• Tips
  • Itinerary
  • [2019] Guide to Northern Vietnam - Beyond the Hanoi capital

[2019] Guide to Northern Vietnam - Beyond the Hanoi capital

Lê Ngọc Minh Châu - January 28, 2019

For those who are getting ready to plan a perfect journey of discovering the freshest cityscapes, value culture, the quietness of villages in mountainous areas or a quintessential islands getaway filled with interestingly numerous experiences.

For anyone who necessarily needs to be served up with the best itineraries, recommendations, trustworthy services, doubtless provided assistance with honesty, enthusiasm, and knowledge of tourist industry by AzLocal team

And lastly for you, who can’t wait any longer to immerse yourself in Vietnam from lowland to highland from modern city to the sea and remote areas, from ordinaries to peculiar tastes...

Then WE are here in the NORTHERN VIETNAM. You’ll totally get a full of new inspiration and necessary travel information if you follow up with our this detail guide to Northern Vietnam.

If you have 4-5 days at least that is enough to make your dream holiday come true. Let’s streaming on each little thing infatuating you.

1. Hanoi city and the Old quarter is a main home for tourists

Hello Hanoi ! Landing at Noi Bai international airport now you need to find your way to Hanoi city, there are a lots of taxis and grab available as well you should pay 250-350K to get to the Old quarter. If you make a reservation with your hotel or travel agency it’s much better. Since it is very crowded at the Airport, be careful to keep away from many people trying to convince you to get in their car and charge you money. The real driver who will know exactly your flight number, landing time, and the hotel you stay. Do not follow anyone who do not have these information

[2019] Guide to Northern Vietnam - Beyond the Hanoi capital

Hanoi train street is a place to discover the local daily life

You can also catch a bus ( look for No.17) which goes through the Old quarter, it costs you around 30.000 VND. When you get on the car, do let the driver know your address where you want to be dropped off.  

>>> Take Hanoi Tours to discover this beautiful capital 

Enjoy your time in Hanoi with top fun facts

I bet it surprises you when talking about the following facts but sometimes all the strange things are themselves creating memories on you forever

Ceaselessly riding motorbikes: it must be say that the vehicles here are so chaotic, almost of time in a day on the roads it’s strange for people watching crowded motorbikes more than the other vehicles. Foreigners are often overwhelmed while witnessing lanes without any division and control for safety, that becomes a kind of weird story but they are still fine. Just 1 day for trying walking all around the city, you will be familiar with how to deal with the traffic

[2019] Guide to Northern Vietnam - Beyond the Hanoi capital

If you can not ride on a motorbike, give a try to Hanoi Motor Bike Tours

Super cheap fresh and cool Vietnamese beer, this is an amazing chance for you to completely buy an entertainment in vibrant atmosphere. Come and find the best “cool beer” at Ta Hien street, in the Old quarter of Hanoi. The street caters for bars, quick dishes and beers. Ta Hien street is also as known as a “Western street” for travelers.

Vietnamese people eat Pho everywhere at anytime. Pho is a traditional dish of Hanoians, Pho usually makes us be mouthwatering with its attractive smell.

[2019] Guide to Northern Vietnam - Beyond the Hanoi capital

You can find Hanoi Beer in every street store, it's just around $1 for a bottle

[2019] Guide to Northern Vietnam - Beyond the Hanoi capital

Pho (Beef Rice Noodle Soup) is everywhere, from restaurant to street vendor 

The Old quarter is super zigzag like a matrix. There are 36 old streets, some are short and tiny but funny. Each street has a different themes relating to its name in the past. Hanoi old quarter is where the majority of travelers stay

Vietnamese women wear conical hat like the way a small tower put on their head

Many street vendors wander everywhere around the city. Today, even though the trade centers have grown up rapidly, the bustling supermarkets or convenience stores have appears unstoppably, the locals still love eating hot dishes for example served by “mobile shops” entering in every small alley of Hanoi.  Particularly, that kind of rustic image often arouses foreign photographers’ inspiration.

Cyclo - very interestingly, foreigners call it a “tricycle” instead of cyclo. Moving quite slowly it’s not surprising that you can see astonishing views.

