What To Do In North Vietnam: Navigate Your Dream Itinerary

Welcome to North Vietnam! This region is like a hidden treasure chest filled with diverse experiences that will leave you in awe. From the vibrant streets of Hanoi to the striking limestone cliffs of Ninh Binh, North Vietnam offers something for every type of traveler, and we’re here to guide you through it all. 

North Vietnam is a land of rich history and contrasting landscapes. To make the most of your visit to the most vibrant destination in Southeast Asia, it’s essential to have a game plan. Planning a travel itinerary can be overwhelming, especially when exploring a new place. But don’t worry, we’re here to help! 

In this article, we’ll guide you through the most incredible destinations in North Vietnam and provide insider tips on how to get there. Whether you’re a first-time traveler or an experienced explorer, our local information will help you make the most of your journey. So, get ready to discover the beauty of North Vietnam and explore these amazing destinations!

But how can we navigate to these incredible destinations? In this next section we’ll introduce these incredible destinations and provide some insider tips for getting there!

1. Get Cruising in Halong Bay

Boats and Cruises in Halong Bay. Photo by VIA Ambassador Vinh Nguyen1 - What To Do In North Vietnam: Navigate Your Dream Itinerary
Boats and Cruises in Halong Bay. Photo by VIA Ambassador Vinh Nguyen

Halong Bay, located in Northern Vietnam, is a UNESCO World Heritage site that boasts thousands of stunning limestone karsts and islands, creating a picturesque seascape. Among the most popular tourist attractions, Ha Long Bay, a UNESCO World Heritage site, is a gem of Northern Vietnam, and reaching this natural wonder is easier than you might think.

Things to do in Halong Bay

You can take a cruise to explore hidden caves, go kayaking, and enjoy swimming opportunities in the emerald waters. Whether you are looking for a luxurious experience, a mid-range deal, or a young, wild, and free party boat, we offer a variety of tours for you to choose from. You can access the bay through an organized tour from Hanoi, which includes transportation via shuttle buses or private cars.

Join an organized tour from Hanoi to Ha Long Bay for a hassle-free experience. These tours include hotel pickup and return transportation from Hanoi, accommodation, and activities. Choose from various Halong Bay cruise operators for tours to Halong Bay, Lan Ha Bay, and Bai Tu Long Bay and surrounding areas.

Experience the magic of our day cruise trips in Halong Bay with Vietnam Is Awesome

How to get to Ha Long Bay

All organised cruises booked with Vietnam Is Awesome include transfer service from Hanoi, making your tour experience completely stress free. However, if you prefer to explore Ha Long Bay and the surrounding areas solo, here are some tips to guide you:

By Train

Take the train for an authentic and relaxed way to reach Ha Long Bay. Enjoy stunning landscapes and immerse yourself in the local experience. Here are essential details about train travel from various departure points.

Departure PointTravel RouteTravel Distance & Duration
Hanoi – Yen Vien Train StationHanoi – Halong by train180 km & 7 hours
Sapa – Lao Cai Railway StationSapa – Hanoi by train
Hanoi – Halong by road/train
300 km & 8 hours
160 km & 2-7 hours
Ninh Binh – Ninh Binh Train StationNinh Binh – Hanoi by train
Hanoi – Halong by road/train
100 km & 2.5 hours
160 km & 2-7 hours
Da Nang – Da Nang Train StationDa Nang – Hanoi by train
Hanoi – Halong by road/train
770 km & 17 hours
160 km & 2-7 hours
Ho Chi Minh City – Saigon Railway StationHo Chi Minh city – Hanoi by train
Hanoi – Halong by road/train
1700 km & 35 hours
160 km & 2-7 hours

Pro tip: You can book your train trip on the local website here.

By Bus

Hop on a local bus from Hanoi to Ha Long Bay to witness breathtaking views of the countryside and quaint villages. Below are links to local bus companies for adventurous and independent travelers.

Departure pointTravel distance & durationSuppliers
Hanoi160 km & 2.5 hoursBestPrice Travel: +84 904 699 428
Hai Phong60 km & 1.5 hoursPhuc Xuyen: 024 8589 8333
Minh Hieu Limousine: 0976495899 – 0973396693
Ninh Binh220 km & 3.5 hoursNinh Binh Express Bus: 02439 045 888
Sapa 490 km & 7 hoursPhuc Xuyen: 024 8589 8333
Da Nang 898 km & 17 hoursHoang Long Bus: 1900 988 920
Hoi An920 km & 17.5 hoursHoang Long Bus: 1900 988 920
Ket Doan Hung Duc: 1900 8971
Ho Chi Minh City1800 & 33 hoursAn Binh: 0907866530
An Sinh: 0986677979 – 0976977979

By Private Cars

For those with luxurious taste, hiring a private car with Vietnam Is Awesome offers a personalized and flexible travel experience. You can set your own pace and stop at scenic spots. The journey from Hanoi takes 3-4 hours, depending on traffic and route.

