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Vietnam forum

Northern Vietnam & Northern Laos vs. Southern Vietnam and Southeast Cambodia

Posted by ccalvin09 on 16/3/2011 at 04:47

Myself (extremely weathered traveler) and my husband (newish traveler) are planning a 13-day trip to Vietnam and are torn between concentrating on the north vs. the south.

I REALLY want to get into Sapa and beyond, Luang Prabang and Vientiane , but I am particularly concerned about the amount of time it takes to get from one point to the next via ground transport. I don't think we can afford to fly into Laos. However, this trip looks right up our alley — a few city days in a Hanoi and Ha Long Bay, then quiet/cultural days up north, then Pak Ou caves and river play time. If we want to travel at a moderate pace, enjoying occasional stops along the way — I'm not going to push to get from LP to Vientiane in one day, for example — is this itinerary best saved for a different trip with more time?

The alternative is to do southern Vietnam and Cambodia, but I am wondering what the major draws to southeastern Cambodia are aside from Phnom Penh. I'm not big on staying in cities for more than two or three days. We did Angkor Wat as part of our honeymoon trip last year, so we will not need to include it again in this trip. Is there an itinerary in this region that would provide a similar variety as the northern trip listed above? Is south-central Vietnam into southern Laos worth the time?

I am salivating over Laos, it just seems so difficult to navigate on the short time frame we have to work with. My husband, meanwhile, is in love with Cambodia. So for us, I think this comes down to relative ease of travel between destinations.

Choices, choices. Thoughts? Thanks!

#1 ccalvin09 has been a member since 27/8/2009. Posts: 20

Posted by caseyprich on 16/3/2011 at 09:05

13 days isn't much time to see Northern Vietnam and Northern Laos. Is there a reason you're trying to see two countries instead of just concentrating on Vietnam? You could easily spend all 13 days there. A few days in Hanoi , a few days on Halong Bay, a few days up in the north around Sapa. Then you can head down to Hoi An and the Central Highlands for a little while.

If you want to do an internal flight you could do the North, then fly down to HCMC and take a few days around the delta before rushing overland back up to Hanoi - stopping in Hoi An on the way back up to the north. Internal flights in Vietnam are really not that expensive. Even that might be a stretch.

#2 caseyprich has been a member since 3/3/2010. Location: China. Posts: 1,281
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Posted by ccalvin09 on 16/3/2011 at 12:08

Well, I suppose it's not really about hitting two countries, but about hitting three or four great spots during our stay. I was hoping Luang Prabang could be one of them, but Laos obviously offers its own set of technical difficulties. And that's OK; perhaps it needs to be it's own trip. On our last trip we did Bangkok, Phuket and Siem Reap, and the timing and variety was just about right.

We only get one two-week trip a year. It could be years before we get a three-week opportunity. In other parts of the world (Europe, Central America), that can be a pretty comfy amount of time. Obviously, India/Asia/SEA are different.

So now it's just about determining (like everyone else, of course) how to make the most of the few destinations we choose.

#3 ccalvin09 has been a member since 27/8/2009. Posts: 20

Posted by caseyprich on 16/3/2011 at 14:49

Luang Prabang is very nice - you can get there on a 24 hour bus ride from Hanoi -- but then you've also got a 24 hour bus ride back to Hanoi at some point - or entering back into Vietnam somewhere south, like Savannakhet . To get to LP you'd pass Nong Kiaow which is a very nice place to stop for a night or two. Then you'd want a few days in LP, if you pass Vang Vieng up and go right to Vientinne you'd want to spend at least two nights there, probably three if you're there. On the way down to Savannakhet is Tha Khaek - there is a nice cave a day trip from there, I haven't been but people say its very nice. So - you could skip back into Vietnam there, that'd put you near Da Nang/Hue, close to Hoi An. However, Tha Khaek is another big bus ride from Vientinne, which is a big bus ride from LP. Totally up those is something like 8 days minimum - which doesn't leave you much room to enjoy Vietnam.

