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Northern Vietnam: from Hanoi to Ninh Binh, passing through Halong Bay



Today we are again in the company of Tiziana who, after explaining how to organize a trip to Vietnam "do it yourself", tells us the first stages of his holiday in the north of the country: from Hanoi to Ninh Binh passing through the famous Halong Bay.

Our first impact with Vietnam we have with the city of Hanoi that we visit on the first and last day! It's hot, a crazy heat ... if you come here in August, keep in mind to organize the visits: we managed to turn less than we thought because of the humidity encountered.

We had already been in Asian cities but the amount of traffic and scooters you see here really leaves us speechless, crossing the street seems to be a "mission impossible" but in reality once the technique is understood it becomes quite easy: walk at a constant pace without taking into account the means that arrive, they will dodge you!


In Hanoi we chose to stay in the Old Quarter which is also the most characteristic: here the houses are tall and narrow, the streets are full of stalls and restaurants, with busy people coming and going.

For the visit of the city we have entrusted to the free guides of Vietnam, an association of Vietnamese university students who practice accompanying tourists in the various itineraries proposed. The tour must be booked in advance, they are very quick to respond, we were assigned 2 students who accompanied us in the old quarter, at the Temple of Literature, along the Lake of the Restored Spada and in the most hidden alleys of the city.

Actually the tour we had chosen also included a visit to the Ethnographic Museum and the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum, but we jumped because the girls were destroyed after the warm-wet walk.

The visit is free with the exception of transport (taxi) and entrances, we still brought a gift from Italy and we left a small tip. Do not book this tour if you expect a professional guide, the guys are very young and give information that you could easily find on a paper guide, more than anything else is nice to be able to talk and talk with local boys, try to understand what think and how Vietnamese society is from the point of view of the new generation.

Another very popular activity in Hanoi was to participate in a water puppet show at the "Thang Long Water Puppet Theater". The shows start late in the afternoon and last for 40/50 minutes, perfect for kids without boring them, we got tickets for a few euros at the theater the same day, while we were walking around the lake. The water puppets (Mua Roi Nuoc in Vietnamese) are a traditional show that was practiced especially in the countryside and in the rice fields.

The show is in Vietnamese accompanied by a live orchestra composed of traditional instruments: I was a little afraid of finding myself attending a show that I would not understand anything but in reality the scenes that follow tell the story of life in the fields and it is easy to imagine the story.

So we had left with some perplexity but the show was promoted with full marks by the whole family.


From Hanoi we move to Halong Bay taking one of the many excursions available. On Halong Bay, in addition to the fact that it is UNESCO heritage and unmissable destination, we read everything and sincerely before leaving I was quite confused.

Is it touristy? Yes it is. Every day leave many tours with agencies of all kinds, on average you have to consider spending a hundred euros each for a cruise of 2 days and one night (in fact you are a day on the boat because they board around noon and land towards the 13 the next day), prices can then go down or up depending on the type of boat and the services offered.

The proposed activities are similar: generally in the 2-day cruise there is a kayaking tour, the visit of one of the caves inside the cliffs that characterize the bay and the ride to a floating village. By increasing the days you can take a cooking class on board or a fishing trip. Book a halong bay cruise tour from Hanoi

We opted for the cruise of 2 days and one night and we chose the operator "Indochina Junk" with which we had a great time: the cruise was booked from Italy by contacting Indochina directly after a careful selection of alternatives.

Our choice was dictated by the following reasons:

We wanted to spend a night in the bay to enjoy sunset and sunrise and not to do a "touch and go".
The boat used was small: about 14 people on board as well as the crew. This meant that even activities such as kayaking or visiting the cave were carried out in total peace. Unfortunately, the price to pay was that the chosen cruise had a price above average, we decided to spend a little more here and save on accommodations in other areas, each will then make his personal assessments but afterwards I'm happy with the choice made , especially after seeing huge 3-storey boats that looked like cruise ships. Indochina Junk has the authorization to go as far as Bai Tu Long Bay, an area of the bay less beaten by large boats and therefore quieter.

Last but not least: we chose an operator who participated in the "For a green Halong Bay" program. Unfortunately, the problem of waste in the bay is real and Vietnam has not yet developed an ecological consciousness, even if something starts to move. Some local tour operators have activated to minimize the impact of cruises on the bay: in addition to the actual collection of waste also on the boat, staff and customers are sensitized on this issue and behaviors are adopted to produce less garbage; for example, there was the possibility of refilling the bottle of water from a large common bottle rather than taking a new one and I personally saw our guide stop to collect plastic material that floated while we were doing the kayak trip.

The girls were able to do all the activities, in particular they loved the kayak ride between the cliffs.

There are single or double canoes and life jackets for everyone: being few, we enjoyed the silence and we could also see the sea eagles nesting on the sides of the rocks and threw themselves into the sea to catch the fish.

The visit to the floating village was more organized but it was interesting: we could see how the cultivation of pearls is carried out, which, together with fishing and now tourism, is the main activity of these populations.

The cruises usually leave and return to Hanoi, we made the return as we then went on independently towards Ninh Binh.


Ninh Binh is a rural region that is often left out but instead I would recommend. Halong Bay is also defined on the ground because the same rock formations are found in the bay but instead of being spilled from the ground into the sea and crossed by rivers.

Here we stayed at the "Ninh Binh Family Homestay" where we really enjoyed it! It is basic but very clean and with nice spacious rooms; the owner was also very kind to help us organize trips to and from Ninh Binh and he was the guide for the whole day we spent there. Also on the second day, having the train in the evening at 22.30, he allowed us to stay with them, take a shower after the day around and have dinner before taking us to the station, in short, hospitality at the top! Having a little 'more time are available for free for guests of bicycles (with a child seat) to explore the area ... maybe not in August where you risk collapse from the heat after 2 rides!

Among the unmissable things we point out:


Not so much the cave itself that is quite ridiculous but the climb on the path that starts from it and that arrives at the top of the mountain that dominates it! The path is easy, in the sense that it is not disconnected, but there are 500 steps to do under the sun so avoid the hottest hours and bring a good supply of water. My little girl complained but in the end between one story and the other we reached the top and she was happy to have done it. From up there the view is spectacular, you can see the river that flows between the cliffs of Tam Coc and the surrounding rice fields with buffalos that graze.


Our guide told us to be very similar to Tam Coc and advised us to admire Tam Coc from above and to navigate the river from Trang An as less messed up and we trusted his advice. As soon as you arrive at the boat station you get on a small rowing boat guided by locals that hardly speak English, there are paddles available if you want to help (obviously little girls!) And you do a nice ride of about 2 hours passing through very narrow caves and emerging in scenarios at Indiana Jones, in short, for us a beautiful experience!

In addition to these, we visited the Buddhist complex of Bai Dinh and the old capital Hoa Lu, nice if you are in the area but nothing unmissable. In addition, plan your trip and if you want a good and reliable operator to arrange your stay, please follow the cheap Vietnam tours 2019