9-Day Vietnam Itinerary: Hanoi, Sapa & Halong Bay

9-Day Vietnam Itinerary: Hanoi, Sapa & Halong Bay

Explore the best of Northern Vietnam with this tried and tested day-to-day itinerary for Hanoi, Ninh Binh, Sapa and Halong Bay.

Contributed by Eat. Travel. Photography

Trip summary

Trip length and when did I go? 9 days in November 2014
Places visited: Hanoi, Ninh Binh, Halong Bay, Sapa
How much did it cost me? MYR 1,200 (approx. USD 285)

At a glance

Day 1Hanoi. Arrival in Hanoi. Check-in to Hanoi Aurora Hotel in Old Quarter, then went sightseeing around Hoan Kiem lake. Later, I watched the Thang Long water puppet show and spent the remainder of my evening at the weekend night market in Old Quarter. Overnight in Hanoi
Day 2 Hanoi to Ninh Binh to Hanoi. Day trip to Ninh Binh, visiting various points of interest in the area such as Hoa Lu and Tam Coc. Overnight in Hanoi.
Day 3Hanoi to Halong Bay. Did the Halong Bay 2D1N cruise. Among the highlights of the cruise were Dau Go island, Thien Cung cave and Dinh Huong islet. Overnight on the ship near Cat Ba island.
Day 4Halong Bay to Hanoi to Sapa. Returned to Hanoi after the cruise and took an overnight bus from Hanoi to Sapa.
Day 5Sapa. Arrival in Lao Cai in the morning, then took another minibus to Sapa. Check-in to Sapa Cozy Hotel upon arrival. After doing a bit of sightseeing around Sapa town and market, I rented a motorcycle and rode to Ta Phin and Trung Chai village for more sightseeing. Overnight in Sapa.
Day 6Sapa. In the morning, I rode to Lao Chai, Ta Van and Giang Ta Chai villages for more sightseeing further down the Muong Hoa valley. Visited Cat Cat village and waterfall later in the afternoon. Overnight in Sapa.
Day 7Sapa to Hanoi. Visited Hamrong mountain near Sapa town in the morning. Check-out from the hotel later in the day and took a minibus down to Lao Cai. From Lao Cai, I took an overnight train to Hanoi.
Day 8 Hanoi. Arrival in Hanoi and check-in to Hanoi Aurora Hotel in Old Quarter. Rented a motorcycle and went sightseeing around the streets of Hanoi, visiting places of interest such as Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum, One Pillar Pagoda, West Lake and Temple of Literature. Overnight in Hanoi.
Day 9 Hanoi to Kuala Lumpur. Check-out from the hotel and took a taxi back to the airport for my flight back home

View the itinerary map and travel montage on the original post.


Getting to Hanoi from the airport

  • 8.15 am – Arrival at Noi Bai International Airport by flight (Air Asia) – RM 433 (return)
    Immigration clearance
  • 9.00 am – Walk around the outside of the airport to look for transportation to Hanoi. Spotted airport shuttle vans parked near the taxi stands
    Ride airport shuttle (Vietnam Airlines) to Old Quarter – $2

Arriving in Noi Bai international airport

Arrival in Old Quarter & Hotel check-in

  • 10.00 am – Arrive and drop-off at Quang Trung street (located southwest of Hoan Kiem lake)
  • Walk to Old Quarter (under 20 minutes). Alternatively, if you don’t feel like walking, you can also ride a xe om (motorcycle taxi) to Old Quarter for about $2-3
  • Changed some money to Vietnamese dong at a currency exchange
  • 11.00 am – Arrival & check-in to Hanoi Aurora Hotel – $15 per night. Staying for 2 nights (total cost – $30)
  • Quick shower and rest

Settling in to my room at Hanoi Aurora hotel. Conveniently located, the hotel is just minutes away from everything there is to see in Old Quarter

