Vietnam, too much to see...

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Jan 18th, 2016, 03:58 PM
  #1
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Vietnam, too much to see...

We are in the very early stages of planning a Vietnam trip, our first in the area. We are a couple in our early 50s, and we are planning this for April-May 2017 for about 3 weeks, maybe 19-20 days on the ground.
We like nature, good food, photography, ruins, temples, small villages/towns, local markets. We don’t care for big cities, nightlife, beaches. A few museums are ok, but not too many.
Based on what I read, I think Hanoi and surrounding area would interest us. The following look interesting and I would like to know your thoughts on them: Sepa, Ha Giang, Halong Bay (overnight boat), Ninh Binh/Tam Coc, Mai Chau, Cao Bang, Bac Ha Market.

A few questions:
1) We would probably spend about 10 nights in this area. Is the above too much? What should we cut?
2) How difficult is the trekking in the Sepa area? We enjoy 2-3 hours leisure walks, but not difficult mountain treks. I associate “trekking” with Inca Trail in Peru, so is Sepa an area similar to that? We would not do the Inca Trail, is Sepa an area we should not consider?
3) One major thing we would like to see are the rice terraces, and I think Sepa is the place to see them. If not, please let me know and suggest alternatives.

One non-negotiable destination is Angkor Wat, and I think that would require 4 nights.
If the 10 nights plan for Hanoi area is ok, that would leave us 4 extra nights, and I’m thinking Hue and Hoi An. If we only have time for one, which one do you sugest?
Other places I looked at and considered: HCMC, mostly for the Mekong delta trip, Phnom Penh or Luang Prabang for the temples.

I’m sure I’ll have more questions later, but for now, please help me focus on what you think is the best choice (I know, such a personal decision). I don’t think this will be our only trip on this area so I am ok to leave some for the next trip. We usually do a country at a time, that’s why my option would probably be Hue and/or Hoi An.
Also, what would be a 2nd good time frame for the above itinerary? We can go any time of the year.
Thanks
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Jan 20th, 2016, 11:28 PM
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A few thoughts:

1. In the context of your overall time I would say that 10 days is about right.
2. Trekking in the Sapa area is a difficult or easy as you want it to be. There are short treks close to Sapa but they do get very busy. To get away from the crowds it may be necessary to trek for longer, maybe 6-7 hours. Walking is much, much easier than the Inca Trail. It is not at altitude for one thing, and gradients are not as steep.
3. There are lots of rice terraces at Sapa and at Ha Giang although April and May are not the best times for bright green terraces. Sept October is the best time, just before the harvest. It is still a beautiful part of the country.

We spent a lot of time in the north of Vietnam last year and one of the highlights ( and an alternative to Sapa with more variety) was a trekking trip over 5 days from Mai Chau to Ninh Binh via Pu Long NP and the Black River valley. Whilst our trip did involve some serious trekking, it is entirely possible reduce this by spending more time in the car. We spent 5-6 days and loved it. Small villages, beautiful scenery and wonderful people. More info and photos on the Vietnam section of our blog @ http://accidentalnomads.com/category/vietnam/ Apart from Ninh Binh saw no other tourists. We used ethnic travel who were great at adapting the trip to our specific needs.

4 days in Hanoi and 5-6 doing something like the above would strike a nice balance. Sapa needs a couple of nights there plus one each way for the train. Most Ha Giang trips are based from Hanoi and involve staying in small villages ( basic accommodation ) and a lot of Tim win the car with minimal hiking.

Halong Bay, though indisputably impressive, does involve a long tedious bus ride of 5 hours each way, effectively tying up a large proportion of the time you have. It is also very crowded once actually at the bay. Personally, I wouldn't bother.

Hue or Hoi An is a difficult choice as both are very different. Hue is all about the Imperial Citadel and tombs it is a big city but doesn't feel like it. Much less touristy than Hoi An. Hoi An is very quaint and photogenic but does get exceedingly busy. Some nice bicycle rides out into the surrounding countryside. Both places have exceptional food opportunities.

Timing visits to Vietnam is difficult because of the climatic differences between the region. I found this website exceedingly helpful http://www.selectiveasia.com/vietnam...eather/january
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Jan 21st, 2016, 08:34 AM
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Crellston,
First of all, thanks a lot. I’ve been reading a lot of your posts here and saw your blog, and it’s a lot on good information, especially for “new to the area” people.

I think I accepted that we can’t have it all, and need to compromise here and there. The most important reason for us to go to Sapa is not trekking, but seeing the green rice terraces. It turns out we cannot do those and Angkor Wat at the same time, the best time for one is the worst for the other one, and AW is higher on the list then terraces (we can see those in other places, too).

