How I Explored Northern Vietnam in 3 full days: Budget and Tips for Filipinos

For this Northern Vietnam tour, we covered 4 places: Hanoi, Ha Long, Hua Lu and Tam Coc in just 3 full days.!!

I have been to Ho Chi Minh City (Siagon) a month prior to my trip in Hanoi, Vietnam’s Capital. My parents wanted to visit here so they asked me to make a schedule and an itinerary for our trip. I gladly made one heck of an itinerary for them.😁

Sorry to break it to you but this budget itinerary does not include airfare cost since we are not really into seat sale. Our airfare alone costs almost 11,000php each. You will be able to greatly cut the cost if you’re keen in waiting for a seat sale. However, I made sure we wont spend too much while we are in Hanoi while making sure not to compromise the fun and experience. Knowing that Vietnam is supposed to be cheap,I find that Hanoi is quite the opposite. Well, I can’t blame it since there are more tourist visiting Hanoi because of the famous Ha Long Bay and even other parts of Northern Vietnam.

We only had a full 3 day tour here. But it did not stop me from making a comprehensive itinerary that will make us visit some of Northern Vietnam’s highlights.

Since Hanoi is the start off point in visiting other Northern Tourist attraction, there are tons of tour agencies that are scattered throughout the city especially in the Old Quarter district (which by the way, you need to stay in this district in order for you to really see the Traditional Vietnamese culture). So you don’t actually need to book a tour in advance.

Okay,so lets get into details. I will be providing tips and the budget on how I came up with a 165$ expense.

Detailed expenses:

  • 1,350php/person or 27$ – Hotel for 3 nights .
  • 250php/person or 5$ – Lunch at Cha Ca Thang Long
  • 150php/person or 3$ – Dinner for day 1
  • 200php or 4.5$ -Water Puppet Show
  • 45$ each – Ha Long Bay Day tour
  • 40$ each – Hua Lu and Tam Coc Day tour
  • 150php or 3$ – Dinner for day 2
  • 150php or 3$ – dinner for day 3
  • 12$ each – Roundtrip airport transfer
  • 100php each or 2.5$ – Taxi allowance for city tour
  • 10$ – Souvenir allowance
  • 10$ – Food trip allowance
    Total: 165$

Flight details:

Depart: Ceb-MLA Dec.7 — 5:55pm-7:20pm                MLA- Hanoi Dec.8 –10:15pm-Nov.20 12:30am
Return: Hanoi-MLA Dec.11 — 1:15am- 5:40am         MLA- Cebu Dec.11– 8:35am- 10:00am

Summary itinerary:

Dec.8- Hanoi City tour
Dec.9- Ha Long Bay Day Tour
Dec.10 – Hoa Lu and Tam Coc Day Tour
Dec.10- 10pm max- depart to airport

Tips:

  • Use Google Map. This app will be very useful in locating the places you wanted to visit. You may download an Offline version of Hanoi in Google Map so that you don’t need to but a tourist sim card for data and it doesn’t need any internet to use it. In case I did not mention how to get to a specific place, just use your Google Map. Google Map will be your buddy when you’re doing city tour in Hanoi. The app is also pretty accurate.
  • We stayed in New Vision Hotel. Booked it via agoda.com . The price already includes breakfast buffet for 3! There are more cheaper hotels and even backpackers hostels in the Old Quarter. We stayed here because of the good reviews I read. If it was only me that was traveling, I would have picked a cheaper inn, or a backpacker’s hostel as it only cost around 500php/day with free beer! Hahaha 😁
  • Walking is mandatory in order for you to explore the Old Quarter. We only rode the Taxi twice (to Mausoleum and back to Hotel).
  • Tourist sim card is not really needed unless you want to constantly update your social media. Hotels and even guesthouses offers free wifi.
  • You may opt to book Day tours at local travel agencies around Old Quarter. There prices are very competitive and most of them have English tour guides. We just booked ours at our hotel since they provide better inclusion, and of course, the price is a bit more than what others are offering. But in case you’re in a tight budget, I would suggest you go for the cheaper one. You can actually get a day tour trip in Ha Long Bay for as low as 23$, just to give you a range in price
  • always ask for the full detailed itinerary and the inclusions of the day tours before your book it.
  • If you have a different place in mind, you may always choose other options to visit. There tons of local travel agencies around Old Quarter that offer day tours in different parts of Northern Vietnam.
  • the budget does not include shopping as there isn’t really much to shop in Hanoi,aside from the North Face Factory Outlets. But the receptionist from our hotel told me that those were fakes that’s why I crossed it on the list.

