travel guide: 10 days in Vietnam

A ten day travel itinerary for exploring Vietnam with friends. This guide has all the details on our time spent trekking in Sapa, cruising in Ha Long Bay, eating and shopping in Hanoi.

in late July this year,  two friends and I spent 10 days traveling through Vietnam. our main goals for this trip were trekking, cruising, and eating - and we certainly managed all three! with that in mind we spilt our time between Hanoi, Ha Long Bay, and Sapa. 10 days in Vietnam was not enough to explore the entire country, but I think we made a pretty good start.

this itinerary will break down what we did on each day, where we stayed and ate, and a bit of general advice. [in the interest of saving everyone's time, I will only link to the places I would actually recommend.] I think one of the hardest parts of travel planning is deciding how much is realistic to fit into one day. we are pretty active women so we did a lot of walking around, and we saved up our relaxation time for the cruise. I think this would be a full but not overwhelming travel pace for most. as I share more posts about the specific things we did on this trip, I will add links here for reference.

day 1 // arrive in Hanoi

our flight from Taipei landed in Hanoi just before noon, giving us time to drop our bags at the Blue Hanoi Inn Hotel and ask for a lunch recommendation. they directed us just down the block to Pho 10. a big steamy bowl of soup was just what we needed after a morning of travels. this place was popular but we didn't have to wait too long for a table.

while the weather was raining off and on, we decided to walk around the Old Quarter and Torch Lake. we also visited the Hoa Lo Prison Museum. if you want to see on how terribly the French treated the Vietnamese, then depictions of how happy the American soldiers later imprisoned there were, along with photos of beheadings and national heroes - then this is your place. [oh, and plenty of propaganda.] honestly, it wasn't for me.

day 2 // Hanoi

we awoke to pouring rain and winds so strong that trees had toppled in the streets. our original plan had been a walking tour, but we opted to find an indoor activity instead. we settled on a cooking class at Orchid Restaurant- and oh, was that a great choice! our chef taught us how to make pho from scratch [including boiling bones and making stock] and we wrapped our own spring rolls and grilled meatballs for bun cha. they were super accommodating to all my food allergies and we had a lot of fun.

after we stuffed ourselves with the foods of our labor, we walked around the Old Quarter and did some shopping. there are so many silk shops and if you're looking for scarves or dresses you won't have to go far. we then returned to the Blue Hanoi to await our ride to the train station.

after walking around in the humid heat all day, we were pretty sweaty. and about to take an overnight train. without even asking, our hotel offered us fresh towels and use of a shower before our trip. we gladly accepted and cleaned up before our ride on the Pumpkin Express.

day 3 // Sapa and Cat Cat Village

if you've ever taken an overnight train, you know that all the rocking around isn't conducive to getting a good night's rest. we arrived in Lao Cai and had an hour car ride to Sapa, where we had booked ourselves a night at the Sapa Paradise View Hotel before heading out on our trek. blessedly, our room was ready at 7am and they allowed us to check in and nap!

refreshed, we walked around Sapa and did some shopping. my favorite was a local Hmong store named Indigo Cat [such cute stuff!] Sharon and I decided to head down the hill to nearby Cat Cat Village. the hike turned out to be a bit longer than we anticipated [and very sweaty] but we told ourselves it was a nice warmup for our trek. on the way back into town we spotted Lindsey having a glass of wine at The Hill Station. it was buy one get one happy hour, so obviously I stopped to join her.

days 4 + 5 // trekking through Sapa

I've already written in detail about our experience trekking with Sapa Sisters. our first day was pretty muddy from all the recent rain, but the views were amazing. we had a great homestay and delicious dinner, the very special moment of seeing our guide's home, and made some new friends. in the end we were exhausted, but hiking 35 total kilometers was worth the experience!

at the end of our trek, our motorbike taxis delivered us back to the Paradise View Hotel. once again we were saved by their hospitality - this time in the offer of a temporary room to shower in. we were able to scrub the mud off, repack our bags, and head back to The Hill Station for dinner before catching a ride to the train station.

day 6 // arrival in Ha Long Bay

our train got in to Hanoi around 5am. none of us really slept well, thanks to the partying kids in the compartment next door. we had until 7am to get to the pickup point for our shuttle van to Ha Long. the taxi drivers all wanted to overcharge us and somehow we ended us walking back to the Blue Hanoi, hoping to sit in the lobby and relax for a minute. I'm sure we were a sight, exhausted and dripping sweat from lugging our bags across town - and they offered us showers again. [bless their hearts.]

