Vietnam

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Craig Pichette
 
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Post #1  Postby Craig Pichette » January 26th 2016, 5:08pm

American has great fares to Vietnam right now, so I'm taking the opportunity to take my Dad back since he hasn't been there in exactly fifty years. We are going for two weeks. I'm thinking 4-5 days in Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City), maybe Nah Trang for the beach for a few days, Angkor Wat (I know it is in Cambodia) for three or four. Some questions:

1. It looks like I need to fly to get from place to place? True?
2. The guidebooks say not to even think about renting a car. True?
3. Where else should I go?
4. I presume I'll want a driver/guide in Saigon (we need to go to Ben Hoa where my Dad was stationed and other places around the city). Any recommendations?
5. Where to stay and guides for Angkor Wat?
6. Where should we go for about 4 days on the beach and where should we stay?

One point. My Dad was there in 65-66 before the US military commitment ramped up and before most of the major battles. He doesn't seem interested in travelling around the hinterlands to see old battle sites like some vets may want to do.

This is very important to my Dad and I want to make it perfect.

Thanks for the help.

Craig

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Post #2  Postby Randy Bowman » January 26th 2016, 6:50pm

Very commendable endeavor Craig. I hope there some people here with info. Maybe Charlie Fu has some info. I think he only has 16 countries to go before seeing them all.
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Post #3  Postby doug johnson » January 26th 2016, 8:26pm

About 10 years ago I visited Hanoi, flew to Siem Reap, and from there to HCMC. I'm sure a lot has changed but think I can answer some of your questions…

1) yes, fly
2) the traffic was pretty crazy and I could not imagine driving. Can be difficult just crossing the street when the bikes flow by you like a river
3) Hanoi was very nice
5) http://fcccambodia.com/fcc-hotel-angkor/ was nice. Siem Reap is small.
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Post #4  Postby Scott Tallman » January 26th 2016, 10:01pm

I was there in 2001 and went from Saigon to the north via bus, train and rented motorcycles. We took buses to get from Saigon to the beaches at Nha Trang and up the coast to Hoi An and Da Nang, but took a train from there to Hanoi. That worked fine for me, but not sure of train system in the south.

My two favorite places were in the north. Halong Bay - sleeping on the deck of a boat under the stars was great. Also really loved Sapa, but it is a haul to get there and may not be your cup of tea.

5 days seems like a lot for Saigon - 2 days in the city and a day cruising the Mekong Delta seems like enough. IMO better off spending extra days in Nha Trag or going further up the coast to Hoi An or up north.

I really loved Vietnam - much less touristy than Thailand and I found the people warm and friendly. Hope you and your father have a great trip.
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Post #5  Postby William Moy » January 27th 2016, 2:58am

I just got back from Saigon last month. I would not even think of driving there...the traffic rules don't really exist. People just kind of all go like a herd. There's cars, buses, trucks, motorbikes and bicycles all mixed up going the same direction or different directions. I was surprised I didn't see any accidents. Taxis are cheap and easy to get. Vinasun is the better taxi company (it's like red/white/green). Do you have a hotel booked? Most have tours available at their booking desk. I usually stay at the Hotel Nikko in Saigon (HCMC). It's a good location, but a slight distance from the center of town so it's a bit quieter. There's not much around walking distance so a taxi is necessary.

I went to Angkor Wat about 3 years ago. It was on a tour so I don't remember the hotel we stayed at. We had a tour guide that took us around. They use US dollars there and prefer it, which seemed kind of odd. It's similar to Vietnam, but seems poorer. I witnessed quite a few car accidents here (well motorbikes clipping each other and the family getting thrown to the ground with no one stopping to help - I was on a tour bus and saw it as we drove by). We drove to a spider market (they sell cooked tarantulas and grasshoppers) that was interesting to see. I tried both...my friend said the tarantula would taste like soft shell crab...it didn't.

So to answer your questions:
1) yes you need to fly place to place
2) do not rent a car
3) Cu Chi tunnels was interesting to see, but I don't know if your dad would want to visit the location. I didn't really fit well crawling in those tunnels, but it's a tourist attraction. Hanoi is a nice city and I agree, the overnight boat on Halong Bay was fun.
4) Maybe get a tour guide for a day and use taxis to go to any preferred destinations
5) Maybe check tripadvisor.com for a tour guide and hotel recommendation for Angkor Wat. I don't remember where I stayed, but recall it was just okay.
6) I can ask my buddy where he stayed (he went to Nha Trang last month) if you're interested.
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Post #6  Postby Craig Pichette » January 27th 2016, 7:17am

Everyone:

Thanks for the input so far. I went to the Vietnam Airlines website and it is remarkably cheap to fly around within Vietnam.

Thanks for confirming the car thing. It seems sort of obvious, but I wanted to ask.

The NIkko in HCMC is $108 a night per room so I was thinking about staying there.

I would appreciate some guidance re: places to stay in Nha Trang. there is an Evanson resort that looks pretty nice. The other alternative is to go up to Da Nang and go to the beach there. It seems to have the advantage of being close to Hue and Hoi An, so there is more to do in the area.

Again, thanks everyone. Please give more input.

Craig
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Post #7  Postby William Moy » January 27th 2016, 7:21am

I've been to Hue and Hoi An. There's a lot of temples there, but not much else that I recall. Nha Trang is supposed to be a really nice beach resort area. I'll get more info for you from my buddy.
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Post #8  Postby Freelon F Hunter » January 27th 2016, 9:46am

I went to Viet Nam on business in 2013, and ended up spending a weekend there as well.

