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Vietnam 17 Days. Just starting the planning

In and out of SGN.

EDIT: Mid March. Arrive 6AM on day 1. Departing 6pm on day 17. Packing light; just travel backpacks

Interests are more the people, the food, the culture, natural beauty, evocative cityscapes. We like to soak off the vibe a bit. Not adrenaline junkies but we like day hikes in scenic places. It seems a lot of people take tours, but that's not our preferred thing. We'd do guides and very small group tours for parts of the trip.

How would you carve up your 17 days in Vietnam.

Bonus: What about taking 3 of those days and visiting Angkor Wat? Too much hassle with such a short itinerary?

Thanks!

Posted by
245 posts

We loved our Vietnam trip. We did everything on our own as well and sounds like we like to do the same things as you when we travel. Our favorite part was Sapa. We did a few days hikes there with a guide. It was phenomenal. I wouldn't miss Sapa or Ha Long Bay. Those were the highlights. We did do Angkor Wat on the same trip and Loved it. We had 3 weeks to work with but we actually didn't do Saigon, we flew into Hanoi and from Da Nang to Cambodia. Next time we will do Saigon south.

Posted by
3062 posts

How many nights will you sleep in Asia, 17? What time do you arrive in SGN and what time do you depart? Traveling to Siem Reap will take a full day and returning to Vietnam will too. What temples do you want to see in Siem Reap?
If you go to Siem Reap do it on arrival day. You’ll already be at the airport so it’s a time saver. When you fly back from Siem Reap go to Hanoi not SGN and work your way to Ho Chi Minh City.
Spend a couple nights in Hanoi. If you want to hike, take a bus from Hanoi to Sapa but pack light because there’s not much room for luggage. Here you’ll see spectacular rice fields and mingle with the hill tribes that live in this incredible scenic mountain range.
From Hanoi go to Halong Bay and take an overnight boat ride so you can witness the beauty of nearly 2,000 karst rocks that peer out of the bay.
From Halong Bay work your way to Hoi An if you’re not going during the rainy season. From Hoi An go to Ho Chi Minh City.
If you skip Siem Reap from Ho Chi Minh City take a river cruise along the Mekong Delta then fly nonstop from Can Tho to Hanoi.

Posted by
462 posts

Thank you for your good thoughts out of the chute. It made me realize I should have added some pertinent details. I edited my original post with some relevant info; particularly the time of the year.

As far as North to South goes, I was just thinking that March weather might be better towards the last half of the month in the North. Maybe it doesn't make a ton of difference. Sapa won't be in "bloom" in March but I still think it's a cool spot from the pictures.

I'm still on the fence about spending such a large chunk of our vacation getting to and from Siem Reap (Angkor Wat). Maybe we tack it on to a future Thailand trip? I know very little about the temple complex there but people say it's amazing and that you shouldn't just spend a single day.

Alternatively, we could focus this trip on the south and central highlands with the side trip to Cambodia. Spend a future trip in the Fall up north? I just don't trust myself to get back anytime soon.

Posted by
4349 posts

I am interested as I will have @ 13 days in March, 2025, and also not a tour person.

I arrive in and leave from Hanoi (with no jet lag) and am thinking of flying on to Hoi An for 3 nights. Then I have empty space on my spreadsheet for 3 nights, then a 3 night cruise of Halong Bay, and 3 nights in Hanoi. A very rough beginning.

Right now I am wondering if I should see HMC - and simply haven’t done enough research to make decisions - for example Sapa (although I am not a hiker). I looked at Angkor Wat but it didn’t seem to make sense for me this time.

All that to say, keep us updated - I will be taking notes.

Posted by
15684 posts

My Vietnamese trip was in January 2018, 12 nights split between Hanoi and Saigon (yeah, officially Ho Chi Minh City, but in Saigon everyone - and the souvenirs - says Saigon. BTW there's still a lot of division and tension between the north and the south). I'd previously been to Hoi An for a day (private tour from Danang) and Saigon for a day (Private boat tour on the Mekong) on a cruise. I would recommend skipping Angkor but including 2 nights in/near Hoi An. For me, 4 destinations with flights is too rushed, but it does depend on your travel style. I prefer your idea of going back to Southeast Asia for Thailand and Angkor (and February would be better than March for that).