our shuttle van drove us from Hanoi to Ha Long, which took almost 4 hours. we checked in at the Indochina Junk office and boarded the Dragon Legend. the weather was a bit hazy and very very hot, BUT we were in Ha Long Bay so who really cared? after a few hours of cruising we stopped for a kayak excursion. this was followed by an incredible sunset, and a dinner where our server double checked all my food allergies 6 times.

day 7 // cruising

day two of our cruise was even hotter and even hazier. after breakfast on the deck, we lounged for a bit before heading out to tour a nearby floating village. this was followed by a few hours of sailing and a stop at an island for cave explorations and a barbecue lunch on the beach. next up was some time reading on deck [pretending there was sun and a breeze instead of just windless cloud cover] and another kayak trip through the bay. finally, dinner al fresco and drinking the bottle of wine we smuggled on board.

day 8 // Ha Long Bay to Hanoi

we woke on the final day of our cruise to grey and rainy weather. our journey back to Hanoi was long and bumpy, and none of us really appreciated the "water puppet show" that our van stopped at. once we made it to Hanoi we spent time walking around just to get some fresh air. [I don't do well on 4 hour car rides.]

for dinner, Sharon and I went to Mum and had ourselves an authentic Vietnam dining experience. by which I of course mean - we sat on tiny plastic stools on the side of the street, eating our dinner while scooters whizzed by. it just seems like one of those things you have to do while in Hanoi.

day 9 // Hanoi

we decided to reschedule our walking tour of the city for this day. our guide was great - she took us to the places we wanted to go and let us skip over the rest. my favorite was exploring the Temple of Literature - Vietnam's first university. we also walked through the Ho Chi Minh Complex and wound back through the streets of the Old Quarter. Sharon tried the famous "egg coffee" at Giang Cafe, while Lindsey opted for a coconut coffee instead.

once our guide left, we wandered around to do some more shopping and spend the last of our dong. I ended up in a grocery store trying to gauge how many boxes of gluten free vegan coconut cookies I had room for in my suitcase. for our last supper, we went back to Orchid. [I'm realizing that I do this a lot - find a place I love and go there repeatedly rather than risk a less delicious meal elsewhere.] our last stop was at Raw Juicery for a pre-flight vitamin boost.

day 10 // departure

after breakfast, we packed up our backpacks [and one tote bag full of cookies for me] and hopped in our hotel-arranged cab to the airport. to my great joy I discovered that the airport stocked one of my favorite guilty pleasures - blue Gatorade. I know it sounds weird. but they don't sell Gatorade in Taiwan. and sometimes, a girl just gets a craving.

general tips for traveling Vietnam

- I'm working to assemble my packing list, but I'll start with this: you should know the weather in summer is going to be HOT. and also desperately humid. downpours of rain may happen at any moment. dress accordingly.
- getting around with just English was not a problem, even when we traveled out to Sapa.
- watch out for stores, hotels and restaurants that rip off the name of a popular or famous place. double check that you are actually heading to the place you want to be and don't get scammed.
- definitely bring tissue packs and hand sanitizer for restrooms and dining. some wet wipes would also be handy for wiping off mud and sweat from trekking, or taking a quick "shower" after an overnight train.
- if you have issues with gluten sensitivity or Celiac's, Vietnam is going to be a great place to eat! I relied heavily on information from Legal Nomad's GF Guide and made it through our trip without issue.

one more thing: while I was in Hanoi I ended up at a pharmacy with a minor issue and they gave me several medications, including antibiotics. I took them - since that's what you usually do to feel better. BUT as you may know I developed some digestive issues thanks to these meds, and have been pretty miserable for about 2 months. while having cheap and accessible health care may sound great while traveling, maybe double check with your doctor when you get home. that way you won't wipe out your guts with too much medicine. live and learn.

A ten day travel itinerary for exploring Vietnam with friends. This guide has all the details on our time spent trekking in Sapa, cruising in Ha Long Bay, eating and shopping in Hanoi.

anything else you want to know about our itinerary? I'll have the packing list assembled in a few weeks, and of course will be sharing about our experiences in more detail and photos.


currently: october edition

the life updates have been piling up as I've been working on other things - so here's a few paragraphs on what's been happening around here lately, and a few topics I've been pondering.

