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Craig and Jeane - First Try - VN Itinerary

Craig and Jeane - First Try - VN Itinerary

Jul 22nd, 2008, 03:22 PM
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 456
Craig, I think Tonkin may be used by more people on Trip Advisor than on Fodors. You can check out trip advisor for others who have used their services. My bookings were very straightforward for specific hotels, flights and the junk cruise with private transfers. They delivered everything as promised. If you want some side trips, they can do all that, too. But much of that can be booked when you are there.
About the deposit, I have heard different stories from different people. We did not give a deposit, but it was off-season and that may make a difference. We paid immediately on arrival in Hanoi. Someone came to our hotel. We paid 3% extra for using credit card and lost out on an additional cash discount. If I had it to do over again, I would have just brought the cash in a money belt. There wasn't much chance of theft between LAX and Hanoi Airport/taxi/hotel. But I just didn't want to carry that much cash since we were already bringing some USD to have with us.
Also, paying at least some of it by credit card may give you some protection if something goes wrong. Fortunately, everything went like clockwork so that wasn't an issue for us.
Whatever company you use, double check all the vouchers they send you for day of week, dates, times, etc. and be VERY specific with your requests (e.g., nonsmoking, vegetarian, quiet room, high floor, desired view, etc.) I think part of the reason everything went so smoothly is that i had researched ad nauseum on Trip Advisor and knew exactly what I wanted.
Also, if you can reduce the number of packings/unpackings and checking in/out from your original itinerary you posted, that may make it a better trip.
Let me know if you have any further questions.
alison is offline  
Jul 22nd, 2008, 04:19 PM
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Hi Alison - thanks for your response. You are right, there are numerous reviews of Tonkin on TA - all good. While I feel TA is a great resource, I really like Fodors because it tends to be more personal - maybe that's because I've been posting since 2000 and have met personally many of the "regulars" at various GTG's - Boston, LA, Bangkok and my home state of Connecticut.

We have brought cash for previous trips - Myanmar and Sri Lanka in particular - as much as $3,000 so no problem with that. We also know that the success of a semi-guided trip depends on paying attention to the details - first learned that in India or was it Bali?

We are following the itinerary that we posted except that we have also taken your advice on the Valentine which sounds awesome. Don't know exactly what you mean about packing and unpacking and checking in/out. We always try to minimize but we are essentially only doing 3 places in VN albeit returning to Hanoi a couple of times - granted it will not be totally smooth.

Thanks for your feedback.
Craig is offline  
Jul 22nd, 2008, 05:09 PM
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Maybe I'll get in on an LA GTG if there is ever another one....

What I meant by packing and unpacking was about Hanoi. Is there a way to go directly from one to another (meaning Sapa and HaLong Bay) without checking in and out of the hotel in between?
For example, the day you return from HaLong Bay, leave that night for Sapa? Maybe that's even more trouble to try to plan it that way, but it's a thought.

Also, Connecticut to Hanoi is a LONG way for 11 days....any way to add on a few more days? We really did love Hue/Hoi An if you can get to the central part of the country.

And, BTW, the plane rides took up much less time than we expected. It worked out really well to fly to Hue after the cruise to HaLong Bay. It's an hour flight and the airport was very close to the city. We left the Old Quarter of Hanoi for the airport at 5:30 p.m. and were in our room at the Saigon Morin in Hue at 9:30 p.m. I think there's also an evening flight to Danang and with the new road it's less than 30 minutes from Danang to Hoi An if you prefer to go there.

Anyway, just some food for thought. If you want to correspond by email, PM me at TA with your email address. My TA screen name is alison18losangeles.

alison is offline  
Jul 22nd, 2008, 05:30 PM
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Alison we don't mind the checking in and out after Halong Bay - we can use the extra time for shopping as my wife usually needs time to think what she's seen and then go back to make her purchases. Seems to me it would be nice to have a hotel room and shower before getting on the Sapa train since we will not reach our ultimate destination until lunchtime.

As far as our extra days are concerned, they will be spent in Bangkok - it is home away from home for us - this will be our 7th trip through the city. Previously we have visited India, Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Sri Lanka, Bali and of course Thailand. If we like Vietnam, I am sure we can do Hue/Hoi An and maybe HMC on our next trip.

I hope there will be another LA GTG as the one I attended was the best ever. (Thanks to Guenmai!)
Craig is offline  
Jul 22nd, 2008, 06:48 PM
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"I hope there will be another LA GTG as the one I attended was the best ever. (Thanks to Guenmai!)"

I'll second that motion!