Private car is best for your flexible trip. Photo by Morgan Rovang - What To Do In North Vietnam: Navigate Your Dream Itinerary
Private car is best for your flexible trip. Photo by Morgan Rovang

2. Unwind on Cat Ba Island

Cat Ba Island in northern Vietnam is a picturesque island famous for its tropical beaches, diverse biodiversity, and hiking trails. On the island, you can relax on its golden shores, savor mouth-watering seafood, and explore the lush Cat Ba National Park. The island offers unforgettable experiences for every traveler.

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Cat Ba National Park – Weather, How to Get & Things to Do. Photo by Eirik Skarstein

Things to do in Cat Ba

1. Explore Cat Ba National Park: This park is known for its stunning natural scenery, including lush forests, rugged cliffs, and diverse wildlife. Hiking through the park is a great way to experience its beauty.There are also boat tours available for exploring the park’s beautiful landscapes and wildlife. These tours typically include stops at some of the park’s iconic sights, such as the Hospital Cave, Trung Trang Cave, and Frog Lake. Be sure to inquire about available boat tours and their itineraries when you arrive on Cat Ba!

2. Visit Lan Ha Bay: Often less crowded than the famous Ha Long Bay, Lan Ha Bay offers breathtaking views of limestone karsts and clear waters. You can go kayaking, swimming, or take a boat tour to explore the bay’s numerous islands and floating villages.

3. Enjoy the Beaches: Cat Ba Island is home to several lovely beaches. Cat Co 1, Cat Co 2, and Cat Co 3 are the most popular ones, offering white sandy beaches and clear waters for swimming and sunbathing.

4. Rock Climbing: The island’s limestone cliffs are a hotspot for rock climbing enthusiasts, with routes suitable for beginners and experienced climbers alike.

5. Explore Caves and Grottoes: The island has several interesting caves, like Hospital Cave, which served as a secret, bomb-proof hospital during the Vietnam War, and Trung Trang Cave, known for its impressive stalactites and stalagmites.

6. Try Local Seafood: The island is famous for its fresh and delicious seafood, with local restaurants offering a variety of dishes to try.

7. Visit Cannon Fort: This historical site offers not only a glimpse into the island’s past during the French and American wars but also provides panoramic views of the island and surrounding bay.

what to do in north vietnam
Cycling in Pu Luong. Photo by Mr. Biker Saigon

8. Cycling and Motorbiking: Renting a bicycle or motorbike is a great way to explore the island at your own pace, allowing you to visit remote villages and hidden beaches.

9. Water Sports: Apart from swimming and kayaking, you can also try other water sports like snorkeling and diving to explore the rich marine life around the island.

10. Cultural Exploration: Visit the local fishing villages, interact with the residents, and learn about their traditional lifestyle.

Exploring the Cat Ba National Park With Boat Tours

what to do in north vietnam
Boats in Halong Bay. Photo by VIA Ambassador Florian Commans

To reach Cat Ba Island, take a ferry from Hai Phong or a cruise from Ha Long Bay. Once you arrive, you can easily access various island parts through tug boats, local transportation services, bikes or bicycles. In this next section we’ll explain how to get there from Hanoi and Ha Long Bay.

The Local Way – Budget Friendly Public Transport

If you’re starting your journey from Hanoi, there are a few great options to reach Cat Ba:

Certainly! Here’s a revised and organized version of the steps:

Step 1: Travel to Hai Phong

Option 1: Bus from Hanoi to Hai Phong

  • Take a bus from Hanoi to Hai Phong.
  • Pro Tip: Choose reputable buses with air conditioning. Book in advance for peak travel (May-Aug). The journey takes 2-3 hours depending on traffic.
  • Buses depart from various locations in Hanoi, including Gia Lam Bus Station, Nuoc Ngam, and Giap Bat Bus Station.
  • Buses to Cat Ba run daily, taking about 1.5 hours and costing 150,000 VND (about around $6) for the bus and speedboat.
People sitting on bus seats. Photo by Annie Spratt - What To Do In North Vietnam: Navigate Your Dream Itinerary
Sleeper bus in Vietnam. Photo from Pixabay

Option 2: Train from Hanoi to Hai Phong

  • Consider taking one of the two morning train departures from Long Bien station at 6 am and 9 am, which will take you to Hai Phong.
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Train is one of the most popular transportations in Hanoi for travelers. Photo by VIA Ambassador Lavonne Bosman.

