Vietnam

McCheese

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#1
I'm planning a trip to Vietnam in late July or early August. I've been told the weather will suck during those times, but sadly that's the only time travel is possible for me and the person I'm going with.

Anyway, any suggestions? I'm still in the very early planning stages, so even suggestions as to where to fly in (North? South?) are good. I think the plan is to fly in to either the north or south and spend about 10 days to 2 weeks working my way up or down the country, hitting interesting stuff along the way.

In terms of traveling, I'm definitely a hostels/local joints kind of person over hotels and massive tourist areas.
 

Springbok

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#2
Hanoi > Saigon is a pretty far trip, but a beautiful one. That time of year is the rainy season so expect sudden bursts of a ton of rain, then nothing. It's also going to be hot AF and muggy but you'll get used to it pretty quickly. Don't have any hotel suggestions, as I backpacked through the country as cheaply as I could.

Only real tip/advice is, although the motorcycle/scooter rentals look like fun I'd avoid it. The drivers in Ho Chi Minh especially are fucking nuts and trying to drive a motorcycle through that city is dangerous if you're not experienced - I bought a scooter, wrecked it the same day and spent 2 days in the hospital with a broken wrist (<noob)! I own a motorcycle stateside as well if that's any indication.

I think there is a train that goes from both cities, which would allow you to see a lot of the countryside with minimal effort. I took the buses and used it to hop off at different stops.

My favorite part of Vietnam, and one of the nicest areas is Phu Quoc - it's an island off the South coast of Vietnam. Not the most beautiful beaches in SE, nor is it the most convenient (Thailand/Malaysia/Philippines/Indo all better for that) - but what it has that the others doesn't is peace.... Not a ton of development (at least when I was there 10 years ago), clean air, lots of hiking and fresh food. It's a really nice place, and a good place to catch your breathe after the madness you'll experience in Saigon. You'll probably want to land in Saigon, head straight to Pham Ngu Lao and go from there. You can arrange travel, meet other backpackers and develop your itinerary there.

Vietnam is a lovely place, I was a beach rat so it wasn't my favorite country but the country side is beautiful. Best thing about Vietnam (and Cambodia) is it's really cheap and easy to get around. There will also be TONS of backpackers around who are willing to help you out, offer up advice (and weed), etc. I'd buy a lonelyplanet, read it and just dive in. SE Asia is not a great place to sort of "plan for". I'd just pick a landing spot, get off the plane and have them take you to the backpacker area.
 

Gurgeh

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#3
I often go for 3-6 weeks in Vietnam during the summer, and I'll be going again in late august early september this year. It's true that it is the worst time of the year for northern half of the country. Hanoi is bad, and getting worse every year, it can be really suffocating in summer with 40+°C during the day, around 30 during the night, 80%+ humidity, no wind, lots of pollution. If you've never been to Vietnam, I'd say : stay in the south, the weather is actually cooler, Saigon is pretty much 32°C all year round, no typhoon...

That being said it's difficult to give advice regarding tourism in Vietnam, because areas that could have been nice last year can have been wrecked by a sudden development of local/ cheap chinese/cheap russian tourism. For example Nha Trang used to be a very nice place, now it's only nice if you're looking for underage prostitutes and cheap vodka. I used to like Hoi An as well, but it's ridiculously crowded, tons of Koreans, and people aren't as nice as they used to be. You can probably find decent beaches in remote area, but I'd say there are better countries for beaches.

I think you should look up the mountains north of Saigon, if you're looking for something else than eating cheeseburgers in a nice hotel, the areas of Buôn Ma Thuột or Pleiku I hear they aren't packed with tourists yet and the weather is nice. I went to Dalat the last time around, and Russian tourists had already reached it, that's why I'm suggesting something even more remote.

I would suggest to travel exclusively in planes in Vietnam when you can, it's cheap, safe and will save you a lot of time and disconfort. Especialy if you book in advance, Vietnam Airlines is very cheap for domestic flights.

