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Vietnam trip report and advice needed for next trip

Vietnam trip report and advice needed for next trip

Old Jun 14th, 2023, 06:19 PM
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Vietnam trip report and advice needed for next trip

DH and I went to Vietnam this past February. We originally had booked a trip to Vietnam and Bangkok for March, 2020, but we all know what happened when Covid shut down the world (still hard to believe the entire world shut down. Seems so surreal). Right before we were leaving for Vietnam, my mother went into the hospital and was diagnosed with lung cancer. She came home, my sister was already in Florida to help her move into an adult living place (which never happened), and my mother seemed okay and assured me that I should go on vacation. My sister even said that they were still on track for my mom to move. DH and I left for Vietnam two days later. We flew Singapore Airlines in business class from JFK (18:30 hours non-stop) and when we got to Singapore for the 7:30 hour layover, we went to the KrisFlyer lounge, took showers and got some food and champagne, and I called my mother and sister. Things began deteriorating somewhat but still, not as bad as what was to come. We got to Saigon, and after a long wait at immigration in Saigon (slow doesn't even begin to describe the process) we finally got a taxi to our hotel, the Hotel des Artes, MGallery. We had a Sky Executive Deluxe room on a high floor with club access https://all.accor.com/hotel/9231/ind...#section-rooms. I highly recommend this hotel if going to Saigon, and pay the extra for the club access, it's worth every penny. The room was beautiful and the evening happy hour (more than two hours actually) had a nice choice of hors d'oeuvres, wines, including a very nice French sparkling wine, and signature drinks, as well as beer, spirits and soft drinks, all in a beautiful setting high above Saigon. We will be staying there again in January. We spent four nights in Saigon, and while I had moments of having a good time, my mother's illness weighed on me, and at times I was something of a basket case, depending on how the phone calls home went.

From Saigon we flew to Da Nang and went to Hoi An, where we stayed for three nights at another MGallery hotel, The Hotel Royal Hoi An, again in an upgraded room with club access https://hotelroyal-hoian.com/rooms-suites/royal-deluxe/. This hotel was also beautiful and well located, about a 10 minute walk to the main area and all the sights. I spoke to my sister on and off every day, and my mother when she was up to it, and at times things seemed stable, and others not so good. At some point, my mother ended up back in the hospital. We had some good moments in Hoi An, and we did get to see quite a bit but, my mother's condition was always on my mind preventing me from really enjoying myself.

From Ho An, we hired a driver to take us to Hue, which I loved when there back in 2000. We stayed this time at the Pilgrimage Village, a little outside of town. Lovely hotel and we originally booked a honeymoon pool hut, we were upgraded to a traditional Vietnamese pool house villa Traditional Vietnamese Pool House ? Pilgrimage Village Boutique Resort & Spa. It was gorgeous and huge, with our own private pool. And again, we had happy hour with loads of food and drinks included My mother's condition was getting much worse and I was conflicted about whether we should fly home. My mother said no but by that point, I was not in a good place and not enjoying myself at all. It didn't help that it was pouring rain the day we got to Hue. We spent two nights there and did visit the citadel and some tombs, but I was just going through the motions at that point. Anyway, as lovely as the hotel is, I would choose to stay in town if I ever go back. We will not be going back to Hoi An and Hue on this next trip. Hopefully we will at some point have a fourth trip to Vietnam and perhaps go back to Hoi An and Hue, but not this upcoming trip.

From Hue we flew to Phu Quoc, or more accurately, we flew from Hue to Saigon to Phu Quoc. Our non-stop flight from Hue to Phu Quoc was canceled several weeks before we were leaving for Vietnam, and there was not a non-stop flight in sight. In a side note, the airline, VietJet, canceled the flight, and then refused to refund our money. They said we could have vouchers toward another flight, but there was not a flight with VietJet that would work for us as all of our other flights were already booked and confirmed and they had nothing going to Phu Quoc or even Saigon at a decent hour. I told them that and they said we had a year to use the voucher, but I explained that I live in New York so it was unlikely I would be able to use any voucher (who knew at the time that we would be back within a year!). They still refused to refund the money, even though they canceled the flight! I ended up disputing it with my credit card when we got home (Chase Sapphire Reserve, fabulous card for travel) and I did finally prevail and was refunded the money for the flight that was canceled. Suffice it to say, I will be avoiding VietJet on this next trip if possible. We had to book two separate flights, one from Hue to Saigon, and then from Saigon to Phu Quoc. Our flight from Hue was delayed and we were worried we would miss our flight to Phu Quoc, and since they were booked as two separate tickets, the airline (Vietnam Airlines) would not be responsible. The bright spot was that there are a lot of flights from Saigon to Phu Quoc every day. We did make our flight but when landing in Saigon, when we deplaned at the gate, we could see the gate for our flight to Phu Quoc, but they would not allow us to just walk over to that gate the way every normal airport in the world would. We were directed to an escalator going downstairs and were told we had to exit the terminal, come back in, and go through security again! We thought this was totally ridiculous but who is going to argue with them? I guess this is one of the stupid things that occur in a communist country. I can't think of any other explanation.