So we are thinking of going in late March - April, start in Phnom Penh, then move to AW, then Hue and Hanoi. From Hanoi we’ll spend 3-4 days in Ninh Binh area (bike and car – is this too long?) and 2-3 days Halong Bay. I know you said you would not bother, but it looks amazing, I don’t think I have the will to skip it. Do you think it’s a mistake? Would you consider/recommend spending 1-2 days on Cat Ba island?

We are not big city people, we prefer nature and smaller towns/villages. Based on what you said, it seems Hoi An might be busier, and the Imperial Citadel and tombs in Hue look really interesting. Don’t want to miss those. I am wondering if we should skip Hoi An and have more time in Hanoi? But we need Hoi An if we want to visit My Son, right? Cat Ba island or Hoi An? We don’t have enough time for everything

What do you think? We’ll have 3 weeks all together. Or if you have any other ideas, I’m all ears. Thanks
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Jan 21st, 2016, 11:46 AM
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Hi xyz99,
Based on your interest, I wouldn't skip Hoi An and Halong Bay for more time in Hanoi.

I also prefer scenery and small town to cities. Before I went to Vietnam, I knew that I wouldn't enjoy Hanoi, so I only planned to use it as a base to go to a overnight cruise in Halong Bay and day trip to Tam Cou. Halong Bay turned out to be the highlight of our trip. We didn't get to go to Tam Cou because at the last minute our tour company cancelled on us citing weather concerns. As a result, we use that day to do a day tour in Hanoi and it was NOT an enjoyable experience. Motorcycles zooming pass us like crazy. Traffic was bad. It was stressful and not my idea of vacation. Some seasoned travelers see beauty in the chaos, but to me it was just madness.

I am going to encourage you to go to Halong Bay, Hue, and Hoi An with the pictures I take which you can see here: https://paris2athens.wordpress.com/2...n-and-vietnam/
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Jan 21st, 2016, 01:45 PM
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katyeli,
I enjoyed your pictures and notes a lot. You convinced me, Hoi An looks wonderful, I could not miss the opportunity to photograph the lanterns

I think we will have about 5 nights for Hue and Hoi An. How would you split them? Who gets the extra night? Thanks.
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Jan 21st, 2016, 01:59 PM
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2 nights in each place would be sufficient to see the highlights, so I wouldn't worry too much about who gets the extra night. I slightly prefer Hoi An because it's easier to explore on foot, and no motorcycles after late afternoon (you can tell by now how much I dislike motorbikes). Also, we had better food in Hoi An.
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Jan 21st, 2016, 02:52 PM
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Ha-ha, I don't think I would like motorbikes any better
Thanks
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Jan 21st, 2016, 03:11 PM
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Thanks for a very informative post - and I'm saving this for a "someday" trip of my own!

Paule
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Jan 21st, 2016, 09:34 PM
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I agree with Crellston that you will spend about 10 days for the North Vietnam
Besides that, I've searched for that area before I also love photography, the North Vietnam such an amazed place you shouldn't miss and you've chosen a very good time to visit, you can't have it all, but almost.
You shouldn't miss Ninh Binh, search for some photos on Google, it's totally impressing. Yes I guess you can spend in Ha Long Bay about 2 days
If you consider between Hoi An and Hue, the big concern of my is the weather. Hue is very hot, usually about 70'F - 72'F (39'C - 40'C), so my guess you can join the city tour for some historical places. Travell from Hue to Hoi An it will be took about 4 hours. In Hoi An you can spend sometimes for paddy fields, near Tra Que vegetable village as well as fishing village for some photojournalistic, they're very lovely for me. I suggest that you should spend more time in Hoi An, together you can visit My Son and Cham Island.
If you visit Mekong Delta, April to May is a green field time, I hope you will have some good photos there.
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Jan 21st, 2016, 11:39 PM
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You are very welcome xyz99. Rather than Halong bay and Cat BA island, if you do want to explore that area, then I would consider Bai Tu Long bay, much less visited but in the same area, same topography, far fewer people and boats. Most trips involve staying on islands rather than boats see http://ethnictravel.com.vn/3_days_Bai_Tu_Long_Bay.htm but you get the best of both worlds, people interaction and the views. There are many operators who will organise this trip but do INSIST on Bai Tu Long otherwise they will just take your money and send you to HL anyway!

I stand by my previous comments re HL. We revisited last year ( against my better judgement) and really didn't like how busy it had got with dozens and dozens of boats parked up overnight in one small bay, thousands of people all trying to get into the caves at the same time. It is a stunning place. Is it worth the crowds? For me no, but everyone is different.

Your refined plan looks ok apart from one potential flaw and that is getting from Cambodia to Hue or Hoi An, can't, as far as I am aware, be done with a direct flight. You would need to transit via Hanoi or Saigon adding to both time and cost ( effectively flying into either end of the country and then to the middle.


