Advice on short Vietnam visit

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Restless
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Advice on short Vietnam visit

Post by Restless » Mon Aug 05, 2019 9:36 pm

I will be visiting relatives in Asia for a couple of weeks in late Sept. I'm thinking of adding 5/6 days (on the ground) to the trip and visit Vietnam for the first time while I'm in the region. I realize 5/6 days is not enough to see most of Vietnam, so am focusing on Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City. The main attraction in the north is Halong Bay, while the Cu Chi Tunnels would likely be the top attraction around Ho Chi Minh; I plan to join local tours once I'm there. Is it realistic to take in the major highlights around each city in 2 or 3 days? I'm particularly concerned about being able to fit in Halong Bay within the 2/3 days in Hanoi as the round trip itself would take a half day. I welcome any advice on how best to make the most of the 5/6 days in the country. Thanks.

marielake
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Re: Advice on short Vietnam visit

Post by marielake » Mon Aug 05, 2019 10:50 pm

I was in Viet Nam about 2 years ago. We did an overnight boat trip to Halong Bay from Hanoi. It is closer to a 3-hr drive one way on rough roads. I don't really recall if you see would much by just going into the city. It would not be worth it to do a one day trip from Hanoi. You need to go out a a boat to get to the breathtaking views, preferably overnight. If you really want to see Halong Bay, you should limit yourself to just Hanoi and HB.

We had 3 nights in Hanoi, 1 night on an Indochine Junk Cruise in HB and another night in Hanoi before flying out. The HB trip left us with 2 full days in Hanoi, which was plenty. One day we took a short tuk tuk ride to get the lay of the land, the second we hired a private driver to take us around to all the major sites. Hanoi is a crazy, congested city overrun with motorcycles. We stayed at the Hotel Marvelous; the hotel lived up to its name.

HawkeyePierce
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Re: Advice on short Vietnam visit

Post by HawkeyePierce » Mon Aug 05, 2019 10:52 pm

With only 5 or 6 days, pick Hanoi or HCMC. I would choose Hanoi.

WhyNotUs
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Re: Advice on short Vietnam visit

Post by WhyNotUs » Mon Aug 05, 2019 11:52 pm

Well, that is a tough task. We had a little over three weeks and worked our way from Phu Quoc in the south to Sapa in the north. The plane service was inexpensive and had frequent flights. You could literally go to Hanoi and HCMC but not really see either in that time. Personally, I prefer the south.

Halong Bay is lovely but it really takes a couple days on a boat to get the experience. We loved biking at Cat Ba. Hanoi did not do much for me but others love it. It was maddening for me and when we were there the air pollution was unbearable. I was told that it was not like that all of the time but did not stick around long enough to find out.

HCMC was a 21st century Asia city experience for me and I enjoyed it much more than Hanoi. It is vibrant and one of the most capitalistic places that I have ever been. The ties to the US military and the American War Museum were of interest to me. I also thought that the food was much better in the middle and southern portions. Hoi An had the best food that I have ever eaten.

The real prize however, to me, was exploring the Mekong Delta. I could have spent much more time biking, hiking, visiting floating markets than the 4 days that we had. Met so may interesting and generous people in remote villages that opened their homes, smiled, or offered to show us their lives. I will never forget it. The draft ended shortly before I turned 18 and I could not help but think of my brother and friends actions in country so many years ago in the Delta.

I also loved Phu Quoc for a beach experience. We stayed on Long Beach and it was magical. They opened a new international airport the year before we came and I understand there has been much development since then.

Hope you have a great trip.
I own the next hot stock- VTSAX

jeroly
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Re: Advice on short Vietnam visit

Post by jeroly » Mon Aug 05, 2019 11:57 pm

I was in Vietnam last November and previously in 2014.
You definitely need two almost full days/ 1 night to visit Halong Bay.
You could get value out of 2-3 days in each of Saigon and Hanoi, but it would be rather rushed.

AlohaJoe
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Re: Advice on short Vietnam visit

Post by AlohaJoe » Tue Aug 06, 2019 12:15 am

I live in Vietnam. Feel free to send me a PM if you have questions.

