๐Ÿ‡ป๐Ÿ‡ณย 7-10 Epic Days in Northern Vietnam: 3 Itineraries

A high view of small green mountains surrounded by water fields.

Northern Vietnam has everything from limestone cliffs towering over emerald waters to bustling cities to remote mountain villages. Traveling through Northern Vietnam remains one of my most adventurous trips.

I spent over a week in Northern Vietnam visiting four regions and here, I share practical tips on taking a trip there. This post covers:

  • ๐Ÿ’ก Practical tips for Vietnam
  • ๐Ÿ—“๏ธ 3 different optimized itineraries
  • ๐Ÿ—บ๏ธ Map with key attractions
  • ๐Ÿ“ Overview of 4 popular attractions

Planning a trip to Vietnam? This Vietnam guide covers things to know before getting there, including how to get around, common scams, cultural differences and more.

Disclosure: This post may contain affiliate links. If you make a purchase through them, I may earn a small commission, at no extra cost to you. Thanks for your support!

North vs. South Vietnam: Which One Should You Visit?

Visiting the entire country of Vietnam can take three to four weeks, so if you were like me, you might be wondering whether to focus your trip on the north or south side.

Here are some things to consider if you’re deciding between spending more time in northern or southern Vietnam:

๐Ÿ—“๏ธ Time of the Year

Northern and Southern Vietnam have different climates throughout the year, so they differ on the best time to visit.

  • Northern Vietnam has the dry season between November to May, with November and December being the most ideal time to visit because it’s not too humid or cold.
  • Southern Vietnam has a consistent tropical climate, but has the rainy season between May to November, so those are the months to avoid.

โœจ Major Cities

Northern Vietnam has Hanoi City and Southern Vietnam has Ho Chi Minh City (aka Saigon), the capital.

Both cities offer great options for authentic food (the food capital of Vietnam is Hoi An in the center of the country), shopping, nightlife and culture.

  • Ho Chi Minh City will feel more metropolitan and modern while Hanoi will feel more traditional and laidback.
  • Ho Chi Minh City is known to be slightly more dazzling and frantic, but both cities can feel hectic to visitors with motorbikes zooming around everywhere.

โ›ฐ๏ธ Attractions

Northern and Southern Vietnam both have several popular and distinct areas to visit.

  • In Northern Vietnam, you’ll be near the famous emerald waters and limestone cliffs of Ha Long Bay, get to explore the mountains of Sa Pa and the Ha Giang loop, and see Ninh Binh which is known as “Ha Long Bay on land.”
  • In Southern Vietnam, you’ll get to visit the floating markets of Cแบงn Thฦก, the white sand beaches of Phรบ Quแป‘c Island and the countryside charm of Da Lat.

Based on my interests and recommendations from friends, I decided to spend my two weeks in Vietnam traveling the northern and central parts of the country.

A dark, large temple with a decorative roof.
In front of Bai Dinh Pagoda, a Ninh Bรฌnh attraction in Northern Vietnam.

5 Essential Tips for Visiting Vietnam

Before getting into the itineraries, here are five helpful tips when traveling to Northern Vietnam.

โœˆ๏ธ Tip #1: Fly into Hanoi.

Centrally located in Northern Vietnam and with the only international airport in the region, Hanoi is the ideal entry point to other popular areas in the north:

  • Ninh Binh is two hours south
  • Ha Giang is six hours north
  • Ha Long Bay is three hours east

๐Ÿš™ Tip #2: Download the Grab app.

Grab (iOS, Android) is the Uber of Southeast Asia and it’s a very convenient app to have. Calling a Grab is usually more affordable than flagging down a taxi.

A lot of areas in Vietnam will also have tuk-tuks and other negotiation-based methods of transportation. Grab generally has competitive pricing; a pro tip is to use Grab as a baseline for negotiations when tuk-tuks and other transportation are more convenient.

๐Ÿงป Tip #3: Bring toilet paper for bathrooms.

Many public bathrooms in Vietnam do not have toilet paper and a lot of them are squat toilets.

๐Ÿ‘Ÿ Tip #4: Learn to cross the streets with confidence.

Vehicles, especially in Hanoi, donโ€™t stop for pedestrians. Step into the street while keeping an eye on traffic and walk straight in a predictable path with a consistent pace so that vehicles can go around you.

Woman crossing a street while many cars and motorbikes drive around her.
Here’s me crossing a street in Hanoi.

๐ŸฆŸ Tip #5: Bring mosquito repellent.

The humid climate of Vietnam makes it a haven for mosquitos. To decrease the spread of mosquito-borne illness, bring and put on mosquito repellent.