I did not enjoy HCMC very much; it is obvious that not much money was put into the city for many years after the war, and although it is crowded and lively, it felt dirty and run down. For whatever reason, our hosts took us to Cu Chi, which I found disturbing. You can shoot guns for fun on an old range, and watch a video where the brave Vietnamese girls are heroes for shooting the American invaders. Some of the tunnels are hard to get in and out and very narrow, I had to walk sideways through them, and I am generally considered thin. I did like the modern area near the river in HCMC, but it didn't feel special.

I enjoyed Hanoi much more. It is cleaner, and the parks, temple, and markets near the main lake (where the turtle just died, very bad omen for them) were all very interesting. Also, the very old university in Hanoi is a must-see (the one with the turtles); very unique and a tribute to how their culture values education.

Our hosts took us to Haiphong for the weekend, very beautiful place. We took an overnight cruise through the tufts, and shared the boat with a Canadien tour group who had done all of Viet Nam by bus. The cruise was the last big hurrah of their trip. Worth looking at that as well.

Enjoy the journey, and remember to cross the street slowly but surely!!! And the food was amazing!!
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Post #9  Postby c fu » January 27th 2016, 2:26pm

Craig Pichette wrote:American has great fares to Vietnam right now, so I'm taking the opportunity to take my Dad back since he hasn't been there in exactly fifty years. We are going for two weeks. I'm thinking 4-5 days in Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City), maybe Nah Trang for the beach for a few days, Angkor Wat (I know it is in Cambodia) for three or four. Some questions:

1. It looks like I need to fly to get from place to place? True?
2. The guidebooks say not to even think about renting a car. True?
3. Where else should I go?
4. I presume I'll want a driver/guide in Saigon (we need to go to Ben Hoa where my Dad was stationed and other places around the city). Any recommendations?
5. Where to stay and guides for Angkor Wat?
6. Where should we go for about 4 days on the beach and where should we stay?

One point. My Dad was there in 65-66 before the US military commitment ramped up and before most of the major battles. He doesn't seem interested in travelling around the hinterlands to see old battle sites like some vets may want to do.

This is very important to my Dad and I want to make it perfect.

Thanks for the help.

Craig




1. It looks like I need to fly to get from place to place? True? some people fly, some people take the 8 hour train ride from HCMC to Nha Trang. It's just up to you. You need to fly to Siem Reap
2. The guidebooks say not to even think about renting a car. True? don't even try driving. China is up there as maybe the worst traffic but Vietnam is a close close close 2nd. The difference between china/vietnam is that there are crosswalks in China. Crossing the street is an exciting adventure in HCMC
3. Where else should I go? Hanoi is gorgeous. Halong Bay is a few hours from there and it's beautiful for an overnight cruise. Hanoi is a bit more modern than HCMC. If you love food, Hue is the capital of food in Vietnam. Could eat for DAYS. If you want to do beach Hue is relatively close to Da Nang. Da Nang is then close to hoi an which is one of the "ancient" cities in Vietnam. Which after reading your posts, you've already thought of.
4. I presume I'll want a driver/guide in Saigon (we need to go to Ben Hoa where my Dad was stationed and other places around the city). Any recommendations? Sorry, we self guided ourselves and did occasionally day tours/overnight tours when necessary (like in Halong bay)
5. Where to stay and guides for Angkor Wat? Get a private tour guide/driver. This is VERY typical and very inexpensive, I can't remember the price off the top of my head but i'm cheap as hell and I thought it was a deal. We did two days of temple tours, that was more than enough. Angkor Wat itself is a clusterf*ck as there are so many ppl there. Some of the side temples are even more beautiful. The kids that panhandle for money in the temple system are vicious and also very cute and endearing. My wife was carrying around this janky ass umbrella that only had half of the umbrella that stood up. One girl just followed her around to make fun of her umbrella. She obviously didn't get money. But the kids will cry when you tell them no, their other friends will come and tell you you've made their friend cry.. it's a group effort, be strong.

You definitely do not need 4 days in Siem Reap. Outside of the temples it's pretty boring. Cambodia is probably the most run down country I've visited (for good reason if you know the history) and it really reflects when you are there. I'd say fly in, do two days of temple tours (if you even want to do 2 days) and then fly out. Spend the majority of your time in Vietnam.

Randy Bowman wrote:Very commendable endeavor Craig. I hope there some people here with info. Maybe Charlie Fu has some info. I think he only has 16 countries to go before seeing them all.


ha. I think I've visited every east/south east asian country but still have all of South america/Australia/parts of Africa to go :D
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Post #10  Postby Craig Pichette » January 27th 2016, 6:39pm

Charlie:

Thank you. Very helpful.

Craig
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Post #11  Postby William Moy » January 28th 2016, 7:53am

My buddy said he stayed at the Intercontinental in Nha Trang. Said the hotel was great, they basically ate the local seafood, went to a mud bath and laid out.
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Post #12  Postby James Cross » January 28th 2016, 11:59am

Just saw this after being gone for a few days. I'll just add a couple cents worth, inflation adjusted. I agree with the comments on driving, etc.

1. You can easily fly between HCMC and Da Nang (1 hour) and HCMC and Hanoi (about 3 hours)....or if adventuresome you can try trains or buses. Many of the tour companies run buses to places like Na Trang.

