Advice on first time Vietnam Itinerary

Feb 29th, 2012, 04:24 PM
  #21  
 
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 310
DH and I in our 60s spent 2 weeks in Vietnam in October 2010. I had a "bad" knee (since replaced) so that was a consideration. We thought our schedule on the whole was really good:
Hanoi-2 nights
Sapa - 4 nights (incl. 2 on train)
Halong Bay - Dragon Pearl - 2 nights
Hue - 2 nights
HoiAn - 3 nights
Hanoi - 1 night before return home
We had more time in Hanoi than it looks like because of flight/train times- 3-1/2 days altogether

This is the link to my trip report if you are interested in more detail:
http://www.fodors.com/community/asia...ch-variety.cfm
(or click on my name)

We enjoyed it so much we are planning a return trip in the next couple of months.
linawood is offline  
Mar 1st, 2012, 12:23 PM
  #22  
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Linawood, a great trip report. I hadn't come across that one before in my search. It was lovely to see how you so matter of factly put up with the things that went wrong, made the best of it and didn't let it stop you from enjoying the rest of the holiday.

I have been wondering about whether to try and schedule our flight down to Danang on the same day as our arrival back from Halong Bay so was very interested to see that was what you did.

Despite it not working out for you because of the flight cancellation, do you think this should work well? I don't really want to break up the trip with another Hanoi just to catch a plane the next morning.

Thanks
shandy is offline  
Mar 1st, 2012, 04:57 PM
  #23  
jgg
 
Join Date: Sep 2004
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We were just in Vietnam in Dec. We spent 4 nights in Hoi An and absolutely loved it! In addition to just enjoying our time in the town we also did a fabulous street food tour with Neville of Tasteofhoian.com. This was a huge hit and the highlight of the entire trip for all of us. We also did a fabulous cooking class with Van of Greenbamboo-hoian.com (her website isn't all that developed but don't let that stop you from booking her,and a great bike tour with Heaven and Earth Bicycle Tours(http://www.vietnam-bicycle.com/), not sure if that is something you could do with your knees, but it was a fabulous time.
Just wanted to show that there is a lot more to do in Hoi An than sit on the beach or shop. Though we did have fun getting some clothes made!!
jgg is offline  
Mar 2nd, 2012, 05:47 AM
  #24  
 
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About flying to Danang after coming back from Halong - it seems to make the most of your time with the fewest moves. We thought it was worth the risk even knowing Danang has bad weather, and we would probably do it that way again. As it turned out we were in our hotel in Hue by breakfast, so we really didn't lose much time there. However I would NEVER stay at the awful Airport Hotel again and have checked for other possibilities. The Avi Airport hotel looks much better if you got caught for the night.
We liked our 3 days in HoiAn because it was less intense than the rest of the trip. We enjoyed the leisurely strolling without watching so much for traffic, and observing the life around us and also the really good food. With my knee situation I particularly appreciated the cyclos and the riverboats.
linawood is offline  
Mar 2nd, 2012, 01:28 PM
  #25  
 
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crellston. I have just snooped over to look at a lot of your travel photos and wanted to tell you how lovely they are!
lincasanova is offline  
Mar 2nd, 2012, 02:12 PM
  #26  
 
Join Date: Feb 2006
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You could take the night train instead of worrying about whether the flight will go. See http://www.seat61.com/Vietnam.htm
thursdaysd is offline  
Mar 3rd, 2012, 12:51 AM
  #27  
 
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The night train is a great idea and a good way to meet some Vietnamese people not engaged in the tourism industry. The journey from Da nang to Hue is spectacular but I suppose you would miss that coming from the north 9almost worth going to Hue and retracing your journey to hue!)

lincasnova - you are very kind. Glad you like the photos.
crellston is offline  
Mar 3rd, 2012, 04:54 AM
  #28  
 
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I did not care for our one experience on an overnight train in VN. We went from Sapa to Hanoi on the Livitrain. It was pretty awful. The compartments are very tiny and my 6'3" husband barely fit head to toe in the bed. We had one 4 bunk to ourselves and I can't imagine fitting 4 people and luggage in those tiny compartments. We each had 21" carry on and small backpack which we put on the top beds. The bathroom was not clean.
As far as meeting others, I don't c how one would. Everyone goes into their sleeping compartments -- no seating anywhere that I saw, and pretty much closes their doors right when the train takes off. The train itself is loud and creaky and all in all it was not a pleasant nights experience.

On sf's recommendation we also did a day with Hue Riders and it was a fun and a great way to c the major sites of Hue. We also went to the guide's home and out into the countryside, so all in all a very enjoyable day in Hue.
yestravel is offline  
Mar 3rd, 2012, 05:20 AM
  #29  
 
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I guess everyone has a different view of what constitutes a good travel experience. I love rail travel and have used trains all around the world whenever possible and for me it is with putting up with some minor discomfort for the experience (mind you, I am not 6'3'' - oh that I were!!).

I have read good reports of Hue Riders. However, I ride a motorbike at home and so am very conscious of the safety issues and would urge caution riding one in Vietnam (or any where else) without full safety gear (a helmet is just not enough). I did try it once in Koh Tao many years ago it ruined a diving holiday and I still have some of the scars to remind me!
crellston is offline  
Mar 3rd, 2012, 05:37 AM
  #30  
 
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Please don't judge all night trains, even Vietnamese ones, by the Livitrans ride to Sapa. I, too, suffered through that, and it was the next to worst night train ride I've done, and I've spent over 40 nights on trains (I counted while not sleeping on the way to Sapa). The only ride that was worse was when I carelessly wound up sitting up all night in third on a Thai train - second class sleepers on Thai trains are very good but you need to book ahead.

