Discover northern Vietnam's natural wonders and city sights on this six-day tour. Start by wandering the maze-like alleyways and markets of the buzzing capital, Hanoi, sampling steaming bowls of noodle soup on a street food tour. Head into the countryside next to explore Ninh Binh's palaces, pagodas, and magical grottoes before ending with an overnight cruise of Ha Long Bay, one of the New Seven Wonders of the World.

Highlights

  • Explore Hanoi's markets, pagodas, and historic Old Quarter
  • Cruise the emerald waters of UNESCO-listed Ha Long Bay
  • Sample Vietnamese specialties on a Hanoi street food tour 
  • Discover ancient palaces and hidden grottoes in Ninh Binh

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrive in Hanoi Hanoi
Day 2 Hanoi City Sightseeing & Street Food Tour Hanoi
Day 3 Day Trip to Ninh Binh Hanoi
Day 4 Cruising & Kayaking in Ha Long Bay Ha Long Bay
Day 5 Cruising in Ha Long Bay, Return to Hanoi Hanoi
Day 6 Depart Hanoi  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Arrive in Hanoi

Wander around Hoan Kiem Lake in Hanoi's Old Quarter

Welcome to Hanoi, Vietnam's high-energy capital and cultural heart. A private driver will take you to your hotel, navigating the motorbike-choked streets of the city. Settle in before exploring Hanoi's tree-lined avenues, which feature a mix of temples and French colonial buildings contrasted with modern, glassy malls and office buildings. In the labyrinthine streets of the Old Quarter, shop fronts and cafés spill onto pavements scattered with tiny stools where Hanoians sip coffee and play checkers. 

This evening you have the option to take a mouth-watering food tour. Your guide will start with a trip to Thanh Ha Market where you'll browse food stalls, try local delicacies, and learn about Vietnamese culinary culture. Head to Dong Xuan Market, famed for its noodle shops, and sample treats such as pho sot vang (noodle soup with pork and herbs) and bun dau (tofu served in soup with rice noodles and fermented shrimp paste). 

Next, move on to the Old Quarter to explore its network of historic laneways. Here, you'll learn about traditional celebrations, stop at ceremonial cake stalls, and taste a French-influenced dessert. Wander along Hang Cot Street, known for its preserved fruits, before ending the tour at a café to sip sweet iced coffee or a slow-dripped hot brew while watching the day-to-day street life unfold. 

Day 2: Hanoi City Sightseeing & Street Food Tour

Sample Hanoi's best street food on tonight's tour

Your sightseeing tour of Hanoi begins with a trip to Hang Be Market in the Old Quarter. Locals have shopped here for hundreds of years, sourcing everything from fresh produce to raw meat and dry ingredients. Continue to Tran Quoc Pagoda, a Buddhist shrine set on an island in Tay Ho (West Lake), which dates back to the reign of Emperor Ly Nam De in the sixth century, making it the oldest of its kind in the city.  

After lunch, visit the Ho Chi Minh Complex, where Vietnam's revered revolutionary leader, Ho Chi Minh, lies embalmed in a mausoleum. Amble through the serene grounds to see the humble wooden stilt house where he once lived, as well as the ornate One Pillar Pagoda, which sits in the middle of a lake and resembles Vietnam's national flower, the lotus. Round off the afternoon by exploring Dong Xuan, the city's largest indoor market, and its frenetic surrounding streets. 

Tonight, you'll dine on Hanoi's fabled street food delights during a guided foodie tour. Savor signature dishes such as bun cha ta (a grilled pork and noodle dish) or banh cuon (pork mince rice rolls) at a popular eatery where you'll watch skilled chefs at work. Sit down with the locals to eat flame-grilled meat at a BBQ stall, and to finish, try the city's unique egg coffee at a famous café in the Old Quarter.

Plan your trip to Vietnam
Chat with a local specialist who can help organize your trip.

Day 3: Day Trip to Ninh Binh

Ninh Binh's Bich Dong Pagoda

Today you'll discover Ninh Binh, a region loved for its ruined palaces and patchwork paddy fields bisected by snaking rivers. Your first stop is Hoa Lu, Vietnam's capital in the 10th and 11th centuries, which features decorative temples built in honor of former emperors and queens. Continue to the three-tiered Bich Dong Pagoda, home to cave temples filled with Buddhist statues and burning incense, then enjoy a drive through the lush countryside surrounded by villages and limestone mountains. 

After lunch, you'll take a boat trip through the watery landscape of Trang An, a UNESCO Natural World Heritage Site. Float through four limestone grottoes and spot spiritual sites like Dia Linh Mountain among the dramatic karst scenery, which has earned the nickname "Ha Long Bay on land." You'll learn about the Tran Dynasty at the Vu Lam Royal Steps and visit a temple dedicated to Thanh Cao Son, a national hero who taught farmers vital irrigation techniques.

Day 4: Cruising & Kayaking in Ha Long Bay

Cruising & Kayaking in Halong Bay
Cruise UNESCO-listed Ha Long Bay

This morning you'll take a shuttle bus to the northeast coast, where the land meets the Gulf of Tonkin, to begin your overnight tour of Ha Long Bay. Sail across the paper-flat waters of this UNESCO World Heritage Site, taking in views of over 2,000 limestone karsts steeped in Vietnamese legend. Look out for the iconic Kissing Rock, which appears on Vietnam's 200,000 dong note, and pass floating villages where fishermen and pearl farmers have lived on bobbing platforms for generations. 

A delicious seafood lunch onboard awaits, followed by plenty of time to sit on the sundeck as you sail to the most remote corners of Ha Long Bay. In the afternoon, stop at a secret cove where you can swim or kayak to isolated beaches and grottoes. The ship's expert chef will lead a cooking masterclass, teaching you how to make specialties like nem (Vietnamese fried spring rolls) for dinner. Spend the evening relaxing or join the locals for a spot of night fishing to end the day. 

Day 5: Cruising in Ha Long Bay, Return to Hanoi

Cruise and kayak Ha Long Bay's peaceful waters 

Wake early for breakfast on the ship's deck, watching the sun rise over the emerald waters of Ha Long Bay. The morning is yours to simply absorb the view or join in optional activities like swimming and kayaking to forested islands, where you'll find caves filled with stalagmites and stalactites. Sit down to an early lunch as you cruise back to Ha Long's harbor, where a shuttle bus will be waiting to drive you back to Hanoi. Make the most of your last evening in Hanoi with a Vietnamese massage, water puppet show, or a drink on Bia Hoi corner, which is a favorite hangout spot for locals and tourists alike. 

Day 6: Depart Hanoi

Head through the streets of Hanoi before your departure
Spend your last morning in Hanoi as you please. Stroll among locals at Hoan Kiem Lake, pick up some souvenirs in the Old Quarter, or visit architectural marvels like the 11th-century Temple of Literature. Make time to slurp on a final bowl of steaming pho before your driver takes you to the airport. 

More Great Vietnam Itineraries

Looking for more inspiration for your trip to Vietnam? Check out these other Vietnam itineraries and discover the best time of year to visit Vietnam.

Map

Map of Explore Northern Vietnam: Hanoi, Ninh Binh & Ha Long Bay – 6 Days
Map of Explore Northern Vietnam: Hanoi, Ninh Binh & Ha Long Bay – 6 Days
Do
Written by Do Hien, updated Nov 7, 2022