One potential itinerary would be something like this:

3 Siem Reap
2 Phnom Penh (boat to Chau Doc takes 5-6 hours)
2 Chau Doc ( one of my favourite places in Southern Vietnam!!)
2 Can Tho (for Cai Rang floating Market)
2 Saigon (just transit in a day if you really don't like cities)
2/ 4 Hue / Hoi An (via Da Nang)
4 Hanoi/ Ha Long/Ninh Binh

It will be hot in Cambodia at that time of year but such is the nature of that part of the world.

For Ninh Binh and Cantho this places is excellent although you will need to book way in advance. I think they also organise tours.

From Da Nang it is possible to get to Hanoi by overnight train (fun an saves time) . I believe it is also possible to get off at a station close to Ninh Binh. Should be easy enough to get a tour or driver to collect you from the station on arrival and then drop you off in Hanoi or Halong. http://www.seat61.com/Vietnam.htm#.VqHqMvDfWrU

So many decisions......
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Jan 22nd, 2016, 04:46 AM
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Ohhhh boy...

"one potential flaw and that is getting from Cambodia to Hue or Hoi An"

Yes, you are right - no direct flight to either Hue or Hoi An from either Siem Reap or Phnom Penh....hmm, that's a problem. Back to the drawing board.

Great links and ideas for Bai Tu Long and train options. Bai Tu Long looks much better, without the crowds.

Your proposed itinerary is a little too rushed for us, but gives me some ideas of an area that I haven't considered yet. I'll be back with more questions, thanks a lot.

simonovo,
Both the fishing and the vegetable villages look like wonderful ideas. Need to figure out how to make some time for them

Cham Island...how good is snorkeling there? Is it worth spending a day doing that? Thanks.
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Jan 22nd, 2016, 05:15 AM
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crellston,
Another google search showed that Vietnam airlines has some direct flights between Siem Reap and Hanoi. There is a daily one at 6pm, so that would be a good option I think. Also, a couple more later in the day.
Not sure why these flights don't show up on all searches, but something to look into.
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Jan 22nd, 2016, 05:48 AM
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Hi Xyz - I just looked at Vietnam Airways site and apparently they do have direct flights from SR to Da Nang (for Hue and Hoi An) but only on certain days of the week only. That may be why they don't show on the consolidators sites. If the dates work for you that would avoid having to backtrack.
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Jan 22nd, 2016, 09:02 PM
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Cham Island is one of the best Island in Vietnam and since Hoi An become UNESCO World Heritage Center so that the develop policy is better than others, that's my opinion.

Local activities in Vietnam you must see in Sapa, Mekong Delta and Hoi An, each place has it own fabulous experiences. Sapa and Hoi An are best for photo-journalistic, 'cause Sapa has many ehtnic minorities and Hoi An is better for more hygiene.

How about some trekking at Quang Binh? they have very nice caves such as Tu Lan, En cave. you can spend about 2-3 day trekking there.
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Jan 23rd, 2016, 06:01 AM
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Quang Binh area looks wonderful...maybe we'll do that instead of Phnom Penh? As I said...so much to see...

We are really set on Halong and Angkor Wat. Then Ninh Binh, Hue and Hoi An. With only 18-19 days on the ground, that would leave us about 2 full days to play with. Not sure what's the best one to do...
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Jan 23rd, 2016, 07:29 AM
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With 18-19 days on the ground, you already have enough stops. Don't forget it takes time to get from place to place. Changing locations eats up from half a day to most of a day (you have to figure from the time you check out of lodgings in one place until you get checked in at the next). And this is a part of the world where it pays to move slowly and savor.
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Jan 23rd, 2016, 08:58 AM
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Kathie,
I counted again the # of full days on the ground: it's 21. Does this changes your opinion above to not add anything else to the list? I know a lot of people seen to like Hanoi, but I can't seem to warm up to it. We are only using it as a base for Halong and Ninh Binh.
What am I missing?
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Jan 23rd, 2016, 01:50 PM
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If you want to learn a bit about 'living social history' then don't leave Phnom Penh out. The Killing Fields and S21 Genocide Museum are places that locals want foreign vistors to see in order to appreciate what the country and its people went through in recent decades.
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Jan 23rd, 2016, 02:08 PM
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Don't miss Hoi An. Yep it's touristy, but it's also a one-off, and much easier to navigate than Hue.
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Jan 23rd, 2016, 02:53 PM
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We very much enjoyed Hanoi and spent a whole week in the city with just one day for a day trip to the Perfume Pagoda. Hanoi is fascinating - it still has French Colonial buildings and wide streets in some parts of the city and tiny, pre-colonial lanes in other areas. Hanoi has an amazing array of museums. You say you can't warm up to it - but have you been there?

We are all different, so you might not like Hanoi, but many people do, so it may be worth reconsidering your stance on Hanoi.

If you have 21 full days on the ground, you have more flexibility than you originally thought. There seems to be endless possibilities for day trips from Hanoi, so you might put your two "extra" days in Hanoi and then see if you want to be in the city or outside the city.
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