Photo: Canals of Ca Mau, Mekong Delta.

Vietnam forum

critique my 3 week itinerary please

Posted by smash on 21/6/2009 at 12:15

hi all

in the early planning stages of a trip around SE Asia. pretty restricted time wise so just working out the details now to fit in. first part of itinerary (nth) is quite hectic...

day 1 - fly into Hanoi from Hong Kong
day 2 - hanoi
day 3 - overnight train to sapa
day 4 - sapa
day 5 - overnight train to hanoi
day 6 - straight out to an overnight halong bay tour
day 7 - hanoi
day 8 - hue
day 9 - hue
day 10 - hue
day 11 - hoi an
day 12 - hoi an
day 13 - hoi an
day 14 - nha trang
day 15 - nha trang
day 16 - dalat
day 17 - dalat
day 18 - HCMC
day 19 - HCMC
day 20 - HCMC
day 21 - first night in Mekong
day 22 - second night in Mekong (with easy access to Camboida border)
day 23 - cross into southern cambodia via Prek Chak / Xa Xia crossing and find somewhere to chill for three days

if anyone has some thoughts/advice on this itinerary, that'd be really great thanks. I may need to steal a day from Vietnam to give to Laos - if this is needed, where would you cull time from?? who would have thought trying to squash Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos into a six-week itinerary was so difficult. ;o)

thanks in advance!

#1 smash has been a member since 21/6/2009. Posts: 162

Posted by BruceMoon on 22/6/2009 at 10:49


Far too far, and far too fast.

Sapa in an overnight train (to/from). INHO, one day there is a waste of time!! It appears you haven't looked at BacHa?

From the itinerary, you are ON the well trodden tourist trail. Is your reason for Vietnam to party? Or something else?

That, I suggest would assist in making some further ideas.

Your comment "who would have thought trying to squash Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos into a six-week itinerary was so difficult" says it all. Forget one country.


#2 BruceMoon has been a member since 27/12/2008. Location: Australia. Posts: 1,941

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Posted by somtam2000 on 22/6/2009 at 12:01 admin

I'd drop Da Lat and perhaps Nha Trang and look at doing dome internal flights - eg Hanoi to Hue or Da Nang to save time. Your northern section for Hanoi Ha Long Bay and Sapa is very very congested.

#3 somtam2000 has been a member since 21/1/2004. Location: Indonesia. Posts: 7,938
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Posted by smash on 22/6/2009 at 12:25

Thanks again BruceMoon & somtam2000 - really appreciate your feedback. have been doing lots of research myself but I love getting some 'expert' advice!

i've decided to swap around Halong Bay and Sapa. so revised will look...

day 1 - fly into Hanoi from Hong Kong
day 2 - hanoi
day 3 - overnight halong bay
day 4 - overnight halong bay
day 5 - overnight train to sapa
day 6 - sapa
day 7 - overnight train to hanoi
day 8 - hanoi
day 9 - hue
day 10 - hue
day 11 - hoi an
day 12 - hoi an
day 13 - hoi an
day 14 - nha trang
day 15 - dalat
day 16 - dalat
day 17 - HCMC
day 18 - HCMC
day 19 - HCMC
day 20 - first night in Mekong
day 21 - second night in Mekong (with easy access to Camboida border)
day 22 - cross into southern cambodia for two nights in kep

i've stolen a night so can add it back in. have a few spare days up our sleeves so would love to slow this down a bit - can add say two/three nights to this.

i KNOW it is rushed and i would prefer not to do it like this, but we're on a trip from China->Vietnam->Cambodia->Laos->Thailand in not a huge amount of time and having already done the rest of SE Asia (and northern Thailand twice before) this will probably be the last time we bother doing much in the region so hence me wanting to tick the boxes so to speak. Not ideal or preferred i know, but sometimes just have to do what you have to do!

appreciate the continued advice.

#4 smash has been a member since 21/6/2009. Posts: 162

Posted by smash on 22/6/2009 at 12:31

Also, will be doing this trip over April/May. Working things out now as have had to lock in some flights and a China tour which I won. we'll arrive Hanoi April 10 and then need to depart Laos for Ko Pang Nga no later than about May 26/27.


