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A short trip report of Vietnam, Dec 2016

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Jan 10th, 2017, 08:48 AM
  #1
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A short trip report of Vietnam, Dec 2016

Thanks to the help I got here we had a great trip to Vietnam. The final itinerary was as noted below. I have links to companies we used and have noted what hotels we stayed in. I don't have anything remarkable to say about any of the hotels and have reviewed them under this same screenname on Trip Advisor if anyone needs that info. I will give some highlights/info about the overall trip in my next post.

Dec 15: Arrive Saigon 12:40 AM ( taxi to Christina’s for check-in and rest), Day adjusting to city,
1:00 PM, OneTrip Student-led tour https://www.christinas.vn/onetrip/ ON Chirstina’s (from Air BNB)

Dec 16: Day in Saigon

Dec 17: 8: 00 AM pickup for Bike Mekong Delta http://www.vietnamcycletours.com/,

Day 18 Biking Mekong Delta

Dec 19, Biking Mekon Delta, evening return to Saigon ON Avanti Hotel

Dec 20: Half day in Saigon, 4:00 PM afternoon flight to Hue,
ON Sunny Fine Guest House

Dec 21: Hue, Hue Easy Rider Day Tour, http://www.hueeasyridertour.com/detail1.html
ON Sunny Fine Guest House

Dec 22 Day in Hue, DMZ Tour with Mr. Trung, https://www.facebook.com/MrTrungTours/
7:20 PM Vietnam Airlines flight to Hanoi, ON Hanoi Renezvous Hotel

Dec 23 Hanoi,
9:00 AM Free City tour, http://hanoifreetourguides.com/en/
6:00 PM street food tour, http://www.hanoistreetfoodtour.com/
ON Hanoi Renezvous Hotel

Dec 24 Free Day Hanoi
ON Hanoi Renezvous Hotel

Dec 25 Mai Chau Trek with Ethnic Travel, http://www.ethnictravel.com.vn/

Dec 26 Mai Chau Trek with Ethnic Travel

Dec 27 Mai Chau Trek with Ethnic Travel

Dec 28 Return from Mai Chau Trek with Ethnic Travel, 9:00 PM flight return to Ho Chi Minh City,
ON Thien Vu Hotel near airport in Saigon

Dec 29 5:40 a.m. flight to Beijing, Airport by 4:00 a.m. fly home
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Jan 10th, 2017, 09:02 AM
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Overall impressions:
We had a wonderful trip and we really liked Vietnam. It was, hands-down, the best experience we have had in any country in terms of schedules/reservations being exactly what was pre-arranged. It was almost shocking how on-time and responsive every company was. I arranged the entire trip ahead of time over email and websites and not a single thing fell through or was even late.

I would have cut some time in both Saigon and Hanoi. Neither have particularly interesting attractions or sites and they are huge, polluted, noisy, busy cities. I know that we are not city people and yet when we plan a trip I always see things like “don’t shortchange these cities” and end up spending more time in cities than we like. The main sites of each city can be seen in a single day of touring. And honestly, there wasn’t anything we visited in either one that felt like a “must-see.”

After cutting time from cities we would have had time for Ha Long bay. While I am not sorry we didn’t visit it given how crowded and polluted it seems to be, I certainly would have enjoyed it over Hanoi and Saigon. Or perhaps we would have enjoyed Cat Ba as an alternative.

Things we loved:
Biking in the Mekong Delta - Very few tourists and an easy ride. We got a real view into village life and had a great experience cycling through there with all the friendly local people greeting us as we rode along. I know a lot of people don’t have much interest in the south of the country but this was a wonderful way to experience it. We saw a real local market (much more interesting than Ben Thanh in Saigon), enjoyed a homestay with so much food served at dinner we thought we would explode (and created the reminder that served us well at other homestays--”the dishes don’t stop coming until the rice is on the table!”), saw a floating market, visited a cacao farm, and got lots of great info from our guide.

Hue Easy Rider Tours - They deserve the accolades they get on trip advisor. They are a well-organized company and we had a great day tour around Hue with our guides.

Hanoi Free Tour Guides - Had a wonderful experience with a high school student who took us around to Hanoi’s main sites. He was delightful to interact with and the company was very professional. We loved the cultural exchange of this experience. His English was superlative.

Onetrip Free Day Tour of Ho Chi Minh City - Similar idea of Hanoi Free Tour Guides this is a “free” service that is based on tips. The guides are students who want to practice their English. We had three guides. One spoke excellent English. The other two were occasionally hard to understand. They were all lovely to interact with and we had a great day out with them on their motorbikes.

Hanoi Street Food Tour - The fact that they accommodated me as a vegetarian was great to begin with. The fact that our guide made sure that my husband’s foods were carrot free (severe allergy) was even better. We had a blast walking around with her, hearing about the different foods and tasting so many wonderful things.

