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Ninh Binh or Mai Chau or Phong Nha Farm Stay

Glasgow
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Ninh Binh or Mai Chau or Phong Nha Farm Stay

Hi All

I am trying to figure out an itinerary for our trip to Vietnam, Cambodia and Bangkok next August/September. We will have 31 nights in total and am struggling to figure out which one or two of these places we should inlcude on our itinerary.

About us: couple late twenties, used to independent travel but travel on a mid-range budget and like our comforts and to keep things simple. We love culture, food, cities, history, sight seeing, scenery (natural and man-made) but are not really into beaches and I get travel sick - especially when flying!

In Vietnam we will be going to Hanoi, Halong Bay, Hue, Hoi An, HCMC and the Mekong before crossing into Cambodia and visiting Phnom Penh, Siem Reap before ending our holiday in Bangkok. We won't be going to Sapa as I simply could not cope with the 2 night trains in such close proximity given my travel sickness.

We will probably have 2 nights at two of these places or maybe just 3 nights at one if people think the itinerary I finally come up with is too rushed.

Both Mai Chau and Phong Nha seem very simple as we could stay at Mai Chau Lodge or the farm stay and have everything organised for us whereas Ninh Binh seems a bit more complicated.......

Anyway after my ramblings I would love thoughts from those of you who have been to these places on what you thought and what location(s) you think would suit us best?

Thanks all

Debzi

pgh, pa
Destination Expert
for Da Nang
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1. Re: Ninh Binh or Mai Chau or Phong Nha Farm Stay

I just did Ninh Binh and Phong Nha Farmstay. Tam Coc was very nice and not hard to do. We stayed at a small hotel in NB and rented a moto for the day and drove the 3 miles or so to Tam Coc which was not hard to find....we stayed at the Ngoc Anh rented our bikes there too. Prior to that we were at The Farmstay for about 3 days and from my reviews you know I love the place and the people there...don't miss it.

Chicago, Illinois
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2. Re: Ninh Binh or Mai Chau or Phong Nha Farm Stay

my friend and I stayed 3 days in Ninh Binh and 2 nights at The Farmstay back in August. Xuan Hoa No.2 was our hotel in Ninh Binh , and they were very friendly and helpful. Some great sites in the area. We got motorbikes with a driver through mr Xuan, and did 2 straight days of some great sightseeing and hiking. Not a lot of action in town, but the hotel restaurant had some of the best food I had during my trip. As for Phong Nha Farmstay---DO NOT pass up an opportunity to stay there. You will regret it. They offer great hiking opportunities and it's just a great place to hang with like-minded travelers . Looking back, I would have reversed it and done 3 days at the farmstay and 2 nights in Ninh BInh. Ahhhh well...next time!!! And you should really (drink /drug/meditate) yourself out and hit Sapa!

Have an awesome trip.

Glasgow
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3. Re: Ninh Binh or Mai Chau or Phong Nha Farm Stay

Thanks both extremely helpful views. I was already leaning towards Ninh Binh followed by Phong Nha Farm Stay but my main worry is that Halong Bay followed by Ninh Binh followed by Phong Nha will be too much boat time with too much cave scenery and it will end up being a bit samey whereas Mai Chau offers very different scenery!

But of course I haven't been yet so I may be wrong! Decisions, decisions.........

Llanbrynmair...
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4. Re: Ninh Binh or Mai Chau or Phong Nha Farm Stay

Have you, perchance, made the common mistake of thinking that the only attraction in Ninh Binh Province is Tam Coc?

In fact Tam Coc is best avoided (it's overrun by tourists and overly persistent vendors) in favour of one of the many other places easily visited from Ninh Binh town.

Granted a few of them involve water and a cave or two (Trang An, Van Long nature reserve, Kenh Ga), but the caves on the Trang An river trip are more plentiful and arguably more interesting than those at Tam Coc, Van Long consists of wetlands and marsh, and the shortish rowing boat trip in Kenh Ga is along a canal flanked by the village with nary a cave in sight.

Other places to visit are the karst-top temple near the Mua Grotto, the remains of the ancient former capital of Vietnam at Hoa Lu, the stunning Bai Dinh Pagoda, Phat Diem Cathedral and Cuc Puong National Park.

What's more, with the exception of Tam Coc all the above sites are almost tourist-free, apart from Vietnamese day-trippers at weekends.

I absolutely love it there and shall keep returning, even though I've visited just about everywhere twice. Just cycling alongside rice paddies and through villages on tranquil country lanes keeps me happy.