#5 smash has been a member since 21/6/2009. Posts: 162

Posted by BruceMoon on 22/6/2009 at 14:03


I'm now inclined to suggest an alternative itinerary.

Somtam has suggested the air discovery pass, I agree, and suggest you use it to best advantage.

I won't address the other posts. I'll do it all here.

Arrive Hanoi, a couple of days.

Go to both Halong Bay (2 nights, go see and Sapa. When to go is dependant on the day of week.

Try and get to Lao Cai (railhead for SaPa from Hanoi) on a Sunday am (ie. depart Hanoi, Sat night). From Lao Cai, get tpt to BacHa to see the flower H!Mong at the weekly market. About lunchtime, go to SaPa. Do at least 2 nights SaPa, then train back to Hanoi.

Hanoi - Vientiane . Then fly up to Luang Nam Tha as suggested on other 'post'. Then Gibbon, etc, boat to Luang Prabang.

When in Luang Prabang, take bus to Vientiane via Vang Vieng.

From Vientiane, fly Siem Reap . Spend minimum 4 nights Siem Reap (3 Angkor, 1 Tonle Sap - after day 2 of Angkor, to spread out the temples: or you might go nuts).

Fly to PP, one whole day in PP (genocide Museum, Royal Palace, etc), then 'do' the 2 day Mekong boat trip to Saigon.

Then, spend some time in / around Saigon.

Depart Saigon for Koh Samui.

- - - -

I know I'm suggesting missing parts of Vietnam, but I suggest by focussing on the north, and spending time away from the city, and time in/around Saigon (plus a wander through Mekong), you'll get an OK taste of VN.

Hope this helps.


#6 BruceMoon has been a member since 27/12/2008. Location: Australia. Posts: 1,941

Posted by smash on 22/6/2009 at 14:49

Cool thanks for this! I wondered about doing it like this. just was a little iffy about throwing out Hue which I've heard is really nice. Anyway i really like the look of doing this 'circle'.

This also uses the six coupons that you're allowed on that airpass really well. makes it a bit pricey though - around US$435pp excluding taxes which is a fair bit of cash for two once we convert to NZD given our terrible currency at the moment...

Will definitely look into this more. thanks so much for your advice so far.

#7 smash has been a member since 21/6/2009. Posts: 162

Posted by smash on 23/6/2009 at 04:06


Our China tour we're committed to (as part of the prize I won) finishes in Hong Kong the morning of Saturday 10 April. Would you recommend flying into Hanoi and then heading straight for Sapa ? We can get a flight which arrives at either 4:00 PM or 7:00 PM. I noticed that the Columbus people you recommend (which may be more expensive then we can afford) say their Sapa tour departs at 8:30 PM. Would the 7:00 PM flight arrive with enough time to clear customs, get bags and get to the train station in Hanoi? Or would you just scrap the whole get to Bac Ha on Sunday morning thing given this?

Alternative is to do it the following weekend, but then we're in Hanoi for a long time (and in which case I'd probably stay in Hong Kong, arriving Hanoi on the Sunday) as below:

Sun (11 April) - Hanoi
Mon - Hanoi
Tue - Hanoi
Wed - Hanoi
Thu - Halong Bay
Fri - Halong Bay
Sat - Sapa (o/n train)
Sun - Sapa
Mon - Sapa
Tue - Sapa (o/n train to Hanoi)
Wed (21 April) - next destination..

What are your thoughts on this? I think we'll stick with heading down South then up through Vietnam. This will just slightly reduce our air costs. I think I still want to see Hue so we'll probably look to fly Hanoi-Hue, two nights, then four nights Hoi An, then fly HCMC, three nights, then Mekong Delta for two.

