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Feedback on Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia Itinerary, Please!


Mar 29th, 2015, 05:43 PM
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Feedback on Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia Itinerary, Please!

I would love to get some feedback on the following itinerary, proposed by a travel company. We are a group of 4 (2 couples) ranging in age from late 50s to early 70s; seasoned travelers and reasonably fit. I am particularly interested in any feedback you'd be willing to share on listed hotels, as well as planned activities - whether some of the activities are not that interesting and/or whether there are other sights you think are not to be missed! We like a bit of everything, from history and culture to hiking/biking, etc. I am particularly interested in the cuisine of SE Asia, thus the cooking classes - any recommendations on wonderful restaurants would be very much appreciated. Thank you so much, in advance, for your advice!

Morning: Wat Xieng Thong, Wat Mai, National Museum, former Royal Palace
Afternoon: Khouangsi Waterfall and Ban Phanom,
Sunset: Wat Siphouthabath.
Evening, Night market.

Hotel Villa Maydou x 3 nights

Early morning: view monks
Morning: visit to market/cooking class
Afternoon: boat trip on the Mekong River to visit Pak Ou cave,l Ban Muangkeo.
Optional evening: Baci ceremony

Day: city sightseeing – open agenda
Early evening flight to Hanoi

Hotel: Hanoi La Siesta hotel & spa x 3 nights

Ho Chi Minh’s mausoleum, Ho Chi Minh’s house on stilts, Temple of Literature,
Museum of Ethnography, Hanoi’s famed old quarter, Temple of Jade.

Drive to Hoa Lua, visit citadel; boat to Tam Coc; back to Hanoi.

Day: Cruise to Bai Tu Long Bay; Thien Canh Son Cave; Hon CoIsland beach
Overnight on board; Dragon Pearl junk

Visit VungVieng fishing village, disembark, travel back to Hanoi
Late afternoon, flight to Hue
Hotel: Sai Gon Morin Hue x 2 nights

Boat to Tien Non village, bike ride to Thanh Tien village, Sinh village, back to boat and Hue.
Citadel,Tu Duc’s mausoleum

Travel by car to Hoi An via Hai Van Pass. Spend balance of day in city
Hotel: Essence Hoi An Hotel and Spa x 2 nights

Market and cooking class
Boat ride on Thu Bon river delta to Duy Vinh Island; bicycling around island, visit artisans

Morning: leave for Saigon.
Visit Central Post Office, War Remnants Museum, China Town (Cho Lon, or ‘big market, Thien Hau temple.
À Ố Show

Hotel: Grand Hotel x 2 nights

Boat trip around Bến Tre river, sight-seeing local activities on river.

Travel to Siem Reap
Afternoon: Pre Rup, Eastern Mebon, Neal Pean Preach Khan, Srah Srang Water Basin

Hotel: La Maison d’Angkor x 3 nights

Car and walking excursion to Kbal Spean,
On the way back, visit Banteay Srei,Ta Prohm temples
Evening, Cambodia circus of Phare

Whole day to visit Angor temple, ending with Angor Wat

Open day
Evening: Depart for US
NancyLA is offline  
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Mar 30th, 2015, 08:34 AM
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You do not need a travel agency to plan this. How much are they charging? Are they western or local? LP and Vietnam are very easy to do on your own. I suggest you borrow some guidebooks and do some research.

At first glance I would say you need to slow down and spend more time in LP and Hanoi. LP especially rewards just kicking back and strolling around.

I don't recognize any of your hotels except Dragon Pearl and La Maison - look them up on Tripadvisor and see where they are. In LP you want to stay in town (TA review on your hotel says: "maybe 15 minutes walk to the centre. And just off a fairly busy road"), and in Hanoi you want to stay near Hoan Kiem lake - take a look at this chain: http://www.hanoielegancehotel.com/.
thursdaysd is online now  
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Mar 30th, 2015, 10:20 AM
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If you must use a travel company (and there is no reason to for this trip), do use a local company. You'll pay half as much as you will to a foreign company.

You don't have much time just to explore and enjoy, something you will want to do in this part of the world. They seem to have tried to schedule all of your time - and I'll bet they are charging you for a guide as well - something you don't need unless you want a guide at Angkor.

