10 days in Northern Vietnam: Our Trip Itinerary

Traveling to Hanoi, Halong Bay and Sapa is one of the most popular sightseeing routes in Vietnam. If you are planning to travel to the northern part of the country, our trip itinerary of 10 days in Northern Vietnam can save you lots of time.

Northern Vietnam is the place where you can find scenic travel destinations such as Hanoi, Halong Bay and Sapa. This part of the country has numberless interesting places and offer visitors a variety of wonderful experiences, from admiring the magnificent landscapes of the bay and exploring the famous historical sites in the capital of Vietnam to learning the customs and traditions of the mountainous people at the place where you can see the mountains running on the horizon and the villages hidden in the clouds.

We’ve spent a lot of time researching before our trip to Vietnam trying to make an unforgettable journey and we really loved when actually visiting this incredible country. If you are preparing for a trip to Vietnam, feel free to follow our ultimate DIY Northern Vietnam trip itinerary and use it as your guide to plan a trip to Hanoi, Halong Bay, Cat Ba and Sapa for 3 days, 5 days, 7 days, 9 days or even more.

This is an exact trip itinerary of our 10 days in Northern Vietnam.

Day 1: Hello Vietnam

Afternoon: We took a Vietjet flight from Bangkok to Haiphong in Vietnam and landed at Cat Bi Airport (HPH) at about 17:00. This international airport is the nearest to Cat Ba Island so getting to Haiphong was the most convenient option for our travel itinerary in Northern Vietnam as we wanted to start it from Cat Ba and Halong Bay.

10 days in Northern Vietnam: Our Trip Itinerary

Evening: Transferring from Cat Bi Airport to the hotel in Haiphong City center by taxi wasn’t the smoothest as the taxi driver overcharged us. Turning off the meter right after the car stops and asking for a higher price than displayed seems to be a common trick in Haiphong. It wasn’t a huge rip-off and we normally leave tips of that size but still, the first impression of Vietnamese people was ruined. The good thing is that Haiphong was the only place in Vietnam where taxi drivers were trying this trick on us. However, the next time we might be using a private transfer that can be booked in advance with a tour company or hotel. Not because of the price, just for not getting tricked on the first step in this wonderful country.

Overnight: Hotel in Haiphong - Hoang Hai Hotel.

Day 2: Haiphong - Cat Ba Island

Morning: After getting our first Vietnamese breakfast at the hotel, we started exploring Haiphong City’s famous sites and attractions by stopping at Hai Phong Opera House, Flower stalls, Le Chan Statue and visiting ancient structures such as Nghe Temple and Du Hang Pagoda.

10 days in Northern Vietnam: Our Trip Itinerary

Afternoon: After lunch, we checked out from the hotel and took a taxi to Ben Binh Pier for taking the hydrofoil to Cat Ba Island. We got our tickets at the pier and boarded the hydrofoil departing at 13:00. During our visit, the ticket price was 180,000 VND per person. However, the price can vary depending on the season. The journey from Haiphong to Cat Ba Island took about 1 hour. 

Cat Ba is the largest of the 1,969 islands on Halong Bay and is surrounded by blue sea, white sand, magnificent caves and beautiful mountains. We reached Cat Ba Island at 14:00 and after checking in at the hotel went out to exchange money and buy SIM Card in Cat Ba Town.

Evening: We took a stroll to Cat Co Beach, which is the main beach in Cat Ba Island. Actually there are three beaches with the same name not far from each other and they all can be easily reached on foot. We walked along the mountain-side walking trail which is connecting the beaches and got a chance to admire the magnificent sunset in one of them.

10 days in Northern Vietnam: Our Trip Itinerary

After that, it was time for getting our first dinner on the island and chillaxing at the bar in Cat Ba Town.

Overnight: Hotel on Cat Ba Island - Catba Dream Hotel.

Cat Ba has plenty of accommodations, from affordable to luxurious hotels. The price of an ordinary hotel in Cat Ba is about 150,000 - 500,000 VND for per night. For getting a better idea of choosing the place to stay in Cat Ba, check our guide to Cat Ba accommodation.

