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Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia -feedback on draft itinerary please!

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Oct 20th, 2016, 02:31 AM
  #1
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Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia -feedback on draft itinerary please!

I am planning a 3 week trip to Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia. My adult son starts out with us but then peels off to do Cambodia with friends. Our adult daughter joins us a week in. and does Laos and most of Cambodia with us. Below is my draft itinerary. I know it's rushed but I feel this is our one chance in this area of the world.

Arrive Saigon (HCM)10AM spend 3 nights,
1 night on Mekong Delta
Fly to Danang, taxi to Hoi An
2 nights in Hoi An
1 night Da Nang (Daughter meets us in Da Nang)
1 night in Hue
1 night Hanoi
1 night Ha Long Bay
1 night Hanoi
2 nights Luang Prabang (Son leaves)
4 nights Siem Reap (Daughter leaves after 3rd night)
2 nights Phnom Penh
Fly home

Any suggestions welcome.

Thanks in advance for your help!
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Oct 20th, 2016, 02:37 AM
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I forgot to give the dates...12/26/16-1/15/17.
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Oct 20th, 2016, 03:25 AM
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There's a lot of travelling in that. Less = More.

Travel by air in the region is quick in the air, but getting to/from the airports eats up time as does the time you must allow for check in and hanging around. Flight times aren't always convenient, delays are frequent, and cancellations happen.

I'd cut out the one night Da Nang completely. You may as well spend it in Hoi An, and your daughter can easily meet you there.

The effort to get to Hue for just one night is a waste too. So I'd fly to Hanoi from Da Nang.

Cut one night in Siem Reap and add it to Hanoi, and perhaps cut one night in Saigon and add that to Hanoi too.
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Oct 20th, 2016, 04:35 AM
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Way too much. Spending one night in each place increase the time you spent on the road, in airports, stations etc. exponentially and reduces the time actually seeing the places you are visitingg

Cut back on the number of destinations and you will actually be able to enjoy and really see the places you do visit.

As and example I agree with LL that a night in Da Nang is pointless. stay in Hue or Hoi An and get a taxi to the airport from one of those .

Halong Bay requires a 4-5 hour bus ride each way and, IMHO, is not worth the effort. You would leave around 08.30 spend the morning on a very tedious drive to get there around 13.00. an afternoon and overnight and sail back to the dock to depart around 13.00 for the return trip to Hanoi getting back in the early evening. Hanoi has more than enough to see and i would spend the time exploring that wonderful city.

i confess i am not a great fan of Siem Reap but would suggest that in the context of your overall time, cut a day there, unless you really love temples, in which case, ignore me!

Do check out the logistics of getting from place to place as the flight times don’t always work well and you can easily spend effectively a whole day in transit. Early morning or late night flights can often allow you effectively an extra day in a place.
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Oct 20th, 2016, 08:46 AM
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I agree with others that you are trying to do too much in your allotted time, which means you will see/do/experience less than you would if you cut some stops. Lots of your time will be wasted in transit. If this is your "one chance in this area of the world" then make sure you give yourselves enough time to see it, not just do a drive-by. First, what are your priorities for this trip? What are the things you most want to see? Note that each time you change locations, it will cut from half a day to most of a day from your time to see/do/experience.

Note that one-night stays are usually a complete waste of resources. If a place isn't worth two nights (which is just one day) it probably isn't worth your time. So I would start by looking at all of the one night stays and see which ones to cut.

Here are my recommendations; of course, it is your trip and you'll need to be the ones to decide what to keep and what to cut.

You are spending more time in HCMC than any other place than Siem Reap. I'm guessing there must be a special reason for this, as most people find it a less interesting city than Hanoi. I'd cut the Mekong Delta - you haven't given yourselves enough time to explore it anyway.

In central VN, your one night in Da Nang makes no sense. I'm sure you daughter can get herself from Da Nang to Hoi An on her own, and moving to Da Nang for one night wastes a lot of time. If you are committed to seeing Hue, you need two nights there - I'd say two nights or cut it.

Personally, I'd cut Halong Bay. People either love it and say it was a highlight or hate it and wish they hadn't gone. It is very crowded with small boats, and at that time of the year it will be misty and cold. I've heard lots of complaints about the amount of garbage in the water.

You need more time in Hanoi. Right now most of your Hanoi time is taken up with getting to/from Halong Bay.

Two nights in Luang Prabang isn't enough to experience it. Luang Prabang is a laid-back place without spectacular sights, but with a wonderful meditative vibe. If you really want to experience LP, you need a minimum of 4 nights. We spent a week there and very much enjoyed it. Either add time here or cut it.

