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First time in Vietnam - couple of questions

  • grishgori

    Joined Travelfish
    4th May, 2013
    Posts: 9

    I'm heading to Vietnam for 3 weeks in September and I've got a couple of questions because im trying to do the tour as independently as possible

    1.I'm planning on doing Mekong Delta without an agency for 2 full days(returning to saigon in the evening for a sleeper bus to da lat) the locations im looking to explore are : Ben Tre , Vinh Long(homestay) , Can Tho and Tra Vinh - what would be the best way to arrange the route ? starting in saigon early morning on the first day and returning on the evening next day

    2.I'm planning on doing Halong bay independently aswell reaching Cat Ba from Haiphong and stay there for 3 days
    * Lan Ha Bay - How is it compared to Halong Bay? as good?
    * Best way to reach Monkey Island and surrounding beaches of Cat Ba?
    * The national park - worth a visit or not? i've read mixed reviews online

    3.Local female tribe guides in Sapa - how do I arrange a trip+homestay with them and where?

    4.This is my planned route would like to hear comments about it(what to change etc)

    1 day HCMC
    2 days Delta Mekong
    3 days Da Lat
    1 day Nha Trang
    2 days Hoi An
    3 days Ninh Binh
    3 days Halong Bay
    5 days Sapa
    1-2 days Hanoi

    #1 Posted: 4/5/2013 - 06:12

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  • Geer1

    Joined Travelfish
    14th September, 2012
    Posts: 523
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    2. I believe Lan Ha Bay is comparable. Big difference is you don't have the expensive junk boats but I am guessing you aren't going for that anyways. I too went through Cat Ba instead of Halong Bay and I enjoyed it. I didn't go to Monkey Island or national park though so can't comment on them. Couple people that I talked to seemed to enjoy them though. Rock climbing and or kayaking is fun, I went through Asia Outdoors and they were good although slightly disorganized at times.

    4. 1 day in HCMC is not enough imo unless you have already been there. I would add at least another day. Imo you are missing on of the best places in Vietnam (Paradise Cave by Dong Hoi). You also have a lot of travel in between locations so time will be spread a little thin as you will always be thinking about transport. If you are planning on doing night buses don't expect good sleep which for many people negates their usefulness as they spend the next day recuperating. All in all if you could squeeze in a few more days to your trip overall I think it would be more comfortable although it looks like you are trying to fit into a 3 week span so maybe not possible.

    #2 Posted: 4/5/2013 - 10:10

  • grishgori

    Joined Travelfish
    4th May, 2013
    Posts: 9

    Asia outdoors used to be called Slo Pony? if so I got a couple of recommendations about them , how was your experience and did you go kayaking or climbing?

    About the amount of days - sadly I cant extend my stay even by a day and yeah im planning on going by night buses/trains

    #3 Posted: 4/5/2013 - 11:06

  • Geer1

    Joined Travelfish
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    Posts: 523
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    Yeah Asia Outdoors is Slo Pony. I did both, wanted to do it in one day but that didn't work with what others were doing so they gave me a discount to do kayaking the next day. Climbing was decent, most of the climbs were fairly easy(3 of us that don't climb made it to top) but there are a couple more challenging ones as well including a crazy overhang climb that none of us could even get started on the overhang lol. Kayaking was nice except the water is polluted with garbage, nothing Asia Outdoors can do about that though.

    If I were you I would consider skipping Dalat and Nha Trang and flying from HCMC up to Danang to get to Hoi An . This eliminates a lot of your travel time and would allow you to see Paradise Cave, Hue and have more time in HCMC. The cost difference won't be much either so really it comes down to whether you think Dalat and Nha Trang are that much better then Paradise Cave and Hue. A neat idea to get to Hue from Hoi An is to find an easyrider, beautiful scenery on the way and can stop at beach and marble mountain.

