My girlfriend and I (21 & 22) are heading to Vietnam for approx 3 & a half weeks in January. We're traveling independently, but we are thinking of taking some day tours from the main centres to see things like the Mekong, Cu Chi tunnels, Cuc Phuong National Park & the DMZ. We're traveling on a budget (hopefully 30-50 usd a day - but we might be able to increase this a little). I just want to know how feasible it is to visit things like the tunnels and the national parks without going on a tour? I'm assuming it'll be less expensive to visit them independently. How would we go about this, e.g. take a bus or hire motorcycles etc. Cheers for any replies!
#1 scarfie has been a member since 18/8/2009. Posts: 6
Short answer, it is possible. Long answer, several of the places you've mentioned are actually tourist destinations. Thus, public transport is either infrequent or absent. Lonely Planet has directions for some, so maybe that's worth a read to get your bearings.
As for motorbike hire, yes, some are possible, but you'd need to be aware that bike riding over distance in Vietnam can be a headache.
The items listed:
Mekong: is about 4 hours by bus from Saigon. It's just a flat, wide open delta (for some, with miles of agriculture and some repetitive towns) - what did you have in mind?
Cu Chi tunnels: it'll cost you as much on public transport & motorbike hire as a tour.
Cuc Phuong National Park: see Lonely Planet for reference - but it's not a day visit place.
The DMZ: is a day trip from Hue . Or, an overnight from Hue on public tpt to Dong Ha, then a tour.
Cheers for your help.
We don't have much in mind at the moment, its 5 months away so we're just looking at the various options at the moment. With our budget could we still afford day tours, e.g. the DMZ from Hue and Cu Chi tunnels from Saigon? I understand that there's a range of options, but generally speaking? Thanks again.
#3 scarfie has been a member since 18/8/2009. Posts: 6
I agree that it is better to spend time in Cuc Phung if you can. At least go to Ninh Binh first (easy on the train from Hanoi) and go from there early in the morning so that you can spend a whole day there. The primate rescue centre is great and there are walks you can do in the park. I certainly intend to stay there for a few days next time I visit. You can also go to Tam Coc, which is best visited early in the morning or the afternoon to avoid the crowds who come down for the day from Hanoi. I did both those trips for something like $10 a day, sharing a car or on the back of a bike from Ninh Binh.
Going to the Cu Chi tunnels for the day from Saigon with Sinh cafe was only about $4 but personally I hated being in the tunnel.
#4 violets has been a member since 6/7/2009. Posts: 151
Ahhhh it depends ;-)
Solely on a price basis, some of the tours are so cheap, (Cu Chi springs to mind -- I paid $2 for a 1/2 day trip out of Sgn) that it is pointless doing it solo.
However, for others it is a bit up to the individual -- if you have the time, I think Mekong Delta is FAR better done solo than on a tour.
For then DMZ, I'd strongly recommend taking a "private tour" out of Dong Ha (ie sitting on the back of some dude's motorbike) - personally I wouldn't do it out of Hue 'cause you pay more and you spend more time in transit - but that's here nor there -- if you do the DMZ without a guide all you see (apart from some nice riding country) ia a bunch of spots where really there isn't much to see anymore -- the "attraction" is all in the stories your guide will tell you.
Cuc Phuong can do solo for overnight stay, but a ranger who can show you paths and interesting trails will pay dividends. It's not the most stunning national park, so unless you have a particular interest in it, given you've got three weeks, maybe skip it.
Realisticly the only spots where I'd say a tour wins out is Ha Long Bay , DMZ (from Dong Ha) and Cu Chi -- anything else, DIY
Three weeks isn't a lot of time in Vn -- time goes quick and the journey times are long, so keep that in mind too!
Remember also that the tunnels have been dug out further to allow westerner access. There are also tunnels in the DMZ area, and they may be included on a tour of that area.
If war memorabilia is your 'thing', then a tour is probably OK.
But also, the DMZ was a military stand-off. Both sides were bunkered down, and plainly just shelling the s**t out of each other. The NVA & VC were entering VN from Laos, south of the DMZ in a valley known as Ashau valley (near the town of Aluoi).
Ashau Valley was THE centre of conflict for the US in the northern sector of (then) Sth Vietnam.
I hired a moped from Hue to visit Ashau Valley (and also Hamburger Hill). It's not on any tour schedule, but the valley/hill was one of the most significant events for US forces in VN. Without doubt, both the Ashau Valley loss (1966) and Hamburger Hill victory (1969) can be seen as major turning points in the US public 'opinion' towards the VN conflict.
On the subject of Ashau valley, the US did have a result in 1968, on this go look at these: