11 Days in Vietnam - Tips Needed!

Old Oct 6th, 2011, 04:20 AM
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11 Days in Vietnam - Tips Needed!

Hi,

I'll likely visit Vietnam for 11 days, from November 4th to November 14th (date tentative), and I know that isn't enough time for a country so rich in culture and history, but I'd like to see what I can do!

My plan is to stay in Hanoi for 6-7 days and then Ho Chi Minh City for 3-4 days, from which I will travel via public transport to the places I'd like to see. Not sure if this is feasible (or a good idea at all) - how easy is it to get around Vietnam? Also, how much time do I need to travel from, say, Hanoi to to Phong Nha Caves in North Central? Or, will it be better to stay 3-4 days each in Hanoi, Hue, and HCMC instead?

The following are places that I was thinking of visiting, and suggestions are always very welcome:

Hanoi
- Old Quarter
- Hoan Kiem Lake
- Hoa Lo Prison
- Temple of Literature
- Ba Dinh Square

The North
- Ha Long Bay
- Dien Bien Phu

North Central
- Phong Nha Caves

HCMC
- Ben Thanh Market
- Cu Chi Tunnels

Mekong Delta
- Any town?

Also, there seems to be quite a few National Parks and I'm not sure if they're worth visiting (given my time constraints), and if they are, which should I visit? In this trip, I'm more interested in the historical places and geographical sights, and while I'd like to experience the city life in HCMC, I don't mind leaving it out completely if I don't have time for the South.

Where possible, I'd like to take public transport or walk around so that I get to see more stuff, instead of just rushing from destination to destination. Do offer your advice! Thanks a lot!
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Old Oct 6th, 2011, 06:59 AM
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My suggestion is to cut Hanoi to three full days and on the fourth day take the night train to sapa. Try to arrive on a Friday and return Sunday night after going to the bac ha market in the morning. You do not need to prearrange the bac ha market as you can easily arrange it at the sapa tourist bureau which is excellent. When you return from sapa you can go directly to Halong bay or fly to directly to Da Nang and visit hoi an and hue. We thought they were far more interesting than Saigon.
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Old Oct 6th, 2011, 12:17 PM
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If you stay in the Old Quarter, you can truly get a feel of Hanoi....West Lake is nearby and worth walking around in the mornings. Otherwise, Hanoi is worth only 3 days, including a day south of the city in the rice fields. Halong Bay. Hoi An, Hue are charming. Da Lat is also worth a visit....so different from the rest of the country. I love HCMC and think the towns in the Mekong Delta are worthwhile, if you have the time.
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Old Oct 6th, 2011, 12:26 PM
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We are all different. We spent a week in Hanoi and felt it was well worth the time.

I'd highly recommend that you limit the number of stops you make so you can have time to absorb the sense of place.
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Old Oct 7th, 2011, 01:24 AM
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Dgunbug, thanks for your suggestion! Do you know where I can check for the night train schedule? The official website seems to be down. Also, how do I get from Sapa to Ha Long? I agree that these places are more worth visiting than Saigon.

Cathio, I think I will be staying in Old Quarter - thanks for your suggestion to cut down my time in Hanoi! I think that will free up some time for Ha Long and Sapa.

Kathie, thanks for your advice!

Ckjolie, wow that's really comprehensive. Do you where I can check for the bus schedules? I think I might be doing what you did for the first few days: Hanoi - Halong - Sapa. Is there a way to get from Halong to Sapa without going back to Hanoi? Also, where can I look for cheap flights within Vietnam? Thanks so much!
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Old Oct 7th, 2011, 08:19 AM
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Roonn, note that ckjolie is a spammer and you should take the advice with a large helping of salt.

You have to go back to Hanoi to get to Sapa. There are min-buses organized by travel agents in VN. You can arrange those once you are on the ground.
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Old Oct 7th, 2011, 03:18 PM
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We found flights within VN to be pretty inexpensive (ex. I think it was $45 from Hanoi to Danang) on Vietnam Air. We made our own reservations on the VN Air website.
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Old Oct 7th, 2011, 09:16 PM
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Thanks Kathie and Sf - do you guys know about public buses, though?