I'd highly recommend that you get a copy of Dawn Rooney's book, Angkor: A Guide to Cambodia's Wondrous Temples to prepare for your time in Siem Reap. That will help you decide which temples you especially want to see. There are dozens of accessible temples (and many more which are not accessible) and the ones listed (especially on your first day there) are not ones I would have chosen.
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Mar 30th, 2015, 02:23 PM
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We just returned a couple weeks ago from an almost identical itinerary, as far as cities visited. Regarding using a tour company, I can recommend Vietnam Stay (associated with Aurora Travel) and they are much more affordable than, as another poster says, some tour company based in the US. Maybe you could arrange everything on your own, which we normally do, but in a country with a more limited infrastructure, it is well worth it to always have your transfers prepared and handled for you. Regarding specific things: the Mekong River trip to Pak Ou caves is a couple hours long and not particularly scenic. It IS relaxing, and the caves moderately interesting, but be aware that it takes a huge chunk out of your day. I mention this because you might be staying a touch too long in Luang Prabang and not long enough in a couple other places, so if your travel time is limited to a specific number of days, you might want to tweak. You haven't allowed yourself any time to "wander" in Hanoi, and you really should. You certainly can visit all the places mentioned for Hanoi and Saigon without a guide and it's just a matter of how in depth you want things explained to you. Guidebooks will tell you how well exhibits are explained in English (You really DON'T need a guide for the War Remnants Museum, for instance and odds are it's within walking distance of your hotel. Check your hotel locations.) I highly recommend the Dragon Pearl Junks - and you could consider the 2 night itinerary if your group enjoys kayaking. It is a LONG drive out to the port and back, so make it worth your while. As for Hoi An, that's one place you seem to be a bit short on time. It's lovely. If perchance you are eager to shop, you'll need more time to wander through the many options. If you don't care about shopping, well then after your bike ride (we recommend Local Man Hoi An Cycling, guide "ZoomZoom")you might want to kick back a little anyway. You are staying at the Essence Hoi An, and if you are hot and sweaty and tired, you might as well have a couple hours just to enjoy their pool and amenities. Note that the Essence is not in the middle of town - you will need to grab a taxi unless you time it just right with their limited free shuttle, but it rarely costs more than a buck-fifty. Try the Smoked Eggplant with pork at Morning Glory - divine! But be sure you have reservations for the more well-known restaurants in Hoi An. One last thing: if you have time to do the Vespa Adventure Night Life tour in Saigon, I can tell you that we all (60+and 24 ages) loved it.
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Mar 30th, 2015, 06:31 PM
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Thank you very much. We are working with Tonkin Travel, based on good reviews on this forum and on Trip Advisor. We started out with a US-based company, but it was quite a bit more expensive for a very similar itinerary. The advice on Fodor's has already 'saved' us several thousand dollars! We do realize that it's not essential to have guides, but we have come to really enjoy our interactions with local guides in parts of the world where we don't speak the language. I have taken note of your advice about Hanoi, and welcome other comments or recommendations.
Thank you!
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Apr 1st, 2015, 02:01 PM
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Hi Nancy.......we have just decided that we would like to do something similar to you. Just wondering when you are going? Reading lots of posts there have been tow travel agencies mentioned, Tonkin Travel and Vietnam Stay. By the comments I have read, it would seem that Vietnam Stay uses 5 star hotels and although we would like nice accommadations, not sure 5 star is necessary??. I would be happy to hear of your experience with Tonkin. Did Tonkin Travel do all your tours, boat rides, Accommodations and Internal flights? We are seasoned travellers to Europe, but have never used a travel agency so don!t know what to expect.

Thanks and happy travelling!
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Apr 1st, 2015, 03:19 PM
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Any of the travel agencies will get you whatever kind of accommodations you want. You tell them exactly what you want - what kind of hotel (or specific hotels, if you know) car and driver or not, guide or not, etc. A travel agency is in your employ and they will arrange whatever you want. That said, using a travel agency is not necessary. Many of us make all of our own arrangements. In some cases, an agency may be able to get better hotel prices that you can get yourself.