I tend to get bitten and I find that this lotion insect repellent works better than the spray kind (per the CDC: โ€œDEET offers the best protection against mosquito bites.โ€)

Vietnam is known as one of the world’s most affordable places to visit. This Vietnam cost breakdown details how much I spent on food, housing, etc. during my two-week trip.

Northern Vietnam Itineraries

Below are three different itineraries for Northern Vietnam, covering distinct destinations with varying activities and vibes.

These itineraries are the improved versions of my almost two-week North Vietnam itinerary.

The Vietnam trip planner below has a one-week itinerary prefilled that you can modify to fit your needs.

7-Day Northern Vietnam Itinerary (Option 1)

Below is a great way to spend seven days in Northern Vietnam if you want more adventure. This itinerary takes you through three distinct areas:

  • Hanoi, the bustling city of Northern Vietnam with amazing street food
  • Ha Giang loop, an epic road trip by motorbike through the rural mountains
  • Ha Long Bay or Lan Ha Bay to see the famous emerald waters and limestone cliffs

๐Ÿ“ Map of Itinerary

๐Ÿ—“๏ธ 7-Day Itinerary for Northern Vietnam

Hanoi (2 days)
Day 1โœˆ๏ธ Arrive at Hanoi airport (morning)
๐Ÿ‡ป๐Ÿ‡ณ Visit the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum (afternoon)
๐Ÿ’งWalk around Ho Kiem Lake (afternoon)
๐Ÿœ Go on a Hanoi street food tour (evening)
Day 2๐Ÿ“š Visit the Temple of Literature (morning)
๐Ÿ’ง See a traditional Water Puppet Show (afternoon)
๐Ÿ‘Ÿ Walk around Old Quarter (afternoon)
โœ‹ Get a massage (evening)
๐Ÿš Travel to Ha Giang City on a sleeper bus (7 pm to morning)
Ha Giang Loop or Sa Pa (3 days)
Days 3-5๐Ÿ๏ธ Road trip for 3 days on the Ha Giang loop (all-day)
Ha Long Bay / Lan Ha Bay (1.5 days)
Day 6๐ŸšŒ Travel to Ha Long Bay or Lan Hay Bay (morning)
๐Ÿšข Explore the bay by cruise, kayak or another activity (all-day)
Day 7๐ŸšŒ Travel back to Hanoi (morning)
โœˆ๏ธ Prepare to head home or to Central Vietnam (afternoon)

๐Ÿ‰ If You Have an Extra Day: Visit Ninh Binh

If you have eight days in Northern Vietnam, you can also do a day trip to Ninh Binh from Hanoi. Ninh Binh is known as the “Ha Long Bay on land” due to its rice terraces, limestone cliffs and temples.

๐ŸŒพ Alternative to the Ha Giang Loop: Sa Pa

If riding a motorbike through the rural mountains of Vietnam doesn’t sound appealing, you can visit Sa Pa instead.

A remote town west of Ha Giang City, Sa Pa also has rice paddies, mountains and a vibrant community of ethnic groups. Sa Pa is the perfect place for nature lovers looking to do some hiking, including two to three-day treks.

Top attractions in Sa Pa include Cat Cat Village, Muong Hoa Valley and Fansipan Mountain.

A rice terrace next to some mountains.
A view of Sa Pa. (Photo by my friend, Alison Lau.)

7-Day Northern Vietnam Itinerary (Option 2)

Below is another great way to spend seven days in Northern Vietnam if you want to travel at a slower pace. This itinerary allows you to:

  • Spend three days exploring the bustling city of Hanoi
  • Visit Ninh Binh for a bit longer than just a day trip, allowing you to truly explore and enjoy the main attractions
  • Spend a little under two days in Ha Long Bay or Lan Ha Bay to see the famous emerald waters and limestone cliffs

