Suggestions on my Vietnam Itinerary?

Old Dec 22nd, 2018, 01:37 PM
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Suggestions on my Vietnam Itinerary?

This is my proposed itinerary for our trip to Vietnam in August 2019. I as hell . We are 3 couples and we're celebrating one guys 50th birthday and this is where he wants to go. We've been talking about this trip for years so we're finally doing it. We've all traveled well together before and pretty much like the same things other than one couple must include at least one scuba dive which is why I've included Nha Trang. We plan to either drive/fly/overnight train from one destination to the other.

I'd really like to add one day to Hoi An. Any suggestion on what location to cut a day from?

Thursday: Depart LAX to Hanoi - Arrive Noon on Saturday

Saturday-Tuesday, Hanoi - 3.5 Days/4 nights
Wednesday/Thursday, Drive to Ninh Binh/Tam Coc 1.5 Days/2 nights
Friday-Sunday, Overnight train to Hue/DaNang/Hoi An area - 2.5 Days/3 nights
Monday/Tuesday, Overnight train to Nha Tran - 2 days/2 nights
Wednesday, Flight to Can Tho, Overnight Mekong Cruise - 2 half days/1 night
Thursday-Sunday, Ho Chi Minh City - 2 half days + 2 full days/3 nights

Sunday: Depart HCMC to LAX around 5pm
=15 hotel nights
loves2sing is offline  
Old Dec 23rd, 2018, 08:29 AM
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Well darn, I was really hoping I could get some input by now...

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Old Dec 23rd, 2018, 12:02 PM
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It's the holidays, be patient.

I'd say you don't have as much time as you think. Two nights never yields two days for sightseeing, it yields one full day and maybe a couple of hours on two other days. It isn't uncommon for flights to be late or cancelled, Can you lengthen the trip? If not, I'd suggest you nix one or two destinations.
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Old Dec 23rd, 2018, 12:50 PM
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Thank you, you're right, its the holidays, I didn't even think about that, lol. Usually I get a few responses within I was like..."where is everybody?"

Oh well, yes I know I have too many places....isn't that always the case? But we know this trip is likely to be on the move the whole time. That's why I think utilizing the overnight trains will help some, giving us morning arrivals and most of the day to enjoy. I didn't count travel times into the amount of day time we'll have on the ground in each place. But I'm most concerned about getting another day in Hoi An, and I'm not sure what to cut out. I'm kinda thinking I may stay in Hoi An with my husband and one couple can take off to Da Lat (another place they'd like to see), and the scuba divers can go to Nha Trang. I have less interest in a beach vacation since I live at the beach in Southern California. I'm thinking that if diving is so important to them, they can go and do the extra traveling and we can all meet up in HCMC. I'm also not seeing any direct flights from NHA Trang to Can Tho, so that Mekong overnight cruise might have to be mixed in the middle of the HCMC portion....which would give us 2 full days in HCM, and overnight on the Mekong, returning later for our last evening in HCMC. I don't like to break it up like that, but I can't see any other option. Or is there?
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Old Dec 23rd, 2018, 01:37 PM
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I sympathise with your dilemma, trying to organise travel arrangements to suit everyone is a PITA.

think your basic problem is trying to fit too many destinations in to the time available.

Over the years, we have travelled the length of the country several times by train and prefer it as method of travel. It is a great way to meet the local people, it is fun but just don’t expect too much by way of comfort, some sleep like logs on the train, I don’t!

This is my go to reference for train travel in Vietnam . In August, you will probably need to book well in advance to get tickets because of school hols etc. Always go for the soft sleeper option!

It is many years since I have been in Nha Trang and, as I don’t relish the company of drunk Russians, I expect it will be a long time before I return! That said, the diving is good but not excellent. I would only go with Jeremy Steins Rainbow Divers.

IMHO the inclusion of Nha Trang is screwing up your plans somewhat. Personally, that is where I would lose your time to add to Hoi An. If diving really is an essential then you could consider Phu Quoc - I think JSRD has a dive shop there as well. There would be flights there from either Saigon or Can Tho. I am pretty sure there are no direct flights from Nha Trang to Can Tho.

Here is a link to our blog re our travels over many years in Vietnam lots of detail and photos which may provide a better idea of what to expect.

In essence, I entirely agree with Kathie’s comments re two nights =one day sightseeing. Using the train does help a little as many of teh overnight trips arrive in the early morning giving you a whole day in a place, whereas air travel involves all that travel and waiting times at airports etc.

Other thoughts:

- at least you are not trying to include Halong Bay which would have been a big mistake!
- if you like caves, Phong Nha Khe Be is on the way from Ninh Binh to Hue and the trains work out quite well - although another destination is not what you need!
- you don’t have to do a cruise in the Mekong. A bus to CT, a trip to Cai Rang floating market and a flight to Phu Quoc for diving could also work.
- we love diving and have dived all over the world but Vietnam’s dive sites whilst ok, cannons compare with say Malaysia, Indonesia, Australia etc. Even as I keen diver, I would not waste time diverting to NT for just a couple of dives.

