- Take day tours and dine at upscale restaurants in Hanoi
- Visit street markets in Hanoi and enjoy dinner with locals
- Cycle around the rice paddies and karst mountains of Ninh Binh
- Cruise around the famous Ha Long Bay on a luxury ship
|Day 1||Arrive in Hanoi, Self-Guided Tour||Hanoi|
|Day 2||Street Market Tour, Dinner With Locals||Hanoi|
|Day 3||Transfer to Ninh Binh, Visit Hoa Lu & Tam Coc||Ninh Binh|
|Day 4||Cycle to Mua Cave||Ninh Binh|
|Day 5||Transfer to Ha Long Bay, Luxury Cruise||Ha Long Bay|
|Day 6||Morning Cruise, Transfer to Hanoi & Fine Dining||Hanoi|
|Day 7||Depart Hanoi|
Day 1: Arrive in Hanoi, Self-Guided Tour
Welcome to Vietnam! This hotbed of culture and beauty packs thousands of years of rich history within its borders. Each region boasts its own heritage, and during this weeklong escape, you'll discover the culture of the north. It begins with your arrival at the epicenter of it all: Hanoi. The nation's capital was founded back in 257 BCE and has been a political center ever since.
Upon arrival at the airport, your personal driver will meet you at the terminal for the 45-minute ride to the city and the Sofitel Legend Metropole. Located in the heart of Vietnam's Old Quarter near historic Hoan Kiem Lake, the Metropole is set in a luxurious French colonial estate dating to 1901. It's the perfect place to relax and unwind after the flight—perhaps enjoy a cocktail on the patio next to the heated pool.
When you're ready, head out and spend the rest of the day exploring Hanoi on foot (or three-wheeled cyclo). If you're hungry, head to Bun Cha Huong Lien to try the beloved Hanoian dish bun cha (noodle soup with grilled pork). This restaurant is so famous that it's hosted notable guests like Barack Obama and Anthony Bourdain—who ate there together. Later, sip cocktails on the rooftop bar of the five-star Pan Pacific Hotel and enjoy sunset views over Tay Ho (West Lake) to wrap up your day in style.
Day 2: Street Market Tour, Dinner With Locals
After availing yourself of the Metropole's breakfast buffet, you'll leave at 8 am with a local guide on a private half-day tour of Hanoi's Old Quarter. The first stop is at a local market on Kham Thien Street, where you can mix with locals and browse fresh produce and other items.
Then, continue down Le Duan Alley to the famous Train Street, which is lined with shops, houses, and cafés/restaurants. About twice daily, full-size trains pass down this impossibly narrow road (about 11.5 ft/ 3.5 m). Before each passing, vendors and patrons move their things inside, returning right after the train has passed. Other tour highlights include landmarks like the Hanoi Railway Station, known for its unique blend of colonial and communist architecture, and Long Bien Bridge. This French relic played a crucial role in the Vietnam War (known locally as the American War).
In the evening, you'll be hosted by a local family for a home-cooked dinner. In Vietnam, these family dinners are a way to connect with relatives and nurture the bonds between generations. There are traditional customs at these gatherings that reveal themselves in things like table manners and deference to the older generations. In fact, it's always the younger family members who prepare food for their elders. At the end of the meal, you'll return to the hotel.
Day 3: Transfer to Ninh Binh, Visit Hoa Lu & Tam Coc
Get an early start and meet your private driver in the lobby of the Metropole. Then embark on the two-hour ride south to Ninh Binh. This beautiful area is renowned for its gorgeous scenery, with limestone peaks, lush green rice fields, pagodas, and snaking rivers. Once there, you'll begin a full-day tour of the region that starts with a visit to Hoa Lu, the ancient capital of Vietnam from 968 to 1009 CE, just after the country gained independence from China. Though the old citadel is mostly in ruins, the temples of the Dinh and Le dynasties remain and are surrounded by verdant rice paddies.