Glasgow
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5. Re: Ninh Binh or Mai Chau or Phong Nha Farm Stay

Thanks Creakingbones. Tam Coc definitely wasn't on the agenda thanks to all the good advice here. I was thinking of a day doing Trang An, Hoa Lu and the Mua caves and hopefully see the Bai Dinh Pagoda the day we arrive from Halong Bay. Does that sound different enough to what I would see in Halong Bay and Phong Nha to do Ninh Binh and Phong Nha rather than swapping one of them for Mai Chau?

Llanbrynmair...
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6. Re: Ninh Binh or Mai Chau or Phong Nha Farm Stay

Definitely!

Actually the Mua caves aren't much (just one double-ended, rather uninteresting cave and a tiny grotto in the park) but the view from the top of adjacent karst is spectacular - well worth the slog up the 500 steps!

I'm not saying don't go to Mai Chau though. Indeed I'm not in a position to make first-hand comments because I was put off going there by the less than positive remarks I heard last year from returning visitors. "It's turning into a theme park like Tam Coc" was enough to make me abandon my planned trip, although it's probably not quite that bad and I'm sure there are still a few genuine homestays in the area.

Whatever you decide upon, I hope you have a brilliant time!

Glasgow
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7. Re: Ninh Binh or Mai Chau or Phong Nha Farm Stay

Yes it was the view from the Mau karst I was meaning rather than the cave.

We usually only get to go away for about 2 and a half weeks, I really didnt think that planning for a month long trip would be so difficult.

I really want to do all three but just can't figure out how I'm going to decide which two!

Dong Hoi, Vietnam
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8. Re: Ninh Binh or Mai Chau or Phong Nha Farm Stay

Phong Nha Cave has a boat access. It is also possible to access it at night without any other groups around in Kayaks.

Paradise Cave in the Phong Nha Ke Bang National Park is accessed on foot and is the longest dry Cave in Asia at 34.4km in lenth. it was discovered in 2005 by a local man from Phong Nha Hamlet. It opened to the public in December 2010. The scenery in Phong nha KeBang Rivals any in Vietnam including Mai Chau and the caves are best seen after going to Ha Long and Ninh Binh in the north as they are much more exciting than other caves accessible by tourism in those areas.

See Oxalis Adventure Tours for some great trekking and adventure ideas.

This was written by the owner of Phong Nha Farmstay

Hanoi, Vietnam
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9. Re: Ninh Binh or Mai Chau or Phong Nha Farm Stay

Hj, everyone!

I think most of you right that Ninh Binh has so many place which are beautiful, and one day seem to be not enough. But Debzi , you can choose the most. my ideal : Mua cave first (the best viewpoint in Ninh Binh) - for sighseeing, Hoa Lu ancient capital about history, Van Long wet - land/ or Cuc Phuong national park is nature.

But 2 days, you should go to Pu Luong or Mai Chau (3 or 4 days) including culture, historical, foods, ethnic people, and wonderful landscape with hill, valley, rice terraces, waterfall, river, etc. I think it's cheaper and more interesting than all.

Vancouver, Canada
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10. Re: Ninh Binh or Mai Chau or Phong Nha Farm Stay

Hi Debzi and all of you helpful posters!

Where did you end up going? I'm currently in the midst of planning a similar trip myself and would like to hear about your experience.

I started with a typical plan of hitting all the usual spots such as HCM, Con Dao, Hoi An, Hue, Ha Noi, Halong Bay, Sapa (in this exact order). But now I have managed to free up two days in my itinerary and is second guessing my choices.

Some background information on my travel style before launching into my questions. My boyfriend and I are in our early 30s, we travel fairly independently, and are in a mid-range budget, so we have no problems paying for flights within Vietnam. We are both avid photographers and are typically take our time when we travel. That being said, we are definitely not backpacker types (as in, we don't travel light as we're carrying an insane amount of camera gear).

Now that I've read this extremely helpful thread, I'm trying to decide what I can remove from my existing itinerary to fit Phong Nha and Ninh Binh as well as Pu Luongi into the schedule.

As much as the Phong Nha Farm Stay intrigues me, I'm worried about logistics. I suppose I would take the train from Hue to Dong Hoi and then from Dong Hoi to Ha Noi? If that's all it takes, I can fit that into the two extra days, no problem!

I heard that Sapa is getting over run with tourists but from my image search looks like a great opportunity for amazing photography. How does Pu Luong compare? (Do I need to start a new thread for this?)

Finally, Ninh Binh also looks amazing. Compared to Halong Bay, which one is better?

Sorry for the long post! Any recommendations and suggestions would be greatly appreciated!