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Itinerary - thumbs up or down?

Evandale, Australia
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Itinerary - thumbs up or down?

Hoping a few people can cast their eyes over this itinerary and give it the thumbs up or thumbs down.

We will be traveling in April.

Day 1. Arrive Hanoi

Day 2. Halong bay cruise

Day 3. Halong bay cruise

Day 4. Return from Halong Bay to Hanoi

Day 5. Hanoi

Day 6. Ninh Binh

Day 7. Ninh Binh

Day 8. Fly to Danang and transfer to Hoi An

Day 9. Hoi An

Day 10. Hoi An

Day 11. Ho Chi Minh city

Still tossing up whether to do 1 or 2 nights in Halong Bay.

HMC will just be a place to fly home from - realize we won't have time to see much there but will put that on the list for next time.

Is this itinerary ok for experiencing the places listed - decided to leave out Sapa due to time constraints. We can't stretch it out to any more than 11 nights.

I' m open to suggestions for tweaking this itinerary - will be our first visit to Vietnam.

Thanks.

Ben Tre, Vietnam
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1. Re: Itinerary - thumbs up or down?

I would suggest as below:

Day 1. Arrive Hanoi

Day 2. Halong bay cruise

Day 3. Halong bay cruise

Day 4. Return from Halong Bay to Ninh Binh

Day 5. Ninh Binh-Hanoi

Day 6. Hanoi- Fly Da nang and drive to Hoi an

Day 7. Hoi an

Day 8. Hoi An

Day 9. Hoi an -Danang Fly to HCMC( Saigon)

Day 10. Saigon- Mekong Delta day trip

Day 11. Saigon-Fly home.

You can cut 1 night Halong Bay and add for Hanoi city tour.

Cheers,

Nhung

Llanbrynmair...
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2. Re: Itinerary - thumbs up or down?

ackyg, you can do as Nhung suggests and go straight to Ninh Binh from Halong Bay rather than return to Hanoi (you can add an extra day to Hanoi at the beginning), but you won't get there until 3-4 pm and it will be too late to visit any attractions, which are situated at varying distances and differing directions from Ninh Binh town.

Ninh Binh requires 2 full days to see the main places of interest (3-4 to see everything), so travelling back to Hanoi the next day (Day 5 in Ninh's suggested itinerary) is unrealistic.

I personally find 1 night on Halong Bay enough and you might too as you will be seeing the same type of karst formations in Ninh Binh, and I would stick to your plan of using HCMC only as an exit point on this particular trip - you can always come back another time to do the south.

Evandale, Australia
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3. Re: Itinerary - thumbs up or down?

Thanks Creaking Bones,

I have been reading your replies to lots of other posts. Was hoping I might hear from you!

So, you think we would be better going straight to Ninh Binh from Halong? Does this mean you recommend we stay 3 nights in NB? I really like the sound of this area.

Would we need to organise a private transfer from Halong bay to Ninh Binh?

Roughly how long would this take?

Thanks

Llanbrynmair...
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4. Re: Itinerary - thumbs up or down?

Yes, it would definitely make more sense to go straight to Ninh Binh. The journey to Hanoi from Halong Bay takes 3.5-4 hours, which is time wasted when you could get to Ninh Binh in less than 3 hours.

There are public buses between Halong City and Haiphong and from there to Ninh Binh, but it's a bit of a faff - there are 2 bus stations in Haiphong and you would have to take a taxi from one to the other - so a private transfer would be by far the easier and more comfortable option. The last time I investigated the cost it was about $60, but it might be a little more now because there has been a large increase in the price of petrol.

Three nights in Ninh Binh would be good, after which you would have to return to Hanoi, either by private transfer to the airport for your flight to Danang ($70) or by train to central Hanoi at 8.57 in the morning, arriving at 11.25 am. There are also public buses (not for the faint-hearted) and you could go by private car, but I rather enjoy that particular train ride.

leicester
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5. Re: Itinerary - thumbs up or down?

Agree with somel of the above but just a couple of comments to add. Though the scenery in Halong is similar to NB, the actual experience on the boat was lovely. As you don't set off until after noon and are docked agin by noon the next day, if you only have one night it seems all a bit rushed. If you kayak, swim, eat and visit a fishing village you have no time to just sit and enjoy the stunning scenery. Having done both things twice I would say two nights on Halong on a decent boat and two nights in NB. When in NB, make sure you walk to the top of Mua Grotto....it's a killer walk but the view is spectacular from the top!

Also, if you go back to Hanoi from Halong which isn't that much further in terms of travel you get another night in Hanoi. You can then get the train to NB the next day which is a couple of hours. Your itinerary doesn't give you long there and it's worth a couple of days as a minimum.

Edited: 31 October 2012, 10:45
Llanbrynmair...
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6. Re: Itinerary - thumbs up or down?

"make sure you walk to the top of Mua Grotto....it's a killer walk but the view is spectacular from the top!"

Make that a killer CLIMB!! I've done it twice - not because I'm a masochist but because the first time the spectacular view was shrouded in haze, which is often the case in March/April. Climb or no climb, Hang Mua is a great destination as part of a bicycle ride in the countryside - I like to take a packed lunch and eat it in the little park at the foot of the karst.

Adelaide, Australia
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7. Re: Itinerary - thumbs up or down?