Siem Reap - do get a copy of Dawn Rooney's book, Angkor: A Guide to Cambodia's Wondrous Temples to prepare for your visit. You have just enough time there to see the major temples - I wouldn't cut a day. We spent a week and would have enjoyed even more time.

Two nights in PP is fine.
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Oct 20th, 2016, 09:05 AM
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If you do want to visit Hue, and can cut time from elsewhere [eg Halong Bay] to make it there for 2 nights, then the most scenic and atmosperic way to reach Hue is by train from Da Nang.

There's a train from Da Nang every morning @ 0835, leaving your hotel in Hoi An by 0700 will get you to the train station in plenty of time. The train takes 4 hours, and it's a wonderful scenic trip.
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Oct 20th, 2016, 06:39 PM
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Thanks for your suggestions. We arrive in HCM at 10AM and wanted time to recover. Figured we could do chu chi caves one day and a city tour the next. Would you suggest a 1/2 day Mekong Delta tour over the overnight boat tour? Wanted to see the floating markets which a half-day tour doesn't do.
Any other suggestions in the HCM area for the week before she arrives are welcome- we didn't want to do too much in Danang area without her-so just Hoi An. She could handle getting to Hoi An from airport. Although she'll be really tired from her flight.
I too have heard mixed things about Ha Long bay! So confusing.
Also I'm reading that Hoi An,Hue and Danang get a lot of rainfall around the time we are going which may alter our itinerary a bit.
Thanks again for any more input.
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Oct 20th, 2016, 07:33 PM
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You do understand that the Chu Chi tunnels are fantasy re-creations of the real tunnels?

Sorry, I missed that you were traveling at the end of December. Yes, Central VN gets a LOT of rain at that time of the year, often with flooding. You might want to skip that area, which would allow you to spend more time in other places.

Perhaps someone else can address whether those floating markets are worth a visit or not. The floating markets I've visited are all "tourist traps" and have little local flavor any more.

Could you daughter fly into Hanoi rather than DaNang?
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Oct 20th, 2016, 09:01 PM
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I've already bought her ticket
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Oct 21st, 2016, 12:07 AM
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I agree with Kathie, you would be wasting valuable time going to Cu Chi. It is. Just a tourist trap.

If you want to see a floating market your best option would be Cai Rang which is an hour or so up river from the main delta city of Can Tho. You could do it as an overnight trip from Saigon. It is 3-4 hours by bus or taxi. Buses leave from the station in District 7. Can Tho itself is just a big city ( but with some great food!) so I would aim to leave Saigon in the afternoon and arrive early evening. You could then hire a boatman to take you to the market in the early morning. Best to get there at dawn which means leaving at 5-5.30 and returning around 8.30 which, bus timetables willing, would enable you to be back in Saigon for lunch. Taxis would clearly be more convenient and are inexpensive in Vietnam IF you negotiate.

I agree with Kathies comments re floating markets generally, but Cai Rang is an exception and is very much still a working market and if you go before the bigger boats arrive you will see very few other tourists. More detail and a lot of photos are on the Vietnam section of our blog from last year https://accidentalnomads.com/category/vietnam/ is it worth? Absolutely!

There is also a post about another delta option, Ben Tre. A little closer to Saigon but no floating markets.

As you have to be in Da Nang to meet your daughter, I would stay the night in the city, maybe have a look at the dragon bridge at night and fly out first thing to Hanoi. The beach will be grim at that time of year.

I also agree re Halong Bay. Leaving that out would allow more time in Hanoi itself - loads to see and do. Or increase time in LP or Cambodia. Ninh Binh and Mai Chau would also be viable and worthwhile options. The Mai Chaue valley is around two hours from Hanoi Ninh Binh around 4 . Ninh Binh is often described at Halong Bay on land due to its karst scenery. Again , more photos of these places in the above link.
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Oct 21st, 2016, 12:54 AM
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<<>>

We stayed at Rainbow Hotel for 4 nights, which is on the western side of the waterfront facing the Hue River. It's budget priced, but we were given the 'VIP' room, penthouse style with a private roof terrace and expansive views up and down the river. It cost US$25(ish)for B&B. Drawback was the lift broke twice while we were there, but at least it had a lift. Airport and Train station are short taxi rides away from the hotel, but in different directions.

The waterfront is v.popular at dawn and after dark with exercisers and promenading families.