I jigged around Cambodia/Laos and culled the Don Det stuff so will now do:

1 (02 May) - Kep (arrive from Mekong Vietnam)
2 - Kep
3 - Phnom Penh
4 - Phnom Penh
5 - Phnom Penh
6 - Siem Reap
7 - Siem Reap
8 - Siem Reap
9 - Siem Reap
10 - Vientiane (fly here)
12 - Luang Nam Tha
13 - Luang Nam Tha
14 - Luang Nam Tha
15 - Huay Xai
16 - Gibbon Experience
17 - Gibbon Experience
18 - Huay Xai
19 - o/n boat to Luang Prabang
20 - Luang Prabang
21 - Luang Prabang
22 - Luang Prabang
23 - Vang Vieng
24 - Vang Vieng
25 - Vientane
26 (27 May) - make way to Ko Pha-Ngan for Full Moon Party on May 29 (I know, I know... :oP)

#8 smash has been a member since 21/6/2009. Posts: 162

Posted by BruceMoon on 23/6/2009 at 08:36

smash, I'm away at the moment, I'll look in detail later.

two things, 4pm to HaNoi will get you on the train OK (last one leaves at 9pm I think - go look at SEAT61 for advice.

If you're intent on Hue, it's an overnight train from HaNoi so theoretically, you could train down, spend 2 days (you'd need to hire a moped) and train back to HaNoi.

If you included Hue, It could be Sat in, O/N to Hue, return to HaNoi Tues, O/N HaNoi. 8:00am Wed to Halong Bay (2 night there) return HaNoi Friday - Friday pm & Sat look-see HaNoi, Sat night Lao Cai (4 BacHa & Sapa).


#9 BruceMoon has been a member since 27/12/2008. Location: Australia. Posts: 1,941

Posted by smash on 23/6/2009 at 14:48

Thanks Bruce look forward to your reply

#10 smash has been a member since 21/6/2009. Posts: 162

Posted by BruceMoon on 26/6/2009 at 08:54


As well as (or instead of) the above re: Hue ...

I'm thinking that Halong Bay will be brilliant in April. I've elsewhere suggested (Pinta) for 2 overnnights, with their 'lunch' excursion (go see my tb at www.travelblog/Bloggers/brucemoon/) on this. Pricier, but I doubt you'll regret spending the money.

SaPa - Are you going to book a trek? I'm assuming your journey is Sun am > BacHa, Sun pm > SaPa. Then?

Hue: I suggest two things. 1/. you need more time at Hue (min 3 nights, ie. fly in, 2 full days, off to Hoi An [ by bus?]). 2/. hire yourself a moped to look around - as the city 'attractions' are quite spread out, you'll need one to see all within 2 full days.

Hoi An: I'm not a big fan of Hoi An. I know everyone gets their knickers wrapped up in the place, but... It appears the BIG attraction is the tailoring. Sadly, I can buy better made, and more fashionable and VERY MUCH cheaper Chinese made clothes here in Australia. To me, the VN's have cashed in on the tourist trade and the product is mmmm!!! Also, Hoi An is no longer reflective of Vietnamese culture (too many hard partying westerners, and too many touts cashing in). But, do get to My Son, and the Hoi An nearby beach is good. So, I'd suggest only 3 nights and 'give' the other to Hue.

- - - -


I don't know a way to get from Mekong to Kep without having to go through PP. The Chau Doc - PP journey gets you into PP about 4:30pm. So, you'll obviously have to stay in PP that night. Similarly, you must go back through PP from Kep on your way to Siem Reap . With (an apparent) one full day to Kep and another equally full day to return, Kep would really have to be worth it!

So, with a night in PP from Vietnam, and another from Kep (making 2), I'm assuming the 3 nights allocated for PP include one for the various museums, ect. If you were considering in addition, I'd be wondering what you'd be focussing upon.

Your 4 nights in Siem Reap (SR) is 1 as a result of bus-ing from PP (I assume) and a 3 day pass to the Angkorian temples. Personally, I'd put another full day into SR and spend a day at Tonle Sap (I've written elsewhere on Travelfish the importance of Tonle Sap). 3 days straight at the temples can be 'heavy', but you need this number of days to see the evolution of the Khmer kingdom via the building works. So, a day at Tonle Sap helps break up the rockpile picking, and place a better perspective on that journey.

Yes, scrap the night at Vientiane if you can (#11). Just fly in, fly out. And add the night to when you arrive back.