Vietnam has the best asian food (imo) but it's not very easy to access it for tourists : a good vietnamese restaurant usually serve only one dish, or one kind of dish (for example : duck with rice, pho, ...) so you often don't even have a menu ! if you're in a restaurant with an english menu offering a large variety of dishes and there are no locals ... you're in the same vietnamese restaurant you would have home (or worse). For example something that look like this :
adfas.jpg

Is probably going to be bad.

On the other hand something like this :
pho-vietnamien-restaurant-hanoi.jpg

Is going to be good : full of locals, small chair/table (not very confortable, i don't get it, but it's an easy way to tell the good food from the bad : the size of the chairs/tables, the smaller, the better) , only one dish.

Anyway, I'm also starting to plan my trip to Korea / Japan / Vietnam this summer, and it's a bit of a headache !
 

Gamma Rays

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#4
My sister and her family toured through Vietnam a few years ago. We had a video / photo evening after she got back and one area that stood out was Northern Vietnam up in the mountains. Incredible place, away from the crowds. They treked on quiet mountain paths between small villages for a few days and stayed in tiny non-touristy places. I'm not sure of place names, but it was where the Hmong people live.
 

TJT

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#5
I'm planning a trip to Vietnam in late July or early August. I've been told the weather will suck during those times, but sadly that's the only time travel is possible for me and the person I'm going with.

Anyway, any suggestions? I'm still in the very early planning stages, so even suggestions as to where to fly in (North? South?) are good. I think the plan is to fly in to either the north or south and spend about 10 days to 2 weeks working my way up or down the country, hitting interesting stuff along the way.

In terms of traveling, I'm definitely a hostels/local joints kind of person over hotels and massive tourist areas.
I went a few years ago. It was a good time. I had some friends plying your trade in Saigon and went there first. I rented a motorbike and got around that way. Then took the plane to Da Nang and then another plane to Hanoi. Domestic flights are wicked cheap. So I recommend this.

Gamma Rays Gamma Rays is talking about Sapa which really is one of the best places in VN and has a lot of awesome hiking as well. To get there you need to take the train from Hanoi to Lao Cai and then a shuttle bus for some small amount of money. My friend and I illegally hiked up Fan Xi Fanh or whatever the highest peak in Vietnam. Which was pretty cool as you can do it with basically nothing and the path is well defined. Just go early in the morning before the stupid gate guards are there and its free. Takes about 9 hours up and 4 or 5 down even in the rain like we did.

Cost of living is, in general, very cheap and high quality hotels are $25 if you want to spritz it up.
 

Gurgeh

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#6
I went a few years ago. It was a good time. I had some friends plying your trade in Saigon and went there first. I rented a motorbike and got around that way. Then took the plane to Da Nang and then another plane to Hanoi. Domestic flights are wicked cheap. So I recommend this.

Gamma Rays Gamma Rays is talking about Sapa which really is one of the best places in VN and has a lot of awesome hiking as well. To get there you need to take the train from Hanoi to Lao Cai and then a shuttle bus for some small amount of money. My friend and I illegally hiked up Fan Xi Fanh or whatever the highest peak in Vietnam. Which was pretty cool as you can do it with basically nothing and the path is well defined. Just go early in the morning before the stupid gate guards are there and its free. Takes about 9 hours up and 4 or 5 down even in the rain like we did.