    To me Dalat was nice but not amazing. The only thing that is kind of special about the place is the evergreen forests and rolling hills. Nice scenery and different from most SEA locations but I honestly wouldn't pick it over the cave and Hue. Paradise cave is a world class cave, absolutely huge and with beautiful formations. Hue has some nice ancient history stuff with the citadel and tombs(make sure you see Khai Dinh tomb). Edit: As far as scenery is concerned if you go to Dong Hoi and then rent scooter to go to Paradise Cave the scenery you see along the way will be great(just as nice as Dalat but in a different way). That is if it isn't pouring rain on you like it did to us lol.

    Nha Trang for only a day is only really a beach to sit on unless you plan on scuba diving(that is what I did and enjoyed it).

    Just some food for thought.

    #4 Posted: 4/5/2013 - 11:24

  • grishgori

    Joined Travelfish
    4th May, 2013
    Posts: 9

    Paradisve Cave looks absolutely amazing ! What's the best way to reach the cave?

    #5 Posted: 5/5/2013 - 13:55

  • Geer1

    Joined Travelfish
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    Posts: 523
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    There are a couple ways that mainly depend on your budget and or skill level on scooter.

    If money isn't an issue and you like being part of a tour or don't feel safe on a scooter then a tour is your best option. If you are on a tight budget and don't mind/enjoy riding a scooter that is the way to go as the bike ride is very scenic and a great trip in itself(coming on a guy who had to drive both ways through pouring rain, man were we soaked lol). The ride is a fair distance being 70 kms each way but it is a nice road in good condition and not too much traffic. Those are the main ways to get there, could rent a taxi or bus as well but that would be expensive unless sharing with a group.

    Now for accommodation. Since you are fairly tight on time I would probably recommend doing the same thing I did, take train to Dong Hoi then stay at Nam Long Hotel. Owners are very nice fair people that will help you with anything you need. They offer both tours and bike rentals here as well. Theoretically you could do this whole stop in a day(come in early morning and hop on train out in the evening) but to make it more comfortable I would make it a day and a half(come night before or early morning then take train the next morning) so you aren't in a hurry to catch a train etc.

    Another option but they require at least a 2 night stay and are more expensive in all regards is to stay at Phong Nha Farmstay. Sounds like a nice place with a good vibe. Getting to and from it is a little tricky and as mentioned everything is more expensive by around 50%.

    Along with Paradise Cave there is also Phong Nha Cave which I didn't see but heard decent reviews on. People seem to like Paradise Cave more but Phong Nha is kind of interesting as you take a boat through it. You could do both of these in a day depending on the tour you book or if you head out early on the bike. Together they aren't cheap but if money isn't a huge issue might be worth it.

    #6 Posted: 5/5/2013 - 14:42

  • MotHaiBa

    Joined Travelfish
    3rd May, 2011
    Posts: 31

    I'd like to also endorse above - cut dalat and nha trang and add the days to saigon and mekong and include phong nha. If budget is an issue, the farmstay have dorm beds that are a bit cheaper. The vibe is pretty good at the farmstay. Check out paradise cave either on a tour or on your own - staff will give you some pointers. I wouldnt worry too much about phong nha cave.

    #7 Posted: 5/5/2013 - 18:23

  • MotHaiBa

    Joined Travelfish
    3rd May, 2011
    Posts: 31

    Why does my forum post come up with a "posted from within vietnam" when I am sitting here in canberra, australia? Am I suppose to do something about my settings?

    #8 Posted: 5/5/2013 - 18:31

  • somtam2000

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    @MotHaiBa - that was a glitch - have updated the IP database and you're back in Canberra.

    Cheers!

    #9 Posted: 5/5/2013 - 20:23

  • daawgon

    Joined Travelfish
    17th April, 2007
    Posts: 887
    Total reviews: 2

    1.I'm planning on doing Mekong Delta without an agency for 2 full days(returning to saigon in the evening for a sleeper bus to da lat) the locations im looking to explore are : Ben Tre , Vinh Long(homestay) , Can Tho and Tra Vinh - what would be the best way to arrange the route ? starting in saigon early morning on the first day and returning on the evening next day

    2.I'm planning on doing Halong bay independently aswell reaching Cat Ba from Haiphong and stay there for 3 days
    * Lan Ha Bay - How is it compared to Halong Bay? as good?
    * Best way to reach Monkey Island and surrounding beaches of Cat Ba?
    * The national park - worth a visit or not? i've read mixed reviews online

    I attempted the Delta w/o a tour group, and was very sorry - this is the one place in VN where I felt a tour would be the way to go (problem being the maze of waterways - makes getting around quite difficult, think ferries, small boats, etc.)

