Vietnam Itinerary help-so many choices

Old Nov 21st, 2016, 07:22 PM
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Vietnam Itinerary help-so many choices

My family- 2 adults and 2 kids (10,13) are planning a 22 night trip to Vietnam.
I've read lots of trip reports, but am getting a bit confused, especially now that I've emailed a few travel agencies who are suggesting all sorts of tours!
My ideas are:
Day 1 arrive Hanoi late from Australia
2 Hanoi
3 trek/tour to Mai Chau homestay
4 mai Chau
5 puluong
6 Ninh Binh
7 drive to Halong bay to meet Dragon Boat for over night boat trip
8 wanted to avoid the long drive back to Hanoi (which all TA are suggesting) wanted to drive back to Ninh Binh to catch overnight train to Hue.
9 Hue
10 Hue
11 drive to Hoi an, stay 1 week An Bang riverside home stay to chill and do little
18 fly daNang to HCMH
19 CVT suggests a bike tour to Binh Tien farmstay 2 nights, then Can Tho floating markets tour staying in Can Tho 1 night
22 HCMC
23 fly home

Has anyone been on a farmstay in the Mekong? Been to Can Tho?
Did people book their boat tours at Halong themselves? The TAs want to book everything for me, but I feel like I'm losing out on choice.
Has anyone caught the train south from Ninh Binh?
TIA
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Old Nov 21st, 2016, 07:23 PM
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Oh, I'm wanting to go in April- I haven't booked anything yet, hopefully I haven't left things too late
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Old Nov 22nd, 2016, 02:43 AM
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Here is a link to our blog covering our time in Vietnam last year when we visited all of the places you mention. https://accidentalnomads.com/category/vietnam/ which may provide a flavour of what to expect.

Travel agencies, especially Vietnamese ones, always seem to pack way too much into the time you have, so you do need to be extra assertive in setting out exactly what you want. Also, you really do not need an agency to organise everything. Most can be organised online directly or on the ground when in Vietnam. You haven't left things too late for April, although if you want a specific luxury cruise then book sooner rather than later.

We did the trip from Hanoi - Mai Chau - through the National Park to Ninh Binh in about 5 nights. A highlight of our trip. Ours, at our request, involved a lot of hiking and to get the best of the area, this is required but our agency were able to adapt the trip as needed, so you could have a lot less if required. We had plenty of time so we returned to Hanoi, but it is easy to get the train south from Ninh Binh see http://www.seat61.com/Vietnam.htm for details.

As far as your itinerary above is concerned, IMO you have far too little time in Hanoi and could do with an extra day in Saigon. To accommodate this, something would have to give, either miss out Halong or reduce your time in Hoi An. In other words too much in to little time. There would be a LOT of comparatively uninteresting travelling between locations involved.

Three days in the delta is a good amount of time. Can Tho is just a big city and the main reason for being there is for Cai Rang floating market. Get up at 5 and get a boat there and you will be back in Can Tho by 9 for the trip back to Saigon.

In planning this out, it often helps to think in terms of nights in a place rather than days as two nights will give you one full day in that location. Though in some cases, such as Mai Chau to Ninh Binh the journey is as enjoyable as the the destination. The same cannot be said of Hanoi- Halong.

If it were me (and we all have different wants/travel styles etc.) then I would miss out Halong completely and maybe reduce Hoi An by a day.

When booking the train go for a soft sleeper which has four bunks and avoid the cabins at either end of th carriages (I think berths 1-4 and 24-28 ) as they get inundated with cigarette smoke from teh smokers at the end of each carriage - yuk!
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Old Nov 22nd, 2016, 09:46 AM
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Hi Kazza!

A few thoughts:

1. How did you decide on only one day in Hanoi, vs an entire week in Hoi An? One week in one place anywhere, when you've only three weeks for a trip, is a big chunk pf time. Hanoi is a wonderful city. Perhaps you've been before, or plan to return...which would of course affect how much time you spend this trip. I think your kids would enjoy it. Or take 2-3 days from the week in Hoi An, and add it to an equally relaxing are(s) somewhere? Fewer one night stays at the beginning will then require less need for an entire week of r and r later.

2.Find out about weather in Ha LongBay in April. I was lucky---sunny the entire time, and I'm sure that added to the trip. Your kids would totally love the overnight trip. There were a few families with kids on the "mini-cruise" and all loved it! Highly recommend using one of the Indochina Junk boats, which go into Bai Tu LongBay , which is quieter than nearby Ha Long Bay.

