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Three days in Hanoi give you time not only to discover the city but to begin to explore northern Vietnam. You can fit in a Halong Bay cruise, glide through the karst landscapes of Tam Coc, cycle through rice fields to ancient pagodas, and perhaps even go on an overnight adventure or mingle with hill tribes in Sapa. Here’s how.
Day 1: Soak Up the City
Spend your first day in Hanoi discovering the city’s signatures: delicious street food, ancient temples, Vietnam War sites, and water puppets. Soak up the atmosphere at the Temple of Literature, wander the streets of the Old Quarter (eating as you go), and visit the notorious Hoa Lo Prison, once known as the Hanoi Hilton. If Hanoi’s cuisine has you hooked—and it will—consider a cooking class so you can bring your favorite dishes home, perhaps with a market tour. In the evening, discover northern Vietnam’s own unique art form: water puppetry. The special effects, including fireworks, will amaze.
Day 2: Catch a Cruise
With three days in Hanoi, you’d be remiss not to experience Halong Bay, recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site for its spectacular seascapes of karst islands and caves. The longer you spend on the water, the more you beat the crowds, so it’s worth at least considering an overnight tour—approach by seaplane and travel on an authentic junk for a truly decadent experience. If you’re struggling to decide, focus on the extras as well as the route: many boats offer experiences from bamboo-boat rides to sea kayaking, from cooking classes to tai chi.
Day 3: Farther Afield
If you don’t spend the night on the water, three days in Hanoi give you ample time to explore the scenic countryside of north Vietnam. Some call the UNESCO-listed karst landscapes around Tam Coc “Halong Bay on land,” and a boat ride through the rocks and rice fields is just magical. The Perfume Pagoda, one of Vietnam’s most sacred sites, offers dramatic temples amid lush green vistas. Or, if you’ve opted against Halong Bay altogether, it’s possible to venture out to Sapa, where the cool mountains are home to Hmong, Dao, and Tay people, among other ethnic groups.