I have received conflicting information about the difficulties of booking in high season Dec/Jan...some say no problems other say book ahead. So here are my specific questions:
1. We are arriving in Hanoi on Dec. 11. Is it realistic to expect to book an overnighter in Halong and a train trip to Sapa (for 4) leaving in the next 4 or so days? Should be book these trips from home?
2. We would like to fly from Hanoi to Hue on Dec. 20...will booking (for 4) when we arrive Dec.11 be too late? If so, how do we book this flight from Canada (it didn't seem possible on Vietnam airline website) and will it be more expensive?
3. Similar question regarding a flight to/from HCMC to Phu Quoc in early January (we would like to take ferry and visit Mekong in one direction...and fly back or vice versa)
Thank you for any advice.
#1 soccertaxi has been a member since 26/10/2007. Posts: 9
In response to 2 above
Dont know about the flight but arrived in Hue today ourselves after getting the night train from Hanoi, leaves at 7pm i think and 11pm which we got. Price was $33each for a bed in a 4 bedroom room. Arrived in Hue at 10:45am. We were talking to another couple here who got the bus for $8each and they were able to sleep full lenght on it.
Dont know if this info is any use to you.
#2 ionaman has been a member since 21/10/2007. Posts: 12
When we where in Hanoi 2 years ago (december), we tried to have a train tickets (sleeping compartiment) but all was full. We won't to go by bus because the bus from Hanoi to Hue is driving in the night. So, we booked a fly by Vietnam Airlines in town for a little bit more than the cost of the train. In fact we booked a flight from Hanoi to Hue, than from Hue to Natrang and from there to Saigon. 3 flights for 2 people : 300 Euro.
#3 sdeb has been a member since 29/10/2007. Posts: 1
U have about 1 and half month (neither long or short) prior to ur departure. If I were U, I would book ur tour at home via Internet. Because, I like everything in order and don't want to waste my time in vacation just for searching a travel agent to book.
However, I could re-question U that if U find a reliant travel agent to book. Vacation is time to relax, not to deal with a problem. U had better search on Internet about some travel agent to book.
#4 manooe has been a member since 12/9/2007. Posts: 34
We did a very similar trip in the same months of 2005/6. We used the services of a travel agent associated with the hotel we stayed in Hanoi. The travel agent had no problem booking at short notice a train to/from Sapa, a flight from Hanoi to Hue, and trip to Halong with dropoff at airport for flight to Hue.
Similarly, we used a travel agent in HCMC for ferry to Phu Quoc (breaking from trip of Mekong Delta) and flight back to HCMC.
Vietnam is a very service-oriented economy. The commissions charged by these travel agents are trivial (10% or so). The convenience is worth it.
#5 srsdj has been a member since 30/10/2007. Posts: 8
Not withstanding the warm feelings SRSDJ has for Ha Noi travel agents he was undoubtedly overcharged. 10% commission sounds OK but likely he paid several 19% to each of a chain of travel agents.
Here is what I suggest:
Pre-book your Ha Noi hotel AND Ha Long Cruise before you arrive in Ha Noi.
There are two good cruise companies that both OWN boats and SELL direct to passengers: Emeraude and < www.tropical-sails.com >.
Assume that you book your hotel and cruise from your home country, on arrival you check in to your hotel, confirm your cruise ESPECIALLY YOUR TIME OF RETURN then raid an ATM and head on over to 120 La Duan (1 kilometre from Hoan Kiem Lake) and buy your own ticket from the rail station. This ticket purchase is BEFORE you leave for Ha Long Bay.
YOU WANT TO LEAVE FOR LAO CAI ON THE EVENING ON THE DAY YOU RETURN FROM HLB.
RAIL: HA NOI - LAO CAI
The Ha Noi-Lao Cai tourist trains run nightly, departing from Ha Noi Train Station B (behind 120 Le Duan Street). The following trains from Ha Noi to Lao Cai (SP1, LC1, LC3; AM: LC5) and from Lao Cai to Ha Noi (PM: SP2, LC2, LC4; AM: LC 6) daily. The daytime trainsets offer only hard seats, whereas Travellers enjoy soft-sleepers, Air-conditioned, four-berth cabins on the night trains.
Victoria Express train is the best in terms of comfort and services from Ha Noi to Lao Cai, Victoria Hotel’s "Orient Express" train offers one restaurant and two luxury sleeping carriages, all with air-conditioning. This is part of the normal run (LC5 and LC6) between Ha Noi and Lao Cai.
Tulico train offers comfortable, air-conditioned soft sleepers. While this is not a luxurious train, it offers good alternative transportation to Sa Pa from Ha Noi. It has soft sleepers, A/C and four-berth cabins. You are provided with one bottle of water, a small snack and a napkin.
In the LC5 and LC 6, there are Victoria Cabins, Tulico Cabins, Friendly Cabins, and Ratraco Cabins. All of these are alternatives for Travellers to Sa Pa from Ha Noi. Ratraco train is one of the best trains to Sa Pa with wooden cabins.
