. This scenic area is part of a tributary of the Red River and, besides its stunning forests and limestone mountains, is also home to otherworldly river caves inhabited by humans for thousands of years. You'll get to explore these caverns during the two-hour boat ride, after which you'll transfer to a resort in a nearby village where you'll overnight. 

Day 6: Transfer to Ha Long Bay

Cruise Ha Long Bay

After breakfast at the resort in Ninh Binh, you'll transfer by car about 3.5 hours north to the coast and Ha Long Bay. You'll stop at a local village to see a water puppet show along the way. Then you'll arrive in Ha Long Bay, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and 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, resembling the spine of a giant reptile—hence the name Ha Long ("descending dragon"). Here, you'll board a ship for a two-day cruise.

Once underway, the ship will head east to Bai Tu Long Bay, a protected marine ecosystem home to rare plants and animals, as well as about 40 islands. When you arrive, you'll hop in a kayak and paddle out to Cap La, one of the floating villages famous in the area. Then return to the cruiser and relax on deck until it's time for dinner. Later, the boat will anchor near the island of Cong Do, where you'll spend the night.

Day 7: Bai Tu Long Bay Optional Activities

Paddle out to floating villages
Wake up early to witness a spellbinding sunrise over the water. Then, perhaps enjoy a tai chi session on deck before sitting down for an alfresco breakfast. After that, you'll have the rest of the day to enjoy Bai Tu Long Bay. You can swim in sheltered lagoons, go kayaking, explore sea caves, and laze on the remote beaches of tiny islets. Depending on weather conditions, there will be a barbecue lunch on the beach or the boat, after which you can enjoy more water activities and relaxation.

Day 8: Tour Bai Tu Long Bay, Transfer to Hanoi

Bai Tu Long Bay

Begin your final day of the cruise with one last marvelous sunrise on deck. Then spend the rest of the morning enjoying more activities and visiting floating villages. After returning to the main ship for lunch, you'll cruise back to the pier and transfer by vehicle to Hanoi. On the way, you'll stop to see an outdoor puppet show at Yen Duc village. Continue on to the city and your hotel.

Day 9: Depart Hanoi

Goodbye, Vietnam

Alas, your adventure in northern Vietnam has come to an end. After a leisurely breakfast at your hotel, a driver will pick you up for the one-hour ride to the airport, where you'll catch your flight home. Tạm biet!

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Map of Explore Northern Vietnam - 9 Days
Map of Explore Northern Vietnam - 9 Days