Day 3: Halong Bay

Morning: We took a day tour to explore Halong Bay and Lan Ha Bay from Cat Ba Island. The boat was sailing around Lan Ha Bay and passing the floating village before making a stop at Monkey Island, where no doubt, we were greeted by a gang of monkeys! The island was very charming with white sand beaches and clear water. After leaving Monkey Island, the boat continued cruising to Halong Bay, a UNESCO world natural heritage site, where we got a chance to admire the most beautiful landscapes with hundreds of mysterious limestone islands in a variety of shapes and sizes. It was really the out of this world scenery.

10 days in Northern Vietnam: Our Trip Itinerary

If you have more time to spend on the bay, for the most exceptional experience you can join one of 10 best Halong Bay cruises. When going on a cruise, you would spending the night (or two) on the cruise ship sailing in the bay and enjoying the beauty of the bay in various times of the day.

Afternoon: After the lunch served on the boat in the middle of Halong Bay, kayaking experience was awaiting so we could explore the rock arch tunnel cave and hidden narrow lagoons. The boat also brought us to Three Peaches Beach for swimming and snorkeling.

Evening: As it was a full-day tour, we returned to Cat Ba Town only in the evening and it was time for fresh seafood dinner at the restaurant. Really delicious and affordable!

Overnight: Hotel on Cat Ba Island - Catba Dream Hotel.

Day 4: Cat Ba National Park

Morning: We woke up early to see the sunrise at the beach on the island. After having breakfast at Like Café in Cat Ba town we went to Cannon Fort. Cannon Fort is the French era fort that was used to defend Haiphong during the Vietnam War. It is said that this place is one of the most spectacular viewpoints in Vietnam. Unfortunately, the fort was closed during the time of our visit so we had to get back to the hotel and prepare for the afternoon trekking tour.

10 days in Northern Vietnam: Our Trip Itinerary

Afternoon: After lunch, we departed to Cat Ba National Park. We took a half day trekking tour and hiked through the tropical rain forest to conquer the summit of the mountain from where you can see panoramic views of the island. On the way back, we also visited the Hospital Cave, where lots of historical secrets from the war are still kept.

Evening: Came back to the hotel to rest before having Vietnamese dinner at the local restaurant. For the end of the day, relaxing massage was awaiting.

Overnight: Hotel on Cat Ba Island - Catba Dream Hotel.

Day 5: Cat Ba Island - Hanoi

Morning: After breakfast, we said goodbye to Cat Ba Island. We took a bus from Cat Ba to Hanoi. This is the most convenient and very affordable way for getting to the capital of Vietnam. The journey by bus from Cat Ba Island to Hanoi took us about 4.5 hours.

If you prefer other types of traveling, use our detailed guide on how to get from Cat Ba to Hanoi.

Afternoon: We arrived at Hanoi Old Quarter and the bus dropped us off nearby our hotel. After checking in at the hotel, we went out to find the best place to exchange money in Hanoi while looking for the place to enjoy some local specialties. We’ve tried the well-known Bun Cha Hanoi (grilled pork and noodle) at the local restaurant.

10 days in Northern Vietnam: Our Trip Itinerary

After that, we started exploring the city from Hanoi Old Quarter to Hoan Kiem Lake (Sword Lake) where the ancient Turtle Tower sits peacefully and The Huc Bridge leading to Ngoc Son Temple (Temple of the Jade Mountain) is waiting for visitors. We have also visited the Ly Thai To Monument and Trang Tien Street on the west side of Hoan Kiem Lake, where the eye-catching colonial streets of French Quarter can be admired.

Evening: We enjoyed watching a water puppet show at Thang Long Water Puppet Theater next to Hoan Kiem Lake. This is a must-do thing in Hanoi which is very popular with tourists. Water puppet show tickets are often sold in the combination with various Hanoi tours such as the Special Hanoi Night Out Tour, which includes not only visiting water puppet show but also eating a special authentic Hanoi dinner and ending the night with a cup of tea at some cozy street. 

Overnight: Hotel in Hanoi - Golden Moon Suite Hotel.

Hanoi is a big city and attracts many tourists so finding a place to stay there is not a problem. However, choosing the right place is really important if you want to explore the city conveniently. To do that, our guide to the best Hanoi areas can be really helpful.

Day 6: Hanoi - Sapa

Morning: We decided to go from Hanoi to Sapa on the last day so there were not so many transportation options to choose from. Actually, there are many ways to travel from Hanoi to Sapa but most of them were fully booked. We got a ticket for a bus from Hanoi to Sapa online and the journey was surprisingly good. The bus picked us up from the hotel in Hanoi and departed to Sapa early in the morning, making 2 break stops on the way. It took us about 7 hours to get to Sapa town. You can check our full review of taking a bus from Hanoi to Sapa.

