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flygirl Nov 1st, 2018 05:07 PM

16 nights in Vietnam - let the planning begin!
I am back again and this will be my itinerary thread - hotels, logistics, cities, etc.

I just told my boss my dates and I leave on a Thursday morning (outward) and land back at home on a Monday morning two+ weeks later. I arrive Friday night and fly home Sunday evening. I will have Saturday to Saturday to Saturday to visit and Sunday will be the wind down day leading up to the flight home that evening.

Now to figure out where to fly in and out (N to S or S to N) and essentially the latter half of January.

Currently planning Hanoi, Halong Bay, Hue, Ho Chi Minh City, and Hoi An. (all Hs). Will peruse my book, websites, and Anthony Bourdain episodes.

I've had some great advice so far and thank you for that! More soon...

flygirl Nov 2nd, 2018 05:53 PM

Oh I wonder if I can fit this in, it looks breathtaking. It would probably take three days total, with a tour. Which means 6 days total for Hanoi and Sapa.... and another two for Halong Bay.. hmmm That is already half my trip... hmmm sigh!

I would want to take sunrise and sunset photos here!

Sapa - Everything You Need to Know About Sapa

flygirl Nov 3rd, 2018 09:27 AM

So in digging through some reports here, apparently Sapa isn't a favorite because it's become overrun with a lot of construction. This is a shame. As I read about places I go to Instagram to see photos and it looks breathtaking. Darn it. I wish this trip were longer.

I will keep it in my back pocket and now I'm intrigued by crellston's mention of Ninh Binh.

Kathie Nov 3rd, 2018 10:22 AM

My first piece of advice was going to be to see what things people didn't like about the places on your list. Sapa has been overrun with tourists and the backpackers have delighted in teaching the hill tribe women to shout obscenities at visitors. I think the construction is the least of the problems. You have likely already read about the problems with Halong Bay - many hours on boring roads, many people report that there is trash in the water at Halong as well. Hoi An is way over-touristed with hundreds of tailor shops willing to make you clothing that won't last through one washing.

Pause and consider what are the most important things to you to see/do/experience during your time in VN. You already have 5 destinations listed and it appears to me that you will have 15 days which works out to only 3 nights (2 full days) per destination. You do need to figure in travel time, as VN is well known for travel delays.

thursdaysd Nov 3rd, 2018 04:15 PM

Good advice from Kathie. Have you already read crellston's blog? I would have thought south to north in January.

flygirl Nov 3rd, 2018 04:59 PM

Thank you!

Clearly I am going to have to cull this down. Either I stay with what I have already - v high level highlights of major places - or I cut something and go off the beaten path a bit. I did read here that things move slowly.

The beginning and ending won't change, and I don't want to skimp on those either. I also see that Ha Long Bay has a quieter neighbor, maybe I could do that instead.

I've skimmed crellston's posts tagged VN. Once I sort out the actual places I will re-read them.

Thank you again! I can already tell I must have a second trip.

crellston Nov 3rd, 2018 11:28 PM

Firstly, I don’t think it matters that much whether you go Saigon to Hanoi or vice versa. Climate change issues aside, the weather should be pretty good at that time of year. the south will be a lot hotter than the south. The central region should just be coming out of the rainy season but as that would be in the middle of your trip it really doesn’t matter which way.

Always good to end a trip on a highlight and for me at least, you can’t go wrong with either Saigon or Hanoi, although they are very different. I would probably go with whichever option has the best/most convenient flights.

Other than my posts here, there is a lot about our travels in Vietnam on our blog to which Thursdaysd refers above. here is the link.

There are lots of options for your trip and you have summed up the dilemma faced by many visiting Vietnam perfectly - "Either I stay with what I have already - v high level highlights of major places - or I cut something and go off the beaten path a bit. “

It sounds like you are already considering a second trip so one option would be to consider just the north or the south.

I confess I am not a fan of Ha long for a variety of reasons. the time needed to get there and back (although I believe there is now a new , faster road) , the pollution (the authorities recently banned swimming) and of course the crowds (which, to an extent, can be avoided in BaiTu Long Bay). It is however, popular for good reason. it is spectacular and, for many is the highlight of a visit to the country. In terms of natural wonders, I would rate the caves of Phong Nha above Ha long.

Not wishing to complicate could even go Hue-Phong Nha-Ninh Binh - Hanoi by train.