We took a taxi from the airport to our hotel, the new Regent Phu Quoc https://www.ihg.com/regent/hotels/gb...E-_-VN-_-PQCRR No reason to upgrade the room here as even the least expensive room is absolutely fabulous, with a large balcony with ocean view, mini-bar that is free and replenished daily, a television where you can cast Netflix from your phone, and every luxury you can imagine, including three articles of clothing laundered every day. We absolutely loved this place. We were there for three nights and it was the most relaxing time I had on the entire trip, and the only place where I slept well. Breakfast was included and it was a wonderful breakfast with so many choices. And being a member of IHG, we got a 20% discount at the restaurants. While not inexpensive, it was good value and delicious food. The hotel is pricey but worth it. We are returning on this upcoming trip. While I realize that Phu Quoc was the least Vietnamese experience (we never left the resort) we absolutely loved it and the hotel moved into first place in our favorite hotels in the world. Prior to the Regent, the Park Hyatt Sydney was number 1, edging out our prior number 1 and now number 3, the Peninsula Bangkok. We didn't do much, slept in, had breakfast, went to the private beach, had lunch, went to one of the beautiful pools, went back to the room and watched a bit of TV (found some great cooking shows) had happy hour on the balcony for sunset, went to dinner, back to the room and cast Borgen on Netflix. In other words, a perfect few days. There was no real news from home, at least nothing any worse. I highly recommend the Regent Phu Quoc. It is expensive and the price has gone up (now about $575 a night) since we were there, but I don't care, we're going for at least 4, maybe 5 nights this time. If you can afford it, you won't be sorry.

From Phu Quoc, we flew to Hanoi and checked into our hotel, the Aira Boutique Hotel and Spa. Lovely hotel where we booked their best suite as it was not very expensive compared to what you would pay in Europe https://airaboutiquehanoi.com/rooms1...ony-aira-suite We walked around a little, had lunch and drinks at the Hanoi Social Club, a short walk away, then walked around a bit and found a great wine shop with a great selection of foreign wines. We bought a few bottles for having on our balcony, and to bring on the overnight junk tour on Ha Long Bay we were going on the following day. We had a nice dinner and when trying to get a taxi back to the hotel, the cab driver tried to rip us off. I know one of the regular posters on this board rails against Bangkok and says the cab drivers will always cheat you there but it doesn't happen in Vietnam, especially in Hanoi, well I have news for him. In 5 trips to Thailand, and time spent in Bangkok on each of those trips, we were never ripped off by a taxi driver. In Vietnam, we were ripped off in Saigon, Phu Quoc (from the airport to the hotel) and yes, in Hanoi. Actually, we were on to the taxi driver in Hanoi. We were taking a taxi from the restaurant to the hotel and the driver pulled over and told us his meter was broken and gave us a quote 5 times the going rate. I told him where he could stuff his fare. After that, the manager or the restaurant got us a cab and he insisted on paying for it, making up for the rotten cab driver. Even though we were ripped off by cab drivers in Vietnam, it did not put us off the country or cities. Taxi drivers all over the world seem to be the worst scammers and you need to just let it roll off you. To be honest, the worst taxi drivers I have encountered were in Athens and Istanbul.

