The ultimate itinerary for one week in Vietnam
Asia Vietnam

One week in Vietnam: Cities, Islands and Rice Paddies

By on March 10, 2016

Post updated on May 21st, 2017 at 10:29 pm

Vietnam covers a long distance north to south, making domestic travel a little difficult. If you’ve only got one week in Vietnam, I’d recommend sticking to the northern part of the country. This itinerary for one week in Vietnam covers Hanoi, Ha Long Bay and Sapa Valley, for 2 days each. These destinations cover a wide range of natural beauty and history between themselves, making a great one week itinerary in Vietnam! Here’s a rundown of what my one week in Vietnam looked like, and how you should plan out your Vietnam itinerary:

One week in Vietnam itinerary:

  • Day 1 & 2: Hanoi
  • Day 3 & 4: Ha Long Bay
  • Day 5 & 6: Sapa Valley
  • Day 7: Departure from Hanoi

Day 1 & 2: Hanoi

Hanoi will likely be your international entry point into Vietnam. It’s a pretty city, with several parks, street side shopping and food, and some amazing sights. But it’s also got REALLY crazy traffic (and I come from Bombay so that’s really saying something 😉 ). 2 days here should be more than enough if you’ve only got one week in Vietnam. I was in Hanoi for almost 3 full days, which I thought was a bit unnecessary. Here are some must-do’s and some can-be-missed sights:

MUST DO:

Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum

This was one of the most well-guarded and well-maintained sites I’ve seen in my entire life. It’s where Ho Chi Minh’s body is preserved for all to see! And WOW, have they preserved it! I don’t have photos to share since photography was prohibited, but it was even better preserved than the Egyptian mummies (if you’ve seen them). Absolutely fantastic and unreal!

The site is only open for a few hours each day, so make sure to check timings in advance. Especially if you’re only spending one week in Vietnam. You don’t want to leave without seeing this!

Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum

Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum

Tam Coc, Ha Long Bay of Land

A two-hour drive away from Hanoi is Tam Coc, This is a beautiful mountainous region, with several waterways and caves. It’s considered the Ha Long Bay of Land, because it offers similar landscapes in a small-scale version. We took a two-hour rowboat ride that looked something like this:

Tam Coc lake

vietnamese boat

Tam Coc caves

You’ll spot a lot of locals following you on their rowboats.  They’ll be trying to sell you snacks, or take pictures of you (only to hound you later and get you to buy them). I ended up purchasing some of them because a) they turned out great, and I actually wanted some photos with me in them, for a change 😉 and b) why not support the local economy, right? 🙂

The best way to plan this trip is to book a guided tour that will organize transport and logistics for you. Try and book the same company to take you to Ha Long Bay and Sapa (Day 3-7) so you’re covered for one week in Vietnam.

Cyclo ride

Just like the tuk tuk is one of those touristy things you must do in Thailand, you must take a cyclo ride in Hanoi! The seating arrangement is reversed though, which is what it makes it so fun. You’re sitting in front, and the driver is behind you. Super cool (and also fairly mortifying) experience, because you’ll be so close to every passing vehicle, you’ll have a mini heart attack each time! BUT JUST DO IT!

CAN BE MISSED:

All of these are rated very high on guidebooks, but I really didn’t get the big deal. I was extremely underwhelmed.

Most tour companies will combine Hoa Lu and Tam Coc into a day trip because of their proximity. If that’s the case, you can check it out. But don’t make a special effort to go to Hoa Lu, especially if you’re only spending one week in Vietnam.

Day 3 & 4: Ha Long Bay

This is one of the most gorgeous examples of natural landscapes and a UNESCO world heritage site. No itinerary for one week in Vietnam should skip this. Ha Long Bay is a collection of almost 2000 islands of limestone rocks. Take a 1N/2D cruise if you’ve only got one week in Vietnam (or 2N/3D cruise if you have more time) and explore this beautiful bay. You’ll kayak in turquoise waters, explore a James Bond-esque cave, and learn how to make some Vietnamese rolls, all while soaking in magnificent panoramic views. With the 1N/2D option, you’ll be back in Hanoi by the evening of Day 4.

Check out my post about Ha Long Bay for more details on what to expect, and how to plan this portion of your trip.

ha long bay panorama

ha long bay cave

In the late evening on Day 4, take an overnight train from Hanoi to Sapa.

Day 5 & 6: Sapa Valley

Unfortunately, I didn’t have enough time to cover Sapa Valley because I spent less than one week in Vietnam. However, it was high up on my list because of its stunning rice paddies. Luckily, a friend of mine visited Sapa Valley last year. She generously contributed photos and information to entice you into adding Sapa to your itinerary for one week in Vietnam! Thanks Fatema!

Sapa is most easily accessed by an overnight train from Hanoi that takes about 8 hours. Other options include taking the bus or hiring a car, but the train is the cheapest and most convenient. Once you get off at the train station at Lao Cai, it’s a 30 minute drive to Sapa Valley (most hotels will organize a private transfer for you). You’ll arrive in Sapa by breakfast (around 7am), with enough time for a quick nap and meal before you head out for your first trek!

Hiking around the rice paddies is the main activity in Sapa. Because it can be difficult to navigate the area, book a trekking tour with an agency – this will cover any special permits needed to enter villages and sites.

Sapa rice paddies

The return trains to Hanoi start from 5:30pm in the evening, so you have plenty of time on Day 6 to squeeze in another hike if you’re feeling ambitious!

Day 7: Return to Hanoi, Departure

You’ll be back in Hanoi by the early morning of Day 7. Choose to spend the day relaxing in the city or head straight to the airport for your departure!

This itinerary doesn’t include Ho Chi Minh City. This is because it’s really far south, unnecessarily adding travel time to an itinerary for one week in Vietnam. More importantly, I haven’t heard very exciting things about it so it’s worth a miss!

kayaking in ha long bay

What I loved about Vietnam the most was how real and imperfect its beauty was. There’s chaos, and traffic, and poverty, and pollution. And that’s what makes its stunning landscapes so much more real! In just 7 days, you can cover cities, islands and rice paddies!

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