Excited to have my very first guest post! Chloes from GoGoBudgetTravel recently traveled to Vietnam and kindly put together this guide for you. Vietnam is also my favorite destination in Southeast Asia, but unfortunately I only traveled the central and southern regions. Chloe is here to the rescue with this guide for northern Vietnam in a week. Please check out her website for more tips!
When it comes to Southeast Asian countries, Vietnam is easily my favorite pick. Once a lesser-known destination, it has become more and more popular among tourists in recent years. With its beautiful nature and cultural diversity, Vietnam attracted 10 million visitors in 2016, an increase of 26.0% from 2015.
From the peaceful rice valleys of Sapa in Northern Vietnam stretching to the bustling city of the Ho Chi Minh in the south, Vietnam is home to a wealth of attractions and cuisine that will attract both budget and luxury-seeking travelers. Here’s your complete travel guide for your 1 week’s trip in Northern Vietnam.
- Currency: Vietnam Dong (click here for current conversion rates). US Dollars are widely accepted.
- Visa: Many countries have visa exemption between 15-30 days. You can check out whether you’re the lucky one here. If you need to apply for a visa, the best method is to apply online. But if you’re traveling via land, however, then you must already have a Vietnam visa in your passport, so plan ahead.
- Safety: It’s generally very safe to travel in the Northern and Central Vietnam. Be extra alert on the road as the streets can get busy with motorbikes.
- Climate: Summer (May-Ocober) is extremely hot and humid, while winter (January-March) is rather cool, especially in Sapa. The wettest months are July-September, so it may be best to avoid Halong Bay during these months.
- Best SIM cards: There are four Telco companies in Vietnam and all of them offer similar services and pricings. A 5GB/30 day package cost 100,000 VND (around $5 USD). However, I still recommend Viettel as it has the largest network and most customers, closely followed by Vinaphone. Avoid Mobifone and Vietnamobile if you’re heading off the beaten track.
Day 1: Hanoi
Hanoi, the capital of Vietnam, is known for its centuries-old architecture and a rich culture with Southeast Asian, Chinese and French influences. At its heart is the chaotic Old Quarter, there are so many local food and restaurants for you to choose from. Very often, travelers find themselves lost in choices. Luckily, when we visited Hanoi this time, our local friend Ha Linh brought us around to eat the best local food in Hanoi.
Must eat local delights recommended by the locals
You cannot visit Vietnam without tasting the most famed noodle soup with the most incredibly rich broth!
Address: 10 Lý Quốc Sư, Hàng Trống, Hoàn Kiếm, Hà Nội, Vietnam
2. Square Cake (Bánh Chưng)
This popular snack is made of gluttonous rice and other goodies. There are several different varities, but locals recommend this cart!
Address: Along the street of the Old Quarter
3. Egg coffee
Intruguied? Try this thick and creamy coffee famed in the north!
Fragrance Café & Restaurant
Address: 35 Gia Ngu Street, Hang Bac Ward, Hoan Kiem District
Apart from trying out all the delicious food, do remember to visit iconic sites like St Joseph Cathedral, Ba Dinh Square, Ho Hoan Kiem and more! Want to find out the best Hanoi local food that only the locals know, check out my blog post.
Days 2-3: Halong Bay
Situated in northeast Vietnam, Halong Bay is known for its emerald waters and thousands of towering limestone islands topped by rainforests. Many travelers face the same question when they are considering a trip to Halong Bay: “Should I stay in an overnight Halong Bay cruise?” The answer is a definite YES!
Must-do activities in Halong Bay:
1. Enjoy the sunset and sunrise, and kayaking at the same time
Halong Bay is the most beautiful during sunrise and sunset moments. And you only get to see them if you stay overnight cruise. During these moments, the beauty of Halong Bay truly reveals itself. What’s more, you get to go kayaking in the quiet and serene bay as the sun sets. Truly amazing indeed!
3. Visit Sung Sot or “Surprise Cave”
Situated in the center of the UNESCO World Heritage area, Sung Sot or “Surprise Cave” is on Bo Hòn Island, and is one of the most spectacular and largest grottoes of Ha Long Bay. The cave is beautifully lit by different colors of lights. One of the best advantages of choosing Halong Bay cruise overnight is that you get to visit the cave during the earliest hour, as soon as it opens.
