Planning Angkor Wat and Vietnam

Old Feb 22nd, 2023, 12:30 PM
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Planning Angkor Wat and Vietnam

This is take 3, I think - we've tried this before in 2017 (can't remember why we had to postpone), then in 2021 (we all know what happened then), so here I am again, planning Angkor Wat and Vietnam.
I have a lot of questions, but general ones for now, just trying to focus. We can have maybe 26 days on the ground, and we're interested not only in temples and architecture, but nature, birding, wildlife too. We are not budget travelers, but we don't need luxury. We want hotels though, no home stays.
All award flights I've seen so far have a long (9-10 hrs) layover in Singapore, so I'm considering just adding a few days there. No idea how many "a few" should be, 3? Singapore was not really on my radar, so this is a new idea I'm playing with. But it will take time away from VN...
Places I'm considering: Angkor Wat (non-negotiable), Saigon and Mekong delta (maybe, if time), Hoi An with a trip to Sơn Trŗ for Red-shanked Doucs, Hue, Phong Nha - Ke Bang National Park for caves + the Hatinh Langur, Trang An & Cuc Phuong National Park, Hanoi with 1-2 days boat in Halong Bay.
Given the wide area these spaces span across, what's the best time for us to go? I was thinking late February, early March. The goal is decent temperatures in Angkor Wat and dry days in Vietnam.
Can we do all this in the time we have? Dalat and Cat Tien National Park seem to be good birding areas, but I don't know if we have enough time.
If you can recommend a private wildlife/birding guide, please do so. Thank you.
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Old Feb 22nd, 2023, 05:17 PM
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We're doing the same thing in Singapore in September. Wasn't a destination we'd intended but have long layovers as much as 23 hours each way. So maybe the ideal way to try out a place we might not have ever visited otherwise. Kind of looking forward to it now as a bonus destination. Food is supposed to be amazing.

I don't have enough info about Singapore yet but I couldn't imagine taking time from VN. You've got a long list already and even though I'm not one to always think you got to slow down to enjoy a trip, Vietnam is one place where just staying in one spot still gives you an ever changing experience. The people are warm and friendly, the food is incredible.... even the heat encourages you to relax and take it easy. Everyone has their preferences but I still don't regret cutting half our plans once we got to Hanoi... which is why I couldn't help much with Halong Bay. Will make that up next trip but we just never ran out of stuff to do in Hanoi for 6 days. Enjoyed Hue a lot. Hoi An was nice, beautiful... but also the most touristy place we visited. I really liked and would recommend My Son for a few hours, but mostly because I got out there very early and walked the opposite direction of most people. It was very peaceful that way but the ruins themselves were not at all on par with Angkor.

Speaking of which, I reckon about 4 days is good for Angkor, though you could easily spend more.


Last edited by CounterClifton; Feb 22nd, 2023 at 05:58 PM.
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Old Feb 22nd, 2023, 07:05 PM
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The South of Vietnam is not very exciting. I would fly directly Siem Reap-DANANG, 3 days minimum in very charming Hoi An, then car with river one day Hoi An-Pass of the Clouds (tell the diver you want to go up the pass, NOT through the tunnel), lunch in a floating restaurant on LANG CO Lagoon-HuÍ; 2 days HuÍ; then NIGHT TRAIN HuÍ-NINH BINH + taxi 8 km NB-TAM COC, 2-3 days in fantastic TC and around, then day train 3 hours NB-Hanoi

I ahve all thsi on pages and pages of very detailed travel notes. If you want them, tell me on a private message (files too big to put on this forum). Ask for notes CAMBODIA + CENTER AND NORTH VIETNAM
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Old Feb 23rd, 2023, 12:47 PM
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CounterClifton,
Yes, the Singapore dilemma...I'll have to decide based on the time of the flights. I'm torn between visiting a new place, and spending more time in VN, where even with 1 month I wish we had more time. This is our first time (and most likely the only time) in VN, so I want to maximize the time there. I know we'll get to Singapore again if/when we visit Malaysia, that's a great wildlife and birding destination and high on my list.
I would like to hear more about the 6 days in Hanoi, do you have a TR here? The way this trip is shaping up, we'd have 3 days in Hanoi + 2 for Halong Bay + 4 days in the Ninh Binh/Tam Coc, Trang An & Cuc Phuong NP area. Need to look more into the days allocation.
How many days do you recommend for Hue? I think we'd have 2, is that enough?
I'm thinking 3 days for the temples in AW, + 1 day for Tonle Sap Lake photography and 1 day for the Preak Toal Bird Sanctuary, for a total of 5 full days there.
If we skip Singapore, maybe we can do 3 days in Saigon + Mekong Delta, but is that enough? Would we need at least an extra day there?
Decisions, decisions...thank you for your thoughts.

