Vietnam Trip Planning - 2012

Discussion in 'Vietnam Trip Planning' started by Rod Page, Jan 22, 2012.

  1. #1 Rod Page, Jan 22, 2012
    Last edited: May 2, 2016


    The approach here is more on the 'trip' than on the 'planning'; a personal choice although certain planning issues are discussed. A number of accommodation & restaurant options are provided. The information relates to conditions pertaining to 2012.

    For 2012 travel by motorcycle is recommended as:
    - although general access will improve with the many bridges are under construction, until their completion crossing by car is difficult or impossible in many areas;
    - certain roads are subject to landslides after heavy rain, blocking the path of other than two-wheelers;
    (See: )
    - some roads, especially through the more isolated villages, are too narrow for cars;
    - some obligatory ferries, especially in the remoter parts of the Mekong Delta, can not carry cars.

    When thinking bikes think 'SMALL':
    - on wet mudied roads, & there are plenty, you'll be glad to have the lighter bike;
    - certain ferries using internal bike storage can not physically load bigger sized bikes.

    If considering bringing your own bike be warned - the regulations are unclear & their application even more fluid.
    Use a local travel agent/'fixer' & hire your bike - Flamingo Travel with offices in both Hanoi & HCMC is excellent offering well prepared & maintained bikes, suitable spare-parts & a proper tool-kit. Their staff can assist you with your itinerary & every other need from visas to the best accommodation options.
    If you are considering buying a bike locally read the link:

    Search the GT Rider Forums independantly for other information - border crossings, current road conditions, likely weather conditions & so on.

    Use a map to plan effectively - "Travel Map of Vietnam" (Vietnam Publishing House of Natural Resources Enviroment & Cartography) is suitable. Use it in conjunction with local Provincial Maps procurable in most major towns.

    - Road conditions vary widely & can change rapidly (keep informed via the gt-rider web-site);
    - Weather conditions also vary wildly - check conditions daily (try Wunderground);
    - Petrol is readily available everywhere as are 'Mr Fixits';
    - Avoid travelling during Tet (Chinese New Year) or more particularly 2 days before & 10 days after Tet:
    - In general you'll not average much more than 40(comfortable) - 50(more than comfortble)kph.

    There are many who wish to avail themselves of certain cultural experiences that may occur along their path. Such readers attention is therefore drawn to the following link:
    Those planning to visit hill-tribes separately may be interested in the commentary at:

    Another great outing. Check out some leads here:


    I've divided the country in three (3) as it fits the project here in terms of (current) distances & travel times, potential trip options given most people's available travel time & probable visas, &, particularly, the constraints placed on people by the country's overall topography & transport infrastructure:

    - Quick Trips around HCMC
    - HCMC to Hanoi via the Coast
    - Hanoi to HCMC via the HCM Trail


    - Quick Trips around Hanoi
    - The Northern Loop
    - Halong Bay


    - The Mekong Delta
    - Phu Quoc



    For most travellers entry into & exit from Vietnam are through either Ho Chi Min City or Hanoi.
    The bulk of travel is between the two cities, often "in at one; out at the other".


    - A Weekender
    - A Week

    A WEEK-END TRIP: " The Red Pilgrimage"
    HCMC / Tay Ninh / HCMC
    The Route: Hwy22 - Hwy22B - R792 - R785 - (R781) - Hwy22B - Hwy22.


    Day 1:
    Depart HCMC for Tay Ninh - 99km. Hwys22 &22B - 2.5 hours comfortably.
    Continue on Hwy22B from Tay Ninh towards Ka Mat. Nearing the border, take R792 (right towards Ka Tum) & R785 (via Tan Chau) to return to Tay Ninh - 111km & a full half-day's trip.
    Aim to return to Tay Ninh on the short run via Duong Minh Chau then R781 on a magical run along the actual wall of Dau Tung Lake (on the road heading to Dau Tieng).
    Overnight at Tay Ninh.

    Day 2:
    Cao Dai Temple (suggest 6am service) before returning to HCMC (99km) with possible stop at Cu Chi tunnels.

