Vietnam - north to south

I’ll be hitting Vietnam Jan 23rd - Feb 12th.

On the advice of my friends I’ll start in Hanoi and head down to HCMC.

I have no fixed plans, other than to do a Halong Bay cruise, and hopefully a kitesurfing course. And rent a dirtbike and have some fun with that.

Of course, it will be Tet from about the 9th - 17th, so I’ve been told to make sure I have accommodation sorted out for that. Actually I’m flying out on the 12th, to Kunming.

Any advice, suggestions, ideas? I’m a Vietnam Virgin.

I was a Vietnam virgin as well. I went to Hanoi during CNY (Tet) 2011, so I can only comment about Hanoi.

[ul][li]Be sure to bring warm clothing; I pictured Vietnam as always hot, but apparently I was mistaken, at least in the north. I’ve heard HCMC is much warmer in the winter. [/li]
[li]My travel agent wrote: “One thing of Halong Bay is don’t go with too budget boat because the quality of the cruise is really low.” I took her advice and went with a mid-price Halong Bay cruise, and was extremely pleased. FYI the company I went with,, has excellent ratings on Trip Advisor.[/li]
[li]Hanoi’s traffic is crazy, so be brave but careful when crossing the street! (Here’s me in a cyclo on New Year’s Eve) Everyone uses their horn–always! Thankfully, the honking stopped around 10-11pm.[/li]
[li]There is dual pricing in the shops, so you’ll pay a higher price than locals. You can bargain, though. I got a beautiful mahjong set for 450,000 dong, down from 500,000, and got a Mao cap thrown in! Be careful with exchange rates…all of those zeros can be confusing.[/li]
[li]I learned how to say “Hello”, “Thank you”, “Excuse me”, “Happy New Year”, and the numbers 1-10 in Vietnamese before I went. 99% of the vietnamese I dealt with were very nice, expecially when I tried speaking those few phrases. However, there will be plenty of people trying to get you to buy stuff, bordering on harassment. It seems rude to just ignore them, but you’ll lose your sanity if you don’t. [/li]
[li]Try the bun cha, preferably at a small local shop. Delicious![/li][/ul]

We booked with these folks a few years back and had a fantastic time.

Excellent - thanks for the reply!

I don’t know whether you already have some stops planned along the road but at my last visit to Vietnam I found Hue to be very nice for strolling around. I have not been to Hoi An yet, though. I suggest you decide about that area according to the weather.

Also, maybe a little bit off your route, but I absolutely fell in love with Da Lat. Calm and nice atmosphere, very different from the usual Vietnamese city bustle.

I second Steve4nLanguage’s advice about the warm clothing in the North. It can get really chilly in Hanoi around this time of year.

I live in Vietnam in HCMC:

Be very careful / vigilant: petty crime is rife - bag snatching etc. Oddly men’s large western shoes disappear frequently too.

Friends who have been to Sapa highly recommend it for hiking / relaxing etc.

Several boats have gone down taking tourists with them on Halong bay in in the last 1 - 2 years. Safety laws are lax / can be bought off. I wouldn’t go overnight nor swimming in the bay - apparently it’s full of rubbish / sewage. Visting friends have got sick by doing this. Skip Haiphong city too.

Hoi An is lovely - aim for a couple of nights there

I didn’t care for Hue much but then I did end up in a brothel while trying to find a foot massage!

Pham Ngu Lao in HCMC is much like I imagine Khao San was 20 - 30 years ago. Rent a bike if you’re brave or find some way to get out of the area and see real streetlife in HCMC - it’s fascinating. (Or just stay & get hammered in ‘the Pham’ if that’s your thing but watch your cash / phone)

Remember to bring passport photos for your visa at the airport - or you’ll be stuck in queue for ages. And follow the guidebook advice on taxis.

Have a good trip! :slight_smile:

Halong Bay is obviously the highlight in the north but Sapa is at the top of my list when I finally get there.

I did a similar trip with my friends about a year ago starting from Hanoi and working our way down to HCMC. Other stuff has been covered already pretty well, but for kitesurfing Mui Ne is the best place to go.

Accommodation options are mostly resorts, but there are some guesthouses/cheap hotels as well. You can also do some dirtbiking on the nearby dunes.

On a sidenote, it can rain quite a bit in the Hue, Hoi An and Da Nang area this time of year and we ended up skipping through them pretty quickly. But we did spend a few nights in Hue and Da Nang and both seemed nice enough places for a short stop despite the rain.

