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Craig Jul 13th, 2008 11:58 AM

Craig and Jeane - First Try - VN Itinerary
OK - assuming the unlikely situation that flights don't open up for our originally planned PNG trip, here is what I have for Vietnam in April of next year:

Day 1 arrive Hanoi am - recover from jet lag and perhaps walk in the lake area - overnight Sofitel Metropole

Day 2 Hanoi

Day 3 Hanoi

Day 4 to Halong Bay for upscale Cruise (several options but Ginger Junk etc seem to be fine)

Day 5 Cruise then return to Metropole

Day 6 Another day in Hanoi then train to Lao Cai/Sapa - check out Sapa before heading to Topas Ecoresort (overnight).

Day 7 Day trek (hiking) from Topas Ecoresort

Day 8 Day trek (hiking) from Topas Ecoresort

Day 9 Visit Can Cao Market (Saturday) before boarding overnight train to Hanoi

Day 10 Hanoi, overnight Sofitel Metropole

Day 11 Depart Hanoi

I realize that reviews of Topas outside of Sapa are limited here but Tripadvisor reviews are excellent. I know one poster here has been there but with limited feedback.

Obviously we will not take the Victoria train but there are other options with similar quality.

While I would like to check out central VN - Hue in particular, the flights consume lots of extra time so I'm thinking we'll just save it for the next trip. I realize that Halong Bay has positives and negatives but it seems like a pleasant thing to do in April and is relatively easy to work into the itinerary as well.

Are we spending too much time in Hanoi?

Kathie Jul 13th, 2008 01:45 PM

Craig, by my count, you have 4 days in Hanoi. One day is after your arrival from the US and one day is after an overnight train. By no means do I think you have too much time in Hanoi. We enjoyed 5 full days in Hanoi and found plenty to do/see/eat/buy etc.

I'll be interested in your review of Topas Ecoresort.

rhkkmk Jul 13th, 2008 01:58 PM

i think it looks perfect....

make a stop outside hanoi in the pottery town, for sure and maybe another stop or two along the way...

we visited an artist in his home and getting there was very interesting and so was his work...we will dig the info out for you

rhkkmk Jul 13th, 2008 01:59 PM

don't forget to stay at ROS on your bkk nites....its more highly rated than the penn or oriental and even the nana

Craig Jul 13th, 2008 03:01 PM

We only stay in the Nana Towers :-)

FromDC Jul 13th, 2008 03:23 PM

Craig, I thought I had my November itinerary all planned but when I saw your post about Topas Eco I became interested in possibly substituting Sapa for Hue/Hoi, as I am now worried about the rain in early November. There were two reasons that I excluded it originally - -Sapa seemed very touristy but this place is outside Sapa and the website looks lovely. Second, I am concerned about TWO overnights on a train. How are you dealing with that, and anyone else who has done the trains - -what is it really like??

Craig Jul 13th, 2008 03:57 PM

FromDC - if I was going in November I probably would not be considering Sapa or for that matter Halong Bay.

As far as the overnight train is concerned, the positives are that it saves two nights of lodging and gives us two extra days of touring. The negative is that we might not get a very good night's sleep although I can sleep through pretty much anything after a long day. If we do this itinerary we will not take the Victoria train - there are others that offer equal comfort and cost far less. The key is to have a full cabin (whether 2 or 4 berths) to yourselves.

FromDC Jul 13th, 2008 04:19 PM

I'm willing to risk Halong Bay because it is only one day, but not Sapa if the weather will be bad. Is the problem fog or rain or cold? So now I am also thinking, hmmm, maybe Chiang Rai, since we are going to BKK after this leg.

Kristina Jul 13th, 2008 09:43 PM

I'll be very interested to hear more as you plan.

How do you think this itinerary would work in July?

Also, where do you find out about the trains (other than the Victoria)? What is the price difference? Is price the primary factor as to why you wouldn't take the Victoria or do you have to be staying in their hotel to take that train?

Topas Ecoresort looks interesting. What made you choose them instead of anywhere else in Sapa?

Craig Jul 14th, 2008 02:40 AM

Kristina - July is the hottest month of the year in Hanoi and it rains a lot in the north at that time.

There is train info on and
There is a significant price difference but that is not really a factor for us. You do have to be staying at the Victoria at least one night though to take that train.

The main reason that I am choosing Topas Ecoresort is that it is not in Sapa. There are about a dozen reviews on tripadvisor and most are excellent.

Kristina Jul 14th, 2008 11:59 AM

Unfortunately, the only time we can get two weeks in a row off is July or August. So, given that, I just have to take the not-so-great weather in SEA.
I wonder if Halong Bay and Sapa are not the best choices for that time of year? Don't want to hijack your thread though. :-)
The Topas resort looks very cool. I've bookmarked it for the future!

Femi Jul 15th, 2008 11:34 AM

Do you have the website address for the ecolodge? It looks like a great alternative to Sapa.

