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Please help me plan a return visit to Vietnam

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I visited Vietnam in 1997 when I was adopting my daughter and she and I are thinking of going back end Feb/early March so she can see her birth country. My trip back then consisted of 2 1/2 weeks in Hanoi, with visits into the countryside to an orphanage and a day trip to Halong Bay. DD would like to redo the things she was too young to remember, including the Water Puppet Show, the Old part of the city, the One-Pillar Pagoda, a visit to her orphanage, etc. We especially love interesting and dramatic scenery.

I would like to add some new ideas, one being a day trip from Hanoi to Trang Ann (instead of Tam Coc) near Ninh Binh, Saps (although think the weather might not be good that time of year), Saigon, and probably 1-2 other places. I've been reading mixed reviews of going to the delta from Saigon, the Cu Chi tunnels and other tourist sites. I don't want to short change Vietnam in favor of Cambodia, but I would like to go to Angkor Wat sometime. Recommendations on whether or not to go or skip it this trip would be appreciated.

My initial plan was to spend 2 weeks (possibly a few more days), flying into Siem Reap and spending about 4 days there, going to Saigon for 2-3 days, then heading up to Hanoi for about 6 - 7 days, possibly by overnight train, and including an overnight trip with Indochina Junks the Dragon Pearl cruise to Bai Tu Long Bay.

I've been reading a lot of posts and am wondering if it might be better to skip Cambodia this trip and maybe go to Hoi Ann or other places between Saigon and Hanoi instead.

I have come up with a list of hotels recommended by many on this forum and feel that I have a good starting point there, but would you stay in the old section or French section of Hanoi? District 1 or 3 in Saigon?

I also would appreciate any info on a visa for Vietnam - I know there have been some major changes and I'm not sure I have grasped that yet. If I would get a visa in the US, how long would that take? Or is it preferable/possible to get one upon arrival?

I will have plenty of other questions, but this would be a great start. I'd like to book my tickets and then go on to the details. I just need my starting and ending points but always want to see everything! No can do! Thanks!

  • Report Abuse

    Hi Kwren,

    So nice to Visit the North Est of Viet Nam in auturm. If your plan 2 weeks for vacation you can go to Cambodia also. I suggest the schedule for you as below :

    Day 1 : Fly to Ha noi capital you can visit Old Quarter and see Warter Pupet within day ( base on flight time )
    Day 2: Ha Noi -Ha Long Bay, let enjoy cruise on the sea overnight it is wonderful air and fresh sea food.( start on the morning at 8 am, you will touch Ha Long Bay at 12am then have lunch & over night in cruise). If you like to save money has cruise 3 hour and you can come back Ha Noi in the evening.
    Day 3 : Ha Long - Ha Noi. check out at 12 am and come back Ha Noi about 16h p.m you will free at leisure.
    Day 4 : Ha Noi - Ninh Binh ( Tam Coc ) - Ha Noi
    Day 5 : Ha Noi - Da Nang sunbanth herer
    Day 6 : Da Nang - Hoi An visit culture
    Day 7 : Hoi An - My SOn visit culture back to Da Nang
    Day 8 : Da Nang - Sai Gon
    Day 9 : Sai Gon - Cu Chi Tunnel - Sai Gon
    Day 10 : Sai Gon - Mekong delta - Sai Gon
    Day 11 : Sai Gon - Cambodia - Rep
    Day 11-14 : visit Angkor & Rep and fly back to US

    If you dont like go to Cambodia, I suggest you should go to Ha Giang in the north east Viet Nam, this is Flower season " Tam Giac Mach " very beautiful you can climb moutain also.

    Have a nice vacation :)). If you like to change your schedule, I can suggest you other schedule, too.

    About the visa, you should go to Vietnamese Embassy in US to submit visa, it is convinience for you and save money.

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    I'm afraid that questions about VN get many repossess from agents in VN, as you have gotten above. While this would be fine if they offered good info, instead, they suggest itineraries that allow you no time to see/do/experience. Like the one above that offers you virtually no time in Hanoi which is a fascinating city. I highly recommend that you decide on your own itinerary, and. if you want to use a local agent give them clear instructions about your wishes.

    Up to you whether to go to Angkor this trip or not.

    "My initial plan was to spend 2 weeks (possibly a few more days), flying into Siem Reap and spending about 4 days there, going to Saigon for 2-3 days, then heading up to Hanoi for about 6 - 7 days, possibly by overnight train, and including an overnight trip with Indochina Junks the Dragon Pearl cruise to Bai Tu Long Bay." This is a fine plan - much better than the one by the above advertiser.

