best day trips from Hanoi

The Best Day Trips from Hanoi

When we first arrived in Hanoi we didn’t like it.  It was busy and touristy, our accommodation reservation turned out to be over-booked and we ended up being moved somewhere else across the city.  And after wandering around for a few hours we still weren’t feeling the love.  And so, despite not seeing anything of consequence at all we left.  Our plan was to return when we were in a better frame of mind.  We headed off for a few days, and then returned and had a fabulous time.  But when we were looking at where to go, we had plenty of choices.  We actually combined several of these Hanoi Day trips and explored the region and then returned and explored all that Hanoi had to offer.  And so here’s the research, and ideas we had, as well as the best day trips from Hanoi.

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When we explored Vietnam with our relatives in tow we stuck to the south of the country, but when visiting Vietnam, one of the places not to miss is the ancient capital—Hanoi. The important capital has been standing for over a thousand years and there’s a whole heap of history here.  Our guide on where to explore in Hanoi is here, but in terms of highlights, then even just wandering the Hanoi streets and seeing some of the crumbling old colonial buildings, ancient pagodas, and unique museums is a great thing to do.  (Assuming that you’re in the right frame of mind of course!).  Vietnam’s second-largest city is also known for its buzzing city life, vibrant nightlife, and interesting food and drinks. But, it’s also a great place to return to after a day out of the city – and this is a super position to explore the region, so here are the best places to explore near Hanoi, and our guide to some of the best day trips from Hanoi!

The Best Day Trips from Hanoi, Vietnam

One of the best things about Hanoi is its location.  You’re not far from some of the most stunning landscapes of Vietnam, whether that’s land-based or water-based.  You can go trekking from Hanoi, sailing, visit national parks, or taking more of a cultural exploration.  Many of the day trips to take from Hanoi can be done independently, others for conveniences-sake you’ll be better off taking a tour.  So, we’ve got you covered on how to reach these places by yourself or in a group.

Cruise the majestic Halong Bay from Hanoi

One of the places near Hanoi definitely not miss is Halong Bay.  This bay is located at the northern end of Vietnam’s coast and is located approximately 163 kilometers (101 miles) away from Hanoi. Halong Bay is a UNESCO World Heritage site, renowned for its thousands of limestone islands and breathtaking beauty.  There are plenty of caves and coves hidden among the array of limestone which you can also explore. You can kayak along the formations, swim and visit floating villages and markets.  I think Halong Bay and this area of the country is one of the must-do things in Vietnam.

I’ll say now, that while it’s beautiful, you’ll need to go to the right places to see it properly.  It’s all too easy to follow along with the crowd.  And then all you’ll see is the crowd.  For the adventurous, I suggest renting a motorbike and heading independently go to Halong Bay; you can take the exit at Hanoi-Haiphong Highway, continue on to Highway Ha Noi, then exit towards Back Dang Bridge, then from there, you can continue towards Halong Bay. You can also take the fairly new highway, which will take you straight to Halong Bay. This option will take at least three hours, depending on the weather and the traffic.   You’ll want to leave any big bags in Hanoi.

You can also take local buses (or a train) which will take you to the port where you can pick up a boat to cruise around Halong Bay in about three hours. You can head to any of these stations, which will take you to Quang Ninh Province, where Halong Bay is:  My Dinh Stating, Nuroc Ngam Station, Giap Bat Station, Yen Nghia Station, and Gia Lam Station. You should, however, choose the one closest to where you want to pick up a boat.

For more convenience, book a shuttle bus that will pick you up from your Hanoi accommodation and drop you at the right spot. But if you want to take it slow, you can hop on the train and reach Halong in about six hours. To book a train ticket, you can check the website of the Vietnam railway and input Yen Vien as your departure point and Halong as your destination.  (This is how we got to Halong Bay) Or, for even more convenience you can book this full-day trip to Halong Bay by boat. Through this tour, you’ll be able to kayak or row bamboo boats, taste Vietnamese seafood for lunch while cruising the bay’s waters, explore various caves, and climb to the top of Titov Peak for a majestic view of Halong Bay. Check availability here.

While a day trip to Halong Bay is best for those short of time, it’s a better experience to head to Halong Bay for two days and one night.  Staying overnight on a boat in Halong Bay is a great option and in my opinion a way to better experience the bay especially by exploring its hidden caves.  Boats that visit Halong Bay will take you to a variety of places, so you’ll want to pick the locations that interest you.  This one explores Sung Sot Cave, Halong’s biggest cave, lets you swim off Titop Island, visit Halong Bay Pearl Farm, and enjoy an afternoon dip in the bay. You can see what else is included on this 1 night, 2 day trip to Halong Bay here.

