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My Enchanting 4 Day Hanoi Itinerary Including Halong Bay and Ninh Binh

For some reason Vietnam was never on the top destinations of places I wanted to go to. I’m not sure if there was something about being American and the thought of going, or already being immersed in the culture living in Orange County, CA where we have Little Saigon located in Garden Grove.

Either way, my recent trip to Hanoi, Halong Bay and Ninh Binh in the vibrant heart of Vietnam, was an experience I’ll cherish forever and blew away any and all preconceived notions I had about the country. Over four days, I immersed myself in the city’s charm and explored its stunning natural surroundings. Here’s a glimpse into my 4 day Hanoi Itinerary, which might just inspire your own adventure in Hanoi.

Day 1: Discovering the Heart of Hanoi

Our family adventure began with our arrival in Hanoi. After checking into our hotel and taking some time to freshen up, we eagerly set out to explore. Our first destination was the tranquil Hoan Kiem Lake. Walking around the lake, we were all struck by the peaceful atmosphere as we made our way to Ngoc Son Temple. As evening set in, we ventured into the vibrant Old Quarter. The kids were mesmerized by the flurry of activities, and we all enjoyed navigating through the lively streets. We capped off our day with a wonderful traditional Vietnamese dinner, a delightful introduction to the local flavors.

Day 2: The Ethereal Beauty of Halong Bay

Booking the Halong Bay Tour

The second day was dedicated to Halong Bay, a UNESCO World Heritage site. I booked the tour on Expedia. There are many packages to choose from and it’s not a guarantee that you will get the same tour operated as we did so choose a plan that works best for you.

Journey to Halong Bay

As we embarked on the 3-4 hour journey from Hanoi to Halong Bay, we were greeted by the moody skies of the monsoon season in late July. The closer we got to our destination, the more intense the weather became, flooding the roads to Halong Bay . Arriving at the port, we found ourselves in a suspenseful wait, hoping for the weather to clear. Fortunately, after an hour, the skies showed mercy, allowing us to board the ship and set sail towards the awe-inspiring limestone karsts that make Halong Bay a wonder of nature.

Onboard the Boat to Tiptop Island

Once aboard, we indulged in a yummy buffet lunch, engaging in lively conversations with fellow travelers. The dining experience was enhanced by the panoramic views of emerald green waters and majestic karsts that surrounded us, creating a surreal backdrop. Our first stop was the renowned Tiptop Island, named after the Russian cosmonaut Gherman Titov. Here, we were presented with two thrilling choices: a relaxing swim along the pristine shoreline or an invigorating climb up over 400 steps to a lookout point offering breathtaking vistas of the bay.

Sung Sot Cave

Our adventure continued with a visit to the Sung Sot cave, a natural marvel adorned with an array of stalactites and stalagmites. Wandering through this limestone labyrinth, I was enveloped in a sense of wonder, feeling akin to an explorer uncovering the secrets of a bygone era. The intricate formations and the play of light within the cave added to the mystique of this extraordinary place. I kept wondering, how did someone stumble upon such a cave and what led them to go explore?

Bamboo Boat Excursion

The final leg of our Halong Bay excursion offered yet another intriguing choice: kayaking through the tranquil waters by ourselves or enjoying a leisurely ride in a traditional bamboo boat, expertly paddled by a local guide. Opting for the latter, we were able to soak in the serene beauty of the bay, a perfect conclusion to our day.

Hanoi Night Market

Though the journey back to Hanoi was long, the experiences of the day lingered with us. We arrived back in the city around 9pm and enjoyed some Northern Vietnamese food. We found ourselves savoring pho and other Vietnamese specialties, the perfect end to our day. Our night concluded with a stroll through the bustling walking street, a lively hub that comes alive on weekends, buzzing with energy and local charm. This day in Halong Bay, with its blend of natural beauty and cultural experiences, left an indelible mark on our hearts, a treasure trove of memories to cherish forever.

