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North Vietnam and Laos Itinerary

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Jun 24th, 2014, 10:17 PM
  #1
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North Vietnam and Laos Itinerary

It has been ages since I posted on Fodors, and I owe a number of trip reports, but in the meantime, I'm hoping I can get some advice on a 10-day North Vietnam/Laos itinerary. I am traveling with a friend in late October/early November, and we're using Tonkin Travel to assist. Here's what we have:

4 nights Hanoi
2 nights Halong Bay
4 nights Luang Prabang

We decided to stick with North Vietnam/Laos due to concerns re the weather in Hoi An and Hue during that time of year, and I also have a strong interest in visiting Luang Prabang.

My friend is set on a 2-night Halong Bay cruise rather than just one, so that's non-negotiable. Tonkin has suggested a day trip to Ninh Binh during our time in Hanoi, which looks lovely. So my question is whether we should alter anything to spend 1 night in Mai Chau. Also, anything else you would change given our limited time and the time of year we are traveling?

Thanks in advance for your input. I have received a lot of great advice here over the years.
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Jun 25th, 2014, 04:46 AM
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Mai Chau makes a great overnight trip from Hanoi and I would marginally prefer there to Ninh Binh but both are great. However, with only 4 days, there is more than enough to keep you busy in Hanoi for that time. If you do want to see a little of the countryside then I would go for Ninh Binh as it will take less time

Shame that the Halong Bay part is non negotiable as I would probably leave that out and replace with Mai Chau!
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Jun 25th, 2014, 07:06 AM
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I wouldn't do another trip outside of Hanoi, as you don't really have enough time to see Hanoi as it is.
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Jun 25th, 2014, 07:51 AM
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Thanks for your input, Kathie and crellston! Crellston, I agree about Halong Bay, but my friend has her heart set on it. I wish we had more time overall, but this is the best we can do for this trip. I am tentatively planning a trip to Cambodia in December 2015, so I could possibly return to Hanoi or see other parts of Vietnam in conjunction with that trip.
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Jun 25th, 2014, 01:04 PM
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Hip dip, sky blue, who's it, not you...
Linger a bit, and loiter at leisure.
Turn left, instead of right.
You'll be well rewarded.
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Jun 25th, 2014, 02:02 PM
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Your friend needs to realize that Halong Bay weather is iffy and that 2 nights could be a long time if it isn't cooperating. Also, many tours have 1 night on a boat and 1 night on Cat Ba island in a 2-star hotel. If 2-star accommodations are okay with you, then go for it. On Cat Ba island, you might go for a hike or other activity.

If your 2 nights are on the boat, you are likely to repeat your experiences to accommodate those that are only going for one night. The usual one night HB cruise involves a visit to a beach/optional swim and (high up) viewing point, a kayaking excursion (highly recommended), a visit to a fishing village and a cave visit (Surprise Cave is the one you want, as there are more than one).

I would skip any day trips out of Hanoi as some of the others have recommended. There is so much to do and 4 days is not much time. As Lancaster above has implied, lingering in Hanoi is not a bad thing. Do not hire Tonkin for any tours of Hanoi. If you want or need a guide, contact Hanoikids directly (see recent posts on how to contact them).
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Jun 25th, 2014, 03:16 PM
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Thanks LancasterLad and Craig (Craig, I based my 2011 trip to India in large part on one of your trip reports and have read nearly all of your other reports, and I really appreciate your input here!). Crellston, I should have mentioned that I used a lot of your info on South America for recent trips to Peru and Chile. And Kathie, I have read your Burma reports with great interest and hope to travel there soon. I see you also have a report on Japan, where I will be traveling (for work, unfortunately) before the Vietnam/Laos trip. Anyway, I have been following all of your travels for years and really appreciate your input. You all are such a great resource!
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Jun 27th, 2014, 12:00 PM
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For me personally, I wasn't that impressed by Hanoi, so I think 2 or 3 nights would be sufficient. Maybe because it was at the end of my Vietnam trip. I liked Saigon (HCM) much better, felt it was more fun and friendly and laid back. Again maybe because it was my entry point to Vietnam.

