Planning A Trip To Vietnam (And Maybe Beyond)

My cousin Heather and I have been talking about taking our moms on a trip to Vietnam for a few years now. It’s not somewhere either of them would naturally go on their own, and the kind of trip we’re envisioning isn’t necessarily conducive to a big family trip with kids and spouses, so we’ve kept it simmering on the backburner.

Of course, the nice thing about having general trip ideas in mind is that when a screaming deal comes along, you can quickly take advantage of the opportunity without having to pause to circle the wagons and gather opinions. So when the recent Hong Kong Airlines fares were published I did a quick check of school and work calendars, purchased four tickets, and then waited until I knew the fares would be honored before asking everyone if they wanted to go.

The obvious downside of that approach is that it doesn’t allow for much nuanced planning or consideration of the itinerary ahead of time. So while I have our flights, and a rough idea of things I think we might enjoy, I could really help from the hive mind here at filling in the outline.

Just Vietnam, or Cambodia and Laos too?

Here’s my general debacle — we have 15 full days, which gives us almost too many options. We could easily spend the entire time taking a very leisurely trip through Vietnam, as there’s so much that interests me there, and I’m intrigued by the idea of taking a slow trip through a country, since that’s something I don’t generally get to do.

But the only time I’ve spent in Cambodia was a spur-of-the-moment weekend trip to Siem Reap after a wedding in Malaysia a few years ago, where my husband had food poisoning almost the entire time. I’d love to go back to the country and see Phnomh Penh, and maybe more of the less-touristy areas.

But Laos has also been high on my list of places to visit for ages, and I haven’t made it there yet. So it might be nice to spend a few nights in Luang Prabang at least, if only to get a taste of a country that we’d want to come back and experience more thoroughly in future.

I realize that could easily be three (or more) trips, but part of the point of this is to show our moms places they wouldn’t otherwise see, so bopping around to several cities might be interesting for them.

Factors to consider

One, we’ll be there in February, so I’m not sure the weather will be quite warm enough to spend time out on Ha Long Bay, or do some of the other “must dos” in the northern part of the country. But I’ve heard mixed reports on that.

Also, we’ll be there in February — which means smack-dab in the middle of the Tết holiday. Which from what I understand means that many things will be shut down.

(These are some of the other things you should think about in advance, so you don’t book tickets and then realize “damn, I just booked a third-consecutive trip to Asia over the local New Year.” I spend a lot of time thoughtfully consider other people’s travel, and very little on my own, clearly.)

And another factor — my mom is really, really, interested in archaeology.

Like, you know the roughly 40% of most natural history museums where the displays are just full of awls and pottery shards, and you can’t help but wonder “okay, but who actually cares about seeing these?” — my mom loves that stuff.

So I think going to the region and not setting aside some time for exploring temples in Angor would be a bit sad for her (though she would never complain about it).

Finally, I am (theoretically) going to try not to work as much on this trip. Which ironically makes connectivity even more important. When we were in Thailand a few years ago this worked out perfectly, as we had fabulous internet everywhere we stayed, so I could comfortably work for a few hours in the morning before everyone else started their day, check in maybe once in the afternoon, then wind down the evening by wrapping things up from my inbox.

This strategy works really well for me with the time zones in Asia, provided the internet is fast and reliable. When it’s not, the few hours of efficient morning work turns into a frustrating 10-hour slog. Which, that’s also doable if we’re in a certain place for a few days — Heather frequently has taken our moms out to do stuff while I work — but I don’t love missing out, and if we’re traveling at a faster pace that all ends poorly.

A possible itinerary

I’m not committed to this, because it is really fast — which would be fine for me, though I appreciate isn’t for everyone.

Here’s a map for a bit of context:

But here’s a general outline we were considering, factoring in the various flight times and distances between cities:

  • Arrive in Ho Chi Minh City, spend two nights
  • Transfer to Phnom Penh — there’s a bus (potentially bad for those of us who get carsick), a ferry+bus combo, or the obvious OMAAT choice of a Qatar 777 booked with Avios — spend two nights there
  • Travel to Siem Reap — ever since Wandering Aramean and his wife took this river boat it’s something I’ve been wanting to do — spend two nights there
  • Fly to Luang Prabang, again spending two nights there
  • Fly to Hanoi, spending maybe one night before catching the overnight train to Hue late the following evening
  • Overnight in Hue
  • Train to Da Nang, spend a few days on the beaches there and exploring Hoi An before catching flight home

So I like that parts of that as a concept, though it is a fast pace (and requires a multi-entry visa for Vietnam, which is annoying).

My asks of OMAAT readers

What would you all do?

I really want to make this a special trip for our moms (though I can hear the chorus of every mom reading this saying “It will be special because they’re with you!” and that is probably true), and would like them to be able to experience as much of the region as possible. But I’m not sure what exactly “experience” should look like, given all the options, and have a bit of planning paralysis.

So, are there things that you’ve done (or have always wanted to do)? Places we should definitely stay — or those we can skip without missing too much? Other thoughts and recommendations for a trip like this?

I’d love to hear it all — even if there’s stuff you think doesn’t make sense for this group, other readers might enjoy it, and I love collating these references for future. You guys always have the best tips, and I really appreciate your input. 🙂

Beyond just this specific question, how do you approach planning trips when you’re traveling with family?

Comments

  1. Luang Prabang is magical. and still somewhat undiscovered. seeing the monks early in the morning making their way to their temple is truly a special sight. I highly recommend going there and just totally chilling for a few days. It’s especially great after the frenetic pace of some of the larger cities in Vietnam. I loved it.

  2. Overall, though, your timeline is appropriate, giving the right amount of time in each city. Fly from Hanoi to Danang. I did that and it’s easy. The beaches around there and Hoi An are fantastic. I did not make it to Hue, but I’d recommend it.
    Also, i REALLY liked Phnom Penh and am bummed I didnt get to spend more than a day there. The sights – the killing museums and the museum regarding the Khmer Rouge – are harrowing and sobering, but they really do provide the context for why the country is the way it is today. And the city is cool other than that, with great food and great scenery on the river banks. I think overall for 15 days your itinerary works. And I had no troubles with speedy internet when I was in any of these places – and that was 8 years ago. enjoy!

  3. My husband and I did Laos and Vientam in April. Luang Prabang is definitely a must. Halong Bay was a bug disappointment with tons of tourists everywhere. Danang is ok for two nights and as a base for Hoi An. We took a train from Hue to Danang and it was spectacular. You can check out my blog.

  4. I personally would recommend AGAINST train between Hanoi, Hue, and Da Nang, for 3 reasons:
    1. Trains in VN suck. They are old, mostly filthy, and their networks are pretty bad.
    2. Hai Van Pass, man! You won’t have that much fun on train over this awesome mountain pass.
    3. Food :-). The greatest joy of traveling down Vietnam coastline is her bountiful seafood offering.

    So, I would recommend hiring a car (and a driver; can’t drive in VN, won’t attempt to), drive from Hanoi to Ha Long Bay, spend a day there (it’s breathtaking, I will assure you), then drive down to Hue, let your mom go crazy for a while (there are a *lot* of architecture there to go crazy over; I need to go back there…), drive down to Hoi An, eat some cao-lau, drive up to Da Nang, fly out.

    On a separate note: staying 2 nights in Ho Chi Minh City and 1 day in Hanoi sound, well, wrong. Don’t get me wrong, Ho Chi Minh City is awesome (hometown). However, sight-seeing wise, Hanoi is much better. So much more historical fun stuffs to see. You can do day trip around the Red River delta (and, Ha Long Bay).

