Looking for itinerary ideas? I spent five (5) days in Hanoi and made the best of my short time in and around the capital of Vietnam.
What was supposed to be a three-week Vietnam backpacking trip last year was cut short because I booked a TV commercial in Manila. My bad for thinking I didn’t land that project and went ahead with my trip. I got a call from my agent in the middle of my boat tour, saying I got the project and needed to get back in a few days in time for the fitting. I cancelled the succeeding legs of my trip and booked a last-minute flight back to the Philippines. Kate’s Vietnam Backpacking 2.0 will commence later in 2024.
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• 9:30am: Checked into Hanoi Fiesta Grand Hotel and Spa. I booked via Agoda. Tip: There is another hotel named Hanoi Fiesta Hotel and Spa (without the “grand”) in Hanoi, and our driver ended up taking us to that wrong one. When you look at the hotel reviews, it’s a common mishap. Make sure it’s the correct hotel before getting off.
• Shopping and dinner at the Trang Tien Plaza area. This luxury shopping complex sells authentic designer goods and is surrounded by modern restaurants and cafés.
Day 2: Ha Long Bay
• Ha Long Bay day tour via Klook. Some travelers will tell you that to fully enjoy Ha Long Bay, you’d have to book at least an overnight trip, where you’ll stay the night in a mini cruise ship. We didn’t have enough time for that, so we booked a day trip via Klook(use my discount code REPLIKATE to get 5% off!).
Out of the five routes, we chose route #2, because route #1 seemed like the overpopulated bestseller, while routes 3-5 were for those who’ve already done the beginner routes. Our ticket was ₱2,800 per person, and it covered the following:
1. Round-trip bus transfer to and from our hotel
2. Stopover at Legend Pearl, a pearl farm and jewellery store at Ngoc Trai Bien before docking our boat in Tuan Chau Harbor. My family loved this place, but the backpackers in our bus were unhappy. I get them. When I’m backpacking, I hate hard-sell stopovers, too (i.e. the ginseng and amethyst stores in Seoul day tours). But in this trip, I happily purchased pearls with my donya mother.
3. Buffet lunch in the boat
4. Sung Sot Cave
5. Ti Top Island
6. Kayaking and rafting at Luon Cave
7. Sunset party with drinks and snacks
The entire trip lasted from 8am-9pm. When we arrived back in Hanoi, we still had the energy to do more:
• Shopping at Cao Go Street
• Dinner at Long Vi Dung, one of the side-street eats in the Old Quarter
• I capped the night with a massage at the spa below our hotel.
• Breakfast at Highlands Coffee, a café chain you’ll find everywhere. Think of this as the Starbucks of Vietnam.
• City Sightseeing hop-on, hop-off bus tour for ₱1,000 per person. Sadly, not all City Sightseeing tours are created equal. We loved the efficient one in Taiwan, but this one in Vietnam was a disappointment. The buses were always late, the stops were difficult to find, and the English audio guide was broken half the time. I’ll do a more comprehensive post about the hop-on hop-off bus next time, dear readers.
• After the bus tour, we explored the Hoan Kiem District on foot for food and shopping until late at night before heading back to our hotel.
Day 4: Ninh Binh
• Ninh Binh day trip via Klook. We paid about ₱2,200 per person (use my discount code REPLIKATE to get 5% off!) and it included the following:
1. Round-trip bus transfer to and from our hotel
2. Bamboo Factory, another hard-sell stopover before the actual tour
3. Hang Mua
4. Hoa Lu Ancient Capital
5. Lunch buffet at Hoa Lua, Trong Yen
6. Trang An Eco Tourism Complex, where we did a scenic boat tour maneuvered by a local boat lady
7. The bus tour guide gave us a bonus stopover in a place called Tan Thanh en route back. There was a pagoda within a lake but for the life of me, I cannot remember the name of the lake nor the pagoda. It wasn’t part of the emailed itinerary and my iPhone photo location was just in the general area of Tan Thanh. We hung out in the Highlands Coffee nearby, as we were too tired to walk around the lake.
The entire trip lasted from 7am-7:30pm. It was our last night in Hanoi, so we got dinner and drinks at Beer Street in the thick of the tourist crowd before calling it a night.
• Last-minute food and shopping at the airport
• Morning flight back to Manila
• I did not travel alone this time. I was with relatives, who were supposed to fly back to Manila while I went off backpacking alone from north to south. But because of my commercial shoot, I flew back with them to Manila.
• Our flight was via Cebu Pacific Air, and their tickets were just ₱12,646.44 each, thanks to a seat sale months before. Mine was more expensive because I had to rebook one day before the return flight.
What I regret missing:
1. Train Street. Hanoi’s version of the Maeklong Railway Market in Thailand is usually part of day tours. While some will argue that it’s a tourist trap, I wanted to see this on my own without being rushed by a group tour.
2. Thang Long water puppet show. Because of the extremely delayed City Sightseeing hop-on, hop-off bus tour, we missed so many spots around Hanoi, including this one. I wanted to get front-row tickets to this one.
3. Rooftop bars and cafés. With Hanoi’s vertical architecture, many bars and cafés are located on the topmost part of buildings, giving customers a breathtaking view of the city while getting a tipple. You just need to get used to the stepper workout. I went to a few of these cafés, but I wish I tried out the bars.
4. Vintage army jeep tour. I was outnumbered by my relatives who did not want to do this. This was what I really wanted instead of the hop-on, hop-off bus tour. It was bordering on campy, but I would have loved to tour the streets of Hanoi as a passenger of a vintage army jeep, complete with a green army cap.
5. Most of all, I regret missing what could have been my remaining 2.5 weeks of backpacking from north to south. My Filipino passport allows me up to three weeks of visa-free stay in Vietnam. But as I mentioned in my intro, Kate’s Vietnam Backpacking 2.0 will commence later in 2024.
I hope this helps you plan your 5-day Hanoi trip. What’s on your Vietnam bucket list?