Traveling with the wife, we're not looking for the party scene but rather great food, a bit of culture, some beach time (emphasis on scenic), a bit of history, and coming back with some amazing photos.
Our timeframe is the end of Nov - very early Dec. So far a must seems to be Yi Peng Lantern Festival and Loy Krathong in Chiang Mai.
While I'm sure we could cover off most of the top spots, we typically don't like to spend our whole time traveling between spots. Looking for 3-maybe 4 overnight locations tops. Not looking for $$$$ but not $ either.
What are the musts?
Best (secluded) beach? Is there one in Vietnam that rivals Thailands?
North versus South Vietnam? Or best to try to cover them both off?
What's the best way to travel between Thailand to Vietnam, how easy is it?
Angor Wat? Seems like a must but how much would we need to carve off to do it and what else is on the way to make that time worthwhile?
Any accommodation recommendations in these spots as well?
I'll take Hanoi over HCMC any day. I love the food in the north, and the Old Quarter is so much fun. A lot of the streets in the Old Quarter are named after what they sell on those streets. There are also some specialties in Hanoi you won't find in many other places, like bun cha ha noi and cha ca ha noi. If you want a medium-priced but very cool place to stay, check out the Hanoi Rendezvous Hotel. Hanoi also has some great museums. I can't remember the name of the military history museum, but it was fascinating.
You're also close to Sa Pa District and Halong Bay. If you haven't heard of the homestay hikes from Sa Pa, you should definitely add it to your list. Here's a story about my homestay. You won't believe how cloudy and foggy it is in Sa Pa
My favorite part of HCMC was going out to Cu Chi Tunnels. Otherwise, it was just OK. The Mekong Delta is kind of interesting, but it's far down the pecking order of interesting-to-me activities in Vietnam.
About Halong Bay ... I actually had a lot more fun spending a night on Cat Ba Island rather than staying in the more secluded bungalows. I like wandering cities of all sizes and meeting people.
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Hi Jon-This past February, we spent 2 weeks in Vietnam and last summer we spent two weeks in Cambodia/Thailand.
First off, we travelled through most of Vietnam via Vietnam airlines. We found them to be affordable, have excellent options to get between cities (rather than connect), the airports were easy to navigate and access (except Hanoi which is a bit further out) and mostly on-time. While travelling between Thailand and Cambodia, we used Bangkok Air, to similar results as Vietnam Airlines. Would recommend them all.
I would absolutely recommend incorporating Siem Reap into your travel plans. It is easy to access via southern Vietnam and can easily fit into your schedule. Spend a minimum of 2 days here, hire a guide to help you navigate crowds, entrance fees and the land. They also provide such amazing little facts about the temples and point out fun features. The town itself is charming, and you'll want to spend some time in the market downtown and wandering around busy Pub St. We stayed at the Sofitel Angkor Phokeethra Golf & Spa Resort and loved it!
Our two weeks in Vietnam were busy, I wouldn't necessarily recommend doing all we did, but I also can't tell you exactly what I would have cut out either. They were all spectacular in very different ways.
We started in Ho Chi Minh City, you wouldn't need to stay more than 2 days here but we did feel it is work it to visit. A few things we really enjoyed were the Bến Thành market, the Saigon Central Post Office, The Independence Palace, cocktails at the rooftop bar at the Caravelle Saigon and dinner at Nha hang Ngon where they have 12 of the best street food vendors under one roof. We stayed at the Hotel Sofitel Saigon Plaza and loved it.
From here we flew to Hue. This was lovely. Our hotel was spectacular (La Residence Hotel & Spa) and provided lovely views, gorgeous pool and excellent breakfasts. They organized a tour guide for us to visit The Lumley Chapel, Thien Mu Pagoda and Minh Mang Tomb. We both wish we would have spent more time here. Dinner at Ancient Hue Restaurant was an experience we won't soon forget.
A driver took us about 3.5 hours from Hue to Hoi An-possibly my favorite place. The Anantara Hoi An Resort is right along the river, had a beautiful bar, excellent breakfast and a great location. Just wander along the streets here and take in the daily life. Have some clothes made at Sun Tailor and if you don't take any other advice than this, have lunch and dinner and maybe one more lunch at Bánh mì vỉa hè cầu Trường Tiền. Best sandwiches we've ever had.
Fly out of Danang, up to Hanoi. Again, you can probably make do with 2 days here. We enjoyed seeing Uncle Ho at the Ho Chi Minh Museum, his home and the actual museum as well. Shopping can be fun here as well as hiring a street food tour (9 places to stop and sample of your guides favorites) and take in a Thang Long Water Puppet Theatre, but be warned if you are tall like us, this is a fairly uncomfortable hour! By now, we were needing some western food, and we found heaven in Missy Roo Bar & Restaurant. Strolling around the lake was lovely at night, as was the Temple of Literature and National University which is right next to an excellent lunch spot Koto-a restaurant that trains under privileged youth for a career in the hospitality industry, and provides some pretty good eats.
We took the train up to Sa Pa District, it runs over night, so we just went for one day to hike the rice fields. While we had bad weather, it was still spectacular and one of our best memories to be among local Hmong women as they helped guide us around a very muddy path.
Halong Bay Vietnam is a do-not-miss, in my opinion. We loved the quiet and down time this provided. We opted for a smaller cruise ship, and ended up selecting the Paradise Cruise lines, Privilege ship. It only had 3 cabins and was perfect for us. It allowed us to really tailor our visit, get to know our hosts onboard and converse with them about life in Vietnam. The Bay is breathtaking and like nothing you'll see elsewhere.
Lastly, we ended in Phu Quoc at La Veranda Resort Phu Quoc Vietnam. The island provided exactly what we needed at the end of our busy trip. The hotel was only 5 minutes from the airport, had plenty of dining options within walking distance (including our favorite Rory's Beach Bar right next door). There are plenty of beach chairs to choose from, and the staff bring out chilled scented towels and fresh fruit slushes throughout the afternoon!
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There are likely some Vietnam beaches that are great but the major areas are quite polluted and built up. I've heard good things about Phu Quoc but haven't been there myself.
If you can manage the time for both, I'd definitely say include both north and south Vietnam - for Mekong Delta (around Can Tho) and Hạ Long Bay. Easiest way between is flight - and not that expensive.
I'd suggest 3 days at the minimum in Siem Reap but it can easily be extended to 5.
My trip for the same countries in 2012 was the following - I had less time but we didn't get Hanoi/North Vietnam in that time:
- Fly into Bangkok, there and Koh Kong island
- Flight to HCMC
- Bus to Siem Reap - took about a full day but was pretty comfortable
- Bus to Bangkok (much less comfortable, would fly if I could do it again), and fly out
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You have to visit Ho Chi Minh or Hanoi, if you can't visit both, and if you like culture you must visit Hoi An. Halong Bay must be one of the most beautiful places in the world and I absolutely loved Sa Pa.
I took flights to go from one place to the other except from Hanoi to Sa Pa where you must go by overnight train.
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