Also, it is a 2 day (one night) journey from Huay Xai to LP. The Gibbon Experience gets you into Huay Xai at about 3pm, and the boat departs Huay Xai for LP at about 8am (sort of).


You've got 10 days between Saigon & PP, and 2 or 3 of these are in the Mekong. That leaves 7. Either you've got 3 full days in PP (#3, #4, #5 - please say what the 'attractions' for you are for 3 whole days) AND some time in Kep (see note above).

Personally, I'd suggest another day in Luang Nam Tha - especially so if you're into 'remote' areas. And, a bit more time in Vientiane. I found Vientiane more enjoyable than PP, but clearly, it's YOUR journey, not mine.


#11 BruceMoon has been a member since 27/12/2008. Location: Australia. Posts: 1,941

Posted by smash on 27/6/2009 at 04:19

Thanks Bruce! You seem to have a wealth of knowledge and very much appreciate you sharing it with me!

I've looked into your suggestions on Columbus (saw that you'd posted about them in other threads). They look good. I assume the 'Pinta Cruiser' is adequate? Price looks okay. What were the other pax like on your cruise? Don't want to be surrounded by oldies on a boat of six cabins... We're 24 and 25. But they look good and I like the idea two nights is actually on board as opposed to sleeping at some overpriced crappy resort on an island.

I'm not sure what to do in Sapa. I've alocated four nights (so two on the train there and back, two accommodation). Never considered doing a 'trek' really. If we did, it would have to be a soft trek. Suggestions? And yes, we'd try and work in the Bac Ha thing in the morning as you suggest.

Thanks for the suggestion re Hue. I love old cities/ruins/history so I think I'll enjoy spending three nights there. For Hoi An, three nights sounds okay - we're basically looking for three days to relax on a beach by this point. So if you know of a good chill spot for a few days that is what we're after.

Re Kep after the Mekong, we heard that this is a nice little spot to relax for a couple of nights. Apparently you can reach it by going overland from the Mekong Delta via the Prek Chak / Xa Xia border crossing. Was told to make my way from HCMC to (somewhere) and then for the last night in the Mekong/Sth Vietnam area, get to Rach Gia (I think that's what it's called) and then cross the next day into Cambodia.

Anyway, happy to drop a night off Phnom Penh for more in Siem Reap - I'm fascinated to learn about Angkor and it's history. Re Tonle Sap, what will the water levels be like early May? I think we'll fly to Siem Reap from Phnom Penh - we're going to get that airpass thing and will fly Phnom Penh-Siem Reap- Vientiane - Luang Nam Tha //Vientiene-Bangkok-Koh Samui-Phuket which uses the max six flights. Will be expensive, but worth it IMO. I read somewhere you suggest doing Angkor in chronological order - I like this idea!

I think how long we stay in Vientiane will be dictated by flight scheduling from there to Luang Nam Tha - these don't appear to be daily so will leave two nights in until Laos Airlines release their schedules for next year (looks like they've got up to March 2010 loaded). It appears the flight will be on a Wednesday, which will mean dropping a night in Vientiane which I'd like to add probably to Luang Prabang or back to Vientiane at the end. How long do we need for that Buddha park thing? My partner is dying to see that... It looks like it will be a PM arrival (based on current schedules, guessing 5PM) into Vientiane and an AM departure (guessing again 10AM). So not sure what we'll see with basically no time there the first stop. Obviously will take a day to get there from Vang Vieng and then flights to Koh Samui connect with probably a 4:30PM departure from VTE meaning we'd have half a day there.

I'm pretty stoked with how this is shaping up now!

#12 smash has been a member since 21/6/2009. Posts: 162

Posted by smash on 27/6/2009 at 04:39

Here's what I've worked out so far...

