My best friend and I just got back from Vietnam yesterday, and what a whirlwind of a trip it was! I decided to churn this post out ASAP, because some of y’all are headed there in the coming weeks and DM-ed me for our itinerary.
So, what happens when you want to visit Vietnam but only have <5 full days to hit up as many places as possible? Well, we were faced with that dilemma when planning our trip; we foolishly decided to book back-to-back 2D1N trips to Ha Long Bay and Ninh Binh, two highly-touristy cities located relatively near to Hanoi, to maximise our variety of experiences.
My bestie was unfortunately struck with an awful bout of food poisoning for most of the trip, but we made the best of it and trimmed our itinerary to suit her needs. Overall, our trip was still fairly enjoyable, with plenty of island-hopping, generic tour group sightseeing, and gastronomic city-exploring memories.
Our Itinerary (11-16 Dec)
|Day 1 (Sun)||SIN✈️HAN|
🏨 Check in @ Hanoi Flora Hotel
🍽️ Pho Ga 26 (chicken pho)
🍹 Lighthouse Sky Bar
🛍️ Hanoi Weekend Night Market
🌃🥾 Hanoi Old Quarter Pedestrian Street + Hoàn Kiếm Lake
|Day 2 (Mon)||Hanoi 🚌 Ha Long Bay (3.5h)|
🚢 Ha Long Bay cruise
🛶 Luon Cave kayaking
🏝️ Ti Top Island
|Day 3 (Tue)||🏝️ Sung Sot (Surprise) Cave|
Ha Long Bay 🚌 Hanoi
🥖 Bánh Mỳ 38 Đinh Liệt (banh mi)
💆🏻♀️ Orient Spa & Nails
☕ The Note Coffee
🍽️ Phở Sướng (beef pho)
🌃🥾 Ta Hien Beer Street + random streets
|Day 4 (Wed)||Hanoi 🚌 Ninh Bình (2.5h)|
⛰️ Hang Mua
🏯 Hoa Lư Ancient Capital
🛶 Tam Coc sampan ride
🏨 Cozynibi Hotel
|Day 5 (Thu)||🏯 Bai Dinh Pagoda|
Ninh Bình 🚌 Hanoi
💆🏻♀️ Orient Spa & Nails
🍽️ Nhà hàng Mediterraneo (Italian)
🎄 Christmas light-up @ St. Joseph’s Cathedral
🛍️ Cerender Ceramics
|Day 6 (Fri)||HAN✈️SIN|
Pre-trip planning and Klook links!
When staying in Hanoi, it’s pretty much a no-brainer to stay in the Hanoi Old Quarter district. Literally everything is within walking distance – the best local food/hidden gems, bougie restaurants, sky bars, souvenir shops, malls, and not to mention, the lake that lies in the heart of the Old Quarter.
Although we were spending 2 nights away from Hanoi, we decided to book the Hanoi Flora Hotel for all 5 nights and use it as our base for the trip. We left most of our baggage in the room, and packed the bare minimum for each of the 2D1N trips. It cost SGD$390 for 5 nights, or about $40/pax/night; pretty affordable for a ridiculously well-situated 4 star hotel!
For convenience, we used Klook to book our 2D1N Ha Long Bay & Ninh Binh tours for this trip. I’ll be reviewing both of them later on in this post, but for ease of reference, I’ve linked the Klook bookings here:
- 2D1N Explore Halong Bay by Emotion Cruise from Hanoi
- Cost: SGD$192/pax (incl. two-way transport from Hanoi)
- 2D1N Ninh Binh Tour with Hoa Lu, Tam Coc, and Trang An from Hanoi
- Cost: SGD$119/pax (for deluxe accommodation…which was a clean but bare bones hotel)
If you don’t have a Klook account yet and want $5 off your first purchase, be sure to sign up via my referral link. 🙂
2D1N Ha Long Bay Cruise review
Our cruise director sprung a really cool fact on us when first introducing Ha Long Bay: it consists of 1,969 limestone islands and islets, and he assured us that we’d be floored by the views from the cruise.
He was right – Ha Long Bay felt like an extended version of Phuket’s island-hopping tours, with prettier views to boot. We were surrounded by endless rock formations, and woke up to stunning views of the the rocks and 101 other cruise ships that also traverse the bay.
Our boat was a 4-storey boat (Amanda Cruise), with an occupancy of ~50 guests, complete with an open deck and large dining hall. Our room was spacious, with a bathtub and balcony to boot. Unfortunately, we somehow encountered a bug infestation in the evening (possibly because our room was next to the kitchen) and had to change rooms…
This was the 2D1N tour itinerary:
- Day 1
- 7-11am: Hotel pickup in Hanoi + bus/van ride to Ha Long Bay
- 12.30pm: Board the cruise + buffet lunch
- 3pm: Exploring Luon Cave by kayak or bamboo boat
- 4pm: Ti Top Island (hiked to a 91m high lookout point, caught the sunset at the beach)
- 5.30-8pm: Chilling on the cruise + a simple 5-course dinner
- Till late: Squid fishing (with bamboo poles, off the side of the boat), karaoke, hanging out on the top deck
- Day 2
- Early: Breakfast buffet
- 7.30-9am: Sung Sot (Surprise) Cave
- 10am: Lunch buffet
- 11am-3pm: Disembark + bus ride back to Hanoi
Despite the little roach fiasco, we still enjoyed ourselves overall, and I’d recommend going on an overnight cruise rather than just a day trip. Being surrounded by my favourite things – seafood, the sea, beaches, endless blue skies and rock formations – made this a memorable and great value-for-money experience!