When I got to Hanoi I arranged a 3 day (2N) small group tour to Halong Bay with a local "hole-in-the-wall" travel agency. I chose the "deluxe" tour which was only marginally more than the cheap "regular" tour. It was easy to book 2 days in advance. It was a great tour, one night anchored among the limestone outcroppings and the second night on a private beach on Cat Ba. The accommodations were first-rate (I'm well past my roughing-it days), the boat had en suite double cabins, the beach cabins were spacious, modern bathrooms and views of the sand and sea. There was kayaking and free time in the town on Cat Ba. There were about 20 people on the tour. The road between Hanoi and Halong is typical of roads in Vietnam - often only 2-lane and poorly maintained, so it's slow going. It's faster to fly between cities. Hanoi is the closest airport to Halong Bay, so you'll probably want to spend at least one night before and 1N after that in Hanoi. I spent most of my time in Hanoi in the old city. I took a cooking class at a vegetarian restaurant - great fun and delicious too.

From Hanoi you could fly to Hue for a 1-2N, then taxi train or bus to Hoi An for 1-2N and fly from DaNang to Saigon. Maybe it doesn't matter what sequence for the 2 middle cities - would depend more on the flight schedules.

The 2 best things I did in Saigon were the Mekong River tour (especially to get a much better idea of what it was like during the Vietnam War - or the American War as it is known locally). The other was a small group (about 6-8 people as I recall) boat tour of the Mangrove Biosphere Reserve with Les Rives. It was such a change to spend a day outside the city. The tour was also very informative and included monkeys and a birds' nest factory - including sampling. My one regret is that I didn't find time to visit the Cu Chi tunnels.

Posted by
465 posts

We just returned from Vietnam 12 days ago. We had 3 days Da Nang, and four days Hoi An (specifically for a wedding there). Did a great city tour of Da Nang and Son Tra peninsula. Very hot and humid (we were told more even than usual). In Hoi An main wedding party did a market tour/farm tour/cooking class. Great layover in Seoul with tour to the city on the way home.

Posted by
2519 posts

I did this 17 day tour with Gate1 Travel. I was visiting a friend who lived in Hanoi, so I picked a tour that included Angkor Wat (bucket list) and also ended in Hanoi. I know you're not a tour person, just giving you an idea of route and timing. Flying was the most efficient way to cover that much ground, I don't know about other forms of transit such as bus. My friend and I did hire a private driver from Hanoi to Ninh Binh and it was pretty inexpensive.

I went at the end of March, beginning of April and it was very hot and humid even in the North (I'm a PNW person). If I had been on my own, I would have traded Bangkok time for more time at Angor Wat, and spent more time in Hoi An area. HCM City wasn't my favorite, but it was oppressively hot and it is a very loud and busy city. I did two cooking classes along the way (one Bangkok, one in Vietnam) and they were great fun. I also did a motorcycle tour (as a passenger) in Hue - interesting experience being in the throws of the motorcycle/moped traffic chaos.

Posted by
3062 posts

The month of Mar is Hoi An’s dry season so maybe you should take advantage of it. HMC would be the place I would spend the least amount of time because Vietnam’s charm is elsewhere. I still suggest saving HMC for the end of your trip.
Wikivoyage will help with your research: https://en.wikivoyage.org/wiki/Main_Page. In the Search field type in a place or city i.e., Mekong Delta or Can Tho, etc. I used a Lonely Planet guidebook when I researched Vietnam: https://shop.lonelyplanet.com/collections/guidebooks/products/experience-vietnam and Rick Steves uses Lonely Planet for places he doesn’t write guidebooks for. Your guidebook will also recommend local tour operators, etc.
Before leaving home book a river cruise or a junk boat cruise on the Mekong Delta the day of arrival: https://www.mekongrivercruises.com/can-tho/. If searching websites make sure you scroll down to the bottom of the screen and look for the green TripAdvisor owl eyes logo that says Travelers’ Choice Best of the Best. It means many people have booked on that website and highly recommend that company. If you don’t see the owl eyes, move on.
What makes Can Tho unique are its floating markets so a couple nights in Can Tho is worth it. After you book your cruise, book a nonstop flight from Can Tho to Hanoi. Hanoi deserves a minimum of two nights.
The place I would not go in Mar is Sapa and besides, it’s a hassle. Instead book an overnight tour or longer on Halong Bay. If you kayak you can float between karst rocks on a hazy day that makes the setting even more pleasing to the eye.
You’ll need to go back to Hanoi to fly to Da Nang and then a direct bus from Da Nang to Hoi An. The highlight in Hoi An is its old town. From Hoi An you’ll need to fly out of Da Nang to get to SGN. You could even fly to SGN on the day you fly home. Make sure you get an early start because there's no room for error here.

