I have five weeks to spend in Vietnam and Laos between November 19th and December 26th. Still not sure which I'll be visiting first, how much time I'll be spending in each country and if I'll be doing Vietnam north to south or vice versa. My trip will start and end in Bangkok. I can afford to spend up to USD 100 on flights within Vietnam itself but don't mind overnight train rides. Would like to limit bus trips to a maximum of 6hrs each.
My rough itinerary for Vietnam is very similar to everyone else's and looks like this:
Hanoi - 3 nights
Sapa - 3 nights
Halong Bay - 2 nights
Ninh Binh- 1 night
Hue - 2 nights
Hoi An (via Da Nang) - 2 nights
Da Lat - 1 night
Ho Chi Minh City - 3 nights
Mekong Delta - 2 nights
That's a total of 19 nights and I intend to spend 21-25 nights in Vietnam. Wouldn't mind leaving a couple of days unplanned so that I can stay longer at a place if I like it.
I'd like some opinions especially on whether I should drop certain places due to the possibility of bad weather. Is it sensible to visit Mui Ne at that time of year?
My main interests are: trekking, scenery, boat trips, cuisine and some history. Not big on museums and temples.
Would appreciate some feedback.
My initial thought was that you are sqeezing in too many places and not spending enough time in any. Then I saw that you had another 3-6 nights up your sleeve. Don't forget the you essentially lose a good part of a day each time you move to a new destination. An alternative is to take overnight busses/trains - but they can take it out of you as you most likely won't get a decent sleep.
Personally, I would plan to spend more time in Hoi An - more like 4 nights. Hoi An is not just about the town itself- there are some nice day trip opps too. For example, hire a bike and head up to Danang, stopping along China Beach for a great on-the-beach seafood splurge with the locals. There is also a nice beach not from from Hoi An if you want a bit of beach time (and then not worry about stopping in Mui Ne). Hire a bicycle and explore the outer areas of Hoi An. It's a lovely heritage town and I think you would be disappointed with only having 2 nights.
Consider flying Hanoi - Hue. It's something like a 14 hour bus ride by memory - but only an hour by plane. I think I heard the scenery isn't that spectacular along this route as well, so that's another incentive to fly. Check out Vietnam Airlines website for pricing. We just booked online a day or two ahead of time. There will be some other flight opportunities that you may want to consider, too but it depends on what you leave in/take out.
For some reason, I really enjoyed Dalat. Not many rate it too highly. I think for me it's because it is was the first place that we were able to just wander around in peace without being approached every 2 mins to buy something. It's a nice little town, but for one night, it may not be worth the effort to get there.
Consider having three nights in Hue: this would allow you to spend one day to visit the Citadel and various temples, etc and another day to do a daytrip up to the tunnels (definitely worth it!). If you don't want to drive a bike yourself, you can hire guys to take you there.
In summary - it's an OK itinerary, but I'm a big believer in spending at least 3 nights in a place to give you time to see the town, to organise day trips doing the standard sight-seeing stuff and to just enjoy things at a slightly more relaxed pace without having to pack up every other day.
(Sorry - I just re-read your budget constraints after typing the above. I'll leave my comments re: flying anyhow as I think they are worth considering. You also say that you don't want long bus rides - but in Vietnam, it's usually one or the other!)
Also - if you haven't already, check out the itinerary planners on this site. Scroll down to the bottom to get an overview of travel times between destinations. https://www.travelfish.org/trip_planner/vietnam-hanoi-to-saigon
Hope this helpds.
Thanks a million for your feedback. You've been very helpful.
I wouldn't mind spending a day or two at the beach but I've been told that November/December isn't the right time to do this in central Vietnam because of the typhoons. I also considered going to Phu Quoc but found out it's more of a couples' destination and I'd probably get bored on my own.
What's the main attraction in Da Nang? I intend to go there by train to get to Hoi An but wasn't planning on staying.
There's no way I'm doing Hanoi > Hue by bus. If I don't find affordable flights I'll take the sleeper train.
Is it not worth stopping in Dalat to break the Hoi An > HCMC trip?
I was in Vietnam in December - and would have quite happily have spent time at a beach in Hoi An - but it just didn't happen due to doing to many other things. I did spend a couple of days at Nha Trang and got a swim or two in there. (But personally, given your limited time, I woudn't recommend Nha Trang - it was OK, but not great).
In terms of Danang, I don't think there is too much there although others may disagree/correct this statement. Most people just head straight to Hoi An, about 20-30mins away. I see there is another discussion going about how to get from Danang to Hoi An so maybe check that out. I went through Danang briefly on an exploration and nothing really grabbed me there.
Yes, you are right about Dalat breaking up the trip. But an alternative is to consider flying Hoi An (Danang) to HCMC and make more use of your time in Hoi An and/or Mekong Delta area. If budget doesn't allow it, then yes, stop in Dalat. But if you are there only one night, you won't see much - pretty much going from bus - hotel - bus in the morning I would imagine, with a couple of hours to wander around the town at night. Unless you stayed in Dalat and made use of that time there (ie 2 nights), personally I would tend to just get the flight!
I agree with the suggestion of skipping Dalat - I'd move that day to Hoi An. The scenery around Dalat is great but you'll see better around Sapa and you'd need more time there if you wanted to do an Easy Rider tour (in my opinion the only thing that makes Dalat worth the trip).
As for Hue - it's a decent city but I think 3 nights is too much when you're on this tight schedule. The tunnels are really interesting but it's a long drive - I haven't been to Cu Chi Tunnels near HCMC but going there instead might be a better use of your time if you're interested in that side of things. I'm not sure how they compare though.
Maybe get the train to Hue and then fly from Danang to HCMC. So a mix of cost saving and time saving. If you're happy to fly Jetstar the flights are cheaper than trains on that route anyway.
OK so Dalat is out. I've added a night each to Hue, Hoi An and Mekong Delta and the total is now up to 21 nights.
Should I explore the Mekong Delta by organised cruise or travel by land? I've read that staying on land gives you the option to see less visited places but I don't know what sort of accommodation options would be available.
Any suggestions as to whether I should go North to South or vice versa? I basically have two routes to choose from:
1. BKK > HCMC > Hanoi > Laos > BKK
2. BKK > Laos > Hanoi > HCMC > BKK