    The below is copied from my GTR report on my trip to the area late in November 2011:
    Hoa Binh. 420,000vd/n. Cable TV, AC, b'fast included, Wi-Fi (if you have a computer. No computer provided). 210 Duong 30 Thang 4. Tel: 0663821315.
    Comment: Larger 'communist style' hotel. A little impersonal but satisfactory.
    An internet cafe is extremely difficult to find - we found one in nearby Duong Tran Hung Dao in what, from the outside, looked like a timber mill.

    We were constantly on the move eating mostly as we went, but we did eat at Thanh Thuy next door to Hoa Binh hotel. Excellent Vietnamese food at very reasonable prices.

    References (see relevant sections in):

    A ONE WEEK TRIP (#1): "The Surf & Turf Loop"
    HCMC / Nha Trang / Da Lat / HCMC
    The Route: See detail below.


    Day 1:

    Depart HCMC for Vung Tau - 116km. 3 hours comfortably.
    The Route: Hwys 1A & 51.
    Overnight in Vung Tau.

    Day 2:
    Vung Tau to Mui Ne by the fabulous coastal route - 198km/5 hours comfortably.
    Route: Head to Long Hai via Cua Lap before turning right to Loc An, Ho Tram & the beautiful area around Ho Coc before rejoining R55 just after Binh Chau & its hot springs. Continue on to La Gi before following the coast to Ke Ga along R709, then Phan Thiet on R712 & finally Mui Ne on R706.
    Overnight in Mui Ne.

    Day 3:
    To Nha Trang - 221km. 5 hours comfortably.
    Route: Via Mui Ne fishing village & the wonderful coastline & sanddunes around Hon Rom to rejoin Hwy 1A at Luong Son via Hong Lam (Bau Trang). At Bau Trang there's an alternative route (23km) heading back down & along the coast to Phan Ri Cua. Continue along Hwy1A to Cam Ranh then take the airport coastal route to Nha Trang.
    Overnight in Nha Trang.

    Day 4:
    Nha Trang & surrounds. Laze around Nha Trang or check out stunning Doc Let Beach (42km N).
    Overnight in Nha Trang (or stay on beautiful & quiet Doc Let).

    Day 5:
    To Da Lat - 139km/4 hours comfortably.
    Route: West from Nha Trang via Dien Khanh, Khanh Vinh, Lien Sang, Long Lanh, Da Chay & Da Sa.
    Overnight in Da Lat.

    Day 6:
    Da Lat & surrounds. Visit sites around Da Lat or cruise out to sensational Lake Lak -156km each way.
    Overnight in Da Lat.

    Day 7:
    Return to HCMC - 280km/full day's travelling.
    Route: Hwy 20 - Hwy1A.

    References (see relevant sections in):

    A ONE WEEK TRIP (#2): " Endless Beaches, Heady History"
    HCMC / Nha Trang / Hoi An
    The Route: Avoids much of the traffic clogged, exceptionally dangerous & somewhat repetitive Hwy1A.......
    NOTE: The opening on 25/12/2011 of the new Da Nang International Airport offers increased flight options for riders whilst bikes can be returned by rail through Da Nang Railway. (Rail costs - on 01/02/2012 I sent a Honda Future X 125 to Hanoi from Da Nang; 2 days for delivery; costing 421,000vnd (around $US20) if the bike is wrapped in cardboard protection; or 600,000vnd for the bike to be transported in an individual wooden crate).




    Day 1: (Consult the above "The Surf & Turf Loop" reference map to determine the route for Days 1 & 2)
    HCMC to Mui Ne - 116km - or, FAR better, via Vung Tau & the fabulous coastal route - 291km.
    Route: 1A & 51 to Vung Tau then 51 - 44 to Long Hai, then via Loc An & Ho Tram rejoining R55 near Binh Chau. R55 to La Gi then 709 to Ke Ga & 712 Phan Thiet before 706 Mui Ne.
    Overnight in Mui Ne.

    Day 2:
    To Nha Trang - 247km.
    Route: Head to Mui Ne fishing village, then out past Hon Rom returning to Hwy 1A at Luong Son via Hong Lam (Bau Trang) - there's an alternative (23km) route from here to Phan Ri Cua direct for off-roaders. Continue on Hwy1A to Cam Ranh then take the the airport coastal route to Nha Trang.
    Overnight in Nha Trang.