The following morning, we were picked up for the (very, very) long drive to where we were getting the junk for our overnight Halong Bay tour with Indochina Junk https://www.indochina-junk.com/ I was texting my sister and cousin on the drive, and getting mixed signals from home and felt somewhat in limbo. The drive was over 4 hours and tedious, with a stop at a place that sold pearls. Not interested in these kinds of stops. Got to the transfer place and had to wait about an hour before being taken to our junk. We booked a small wooden junk, the Prince Junk, only 4 cabins. Our cabin was small but nicely appointed, although the bathroom had a weird odor that I did not like. The food they served was good and the boat and company nice, but I would not do it again or even recommend it. The karsts were beautiful for the first 30 minutes, but after that it was all the same and, to be honest, boring. There were stops for kayaking (I did not, DH did) and climbing through caves, and that was nice but nothing special. It was not worth the long drives to and fro. We should have stayed in Hanoi and maybe seen something there.

We got back to Hanoi the following day, late in the evening. We were at the same hotel. We went up to the rooftop bar for a couple of drinks and went out for a nice dinner to a restaurant that was a short walk away. The next morning I got a text from my sister telling me I had to come home. My mother, still in the hospital, had Covid, and my sister caught it from my mother and could not go to the hospital every day as she had been. My sister didn't know if my mother would survive. We had breakfast and went back to the room where I booked flights from Hanoi to Ft Lauderdale for that night. One week earlier than we were supposed to come home. We lost time in Hanoi and never got to Bangkok, where we had reservations at the Millennium Hilton Bangkok for 5 nights. I booked two one-way tickets on Delta Airlines in first class (almost $10,000. for the two tickets!). Our flight didn't leave until about 11:30 PM so we had the entire day. But neither of us had any desire to go sightseeing. We went back to the Hanoi Social Club for lunch and drinks, where I proceeded to get drunk. On purpose. It was the only thing that made me feel better. The entire trip, which I had been anticipating for so long, was terrible, except for a few times here and there. My mother dying was always on my mind.

We took a taxi to the airport that night. When we got there, it was complete pandemonium outside the terminal. Hundreds of people trying to get inside the terminal, and police everywhere. We made our way to the terminal door, wearing our masks as I was sure we would get Covid (we didn't), made it inside where it was no better. I have never seen anything so chaotic and I have been around the world a time or ten. We finally got into the very long security line and when finally cleared security and passport control, went to the rather sad lounge. Although we were flying Delta One, our flight from Hanoi to Seoul, Korea, was on Korea Airlines in economy. It was horrible. Almost $10,000 and we're in economy for a several hour flight. I was not happy. I passed on the meal as it did not look like any food I recognized. DH tried it and wished he hadn't. At the airport in Seoul, we went to the business class lounge, which was even worse than the lounge in Hanoi, and hung out for the few hours before our flight to Detroit. We were to have a several hour layover in Detroit before our flight to Ft Lauderdale. Delta One was nice for the long flight from Seoul to Detroit, we had "suites" with a door, which was a nice touch, but it was more cramped than business class on other airlines (and Delta One is first class, not business). The flight attendants for first class are extremely attentive and lovely, unlike the Delta flight attendants in economy, who are horrible for the most part. The champagne was good and kept me calm, but the food left much to be desired. Let's just say that Delta first class cannot hold a candle to Emirates business, Turkish business or Singapore business class. We got to Detroit and went to the Delta Sky club for the several hour layover. I called my mother, who seemed agitated, and did my best to calm her down. She had now been in the hospital for several weeks, and was convinced she would never leave. A blizzard was being predicted for Detroit. Our flight to Ft Lauderdale was delayed due to the snow, but we finally boarded the plane. Except the plane went nowhere. After a while, we were told to deplane and it would be a while before we could take off. As soon as we exited the plane, we were informed that our flight had been canceled. Detroit was under blizzard conditions. Luckily, since we were in first class, we had access to the Delta Sky Clubs in Detroit (there are four at the airport and we sampled all of them). The agents in the Sky Club were able to rebook us on an early morning flight to Ft Lauderdale, but we were stuck in Detroit overnight. I called a dozen hotels but all of them were fully booked so we had to spend the night in the airport. A Fodorite who lives in Detroit very graciously offered to pick us up and take us to her house, but I declined as it was too dangerous to drive. The Delta Sky Clubs all threw everyone out at 10:30 PM, leaving us all to fend for ourselves. There was nowhere to go, nowhere to sleep, and nothing to eat. It was awful. There was a very long line of people for a Delta agent at a gate, hoping to be rebooked on another flight. The line had barely moved from 11 PM to 5 AM. I felt so sorry for those people who did not have the advantage of a Delta Sky Club agent to help them. As bad as things were for us, we were among the lucky ones. It really showed me that Delta does not give a shit about their customers who have no status or are not flying in the front of the plane.\