Another popular way to travel from Hanoi to Sapa is taking one of privately-run trains that are offering more safety and comfort than buses. However, when traveling to Sapa by train, you arrive at Lao Cai City first and then have to continue your trip from Lao Cai to Sapa by a local bus or private transport.

Afternoon: After arriving in Sapa town, we checked in at the hotel and enjoyed our lunch in one of the local restaurants. We started our discovery of Sapa beauty by trekking to Ham Rong Mountain. Ham Rong Mountain is offering one of the most spectacular sceneries and is easily reachable as it’s located in the heart of Sapa town. Vibrant Indochina orchids of all kinds and colors were leading us along the way to the top of the mountain, from where the panoramic view of this beautiful town opens up. The entrance ticket price was 70,000 VND per person.

10 days in Northern Vietnam: Our Trip Itinerary

Evening: After enjoying the typical dishes of the Northwestern people at the local restaurant, we just freely roamed the town. We’ve visited the iconic Sapa Stone Church, which is the focal point of the town. If you will be visiting Sapa on weekend, you will see that the large square in front of the church is often bustling as it is the venue for major cultural events of Sapa, including Sapa Love Market.

Overnight: Hotel in Sapa - Sapa Scenery Hotel.

Why did we choose to stay at this hotel in Sapa? As the name says, because of the scenery and superb deal we got for one of their best rooms. While choosing the place for overnight, we’ve completed a guide to Sapa accommodation that might be helpful when looking the best place to stay in Sapa.

Day 7: Sapa (Cat Cat Village)

Morning: Morning was very cloudy and rainy so after having our breakfast at the hotel, we just went out for a cup of coffee. There are countless cafes with stunning view in Sapa where you can sit peacefully and enjoy the scenery.

Afternoon: As soon as the sun came out, we started our 2.5 km walking journey to explore Cat Cat Village - the residence of H’mong ethnic people. Cat Cat Village is located at the foot of Hoang Lien Son mountain range so the whole village is covered by greenery, hills and mountains. We’ve got an opportunity to see the beauty of Tien Sa Waterfall and terraced fields, enjoy traditional performances and learn about unique culture and customs of ethnic minorities here. Even if there are many guided tours offering to visit Cat Cat Village, you can easily explore it independently, just like we did (Cat Cat Village DIY itinerary).

10 days in Northern Vietnam: Our Trip Itinerary

Evening: The evening was spent by strolling around Sapa town, shopping at Sapa market and enjoying highland specialties such as grilled armpits and Lao Chai Beer. Would you like more action? Check where to go and what to do in Sapa at night.

Overnight: Hotel in Sapa - Sapa Scenery Hotel.

Day 8: Sapa (Lao Chai Village - Ta Van Village)

Morning: Right after our breakfast and check out from the hotel, the tour guide took us on a trekking tour to Lao Chai. On the way we could admire the majestic natural scenery with the terraced rice fields of the picturesque Muong Hoa Valley. We also got an opportunity to visit hill tribe villages and explore the lives of the H'mong and Dao ethnic groups in the Northwestern region. For those who are interest, there is also the Ancient Stone field with 159 large and small rocks, located right by the mountain road between rice fields.

10 days in Northern Vietnam: Our Trip Itinerary

Afternoon: After having lunch at a homestay in Lao Chai Village, we continued trekking to Ta Van Village. On the trail we passed the green bamboo forest and waterfall as well as a small road up the mountain. Expect to be approached by local people trying to sell you things at very high prices.

There are several hill tribe villages for you to discover and you can choose the best village to visit in Sapa according to your preferences.

Evening: We decided to stay overnight at Ta Van Village so we’ve spent an evening trying the herbal bath, which is the traditional healing bath of the Red Dao people in Sapa. They brew more than 10 herbs and pour the hot water into wooden tubs. It’s relaxing indeed!

Overnight: Accommodation in Ta Van Village - Hmong House - Sapa Homestay.

If staying at a homestay doesn’t look attractive for you, you can choose to stay at one of Sapa’s best hotels with amazing view and enjoy the magnificent scenery during your entire stay.

