A guide to incredible destinations in Northern Vietnam. Vietnam was actually one of our best and favorite trips he!We will be back in a few months!
After my trip to Vietnam, I received many requests from my friends and readers for Vietnam itineraries. There are so many breathtaking cities in Vietnam that I regret not staying longer (I missed Da Nang, Hoi An, Hue and Dalat, just to name a few). But I am very happy to experience Hanoi, Sapa, Ninh Binh and Halong Bay. Some of these places are a little more difficult to reach (but worth it!). I hope you found this post helpful. Happy trip!
To do Sapa, Ninh Binh and Halong Bay, Hanoi will be more or less like your home base. We highly recommend going to Hanoi first and planning other cities around it.
How to get to Hanoi
You can fly directly to Hanoi (Noi Bai International Airport, airport code HAN). Alternatively, if you are departing from Southern Vietnam in Ho Chi Minh City, you can fly to Hanoi with the local Vietnam Airlines. We flew on VietJet Air from Saigon to Hanoi and it was about $25 per person each way.
Place of stay and length of stay
We recommend staying at least 2 or 3 nights in Hanoi before heading out to other cities. There are many hotels in Hanoi. We ended up staying at the Intercontinental Hanoi Westlake which was fine, but honestly we won’t do it again. It’s a bit far from the city center and felt a bit too corporate. If I were to do it again, I would consider the Old Town hotel. Old Town has a lot of character, energy and life!
Hanoi Antique Legend Hotel – 3 1/2 stars, $35 per night. Located in the acclaimed Old Quarter of Hanoi, within walking distance of night markets, street food and Hoan Kiem Lake.
Hanoi Siesta Central Hotel – 4 stars, $85 per night. Luxurious, in the heart of Hanoi Old Quarter, within walking distance to the night market.
Sofitel Legend Metropole Hanoi – 5 stars, $230 per night. A historic luxury landmark since 1901, this hotel is located in the heart of Hanoi near the Old Quarter.
Sapa is a must! Beyond beauty, it feels like a place where earth and sky meet. Gorgeous shades of aqua, green and blue. During the rice harvesting season, the rice fields turn golden!
How to get to Sapa
There are several options to get to Sapa: train, bus or private car. Sapa is about 220 miles away from Hanoi and getting there requires extra effort as there is no airport in Sapa. But it’s worth it.
Train: $20-$30 per person, 8-10 hours (overnight trains save time). Depart Hanoi and arrive in Lao Cai. Lao Cai is about 45 minutes drive from Sapa. Once the train arrives in Lao Cai, you can travel to Sapa by bus or taxi. One option is sapary express train.
Bus: $25/person, 6 hours. Depart Hanoi Old Quarter and arrive at your hotel in Sapa Town. You basically tell the bus service where you want to get off in Sapa Town. One option is ecozapa bus.
By car: $150-$200 one way, 4-5 hours. We will pick you up from your hotel in Hanoi and transfer you to your hotel in Sapa. Ask your Hanoi hotel concierge to set this up. Check the full price of your trip before confirming your car rental reservation.
Place of stay and length of stay
I am very very recommend Topas Ecolodge in Sapa. Ecolodge is located about 45 minutes drive from Sapa Town. There is also the Topas Mountain Express, a direct bus shuttle service from Hanoi to Topas Ecolodge. One night is fine, two nights is fine. Other accommodation options below:
Eco Palms House – 3 stars, $75 per night. Incredibly quiet and beautiful, this hotel sits above rice paddies and is approximately 4.5 miles from Sapa Town.
Sapa Horizon Hotel – 3 1/2 stars, $70 per night. Located in the center of Sapa town, this hotel is surrounded by picturesque mountain scenery and within walking distance of the market.
Aira Boutique Sapa Hotel – 4 stars, $130 per night. Highly rated and surrounded by stunning scenery, this hotel is located in the town of Sapa on the edge of a mountain.
Ninh Binh, Vietnam
Nimbin is one of my favorite places. We got very sick, but I still loved Ninh Binh. Ninh Binh is where parts of Kong Skull Island were filmed! We went to several places in Ninh Binh but our favorites were Trang An, Mua Cave and Bik Dong Pagoda.
How to get to Nimbin
So this part is tricky. There is no direct way to go from Sapa to Ninh Binh. You basically have to pass through Hanoi (which is more or less home). Ninh Binh is about 1-2 hours by car from Hanoi. It is recommended that you return from Sapa to Hanoi (either by train, bus or car), stay in Hanoi and rest overnight before heading to Ninh Binh the next day. You can go straight to Ninh Binh on the same day. From Hanoi to Ninh Binh: train, bus or private car.
Train: $5 per person, travel time over 2 hours. Depart from Hanoi Station and arrive at Ninh Binh Station. Ninh Binh Railway Station is about a 15-minute drive from Tam Coc and is home to many architectural wonders.See train timetable here.
Bus: $7 per person, 1 hour 30 minutes. Depart Hanoi and arrive in Ninh Binh. Once in Ninh Binh, take a taxi to Tam Coc.View bus timetable here.