Sightseeing around Hoan Kiem Lake

  • 12.00 pm – Walk around Old Quarter to look for bargain prices, especially for day trips. Bought Tam Coc day trip from a tour agent – $17 
  • 2.00 pm – Walk to Hoan Kiem lake (under 15 minutes)
  • Lunch – Vietnamese hotdog (10,000 dong)
  • Stopover at Thang Long Water Puppet Theatre to buy a ticket for the 8pm show – 60,000 dong
  • Paid the entrance ticket for Ngoc Son temple – 20,000 dong
  • Strolled around the picturesque lake. Plenty of photo opportunities include The Huc bridge, Ngoc Son temple and Thap Rua (Turtle Tower)
  • 6.00 pm – Photo stop at St. Joseph’s cathedral
  • Dinner – Chicken pho (40,000 dong)

Old Quarter, Hanoi

Walking across The Huc bridge to get to Ngoc Son temple

Thap Rua, one of Hanoi’s more recognizable landmarks

St. Joseph’s Cathedral, the oldest church in Hanoi

Thang Long Water Puppet Show

  • 8.00 pm – Walk to Thang Long Water Puppet Theatre to watch the water puppet show (about 50 minutes). Quite an interesting show but the back row seat I got was rather cramped
  • 9.00 pm – Head back to hotel for quick shower

There are plenty of water puppet shows in Vietnam, but Thang Long is supposedly one of the more famous ones. Ticket prices vary from 60,000 dong (back row seat) to 100,000 dong (front row seat). If you want a bit more comfort, pay a bit more for front row seats, you’ll thank me later

Weekend Night Market in Old Quarter

  • 10.00 pm – Walk around the weekend night market near the hotel where I stayed
  • The market is pretty huge and will take several hours to see it in its entirety. There are plenty of bars and live street performances to keep you entertained throughout your time here
  • 12.00 am – Return to hotel

Walking from my hotel in Ma May street to the weekend night market

Watching a band performing on the street. There’s so much to eat, see and do here, it’s just crazy, I could go on forever if I were to list all of them here

Loving these pastries sold in the night market. The sushi’s not too bad either


Getting ready for Hoa Lu – Tam Coc day trip

  • 7.00 am – Wake up and breakfast (provided by hotel)
  • 8.30 am – Pickup at hotel by minibus (arranged by the tour company) to Ninh Binh province

Hoa Lu

  • 11.00 am – Photo stop at Hoa Lu, our first stopover in Ninh Binh. The main draw of Hoa Lu is that it used to be the ancient capital of Vietnam, before Hanoi. There’s little to see here besides admiring some quaint architecture amidst a backdrop of impressive limestone karsts

Hoa Lu, the ancient capital of Vietnam

Standing on the bridge to Hoa Lu and looking out at the countryside in the distance

Tam Coc

  • 12.30 pm – Stopover for lunch at Tam Coc wharf
  • Lunch – Mixed rice with tofu (provided in tour package)
  • 1.00 pm – Free time (about 1 hour) to explore Tam Coc. Optionally, you can rent a bike for $5 and pedal yourself around the outlying villages and rice fields

Rowboats lining the wharf

Exploring Tam Coc on foot

Van Long Nature Reserve

  • 2.00 pm – Depart Tam Coc
  • There are at least three sites where you can pay to get on a rowboat and explore the natural beauty of Ninh Binh – Tam Coc, Trang An and Van Long
  • Tam Coc is the most famous and touristy of the three, and Trang An is catered more to tourists who paid a premium for their trips. The one I went to was Van Long (which I assume would be the budget option). You get what you paid for in Vietnam!
  • 2.30 pm – Arrive in Van Long. Hopped onto a rowboat and was rowed up and down the stream (each direction takes about an hour)
  • The scenery along the way is jaw-droppingly beautiful. From time to time, you will be handed a paddle to help row and a torchlight to help illuminate the way when entering caves
  • 5.00 pm – Back to the starting point. Tipped the lady who rowed us for 2 hours – $5

Van Long nature reserve near Tam Coc

Rowing around the Van Long nature reserve. At times, you may be expected to help out a little so don’t be alarmed, it’s all part of the experience, I think