We basically walked around the terminal all night long, looking for a comfortable spot to sleep. We never found one. At about 5:30 AM, the Sky Clubs opened and we went to one for breakfast. We boarded the plane and I was in row 1, and DH in row 5. I was in very bad shape and could not imagine sitting next to a stranger for the flight. I told a flight attendant all about leaving Hanoi early and why, and spending the night in the airport and how I needed to be next to my husband, and she said don't worry, just sit next to your husband. I said, what about the person who is supposed to sit in that seat? She said not to worry about it. I sat next to DH in row 5 (only two seats on the side) and when the man who was supposed to sit there came on, he was so nice and said, no problem. The flight attendant must have spoken to him. When we landed at Ft. Lauderdale, the flight attendants in first class gave me a card, which they all signed, expressing their condolences and wishing me the best. I was really touched. One of the flight attendants stopped me when I was leaving, and told me she had a similar experience with her mother and wished me the best. While I have nothing good to say about the flight attendants in economy, I will never forget the kindness of the first class flight attendants.

We were in Florida for 5 or 6 days and got to visit my mother in the hospital every day. I'm glad that we got to see her, even though it was very sad. She was convinced that she would never come home. She was in the hospital for weeks and that takes a big toll on one. We flew back to NY, with the understanding that I would fly back to Florida the following week to relieve my poor sister, who had been there for about 7 weeks, so she could go home to Texas for a week. I needed to get my laptop so I could work from Florida and clear it with my boss, and take care of my cat and make more arrangements for him. My mother did get to go home, with hospice care at home, and my sister was also still there and her husband flew in from Texas to be with her. Mom was home for about 5 days. Two days before I was to fly back to Florida, my sister called me a little after midnight (getting a phone call at that hour is never good news) to tell me that my mother died. March 17. Even though it was expected, it was still a shock. I'm glad that she died at home, with my sister and brother-in-law there, as well as her favorite nurse, and she was not in the hospital. My mother was just a few weeks shy of her 99th birthday. She lived a wonderful long life. Married to my father for 53 years before he died in 1998, and then had a partner, also a widower, for 10 years before he sadly died. She was loved and adored, and if I may say so, worshipped by two lovely men in her life. She was blessed. And for most of her life, was healthy. She had all of her marbles up until a few weeks before she died. I've been told that being in the hospital for a long time could make people a bit off and I think it took a big toll on my mother's sanity as she was not quite the same at the end.

Instead of flying back to Florida to be there for my mother, DH and I flew back for her funeral. My mom could be the biggest pain in the ass, but she loved me unconditionally and I her. I also credit my mom and dad for cursing me with the travel gene. When I was 13 years old, my parents took me to Europe on a 22 day tour. I turned 14 in Paris. I always kidded them that they created a monster. Years later, when I was in college in Buffalo, NY, one of my professors was the head of a student exchange program in Siena, Italy. He was headed back there the following autumn and told our class about it. I decided I was going. I told my sister (who, with her husband was living in Buffalo and were instrumental in getting me to go to college there) that I would go and mom and dad would pay for it, and she said I was out of my mind. The next day, I called my parents and told them about the program. My mother, with whom I was speaking, called "Gene (my father), Laurie wants to go to school in Italy. What do you think?" My father called out, yes, why not, and that was that. They were paying for my education so it was important to get them to agree. But I digress.

Considering that our trip to Vietnam was among the worst trips I have ever taken (no fault of Vietnam's) and we never did get back to Bangkok, DH said that he was willing to go back so I could have the trip I was anticipating. I have booked flights on Singapore Airlines from JFK to Saigon (short layover in Singapore) and Bangkok to Newark (EWR) with an even shorter layover in Singapore, in business class at a really great price for a multi-city flight. We leave NY on January 29 and fly home from Bangkok on February 20. I was thinking of four nights in Saigon again, because I really love it and love the hotel, fly to Phu Quoc to stay at the Regent for 5 nights, fly to Hanoi for four nights, and fly to Bangkok for 5 nights. That leaves two nights to play with. Do I add a night onto Bangkok and a night onto Hanoi? Cut a night off of Phu Quoc and spend three nights somewhere else? Perhaps Hua Hin Thailand, where we have been twice before and liked a lot, or somewhere else that is easy to get to from either Hanoi, Saigon or Bangkok? The non-negotiables are at least 4 nights in Saigon, at least 4 nights in Phu Quoc, at least 4 nights in Hanoi, and at least 4 nights in Bangkok. Suggestions?