Explore Cat Ba Island from Hanoi

Cat Ba Island is located at the southern edge of Halong Bay and is also the bay’s entrance point. But, while this island is part of Halong Bay, it deserves its own visit (we combined our trip to Halong Bay with an overnight visit to Cat Ba Island and I do recommend it.) At Cat Ba Island, you can get a land-based view of the landscapes of Halong Bay – the karsts are glorious. 

Cat Bat Island is part of the UNESCO Archipelago Biosphere Reserve and the National Park here includes hiking trails that will lead you into Kim Giao forest, where you can visit the Cave Hospital, which was used during the Vietnam War. (If you’re looking to explore Vietnam War sites,  then our guide to the locations is here).  Cat Ba Island, with its rather lovely landscapes and wonderful karst scenery, can be reached basically the same way as reaching Halong Bay from Hanoi.  Then you’ll need to take a speedboat (it’s the fastest way) to reach the island, or you can also take the ferry via the Tuan Chau ferry terminal and this will take about 45 to 50 minutes.

If you want to do away with the hassle of booking a ferry or a speedboat and the scheduling involved in a Cat Ba Island day trip, then this is a fabulous option. This Cat Ba Island day trip from Hanoi takes you to Cat Ba National Park, where you’ll get to hike and get panoramic views of the island and Halong Bay, climb Ngu Lam, hike into the Kim Giao forest, and explore the town of Cat Ba. You can see what else is involved in this Cat Ba Island Day Trip and also check availability here.

Head to the old French Hill Resort of Tam Dao on a day trip from Hanoi

When it’s too hot in the city you need to get out.  Those were the thoughts of the French colonizers way back when the founding of Tam Dao as a French Hill resort was a result of the desire to cool down in the hot Vietnamese summers.  It’s very similar to some of the Indian Hill Resorts, like Darjeeling for instance.  The temperature here ranges from 18 to 25 degrees and you’ll get an altitude of about 1,000 meters, the weather is similar to what you’ll experience in Sapa or Dalat.  The quaint town of Tam Dao is located within the Tam Dao National Park, and while you’re enjoying the cooler weather you’ll want to visit some of its famous attractions – the Tam Dao Stone Church is a good place to start. The church was originally built in 1906 as a wooden stilt building, and then redone in stone in 1937. The church’s courtyard also offers a spectacular view of the rest of the town. You can also head to Thac Bac, aka the Silver Waterfall with great views, you can also take a dip in a mountain pool here.  For even better views, hike up the mountains surrounding the town and head to Ba Chua Thuong Ngan Temple as well as the Tam Dao TV Tower.

To get to Tam Dao from Hanoi, you can take a bus via Vinh Yen which will take you about two hours. You can also rent a motorbike for more independence.  Its 80 kilometers (50 miles) from Hanoi to Tam Dao

There are also options for visiting Tam Dao on a day trip from Hanoi here – with included transport from door to door,  drinks, and lunch too.  You can see what else is included here.

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Explore the glorious Ninh Binh from Hanoi

Ninh Binh is perfect to visit on a day trip from Hanoi. The Ninh Binh province of northern Vietnam is in the Red River Delta and the enormous National Park here, Cúc Phương National Park is most well known for karst mountains, conservation centers, and green valleys.  It’s often called the Halong Bay of the land.  Ninh Binh is great for hiking, and wildlife, and also the capital city of Ninh Binh is known for temple exploration too.

One benefit of heading to Ninh Binh over Halong Bay (although I’d argue you should go to both, however, I understand time is limited), is that there are much fewer visitors who come here to Ninh Binh than go to Halong Bay.  Ninh Binh is also a UNESCO World Heritage protected site in Vietnam.

Ninh Binh boasts spectacular spots such as the Tam Coc mountains and the Van Long Nature Reserve. One of the lesser-known areas is Trang An, a quieter place, but a great option for a river boat cruise to explore the caves and breathtaking karst scenery. For a little more exercise, you can hike up Hang Mua Peak. There are 500 steps up to the temple which overlooks the gorgeous landscapes of Ninh Binh. On Hang Mua Peak, you can explore Phat Diem Cathedral, considered a major religious landmark; its architecture is an interesting mix of Vietnamese and Western designs. The only problem with a day trip to Ninh Binh is that it’s probably not long enough!

