This five-day tour gives you the best of northern Vietnam, from Hanoi to the fertile river lands of Ninh Bình and finally to Hạ Long Bay. In Hanoi, you’ll immerse yourself in the culture, enjoy delicious street food, and visit famous landmarks like the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum. You'll then travel to Ninh Bình for a boat journey on the river followed by a trip to Hạ Long Bay, known for its emerald waters and over 1,000 uninhabited islands.

Highlights

  • Discover the sights, sounds, and flavors of Hanoi
  • Take afternoon tea in a traditional home in Hanoi's Old Quarter
  • Enjoy a scenic boat trip along the rivers of Tràng An
  • Visit the Gulf of Tonkin and cruise around gorgeous Hạ Long Bay

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrival in Hanoi, meet your guide Hanoi
Day 2 Exploring Hanoi Hanoi
Day 3 Travel to Ninh Bình,  Sampan Boat Ride at Tràng An Ninh Binh
Day 4 Hạ Long Bay Boat Cruise Halong Bay
Day 5 Tour Hạ Long Bay, Departure from Hanoi  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Arrival in Hanoi - Meet Your Guide

The streets of Hanoi
The streets of Hanoi

Xin chào! Welcome to Hanoi!

Vietnam's capital is a mix of the old and the new—a metropolis defined by the endearing contradictions of a rapidly developing yet deeply traditional society. Here glimmering modern buildings sit alongside the French Colonial Old Quarter, in the historic heart of the city. 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 needn't worry about navigating Hanoi's chaotic streets, though,  because upon arrival at Noi Bai Airport a private driver will be waiting to whisk you off to your hotel in the city center. After check-in, you'll have some time to unwind and relax after your long flight. Maybe stretch your legs with a stroll around Hoàn Kiếm Lake or the alleyways of the Old Quarter where you can browse local shops.

In the evening, you'll meet your local guide who will provide an overview of the tours and activities you will enjoy during your stay. Afterward, you can head out for dinner followed by, should you choose, a bit of a bar hop/pub crawl.

Day 2: Breakfast in Hanoi - Explore the City

Hoàn Kiếm Lake
Hoàn Kiếm Lake

Wake up early to experience Hanoi at its most tranquil. At this hour, with fewer honking horns and less-congested streets, you'll embark on a walking tour around Hoàn Kiếm Lake. Your main company on this pleasant stroll will be Hoàn Kiếm's glassy waters and the elderly residents practicing their morning Tai Chi. It's in this environment, where time seems to stand still, that you'll understand how Hanoi earned the UNESCO-bestowed title of "City for Peace."

Then it's time for a lakeside "laughing yoga" session. There are no mats here, just a session of protracted laughter. The process is simple: you stand in a group of locals, clap hands, throw your arms in the air, and guffaw with reckless abandon. It may seem unorthodox, but there's a method to the hysterics: the act of laughing is a type of yogic breathing, and when combined with simple stretches you get quite the workout. Moreover, it yields a rush of endorphins that give you the perfect happy start to the day. 

After all the hyper-joviality you'll enjoy breakfast like a local with a hearty bowl of phở. This nourishing bowl of noodles has been a culinary staple in Vietnam for over 100 years since the French introduced beef broth to the country. There's also a variation including chicken, and both are prepared with rice noodles, herbs, and lemon. It's a dish that has conquered the world, and you'll get to try it at the source when you duck into a phở restaurant in the Old Quarter and sit down to eat.

You'll walk off the meal with a leisurely stroll through Hanoi's nearby commercial center to do some souvenir shopping. The last stop on this route will be at an ancient house hidden in the middle of the Old Quarter, far off the tourist trail. The host will welcome you into this traditional home and invite you and a group of guests to sit down for a serving of lotus tea. It's the perfect end to an unforgettable morning.

After briefly relaxing and recharging, you'll head back out in the afternoon to see another side of the city. First, you'll pay a visit to the Temple of Literature, which was built in the 11th century and dedicated to Confucius. This temple was the first university of 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 with a stop at the nearby One Pillar Pagoda, one of the most iconic Buddhist temples in the city.

