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Vietnam Itinerary Input, The country is so LONG!

Vietnam Itinerary Input, The country is so LONG!

Old Oct 12th, 2016, 07:03 AM
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Vietnam Itinerary Input, The country is so LONG!

We are traveling to Vietnam in December. We arrive in Saigon for a couple days and then go for three days of biking in the Mekong Delta.

I am unsure how to split up the remaining 9 days between these options:

Dalat
Hoi An
Hue
Hanoi/Sapa

We are not city people; nor beach/coast people. We like to keep on the move, two days in a place is plenty for us. We are very active outdoors/country people who love mountains and would like places with plenty of outdoor activities like trekking and cycling and nature. We also enjoy local cultural experiences.

My instinct is to leave out Hanoi altogether but that is the gateway for Sapa which seems like the perfect fit with our interests. The drawback seems to be that it is pretty remote to get to.

The length of the country makes it seem difficult to get around quickly and easily.

What do you fodorites recommend?

How does this look?

Day 6: Dalat

Day 7: Dalat

Day 8: Hoi An

Day 9: Hoi An

Day 10: Hanoi

Day 11apa

Day 12: Sapa

Day 13: Sapa

Day 14: Return to Ho Chi Minh City

Day 15: Airport 12:45 in afternoon, fly home
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Old Oct 12th, 2016, 09:59 AM
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I would recommend cutting at least one possibly two destinations. The travel infrastructure in Vietnam has improved immeasurably in recent years but it can still take time to get from A to B.

A bus to the delta from Saigon will take 3-4 hours. Sapa is an overnight train ride from Hanoi or, a long bus ride on the new highway. You can fly to many places but before deciding on your final itinerary I would take a look at the flight and train schedules to ensure that you can get transport at a decent hour. A flight departing at midday means that you will lose an entire day in transit, whereas an early morning or evening flight means you stand a fighting chance of spending the day actually doing stuff that you want rather than just travelling.

Outdoor pursuits are readily available at all of those location but you do need to take a look at the weather. The north and south of the country will have good weather at that time of year but the central region i.e. Dalat and Hoi An, not so much.

Given te time of year and the time you have available, I would give Hoi An an Dalat a miss in favour of spending more time elsewhere.

Sapa is undoubtedly very scenic but since improved transport links and the cable car arrived it apparent ly have become overwhelmed by tourism so you would need to get well away from Sapa itself to get any peace and quiet. I would consider Ha Giang or The Black River valley/Cuc Phuong NP/ Mai Chau valley for trekking. Some photos of our time in that area last year can be found on our blog @ https://accidentalnomads.com/category/vietnam/ Scroll down to mountain trekking in north Vietnam.

To get from Sapa back to Hanoi aiport for your flight back to Saigon would be pushing it somewhat unless you plan on hiring a private driver.

Leaving out the central region would enable you to spend more time in the above areas plus a few days in Hanoi which, even though you are not into cities, really is the essence of the country.
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Old Oct 12th, 2016, 10:29 AM
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Thanks so much for all that insight. I really appreciate it. I have been a bit overwhelmed by how to get around in-country.

I was wondering about giving Da Lat a miss since it seems to be duplicative (activity wise) of Sapa.

What if I cut Da Lat and Hoi An in favor of Hue for three days and added another day to Hanoi?

Love your photos--I am going to look into your suggestions for trekking--is Hanoi also the jumping-off point for those destinations?
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Old Oct 12th, 2016, 11:19 AM
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I was hoping crellston would see your question and respond to you. He has the best experience of/info on VN of anyone who posts here.

Note that you are likely to get responses from advertisers of VN agencies, as this has long been a problem here. The Mods are good about deleting them, but beware of advice from unknown posters.
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Old Oct 12th, 2016, 11:41 AM
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You are very welcome Schlegel. Hanoi is the base for all of those places. We used Ethnic Travel for our treks and found them to be very good. There are other operators around but do check them out carefully!

When moving around a lot on such a trip it is arguably easier to think in terms of nights rather than days. Two nights will give you one FULL day, three nights, two full days etc. In terms of maximising your "non travel" time, three nights is preferable to two lots of two nights. Otherwise you end up spending too high a proportion of your time staring at the back of a seat in a train, bus or plane.

As for Hue, it is a great city with lots of history. The imperial tombs and citadel are well worth the effort and three nights / two full days would give you enough time to do them justice, so yes, I would would choose Hue over Hoi An and Da Lat. adding a day to Hanoi is definitely worth it as there is so much to see in the city ( and the food is amazing). One thought is that as you would need to fly to Hanoi from DaNang, you could possible fit in a visit to the Hai Van pass/ marble mountains as it is on the way. I have almost finished another post on our blog covering that trip I will link it here when I have posted.

Da Lat has lots of adventure activities but it is not really like Sapa which is more about the hiking and scenery so I don't think you would be duplicating too much. Both places have lots of ethnic minority villages, although those in Sapa can be very touristy.
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Old Oct 12th, 2016, 11:44 AM
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I second crellston's suggestion for Mai Chau -- its a lovely part of the country and I think you would enjoy time there. Hue is a fairly large (not Hanoi or Saigon size) city and not sure that any of your desired activites make it an optimum place to spend time and definitely not for 3 days.

One advantage to Sapa is that you don't lose time since you take an overnight train to get there and back. We were there ~4 years ago and it was fairly touristy. Sorry to read its gotten worse.