    Another idea: fly to Hanoi and drive down to Ho Chi Minh City, visiting Ha Long Bay, Phong Nha national park, Hue, Da Nang, Hoi An, Nha Trang, Phan Rang (or Phan Thiet). You have the capital and her goodies (Hanoi), the ex-capital and HER goodies (Hue, Hoi An), natural beauties (Phong Nha, Nha Trang, Phan Rang), some older Champa buildings (near Phan Thiet). Plus, have I mentioned seafood? SEAFOOD!!!!

  5. I don’t know how you go to Hanoi and not make a side trip to the Ha Long Bay caves. They are amazing.

    The multiple entry visa is no big deal, it just costs a little more. I used a Vietnam company, then had the visa applied in my passport upon arrival. There was one person in front of us, and took about 20 minutes extra (including waiting) at the airport.

    I had more time, but went Hanoi – Siem Reap – Phnom Penh – Ho Chi Minh – Hue – Vientiane

    February also starts getting very hot.

  6. @ BA — It looks gorgeous, and I would love to stay there, but for the nights we’d be there rates are $675/night (plus 10% tax and 5% service charge), and we’d need two rooms, so that’s unfortunately far out of the budget.

  7. I grew up in this region, and still make the trip back twice a year. As a lightning-paced traveler myself, I think this more or less is fine, minus the trains (unreliable, slow, and just terrible quality overall). 2 nights in HCMC is fine. Cu Chi will require at least a half-day, but well worth it. Avoid the bus to PP at all costs. The fifth freedom QR route is perfect in this regard. 2 nights each in PP and REP are fine, as is 2 nights in LPQ (especially if you stay at Amantaka). Hanoi is worth more than one night — spend two nights here, really soak in the French Quarter (plus lots of new hotels have opened here, though I personally still prefer the Metropole). Avoid the train to Hue — domestic flights are cheap, frequent, and reliable. VN J domestic fares are very reasonable as well. Hue does not come close to the grandeur of Angkor Wat in any way, so I personally would either add an extra day for Danang and Hoi An (day trip) or continue down to Nha Trang for more beach time that’s a little less crowded than Danang (would recommend the Six Senses property here).

  8. Very excited for you. I have been to Siem Reap and would say since your mom loves archaeology, it’s a must stop. Can’t advise much about Luang Prabang or other Vietnamese cities since I never been there before but will be going a month after you. My understanding is car ride from Hanoi to Ha-Long bay is 4.5 hours each way. However, one can take a helicopter which shrinks the time to about an hour each way….makes day trip possible. That’s how we plan to do it. Enjoy tour trip! I’m taking Korean Air in F to Asia thanks to articles on this website. Can’t wait!

  9. I haven’t spent a ton of time in that part of Southeast Asia, but my husband and I loved our quick 36 hours in Siem Reap and the Angkor complex (and unlike your mom, we’re not exactly museum types). Beng Mealea, about an hour outside of the city, was a big highlight, and definitely worth the detour.

    Le Meridien Angkor was a great use of then-SPG points and would definitely scratch the internet itch. They took care of all of our temple tours (again, not always our style but it sure was efficient) and our driver was more than amenable to our last-minute “take us to your favorite temple” request.

    Have fun!!

  10. We just got back from a SE Asia trip yesterday, and stayed 5 days in Luang Prabang – it was magical – we rented scooter there which gave us so much freedom to get around and explore off the beaten path. It’s definitely in the top 5 most beautiful and amazing places i’ve been to. We also spent 1 night in Hanoi before catching our flight home, it was an amazing and probably good for 2-3 nights. Due to a massive thunderstorm we really couldn’t go out much.

  11. Do Vietnam then either Laos or Cambodia, not both, to give yourselves more time. Driving takes a lot longer than we anticipate there, although I second what another reader said and suggest hiring a driver. Getting out of the central areas is a great way to really get to know a place, and only one day at each place is pretty quick. A half day trip to My Son from Hoi An will make your mom happy!

  12. Luang Prabang is an amazing experience. It somehow manages to feel like an island oasis inside a landlocked country. The pace feels slow and relaxing, but it’s full of delicious food and drink and amazing temples to visit. Laos was the highlight of my trip to Vietnam.

  13. Please check the availability of boat trip between Pp and Siam Reap as there is a dry Season. As someone mentioned Pp nothing special but u cam see most luxurious cars per sq mile outside Dubai

  14. Just went to Luang Prabang. It’s a beautiful city. Waterfalls nearby are breathtaking. Amantaka was an awesome property, too! Siem Reap is not a nice city, but Angkor Wat is obviously one of the world’s best sites. Angkor Thom is definitely excellent, too!

  15. I agree forget Phnom Penh. 3 Days Siem Reap is absolute minimum in my opinion. We went there on a trip to Thailand and Cambodia and it was the highlight of that trip.
    We hired a driver and if you email me, I will find his info for you. His name was Jimmy Cheam. He had a Toyota Van, speaks English well and was ridiculously cheap. All of his suggestions were very good. Also in Siem Reap A trip to the floating villages should be included.
    In Vietnam, We went to Bai Tu Long Bay (Somewhat less touristy and crowded) on an overnight boat – The Dragon Legend. We had a wonderful time but unless you are going in a warmer time of year – it is quite cold and damp and dreary. The ship we were on was very comfortable and the food was great.
    We also spent 3 nights in Hanoi and felt it was barely enough. I found it fascinating.

    Hope this helps.

    Joe
    (BTW, I met you at FTU NYC this year.)

  16. This is the kind of trip I would take, but would never recommend to others 🙂

    Having been to all of the proposed cities/areas except Phnom Penh, I would suggest leaving off Luang Prabang and Hanoi (even though I love those cities) and adding those days in elsewhere and have a much more leisurely trip. I would highly recommend the InterContinental Da Nang Sun Peninsula Resort (https://www.ihg.com/intercontinental/hotels/us/en/danang-city/dadha/hoteldetail?cm_mmc=GoogleMaps-_-IC-_-VN-_-DADHA), especially if you have some IHG points to burn, as long as you don’t mind being well outside of the city center, since you mentioned beaches and Hoi An. It has an incredibly beautiful and secluded beach of its own and they run a free shuttle to Hoi An twice a day, so you can easily day trip it. They also run free shuttles into Da Nang multiple times per day, and they can arrange a car to take you to Hue for the day, though the drive is fairly long and will cost you (I paid by the hour, 8 hours total, which was enough to see the Citadel, but not much else in town, with a lunch of Bun Bo Hue before and a couple of beers afterward to beat the heat). Your mom will love Angkor Wat and the other nearby temples, as well as the Citadel.

    I’d highly recommend the Park Hyatts in Siem Reap (https://www.hyatt.com/en-US/hotel/cambodia/park-hyatt-siem-reap/repph?src=agn_pfx_prop_sem_repph_other_PFX_SEARCH_GOOGLE_ASPAC_REPPH_AO_BR_GENERIC_WW_EN_AO_BR_BMM_Extended_WW_EN_park+hyatt+cambodia) and HCMC/Saigon (https://www.hyatt.com/en-US/hotel/vietnam/park-hyatt-saigon/saiph?src=agn_pfx_prop_sem_saiph_other_PFX_SEARCH_GOOGLE_ASPAC_SAIPH_AO_BR_ROOMS_US_EN_AO_BR_Exact_City_US_EN_hyatt+saigon), especially if you have Hyatt free nights/points/suite upgrades to burn. Both of them are exceptionally beautiful properties, well located and not too pricey in terms of cash or points considering the amenities.

    If you do go to Luang Prabang, I give high marks to the Three Nagas (https://www.accorhotels.com/gb/hotel-9641-3-nagas-luang-prabang-mgallery-by-sofitel/index.shtml). It’s a lovely, traditional hotel right in the center of town and it’s reasonably priced.

    Safe travels!