[and also, some old fall-ish photos. because I'm too lazy to shoot new ones today, and it's totally still summer weather in Taiwan.]


while I've been infrequently blogging, I've still been writing every day. I'm not quite ready to publicly share details yet, but I've been working on a new project. over the summer I decided to put my travel memoir on hold. almost immediately after making that decision, I had what might be a brilliant idea for a fiction story. it's not really a genre I thought I would write in, but I am so intrigued by this idea that I'm just going to go with it and see where it takes me. I've been researching and reading classic literature of this genre, dreaming up plot points and character attributes, and trying to settle on the rules of my universe. it feels really good to be so excited about a project again.


this weekend was a national holiday in Taiwan, which means Husband had a 4 day weekend. it also means that plane tickets leaving the country were way overpriced. SO we decided to book ourselves a staycation at a nice hotel downtown. though we got off to a rough start [forgetting to bring ID so we could check in, oops] we got sorted eventually and had a nice relaxing time. the weather was too rainy for the pool, but I can't really be mad when I got to drink a free glass of Veuve Clicquot while seeing Taipei from 31 floors up.


I recently dug back four years to share the horrifying story of our accidental stay in a love motel. October 12th is the four year anniversary of another event I never really wrote about - our scooter crash. I considered posting about that, but it's still pretty traumatic. I couldn't really walk for about 6 weeks after. pretty much spent my time sinking into a depression on our couch. and though I was lucky and did not break or tear anything, I bruised my knee so deeply that I was not able to straighten my leg fully for six months. I'm getting heart flutters and sweaty just thinking about this, sooooo maybe we will save the story for next year.


at the end of our Vietnam trip I ended up at a pharmacy and was given a course of antibiotics to take. after finishing the medication, my body has suffered a variety of digestive issues and gastrointestinal distress. it's not fun to talk about, and it's not fun to experience. for the past 2 months I have been struggling with this. the gastroenterologists that I've seen think it's complications and damage from the antibiotics, and perhaps with all my special food allergies my system is just more sensitive than most. tomorrow I am heading to a third doctor for another opinion, and hopefully a solution. any prayers or good thoughts you could send my way would be greatly appreciated. I feel much better than a month ago, but there are still good days and bad days.


... or trying to. I registered and requested for my absentee ballot what feels like ages ago. Luke received his in the mail last week, but mine has yet to appear. to be honest, I just want to vote and be done with everything. watching debates and seeing headlines from the campaign has been blood-boiling and nausea-inducing. and I'm sure many of you feel the same way. in fact, I know a lot of people who have decided to just ignore it all and just not vote. as an American citizen, it is of course your choice whether to take advantage of the right to vote. personally - I don't like my choices but I still feel responsible for making one. SHE is not my ideal candidate, but she is experienced and qualified. HE, on the other hand, horrifies me. with every incident that surfaces - the sexism, the racism, the intolerance, the arrogance, the fearmongering - more and more I feel I cannot stand idly by and let these attitudes take over my country. if the worst happens, at least I'll know it wasn't because I didn't do my part.

I will at least say that one positive aspect of this whole circus has been that many important issues have been brought to light for discussion. my hope is that we all examine and improve in the ways we treat our fellow humans, acknowledge the flaws in our educational and government systems, and have intelligent discussions on how we can work together to change them. I'd like to think that someday soon we can be both a more equal and a kinder nation.

catching 'em all

maybe I've finally reached that age where I just don't care enough to be embarrassed about the things that excite me? because catching a Pikachu while at a tea house in Juifen was one of the most awesome moments for me in the past few weeks. right up there with FINALLY evolving a Dragonite and catching a wild Blastoise. so far I've collected 114 species of Pokémon, and am almost to level 25. it helps that I live in a city full of pokéstops and walk just about everywhere. and now that Luke has started playing, we've been getting out for long walks together to hunt Pokémon. a lot of people think the game is silly, but especially with all my health issues lately, it's been great to have an exciting reason to go outside and be active.


to share more about our summer travels - my Vietnam itinerary and packing list are almost there. also to possibly join in NaNoWriMo next month. potentially moving apartments [since our roof is still leaking.] making a list of things to do while my Mother-in-law visits over Christmas holiday. figuring out next summer's travels. and scheming to fit in another trip sometime before then if the budget allows.

phew! what all have you been up to lately?
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...