    Day 3:
    Nha Trang & surrounds.
    Finish the day heading north some 42kms (just north of Ninh Hoa) to Doc Let, a sensational (quiet) beach.
    Stay at Doc Let.

    Day 4:
    To Quy Nhon via the exceptional, but little known, coastal runs out past Cape Varella & Da Dia - 210km/day trip.
    Route: Hwy1A to just north of Dai Lanh - Cape Varella road - Tuy Hoa - Da Dia road - Hwy1A - Hwy1D.
    Overnight at Quy Nhon.

    Day 5:
    To Hoi An - 314km/full day, avoiding Hwy 1A for the first 100km via untouched, deserted coastline. Requires an EARLY start!
    Route: The coastal route out past De Gi to Tam Quan - Hwy1A (visit the Son My Memorial at Quang Ngai).
    Overnight in Hoi An.

    Day 6:
    Explore the magical Hoi An - complete the shopping, enjoy the culinary treats;
    Overnight in Hoi An.

    Day 7:
    Explore the area around Hoi An - take the coastal road along the magnificent stretches of China Beach stopping to see the jaw-dropping Huyen Khong Cave at Marble Mountain. Head on past My An & My Khe beaches & complete the sensational Son Tra Loop. Return your transport then wind down along the Han River in Da Nang city before flying out.


    - HCMC to Hanoi via the Coast.
    - Hanoi to HCMC via the HCM Trails.

    HO CHI MINH CITY - HANOI VIA THE COAST: "The Eternal Favourite (with a difference)".
    A "Fortnighter" Offering Great Detours From & Alternatives To Highway 1A.
    The Route: HCMC, Vung Tau, Mui Ne, Nha Trang, Quy Nhon, Hoi An, Da Nang, Hue, Ninh Binh, Hanoi.

    Days 1-6:
    Follow the above recorded trip: " A ONE WEEK TRIP (#2)".

    Day 7:
    Rather than flying out from Da Nang book yourself accommodation along or near China Beach - there are plenty of top class choices along the beach & bargains in hotels back in behind My An beach - & kick back for the night.

    Day 8:
    Depart Da Nang for Hue - 99km/2.5 hours comfortably. Route: Hwy1A over the sensational Hai Van Pass with an option to take the coastal route via Thuan An (anything but Hwy1A!)
    Explore the Citadel & associated cultural sites
    Overnight in Hue.

    Day 9:
    To Nhat Le (Dong Hoi) - 162km/4 hours comfortably.
    Route: Hwy1A with time to appreciate the historical sites associated of the American War.
    Overnight in Nhat Le.

    Day 10:
    To Vinh - 198km/5 hours conmfortably.
    Route: Hwy 1A. Not my favourite stretch of Vietnam, but distances make it a required stop-over.
    Overnight in or around Vinh.

    Day 11:
    Ninh Binh & surrounds - 220km/4.5hrs comfortably.
    Route: Hwy1A - another stretch that has alas to be done. Head straight to Tam Coc & stay at the excellent hotel, The Long.
    Overnight in Tam Coc at The Long.

    Day 12:
    Explore the many interesting & beautiful natural & cultural sites around Tam Coc.
    Overnight in Tam Coc (The Long).

    Day 13:
    To Hanoi - 92kms/2.5hrs comfortably.
    Detour to visit "Buddah's Heaven" at the Perfume Pagoda - sensational outing but requiring over half a day.
    Stay in The Old Quarter to explore this fabulous city.

    Day 14:
    Free in Hanoi.



    - Hanoi to Dong Loc, Phong Nha, Kon Tum, Buon Ma Thuot, Da Lat, Tay Ninh, HCMC.

    There are two options heading south from Hanoi - firstly taking Hwy 6 to Xuan Mai & then turning directly onto the Ho Chi Min Road (Hwy15 or DHCM) & heading down to Dong Loc, or, heading down to Ninh Binh, a great option if you've not visited the Tam Coc area (see: ) then heading west across to the DHCM via the fabulous Cuc Phuong.