For Transportation:

  • Our flight arrival was midnight, knowing that there will be no public transportation at that time, we opted to get the hotel pick up services so that it will not be inconvenient for my parents.
  • Be very careful about riding a taxi in Hanoi. there are still mafia group lurking in the city that will swindle tourists. There are 2 reputable taxi companies that are trust worthy, you may ask you hotel about the names, sorry I forgot the names of the taxi companies.
  • When riding a taxi, flag down rate should always be 10,000 dong. If it’s 5,000 dong, get off the taxi immediately as that is one of the sign for a fake taxi! We experienced it and I personally don’t want this to happen to you. It was very traumatic.

Also Read: How I got Swindled by a Taxi Driver in Vietnam.

Detailed Itinerary:

Day 1: Dec. 8 – Hanoi City Tour and Water Puppet Show

-Breakfast at Hotel
-Mausoleum tour
-lunch
-explore old quarter
-dinner
-water puppet show

Details:
We woke up around 8am to have breakfast. I wanted this day to be in a chill pace before tackling 2 days of traveling to other parts of Northern Vietnam. After we had our breakfast, we strolled the Old quarter heading to Thang Long Water Puppet to buy our tickets for puppet show, we ate some street food along the way. You may locate Thang Long Water Puppet via Google Map. I advice you to head here first to book your ticket in advance so that you can pick your desired seat and time.

After getting the ticket and booking our trips,we head our way to the Mausoleum.This will be your first destination for the city tour. You have 2 options going to the Mausoleum: One, is by Hanoi city bus number 9 that departs every 15 minutes from the stop near the Water Puppet Theatre (15 cents)and alight at Ho Chi Minh Museum bus stop. Two, you may opt to get a taxi going to Mausoleum (which we took to save time). There are 2 reputable taxi companies that are trust worthy, you may ask your hotel about the names, sorry I forgot the names of the taxi companies. Maximum rate from Old Quarter to Mausoleum will be around 50,000 dong.

1st Stop: will be the Mausoleum

2nd: Presidential Palace (Văn phòng Chủ tịch nước Phủ chủ tịch)

3rd: Ba Dinh Square

4th: Ho Chi Minh Stilt House (Nhà sàn Bác Hồ)

5th: One Pillar Pagoda (Chùa Một Cột) also called Dien Huu Pagoda.

6th: Ho Chi Minh Museum (Bảo tàng Hồ Chí Minh)

These 6 places are all neighboring attractions, so you can walk around before going back to the hotel.

After we had a morning tour, we head back to the hotel for lunch.

Allow time to enjoy Vietnamese cuisines at one of the most famous restaurants in the city and country. Hanoi Old Quarter is the food hub, with Bun Cha (1 Hang Manh Str.), Cha Ca Thang Long (21 Cha Ca Str.), or Bun Bo Nam Bo (67 Hang Dieu) topping the list. We tried the Cha Ca Thang Long since my dad was craving for a fish and it was the nearest from our hotel.

Châ Cá (also known as Châ Cá Lã Vong) is an infamous Hanoi traditional dish. It is a tumeric marinated fish that is first grilled and then fried table-side. It is served tons of fresh dill, scallions, herbs, crushed peanuts and rice noodles.

 

Also Read: Food Tripping in Vietnam: 12 Must-Eat Dishes that I Tried (and Where To Try Them)

After lunch:

We walked back to our hotel to rest for a bit and then proceeded to explore the Old Quarter. It would be a mistake if one forgets to travel on cyclo around the Old Quarter and Hoan Kiem Lake (though walking is still the best option for me). This unique type of transportation would give you the best view to take some photos while watching Hanoian life.

The Turtle Tower
The Huc Bridge

Also, it’s would be flexible if you want to stop by and try out Hanoi’s street-foods or buy souvenirs in the Old Quarter. Visitors should also go in Ngoc Son Temple on Hoan Kiem Lake to explore the legend about the preternatural Turtle who helped Le Loi King won against Chinese invaders.