Day 9: Sapa (Fansipan Mountain) - Hanoi

Morning: We came back from the village to Sapa town to start our conquest of Fansipan, the highest mountain in Vietnam which is known as the “Roof of Indochina”. We took the Muong Hoa Monorail from Sun Plaza (huge shopping mall in the center of the town) to reach the station where the cable car going up to the peak of Fansipan Mountain is found. When getting on the “roof”, you can see the floating clouds, the entire town, Hoang Lien Son mountain range, Muong Hoa Valley and surrounding areas from above. It’s just amazing! Booking cable car tickets online is recommended so we booked our Fansipan cable car tickets online to avoid disappointment as our time on the day was very limited.

10 days in Northern Vietnam: Our Trip Itinerary

If you have more time to spend in Sapa, we would suggest visiting 2 famous waterfalls. One of them is Silver Waterfall, the most beautiful waterfall of Sapa, flowing from an altitude of 200 meters. Another one is Love waterfall, name fits the place. These waterfalls are located about 12 km from Sapa town.

Afternoon: We departed from Sapa to Hanoi by bus at 15:00 and reached our hotel in Hanoi Old Quarter about 21:30. After a long trip, getting some rest was the only thing we were missing.

Overnight: Hotel in Hanoi - Hanoi Luxury Hotel.

Day 10: Hanoi

Morning: We started the day by visiting St. Joseph's Cathedral, a Gothic style Catholic Church built in the late 19th century, and the Temple of Literature, which is considered to be the first university of Vietnam. After that we continued to Ba Dinh Square, site of the President’s Palace and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. We’ve also visited the Ho Chi Minh complex with Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum and the iconic One Pillar Pagoda.

10 days in Northern Vietnam: Our Trip Itinerary

Afternoon: During the lunch at the local restaurant, we ate Bun Bo Nam Bo Hanoi (dry noodles with beef), which is a dish originated from southern Vietnam. Relaxing with a cup of Vietnamese coffee at one of cute cafes was a perfect follow up. Coffee culture is one of Vietnamese highlights so visiting at least some of the best cafés in Hanoi is a must-do for every coffee lover.

After the lunch break, we visited the West Lake, the largest lake in Hanoi, and paid a visit to Tran Quoc Pagoda, one of the most ancient Buddhist pagodas in Hanoi.

10 days in Northern Vietnam: Our Trip Itinerary

Hanoi is one of the most charming cities in Vietnam and there's a lot to discover around the city. For moving between sights easily, you can take a popular cyclo to explore the Old Quarter or one of Hanoi Hop on Hop off buses (Red Bus or Yellow Bus) to experience the beauty of the city in a very convenient way.

Evening: Hanoi nightlife is very lively. In the evening we went out for shopping at the busy Hanoi Night Market and had dinner at Hanoi Bia Hoi Junction (aka Bia Hoi Corner). There are plenty of food stalls and restaurants stretching along the street. Later at night, we’ve just spent time sitting on small plastic chairs along the roadside with locals and enjoying Bia Hoi, which is actually Vietnamese fresh beer sold by the local vendor for as low as just 5,000 VND for one glass. It was a night to remember!

10 days in Northern Vietnam: Our Trip Itinerary

Overnight: Hotel in Hanoi - Hanoi Luxury Hotel.

Day 11: Goodbye Hanoi

Morning: After breakfast, we checked out from the hotel and departed to Noi Bai Airport (HAN) to continue our trip to the next destination. There are several ways to travel from Hanoi Old Quarter to the airport and we’ve chosen to take a public bus No. 86. The journey was smooth and convenient.

Where next? Coming soon…

Day 12 and more

If you want to extend your stay in Northern Vietnam and explore few more destinations, consider visiting Tam Coc, known as Halong Bay on the land and famous for its wonderful vast rice fields and spectacular limestone mountains, or Trang An, UNESCO World Heritage Site with a stunning view of karst formations. Both of them are the most beautiful attractions in Ninh Binh province.

There are many tours offering convenient traveling from Hanoi to Ninh Binh as this province is easy to access and situated only about 100 kilometers south of the capital. Some of the best tours to Ninh Binh are Hoa Lu and Tam Coc Day Tour from Hanoi and Bai Dinh and Trang An Tour from Hanoi.

Tips

If you will be starting your Northern Vietnam trip in Hanoi, stay connected everywhere in Vietnam by booking your Vietnamese SIM Card online with an easy pick up at Hanoi Airport.