    For the balance of the journey there is more than sufficient material in the following posts:



    Quick Trips Around Hanoi
    - Day Trips
    - Week-enders
    (This Section is being Prepared)


    - Mai Chau, Dien Bien Phu, Sapa, Bac Ha, Ha Giang, Meo Vac, Cao Bang, Ba Be.
    (This section is being Prepared)




    Travelling around Halong Bay requires proper planning. A World Heritage site since 1994 & a place of breathtaking beauty, its an absolute 'must do' but as one of the more expensive outings of any trip in Vietnam, there are a myriad of options & operators to work your way through.

    Most of the 1night/2day trips involve a relatively short cruise down to Hang Bo Nau & mooring before guests take a smaller boat for Hang Sung Sot & some kayaking. Overnighting on the mooring, return the next morning is via the same way. Its a beautiful cruise but very much 'the tourist route' & you miss so much not to cruise for a longer period & further afield - the peace, the calm, the tranquility, life in the bay & so on. Plan on the basis of what appeals to you - caves or karsts, the tourist hum or life in the bay.........
    Its very much a case of getting what you pay for - tourist boats have sunk in Halong Bay as recently as last year!

    Look therefore to explore the area aboard a junk for a minimum of 3 days & 2 nights; even longer if possible. The more independance with your boat that you can afford the better - so if you can pool together to get 'your own' vessel (& a say over the route you'll take), you'll be more than rewarded.

    Halong Bay is beautiful.
    Try Lan Ha Bay or Tu Long Bay for a more authentic & less touristic experience.
    An extended stay on Cat Ba with trips to neighbouring islands is well worthwhile. There are ferries with passenger & vehicle options & I'd strongly suggest visiting Cat Ba this way independantly of your cruise.
    Be careful with the weather; the area can completely cloud over - just this week a large passenger cruiser crashed straight into the side of a large commercial tanker; it could have been worse.

    At the other end of the spectrum, especially if you're young, consider staying at Hanoi Backpackers ($6.50/night including breakfast) & taking the Rock Long, Rock Hard tour. It hums!

    If you are not yet convinced maybe this will float you over the line:



    - A Week.
    - A Fortnight.

    A TRIP FOR A WEEK: "Green & Gold"
    HCMC / Chau Doc / Ha Tien / Phu Quoc / Can Tho / HCMC
    The Route: Hwy1A - R30 - 2xferries/Chau Doc - RN1 - ferry/Phu Quoc-ferry/Rach Gia - R80 - R91 - Hwy1A


    Day 1:
    HCMC to Chau Doc - 243km.
    A fabulous run down Hwy1A then out through Dong Thap province along R30 befor 2 ferry crossings to finally reach Chau Doc; a run that will show you the greens & golds of the Mekong Delta rice paddies, truly give you a feel for life on the waterways.
    Overnight in Chau Doc.

    Day 2:
    Chau Doc to Ha Tien via Mt. Sam & Ba Chuc - 117km.
    Take the run up Mt Sam for the sensational views over the Delta & across Cambodia, then detour briefly off RN1 to witness the horrors of the Khmer Rouge Massacre at Ba Chuc.
    Overnight at Ha Tien (book ferry for Phu Quoc).

    Day 3:
    Ferry from Ha Tien to Phu Quoc.
    At the time or writing the ferry to Phu Quoc departs around mid-day. On this basis profit by heading to the most photogenic spot in Vietnam - Hon Chong - in the morning before the ferry. Only 37kms each way but absolutely worth it! (Get there late Day 2 if ferry schedules have changed).
    Spend 3 nights on Phu Quoc.

    Day 6:
    Ferry from Phu Quoc to Rach Gia then take Rs 80 & 91 to Can Tho - 135kms (Rach Gia to Can Tho).
    Overnight in Can Tho (arrange boat trip to floating markets of Cai Rang & Phong Dien for early next morning).

    Day 7:
    Morning boat trip to the floating markets.
    Return to HCMC in the afternnon by Hwy1A - 169km.


