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Thread: Help with itininery for Vietnam

  1. #1

    Default Help with itininery for Vietnam

    Hi all, Plan to visit Hanoi next Apr (back packing) and need some feedback from travellers. I plan to spend more time in Ninh Binh and Sapa instead of Hanoi city. I have worked out basic plan below and hope to hear some advice please.

    Day 1:
    Flight ETA Hanoi 9am. Take bus to Ninh Binh since I will only ETA Hanoi after the morning train departure time. Afternoon tour around Ninh Binh. Overnight at Ninh Binh.

    Day 2:
    Morning tour around Ninh Binh. Catch afternoon train to Hanoi. Short afternoon tour around Hanoi city (old quarters maybe?). Catch overnight train to Lao Cai.

    Day 3:
    ETA Lao Cai 6am. Then 1 hr to Sapa and spend whole day trekking and shooting. Do I need a guide?

    Day 4:
    Still tour around Lao Cai. Maybe go to Bac Ha? Catch overnight train to Hanoi (ETA 5am++).

    Day 5:
    Catch morning flight out of Hanoi (ETD 9am).

    1) I found Vietnam train website, is it reliable to book online, or I can just book when I arrive at the train station?

    2) Is the train service reliable? (on time ETD and ETA, or prone to breakdowns, delays etc)

    3) How early do I need to arrive at Hanoi airport for departures?

    4) I am Malaysian, do I need visa?

    5) I will only buy train/ bus tickets and also look for accommodation (home stay or cheap hotel) when I reach there. So things will be quite spontaneous. Don't intend to pre book everything so that it is more flexible. Is this ok?

    Thanks for reading.

  2. #2

    Default Re: Help with itininery for Vietnam

    1. You can book when you arrive the train station I believe. Not many VNmese ppl use train as their main transportation.
    2. Not sure. when I was in VN it's not too bad. I think the train to Lao Cai wouldn't have any major issue, since it's local train.
    4. No, ASEAN ppl can freely travel around ASEAN.
    5. Train/bus tickets don't need to be booked in prior. Will be lots of cheap hotels around the popular travel spots, no need to pre-book btw. Just be sure that you know where to look for one.

  3. #3

    Default Re: Help with itininery for Vietnam

    Just a point to add. For trekking in sapa, bring along a glove and warm clothing a at this time of the year.
    When I was there in November it was 14 degrees. A glove is very handy as there are fences with bart wire around.

    I got a very bad cut when I slipped from a slope during my trek in the rainy season and my hand grabbed the rusty Bart wire intuitively to stop my fall. The cut is very bad.

  4. #4

    Default Re: Help with itininery for Vietnam

    Ninh Binh is really big & offers alot of sites. You can most probably do Tam Coc (the so called dry halong bay) in the remaining time you have in the first afternoon, but do note the sun sets much earlier in comparison than singapore. After which the morning you can try Hoa Lu and at most 1 other temple/cave/hill in the vicinity (for my case I visited Bich Dong Temple, which is really a beginners "adventure" trek) before you need to return to Hanoi. Depending on your luck, and how early in april, it might still be miserably cold in Lao Cai/Sapa, especially at night. This type of humid mountainous chill bites into the bones should not be underestimated or compared to the dry cold of temperate climates, so a jacket is highly recommended. Alot of hotels do not have heating since sapa inhabitants are so used to it, so check before booking.
    Last edited by surrephoto; 1st October 2013 at 05:06 AM.

  5. #5

    Default Re: Help with itininery for Vietnam

    Try to plan your Sapa trip during the weekend.
    The Bac-ha Sunday market is wonderful and offers a lot of good photo opportunities.

    For Sapa you can probably walk around by yourself, but be warned that distances are great and can be very tiring. If it's rainy/muddy, even worse.
    A guide would be great, but if you're alone might not be so economical.