To foreigners, Banh Mi (Vietnamese sandwich) is extremely consistent with their taste.

[2019] Guide to Northern Vietnam - Beyond the Hanoi capital

Banh Mi 25 at 25 Hang Ca is very popular in Hanoi

What makes foreigners get their unforgettable sensation about Hanoi

Not only do the Hanoi people adore their own capital it is also visitors who literally admire the ancient spaces of this city. Oppositely to the development of a modern life, Hanoi prevents itself from being faded through the years with mix of quiet colors spreading out to every buildings and corners of the city. And the Old quarter is where you can feel it in that way, it is the soul of an old Hanoi.

Visiting Hanoi in our guide to Northern Vietnam, it’s one of your choices to involve in cyclo activities to overlook the movement of local life in 36 old streets and feel the peace. Many of street restaurants are not difficult to see since Hanoi street food becomes so popular as well as plays a role on creating a cultural beauty of the capital. The sidewalks are crowded with people who are reading newspapers attentively, laughing or gathering happily with a group of friends besides a cup of coffee while sitting on a little chair. Foreigners wants to do the same things, they drink coffee with a cup of joy.

[2019] Guide to Northern Vietnam - Beyond the Hanoi capital

The food in Hanoi is phenomenal, It’s easy to see that the characteristics of Hanoi street food are quick procession of cooking it. It doesn’t focus too much on decoration and diners can enjoy the dishes on the spot. For any tourist at first they start discovering Hanoi culinary culture but full of strange thinking then gradually they are getting close to that kinds of food cultures in a new style.

Remarkable top ancient places which attract annual travelers in Hanoi

Hanoi has maintained a big number of beautiful French architectural works, becoming a historically significant heritage of Vietnam which is a treasure of Hanoi capital. Presidential palace, Hanoi Opera House, or Long Bien Bridge...deserves it to be typical projects that need to be preserved to promote culture value. These are also historical destinations loved by foreign people.

Long Bien bridge- the oldest bridge in Vietnam, constructed by French colonies

The bridge is across the Red river connecting Hoan Kiem district with Long Bien district. Most of all it looks great especially for taking pretty pictures. From 1898- 1902 Long Bien bridge was built by French becoming a vigorous witness of Vietnam history. From Hanoi city, you can walk to Long Bien bridge in 15 mins while a local friend accompany is suitable for you.

[2019] Guide to Northern Vietnam - Beyond the Hanoi capital

You can take photo on railway while there not the train (photo: anniandtimo)

The West lake - the biggest lake in Hanoi

This is one of the most beautiful and freshwater lake of in Hanoi. From Ho Chi Minh complex it is a short distance to the lake. If you someday will be visiting Hanoi city don’t forget to spend 1 day on walking around the West lake to try new things such as eating ice-cream in the light windy afternoon, riding a bike, eating at “Banh Tom Ho Tay” restaurant, finding many romantic coffee shops around, going fishing...this place is less tourists than Hoan Kiem lake with ventilated environment. Near the West lake, you can also take a visit to Tran Quoc pagoda.

Hoan Kiem lake, top 1 of the symbols of Hanoi

Sword lake as known as Hoan Kiem lake is located in Hoan Kiem district. Being a sacred symbol of Hanoi capital for thousands of years and famous for its gentle and poetic beauty, Hoan Kiem lake has inspired a lots of writers, poets and photographers in Vietnam and in the world to make their art creation. A great spot for people watching is any bench near the lake, this is one of the best place to observe local life and Vietnamese people shamelessly. There are some outstanding activities here such as doing Tai Chi in the morning, eating Bo Bia or just strolling around.

[2019] Guide to Northern Vietnam - Beyond the Hanoi capital

Visit Ngoc Son Temple is a must when you come to Hoan Kiem Lake

Tran Quoc pagoda, famous for stunning scenery and sacred sanctuary

Tran Quoc Pagoda is the oldest temple in Hanoi capital, the temple has a history of more than 1500 years, it’s located on a small peninsula on the east side of West Lake, near the end of Thanh Nien Road, located in Yen Phu Ward, Ba Dinh District, Hanoi . The architecture of this Buddhist center has a harmonious combination of solemn, ancient and elegant landscape. Thanks to these historical and architectural values, Tran Quoc Pagoda attracts many tourists to pay a visit, both inside and outside Vietnam.

