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fountainhall

What to See in Vietnam?

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Having only been to Hanoi, I am thinking of making a leisurely 7 - 10 trip to other parts of Vietnam. Maybe later this year. I'm more interested in seeing the country than exploring the gay scene, and so Ho Chi Minh will probably not be on the itinerary. Da Nang, Hoi An and Hue definitely are, and depending on the time of year, Halong Bay which I missed last time.


 


Do other readers have some more 'must see' suggestions?


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Halong bay is close to Hanoi, but a must see.  I would add Ho Chi Minh City and Vung tau.  The latter is at the entrance to the Mekong and HCM City.  HCM City is still very French in parts and you have the old Caravel to sit in and watch the world go by.  I spent 2 years in Danang and not a lot in the city itself, but Marble Mountain is between Danang and HoiAn and both should be seen, along with Hue. 

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That's already enough, if the trip is to be done leisurely in 7~10 days.

 

Halong bay is nice, but if you've been to Phang Nga already, there are some similarities.

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I owe you all a trip report on Vietnam. After my problems logging in when in Thailand, I got home to a busted desktop computer and the hard disc with my photos is in a bag at the moment.

I started in Hue and went, via Hoi An down through the Central Highlands to Ho Chi Min. I agree with Z909 that you've probably got enough on the itinerary for 7 days, unless you skip Halong Bay and start off in Hue. Mine was just a flying visit and there are places I would like to revisit - with one caveat. That is that, although I thought I was reasonably hardened to it, I found the constant pestering from taxi touts, street vendors and so on the worst I had ever encountered in Hue - that was until I got to Hoi An, where it was almost unbearable.

There's plenty to see in Hue - more than I actually saw, I am sure. I stayed in the Orchid Hotel:

http://www.orchidhotel.com.vn/intro.html

It's clean, central and reasonably priced. The staff are good and the rooms are, I would say, to the standard shown on the website. The basic room is small, but the space is well used.

Hoi An can be visited in a day, and that is what I would do if I were you, because of the swarms of touts. The historical area is quite small, consisting basically of 2 streets on 1 side of the river.

I didn't stay in DaNang, just passed by it, but if you are going to do so then, as well as the Marble Mountain, mentioned by Khor Those, you can make a trip out to My Son which is an ancient temple city of the Kings of Champa. It's about 60-70 km away from Da Nang, with buildings dating from the 4th to the 14th century. Sadly, many were destroyed in the Vietnam war, and the whole area was defoliated, but what's left is worth the journey (the area has been reforested with quick growing trees too). Sorry, for the reasons above, I have no pictures of my own:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/M%E1%BB%B9_S%C6%A1n

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I found the constant pestering from taxi touts, street vendors and so on the worst I had ever encountered in Hue - that was until I got to Hoi An, where it was almost unbearable.

The touts in Hue were a problem -on every street corner. I don't recall it being a problem at all in Hoi An.

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I really liked Hue a lot. The sites there are very interesting and a bit different, especially the Emperors' tombs. I didn't love Hoi An but it's worth a visit. 

 

There's an interesting museum of Cham culture in Danang that is worth a visit. I really wish I had taken the time to visit some Cham empire sites. But I like all of those old ruins. If you're not into that it's probably not that interesting.

 

If you're driving from Hue to Hoi An take the scenic mountain route rather than the tunnel. There are some really dramatic views of the ocean.

 

In Hue I stayed at La Residence. It's one of the more upscale choices in town. It's got a lot of Art Deco touches which I liked. There's a big pool table on the lobby level that I enjoyed along with my guide. The only thing I didn't like was the crazy-inflated prices for bottled water. But there's a little shop right outside the hotel's gate which had water for a fraction of the price. I don't remember touts being an issue but I was with a guide/driver most of the time.

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Thanks for all the advice and suggestions. I agree that for this trip it doesn't make sense to add in Halong Bay as there isn't enough time and I've already been to Phang Na. I'm still not sure when I will go as I have two other trips to make first - tomorrow to Taipei, Tokyo and Hong Kong, and then in August to Helsinki, St. Petersburg and Tallinn. But Vietnam is likely to be the next one after that.


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Halong Bay is well named.  "Halong" to we get back to the shore?

 

I found Vietnam to be absolutely full of scams and touts.  It made my 3 trips unbearable, and I won't be going back.

 

For example, I booked the most luxurious junk for the Halong Bay trip.  And part o the description of the boat was perfect! It looked nothing like the photo.  It was held together with superglue. Just about everything on the menu was deep-fried.  At the "attractions" we were frog-marched in one end and out the other, all with great military precision. At the end of the trip, we had to settle our drinks account at the bar.  I had drunk 2 Cokes and was charged US$30.  When I protested, the bill was halved.  One poor family, who only drank bottled water were charged US175!! Another guy got a huge bill and could not pay.  When we got back to shore we saw him being marched off to the ATM machine. The staff also had the audacity to tell us that tipping was a Vietnamese custom and then handed out enveloped for the tips. Needless to say, the tips were few and far between.