2. Car; even the US State Dept warns against doing this; if you ever killed someone in a crash who knows what would happen.

3. Where else? A couple mentions of Da Nang, Hoi An, and Hue. They are fairly close together. The area south of Da Nang has a string (17 I think) of modern high end resorts with good golf. There are beach resorts in Hoi An and you can ride shuttles into the actual town. It is a "historic" city with lots of tourist stuff, but is kind of neat; no motorized traffic in sections of the city.

Da Nang is now over a million people. Hue is to the north, easy bus ride, and again important in history and the war with the US. It is worthwhile. That stretch of cities would be easy to cover and accomplish your beach strategy. "China Beach" is near Da Nang, but there are nice beaches in Hoi An. Bourdain did a very fawning show on Hoi An. I have not been to Nha Trang; many recommend it but some say it's over rated.

4. I don't think you really need a guide in HCMC, although you could do a half day bus tour to get oriented. The city is easily walked or use cabs. Go to the War Museum; fascinating, especially the photos. You can easily spend a half day or full day.

5. Lots of culture in Hanoi; several good museums. My fave is the Museum of Ethnography. The Ho Chi Minh memorial is worth it.

6. Other: many good French restaurants; one in HCMC has Faiveley by the glass....also some new wine bars. Most people like Ha Long Bay. The Mekong Delta can be a day trip by bus from HCMC. Another idea is Vung Tau; it is about 100 miles east of HCMC and they run high speed boats; fun trip.

Feel free to contact me with specifics. I've been to Vietnam five times for 2-3 week stretches and have been in most cities and regions except Sapa.
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Post #13  Postby Barry L i p t o n » January 28th 2016, 2:52pm

Dupe
Last edited by Barry L i p t o n on January 29th 2016, 7:47pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Post #14  Postby Barry L i p t o n » January 28th 2016, 3:13pm

Loved Hoi Ann and the Hyatt in Danang,especially if you have Hyatt status (they have shuttles to Hoi Ann).

Ha Long bay is the best place we visited in our 2 trips. Plan to stay at least one night, as a day trip from Hanoi is very long.

Cut back on time in HCMC. Use it for Hanoi. Hue is worthwhile. The train from Danang to Hue has great views and not too long. It's cheap, we bought seats for our luggage as well as ourselves.


Hotels I've enjoyed: Hyatt Da Nang, Park Hyatt Saigon, Sheraton Saigon, Sheraton Hanoi, Hilton Hanoi (better located then most of the western hotels), M Gallery hotel in Hue (small rooms though).

Don't know Na Trang but to me, Danang's proximity to Hoi An makes it the best choice.
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Post #15  Postby Chris S p i k e s » January 29th 2016, 8:13am

Just saw this thread and all good advice. We're going again at the end of February. I'll chime in to reinforce what's been said.

Car Rental - does not exist, so it's not an option. You'll need a taxi locally or a driver with a car if going longer distance. They are cheap and can be arranged by tons of tour companies around. Check on trip advisor for some specifics.

Flights within on VA are cheap as you found. Upgrade to business for just a few bucks as the seats in the back with have your knees jammed into your chest if you're of average Caucasian height. And, while you can buy online now, you can also just walk up and purchase for the same price if there are seats available.

You will need to become very good at pleasantly, but insistently declining people hounding you. Lots of reports of petty theft and deft money exchanges for products or services where the amount you gave them isn't what they claim. To be fair, I haven't experienced that. However, we did have a bad experience out on a boat in Ha Long Bay when we stopped to look at a floating fish market. Unbeknownst to us, every fish we pointed at ended up back on our boat and the captain was demanding something like $400 (US) for 3 or 4 items they had already killed and wanted to cook for us. Ended up settling for all the US cash on us which was about $60, but the value of the fish in the market at shore was probably less than $10. We told the captain to keep the fish and get us back to shore. My wife was beyond angry. Just use that as an example for everywhere you go and how to be on alert that people might try to force goods or services on you then demand exceptional payment for something you didn't order or request.

We loved Saigon, Hanoi, and Hoi An (however, it might have become pretty touristy now). Danang was fun, but my wife's family is from there. Unlike others, we didn't like Hue much and cut our trip down to a single night there. The ruins are interesting, but in poor condition and nothing like you would expect from a historic site in a developed country. The road (or train it sounds like) from Danang is pretty as you wind up over a mountain pass. My father in law used to use his helicopter to chase deer down from the mountains around there to the beach for soldiers to kill for venison. They used the helicopter guns to kill them!

Crossing the street is crazy with the traffic! I've heard of people taking a taxi just to get across. Search on YouTube for videos on how to cross the street for a good primer. I'm serious. I would have done it all wrong otherwise. Walk steady and slowly. Make your pace predictable and traffic will magically part around you.

Have fun and eat on the street a lot! We love it there!

I'm curious what you mean by American has great fares to Vietnam? I didn't think they offered that route. Is it with a partner airline? Into what cities? What kind of fares are you seeing? We're flying Korean Air DFW to Seoul to Danang and returning Saigon to Seoul to DFW.
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Post #16  Postby Craig Pichette » January 29th 2016, 10:24am

Chris:

Thanks for the guidance.

I'm flying American metal to Narita, then JAL to HCMC. On the way back, it's Hanoi to Narita on JAL, then American metal to ORD. Round trip air fare is about $1,000. I think that is pretty cheap to go 22,000 miles. There were apparently even cheaper fares out there but they have been grabbed. For reference, look at the mileage run forum on http://www.flyertalk.com. http://www.flyertalk.com/forum/mileage- ... 403-a.html.