An ancient house at 87 Ma May street, Hanoi old quarter

Ma May ancient house was built in the early 19th century, it measures about 157m2 in total. Now the house is the oldest one existing in Hanoi modern city. Realized as a traditional home style, Ma May ancient house reflects the long-time living space and typical architecture in the past. This is an popular tourist point in the old quarter of Hanoi you can easily walk to 87 Ma May street in few minutes.

[2019] Guide to Northern Vietnam - Beyond the Hanoi capital

If you want to learn about Hanoi history and a peaceful place

Best Vietnamese cuisine popularly served up simple but addictive in Hanoi

In Vietnam, Pho is not just a need for sustenance, but it’s also like this community.

This is traditionally a soup made with Pho rice noodles, broth, and protein. It’s popularity rose in Hanoi due to a surplus of beef bones, during French rule in the late 1800s. Pho then made its way to Sai Gon (Ho Chi Minh city now) and Southern Vietnam. Now it’s the country’s traditional dish.

[2019] Guide to Northern Vietnam - Beyond the Hanoi capital

You have no idea how you’re supposed to properly eat Pho? If you’re unsure about how to use chopsticks, go lower instead of higher. You have more control if you take the chopsticks lower

Pho is rather than a different noodles dishes because of it’s the noodles themselves, the way local people prepare it. They are flat noodles cut then it’s like more rectangular, more like spaghetti.

Pho is such a thing as “authentic” Vietnamese food. Food is culture either and culture is not static, it changes all the time but Pho is still the same till now. It seems to be like frozen in time.

Bánh Mì- Vietnamese sandwich

Banh Mi is next, one of the best sandwich loved by many from Vietnamese to foreigners. So what’s in here? A good new, you don’t have to use chopsticks for this one :)

A Banh Mi sandwich typically includes a protein, chilis and pickled vegetable inside baguette. No one really knows who exactly invented Banh Mi. There are multiple claims to that title but generally the story goes that the modern version was probably created in Sai Gon toward the end of French rule. French colonized Vietnam from the late 1800s until 1950s. And for better or worse, they left some influence on the culture.

[2019] Guide to Northern Vietnam - Beyond the Hanoi capital

Obviously, food has a lot to do with what you like and what you grew up with, it partly rises from your culture. However Pho and Banh Mi is incredible food culture in Vietnam that you shouldn’t pass by some famous restaurant serving them if you are in Hanoi such as

Pho 10 Ly Quoc Su street, Pho at 49 Bat Dan street, Bánh Mì Hội An 98 Hang Bac street.

2. Sapa landscape, watching the most magnificent terraced fields in the world

Move on to Sapa on our guide to Northern Vietnam. 

Located 1,500 m above sea level, Sapa is a former French hill station nestled in the rugged Tonkinese Alps and surrounded by lush valleys and verdant rice paddy fields. Here farmers in conical hats plough the fields with water buffalo and local ethnic minority groups (such as H’mong and Dzao) maintains their age old traditions and way of life, including their own language and wearing intricately embroidered traditional clothing.

[2019] Guide to Northern Vietnam - Beyond the Hanoi capital

Treeking in Sapa with ethinic local people is an unique experience

The most favorite way to get between Hanoi and Sapa is by the express train. Escape from a bustling city, it’s wonderful to go trekking in pristine scenery and visiting the ethnic, minority villages. You can arrange anything from gentle walk to challenging hikes in mountainous areas.

>>> Book a Hanoi Tour Packages to discover the North of Vietnam!

There are some best photogenic landscapes perfect for nature lovers

Fansipan peak, is the highest mountain and is considered as the "roof of Indochina" with an altitude of 3.143m above sea level, 9 km from Sapa town to the Southwest. From the cable car, you can easily observe the magnificent majestic scenery below. It’s wonderful !