1 (11APR/Sun) - Hanoi
2 - Hanoi
3 - Hanoi
4 - Hanoi
5 - Halong Bay
6 - Halong Bay
7 - o/n train to Sapa
8 (Sun) - Sapa
9 - Sapa
10 - o/n train to Hanoi
11 - Hue (fly AM)
12 - Hue
13 - Hue
14 - Hoi An
15 (Sun) - Hoi An
16 - Hoi An
17 - Ho Chi Minh City (fly from Da Nang early PM)
18 - Ho Chi Minh City
19 - Ho Chi Minh City
20 - Mekong Delta (Can Tho)
21 - Mekong Delta (Rach Gia)
22 (Sun) - Kep
23 - Kep
24 - Phnom Penh
25 - Phnom Penh
26 - Siem Reap
27 - Siem Reap
28 - Siem Reap
29 (Sun) - Siem Reap
30 - Siem Reap
31 - Vientiane (fly PM)
32 - Luang Nam Tha (fly AM)
33 - Luang Nam Tha
34 - Luang Nam Tha
35 - Huay Xai
36 (Sun) - Gibbon Experience
37 - Gibbon Experience
38 - Huay Xai
39 - o/n boat to Luang Prabang
40 - Luang Prabang
41 - Luang Prabang
42 - Luang Prabang
43 (Sun) - Vang Vieng
44 - Vang Vieng
45 - Vientiane
46 - Vientiane
47 (27MAY/THU) - Koh Samui (fly PM)

#13 smash has been a member since 21/6/2009. Posts: 162

Posted by BruceMoon on 27/6/2009 at 07:39


In relation to your comments in #12...

- - -

Halong Bay... No-one can say who will be on board. However, if you type in either Columbus Cruise or Pinta in the Search Travelfish box up top, you'll see many Travelfish ppl have commented (positively). It seems to me that all age ranges enjoy. The focus of the Pinta is not about age related 'enjoyments': its about wonderful meals & light hearted entertainment on board, and great daytime activities that you largely do yourselves.

- - -

Bac Ha ... if you look on the web, there are heaps of travel agents offering this option. Essentially, they are selling a bus journey from Lao Cai rail station to Bac Ha, and another journey from Bac Ha to SaPa. I've written elsewhere on Travelfish about SaPa:

In relation to booking, also look at:

Personally, if you are not into trekking, then don't. SaPa streets are filled with women from ethnic communities trying to sell 'handicrafts' (a euphemism for made in China trinkets). The ethnic women generally speak English very well. The current 'buzz' amongst H!Mong women in SaPa is to invite westerners to come and look at their village (money is expected to change hands). Unless you organise a motorbike ride, this involves walking. But, if you choose not to go trekking, walking to a village with ethnic women & engaging in conversation about their lifestyle is (IMHO) very rewarding.

- - -

Hoi An... For chillout, go look at:

There a comment is made about Cham Island. You can go visit &/or stay there. Elsewhere on Travelfish, I had a run in with the owner of KarmaWaters on Cham. They made claims about sustainability, quietness, enjoyment etc. and a couple of ppl said the place was OK. So check it out on their website (

- - -

Kep... Sorry, I can't add anything. But, I'm intrigued. So, I looked on Travelfish and 'discovered' much. I'm not sure the advice re: Rach Gia is correct (unless you're coming back from Phu Quoc). Seems better to head for Ha Tien (type in Ha Tien in 'Search Travelfish', even Rach Gia). Lonely Planet paints Ha Tien (esp. the swimming) in better terms than Rach Gia.

- - -

Tonle Sap... Try & get to Kampong Khleang. In May, the lake will be low (the rains begin in June). For more, see:

especially note the comments re: Kampong Khleang.

The chronological order I pinched from Lonely Planet (Cambodia). For me, it made sense, and I learned much much more that way.

- - - -

Buddha park... Go to:

And scroll down, then:

- - -

I hope you've booked for the Gibbon Experience, there are times it sells out quickly. The max bookings are for 14 ppl / day.

- - -

I won't comment on your #13 post, as it appears self explanatory.

Hope this helps.


#14 BruceMoon has been a member since 27/12/2008. Location: Australia. Posts: 1,941

Posted by smash on 2/7/2009 at 15:41

Thanks so much for the reply Bruce - REALLY appreciate all the feedback - need to print it all off and make sure I'm taking it all on board!


#15 smash has been a member since 21/6/2009. Posts: 162

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