Thank you to all who responded to my "bunch of questions" about Vietnam to start my trip planning. Appreciate it if you could help critique my itinerary below and answer the embedded questions (a bunch more!). Any recommendations for mid-range hotels, good eats, unusual sights, tours, etc are much appreciated. Thanks for kindly sharing your knowledge and experiences!
* Mar 16 (Sat) Land in HCM at 11 p.m.
-- Q: Is it safe to call a cab at midnight to hotel or I should arrange for a car pickup?
I'm planning to go with the so-called "visa on arrival" with Tonkin Travel, so hopefully the wait for the stamp won't be too bad.
* Mar 17 (Sun) See and eat Saigon.
--Q: Is this doable as a DIY? Or I should arrange for transport? How do people get around?
* Mar18 (Mon) Day trip to the Mekong Delta
--Q: Any recommended day-tour for this? Should I book it here or in HCM? Which part of the MK Delta do they go to? How long is the trip, as we want to spend the night to hang out in HCM
* Mar 19 (Tue Morning) Half day in HCM before afternoon flight to Danang
--Q: More sightseeing/eating in HCM or possible to go see Cao Dai Temple and/or Cu Chi Tunnel? Any recommended tour here?
* Mar 19 (Tue Night) Land in Danang. Drive to Hoi An for overnight stay.
--Q: Any recommended mid-range hotel?
* Mar 20 (Wed) Hoi An, full day and overnight
--Q: Possible to see My Son sometime? Worth it? How long does it take? My travel doctor shows that My Son is in malaria infested area. A concern at this time of the year?
* Mar 21 (Thur) Go to Hue from Hoi An
--Q: How to go from Hoi An to Hue? Private car? How to book this? Here or there? How long? Should I try to fit it in?
--Q: What can be seen in the afternoon in Hue
* Mar 22 (Fri) More Hue and fly out to Hanoi at night
-- Q: Enough time in Hue, or I should stay overnight in Fri and fly out to Hanoi on Sat morning?
* Mar 23 (Sat) Hanoi and night train to Lao Cai (Sapa)
-- We're planning to use hotel points and stay at the Sheraton in Hanoi. If we came to Hanoi in the morning, not sure if the hotel would let us leave our luggage here before checking in after the Sapa trip.
--Q: Recommended soft-sleeper train to Lao Cai. Fanxipan? Oriental? Should I book the ticket from the US or there? Via travel agent?
* Mar 24(Sun) Arrive in Lao Cai early morning, hit Bac Ha Sun market, hike around Sapa, overnight in Sapa
--Q: Is it easy to catch a bus or shuttle from the Lao Cai train station to the famous Bac Ha Sunday market? We want to go directly there instead of to Sapa and backtrack
--Q: From Bac Ha market, easy to find shuttle to Sapa?
--Q: Are we required to have a travel guide to go hiking around Sapa?
-- Q: Any recommended mid-range hotel in Sapa?
* Mar 25 (Mon) Trek around Sapa, overnight train back to Hanoi
--Q: Any recommended routes / destinations?
* Mar 26 (Tue) Arrive to Hanoi early am, sightsee and eat Hanoi
* Mar 27 (Wed) Depart for Halong Bay -- 1 night boat trip
-- Q: This is the biggest struggle for me. Which boat, how many nights, include Cat Ba or not? We're an active couple, like to kayak through caves and lagoons, hike, and see amazing scenery. Want a mid-range boat, and don't care for frills, like cooking demos, massage onboard. Just a safe, clean boat and professionally run. We want to go where the scenery is most spectacular and don't mind the crowds, as long the scenery is the best. Heard Bai Tu Long Bay is less crowded but less dramatic--not sure it's worth skipping the main Halong Bay though. (Analogy: Don't want to skip the Grand Canyon, and go to a minor canyon, just because GC is crowded.) Please suggest the best option.
* Mar 28 (Thurs) Halong Bay, back to Hanoi
* Mar 29 (Fri) Hanoi
* Mar 30 (Sat) Hanoi and fly back to US at 11 p.m.
-- Q: Too many nights in Hanoi? Should I add a day in Sapa or Halong Bay? Or do a day trip outside of Hanoi?
Lots of questions here, so really appreciate it if you could help out in any areas!
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Please Critique: Vietnam Itinerary in March -- 1st Time to the Country