[2019] Guide to Northern Vietnam - Beyond the Hanoi capital

The rooftop of Indochina

Lao Chai, Tan Van: Trekking through terraces and villages is a very impressive thing to immerse yourself in the life of ethnic minorities. If you stay in their family they will serve you special dishes and you will sleep in their stilt house. To many visitors, Lao Chai - Ta Van is the most interesting and beautiful walking route in Sapa

Ham Rong mountain: Located 3 km from Sapa town it is also an interesting destination for visitors to be able to see the panoramic view of the northwestern forest and mountain, the houses hidden in the fog…

Stone church in Sapa, located in the town center. Built in 1895, it remains the most impressive ancient architecture of French.

Cat Cat village, located only 2 km from Sapa town center, Cat Cat village is a long-standing village of the H’Mong people - where many traditional crafts such as cotton, flax, weaving ... are remained

[2019] Guide to Northern Vietnam - Beyond the Hanoi capital

Muong Hoa valley: Muong Hoa valley is located about 8 km from Sapa town to the Southeast which is named as one of the golden tourist spots in Sapa. To get here, you have to go through a high pass. In return, the beautiful natural scenery in the valley will make you passionate

Other places such as Love waterfall, silver waterfall, the gate of heaven in Sapa, Bac Ha market...

How to get to Sapa from Hanoi - Guide to Northern Vietnam

By bus: Regular buses leave from Hanoi to Sapa everyday at My Dinh station or Gia Lam station. However you should arrange it with the company which pick you up in Hanoi Old quarter such as Sapa Express Bus, Fansipan Express Bus, Hưng Thành bus or Interbus...Price is around VND 350-400K, it takes 5- 6 hours

To experience a train journey in Vietnam, go Sapa by train is the most favorite way in Vietnam, it takes 8 hours from Hanoi to Sapa. Here below are some recommendation to book one.
Chapa Express Train, 4 star service price is about $33/way for a superior cabin. This train is a bit more premium than the other train services. They have a lounge number 2 in Lao Cai train station where you can relax or take a shower before and after your journey.

[2019] Guide to Northern Vietnam - Beyond the Hanoi capital

Departure time:

  • SP3: From Hanoi to Lao Cai 22:00 - 06:05
  • SP4: From Lao Cai to Hanoi 21:40- 5:30

From Hanoi, you go to “GA HÀ NỘI” (Hanoi train station) at 120 Le Duan street to catch a train

Livitrans Express Train, it’s luxury with equipped great amenities. Departure time from Hanoi is at 21:35 and arrive in Lao Cai at 5:30. There will be a minibus transferring you from railway station to Sapa town in 1 hour. Livitrans also offer other routes to Dong Hoi, Hue, Da Nang train station if you depart from Hanoi

Depart from Hanoi at Hanoi train station at 120 Le Duan street

Pumpkin Express Train, it is 3 star services with deluxe cabin

Hanoi – Lao Cai : SP1  depart at 21:35- arrive at  05:30

Lao Cai – Hanoi : SP2  depart at  20:55 arrive at 04h30

From Hanoi, you have to take taxi to Tran Quy Cap street, find a gate No.6 - Railway station B for departure

3. Halong bay - Guide to Northern Vietnam top beach

[2019] Guide to Northern Vietnam - Beyond the Hanoi capital

Halong bay is no doubt one of the best place of your choice in northern Vietnam. Visiting Vietnam without Halong bay seems like going to Paris for the first time but not seeing the Eiffel tower. Halong bay is widely considered to be one of the natural wonders of the world, this UNESCO world Heritage listed region is described just simply breathtaking. Thousands of karst limestones and isles rise dramatically out of the turquoise water of the bay.

How to see Halong bay? The ideal way to discover Halong bay is onboard a traditional junk boat which can either be a privately chartered or shared. Most of them are offering you kayaking, cave exploration, cooking class, sunset party, Tai Chi exercise…

From Hanoi to Halong bay, it takes you about 4 hours to arrive in Tuan Chau marina where ships depart from. In 2018, a new highway was finished to open up a shorter distance between Hanoi and Halong which is just 2,5 hours of transfer. However it depends on each company, a fews still follow the old route because of inside business factors. Another way to get to Halong shortly, you can book a private car or find a company that sells you ticket to share their car.

