My husband and I are going to Vietnam and Laos for the first time this coming February/early March for 19 days. We're flying into Hanoi , then plan to go to NW Vietnam, across the Tay Trang border crossing, then down the Nam Ou to Luang Prabang.
I've been trying to draw up an itinerary, but I have one floating day, and I'm wondering where to allot it. The options are: Hanoi, Sapa , or another day on the river/in river villages. Here's what I'm tentatively planning, in order:
1: First full day in Hanoi
2: Halong Bay, overnight
3: Halong Bay, back to Hanoi
4: Hanoi, night train to Sapa
7: Transit to Dien Bien Phu
8: Transit to Lao border, overnight? on the river somewhere
9: Nam Ou river villages
10: Nam Ou river villages
11: Nam Ou river villages -->not sure if it'd be better to overnight in a village or go onto LP.
12: Luang Prabang
13: Luang Prabang
14: Luang Prabang
15: Luang Prabang
16: Luang Prabang
17: Luang Prabang, fly back to Hanoi
18: Hanoi, late night departure
19: ~floating day~
Looks like a lot of LP, but might use that time to explore environs, so it wouldn't all necessarily be spent right in town.
I guess I'm kind of leaning toward giving Hanoi another day, but not if it means that I will be giving another destination less than fair attention. One thing I think I might like to fit in would be the Perfume Pagoda -- thoughts on that excursion?
We would be in Sapa Fri & Sat, according to this schedule, so we might want to go to the Can Cau market. Sapa itself gets such mixed reviews that I'm of two minds about how much time I want to spend there. Being a textile hound, I'm definitely looking for good quality items from the Hill Tribes. The Flower Hmong are definitely of interest to me, although my hometown has one of the largest Hmong populations in the U.S., so I see a lot of those textiles here (though it'll be much more exciting to see them on people in VN than on a hanger in the US). I would love to meet some people of other tribes, too, but I don't know whether it'd be better to trek in Sapa in February or do more exploring in Laos. Opinions on that?
I sound like a total crazy person here, so I am sincerely grateful if you even attempt to answer or provide an opinion.
I would consider either an extra night in Hanoi , or perhaps another night in Halong Bay. The 2 night trips to Halong Bay get you away from many of the other boats and give you a much more remote feel. We made the mistake of only spending 2 nights in Hanoi and yearned for more.
My understanding in Sapa is that much of the stuff sold by the ubiquitous Hmong salesladies is from China. We spoke to one lady tourist who had an interest in textiles, who had things specially made by the Hmong. From what I remember there was quite a price differential and she had to have it specially commissioned. Tread carefully and get advice on the ground.
Not sure which Nam Ou villages you plan on staying in. We stayed 3 nights in Nong Khiaw, which was great. That included a trek to 3 different tribal villages. I wished we'd had time to go further upstream, but went as a side trip from Luang Prabang, not overland from Vietnam. Don't rush that part too much - I'm sure it'll prove a highlight.
There is no question that you're not giving enough time to Hanoi - one, if not the most interesting city in the region. Book Hanoikids and you'll meet some of the nicest students in Asia while doing a tour.
I'm going to both Hanoi and Luang Prabang in another 2 weeks myself (4th time in Vietnam and first in Laos).
Yup, as a Hanoian resident I might be biased, but an extra day here would be a good start to your trip - just to chill, drink beer and wander. Halong - everyone says you get away from the other tourists on a two night trip but we didn't find that at all, so I think it depends on who you do the trip with. Some people think one night is enough, others disagree, so I can't really help on that one. Sapa - I love it, but unless you want to do lots of trekking a couple of days is fine.
Sapa to DBP is quite a tiring journey - when I was last there the road was horrific, but hopefully that will be a bit better by now. DBP to the border - there are daily buses to Muang Khua in Phongsali province at 05:30 or you can get a xe om. I can't advise on the Laos side.