Friendly train, like the Tulico train, is not a separate train, but offers soft sleepers, A/C and clean four-berth cabins in 2 carriages which go with local trains (LC5 and LC6) between Ha Noi and Lao Cai. . You are provided with one bottle of water, a small snack and a napkin.
To serve tourist requirements, the Royal Train is also part of a regular train with 2 carriages in SP1 and SP2 which offers A/ C, soft-sleepers and clean four-berth cabins.
LAO CAI – SA PA TRANSFER
The Ha Noi - Lao Cai train stops at Lao Cai Station, some 40 kilometres from Sa Pa and stops at Sa Pa's main Post Office (Buu Dien). Each way cost about VND25,000-30,000.
The tourist bus back to Lao Cai leaves from outside Sa Pa's church, but it usually will pick you up at your hotel - inquire with the hotel staff for getting a bus ticket back to Lao Cai Station.
Class of Service / Fare
[AC soft sleeper - 4 berths] _ USD$21
[AC soft sleeper - 4 berths] _ USD$21
[AC soft sleeper - 4 berths] _ USD$23
[AC soft sleeper - 2 berths – 1 cabin only] _ USD$50
[First class with wooden cabin- 4 berths] _ USD$25
[Second class cabin - 4 berths] _ USD$21
Fares: As of 2006JAN01
(Sources: VirtuallyThere.ca/VietNam and Duong Sat)
The benefit for buying tickets at the station is that you have a wider range of tickets (they hold tickets back from travel agents) from which to make a choice and if one class is not available you can decide on the spot what you want to do.
You then go on your cruise knowing that you rail travel is assured.
NOTE: Trains leave DEAD ON TIME - always arrive about 30 minutes before departure so you can sort out any problems you have with accommodation.
SA PA GUIDES
Some guides are SO or TUNG (a Black H'Mong) located through Sa Pa Goldsea Hotel, < firstname.lastname@example.org >, 58 Fanxipan Road, Tel: 84-(0)-20-872-180 / 84-(0)-20-871-869. E-m:email@example.com.
Villages worth visiting are Cat Cat, GiangTaChai, TaPhin, YLinhHo, HauThao, SuPan (easily the most beautiful village in Sapa area).
Another excellent guide is "Thanh-Sa Pa" < firstname.lastname@example.org >, guiding for over 6 years and has good English. An enterprising guy, he has a tour that includes night 1 in Tavan, Dzay People, night 2 in Seo Trung Ho, Red Dzao, night 3 Ban Ho, Tay People, night 4,5 in Sa Pa, day 6 is for the Montagnard market.
At the Mountain View Hotel there is a Mrs. Hong there who runs a guide service. Many of them are female and young but are very experienced in showing visitors around. For Mount PhanXiPan climbers she has a man named Chang - he is strong enough to assist the weary climbers. Always ask for the long route to the top - the short one is too steep.
But on ALL accounts avoid guides from the Victoria! (expensive - and the Victoria Hotel itself - aging).
Note: You MUST employ a guide if you climb Mount FanSiPan as ONLY they can obtain the required climbing permit from the police. Do NOT worry if the guide appears young, or female, as they all have excellent guiding skills and are likely stronger than you!
And ALL your money helps the locals rather than enriching some cowboy travel agent in Ha Noi.
There is regular Sunday bus to Bac Ha from Sa Pa but you can get there by local bus from Lao Cai. There are over 600 hotel rooms of all types in Bac Ha - just make sure you are not too near a street loudspeaker as the chair of the Lao Cai Peoples Committee believes in only setting the volume at high!
Remember Friday and Saturday rates for hotels, etc are higher than the rest of the week. Book your rail reservation at least two days ahead at 120 La Duane - and avoid Ha Noi agent markups and the chance of a different class of service.
An honest HCMC tour operator is Joe VU - he has an office at 2 Nguyen Hue - but he can be more easily reached via e-mail at < JoePhanVu@gmail.com >. Known him for 20 years and he has never let me down.
#6 CatBa2 has been a member since 6/11/2007. Posts: 53
Booking air after your arrival will be fine - just make sure you buy the tickets direct from either VietNam Airlines or Pacific Airlines offices which are located in every city they serve.
Remember, Ha Noi travel agents have a well earned reputation for scamming travellers - even a certain 'white' owned agency.
Rail travel usually requires a minimum of 2 days advance booking and is useful for Ha Noi >> Sa Pa; Ha Noi >> Hue and Da Nang (for Hoi An) >> Nha Trang which are all overnight journeys - going by soft-sleeper gets you a nights sleep and saves hotel money.
Hue >> Hoi An; Nha Trang >> Da Lat or Nha Trang >> Mui Ne; Da Lat >> HCMC or Mui Ne >> HCMC are best using the OpenTour bus.
ONLY SINH CAFE use mechanically fit buses, all others just have good paint jobs. An Phu, Vung Thanh, Hanh Cafe are well known for ripping you off financially.
OT buses require prior day reservations.
#7 CatBa2 has been a member since 6/11/2007. Posts: 53