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Our itinerary (sort of) - please comment

Our itinerary (sort of) - please comment

Jun 30th, 2010, 10:41 AM
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Our itinerary (sort of) - please comment

We have made our air reservations, so the dates are locked in -- March 2011 (FF miles - mostly business class on Asiana going, and on ANA returning). We leave on a Saturday, and fly SFO-Seattle-Seoul-Hanoi arriving late Sunday night, and we return 3 weeks later on Saturday, flying Hong Kong-Tokyo-SFO (arriving Saturday morning). Open jaw -- we will fly on our own from Siem Reap to Hong Kong.

We have never been to SE Asia (or any part of Asia for that matter) before, so this is just a sampler. We are perfectly fine with moving around (for ex., last Europe trip, we were in Amsterdam 3 days, Prague 4 days, Berlin 3 days, Antibes 6 days). We'd love to spend more time, but we can't.

So, we have 19 days "on the ground". Our plan so far:

Hanoi - 3 days

Halong Bay -OR Sapa (don't think we have time for both, unless we just do a day trip to each). Would it be absolutely nuts to take the overnight train to and from Sapa and spend just one day there?

Hue and Hoi An - 5 days including getting there (we like a couple of days at the beach in the middle of trips. We're thinking 2 days sightseeing in Hue, 2 days at the beach in Hoi An, 1 day on a motorbike "adventure" outside of Hoi An). How far is Hue from Hoi An -- should we stay in both places, or stay in one and venture to the other from there? Maybe we should cut a day out here, and add it to North VN?

(Basically, since Hanoi, HCMC, SR and HK are "musts", we have 7 days to split among Halong Bay, Sapa, Hue and Hoi An --- would love your thoughts about this

Ho Chi Minh City - 2 days

Siem Reap - 3 days

Hong Kong - 4 days

sf7307 is offline  
Jun 30th, 2010, 11:33 AM
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Overall, I think your plan looks good. Three or four days in a place is fine as a sampler. Do remember it takes time to get from place to place. Sometimes you can arrange an early morning flight so you have a full afternoon at your next destination, but if you have connecting flights (or are going overland), it will take you most of a day.

I think it would be nuts to take an overnight train to and from Sapa and have a day there. The people who enjoy Sapa spend a few days and get outside of Sapa. Those who go for a day usually complain about the aggressive vendors who shout obsenities if you don't buy and don't see much else. People who enjoy Halong Bay spend a night on the boat there. So if you want to go to Halong Bay, add a day for that. Hanoi is worth at least 3 full days by itself.

Make sure you have three full days in Siem Reap, as it takes that long just to see the "major" temples. Do you have a copy of Dawn Rooney's book, "Angkor: Cambodia's Wonderous Temples"? Do take a good look at it before you do final booking of flights and hotels, as it is a place you might decide to spend more time depending on your level of interest in the temples. We spent a week and would have loved more time.
Kathie is offline  
Jun 30th, 2010, 11:37 AM
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Kathie, thank you so much. I've already figured out that you're one of the resident experts on this, so I'm glad you responded!

Keep it coming -- I'd still like to hear others' opinions.

And, if you had to choose between Halong Bay and Sapa, which would you choose?
sf7307 is offline  
Jun 30th, 2010, 11:44 AM
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I concur with Kathie. Skip Sapa - you don't have enough time. An overnight at Halong Bay takes almost 2 full days but it is better than trying to do it in a day. If you only have 3 days in Hanoi, plan carefully - museums and attractions can be closed on some days. Have not been to HCMC, Hoi An or Hue. We had 3 days in SR, arriving early in the morning on the first day - the timing was just about perfect.
Craig is offline  
Jun 30th, 2010, 12:30 PM
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This is just what we'll have according to current plans. Thanks.
sf7307 is offline  
Jun 30th, 2010, 12:39 PM
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another thing...forget running around like you do in europe, this is totally different, and add to that you are going at almost the hottest time of the year...

skip sapa for sure..

i did a one day to halong but we stayed over nite in hi-phong both the night before and after... it would not be a bad thing to skip it altogether...

i could easily add another day to HK and to SR..

i think it is 3-4 hours between hue and hoi an...
rhkkmk is offline  
Jun 30th, 2010, 01:06 PM
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I agree with the other posters. Don't do back-to-back night trains - no way to get clean... And you should do one night on a boat if you're going to Halong Bay.

I'm not a beach person, so I have no opinion on Hoi An as a beach destination, but I certainly think one day is enough otherwise - do try to see the museum in Danang, and take a car and driver, early, to My Son.