Option 3: Car or Motorbike

  • Travel independently by taking the Highway 5 from Hanoi to the Dinh Vu port in Hai Phong.
  • Load your vehicle onto the ferry at Dinh Vu port, which will take you to Cat Hai Island.
  • Cross Cat Hai Island to reach the second ferry that will transport you to Cat Ba.
  • The entire journey from Dinh Vu to Phu Long typically takes approximately 2 hours.
  • Ferries operate hourly between 6 am and 5 pm every day, providing a flexible schedule for travelers.
Motorcycles are the popular vehicle in Vietnam. Photo by Filipe Freitas - What To Do In North Vietnam: Navigate Your Dream Itinerary
Motorcycles are the popular vehicle in Vietnam. Photo by Filipe Freitas
Step 2: Arrive in Hai Phong
  • Upon arrival, easily find a taxi or motorbike taxi to Ben Binh Port, the departure point for boats heading to Cat Ba.
Sunset in Haiphong. Photo by VIA Ambassador Vinh Nguyen.1 - What To Do In North Vietnam: Navigate Your Dream Itinerary
Sunset in Haiphong. Photo by VIA Ambassador Vinh Nguyen.
Step 3: Board the Ferry at Binh Port to Cat Ba Island
  • Head to Binh Port, the departure point for boats to Cat Ba Island.
  • Enjoy the scenic views of the archipelago during the 1 hour speedboat ride.
  • The boats operate at various times, with departures at 7 am, 8 am, 10 am, 1 pm, 3 pm, and 4 pm.
what to do in north vietnam
Cruise pulls up at the dock in Halong Bay. Photo by Sushant Vohra

How to get to to Cat Ba National Park?

1. Upon arriving at Cat Ba, choose from various transportation options to reach the National Park’s headquarters, which is approximately 15 km away.

2. Opt for a boat journey to Phu Long pier on the opposite side of Cat Ba town. The same boat company provides a bus service to the Park’s headquarters, included in your ticket price.

3. For added convenience, write “Vuon Quoc Gia” (National Park) on a small piece of paper. Show this to the driver, ensuring they drop you off at the correct location.

Cat Ba National Park 1 - What To Do In North Vietnam: Navigate Your Dream Itinerary
Cat Ba National Park. Photo by Official GANP Park Page.

3. Countryside Hidden Gems in Bắc Hà – Northeast & Mai Châu Northwest, Vietnam

Venturing off the well-trodden path and into the heart of northern Vietnam, Mai Chau and Bac Ha reveal themselves as hidden treasures waiting to be explored. These lesser-known destinations offer a glimpse into the authenticity of Vietnam, where lush green paddies and vibrant cultures of ethnic minority groups converge. In this section, we’ll be your practical guide, showing you the way to reach these picturesque locations and offering insights on how to dive deep into the local charm!

Mai Chau, Hoa Binh Province

Nestled near the vibrant Ha Giang Province, Mai Chau offers serene rice fields and warm hospitality, and home to seven distinct ethnic groups: Zao, Hmong, Muong, Hao, Viet, Tay, and White Thai. Just a few hours from Hanoi, soak up its tranquil atmosphere and picturesque landscapes! Mai Chau is a haven for those seeking a peaceful countryside retreat.

A farmer on a field. Photo by Minh Triet - What To Do In North Vietnam: Navigate Your Dream Itinerary
A farmer on a field. Photo by Minh Triet

What to do in Mai Chau

  • Biking Tours: Rent a bicycle and explore the rustic beauty of Mai Chau at your own pace. The flat terrain makes it ideal for cycling.
  • Homestays: To truly immerse yourself in the local culture, consider staying with a local family. This offers an authentic experience and the chance to learn about the traditional way of life.

Getting There From Hanoi

  • By Bus: Catch a bus from My Dinh or Giap Bat bus station, with a 4-5 hour travel time.
  • By Motorbike: Opt for a scenic 130-kilometer motorbike ride taking approximately 3-4 hours.

Bac Ha, Lao Cai Province

Located near Sapa town, Bac Ha is famed for its vibrant ethnic markets and surrounding hill tribes, nestled in the hills of northern Vietnam. Bac Ha’s bustling Sunday market showcases the region’s rich ethnic traditions and offers a glimpse into the local way of life.