 

Even the staff at the Imperial Hotel (5 star) in Hue were in on a scam - the same scam I came across in Hoian. You book a coach to come and pick you up. While you are waiting a guy turns up on a motocycle and tells you he is here to take you to the bus. The doorman at the Imperial told me that I had to get on the motocycle, as the bus did not come to the hotel.  I refused and, a few minutes later, the bus turned up!

 

I also booked the luxury bus to go from Hoian to Hue.  But again, I got the filthy, shitty bus.

"Where are the reclining seats??"

"Sorry. That bus no come today., Driver sick."

 

These types of scams just went on and on and eventually, they wore me down. Basically, I just got sick of being ripped off.  The taxis drivers were especially annoying.

 

I got the distinct feeling that the Vietnamese did not want us there - they only wanted our money.  There was an underlying hostility that I had never felt in any other country before. I also felt that maybe they are not yet ready for mass tourism.  The staff certainly need a lot more training.  I remember the staff in the Imperial Hotel were particularly sour and unhelpful.

 

Having said that, friends who went on an organised tour did not have any of these problems.  And Vietnam does have some lovely places to visit.  I loved Hoian and Hue.  Hanoi was ok for a few days, as was HCM city. The best thing about HCM was the hotel.  I stayed at the Caravelle next to the Opera House.  The food there was outstanding, as opposed to the horrible restaurant food with all its sickly sweet sauces and not so fresh ingredients. Certainly not "the old Caravel" that Khor Tose refers to! Obviously a different place altogether!

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Interesting, isn't it, how different people have different experiences in the same places? On thinking about it, maybe the reason that I had such problems with touts in Hue and Hoi An was that I was there out of season - late May last year. There were probably fewer than usual tourists to go around!

It wasn't all bad by any means. As I mentioned above, I was mostly there to tour down through the Central Highlands. I stayed at Lak Lake, Kontum, Buen Ma Thot and Dalat and had none of these problems in any of these places. Kontum was interesting - a busy Vietnamese town which has no tourist infrastructure at all to speak of (a shopkeeper there gave me, unasked, a discount on the marked price of a can of talcum powder because I was her first foreign customer) and Dalat was a truly lovely town. Any expats who are considering a trip to get away from the hot season for a week or two would do well to consider Dalat.

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I didn't experience scams on the scale of A447a, but the Vietnamese attitude to customers is a frequently long way below that in Thailand, Cambodia or Laos. As a result, Vietnam can be a less pleasant experience. 

In the worst case, I stayed in Siagon for 4 days & paid the $125 bill the day before leaving, to allow a quick getaway to the airport. When I left next day they had no record of my payment and tried to charge me again. I pulled out my receipt & showed it to the guy on the counter. Then the other lady who was checking through the records demanded to see it. I said "I've paid, he's seen the receipt" and walked out with the little Hitler shouting at me.

 

I arranged my own Halong Bay tour, going anti-clockwise. Booked a bus & boat to Cat Ba Island.  Found a hotel on arrival. Booked a boat for next day., then got the bus back to Hanoi. No scams. 

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I and the bf spent 5-6 days in Hanoi with a sidetrip to Halong Bay in 2008.  We experienced no scams, touts, or whatever.  A very enjoyable trip.  The only negative at all was the air quality both in Hanoi and around Halong Bay (which is about a 3-hour car trip to the east of Hanoi) and I remember wise-cracking that the air quality in Bangkok and Chiangmai was much better than that in Hanoi.

 

Many tourists take a boat (junk) trip in Halong Bay and I had read several articles that indicated that one shouldn't book an overnight cruise unless you pay for one of the top-end and much more expensive cruises (because the accommodations where shitty on the average junk and the noise and smell of fuel oil would make it very difficult to sleep on those boats).  Because of those reports, we chose to just go on a day trip (think we got there about 10AM and were back at the dock by 5PM).  Sort of an enjoyable boat ride on this old junk but, to be honest, it wasn't all that exciting and it's no big loss if you miss it.

 

All the people we encountered in Hanoi were very friendly, much like the reception I've always received in Thailand.  We stayed at a hotel (The Church Hotel) in the old quarter there maybe 200-300 yards from the big catholic cathedral.  The hotel room was somewhat small but was generally acceptable. I don't remember the cost of the room.

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Lonely Planet & the Travel Fish forums are good for checking out the ins and outs of certain destinations such as Halong bay.

 

I also saw loads of negative reports on overnight stays on boats. Even without such reports, being "captive" overnight on a Vietnamese boat is obviously risking all sorts of discomfort. Halong bay isn't that large, so it's easy enough to stay in a hotel on Cat Ba and catch a boat in the morning.