  17. Hi Tiffany,
    I am Vietnamese, my hometown is in Saigon, I live in California but go back to VN once a year. I also have some suggestions similar to other readers:
    1) Recommend to visit Ha Long Bay since you are already in Hanoi ( 4 hr bus ride from Hanoi city)
    2) 1 night in HCM city and 2 night in Hanoi sound better becuase Ha Long Bay already take 1 full day and there is not much to do in HCM city
    3) Book hotel near Ben Thanh Market in HCM City, so you can just walk to their poppular night market and visit to Bui Vien street at night to see night life actions lol
    4) Skip the train from Hanoi to Danang, flying will save you time and energy to explore Danang.
    5) Visit Bana Hill if time permit in Danang
    6) Normally I recommend street foods but it is a hit or miss, even I got stomach ache sometimes lol, so best to avoid it.
    7 ) Some recommend restaurants:
    – Ngon Restaurant on 18 Phan Boi Chau Street, Hanoi
    – Bun Cha Huong Lien on Le Van Huu Street , Hanoi (food is quite good, this is where Obama an Anthony Boudain ate together)
    – Fresh seafood in Danang of course 🙂

    Thanks to this site for tips and tricks, I managed several First class flight on Singapore Airlines and Japan Airlines from US to VN , here is a short clip of my SQ F flight: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N9v5X5Eg0ZE&t=53s

  18. Go to Amanpulo Resort in the Philippines. It is a Anan hotel.

    From Wikipedia this is how you get the resort:

    Access to the resort from Manila is through Ninoy Aquino International Airport. The resort is serviced by Island Aviation of the Soriano group. Private charter airlines also may provide flight to the island through its private airstrip.

  19. I’ve been to Vietnam 8 times and even studied abroad there as an undergraduate student, so I feel like an expert on this topic. 15 days in enough if you want to experience the North, Central, and South.

    North: Hanoi, Sapa, Halong
    Central: Hue, Da Nang, Hoi An
    South: Saigon, Nha Trang, Dalat, or Mekong Delta

    There’s so much more to visit within these regions, but these are the highlights.

    Spending around 5 days good enough for each region. If you have the absolute urge to visit another country, you can visit Cambodia from Saigon via bus (Tourist bus). I have not been to Laos to comment, but I’ve found buses that go there from Hanoi.

  20. You should consider Bai Tu Long Bay instead of Halong Bay. It is part of the same area, but much less crowded. The contrast with Halong Bay was startling.
    We took a private junk for a couple of days and really loved it. A magical experience. There are several sizes, so there might be one big enough for your whole group. We went with a company called Indochina Junk and were very impressed with them. And the food our onboard chef made for us was very good!

    Also, if you are looking for a beach vacation, Hoi An in February may not meet your needs. It tends to be on the cool side then. Sometimes quite rainy, too. Look into that before you decide.

    Also in Vietnam, look into Ninh Binh. Gorgeous area, with the same dramatic soaring karst landscapes as The Halong Bay area, but it is located inland, closer to Hanoi. You can take little boats rowed by Vietnam women into idyllic areas, and the boats even go into caves. We stayed at Tam Coc Garden resort, and loved it.

    Another vote for Luang Prabang. Make sure you make time to go to he waterfall.

  21. Planning trips with family vs friends vs us results in signifantly different trips for me. This is because needs and wants are so varied. My parents are almost 80 so they can only handle so much travelling in a short amount of time – last family trip was 2 cities in 10 days vs 4 cities in 10 days with my friends!

    That said, when I travel with family it is usually all about them as I get great pleasure knowing they enjoy themselves. My best family trip was when we took my 3 year old niece to Disney and I spent more time in lines (for her) and waiting for her with all her stuff (lol) to finish rides with her grandparents (ie I rarely took any rides myself,) and I never had a better time at Disney.

    Plan what you think your mom would love but never ask for and I think it will be one if your best trips ever.

  22. I also agree- Pnom Penh not worth it.
    Siem Reap certainly is. Also, as someone mentioned, the boats don’t run between PP and SR during the dry season. And for older parents, the boat ride might be very uncomfortable and unbearably hot

  23. @Tiffany: Me and my wife went and did a SGN-HAN-REP-PHN trip in January 2018. The weather was perfect (nice and warm) wherever we went. I wore just a T shirt even in the evening or at 5 am in Siam Reap when we were waiting for the sunrise.
    HaLong bay your Mom would absolutely love! A most amazing scenery! We lucked out big time because 2 months before our departure a new company called ERA Crusies was launched with brand new cruise ships. Those cruise ships there are small, maybe two dozen rooms at the most. For us, we again were lucky because the company was new, there were only FIVE of us on the ship on that day! The crew were fantastic, so eager to provide fantastic service. I would highly recommend them (ERA Cruises). Have a great time there!

  24. @ Eric – Great post. Concise and to the point. 2 questions – how many days in Hanoi and in Saigon? And what would be your recommendation on travel between the regions?

  25. I’m not sure about your concerns regarding weather. It’s never “cold” in Vietnam.

    There’s a site I use a lot in trip planning; weatherbase.com

    At the very top (not the lower “trick search”), enter any city, anywhere. Great data.

    Enjoy your trip.

  26. @ colleen — Well, I read in a couple of places that the northern coastal areas were likely to be cool and foggy during that time? I will check out that site, thank you!

  27. My wife and I are in our early 60’s, travel a lot and are doing a trip to Hanoi, Luang Prabang and Chiang Mai over New Year 2018/19. Fast paced 2 nights at a time trips are great for younger people but ….if the Mom’s are close to our age a slightly slower paced trip may allow them to absorb the exoticism of this part of Asia a lot better. Don’t forget the time diff. and jet lag which is harder to adjust for (a) older and (b) not frequent travelers. Personally speaking for a 1st time visit to the region I consider Hanoi (and yes, one should never visit Hanoi without a trip to Ha Long Bay tourists notwithstanding!) – Luang Prabang – Siem Reap (Angkor & surroundings) to be a phenomenal trip. Hoi An is terrific for the beach and the Nam Hai (now the Four Seasons) but…a beach is a beach is a beach.

    In any case……wishing you all a wonderful trip and great “adventures” of consciousness!

  28. I found Da Nang kinda boring from a tourist perspective and in Feb the weather isn’t that warm to get a great beach experience. Hoi An was better. I love the trains in Veitnam, if you are flying everywhere you should at least take one train journey.

  29. Lived in hanoi for 3 years. Would suggest you allocate more time there. Sgn is a big typical asian city, Hn has charm.

    Walk thru the old quarters, get a drink on the outside deck on sofitel tower ( not the metropole) at sundown. Get cha ca, from a local shop ( not cha ca la vong!).
    Get up real early and go to the flower market in the lake district.

    Do NOT try to drive yourself. There are fundamental differences in the rulea of the road, even tho it looks similar at first glance .

  30. I took a riverboat trip from “Saigon” to Siem Reap in 2012, and it was one of my best trips ever. Highly recommended, and not very expensive. I posted a thread of pictures and comment here:

    https://www.kboards.com/index.php?topic=127437.0

    Except for the pic of Angkor Wat in the first post, all pictures are mine. I have no financial association with anything at the site.

    The most popular temples at Angkor Wat were absolutely jammed with tourists when I was there. You can get an hour or two of relative peace and quiet for an hour or two after opening in the morning while most tourists are eating breakfast. I was able to hire a car and driver by the day, and they took me to some off the beaten path temples that were amazing. There were signs up warning of mines, and we had to stay in cleared areas, but it was great. We almost had the places to ourselves, and the little kids and not learned to beg for candy or sell postcards! If your mom is really into such things, there are some places on the Mekong where you can see carved markings that were magical symbols (often carved underwater) intended to increase the river flow and the bounty of fish. I found them fascinating, but visibility may vary based on time of year and river level.

