I need help with our itinerary. My family is going to HCMC in January for 20 days. The children are aged 4 and 6 and are avid travellers. We are escaping the Scandinavian cold and would like to visit an island or a coastal area with beach, preferably one with snorkeling. We are also interested in history and minorities.
Here's the deal. We are looking at different options:
Going from HCMC to Siem Reap . Very expensive flights. Cheapest ones are $ 1100 for all of us. Is there an easy and SAFE way to go by train/bus etc.?
Would anyone recommend heading to the north of Vietnam in January? I am very keen on going to Sapa but will the area be of any interest for children aged 4 and 6? And what about the cold and the fog? We hate freezing :-)
The same question goes for Hanoi and Halong Bay. How cold? Is it better to try this part of the country another time?
Is there an easy way to get to Siem Reap or Phnom Phen from Phu Quoc Island?
I hope someone can help with answers.
#1 Junespice has been a member since 14/9/2012. Posts: 5
I don't have experience traveling with kids but will do my best here.
There are no trains to Siem Reap (or in Cambodia at all), so your only option other than flying would be a very long bus ride. It shouldn't be unsafe any more than anywhere else in the region but that's a slow, grueling ride during which even full grown adults have been known to act like 4 year-olds. :) No easy way from Phu Quoc unless you flew from there to HCMC then onwards to PP or Siem Reap, which would obviously be pricey... Personally, with just 20 days, I'd save Cambodia for another trip.
As for Vietnam, Phu Quoc is the "go-to" tropical island paradise... I've never been but it looks pretty sweet. I'm a big fan of Hoi An , which has a good beach along with a charming old town, lots of temples, friendly people and some good day trips, food and activities. Yes it's touristy but I think particularly for families and couples it's a really great place. That's my one "can't miss" place in Vietnam that I've been to before. For more history, you could hit Hue for its beautiful temples and tombs.
I went to Sapa , Hanoi and Ha Long Bay in early February a few years back and it was cloudy and drizzly much of the time, but I didn't mind. In Ha Long Bay, the fog makes for haunting scenery which is kind of nice in a way. I'd recommend overnighting on Cat Ba island if you go to Ha Long. Hanoi and Ha Long weren't cold; think I put on my sweatshirt at night but that was it.
In Sapa, it was extremely foggy but a walk up the easy to climb mountain in town took us up to a point where it was sunny but fog would roll in and out over the mountain slopes. That made for possibly the most stunning scenery I've ever seen in years of travel. A day trek into the hill tribe villages might be tough for the kids, but you can also do a lot by hiring a car and driver for the day, and even the villages right outside town are worth visiting. Again that area is so gorgeous, both for the traditional lifestyle of the locals and the country roads and paths running through mountain vistas covered in terraced rice paddies. Apart from a cell tower here and there it still feels like going back in time 200 years.
It's a solid 10 hour train ride to Sapa from Hanoi as I recall. It was cool there - sweatshirt weather - although it gets warm when the sun comes out. We had a nice room with a fireplace and balcony with mountain views so that was cozy (sorry, can't remember name of the guesthouse). You can also buy local shawls to stay warm if need be.
If you don't make it to Sapa, Da Lat could be a decent alternative. Nha Trang also has a good beach and is family friendly, but I felt Hoi An's beach was practically as good and overall Hoi An has much more to offer aside from nightlife. It's also cheap to fly to/from HCMC, Nha Trang, Da Nang (Hoi An), Hue and Hanoi with Jetstar (but wise to book early as they fill up), although some of those train rides are among the most scenic in the world.
Hope that helps,
What really scares me about January is not the cold so much as it's much too close to Tet. If you plan to be there towards the end of the month, you'll see prices spiral upward because of very heavy demand, and transport will be much harder to get. Tet is not until Feb 10th, but nevertheless thousands of Overseas Vietnamese return every year to their home country.
Weather is a total tossup - could be cold and could not be cold???
I agree with the previous post - 20 days is too short for both countries. Maybe think about Cambodia and Laos instead of Cambodia + VN. Vietnam is much larger, more difficult in many ways, and Laos and Cambodia are rather more similar in cost of travel. If you've never been to Luang Prabang, you've missed one of the nicest places in all of SE Asia (always hot there).