I have visited Sapa a couple of times. The scenery is spectacular but it was packed 20 years ago so I hate to think what it is like now. Given the and the time it takes to get there and back, I would forget it.

if you do want to get off piste a little then have a look at our blog post “Mountain Trekking In North Vietnam. Mind blowing scenery and the trekking part can be as long or as short as you choose. We stayed in homestays in villages along the route. Basic but great hospitality and excellent food.

Getting around in Vietnam does take time but it does have a much better travel infrastructure than it used to. there are lots of flights with budget and regular airlines and most carriers are pretty efficient. For some routes, the trains may be an option. travelling overnight can save both money and usable time. Scheduling flights etc for early morning/late afternoon can sometimes provide more useable time.

So many places, so little time :-)

flygirl Nov 4th, 2018 04:58 AM

So many places... yes.

thank you for your posts and blog, they are very helpful!

I tend to pull random bits of information from all over - the wonders of the internet - I see that beer making in Vietnam is undergoing a change (AFAR) and it also occurred to me as a coffee freak I need to seek out cafes in the towns, too. When I visit new cities I undergo a Coffee Treasure Hunt and seek out independent coffee shops every day.

I also found a handful of young bloggers online last night and it's always fun to see the backpacking perspective. back when I did the backpack thing around Europe I only had a Rick Steves book and that was IT.

crellston Nov 4th, 2018 08:05 AM

You will love the coffee in Vietnam - nothing like an iced coffee in 35c heat! Make sure you seek out an egg coffee in Hanoi - delicious! There are now quite a few brew pubs in Hanoi and Saigon with some weird and wonderful offerings in addition to the usual IPA, pilsners and stout.

flygirl Nov 5th, 2018 03:05 AM

yum yum!! I went to a local Vietnamese restaurant for lunch yesterday with a friend. The family is from Vietnam so the food is as authentic as you might find in the USA. I live in Arlington (outside DC) and so a fair number of DoD and govt workers and former military live near here - the wall of their restaurant had photos of POW reunions annually through the 80s and 90s. I thought that was very interesting. I didn't quite catch the story but the owner may have emigrated here after the war, maybe he was a prisoner too? Anyway, an anecdote...

Definitely going to seek out egg coffee! I saw it on your blog.

More random finds: sea planes in Halong Bay (love seeing things from the air and try to seek that out when I travel, too) although I wonder if that is the only operator there or if there are tons of small planes buzzing the area... and, I also found online photos of Mui Ne. Sand dunes! Some red ones! This is going to be so hard to narrow down. Wah!!

PS: I meant to ask, if the weather is iffy (rain, heavy mist or just grey) it presumably would be better to move the visit to a different day. How easy/hard is it to visit Ha Long Bay or Ninh Binh on the fly, especially if you want the more upscale experience? (private car versus train, nicer boat or lodging etc)? Thank you...

flygirl Nov 8th, 2018 07:23 AM


Korean Air, arrive 11 pm Friday night into Hanoi.

Korean Air, depart 11 pm Sunday night from Saigon.

This is 15-ish days, almost 16 as I suspect I will be leaving for airport by 730 pm or so.

Now to figure out how many days per each location.

Maybe 5-6 near Hanoi, to see it and Ha Long Bay (ot its neighbor) and maybe Ninh Binh. Fly either Thursday or Friday morning to next stop.

If I fly in AM to Da Nang, I think Id reach both Hue and Hoi An from there. How to split that time is next decision. Maybe that is also 5 days. Is that enough for two locations, have to check map.

Then the rest in Saigon. If I fly Wednesday AM Da Nang to Saigon, that gives four and a half days Saigon flying home Sunday night.

Good mix? Should I have one more day in Hue/Hoi An and take from Saigon?

Thank you!

flygirl Nov 9th, 2018 03:36 AM

Looking at Instagram is making this harder and harder to choose. Now I feel I must fit in Ninh Binh, and especially the day trip to Tam Coc as I see with Tonkin Tours. If I also do an overnight at Ha Long Bay that right there is three days, and it sounds like Hanoi deserves four days so there is my first week, and I still haven't sorted Hue, Hoi An, and Saigon.

Saturday morning fly to Hue, two nights, Monday private car to Hoi An, three nights (?) and then Thursday AM fly to Saigon. That gives half Thursday, all day Fri and Sat, and most of Sunday in Saigon.

Good priorities?

crellston Nov 9th, 2018 07:13 AM

You must choose whatever clots your particular boats. I prefer the less touristy options. e.g. Hue to Hoi An, Mekong Delta to Halong but that is necessarily just my own subjective view. Your own priorities will be entirely different.