  31. I loved Luang Prabang. Very much worth a visit, for as long as you can spare.

    I did Vietnam last February and just something to be aware of – it can be rainy that time if year (and it was for me, like a million percent). So, if you have beach days planned, be prepared to move onto Plan B if needed.

    Also stayed in a Fab overwater bungalow between Hue & Hoi An (in theory you could base there and day trip to either). Search my site for cupping therapy if you care (I don’t want to spam your readers).

    You’ll have fun no matter what!

  32. It depends on the moms’ energy and stamina to change locations every 2 days, specially after the long flight and time difference from the US to Asia. Personally, with parents, I would stick to two places max on a 2 week vacation to thoroughly enjoy each place, get comfortable, explore in depth, etc. I know its tempting to hop around and see everything you wanna see but when you’re with older people who dont really visit that part of the world it might be a different experience. Less is more.

  33. I believe that QR flys the A330 to PNH. I wish they would send the 787 though, PNH needs more love from airlines.

  34. What do you mean by ” and maybe beyond “?
    It sounds like you are already looking down on Vietnam and more for those countries you called beyond.

    Calling countries just as “beyond” on the title shows how narrow minded and conservative you are and you think you are better than those. And you do sound dumb conservative Moran time to time.
    People like you shouldn’t travel. Stay in Midwest.
    You must not be from westcoast.

  35. In Ho Chi Minh there is a fantastic Renaissance. Great views, close to markets and great food. Cu Chi Tunnels private tour via boat is amazing as well.

  36. If your mother is into archaeology then you should be considering the Plain of Jars in Laos. There simply isn’t anything like it anywhere else in the world. There are multiple sites and I would definitely recommend that you include the main site for the scale – the area covered is surprising large – but also at least one of the smaller sites. I caught one at sunset and had it to myself – absolutely magical.

    There are three downsides though.
    1. It’s a bit hard to reach – the nearest airport is Phonsavan.
    2. Hotel choices are limited. It’s not dire but there aren’t luxury choices
    3. The main site has a reputation as being one of the most dangerous archaeological sites in the world. That’s exaggerated, I think. The mines and bombs have been cleared from the main site – just don’t stray.

    The Plain of Jars is unforgettable. An adventure. But including it in an itinerary requires commitment.

  37. @David L

    I would recommend 2 days each in Hanoi and Saigon before venturing off to other places in those regions. These two cities will be your base when traveling in the north or south before heading out to the natural wonders outside the city.

    When traveling within each region, there’s a good bus system that will connect you to other places. However, when traveling to another region, take the plane as it is cheap and much faster. The domestic low cost airlines are Vietjet and Jetstar. However, the national airline, Vietnam Airlines, has much better service and better planes but it can expensive.

  38. Tiffany,

    I hope I can provide some useful feedback, given all the great information you have shared on OMAAT. I have been to Siam Reap, Ho Chi Minh City, and DaNang/Hoi An. Cambodia and Vietnam were on different trips for me, Cambodia in late January/early February and Vietnam the next year in late February/early March. I spent two nights each in Siam Reap and HCMC, and that was enough time for me. If your/Heather’s moms are not experienced traveling in Asia, HCMC can be kind of intimidating (crossing streets, general chaos). It also is hot and humid even in dry season in February. I waited until March to visit DaNang hoping for better beach weather than February, but one of four days was a complete rainout, there was some other rain, and the ocean was not as calm and clear as I like. I also decided to skip Hanoi/Halong Bay because I thought it might be too cold, but people I met in DaNang said they had nice weather (pretty warm and sunny). I regret not visiting northern Vietnam and plan to go back sometime for it.

  39. You could easily spend a month just getting to know Vietnam! You will love it so much and fall in love with the people! I spent 6 days in Saigon alone! While there you have to go to the War Restoration Museum, Cu Chi tunnels and the Mekong River/Floating Markets. This means about 3 full days in Saigon. Don’t underestimate Vietnam’s size, it’s HUGE and the trains do suck! Buses are better. Da lat and Hue are good stops in the middle of Vietnam. Da nang is also a good stop for that new bridge with the giant golden hands! There are full day and even overnight cruises in Ha Long Bay! Also, in February, Hanoi might be kind of cold but Saigon was hot when I went during Tet. Things do shut down during Tet but the new year celebrations are pretty cool. Not a bad time of year to go!

  40. I took the train from Nha Trang to Ho Chi Minh. You/family need to be hardened travelers to enjoy the train journey even in sleeper berths especially if your first trip to Vietnam and time spent better being someplace. I recommend spending more time in fewer places. Luang Prabang, SGN, and Hanoi, a good base for Halong Bay, deserve more than one full day. Phnom Penh didn’t seem very interesting but S-19 and the killing fields are a must even if very sobering. Private guides can be arranged in advance in many places. They are a better value than most group tours. You control the schedule, get better info, and avoid all the places that want to sell stuff that the group tours force you to go to.

  41. Having just visited Vietnam Over spring break in March, I would stay in Vietnam the entire time. There’s just so much to see and do in the one country. I had my wife, three kids and a cousin…doing it with older parents will be different but youll be happy focusing on the single country. I made the decision to stay in country early on. I’d also recommend a North to South or South to North itinerary.

    I’m a very particular and detail oriented trip planner and felt like this was a big time investment with family and I wasn’t about to hear a bunch of complaining. So I enlisted a high end tour company to arrange pretty much everything we did except hotels and flights (I used points, naturally). While expensive, it was money well spent. We had very comfortable van transport, amazing guides in all locations and insight into so many aspects of Vietnamese culture only afforded to those with a knowledgeable, local guide.

    I noticed others complaining about the beaches…we spent a week at Six Senses Ninh Van Bay. Gorgeous, secluded, amazing. You also have Amanoi. Both are central coast between NaTrang and DaNang so quite easy to get to and offer a nice rest as you journey up/down the country.

  42. Don’t go to Phnom Penh, it’s just another city and not enjoyable in the least. It’s like Jakarta with slightly less traffic so…….

  43. I did this trip in November. I went from North to South in Vietnam and then to Cambodia. I flew into Hanoi through Seoul and out of Bangkok (no direct flights from Siem Reap). A few observations.
    1. Hanoi is relatively far north and fairly cold. I was there in November and it was very rainy and cloudy. Similarly if you want the blue water in Hau Long Bay it won’t be like that in February. That said Hanoi was fine with a light jacket. I also went to Sapa for two days. It was freezing cold (0 c). Definitely would avoid.
    2. The central part of the country (Danang, Hue and Hoi) was my favorite. I would have spent less time in the north and more time there.
    3. HCM was neat but 2-3 days is fine.
    4. There are cheap and easily accessible flights between all the major cities. People forget its around 1000 miles between HCM and Hanoi. Value your time and take a plane.
    5. 3 days for Siem reap was good.
    6. I would look at some of the tour companies. I got a great deal for guide and driver 4 star hotels. I

  44. Luang Prabang without a doubt is the best option on your list. 3 to 4 days
    Siem Reap is worth it.
    Penang, Malaysia worth it.

    There are some phenomenal less touristed spots in South Thailand and North Thailand that might be worth visiting.

    The weather in North Vietnam is February is different than the rest of SE Asia. Better times of year to go there.

    -Ryan

  45. Was in Vietnam/Cambodia this past March. I did as a group tour but had just about the right balance of days. The Halong Bay cruise while really nice could really be skipped unless you really want to experience it. Hoi An is worth a few days if only to have clothes custom made quickly and inexpensive! A cooking class there if you have time. Camb9dia if you do that beyond the temples is the Cambodian Circus- no animals but instead for street kids trained in acrobatics. Lots of awesome NGO run restraunts in Siem Reap.