Day 3: A Cultural Deep-Dive in Hanoi

On my third day, we visited the solemn Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum. Please make sure you dress appropriately out of respect for Ho Chi Minh. The Temple of Literature was next, a striking symbol of Vietnam’s educational heritage, followed by a visit to the Fine Arts Museum, which housed an impressive collection of Vietnamese art. In the afternoon, we took a stroll around West Lake which brought us to the ancient Tran Quoc Pagoda. Our day ended on a high note with a captivating water puppet show at Thang Long Theatre, a magical experience that brought Vietnamese folklore to life which was a big hit with the kids.

Day 4: Trip to Ninh Binh’s Spectacular Landscapes

Exploring the Ancient Splendor of Ninh Binh

If there’s one thing I’ve learned from my travels, it’s that some of the most enchanting places are often those less talked about. My journey to Ninh Binh province, a couple of hours drive from Hanoi, proved this yet again. This region, with its lush landscapes and historic richness, was a highlight of my Vietnam trip, especially the ancient city of Hoa Lu and the serene Tam Coc area.

Hoa Lu: A Journey Through Time

Our exploration began in Hoa Lu, the former capital of Vietnam during the 10th and 11th centuries. As we walked through this historic site, it felt like stepping into a different era. The remnants of this ancient city, though now reduced in size, still portrayed a powerful glimpse into its once grand stature. Our tour guide showed us around the temples dedicated to King Dinh Tien Hoang and King Le Dai Hanh, admiring their 17th-century architecture that echoed the past with their detailed carvings and peaceful courtyards owing to their Chinese heritage.

As we rode bikes through Hoa Lu, we were struck by the palpable sense of tranquility and history that enveloped the place. The surrounding limestone mountains added to its dramatic and timeless beauty, enhancing our experience of walking through Vietnam’s rich past.

Tam Coc: Serenity on the Water

From the historical richness of Hoa Lu, we made our way to the picturesque Tam Coc, often described as the ‘Halong Bay on Land’. The resemblance is uncanny, with its majestic limestone karsts and meandering rivers. Here, a paddle boat ride seemed the perfect way to immerse ourselves in the beauty of the region.

As our boatman (in our case boatwoman) navigated the calm river by paddling with her feet, the beauty of Tam Coc unfolded before us. We glided through three natural tunnels or caves, each offering a unique and mystical experience. The play of light and shadow on the water as we passed through these caves was truly magical.

The river’s banks were adorned with lush rice fields set against the backdrop of striking limestone cliffs. Visiting in the summer, we were treated to the vibrant greens of the paddies, which contrasted beautifully against the ruggedness of the cliffs. The tranquility was palpable, with the soothing sounds of water and occasional birdcalls offering a serene escape from the city’s hustle.

Reflecting on Our Day

As our boat trip concluded and we made my way back to Hanoi, I couldn’t help but reflect on the day’s experiences. Ninh Binh, with its mix of historical and natural wonders, felt like a hidden gem. The ancient city of Hoa Lu offered a glimpse into Vietnam’s rich past, while the serene boat ride through Tam Coc was a reminder of the country’s stunning natural beauty.

This day trip was more than just sightseeing; it was an immersion into the heart and soul of Vietnam. Ninh Binh, with its understated charm and tranquility, is a must-visit for anyone wanting to experience the diversity and depth of Vietnam’s landscapes and history.

Conclusion: A Trip to Remember

This 4-day trip to Hanoi and its surrounding areas was an unforgettable experience for our family. From the serene Halong Bay to the bustling streets of Hanoi, each day was filled with new discoveries and shared family moments. Hanoi far exceeded our expectations and mine personally. I thought the city would be more strict like Beijing but it was surprisingly progressive. The people were charming but the food was different from the southern Vietnamese cuisine we were used to being served in Garden Grove back home. Overall I would highly recommend Hanoi to everyone! Send me an email if you have any questions and leave some comments below!

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