To reach Ninh Binh from Hanoi, you can take the bus, (check times and prices here, but they run hourly).  It takes about two hours to go from Hanoi to Ninh Binh.  Once you’ve arrived in Ninh Binh, however, you will likely still need to take a taxi to reach specific spots.   If you’ve rented a motorbike, then you can also get here independently. To make your Hanoi day trip time go further, this Ninh Binh trip from Hanoi will take you to Hoa Lu, the former capital of Vietnam, and there, you can visit the temples which were dedicated to the Dinh and Le dynasties. After that, it heads to the Dancing Cave, also known as “the Princess of Ninh Binh.” You’ll also get to visit Mua Cave and Tam Coc, along with enjoying lunch at a local restaurant. There’s also the opportunity to go biking and head to Bich Dong Pagoda before the tour wraps up with a trip to Van Long Nature Reserve. Want to see more? Here you go.

Visit the Great Wall of Vietnam aka Mua Cave from Hanoi

Mua Cave is around 2 hours from Hanoi and in recent times it’s become an iconic spot for travelers. The cave is also known as the Dancing Cave, but is generally known as “The Great Wall of Vietnam” or “Tam Coc’s Muse.” This is because, when looking from down the mountain, the white stone steps which lead to the top of the mountain look like a miniature of the Great Wall of China (which we visited here).  While you’re at the top of the mountain you can see a large statue of the Avalokitesvara Bodhisattva (a Buddha that encompasses the compassion of all Buddhas), and also enjoy a magnificent view of Mua Cave and the Ninh Binh region.

As it’s considered one of the most beautiful viewpoints in Ninh Binh, Mua Cave attracts a lot of visitors. So while the suggested time to visit is during the dry season (April to September) to be able to catch the “golden” views, (where the sunlight and the rice paddy fields positively gleam) you can also come during the rainy season (October to March), which will avoid a lot of the heavy traffic here, however you might struggle to catch that golden” view.

To get to Mua Cave, you can hop on a bus from My Dinh or Giap Bat Station in Hanoi. However, once you reach Ninh Binh, you still need to get on a taxi to reach Mua Cave. You can also rent a motorbike and head to Ninh Binh. You can also visit Trang An and Tam Coc Bich Doc as you make your way to Mua Cave. An alternative way to visit Mua Cave is to hop on a door to door tour – which will take you to visit three caves on a one-day trip from Hanoi. The tour will let you explore Tam Coc, Hoa Lu, and Mua Cave along the river in a traditional sampan boat.  You’ll also be able to visit iconic infrastructures such as the Dinh King Temple and the Le King Temple.  If you’ve got the energy then you’ll also be able to hike up the 500 steps all the way to Tam Coc for superb views.  This is a really easy way to see the Great Wall of Vietnam and you can check availability here.

Experience Vietnam’s past with a day trip to Hoa Lu from Hanoi

During the 10th and 11th centuries, the city of Hoa Lu was the capital city of Vietnam and while the capital passed onto Thang Long and Hanoi, there’s still a vast amount of history here in Hoa Lu.  In Hoa Lu, you can experience Vietnam’s rich history as you visit the temples and the remains of some of the buildings. You can also head to Xuan Thuy Temple, which was built to commemorate the first emperor, and seeing as the old capital city is situated between hills, so the views are as spectacular as its history. You can also head to see the rice fields stretch out in the distance to a nearby mountain to find the Thien Ton Cave temple.

From Hanoi, you can get to Hoa Lu via an hourly bus that goes to Ninh Binh. Then, from there you can get on a taxi to reach Hoa Lu. It takes about 2 hours and 20 minutes on the bus and then another 10 minutes in a taxi to get to Hua Lu from Hanoi.  You can, however, combine visiting Hua Lu with a visit to Tam Coc and Ninh Binh on this 10-hour adventure to Hoa Lu. You’ll hop on a boat in Tam Coc and pass through caves and limestone karst formation, there’s local Vietnamese food for lunch at a local restaurant then, after lunch, you’ll get to visit the Dinh and Le Dynasty temples before going back to Hanoi.  This is a great option for exploring the old capital of Hoa Lu from Hanoi.