Craig
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Post #17  Postby Chris S p i k e s » January 29th 2016, 11:19am

Craig, those are great prices and for only 1 stop! We used Korean because I could transfer and use miles with them and they flew to Danang with only 1 stop. Prices for coach for our tickets originally were about $1300 which I thought was good at the time.

Enjoy your time and let us know about it when you return!
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Post #18  Postby Scott Everson » February 4th 2016, 3:21am

It sounds like Barry Lipton knows what he's talking about. And you have to see Ho's body in Hanoi. Rice fields of Sapa? Dalat is supposed to be beautiful. Go to Phuket Quoc island if you want perfect secluded beaches circa Thailand 20 years ago. Go to Nha Trang if you like Russians and rats.
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Post #19  Postby Scott Everson » February 4th 2016, 4:28am

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Post #20  Postby c fu » February 4th 2016, 2:34pm

Chris S p i k e s wrote:Just saw this thread and all good advice. We're going again at the end of February. I'll chime in to reinforce what's been said.

Car Rental - does not exist, so it's not an option. You'll need a taxi locally or a driver with a car if going longer distance. They are cheap and can be arranged by tons of tour companies around. Check on trip advisor for some specifics.

Flights within on VA are cheap as you found. Upgrade to business for just a few bucks as the seats in the back with have your knees jammed into your chest if you're of average Caucasian height. And, while you can buy online now, you can also just walk up and purchase for the same price if there are seats available.

You will need to become very good at pleasantly, but insistently declining people hounding you. Lots of reports of petty theft and deft money exchanges for products or services where the amount you gave them isn't what they claim. To be fair, I haven't experienced that. However, we did have a bad experience out on a boat in Ha Long Bay when we stopped to look at a floating fish market. Unbeknownst to us, every fish we pointed at ended up back on our boat and the captain was demanding something like $400 (US) for 3 or 4 items they had already killed and wanted to cook for us. Ended up settling for all the US cash on us which was about $60, but the value of the fish in the market at shore was probably less than $10. We told the captain to keep the fish and get us back to shore. My wife was beyond angry. Just use that as an example for everywhere you go and how to be on alert that people might try to force goods or services on you then demand exceptional payment for something you didn't order or request.

We loved Saigon, Hanoi, and Hoi An (however, it might have become pretty touristy now). Danang was fun, but my wife's family is from there. Unlike others, we didn't like Hue much and cut our trip down to a single night there. The ruins are interesting, but in poor condition and nothing like you would expect from a historic site in a developed country. The road (or train it sounds like) from Danang is pretty as you wind up over a mountain pass. My father in law used to use his helicopter to chase deer down from the mountains around there to the beach for soldiers to kill for venison. They used the helicopter guns to kill them!

Crossing the street is crazy with the traffic! I've heard of people taking a taxi just to get across. Search on YouTube for videos on how to cross the street for a good primer. I'm serious. I would have done it all wrong otherwise. Walk steady and slowly. Make your pace predictable and traffic will magically part around you.

Have fun and eat on the street a lot! We love it there!

I'm curious what you mean by American has great fares to Vietnam? I didn't think they offered that route. Is it with a partner airline? Into what cities? What kind of fares are you seeing? We're flying Korean Air DFW to Seoul to Danang and returning Saigon to Seoul to DFW.


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Post #21  Postby ryancurry » February 5th 2016, 2:27pm

The Sofitel metropole might be my favorite hotel in the world. I'd stay there in Hanoi.
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Post #22  Postby Craig Pichette » February 8th 2016, 12:09pm

After looking at flight and other options, I think my itinerary looks sort of like this:

April 8-arriving in HCMC in the evening.

April 9, 10, 11 in HCMC. I figure we'll be pretty wiped out on the 9th from travelling on the 8th, but can knock out some of the sites. We'll get a car and driver to go to Bien Hoa on the 10 so my Dad can drive by the airbase, then see more sites on the 10 and 11th. Fly to Phu Quoc on the evening of the 11th.

April 12 and 13 on the beach in Phu Quoc

April 14-fly from Phu Quoc to HCMC then to Siem Reap arriving in the early evening

April 15-16 in Angkor Wat-fly to Hanoi the evening of the 16th

April 17-21 in Hanoi with an overnight cruise to Halong Bay on the 19-20

Comments and suggestions are very much appreciated. The insights people have already provided have been extremely helpful.
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Post #23  Postby todd waldmann » February 9th 2016, 7:44am

Nice itinerary Craig. We'll be there at the same time as you. Arrive HCMC in the morning on the 8th. Leave Hanoi on the 20th.

We are staying at the Sofitel Metropole in Hanoi.

Does anybody have any food/restaurant tips for Hanoi and Hoi An?
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Post #24  Postby ryancurry » February 9th 2016, 10:15am

I can't recall the name of the restaurant(might be morning glory), but in Hoi An along the river there is restaurant that specialized in the little glutenous rice cakes with minced shrimp and fried shallots. Really good spot. When I was there, they were floating lanterns down the river. Pretty magical.

todd waldmann wrote:Nice itinerary Craig. We'll be there at the same time as you. Arrive HCMC in the morning on the 8th. Leave Hanoi on the 20th.

We are staying at the Sofitel Metropole in Hanoi.