Right now my queries are as to how to get around:

Hanoi to Sapa - Train to Lao Cai and then Bus to Sapa?
Hanoi to Ha Long Bay - Bus?
Hanoi to Dong Hoi (for Phong Nha Caves) - I have no idea for this one!
Dong Hoi to HCMC - Likewise, clueless here!
HCMC to Can Tho - Bus?
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Old Oct 8th, 2011, 12:19 AM
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Hi Roonn - I too love to travel by public transport wherever possible and have done so extensively around SE Asia. The buses in most parts of Vietnam are pretty reasonable in terms of efficiency if not comfort. However, with only 11 days, whilst it is a great way get a feel for the reality of the country and to meet the people, I do feel that you will spend a disproportionate amount of your vacation time, travelling on, waiting for, or trying to find buses.

The last time we were in Vn we considered trying to get to the Ba Be National Park by bus ( a similar distance from Hanoi as Dong Hoi, but quickly realised that it was going to take an inordinate amount. We decided to take the easy option and hire a car/driver.

The buses trains to Lao Cai are overnight and arrive in the very early morning and are met by buses for the trip to Sapa so that should be pretty easy. There will also be a multitude of taxis hustling for the ride to Sapa.

Lonelyplanet's Thorntree may well be a better place to get more info on bus trips. Also, check out http://www.travelfish.org/country/vietnam which also has some good info as well as a forum similar to this where you can post questions.

If staying in the Old Quarter of Hanoi then check out http://jyskhotel.net/ we stayed there for a few days. It is in a good location and whilst not luxurious in any way was clean and comfortable with aircon and plenty of hot water. Much better than many of the usual backpacker type places
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Old Oct 8th, 2011, 01:20 AM
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Hi from Seoul,

I have been visiting Vietnam for the past several years and not unlike a few of the others, would recommend a three to four day stop over in Hanoi. The French Quarter is a must-see with camera in hand. HCMC and the Cu Chi Tunnels should also be on your itinerary, as well Hue, charming Hoi An (dine at the Four Brother's Restaurant), and for a couple of days of kick back relaxation, head off to Nha Trang (Sea View Hotel). If you are able to do so, rent motorbikes in Nha Trang and then head back along the highway from the airport to Cam Ranh Bay to find Shangri-la.

Unfortunately, 11 days will not provide you enough time to explore as much as you should see in this splendid country, but it is enough to entice you to want more and return another time for a longer vacation.

For a good cross-section of photos of Vietnam, check out http://thenarrativelens.photoshelter...00DG9BAoET0ws/

Seoulbro
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Old Oct 9th, 2011, 04:35 AM
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Crellston, thanks for your advice! I think I might do Hanoi - Ha Long Bay - Hanoi - Sapa - Hanoi - HCMC - Can Tho - HCMC (skipping the Phong Nha Caves) so I'll fly from Hanoi to HCMC instead. That should save me a lot of time traveling and leave me with reasonable time to spend in Hanoi, Sapa, and Can Tho. Your advice about the buses is reassuring! I use travelfish as well, but this is still my preferred forum. I'm looking at the Bodega Hostel in Hanoi; it's in Old Quarter and Hostelling International-affiliated.

Seoulbro, I agree that 11 days is too short, and hence I'm cutting out Hue and Hoi An. Will definitely check out the French Quarter though! Thanks for the photos!
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Old Oct 12th, 2011, 10:55 PM
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Does anyone know how I could get to Old Quarter from Hanoi Airport?
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Old Oct 13th, 2011, 07:35 AM
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taxi
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Old Oct 13th, 2011, 08:22 AM
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Although people say taxi scams are rice in Hanoi. Check with your hotel - they might have a suggestion. Our hotel arranged a taxi for us for $16.00 for two. Going back, we used the hotel shuttle for the same price.
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Old Oct 13th, 2011, 02:43 PM
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taxi is easiest... most taxis are fine, it is only a few who rip you off..

i would cut halong bay and sapa... both require too much time in your 11 day schedule...

my two favorites were hanoi and hoi an...