The occasional sight of local folk just going about their business

Back to Hanoi

  • 5.30 pm – Depart Ninh Binh for Hanoi
  • 7.30 pm – Arrived back in Old Quarter. Dropped off near the water puppet theatre
  • Went back to hotel to freshen up after a long day
  • Dinner – Vietnamese fried rice (45,000 dong)
  • 8.30 pm – Walk around Old Quarter to look for bargain Halong Bay packages and transfers to Sapa
  • Bought a ticket for the night bus to Sapa (one way) – $11
  • Settled on a 2D1N package for Halong Bay, bought from a tour agent – $45
    • Note: If you’re going the budget route, try not to entertain requests to ‘upgrade’ your package, it’s most likely a scam (unless you’re extremely certain the tour agent can be trusted). For example, you get requests from a tour agent to pay a bit more to be upgraded to a newer and ‘supposedly better’ junk, but you end up getting the same junk as everyone else who paid less. The options you get when you pay less than $100 for a Halong cruise is more or less the same
  • 9.30 pm – Walk around the weekend night market
  • Refreshments – Hanoi beer (5,000 dong)
  • 12.00 am – Return to hotel


Getting ready for the Halong Bay 2D1N trip

  • 7.00 am – Wake up and breakfast (provided by hotel)
  • Pack up and check-out from hotel
  • 7.30 am – Pickup at hotel by minibus (arranged by the tour company) to Halong Bay

Arrival at Halong Bay

  • 1.00 pm – Arrive at Bai Chay tourist wharf, gateway to Halong Bay
  • Some paper clearance before getting onto our junk
  • 1.30 pm – Depart the wharf for Halong Bay on a junk
  • Lunch – Rice and a variety of seafood dishes (included in tour package)

Dau Go Island & Thien Cung Cave

  • 2.15 pm – Arrival at Dau Go island, an island with towering limestone karsts, just off the coast. The main point of interest here is Thien Cung cave, a very picturesque cave. There are also a few lookout points perched along the cliffs for those wanting to get a better view of the island
  • 3.30 pm – Depart Dau Go island for Cat Ba island

Dau Go island

Beautiful stalactite and stalagmite formations in Thien Cung cave

Cave opening at a different part of Thien Cung cave

View from one of the lookout points perched along the cliffs of Dau Go island

Around Halong Bay

  • Photo ops enroute to Cat Ba island
  • A point of interest to look out for along the way is the Dinh Huong islet (commonly referred to as Incense Burner islet, which is featured on the 200,000 dong note)

Sailing across Halong Bay

Some of the sights you will see along the way

If you had money to splurge, you could opt for the more expensive cruises

Dinh Huong islet, a popular sight in Halong Bay, is prominently featured on the 200,000 dong note

Cat Ba Island

  • 5.00 pm – Arrival at Cat Ba island. After dropping off some passengers, our junk is moored just off the coast for the night
  • 5.30 pm – Check-in to room on deck. Found it to be quite comfortable but not very clean
  • Not much else to do besides taking in the sights, kayaking or just simply lazing on the sundeck. Keep on the lookout for floating shops who will travel from junk to junk to peddle food and drinks
  • Dinner – Rice and a variety of seafood dishes (included in tour package) & Halong beer (40,000 dong)
  • 10.00 pm – Overnight on junk

Don’t worry if you forgot to stock on snacks and drinks before going on the cruise, the floating shop has you covered

My cabin for the night. Wasn’t very clean but it was okay for the price I paid

There wasn’t much to see or do on the junk at night, so I just hung out at the dining area before going to bed


Concluding the Halong Bay 2D1N trip & Back to Bai Chay

  • 8.00 am – Wake up and breakfast
  • Breakfast – English breakfast & coffee (included in tour package)
  • Photo ops of surroundings. Our junk docked at Cat Ba island pier for about an hour, giving me an opportunity to explore the area for a bit. Do note you have to pay an entrance fee to enter Cat Ba island from the pier (20,000 dong)
  • Pack up and room check-out
  • 10.00 am – Depart Cat Ba island for Bai Chay

Stopped for a while at Cat Ba island before heading back to Bai Chay

Halong City to Hanoi

  • 11.30 am – Arrival in Bai Chay tourist wharf. Pickup by minibus to Halong City for lunch
  • Lunch – Rice with mixed dishes (included in tour package)
  • Photo ops of surroundings in Halong City
  • 1.00 pm – Depart Halong City on minibus for Hanoi

