Touring Vietnam

What EXACTLY  do you want and when are you arriving and when are you leaving?  Are you arriving in and leaving from HCMC?  What do you want to see, do, experience, and what sort of accommodations do you like–a Regency Hyatt, Sheraton, or Caravel 5 star hotel for $250 a night OR a very clean, very nice 3 star hotel with a slightly better location for under $50 US, depending on when you will be staying.
If I may make a few general suggestions:
You need shots, best gotten at your physicians.  You need Hepatitis A & B and Tetanus and Polio boosters.  Check the website for the CDC to see if you need anything else.  You must not drink any water that did not come in a sealed bottle and you should brush your teeth with bottled water AND keep your mouth and eyes shut when taking showers.
Check weather.com for the weather where and when you will be.
“Must sees” are Angkor Wat in Siem Riep, Cambodia, Hanoi, and Halong Bay.  If you come here and don’t see all three, you should save your money and get tapes from your local library.  There is a nice tour to Angkor via air that costs about $450 a person and is all inclusive.  They will even get you a Cambodian Visa (necessary) for an extra $30 or so.  It is worth paying.
This tour only goes once a week, so you need to book it early and coordinate it with your HCMC stay.
Prices go up during Christmas season and are ultra high during TET (around end of Jan, beginning of Feb).  Hotels fill up as a million or more Vietnamese come in from wherever they are living in the world and locals travel during all these “High Holidays”.  If you come for Tet, book everything now or risk paying triple and not finding a decent hotel at any price.
Cars and drivers are easily found–my wife has many friends who do this for a living–but travel should be done by air.
Vietnam is long and thin and the roads are horrible and loaded with traffic.  It took us 6 1/2 hours to go to a resort on the ocean 70 miles away.  This is normal, there were no accidents or unusual events impeding our travel.  If we went by private car instead of bus, we could have done it in 4 1/2 hours, but it would have cost $100 instead of $24.  My wife made the reservations, but next time we will go by car.  The busses and trains take equally long but the busses are more comfortable, just don’t have toilets.
HCMC is never cold and seldom cool.  Hanoi has seasons and might even get a day of frost in Feb.  Usually doesn’t get below 50º F in Hanoi, never below 73º F in HCMC at night, usually 92º F during the day.  Always humid.  Dress is casual but women need long dress or slacks for churches and temples. If you are from Chicago you will think the weather is great and never very cold.  Vietnamese are not like that.  A couple of years ago when the temp got below 50º F up North, over 10,000 head of livestock (cows, pigs, and chickens) died and probably around 350 people as well succumbed to the unbearable cold. Even after 6 years in SE Asia I only wear a very light jacket when it is 50º and don’t bother with socks.  Sandals are my shoe of choice. That said, Ho Chi Minh City is often considered the Paris of Southeast Asia.  Women here dress in the latest Paris, NY, and Beijing fashions.  Crocodile purses costing $30,000 USD are not uncommon, and even children can be seen in designer dresses carrying handbags that cost over $1,000 US. Some people dress ‘sloppy’, but they are always foreign tourists.  BUT, A BIG BUT, most women are not so used to wearing 3″ heels and negotiating broken, uneven sidewalks.  Be warned!
Best times to visit are during “Merry Christmas” season or during TET.  All the cities of Vietnam decorate for both these seasons, and HCMC is ablaze with magnificent floral displays during TET.  The weather is good, seldom rains.  But things get crowded and expensive.  We enjoy the decorations but don’t eat out much as restaurants double or triple their prices.  Traffic is unbelievably heavy at night, relatively light in the early morning, but everyone is happy and the city is beautiful.  HCMC is so great that we never go to other cities during these holidays.
I would definitely include DaNang, Hoi An, and Hue in any tour of Vietnam.  You can look on the internet for the sights in these interesting cities.
One of the very best travel agencies in Vietnam is Vietravel at http://www.travel.com.vn   email:  info@vietravel.com.vn  but my wife will create and lead a personal tour for groups of six or less.  Her fee is $250 USD per diem plus all expenses.  She speaks excellent English, a little Chinese, and of course, perfect Vietnamese.

Bill
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