September is the beginning of the best time to travel Vietnam, especially north Vietnam, as it’s the harvest time in the region. Visitors to northern Vietnam this month will have opportunities to see the golden color of the ready-to-harvest rice fields, spreading from Red River Delta to terraces on the hillsides around Sapa. On my most recent tour, I took my clients from Hanoi to Tam Coc, to Lan Ha Bay, and to Sapa. Following is how we experienced the destinations in our 7 days exploring northern Vietnam.
Day 1: Day Trip to Tam Coc Ninh Binh
Today, we got a day trip to Tam Coc in Ninh Binh province from Hanoi. My clients wanted to go there just for a feet-rowing boat trip, take some photos and head back to Hanoi early, so that they can spend a bit more time in the capital city.
At 8h30, I picked them up with a private car and driver for a two-hour drive to Tam Coc. Arrived in Tam Coc around 10h30, we took a sampan boa,. which was rowed by a local lady to glide along the Ngo Dong River.
Tam Coc is part of the UNESCO World Heritage listed site of Trang An. Here, there’re three limestone grottos, created by water erosions, which are the only three places where the Ngo Dong river runs through. The best way to take in the natural beauty of Tam Coc is by a little sampan boat offered by local farmers.
My travelers were surprised with the limestone outcrops amid serene rice paddies we saw along the way, the soundtrack of the river lapping against the oars, and the water erosion that forms the unique ceilings of the grottos. Tam Coc sounds indeed like a movie scene, they said.
Day 2: Hanoi to Lan Ha Bay for a 2-night Boat Cruise
My clients wanted to see the limestone formations in Halong Bay, but didn’t want to be somewhere too touristy. So I recommended them the Lan Ha Bay, an awakening but still quieter area in the far southern end of the Halong Bay’s archipelago.
At 9h00 – we picked them up at their hotel and drove to Hai Phong city, which was two-hour drive away from Hanoi, to aboard the Orchid Cruise for 2-night cruising Halong Bay and Lan Ha Bay.
That afternoon, the boat cruised by Da Chong islet, where we saw a lighthouse built by the French over 100 years ago. A buffet lunch was served while passing via the islets of Con Vit area, which is still mostly untouched by other cruise ships. Then we visited Trung Trang cave, which is located inside Cat Ba National Park. After that, we swam in the green emerald waters of Lan Ha.
When the boat anchored for the night, we got a couple of drinks against the magnificent sunset over the Gulf of Tonkin. Our chef offered a traditional cooking class on the sundeck of the boat, so travelers were instructed on the making of some Vietnam dishes, such as nem ran. We got a sumptuous candlelight dinner on boat, and looked forward to the kayaking activities waiting for us on the next day!
Day 3: Lan Ha Bay and Cat Ba Island Kayaking Exploration
Our second day in Lan Ha Bay was our cruising and kayaking day, we started early onboard with Tai Chi session on the sundeck, breakfast was then served with the morning views of bay. Then we cruised further down south to visit Viet Hai village, where we got some cycling along the village path, and went through rain forests and dark tunnel. It was really fun to see the hidden village inside the park and the stunning scenery of rice fields on the way.
Back to day boat for visiting the rest of Lan Ha Bay with ocean kayaks, on which we paddled for about two hours. Lunch was served when were ready, and then more cruising to explore Halong Bay, taking in a free breeze at area with the path less visited. Today was our favorite day, as we could visit the charming village, floating houses and see some hidden lagoons with our kayaks.
Day 4: Lan Ha Bay Back to Hanoi
My clients started mastering the Tai Chi movements on our third day on the boat, they just emailed me back and said they are now practicing Tai Chi at home. After our breakfast, we stared to head back to the harbor by cruising through the Ao Ech cove – a very beautiful area with little limestone islets and blue calm waters.
We hit the Got harbor before noon, then we disembarked the boat and got picked up by our driver to head back to Hanoi. We came back to their Hanoi hotel around 1h30pm, which then allowed them plenty of time to explore the rest of the city.
Day 5: Street Food Tour in Hanoi
Today we got our food tour started before noon, we first walked toward the Hàng Bè market to try some "Nộm Bò Khô" and "Khúc cake", both are typical street foods of Hanoi. Then, we headed to the famous Café Giảng, one of the oldest coffee shop in town, to try their signature drink – the Egg Coffee. Though hidden behind a narrow lane on a busy street, Café Giảng has been well-known as the original egg coffee shop since 1946.
Continued onto Thanh Ha wet market to see the articles of the local’s daily necessity. Located in the heart of the old town, Thanh Ha has been known as a rustic but charming market since the French colonial period. Here, we saw some strange food items and delicacies set available on the sidewalks. Traversed the Dong Xuan wholesale market to get to know about the city’s busiest trading area before heading down to its food lane, where we got a delicious snail noodle soup. Stopped and pulled up a plastic chair to try some "Bánh Tôm", a Hanoi’s delicacy.
Our other dishes were some Mangosteen and durian we saw on our way, and "Bánh Mì" and "Bún Chả", then we drink "Bia Hơi" - the Vietnam draft beer and sample some local snacks "Nem Chua". We slowly walked back to the hotel in the afternoon, they skipped dinner as they were still full.
Day 6: Hanoi to Sapa on the new highway
At 7h00, after breakfast, we left Hanoi for a 6 hour-drive on the highway to Sapa. The scenery along the way was beautiful, so the drive wasn’t really long. We arrived in Sapa at noon, got lunch at a local restaurant before checking in the hotel. The remainder of the day was their personal time, which they rested for an hour then I took them on an orientation walk around Sapa, included a drink at the highest rooftop bar for the best view over the town and the Fansipan peak – roof of Indochina.
Day 7: Hiking Y Linh Ho, Lao Chai, Giang Ta Chai then drive back to Hanoi
After breakfast and check out at 8h30, we headed down hill to Y Linh Ho area and hiked down to the terraced rice fields as well as Lao Chai – Black H’mong people’s village. Along the way, we enjoyed views of the valley, the rice fields and the surrounding mountains, and met many local people from different ethnic groups, including the friendly Giay and Red Dao people. We also hiked through Ta Van village, where the Giay hill tribe lives.
After having lunch at a local restaurant in Ta Van, we took a scenic hike through a bamboo forest to Giang Ta Chai, a village of the Red Dao tribe, the mountain and valley along the way was amazing. At Giang Ta Chai village, at the bottom of the Muong Hoa valley, we got picked up by the driver and began to head back to Hanoi.
That was how we recently traveled from Hanoi to Ninh Binh, Lan Ha Bay and Sapa on our seven days exploring north Vietnam, the tour well covered the highlights of the region in a week. Contact us to start building your own itinerary.