From Ha Noi, Ha Long Bay is a good choice. You might want to check out Phong Nha cave in Quang Binh, too - google images. Sapa is a nice place but it’s further north, close to the border, and no direct flights. Will take time travel back and forth.

In the Central, places to visit are Hue , once was the capital, Da Nang the port city and Hoi An ancient town. You can discover Champa culture as well.

I don’t recommend Dalat on Tet. No more calm and peaceful atmosphere. Nha Trang or Mui Ne if you like beaches. Seafood is awesome :lick:

From Ho Chi Minh, you can take a tour to Mekong Delta. River cruise, floating market…

Some notes:
[li]Weather in the North is similar to Taipei. Cold and wet in winter. From Da Nang going down, it’s much warmer, just like Singapore.[/li]
[li]Enjoy the traffic symphony :smiley: [/li]
[li]Be careful of pocket picker, bag snatcher…[/li]

I forgot - be absolutely sure to have good insurance. The hospitals in Hanoi / HCMC are not bad but very pricy. There’s not much in the way of decent healthcare outside these cities & obviously getting med-evac-ed to bangkok / taipei will cost 1000s so be certain it will cover evacuations.

I found getting travel insurance a total nightmare while living in Taiwan - they don’t seem to actually cover the cost of anything. In the end I opted for World Nomads - a global company. Not everyone loves them but they covered my husband’s trip to the ER in our first weeks.

i bought a Nomad’s policy once. It wasn’t too bad of a deal for an American provided you aren’t traveling in the US. It nice to hear that they actually did cover some expenses w/o hopefully too much hassle.

Now that I think of it I did go to a doctor once (tonsillitis or similar) when I had the policy but it wasn’t an emergency and it cost <1000 baht IIRC. I didn’t even bother with a claim.

Sapa, Hanoi and Halong Bay will be cold as fuck, do a day in Hanoi, skip Sapa, and do the short Halong cruise.

HoiAn is a fantastic place, Nha Trang deserves some time, as does the Mekong Delta and the Southern Islands. Make time for all of those places.

[quote]Sapa, Hanoi and Halong Bay will be cold as fuck, do a day in Hanoi, skip Sapa, and do the short Halong cruise.

Just finished up the Halong Bay cruise - 2 days 1 night. It was good, not too cold, but overcast, thus no swimming. The junk was sweet, had my own room. Met some nice travellers, and a very loud Aussie. Drinking games till 1 in the morning!

In Hanoi now, have walked around the Old Quarter - hectic traffic, but I think living in Taiwan and China helped me navigate the scooter mayhem.

Flying to Hue tomorrow AM, then Paradise Cave, then down to Hoi An.

So far so good.

But hell, is the Dong confusing - $1 = 20,000 Dong. Great name for a currency though.

I kid you not…a brochure that the travel agent sent me said “Like any big city, Hanoi has its share of pickpockets, so keep your hand on your dong at all times.”]

Glad to hear you’re having a good time. Enjoy!

Just got done over by the classic bait 'n switch.

Booked a day tour to Paradise Cave (longest cave in the world) and ended up going to Phong Nha Cave - much smaller, but nice enough.

Five hours there and back, and a measly 2 hours for lunch and a bit of cave time.

Methinks the guys who bike the country are the smart ones - they buy a bike in Hanoi, ride it south (or vice versa), then sell it when they get to Saigon.

Next destination - Hoi An: great place to get suits made (good, because I’m best man at a wedding next month), and shoes too.

Last day in Vietnam!

What a blast!

Had a suit made up in Hoi An for $165, and shoes handmade for $65 (best man at a wedding on the 14th!)

Spent a few days in a hippy type place called Jungle Beach - the name says it all.

Then two days in Nha Trang - pretty beachside city, overrun by Ruskies though.

Treated myself to a business class flight from Nha Trang to Saigon - $100.

Then was in Saigon for Tet/CNY’s Eve - watched a fantastic fireworks show over the city from the roof of my hotel.

Went to the Cu Chi Tunnels and War Museum today - sad, but it made me realize that America should never have been in Vietnam. Horrific stuff I saw there - very saddening, especially the after effects of Agent Orange.

Flying out tomorrow, and expect delays.

BUT, I must say I WILL be back. And I suggest to you that haven’t been to go. It offers something vastly different from Thailand, and Taiwan and China.

And, touch wood, I’m proud to say I survived the scooter mayhem (Taiwan mayhem X1000000!)

glad to hear good words about my hometown :slight_smile: