Vietnam 1 week itinerary – North | a little bit of sea, a little bit of mountains
Vietnam is spectacular in every aspect, from its rich history to diverse culinary delights to breathtaking natural beauty to the ‘very-friendly’ locals, it’s not just another piece of land defined by its political geography, it’s a ‘feeling’ that’s never gonna leave you. Although, I highly recommend you to visit Vietnam for a longer duration, but if you’re there only for a week and willing to stick to the North (the best), the following itinerary will sort you out.
Day 1 – Hanoi
Arrive at Hanoi, take a shuttle bus to Old Quarter that should cost you only 40-50k dong (2$) while a taxi may overcharge you upto 700k dongs. The hostels will cost you as low as 5$ and most of them are right at the heart of “where everything happens”. Freshen up, and move out quickly to the streets and experience the magical chaos that is quintessentially Vietnamese. Grab your first bowl of Pho or Bun Cha, wash it down with Bia Hanoi and walk around the Hoan Kiem lake.
Day 2-3 – Ha long Bay
Book a tour from your hostel, shouldn’t cost you more than 100$ and take a trip to the most popular destination in Vietnam. Since it’s ‘most popular’, expect herds of white tourists and scams. You can also opt for 1 day tour which essentially requires you to sit in a shuttle bus most of the times with a really funny tour guide. The 2 night, one day tour has an additional advantage of a good sunrise view and bathing with a thousand tourists on a small beach. The Kayaking experience was my favorite part of the Ha Long Bay cruise.
Day 4-5 – Sa Pa
You know a place is well past its saturation point when you spot thin crust pizza & pasta arabbiata places in a very small village atop a rice terrace 5000 feet above the sea level. Yet, Sa Pa’s beauty will leave you awe-struck, especially if your going in August/September when the rice fields are yellow. You can stay either in Sa Pa or in one of the villages that offer stunning morning views. Also, I highly recommend a motorbike ride to Tram Ton Pass, Vietnam’s highest road, stop by at one of the tea-sellers, spend at least an hour to sink in the views.
Day 6 – Ninh Binh
From Sa Pa, you can either go to Lao Cai and then take the country road to Mu Cong Chai, that still has no tourists and has some rice terrace views that can even beat Sa Pa, or you can take an easy bus to Hanoi and take a short drive to Ninh Binh. Take one of the touristy boat rides, quite fun actually, or go karst-hiking or visit the spectacular Hang Mua caves (if you’re not going to Phong Nha) and finish the trip with a visit to Bai Dinh Pagoda, one of the biggest temple complexes I have been to (and I come from India).
Day 7 – Hanoi
Spend the last day in Hanoi, experience some of the finest street foods in the world, make some local friends, visit the museums, take a trip to West lake and soak it all down over Ca Phe Sua Da at one of the coffee shops in Old Quarter.
Visa – 40 USD
Accommodation – 40 USD (hostels/ budget hotels on sharing basis)
Ha Long Bay tour – 100 USD
Bus (to & fro Sa Pa/ Ninh Binh) – 50 USD
Food – 5-10 USD per day – 35 – 70 USD
Museum/ Temple entrance – 20-30 USD
Beer – 3 beers per day – 10-15 USD
Local Transport – 20 USD
Misc – 30 USD
Total – 340-400 USD (on the higher side)