2D1N Ninh Binh Tour review
After half a day back in Hanoi, we were off for our second 2D1N trip, this time to Ninh Binh. It’s a cultural epicenter known for its beautiful rivers & cave systems, goat meat (that’s what the tour guide kept highlighting), and various cultural sites.
This was our tour itinerary:
- Day 1
- 7am: Hotel pickup in Hanoi + bus ride to Ninh Binh
- 10.30-11.30am: Hang Mua peak (500 steps to the hill’s lookout point)
- 12-1pm: Lunch
- 1-2pm: Hoa Lư Ancient Capital
- 2-4pm: Tam Coc boat ride (a leisurely 1.5h round-trip boat ride through 3 caves)
- 5pm: Checked into Cozynibi Hotel
- Day 2
- 10.30am-12.30pm: Bai Dinh Pagoda
- 1-2pm: Lunch
- 2-5pm: Bus back to Hanoi (we skipped out on yet another boat ride in Trang An)
My bestie and I got bored of the tour halfway through Day 2, and since we were flying out early the next day, we decided we’d rather spend more of our last day exploring Hanoi. If we had stuck with the tour till the end (we only missed 1 boat ride), we’d have reached Hanoi at 8pm…
In retrospect, we should have booked one of the day trips/tours instead, because this 2D1N tour schedule was too sparse and not particularly engaging. But on the bright side, that’s another Vietnamese city ticked off the bucket list!
Our top 5 experiences in Hanoi
We didn’t get to spend as much time as we’d have liked in Hanoi, and didn’t manage to hit up any cultural spots or museums, so these are our (sadly limited) recommendations:
- Hanoi Pedestrian Street
- From Friday night through Sunday night, the streets around Hoan Kiem Lake are closed and transformed into bustling pedestrian streets, filled with youths chilling out, busking, playing folk games, and street vendors hawking their wares. It’s fun and refreshing to be able to stroll along the Hanoi roads without feeling like you’re in a game of Crossy Road
- Orient Spa & Nails
- Tucked away just a street away from the lake is this absolutely luxe spa, which offers very affordable massage packages ($40-60 for 1.5 hours). It was so good that we visited twice!
- Sky bars
- The Hanoi Old Quarter skyline is dotted with sky bars, so we randomly googled for one with a view of the lake, settling on Lighthouse Sky Bar. Located on the 12th floor, it offered panoramic views, a faint smell of Hanoi’s polluted air and aesthetic cocktails
- Ta Hien Beer Street
- This street comes alive after 7pm, and is lined with BBQ joints, restaurants, pubs and bars. It’s family-friendly, and we spotted lots of tourists (with kids in tow) dining at the various establishments
- Cerender Ceramics
- If you’re looking for affordable artisanal souvenirs, this hand-painted Bat Trang ceramics store has it all! I was awed by the endless stacks of dinnerware, trinket dishes, mugs, cups, and ornaments, and ended up buying one too many pieces
- bonus: Hanoi Train Street
- It’s unfortunately closed for now, but rumour has it that if you hang around for a while on its adjacent streets, cafe owners will invite you into their cafes, allowing you to have access to the famously Instagrammable train street
Our Hanoi food recs
- Pho Ga 26
- Price: SGD$2
- Most places offer beef pho in soup, but this hole in the wall store sells beautifully-seasoned dry chicken pho, with a fragrant bowl of soup on the side
- Pho Suong
- Price: SGD$2
- This crowded store served up generous servings of sliced beef heaped on top of what must be the best noodles I’ve ever tasted; I still can’t stop thinking of it
- Nhà hàng Mediterraneo
- Price: SGD$15 for a main
- I usually don’t frequent restaurants back home, but we had cash to burn on our last night and decided to visit this cozy, authentic Italian restaurant. With premium ingredients, excellent wine, and a great ambience, it’s a must-visit for Italian food junkies
- Bánh Mỳ 38 Đinh Liệt
- Price: SGD$2
- Not too sure if this was the best banh mi spot in town, but as a lukewarm fan of banh mi, it was conveniently located and definitely good enough to fill our tummies
- The Note Coffee
- A cute lakeside cafe serving egg coffee and other regular cafe items, famous for allowing patrons to decorate the walls with doodles and post-its
Here are some other spots that my friends recommended but that we didn’t manage to visit this time:
- Cafe Giảng – famous for its egg coffee
- KAFA Café – good hot chocolate
- Pho 10 Ly Quoc Su – supposedly one of the best beef pho spots
- Moonlight Sky Bar – a very aesthetic sky bar, but it was under renovation/closed when we tried to visit
The fleeting hours spent in Hanoi surpassed my expectations, and left me wanting so👏🏻much👏🏻more!! It’s a city filled with so much youthful energy, affordable experiences (food/fun/culture) and was surprisingly safe, so I’m definitely down for another trip there in the near future, to continue soaking up the city vibes and pigging out on unhealthy amounts of pho.
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If you’re interested in exploring my blog, click here for an index of all the posts I’ve ever written (travel, musings, doctoring), or check out my most read series below:
- the Chasing Dreams series: a multi-part series chronicling my thoughts, dreams & changing ideals over the years (since 2018), including burnout, quitting the rat race, migration and trying to find my path in life
- the (not-so-definitive) guide to doctoring: Getting into Med School & FAQs | Surviving your Clinical Years | MBBS Tips | Life as a M1 // M2 // M3 // M4 // M5 during COVID // Life as a Doctor (monthly series) | Chasing Careers series