Hope this helps. Happy to expand on anything if I can.
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Old Dec 23rd, 2018, 03:48 PM
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Thank you for the diving info. Our friends have dived all over as well, and although I think they know this isn't going to be an amazing dive place, they may still want to go anyway. I'm also thinking that they can maybe add on a few days at the end of our group trip and go on their own. They did that when we all went to Thailand/Bali. Or, if we decided to extend this trip by another week and go over to the Philippines, they can dive there instead....although they'd probably want to dive in both places, lol. But I kinda like the idea of going from Hoi An to HCMC, and then they can always go on to Pho Quoc, and maybe we go too or maybe we don't.

One of the couples wanted to go to Da Lat. Any opinions on that location?
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Old Dec 23rd, 2018, 07:12 PM
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It looks too rushed for Central VN.
IMO, skip Nha Trang and do An Bang beach in Hoian.
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Old Dec 23rd, 2018, 09:12 PM
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Da Lat is a strange sort of place. Loved by domestic Vietnamese tourists but I fail to see the attraction. I certainly would not add time there. There are dozens of places I would visit before Da Lat. Once off tehbeaten track in te central highlands there are some interesting places in and around pleiku, Buan Mah Thout etc. Where there are lotbof opportunities for visting the minority peoples villages but that takes time.

Seriously, you need to take note of the consensus here and reduce the number of places you are visting, not add more. Traveling in Vietnam always takes longer than expected. Moving from place to place looks simple on a spreadsheet but in reality, takes a lot o of time. Just take a look at teh bus time from Nha Trang to Da Lat - it is not an interesting ride ( although having said that, if up for adventure Easy Riders will take you along that route!)
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Old Dec 24th, 2018, 01:29 AM
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We quite enjoyed Da Lat. Simply because it's a bit different, and cooler. It's easy to spend a couple of days there. A cable car ride on the edge of town, and a nice vintage train ride to one of the most colourful temples I've ever seen.

One thing to watch is health. You are 3 couples, it only takes one of you to go down with a dodgy stomach for a couple of days, and whoever that person is won't feel like rushing around. So I'd say, that getting used to the heat, food and readjusting your body clock for the first few days is important.

Hanoi is manic, particularly around the Old Quarter. So watching a You Tube video or two about the chaos, will at least give you a clue of what to expect albeit without the, smells and pollution.

Hanoi International Airport is an excellent airport, and getting into town from there by taxi is quick. Saigon Airport is less so, and you need to allow plenty of time, gridlock isn't uncommon.
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Old Dec 24th, 2018, 07:54 AM
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Would you say the chaos is similar to that of Hong Kong or Marrakech? Or worse? We do like a little city chaos but then we like to break it us with something more charming. I guess I'm concerned that if we include both Hanoi and HCMC, that only leaves us time for two other places, so picking the best two is pretty important. I think I'm leaning on letting the divers tack on a couple days (or arrive early) and let them sort out when and where.

A couple other questions.... Should we stay only in Hoi An for maybe 4-5 nights? Or should we break that up between Da Nang and Hoi An, or Hue and Hoi An? Are day trips feasible between those three locations? What are the must sees in that area? And also, do you think we have enough time planned for Ninh Binh?

Thank you all for your help, it's so good to get feedback from people who have been.
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Old Dec 24th, 2018, 08:48 AM
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Both Saigon and Hanoi are more chaotic than Hong Kong but there are far fewer hassles in terms of hawker staying to sell you stuff than Marrakech. Crossing the road is an art form in both cities, so much so that I posted a "how to" guide on our blo which is only faintly tongue in cheek -

An extract:

Vietnam Traffic Survival Guide :

1.The Vietnamese drive on the right, or the left, or on the sidewalk. In fact pretty much anywhere the mood takes them.
2.Walk with purpose as though YOU own the road and have right of way (which of course you clearly don’t!)
3.Look constantly around you, engage the eyes of the drivers around you – always nice to see those who are about to run you over! (N.B. This assumes that they are not texting at the time (see point 9 below)
4.Never stop, hesitate or deviate from your chosen path under any circumstances – it will totally confuse people and add to the chaos.
5.Sounding of horns means “I am coming through regardless”. It is also done because, well, just because they like sounding their horns.
6.If you see a bus or truck coming towards you run like hell – they WILL run you down!
7.Sidewalks are for parking motorbikes. Pedestrians should walk in the street with the rest of the traffic.
8. Common-sense would dictate that you walk on the road facing the traffic? WRONG! The 9. Vietnamese way is to walk on the same side as the flow of traffic. Probably so you cannot see what is about to hit you. i.e. fewer witnesses!
10. Texting or smoking whilst riding a motorbike and carrying is compulsory.
11. When turning at a crossroads bikes will simply cut the corner on the wrong side of the road or pavement. Obviously, this is the safest way as it cuts down the distance travelled.
12. Driving or riding on the wrong side of the road is perfectly acceptable if you are only going a short distance (say less than 400m) or are in a hurry, or there is a lot of traffic on the correct side of the road.
13. Keep calm. As a foreigner, if you get hit, don’t get angry. It is entirely your fault. If you had stayed in your own country, there would not have been an accident.