The more time you can allot to Hanoi and Ankor the better, IMO.
thursdaysd is offline  
Jun 30th, 2010, 01:07 PM
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If you do go to Halong make it one night, that's a nice amount of time AND the scenery is lovely PLUS you get to slow down. we stayed on the Valentine which is a 5 berth boat.VERY very good. Maybe if you had more time 2 nights would be nice but suggest on your short time scale 1 would work.
Smeagol is offline  
Jun 30th, 2010, 07:15 PM
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I am going to have to disagree with the others. Although I think it's crazy to go to Sapa for one night, it is do-able and probably easier than going to Halong Bay. The Halong Bay drive is 3 hours each way. While the Sapa trip is time consuming, you do not lose any touring time - and you substitute the night on the train for a hotel room. (You leave Hanoi around 8 or 9 pm)

But, there is a caveat...I would suggest going to Sapa if you go on a Sunday. Rather than going to Sapa town, go to the Sunday Market in Bach Ha. I would hire a private car and guide ahead of time to take me there and then find a spot somewhere nearby for a short trek through the rice fields. The market is about 45 minutes from the train station. In my opinion this is even more interesting than seeing Halong Bay. After a day at the market and a short trek, you can easily catch the train back to Hanoi.
dgunbug is offline  
Jul 2nd, 2010, 08:28 PM
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I have been all over Vietnam in 3 trips and (at least for me) Saigon is nothing special, but Sapa is! The worst thing you could do would be to rush and try to see too much. The sights are nice, but I think the real draw here are the Vietnamese people themselves. I know you will enjoy Asiana - I'll be on the SEA-ICN-HAN flight myself on Nov 18th. Be sure to book Hanoikids and Danangkids - you won't be sorry.
daawgon is offline  
Jul 27th, 2010, 11:41 AM
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Hi all. The itinerary I originally posted is starting to "gel", but I do have a couple of questions.

Sunday - arrive Hanoi late Sunday night.

Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday in Hanoi.

Thursday and Friday - Halong Bay (one overnight, possibly returning directly to the airport and flying to Danang, so we can....)

Saturday - take the train over the Hai Van pass from Danang to Hue. Is this worth the stopover in Danang, vs. flying directly from Hanoi to Hue?

Sunday - sightseeing in Hue

Monday & Tuesday - Hoi An

Wednesday, Thursday, Friday - Saigon

Saturday, Sunday, Monday - Siem Reap

Tuesday (all day getting from Siem Reap to Hong Kong - gotta get there one way or the other because our flight home originates in Hong Kong)

Wednesday- Thursday - Friday Hong Kong

Saturday - to home via Tokyo

My questions:

1) Has anyone taken the overnight sleeper train from Hanoi to Danang or Hue? We love train travel, and are considering doing this vs. flying to Danang. Is it possible to book/pay for all 4 berths in a compartment even if you're only going to use 2 of them (I would NOT want to share a sleeping compartment with strangers).

2) Is the train trip over the Hai Van pass worth the time it takes vs. flying directly to Hue?

3) In Siem Reap, it seems a lot of the hotels are outside of "town". Is there a hotel you would recommend (on the "upscale" side) in town? Must have a pool!

4) Would you recommend skipping either Halong Bay or Hue on this trip, and adding time elsewhere? We like to visit historical sights, but also love poking around quaint towns and villages, and big cities, too. Not so big on art museums, although one or two are always okay. I always say we're "superficial" travelers -- we want to see the sights, learn a little something, and move on. Ever read Art Buchwald's "Three-Minute Louvre" -- that's us LOL!!

Thanks much for your advice.
sf7307 is offline  
Jul 27th, 2010, 12:21 PM
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While we did not take the overnight train between Hanoi and Danang or Hue, I heard it is not the best of trains. The Sapa train ride was certainly not up to standards of European trains - very noisy, although we were able to sleep. The flight is so easy - just an hour and I believe there are early morning flights. IMO, you should fly and forgo the train. As for the ride over the pass, if you want to save a bit of time you can take the ride through the tunnel. The scenery is nice and we actually enjoyed the tunnel route better than the pass. I would not fly between Danang & Hue as you will not save much time. Why not hire a car? It cost about $50 to travel between the two cities and you can arrange for a driver early in the morning to go at your convenience, rather having to deal with train schedules. Additionally, I believe, although I may be incorrect on this - that the train must be picked up in Danang, which means you will first have to drive there and wait for the train ahead of time.

Personally, I would skip Halong Bay rather than Hue if you are to skip either. I enjoyed Hue even more than Hoi An which was terrific. The drive to Halong Bay seemed endless to me, while the drive to Hue from Hoi An did not seem as bad - probably because it was more scenic. Like you we love historical sights, but are not so big on spending hours in museums. The citadel and royal tombs were a huge surprise.

I'm a little confused with your time table. You say you have 19 days, but I'm counting 17. Are you looking to add two days to one of your destinations? If so, I am still in favor of heading to Sapa for 2 days. You will have a full day touring in Hanoi and leave at night, then have 2 full days in Sapa and arrive back on the 3rd day around 5 AM, ready to head to the airport or your next destination. You will appreciate the cool weather of Sapa compared to the rest of the weather in VN. It is not idea as an additional day would be better, but it is do-able if you schedule it correctly and have a guide waiting for you at the train station upon arrival. Sapa was definitely a highlight of our trip. If it were me, I'd add the extra day on to Sapa and take a day from Saigon or forget Saigon all together. But, many people love Saigon. It's a tough call. You will enjoy it all.
dgunbug is offline  
Jul 27th, 2010, 12:48 PM
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Count again dgunbug! Monday-Sunday (7), Monday-Sunday (7), Monday-Friday (5) = 19!! I wish we had two more LOL!
sf7307 is offline  
Jul 27th, 2010, 02:32 PM
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Sorry, I don't know where my mind was. Apparently, I went back up to the top and was counting days there. For your information, there is an airport in Danang and there is also one in Hue. We did not realize that when we were booking our flights and we unnecessarily had to drive back to Danang. The Danang airport is much closer to Hoi An than to Hue. I believe it was about a 45 minute drive. We were picked up at the airport by our hotel and driven directly to Hoi An. Since you are not that into museums, and are short on time I would skip Danang and head immediately to Hoi An so you can wander the town at night.