Explore the Tràng An Scenic Landscape Complex from Hanoi

One of the most popular day trips from Hanoi is to the Trang An Scenic Landscape Complex. The gorgeous UNESCO World Heritage Site is a natural beauty with its cave complex and limestone karst formations. To explore the caves, hop on a boat and it will take you floating into the caves and passing along the limestone karst, also allowing you to bask in the view of the cool water and lush greenery surrounding the area. The exploration will take about two to three hours so be sure you’re prepared to keep yourself seated as you take in Trang An’s majestic beauty.

You can reach Trang An by a two-hour bus ride from Hanoi to the Ninh Binh region. Then from Ninh Binh, you can take a boat that will float you down the Soa Khe River, and from there, reach Trang An. You can combine a visit to the famous Bai Dinh Pagoda – which contains hundreds of statues of Buddha, including a 10-meter bronze Buddha.  Lunch is included in this trip, which is served at a local restaurant, and you’ll get the chance to try traditional goat’s meat dishes which are a specialty of the region.  During the afternoon, you’ll get to take a boat along the river, to Trang An and explore the caves here.  It’s beautiful and the boat trip is a glorious relaxing 2-3 hours.  There’s more about what’s included on this visit to Trang An here.

Go Jungle Trekking to Ba Vi National Park from Hanoi

Ba Vi National Park is located just 60 kilometers (37 miles) away from Hanoi, making it one of the easiest day trips you can take.  This Vietnamese National Park is rich in diverse tropical flora and fauna.  This is a simply awesome place to go jungle trekking and the town here was another one of those former French hill stations, you can also see evidence of French architecture, with ruins left from the French war of the 19th century.  There are 2 peaks here, over 1,000 meters – Ngoc Hoa Peak at 1,131m above sea level, Tan Vien Peak at 1,226m, and King Peak at 1,296m.  On Tan Vien, you’ll find an 11th-century shrine dedicated to a mountain god.  Coming to Ba Vi for a day trip from Hanoi should give you enough time to hit two of the 3 peaks.  And once you get there you’ll get a fabulous view of the landscape of the park and even as far as Hanoi.

There are hot springs at the Tan Da Spa Resorts just outside the National Park, a great place to relax after trekking, and can also enjoy the mud baths at this resort too. 

To get to Ba Vi National Park from Hanoi, you can take the hourly buses heading to the town of Xuan Khanh, which take about one and a half hours to two hours. After reaching the town of Xuan Khanh, you can take a taxi to head to the park.  You can also ride here on a motorbike, and it will take about 90 minutes by bike.

This door to door trip to Ba Vi National Park includes two treks, as well as lunch and is a great way to see this stunning National Park really easily.  You can see where it goes here.

Explore the Heritage Mù Cang Chải Rice fields from Hanoi

The rice fields of Mu Cang Chai have been tended by the Hmong people of Vietnam for centuries and these rice paddies cover more than 2,200 hectares, with 500 of those designated as heritage sites.  These, in a similar way, to the Yuanyang Rice Fields of Southern China are splendid.  To a certain extent, it doesn’t matter what time of year you visit the Mu Cang Chai rice fields – they’re always stunning, at times they’ll be filled with water, other times they’ll be lushly green, and you might even see them as frost covered! 

Mu Cang Chai is about 300 kilometers (186 miles)from Hanoi, which means that you’ll need more than a day to visit, but an overnight trip should cover you for a decent enough visit.  There’s trekking in this area, and it’s also good for cycling – once you get here.

You can get to the Mu Cang Chai Rice Fields via train or bus. From Hanoi, the bus or the train will take you to Yen Bai province, and from Yen Bai province, you can head to the rice field. Traveling in this way will likely take around seven hours, so be prepared! And that’s why, if you want to visit, unless you’re planning on going on somewhere else afterward (perhaps onto Sapa, or if you’re heading towards China, then Lao Cai, for the Lao Cai to Hekou border crossing), then suggest staying a bit longer.  If time is of the essence, but you want to explore, then this two-day, overnight tour to Mu Cang Chai includes a night in a homestay and will take you trekking in the Mu Cang Chai Rice Fields.   You’ll also get to see the rice fields of Tu Le and the Lim Mong Valley, including a stunning view from the KhauPha Pass.  You’ll also get to visit the La Pan Tan terrace rice field before returning to Hanoi. Perfect!  Take a look at this amazing adventure here.