Craig Jul 15th, 2008 12:15 PM

alison Jul 15th, 2008 12:40 PM

Kristina, if you look at my trip report, you will see that we were extremely lucky with weather in late June/early July. Can't promise that luck for another year, but the weather wasn't an impediment for us at all -- it was a blessing.
We had also ruled out Sapa because of the crazy schedule with trains and also because trekking in the mud (if it was really rainy) did not sound fun, whereas schlepping around a city could be done in the rain.

Femi Jul 15th, 2008 03:22 PM

The ecolodge looks lovely. Can't believe I didn't come across it when I was doing the research for my trip. I hope you do end up going so I can hear all about it.

Sapa was definitely my favorite part of Vietnam.

Robbietravels Jul 15th, 2008 10:43 PM

On my trip to Vietnam in December '06 my favorite places were Sapa area and Hue. I liked Hanoi but was not enchanted with it. The Metropole was beautiful but very pricy and management didn't have their act together when we were there.
We opted against Halong Bay because the weather can be unpredictable. When the weather is fine, I hear it is lovely.
In the Sapa area we drove up to Binh Lu area and the scenery was spectacular. I think you will like the Saturday market. There is also a smaller, less touristy market on Sunday, Muong Hu. We then took the train back to Hanoi on Sunday night after this market. I'd recommend you have a guide to get you to your train in Hanoi and pick you up after Sapa.
The train station when we were there was incredibly hectic and crowded and confusing. I think I'd still be hunting for the right car if I didn't have guidance.
IMO your ability to interact with locals and see local events (we attended a wedding) depends a lot on how hard your guide works to meet your requests and how well connected he is with the various groups.
I used a local ground operator in Hanoi and they provided good guides for Sapa. I can look them up (I think) if you're interested.
I thought Hue was outstanding for its history and stunning architecture; two days is minimal but adequate. Personally, I would not make a separate trip to see central VN. I enjoyed 2 1/2 days in Hoi An, the drive over the pass, etc. but it was not especially memorable.
You may have already eliminated the following option due to travel distance but Luang Prabang in Laos is utterly delightful. More on par with the pleasures of Burma.
I do hope flights open up and you can go to PNG.

mrwunrfl Jul 16th, 2008 12:34 AM

Looks like a good itin. It is not too much time in Hanoi (and I am not one who tends to linger in a place). I would consider coming back from Halong Bay, having cha ca for dinner, then going to catch the train. I'd consider that and then probably decide not to do it.

Craig Jul 16th, 2008 02:56 AM

Robbie thanks for your suggestions. I was wondering about the train and you have confirmed my doubts.

If you can find the name of your Sapa guide, that would be helpful...

We visited LP 2 years ago.

Robbietravels Jul 16th, 2008 07:52 PM

Our Sapa guide was arranged by Focus Travel in Hanoi. The office manager spoke very good English and escorted us to the train. [email protected].
Our guide was Mr. Tuan. We did not find him inspiring at first. Once we got acquainted and explained our interests he warmed up and did well. He pointed out a tent some distance from where we were hiking one day and said the colors of the tent indicated a wedding. We expressed great interest and he said he knew the village and went to ask if we could join in. After more hiking through rice fields we got to the tent and were visiting with the families. They served us the local brew while we watched the two fathers haggling over the bride wealth.
After the Can Cao market Mr. Tuan took us to a very local hangout that I never would have entered in a million years (the woman at the next table from Hong Kong was cleaning her silverware with Purell); nonetheless, the food and atmosphere were very down home and fun and we had no bad GI effects.The cell number I have (from Dec. 2006) for Mr. Tuan is 0912827810. All the best.

Craig Jul 22nd, 2008 12:55 PM

I thought I might update everyone on our progress...

I have contacted 4 agencies - Innovation in the U.S. and (Aurora), Tonkin and Focus in Hanoi. Prices vary widely - the most expensive quote is almost twice as much as the lowest one. Two of the agencies gave me itemized (rather than package) price quotes - not surprisingly these turned out to be the lowest of the 4.

Robbie, I just received the quote from Focus. It came from Mr. Tuan (your guide) - is Focus a one man show? It was a very detailed and professional quote but also the highest of the 4. He did create (unsolicited) a very extensive itinerary of driving/walking tours near Sapa though I am not sure whether they would be unique enough to justify the huge price difference. Any comments on this would be appreciated.

Tonkin (recently used by Alison on this forum) gave me a very good and professional quote and has been helpful in answering my questions. I am still trying to work out some details with them.

Vietnamstay (mentioned often on this forum) seems to be good at booking hotels but is not giving me a comfortable feeling about transfers and other details.

Innovation is expensive but Gregg (one-man show?) must subcontract everything from the U.S. and there's a necessary mark-up for that. I spoke to Gregg on the phone initially - he was very pleasant and helpful.

We hope to get this wrapped up fairly soon. We may be required to put down some sort of a deposit to hold the trip although I'm never real crazy about doing that. I'll keep you posted.

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