I’ve just recently finished my 10-day adventure in North Vietnam with three travelers from the U.S, we got a wonderful time together traveling from Hanoi to Mai Chau, Halong Bay and Hoi An. With their permissions to use some of our group photos for this blog post sharing our experiences, and here is what we did during our journey.
Day 1: Hanoi Arrival
They arrived at the Noi Bai International Airport in Hanoi around noon, I met and took them to their hotel in the city center, the Sofitel Legend Metropole Hanoi Hotel, where they stayed for two nights. The remainder of the day was their personal time, I showed them an orientation walk on the map and a couple of local restaurants to eat out if they want to.
Day 2: Hanoi City Tour
The capital of Vietnam since 1010AD, Hanoi is home of an amazing blend of Indo-Chinese and French colonial influences. The modern-day Hanoi is a mix of ancient temples and pagodas, parks and lakes, broad tree-lined boulevards and narrow food alleyways.
My clients were very happy and impressed with how charming the city is, including all the motorbikes. Our Hanoi city tour started with the Ho Chi Minh complex, where the first president of Vietnam lived and his embalmed body is kept in the mausoleum, and the colonial Presidential Palace surrounded the green garden.
Then we drove to the Temple of Literature, a Confucius temple and Vietnam’s first university. Continued to Hoa Lo Prison (Hanoi Hilton) to learn about the recent history of the country, as well as the use of the site by both the French and North Vietnam during the two Indochina Wars.
In the late afternoon, we took a rickshaw ride around Hanoi’s Old Quarter, then enjoyed the Water Puppet Performance in a local theatre before heading back to their hotel. For dinner, I took them to a local and authentic Vietnamese restaurant called Madame Hien, they loved the ambience of the restaurant and the freshness of the food there.
Day 3: Good Morning Hanoi and Street Food Tour
Early in the morning, I met them at the hotel lobby and walk to Hoan Kiem Lake to see local people doing morning exercises, sample how the locals eat breakfast, with noodle soup, sticky rice, and egg coffee before heading back to the hotel about 7h30am. Hanoi is so different at dawn, very quiet though there were still many motorbikes of working people. Later this afternoon, we headed on our walk to the old quarter on our Hanoi street food tour and sampled many delicious Vietnamese food, as as Bun Cha, Pho Bo and Banh Mi Hanoi.
Day 4: Hanoi – Mai Chau Mountain Valley
At 9h00am, we departed by van for Bat Trang, a small village about 30 minutes away, on the southeastern outskirts of Hanoi. Since the 14th century, Bat Trang has been known and celebrated for its signature ceramic pottery, crafted from rich white clay with precision and skill. We visited a local ceramic workshop, where generations of craftspeople have been perfecting the art of ceramics. There, we met with an artist and their family. We learned about the artist's daily routine and the ceramics process, from forming the clay to painting the distinctive, intricate designs that have been coveted by customers for centuries.
Then we got the chance to make ceramic pieces ourselves. Afterwards, we walked among the locals and wander about town, making time to explore the colorful vases, bowls, flowerpots, and more within the village market. Our return to Hanoi began around 11h45am, then we got lunch at a local restaurant on our way to Mai Chau.
Left on our van for a 3.5-hour ride out of the city and into the rich agricultural territory of the Mai Chau Valley. Lush with terrace plots, rice paddies, and emerald mountains, Mai Chau is home to many of Vietnam’s hill tribe cultures.
We got a unique opportunity unavailable to most travelers - the chance to stay with a hill tribe family for a night. Our village homestay introduces us to one of the area’s tribes, the White Thai people, whom we met when our van arrived at the village around noon.
Originally from China, the White Thai emigrated to Vietnam in the 19th century, and they are recognized by the color of their women’s clothing. Today they’re known for their intricate woven goods, which we noticed as we walked in the traditional thatch-roofed stilt home of a local family.
At about 6h30pm in our homestay, we dine on traditional, homemade fare. Dinner was featuring traditional village cuisine and locally grown ingredients.