Posted by
13 posts

Siem Reap is worth a 3 or 4 night visit.
With the limited time, you should focus on Vietnam only.

Posted by
1695 posts

You can absolutely visit both Vietnam and Angkor Wat with that many days. We did it just a couple of months ago. Mind you, you'd have to be selective and not expect to see everything.

In our case, we chose to skip Saigon (HCM City), the Mekong Delta, and Sapa--Saigon because it didn't have as much of interest to us as Central and Northern Vietnam (we aren't interested in war history), the Mekong Delta because it would be best combined with Saigon, and Sapa because it wasn't a good time of year to visit Sapa (late February).

However, we spent 5 nights in Siem Reap, so if you didn't want that much time there, you could easily add a couple of nights to Vietnam.

Angkor Wat was a highlight, and I'm glad we saw it.

We also aren't tour people, and we are normally independent travellers, but we did book guides/private tours in SE Asia, and a group tour for Bai Tu Long (Ha Long Bay).

You can read my trip report here, in case you might find it helpful: https://community.ricksteves.com/travel-forum/trip-reports/trip-report-taipei-vietnam-and-cambodia

Posted by
50 posts

My family is traveling to Vietnam this summer with my in-laws and sister-in-law's family (12 people total). My MIL is from Vietnam and we've talked about doing this trip for years. She found a tour company that basically planned everything, with some of her input of course. We have our own private bus and guide, and are spending 13 nights in Vietnam and 2 nights in Cambodia. Cities that we're visiting include Hanoi, Halong, Ninh Binh, Hue, Hoi An, Ho Chi Minh and Siem Reap.

I love traveling; always research like crazy and plan my own trips, so this will be quite different, but I am very excited. While I feel like we will be seeing a lot, I am sure there are many places that we'll miss too, due to time constraints.

Everyone has different travel styles. I prefer to see as much as possible wherever I am because there are just SO many incredible places to visit. That being said, if you really want to see Angkor Wat, I would definitely try to incorporate it into your trip. Best of luck!

Posted by
1591 posts

Good that you are not flying to or out of Hanoi. Its airport was the most chaotic I have ever seen.

Posted by
29 posts

We had 15 nights last September in Vietnam. Skipped the south for that trip. Our itinerary worked well for us.

Flight USA into Hanoi /
Flight Hanoi to DaNang to stay in Hoi An /
Flight DaNang to Hai Phong with private driver from there to Cat Ba for a couple nights in Ha Long bay /
Cat Ba Bus to Ninh Binh /
Ninh Binh mini shuttle to Hanoi/
Hanoi flight back home with a lay over long enough in Tokyo to get out of the airport and see a little bit of Japan.

We found the best rates for currency exchange in Hanoi (old town) to be Giang Son Gemstone Jewelry Co.,Ltd

I loved Angor Wat but would do that as a separate trip giving it the time it deserves. There is a lot in that area to see.

Posted by
462 posts

Good that you are not flying to or out of Hanoi. Its airport was the most chaotic I have ever seen.

Thanks for calming my angst at coming in via SGN.

Posted by
74 posts

I want to fulfil a lifelong dream of visiting Vietnam Nam. A solo female 50+, I want to take a small group or private tour for 14-20 days.

Can anyone recommend a tour company?
Also is January a good month to go?

Thank you.

Posted by
525 posts

Jai - I took an excellent tour in Vietnam with Overseas Adventure Travel (OAT). It was 17 days on the ground plus travel days. The tour started in Hanoi and worked its way south to Saigon, and included some locations that most tours skip (Nha Trang and Dalat - both of which I really liked). You could also add an extension to Angor Wat in Cambodia (which I did). OAT limits its tours to 16 travelers and there are always many “solos” because they do not charge a single supplement. I think my tour had six or seven solos out of 16.

I went in late November/December. I believe the best weather is December through February. The north had quite pleasant temperatures. The south is hot year-round, but more tolerable in the winter. We experienced some rain on a few days.

https://www.oattravel.com/trips/land-adventures/asia/inside-vietnam/2021/itineraries?icid=destcmp_svd_lk

Posted by
462 posts

The more I dig in, the more I'm interested in the natural beauty up north.