Sapa market in Lao Cai region. Photo by VIA Ambassador Luke Neville

What to do in Bac Ha

Bac Ha Sunday market and hill tribe communities make it a unique destination!

  • Market Days: If your visit coincides with Bac Ha’s market days, you’re in for a treat. The markets, which takes place every Sunday, are a lively showcase of ethnic traditions, where you can shop for crafts at several vendors selling handmade crafts and savor local dishes.
  • Guided Tours: Consider joining a guided tour to Bac Ha, which can provide valuable insights into the region’s diverse cultures and allow you to navigate the markets with ease.

Getting There From Hanoi

  • By Bus: Take a bus from Hanoi to Lao Cai, followed by a local taxi or minibus to Bac Ha, totaling a 6-8 hour journey.

4. Explore The Magical Ninh Binh, Red River Delta

Nestled within the enchanting Red River Delta of Northern Vietnam, limestone karsts and lush greenery create a breathtaking natural landscape known as “Halong Bay on Land.” Discover its countryside charm through boat rides along beautiful ravines and intricate cave systems, cycling along the picturesque countryside, and exploring ancient temples and pagodas.

affordable day trips from hanoi
A fisherman in Ninh Binh province. Photo by VIA Ambassador Florian Commans.

What to do in Ninh Binh

We’re excited to share our detailed guide on all the amazing things you can do in Ninh Binh! It’s packed with tips and ideas to make your trip unforgettable. Explore Things To Do in Ninh Binh here.

How to get from Hanoi to Ninh Binh

To reach Ninh Binh, you can take a scenic drive via bus, private car, or a convenient train ride from Hanoi, which is approximately 90 kilometers away. You can also book an incredible day tour with Vietnam Is Awesome which includes transportation from Hanoi.

5. Adventure Through Lush National Parks in Northern Vietnam

Discover the lush, wild, and breathtaking beauty of nature at its best! Embark on a journey to explore the diverse terrain of Ba Be National Park, Hoang Lien National Park, Cuc Phuong National Park, and more! Each park offers a unique ecosystem and an array of exciting activities, like trekking, bird-watching, and encountering indigenous wildlife.

Navigation: Discover More About Northern National Parks of Vietnam and how to reach them here.

national parks in vietnam
Cat Ba among top 11 national parks in the world | Tourism – Culture | Hai Phong news. Photo by Asian Way Travel

6. Embark on a Cultural and Trekking Adventure in Sapa, Northwestern Region

Escape to the tranquil beauty of Sapa, nestled in the mesmerizing mountains of Lao Cai Province. Famous for its culturally diverse population and incredible scenery, vibrant hill-tribe communities and stunning terraced rice fields, Sapa offers an unforgettable retreat and a is popular destination for nature lovers.

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Peak Of Fansipan. Photo by VIA Ambassador Luke Neville

What To Do in Sapa

  • Trekking Adventures: Embark on treks through the terraced landscapes and remote villages, immersing yourself in the local culture and breathtaking panoramas.
  • Homestay Experiences: Immerse yourself in the warmth of Sapa’s local hospitality with a traditional homestay, offering an authentic glimpse into the daily lives of ethnic minority groups.
  • Unwind at an out of town Eco-Retreat: Take a look at our top picks in Sapa here.

How to get there: Hanoi to Sapa

  1. Overnight Train: Experience the charm of a scenic overnight train journey from Hanoi to Sapa. The train ride offers breathtaking views of the Vietnamese countryside and is a popular choice for travelers seeking a unique adventure. Check the schedule and book your tickets at Vietnam Railways.
  2. Bus Services: For a convenient and budget-friendly option, consider taking a bus from Hanoi to Sapa. Various reputable bus companies provide reliable services to Sapa, offering comfortable rides with scenic stops along the way. Check out reputable bus services such as Sapa Express or Orient Express for hassle-free travel arrangements.

7. Conquer the Ha Giang Loop, North East Vietnam

Embark on an unforgettable adventure through the natural beauty of the Ha Giang Loop in the northernmost province of Vietnam, Ha Giang, along the Chinese Border. This scenic route boasts breathtaking mountain passes, winding roads, and panoramic vistas, making it a haven for adventure enthusiasts and nature lovers. Explore the rich cultural diversity of ethnic minority communities, witness the stunning rice terraces, and marvel at the majestic karst formations that dot the landscape. Immerse yourself in the raw beauty and cultural richness of the Ha Giang Loop. Discover stunning locations like the Dong Van Karst Plateau Geopark, Ma Pi Leng Pass, and Quan Ba Twin Mountain.