3. You say want to avoid the long drive from the pier at HaLong Bay back to Hanoi. However, it is actually longer to drive to Ninh Binh.
Since I was going to be in the NB and Mai Chau area after the boat, CVT booked, among other things in the itinerary, a drive back directly to Ninh Binh (rather than Hanoi, and then back to Ninh Binh). So it is do-able, but long. Unless you are spending time in Ninh Binh upon your return from the boat trip, rather than to just get the overnight train, it probably makes more sense time-wise to return to Hanoi to catch the overnight train. IF the overnight train from NB to Hue were considerably shorter than from Hanoi, that would be a factor---but it there's not much difference in boarding for the overnight train time-wise per schedules (Note--disclaimer--this is based only on seeing--i did not take that train). Perhaps rework the order of what you do in the northern segment of your trip? Hope this wordiness makes sense!

4. I totally get the confusion with travel agencies! In the end I used CVT, which after enquiries to assorted agencies was best IME for response time, price, flexibility, and "listening"--everyone has different experience of course. Just started planning another trip and had same experience as you, after being curious about alternatives. Assorted agencies ignor ed what i wanted and gave me their it itineraries. I do not mind this IF the changes are accompanied by detailed rationales and suggestions. but this was not the case, except --again-- with CVT, who I will use for next trip to VN.

5.
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Old Nov 22nd, 2016, 09:50 AM
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Oops. I forgot to word #5, which is ....Have a great trip!!
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Old Nov 22nd, 2016, 10:20 AM
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Both Crellston and CaliNurse have given you some excellent advice.

Think about what you want from this trip. Hoi An, while loved by many, is VERY touristy. Personally, I wouldn't spend a week there.

And your sequence of one night stays at the beginning is a recipe for disaster, particularly traveling with children. It takes two nights in a place to get one full day. If you only have one night, you will basically have no time to see/do/experience a place. You may have a few hours the day you arrive and a few hours the day you leave, but that is all.

As noted above, going to Ninh Binh rather than Hanoi is a longer drive than going to Hanoi, so that substitution makes little sense. You spend most of your first week in transit - not a great way to start a vacation. I'd recommend you slow down, make some cuts in your itinerary and enjoy your time in VN.

Hanoi is a fascinating city, to have merely one day there would be sad.

Halong Bay seems to be a place people either love or not. So read as much as you can about the experience and decide whether it is for you. Also, when you have several destination in an area (Mai Chau, Puluong. Ninh Binh) it makes sense to cut one, thereby eliminating more transit time.

Be assertive with your agency - they are working for you. Unfortunately, many VN agencies feel that you will be happier if you see more places, but I find the reverse is true. More places = more time in transit.

Have e wonderful trip.
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Old Nov 22nd, 2016, 06:20 PM
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Think about flying to cover the long distances and save time. For my trip in Feb. with CVT I bought tickets to fly from Hanoi to Danang for Hoi An for $30 each. This is on VN airline. You can't do better than that.
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Old Nov 22nd, 2016, 08:24 PM
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Thank you all for your valuable replies. Crellston- your blog is amazingly comprehensive, I think you also helped me out with questions I had last year regarding Peru.
In regards to the number of days I plan to spend it Hanoi, I was perhaps mistakenly thinking it would be a big ugly city(perhaps HCMC is like this) and thus only a day was necessary, but now I'm rethinking.
I've emailed Tonkin, CVT and Ethnic travel, so as to compare.
One of them suggested Pu Luong, so that's why I added that spot in. Perhaps I should stay there 2 nights and drop Ninh Binh? Or drop it and stay 2 nights Ninh Binh?
When I suggest to hubby that we drop Halong bay and that it's a long boring drive there and back, he is not convinced..... kids got excited about the idea of a night on a boat.
One TA has recommended returning to Hanoi for the trip to Halong bay and also the importance of departing from Hanoi for the overnight train to Hue- as it's the start of the journey. And I also didn't realise how long the drive from Ninh Binh to the Bay is.

We could cut a few days from Our week at the beach....now I'm wondering if the floating market is worth the long drive, perhaps just a couple of nights at the farmstay.
susiesan- the kids are really excited about sleeping on a train- so we will go ahead with that plan, despite that amazingly low fare you got.
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Old Nov 23rd, 2016, 12:25 AM
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You are very welcome kazza3013

There is no getting away from the fact that Hoi An Na Halong do get hordes of toursists but they get them for good reason, Halong has stunning scenery and Hoi An is one of the qaintest, most photogenic towns in Asia. As it seems you are heading to Hoi An primarily for some down time, then it really doesn't matter that much. You could see the sights in the early morning when it is less crowded and it is the best time for photos anyway.