  6. #6

    Default Re: Help with itininery for Vietnam

    You can buy a train ticket when you arrived at Hanoi, but do note that most of the train tickets will be booked out by local travel agencies and you may have to pay a lot more than the actual price if you want to secure a ticket. Getting a ticket booked online will of course, more or less ensure you can get a ticket, but do note that all these sites are operated by travel agencies and not the rail company itself and will cost much more than the ticket that you can get over the counter at the train station. A easy and cheap way to get to Sapa is actually by bus. Yes, Sapa, not Lao Cai. The train goes to Lao Cai where you have to pay for a bus ticket to get to Sapa town. But by taking a overnight sleeper bus, you can actually get to Sapa town itself. If you prefer to stay in Lao Cai, the bus does stop in Lao Cai for picking up and dropping off passengers before moving onto Sapa. From what I can see, your aim is to see Sapa town, so you might as well take the bus directly to Sapa. It costs only a fraction of the bus ticket, ie. 300,000 VND for a one way ticket. You can get it booked at any travel agencies within the Old Quarters in Hanoi. You will get picked up at wherever you booked your ticket and be transferred to the bus. You can book a return ticket or you can easily get a ticket in Sapa. On your return, you will be dropped off at the Old Quarters again (similar to trains, you will arrive just before dawn).

    Yes, you can easily get everything booked only on arrival. You can also find accommodation easily on arrival. It is just a matter of getting a good room for a good price. This is the case for Hanoi, Ninh Binh and Sapa. You may want to try a little bit of bargaining to bring the prices down. I always do. The Vietnamese are quite obliging if you are nice.

    It takes less than 2 hours to get to Ninh Binh by public bus. Make sure you go to the correct bus station though since there are a few bus stations in Hanoi. If you are short on time, you may want to hire a car to bring you to the various places in Ninh Binh. I personally enjoyed Ninh Binh most during a cycling tour around the surrounding regions, as I was brought by my guide around the countryside through the paddy fields. Got to visit the view point too. The sights are actually not too far if you are a keen cyclist. For example, Tam Coc is only 9km from Ninh Binh. There are one or two smaller hotels which actually can make arrangements for cars or bikes. You may want to ask at your hotel.

    You can definitely walk around Sapa on your own without a guide. Cat Cat Village for example, can be easily done in just two to three hours as it is at the valley right next to Sapa town. You just have to go along the nicely paved route through the village and you will never get lost. It is a tad too touristy though. But you can still enjoy it if you keep away from the tourists crowd.

    If you are looking to stay away from the tourists crowd, I will advice you to skip Bac Ha. There are actually markets almost every day of the week. If you are looking to do something less touristy and are willing to spend a bit of money, I will advice you to try the markets on the other days. If you do end up there on a Sunday, you may want to try the Muong Hong market instead of the Bac Ha market. The Bac Ha market is only for the Flower Hmong. But the Muong Hong market, which is a little further away, attracts a few different minority tribes. If you can find other travelers to share costs, you can book a car/van from one of the local travel agencies in Sapa town to bring you to the markets. The cheapest option is of course, do Bac Ha market, but do note that a good majority of tourists do that one too.

    As per any other international airports, you are advised to arrival about 2 hours before your flight departure in Hanoi. The security checks in Hanoi are not much of a hassle and it is unlikely you will be held up at the checks. That being said, it does not mean you can try to cut it by arriving one hour before time. I will advise you to plan on 2 hours, just in case you get held up on the way to the airport or something happened while you are at the airport.

  7. #7

    Default Re: Help with itininery for Vietnam

    Just got back from Hanoi last week.

    For Sapa Valley trekking, I suggest to go via a tour group. The whole trekking experience, at some parts are quite dangerous, in terms of the road conditions. So prepare and get some trekking equipments such as trekking boots, and best with a walking stick.

    I would say 2 days at Sapa Valley would be good.

    PM me for the travel agency I booked with in Vietnam.

    My package of 4D3N, including airport transfer, food, hotels, tour guide, train tickets costs USD 170 per pax.
    Think fast, aim for the best !


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