Hi. I am planning a 5 day trip.
I will be at Hanoi on a Friday morning.
I plan to do a 2 day 1N trip to Halong. What tour should I go for? I read that Handspan is good, and they have a 2D 1N for $115.
Is this reasonable? If not, which tour should I go for? Or should I book through a hotel?
After Hanoi I want to travel south to Dong Hoi to visit Phong Nha Ke Bang. I see very little information on this place despite it being a World Heritage Site. Is it worth while the trip?
I need to know what's the best way to get from Hanoi to Dong Hoi? Should I book a train? Are there buses that travel that way?
#1 Shahmatt has been a member since 30/6/2009. Posts: 17
Handspan are definitely at the top end of providers - along with Buffalo Tours & Exotissimo. The cost is higher than most, but you will get a top notch service with any of these.
Looking through the useful info here on TF - http://www.travelfish.org/transport/vietnam/north_central_vietnam/quang_binh/phong_nha/all - via Dong Hoi as you say... looks a lengthy trip, and if you only have 3 days (after Halong) you may spend most of your time on a bus? the caves look pretty impressive tho...
Yeah reasonable enough I guess and mind you, Handspan is one of those reliable travel companies competing with Buffalo, HG-Travel, Gap and Exotissimo
#4 Precious24 has been a member since 21/11/2009. Posts: 22
Hi everyone. My brother and I spent 5 days in Vietnam last week. Here is a review. Warning! Long read ahead :-)
We landed in Hanoi on Thursday night at around 8pm and took an airport shuttle bus (30,000 Dong each) to the Hanoi old quarter where our hotel was booked.
This was the Hanoi Cozy hotel. On arrival the hotel manager informed us that he had our booking but the room was on a "high floor" and there were no lifts. He offered to accommodate us in Grand View Hotel, owned by the same company. I was resistant at first since this seemed highly unorthodox, but he assured us that the rate would be as quoted for Cozy hotel and he said it was a much newer establishment and only a minute's walk away. So we went over to have a look. The Grand View Hotel did seem a much nicer establishment, better lit and definitely newer (I wasn't thrilled about Cozy hotel). We liked what we saw and agreed. The rooms were comfortable and for $25 twin bed a night was good value with wi-fi, hot water and breakfast.
One thing to note though, they requested our passports for a night's keeping. Apparently this is law in Vietnam. I did not expect this, but I found out later (over my wi-fi connection) that this is normal. However I resisted and got a receipt for our passports. If you are compelled to give away your passport to hotels for safe keeping, make sure you have a photocopy yourself (actually try giving that), and definitely get yourself a receipt.
Day 1 and Day 2(Friday and Saturday):
We did the 2D/1N Halong Bay tour with Handspan on the Aloha Junk. The tour office was just 10 minutes away from where we were, so we checked out of the hotel walked with our bags. We registered with them and got on the bus to Halong bay, along with many other tourists like us.
The tour bus stops halfway on its 4 hour journey for refreshments. We boarded the Aloha junk. Our room was well maintained and clean and we have no complaints about the accommodation on board. The first day and night we got Chinese seafood on board the boat, and they served us huge quantities of the stuff in an unending stream. I am South Asian, and Chinese food is a little bland to me, so I avoided some items, but in general this was a very filling meal. On the second day they served us a Western Continental breakfast and lunch and no complaints here at all.
The tour itself consisted of a visit to the floating village where pearl farms may be seen. This may or may not be interesting depending on your point of view. The second day we visited the Sung Suat (Amazing cave) in the morning. I liked this one much better.
Overall, it seemed as if we didn't do very much at Halong bay except soak in the scenery. If you are a busybody like me you might feel impatient and may want to choose a tour with a more packed itinerary. To be honest I was a little bored.
We got back to Hanoi on Saturday night. We went back to the Grand View Hotel and booked another night there. For the evening we found an Indian restaurant just a few doors away and had our dinner there. Afterwards we walked towards Hoan Kiem and discovered that it was the Flower Festival in Hanoi. Huge crowds and a variety of Vietnam’s flower pride. This was an unexpected bonus to the entire trip and was quite enjoyable.
Day 3 (Sunday):
The next day we awoke early in order to catch a 7a.m domestic flight to Hue . We took a car (arranged by the hotel for $12) to the airport. The trip was only around half an hour at around 4.45a.m since the roads were quite empty. The Vietnam airlines flight was quite good on the A320. We reached Hue at 8a.m in the morning.