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Old Feb 23rd, 2023, 12:50 PM
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Larsay,
Your suggested itinerary is pretty much what I've ended up with, although I still wish we could include the Mekong delta. But I'm interested more into the birds and wildlife, and it seems that area is pretty populated, so not necessarily a wildlife destination. Thank you for your generous offer, I'll PM you shortly.
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Old Feb 23rd, 2023, 01:43 PM
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xyz99. Sorry, I didn't ever do a trip report. Never seem to find the time once we're back and work has piled up. I should say that how we allocate time could well be different than how you'd go about it because we've moved to Australia and places like Vietnam or Bali are relatively "short" trips for us (of "only" 8 hours away, lol). It's almost assured that if we go anywhere, it would most likely be SE Asia somewhere. So we can probably be a little more inefficient about how we spend our time there compared to long trips like Europe.

So far, I've not been further south than Hoi An/Danang area. Just wasn't as much that popped up on the list that I was wanting to see in the south. (Right or wrong, I think I perceived that Saigon wouldn't be a lot different than a city like Bangkok and the countryside possibly similar to rural Cambodia, where we've spent some time). So we've just been to the north of VN. Even then, there was so much in the north that I thought a couple of weeks wouldn't do when they came available and we delayed until we had the extra week. But we also aren't very driven by sightseeing, if I'm honest. I couldn't actually tell you how we spent all 6 days in Hanoi. A lot of wandering, walking main streets and back alleys, often foraging for the best looking street side food stall. It wasn't well planned but it wasn't ever boring. Can't wait to go back and spend more non-sightseeing time in Hanoi. We did see a water puppet show (my daughter was younger then and dug that). Walked to the Temple of Literature and spent some time watching all the young brides have their photos taken. One day we got a driver to take us out to a village about 45 minutes west of Hanoi and there was a local market and a temple in the notch of a cliffside formation. Lovely feeling there and no other westerners around so it felt like what we were seeing would be happening whether we were there or not. He stopped us by a "silk village" on the way back, which I figure was us being "sold" for his commission (the usual thing in that region) but it turned out to be interesting all the same.

Anyway, yeah.... I figure Hue is worth a couple of days. I probably could have spent one more but one of us was unwell those days so I was going out and back as I could. Try to get out to some of the outlying temples as well as those in the citadel area. Then on to Hoi An. If you can get a driver between Hue and Hoi An, the mountain drive is pretty.

I think I felt different than Larsey did about Hoi An as it was pretty much (for me) the opposite feeling of what I had in that village of Hanoi. To each their own and all that. It's gorgeously well preserved... but man, do they see you coming. I didn't find the touting there too bad, especially compared to someplace like Bali, except every single night now seems to be the "Lantern festival" and we were asked many times about buying a lantern to send off. More it just felt to me like the whole historic area (which is where visitors tend to stay an is only like 6x3 city blocks) had been emptied out, sandblasted and repainted in some big restoration product and then all the buildings were repopulated with souvenir shops, cafes and fancy galleries aimed 100% at the tourist trade. Right down to the fact that there are the same uniformly carved wooden signs over each door. It's probably perfect as far as if you're looking for lots of shopping and dining options along with some cool buildings. Not so much as a slice of real Vietnam life (just the feeling I got). So I was pretty much done looking at stuff after the first day but we had a couple of days left. We went out into the modern town, which is the majority of Hoi An for a bit. Signed up for a couple of days of cooking classes which was fun. Puttered around the market and eventually ended up meeting some local people who invited us out to their place. So still had a good time.

(This is all seeming a bit familiar! Did we by chance chat a few years ago about an impending trip to Morocco? )
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Old Feb 23rd, 2023, 02:00 PM
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LOL, CC.....yes, Morocco....that got cancelled too. And up until 3 days ago when we decided to go to VN in early 2024, Morocco was "it", the destination for spring 2024. But in the end we decided to go to VN first, as for us it's a longer trip. Unless something happens, Morocco is scheduled for 2025 or 2026.

SE Asia was in the making for many years, in various combinations that always included Angkor Wat. The rest of the trip was either more of Cambodia, or Laos, or South Vietnam, or more Vietnam...in the end it seems that "more Vietnam" won. Hopefully the weather gods will smile on us.

I understand the unstructured days spent in a place, it happened to us too, not always planned like that. But places speak to us in different ways, and we end up with favorites for no special reason. Not the sites, but the feel of it. I'm reading now as much as I can, to just come up with a number of days we need on the ground, so I can get the flights. I just don't want to be in the situation to kick myself for not having just 1 more day...

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Old Feb 24th, 2023, 07:05 PM
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>> All award flights I've seen so far have a long (9-10 hrs) layover in Singapore, so I'm considering just adding a few days there.
CC touched on this. And maybe it has been covered.

Used to be that you could have an enroute stopover on an award ticket. A stopover being a stay of longer than 24 hours. Nowadays you are limited to a connection of up to 24 hours.