  46. Looks a bit busy with a lot of time traveling. Siem Reap is a fantastic location and I would do it for 3 nights next time, with time spent exploring some of the further out temples. I also like how you are wrapping it up with a few days on the beach, as this should return you home nice and relaxed. Have fun and I’ll be patiently waiting for another amazing trip report.

  47. I visited VN in Feb and didn’t like my time in Ha Noi. It’s colder and more dreary than the rest of the country. Therefore, I think a trip to Ha Long Bay would be wasted. Perhaps go to Nha Trang instead if you love seafood and beaches? It Is like a Vietnamese version of HNL except with more Chinese tourists.

    I really enjoyed Da Nang, that city has the most honest and friendliest locals. It also has really good seafood. I’m not a fan of Saigon aka HCMC.

    You could try to add the central highlands like Kontum and Pleiku. It’s different compared to the tourist Ha Noi, Da Nang, and Saigon.

  48. A brief overnight in Hanoi, maybe? That’s selling it short, IMO. It’s far, far more interesting than PP and well worthy of a couple of days, or longer.A few nights at Ha Long Bay as well ( more interesting than beach resorts around Danang).

  49. I’ve lived in Hanoi for 3 years. In general Hanoi is a much nicer city to visit than Ho Chi Minh City. It’s an ancient city which kept most of its heritage, unlike HCMC which builds newer and higher. Other nice places to visit include SaPa, HaLong Bay, NinhBinh, DaLat. But holidays in Vietnam in February is not ideal because of Tet (same is true for Cambodia and Lao). Many things close down and what’s opened tends to be overcrowded with Vietnamese or Chinese tourists and 30% mark up. Northern Vietnam is likely to be chilly (10 degrees C) and rainy. Likewise for Danang. It may not be ideal beach weather because of rain et rather cool weather. If you want to chill on the beach in February in Vietnam, Phu Quoc Island is a much safer choice for weather. Another factor to consider: flights between Vietnam/SiamReap/LuangPrabang tend to be quite pricy. Vietnam Airlines seems to have a quasi monopoly on the routes and it’s priced accordingly, especially around Tet season. So worth checking that if budget is an issue.

  50. Dear Tiffany,
    I live in Ho Chi Minh City, I am a big fan of your blog and posts.
    I can help you with living and going around here.
    you can contact me any day!!
    More than happy to help an OMAAT fellow!

  51. Hi Tiffany,
    I don’t know if it would interest you (or your mom), but google Banteay Chmarr. I went there totally unplanned on the way from Thailand to Siem Reap. I hadn’t heard about this place at all before I met these two travellers in the train and we ended up visiting this amazing ruined temple together before going to Siem Reap. It was one of my memorable trips as I hadn’t even known about this place (let alone planned to go there at all) but I was really glad I did.

  52. As someone who (gladly) frequently travels with my mother in her early 70s, that schedule might be a tad aggressive. My mom’s still in great shape and pretty adventurous, but she doesn’t have the stamina she once had. Hot, humid weather especially tires her out. That won’t be as much of an issue in February but still something to be mindful of. I might suggest incorporating a “break day” every 5 days or so, with either a 3rd day wherever you are, or just a day of doing nothing (and that includes no travel – even spending half a day flying from one place to another gets really tiring when you’re already feeling beat). That’ll also give you a couple of days during the trip to catch up on work.

  53. Do Laos now! You should go there now before the highway and rail line to China are finished and it is overrun with tour groups. Luang Prabang is fantastic for taking a slow time, drinking beer, and watching the Mekong flow.

  54. Food in Luang Prabang is fantastic. Sure you’ve had your fill of Thai and Vietnamese food. Lao food is different and noteworthy in its own right. There are many good restaurants to choose from, each offering outdoor seating on quiet streets or beside the Mekong that immerse you in the setting of the country. English translated menus are the norm. This is yet another reason to include Luang Prabang in your itinerary.

  55. Tiffany,

    You need to post trip reports like this once a month. The comments section is priceless. Amazing amount of experience and knowledge in the comments.

    No offense but a lot of other posts are complete crap and not useful to a broad groupgroupogroupgroup of people: new route, new plane order, hiring, firing, new champagne, new livery. Fun to know but mostly useless.

    This is however worth saving and referring to later when planning a trip.

  56. There’s a lot of painfully inaccurate information in the comments. While I appreciate that some have spent a few weeks in this part of the world, a fly by night tourist doesn’t catch the nuances. A few bits of advice from someone who lives in Vietnam and has been there for years:

    1. Do not take the night train to Hue. You will not sleep. The night train is gimmicky but is overall an extremely uncomfortable experience. The train switches tracks and couples and decouples cars through the night. It’s impossible to sleep through. I’m not sure Hue is worth visiting at all.

    2. Hanoi is dreadful in February and March. I’m not saying don’t go, but be prepared for AQI 200+, misty rain and cold temperatures. Ha Long Bay is not worth visiting at this time of year.

    3. If you spend Tet in Vietnam, it’s best if it’s spent in Hanoi or HCM. While in the past everything shut down, that’s changing quite a bit. Restaurants will be open and life will be happening. It’s actually a great time to be there because it’s much quieter than usual. Don’t get caught in a second tier city during Tet, however as things will be closed.

    4. Luang Prabang is a genuine gift. Go. I’ve never met someone who hasn’t loved it.

    5. Don’t take the bus to PP from HCM. Period.

  57. Consider that your Moms are a little older and not the seasoned whirlwind travelers either . Things like overnight train rides might be enough to run them ragged . What is fine and exciting for you could become an ordeal for them . All your plans sound good , just not in fifteen days .Remember that you and they are facing 20+ hours just flying across the Pacific . Remember , this trip is supposed to be for them .

  58. Agree with the various OPs that you should skip PNH and spend more time in HAN. You could even skip LPQ as it is lovely but not so interesting from an archeological perspective. Beaches? I’m not a beach person myself but if you are using them as downtime it could be ok. It’s just there is so much interesting stuff that isn’t a beach you should focus on.

  59. I agree strongly with Nicole, do Vietnam and Laos.
    Also someone suggested being driven and frankly that’s the only way to get off the tourist track. It’s not that expensive and you will see things and eat food unlike 99% of the rest of the tourists.
    Lastly, do not do Visa on Arrival. Unless you like flying for 15 hours only to wait in a confusing line for an hour upon arrival.

    In 4 arrivals to SGN in the last 18 months, by having my Visa already AND Sky Priority (expedited Immigration line). I’ve had checked bag and thru immigration and customs to be out in the street in 15 minutes.

    Check the Vietnamese Embassy online, if you can’t get to a consulate, you can fo it by mail in the USA. I got my visa at the consulate in NYC and it took all of 15 minutes.
    I think Tet u.s earlier this year. It will affect the first 2 weeks in Feb. Schools start again on the 11th.

  60. Lots of good ideas. Flyertalk has some great experts on the region. There are some archaeology things in Vietnam. But for sure I think you should go to Siem Reap for several days. I like Luang Prabang, but given your timeframe I’d say save for another trip. Phnom Penh is a traffic choked nightmare these days.

    The travel agent I use in SE Asia refuses to book any trips to Vietnam during Tet because so much is closed.

    In the end 15 days isn’t that much time. I think you should limit your trip to Vietnam and Siem Reap.

  61. Tiffany if you want to show your mum an amazing time from an archaeology perspective take her to Algeria one day for at least 2 weeks and you will both seriously love it.

    Guaranteed!

  62. Hi Tiffany…been planning my trip to Northern Vietnam for a year! Going in a few weeks. Re Halong Bay…is usually 3 hours between Hanoi and cruise departures, but Orchid Cruises departs from a different marina, and is closer to Hanoi, so less time getting to boat. Given that it is Tet, if you must travel by train, for sure get a reservation. In Hanoi, consider a street food tour…the food in Vietnam supposed to be fantastic, this would be great way to get a sampling. And good news…a new business class lounge was just added to Priority Pass at Hanoi airport.