Be note that if you are on the long way that takes you nearly 4 hours, the driver will stop 1 to 2 times on the way at a souvenir shops or pearl farming center in 20- 30 minutes. Some of the companies do that and you may think you are waste of time anyway try to be positive, it’s just a relaxing time after a long driving.

Here are some popular points included in itineraries of most of cruise companies

[2019] Guide to Northern Vietnam - Beyond the Hanoi capital

You can go explore caves or try rock climbing

  • Sung Sot cave, a stunning cave with touristy. It’s big and decorated with numerous shimmering and fanciful stalactites.
  • Ti Top island, from here you can take a panoramic view from a mountain
  • Trong cave ( Drum cave), where the kayaking activity is usually set up around here
    Bồ Nâu cave, not too deep but an impressive amount of stalactites and stalagmites

>>> Visit Halong Bay in one day by cruise tour

Is there more than a bay?

The legend says that during the old time Vietnamese had to fight against fierce invaders coming from the North through the sea. In a desire to help, the Jade Emperor sent the Mother Dragon and her children descending on earth to assist ancient Vietnamese people to defend their new country. Halong Bay is a cannot missed destination in guide to Northern Vietnam. 

Thanks to the dragon, the Northern invaders were finally swept away and the peace finally came back to the South East Asian country once again. The wall of emerald turned into an island and islets of different sizes and shapes which is today Halong bay and the site where Child Dragon descended is Bai Tu Long Bay.

[2019] Guide to Northern Vietnam - Beyond the Hanoi capital

Kayaking in Halong Bay is a favourite activity for tourists

Now the number of ships are less about 6 times than the ships in Halong bay. The local company Indochina Junk is the pioneer of opening “Bai Tu Long bay itinerary” for tourists.

The last one is introduce here is Lan Ha bay, the bay is less secluded and smaller than other bays with Cat Ba island nearby. In Lan Ha bay since it’s not managed by government you are freely to swim and dive. Here are just some cruise companies but they are almost quality ships because of high level of water flow which requires the ships have to be made well with strong engine.

Bai Tu Long bay

This is also a big bay especially recognized by international tourists as the less touristy getaway. With our research on google now there have been a strong growth of travelers searching “Bai tu long bay” in Vietnam. Some visitors couldn’t realize that they experienced on Bai Tu Long bay as they planned to visit Halong. Anyway, both of Bai Tu Long and Halong look magnificent as well.

Embark from Hon Gai port, from Tuan Chau marina it’s 30- 40 minutes to get to Hon Gai harbor. If you come to Bai Tu Long from Hanoi by public transportation they will stop you at Bai Chay station near Tuan Chau, from there you can take a taxi to Hon Gai.

[2019] Guide to Northern Vietnam - Beyond the Hanoi capital

From Hanoi to Hon Gai port, the same description with transportation gave for Halong bay, you can totally go with a cruise company or private car.

  • Cap La island, where you can swim and from the main boat you are on the route to Cap La by kayaking
  • Thien Canh Son cave, the only cave in the bay and also pretty stalactite syste
  • Vung Vieng fishing village, discovering the village by kayaking or rowing boat with locals. You will learn how to grow pearl and know more about local fishermen.

Lan Ha bay

To take a visit to Lan Ha bay, ships depart from Got ferry terminal and from Hanoi to the terminal it takes at least 2 hours ( as the highway).

Staying on shore in Cat Ba island then go to the bay is one of the best way to experience.

  • Cat Ba island, beautiful island with Hospital cave, Cat Ba national park, cycling or visiting villages
  • Viet Hai village, it belongs to a remote area of Cat Ba

[2019] Guide to Northern Vietnam - Beyond the Hanoi capital

If you seeking for peaceful and relax, Lan Ha Bay will be the best choice (photo: maisonawayfromhome)

If you are wondering that Halong bay is a place for tourists?         

Don’t be so disappointed, since it covered the unique beauty with stunning activities such as kayaking and visiting caves, taking a panoramic view from above, Halong bay offers you the best experiences that no visitor should miss. Of course this means that you will see a lots of travelers in the same itinerary and sometimes the rubbish in the water. Now there have been around 600 boats running in the bay, a few companies have made efforts to protect the sea environment. To keep away from a popular tourist spot, you can head to Bai Tu Long bay.