In Halong City for lunch and sightseeing

Hanoi to Sapa by bus

  • 6.00 pm – Arrival in Old Quarter. Walk around for a bit before taking the night bus to Sapa
  • Dinner – Beef salad (40,000 dong)
  • 7.00 pm – Walk to tour agency to wait for transport to My Dinh bus station. Taxi to My Dinh bus station (included in bus ticket price)
  • 9.30 pm – Night bus to Sapa. Ride was quite bumpy and uncomfortable, but managed to get some sleep before the long day ahead

The night bus to Sapa


Arrival in Lao Cai

  • 2.00 am – Arrive in Lao Cai. There weren’t any buses going up to Sapa at this time, so I pretty much slept in the bus until morning
  • 6.00 am – Short photo ops of the surrounding area before taking a minibus to Sapa (arranged by the bus company)

Arrival in Lao Cai

Lao Cai to Sapa

  • 7.00 am – Depart Lao Cai for Sapa after a bit of delay
  • Enroute to Sapa, we passed by Trung Chai village and got a glimpse of the rice terraces Sapa was so famous for. As winter came a bit early this year, visibility got poorer the higher we went up
  • 8.30 am – Arrival in Sapa town. The weather was pretty frigid (around 6-10 degrees)
  • 9.00 am – Check-in to Sapa Cozy hotel – $9 per night. Staying for 2 nights (total cost – $18). Room was pretty cozy as the name suggests, only problem is that you have to pay extra for heater!

Around Sapa town

  • 10.00 am – Walk to Sapa town centre (under 20 minutes)
  • Photo stop at Sapa stone church. Visibility remained poor throughout the morning, though there were some hints of sunlight
  • Spotted a local bus parked near the church, which you can take down to Lao Cai. Costs 20,000 dong per way
  • Changed some money into vietnamese dong at a currency exchange (opposite U Sapa Hotel)
  • Photo stop at Sapa Market. There were plenty of cafes and restaurants along the main street
  • Breakfast at Sapa Newstar French Bakery – Bacon omelette & chocolate moist cake (85,000 dong). Loved it so much I came back here for breakfast the next few days!
  • 12.00 pm – Return to hotel

Walking from my hotel to Sapa town centre

Passed by Sapa stone church on the way

View of Sapa town centre

Walking around Sapa Market

Hmong people are a common sight in Sapa. Some speak surprisingly good English, and will often ask if you want to buy something or take up a private tour with them

Motorcycling to Ta Phin and Trung Chai village

  • 1.00 pm – Walk around area near my hotel to look for cheap motorcycle rentals
  • Rent a motorcycle from a tour agent for half day – $4 (bargained down from $5)
  • Refuel at the nearest gas station (located on the way down) – 50,000 dong
  • Photo stop at Sapa lake. To my relief, the weather cleared up a bit
  • 2.00 pm – Photo stop at Ta Phin village (30 minutes)
  • On the way down, I had to stop every so often to warm up, the weather was that biting cold!
  • 3.30 pm – Photo stop at Trung Chai village. There’s a lookout point nearby where you can get good views of the rice terraces and mountain ranges beyond
  • Trekked down the rice terraces to get a close up view
  • 5.00 pm – Return to Sapa town

Another part of Sapa town, closer to the hotel I stayed in

Sapa lake

Road into the foggy unknown

View of rice terraces on the way to Trung Chai

The valley near Trung Chai

Back in Sapa town

  • 6.30 pm – Arrive back in Sapa. Returned the motorcycle back to the tour agent’s office
  • Return to hotel for quick shower and rest
  • Dinner – Fried rice & Lao Cai beer (80,000 dong)
  • 8.00 pm – Walk around Sapa lake, there are a few cafes around the area where you can sit down for a cup of coffee and relax
  • 10.00 pm – Return to hotel

On the way back to Sapa. Never underestimate the weather around this time. Had to stop a few times because it was freezing cold!