๐Ÿ“ Map of Itinerary

๐Ÿ—“๏ธ 7-Day Itinerary for Northern Vietnam

Hanoi (3 days)
Day 1โœˆ๏ธ Arrive at Hanoi airport (morning)
๐Ÿ‡ป๐Ÿ‡ณ Visit the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum (afternoon)
๐Ÿ’งWalk around Ho Kiem Lake (afternoon)
๐Ÿœ Go on a Hanoi street food tour (evening)
Day 2๐Ÿ“š Visit the Temple of Literature (morning)
๐Ÿš‚ Get into Train Street (afternoon)
๐Ÿ’ง See a traditional Water Puppet Show (afternoon)
๐Ÿ‘Ÿ Walk around Old Quarter (afternoon)
โœ‹ Get a massage (evening)
Day 3โ˜•๏ธ Get egg coffee or visit Hanoi’s cafes (morning)
๐Ÿช– Visit the Imperial Citadel of Thang Long (afternoon)
๐Ÿณ Take a Hanoi cooking class (afternoon)
๐ŸŒพ Alternatively, do a day trip to Mai Chau (all-day)
Ninh Binh (2 days)
Day 4๐ŸšŒ Travel to Ninh Binh (morning)
โœจ Visit the Bai Dinh Pagoda (afternoon)
๐Ÿ›ถ Take a boat ride on Trang An or Tam Coc River (afternoon)
Day 5๐Ÿ‰ Climb Lying Dragon Mountain and visit Mua Cave (morning)
๐Ÿ‡ป๐Ÿ‡ณ Visit the ancient capital, Hao Lu (afternoon)
๐ŸšŒ Travel back to Hanoi (afternoon)
Ha Long Bay / Lan Ha Bay (1.5 days)
Days 6๐ŸšŒ Travel to Ha Long Bay or Lan Ha Bay (morning)
๐Ÿšข Explore the bay by cruise, kayak or another activity (all-day)
Day 7๐ŸšŒ Travel back to Hanoi (morning)
โœˆ๏ธ Prepare to head home or to Central Vietnam (afternoon)

10-Day Northern Vietnam Itinerary

Below is an amazing way to spend 10 days in Northern Vietnam, allowing you to experience city landscapes, rural mountains and emerald-green water.

This 10-day itinerary takes you through the region’s best places:

  • Hanoi, the bustling city of Northern Vietnam with amazing street food
  • Ninh Binh, the “Ha Long Bay on land” featuring pagodas and panoramic views
  • Ha Giang loop, an epic road trip by motorbike through the rural mountains
  • Ha Long Bay or Lan Ha Bay, a world-famous UNESCO World Heritage Site

๐Ÿ“ Map of Itinerary

๐Ÿ—“๏ธ 10-Day Itinerary for Northern Vietnam

Hanoi (1 day)
Day 1โœˆ๏ธ Arrive at Hanoi airport (morning)
๐Ÿ‡ป๐Ÿ‡ณ Visit the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum (afternoon)
๐Ÿ’งWalk around Ho Kiem Lake (afternoon)
๐Ÿœ Go on a Hanoi street food tour (evening)
Ninh Binh (2 days)
Day 2๐ŸšŒ Travel to Ninh Binh (morning)
โœจ Visit the Bai Dinh Pagoda (afternoon)
๐Ÿ›ถ Take a boat ride on Trang An or Tam Coc River (afternoon)
โญ๏ธ Visit Bich Dong Pagoda (afternoon)
Day 3๐Ÿ‰ Climb Lying Dragon Mountain and see the Mua Cave (morning)
๐Ÿ‡ป๐Ÿ‡ณ Visit the ancient capital, Hao Lu (afternoon)
๐ŸšŒ Travel back to Hanoi (afternoon)
Hanoi (1 day)
Day 4๐Ÿ“š Visit the Temple of Literature (morning)
๐Ÿš‚ Get into Train Street (afternoon)
๐Ÿ’ง See a traditional Water Puppet Show (afternoon)
๐Ÿ‘Ÿ Walk around Old Quarter (afternoon)
โœ‹ Get a massage (evening)
๐Ÿš Travel to Ha Giang City on a sleeper bus (7 pm to morning)
Ha Giang Loop or Sa Pa (3 days)
Days 5-7๐Ÿ๏ธ Road trip for 3 days on the Ha Giang loop (all-day)
Ha Long Bay / Lan Ha Bay (2 days)
Days 8-9๐ŸšŒ Travel to Ha Long Bay or Lan Ha Bay (morning)
๐Ÿšข Explore the bay by cruise, kayak or another activity (all-day)
Day 10๐ŸšŒ Travel back to Hanoi (morning)
โœˆ๏ธ Prepare to head home or to Central Vietnam (afternoon)

Vietnam Map With Recommended Places

This Vietnam map has all the recommended places pinned. It features places from Hanoi, Ninh Binh, Cat Ba Island, Ha Giang, Hoi An and Da Nang.

4 Amazing Places To Visit in Northern Vietnam

I spent eight active, packed days in Northern Vietnam visiting four destinations that let you experience different environments and activities in the country.

All four destinations are some of Vietnam’s top destinations offering a mix of bustling city atmosphere, breathtaking mountains, authentic food and world-famous emerald water.