I would leave Saigon as is BUT, FWIW you have plenty of time to see the highlights of Saigon. At at a pinch, If you get organised in advance, you could even cut half a day and arrive.Friday and squeeze in a day elsewhere.. The sights in D1 and D3 can be covered in on very full day if you know where you are going or have a guide.

Probably complicating matters, but reading between the lines on what interests you, if it were my trip I think I would drop central Vietnam ( Hue and Hoi An] and concentrate on the north and south. This would allow you time to see everything without rushing. Maybe slightly more time in Hanoi for HB, NB and the City itself and possibly a trip out into the countryside somewhere before flying into Saigon and incorporating time in the city with a trip to the delta.
The extra time in fewer places would allow a much more relaxed pacae and your would arguably end up actually really seeing more stuf than on a more rushed trip- JMO

hurrygirl Nov 9th, 2018 03:46 PM

I think you should go to Ninh Binh. I visited the same areas as you plan to last year in January and included a few days in the hills outside Sapa at an Ecolodge. It was a great experience but after meeting young people who had done Sapa and Ninh Binh, I think it sounds fabulous I would even consider skipping Halong Bay to do it. Haling Bay was a good experience fir us on a very small boat for two days/ 1 night and actually went to LanHa Bay where it is not quite as busy. By the way all Crelstons advice was really helpful for us in our travels there.

hurrygirl Nov 9th, 2018 03:49 PM

Make sure to try the egg coffee in Hanoi. They have a couple of specialty places serving it- yummmy!

hurrygirl Nov 9th, 2018 03:57 PM

Try to do a street food tour when you arrive in Hanoi. That way you will comfortable buying street food which is fabulous. We did a small group tour and ended up just 3 of us and the guide and it was fabulous. We stayed at the Trendy Hotel and loved it- a great introduction to Vietnam.
We loved Vietnam and I hope you will. I agree Hoi An is touristy but we loved our bike tour in the countryside. Still very pretty but full of tailors and yes I did have some things made which didn’t end up that great :)
i much preferred time there to time in Saigon. We really enjoyed Hue and loved the market there.

crellston Nov 9th, 2018 05:48 PM

"You must choose whatever clots your particular boats" should of course read - floats your boat! I hate my iPad at times!

progol Nov 13th, 2018 01:47 AM

Originally Posted by crellston (Post 16822793)
"You must choose whatever clots your particular boats" should of course read - floats your boat! I hate my iPad at times!

crellston, I think Autocorrect has a great sense of humor!! It drives me crazy but it's definitely creative!!

Enjoying this thread - hoping to visit Vietnam in the next 1-2 years, so am saving/savoring the suggestions!

flygirl Nov 14th, 2018 03:22 AM

Hi everyone

Sorry to disappear! Thank you for the advice. I haven't bought the intra-country flights yet, so I'm not 100% sure of timing but it seems like I should think about giving Saturday-Saturday for the north. I hate to miss Hue and Hoi An. I am debating if I want to make Hue a day trip from Hoi An, I know it's possible but in winter (short days) is it desirable? Dunno.

What is the latest you would wait to buy intra-country flights? Do it as soon as you know? will I be caught short if I wait too long?

Thank you for the advice on Saigon, too.

I just read the quickest and most interesting way to get to Ha Long Bay is via seaplane. I know you can sightsee-seaplane there, but can you actually fly there from Hanoi? Has anyone done that? I would be interested in doing that if it cuts the travel time!

Thank you!

crellston Nov 14th, 2018 04:51 AM

Vietnam is in the tropics so "short days" as such don’t exist. Dawn and dusk are pretty much the same times year round. 5.30am -5.30 pm. It is at least a 2.5 hour drive each way and a lightning tour of the citadel and a couple of the imperial tombs would likely take 4 hours or so making a really long day. You would need to arrange a private tour as this would be very difficult independently. If you really wanted to push it then you could add in a quick visit to the Marble Mountains en route.

There is no point in waiting any longer than necessary to book your flights. As with anywhere else the closer to departure you get the more fares will rise and availability decrease.

There was somebody on this forum who was planing to do the seaplane flight and my have now done it. I can’t recall there name but maybe if you search or seaplane using the tab above. With the advent of the new road, I am not sure if the time saving would be that great if when you factor in transfer time to the airport ( esp. if it flies from Noi Ban)

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