And I hope you still find that flight to PNG

hawaiiantraveler is offline  
Jul 22nd, 2008, 07:48 PM
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we are quietly pushing billy (filmwill) to do one with guen's help....remember he owes us!!!
rhkkmk is offline  
Jul 22nd, 2008, 08:10 PM
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sounds like a great idea, Bob
Kathie is offline  
Jul 23rd, 2008, 12:28 PM
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well let me know if there is an LA GTG and I will be there!
alison is offline  
Jul 31st, 2008, 08:43 AM
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Time to reclaim my thread

We are now confirmed for our Vietnam trip - our itinerary is pretty much the same as in my initial post except that we are at Halong Bay for days 3 and 4 so instead of having almost 3 full days in Hanoi before and 1 full day after, it will be 2 and 2. We'll also have a fifth full day in Hanoi after we return from Sapa - lots of early/late check-ins at the Metropole. We have the suite on the Valentine Junk while cruising Halong Bay - should be quite the splurge.
Craig is offline  
Jul 31st, 2008, 09:51 AM
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Sounds great! I'll look forward to your report!
Kathie is offline  
Jul 31st, 2008, 09:54 AM
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rhkkmk is offline  
Jul 31st, 2008, 10:01 AM
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Sounds like a itinerary I would like to do. Very interested in your take on Vietnam when you return.

Now the hard part.....the long wait before the travel

hawaiiantraveler is offline  
Aug 13th, 2008, 07:49 PM
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ared2879 is offline  
Aug 14th, 2008, 03:10 PM
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Aloha Craig,
I'm getting into this quite late, but did want to add my two cents. Sorry if this is a bit long, but once I got started, memories returned.

My husband and I are both in our sixties and since our travel time is limited,(husband still works)we had a quick trip to Hanoi for six days last October. We tend to pick one city and concentrate our time there. With help from other Fodorites on this board, as well as travel guides, I research everything before we go.

We booked a private car and english guide for the first few days, as well as the Ginger cruise, through Tony at Ann tours on a personal recommendation. I know you can book the cruise on-line, but we found the prices from the tour group competitive and our guide, Nancy, was caring and informative.
Tony will bend over backwards to meet your needs and answer your requests.

We stayed at the Metropole and found most of the staff to be friendly and very helpful. We loved the beautiful and elegant Vietnamese girls in the lobby whose sole purpose was to "fluff up" the pillows on the couches after guests sat on them and left.

Electrical outages in Hanoi are common, (we found this out later) and occurred one night of our visit. The staff did their best to reassure everyone. I must admit though that I thought a free drink would have gone a long way to assuage some of the very disgruntled guests who complained endlessly.

I will mention that our first room in the old section of the hotel was lovely but upon our return from Halong Bay, we were in the newer section of the hotel and the room, though spacious, was utterly without charm.

We found the Metropoles' afternoon tea service a bit disappointing, but then again we're more coffee lovers. It was according to other guests we spoke to, quite good.

My husband loved the breakfasts, lots of choices, both Asian and Western and the open air pool restaurant for sandwiches and smoothies was also an added attraction.

The Vietnamese we met, were on a whole, very careful not to offend, and definitely want to shine a favorable light on their country. We did witness one fist fight right in the middle of an intersection on the main drag, when a young backpacking gaijin apparently did not pay for his scooter ride. They do not take kindly to being cheated.

We took the Ginger cruise and enjoyed it, but I was terribly disappointed with the garbage we found all over the bay. I did swim, but I would not suggest it if you have any open cuts or sores! And I cringe now when I think about it.

The crew of the Ginger was outstanding. We can't say enough about them.

When word reached us on the second day of our cruise, that a typhoon was predicted, they were able to get all of us, including some middle-aged Aussie ladies who had transferred to another junk moored way into the bay, for a second nights' stay. Not only did they go out looking for them, but they brought them back to the dock in winds and torrential rains and put them up in a hotel overnight. No questions asked! We met these two ladies back at the hotel and they too were astounded by the care they received.

I had a lot of hesitation about visiting the Hanoi Hilton (though my husband enjoyed it) while I waited outside. I have a great deal of difficulty in understanding the ability of people to forgive, on both sides.
I was also very uncomfortable on the paloquin ride through the old city, but that's my own hang-up.

We made the requisite visit to Ho early on our first day, and though my husband is Asian, I am not. I was definitely in the minority. What we found fun, was to watch the Vietnam soldiers whacking the younger Vietnamese fellows who didn't remove their caps, or strayed out of line. They definitely demand that you respect the Father.

We visited both museums in Hanoi on our own by taxi and foot, and went to the ethnic museum as part of our private guided tour which we thoroughly enjoyed but must say was VERY crowded. The war museum displays were dated but interesting and we were just about the only American tourists there.

We wandered about the grocery stores and since we're foodies purchased the Vietnamese coffees.
My husband was thrilled that the pastries in Vietnam were close to those he gets in Paris.

Also, a visit to see the water puppett show should be on your list. I know it was touristy, but oh so much fun.

We enjoyed Vietnam very much and would not hesitate to return, next time probably to the South. I surmise that with the rapid growth we saw, things are changing there day by day.

northshoreauntie is offline  
Aug 14th, 2008, 04:06 PM
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Thank you, auntie, as every report helps prepare for our trip this October. Can you be more specific about the guide - - where you went, whether you thought it was necessary for everything you saw. Although I have all hotels and flights booked for our 5+ week trip, I have not yet arranged any tours or guides. We will be doing an overnight on Ginger, so glad you liked it. Any specific tips for that one?
FromDC is offline  
Aug 14th, 2008, 04:34 PM
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Thanks, auntie for your feedback.
Craig is offline  
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