While it is possible do try to do both, I would probably focus on just one or the other. Ha Long Bay requires a boat. And there are day trips from Hanoi but it is a pretty long day. Hotel pick up at 8am. Arrive at Ha Long around noon. A few hours on the boat. Arrive back in Hanoi at 8pm or 9pm.

Flying between the cities is a half day lost. Half an hour to the airport. Check in 1 hour early. 2 hour flight. Taxiing. Waiting for luggage. Another half hour taxi to the city center.

Most tourists like Hanoi better than Saigon. It has been the center of Vietnamese culture and society for 1,000 years, so no surprise. Saigon is a new city by comparison.

September is the rice harvest season in the North, so you could explore Mu Cang Chai, Ha Giang, or Ninh Binh around Hanoi.

Shallowpockets
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Re: Advice on short Vietnam visit

Post by Shallowpockets » Tue Aug 06, 2019 1:50 am

I concur with AlohaJoe.
Go to Hanoi and Halong Bay. Do not do a day trip to Halong. You are short dhanging yourself by doing so. Spend at least two nights on a boat. Otherwise you are all the time on the going, there and back. What fun is that? I don't understand people trying to fit everything into short time frames. Adjust your perspective. Even one night on a boat is too short to get the experience.

Hanoi is great. A very active city. Friendly people. More a real VN than Saigon.
If you go to Saigon and the American war museum, be prepared to see some grief. After a while there I could not take it anymore. Had to leave. It was bad for my soul.

In Hanoi, do this. It is a great experience. Bia Hoi.

Beer Corner is located at Ta Hien and Luong Ngoc Quyen in Hanoi’s Old Quarter. Although it is referred to as “Beer Corner,” it has become such a popular drinking spot for locals, expats and backpackers that its name should really be changed to “Beer Street.”

AlohaJoe
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Re: Advice on short Vietnam visit

Post by AlohaJoe » Tue Aug 06, 2019 2:08 am

Shallowpockets wrote:
Tue Aug 06, 2019 1:50 am
Hanoi is great. A very active city. Friendly people. More a real VN than Saigon.
Allow me to vehemently disagree. Whenever someone says this, I ask where they went in Saigon, and it turns out they confined themselves to a 4 block area in the central business district in District 1. Go to Vinh Khanh in District 4. Have some che in District 10. Go to Bui Dinh Tuy in Binh Thanh district. Go to Ap Bac in Tan Binh district. Go to Bo Ke in Thu Thiem, on the other side of the tunnel. I never see tourists in any of those places.

I assure you it is "real Vietnam".

Shallowpockets
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Re: Advice on short Vietnam visit

Post by Shallowpockets » Tue Aug 06, 2019 2:16 am

AlohaJoe wrote:
Tue Aug 06, 2019 2:08 am
Shallowpockets wrote:
Tue Aug 06, 2019 1:50 am
Hanoi is great. A very active city. Friendly people. More a real VN than Saigon.
Allow me to vehemently disagree. Whenever someone says this, I ask where they went in Saigon, and it turns out they confined themselves to a 4 block area in the central business district in District 1. Go to Vinh Khanh in District 4. Have some che in District 10. Go to Bui Dinh Tuy in Binh Thanh district. Go to Ap Bac in Tan Binh district. Go to Bo Ke in Thu Thiem, on the other side of the tunnel. I never see tourists in any of those places.

I assure you it is "real Vietnam".
Thank you Aloha. I did not know that. I spent more time in Hanoi than Saigon. I sent myself your note for my future travels. always nice to "know" a bit more than one usually finds.

jacksonm
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Re: Advice on short Vietnam visit

Post by jacksonm » Tue Aug 06, 2019 12:26 pm

I've always wanted to take the Mekong River cruise all the way up to Angkor Wat in Cambodia. That would basically be retracing the route I took during my all expenses paid trip from Uncle Sam in 1969. Would be doing it in about two weeks except that my daughter is going with me and prefers Japan. So maybe next time.

victw
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Re: Advice on short Vietnam visit

Post by victw » Tue Aug 06, 2019 1:22 pm

In 2005 we were in Vietnam. We had a ball in Dalat.

My remembrance of Vietnam is that the weather is different in the North and the South and that is it probably a mistake to try to do too much of the country in one visit.