A couple of cautions if you've not used a travel agency in Asia before: The agency will give you an itinerary that is often too rushed, too many stops, etc as they think that is what people want, what makes people think they are getting their money's worth. Don't hesitate to tell them to cut stops or give you free days or whatever. They will not be offended - they want you to get exactly what you want. Likewise, it is common for agencies to arrange guides for you everywhere. This is not necessary and increases your costs greatly. I find I make better contact with the locals without a guide, as guides often want to translate for you or negotiate for you. I'd rather do it myself. There are very few places in SE Asia where a guide is necessary - or even helpful. But do what you are comfortable with. You'll know more for your next trip what you want/need.
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Apr 1st, 2015, 04:15 PM
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Thank you Nancy for your prompt reply. I guess what worries me as I have never been to Asia I,don't know anything about transport between cities, do you use air travel or ground travel? As mentioned previously we have always rented a car so travelling has never been an issue. And not speaking the language wondering how hard it is to purchase tickets for tours and transport. How do you manage? Are the hotels helpful in making suggestions?

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Apr 1st, 2015, 05:32 PM
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Barbara, I'm not Nancy, but I'm the one who answered your question.

Transport between cities: depends on distance. In no case do you want to rent a car and drive yourself (at least on your first trip). For long distances, flights are inexpensive or trains can be an option in some places. Also, hiring a car and driver to get you from one place to another for shorter distances is often less expensive than self-drive is in Europe or even the US.

Language: All of the places Nancy has listed in her itinerary, most people she has contact with will speak English. If they don't they will find you someone who does. You can book flights online, train tickets you usually buy in person. Tickets for tours? I'm not sure what kind of tours you are thinking of, but any tour agency or tour desk has people who speak English. In fact, I find language less of a barrier in SE Asia than in many places in Europe. Also, hotels are glad to help you with whatever you need. Many hotels have their own tour desks.

If you are seriously considering a trip to SE Asia, I'd recommend that once you have an idea about what you want to see/do/experience, post a thread of your own asking about the things you need to know.

I've been traveling independently in SE Asia since the mid-1980s and find it one of the easiest and most welcoming parts of the world in which to travel.
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Apr 1st, 2015, 06:31 PM
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We used VietnamStay for a three week trip to Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam. They were fabulous. And while they booked our hotels, cars, guides, internal flights and made suggestions of things to do in each city, I was highly involved in telling them what we wanted to do, see, and experience, as well as our travel style. Based on the fact that we traveled with children and our individual tastes and desires, they came up with a very personalized itinerary. Additionally, each time I found something else I wanted to do, I would forward it to them to handle and incorporate. I told them exactly how long I wanted to stay in each city and the flights I wanted, mainly based on Fodor advice. And Kathie is right, they booked all the hotels I wanted to stay in, not vice versa. And because many of my hotels were high end properties, they did indeed garner better rates than I could have gotten myself. For me, I still had all the fun of researching and reading about the destinations, but they helped to put it all together so the whole vacation was like clock work. And they also had exceptional guides who really did enhance rather than hinder the experience.

Each place is different. I use trip planning services and private guides for some European cities and not for others. Same for my travel in Africa which is extensive. Right now I'm planning Japan and have pretty much booked everything myself in terms of hotel, air, restaurants, and many activities. But I did add a few days with private guides, but again I booked them directly myself. I'm finding a Japan conducive for this. But for SE Asia, I personally found using an all inclusive agency for all aspects very rewarding.

Good luck with all. It's a fabulous part of the world to experience regardless of how you do it.
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Apr 1st, 2015, 09:51 PM
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Hi NancyLA,

I agree 100% with Kathie that you absolutely do not need a travel agency. It is extremely easy to plan for SE Asia, and you will have a much more interesting trip. If you find a boutique hotel that responds to your emails, allow them to make logistical arrangements for you. With the exception of Angkor Wat, you do not need a guide. A good hotel in SE Asia can find a fabulous driver for you that acts as a "logistical" guy. He will know how to plan the day, telling you how long you are allowed at each stop, and hopefully, take you to secret, local restaurants for lunch. The advantage of this is that if something goes wrong, the hotel is right there to help.