    A TRIP FOR A FORTNIGHT: "Magic Mekong Delta "
    HCMC / Can Tho / Rach Gia / Phu Quoc / Ha Tien / Chau Doc / Vinh Long / Tra Vinh / Ben Tre / HCMC
    The Route: Hwy1A - R60 - R80 - ferry/Phu Quoc-ferry/Ha Tien - RN1 - 2xferries/Hong Ngu - R30 - H1A - R53 - R60 (inc. ferry) - H1A.

    See the map above in the report headed "Green & Gold'.

    Day 1:
    HCMC to Can Tho via Hwy1A - 169km
    Overnight in Can Tho. (Arrange boat trip to floating markets of Cai Rang & Phong Dien for early next morning).

    Day 2:
    Morning boat trip to the floating markets.
    Head to Rach Gia in the afternoon - R's 91 & 80 - 135km; (book ferry to Phu Quoc).
    Overnight in Rach Gia.

    Day 3:
    Ferry to Phu Quoc
    Spend 4 nights on Phu Quoc (see the complete coverage for Phu Quoc below).

    Day 7:
    Ferry to Ha Tien.
    Head to magical Hon Chong - 37km each way.
    Overnight in Ha Tien.

    Day 8:
    To Chau Doc via Ba Chuc & Mt. Sam - 117km.
    Detour briefly off RN1 to witness the horrors of the Khmer Rouge Massacre at Ba Chuc.
    Arrive for the sensational sunset atop Mt Sam just south of Chau Doc with incredible views over the Delta & across Cambodia.
    Overnight in Chau Doc.

    Day 9:
    To Vinh Long - 128km by road excluding ferries.
    See the waterways, local lifestyles & the emerald greens for which the Mekong Delta is famous in taking 2 different ferries from the very door-step of Chau Doc crossing the Mekong to arrive near Hong Ngu. Follow R30, then Hwy1A to Vinh Long before crossing by ferry to a home-stay on an island in the middle of the Mekong! (Arrange boat trip to visit the famous floating markets of Cai Be).

    Day 10:
    Early morning boat trip to Cai Be markets.
    To Tra Vinh in the afternoon by R53 - 66km. Arrive in sufficient time to experience the Buddhist side of Vietnam.
    Overnight in Tra Vinh.

    Day 11:
    To Ben Tre - 65km.
    Take R53 briefly before heading to the Co Chien Ferry (?) along R60 (the 25km to the ferry is in parts presently in fairly poor condition but offers a wonderful & unique way to Ben Tre).

    Day 12:
    To HCMC - 87km
    The Route: R60 - Hwy1A.
    Visit My Tho en route.


    Accommodation & Restaurant suggesions can be readily found on the GTR Vietnam General Discussion Forum.



    The reference material below is more than adequate to permit the planning of a variety of trips on Phu Quoc:
  2. There have been some 'developments' in recent weeks which merit reporting here whilst I seek further clarification.

    In recent weeks the police (general, not road police) have been active in their dealings with the operators of businesses in Hoi An. In an initial approach the police advised all commercial institutions in the area that: 'all their signage was to be predominantly in Vietnamese, that signage would need to be changed to indicate a Vietnamese name for the shop & that any reference in english would have to appear in smaller print below'. Most have already reconfigured the signage to comply.

    Yesterday at a substantial tailor's shop the owner informed me that the police had come the day before & advised that the shop could no longer accept foreign currency (including $US) for payment; only Vietnamese dong was to be accepted. Customers with foreign currency were to be directed to the bank to change their currency before making payment under threat of the shop being closed! Payment by credit card remains unaffected.

    I will look into the matter more fully once I'm mobile again but the above details merit reporting, especially in a country known for 'its love affair with the $US', a country in which so many transactions are conducted in $US, & where so many travellers undertake their travels with a pocket full of green-backs.

    Fore-warned is fore-armed.
  3. Under current regulations, the dong is the only currency that can be used in transactions within Viet Nam, and the prices of services and products must be quoted in dong.

    In November 2011, the Government issued Decree No 95, which set the fines for violation of these regulations whereby posting in foreign currencies could result in a fine of up to VND300-500 million (US$14,300-$24,000). In February this year, two taxi companies were fined nearly VND1 billion ($47,000) for posting their prices in US dollars at the Tan Son Nhat International Airport. Mean while the Government has increased inspections of businesses, such as spas, restaurants and travel agencies to "protect the local money".