4. Ninh Binh

From Hanoi to Ninh Binh province it’s just 90 km and 2 hours to get there. Ninh Binh was a place where the first capital existed instead of Hanoi nowadays. Being an exceptional destination in the north Ninh Binh not only bring various cultural experiences in the temples but also there are actually spectacular landscapes found in Tam Coc and Trang An areas with beautiful karst limestones, the rivers, villages and rice fields.

[2019] Guide to Northern Vietnam - Beyond the Hanoi capital

One of the highlights of Ninh Binh, Mua Cave

Cycling around is a great way to explore Tam Coc, you can ride a bike to Bich Dong pagoda or Mua Cave for your visits. Within 1 day if you want to take a boat ride in Trang An you will then see the largest temple at Bai Dinh pagoda. In contrast if you reach in Tam Coc and go for a boat ride then Hoa lu ancient capital is mostly of your choice.

Book a Ninh Binh Tours for one day and enjoy the natural scenery, get away from the bustling Hanoi. 

5. Others romantic and adventurous getaways in Northern Vietnam

Mai Chau: Take a trip to the northwest highlands of Mai Chau offering a balance of cultural interest and physical activity, set amongst some of northern Vietnam 's most stunning scenery. From Hanoi to Mai Chau is 150 Km. It’s ideal way to spend the night in a typical stilt house, surrounded by the limestone mountains, green rice fields, and tea plantations of the Mai Chau Valley.

[2019] Guide to Northern Vietnam - Beyond the Hanoi capital

Ha Giang: Ha Giang is located 300 km from the capital of Hanoi, is a rocky highland area and famous for the most majestic and magnificent scenery in the North.

In Ha Giang, there is a road attractting every tourist passes by, the Happiness Road - opened along the route from Ha Giang, through Dong Van stone plateau, over the legendary Ma Pi Leng peak and then over Meo Vac is where the wind is blowing through and also blowing up the youthful dreams of discovering and conquering the first highland of the country.

[2019] Guide to Northern Vietnam - Beyond the Hanoi capital

Cao Bang: Cao Bang is close to Vietnam’s northern border with China. You will be introduced to the Nung people in the village of Phuoc Sen, a small village famous for the production of farming tools.

Like the Tays, the Nungs largely live by farming the terraced rice paddies that you will see all around as you transfer to Ban Gioc Waterfall, the majestic falls that demarcate the border between Vietnam and China.

[2019] Guide to Northern Vietnam - Beyond the Hanoi capital

Ban Gioc Waterfall - One of the most beautifull waterfall in Vietnam

This is our guide to Northern Vietnam

From Hanoi

Day 1: Arrive in Hanoi city, check in your hotel and take a stroll around Hoan Kiem lake. Night train to Sapa

Day 2:  Arrive at Lao Cai station at 5:30 am. Transferred to Sapa town and check in hotel. Start your day with breakfast then trekking through terraces. You can choose to overnight in local’s house.

Day 3: Trekking in Sapa. From Sapa to Hanoi by train- arrive in Hanoi at 5:30 (by bus is cheaper and you are dropped off in Hanoi at 21:30)

Day 4: The cruise company you booked with pick you up from Hanoi heading to Bai Tu Long bay, overnight on board.

Day 5: From Halong to Ninh Binh by shuttle bus, buy ticket in advance with the cruise company or travel agent

Day 6: Ninh Binh 1 day trip and depart

[2019] Guide to Northern Vietnam - Beyond the Hanoi capital

From Ninh Binh

Since you may arrive in Ninh Binh first from Ho Chi Minh city, here is another tour route

Day 1:  Ninh Binh discovery

Day 2:  From Ninh Binh to Halong by bus or private car

Day 3: Halong to Hanoi city

Day 4: Hanoi city, night train to Sapa

Day 5: Sapa trekking

Day 6: Sapa and back to Hanoi

Day 7: Depart

If you don’t like going to Sapa by night train you can take a bus one or two ways.

[2019] Guide to Northern Vietnam - Beyond the Hanoi capital