In the end, you could drop Nong Kiaow and fly - but you're worried about the cost - and you'll also have to get a double-entry visa to Vietnam (and a lot of time on buses)

I personally love Laos - and think you should give it a full trip - not try to squeeze it in with Vietnam. It'd be better to fly into BKK sometime and head straight to Laos for all the time you can on some future occasion. Why not just enjoy all the variety that Vietnam has to offer - you can find plenty to fill up 2 weeks.

#4 caseyprich has been a member since 3/3/2010. Location: China. Posts: 1,281
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Posted by ccalvin09 on 17/3/2011 at 05:41

Casey, did you ever have the chance to read this thread?

What are your thoughts? I spent eight weeks in India a few years back, and the scamming, lying, cheating and thieving about did me in. It's just so exhausting. Once we were far out into the tribal lands of the Himalaya, it was 100 percent better, and we loved every minute. We experienced very little hassle in Cambodia, and what we did experience was a good thing for my husband because he is a new traveler and needed to learn how to handle those situations.

Seems to me that if I am weighing Laos vs Vietnam, what I am really weighing is slow, difficult travel and transport vs. frustrating human interactions. Is that an unfair conclusion? I'm wondering if it would be an easier transition/build up for my husband to do Laos before he moves on to a more difficult Vietnam?

#5 ccalvin09 has been a member since 27/8/2009. Posts: 20

Posted by swag on 17/3/2011 at 06:14

Hi imho if you just have 13 days and don't want to fly, I would make a choice between the two.For ease of travel time wise Nth/Central Vietnam might be easier,but I'm sure you could have a great trip for time just in Nth Laos.In regard to the link to the article about return rates, I made a contribution to thread.As I said there there were a lot of great things I enjoyed just not some downright rudeness/aggressiveness/overcharging etc.I don't think that should stop you but if your husbands a new traveller that might tip you to Nth Laos and see Vietnam as a slightly more seasoned traveller.Hope that little ramble makes some sense.

#6 swag has been a member since 28/3/2007. Location: Australia. Posts: 331
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Posted by caseyprich on 17/3/2011 at 08:11

I've not been to the North - only spent roughly two weeks in the South - primarily Phu Quoc Island, Can Tho & Delta, and HCMC. We were also there during preparations for Tet and the festival - so people may have been in a better mood - 'the happiest time of the year' as they say.

However, I had nothing but positive experience with people in Southern Vietnam. There was 'a lot' of hustle and bustle of bikes and cars yes - and not the clearest of explanation at the Can Tho ferry by our minibus driver - and the constant scams of the taxi drivers . . . but I've come to expect overpriced lifts and unclear directions from my travels in SE Asia.

I think Thailand has a nigher return rate if you count people going there for a beach or a shag - who get the party on and really have less/little interest in culture or even hiking. Many of the people who return to Thailand also do so as a part of further afield exploration into Laos or Cambodia. Of course, that doesn't account for the low rate in Vietnam, except to say most people fly threw BKK - and if they do have the money to return to SE Asia after a first trip, will likely go through Thailand and not Vietnam each time.

I currently live in China where the rudness is tossed off by many travelers as 'culture', when in fact it is just an outright selfishness and lack of manners. It's easier for travelers to put up with a bump as you get on the bus or a sixty year old lady hitting you with a motorbike while walking down the sidewalk, it actually annoys you a lot more when you live there. So, getting away from Shanghai and into Vietnam I found it very relaxing - but that may be a comparative thing. It certainly has a faster pace than most of SE Asia - but the people were more mellow and polite then you get in your average Chinese city.

If I was going with a first time traveler to SE Asia - as I just recently did - I chose Laos, because it is so laid back and different than China, while there is some comparison to life in the big cities of Vietnam. I however agree with swag that the roads and long bus rides are of Northern Laos are an acquired taste and it might be better to warm up with some tout dodging in Vietnam.

Yep, no clear answer there.

#7 caseyprich has been a member since 3/3/2010. Location: China. Posts: 1,281
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