We loved the vibe. Would go back in a heartbeat. But with 4-5 days - you will have to limit yourself.

Vic

Topic Author
Restless
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Re: Advice on short Vietnam visit

Post by Restless » Tue Aug 06, 2019 2:22 pm

Thanks for all the feedback thus far; I certainly have more thinking to do before finalizing my travel plans, including adding another day or so to the visit. For my first trip to Vietnam, I want to visit its two major cities to get at least a flavor, and also take in its best known tourist attraction. At a later date, I can explore more in depth on a trip focusing on Vietnam and Cambodia.

I am intrigued by all the suggestions of spending at least one night on a boat in Halong Bay. What can be seen better at night than during the day? Since the highlight is the limestone formations, wouldn’t those be better seen during the day? All the pictures I’ve seen of the area were taken during the day. If one were to spend a night on one of those boats, I guess something other than sleeping goes on as they don’t look very comfortable to me.

Arbol
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Re: Advice on short Vietnam visit

Post by Arbol » Tue Aug 06, 2019 2:59 pm

Hi,

I'm Vietnamese American and have been back often.

At the end of September, expect rain. Especially in the afternoon. Hot and muggy during the day.

Ho Chi Minh City. Cu Chi is a day trip and you'll be back by 3PM (Consider going to the Cao Dai Temple in Tay Ninh when you go to Cu Chi). HCMC is a sprawling city like Bangkok, New York, etc. Stay in District 1 and enjoy city life. Everything is very new. Rooftop bars at sunset are fantastic - lots of choices. Enjoy hip new restaurants. Enjoy the museums. Go to the Ben Thanh Market - it's a great tourist trap with excellent food stalls. Get a view of the city from the Bitexco Tower - sunset is a good time (the cafe doesn't charge a fee while the observation deck does). Eat lots of street food (it's safe). Take a night tour of the city on the back of a motorbike. Party with the youths of Vietnam on Bui Vien Street. Try some coconut coffee.

Hanoi. Less rain than HCMC. Spending a night on Ha Long Bay is an experience - try squid fishing at night (It's doesn't have to be an all night party if you avoid the boats for backpackers). Comfort is based on your price range - there are some very nice boats on Ha Long Bay. Stay in the Old Quarter near Hoan Kiem Lake. Everything is very old. Have some egg coffee and bun cha. Buy some fake goods. Go see the water puppet show. The Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum is interesting to people watch. The Temple of Literature is great. Go to Train Street - you wouldn't believe it unless you saw it. Go to the Hanoi Hilton (Hoa Lao Prison) and see pictures of smiling American POWs. Take home a soviet style propaganda poster. Hang out and talk to the students who want to practice their English - it's fun.

Completely different vibes in HCMC and Hanoi.

Enjoy.

marielake
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Re: Advice on short Vietnam visit

Post by marielake » Tue Aug 06, 2019 5:43 pm

Restless wrote:
Tue Aug 06, 2019 2:22 pm
I am intrigued by all the suggestions of spending at least one night on a boat in Halong Bay. What can be seen better at night than during the day? Since the highlight is the limestone formations, wouldn’t those be better seen during the day? All the pictures I’ve seen of the area were taken during the day. If one were to spend a night on one of those boats, I guess something other than sleeping goes on as they don’t look very comfortable to me.
I did the overnight trip (with Indochine Junk) and thought 1 night was enough. Other than dinner, there were no planned nighttime activities. Got to see the formations at sunset and sunrise. Got to see families living on fishing boats. Watching life on the water was fascinating and scenery beautiful. Optional activities included in the trip were kayaking and hiking on 1 day and visiting a pearl farm and a fishing village on the other. Several boat transfers between small boats required decent balance. I will try to post some pictures--couln't get them to post.