We took the airport bus (I think it was 40,000 VND per person) to Hue town. We dropped ourselves off at Tran Cao Van Street and made our way to the Mandarin Café at No. 24. We had read about this place over the net and it fully deserves its reputation as a comfortable stop over place when at Hue. The owner Mr. Cu is quite friendly and loves to show off his excellent photographic skills. The café walls are covered with his work. The food was really good with a mix of Western dishes and local stuff. We had a really solid breakfast with eggs and we also returned there for a seafood lunch. The rates seemed reasonable too. Mr. Cu gave us a “walking tour” map of the Citadel which we followed, and kept our bags for us while we walked about.
We really liked Hue. It had a nice busy country town sort of feel to it. We visited the Citadel and Imperial city (55,000 VND entrance). There were plenty of ruins and interesting architecture to see and you can spend at least 3 or 4 hours just walking around. We returned back to the Mandarin Café, had lunch, got back our bags and pushed off to the railway station around 2km away for a 4pm train to get to Dong Hoi (140km North). Mr. Cu bought us our railway tickets for the soft air-con seat at 80,000VND each from the cafe. We paid him a commission for this though, so I reckon it’s better to make this booking if possible through the internet. It is definitely necessary to book at least a few hours in advance to get your seat.
Our train from Hue to Dong Hoi was not as clean or as efficient as we expected. The train was a little late, and the seats were old (though comfortable). Do not expect to get the seat that is marked on your ticket, as it becomes a free for all once you board your coach. The seat numbers are not clearly marked anyway. Just try getting on before anyone else and pick your seats quickly. I do not know if it’s the same situation with the soft sleeper bunks though. Also there is no announcement of station, so you really have no idea where you might be especially in the pitch dark of the Vietnam evenings. Just remember the rough time of arrival. If you are trouble, try to get the attention of a conductor and point to the station name on your ticket and get him to write down the time on a piece of paper for you so that you can work it out. Well, that’s what we did at least as English isn’t spoken very much.
We arrived at Dong Hoi at around 8pm and got a taxi from the station to Ke Bang hotel. It’s around 5km away and cost us 50,000 VND by taxi (expensive) to get there, but it seemed quite deserted and I really thought we’d see more tourists.
Ke Bang Hotel is a neat establishment. I believe it used to be a house of sorts. Our rooms were old but clean. However, there were no towels in the room and the hot water did not seem to work properly. But we got our towels and the hot water was fixed in a jiffy when we complained. At 200,000VND per night and free wi-fi I would say that this is good value. The lady who runs the reception could manage very basic English and actually spoke Malay (which we knew a little bit of since we work in Singapore). I found myself in the unusual position of using a few Malay words I knew in between to clarify my point.
Day 4 (Monday)
The next morning we arranged a car to see Phong Nha Ke Bang national park. It took us around 45 minutes to get there. In order to see the caves you need to buy tickets which include a boat. The boat to the caves is 200,000 VND and can hold around 10 people. We were advised to wait around for a group to join up with. That didn’t take very long though.
The boat ride and cave expedition were fascinating. I found them more interesting than Halong bay, and I highly recommend this site for a visit. We visited Phong Nha cave and Tien Son cave (which requires plenty of walking up stairs). Make sure you carry a torch to see better inside. Also try to get an English speaking guide. Ours did not speak any English unfortunately. The entire expedition took around 4 hours in total and we were back at the park office by around 2pm. After this we took our car back to Ke Bang and spent the evening walking around Dong Hoi town. There isn’t very much to see in this place though. I found out later that there is actually another tour of about 1 hour at Phong Nha called the ‘Eco Trail’. We unfortunately missed seeing this.
Day 5 (Tuesday)
The next day we took another car south to the demilitarized zone to see the Vinh Moc Tunnels. This was not part of our original plan, but we had a morning to kill anyway. These tunnels are supposedly similar to the Cu Chi tunnels close to Saigon, but were intended as living quarters as opposed to military use. The tunnels are supposedly preserved in the original state, with no tourist modifications except some timber strengthening to prevent a collapse.
We were quite impressed with the tunnels. I guess it’s pretty amazing that people actually lived, worked and even procreated in those tiny passages. This place is well worth a visit also.
After this, we traveled back North to Dong Hoi to the airport, and got on the flight to Hanoi at around 2pm, and then soon after out of Vietnam on an international flight.
#5 Shahmatt has been a member since 30/6/2009. Posts: 17
Take precautions and be on your guard against pickpockets and bag snatchers. Do not walk in secluded locations alone, or with people you do not know. Petty crime is not confined to the backpacker districts but also occurs in the main tourist shopping areas.
#6 jackdsilva12 has been a member since 18/1/2011. Posts: 31