 

Or skip the whole thing and go to Phang Nga in Thailand instead.  That's what the directors of the Bond film "Tomorrow Never Dies" did, with the Halong Bay sequences shot in Thailand.

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Wow, those problems would certainly put me off going back! While I am sure it costs more, I booked my trip through Purple Dragon and had no problems...other than some really crappy weather in Hoi An which was no one's fault of course. I did meet a guy in Hanoi at the lake who seemed to be obviously trying to angle me for a scam but I had my defenses up. I tried to be pleasant but wasn't about to give in to anything. The trip on Halong Bay I had a whole boat to myself. I just went for a day trip though and didn't stay overnight on a boat. I understand the new road from Hanoi to Halong Bay has dramatically reduced the time it takes to get there. Having a private car and guide is very helpful and for me it is the best way to travel around Asia.

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I have booked flights with my partner 3rd April 2018 to Hanoi, returning from Da Nang 13th April (thanks Air Asia sale)

My initial thoughts are on the 4/5th take an overnight boat trip to Halong Bay which reading the reports above I had better splurge on a high end trip

6th sightsee in Hanoi

7th take either the overnight train or a flight and spend 2 nights in Hue

9th to 13th in Hoi An

 

 

Has anyone got any up to date reports or any suggestions?

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I think Hanoi is great.  Plenty to see and eat.  If you don't mind the chaos I recommend staying right in the Old Town part of the city.  The place that I have stayed at has packages that include Halong Bay.  Your hotel might as well.  The potential advantage being you'll be going to the hotel before/after Halong Bay so they me be a bit more accountable for the quality of the cruise.  I always have to give a plug for the Museum of National History.  Loved it.  The water puppet show is very touristy and kitschy but it's still good fun.  

 

I found flying from city-to-city very easy and more restful than trains or the bus.

 

There's nothing wrong with your itinerary, but with the heat that time of year, the hill town Dalat might be a blessed relief for a visit and a very nice place to visit.  

 

Hoi An is a gem.  Well worth spending the time there.  The day trip out to My Son was interesting and well worth it.

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I think Hanoi is great.  Plenty to see and eat.  If you don't mind the chaos I recommend staying right in the Old Town part of the city.  The place that I have stayed at has packages that include Halong Bay.  Your hotel might as well.  The potential advantage being you'll be going to the hotel before/after Halong Bay so they me be a bit more accountable for the quality of the cruise.  I always have to give a plug for the Museum of National History.  Loved it.  The water puppet show is very touristy and kitschy but it's still good fun.  

 

I found flying from city-to-city very easy and more restful than trains or the bus.

 

There's nothing wrong with your itinerary, but with the heat that time of year, the hill town Dalat might be a blessed relief for a visit and a very nice place to visit.  

 

Hoi An is a gem.  Well worth spending the time there.  The day trip out to My Son was interesting and well worth it.

DivineMadman, Thanks for your reply.

Do you mind telling me the name of the hotel you stayed at while you were in Hanoi.

I had thought about Dalat but I couldn't find an easy way to go on from Dalat to Hoi An

Looking at the temperature charts for the begining of April there is every chance that it will be a lot pleasanter in Hoi An/Hue than the hot and humid weather we will be having in my part of Isan.

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While in Hanoi I'd leave few days unplanned because one can find tempting sightseeing offers from various travel agents  , temple here , cave there and scenning scenery everywhere type sights.

 

If one asks me trip to Vietnem without visiting Halong Bay is like trip to Cambodia  skipping Siem Reap. can be done by why bother?

 

Generally north I found much more interesting than south.

 

If you Vietnam War generation and are in Hoi An, visit to My Lai massacre site brings perspective and very sobering at that.

 

I second recommendation  My Son site, there should be offters of returning from the site by thne boat , highly recommended

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DivineMadman, Thanks for your reply.

Do you mind telling me the name of the hotel you stayed at while you were in Hanoi.

I had thought about Dalat but I couldn't find an easy way to go on from Dalat to Hoi An

Looking at the temperature charts for the begining of April there is every chance that it will be a lot pleasanter in Hoi An/Hue than the hot and humid weather we will be having in my part of Isan.

The hotel i mentioned in Hanoi is the Art Boutique Hotel.  http://www.hanoiartboutiquehotel.com  For me it's a nice balance traffic-wise -- in Old Town just enough to make walking around easy but not so far in that you can't easily escape by taxi.  But I think there are lots of nice boutique hotels around there at different price points.

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I went to hanoi in 2014 and visit sa pa by train, definitely worth going there, and then halong bay, spend a night in the cruise boat. Dont know if u can fit in sapa in your trip but google the place and see first.

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