AlohaJoe
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Re: Advice on short Vietnam visit

Post by AlohaJoe » Tue Aug 06, 2019 6:54 pm

Restless wrote:
Tue Aug 06, 2019 2:22 pm
I am intrigued by all the suggestions of spending at least one night on a boat in Halong Bay. What can be seen better at night than during the day?
Nothing can be seen at night. You go further out. For a day trip, the boats don't have enough time to go far from the very crowded port. For the day trip, they've turned around and started heading back to port by 4pm or so. Whereas for the overnights, sunset isn't for another 2-3 hours. The overnights have more time to stop at islands, beaches, and caves. I've done day trips and I've done overnights. I think 1 night is enough. I've done 2 nights and didn't think the 2nd night was necessary. You can actually see plenty during the day trip, if you're pressed for time. It is simply a very long & exhausting day. After all, you spend 6 hours in a car, on top of 6 hours on the boat and you'll be eating dinner in Hanoi at 9pm when you get back.

metacritic
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Re: Advice on short Vietnam visit

Post by metacritic » Wed Aug 07, 2019 1:29 am

Hanoi is spectacular and fascinating. And the food!

Overnight on Ha long Bay is haunting. That would be a sufficient use of 4-5 days. I can’t speak to anything in the south.
Restless wrote:
Mon Aug 05, 2019 9:36 pm
I will be visiting relatives in Asia for a couple of weeks in late Sept. I'm thinking of adding 5/6 days (on the ground) to the trip and visit Vietnam for the first time while I'm in the region. I realize 5/6 days is not enough to see most of Vietnam, so am focusing on Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City. The main attraction in the north is Halong Bay, while the Cu Chi Tunnels would likely be the top attraction around Ho Chi Minh; I plan to join local tours once I'm there. Is it realistic to take in the major highlights around each city in 2 or 3 days? I'm particularly concerned about being able to fit in Halong Bay within the 2/3 days in Hanoi as the round trip itself would take a half day. I welcome any advice on how best to make the most of the 5/6 days in the country. Thanks.
Last edited by metacritic on Wed Aug 07, 2019 1:41 am, edited 1 time in total.

metacritic
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Re: Advice on short Vietnam visit

Post by metacritic » Wed Aug 07, 2019 1:30 am

We fished for squid in the dark, which we ate for breakfast. That was quite fun! And I enjoyed watching the vessels even in the dark.
AlohaJoe wrote:
Tue Aug 06, 2019 6:54 pm
Restless wrote:
Tue Aug 06, 2019 2:22 pm
I am intrigued by all the suggestions of spending at least one night on a boat in Halong Bay. What can be seen better at night than during the day?
Nothing can be seen at night. You go further out. For a day trip, the boats don't have enough time to go far from the very crowded port. For the day trip, they've turned around and started heading back to port by 4pm or so. Whereas for the overnights, sunset isn't for another 2-3 hours. The overnights have more time to stop at islands, beaches, and caves. I've done day trips and I've done overnights. I think 1 night is enough. I've done 2 nights and didn't think the 2nd night was necessary. You can actually see plenty during the day trip, if you're pressed for time. It is simply a very long & exhausting day. After all, you spend 6 hours in a car, on top of 6 hours on the boat and you'll be eating dinner in Hanoi at 9pm when you get back.

Shallowpockets
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Re: Advice on short Vietnam visit

Post by Shallowpockets » Wed Aug 07, 2019 2:17 am

Halong Bay. Nothing to be seen at night?
Well, there is sunset and sunrise. There are the stars. There is the quiet and peace of being on the boat. So, yes, no night clubs, street stalls, and assorted other "night life". I guess if the magic in your life is being entertained at night then there is nothing to be seen.
You will probably only be on Halong Bay this one time in your life.

coalcracker
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Re: Advice on short Vietnam visit

Post by coalcracker » Wed Aug 07, 2019 6:52 am

Shallowpockets wrote:
Wed Aug 07, 2019 2:17 am
Halong Bay. Nothing to be seen at night?
Well, there is sunset and sunrise. There are the stars. There is the quiet and peace of being on the boat. So, yes, no night clubs, street stalls, and assorted other "night life". I guess if the magic in your life is being entertained at night then there is nothing to be seen.
You will probably only be on Halong Bay this one time in your life.
Funny you say this: one night during our cruise we heard some thumping bass and saw flashing lights in a cave on one of the islands. Turns out, it was Russians who had arranged to have a rave (at least that is what we were told).