Thanks for reading through this stream of consciousness. It was cathartic and it did me good to type all of this out.​​​​​​​
laurieco is online now  
Old Jun 15th, 2023, 02:13 AM
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Oh you poor thing.. how very sad for you. I am so very sorry for your loss.
I saw your report because I am going to book my trip to Vietnam this weekend. I have been thinking about where to go and I really like your itinerary. Phu Quoc looks really good.
I hope your trip in January goes really well.
millie2112 is offline  
Old Jun 15th, 2023, 09:15 AM
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Thanks Millie. Vietnam is a wonderful country and I'm sure you are going to have a great time. If I can be of any help, please let me know. Watch for posts on Vietnam threads from Crellston, who has been to Vietnam many times and gives great advice.
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Old Jun 16th, 2023, 06:33 AM
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My sincere condolences Laurieco. I knew from your posts on Facebook of your situation re your mother reading them here it all seems such a traumatic experience.

With the time you have I think I would be inclined to just add those days to one or more of your existing destinations. Sounds like you fell in love with the Regent PQ, why not just add the time there. Loved Hua Him the first time I went and stayed at the Sofitel Central (now the Centara Grand I think) which double as the Phnom Penh Hotel in The Killing Fields - very colonial! Dint like it as much on subsequent visits as it seemed to have turned Ito a bit of an expat haven ,

As far as cities are concerned, much as I love Saigon, it would probably be Hanoi and Bangkok , a day or two extra there and there is always something else to do/find/explore.

Other options for a few days from Hanoi would be a couple of days in the Mai Chau Valley (avoid weekends). From Saigon, a few days in the Mekong Delta would be great maybe Ben Tre and Can Tho or, my personal favourite , Chau Doc (but that is further and probably needs 3-4 nights min.

Bangkok I am struggling to think of any close by. day trip to Ayutthaya/Bang Pa In, Kanchanaburi for the river Kwai /Erawan NP . Chiang Mai in the north could work.

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Old Jun 16th, 2023, 10:49 AM
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Thanks for your input Crellston, I was hoping you would chime in. We stayed at the Sofitel in Hua Hin twice and really loved it. We haven't been there since 2006 I think and the Sofitel sold the hotel to another group. Not sure I would like it as much now and may pick a different hotel if we went back.

I think either adding a day onto Bangkok and a day to Hanoi may be the way to go. Or perhaps fly from Hanoi to Chiang Mai and take one day off Phu Quoc to spend three nights in Chiang Mai. We were there once, back in 1997 or so, and I got deathly ill there, and while we did get up to the temple on the mountain (Wat Phra That Doi Suthep?) I was pretty ill and threw up all over the side of our driver's shiny, just washed red songthaew! Neither my husband nor I had a plastic bag with us, or anything else for me to puke in, so I had no choice but to stick my head out the side and throw up, while our driver was looking in his mirror at me saying "oohhh, OOOOHHHH, over and over again. Some funny stories came from that experience, but they were far from funny at the time! Back at the hotel, I had a fever and chills, and my feet were freezing and no amount of socks on them would warm them up. I asked my husband to call and see if they had a heating pad or hot water bottle they could bring. He called the front desk, assuming they were the best bet of understanding English. DH said that the man repeated everything and seemed to understand. A few minutes later there was a knock on our door. DH answered it and came back chuckling. The maid brought a packet of 3 condoms! I was not amused and said, do they expect me to fill them with hot water??? Funny in retrospect.

I'll talk to my husband and ask how he would like to spend the extra days.
laurieco is online now  
Old Jul 23rd, 2023, 08:43 AM
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I'm so sorry for your loss. My father is elderly and I'm a little stressed about our upcoming Asia trip because it's so hard distance wise to get home in an emergency. I'm glad you were able to see her though and she was able to return to her home before passing.

I remember a few of your posts earlier this year and wondered how your trip went because we were also thinking about a trip to Vietnam. We've since decided on Thailand instead, but maybe next year for Vietnam. Wishing you the best for your trip next year!
wtm003 is online now  

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