Thanks a lot for your mail. Very good, detailed information. A lot of good points I will take into consideration. Now my plan might be... HCMC (just 2 days - I don't know how interesting the town is?) - Hoi An (flight to Da Nang) - Hanoi - Halong Bay - Sapa or something closer to Hanoi - Phu Quoc - HCMC.
Is there a night train from Hanoi to Hoi An? And is it comfortable and clean? I am travelling with little ones :-)
Can you somehow find the name for the guesthouse in Sapa?
Thanks a lot for your help.
All the best,
#4 Junespice has been a member since 14/9/2012. Posts: 5
Thanks for your email. Great advice. No, we will not be too close to Tet. Our trip is from January 4th til 23rd. And I think we have decided to skip Angkor this time and wait with Cambodia and Laos til the girls are a bit older. Vietnam it is :-)
Thanks for your help.
#5 Junespice has been a member since 14/9/2012. Posts: 5
I think that you can do Vietnam and Cambodia with 20 days. It is not so hard for your kids.
In Hanoi : you can spend 2 days to visit the city
In Halong: 2 days 1 night or 3 days 2 nights
In Sapa: 2 days 1 night
In Hoian: nice city, fly from Hanoi to danang city and then taxi to Hoian: 4 days 3 nights
Ho chi minh city: 2 night 1 days to discovery the city and tunnels
Flight HCM to Phu quoc 4 days 3 nights to relax
From Phu Quoc Island, you can take the flight to Can Tho city, and driver to chau Doc, Overnigt in Chau Doc and take speed boat from Chau Doc to Phnompenh in the next morning.
From Phnompenh to Siem Reap , you can do it by speedboat or by car, or by bus. It will save your cost than flight. From Can Tho to Siem Reap around 4 days 3 nights. I think that is good enough.
#6 IsabelleMs has been a member since 17/9/2012. Posts: 2
Thank you for your reply. One more question: Halong Bay in January? Would you do it or rather spend time in the south?
And can you recommend a train service to Sapa?
I appreciate your help.
#7 Junespice has been a member since 14/9/2012. Posts: 5
Oh, and Phu Quoc.... is it fun for kids? Or should we pick some other island or beach town?
#8 Junespice has been a member since 14/9/2012. Posts: 5
don't miss Halong bay when you visit Vietnam. It is very beautiful.
Train to Lao Cai: a lot of train. Best one: Victoria train for Guest stays in Victoria hotel only, very expensive. Good one: King Express, Livitrain, Fansifan.., Normal: Orient Express, Green Train,...All tourist train is overnight train. 1 hour from LAo Cai to Sapa by bus.
Phu quoc Island: in january, it may have a lot of wind. Phu Quoc for beach relax only, or snorkling if the weather is good.
Some beach city: Nhatrang (crowded) Muine (quite), or just relax in Hoian Beach, nice, clean, quite. only 4 km from Hoian old town to the beach.
Hope that help
#9 IsabelleMs has been a member since 17/9/2012. Posts: 2
Just returned from a month with our 3 kids, (6, 8 and 10), and here are some sort of random thoughts.
You might look at Kep , on the Cambodian coast, where you can stay at Kep Lodge and take a boat out to Rabbit Island for the beach. From Kep it's a short bus ride to Phnom Penh. The border's a bit dodgy but crossing the Mekong is interesting, and internal, short flights would shorten the trip. Kep might be a substitute for Phu Quoc, although Phu Quoc is a short plane ride from HCM.
Hoi An offers both the history of the town and good resorts along the beach, a short cab ride away. Makes for a convenient base.
I personally thought Halong Bay was really touristy, but it is beautiful and my kids enjoyed the boat.
You'd probably be better off choosing either Sapa/Halong Bay/Hanoi, or staying in the south and doing Cambodia, with the option of running up the coast of Vietnam on an overnight train or flight.
You can't go wrong, really; it's a great place to travel with kids
#10 tmooretmoore has been a member since 30/8/2011. Posts: 1