Just returned from 2 weeks in Vietnam, travelling with my 24 yr old daughter and my sister- a girls trip!
Firstly- most of my land arrangements including all hotels, 2 internal flights and a few tours were arranged by Ly and Martin from Tonkin travel. We could not fault their service- no pre payment required, all transfers arrived promptly and all prices were cheaper than I could get on the internet for the same hotels. (even the Tropical Sails trip on Dragons Pearl was a couple of dollars cheaper)
3 nights Hanoi at Hong Ngoc 2 hotel which is situated only a couple of blocks from the lake in the Old Quarter, so perfect spot. The hotel was good for the money, spotlessly clean, breakfast so so. We did a day trip to Tam Coc which Ly organised as a private tour with guide and driver. A great opportunity to chat to the lovely young man about life in Vietnam. Tam Coc (Halong Bay on Land) was worth doing, very eerie and afterwards our driver took us through some more remote villages.
Overnight on Dragons Pearl on Halong Bay was a highlight. The boat, food and staff were fantastic. Great weather was a bonus. Definitely worth the money.
Hoi An for 4 nights. Planned 4 nights so we could get some clothes made and have a bit of beach time. boy, did we hit the tailor shops hard. My advice would be , go with what you want made already decided, even if it means taking pictures or clothes you want copied. This saves a lot ot time going through all the books they have trying to decide what you want. Also go as soon as you arrive as a couple of my things were hand beaded or embroidered and took longer than overnight.
We went to Yaly for our "good" clothes and a cheaper tailor for work/every day stuff. Yaly were so professional and everything we got from there is perfect. Good choice of fabric, great finishes and the girls are delightful. Unlike other stores Yaly got us back for a couple of fittings as they are very fussy about the final product, so make sure you have time for this.
I would choose the "cheaper" tailor by what fabric choice they have and the quality of work on display.
YOu can also get shoes made at some store and these worked well for us too.
Had a day at the beach- a beautiful beach. Some people may get irritated by the constant pestering to buy things here. (Particularly from the students who certainly have the gift of the gab! but are lovely girls). We tried to say no firmly but politley with a smile- the trick then is not to maintain eye contact. As much as we would have liked to buy from everyone that is not possible so that was all we could do.
A morning trip to My Son with a driver. The advantage of this is you can stay as long as you like. A common complaint from others was that organised tours left you there for too long. Go as early as possible to avoid the crowds- I think it opens at 7.30am.
Our hotel in Hoi An was a highlight. The Vinh Hung riverside resort was a haven away from the shopping area on the river only 5 mins walk across the footbridge. The best buffet breakfast I have had, great friendly staff, large rooms. At night they set up stalls on the lawn and offered a sampling of local foods but it was more than enough for dinner and it was free. All for $50US for 3 of us (booked by Tonkin). Also make sure you try the local dish Cau Lau- a pork and noodle dish which is 60cents to $2 in the restaurants- beautiful
On to HCMC. The hotel we were booked in to was not so great (Riverside). Our room had a terrible smell and a chimney stack that made intermittent loud noises and the staff not as friendly, although we may have made their life a little difficult by wanting to change rooms. It was my fault and not Tonkins as I had given a budget of $50, and did not realise that you needed to spend a little more in HCMC, although as my son commented if you were a backpacker the riverside would have been luxury.
We decided to change hotels but as APEC had moved from Hanoi to HCMC rooms were tight. We ended up just up the road at the Renaissance Riverside- a beautiful 5 star with roof top pool. Tonkins travel arranged refund from previous hotel and got us a much better price than we got quoted, so we finished the holiday in quite a bit of luxury.
We had an overnight trip to the Mekong delta, with driver and guide. I think it would be hard to do in a day. The rest of the time we walked the city seeing all the usual sights. We did go to the Park Hyatt for high tea (my daughters treat) where we met our Prime Minister (John Howard)who kindly had a chat to us
So, hints. As I said above- go prepared for the tailors and as posted previously- EVERYWHERE takes $US or a combination of US and dong- even little market stalls in the Mekong delta- so no need fro travellers cheques. I only exchanged $100 at the beginning and used US the rest of the time and credit card for big purchases (clothes). Take small notes as you don't spend very much in each transaction. My daughter easily got VN dong from an ATM
Take some Immodium- I got a mild gastro upset and the Immodium meant I could carry on and not miss anything.
Many thanks to all the kind posters who answered my questions and contributed to our trip being such a success ( I think my husband is sorry now he didn't come). If anyone has any queries I am more than happy to try and help . Sue