The Dragon Bridge was 400 yards to our right [south] as we looked out to the river. We could see 4 bridges in total from our terrace, and each was lit up at night. The Dragon Bridge puts on its Fire & Water display at 2100 every Saturday and Sunday night. The Museum of Cham Culture is close to the Dragon Bridge, but we found it underwhelming.
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Oct 21st, 2016, 08:24 AM
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Different strokes for different floats. I loved Saigon. I mean loved it -- the energy, the food, the sights and sounds -- loved it. So glad I had three nights and could have had more. It too was my first stop. I also loved Ha Long Bay. The ride is boring -- but I read and talked. Once there it was beautiful and I enjoyed it. I am glad that I went. Picking the right junk is important as some sail in less crowded waters and do private excursions. I enjoyed the interaction with the Captain and other tourists on board. If this is something that you want to do, I would keep it. A plus for us is that we left for Hoi An immediately after this. So I used a private car service to go directly to the airport when we disembarked. The car service picked up our luggage that we left at the hotel prior to going to Ha Long Bay. You just need to take an overnight bag to the junk. Speaking of Hoi An, I did not love it like I thought that I would and I gave it 4 nights! Wish I hadn't. It was not as special a place as I had hoped. A cooking class was a highlight, as were my accommodations, but that is not enough to make me love a place. Laos is very special in my opinion. My original itinerary had only 2 nights and folks on this board told me to double it. I am so glad that I did. However, I left my heart in Cambodia. I loved Siem Reap and the surrounding areas, and, of course the temples. So glad that you will also see PP. I want to go back. I was in a similar situation that I did not know when I would be back to Asia and I also had 3 weeks in the same countries as you. I get it. With that said, I agree that one nighters are really a waste. I would drop Danang and Hue and add them to Luang Prabang. If I had left after only two nights, I would have been so disappointed. I would keep the time in Saigon, but if you decide to skip Ha Long Bay, add the night to Hanoi. It is a charming and beautiful city. But again, it is your trip of a life time and only you can decide your itinerary. Good luck!
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Oct 21st, 2016, 08:43 AM
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Lolazahra, I'm so glad you chimed in with your experiences!
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Oct 21st, 2016, 12:23 PM
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Thank you! Such valuable info everyone!
Saigon- If I didn't do the tunnels and temple- frees up a day- what else would you suggest in the city?
Is there somewhere else for an authentic tunnel experience?
Also, is there a way to get alerted when people respond? So far I've just been signing in every once in awhile.
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Oct 21st, 2016, 03:32 PM
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No, there is no way to get alerted when people respond, you'll just have to cheek back.

I do not believe that any of the original tunnels are accessible.

If you don't do the ChuChi tunnels, that gives you a day to explore HCMC or you could use that day for the Mekong Delta. There is no shortage of things to see and do in the area.
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Oct 21st, 2016, 11:21 PM
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A couple of must do things in Saigon are visit the War Remnants Museum. And on a weekend go and sit in the big park in the centre of District 1,it won't be long before you're joined by a few Vietnamese students keen to practice their english and find out a bit about you and where you're from...great fun.

The latest [August 2016] Lonely Planet guidebook for Vietnam has a v.good detailed section on Saigon. Use the book as a good friend rather than a bible and you can't go far wrong.
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Oct 22nd, 2016, 12:08 AM
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The more authentic tunnels are in Vinh Moc near the DMZ. Reachable from Hue but otherwise a huge diversion.

Like Lolazara, I absolutely love Saigon and have spent a lot of time there. Loads to see in and around Saigon.

For a packed day I would suggest the War Remnants Museum for a sense of Vietnams tragic recent history, the Independence Palace Palace (pretty much as it was when the Americans were kicked out of Vietnam) . Elsewhere in District 1/3 Notre Dame cathedral and the Central Post office are two of saigons iconic sights and are worth a look as is the opera house further down towards the river.

The new Ho Chi Minh square is pretty impressive. I would just get a map and walk to all these places but taxis are a cheap, quicker ( and cooler!) alternative. For some great views grab a quick drink on in the rooftop bars of either the Rex or Continental hotels. Also Ben Than market is close by - hectic and over overpriced but the stalls inside are a great place for lunch.

The markets and pagodas of Cholon (the Chinese quarter) are a 20 minute ride away and the Jade Emperor Pagoda 10 mins.

You could conceivably do all of the above in one busy day, but two would be better. Alternatively, as Kathie suggested above you could add a day to the delta see my suggested alternatives in my previous post.
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