Topic Author
Restless
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Re: Advice on short Vietnam visit

Post by Restless » Wed Aug 07, 2019 12:37 pm

Thanks for enlightening me on the purpose of staying overnight on a boat in Halong Bay; somehow, the logic of seeing more the next day eluded me. I’ll have to consider it in light of time constraints. I think I’ll have another opportunity to see Halong Bay when I return to see more of Vietnam as DW, and other family members, will likely come along.

Arbol, many thanks for the detailed sight-seeing recommendations. Other than where to stay, I think you’ve taken care of my itinerary. I’ll have to work on overcoming my Asian-street-food fears due to a bad experience in Singapore about 30 years ago.

Wannaretireearly
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Re: Advice on short Vietnam visit

Post by Wannaretireearly » Wed Aug 07, 2019 1:00 pm

Tagging this for my dream visit!
Buy Low, Sell High

frequentflyer
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Re: Advice on short Vietnam visit

Post by frequentflyer » Wed Aug 07, 2019 1:08 pm

I have visited Hanoi, Ha Long Bay, Hoi An and Ho Chi Minh, it was all amazing.

I did 1 night in Hanoi then 2 nights on Ha Long Bay. I wish I’d had another night in Hanoi to explore more.

In Hanoi I stayed at a great little hotel called La Siesta Trendy. https://www.hanoilasiestatrendyhotel.com/

For Ha Long Bay I stayed on the Paradise Elegance which was really good. https://www.paradisecruise.com/paradise-elegance/

I also did 3 nights in Ho Chi Minh.

I did a Mekong Delta day trip which was ok but a little touristy.

The best thing I did was a motorbike street food tour with Back of the Bike Tours. https://backofthebiketours.com/saigon-s ... s-vietnam/

Top tip. Don’t change money before you go. You’ll get a terrible exchange rate. They love crisp $100 bills there and you get the best rate. I changed some before I went and got 18000 dong to $1, there I got 22500 dong to $1.

marielake
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Re: Advice on short Vietnam visit

Post by marielake » Wed Aug 07, 2019 7:58 pm

Been thinking about this. Sounds like you will skip HaLong Bay, which I think would be a mistake should you decide on Hanoi.

HaLong Bay and NinBinh were my favorite stops in Vietnam (we were in country for 10 days). NinBinh has similar formations to HaLong Bay and might be another option for you as a side trip from Hanoi. We stayed at Tam Coc Garden and it was my favorite stay over a 30-day SE Asia vacation.

If you are looking for Hanoi hotel recommendations, we stayed at the Hotel Trendy and Hotel Marvelouos. Hotel Trendy does not have a bar, if that is of interest to you. What I loved about the Trendy is, I wanted a glass of wine and room service went to their sister hotel, the Marvelous, got the wine and delivered to my room. Customer service at both were excellent. They made reservations for taxi service, private guide and a trip to Mai Chau (sp?) when all travel sites indicated they had no vacancies.

Topic Author
Restless
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Re: Advice on short Vietnam visit

Post by Restless » Thu Aug 08, 2019 12:33 pm

marielake wrote:
Wed Aug 07, 2019 7:58 pm
Been thinking about this. Sounds like you will skip HaLong Bay, which I think would be a mistake should you decide on Hanoi.

HaLong Bay and NinBinh were my favorite stops in Vietnam (we were in country for 10 days). NinBinh has similar formations to HaLong Bay and might be another option for you as a side trip from Hanoi. We stayed at Tam Coc Garden and it was my favorite stay over a 30-day SE Asia vacation.

If you are looking for Hanoi hotel recommendations, we stayed at the Hotel Trendy and Hotel Marvelouos. Hotel Trendy does not have a bar, if that is of interest to you. What I loved about the Trendy is, I wanted a glass of wine and room service went to their sister hotel, the Marvelous, got the wine and delivered to my room. Customer service at both were excellent. They made reservations for taxi service, private guide and a trip to Mai Chau (sp?) when all travel sites indicated they had no vacancies.
Thanks for the comments. I don't intend to skip Halong Bay; what's undecided is if I will spend a night on a tour boat. I'm looking into If there are morning tour boat departures, which will provide time to see more of the scenery during the day, and allow me to head to Hanoi for the evening. If this works, I'll spend the first night in a Halong Bay hotel after arriving in Hanoi; I can then have up to two full days in/around Hanoi, which should be OK to see the highlights.

marielake
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Re: Advice on short Vietnam visit

Post by marielake » Sat Aug 10, 2019 11:21 am

Have a great trip. For more detailed travel advice, I recommend Fodors.com and go to their travel forums and search for Viet Nam and Hanoi. There are some really good trip reports. I planned my whole trip based on help I got from that website.

