I'll be flying in and out of Hanoi August 5-22. I was first planning to visit both Hanoi and HCM areas, however, I'm now having second thoughts as it may be way too much in only 17 days. Instead, I now think, I'll spend the whole 17 days in North Vietnam. Is it a good or a bad decision?
Besides Hanoi, Sapa and Halong Bay, any other recomendation in North Vietnam?
Is it worth doing one of those 3-4 day cruise around Halong Bay? Any suggestion to a particular boat company there?
Thank you so much in advance, cheers!
I would say with only 17 days you are doing the right thing by just sticking to the North. There are of course some good things to see in the South, but why rush.
Doing a three day tour of Halong Bay is definetly recommended. You can't see enough in only one day, and it's nice to spend the middle day on Cat Ba (I think most tours do this). Also, while some people complain that it's not a very comfortable night, for me one of the highlights of the trip was spending the night on the boat. Make sure you go for a swim at night, it's great.
Make sure you spend at least 3 days in Sapa and get out there and do a hike.
Hanoi itself is also worth a few days to explore. I think I spent over a week there (with day trips) and loved every minute of it. While in Hanoi, some day trips that are recommended is to the Perfume Pagoda and Tam Coc (I didn't get to go but I hear good things).
So with that you've pretty much used up at least 10 days of your trip. Another option is to take a train down to Hue and also visit Hoi An. That will fill up another week of your trip, and your 17 days are gone.
I would definitely just do northern Vietnam. Many people 'do the whole country' in the amount of time you have, but they don't really 'do the whole country'- they only see the well-trodden tourist trail by open tour bus- not the most interesting option i've got to say.
One of my favourite areas in northern Vietnam is the area around Ninh Binh- and there is plenty to do from there- visit Tam Coc and Hoa Lu (beautiful areas of outstanding limestone outcrops- Halong Bay on the rice paddies and old imperial capital), see Cuc Phuong National Park- home to the Endangered Primate Rescue Centre (where you will see some of the most spectacular and rare primates (monkeys) in the world), and Phat Diem (the most amazing blend of eastern and western religious architecture).
Try to be in the Sapa area over a weekend, and spend the Sunday (or even a couple of days) at Bac Ha markets- originally a very popular hill tribe market with traditional buffalo markets, and lots of textiles & handicrafts.
In Halong Bay, I would reccomend taking a boat trip with South Pacific Travel- they have a brand new boat based on a traditional wooden junk- but with all the mod. cons like air con and great wine!! From the boat you visit lots of caves & famous sights of the bay, and can do kayaking as well. (check out a review on the new hanoian website (www.thenewhanoian.com, which also has lots of great tips whilst in Hanoi.)
If you have any other questions I would be more than happy to help you- I live and work in Hanoi:-)
You have gotten some good advice from people that have done what you are planning to do. I will only add that I would not visit the Perfume Pagoda unless you are a Buddhist. It is a pretty boat trip to the start of your uphill walk, but the hike up to the pagoda is not worth the effort. If you do go, I recommend you take the cable car up to the shrine and walk down. Or use the cable car both ways. Also check that it is not a Buddhist holiday when you choose to go. Many VN people go during holidays and you do not want to be there then.
You may want to visit Hue for a few of your days. Take the overnight bus both ways and it will only take 2 or 3 of your days in the north.
Good luck and PM me if you have any questions.
I took three weeks exploring Vietnam, and Im soooo glad I didnt miss Hoi An and Mui Ni or Saigon. It can be done easily by flying from Hanoi to Danang, then Danang to Saigon...for as little as £24 each flight with Vietnamese airlines. Its possibly the best plane I've travelled on, economy is like business class with lovely big seats and you get fed too.
Hoi An is a thriving tailor town, they can make anything & everything, it also has a beach. Mue Ni has giant sand dunes which are superb to do sledging on....and the sleepy fishing village is fabulous in photographs.
Saigon is also very different compared with the rest of Vietnam and incredibly beautiful and noisey and vibrant.
In Hanoi, visit the Old Quarters and stay in back packer hostel Hanoi Backpacker...email: info at hanoibackpackershotel dot com. Contact Michael (aussie & vietnamese run) its in the heart of the old quarter and they will be able to arrange excursions to Ha Long Bay and other places...also not far from Vietnamese airline office if you wish to fly.