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A "spare week" in HCMC

  • TonyandNi

    Joined Travelfish
    3rd August, 2009
    Posts: 4

    We're doing a cycling tour from Bangkok to HCMC in September (including Siem Reap), and another one from HCMC to Hanoi (including Halong Bay and an extension to SaPa (not by bike!)) in October.

    We have a "spare week" in HCMC from 26th September to 4th October and are trying to decide what to do with it. Ideas so far include a SinhCafe tour of the Mekong Delta and Phu Quoc, or possibly a few days in Hoi An.

    We're early retired but young and fit - I wish! - and not on too tight a budget.

    Any ideas/recommendations/suggestions would be most welcome.

    Thanks

    #1 Posted: 3/8/2009 - 05:55

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  • BruceMoon

    Click here to learn more about BruceMoon
    Joined Travelfish
    27th December, 2008
    Location Australia
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    Total reviews: 6

    TonyandNi

    You don't say which tour company is organising the travel for you. The only reason I suggest this may be relevant to your primary question/s is that an understanding of the tours may assist in how you spend that 'extra' week.

    My hunch is that the tour company will have a guide who speaks the applicable languages. That said, you may find the focus is on & between tour members rather than the broader local community. Then again, it may not.

    - - -

    Assuming your tour is largely city focussed (ie, BangKok Siem Reap, HaNoi, SaiGon), then more cityfied options may not give you the 'spread' or range of interactions.

    If more cityfied appeals, then Hoi An will be OK. The Sinh Cafe Mekong option includes a fair bit of bus travel. So, if you choose that one, make sure you minimise the time moving between places (ie. a 5 or more day trip centred on a couple of places, rather than a 3 day trip with a different place every night).

    An area you haven't cited is Dalat. This is quite a contrast to the coastal plain - both geographically and culturally.

    If you choose Dalat, either travel by bus (go see www.sinhcafevn.com), or look at the EasyRider option.

    Go look at Easy Riders here on Travelfish (in the Search Travelfish box up in the grey area up top).

    I doubt you'd thought of this, but they would pick you up in SaiGon and take you to Dalat over (say) 3 days, and show you around Dalat as well (much to do/see there). You could then bus it back to SaiGon.

    Cheers

    #2 Posted: 3/8/2009 - 06:27

  • BruceMoon

    Click here to learn more about BruceMoon
    Joined Travelfish
    27th December, 2008
    Location Australia
    Posts: 1941
    Total reviews: 6

    TonyandNi

    On a separate matter, what is your itinerary / expectation for SaPa?

    Cheers

    #3 Posted: 3/8/2009 - 06:31

  • MADMAC

    Joined Travelfish
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    Posts: 6267
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    There is a budding salsa scene in Saigon. I always make plugs for my Vietnamese colleagues who are trying to build a dance scene there. You can take a look at the thread right below this one for details.

    #4 Posted: 3/8/2009 - 11:48

  • BruceMoon

    Click here to learn more about BruceMoon
    Joined Travelfish
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    Location Australia
    Posts: 1941
    Total reviews: 6

    Somtam

    LOOK, ADVERTISING!!!!!


    hehehehe

    Cheers

    #5 Posted: 3/8/2009 - 12:28

  • TonyandNi

    Joined Travelfish
    3rd August, 2009
    Posts: 4

    Hi Bruce. Thanks for this. It's really helpful.

    Our tour company for our bike trips is Exodus travel, a UK company that we've used before for a bike trip in Mogolia. They were very good. Yes we do have an English and local speaking leader throughout, and mainly travel by bike and bus between towns and cities, so the tour is likely to be somewhat introspective within the group. Our first tour does include a "homestay" night in the Mekong Delta, and our second tour does include an overnight in Dalat.

    Easy Riders looks fun and worth investigating further. Good advice if we choose a Mekong Delta trip though. May even have time for both! We're certainly not "city people", nor "beach people", so really want to get some time to chill and absorb the countryside.