We did a two night cruise on Halong. What got to me was the long journey there (5 hrs) plus a couple of hours hanging around to check in for the boat. The same on the way back. This took up a huge proportion of our actual time there. The bay was undoubtedly very picturesque but there were lots of boats there and at night time these all had to moor up in the designated parking area which was very busy. As we sailed around on our one full day there, we did have a great time canoeing around part of the bay and into some caves. The big caves we (and everyone else visited) were massively overcrowded and the queues seemed interminable.

Re Ninh Binh v Hanoi return from the train. Firstly, I don't think it matters that the train starts in Hanoi as you would have reserved seats anyway.

If you do want to retain Halong, then why not put it first on your itinerary and return there from Halong. You could then do your MC-PL-NB jaunt and get the train from NB?

Cai Rang market is great fun and a highlight of the delta but it only takes a couple of hours or so. A homestay in the delta would be great fun and I know some do offer a trip to the floating market directly from the homestays (we would have gone that route but were too late in booking!).

TIP - if going on a bike ride in the delta, do check the hikes carefully. I didn't and riding along the canals a came over a bridge and speeding down the other side the handles bars came away. I went into a ditch, head over heels over the top and into a cactus hedge! Not my best day out
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Old Nov 23rd, 2016, 02:24 AM
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Crellston, my goodness, you won't forget that bike ride in a hurry!
Thanks for all your input.
The TA said that as the train only stops for 5 minutes in Ninh Binh she was concerned that it would be a stressful embarkation esp with kids. I guess if we get on in Hanoi we have plenty of time to find our cabin and settle in.
So I'm thinking of joining the Halong bay boat from Ninh Binh and then returning to Hanoi to get the train to Hue.
We might forgo the market in favour of extra time in Hanoi.
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Old Nov 23rd, 2016, 03:28 PM
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I don't recall the ride to HaLong Bay as being either particularly long or boring. yes, it was long, but not unbearable. To me, every sight out the window--even the "boring" parts--was interesting because it was not what I see every day at home! There was wifi in the van (Indochina Junk's--dont know about other companies vans) lots of fun talk amongst the small group ofpassengers, and toilet/shopping/snack "pit stop"--that part did seem long though, but at least you get to stretch your legs.You have two kids. It's all gong to be an adventure, through both your eyes and theirs. I'm with your husband about the boat. As I said above, the kids will love the mini cruise, which includes kayaking, beach time, waling into a cave (which you'll see in other parts of VN too) during the overnight boat trip.

Hanoi is not a big ugly city, at least in the area of interest to tourists. Deftly read more about it, and reconsider.

Ask yourself why you need a week at the beach in Hoi An. For example, I love beautiful beaches (who doesn't? ) but living near some, and being able to reach other incredible beaches with a 5 hour plane flight, it would not be a priority in any other country to the point I'd work a week of an itinerary around it. Do you live near the coast in Australia?

Smart words from the TA about the pressure of boarding the train in NB. Interesting point! This is exactly the kind of fact that a good local TA will think about!
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Old Nov 23rd, 2016, 05:24 PM
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Thanks for your words CaliNurse, yes we will now stay a few days in Hanoi and also do the bay boat ride overnight, we will travel there directly from Hanoi and then on to Ninh Binh and loop around that way.
Yes we do live near the coast at home, however it's so cold a lot of the time, but I will cut down our time on the beach so as to fit the other things in.
And yes I agree, those long driving trips are still interesting.
A wonderful adventure
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Old Nov 23rd, 2016, 06:40 PM
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Be aware it can be very hot in April. We were in Hanoi, Mai Chau valley, Ninh Binh and Hue in April this year. Temps nudged 43 C some days. Apparently that was unusual, hope your weather is kinder. There is a trip report if you click on my name.
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Old Nov 23rd, 2016, 07:19 PM
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Thanks sartoric, a substantial and very informative report. Gee, that's very hot.
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Old Nov 27th, 2016, 12:02 PM
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Slow down! Reading your itinerary wore me out - and I don't travel with kids! I agree with crellston's post - you don't need an agency. And the VN train experience is not very pleasant (slow, a lot of smokers, dirty, etc.). Take more time to experience HCMC and Hanoi. And spend some time in the countryside - that's the real Vietnam. I'm partial to Nha Trang, but Hue is good, too. In my opinion, you're doing too much. The VN way of life is slow and easy, and that's the way to enjoy it. Have a great trip!!!
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