I have lived in Vietnam for many years. When people tell me they only have one week to visit Vietnam, they asked if they should go to the north or the south.
If someone only had one week to visit Vietnam, I would tell them to travel to North Vietnam. Hanoi is a lovely city, and there is plenty of wonderful sites to see in Hanoi. You can take two exciting side trips outside Hanoi to give you a great flavor for Vietnam and all that Vietnam has to offer its visitors.
Insiders Guide To One Week in North Vietnam
I have lived in Vietnam for over 10 years, so if someone asked me if they had only one week to visit Vietnam if they would go to the south or north Vietnam, I would tell them to come to north Vietnam to get the real flavor for all Vietnam has to offer.
As a word of caution, the winters can be cold here, and the summers can be sweltering. Both spring and fall are great times to visit, so the best time to visit is February to April and Late September to November. During this time, the rainfall is minimal, and the days are warm, and nights are cooler. Temperatures are usually temperate.
Day 1 And 2 – Hanoi
I would fly directly into Hanoi. Many flights go through other major Asian cities or fly directly into Hanoi, Vietnam.
The Hanoi airport is quite close to the center of the city. It should not take you more than 30 or 40 minutes to get to your hotel. It is quite easy to get taxis outside the airport and the international arrivals area.
The approximate fare is posted for the taxies, and it should not cost you any more than 25 USD depending on where your hotel is or where the taxi needs to go. If you have a question, clearly ask the taxi driver the approximate fare before getting into the taxi. Just be aware that I have found sometimes, when I arrive late at night, they want to charge more than if I arrive during the daytime.
Here are some of my favorite things to do in Hanoi. These are by no means the only things you can d,o but they are just some of my favorite places to visit or ways that I show my visitors the city.
Cyclo Ride Or Golf Cart Around the Old Quarters
At the heart of Hanoi is the old quarters. The Hanoi Old Quarters is a lovely area that is filled with old colonial French-style buildings. If you want to learn more about the Hanoi Old Quarters, you can read Hanoi’s Old Quarters History and Streets – Touring By Electric Cart by clicking here. One of our favorite things to do is take a cyclo or a golf cart ride around the old quarters. You can rent the golf carts near the Hoan Kiem Lake in downtown Hanoi.
Here is a video that shows what you can expect to see on a typical golf cart ride around Hanoi.
See The Water Puppets Show
The water puppet show is an important part of traditional Vietnamese culture. It is quite amazing how the puppets can work together with the water.
This really is an essential part of Vietnamese culture. The show is about one hour long. In Hanoi, you can buy tickets at the theatre near Hoan Kiem Lake and not too far from where you rent the golf carts.
To find out more about the water puppets, you can read our blog Is the Vietnamese Water Puppet Show Worth Seeing? by clicking here.
Walk Around Hoan Kiem Lake
Hoan Kiem Lake is one of the major lakes in Hanoi. It is effortless to walk around the lake. And while you were there, check out Fannie’s Ice Cream, some French ice cream; Fanny is located very close to the Mc Donalds on the lake.
Also, walk into the temple on that lake that many refer to as the turtle temple.
Go To The Old Church Area
The Old Church Area is also known as Nha Tho or Church street because of the large French Catholic church at the end of the road.
If you happen to be in the area on a Sunday morning, you may see a worship service in session. You will be surprised how the service may have overflowed to the outside area.
The Nha Tho Area is also a nice area to shop, grab a coconut coffee or another drink at Cong Coffee, or have lunch at one of the many restaurants in the area.
Bike Around West Lake
If you are very courageous or not afraid of the traffic, the trendy thing is to cycle around West Lake. Cycling is a great way for you to see the West Lake area.
You can cycle or even motorbike around West Lake. While you are riding there, get some ice cream, go to a coffee shop on the lake, visit a French bakery for lunch, and visit many temples and pagodas around the lake.
Many places around the lake will rent bicycles for you, but one of our favorite bike shops is a small bike shop across the street from the Hanoi Club. You can find the Hanoi Bicycle Rental shop on Pho Yen Hoa and Ngo 76 Yen Phu Street.
Ride Over Long Bien Bridge
The Long Bien bridge is the old French bridge that Gustav Eiffel built, the architect of the Eiffel tower in Paris. It is really fascinating to go over the bridge and to see the red river below. If you are lucky, you will see a train coming through the middle of the bridge.
You can come along with us on a ride-along Long Bien bridge by clicking the video below:
Visit the Flower Market
If you love flowers, then you need to get up early to see all the activity at Hanoi’s famous flower market. The flower market will start to have a lot of activity at 4 or 5 am.
If you go to the flower market, you will not only see a lot of interesting and beautiful flowers, but you will also see how active the mornings can be here in Hanoi.
Watch our video about some of the flower markets that spring up around Hanoi during the annual TET holiday.
Check Our Early Morning Exercise
Hanoi is also an early city where activity in the city starts very early in the morning. One of my favorite things to see in the morning is the variety of morning exercises in almost all parks and public spaces.
In the mornings, you will find people who are out jogging, tai chi classes, biking, weight lifting, flag dancing, and even ballroom dancing. This is really a fun way to see the city and experience this vibrant city’s life in the mornings.
You can check out our video to discover more about early morning exercising in Hanoi.
Eat Bun Cha
Bun Cha is one of the most popular dishes in North Vietnam. You will find signs all over the city that say Bun Cha and people eating this Vietnamese dish of Bun Cha at roadside cafes all over the city.