    We haven't yet booked our SaPa tour, but will go with one of the tour companies. We really want to do some trekking in the area, so want to be able to leave luggage somewhere rather than carry it. Want to get out of SaPa which is proabably overrun with tourists. We're looking at a 3-night/2-day tour. The Columbus Adventure tour looks very good but very expensive. Handspan and Sihn Cafe also run similar tours much cheaper. Any advice on who to use?

    Thanks again.

    #6 Posted: 3/8/2009 - 17:26

  • Nokka

    Joined Travelfish
    6th April, 2009
    Location United Kingdom
    Posts: 259

    Hi, TonyandNi. Not sure if you wish to do more cycling, but a company I've heard good things about for cycling tours round the Mekong Delta is Sinh Balo.

    #7 Posted: 3/8/2009 - 18:06

  • BruceMoon

    Click here to learn more about BruceMoon
    Joined Travelfish
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    Location Australia
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    Total reviews: 6

    Tony&Ni

    "We haven't yet booked our SaPa tour, but will go with one of the tour companies. We really want to do some trekking in the area, so want to be able to leave luggage somewhere rather than carry it. Want to get out of SaPa which is proabably overrun with tourists. We're looking at a 3-night/2-day tour. The Columbus Adventure tour looks very good but very expensive. Handspan and Sihn Cafe also run similar tours much cheaper. Any advice on who to use?

    I suggest you consider an alternate approach.

    The 'tours' are not as you would expect them. Rather, you wander through hillsides of villages with people everywhere. You stay at purpose-built accommodations which are NOT homestays. Put simply, the SaPa situation is a big industry fostered by the Vietnamese gov't.

    For more on this, go read my contributions to this post.

    But, that doesn't mean don't go to SaPa. No, please go!!! Few come away without a big smaile on their face. Rather, become enlightened so that you can better enjoy yourself.

    Here is a link to the SaPa locality. On the map, towards the green 'patch' is a dotted line. This is a road & track, and it is also where the trekking companies take you. I've walked, ridden and driven that area many many times.

    To visit' the NW region, I suggest you also take in the BacHa market (amazing Flower H!Mong display)

    The market at BacHa occurs every Sunday am. It is important to be at the market at about 7am. Either you stay in BacHa on Saturday night, or take a bus to BacHa from the HaNoi- Lao Cai overninght train (this is what most do).

    By about lunchtime, take (a pre-organised) bus from Bacha to SaPa.

    In SaPa, stay at your choice of accommodation. I don't know your 'star' preference, so once I know, I'd suggest options.

    The streets of SaPa are filled every day with ethnic minority women selling Chinese made 'trinkets'. Most know English and are really interested in talking to you (primarily to sell goods to you so that they make a profit). These women work in the fields when there is work, they work in SaPa trying to supplement their income on other days.

    Over recent months, the H!Mong women have begun to invite tourists to 'come to me village, see my house etc. I've suggested to travellers that they explore this invitation - but on two proviso's.

    First, if you accept an invitation, you will walk the same route that trekking companies will take you. Remember, these are really friendly people, and they love to be friendly. A key criterion is to turn the conversation from you, onto 'about them'. Ask them about their family, their children, the work they do, the time they arise, what they do in seasons, etc., etc..

    You will have to go through a 'gate' where you pay about 15000VN dong for 'improvements' for the local community. Even if you were with a tour, you'd still pay.

    Second, when you have finished to 'tour' of their village and home, make sure you leave a 'donation'. I suggest something like US5 - 10. This is little to you, but a huge sum for them. And, the money goes DIRECTLY to the family (no middle men).

    Many I have suggested do this, have been invited to eat in the family home with the woman (and usually her children - her husband will be working). Take up the offer, if invited.

    I've had really positive feedback from those that have undertaken this approach.