Car: $60 – $80/one way, 1 hour 30 minutes. Get picked up at your hotel in Hanoi and dropped off at your hotel in Ninh Binh. You can also accompany us in a private car and be a tour guide. Ask your Hanoi hotel concierge to set this up. Check the full price of your trip before confirming your car rental reservation.
Day trips: $80 – $140/person, usually from 7:30am to 6:30pm. Includes hotel pickup in Hanoi, tour guide, some activities, and drop off in Hanoi. Ask your Hanoi hotel concierge to set this up.
Place of stay and length of stay
Ninh Binh is available for day trips or overnight stays. We stayed her for 2 nights but wanted to stay for 3.I am really For real like a nimble.we stayed at Tam Coc Bungalow It was a lot of fun!
Tam Coc Bungalow – 2 stars, $33 per night. This place is really adorable. Right next to the river, this bungalow is in a great location close to all of Ninh Binh’s priceless landmarks.
Mua Caves Ecolodge – 3 stars, $26 per night. This ecolodge is located directly below Mua Cave (pictured in purple dress above). Bright, clean and great location!
There Cock Garden – 3.5 stars, $133 per night. A beautiful mountain resort. Surrounded by rice fields and lush greenery, he is one of the best rated hotels in Ninh Binh.
halong bay, vietnam
I saved the most relaxing ones for last. I’m not a cruise girl, but Colin really wanted to do this cruise. And I am very happy to do it. Surrounded by emerald waters and towering limestone pillars, Halong Bay looks like something out of a movie.
How to get to Halong Bay
Most cruises offer hotel transfers from Hanoi. So if you’re coming from Ninh Binh, it’s probably safest and easiest to head back to Hanoi and schedule a transfer from there to Halong Bay. Pick-up is usually at 7:00 AM and takes approximately 3 hours and 30 minutes to Halong Bay.
Place of stay and length of stay
I have been cruising for 3 days and 2 nights. But to be honest, you can see everything on a 2-day, 1-night cruise. Most cruises have already set activities, excursions and itineraries. Simply select the activity you want to participate in. Here are some options:
Paradise Luxury Cruise – 4 1/2 stars, $265 per night. Lush and chic, this is a solid all-around luxury cruise line.With a flexible one or two night program with excursions, Paradise lets you enjoy Halong Bay seamlessly.
Alisa Premier Cruise – 4 1/2 stars, $285 per night. One of his top picks for Halong, all rooms and suites come with private balconies (a big plus!). They also have one of the most beautiful routes to explore from Lan Ha Bay to Ha Long Bay.
Hera Cruise – 5 stars, $515 per night. The ultimate luxury experience, this cruise offers a personalized itinerary, Tai Chi classes, afternoon tea service and more.
We went to Hanoi -> Sapa -> Hanoi -> Ninh Binh -> Hanoi -> Halong Bay -> Hanoi -> NYC. We both had big luggage he had one each, Colin had a backpack with all his gear and I had a crossbody bag of his. We didn’t have any carry-ons as we knew space would be very limited in the bus situation. For backpackers, it’s much easier to take a train or bus directly from Sapa to Ninh Binh (similarly from Ninh Binh to Halong Bay) without going through Hanoi. However, if you are a light to heavy traveler with luggage, it is much easier to return to Hanoi after other cities.
And bring insect repellent! Especially needed in Sapa and Ninh Binh.
Have cash on hand and be prepared to make quick conversions. Currently, Vietnam Dong is 23,000 VND to he USD 1.00. For easy calculation, I memorized VND 20,000 to USD 1, VND 200,000 to USD 10, VND 500,000 to USD 25, VND 1,000,000 to USD 50. Most things that can be negotiated (private car rates, street vendor rates, etc.) are better if they can be converted quickly during the negotiation.
fraud and rip off
Scams and rip-offs are everywhere and Vietnam is no exception. Please attend with caution. When we were in Vietnam, our phones were rarely out of the house unless we were using them with Google Maps. Wherever we went, we packed and stored our equipment securely. But we were deceived. One taximeter strangely showed a four times higher final rate. We took a bus from Sapa/Lao Cai to Hanoi and the driver dropped us off near our drop off point. From our experience, we have some tips.
- Always pay attention to the taximeter. After our experience, I read on the forums that this happens quite often.
- Keep your bag, wallet, camera, etc. close to your body at all times.
- When negotiating, ask for the final price. For example, don’t ask… how much does a car cost from Hanoi to Sapa? Instead, from this hotel… [insert your hotel address] To this hotel in Hanoi [insert your hotel adress] What is the total cost in Sapa? The more specific the better.
when you love you love
I know all of this sounds intense (trains, buses, long trips, million dollar conversions, scams, rip-offs), but once you’re there, it’s much easier to navigate. I had some issues in Vietnam, but they didn’t detract from all the wonderful human experiences I had. We met kindly for most of our trip, made friends along the way, and saw amazing scenery.
I could keep writing, but I don’t want this post to be a novel. We hope you found all our travel tips and recommendations helpful. Enjoy a safe and secure trip to Vietnam!
Thank you for always reading!