Cafes near Sapa lake at night


Motorcycling to Lao Chai, Ta Van and Giang Ta Chai village

  • 8.00 am – Wake up and quick shower
  • Rent motorcycle from the same shop for a full day – $5. Fortunately, the motorcycle I got has been filled up already, so no need to refuel! 😀
  • Breakfast at Sapa Newstar – Bacon omelette & hot coffee (55,000 dong)
  • 9.00 am – Ride down the road along Muong Hoa valley
  • 9.30 am – Photo stop at Lao Chai village (30 minutes). Visibility remained poor throughout. The thick mist gave the village a ‘silent hill’ kind of vibe to it
  • 10.30 am – Photo stop at Ta Van village (30 minutes). Thankfully, the weather started to clear up a bit, giving me a short window to take plenty of good pictures
  • 11.30 am – Photo stop at Giang Ta Chai village (30 minutes). Weather remained good throughout but is constantly shifting, allowing me only a few short moments to take pictures of the valley beyond
  • Pressed further on, but decided to call it a day as the road was getting less and less traversable (almost fell a few times due to muddy terrain and my path was blocked by ongoing construction of a highway in the area)
  • 12.30 pm – Return to Sapa town

Sapa town enveloped in the mists

Silent hill

Somewhere near Giang Ta Chai

Cat Cat Village

  • 1.30 pm – Back in Sapa town
  • Lunch – Rice with stir-fried chicken and vegetables, hot vegetable soup and coffee (90,000 dong)
  • 2.00 pm – Ride to Cat Cat village. Paid the entrance fee – 40,000 dong
  • Very touristy but found it to be a good experience if you don’t want to spend hours trekking just to see a Hmong village
  • 3.00 pm – Photo stop at Cat Cat waterfall
  • Watched some traditional performances before heading for the exit. The return trip is a long 1km uphill trek. Fortunately, there are hirable xe oms to take you back to the exit
  • 5.00 pm – Return to Sapa town centre

Rice terraces in Cat Cat Village

Taking the path down to Cat Cat village

Cat Cat waterfall at the bottom of the path

Back to Sapa town

  • 6.00 pm – Returned the motorcycle back to the tour agent
  • Bought a train ticket back to Hanoi – $29 (one-way train ticket plus transfer to Lao Cai). This was due to my not-so-pleasant experience I had with the night bus and that I wanted a different experience going back
  • 7.00 pm – Return to hotel for a quick shower
  • Dinner at Am Thuc Sapa – Vietnamese barbeque (120,000 dong – rip-off!)
  • 8.00 pm – Walk around Sapa’s main street. Still very lively despite it being low season in Sapa
  • 10.00 pm – Return to hotel

Sapa town centre at night


Hamrong Mountain

  • 9.00 am – Wake up and quick shower
  • Initially planned to ride up the road going towards Thac Bac, to see Silver Falls and Heaven’s Gate, but decided to call it off due to worsening weather
  • 10.00 am – Breakfast at Sapa Newstar – Bacon omelette & hot tea (55,000 dong)
  • 11.00 am – Decided to spend some time at Hamrong Mountain, located a short distance away. Paid entrance fee – 70,000 dong
  • The landscaped gardens are pretty nice, but there’s simply not much to see during low season

The walk up to the top of Hamrong Mountain. If you are having trouble finding this place, here’s a hint. The entrance is behind the Sapa stone church

There wasn’t much going on in Hamrong around this time, due to low season. Still a good place to go to if you like photography though

Around Sapa town one last time

  • 1.00 pm – Pack up and check-out from hotel
  • Lunch with a travelling companion I met previously on the night bus to Sapa – Spaghetti & Lao Cai beer (85,000 dong)
  • 3.00 pm – Last minute shopping for souvenirs in Sapa market
  • 5.00 pm – Ride minibus (arranged by tour agent) to Lao Cai

Busy Hmong ladies at work in the market. Some offer to personalize your souvenirs if you buy from them

