I thought I would follow in Batts footsteps (type) and share my first time experience of Vietnam.
I travelled with 2 teenage girls and my 72 y.o. dad. We flew with Jetstar out of Sydney to HCMC. Our first night was at the Indochine. For the price it was fine. The staff were less than enthusiatic about us being there and there was no window in one of the rooms but it was o.k. I was surprised that the language barrier was so significant that I had difficulty ordering coffee with breakfast!!!
It was our intention to fly straight to Hanoi the next day which we did (late afternoon) after our share of lost property dramas (3 cameras in 2 days yey!) We flew Pacific airlines on a cheap flight and it was fine although departure delayed for whatever reason.
Our booked accommodation in Hanoi was not available on arrival. Same issue as faced batt - sick guest who couldn't leave? I had booked a single and a triple room. They originally suggested that one of us stay at another hotel (part of their chain...). This didn't suit us at all so we then all moved by foot to their other hotel to find that they didn't have a triple except for a god awful room with dirt on the walls workmans stuff around the room and mold on the walls and floors. Back to first hotel....all though the old quarter streets dragging our bags not fun. We eventually found alternative accommodation (the name and address escape me and I can't find the card however it was a family room for a reasonable price, clean and the staff were great (will do a review later). After the hassle of the arrival we all all glad to be there. To our delight the next morning we awoke to a power outage (the whole street) and the hotel was without power until 5.00pm that day *&^#$%^. Apparently the government does this all the time to conserve energy....... Great when you are on the 8th floor.
Anyway we did the water puppets, replaced a camera, did a bit of sightseeing before going to Halong Bay. If you stop for a rest break try not to go to the public toilets. Make sure you carry wetones and tissues at all times.
I would recommend that people book this trip on arrival if you have a day or two lead time. It is HEAPS cheaper and included kayaking, transfers etc. We spent a little bit extra for a deluxe boat which was o.k but I was exhausted and happy to sit relax and read a book. The guide was great (from Columbus).
We returned to Hanoi to get the overnight train to Danang. My advice to those wanting to do it.....DON'T. We did the standard four soft berth sleeper and were prepared with food drink cards etc. The cabin was disgusting, we were next to the only toilet on our carriage, which was more disgusting and the next morning pure evil, and joy, joy my 15 year old thought she found a pen inside the pillow slip - ignoring my pleas not to she got it out to find that it was a used syringe. Thankfully it had a cap.
Hoian - we stayed at Thien Thanh close to the action but far enough away to be quiet. It was a great room I shared with my girls, very clean and nice atmosphere. The hotel itself was small with a pool and the staff were g reat. we weren't in it much but when we were it felt very welcoming. I'd recommend this hotel to anyone. (No lifts)
Our return to HCMC was with VN airlines business class - absolute bliss after our previous transport issues. We booked on arrival in Hoian (4 days prior) and did have limited options with flights.
Stayed at the Anan hotel in HCMC and again would recommend it highly. Very centrally located - clean and has everything you need no breakfast though but no problems at all.
Overall it was an interesting trip. I've been to a number of other countries in SE Asia and I'm not sure that this would rank over any of the others. I found it particularly tough travelling and I was exhausted by the harrassment for money and always feeling that I was being ripped off. I know we have more money etc and I will always pay a fair price but having 4 or 5 year olds trying to sell me cigarettes in the middle of HCMC at night is just not so easy to reconcile. Again I'm not making judgements rather an observation.
The shopping in Hoian is fantastic and also HCMC was great. I would certainly consider going back to these places but without children or parent. The best food I had was a Kebap (spelling?) stand on the street in Hanoi - bbq pork on bread with salad etc. Fantastic. There were certainly many happy moments and it will be remembered for the experience it was. The nicest person we met was a Vietnamese artist who accompanied us on the Halong bay trip.
If I think of anything that could be useful to others going for the first time I will post it. PS if you go to the beach in Hoian be prepared to hassled big time.
One last bit - My girls and I were planning to visit the orphanage in Hoian. The girls made of point of bringing this off the wishlist to donate and particularly wanted to spend time with the kids helping or whatever. We arrived and there was one english speaking guy there that literally refused to deal with us, instead palming us onto someone who he suggested would show us around. They took the bag and then showed us to the gate......my point being if you wanted to contribute something or time etc don't be disappointed if it doesn't happen.