Does anybody have any food/restaurant tips for Hanoi and Hoi An?
itb
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Post #25  Postby ryancurry » February 9th 2016, 10:17am

Phu Quoc is great. Eat a lot of crab in green pepper. Buy white and black peppercorns to take home. They produce really high quality fish sauce there as well.

Craig Pichette wrote:After looking at flight and other options, I think my itinerary looks sort of like this:

April 8-arriving in HCMC in the evening.

April 9, 10, 11 in HCMC. I figure we'll be pretty wiped out on the 9th from travelling on the 8th, but can knock out some of the sites. We'll get a car and driver to go to Bien Hoa on the 10 so my Dad can drive by the airbase, then see more sites on the 10 and 11th. Fly to Phu Quoc on the evening of the 11th.

April 12 and 13 on the beach in Phu Quoc

April 14-fly from Phu Quoc to HCMC then to Siem Reap arriving in the early evening

April 15-16 in Angkor Wat-fly to Hanoi the evening of the 16th

April 17-21 in Hanoi with an overnight cruise to Halong Bay on the 19-20

Comments and suggestions are very much appreciated. The insights people have already provided have been extremely helpful.
itb
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Post #26  Postby John W Osgood » February 15th 2016, 1:34pm

Just returned from 3 nights in Saigon. As always a very interesting city that is rapidly changing. I highly recommend the half day tour with Tim Doling if you have any interest in the rich and turbulent history of Saigon.

http://www.historicvietnam.com/
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Post #27  Postby Steven Miller » February 16th 2016, 9:17am

Street Food tours in Hanoi are great fun.
http://www.tripadvisor.com/Attraction_R ... Hanoi.html

We spent a day with Diem Kieu last year touring the delta. Was a terrific experience.
http://www.tripadvisor.com/ShowUserRevi ... _City.html
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Post #28  Postby Michel D. » February 28th 2016, 3:17pm

Sapa was my favorite place, Hanoi second and do not expect any good wines:) Enjoy, it is a beautiful country.
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Post #29  Postby Scott Everson » March 1st 2016, 5:09am

The restaurant in Hoi An is 100% called Morning Glory. I love that place.
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Post #30  Postby Sarah Kirschbaum » March 1st 2016, 9:22am

Michel D. wrote:Sapa was my favorite place, Hanoi second and do not expect any good wines:) Enjoy, it is a beautiful country.



There's actually a pretty active wine culture there, with some serious collectors and a few nice wine stores. You can find quality french wine in particular, though prices vary wildly. There's no Riesling to speak of, which is too bad considering how well it goes with the food. There are even some decent wine bars in Saigon now.
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Post #31  Postby Matt Thomas » March 4th 2016, 12:32pm

Going there for my honeymoon at the end of May.

Very helpful thread!
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Post #32  Postby L. Ibrahim » March 14th 2016, 4:09pm

I went last summer. It was amazing. Blazing hot, especially in Hoi An (which I highly recommend). Everyone else's recommendations of flying and NOT renting a car are spot on. Traffic is insane. And fun. :) Have a great time!

Fun note - In Hoi An, the pool at our hotel was so hot that I've taken colder baths. They evidently put huge blocks of ice in the pools during the day to cool it down for guests. So when I say, I mean dripping sweat every second hot as you walk around!
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Post #33  Postby todd waldmann » April 24th 2016, 11:54am

We just got back on Friday from our 2 weeks in Vietnam. Thanks for all the info people shared in this thread. I'll share some highlights.

First, our outbound flight was on Cathay Pacific in first class. Awesome. After 14 1/2 hours on the plane, we did not want to leave. Between the bottomless Krug, the comfy seats/beds, the remarkable service and the food, it made for a spectacular experience. We are ruined for life for air travel, as evidenced by the fact that our return flight on Singapore in first class paled in comparison.

We were only in Saigon for 24 hours, but our scooter/street food tour with XO tours (https://xotours.vn/tours/vietnam-food-tour.html) was a great way to see the city, get our feet wet with the infamous Vietnam traffic and eat some great food. Highly recommended.

From there is was off to Hoi An, where we stayed at the Royal Hoi An Hotel. It's relatively new and had lovely rooms/service and location. Hoi An was indeed very touristy and there was a consistent "badgering" by folks wanting to sell you something, but it was easily dealt with and none were unpleasant. Despite the touristy nature of Hoi An, it is beautiful and definitely worth a visit. The bành mi at Bánh Mỳ Phượng lived up to the hype and the cau lau we had (at several places) was great.

We then went to Hanoi, where we stayed at the Sofitel Metropole Hotel. Great old school, elegant hotel with fantastic service. I think I agree with Ryan Curry that this may be our favorite hotel ever. The French restaurant has a great reputation, but we found it exceedingly mediocre and overpriced. A highlight was our street food tour with Tú of www.hanoistreetfoodtour.com/. It was a great way to get introduced to the Old Quarter and to get some tips on how to navigate all the street food options in Hanoi. Again, highly recommended. Some street food highlights include Cafe Dinh for coffee, Phở Sướng for phở and a couple of places for bún chả include a place on 24 Hàng Than and a place on 1 Hàng Mành, and bánh cuốn nóng (a rice crepe filled with chicken and mushrooms, topped with herbs and the ubiquitous crispy shallots) at Bánh cuốn nóng Quang An,72 Hàng Bồ. Hanoi is a beautiful city and certainly ranks up there among the great cities in the world despite (maybe because of?) all the noise, traffic, chaos. It's a remarkable place that is difficult to describe.