TravelforFun
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Re: Advice on short Vietnam visit

Post by TravelforFun » Sat Aug 10, 2019 11:34 am

Glad some of you still call HCM City Saigon. It's always going to be 'Sài Gòn' in my heart.

TravelforFun

straws46
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Re: Advice on short Vietnam visit

Post by straws46 » Sat Aug 10, 2019 11:45 am

We spent a week each in HCMC, Danang and Hanoi. Loved the experience and the people. Best tip I could give is to fly business class domestically. The security process alone is worth the extra money. It was a couple years ago but we got to go through security the same as the flight crew. No lines!

Mickey7
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Re: Advice on short Vietnam visit

Post by Mickey7 » Sat Aug 10, 2019 10:13 pm

Definitely liked the comments from arbol, which brought back some good memories from a trip about 8 years ago. Hanging around the Old Quarter and seeing the underwater puppet show is something that I still freshly remember. As others have said, if you go to Halong Bay, spend the night on a boat. The sunrise, sunset and just being on deck at night are memorable. I travel solo and did not have a bad experience with "all night partying." Do your research on which boat to take. For HCMC spent most of my time in the old colonial area with side trips to the delta and Cao Dao Temple. Had a visit to the old zoo even, pretty cool.
The trip is going to be tough in 5/6 days and will probably be stripped down to most basics, but try to spend your time in the older sections of the cities. Lunch and dine al fresco wherever you can. This where you will the true vibe of the city and the people.
For myself the time spent in Hoi Ann and especially Hue really made the trip. I could go on about both, but you will not have the time for this trip. However for your next trip, these have to be on your itinerary,

Enjoy

Bill Bernstein
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Alternative Places

Post by Bill Bernstein » Sun Aug 11, 2019 7:38 pm

Central Vietnam is a tad less touristed, drop dead gorgeous, and easily accessible from the large Danang (DAD) airport, which has connections to most major SE Asian cities, particularly Bangkok. The Hue Citadel and Hoi An are all worth a visit.

Dalat is also worth seeing, and at 5,000 feet has a pleasant climate, but is easily reachable only by plane.

Bill

Bfwolf
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Re: Advice on short Vietnam visit

Post by Bfwolf » Sun Aug 11, 2019 8:36 pm

If you go to Hanoi, I recommend the Hanoi Street Food Walking tour.

https://www.hanoistreetfoodtour.com/

Topic Author
Restless
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Re: Advice on short Vietnam visit

Post by Restless » Tue Aug 13, 2019 1:39 pm

After some more research, I’m realizing my idea to stay overnight near Halong Bay in order to have more time on a day cruise the following day does not work as all the cruises start around midday (I guess private cruises excepted). I also learned there are some pretty nice boats, so staying overnight on the boat could be rather comfortable (I thought all boats are junk boats I’ve seen in pictures). I think with 3 days and 4 evenings in Hanoi (I’m cutting some time with relatives so that I’ll have 7 days in Vietnam, 3 in each city and another for travel), I might have to go for the one-day cruise (sunrise and sunset may be more enjoyable when I’m not alone) in order to have time to see other sights in/around Hanoi. I might be able squeeze in an overnight in Halong Bay once I plan out exactly all the other stops I want to make.

I also looked into the Hanoi hotels recommended by frequentflyer and marielake (Trendy & Marvelous), and was amazed by their high guest ratings, exceeding those of many top five-star properties. I’ll have to flip a coin and pick one of the two. If anyone has high regard for any hotel in HCMC (everything points to District 1), I would love to hear them too.

As for currency conversion, I pretty much always use local ATMs; I assume they are widely available in Vietnam, or at least in HCMC and Hanoi. I will carry some USD in large bills in case they come in handy.

Thanks again for all the comments, links, and other sources of information. They definitely will help me make the most of my short visit (already not as short).

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