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Ha Long Bay is a beautiful karst system in the China South Sea and best combined with a visit to Hanoi. That’s exactly what I did when I travelled with my son to China (Panda’s in Chengdu, Great Wall at Qinhuangdao, Beijing in a day). We had 4 full days of which we spend the first in Hanoi, 2 days on a Ha Long Bay cruise and a day in Hanoi again. In Hanoi we stayed at the Intercontinental hotel. I have included these 4 days also in my two-week sample Vietnam itinerary as Hanoi is a must visit and a Ha Long Bay cruise a must do. Below a summary of what to expect!
The first day we started at the west side of Hoan Kiem Lake where the entrance to the Ngoc Son Temple is (Jade Mountain Temple). The temple supposedly dates to the fourteenth century, although the current buildings were probably built in the eighteenth century. The temple is dedicated to the hero Tran Hung Dao, who defeated a force of 300.000 warriors sent to invade Vietnam by the Mongol Emperor Kublai Khan. There are also altars dedicated to the scholars Van Xuong and La To, the patron saint of physicians. The Hoan Kiem Lake is a great place to wander around and enjoy the sunshine if it’s not cloudy.
We continued walking around the lake towards the Van Mieu Temple, but we first stopped by the St. Josephs Cathedral. Both are key places to visit in Hanoi. The Army Museum displays beautiful planes and other army related material from the Vietnam War. It’s just a short walk and I do recommend walking as you’ll pass the railway that runs through the city. Literally though he city as houses are build just a meter away from the railroad. See the photo below; isn’t that amazing?
After the Army Museum continue to the Van Mieu Temple. Van Mieu Temple is Vietnam’s first national university. The temple was built in 1070 at the time of King Lý Nhân Tông. It is one of several temples in Vietnam which are dedicated to Confucius, sages, and scholars. In the evening you could visit snake village for a delicious cobra or just grab some of the other street food available everywhere.
Ha Long Bay & Food on Foot tour including Snake & Dog
After a full day in Hanoi it was time for the Ha Long Bay cruise which my son was looking forward too. The cruise had an early 8 AM pickup at the hotel for a 3 hours’ drive to Ha Long Bay. We booked with Paradise Deluxe cruises. One word: SUPERB! At the ship we were welcomed with a welcome drink before heading into open waters. The first stop was a cave, after that to an island where it was possible to climb to the top for an awesome view. This island has a manmade beach for swimming too which my son loved.
In the evening a delicious dinner was served which included a spring roll cooking class. Late evening it was possible to go squid fishing. They were grilled on a BBQ after catching them; fresher isn’t possible.
The luxury cabin had a private (clean) bathroom, hot water, and toilets. In the morning we did not go to the Tai Chi (to early) and we took breakfast and just had a great time at the deck checking out all the great views. The karst system of Ha Long Bay is magnificient to cruise through. In the afternoon we arrived back to Hanoi for a Food on Foot tour (read about all the 12 dishes we tried here). A Ha Long Bay cruise is something I highly recommend doing and if you’re with kids I’m sure they have a great time. My son still talks about this trip years later.
The last day it was time to explore more of Hanoi. We got up early as we wanted to go to the Ho Chi Min Mausoleum and look inside. But…… the taxi dropped us off at the backside of the Ho Chi Min Museum which is next to it. As we were short on time for the opening hours of the mausoleum we just missed timing to get inside.
Ho Chi Min was the chairman of the Communist Part of Vietnam from 1951 to 1969. The large mausoleum is the center of Ba Dinh Square. Ho Chi Min City is named after him. We explored the museum of Ho Chi Min, the one Pillar Pagoda (which was covered for restoration) and the Ho Chi Min gardens where he lived.
We continued walking to the old citadel of the Ho dynasty, a UNESCO World Heritage Site in the middle of Hanoi. Also known in past years as Thang Long it was the residence of the Vietnamese monarchs dating back to Dai Viet. First constructed in 1010 during the Ly dynasty it was the seat of the Vietnamese court until 1810 when it moved to Hue. The military also had its headquarters there. It was named D67 by General Giap during the Vietnam War. Now a lot of excavation is done to preserve the old citadel. It’s a must-see in Hanoi.
After finishing the visit to the citadel, we walked to the Quan Thanh Temple which is a Taoist temple build back in the 11th century. It’s dedicated to Xuan Wu which is one of the principal deities in Taoism. From there we walked further to the Tran Quac Pagoda which is a Buddhist temple on a small island dating back to the 17th century at its current location. Both temples are located near the shores of west lake and if you have the time a must-see in Hanoi. It was a long day, so my son asked me if we could just stay at the hotel in the evening which I agreed to. The next day we would fly out early morning.
It was a short trip to Vietnam, but it was a great trip with my son. We had a lot of fun together especially at the Ha Long Bay cruise and when eating cobra in snake village. When I left I knew I had to come back soon to see the rest of Vietnam. I did that a few years later with the full family when we explored the area around Ho Chi Min City and Central Vietnam. Check my two-week Vietnam sample itinerary to find out what you can do more in Vietnam. It’s a great country.Stay tuned for more stories and subscribe to the newsletter or follow CTB on social media (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram including Instagram stories; on all social media you can find CTB @christravelblog) to get updated information.
Did you visit Hanoi and Ha Long Bay too or do you have questions? Please leave a comment at the bottom of the page. Love to hear from you!