    The Government has drawn up a plan to eliminate the dollarisation of Viet Nam by 2013.
  4. Chris from Flamingo Travel has recently resumed his travels so I felt it appropriate to publicly acknowledge the excellent material he recently posted on this, the Vietnam Trip Planning Forum.

    Chris - safe travels. I trust you'll find time to furnish any further material you feel relevant to this thread including updates on the condition of exisiting roads, details of any new roads & any trip information of concern or interest.

    All the best & thanks again.
  5. The northern mountain ranges of North Vietnam lie at the foot of the Himalayas & have bestowed upon Vietnam one of the most beautiful areas in the world through which to adventure. A number of reasons, in particular alas, many associated with war, have seen the area closed to the outside world for decades. The relative poverty of Vietnam, it too often driven by wars, has seen little development in the area. Those lucky enough to be travelling through this wonderful country are met with a deep history, a rich & diverse culture, a quality of life & a spectacular scenery hardly imaginable.

    All who travel these routes remark on the absolutely jaw-dropping, gob-smacking scenery; all who read their reports rave about the stunning photographs that accompany their reports.

    I was struck in recent times by the change in 'photographic conditions' between a ride (Brian & Mikes) taken in October of this year & one (Deanos) in December of the same year; all the more taken-aback as it was clear that Deano had done his research to find the 'perfect' time to ride through.

    Looking through the guidebooks & website weather predictors I can see that these 'experts' cover general weather conditions but there is no 'photographic index', nothing tracking too closely the annual burn-off, certainly no coverage of 'inversion layers' (see Deano's report). There's no reference to the impact of changing global weather patterns or reference to the fact that the burn-off seems to be starting earlier, lasting longer & being on an increasing scale. In terms of 'smokey mountains' there's a clear link between the burn-off in other countries - Thailand & Laos, for example - & Vietnam, so the experience of GTR members such as Davidfl, Brian, Motorex & so on can add greatly to the discussion here.

    Clearly the most important factor for most looking to undertake this magnificent outing will be to be as sure as possible to get the best conditions to see & to photograph the spectacularly stunning scenery on offer.

    I've therefore looked closely through a number of key reports on GTR, detailed reports from those who've traveled the area in recent times. Matt Ward was up there in June/July 2009 - some wet spots but generally visibility was good. David Unkovitch was up there in March/Aril 2010 - hellishly hot & smokey in the mountains. David 'Iwantablackrz' was there in September 2011 - reasonably good conditions but pelted with rain in Sapa. I was out that way in February 2012 - the smoke was still about the mountains; Feejer was there in April 2010 with hot days, only 1 day's rain but seemingly good conditions for photos. Brian & Mike in October this year were met with good conditions but Deano was caught a couple of months later in December by an 'inversion layer' making quality shots difficult. (I hope they can develop further this report to assist those who are considering such adventures).

    From the above there already appears to be a pattern of sorts that maybe December to March & even April are best avoided (despite what the guidebooks say). There's then the question of rain & road conditions to consider in getting clearer days.......

    Given the topography of the area, the weather conditions can vary widely even between different districts in even the same month, indeed on the same day. There's merit to be found in consulting the above reports on GTR to assist in determining a time felt most suitable to achieve the outcome they are seeking, particularly on the photogenic level.

    There is one thing of which I am sure following my own research - you will select a different time to travel than that you would have selected simply in using the weather guides & guidebooks.

    Yes, your reports are invaluable to those that follow!
  6. What a fantastic idea Rod.

    To add to the timing of our trip.. We were very lucky.
    The week before our flight a large typhoon crossed Vietnam. We had the tail end of it on the first day.
    Lots of rain and hard to see riding conditions. After that it was mostly good, but overcast.
    After we left.. One week later another typhoon crossed Vietnam…

    Could we have timed it better if we had tried? Doubt it.

    The primary objective of our trip was to catch the rice changing colour and being harvested.
    If we are honest, probably a few weeks to late.. but still managed to see some quality rice scenery changes.

    If you want the rice.. Go a few weeks earlier than us.. but you risk the typhoon season..

  7. For the guys asking about hard copy maps.
    Rod's recommendations .

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