St. Joseph Cathdral

Aside from Hoan Kiem lake, one needs to visit Hanoi’s oldest church, The St. Joseph Cathedral. It is a church on Nha Tho (Church) Street in the Hoàn Kiếm District of Hanoi, Vietnam. Its a late 19th-century Gothic Revival (Neo-Gothic style) church that serves as the cathedral of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Hanoi to nearly 4 million Catholics in the country.

Construction began in 1886, with the architectural style described as resembling Notre Dame de Paris. The church was one of the first structures built by the French colonial government in Indochina when it opened in December 1886.

After much exploring in the Old Quarter, we cinched to rest at Cafe Giang and have a sip at Hanoi infamous egg coffee.

Read more about Egg Coffee and Cafe Giang here.

After relaxing, we had dinner at a local food stall beside the Water Puppet Theatre that serves Fried Bird! Yep, birds! I don’t know what type of bird they are using as the owner cannot speak well in English. But I think they are using either a pigeon, a quail or a few week old chick.

Bird Salad

 

After Dinner: Puppet Show

A Hanoi night would never be complete if this Vietnamese performance art is missed: water puppet. This art form appeared in the tenth century and become unique to the North of Vietnam. In a puppet show, puppeteers stand in the water, behind a screen and control wooden puppets by long bamboo sticks hidden beneath the water surface.

Thang Long Water Puppet Theater is the most well-known puppet theater in Hanoi, located at 57B Dinh Tien Hoang, Hoan Kiem, looking out to Hoan Kiem Lake. The theater opens everyday from 2pm-8pm with the ticket prices vary from $3 – $5 depending on types of seat. We got ours at 100,000 dong, thats around 4.5$.

After the Puppet Show, we head back to our hotel while stopping in some shops once in a while and had an Authentic Pho Ga Bo, which is a stir fried beef noodles. It was actually like our own Chinese-Filipino Satimi but Vietnamese style.

Day 2: December 9 – Ha Long Bay Day Tour

I initially thought that Ha Long Bay is just a throw stone away from Hanoi. Damn, I was wrong. Hahaha. Ha Long Bay is actually located 3 hours East away from Hanoi. We got this day tour at a local travel agency in our hotel. We had this tour for 45$ each with the following inclusion:

  • Free pick up and drop off in Hanoi [Old Quarter]
  • 2 bottles of water per person on bus and welcome drink on boat
  • Professional English speaking tour guide
  • Cruise through stunning Ha Long Bay on traditional Asian junk
  • Seafood lunch (we have Vegetarian Menu for vegetarians)
  • Visit fishing village
  • 45 minute kayaking around Halong Bay
  • Visit Thien Cung Cave

I noticed that there are other cheaper travel agency that offer as low as 23$/person. But found out that you will be going to a bunch of other tourists, it does not include kayaking or small boat riding around Ha Long Bay Lagoons, and also the land transportation as well as the cruise are not new. If you don’t mind all of this,then you can have the cheaper one. Since my parents are with me, I want them to feel convenient, so I opt to get the pricier one with good inclusion.

The Thien Cung cave (Heaven Cave): probably the best cave I’ve seen so far. Truly majestic!

Our Itinerary:

  • 7:30 – 8:00 Am: Picking up from hotel/stay and depart for Halong Bay
  • 10:30 Stopping over to stretch the legs on the way
  • 12:30 – 16: 30: Arrival Tuan Chau Harbor, boarding Alova Day Cruise and Cruising on the bay.

Activity included:

– Welcome Drink
– Safety briefing
– Lunch with Vietnamese dishes
– “Kayaking , Bamboo boat rowing” OR Relaxing
– Visiting Thien Cung cave (Heaven Cave)
– Enjoying afternoon tea
– Disembarking to get on shuttle bus

  • 18:00 Short stop to stretch your legs
  • 20:30 Arrived back in Hanoi. Trip ends

the 2 Ha Long Lagoons.:

THINGS TO BRING& TO KNOW

  • Passport with valid visa
  • Some cash in Vietnamese Dong / USD for personal expenses
  • Sun block or insect repellent, sport shoes, or even swimming attire
  • Bring something warm to wear [From Dec till March] – Winter Season
  • Please be ready on time for our pick up service
  • The cruise do not accept credit card payment on board
  • Outside beverage has applicable corkage fee
  • Travel light
the area of the 2 lagoons and fish village
The Fighting Cock Rock Formation: Ha Long Bay’s iconic landmark
with our fellow tourists

Dinner at Old Quarter at Quan Highway4 Hanoi (hoan Kiem District). When Heading back to Hanoi, you may ask your guide to drop you off at the restaurant so that you wont have to walk going to the restuarant.

