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Please help me to make some wise choices about visiting Vietnam

Please help me to make some wise choices about visiting Vietnam

Old Aug 25th, 2006, 06:48 AM
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Please help me to make some wise choices about visiting Vietnam

Some of you helped earlier when I was questioning whether or not to take a tour of Vietnam. You all said forget it. So, now I am starting to think about a trip that we arrange by ourselves. I've done a lot of research & know what I think we'd like and what we wouldn't like. But, I don't know how to narrow it down and eliminate things. We haven't committed to this trip yet, and I need to sort some things out if we decide to go for it and buy the plane tickets. Thus, I need to have some idea of which cities to buy tickets to.

Hanoi, Hue, Hoi An, trekking around Sapa and Mai Chau, cruising around Halong Bay, visiting the Mekong Delta, and seeing the scenery at Nha Trang all sound interesting. We'd like to see floating markets, tribal regions, and stunning scenery. Some temples and museums would be fine, but we don't want a steady diet of those. We're very interesting in knowing more about the people and customs of Vietnam. A cooking class sounds fun too. Saigon doesn't seem to be calling to me, not are the Chu Chi tunnels.

We're active middle-aged vacationers who in addition to the usual tourist pursuits like the outdoors and active pursuits like bicycling, hiking, kayaking, boat trips etc., and we'd like to add in some of those activities for balance. However, we don't want to just go lie on a beach and relax. We'd like to spend a couple days bicycling around an interesting area. We're very interested in taking a several day trek in the north. Boat trips anywhere sound very interesting. In cities we like to wander around and soak up the ambience, making an occasional stop at a tourist sight. Even though we're not shoppers at all, we like to visit interesting markets. We're interested in more of a cultural exchange atmosphere than an upscale tourist experience. And, we travel modestly not needing to be pampered or caterd to.

So, here's the dilemma. Obviously I have way too many things listed for us to be able to do them all. We've travelled exttensively in Europe and know that we prefer to slow down rather than continuously moving all the time. There we tend to immerse ourselves in a place and often go places that are way off the beaten path.

But, realistically, this may be our only trip to Vietnam ever because life is short and there are so many places we want to see, but time and funds are limited. (On the other hand, perhaps we'll become enamoured of it and want to return.) And, because of my job, this trip will have to be somewhere between mid-Dec. and mid-Jan. which isn't probably the best weather for some of the more northern locations. However, I don't do well in steamy weather, so cooler would be okay with me. Plus, we're from Minnesota so anything will be better than home.

What are your thoughs on places we should plan to visit if we make this trip? Thanks for the time.
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Old Aug 25th, 2006, 08:40 AM
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I think you are wise to slow down and to get to know the places you visit rather than trying to go everywhere. I'd suggest you confine your trip to the northern and central parts of VN. This will cut down on travel time and will enable you to spend longer periods of time at each place. So I'd cut the southern destinations you listed (like the delta) and focus on the central (Hue, Hoi An and environs) and northern (Hanoi, Halong Bay, Sapa, and environs) areas. You'll find plenty to do and see, and you can really get off the tourist track.
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Old Aug 25th, 2006, 02:10 PM
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In April 2006 I took a cooking class in HoiAn at the Red Bridge Cooking school. It was a 1/2 day course,I arranged it myself, it cost $15.
It was a highlight of our trip. You meet at a Hoi An restaurant, then tour the local market, and take a boat ride to the cooking school. It was great
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Old Aug 25th, 2006, 05:45 PM
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you aren't going to have any trouble in vietnam, well once you get used to crossing the streets without traffic lights. (I'm not kidding. it's a bit crazy).

In the north it's pretty simple. Hanoi (stay at the church hotel), Ha Long Harbor (trip has to be at least 2 days to avoid driving yourselves nuts) and hoi (which you'll have to get to by plane).

I loved Hoi An which was relaxing and that you can get to by bus or train from hue.

the south of vietnam is the part that is most tiring, but not because of the pace, it's the logistics.

It basically turns out that most trips are day trips from ho chi minh city that are practical are day trips and I ended up doing two in a row (one to the tunnels and the temple that has the eye symbols, another to the delta)

oh by the way, if you do go, note that hotels charge a big premium to book sightseeing excursions. the exact same excursions (really, the exact same) can be had for like a third less from travel agents
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Old Aug 25th, 2006, 06:18 PM
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dperry...Did u arrange the Red Bridge Cooking class from home or when u got there?? I am intersted very much in taking one when we go to Vietnam in January 2007..I was looking at one in Hue..