Please let me know if there is an FF award program that allows multi-day stopovers!

I don't have an opinion on stopping at SIN on the way to VN. I'll just mention somethng that you probably already know: that you fly to SIN and home from VN using your miles and pay for one-way SIN-VN. That would be an open-jaw roundtrip award or two one-way awards.

If I had a 9-10 hour connection I would probably look into extending it to closer to 24 hours.
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Old Feb 25th, 2023, 07:47 AM
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xyz99

Given your desire to see Angkor Wat and do some birding, I would give some thought to heading to Siem Reap first. I think the time you have allowed there is about right. After SR you could head south to Phnom Penh, a nice manageable city with a great deal of history, not all good, but worth a couple of days. From PP you could get a boat downriver to Chau Doc where there are many birding opportunities. Highly recommend a dawn visit toTra Su submerged forest. Lots to see in a less visited part of the delta.

From there it is three hours or so to Can Tho for Cai Rang floating market ( again a dawn visit) . From there there are numerous flight options. You could miss Saigon if you want but personally I really like the city, which I have been visiting on and off for the last thirty odd years.

With your interests and the time you have I would possibly consider skipping the Central Region. In favour of spending more time in the north. I much prefer Hue to Hoi An and would avoid Da Nang completely. Hoi An is undoubtedly quaint but has become overrun with tourists over the last twenty year to the extent that it can be quite unpleasant trying to explore the old town when surround by thousands of day trippers from the mega hotels strung along the coastal road towards DaNang. Much prefer the historic city of Hue for its food, Imperial Citadel and Tombs.

Hanoi is another great city to explore. I am not a fan of Ha Long or Bai Tu Long Bays and would probably skip those but some love them. Ninh Binh is definitely worth a couple of of full days but any more I feel would be overkill.

On one trip we took a private tour from Mai Chau Valley, through the Black River Valley and the mountain areas down to Ninh Binh. It was a combination of hiking and 4WD we used Ethnic Travel who were very good and I think may offer specialist birding trips. If not I am sure you will find some operators in Hanoi that do. NB I would avoid paying any money to tour operators in Vietnam by any method other than Credit card. Many operators a re good and honest but there is a lot of fraud going on. CC gives a high degree of protection.

Here is a link to the Vietnam section of our blog which covers some of our travels in the country https://accidentalnomads.com/category/vietnam/ which may provide a flavour of what to expect.

PS Tonle Sap is also great for birds but you do need to get to the right part of the lake at the rights time of year.

www.travelfish.org is a great resource for Vietnam and Cambodia as is https://www.vietnamcoracle.com esp for getting off the beaten path.

another Fodors member, mlgb is avery keen birder. Not sure if she has covered Vietnam but may be worth a personal message.

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Old Feb 25th, 2023, 09:16 AM
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mrwunrfl,
RE: flights. We have UR miles, usually travel United + partners and I am playing with different ideas. Flying back from Hanoi is expensive (lots of miles), but we could fly a lot cheaper from Ho Chi Minh or even SIN. On an open jaw ticket, EWR-Siem Reap, Hanoi - SIN, SIN - EWR with a 3 days stop in SIN, the Hanoi - SIN is 0 miles.

crellston,
We'll try to fly direct into Siem Reap, although that would mean a long layover somewhere. Oh well, so be it. I think the time to go is Feb/Mar, and that's still decent (I know, it's relative) in Angkor Wat in mid-Feb, and by the time we get to NB and Hanoi by early-mid March, it will warm up there a bit.
Phnom Penh was not on my radar, I'll look into it.
Tra Su submerged forest was on my radar, an I just found out that a day trip there from HCM is not possible/feasible, so I'm still investigating how to include it in the itinerary.

HCM might be our last stop before flying back home, because it would save us at least 200K miles. Other than that, I don't think we have any interest, except for maybe seeing the delta.
Hoi An is probably a 2 days/3 nights stop, mostly for a day trip to Sơn Trŗ to see the Red-shanked Doucs.
Thank you for the Ethnic Travel recommendation and the link to your blog, I've read it in the past, I need to re-read it.
Tonle Sap: do you mean that different parts of the lake are "good" during different parts of the year? I guess a local guide would know and take us there.

Here is how this trip is shaping up so far (not counting travel days transfers from A to B), everything below is full days:
5 days Angkor Wat
2 days Hoi An
2-3 days Hue (is a day trip to Bach Ma NP worth it?)
4 days NB
3 days Hanoi - we decided agains Halong Bay
3-4 days HCM - with maybe 2 days in the delta. Still considering other options for these days, but I think we need the last night of the trip in HCM.
There will be another 5 days of just transfers, so this is a full 28 days on the ground.