Day 5: Mai Chau Valley & Thai Ethnic People Experiences
After breakfast, we experienced the “hills” element of the White Thai hill tribe during a visit to Hich Village on a 1.5-hour walking trek. We explored the Mai Chau Valley’s sweeping vistas, where the terraced plots creep up hillsides like undulating staircases, well-trodden pathways cut through expansive rice paddies, and jagged mountains rise in the distance. As we journeyed along the bamboo-covered hillsides to Hich Village, we learned about the different layers of identity that exist here—of family, village, and tribe. We returned to Pom-Coong around noon.
In the afternoon, we walked around the villages, during which we had a chance to meet and connect with more members of the local hill tribe community. Our walk then followed by a cultural performance of folk music and dancing - a showcase of Xoe dances. Dancers utilized elegant and precise movements, brightly colored fans or props, and accompanying instruments to celebrate through song and dance the traditional staples of daily life: hunting, pounding rice, harvesting, and more.
Day 6: Mai Chau – Halong Bay
This morning we said goodbye to our host and left Mai Chau at 7h00am, we drove east to Halong Bay, the “emerald bay of Vietnam” and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. With clear waters and mountains draped in velvety cloaks of vegetation, it’s little wonder that the bay has served as inspiration for generations of Vietnamese poets.
Arriving around 12pm, we stepped off the bus and onto a traditional wooden sailboat. Our private boat served not only as our vessel for the cruising during the days, but also our accommodations for the next two nights. While traditional, our boat does feature modern touches and a private bar, and each cabin includes air-conditioning and a private bath with shower.
Regional seafood dishes and other traditional options, served onboard at about 12:30pm.
While relaxing on our boat’s sun deck, my travelers were free to marvel at the spectacular scenery of daily life on Halong Bay - whose name translates to “the bay of the descending dragon”. Resting peacefully across the Gulf of Tonkin near the Chinese border, the bay is dotted with 1,969 limestone islands, whose jagged profiles seem to rise out of nowhere.
Against the backdrop of innumerable caves, beaches, soaring cliffs, and grottoes, the Vietnamese go about their daily lives: Harvesting and fishing, they reap the riches of the land and sea. Vietnamese fishermen nimbly navigate in lacquered and woven-wood coracles, lozenge-shaped and rudderless vessels that resemble oversized tubs. Flat-bottomed and oar-propelled fishing boats, or sampans, abound as well - many occupied by entire families.
At about 3:30pm, we stopped to explore a cavernous grotto for about 1.5 hours. The bay’s caves are popular respites for visitors and locals alike, as the stone formations seem to drip like candlewax from the ceiling or down the walls. Resuming our cruise at about 5pm, we sharpened our culinary skills during an onboard cooking demonstration with our boat’s chef.
Day 7: Halong Bay Cruising and Ocean Kayaking in Lan Ha Bay
We spent the whole day today cruising, relaxing and kayaking in the southern part of Halong Bay – the Lan Ha Bay.
Day 8: Halong Bay - Hanoi – Hoi An
Our transfer from Halong Bay to the airport in Hanoi involved a bus ride of about 4 hours, over roads that was bumpy and uneven at times. The day included a flight of a little more than an hour.
But in this morning, we soaked up the last few hours of life on Halong Bay while our boat cruises back to port. Disembarking the vessel around 10h00am, we began our transfer to Hanoi Airport.
Our flight south to Hoi An departs shortly before 5h00pm. Upon landing, we got about a 30-minute bus ride to our hotel, after which we checked in the Four Season the Nam Hai for the next two nights.
Day 9: Hoi An Half Day Walking Tour
Known as “Faifo” during the 17th and 19th centuries, Hoi An was a prosperous trading port and attracting many Japanese, Chinese, Dutch, Portuguese and Spanish boats. Today this ancient town is a UNESCO World Heritage site, home of well-preserved homes and historic temples.
Follow your private guide to the vibrant morning market, where fishermen are busy with baskets of fishes. Visit the Japanese Covered Bridge, the nearby Museum of Cham Sculpture and walk through the narrow streets boasting local specialties including silk, which can be tailored into fashionable suites within few hours.
Day 10: Hoi An Departure
This morning, they were free to relax at the resort until I picked them up for the airport for their flight to Siem Reap.
It was an amazing experience that we got together, the trip exposed our travelers not only a developing Vietnam but also the real life stories of the people. Contact us to have your own itinerary to experience north Vietnam.