help Vietnam and Laos

Old Oct 24th, 2022, 08:47 AM
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help Vietnam and Laos

Hi, We're just starting to figure out a plan for a future trip. I think we would like to go to the following Luang Prabang, Phong Nha-ke Bang, Ninh Binh, Sapa, Halong Bay or Bai Tu Long Bay. How would you schedule the itinerary and how many days do recommend at each place? I understand we will need to stay several nights in Hanoi as well. Is it easy to find drivers to those locations? Are we missing in must sees? Should we go up the Mekong from Luang Prabang. We have been to Thailand before but not Chiang Rai should we include it? Thank you for your advise.
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Old Oct 25th, 2022, 12:36 PM
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We have spent a lot of time in that neck of the woods and visited all of those places, some many times. Before suggesting an itinerary can I ask why you chose those particular places? What are your interests and style of travel? How long have you got? What time of year?

All of these issues will have a pretty major effect on any recommendations.

the more info you provide , the more relevant the responses you will get.
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Old Oct 25th, 2022, 01:06 PM
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I chose those places more for the nature and sights. We plan to go in March or April and stay for about 3 weeks. In Sopa I would like to stay at the Topas Ecolodge but other then that we're open to where we should stay. We love to see sights and meet people. We will be traveling with carryon bag each. We like ac in our hotels but we don't need anything 5 star. Thank you for your help.
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Old Oct 25th, 2022, 08:28 PM
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Thanks, that helps a lot.

March and April is a great time for Vietnam as far as the weather is concerned. It is also generally good for Laos but, in norther Laos is the burning season and at that time of year , the farmers "slash and burn" the fields and forests in northern Laos causing massive smoke pollution. It is much worse some years than others but I would avoid travelling there at that time as it is just not worth the risk. One year we got a boat down the Mekong from Thailand and had thick smoke the whole way for two days. When we got to Luang Prabang it was better but still bad enough for us to get on the first plane out!

Three weeks is a good amount of time for Vietnam. You could easily spend that time entirely in the north or spread yourself a bit further and go north to south. Being a long thin country Vietnam lends itself to flying into the north (Hanoi) and out of the South (Saigon)

North

Hanoi 4
Sapa 3 (or Mai Chau Valley)
Bai Tu Long Bay Cruise 2
Ninh Binh 2
Overnight train 1 (to Dong Hoi)
Phong Nha Ke Be 3
Hue 3
Hoi An 2
Hanoi 1 - Fly home

North and South

Hanoi 3
Bai Tu Long 2
Ninh Binh 2
Overnight Train 1
Phong Nha Khe Be 3
Hue / Hoi An 4
Saigon 3
Mekong Delta 3

In deciding upon an itinerary in Vietnam it is important to realise that travel there will take time ( though nowhere near as much as it used to. Each time you change location, you will lose half a day. Travelling with carry on only will make life a lot easier!

independent travel is easy enough but does take time. For some of the places you want to go, it will be a lot easier to organise a tour. Bai Tu long Bay and Ninh Binh being great examples of this. You should be able to source a tour that combines the two places as they are quiet close.

The train is the easiest way to Phong Nha Ke Be and on to Hue. The trains pass through Ninh Binh. You just need to check schedules on seat61.com.

I am not a great fan of Sapa. It is now very touristy though theses days the lack of Chinese travelling may make it a bit quieter. Topas Ecolodge is way out of town so you will need to buy a tour from Topas. There is now a new highway there which is a lot quicker than the train so it may be best just to buy a round trip tour from Hanoi.

in Phong Nha Ke Be, Phong Nha Farmstay is a good option as they can organise trips out to the various caves and other sights and it is a nice place to stay.

Hotel accomodation is now very good in Vietnam . AC is available everywhere so that won’t be a problem . However, some of the best times we have had have been staying in simple homestays way out in the country, no aircon, no tables, communal meals sat on the floor and sleeping on mats on the floor. Certainly not for everyone but you will get to see places and meet people you just won’t staying in "normal "hotels. Worth considering at least.

Here is a link to our blog which covers some of our travels in Vietnam and may provide an idea of what to expect https://accidentalnomads.com/category/vietnam/

As far as Laos is concerned, personally, unless you could bring forward your trip to Feb , I wouldn’t bother. You may be lucky and miss the smoke but why risk it.

I hope this helps a little in your planning



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Old Oct 25th, 2022, 09:20 PM
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This helps a ton, thank you so much. The only thing that surprised me was taking a train to Phong Nha Khe, I just assumed we would catch a flight to Don Hoi Airport and hire a driver to get to Phong Nha Khe Be. Is it easier to take the train instead?
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Old Oct 25th, 2022, 11:46 PM
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You are welcome.

Re the train. if you are in Ninh Binh anyway I would say it is easier and arguably quicker. To fly you would have to return to Noi Bai airport which is on the other side of Hanoi and will likely take at least 3 hours, plus check in time etc. and is a boring journey. Taking at least one train in Vietnam is something I would recommend for anyone with even a tiny sense of adventure. It is an experience as much as a method of travel. There is a station in Ninh Binh and another in Dong Hoi. Any accommodation will arrange transfers from the station.

There are several train departures from Ninh Binh, Day and night. The journey takes 7-8 hours which one to go for is down to personal preferences. We have travelled the length of the country several times (in stages) and have tended to opt for overnight trains so as not to waste time getting to and from airports etc. Some stretches from say Da Nang to Hue are very scenic as you ride along China beach and past the marble mountains etc and are rated amongst the best train journeys in the world.
I know it sounds counter intuitive given the trains are slow, but it can also save usable time as you are travelling when you would be sleepinganyway. You tend to arrive in the early morning which gives you a full day at your destination.

Not for everyone but certainly a memorable experience.

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Old Oct 26th, 2022, 06:45 AM
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Thank you so much for your advise. The train sounds like the way to go. Your advise seems spot on!

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Old Nov 30th, 2022, 12:06 AM
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Not easier (you have to go back to Hanoi), but MUCH faster, especially that the road - 400 km = one full night + part of the next day) is booooooooooooooooooooring !)
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Old Nov 30th, 2022, 12:08 AM
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I am talking about the train Ninh Binh-Dong Hoi, not to Ninh Binh, the latte rthe best solution to go from Hanoi to Tam Coc
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Old Dec 1st, 2022, 06:25 AM
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We are in Hanoi at the moment and just returned from Sapa. Sapa is indeed very touristy. Surprised at the number of hotels. Still if the weather is good (not today) treks are interesting albeit abit voyeuristic
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