Regarding your itinerary, I would prefer a day trip to Halong Bay. You see everything the first day, and the overnight part is unnecessary. Also, I don't "get" Luang Prabang. I think it is so touristy that it no longer has any Asian atmosphere, but if you insist on going, then you need one day there for the compact city, and maybe another day to see the caves and waterfall.

Since you are active folks, consider a trip to Sapa. That was the highlight of my trip. I hiked with a group called Sapa Sisters, and one of their guides was a Hmong lady who talked endlessly to me about her culture.

Lastly, I liked Battambang in Cambodia, which is a two hour drive from Siem Reap. I found a fabulous driver who took me through the countryside for a day, and the city itself deserves a half day walking tour. My Siem Reap hotel arranged for the taxi from Siem Reap to Battambang and back, and the same hotel found my wonderful guide and driver for Angkor Wat.

I stayed at the Hanoi Art Hotel in Hanoi, by the way. This fabulous hotel made all my arrangements in advance for free, including trains to Sapa, and the trip to Halong Bay, and they didn't charge extra. See how easy it is to plan yourself?

And yes, everyone speaks English in SE Asia. It's much more fun to wander around without a guide. For example, I wondered into a temple in Battambang, and two monks started a conversation with me. One was the school principle, and the other was a teacher. We had a long discussion about educational systems. I doubt they would have approached me if I were with a guide.
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Apr 2nd, 2015, 04:45 AM
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I disagree with a day trip to Halong Bay, it is a long and boring drive. If you are not going to spend a night on the water I don't think it is worthwhile. But I do agree with going to Sapa.

I am in two minds about Luang Prabang. I have been three times, in 2002, 2004 and 2011. The first time it was a magical place, lost in the mists and mountains, the last time not so much. But I would still go, especially if you haven't been before, and I would still use it as a place to rest up, wander away from the main street, admire the magnificent temples qnd just chill out.

I also enjoyed Battambang, although I arrived by boat from SR. The Bamboo Express was a fun experience, don't know whether it is still running.

I entirely agree that this area is very easy traveling and very easy to plan on your own. However, I did use Tonkin Travel last time I was in Vietnam to book my Hanoi hotel and arrange my excursion to Sapa.
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Apr 2nd, 2015, 06:33 PM
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All of you responders are wonderful, once I have done my reading and think I know what I want to see I will post a thread and hopefully will get lots of advice.

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Apr 3rd, 2015, 04:31 AM
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I want to add that we loved Luang Prabang during our visit last year. My husband and I (early/mid-60s) found it a wonderful city to visit. It's an attractive town with its colonial architecture, beautifully-sited between 2 rivers, and a wonderful place to stroll and to relax. Excellent restaurants, too. And great shopping!

We visited after 2 intense weeks of travel/sight seeing in Thailand, though, and for us, it was a great place to slow down a bit. If possible, it might be better placed after some of the other stops rather than the first stop.

We visited the Pak Ou caves as part of a much longer boat ride traveling from another part of Laos, and it was an okay stop, but not somewhere I'd go out of my way to visit. There are several day trips that people make (we didn't have time) that do seem worth while, however, including the Kuang Si Falls and a bear rescue center.

We stayed at the Apsara, a small but elegant hotel, which is located right on the peninsula that comprises most of the old town/downtown part of Luang Prabang. I really enjoyed staying in this part of the city.

No doubt there's much more to Laos than just Luang Prabang, but in a limited amount of time, we loved our visit.
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Apr 3rd, 2015, 06:39 AM
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Agree with Progol on Luang Prabang. I want to go back to LP, but also explore even more of the country by road to soak in even more of the sights, culture and people. But with limited time and if you have never been to the country, it is a fantastic stop.

I would also point out that IMO there would never be any reason to drive to Halong Bay if you were not going to stay the night on a "junk" to experience the sights of the Bay, the caves, canoe rides, dinner and sleeping on the junk. The drive is super long and extremely boring with a mandatory shopping/bathroom stop. I felt the trip well worth it once we arrived. It's a bit rushed if you only do one night, but I would not advocate for two nights. However, when you take a break and are sailing through the beautiful Rock formations, it is breathtaking and you are grateful for the experience.