Can u tell me more about the cooking class..thanks
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Old Aug 25th, 2006, 06:34 PM
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One of the places I enjoyed most in Vietnam was Ninh Binh. It's a rural centre south of Hanoi with some top attractions. There's an ancient citadel you can visit (Hoa Lu) take a rowboat trip through a series of limestone caves at Tam Coc, a floating village Kenh Ga (actually that wasn't so impressive but it's a day out). Furthewr out you can visit Cuc Phuong national park which has some basic accomodation and the cathedral at Phat Diem.

http://www.travelsinasia.com/Vietnam/NinhBinh.htm

Just for reference, on my own trip I spent 4D3N at Sapa 3D2N Halong Bay, 2 days in Hue was enough 5 days in Ninh Binh and 5 days in Hoi An.
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Old Aug 25th, 2006, 08:27 PM
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Thanks so much to all of you for the help. I will also have to research Ninh Binh.

Weilong--

You didn't visit Hanoi?
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Old Aug 26th, 2006, 07:27 AM
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TracyB- I booked it myself through the visithoian.com website. There is a link to the cooking school. You must pre-reserve.You meet at a local restaurant at 8:30am, pay your $15, walk to the local market where we bought some fish and herbs to be used in the class. Then we boarded a small wooden boat and headed towards the Red Bridge Restaurant, the location of the cooking school. The school itself is a separate building, a very large open air building with a tiki-hut type roof. You're right beside the river, and get a great breeze throughout the class! The instructor was excellen, you each have an individual cooking station, and you prepare about 5 dishes. We actually made the rice paper spring rolls - it's kind of like making crepes. Anyway, after all the dishes are prepared you sit down to lunch, then take the boat back to hoi an, you return about 2pm. It was really wonderful. Let me knkow if you book the class! They also give you the book of recipes to take home with you, and a cooking tool for the spring rolls.
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Old Aug 26th, 2006, 01:51 PM
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On our 2nd trip to Vietnam, we finally booked a mini-trip to Sapa during the 1st week of Jan 2006. It was booked after we arrived in Hanoi through Hotels-in-Vietnam, which is located at the Hoa Linh Hotel in the Old Quarter of Hanoi. If I recall correctly, the cost was about $240 for two people for 1 night sleeper train, 2 nights at the Royal Hotel, including meals, 1 night sleeper car to return to Hanoi. It also included a tour guide to take us on some treks to villages.

While Sapa was misty and a little cold, we enjoyed the trip and would go again. Buy trekking shoes in Sapa at the roadside market and just leave them in Sapa or you can have your shoes cleaned for a dollar.
Be sure to buy a bamboo walking stick as the kids sell them on certain treks.

I told Hoa Linh I did not want to walk on a 6 hour trek even though we are in good health and agile. He said for another $15 he would get a driver for us to take us part way. It was a good idea. Part of the trek is on a paved road but since it's misty, the road is slippery. It was muddy through the villages. Since we usually go to Southeast Asia around Dec/Jan. this was the only time of the year we could go to Sapa. We would go again. Sapa is very colorful. The people are friendly.
We shared shories with other travelers we met on the sleeper train. It's 4 people to a sleeper car. It's an adventure!

We went on a one day trip to Halong Bay.
We booked through one of the many agencies in Hanoi. It's about $20 per person. The tour includes about 10 people. It's the usual tour on the boat with lunch included. A relaxing time on the boat with beautiful scenery.

How about several days in Hanoi with a side trip or two.

From Hanoi, take a early morning flight to Hue.

Stop in Hue for a day or so to see the Imperial City and see at least one of the tombs, Tomb of Tu Duc.

Since this is your first trip to Vietnam, from Hue book a car to take you to Hoi An. We did this on our first trip but on on our 2nd trip we took a bus from Hue to Hoi An.

The time you visit in Dec/Jan would be a good time to go to Hoi An as the weather would be great! It's a small historical small town. It uses well water to make the famous cau lau noodles. Have clothes made in Hoi An.

Have a great trip!
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Old Aug 26th, 2006, 03:22 PM
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dperry, that sounds awesome..I am going to see if i can book it..It sounds alot like the cooking class we took in Chiang Mai at the Chiang Mai Cookery School..Thanks for all of the info on it.

Tracy
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Old Aug 26th, 2006, 07:41 PM
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I'm really, really glad to hear from someone who has visited the more northern areas in Dec./Jan. This really gives me a good idea of what to expect. Thanks much again to all.
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Old Aug 27th, 2006, 05:18 PM
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I vistied northern Viet Nam in late December. They were having record cold and we were freezing, expecially at Halong Bay (and I'm from the midwest). Make certain you bring several layers. The shops sold out of every hat, scarf and gloves (with no bargaining - they asked and everyone paid - unheard of in Viet Nam.)Restaurants were open sided and of course there was no heat anywhere.
The rest of Viet Nam was very comfortable - light jackets north and shorts and t-shirts south. Loved Hue and Hoi An, but I also enjoyed Saigon, especially for the contrast with Hanoi.
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