Cost of living is, in general, very cheap and high quality hotels are $25 if you want to spritz it up.
Yeah probably Sapa, if she went there by train, it's definitely there. There are even more impressive and remote area with Hmong closer to the Chinese border, but going there is an adventure in itself, you're going into an area without electricity or proper road to reach them but it's also area without tourists, so the people are much much nicer (even though very poor, it can be heartbreaking, like a family of 5 sharing 1 pair of shoes 2 trousers through winter, and the like...) and breathtaking untouched landscapes. It's possible to reach such areas with a proper guide, if you want to witness an area and people that aren't much connected to the modern world. You do really need a proper guide tho, the travel itself can be dangerous if you have a retarded driver, and you'll possibly be a day away from the nearest hopital, so don't hurt yourself too bad will wandering around. You can also have China invading, like they do once in a while (last time was about 30 years ago, so... you never know) and the action is usually in that area.
 

sakkath

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#7
Pushbiked my way (over the course of a couple of weeks) up the coast from dalat to hue a couple of years ago. Really enjoyed it. Fresh healthy food, friendly locals. Felt a lot safer there than most of the rest of SE asia. Non tipping culture made it feel a lot more relaxed around locals.
 

Loftish

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#8
I'll second Phu Quoc. My wife and I spent a week on the island as part of our honeymoon and it was wonderful (and peaceful, like Springbok said). It was the only place in Vietnam I was willing to rent a scooter, as there isn't much traffic. There's one main road on the island running North-South, rent a scooter for a day and explore the island. We were riding on a dirt path on the Northern end of the island and all of a sudden we saw wild monkeys jumping from tree to tree. Definitely one of the more memorable experiences I've had.

Check out the Phu Quoc bee farm, super nice people. When we were there about three years ago, a lot of major hotel chains were just starting to build hotels. I have a feeling it's about to become a big tourist destination, which I don't really see as a good thing. Go while you still can.
 

McCheese

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#9
We've finally started hashing out the details of the trip. Thanks for all the suggestions. We're flying into (and out of) Ho Chi Minh City and we'll have 10 days of actual time to do stuff between arriving and leaving. Here's the rough itinerary we're thinking:

Ho Chi Minh City
Mekong Delta / Phu Quoc
Hoi An
Da Nang
Hanoi (then fly back to HCMC and then home)

10 days really isn't much time with all the stuff it looks like there is to see and do. Is it realistic to hit all of the above-mentioned places in that time? How much time would it be worth spending in each place?
 

Gurgeh

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#10
You can do the Mekong delta from HCMC, spend a full day touring the mekong in a boat, visit some farm on it for example, it's nice. Phu Quoc I'd advise against it, there are better beach out there, Vietnam isn't really good at it. Da Nang and Hoi An are quite close, you can stay in Hoi An and spend a half day in Da Nang on your way from or to Hoi An. If you're already visiting Hanoi and HCMC, you'll just spend all your time in the large cities, and Danang isn't as friendly as it used to be. 3 days in Hoi An should be good to visist the river, the cham ruins and the city itself in the evening should be good. Hanoi weather is very bad from march to october, if you have trouble with hot+wet+no wind you'll just move from AC vehicles to AC places... In Hanoi i'd say go to Ninh Binh rather than Halong if you want to see some spectacular natural places, unless you want to spend a night on the boat. Halong isn't really nice unless you do at least 2 days of cruise.
 

McCheese

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#11
We've finalized our itinerary and booked all in-country travel and lodging. Here's what we've decided to go with based on info here and other people we know who have been:

Fly into HCMC, stay for a day
Chau Doc for a day
Phu Quoc for 2 days
Fly to Hue for 4 days (explore Hoi An and maybe even Da Nang)
Back to HCMC for 2 days
Fly home

So we'll spend about 10 full days actually in-country, with basically a day or so on either end for traveling.

Thanks for all the information and suggestions!
 

McCheese

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#12
Vietnam was amazing. One of the best trips I've ever taken. By far the highlight was cycling from Chau Doc through the countryside up to Sam Mountain and back. We did pretty much everything on our own, so no guided tours or groups or anything. We followed the itinerary laid out in my post above to a T. We were super lucky with the weather and got almost no rain at all. We had a few showers here or there that lasted like 20 minutes, but otherwise it was sunny for the entire 2ish weeks everywhere we went.

A++ do recommend to anyone considering visiting.