Hike in Mai Chau Valley - Booked with Ethnic travel as recommended on these boards. They company was so wonderfully responsive via email. We had to postpone a bit when my husband got ill and they responded right away and were completely accommodating. The trek itself was pleasant. It was a good look at rural life in Vietnam and it was not overrun with tourists. The views are beautiful and it was wonderful to get out of the bustle of Hanoi (both I and our companions on that portion had hacking coughs that were a result of all that Hanoi pollution).

Special Shout out:
Hanoi Family Medical saved our trip at 2 a.m. on Christmas day. My husband got food poisoning from a tourist restaurant across from our hotel. After an increasingly miserable night that got to severe dehydration and utter wretchedness, our hotel Hotel Rendezvous (otherwise unremarkable) got a cab arranged for us to go to this urgent care/emergency room type place. English-speaking staff and a clean, safe facility had him treated and feeling better within a couple hours. He was back to the trip by the next afternoon. It was expensive but worth it and that’s why we take out travel insurance.
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Jan 10th, 2017, 09:49 AM
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Liked your report. We spent 5 nights in Hanoi in November and loved it, especially Halong/Baitulong Bay, did you go there?
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Jan 10th, 2017, 12:18 PM
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We dd not go to Halong. We debated it because it is a World heritage site but eventually decided that the crowds and pollution would detract too much for us.

Another popular tour we did not do was the Cu Chi tunnels near Saigon. WE were ambivalent about it and ultimately decided it wasn't for us. Strange when you consider that we took the DMZ tour. Well, the DMZ tour was great--very respectful and untouristed with a guide who really knew a lot about the era. We saw the Vinh Moc village tunnels and felt like those were more palatable to tour than Cu Chi.
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Jan 12th, 2017, 09:31 AM
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Please name the restaurant where your husband got food poisoning. I will be in the Mai Chau area in February as part of my trip and I want to be sure to avoid that restaurant if I see it. Also, put a review on TA and note the food poisoning please.
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Jan 12th, 2017, 10:22 AM
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Hi susiesan, I had to do some tracking to remember its name--it was called Greet Restaurant. 20 Bát Đàn, Hàng Gai, Hoàn Kiếm, Hà Nội,

If you google it there are photos of the storefront so you will know to avoid it. I will also put a TA review up.

On the most wildly separate note possible, I highly recommend Aubergene Cafe in Hanoi. I am vegetarian and it had the most delicious menu of foods and friendly family-run staff. They have meat choices also. I went to it based on a review on TA and even ordered a menu item recommended there --it was delicious---the caramel tofu with lemongrass. It was unusual, which was nice, since a lot of the veggie fare can get repetitive. It's savory, not sweet. I really was glad I tried it.
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Jan 12th, 2017, 10:54 AM
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We went to Baitulong Bay for 1 night/2 days with Indochina Junk on Dragon Pearl 3, we only saw 12 other boats, the water was clean, the trip was heavenly.
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Jan 12th, 2017, 07:25 PM
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Schlegal Thanks for this report. I am going in April and like you don't want big cites. Giving Saigon a miss entirely and only a couple days Hanoi even though every one said we need more time there. Glad I stuck to my plan from what you say.
I am a vegetarian too, my travel partner eats anything. I will look at Aubergene in Hanoi for sure. One of my concerns is finding places to eat as I know they use a lot of beef broth and fish sauce everywhere. Did you have many problems?
We are starting in the Mekong and looking forward to biking, glad you enjoyed it. Also using Ethnic tours as well for three days around Mai Chau so glad it went well for you.
Any other tips are greatly appreciated.
Shangainese we also booked Indochina for Bai tu long because of recommendations , rather than Halong bay.
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Jan 12th, 2017, 08:07 PM
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Thanks Schlegal. Always good to get other perspectives.
Wish I'd have gone to the DMZ. I've no interest in seeing the Saigon Cu Chi tunnels, so your experience at the DMZ is one I'll keep in mind for a possible future trip.

Did you stay at the village homestays during your Mai Chau tek?

Incidentally, the section of HaLong Bay that I was in was neither crowded (one fishing boat nearby) nor (visibly, at least) polluted.
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Jan 12th, 2017, 08:32 PM
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Hi schlegal1..its great that you had shared the information related to your trip..but I want to know information related hotels because I am planning to go Vietnam next month..so i will be glad if you will get the information in your next post..
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Jan 12th, 2017, 08:36 PM
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Thanks for the TR. glad you enjoyed VN. I used to feel as you do about big cities and learned never to spend more than a couple days of a trip in them. It is hard to resist all the comments of what "you must see." Curious as to where you read about Halong Bay and the pollution? Like others here we went to Bai Tu Long Bay and it was us and another boat.
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Jan 12th, 2017, 11:13 PM
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Thanks for your report, it brought me some happy memories.
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Jan 13th, 2017, 07:01 AM
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Hey all, thanks for the replies. Well the information about Halong bay was based on reviews of day trips which was all we thought we would have time for, which, I think, make a very quick tour there in the busiest areas.