1. Ninh Bรฌnh

๐ŸŒพ Known for: A UNESCO World Heritage Site, Ninh Bรฌnh is called โ€œHa Long Bay on Landโ€ for its green rice paddies and limestone cliffs. It’s known for its rivers, green rice fields, mossy pagodas and limestone karsts.

River with emerald water with a small temple inside the water and limestone mountains in the background.
Riding a boat on the Trร ng An river in Ninh Bรฌnh.

โ›ฐ๏ธ Vibe: Ninh Bรฌnh feels rural and much less chaotic than bustling Hanoi, but it’s still touristy.

โœจ Top attractions: Ninh Bรฌnh is known for several attractions and activities:

A woman standing on a steep mountain stone overlooking a watery field view.
Climbing up Lying Dragon Mountain in Mua Caves.

๐Ÿ“ Location: Ninh Bรฌnh is located two hours (~58 miles) south of Hanoi.

๐Ÿš— Getting there: You can get to Ninh Bรฌnh by bus or train from Hanoi. If youโ€™re short on time like me, you can do a day trip from Hanoi by bus. Iโ€™ve looked at dozens of Ninh Bรฌnh day tours (I booked this Ninh Bรฌnh day tour) and they generally visit three areas for ~$50 USD per person:

  • Hao Lu: An ancient capital with history in the feudal system. Tours tend to focus on either the citadel or Bai Dinh Pagoda, the second largest pagoda in Vietnam.
  • Trang An or Tam Ccc: Two scenic areas known for boat caves.
  • Mua Caves: A 500-step climb will take you to the top of Lying Dragon Mountain, which will give you panoramic views of Tam Com.

All the tour companies seem to provide more or less the same things (e.g., transportation, buffet lunch, tour of popular sites). I would choose tours based on which areas you want to visit. I booked this Ninh Bรฌnh day tour because I wanted to prioritize the Bai Dinh pagoda and Trang An boat ride.

๐Ÿ—“๏ธ How long to visit: Spending one day in Ninh Bรฌnh is adequate and will allow you to see its top attractions. If you want to know the area outside of its top tourist activities, consider staying for two to three days.

๐Ÿ€ My take: Ninh Bรฌnh is beautiful and a nice day trip to get away from chaotic Hanoi. Keep in mind that it can be fairly touristy, especially if you visit as part of a tour. Visitors generally amass in the same popular places at around the same times (e.g. there were dozens of boats in the water in Trang An and the view from Lying Dragon Mountain had a line).

Multiple wooden boats on an emerald water river through limestone mountains.
A crowded boat ride on Trร ng An.

2. Ha Giang Loop

๐Ÿ๏ธ Known for: Great for adventurous travelers who want to explore Vietnamโ€™s mountains and have a unique experience, the Ha Giang loop is a three to four-day road trip. The best way to explore it is on a motorbike.

A woman holding a flower with rice paddy and mountain views in the background.
One of the stunning views along the Ha Giang loop.

โ›ฐ๏ธ Vibe: The Ha Giang loop features winding roads in canyons and beautiful mountain passes as well as diverse ethnic villagers living in the mountains. The vibe is one you get when you’re surrounded by Vietnamโ€™s most epic natural landscapes.

๐Ÿ“ Location: The Ha Giang loop starts in Ha Giang City, which is six hours (170 miles) north of Hanoi.

๐Ÿš— Getting there: You can do the Ha Giang loop on your own or through a three to four-day tour. I chose to do a three-day tour with Cheers Hostel because Iโ€™m not an experienced motorbike driver.

Itโ€™s strongly recommended that you have motorbike experience if you want to do the Ha Giang loop on your own as the road conditions are not for beginners.

A high view of a deep mountain valley with a river running through it.
One of the many stunning views on the Ha Giang loop.

๐Ÿ—“๏ธ How long to visit: Most people doing the Ha Giang loop on their own or with a tour do it within three to four days, depending on how you want to split the time between driving vs. relaxing in rural Vietnam.

๐Ÿ€ My take: The Ha Giang loop is a fantastic addition to any Vietnam itinerary, and doing it with a tour group makes it easy for those without motorbike experience. The mountains and views are stunning, and going with a group means meeting new people, not having to worry about safety and being able to focus on the beautiful scenery while riding. It was one of my trip’s most memorable and unique experiences.

This Ha Giang loop guide shares how to prepare and pack for the Ha Giang loop.

A dozen people posing with mini hearts on the edge of a mountain.
The Ha Giang loop tour group I rode with. Tour operator: Cheers Hostel.