Happy planning whichever way you decide. It's a very personal choice which can enhance or take away from the experience if you don't go with your gut.
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Apr 8th, 2015, 11:17 AM
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Hi everyone,

Thank you all for your helpful comments. I'm sorry for the long delay in answering Barbara's questions, but I've been away on business for several days and just now getting caught up. We are planning to leave in late November because we have heard that the weather is typically best that time of year - recognizing that weather patterns do vary a lot from North to South. And we decided to work with an agency because we are all very busy and, honestly, I didn't feel like I had the time to plan every aspect of the trip and I knew it was going to fall to me! Thus far Tonkin has been wonderful to work with, even notifying us of promotional fares on interior flights that had just been posted. They are furnishing a car and driver for all the travel between locations, guides in the cities, all other bookings and interior flights. The guides may be 'overkill' in some places, but we've had some absolutely wonderful experiences with guides in other places around the world we've traveled and I've come to really appreciate the deeper understanding we've gained from talking them. I'm also shameless about asking questions... I did talk with Tonkin about international flights, and although willing they did not seem to be especially connected in this area, so we'll probably book our own international flights. I really appreciated the comments about Sapa. I've been trying to figure out how to include Sapa in the itinerary without short-changing anything else, and maybe the right substitution is with Halong Bay. It seems that many posters think that it's not really worth the time commitment. I'd welcome more comments on that. Thanks to all.
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Apr 8th, 2015, 12:39 PM
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You are right, Tonkin really doesn't do international flights, but they get rave reviews for local arrangements in VN.

You already have a very crowded schedule. If you want to fit in Sapa, you can't just substitute it for Halong Bay (as Sapa takes longer), you'll need to cut another destination. So what is your current plan?
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Apr 9th, 2015, 10:56 PM
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Kathie is correct. Sapa is a three night commitment. You take an overnight train both ways, and you must stay one night in Sapa. This will give you two full days in Sapa for day trips, and that is sufficient. If you decide to go, insist on the Sapaly train carriage, since the cabins are larger than the other companies.

Your itinerary is a personal decision. Some people love Halong Bay, and they like to relax. I didn't think it was as pretty as the Milford Sound in New Zealand, for example, and I don't like to sit still, so I could have lived without it. As others have mentioned, it is fine to work with your travel agent, but they are going to give you a generic itinerary unless you get a bit proactive.

A bike trip in the Mekong Delta might be nice, but now I am making your itinerary even longer. You can do the bike trip for a couple of days, at the minimum. I would do that instead of visiting Hue and Hoi An, but that's just me. Some people like to wander around Hoi An, shop, and relax on the beach. It just depends on what you want.

While in Hanoi, be sure and see the wonderful puppet show, visit the downed B-52 bomber, and wander around the colonial buildings near the Metropole Hotel.
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Apr 13th, 2015, 05:52 PM
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Day one in LP is ridiculously rushed and typical of a travel agency that does not know what it is doing. Have they even been here?
I agree with others; plan your own trip and save heaps of money.
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Apr 14th, 2015, 06:17 PM
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We used Tonkin Travel for our 2 1/2 weeks in Vietnam in 2011, then visited Cambodia on our own for 2 weeks on the same trip. Both experiences were wonderful. It was really nice to have everything arranged (flights, hotels, drivers, guides) in Vietnam because we were traveling for 4 months around the world and the respite in planning the logistics was much appreciated. We chose the midlevel options for hotels and they were fine, except for one in a less touristed area of the country. The guides Tonkin arranged were friendly and knowledgeable, with varying proficiency in English (well, they were all proficient, but pronunciation was sometimes an obstacle). Our time in Cambodia was magical, and we enjoyed making the arrangements ourselves. Here's a link to the Vietnam & Cambodia sections of the blog I wrote while on our trip, in case you are interested. http://aprilaroundtheworld.blogspot....g-vietnam.html

We loved the overnight trip to Halong Bay (Dragon Pearl junk was very nice). Sapa was interesting but requires more time than you might have. We spent a week in Siem Reap and loved every day we were there. One of our most memorable experiences was the boat trip from Siem Reap to Battambang and the time we spent in the latter. Oh! I want to go back to Cambodia--not so much to Vietnam, though it was a great trip.
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