    The visa issue is very up in the air. Watch for posts by people who have done it recently. One Fodorite did a lot of research on the new visa rules and posted about it. Note that unlike other countries, each VN embassy/consulate has their own charges for a visa. And if you opt for what they call a "visa on arrival" you need to pay for a visa approval letter plus a "stamping fee." VN does not, of course, have a visa on arrival - you must have a visa in your passport or a visa approval letter to get on the plane to VN.

    Happy planning!

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    What a great mom-daughter trip!!The Indochina Junk Cruise to Bai Tu Long Bay was excellent. I did the overnight (one night only). The passengers were a great mix of ages, friends, families, nationalities. One family group was parents, who'd escaped in '75, returning with their adult children to see the country.

    You can get straight from Ha Long Bay Pier directly to Ninh Binh, instead of first having to go back to Hanoi. This is what i did, via private car. The travel agent arranged it so I'm not sure how much it cost (part of the package) but it should be easy to enquire. The cruise company will credit you the difference since you are not using their van to return to Hanoi. Their van stops at a village and puppet show on the way from the cruise to Hanoi,so yo'd miss that, but you'll see village life in other areas! Note -- vans used by Indochina Junk are wifi enables and quite comfortable--the trip from Hanoi passed quickly.

    I also went to the Trang An caves, although saw entry way to Tam Coc --much busier, but if I'd had time, would've gone there too. I'd suggest an overnight nr Trang An, if you have time, instead of the drive back to Hanoi the same day.

    Depending how long you're in Hanoi, maybe split time in accommodation between Old Quarter and French Quarter? While they're not far apart in distance (as you know, having been) the surroundings are so different that i think it's worth the change. I sstayed, at two different times, at both Essence Hotels (Essence Hanoi, and Essence d'Orient) at "Bia Corner" and loved both; later I stayed in the French Quarter at the Sofitel Metropole. loved that too, although it was more $than I'd usually spend--i needed a break from the Old Quarter. A few yards down a side street from the "Opera Wing" entrance at Sofitel Metropole, is a Starbucks and a hotel I'd try next time: The Conifer! It is in a great spot, and gets great reviews. Perfect French quarter location for 1/4 the cost of the Metropole.

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    Now we're getting somewhere! This is all such great information! I read a lot about hiring private cars to do this day trip or that activity but never really understand how you know you're getting someone reliable to do this for you. If I did ha long day in the middle of Hanoi we could do one hotel, go to ha long day and come back and do the other since I was split in my decision on which area. But I also like the idea of going from halong directly to ninh Binh. These are great ideas and it gives me something to start with. Last time I was in The Old City, I really didn't venture too far from the hotel because I usually went out when my daughter was taking her 3-4 hour nap, so I definitely want to explore more. We want to do a water puppet show so maybe coming back with the van from the boat might actually make sense for us and then we don't need to do the one in Hanoi, unless my daughter wants to of course. What we do in Hanoi will be largely up to her.

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    Thanks to anyone who has spent any time helping me with this. If anyone has specifics on their favorite things to do in Saigon as well as some day trips especially to the Delta I would definitely be interested in hearing them. I haven't been to that area before and other than some of the major tourist attractions right in the or in the outskirts I don't know anything about what to do or how to get around in the Delta. Thanks so much everyone.

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    Hi kwren,

    Rathe than do day trips to the delta, it is much better use of your time to spend a few days there. It is a longish and pretty boring bus ride from the city so best make the most of it. Ben tre is closest to Saigon and you could spend a day there taking a boat ride out along the small rivers and canals to coconut processing factories, brick kilns etc. A lot to see and easily arranged from you hotel or homestay. Can Tho is te biggest city in the delta and not especially interesting but it is the jumping off point for Caí Rang floating market. Lots of photos and detail on our blog from last year @

    It is straightforward to get a bus to towns in the delta and once there, any hotel will be able to help with the logistics of getting around, guides, boats, etc. Alternatively, there are loads of operators who run inclusive tours - some good, a lot are not!

    Chau Doc is my favourite place in the delta but it is quite a long drive from Saigon and probably only worth it if going by boat to Phnom Penh

    There is also a section on Ninh Binh.

    Saigon doesn't have as many traditional tourist sites as Hanoi but there is still a lot to see. The reunification Palace is a must, the war remnants museum, the Post Office and the markets of Cholon are all great places to while away a few hours.

    Personally I like staying in D3 rather than D1 if only for it's wonderful local restaurants.

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