3. Lan Ha Bay / Ha Long Bay

๐Ÿ’ง Known for: Lan Ha Bay is part of the world-famous Ha Long Bay, but it’s also its own distinct area and bay. It has beautiful limestone cliffs and emerald waters, but itโ€™s a lot less popular and therefore more serene and less polluted.

A limestone cliff jutting out of emerald water.
On a boat in Lan Ha Bay.

โœŒ๏ธ Vibe: Lan Ha Bay is serene and quiet, with fewer crowds and junk boats compared to Ha Long Bay.

โœจ Top activities: Whereas the primary thing to do in the famous bay is to take a Ha Long Bay cruise, Lan Ha Bay offers a lot more activities:

A woman near an ocean pointing across at a set of building with mountains in the background.
Cรกt Bร  Island right before sunset.

๐Ÿ“ Location: When traveling to Lan Ha Bay, visitors tend to stay on Cat Ba Island, which is approximately three hours (90 miles) east of Hanoi.

๐Ÿš— Getting there: You can get to Cat Ba Island by bus or charter seaplane. I took a bus from Hanoi to Cat Ba Island, which cost $28 USD round-trip and took about three hours. The trip was a 1 hour and 45-minute bus ride, then a short ferry ride followed by a 30-minute bus ride.

๐Ÿ—“๏ธ How long to visit: You can spend two to three days in Lan Ha Bay and Cat Ba Island. I stayed for one day and wish I had stayed longer.

๐Ÿ€ My take: If you like being active, I recommend Lan Ha Bay. Rock climbing above water, known as โ€œdeep water soloing,โ€ in Lan Ha Bay is one of my Vietnam trip’s highlights. If youโ€™re not into climbing or arenโ€™t comfortable swimming, I recommend kayaking in the peaceful, gorgeous bay.

This Vietnam deep water solo guide highlights where and how to rock climb above water in the beautiful Lan Ha Bay. No rock climbing experience is required.

A woman climbing up a dark limestone rock over water.
Climbing up a limestone islet in Lan Ha Bay.

4. Hanoi

๐Ÿ‡ป๐Ÿ‡ณ Known for: The capital of Vietnam, Hanoi is one of Vietnamโ€™s most visited destinations. It’s a busy city with historical and cultural significance.

A man walking through a city street with motorbikes parked around the edge.
A more quiet street in Hanoi.

๐Ÿ๏ธ Vibe: Hanoi can seem chaotic to visitors with motorbikes honking and zooming along the streets. It has a lot of open businesses with a vibrant community.

โœจ Top activities: Hanoi’s top activities include:

Hanoi is a bustling city with many options. This Hanoi travel guide details what to eat and do there.

A woman standing in front a box-shaped, gray building with columns that says "Ho Chi Minh."
Standing in front of the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum.

๐Ÿ“ Location: Hanoi is at the center of Northern Vietnam.

๐Ÿš˜ Getting around: Visitors usually fly into Hanoiโ€™s airport, Noi Bai International Airport. Once youโ€™re in Hanoi, expect to mostly walk in the Old Quarter area. You can use the Grab app to call a car or motorbike if you’re not comfortable walking around the hectic streets.

๐Ÿ—“๏ธ How long to visit: You can spend two to four days in Hanoi. I stayed for two full days which gave me enough time to see some of the popular sites.

๐Ÿ€ My take: Hanoi is a bustling city with poor air quality, so if youโ€™re hoping to spend most of your trip in more beautiful places in Vietnam, I would only spend one to two days in Hanoi. It’s a great place to eat delicious, authentic Vietnamese food.

A street with over a dozen motorbikes lining the sidewalk.
One of Hanoiโ€™s many motorbike-filled streets.

After visiting Northern Vietnam, a good next stop is Hoi An in Central Vietnam, which is a little over an hour flight from Hanoi. Hoi An is known as the tailoring capital of the world and the food capital of Vietnam.

Vietnam Trip Planner

To make your travel planning easier, download the trip planning template below and use it as a starting point. The template has country-specific travel information as well as an itinerary, packing list and map with recommended places pinned.

The template is built on Notion, which is what I use for all my travel planning (I’m not paid to say this; I just like the tool). If you don’t have Notion, creating an account is free.

Three Notion template screenshots are shown: travel information, itinerary, and map + packing list templates.
Preview of the Vietnam trip planning template (built on Notion).
A Notion template screenshots is shown giving more details to the itinerary.
Preview of the Vietnam trip planning template (built on Notion).

If you have any questions or thoughts, feel free to leave them in the comments below.

๐Ÿง‹ This site is run entirely by me, Lukiih. I spend hours writing each article to ensure its accuracy and conciseness. If you find my site helpful, you can say thanks by buying me bubble tea!

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