Ok, after a medical delay, our honeymoon plans are back on for December. We will only have 10 days and want to spend the majority in/around Luang Prabang (and maybe Nong Kiau). That said, we are flying in and out of Hanoi, and want to spend some time exploring. Would three days be enough? We will save Halong Bay for another trip. Thanks...
I'm still a wee bit confused. Do you mean you have ten days for the whole trip, including flying to/from Viet Nam, or ten days on the ground?
In any case, three days in Ha Noi will be fine. Temple of Literature, Fine Arts Museum (if you care for that), the Ethnology Museum, go see Uncle Ho if you want, the One Pillar Pagoda, etc. Wander the Old Quarter, and the French Quarter. Linger over coffee or some other beverage at Highland Coffee, overlooking a small plaza at the north end of Hoan Kiem Lake, and marvel at the ability of Hanoians (and all Vietnamese, for that matter) to navigate the city almost without mishaps. Oh, and the Jade Temple/Pagoda, on a small island in Hoan Kiem.
As for Luang Prabang - which I like very much, but others here will have differing opinions - if you have five full days, after travel times, that will be quite good. Probably not enough time to go upriver to Nong Khiaw, but other daytrips out from LP nonetheless.
Spot on about leaving Ha Long Bay for another trip.
Have a marvelous time, and congratulations on your upcoming nuptials!
Thanks so much for your reply--and your congratulations (though we were married last year and now have a one-year-old!). Tickets aren't purchased yet, but we're hoping to take a red eye from San Francisco and have 10 full days on the ground. I appreciate your feedback and suggestions!
Ah, a delayed honeymoon. Great fun, whenever you do it.
Ten days there will be good. The first three days in Ha Noi. Day 1 will spent getting used to the place ... and the pace. Much has been written here and elsewhere about traffic and street crossing in Ha Noi. I was sceptical before I went the first time, but found it to be true: look for a little break in the flow and just step off the curb; look resolutely ahead and not at the on-coming scooters and cars. The first couple of times, it might help to cross "downstream" from an elderly local person.
I highly recommend the Ethnology Museum in Ha Noi. Not walking distance; a taxi is required. But it's a great overview of the ethnic mosaic that inhabits Viet Nam.
We've stayed in a couple of different places in Ha Noi, and of the lot preferred Ha Noi Elegance 1, in Hang Bac Street - now, sadly, closed. However, the same people still operate the Elegance 2, at No 85 Ma May Street, just around the corner from the Elegance 1. Good location, in the Old Quarter, a few blocks north of Hoan Kiem Lake.
For dinner one night, I would suggest the Green Tangerine, on Hang Be Street, due south of the locaion of Elegance 1 noted above. They have a website: http://greentangerinehanoi.com/en.html . It's not "authentic Vietnamese", but sort of French-Vietnamese Fusion, if you will. Still, the place is quite romantic and the food & wine excellent. Have your hotel make a reservation for you.
It's about an hour and a half flight to Luang Prabang from Ha Noi, so you'll have some of that day in LP. That could mean days 4-9 there (six days, including the day you fly there). There are two or three beautiful waterfalls nearby; the Tam Ting (Pak Ou) caves, up the Mekong; you can cross the river on a ferry and hike through the small villages and wats on the west side of the river; an elephant camp is neaby, also. Just relaxing and wandering the old part of town is delightful.
Luang Prabang itself is beautiful. The many wats and mix of Lao and colonial-era architecture. The National Museum/Royal Palace is interesting. Wandering the streets and alleyways. Several open-air restaurants line the road that overlooks the Mekong. Across the Nam Khan River is a restaurant called Dyan Sabai, or something like that. Looks back towards town, and is quite a beautiful setting, especially at night (romantic). During dry season, there's a bamboo bridge crossing the Nam Khan, near the restaurant. Otherwise, you can go via tuk-tuk.
The night market is always entertaining. At the south end of it (towards the Post Office) are some local booths and food stands. Also at that end of the market, in a narrow side street or alleyway, is a set of locally-oriented food stalls. Cheap and quite good (just make sure what you get is completely cooked).
We stayed at Villa Laodeum. It's on a quiet corner, across a side street from the Royal Palace. At the time it was $35 for a double, but is now at $40. You can spend less, of course, both here and in Ha Noi. The Laodeum was charming, though, and locally owned. The owner, Sayvanh, is a very nice fellow, and can arrange tickets for the boat to Tam Ting, etc. One thing we liked about the Laodeum is that it is not in the middle of the main tourist scrum, particularly as regards tak bat, the morning ritual of monks going around to receive food offerings (mainly from local women). Do read all the things posted here and on other websites about this - and what not to do (flash photos in monks's faces, buying food from sellers specifically to give to the monks, etc.)
Oh, one other thing to keep in mind: when flying into Ha Noi, arrange with your hotel to have someone pick you up at Noi Bai Airport. Scams abound there, so it's best to pay your hotel for the pick-up. Someone will be waiting with a sign bearing your name. Much easier that way your first time through the place. It's not a huge airport, but you'll be tired, etc. Speaking of which, and you probably already know this, but you will have to have a visa, or have a visa arranged (the so-called "Visa on Arrival"), prior to arriving in Viet Nam. A Lao visa can be obtained on arrival at Luang Prabang airport (bring a couple of passport photos with you).
Depending upon when your return flight is, you will still have part or most of day 10 back in Ha Noi, after flying up from LP.
One last thing... By the north side gate into the Royal Palace grounds in LP is a little stand that sells iced Lao coffee. Poured over ice in a plastic bag. Looks odd; tastes great.
I say Hanoi needs more like 4+ days. I'm coming in late Nov to both Hanoi and Luang Prabang. Suggest you buy those tickets ASAP - high season = high demand. I bought air tix back in April and now those same cheap tix are gone. I bought SEA-HAN-SEA for $841./Asiana and HAN-LPQ-HAN for $312./Vietnam
Wow, thanks for the tremendously helpful replies.
Archangel: Thanks so much for the tips and suggestions--you've painted such a lovely picture, I don't know how I'll concentrate for the next five months! And many thanks for the airport pick-up and visa info; I know this stuff is in the guidebooks, which I've been sifting through, but it helps to have an experienced traveler sum things up. We're planning to stay at one of the Hanoi Elegance hotels and a friend recommended Villa Saykham in LP, but I will look into Laodeum as well. I had read about Green Tangerine online , in case anyone else is interested) and it sounds great, but nowhere could I read about the iced coffee stand in LP. Again, thanks!
Daawgon: Yikes. I had noticed this on Kayak, etc. We will get on this this week...hope you have a wonderful trip!
I agree with Daawgon ... don't wait too long to get your tickets. Keep an eye on fares between HAN and LPQ also. They don't fluctuate as much, but still a good ideas.
As to how many days and where, do a lot of research and decide for yourself. Some people couldn't stand two days in Luang Prabang, much less six. Same with Ha Noi. It depends upon what you like to do and see, et cetera. I love Ha Noi, but it is a large, noisy, kinetic city. Which is part of what gives it life and makes it intriguing ... and the polar opposite of Luang Prabang. Well, almost polar opposite. I guess Manhattan is more like the direct opposite of LP.
Oh, and thanks for the angelic appellation. I'm just a Michael, though, not an angel. Ask anyone........