Do include both cities as they are both incredibly interesting but very different. Hanoi needs longer than Saigon. You can see the major sights in District 1 saigon in one very full day. Longer would be better though.

I would avoid Da Nang. It is a pretty charmless place with maybe 20-30 Kms along the beach road packed with massive resort hotels aimed primarily at the Chinese tour group market. Sadly they seem to descend on Hoi An every morning and night when it is usually absolutely packed. Late morning to mid afternoon is the best time to sightsee there. If you are ok with that, fine. Hoi An is very quaint but personally, I much prefer Hue, te imperial palace and the tombs are stunning as is the food scene there. If you have 5 nights then I would spend 2 in Hoi An and 3 in Hue.

You can also visit the Hai Van Pass and the Marble Mountains when travelling between the two.

One other thought is that there is diving from Hoi An. A day boat will take you to the Cham Islands. Diving is just ok but may be good enough to satisfy your companions diving needs. Could be a solution to your problem?
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Old Dec 24th, 2018, 11:08 AM
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I agree with crellston, Hanoi deserves more of your time than HCMC.

In terms of your time in Central VN, forget DaNang, which is now a line of high-rise hotels. Hoi An is over-touristed, but charming, and Hue has lovely historic sights.

I do like your idea of letting the divers fend for themselves so that they don't take away valuable time from the rest of the trip.
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Old Dec 24th, 2018, 11:41 AM
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Thank you! I will look into Cham Islands and possibly split up Hue and Hoi An...I'm still working on getting another couple of days added to the trip, making the split easier. It should work out fine for me and my husband...because he's finally retiring in March 2019! Yay! Our friends however, do have work schedules to contend with.
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Old Dec 24th, 2018, 03:37 PM
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Much as I like Saigon, I'd cut one day from there and add it to the Hue/Hoi An section if you must go to Nha Tran.
Or, if you skip Nha Tran, you can add those days to either the Hue area stop or add a night to Can Tho and have the divers meet you in CanTho..
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Old Dec 25th, 2018, 12:26 AM
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Crellston's Traffic Survival Guide is hilarious....unfortunately it's also very true. The only thing I disagree with, and I thinks it's important. That is NEVER try and engage eyes with any oncoming driver. The last thing you want is to try and 2nd guess each other, and in any case while you might catch the crazy gaze of one driver there's likely to be a dozen or more others coming at you from all directions.....just be purposeful and don't hesitate.

A great way of getting between Da Nang and Hue is by train. The scenery is wonderful, and travelling 3rd Class is a relatively comfortable and authentic way to do it. Book in advance, all seats are Reserved, and between Da Nang and Hue sit on the right hand side facing forward, a ticket is ridiculously cheap. Take your passport when booking for a further discount if you're aged 60 or over.

You can't compare Hanoi or Saigon with Marrakesh in the slightest.
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Old Dec 25th, 2018, 10:07 PM
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An addition to add to Crellston's s "unbelievable but true" traffic survival guide is, give no credibility to traffic signals. Red light MIGHT mean "stop"... but probably not. Assume nothing. I was shocked in Hanoi (trip 3 yrs ago) to find a busy intersection in the French /Opera quarter where motorbikes actually stopped at a red light!

A nice thing is that sections of Hanoi's Old Quarter i are pedestrian-only after a certain time at night. You may be bumped by walking humans, but hopefully not by motorbike drivers.

I.m.e. there is almost NO similarity in "craziness" to Hong Kong's. the latter is busy , hectic, lively...but organized. Hanoi's chaos is uncontrolled, at least to an outsider.

Have great trip, loves2sing!
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Old Dec 26th, 2018, 08:27 AM
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Lcuy, you mentioned an overnight in Can Tho....what is the best way to get from Hue/DaNang/Ho An to Can Tho? Is there an overnight train? Are there direct flights?

LancasterLad, would you recommend the train over a driver when going from Hue to DaNang? And if you're going south to DaNang, you would sit on the right? Are there stops along the way that would make a driver a better option? Are there plenty of vans that can take 6 of us? If not, then for sure the train might be the better option....

CaliNurse, Thank you!
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Old Dec 26th, 2018, 09:57 AM
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Loves2sing. We did Hue to Hoi An by Tourist Bus, and I wouldn't recommend that form of transport.

A car/driver is obviously the best way to go, providing you hire a knowledgeable driver.

But the cheapest and authenticate way to do the trip is by train. If you're travelling from Hue to Da Nang, then you need to book seats on the left hand side.
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Old Dec 27th, 2018, 04:05 PM
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The only direct flights to Can Tho are from Hanoi and Saigon, none from Da Nang You would have to get Saigon by train or flight and then a flight or bus to Can Tho. Given the time it would take to get to the airport etc., I would get the bus or a private van which should take around 3-4 hours.
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Old Feb 16th, 2019, 03:39 PM
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Actually, there ARE direct flights from Da Nang to Can Tho. Vietjet flies every day and I think Vietnam Airlines may have that route also. The flight time is about 90 minutes.
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