Two particular extended Hanoi tours are particularly recommended: the one or two night trip to Halong Bay and the two night visit to Sapa. Hanoi city tours are not necessary because most of the time you’ll be exploring the Old Quarter on foot and heading out to the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum complex only takes a few minutes by cyclo or taxi. One full day excursion worth mentioning is the trip to the Perfume Pagoda.
Halong Bay Tours
This UNESCO World Heritage Site consists of over 3,000 tiny islands made of limestone and is an absolute must for anyone visiting this region. You leave Hanoi in the morning for a 3hr 30min drive by minibus to Halong Bay where you join your chosen vessel for a fascinating cruise around this incredibly picturesque area.
One day tours are available but really you should spend at least one night aboard one of the ships otherwise there’s hardly any time to enjoy the trip. Two days and one night is the most popular trip but you can extend your stay so you can spend some time kayaking into limestone grottos and go swimming off secluded beaches. Various companies offer these Halong Bay tours but we’d recommend you splash out on one of the more expensive ones as you do get what you pay for on these tours.
If you have time then a trip to Sapa is the next most recommended of the most popular Hanoi tours. Again this requires an overnight stay. On this trip you depart from Hanoi on a night train, arriving in Lao Cai in the early morning. You then take a one hour bus ride with stunning scenery up to the hill station of Sapa.
From there you head out on a trek to a minority village where you can stay the night in traditional accommodation with the natives or you can return to your hotel in Sapa according to the tour you have chosen. On the second day you trek back cross country to Lao Cai for the night train back to Hanoi. None of this is set in stone and extended visits to the area are possible.
One other destination worth visiting for a full day tour returning to Hanoi the same day is to the Perfume Pagoda which lies 75km south west of the capital. This is Vietnam’s most important Buddhist site which is made up of Buddhist shrines carved into the shrines of the Huong Tich Mountains. Getting there is quite a journey. You’ll leave from Hanoi early in the morning for a two hour coach trip then you go by boat to Thien Tru harbour for another hour and finally you trek for another hour to the main cave at the top of the mountain. This is physically quite demanding and not recommended for the unfit.