  63. I’ll start by saying I have no experience of ‘north’ Vietnam, so can’t comment on that.

    Based on my experience, and your parties described needs – i suggest the following:

    Luang Prabang – is wonderful for Monks, Mekong and small asian town perfection. It also has a few Accor properties (bless French colonialism). We stayed at what is now the Sofitel, but was the Hotel de la Paix in the old Governers residence, and gaol. Gorgeous! Its on the edge of ‘town’ which makes it desirable. The whole place is so small, you can get to anywhere by a reasonable stroll, or a quick tuk tuk ride. There is enough to do for 3 or more days, especially if you want to take things slowly.

    Siem Reap – 2 nights is nowhere near enough time, especially if you have an amateur archaeologist with you. We did it over 10 days, taking our time, and having days off to avoid temple ruin fatigue. Start early in the morning so you are at some sites by dawn with guide and driver, and get home in the early afternoon is my advice. Its a while ago since I was there (only 1 x 5 star hotel then – now there are many). You can do the main sites (Angkor Wat, Ta Prom etc) in a few of days – but you should really spend the time and see the stunning red Banteay Srei and even the River of a Thousand Lingas – which are outside the main drag, and much less busy with tourists. If you can fit it in your schedule – I would say minimum 3 full days, 5 if you can fit it.

    Phnom Penh – meh – 15 years ago, it was interesting, no high rise. Now it is just another developing Asian city, with tall buildings, and designer shops. Perfectly fine to be in (we have friends there) but would not make a special trip. On the other hand – if you can hire a car or van and driver, DO go to Kep (about 3 hours drive) – full of mid-century French ‘beach’ houses, slowly being restored. Stay at Knai Bang Chatt – which is one of the restored mid-century buildings. Eat at the many crab shacks on the beach or at the Sailing club http://www.knaibangchatt.com/the-sailing-club/ – and yes the evenings do look that good.

    Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) – I love this city – especially when I remember growing up to the news reports of the Vietnam War, and what we (Australians) and the USA did to the place. The resilience and friendliness of the people is amazing. If you want modern comfort points hotel – stay at the Intercontinental Asiana in a club room, and you will be treated amazingly well (https://wp.me/p99oNJ-1C). If you want a bit more of the colonial feel, then try the Majestic. If you want an over-the-top-contemporary-designer hotel then try the Reverie. Or the minimal Park Hyatt. Here are my reports on hotels and what to do in Saigon – but definitely read ‘The Quiet American’ before/while you’re there. https://www.2paxfly.com/2017/08/28/hcmc-saigon-to-everyone-else/

    Ok, that’s more than my 2¢ worth.

  64. I was in HCMC and Hanoi for the majority of February of this year. It’s hot. F’in hot. Even up in Sapa. The only thing to consider is whether it’s rainy/overcast during a Ha Long visit. If you can play it by ear, do it. Also, Tet. Damn near everything was shut down for nearly a week. Touristy stuff was open, as well as restaurants near tourist areas, but the rest of Vietnam sure as hell ain’t working.

  65. Greatest advice I can give on this is in Saigon book the Le Meridien or another Western hotel brand and in Hanoi pay out of pocket for a boutique hotel in the old quarter.

    Vietnam is such an amazingly beautiful country- hope you have the best trip!

  66. I did ten days in vietnam as part of a larger trip. It wasn’t enough time. It takes awhile to move around the country and I would hardly say I was moving at a leisurely pace. Honestly I’d recommend the entire trip be spent on vietnam. I haven’t been to Laos but have spoken with people who have been there. Its alright but the tourist infrastructure isn’t as setup yet and there isn’t a ton to see there. Basically its a good place to maybe bum around but it will be a time sink and I would never recommend it to someone who only has two weeks and is trying to do a first trip to vietnam. I’ve been to cambodia ankor wat and the capital. Give the capital in cambodia a pass. Siem reap is fine if you want to show them ankor wat but I would limit it to that and vietnam and no more. Travel is slow in that part of the world. Also look into places like Hoi An. Hanoi has enough to see to easily fill three days not even counting Halong bay so one night is really missing out on a lot. I suggest you read up on vietnam a lot more since there is a massive amount to see and do there and some of the stuff takes a bit of time to get to and from. Also, domestic flights are cheap there so don’t mess around with trains as they can be painfully slow. Hanoi when compared to Saigon is incredibly different so its not like seen one city seen them all. I was in Hanoi in August and honestly it was the most extreme heat and humidity I have experienced in the world and I have been in the jungles of SE Asia in August as well! I enjoyed Vietnam a lot more than I ever suspected and the food was outstanding.

  67. I would turn things around a bit.
    From Hong Kong take the Lanmei Arilines flight to Phnom Penh.
    Then continue to Luang Prabang as described.
    Fly from there to Saigon (non stop flights possible).
    Then fly to Da Nang, get a car with driver to Hoi An and then to Hue and around there (inexpensive, any hotel concierge can do that on short notice, just ask for outside car. not hotel car).
    Take flight from Hue to Saigon and then back from there.

    You could turn Hue and Da Nang around or do the trip backwards.

    This will save you the double entry into vietnam (does any of you need a visa?) and minimizes the number of flights/long trips.

  68. Hanoi and Northern Vietnam are lovely in February! Don’t skip them! Like LA vs. NYC, Madrid vs. BCN, Rio vs. SP, and other city pair rivalries, folks have strong feelings about Hanoi vs. HCMC. I prefer the former due to the coziness of the old quarter, the more apparent French influence, and proximity to Sa Pa and the mountains…but HCMC has its charms as well. The center of the country is stunning if you like smaller cities and beaches…Da Nang and Hue are getting more and more commercialized, but getting out to the surrounding villages is great. I would spend the whole 15 days exploring Vietnam – there’s just so much to see and the people are warm and friendly, plus February is, I find, an ideal time to visit the country because it is mild and sunny and dry. If you want to see Ha Long Bay, just a warning: it is, sadly, heavily polluted and over-touristed…check out Bai Tu Long Bay instead – same area, same formations, but much more clean and without the hoards. Try your best to get to Luang Prabang, perhaps at the end of the trip: just so relaxing, beautiful, and peaceful!

  69. On the topic of SGN-PNH I’m not so sure the Qatar flight with Avios is really a great deal. I checked a random date one way in February. You can fly Cambodia Angkor for $63 per person, or use Qatar for 4,500 Avios plus $66 per person. It’s another case of where the “carrier imposed surcharges” are more than the price of an available cash ticket. Sure, you have to take fees into account if you’re going to check bags , but it’s less than an hour of flying, so I’m perfectly fine with an LCC that gets me where I’m going. I’d keep the Avios for another day.

  70. Laos is magical, recommend Vang Vieng and Plain of Jars in Phonsavan.

    For Cambodia, I loved Angkor Wat and visited a number of temples and sites; but some try to over do it…temple fatigue can set in.

    My favorite spot in Cambodia was Kampot…small town on a river, very quiet and relaxing. Nearly everything is shuttered by 10pm but the best food of my trip plus lots of easy day trips.

  71. Hi Tiffany –

    Long time reader, first time poster. I would recommend a stop over in Siem Reap. If you do, would love to show you and your family around. Have been working here for about 9 years and I’m part of a local tour company that visits the Tonle Sap Lake in a meaningful way. Feel free to message me with any questions in general and all the best from Siem Reap

  72. Thank you for this topic Tiffany – I’m planning this trip myself right now so this information is perfect! Lots of great input here. I’ve been to Cambodia before and really liked it, but it will be my first time to Vietnam.