Our Ha Long Bay cruise was with Indochina Junk. They are not the cheapest of the bunch but we had great food, and a great guide and they concentrate the trip on Bai Tu Long Bay, which is much less busy than Ha Long Bay proper.

We fell in love with Vietnam and the Vietnamese people and will definitely return. The traffic was awesomely entertaining and crossing the street was more an art than a genuine challenge. What an amazing country......

Thanks again to all who shared their thoughts here. It was very helpful. I can't recommend enough a visit to Vietnam.
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Post #34  Postby Marshall Gelb » April 24th 2016, 1:22pm

Todd: Your trip seemed fantastic and your FB pictures were stunning! We are hoping to go in the future and we will definitely be in touch!

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Post #35  Postby Steven Miller » April 24th 2016, 2:33pm

Good to to hear you had a great trip and enjoyed the street food tours.
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Post #36  Postby Craig Pichette » April 24th 2016, 5:08pm

Like Todd, we also just got back. I'm trying to recover from jet lag, but I'll post my thoughts anyway.

We spent three days in HCMC, staying at the Nikko. It is nice and modern and typical of Nikkos, but is a bit away from downtown/District 1; about a ten minute cab ride for about 2 bucks. We did a street food tour there, which was interesting from a food perspective and took us into a local neighborhood. We also spent a day on a Mekong River tour which was not what I expected. It took us out into local villages and markets. The isolation and poverty was astonishing to us sheltered Americans. We spent a day walking the central area visiting the Cathedral, Reunification Palace, and some of the wartime hotels. HCMC is busy. The streets there and in Hanoi are amazing. As people indicated, just just put your head down and cross the street and hope everyone steers around you.

We spent a couple of days on the beach in Phu Quoc. There is a tremendous amount of development and a corresponding amount of trash. We stayed at Mai House on the beach. It was nice and relaxing, but there isn't much to do there except sit on the beach and rest.

We spent two days in Siem Reap visiting Angkor Wat and other temples. We had a guide and a van to take us around. I have mixed feelings about it. Angkor Wat itself is astonishing (and huge). But two days in the temples was a bit much as they tend to be similar. My dad said that Cambodia was like Vietnam fifty years ago. And it was about 105 degrees by noon each day.

In Hanoi, we stayed at the Essence d'Orient in the Old Quarter. The city was interesting and fairly easy to walk around. We went to the Army museum, the revolutionary museum, and the history museum. They need to invest a bit in updating and organizing the materials. It is disorganized and clumsy propoganda for the most part. We went to Halong Bay with Paradise Cruises for a two day/one night cruise. The boat and staff were great. The trip was a bit short and it was cloudy/rainy while we were there.

My parents had a great time and my dad found it meaningful, so I'm glad we did it. Having done it once, I don't think I feel a pressing need to go again. As Todd pointed out, the people were all friendly and great to deal with.
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Post #37  Postby James Cross » April 25th 2016, 10:21am

Todd and Craig: Glad you both liked it. I'm sitting here right now working on my next Vietnam trip. It's addicting. Next time I've got to try and ferret out some wine action. There were some threads on eBob a couple years ago about a tasting group in HCMC. On my last trip I noticed a few new wine bars.
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Post #38  Postby John W Osgood » May 3rd 2016, 10:06am

The XO tour in Saigon was a definite hit with my group in January. An excellent way to see the city and lots of entertainment for a half-day tour. Next time I will try the foodie tour.

Thanks for the notes.
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Post #39  Postby Barry L i p t o n » May 3rd 2016, 10:38am

Great notes Todd and Craig. The only differences is we lived Angor Wat, didn't see the temples as similar even after 4 days. We will be returning to Siem Reap for more!
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Post #40  Postby c fu » May 3rd 2016, 2:23pm

Craig Pichette wrote:Like Todd, we also just got back. I'm trying to recover from jet lag, but I'll post my thoughts anyway.

We spent three days in HCMC, staying at the Nikko. It is nice and modern and typical of Nikkos, but is a bit away from downtown/District 1; about a ten minute cab ride for about 2 bucks. We did a street food tour there, which was interesting from a food perspective and took us into a local neighborhood. We also spent a day on a Mekong River tour which was not what I expected. It took us out into local villages and markets. The isolation and poverty was astonishing to us sheltered Americans. We spent a day walking the central area visiting the Cathedral, Reunification Palace, and some of the wartime hotels. HCMC is busy. The streets there and in Hanoi are amazing. As people indicated, just just put your head down and cross the street and hope everyone steers around you.

We spent a couple of days on the beach in Phu Quoc. There is a tremendous amount of development and a corresponding amount of trash. We stayed at Mai House on the beach. It was nice and relaxing, but there isn't much to do there except sit on the beach and rest.

We spent two days in Siem Reap visiting Angkor Wat and other temples. We had a guide and a van to take us around. I have mixed feelings about it. Angkor Wat itself is astonishing (and huge). But two days in the temples was a bit much as they tend to be similar. My dad said that Cambodia was like Vietnam fifty years ago. And it was about 105 degrees by noon each day.

In Hanoi, we stayed at the Essence d'Orient in the Old Quarter. The city was interesting and fairly easy to walk around. We went to the Army museum, the revolutionary museum, and the history museum. They need to invest a bit in updating and organizing the materials. It is disorganized and clumsy propoganda for the most part. We went to Halong Bay with Paradise Cruises for a two day/one night cruise. The boat and staff were great. The trip was a bit short and it was cloudy/rainy while we were there.