4. Make your own spring rolls on the cruise
The cruise caters all the meals you need and light refreshments. To be frank, I didn’t have high expectation of the food but to my surprise, everything tasted fantastic and fresh! What’s more, there’s a Vietnamese spring roll-making session. It is very easy to do and pretty fun making your own spring rolls!
Keen to find out more about Halong Bay and watch a video I made for the trip? Check out my blog post Why You Should Choose Halong Bay Cruise Overnight.
Day 4-6 Sapa
Located at 1500 meters (4921 feet) above sea level in Vietnam’s remote northwest mountains, Sapa is famous for both its fine, rugged scenery and also its rich cultural diversity. It is a quiet mountain town and home to a great diversity of ethnic minority peoples.
Must-do activities in Sapa:
There’s no better way to explore Sapa than trekking. Sapa is orientated to make the most of the spectacular views emerging on clear days; overlooking a plunging valley, with mountains towering above on all sides. You’ll find yourself being surrounded by cascading rice terraces, endless greenery and amazing fresh air. Once you’ve stepped out into the lush fields, you’ll understand the Sapa area’s real charm.
While you are trekking in the field, you’re bound to encounter a lot of animals. On the hill, you’ll see a buffalo sitting in the paddy field. Along the road, you’ll see horses passing by. Out of the blue moon, you may see domesticated pigs looking for food. The animals are gentle and won’t attack unless you provoke them. So just watch them quietly and enjoy the peace together.
3. Visit Cat Cat Village
Nestled in a beautiful valley about three kilometers from Sapa Town, Cat Cat- the old village of ethnic groups- attracts tourists from all over the world for its distinctive customs and practices which have been lost in almost ethnic villages.
Can’t get enough of Sapa? Here are the Top 5 Things To Do In Sapa Vietnam that will satisfy your hunger for beauty. .
Day 7-8 :Ninh Binh
Located on the Southern end of the Red River Delta, Ninh Binh is around 2 hours drive from Hanoi. It is blessed with diverse topography of both mountainous and coastal areas. It can be said that the province contains all the scenic quintessence of whole Vietnam within its relatively small size.
Not only that, Ninh Binh represents typical rural villages of Northern region with vast green paddy field, expanding mountains and poetic river that flows to the horizon. Ninh Binh’s history is also worth mentioning: the ancient capital of Vietnam in the 10th century, Ninh Binh is a venue of relics that reflect its 1000 years of history and development. Here are the top 3 attractions in Ninh Binh you must visit.
1. Hang Mua Pagoda (Mua Cave)
Down a sleepy road between rice paddies, this cave is truly impressive at the peak. It offers panoramic views of the rice paddies as you climb up the zigzags stairs. There are in total 450 steps but the height of the cave looks a lot more than that.
2. Trang An Boat Ride
If you’ve heard the beauty of Halong Bay, Trang An is the Halong Bay of the land. It has spectacular landscape of limestone karst peaks permeated with valleys, many of them partly submerged and surrounded by steep, almost vertical cliffs. And – best of all – there are very few tourists, so you can really enjoy the serenity of nature.
3. Bai Dinh Pagoda
Bai Dinh Pagoda Ninh Binh is a religious complex covering a total area of 539 hectare, a size of more than 800 football fields combined! Located in the mountainous area, the peak of the pagoda offers breathtaking views. When you finally reach the top, you’ll be able to see a beautiful temple with gorgeous scenery as a backdrop.
If you have more time to spare, you can go further south to Hue, Hoi An, Da Lat, Nha Trang, Mui Ne and Ho Chi Minh City. Personally I really recommend Da Lat. Check out my complete Vietnam Travel Guide for more! Happy travels!
About GoGo Budget Travel
GoGo Budget Travel is an Invest Travel blog geared towards the adventurous, off the beaten path-loving travelers. Most importantly, it’s for people who want to learn investing to fund their travel. The founder, Chloe, is a Singaporean Value Investor who has a passion to travel the world in the most genuine and budget-smart way. Whether you’re looking for investment knowledge, wealth management ideas, latest market news, to travel tips & tricks, Chloe will share with you her investment and travel experience so you can get on the road quicker, longer and better. Explore the world with GoGo Budget Travel.
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Did you travel to northern Vietnam? What are your best travel tips? Comment below!
Going to Hoi An? Why not do a free bicycle tour led by local university students?