    - - -

    In the SaPa streets, you'll tend to see 3 or 4 ethnic groups: Black H!Mong, Giay, Red Dzao, and Yao (but, there are other ethnic communities in the area, that don't come to SaPa). You'll notice the difference by the head gear they wear. If you try for Black H!Mong or Giay one day (they both wear similar Indigo dyed hemp clothes, but the Giay have round pillbox hats) you'll get taken to Lao Chai or TaVan. If you seek the same another day with Red Dzao women (bright red balloonish head dress, and they have the front of their heads shaved) you'd get taken to Ban Ho or Ta Trung Ho.

    - - -

    In the marketplace in SaPa, there is an area where the Black H!Mong and Giay eat. If you are sufficiently interested, go with one or more and buy them some Pho. It will cost you 15000VN dong per serve (1 dollar), and make sure you also get a serve for yourself - it'll be the best Pho you will have in Vietnam BY FAR.

    If you choose an ethnic woman that speaks English well, and appears a sort of leader of the group, the Pho experience will be so worthwhile.

    - - -

    As for travel to the area. Several companies offer 'deals' where you take a night sleeper train to Lao Cai, and... If you choose to go on Saturday night, they will organise a mini van from Lao cai station to Bacha, and a mini-van back to SaPa. Or, just a mini-van to SaPa from the train (if another day).

    There are several reputable travel companies. As they are merely acting as a booking agent, choose one that has a reasonable price. Start with www.sinhcafevn.com - it is reasonable, and can be used as a benchmark for other options with other companies (eg. if you want more luxury, or something different).

    The trip back to Lao Cai rail can be organised at SaPa (50-70,000VN dong / person), but you may be comfortable with having the return train sleeper pre-booked.

    Hope this helps.

    Cheers

    #8 Posted: 3/8/2009 - 20:06

  • BruceMoon

    Click here to learn more about BruceMoon
    Joined Travelfish
    27th December, 2008
    Location Australia
    Posts: 1941
    Total reviews: 6

    Tony&Ni

    Sorry forget to suggest you also look here for some ideas on the NW region of VN, and also other areas.

    Cheers (again)

    #9 Posted: 3/8/2009 - 20:09

  • TonyandNi

    Joined Travelfish
    3rd August, 2009
    Posts: 4

    Thanks for such a brilliantly detailed reply, BruceMoon. Really helps me to understand what it's all about and how best to approach it to get the most out of it. Your links are also brilliant.

    Will certainly re-think our approach to SaPa and surrounding area.

    Thanks again

    Tony & Ni (Ni's short for Ngaire by the way, because her mother's a Kiwi!)

    #10 Posted: 3/8/2009 - 21:57

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  • TravelSense-
    Asia

    Joined Travelfish
    5th August, 2009
    Posts: 2

    Posted from within Vietnam.

    For Mekong delta, you may try the homestay 2 day trip in Cai Be Princess boat. Their itinerary is very good, a bit pricey than the other tours for mekong that you may find, but it's really worth it ( on services and foods).

    Halong Bay: find the best deal you can cause some luxury cruises like Bhaya, Indochina Sails will have big promotion until the end of sept.

    #11 Posted: 5/8/2009 - 01:44

  • tingers

    Joined Travelfish
    9th April, 2009
    Posts: 36

    Posted from within Vietnam.

    You could consider Pu Luong National Park if you want to do some nice trekking.

    A lot closer to Hanoi, definitely a lot less touristed. Not as many minority groups as the Sapa region but you'll have authentic homestay experiences with the local White Thai people. It's a beautiful place, well worth a look.

    #12 Posted: 8/8/2009 - 11:11

  • tingers

    Joined Travelfish
    9th April, 2009
    Posts: 36

    Posted from within Vietnam.

    You could consider Pu Luong National Park if you want to do some nice trekking.

    A lot closer to Hanoi, definitely a lot less touristed. Not as many minority groups as the Sapa region but you'll have authentic homestay experiences with the local White Thai people. It's a beautiful place, well worth a look.

    #13 Posted: 8/8/2009 - 11:13

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