This restaurant offers Authentic Vietnamese dish and some exotic dishes too. They are mostly known for its fried cricket and locusts, but my parents wouldn’t dare to try it so we settled on something less exotic. Here are some photos of what we ate:

Fried SNail Spring roll
Dried Beef in Ant and Salt Dip
Caramelized Pork Stew in Coconut
Banana Flower Salad with Roasted Peanuts

Also read: Food Tripping in Vietnam: 12 Must-Eat Dishes that I Tried (and Where To Try Them)

Day 3: December 10 – Hua Lu and Tam Coc Day Tour

Ninh Binh City is the city where Hua Lu and Tam Coc is located. It is situated around 2 and a half hours south of Hanoi. We got this tour from the same travel agency in our Ha Long Bay Tour. We paid 40$ each with the following inclusion:

  • Pick up from hotel/stay in Hanoi Old Quarter to Hoa Lu – Tam Coc and Return
  • All entrance tickets to sites indicated in Itinerary
  • Complementary bottles of water on bus
  • Buffet lunch with Vietnamese Cuisine
  • English Speaking Tour guide during the trip
  • Bike and Sampan Boat Riding in Tam Coc

This is our detailed Itinerary:

  • 08:00 Picking up from hotel/stay.
  • 08:30 Starting drive to Ninh Binh Province
  • 10:00 Arriving at Hoa Lu Ancient Capital
  • 10:15 Visiting King Dinh and King Le’s temples.
  • 11:30 Arriving in Tam Coc Wharf.
  • 11:45 Having buffet lunch with Vietnamese Cuisine.
  • 13:00 Getting on Sampan boats through caves and visiting countryside landscape
  • 15:00 Back to Tam Coc Wharf to chill out.
  • 15:15 Biking on country side road around the village
  • 16:00 Getting on shuttle bus to go back to Hanoi
  • 18:30 Trip ends

Details and Information about the tour:

Hoa Lu is the site of a 10th-century capital of an ancient Vietnamese Kingdom called Dai Co Viet. This small Kingdom covered an area of only 300 hectares, and reigned from the 10th century, during the Dinh and Le dynasties, to the 11th century, during the Ly Dynasty. The Kingdom was enclosed by a citadel. The citadel and the Yen Ngua limestone hills provided good defence for this kingdom against the invaders.

Not much of this ancient kingdom is left standing. There are two 17th century temples, modelled after their 11th-century originals that are on most itineraries to Hoa Lu. They are the Dinh Tien Hoang Temple (King Dinh temple) and Le Hoan Temple (King Le Temple).

The Tam Cốc (“three caves”) portion is a three-hour excursion by small boat along the Ngô Đồng River, beginning at the village of Van Lam and proceeding through a scenic landscape dominated by rice fields and karst towers.

It is a very well-known with “nick name” Dry Halong Long or Inland Halong bay. Travelers coming here to take small rowing paddling along Ngo Dong River via among of the rice fields and karst Limestone Mountains.

These are the caves we passed during our sampan boat ride.

To reach up the three caves, it is a longest one with 125 meters long and 2 meter high from ceiling above water, local boat women takes 2 hours for rowing a boat through three caves and long Ngo Dong River, it is the most interesting to visit Tam Coc, the natural special relic, is between late May and mid-June when endless paddy field is turning yellow.

We visited here during December, it wasn’t planting season, so we were not able to witness the grandeur of the paddy field. Maybe when I get back here soon, I’ll make sure to come around late of May.

After the tour we traveled back to Hanoi. Its been our 3rd day and still my parents haven’t experienced a taste of an authentic Pho. So I asked our guide for recommendation. He gladly dropped us at Pho 10 Ly Quoc Su.

Our guide told us that this restaurant is quite known in Hanoi for its Pho. He also added that we should order the Special Pho. I tried Pho way back in Ho Chi Minh, but this Pho really has added flavor and more meat! We went back to our hotel satiated. We rested at the lobby for awhile before we depart.

It was a very short trip, but we visited all the places we wanted considering our time! Vietnam will still be on the list as a must place to go for all the foodies and adventurers alike. Next time I’ll visit thenorthern most part of Vietnam, Sapa! =)

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