After breaking for a traditional lunch at a local restaurant (try the goat meat and fried rice), you'll board a sampan (flat-bottomed boat) for a 1.5-hour ride on the river to the village of Tam Coc. This serene boat trip will leave you spellbound by the beauty of the surrounding paddy fields and karst rock formations. On the way, you'll stop at Thai Vi, a 13th-century temple dedicated to Tran Thai Tong (the first emperor of the Tran Dynasty).
Upon arrival in Tam Coc, stretch your legs with a 45-minute bicycle ride around the village to enjoy the scenery and learn a bit about local life. Then you'll retire to the four-star Tam Coc Garden Resort, an oasis nested between lumbering limestone peaks and glistening rice paddies.
Day 4: Cycle to Mua Cave
Enjoy a hearty breakfast at the resort, then head out for a half-day cycling tour. Hop on a bike and leave the resort on a 2-mile (3.5 km) ride to Hang Mua (Mua Cave). In reality, this area isn't so much a cave as it is a mountain. The ridge and viewpoint here are so incredible that the area has been likened to Vietnam's own Great Wall of China. The name "Mua" means "dancing cave" because a king during the Tran Dynasty (1224-1400 CE) once used it for dancing and singing performances.
Upon arrival, you'll continue on foot, climbing nearly 500 steps to the top of Ngoa Long Mountain. As you ascend, the views become increasingly stunning. At the top, you'll be rewarded with panoramic vistas of golden rice fields, soaring limestone mountains, and traditional villages. Stand beside the Lady Buddha statue and relax amid the fresh air and spectacular views. After coming down the mountain, you'll have lunch at a local restaurant and return to Tam Coc.
Chat with a local specialist who can help organize your trip.
Day 5: Transfer to Ha Long Bay, Luxury Cruise
Today you'll transfer by private car about 3.5 hours north to the coast and Ha Long Bay, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a natural wonder of the world. In this sweet spot on 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 the Stellar of the Seas ship for a two-day luxury cruise.
Once aboard, you'll sit down for a gourmet lunch and then get underway. The ship will pass several islets before arriving at a secluded lagoon in Lan Ha Bay, part of the Cat Ba World Biosphere Reserve archipelago. Here, the boat will drop anchor, and you'll take a kayak tour. During the excursion, you'll pass through narrow waterways around the karst mountains and visit the famous floating villages. Continue through a natural tunnel to a lagoon where you can swim and relax on a secluded beach.
In the late afternoon, you'll return to the boat, and everyone will gather on the top deck to witness the golden sunset over the water. Then, join a cooking class on board the ship, during which the expert chef will teach your group how to prepare traditional Vietnamese dishes. Later, you can opt for activities like games and movies or go squid fishing.
Day 6: Morning Cruise, Transfer to Hanoi & Fine Dining
Wake up early and get your blood pumping with a tai chi session on the sundeck. After a light breakfast, the ship will cruise to the Dark and Light Cave. You'll then board a traditional bamboo boat and enter this system of two sea caverns. The "dark" cave stretches over 328 feet (100 m), and you'll explore the interior with a flashlight. The "light" cave is shorter and is filled with natural light, illuminating the white limestone karst walls and emerald waters of the grotto. Its cathedral-like interior is a great place to snap photos.
Afterward, you'll return to the ship and cruise back to the pier in Ha Long Bay. Then hop in a vehicle for the 3.5-hour ride back to Hanoi, arriving around 3 pm. You'll transfer to your hotel and can relax for the rest of the afternoon.
Later, you'll head to the French Quarter and the Press Club Restaurant to enjoy an evening of haute French cuisine with a touch of Vietnam. Michelin-star chef Alain Dutournier designed the refined menu in this historic 1920s colonial building. It features everything from oysters and caviar to scallop tartare and slow-cooked suckling pig with foie gras terrine. There's also a superb cellar boasting over 600 wines from around the world. After this unforgettable dining experience, you'll return to your hotel—or spend your last evening reveling in Hanoi's famous nightlife.
Day 7: Depart HanoiUnfortunately, your brief but action-packed luxury journey through northern Vietnam has ended. Enjoy one last decadent breakfast at your five-star hotel before meeting your driver for the ride to the airport in Hanoi, where you'll catch your flight home. Safe travels!
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