Agree with the others about going straight to Ninh Binh

Thanks CB for the great advice we received The trip was amazing!

We were really happy to have the two nights on the boat as otherwise it just boils down to two fairly short half days

We kept a diary and this is what we did for our time in Ninh Binh.(Hope it`s not too long. Guess I should do some reviews.)

Dragons Pearl Up at 7am for breakfast at 8am, then in the tender at 8.45am to go to the little beach for a swim in the warm water.

At 9.30 am we packed and vacated the cabin at 10. The ship set sail back to Halong City. At 11.30am back on land we waited for our luggage to come and 15 minutes later our transfer car was there and we got in the car with the Manager of the hotel Nhoc Anh in Ninh Binh and a driver.

An airconditioned car was better than the shuttle bus and this road was actually quite a bit better than the one to Hanoi. In exactly 4 hours we arrived at the Ngoc Anh hotel. David made a wonderful cup of Vietnamese coffee on our arrival. We then went to our room in the new hotel (opened last month)..

The room was enormous, the bed kingsize, there were easy chairs, computer with broadband, large flatscreen TV, the bathroom was huge and the shower is the biggest ever seen measuring 2 1/2 square metres. We were kind of blown away as I was expecting the original hotel and had adjusted my expectations.

Next day up at 7am for breakfast and at 8.30am we got on the back of 2 motor cycles with helmets to brave the Vietnamese traffic. We travelled safely for 30 minutes til we arrived at Tam Coc. This is a large river/flood plain and there are karsts all around it similar to Halong Bay. We got in the small rowboat which was rowed by a woman with her feet. We just glided along on the shallow waterway and went through caves where there was not much headroom. A woman in a rowboat took our photos and others tried to sell drinks, biscuits and flowers. However we only did the photos and agreed on a price (too much but what the heck). This turned out win/win for her and the rower as we agreed on $5 for the photos so could hardly give our hardworking rower less. Excellent photos. This bargaining always catches me on the hop.

We got to the end and turned around to go back, but the lady said she was tired and won't go any further. She spoke so softly I didn`t even hear her and after sitting a little while, gazing around, she picked up the oars and continued. We got back to the start after 90 minutes, feeling a bit stiff.

We paid the rower $5 (of course she wanted $10) The photo lady found us and collected her payment. They were really quite good.

Back on the motor bike we went to Bai Dinh Took about 40 minutes. We got there at 11.30am and walked around this huge temple complex with 500 Buddha statues, each one different. This was slow going in the heat and lots of stairs. There are also 3 selfcontained temples in the complex which housed other gold Buddha statues about 12 in all.

Our drivers stopped at a nearby local restaurant and we had some chicken and rice and noodles. At 2pm on the bike for the 3rd site of the day. Hoa Lu the old capital of Vietnam. We were tired by now and we went back on the bikes for the ride back to the hotel about 20 minutes away. It was huge fun on the back of the bike riding the little roads, some covered in drying rice others with burning straw. Great way to see life.

Next day we had a car and went to Trang An Grottoes. (Tiny roads better suited to bikes at times) We had a driver and the young man Phu from yesterday came along too. We got there in 15 minutes and carefully got into the rowboat this time rowed by a man in the usual way (not by feet as yesterday).

We were rowed through this large river and into 7 grottoes which are under the mountains. The round trip took over 2 hours back to the finish.

In the car we went again through narrow back roads to Hang Mua Cave. We did not actually go to the cave, rather 500 steps up the mountain to a small shrine at the top . The steps were steep and rough and we took 30 minutes to the top. At the top was the best view of the area. We could see Ninh Binh, huge rice fields and Tam Coc where we went yesterday. The river was far below us and we saw the boats with tourists going up and down. I found down was even more challenging than up as the steps are far from even..

Next we drove 30 Kms to Phat Diem to see the Phat Diem stone Cathedral. This a Catholic cathedral built of stone but with a wooden roof. It is a mixture of European and Vietnamese. Inside it was beautifully decorated.

The hotel had arranged a transfer to Hanoi by car and we set off from Ninh Binh and in just under 2 hours arrived safely in Hanoi in peak traffic

Edited: 31 October 2012, 12:40
Llanbrynmair...
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8. Re: Itinerary - thumbs up or down?

Great report Hugo, and I'm so pleased you enjoyed yourselves. The Ngoc Anh 2 wasn't finished when I was in NB last, but I was shown over the accessible parts and it looked very promising. That's definitely the one for me next time. I think JoLeicester (post no. 5) stayed there too. $5 was a more than generous tip for the rower. The boat ride used to be included in the entrance fee and perhaps still is, but the rowers' share was a pittance so a small tip (a dollar or so) always was in order.

ackyg, looks as though I'm outnumbered re one versus two nights on Halong Bay! Must confess that my preference for one night is due to my not being a group tour person and preferring to set my own agenda.

Evandale, Australia
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9. Re: Itinerary - thumbs up or down?

Thanks everyone for those detailed replies. Sounds like I'm roughly on the right track re itinerary and just need to think through the finer details and decide on how long for Halong Bay. Wish we had a couple more days up our sleeve!

Llanbrynmair...
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10. Re: Itinerary - thumbs up or down?

The most important thing is to enjoy the time you have available for this trip to Vietnam. I do envy you being comparatively close, instead of half the world away!