The way you meet people is to ride "normal" trains (not those intended just for tourists like the Livitrans section of the Sapa train), and share a compartment. I understand that sharing a compartment is somehow un-American, as Amtrak, much to my annoyance, flat-out doesn't allow it, but it is standard practice everywhere else in the world. In western Europe you share with people of the same sex, but elsewhere it's mixed sex.

The first time I rode a Vietnamese train (in hard sleeper as soft sleeper was sold out), the tiny old woman in my compartment wanted me to know that she had been an anti-aircraft gunner in Hanoi during the war, but the young woman traveling with her professor father who translated for me didn't want to talk about the war.
thursdaysd is offline  
Mar 3rd, 2012, 09:35 AM
  #31  
 
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Crellston, with Hue Riders, THEY do the driving, and at least the drivers we had were incredible - I never felt unsafe for one minute!
sf7307 is offline  
Mar 3rd, 2012, 11:34 AM
  #32  
 
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We want to go to VN iwith our daughter adopted from there in a few years. It's too early to start planning, but when the time is right, this thread will give me a very good start!
kwren is offline  
Mar 4th, 2012, 01:14 AM
  #33  
 
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sf7307 - I am glad you felt safe with Hue Riders. However it really makes little difference who is driving, both rider and pillion will still hit the road at the same speed in the event of an accident. in fact statistics will show that a pillion passenger is at even greater risk than the rider. Motorcyle accidents are the single biggest cause of hospitalisation amongst tourists in the Far East. Falling off a motorcycle at even low speed without protective clothing is a bit like sliding down a giant cheese grater naked. I love riding my motorcycle but would not dream of doing so without the correct gear.
crellston is offline  
Mar 12th, 2012, 10:25 PM
  #34  
 
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I've inspected each of the private carriages on each of the several night trains from Hanoi to Lao Cai (for Sapa).

The Victoria Express train is the best, but it's only for patrons of the Victoria Hotel. The best of the rest are Orient Express or Fanxipan, though you won't find a huge difference between them, as they are all refurbished leased Vietanmese Railways (DSVN) soft sleepers.

We used the Orient Express up, and Fanxipan back, slept well on both trips, both cars were reasonably clean and comfy. I'm 6' 2" and had little problem with the berths, although the berth support chains made the upper berth less comfortable for tall people than the bottom bunk. We shared with two nice Philippine ladies going up, and an Australian couple coming back, there was a 'party' atmosphere in the tourist cars and it was good fun. Certainly an integral part of the experience! sapa itself was covered in cloud when we were there, back in November.

From Hanoi to Hue and Danang (for Hoi An) the best train is the SE1, leaving central Hanoi at 19:00 every day arriving Hue 08:02 and Danang 10:31. So it's overnight, saves a hotel bill, and takes less time from your schedule than flying.

The section between Hue and Danang is spectacular, all along the coast and through the Hai Van Pass, making the journey as much of an experience as the destination.

I made a video so you can see for yourself what the train, the journey, the on-train food and the scenery are like - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g65b7xAMZxE

Two Livitrans sleeping-cars are attached between Hanoi and danang, a cut above the regular DSVN soft sleepers, but even these are fine, we used the regular soft sleepers between Danang and Saigon. I was surprised to find soap and toilet paper in the toilets (well, all the ones I inspected) even in the regular cars, and although slightly tatty by Swiss standards, there were better than Indian trains if not quite as good as thai ones.

Hanoi to Hue costs only $35 by regular soft sleeper air-con, or $49 by Livitrans soft sleeper. There's train info at www.seat61.com/Vietnam.htm
Man_in_seat_61 is offline  
Mar 13th, 2012, 05:41 AM
  #35  
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Thanks for the info on the train from various contributors. I am now thinking that this is the way to go rather than catching the plane down. I hadn't given any consideration to catching the train prior to it being brought up here.

It seems to me that arriving in Hue at approx 8 in the morning seems much simpler than catching the plane to Danang Airport and then a long car trip into Hue. It would also be the best use of our money. As we intend to stay at the pricier La Residence we would save that night's accommodation.

Having said this it look like the trip is probably on hold for the time being as my father has recently become seriously ill and is unlikely to last the year out - however, he has been exceptionally fit and well until now. How many 88 year olds do you know that would go for a 60km bike ride just for the pleasure of it? I can only hope to do as half as well as him as I get older.

Regardless, I still intend to do this trip, if not this year, then next year.
shandy is offline  
Mar 13th, 2012, 05:59 AM
  #36  
 
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shandy - so sorry to hear about your father. But kudos for listening to us about the train!
thursdaysd is offline  
Mar 13th, 2012, 06:54 AM
  #37  
 
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We were in Vietnam a few years ago and combined it with Cambodia, this is offered for context.

I would highly recommend 2 nights on Halong Bay. We did this and were the only ones on the boat who did, the company hired a private tour boat for us and took us to places in Halong Bay that were very off the beaten track. They cooked an 8 course lunch for us that was obviously authentic but really wonderful. Also, because we were there for 2 nights we had a private tour of the cave. The Bay is really something, very peaceful and tranquil and different.

As for Hanoi, we LOVED it. 4 Days is not too much. We did break it up with the trip to Halong Bay.

The food is Phenomenal. Nothing like the Vietnamese we get in the USA. Have a wonderful time.
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