For instance, I was expecting more of the Old Quarter, but it just almost regular streets you see in a lot of third world countries selling mostly generic stuff you can see anywhere. I thought the narrow chaotic lanes Old Delhi were much more interesting.

The lake was nice, but I've been to many cities in China with a similar look -- people out doing tai chi, dancing, walking about.

I liked the Museum of Ethnology, and spent many hours. The Metropole hotel was nice. We just crashed their lobby a couple of times to rest. Just confidently walk in and they think you're guests there.
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Jun 27th, 2014, 12:14 PM
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If the weather is good, I wouldn't mind spending 2 nights in Halong Bay and if the boat goes to different places.

We did a 1 night / 2 day boat trip. The weather was good on the first day, and my favorite part was kayaking in a lagoon where we saw wild monkeys. I wish I could spend more time kayaking in different parts of the Bay. The next day we did the Surprise Cave (it's ok, not that wow since I've seen too many caves around the world) and when we were sailing back, the fog started to move in. At first, it looked like a poetic washed painting but after some time everything completely covered up.

BTW, watch the Oscar winning French movie "Indochine". I saw it when it first came out years and years ago, I was so mesmerized by the scene shot in Halong Bay that I made it my wish to see it in person. Great movie too.
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Jul 4th, 2014, 01:05 PM
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Thanks again for all of the input. JC98, I will definitely watch "Indochine" before we go.

We're going to take a boat that focuses on Bai Tu Long Bay, which seems less crowded. There is a lot of kayaking on the itinerary as well as the requisite visit to a fishing village. The boat is the "Treasure Junk," which is operated by Handspan.
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Jul 5th, 2014, 07:35 PM
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definitely 2 nights on Halong Bay, which is what we did. if you opt for one night, you don't board until lunch time, do the above activities, but you leave the boat I think mid morning. We then spent the rest of the day with just 4 people on our own private junk, exploring and visiting different places. The skipper also cooked our lunch on the junk and it was amazing. We did go in April so the weather was great. We had 5 nights in Hanoi in the old quarter and it was fantastic. Shame about Hoi An as this was our favourite place. We also caught the night train and had 2 nights in Sapa, which was brilliant.
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May 11th, 2015, 10:21 AM
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Someday I would like to post a full trip report, but in the meantime I did want to report back and say that this trip turned out wonderfully. It was a pain to get to Halong Bay, but the weather was beautiful, and we really enjoyed the "Treasure Junk" boat. My friend and I each upgraded to the suites (the only two in the boat), which didn't cost that much more, and they were fantastic (marble bathroom, jacuzzi, private balcony, huge room).

We enjoyed Hanoi (although the weather was even hotter and muggier than normal), and as everyone predicted above, we wish we had 1-2 more days there. We stayed in the Old Quarter at the Hanoi Moment II hotel, which was very cute with wonderful staff. The day trip to Ninh Binh was nice, but it poured nearly the entire time we were there, putting a literal damper on things.

We loved Luang Prabang and also wished for another day there. The slow-paced, relaxing feel of the town was exactly what we needed after a a lengthy business trip in Japan followed by the busy itinerary in Vietnam. We stayed at the Burasari Heritage Hotel, which was lovely and in a great location.

I am eager to return to SE Asia and am planning a trip to Burma in December!
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May 11th, 2015, 12:36 PM
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Glad to hear you had a fine trip.

Enjoy Myanmar... it's a fabulous place. Are you working with a local agent in Yangon? It will make your trip so much easier!
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May 11th, 2015, 03:49 PM
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Kathie -

Yes, definitely. I've been working with Moe at Santa Maria. He has been fantastic. Everything is booked and the initial deposit has been paid. Now I'm just counting the days!
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May 11th, 2015, 05:23 PM
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Sounds great! I'll look forward to hearing all about your trip when you return.
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