  73. I’d recommend you to stay a little longer in Hanoi. Of all cities in Vietnam, we enjoyed it the most by far. It’s a really big city, but is still cozy in some way. We really liked strolling down the streets. It’s far more fun to be there than to be in Ho Chi Minh.

  74. @Tiffany — I was slightly underwhelmed by Laos and Cambodia, whereas Vietnam was one of the best two or three countries I’ve ever visited. Of course, it depends what one’s interests and preferences are, but for culture, countryside, people, and food, I vastly preferred Vietnam.

    I also would urge less time in HCMC and more in Hanoi. I’d also explore the north more. You could also consider Phu Quoc at the bottom of the country. I found it quite beautiful. See Travelfish’s page: https://www.travelfish.org/location/vietnam/mekong_delta/kien_giang/phu_quoc_island

  75. @Tiffany — I was underwhelmed by Laos and Cambodia, whereas Vietnam was one of the best two or three countries I’ve ever visited. Of course, it depends what one’s interests and preferences are, but for culture, countryside, people, and food, I vastly preferred Vietnam.

    I also would urge less time in HCMC and more in Hanoi. I’d also explore the north more. You could also consider Phu Quoc at the bottom of the country. I found it quite beautiful. See Travelfish’s page: https://www.travelfish.org/location/vietnam/mekong_delta/kien_giang/phu_quoc_island

  76. I spent a week in Vietnam this year – landing into Saigon right on the eve of new year and while we were told everything would be expensive or closed – we didn’t really experience that.
    If you are there during Tet – try be in HCMC – they have one of the most amazing floral displays taking up an entire street which is in place for about 7 days – yes it is full of thousands of people – but the display is amazing and seeing it at day and night is a sight to behold, and we discovered it by fluke.
    Vietnam is amazing – and just seeing the different architecture styles between the North and South is amazing.
    In Hanoi – I know it’s tempting to stay in a hotel linked to loyalty – but don’t be afraid of the $40 a night hotel rooms. We stayed at this little property Essence Hanoi Hotel and Spa, and in exchange for a good trip adviser review we were upgraded to their top rooms each stay – and they looked after our luggage when we traveled away for a couple of nights.
    I’d recommend when in Hanoi – head to Ha Long Bay – but use one of the companies that visit Bai Tu Long Bay instead. Same beautiful scenery but less crowds – if you need a starting recommendation – IndiChina Junk were great to deal with. On the more expensive side – but a nice bit of luxury and great entry into cruising.
    For different scenery again Nha Trang has nice beaches and the bay is beautiful.
    Flights around Vietnam are cheap – and if you book VN economy you can bid for upgrades on the cheap with optiontown (we had success on 3 out of 4 flights for a business upgrade). I found booking direct with the airline was 1/4 of online travel agents prices once I actually converted the Vietnamese Dong back to my currency.
    Be careful with visas for Vietnam – make sure you get them right as they are not very forgiving (nothing cash in the hand and a few hours won’t fix).
    I’ve not been to Pnom Phen or Laos – but would say you need to enjoy the hidden areas around Angkor Wat. Once you see the main temples – there are so many more just on the outskirts that are virtually empty. So invest in a local private guide and driver so you can go at yours and your mums pace and enjoy the hidden treasures as well as the busy touristy cliches.

  77. I agree that Siem Reap is a must visit, why not do one week in Vietnam (consider Ninh Binh instead of Halong Bay), then Siem Reap for a couple of days. And then for the grand finale go to Bagan (bike around) or spend a couple of days in Bhutan (hike Tiger’s Nest)?

  78. Hi Tiffany – Great comments and suggestions here.

    I would lop-off Phnom Penh and any thought of train/bus/private car transfer this way you can maximize travel time between destinations and add +1 more day to Siem Reap, +1 more day to Luang Prabang. Vietnam Airways hops around the country, is efficient, and you can accrue Skymiles.

    We did 2 nights in Siem Reap, with two full 10hr days touring the vast temple complex of Angkor Wat. It was not enough! We had no down time to just take in and relax + marvel at the spectacle of it all, nor could we see the outlying ruins and River of 1000 Lingas which reportedly is worthwhile. Next trip I will go back for 3 nights, 4 full days. Traveling to Cambodia with your Mom to see this is a must since her passion is archeology.

    Likewise, I just spent 4 nights in Luang Prabang which was perfect. Sitting in cafes riverside, strolling thru town, the waterfalls, boat to Buddha caves – it really is magical. And at a relaxing pace.

    Have you thought of just doing South Vietnam-Luang Prabang-Siem Reap? Maybe save Hanoi and Ha Long Bay (which are great) for another trip? The weather can be a gamble. On our trip,
    it was cool, misty with fog. The fleece jacket zip-ups saved the day, but by no means was it beach weather. Danang and Hoi An were also in the low 60s this was last week of Jan. We stayed at the Four Seasons-Nam Hai… no one was pool side, nor at the beach!

    This is sure to be an epic trip. Let us know how you structure your itinerary 🙂

  79. Tiffany,

    I will second Debit (never thought I would) and say that you should make posts like these once a week about a specific place or region and let people sound off in the comments with their experience/suggestions. These tips are GOLD.

  80. I am doing

    …->BOM -> VTE (Vientiane, Laos) -> REP (Siem Reap) -> BKK ->…

    for the 2018 Year-end Asian Escapade™.

    I considered sticking Da Nang, VN, in there after Laos but could not find any award tickets available with any of the region’s *A carriers, and was not willing to cough up any cash. I am due a return to VN, as the last time I was there (SGN) was 2013. I might do SGN again, but more likely Hanai or Da Nang for something new for YEE 2019.

  81. I lived in vietnam for the first 20 years of my life, and come back regularly to visit still. Imo, it is better to avoid train or bus as much as possible and fly as much as you can. The rail and road infrastructure in Vietnam is still very bad. Since you are gonna be in Danang, I would recommend you to spend sometimes in IC Danang. Imo, it is the best IC in the world. I didnt see Phu Quoc island in your list, but if you are going there, the JW Mariott there is also lovely.

  82. Do Vietnam plus either Laos or Cambodia. Not all 3.

    Also, do a google search, as Vietnam is surprisingly kid and family friendly. Though I would mainly also search what will and won’t be open while you are there.

  83. Look at cruising Ha Long Bay out of season, in peak season it is said that you can see all attractions by mearly walking from one boat to the other across any stretch of water, when we travelled, the early mist, which in itself was quite surreal cleared by noon and we would have encountered only 3 other boats in the 2 days of cruising. When booking a cruise book a cabin as far forward as possible, rear cabins are generally above kitchens and crew quarters.

  84. My wife and I stayed at Le Meridien Saigon during Tet Holiday 2018. There were fireworks the evening before the big day. The hotel invited all the SPG guests to a viewing party in the Club Lounge. Drinks and canapés. It was a good spot to watch from as the fireworks were on the river just a couple of blocks away. The big event was the next morning next door at the Lotte Hotel. They had a full-on Dragon Dance performed in front of the hotel. If you are there it happens early 8:00ish if my memory is correct. But, go outside and walk over to the Lotte to watch. We were lazy and tried to watch from our room overlooking the Lotte but most of the performance was blocked by the portico covering the front driveway. There was also a massive blocks long flower display on Duong Nguyen Hue Street a short walk from the hotel. You are correct that the city shuts down the evening before and for the next day or two. Finding a taxi was a challenge. We did meals at the hotel as that was about the only way to find food. Great experience, in a large city. Don’t be afraid to go during Tet. Out in the countryside YMMV.

  85. Lots of great comments, my wife and I did a 14 day trip to Vietnam and Cambodia last year. We visted HCMC, Phnom Penh and Siem Reap. Added to this was a three night river trip on the Mekong from HCMC to Phnom Penh with Pandaw river cruises. Exceptional trip to experience the Mekong River and see life on the River. We decided to hire a driver from Phnom Penh to Siem Reap, what a trip!!! If you want to play chicken on the road for six hours, this is for you. Never again, just sat back and closed our eyes. Four days in Siem Reap gave us a great insight to Angkor Wat and surrounding area.