My parents had a great time and my dad found it meaningful, so I'm glad we did it. Having done it once, I don't think I feel a pressing need to go again. As Todd pointed out, the people were all friendly and great to deal with.


yep 2 days is the max. One day would even be okay.
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Post #41  Postby Scott Everson » May 4th 2016, 12:26am

No Dalat Wine tasting notes?
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Post #42  Postby Craig Pichette » May 4th 2016, 2:37pm

Scott Everson wrote:No Dalat Wine tasting notes?


At our hotel in Hanoi, the Essence D'Orient, they left a bottle of Dalat in the room, I don't remember which one but it was something white. I didn't bother opening it, figuring discretion was the better part of valor. My parents couldn't resist, and even they thought it was undrinkable swill. Fortunately, French, Italian and Australian wines were pretty available.
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Post #43  Postby todd waldmann » May 5th 2016, 7:51am

Scott Everson wrote:No Dalat Wine tasting notes?



I saw Vang Dalat multiple places, but I was never truly tempted. There is something about 90+ degree temps and 80%+ humidity that blunts my interest in vin rouge. The beer was just too tempting. champagne.gif

We drank mostly Ha Noi beer or Saigon beer (the generic local pilsner), but in Hanoi we stumbled across a bar serving beers from Pasteur Street Brewing Company in Saigon. Their IPA was one of the best IPAs I think I've ever had, right up their with Deschutes' Hop Henge in terms of floral aromatics.
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Post #44  Postby Matt Thomas » June 5th 2016, 7:49pm

Just got back from 2 weeks (honeymoon) from Vietnam. Here is a review of the activities/hotels we stayed at. I have no connection to any of them and my wife did most the planning.

We arrived in HCMC at 10PM Saturday evening. We stayed at the Liberty Central Saigon Riverside hotel. I'll first premise this by saying, hotels really aren't that important to me. As long as I can get AC and a hot shower, they are generally okay by me. This hotel was really nice, met all the previous criteria, and was centrally located. It was probably the nicest hotel we stayed at during our stay, as far as looks and amenities. They had a nice rooftop pool which we enjoyed a couple of times. The spa was nice. Did a leg massage for ~$25 for too people.

While in HCMC, we did a street food tour on Motorbike (XO tours). It was a really great night. The food was good, but nothing amazing. While in HCMC, we ate some really great meals. We had a soup dish with from a crab based broth in Ton That Dan market. We then had Bun Moc near the central market. I preferred the first, my wife the latter. Walked around, went to the Reunification Palace.

That night we had the XO tour. This was the highlight from HCMC. Well executed, fun, met some fellow travelers.

After HCMC, we flew to Da Nang and then drove to Hoi An. Hoi An is incredibly touristy. It seems that 1/3 of the shops are bars, 1/3 restaurants, 1/3 tailors. We stayed at the Lantana Hotel. It was perfectly fine, but unspectacular. We had clothes made in Hoi An. I bought 6 shirts, two blazers, boat shoes, and 2 belts. My wife did 4 summer dresses, 3 pants, 1 blazer, multiple flats. I think we could have spent less than we did, but I hate bargaining, and she isn't the best. We talked them down some, but not as much as we could have. FWIW, I averaged $30 for custom shirts. That's about what I pay to have a shirt altered here, so I was okay with the price. We did 4 days in Hoi An, mostly because we had read we needed 3 fittings. I agree, you need 3 fittings, but I would either remove one day and press the nicer places for faster turnaround, or plan a trip to Hue for a day.

While in Hoi An, we got up really and did a bike ride amongst the rice fields. Renting a bike was super cheap. After that, we went to An Bang beach. Like hotels, I don't expect a ton from beeches. I've been to beaches in Miami, Brazil, So. France. To me, a beach is a beach is a beach. As long as they aren't rocks, they are the same to me. People told me it was super touristy there. Aren't all beaches?

We did a cooking course in Hoi An (Green Bamboo I think). It was really nice. You are allowed to pick from some 50 options. Don't worry about picking popular dishes. No two people cook the same dish. That does mean you might not get your first choice, so the earlier you sign up, the higher the likelihood you get your first choice. I cooked Cao Lao, fwiw.


From Hoi An, we flew to Hanoi. Had a 4+ hour delay on Vietnam airlines, because of a delayed flight. Got onto an earlier flight to Hanoi.

Not sure, what time we arrived in Hanoi (3pm?) Walked around. Went to the Hanoi Hilton. There is literally 1 room devoted to the captured Americans. Most of it focuses on the French treatment of the Vietnamese rebels. It goes on to describe the brutal conditions the Vietnamese had to endure, but then transitions to the amazing living conditions the Americans faced. [basic-smile.gif]

Spent the day then took the overnight train to Sapa. Technically you go to Lao Cai, then take an hour bus to Sapa. Train was...old, but wepaid for 4 berths to ensure a private cabin. Arrived in Sapa later that morning. Sapa is a tourist trap, but pretty. Hiked for 3 hours to have lunch with a black Hmong family. Then hiked 2 more hours (not really sure about the time), for a homestay with a black Hmong family. Incredible incredible views. We did this through Ethos tours. We had the fortunate night to spend with a family who just completed their second planting. Was part of a feast.

Hiked the second day out and took the overninght train to Hanoi.

