Exploring Vietnam in just a week is perfect if only visiting a place or two. Some travelers with only a week to spare would ultimately decide whether to go to Hanoi or to Ho Chi Minh. These two cities are polar opposite, yet a perfect description of the quintessential Vietnam. If this is your first time on this country, visiting its capital is recommended. Visiting Hanoi would mean visiting one of the country’s pride, a UNESCO heritage site, the Halong Bay. Here is our DIY One Week Hanoi-Halong Bay Suggested Itinerary.
As a budget traveler myself, I always depend on researching, reading blogs, and booking my own accommodations for all the places we visit. As much as possible, no matter how convenient, we do not rely on travel agencies. You feel a certain accomplishment when you are able to do everything by yourself. Aside from getting to know the city you’re visiting better, you can save a lot too. Same with our tour in Hanoi, everything was planned by us, except the cruise, and we got control of our time and the places we prioritized to see.
Before proceeding with our suggested itinerary for your upcoming Hanoi-Halong Bay tour, here are the things you need to remember first.
- Book your accommodations in Old Quarter where you’ll be picked up by your tour bus to Halong Bay
- Once your hotel is booked, rent a car service to pick you up from the airport. It takes almost one hour for as low as USD18 or less. It’s cheaper to take public transportation, but, reward your self with this service, just this time.
- Your hotel can book a Halong Bay cruise for you, but, it is cheaper to book it separately. We used Agoda for our Halong Bay Cruise
- There are many options for your Halong Bay cruise, but one night on ship and one night on Cat Ba Island is what we will recommend.
- If you can still squeeze another day or two on this tour, a side trip to Sapa is a nice addition, too.
After knowing the aforementioned things to remember, you are now ready to explore the beautiful and enchanting Hanoi.
1. Hanoi – 2 Days and 2 Nights
Without any other flight option, our first night in Hanoi started very late. Our flight from Macau leaves in the afternoon and arrives in Hanoi past dinner time. With the travel time from the airport to Old Quarter, we arrive when almost all shops and restaurants are closed. If you could get an earlier flight, book it, so your first night can be spent strolling the Old Quarter. Old Quarter is the backpackers capital of Hanoi and where the tourists stay. Use this time to meet fellow travelers and see for yourself the many different nationalities interested on what Hanoi has to offer.
On your second day in Hanoi, rent a bike or scooter from your hotel and explore the surrounding area. The city is swamped with scooters and are coming from different directions. Be one with the locals and stroll through the Hoan Kiem Lake and Ngoc Son. After lunch, head to the Imperial Citadel of Thang Long. The Imperial Citadel is a UNESCO world heritage site that holds much of Hanoi’s history as it serves as the ancient capital of Hanoi for centuries.
Finish your second day with some delicious Vietnamese cuisines along the street of restaurants in Old Quarter. Spring rolls, spring rolls, and more spring rolls.
For our tour, we spend an afternoon with a Vietnamese Family and we had so much fun. Not to mention that we’ve learned a lot about the similarities and differences of our cultures. You may read more about our experience here.
2. Halong Bay and Cat Ba Island – 3 Days and 2 Nights
Early morning of your third day in Vietnam, you will be picked up from your accommodations in Old Quarter by the bus that will take you to Halong Bay. It is a four-hour drive, mostly unpaved, with one stop in between. Upon your arrival at Halong, you will be boarded on your cruise and that’s where the fun starts. Upon boarding the ship, you’ll be treated with a sumptuous meal, welcome drinks, and the introduction of your 3-day on the island. Cruising the bay with all these beautiful limestone karst is relaxing.
Activities on the tour: Kayaking, visiting the floating village, swimming, squid fishing, cave exploration, and some more.
The first night of your tour will be spent on the ship and early morning of the following day, you will be transferred to a small boat for a two-hour cruise towards Cat Ba Island. If your purpose for this travel is to unwind and relax, then you’ll surely get it. The island in Cat Ba is serene, beautiful, and amazing. You’ll have the whole island almost for your group alone.
How you spend your stay on the island is up to you. You can kayak, play beach volleyball, sunbathe, swim, and just simply relax.
For our Cat Ba Island experience, find it out by reading this post.
3. Hanoi – 2 Days and 2 Nights
After your relaxing and enjoyable stay at Halong Bay, it is time to get back to Hanoi. By the time you arrive in Hanoi, it is already late afternoon, but, find the energy to watch the Water Puppet Show. The show is in Vietnamese language, but, it is still enjoyable to see. When we watched it, more than half of the spectators are tourists.
The following day is your last full day in Hanoi before departing the next day, so spend it wisely. There are many places to see, but, it isn’t possible to see all in a day. I highly recommend going to Hoa Lo Prison in the morning. Hoa Lo prison which is now a museum used to be a prison of local rebels fighting the French colonization. It was also used for captured Americans during Vietnam War. So much history for such a tiny prison.
On the afternoon, head to Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum where the famous leader, Ho Chi Minh is preserved and laid to rest on a glass case. A visit here is a visit to Vietnam’s colorful political history of struggle, determination, and perseverance.
After visiting the two most important historical places in Hanoi, complete your tour with going to Dong Xuan Market for some shopping. This shopping center is vast and offers different kind of products perfect for souvenirs.
To cap your Hanoi tour, try all local delicacies available for you. Go to the street and eat street foods, and grab a local beer.
Hanoi is perfect for budget travelers. Going here is not going to hurt your pocket, but, the enjoyment it offers is more than worth it. Hotels, food, souvenir products, and flight tickets are cheap. The biggest expense on this tour is the Halong Bay cruise, but it’s negligible. The experience is priceless. With all the countries I’ve been to, Vietnam is one of my personal favorites.