We are back from our 7 weeks in SE Asia. We spent two weeks plus in Cambodia & Vietnam. My recommendations:
- Skip HCMC. Extremely disappointing. Additionally, while the "floating market" in the Mekong Delta is interesting, it is not worth the 8 hours (RT drive), even with the entertaining stop. Trade this for Cambodia (2 full days in Siem Reap, allowing time to go to the fishing village, which everyone raves about. I have been told this is best within a couple hours of sunset, including both sides as the activity within the village at that time is interesting.
I suspect that Phom Penh would be more interesting/appealing than HCMC (which is just a big city and the usual tour stops there were really a stretch.) We stayed at Steung Angkor , but there is a Victoria there and all along our trip we liked our stays at the Victoria hotels. Thinking about it, the Streung may have the better location.
- Stay longer in HoiAn. We stayed 3 nights, toured the town, visited My Son (not essential, but nice) & took a cooking class (went to Red Bridge, I'd recommend something smaller). HoiAn is really cute & has good restaurants. And not only can you get any clothes made overnight, they make handbags, shoes, and who knows what else. The major limits to what can be made: your imagination & the fabric at the specific tailor you choose. We wish we had stayed longer and skipped Hue. It's a long drive to Hue and didn't feel worth it although there are some impressive "tombs", pagodas & the Citadel. You can stay at a Victorica on the beach in HoiAn. I am sure they'd have shuttle service, but taxis are very cheap so who cares.
- A couple days in Hanoi would be good, but a basic city tour is OK.
- Two nights on Halong Bay on a small boat with an itinerary that stops overnight at two different locations (there are only four approved overnight locations as part of the World Heritage Site agreement). The food on our private boat was exquisite, except for breakfast. The tour route should have been better. We booked this late & did not get our first or second choice options. OUr boat toured the same area both days and stayed overnight in the same location both nights. Still this was an exquisite part of the trip. Do note that it's about a 4 hour drive from Hanoi.
- Instead of returning directly to Hanoi, go by way of Ninh Binh. In Vietnam they call it the land version of Halong Bay. I call it Guilin before it got discovered by western tourists. Instead of touring on one of hundreds of large tour boats, you are paddled through the lakes & cave on a boat that holds at most 8. (Note there may be hundreds of these small boats and on a weekend or local holiday they might be full of Asian tourists. But on a weekday, very peaceful.) It's probably 4 hours from Halong Bay and then another 4 hours to Hanoi but this drive was worth it. We stayed at the Legend Hotel (good food, huge beds…the hugest any of us had ever seen) and walked to/through a little village about the time school had let out. All of the kids waved & said "Hello" with big smiles. Western tourists are a rarity in this area. The Trang An boat trip is the best.
- We also went to Sapa. Staying at the Victoria and booking it soon enough to get their special cars would be best. We'd suggest the Saturday night train to Lao Cai arriving early enough to visit the Sunday market at Bac Ha, then on to Sapa. Stay two nights there with a couple hikes trough local villages. Then return by overnight train. Note: If you arrive in Lao Cai early and have time to kill, there are various dining options that are prepared to accommodate you and your luggage.
Well that's my input for what it's worth. And while I haven't researched this, I suspect traveling in October might be good. April was fine but it was kind of chilly & rainy in Sapa.
We booked all this through Asia King Travel
E-mail : firstname.lastname@example.org
Web Site: www.asiakingtravel.com
It's a small outfit and generally good. Nam Nguyen, the owner/founder aims to please. I plan to let him know that he might want to screen his guides for stronger English (the issue is their accent is hard to understand). I am sure many folks could accommodate the above itinerary.
BTW, one of our favorite other stops was Kuching (in Sarawak, on the island of Borneo.) We stayed at the Batik Hotel (lovely, great staff) and had tons of activities (cultural center, kayaking, a private caving tour, Oranutangs). There's lots more in Sarawak & Sabah and again. There are Aussie tourists but Americans are a rarity.