How are you getting from Hoi An to Saigon? I am not certain if there are flights from Hue to Saigon, but I imagine there are. It may be easier to go first to Hoi An and then to Hue, flying from there to Saigon.
dgunbug is offline  
Jul 27th, 2010, 02:53 PM
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Is Hue a 1-day trip (and if so, can it be done as a day-trip from HoiAn) or is it "worth" 2 days?

FWIW, I did a little more research into the trains, and that's not in the cards...I just can't see sharing a cabin with strangers, and "buying up" all 4 beds is no guarantee that you'll have all 4 in the same cabin. So we will fly between cities. If we are in HoiAn, we will fly from Danang to HCMC; if we are in Hue, we will fly Hue to HCMC. The flights are incredibly cheap if made far in advance, so we are trying to plan out our time now (ex. $25.00 from Hanoi to Danang and the same from Danang to HCMC -- not sure when they start going up).

If Hue is not a day-trip from HoiAn, I guess the itinerary would change so that after Halong Bay (the second day), we would fly that night to Hue, spend 2 nights and 1 or 1-1/2 days in Hue (Saturday and Sunday) and then get a car for the drive to HoiAn from Hue later on Sunday and spend 2 days there (Monday and Tuesday).
sf7307 is offline  
Jul 27th, 2010, 02:56 PM
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Oh, and re museums - we are not hugely into ART museums, we love museums of artifacts, like the Newseum in DC, or the Museum of American History in DC, the American Museum of Natural History in NY. And we like "living history" museums, like the Tenement Museum in NY. But we certainly did love our recent visit to the National Portrait Gallery, so we're not hopeless!
sf7307 is offline  
Jul 27th, 2010, 06:04 PM
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hotel de las paix in SR in town....sofitel just outside town is perfect imo...
rhkkmk is offline  
Jul 27th, 2010, 06:10 PM
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Hi sf,

We did a similar itinerary in January within a similar amount of time. I went with 3 teenagers and my husband. We spent one night on Halong Bay on the Red Dragon. We stayed at Hanoi Elegance 4 and they booked this trip. We were very happy with the boat trip and also with the Elegance 4 in Hanoi. Although we had 3 nights in Hanoi it only worked out that we spent 1 whole day there. So we booked Hanoikids to take us around to 4 key sights for us : HMC mausoleum, Temple of Literature, Hanoi Hilton, Museum of Ethnography. It was one long day but I would not liked to have missed anything. Plus I missed out on seeing a number of other things in Hanoi that I had on my list (next timeI guess!). I tell you this as a warning that as others have said your time can be cut down by travel and transfer time. I recommend using Hanoikids for at least one day. And I would definnitely like more time in Hanoi than we had, but the teenagers and also my husband felt we had just enough time.

Our absoulte favourite place though was Hue. It is beautiful and interesting. We spent 2 nights there and then drove over the Hai Van pass - stopping in Danang on the way to see the Cham museum and at the marble Mountains. I really recommend the drive as the scenery is beautiful and there is quite a bit to see on the way. Then you don't have to move from Hoi An when you get ther if you wish. We then spent 3 nights in Hoi An. Here we spent time sight seeing, shopping and spent a day at the beach. None of which I would change. we did not go to My Son but that is because my teenage kids put a kybosh on it. I would have gone (again next time!).

We then flew from Danang (drove up 45 min from Hoi An to meet plane) to HCMC.

I was happy to fly rather than catch trains - all very simple and Vietnam Airlines are pretty good. The trains would have actually wasted more time in the end even though we could have done overnight trips.

As we were doing charity building work from here our itinerary from this point on is not applicable.

Having said that, I have since been back to HCMC for another charity build and I recommend 3 days there,especially if you want to do a Mekong Delta trip. We actually spend a night on board a boat doing this part but otherwise defintilyy do a day trip.

I also did the Cu Chi tunnels trip on my last trip to HCMC which i enjoyed.

Hope this rambling travelogue helps or is of some interest.
aussiefive is offline  
Jul 27th, 2010, 06:15 PM
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Hue is definitely not a day trip and deserves 1 1/2-2 days.
dgunbug is offline  
Jul 27th, 2010, 11:08 PM
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Re Siem Reap: When they say "outside of town" it's only a 5 or 10 minute easy tuk tuk ride into the tourist ghetto of cafes and shops. We stayed at Pavillion d'Orient, a small boutique hotel, and loved it. We also used their recommended a/c car with driver and personal guide for 3 days and it was perfect.
kuluk is offline  

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