We recently wrote about how we'd spend two days on a budget in Hanoi, but what about if you have a little longer? Linger for four days to see a bit more of Vietnam's capital, and here's what we'd suggest you do.
Take some tips from two days on a budget, but take your time: walk everywhere, visit more than one museum, stop for bia hoi or ice cream more regularly, hire a bicycle. Also consider incorporating some other free activities into your schedule, such as visiting Thong Nhat Park -- where you can easily while away half a day wandering around the lake, taking out a swan boat or sitting in the shade enjoying a beer -- or walking around Truc Bach Lake and its surrounds or the perimeter of West Lake.
Even if budget isn't so much of a consideration, we'd still recommend the suggestions from our two days in Hanoi post and above: in reality, a lot of the good stuff in Hanoi is free or cheap, and you certainly shouldn't miss out on exploring Old Quarter on foot, trying out the street food, visiting the museums, or people-watching from a cafe.
But to enhance your time consider taking a guided tour with a professional guide -- someone who can add to the visit experience with their knowledge and expertise. Either opt for a walking tour around Old Quarter, or take a guided tour of one of the museums. Check out Hidden Hanoi or Friends of Vietnam Heritage, contact the museum you're interested in directly or speak to a reputable travel agent. For the Museum of Ethnology or Museum of History, try contacting 54 Traditions Gallery: Mark Rapoport, one of the founders, provides excellent tours of both museums. Make sure to also check out his gallery if you're interested in ethnic minorities.
Fill half a day with a street food tour or a cooking course. Or both. For the latter, check out Hanoi Cooking Centre and read our reviews of street food tours for recommendations. Or read about what to do if you want to stay another day for some less usual Hanoi options: ice skating, cycling, paintballing or a photography tour perhaps? We would also schedule in some spa time, even if it's just a massage.
During the evenings, visit the night market, give the water puppets a go, look out for events at L'Espace and the Opera House and enjoy the social side of the city, whether it be bia hoi on the street, or a cocktail at Avalon.
If we were designing the four days, they would go something like this: day one in Old Quarter, with visits to the Women's Museum and Hoa Lu Prison; day two at the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum Complex, with a walk across Duong Thanh Nien, incorporating Quanh Thanh Temple and Tran Quoc Pagoda -- and around Truc Bach Lake; day three on a bicycle ride to the surrounding countryside; and day four on a street food or cooking tour. And plenty of relaxing with beer, coffee or massage.
Where to go, how long to stay there, where to go next, east or west, north or south? How long have you got? How long do you need? Itinerary planning can be almost as maddening as it is fun and here are some outlines to help you get started. Remember, don't over plan!
Burma lends itself to a short fast trip with frequent flights thrown in or a longer, slower trip where you don't leave the ground. There isn't much of a middle ground. Ground transport remains relatively slow, so be wary about trying to fit too much in.
Roughly apple-shaped, you'd think Cambodia would be ideal for circular routes, but the road network isn't really laid out that way. This means you'll most likely find yourself through some towns more than once, so work them into your plans.
How long have you got? That's not long enough. Really. You'd need a few lifetimes to do this sprawling archipelago justice. Be wary of trying to cover too much ground - the going in Indonesia can be slow.
North or south or both? Laos is relatively small and transport is getting better and better. Those visiting multiple countries can pass through here a few times making for some interesting trips.
The peninsula is easy, with affordable buses, trains and planes and relatively short distances. Sabah and Sarawak are also relatively easy to get around.The vast majority of visitors stick to the peninsula but Borneo is well worth the time and money to reach.
So much to see, so much to do. Thailand boasts some of the better public transport in the region so getting around can be fast and affordable. If time is limited, stick to one part of the country.
Long and thin, Vietnam looks straightforward, but the going is slow and the distances getting from A to B can really bite into a tight trip plan. If you're not on an open-ended trip, plan carefully.
This is where itinerary planning really becomes fun. Be sure to check up on our visa, border crossing and visa sections to make sure you're not trying to do the impossible. Also, remember you're planning a holiday -- not a military expedition.