When U.S President Barrack Obama came to Vietnam, he ate Bun Cha at a local restaurant in Hanoi. You can find out more about his visit and learn about Bun Cha by reading The Vietnamese Bun Cha Food Dish, All You Need To Know by clicking here.
If you want to try to make Bun Cha before you go or you want to know about this dish, you can watch our video:
Go To the Hanoi Opera House
In the center of Hanoi is the lovely Hanoi opera house. This Opera house is a replica of a French Opera house.
Check out and see if any performances are going on, so go on. My favorite performances are when they perform the Vietnamese Bamboo instruments.
You can read more about the Vietnamese Bamboo instruments at Vietnamese Bamboo Musical Instruments, What You Need to Know, by clicking here.
Here is also a performance we recorded of some of the amazing Bamboo instruments.
Visit One Of Hanoi’s many museums –
Hanoi has many wonderful museums. There are museums of all kinds of sizes and showing all kinds of things. Here are some of our favorite museums:
- Vietnam Museum of Ethnology – This museum is located at in Cau Giay District so you will need to get a tazi to go out there. But it is worth the trip as they have some very interesitng hill tribe houses you can see that is located on their groounds The museum itself also has some intereting displays. The museum is located at Đ. Nguyễn Văn Huyên, Quan Hoa, Cầu Giấy, Hà Nội
- Vietnamese Women’s Museum – The Vietnamese Women’s Museum is a museym that is located in downtown Hanoi. Sometimes we have rented a golf cart to take us there. They also have a lot of great displays and can give you a lot of insight to women in Vietnam and ethnic minorities. They also have a nice gift shop. You can find the musuem at 36 Lý Thường Kiệt, Hàng Bài, Hoàn Kiếm, Hà Nội.
- Hoa Lo Prison Museum – the Hoa Lo prison musem will give some insight into Vietnam’s past with the French and Americans. It is a very nicely preserved old French prison that is also close to the downtown area of Hanoi. You can visit the museum at 36 Lý Thường Kiệt, Hàng Bài, Hoàn Kiếm, Hà Nội.
Most of these museums are open daily until about 5:30 pm. If there is a special holiday or something has changed, the front desk of your hotel should help confirm this before you visit the museums.
Day 3 and 4 – Ha Long Bay
Ha, Long Bay is a 5-hour drive outside Hanoi. When you book a tour for Ha Long Bay, they will usually provide transportation for you to Ha Long Bay and back again.
You can choose to go there for one day (back and forth the same day) or stay overnight for 1 or 2 nights. Most people will stay overnight on a boat on the bay for 1 night.
If your time is really tight for your trip, you can easily see many Ha Long Bay on the day trip. To find a tour of Ha Long Bay, your hotel can help you or many small travel agents in Hanoi handle packages and trips to Ha Long Bay.
The cost can vary greatly according to the boat and tour company you choose. There are basically luxury to basic tours – so you can find a trip to fit your budget.
Ha, Long Bay is a UNESCO World Heritage site. The name Ha Long means “descending dragon” in Vietnamese.
Ha, Long Bay is so special that the area features thousands of limestone karsts to small limestone mountains in various shapes and sizes. Some of them you can kayak under, and others you can go in to see the actual caves.
Day 5, 6 and 7 -Sapa Vietnam
Sapa Vietnam is also about a 5-hour drive. From Hanoi. Though you may take an overnight train, most people will take the bus in the morning. Like most things, there are some luxury buses you can take or regular buses. We usually take the luxury bus as it has larger seats and offers wifi.
I put down Sapa as a 3-days trip because if you want to do any trekking or spend the night at a hill tribe village, you will need to have at least this time.
We also recommend the travel company Ethos for all your Sapa travel needs. They will ensure you have a very authentic trip there and arena excellent company. They also offer a variety of tours, everything from biking to motorcycling around the area. t
You can find out more about Ethos-Spirit of the Community by clicking here. Phil and Hoa run Ethos, but they also do a lot of social work to help people in the community, so not only will you be able to see some amazing sites, but you will also be supporting them to ensure all their good work continues. You can contact Hoa or Phil by clicking here; tell them Anita sent you.
As you can see from this list, you can really see many things in Hanoi over a 7 day period of time. One of the great things about traveling to North Vietnam is that it offers you a great variety to see some of the top tourist sites that Vietnam has to offer.
A Bus On A Dusty Road is about Living Life As A Global Citizen; we talk about everything to do with travel, life, culture, food, and ex-pat living. We would love to have you be part of our community. Sign up for our newsletter to keep up-to-date by clicking here. If you have any questions, you can welcome to contact me, Anita, by clicking here.
Phat Diem Cathedral, Architectural Masterpiece Outside Hanoi, Vietnam
The Phat Diem Cathedral is located about 123 kilometers (76 miles) outside Hanoi, Vietnam. The Cathedral is a unique architectural structure designed and built in the mid-1800s by Father Six, a Vietnamese Catholic Priest. The Cathedral complex has a bell tower, a Cathedral, and also smaller chapels and grottoes.
You can find out more by reading Phat Diem Cathedral, Architectural Masterpiece Outside Hanoi, Vietnam by clicking here.
Is Vietnam Safe For Tourists? Tips To Stay Safe In Vietnam
Vietnam is a safe place for tourists to travel. But like any country in the world, there are precautions that you need to take to ensure your safety. Most of the Vietnam crimes are considered crimes of opportunity; someone may see your backpack is not secure, so that they will grab it. To stay safe in Vietnam, remain vigilant and use your common sense.
You can find out more by reading Is Vietnam Safe For Tourists? Tips To Stay Safe In Vietnam by clicking here.