Spent a full day in Hanoi. Drank a lot of coffee, ate good food, then caught a bus to Ha Long Bay. Lost day in Hanoi because of food poisoning in Lao Cai.

Ha Long Bay was amazing. We cruised with Indochina Sails. More expensive group than most, but they get you back to Hanoi a littler earlier. Kayaked around a fishing village, sun bathed on the boat. It was a really great boat, good service. The food skews western and is just okay.

Back to Hanoi, where we just ate and drank around town. Stayed up late and had beers on small stools and ate some food. Probably my favorite part about Hanoi.

I thought the food was best in HCMC. Wasn't bad anywhere, but HCMC seemed to be a little more seasoned.

People like to ask what restaurants to eat at, what should I try? Honestly, I don't think you need to do this. I think the worst meal (minus the dogsh*t we were served when we hot food poisoning) was Ban Xeo 46A. It was featured on Bourdain. It wasn't bad. It was just very mediocre.

If I had to change things, I would spend less time in Hoi An. It is super touristy. Its nice, but the restaurants that get all the high reviews are essentially expensive vietnamese food (Mango Mango, Morning Glory). They aren't bad, but they aren't amazing. It is nice that you can try half of the local specialties from one restaurant. But, the food doesn't stand out.

That's the majority of my impressions. If you have questions, please let me know.
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Post #45  Postby todd waldmann » June 6th 2016, 8:09am

Thanks for sharing Matt. I think the XO Tours in Saigon was one of the highlights of our trip. The food was fine (great phở gà and a great grilled scallop/chili/fish sauce dish), but it was seeing so much of the city, getting to spend so much time talking one on one with a local, and being on a scooter in the midst of all that traffic were what made it so enjoyable.

I agree completely with your comments about restaurants. We had much better street food than restaurant food. We had great food in Hanoi, but we spent a lot more time there than in Saigon.
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Post #46  Postby Steven Miller » June 6th 2016, 10:33am

For our street food tour in Hanoi, we were very explicit -- Bring us to really special places and we'll eat anything (once). We were taken to a shop that specialized in Durian for example that wasn't on the typical tourist tour.
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Post #47  Postby Sarah Kirschbaum » June 6th 2016, 12:01pm

I also think the food in Saigon is superior in most ways to that in Hanoi. My foodie friends who live there agree wholeheartedly, though I question their objectivity. ;-)
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Post #48  Postby doug johnson » June 6th 2016, 8:27pm

Matt Thomas wrote:Hiked for 3 hours to have lunch with a black Hmong family. Then hiked 2 more hours (not really sure about the time), for a homestay with a black Hmong family. Incredible incredible views. We did this through Ethos tours. We had the fortunate night to spend with a family who just completed their second planting. Was part of a feast.


What is Hmong food like? How modern were their houses?

Sounds like a fun trip!
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Post #49  Postby Steven Miller » June 6th 2016, 8:45pm

The Hmong migrated across much of SE Asia mountainous regions that are now parts of Thailand, Laos, Vietnam, and China.

If you've eaten at a Northern Thai or Laotian restaurant you've likely had Hmong dishes. Speaking of Laos, Luang Prabang belongs on everyone's SE Asia bucket list along with Siem Reap, Hanoi, HCMC, Chiang Mai & Rai, Bangkok, ...

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hmong_people
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hmong_cuisine
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Post #50  Postby Matt Thomas » June 7th 2016, 5:41am

doug johnson wrote:
Matt Thomas wrote:Hiked for 3 hours to have lunch with a black Hmong family. Then hiked 2 more hours (not really sure about the time), for a homestay with a black Hmong family. Incredible incredible views. We did this through Ethos tours. We had the fortunate night to spend with a family who just completed their second planting. Was part of a feast.


What is Hmong food like? How modern were their houses?

Sounds like a fun trip!


We had 3 meals while in Sapa, so I am by no means an expert, but here is what we had. Our first meal was sauteed greens with garlic, we had a tofu stew with tomatoes and onions, sauteed bamboo shoots, and then pork and chicken for our first meal. All this was eaten over rice. It was relatively basic food.

The family we stayed at finished their rice planting, so they had a feast to celebrate. For that, we had sauteed greens again with garlic, pork, chicken, rice, and lots of Bia Hoi. They made a dipping sauce with ground roasted peppers, salt, water, and MSG. I loved the dipping sauce. They seasoned all of their food with MSG.

Breakfast was eggs, rice, and the dipping sauce again.

All cooking was done over wood fire, in a little hearth in the cooking room. The kitchen prep area was separate from the cooking area in both houses we went in. They had cement floors, and were basic wooden buildings, maybe 15' x 30'. Ours had a master bedroom, a bed in the kitchen, and a separate bed in the area between the living/dining room and the prep area. On the other side of the living/dining room was the hearth and the "master" bedroom. They had storage on the second level, but not living spaces. They did not have any windows and only had 1 light per room. The walls were wooden planks. No insulation or running water in the houses we were in. Both had outhouses. At the place where we met the guide, the owner mentioned that there is an elevated mortality rate from carbon monoxide poisoning, especially during the winter months when they use the hearth to heat the house. We slept under a mosquito net.

The house we did a homestay in had a tv and DVD player. I saw some houses with satellites.

There is a large Hmong population in the US, mostly situated in California, Minnesota, and Wisconsin. These are mostly blue Hmong, per the tour director, and mostly from Laos and Cambodia.

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