How does this look, and what would you change? Thank you.
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Old Feb 26th, 2023, 12:13 AM
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That is a lot of jumping around and it doesn’t really follow any logical progression.

If it were my trip, I would look at something like this;

4 days Angkor Wat
Fly to
Phnom Penh -2 days
Boat to Chau Doc (6-7 hours)
Chau Doc 2/3 days (Tra Su, Sam Mountain etc..)
Bus ( 3 hours) to
Can Tho 1 day
Bus (3 hours) to
Saigon 3 days

Overnight train to
Hue 2 days
Hoi An 2 days
overnight train to NB

2 days NB
train or taxi to Hanoi

4 days Hanoi
Fly to Saigon for final overnight

other options would be to break the train journey from Hue to NB in Phong Nha Khe Be - largest cave system in the world or add a couple of nights in the delta, maybe a Homestay around Can Tho/Ben Tre or Vinh Long

so many options!!!
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Old Feb 26th, 2023, 04:31 AM
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Just completed ViETNAM

Hope this is helpful-

Our priority was the Ha Giang loop. We wanted to have good weather for it so we booked a room in Hanoi for 10 days at $20 a night. When we saw 3 days of good weather coming we hopped a bus to Ha Giang leaving our luggage in Hanoi.

Hanoi isnít much to see a couple of days there is fine. The food tour in Hanoi was the highlight.

Ha Giang loop epic scenery. 3 days and 2 nights motorbike tour. Take a sleeper bus with private cabins there.

Ninh Binh - need 3 days - Trang An caves boat ride and Mua cave hike, and a late afternoon visit to the bird sanctuary. 2 hours from Hanoi - take a Grab (Uber)

Phong Nha - you only need 2 days. Paradise cave on day 1 and Phong Nha cave and Duck Stop day2. Stay at Victory Road and eat there too! Terrific food. We stayed at a $20 a night spot Carambola but Victory Road looked very nice!

We wish we would have flipped for a private car on this one- the trip from Ninh binh to phong Nha was a sleeper bus but it was 3 cabins across. We thought we would have been in similar transportation as the trip from Hanoi to ha Giang, which was a 2 berth across bus. The 3 across berths are very cramped - I have narrow shoulders and I couldnít get comfortable!

We have the name and number of a driver that will take you from phong Nha to hue- 4 hour drive.

Hue- stay at indochine palace 3 nights. Visit imperial city and tombs. The hotel is amazing. Right now it is $75 a night with a ridiculous huge breakfast buffet.

Our last stop was Danang with visits to the hand bridge, marble mountain, coconut farm basket boat tour and Hoi An. You could easily enjoy 5 days here. This is where "China beach" is located. We stayed in a local hotel Sharon hotel and spa $20 a night.

The airport in Danang is small and easy to navigate.

Vietnam was one of our favorite trips of all time.
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Old Feb 26th, 2023, 05:37 AM
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Interesting change, and the Phnom Penh - Delta addition really looks like a nice addition; I was wondering how to add it, you answered my question. Thank you!
Not a fan of the overnight trains, we'll probably fly Saigon - Da Nang, and after seeing this video
I'm convinced this is not for us. I'm a super light sleeper, I would not sleep at all.
Overall, you are right....so many options!!
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Old Feb 26th, 2023, 06:55 AM
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Oh yeah, same Mileage Plus region -> Excursionist Perk
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Old Feb 26th, 2023, 07:09 AM
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Overnight trains are not for everyone , I enjoy the opportunity to mix with the Vietnamese people and as chronic insomniac, it doesn’t matter much where I am. An experience as much as a means of travel! I

If flying I aim for early morning flights on short trips so as to maximise the usable time in each location otherwise at least half a day is wasted in transit which can take a substantial proportion of time on a trip like yours.
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Old Feb 26th, 2023, 08:02 AM
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Originally Posted by mrwunrfl View Post
Oh yeah, same Mileage Plus region -> Excursionist Perk
I read the words, I've heard them before, I need to figure out what they mean. I need a class on how to maximize the miles. Thanks for adding more to my reading material 🤣🤣🤣
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Old Feb 26th, 2023, 08:05 AM
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crellston
I agree with you on the morning flights, we do the same when possible.
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Old Feb 27th, 2023, 03:31 PM
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divamarie
Thank you for all the details, that sounds like a wonderful trip. I've considered Ha Giang loop for a while, but I don't think Feb/Mar is the right time to go there, plus I'm more interested in the birding and wildlife at Bach Ma NP and Phong Nha - Ke Bang NP, so we're going to spend some days there. If we only have time for 1 cave, which one do you recommend?
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Old Mar 10th, 2023, 10:47 PM
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Divamare, there is excellent birding at the Bird Reserve of Tam Coc, the famous Ning Binh "Halong-Bay-on-Land" 3-hour day train south of Hanoi or a little bit less than 3 hours by public bus or car.
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