flying is fastest and very cheap..
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Old Oct 13th, 2011, 04:06 PM
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We did what 'dgunbug' suggested November 2010. Hanoi , Sapa and straight to Halong Bay. We left our cases at hotel in Hanoi and took small bag to Sapa. on return to Hanoi from Sapa, arriving early in the morning go back to Hotel for breakfast and get clean clothes from case and take small bag to Halong Bay. Hotel kept our cases, then we spent 1 night Hanoi on return from Halong Bay. We stayed in the old quarter and were walking distance to the lake and water puppet theatre, the opera and many good restaurants. Food in Hanoi is a bit more expensive than in HCMC. Hanoi definitely had a charm about it. Sapa is cooler in November and if you need warmer clothes buy them there. We found the shops battered better than the markets in Sapa. We also fley to Danang and got taxi to HoiAn. I suggest you get hotel to pick you up or book transfer through local tourist agency. We had a frightening taxi experience where we were locked in our taxi, doors and windows would not open and driven to dark area and man jumped in front seat of taxi and taxi driver pretended he did not know where hotel was, and other man was there to help. Luckily I had mobile phone with Vietnam sim and phoned hotel and got them to give directions and say the would phone police if we did not get to hotel quick. Then 2nd man jumped out of taxi and we got to hotel and only paid agreed amount, even thought he had metre on with double the fare.In November at HoiAn it was flooded and the Hue airport was closed due to floods. We were walking around HoiAn old city knee deep in water through some parts. Many local tours were cancelled as roads were closed due to the floods. We also went to HCMC which was a lot hotter that time of year than Hanoi. We stayed in a small hotel in district 1 and did a metong delta trip. We would have liked to do an overnight home stay but did not have time, so did day trip. Also went to the tunnels on an extremely hot day. Everything, such as tours, internal flight can be booked when you get there easily and cheaply. The highlight of the trip was Sapa and Halong Bay.
Cheers Kezzar00
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Old Oct 15th, 2011, 07:58 PM
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Roonn - just back from India. Sorry I didn't reply sooner. I believe we purchased our train tickets through Tonkin travel. Be sure to get your tickets early if you want a sleeping compartment. Tonkins is very reputable and had our tickets delivered to the hotel we stayed at in Hanoi. You may want to check out the elegance chain hotels in Hanoi. They were reasonably priced and the staff was amazing. If I had to choose between sapa and Halong bay, it would be sapa without a doubt. The drive to Halong bay is very long, although the scenery once you get there is beautiful. You may want to click on my name and read my trip report for further info. If you would like my notes from my trip, email me and I will send you a copy.
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Old Oct 16th, 2011, 05:02 AM
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Thank you all so much for your advice! I've found out that there are two types of buses - open buses for tourists and local buses for the locals, as well as motorcycles and bicycles (not recommended due to safety/scam concerns) and of course taxis.

Kezzar, that /is/ an interesting (albeit frightful) experience! Isn't that why we go traveling in the first place I guess Halong and Sapa will always be amazing, and it's a pity that HCMC and Mekong weren't up to standards this time due to the weather. I hear that on a good day, Can Tho (near the Delta) is beautiful and almost like a European city. Could I ask though - by cheap tours how cheap are they actually? Unlike most of the other Fodorites I'm actually pretty tight on my budget.

Dgunbug, I hope you'd a great trip! I intend to go to India one day too. How did you get to Halong Bay? Did you charter a vehicle or get on a tour bus? Also - how long is the ride? Thanks for your trip report! I will let you know again.

Also, due to unforeseen circumstances I may not be able to go on this trip this October/November afterall. The good news is: if I postpone it, I will be able to go for a much longer period of time. So now I'm thinking of revising my itinerary to include more stops!
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Old Oct 16th, 2011, 07:12 AM
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Most of the junks offer transportation. We paid for the transport provided by the Paloma and were picked up at the hotel. It is all very easy. To my greatest recollection, the ride was 2-3 hrs. It seemed long and very boring.
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Old Oct 16th, 2011, 10:40 AM
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As I recall, the trip is actually longer than that - 3 to 4 hours is more like it.
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