    I went to Cat Ba via Haiphong (train from Hanoi ) - destination Cat Ba Town - honestly, the very worst experience of my entire trip. Scammed on the ferry to the island, and Cat Ba Town is not worth the effort (think depressing, poor hotels and food).

    Hope you have better luck - you need more time in Hanoi (my favorite destination)

    #10 Posted: 13/5/2013 - 13:05

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  • Geer1

    Joined Travelfish
    14th September, 2012
    Posts: 523
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    If going to Cat Ba you can take bus/ferry from Hanoi much better then trying to do it yourself in pieces. Go to Luong Yen bus station and purchase ticket from Hoang Long bus company. The trip is well organized and reasonably priced(around $11) and not a whole lot of time wasted waiting for ferry etc.

    I agree that Cat Ba Town isn't anything special itself, especially if you are there in the slow season it is almost like a ghost town(I had a 14 bed dorm room to myself one night lol). There are some decent restaurants though and lots of seafood options, problem is there are so many options that look decent it is hard to decide and most tourists end up eating at mediocre places just because they have a better look. If you want to see Halong/Lan Ha bay for cheaper then Cat Ba is an option, the full day boat and kayak tours are $20-30 a day and are fairly decent. Honestly I thought Lan Ha/Halong bay was kind of neat but highly overrated due to the pollution in the water and always cloudy/poor visibility which I am told is usually the case. Khao Sok NP lake tour in Thailand has the same karst formations, pristine water and beautiful jungle surroundings and to me was much more scenic.

    #11 Posted: 13/5/2013 - 13:51

  • grishgori

    Joined Travelfish
    4th May, 2013
    Posts: 9

    I'm taking a bus in the evening from Ninh Binh(3rd day) to Haiphong so early in the morning ill be able to take the ferry to Cat Ba
    And yeah i'm aware that Cat Ba is not really a hot spot for tourists but I'm using it mainly as a base to the attractions around it(floating villages , cat ba's beaches , monkey island and of course Lan Ha Bay) also I've read really great reviews about kayaking with Asia Outdoors around the bay

    #12 Posted: 17/5/2013 - 06:44

  • pumbaa

    Joined Travelfish
    19th May, 2013
    Posts: 3

    Posted from within Vietnam.

    @grishgori: you shud spend more time in HCM City, maybe another 1 or 2 days as 1 day is not enough. And I'd recommend you do the motorbike tour, where you will see a lot of the city in a short time. And bike tours are always a fun thing to do for foreigners in HCM. This is my recommendation company "www.saigononbikes.com". Just check it out dude.

    Best.

    #13 Posted: 26/8/2013 - 03:36

  • erohisms

    Joined Travelfish
    17th March, 2013
    Posts: 10

    We did the Mekong Delta on our own and just based ourselves in Can Tho. To be honest, I think going to all the places you mentioned is overkill and you absolutely won't be able to do it independently. Buses are infrequent and super slow.

    We liked our time in Can Tho, though the street food was as much of a highlight as the boat tour. We have a trip report here if it helps: http://erohisms.com/boating-and-eating-our-way-through-vietnams-rice-bowl/

    We also stayed on Monkey Island in Halong Bay. I didn't think it was anything special and it was surrounded by trash, unfortunately.

    For Sapa , if you simply show up on a bus, you'll be able to find guides who can arrange everything. They pretty much meet every bus that comes into town. If you're looking for a specific guide, Sapa Sisters is pretty good, but pricey!

    #14 Posted: 1/9/2013 - 06:26

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