Here's our TR, VN is at the very end
http://www.fodors.com/community/asia...ia-odyssey.cfm
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Old Oct 12th, 2016, 12:42 PM
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Thanks, all. I have been hesitant to post being so undecided--didn't want to seem like I wanted you all to do all the leg work of planning. Now I see I should have posted much sooner!

crellston, I can see from your blog that Kathie's compliment as to your expertise is well founded!

yestravel--nice to be following you somewhere again--actually I commented on that trip report and it's nice to see it again now with a different country in mind.
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Old Oct 19th, 2016, 05:42 AM
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Thanks again--we have reworked the itinerary based on all the advice. I am in touch with Ethnic travel and have planned a 4-day trek in Mai Chau once we get to the north.

We are going to fly between destinations --should I book our flights on Vietjet ahead of time?
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Old Oct 19th, 2016, 07:17 AM
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The travel agency you are working with can buy plane tickets for you and can reserve hotels as well. Compare prices - the agents can often (but not always) get you better prices than you can get yourself.
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Old Oct 19th, 2016, 08:02 AM
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I second the suggestion to work with TA on getting flights and hotels. Tonkin got better deals than we could, not always by a lot but still lower.
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Old Oct 19th, 2016, 08:57 AM
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We aren't using a travel agency and I am hesitant to contact one just to book airfares. Should I? I am a confident self-planner and generally don't enjoy trips that rely heavily on a TA.
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Old Oct 19th, 2016, 09:49 AM
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It is easy to book flights and hotels online and I don't think it is necessary to use an agent to book flights. On a short trip, I doubt you would save much even if booking hotels as well.

I mostly used trains the last time in Vietnam but have flown internally before and had no issues booking online direct with the airlines.

Where agencies and tour operators add value is in some guided trips where actual guides are required and transport is difficult to arrange oneself e.g. your trek in Mai Chau .
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Old Oct 19th, 2016, 11:40 AM
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Recommendations you are getting to book wit a t.a. are perhaps because you said you were in touch with Ethnic Travel r/t Mai Chau trek. Did you decide not to use them?
IF you are already using this or any local travel agency, it won't cost any more, and may save some hassle, if you additionally use their services to book transport as well. This would not mean you are, in your words, relying "heavily" on a travel agent.
Have a great trip! Mai Chau area is beautiful, and has the advantage of being not too remote from Hanoi. Lush mountains and rice fields, kovely people. If you're there on a Sunday, there's a great local market on a mountain road about ten minutes drive above Mai Chau town.
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Old Oct 20th, 2016, 12:32 AM
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I booked a domestic flight with Vietnam Airlines last year, and without realising it used a look-alike website, and got stung for a few $$ hidden booking fees. So only use the official websites...

https://www.vietnamairlines.com/en/p...aign=IDM-EN-EN

http://www.vietjetair.com/Sites/Web/en-US/Home

It's also worth checking not only the fares against competitors, but also the departure and arrival times. I booked domestic return flights between Hanoi-Quy Nhon a few days ago. Vietjet were a bit cheaper than Vietnam Airlines, but the ETD/ETA times with Vietnam Airlines meant that we didn't lose much time from the day, ie earlyish flights on both legs as against afternoon flights.

As for reliability between Vietjet and Vietnam Airlines, a lot depends on weather conditions which can and often do cause delays, and sometimes cancellations. A lot of people seem to complain about delays without looking at the reasons.

As for the flight experience, both carriers are very good. Vietjet cabin crew wear a tartan Thunderbird outfit, which is very easy on the eye.

Make sure you keep the luggage receipts as you might have to show them when you leave the airport.
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Old Oct 20th, 2016, 08:08 AM
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LL, you were lucky you only got charged a booking fee, as there are scammers with clone sites that will take your money, but you will only find out it wasn't the real site when you get to the desk at the airport and discover the airline has no record of your reservation. The scam sites have a hypen in the middle of the name, like Lao-Air.
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Old Oct 20th, 2016, 09:19 AM
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Thanks again. Good info on booking from the correct websites, always something to keep an eye out for.

I have always considered a tour operator separate from a travel agent but I am getting the impression that many in Vietnam are both--the hotels I have contacted have offered to check flights for me. So I may have them book after all.
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Old Oct 20th, 2016, 09:38 AM
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schlegal, people often use the terms travel agent and tour operator here interchangeably, particularly in VN where they are often the same thing. You can use some services without using others. In VN, hotels will often book flights for you, can set up a car and driver if you'd like, etc., so hotels, too, operate as travel agencies. Sometimes agents in VN can get you better (sometimes much better) prices on hotels, so if you are doing anything through an agency, it's worthwhile to ask for price quotes on hotels. Also, if you are doing a lot of business with an agency, they may be willing to provide your visa approval letter for free. It never hurts to ask.

The situation with using (local) travel agents in Asia is very different from the US or Europe. It is often a wise move to use an agent (but compare, compare, compare). If you opt to use an agent, you will still want to do all of the planning yourself, just use them to book. Though sometimes they can offer useful info that may alter your itinerary a bit, like "I don't recommend the drive from X to Y because there was a recent landslide there."
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Old Oct 20th, 2016, 10:02 AM
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My local TA/tour agency Custom Vietnam Tours, is providing the visa letter for free as part of my private tour booked with them. I will be buying my own 2 flight tickets as CVT gave me a price of twice what they cost to have them book the flights and wrap the air tickets up into the total tour price. I plan to take both flights Hanoi to Danang and Dong Hoi to Hanoi with Vietnam Airlines. I have not bought the tickets yet as my trip is not until Feb. 22, 2017.
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Old Nov 20th, 2016, 08:33 PM
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Susiesan - I'm keen to hear about your bike trip that's planned....who have you organised that with?
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Old Nov 21st, 2016, 02:11 AM
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Sorry, that question is meant for schlegal1
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