    Central and North Vietnam and Laos on another trip.

    Have a great time.

  86. @Tiffany I did a very similar itinerary several years ago but, in reverse.
    Day 1 – Arrive Hanoi in morning, see Hanoi
    Day 2, 3 – Transfer to Halong Bay, overnight cruise, transfer back to Hanoi, afternoon water puppet show in Hanoi
    Day 4,5 Fly to Luang Prabang, enjoy
    Day 6, 7, 8 Fly to Siem Reap
    Day 9, 10 – Fly to Phnom Penh
    Day 11 – Saigon
    Day 12, 13 – Hue
    Day 14 – Private driver to Danang, fly to Macau
    Day 15 – In evening take Turbojet to HKIA, fly overnight to Seoul
    Day 16 – Day in Seoul, night flight back to US

    To do it over again I would do Hoi An instead of Hue. It’s a coin flip between the two but, I feel Hoi An might have been more “atmospheric” if that makes any sense.

  87. Tiffany – I have traveled extensively in South East Asia and am there every summer flying on CX, JL etc. thanks to blogs like yours! Everyone travels differently, has different interest, etc. so you can decide what works best, but this seems rushed to me. If I had 15 days I’d stick to Vietnam but even if you did multiple countries, places deserve more time. So of your list, this is what I think.
    – Siem Reap: Unfortunately, a touristy shit hole only there to serve tourists. Thankfully, it’s got good hotels to escape to and some very nice restaurants. The temples need 3-4 days if you want to see them and also not be templed out. Unfortunately, you’ll be there will thousands of other tourists. I would recommend starting your day early – like being at the temples by sunrise and taking a break during the day and then going out in the evening. By 9 am the main temples are filled with tour groups. More days also allow you to see some temples further out – with less tourists – like beng mealea. The most atmospheric ones are harder to reach to … like the roads are narrow that don’t allow buses! Since I’ve only seen them in the summer, we went very early and were back by 10 am for a late breakfast, lounge by the pool or sleep (it was hot!) and then head out again at 4pm for the evening and sunset. We weren’t seeing just temples all day then.
    – PP: Certainly deserves a couple of days. The genocide museum is like nothing I’ve seen, the FCC bar overlooking the Mekong is one of my favorite bars, it’s got good restaurants cafes and a burgeoning art scene, not to mention the royal palace and some touristy stuff, but it’s also the center of Cambodian performing arts. Siem Reap is a tourist zoo, but PP is a real Cambodian city.
    – The Tonle Sap: Asia is famed for its river journeys but this one .. I don’t know. The villages on it are very poor and it reminds me of those images of western tourists gawking at slums/poverty…
    – LP: Northern Laos (north of LP) is stunning and I was just also in Luang Prabang in August.. I spent 4 days here and could have spent more. It’s touristy but somehow retains it’s charm. In August there were plenty of tourists and lots of French families and Chinese, I imagine lots more in Feb. The waterfalls outside the town are amazing especially in the summer – do visit at least one. Near Kuangsi they also have Laos’ first dairy farm serving the freshest mozarella. Manda de Laos – is a stunningly beautiful restaurant (and hotel and even the overwater bungalows are only USD 100). If you were without your moms I would say journey further up one of the Mekong tributaries and those boat journeys are far more interesting I think. Laos is changing, and changing fast. We took a boat from the Thai border on the Mekong to LP, and that journey is beautiful. the first day is almost like complete wilderness but the second you know the bridges and dams are coming,
    Vietnam – HCMC is ok, but you should overnight in Cantho and see the Mekong/river life there which I think would be more interesting than the Tonle Sap.. Hanoi deserves 3-4 days, and Halong Bay is touristy as hell but it’s the 80/20 rule. 80% of tourists go to 20% of the places. Even a two day trip is only 24 hours on the water so it’s the dirtiest touristy part. You need to venture much further – and no one allocates 5 days to Halong Bay do they? Plus technically there are 3 named bays with Halong just one of them.
    Hoi Ann and LP have similarities, they are both old towns with architecture/temples/ etc.. and Hue deserves a couple days at least.. it’s more of a Vietnamese city than Hoi Ann which is far more touristy. Folks don’t like Hue (it was completely bombed out) but I think the historical sites in Hue would take up 2 days at least.
    If I was doing this I would do:
    – Saigon and Cantho (for the Mekong, overnight in Cantho don’t do the day tours)
    – PP for 2 days
    – Car to SR – so you can see beng mealea and the bakong temples on the way
    – Cambodian Temples from SR
    – Fly to Danang- but stay in/near Hoi An- can also add beach time.
    – Hue, HoiAnn (and please rent a car to drive you between the two over the Hai Van pass – stunning scenery). Hue has more archaeological things for your mom as does HoiAnn which also approximates LP (although LP is bigger in scope and more interesting overall, but I think Laos deserves its own trip).
    this gives you a nice mix of modern Asian city (HCMC, PP), unesco town (Hoi Ann), beach access (Danang, Hoi Ann), and ancient temples and ruins (Siem Reap and Hue), plus the Mekong/river life (Cantho, PP)
    I would skip LP and Hanoi area- they are further up and you wouldn’t do justice to them.
    You’ll have a great time whatever you decide .. south east asia is an amazing part of our planet.

  88. Hi Tiffany,

    Long-time reader and long-time resident of Southeast Asia (also with a bit of an archaeological bent myself). While, of course, we all have different interests and different styles of travel, I’d recommend skipping out on a few places to allow for a more relaxed time in others.

    I’d leave out Saigon, Phnom Penh and Danang. While these cities certainly have merits of their own, other places offer more charm and character.

    Luang Prabang. An absolutely charming gem. Worth 2–4 days, although I could easily stay for weeks. Lots of nice places to stay, but I especially love Satri House, a hotel in former Laotian prince’s house. Khaiphaen restaurant.

    If you’re considering a river cruise, vatphou [.] com do a very nice three-day cruise in southern Laos that takes in Wat Phou, a temple complex that predates Angkor.

    Hanoi. Yes, it will be cool(er) and misty in February. Arguably, this adds to the charm of the city and makes wandering around more pleasant than in the broiling weather the rest of the year. A street food tour is a must. These guys are tops: streetfoodtourshanoi. The Sofitel Metropole is kind of unrivalled (although be sure to stay in the historical wing). The hotel has been witness to so much history; the free bunker tour is quite remarkable. 2–4 days.

    Hoi An. Train ride from Hanoi: I thought it very pleasant, but obvs not everyone’s cup of tea. If time is an issue, it’s a very quick flight (there’s also an SQ fifth-freedom route to Siem Reap that may come in handy). For the archaeologically minded, a day trip to Mỹ Sơn is fantastic. Perhaps 2–3 days in town and 2–3 days at the Intercontinental Danang resort.

    Angkor— save the best for last? Siem Reap town is nothing special, but of course you’re there for Angkor Wat, which would certainly be of interested to your mum. My most recent trip, I added in a side trip to Preah Vihear — a mountaintop Angkorean temple with literally no one there. There road is much improved now and can be combined with visits to Koh Ker, Beng Mealea and other basically unvisited sites on a (very long) day trip or easy overnight. Grand Hôtel d’Angkor for the full Catherine Deneuve Indochine vibe. Cuisine Wat Damnak, Franco-Khmer food, voted one of the best restaurants in Asia. 3–5 days, depending on your tolerance for temples.

    Wish you and your mum (and your cousin and aunt) an absolute wonderful trip. — Look forward to hearing about the itinerary you choose; and of course about the trip itself! 🙂

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