This quick five-day tour of Vietnam's north lasts less than a week but covers the major highlights. It begins in Hanoi where you'll see historic temples dating back thousands of years plus discover the delicious flavors of Vietnam on a street-food tour. Then you'll head to the Gulf of Tonkin and Hạ Long Bay, where you'll hop on a cruise boat for an overnight journey on stunning emerald waters and amid towering limestone islands.

Highlights

  • See the historic sights of Hanoi, a city with over 2,000 years of history
  • Discover the flavors of Vietnam on a street-food tour of Hanoi's Old Quarter
  • Visit the Gulf of Tonkin and cruise gorgeous Hạ Long Bay

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrival in Hanoi Hanoi
Day 2 Hanoi City & Street Food Tour Hanoi
Day 3 Hanoi to Hạ Long Bay Halong Bay
Day 4 Bus from Hạ Long Bay to Hanoi Hanoi
Day 5 Departure from Hanoi  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Arrival in Hanoi

A street vendor in Hanoi
A street vendor in Hanoi

Welcome to Vietnam!

Upon arrival at Hanoi's airport, you'll transfer by private vehicle to your four/five-star hotel for check-in. No doubt you'll be tired after the long journey, but after taking some time to relax and unwind you should head out and explore on foot. This modern yet traditional metropolis is well worth it.

Dating to 3,000 BCE, Hanoi is one of the most ancient capitals in the world. That said, it's a mix of the old and the new—a city defined by the contradictions of a rapidly developing yet deeply traditional society. Here glimmering office buildings sit alongside the French colonial Old Quarter. Rarely at rest, the kinetic energy of Hanoi's motorbike-packed streets spills over into the outdoor markets, Hang Gai silk shops, curbside bún chả /bánh mì vendors, and eclectic nightlife scene. 

You can start your walk on the streets of Old Town, visiting markets and street vendors, and then take in some local history and mythology with 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 who famously repelled two Mongol invasions.

Nearby, 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 Vietnamese myth, reclaimed a magical sword from Emperor Lê Lợi in order to return it to the Dragon King. You should know that it's legends like these around which Vietnam's rich culture is based.

After a brief walk and taking in Hanoi's famous sights, feel free to dine out in the Old Quarter. There's no shortage of incredible eateries in this neighborhood, and they run the gamut from delicious street food to fine dining to trendy fusion restaurants.

Day 2: Hanoi City & Street Food Tour

The Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum
The Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum

In the morning, you'll spend the day on a guided tour of Hanoi. The first stop is the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum, the final resting place of Vietnam's revolutionary leader. Looming over Ba Dinh Square and featuring a block design and stone collonades, it's an impressive (and imposing) example of brutalist architecture.

You'll then visit One-Pillar Pagoda, a historic Buddhist temple dating to the 11th century, followed by the Temple of Literature, also dating to the 11th century. This temple was the first university of Vietnam and a place where students even today burn incense and pray at altars for academic success. 

After a short rest and break for lunch, you'll take a drive to north Hanoi and the Museum Of Ethnology. This massive museum complex preserves cultural heritage by offering information on the 54 different ethnic groups in Vietnam. Some highlight exhibits include full-scale replicas of village homes plus ancient artifacts like traditional jewelry and wedding/funeral clothing. 

At around 4 pm, you'll leave the car and embark on a walking street-food tour of the Old Quarter. It's an eat-as-you-go excursion, with your guide leading you around the historic streets as you try seasonal fruit from produce stalls and tasty French-inspired snacks from street carts.

Famous dishes you'll sample on this tour include bún chả (a grilled pork and noodle dish) and bánh cuốn (rice noodles filled with ground pork). The next stops are at outdoor BBQ stalls where you'll sit down with locals and sample various flame-grilled meat dishes.

After so much savory goodness, it will be time for something sweet. Your guide will take you to a restaurant hidden away on a side street where you can enjoy a famous Vietnamese egg coffee, which is made with egg yolks, sugar, and condensed milk. You can also sample some local rice wine. Afterward, having tasted some of the most delicious food in the country, you can return to your hotel and relax.

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

Day 3: Hanoi to Hạ Long Bay

Hạ Long Bay
Hạ Long Bay

After breakfast, you'll hop in a shuttle bus that will depart Hanoi for the coastal retreat and fishing community of Hạ Long Bay, arriving around noon. 

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. 

Upon arrival, you'll board a cruiser 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 4: Bus from Hạ Long Bay to Hanoi

Wake up to a beautiful sunrise over Hạ Long Bay
Wake up to a beautiful sunrise over Hạ Long Bay

Wake up early and enjoy one of Hạ Long Bay's famously beautiful sunrises. After breakfast, the boat will cruise amid the emerald islets on its way back to the harbor. From here you'll hop in a shuttle bus for the 2-3-hour trip back to Hanoi.  

Upon arrival, you'll check into your hotel and will have the remainder of the day free. Perhaps enjoy dinner out in the Old Quarter followed by indulging in a bit of Hanoi's convivial bar scene.

Day 5: Departure from Hanoi

Goodbye, Vietnam
Goodbye, Vietnam

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

Map

Map of Highlights of Northern Vietnam: Hanoi & Ha Long Bay - 5 Days
Map of Highlights of Northern Vietnam: Hanoi & Ha Long Bay - 5 Days