Day 3: Hanoi to Ninh Bình - Sampan Ride at Tràng An

Enjoy the boat ride
Enjoy the boat ride

Today you'll leave the city and venture to the gorgeous Vietnamese countryside in Ninh Bình Province. This region, which is part of the Red River Delta, is denoted by fertile rice fields, otherworldly karst landscapes, gorgeous grottoes, and gently moving rivers. The best part is it's located a mere 55 miles (90 km) south of Hanoi and is easily reachable via a two-hour drive. Upon arrival, you'll check into your eco-hotel and then head out and explore.

There are many beautiful sights in this region. Your first stop on a tour will be Hoa Lư, an area that was once the capital of Vietnam under the Dinh and Le dynasties of the 10th and 11th centuries. The well-preserved remains of palaces, pagodas, tombs, and pavilions are a throwback to Hoa Lư's heyday as an ancient imperial capital. Needless to say, hiking around these landmarks is like stepping back in time. 

In the afternoon you'll eat lunch at a local restaurant and then travel to the nearby UNESCO World Heritage Site of Tràng An. This wharf sits on a tributary of the Red River and is surrounded by scenic evergreen forests and limestone mountains.

Here you'll board a sampan (flat-bottomed boat) for a journey down the river. A guide will handle rowing duties so you can sit back and enjoy the scenery. As the river winds around the dramatic mountains and passes under riverside caves, be sure to savor these moments of profound peace and beauty. 

After the sampan trip, you'll return to your hotel and will have a little while to relax. Then it will be time to head out for dinner on the patio garden of a lakeside restaurant. You will then return to your hotel and retire for the evening.

Day 4: Ninh Bình to Hạ Long Bay - Boat Cruise

Hạ Long Bay

After breakfast, you'll depart Ninh Bình on a 3.5-hour drive northeast to Hạ 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, where over 1,000 karst islets rise above emerald waters, the seascape takes on an otherworldly quality.   

The culture of Vietnam is heavy on mythology, such as the belief that the Vietnamese are descended from the dragon father Lac Long Quan. These legends naturally carry over to Hạ Long Bay, as this coastal paradise lends itself to the fantastic. The story goes that a long time ago a dragon and her children descended from heaven to do battle against invaders at Hạ Long Bay, spraying emeralds and jewels at their enemies. Over time, these jewels formed the limestone towers that are now icons of this region.

Whether you believe the legend or not, Hạ Long Bay's immense natural beauty will certainly leave you awestruck. Upon arrival you'll board traditional "junk" (Chinese sailboat) and head out into the Gulf of Tonkin, cruising the emerald waters amid the limestone towers. You'll spend the rest of the day sailing around the area's myriad tiny islands and grottoes, which, geologically speaking, were actually created by the forces of wind and waves over the centuries.

You'll enjoy a relaxing lunch and dinner on board as well as fun group activities like a fruit-carving competition. After taking in the gorgeous sunset, you'll later retire to your deluxe cabin to rest up for the next day and an equally remarkable sunrise.

Day 5: Tour Hạ Long Bay - Transfer to Hanoi & Departure

Take a kayak ride around the bay
Take a kayak ride around the bay

Begin your day with a Tai Chi session on the cruiser's sundeck accompanied by complimentary tea and coffee. It's the perfect locale to integrate your mind and body as the sunrise over the bay compliments this internal martial art perfectly. With a rejuvenated spirit and newly healthy qi (life energy), you'll sit down for a light breakfast to be served on board.

After eating, the boat will sail to the floating village of Cua Van, which is easily 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, naturally, 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.

Upon arriving at Cua Van, you can 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 cruiser where you'll have time to relax and enjoy brunch.

In the late morning, you'll transfer to a dock on the mainland and then to a local village. Here you'll enjoy a special "water puppet show" performed by local artists. This is a real treat as 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. 

After the show, you'll cap the day, and indeed your Vietnam adventure, with a return to Hanoi and the Noi Bai Airport where you will catch your flight home. Until next time!

Map

Map of Northern Vietnam Culture & Adventure Tour - 5 Days
Map of Northern Vietnam Culture & Adventure Tour - 5 Days