Ha Giang scenery. Photo by VIA Ambassador Lavonne Bosman - What To Do In North Vietnam: Navigate Your Dream Itinerary
Ha Giang scenery. Photo by VIA Ambassador Lavonne Bosman

Navigation: Begin your journey from Hanoi and head north to Ha Giang Province to conquer the Ha Giang Loop. Regular daytime and overnight buses depart from My Dinh bus station in Hanoi for Ha Giang.

Pro tip: Enjoy the freedom of exploring at your own pace by renting a motorbike or relying on reliable services like Easy Riders!

Check Out Our Comprehensive Guide on Ha Giang here.

8. Book Guided Tours In Tourist Hotspots with Vietnam Is Awesome:

Are you looking for an unforgettable travel experience in Vietnam? Search no further than Vietnam Is Awesome! As travel experts, we offer a fantastic selection of guided tours and experiences that take you to all the must-see destinations across the country. Our tours are carefully selected to ensure you get the most out of your trip, focusing on uplifting local providers in the tourism industry. Booking with us is easy and convenient, as you can do it online. Plus, we take care of all your transportation arrangements so you can sit back, relax, and enjoy your journey. Book your adventure with Vietnam Is Awesome today! Navigation? Let us be your guide!

Insider Tips And Practical Advice For Navigating Northern Vietnam

In this section, we’ll provide practical tips to make your journey through this diverse region easier and more enjoyable. From transportation advice to cultural insights, our aim is to help you make the most of your trip.

Essential Tips For Getting Around

Exploring Northern Vietnam can be an adventure. Consider public transportation like buses and trains, and book sleeper buses for long journeys. Seek advice from locals and fellow travelers for the best routes, hidden gems, and unique experiences.

cycling mai chau - What To Do In North Vietnam: Navigate Your Dream Itinerary
Cycling in Mai Chau – 2 self driving routes & cycling tour. Photo from Pixabay.

Understanding Local Customs And Culture

In your exploration of Northern Vietnam, delving into the local customs and culture is an enriching journey in itself. Here are some tips for you:

  • One of the best ways to make the most of your time in Northern Vietnam is to research and understand the customs and local practices of the region you plan to visit. Knowing such details in advance can help you plan your itinerary effectively and ensure you don’t miss out on unique cultural experiences.
  • Respect and Courtesy: Vietnamese culture places a strong emphasis on respect and courtesy. A simple greeting in the local language, such as “Xin chào” (hello) or “Cảm ơn” (thank you), can open doors and hearts. Remove your shoes when entering someone’s home, and be mindful of local customs, such as modest clothing when visiting temples.
A HMong woman and her son. Photo by VIA Ambassador Le Van Anh Tai - What To Do In North Vietnam: Navigate Your Dream Itinerary
A H’Mong woman and her son. Photo by VIA Ambassador Le Van Anh Tai

Crafting Your Ideal Travel Itinerary

Customize your stay by allocating extra time for destinations like Sapa and Hanoi, depending on your interests. Check the weather before planning outdoor activities and indulge in the diverse culinary delights of Northern Vietnam! Here are some helpful links for you:

what to do in north vietnam
Bun Cha Ha Noi. Photo by Markus Winkler

Your call to discover Northern Vietnam!

Your exciting journey awaits as we wrap up our guide to North Vietnam. With our tips and insights, you’re ready to explore this region’s wonders – from Hanoi’s vibrant streets to the stunning cliffs of Ninh Binh. Whether cruising through Halong Bay, relaxing on Cat Ba Island, discovering the rural charms of Bắc Hà and Mai Châu, or embarking on a trek in Sapa, each moment is set to be memorable.

Our Transportation and Tour Booking services are at your disposal to ensure a seamless adventure. Immerse yourself in the diverse landscapes, savor the local flavors, and connect with the rich culture of North Vietnam. Your extraordinary journey begins now. Let’s make it unforgettable!

Ready to make your travels even more exciting? Head over to our homepage and subscribe to our newsletter. You’ll gain access to exclusive discounts on tours and receive a treasure trove of expert travel tips. Join our community of savvy explorers and start planning your next adventure with an edge. Bon Voyage!

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Written by Lauren Tracy
Content Ambassador - Vietnam Is Awesome
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Originally from Cape Town, South Africa, Lauren has been living in Vietnam for the past 8 years. Her passion for the travel industry and wealth of experience has led her to become the Content Ambassador at Vietnam Is Awesome.