Last minute souvenir shopping before heading off to Lao Cai

Lao Cai to Hanoi by train

  • 6.30 pm – Dropped off at Lao Cai bus station. Ga Lao Cai (Lao Cai train station) is just 10 minutes away on foot
  • 7.20 pm – Board night train to Hanoi. The soft berths are pretty clean and comfortable while the train ride wasn’t as rocky as I expected. Overall, my experience was a lot better compared to taking the night bus

Arriving at Lao Cai train station

Waiting for the train to depart


Back in Hanoi

  • 5.30 am – Train arrival at Ga Hanoi (Hanoi train station)
  • Even at this hour, there are plenty of xe oms waiting outside the train station, which you can take to your location of choice
  • Walk to Old Quarter (under 1 hour)
  • 7.00 am – Arrival at Old Quarter
  • Breakfast at a roadside stall – Congee (20,000 dong)

Arrival at Hanoi train station

Motorcycling to Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum & One Pillar Pagoda

  • 8.00 am – Check-in to Hanoi Aurora Hotel – $15 per night (staying for 1 night). Room wasn’t ready yet, so I stored my luggage at the reception
  • Rent motorcycle from reception – $4 (renting for 1 day)
  • Traffic in Hanoi can be pretty unpredictable, make sure you wear a helmet and practice caution at all times
  • A point of interest to look out for along the way is Long Bien bridge, one of Hanoi’s famous landmarks
  • 9.00 am – Photo stop at Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum (30 minutes). Ba Dinh Square (opposite the mausoleum) was closed off to visitors but I was still able to visit the mausoleum by going round the back
  • 10.00 am – Photo stop at One Pillar Pagoda (30 minutes). The pagoda is located just a short distance away from the mausoleum. Wasn’t required to pay any entrance fees

Motorcycling around Hanoi. Keep your eyes on the road and wits about you as traffic in Hanoi can be pretty unpredictable

Ho Chi Minh mausoleum, the last resting place of one of Vietnam’s most prominent figures

One Pillar Pagoda is located just around the corner from where Ba Dinh square is

West Lake & Tran Quoc Pagoda

  • 11.00 am – Photo stop at West Lake (30 minutes). A vast, picturesque lake, just northeast of Old Quarter
  • 12.00 pm – Photo stop at Tran Quoc Pagoda, located near West Lake. The pagoda is pretty small and can be seen in less than an hour. No entrance fees required

West Lake, Hanoi

Tran Quoc Pagoda

Temple of Literature

  • 1.30 pm – Photo stop at Temple of Literature, reputed to be first university in Vietnam. It’s also featured on the back of the 100,000 dong note. Paid the entrance fee – 20,000 dong
  • Lunch at a roadside stall – Vietnamese hotdog (15,000 dong)
  • During my visit, it was pretty crowded as there was a graduation ceremony going on

Entrance into Temple of Literature, the first university in Vietnam

The well kept gardens inside Temple of Literature

Khue Van Cac, one of gates at the Temple of Literature

Around Old Quarter one last time

  • 3.00 pm – Return to hotel for some rest and relaxation
  • Booked a taxi to airport as I had an early flight to catch the next morning – $11
  • 7.00 pm – Walk around weekend night market in Old Quarter
  • 8.00 pm – Last minute shopping for souvenirs
  • Dinner – Stir-fried beef with garlic & rice (50,000 dong) and Hanoi beer (5,000 dong)
  • 11.00 pm – Return to hotel


Old Quarter to airport

  • 5.30 am – Wake up, pack up and check-out from hotel
  • 6.00 am – Taxi pickup to airport (arranged by hotel)
  • 9.00 am – Return flight home

Trip Cost & Expenses

How much did it cost me?

  • In local currency: VND 8,111,600
  • Conversion rate (at the time): MYR 1 = VND 6,500, MYR 1 = $3.30
  • After conversion: MYR 1,247 (for 9 days)

About Author

Garrett Aeria
Garrett Aeria

There are three things that Garrett absolutely loves about life: Eat, Travel and Photography, which are all perfectly summed up in his travel blog's moniker. Ever since being bitten by the travel bug, Eat. Travel. Photography represents his way of chronicling his life's journeys and sharing his enthusiasm with the world.


Related Posts