I am sure that, as so many have pointed out, there are some wonderful places to visit that are gorgeous if one can give it the proper amount of time. The Swiss couple said Cat Ba was lovely, uncrowded and, once away from shore, clean and pretty. But they also said they saw the hordes and hordes of people and boats in Halong City--those are probably the day tours, I would guess. So I didn't mean to disparage a World Heritage Site and I regret being unclear about that.

Calinurse - yes. We just loved the homestays and the hospitality. So wonderful. And the food! Oh the food was sooooo good and sooooo much.

live42day - The only problem I had with veggie choices was on the Mekong delta portion at lunch one day. I had told our guide I am vegetarian. We went to a place that serves pho and only pho. He told me the day before that we were going there. I explained being veg again. He said, I am going to ask them to leave the beef out. I explained again that the broth was still a problem. He just couldn't comprehend it (he wasn't being a jerk, he just kept repeating that there wouldn't be any meat in it). So that day I made sure to have a huge breakfast and we had some nuts in our bag. They put some noodles in a bowl for me without any broth, which was bland but fine.

billrandall, I will give short descriptions on the hotel impressions and if any seem like they interest you, I wrote in-depth on all of them on TA.
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Jan 13th, 2017, 07:09 AM
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Christina's (Saigon) (Air BNB booking) - Loved it. Loved it. Loved it. A sweet cozy hotel with a great atmosphere and a truly attentive and responsive staff. great location.

Avanti Hotel (saigon) - Very nice and conveniently located across from Ben Thanh market in Saigon. It's like the equivalent of a nicer chain hotel though I don't believe it is a chain.

Mekong delta - booked through our guides but there was a hotel called The West that was quite large and nice but our room had an odor of stale cigarettes that ruined the place for us.

Sunny Fine Guest House (Hue) - Hostel with just the nicest family running it. Cheap, clean and quirky. More the backpacker crowd. Rooms were worn out but the nice owners still make it homey/welcoming.

Rendezvous (Hanoi) - Last minute booking when our planned hotel closed for fire code rennovations (yikes!). It's highly rated on TA but it's just a completely average to below average hotel. It's worn out. The staff, however, is what most people compliment and they were quite terrific.

Ehtnic Travel homestays - just wonderful.

Thien Vu hotel (Saigon) - A cheap hotel literally just to rest and repack before our very early international flight out of Saigon. It was as cheap feeling (plastic accordian door to the bathroom, big bright buzzing flourescent light) as its price suggests but clean and close to the airport.
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Jan 13th, 2017, 07:19 AM
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And a few pics of the trip here:
https://sharedonfodors.shutterfly.com/
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Jan 13th, 2017, 05:18 PM
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Thanks Schelegal. I know, non vegetarians quite often (even some friends of mine!!) have said "just pick the meat out!"
I will have protein bars and almonds with me at all times, and plain rice or noodles won't kill me for one meal.
Good report.
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Sep 12th, 2017, 09:29 AM
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Thanks for sharing your report. Could you please share how much you paid for the 2N, 3D bike tour of mekong? We are travelling in november and looking to do the tour with Vietnam Cycle Tours only but I can't seem to find the price on their website.
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Sep 22nd, 2017, 07:42 AM
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Bookmarking
This is on my bucket list.
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Sep 22nd, 2017, 04:44 PM
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Of course i do not know the particular circumstances of the OP's vegetarian stance but seems all fall into one of three categories: religious, ethical or personal health.
The healthy folks can pick out the chunks of meat and be happy enough.

The ethical people abhor any animal dying for their benefit and so even the broth offends them. (The vegans won't even wear leather shoes nor eat honey, milk etc due to 'slavery' issues).

The religious are intolerant of any suspected offense. Consider the muslims, the hindus and the like who will sue you or chop your head if you serve them the wrong meal. They seem to care naught about the animal, only the ideology.

Some Hari Krishna folks, who we invited to dinner one time, asked if we ever had served meat in that house. If so, then cannot share with you, sorry. I ordered a Kosher meal on a long-haul air flight from ORD to BKK one time: never again. The entire meal was prepared in Israel, wrapped 3 times, and sealed in tough plastic. What a mess to eat and the taste, of course, was days old.

Lots of vegetarian restaurants in Thailand as many Buddhists refuse meat and seafood. It's a good plan to go 'veg' one week a month and reflect on the animal suffering, the massive loss of world fish stocks, destruction of native forest to support the beeves and the personal price we pay to eat the flesh and fat of other sentient beings.

Sorry if off-topic, slightly.
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Sep 29th, 2017, 04:01 AM
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Motobike tour is amazing,i really love this.
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