Take a day trip to Perfume Pagoda from Hanoi and embrace spiritual Vietnam

Get in touch with the spiritual side of the country with a day trip to the biggest pagoda complex in Vietnam, the Perfume Pagoda. This complex of temples and shrines has great spiritual significance to locals. The temples, shrines, and pagodas of the Perfume Pagoda are situated in the mountains of Huong Tich, where you’ll also find caves and limestone formations. The Perfume Pagoda complex is vast and is located about 60 kilometers (38 miles) from Hanoi, making this a great option for a Hanoi day trip.   Legend has it that this site was first discovered more than 2,000 years ago, although the first temple here is thought to have been built in the 15th century, with most of the temples built during the 17th century.   The highlights of visiting the Perfume Pagoda start with a boat ride on the Yen River – it’s quite the nicest way to get here, and the boat ride takes about an hour from Ben Duc Village.   The main temple of the complex is located in a cave at the top of the mountain, and getting there is another highlight of visiting – you can hike (and it’s a pretty hard one hour climb), or you can take the cable car (which is pretty easy).  It’s also possible to buy a one-way ticket, so you can walk down the mountain, which is considerably easier than walking up!!  It can be slippery though, so wear proper shoes, not flip-flops.

What you’re really here to see is the Perfume Pagoda or the Chua Huong Tich.  It’s located in a huge cave that looks like an open dragon’s mouth and is decorated with Chinese lettering.  The building of the pagoda began in 1575 and you’ll find statues of Bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara and female complement Quan Am, known as the goddess of mercy.   There was a bronze statue of the goddess here in 1767, but the cave was looted and the statue was melted down, the statue that you see today dates from 1793 and is made of stone.

To reach Perfume Pagoda independently, you can take a bus from Hanoi and head to Te Tieu, which will take you about an hour; then you can take a taxi to head to the way to Huong Tich Mountain.  You can, also of course ride a motorbike here too.

This, however, is an easy place to take a day trip to – that includes floating along the Yen river on a small boat, then hiking or taking the cable car up to the Perfume Pagoda.  The tour also includes a local guide, who will regale you with legends, and history and paid for tickets to the temples and the boat ride.  You’ll also get lunch included too.  You’ll need to pay extra for the cable car ticket, but see what else is included here.

Go Trekking in Sapa from Hanoi

Sapa was our last place on our second trip to Vietnam, from there we headed across the border into China, but it’s usually as far as most people get in this part of South East Asia.  And it’s well worth the trip.  Yes, it might be a little touristy, but it’s fun, and the landscapes here are glorious.  And it’s an easy trip from Hanoi.  Sapa is a majestic landscape surrounded by many mountains of the Hoang Lien Son mountain range and overlooks the valley and may need more than just a day trip to fully explore. But I’ve included it anyway because Sapa is definitely not to be missed! The valley that the town of Sapa overlooks is a feast for the eyes with its rows and rows of fields of rice terraces, but you don’t come to Sapa just to look at a distance, although you should explore the town. The best way to fully experience Sapa is to go trekking through its footpaths. While trekking is definitely the activity travelers go for when visiting Sapa, there are also other things to do to enjoy the town of Sapa. You can stroll around Ho Sa Pa Lake and wait for the spectacular sunset view of the mountains. You can also go shopping at Sapa market, where you can buy locally-made products. You can also head to Fansipan Mountain, the highest mountain in the Indochinese Peninsula.

The town of Sapa is located about 200 miles from Hanoi, and to reach it, you can take a bus or a train. You can check transport options here.

If you prefer to visit with a guide and then return to Hanoi, then I recommend this tour which offers a more immersive experience of Sapa. You’ll go trekking through the rice terraces situated along the Muong Hoa Stream, and exploring the Black Hmong Village and Ta Van village. You will stay in a homestay and spend your morning trekking the rice paddies and bamboo forest before returning to Sapa, where you’ll have the opportunity to take a shower (its hot work trekking in Sapa, despite the altitude) and then head back to Hanoi. There’s more about this visit to Sapa from Hanoi here.

Final Words on the Best Day Trips from Hanoi, Vietnam

Hanoi is a great base in Northern Vietnam – I mean the food and nightlife options along are brilliant, and especially if you’ve found a great place to stay.  Our guide on how to spend 2 days in Hanoi is here. It’s also a fabulous location from where to explore the local area and a great place to take day trips from.  You can go cruising, trekking, cave exploring, swimming, hiking, and enjoy a quiet visit to national parks in the area.  Or, if like us you just don’t get on with Hanoi, then leaving and coming back is a great way to fall in love with the city too!

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