We can highly recommend a trip to Vietnam.

Our family and friends travelled to Vietnam in April 2005 and our itinerary has been used by many people since.

Vietnam itself is a very safe, clean country and is incredibly cheap. Our 17 day trip cost approximately $2,000 per person which included airfares, accommodation and some meals, some transfers, guides/train trip to Sapa, Halong Bay junk. Meals were very cheap – US$2 bought a good meal.

We flew with Vietnam Airlines – we found them to be excellent. We generally chose to stay at 3 star hotels and found them clean and comfortable. Many included breakfast.

Please use our itinerary as a guide to plan your trip to Vietnam:

Vietnam Itinerary (March/April 2005)

Apr 08
Depart: Sydney 1020 Arrive: Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) 1550. 
Depart: Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) 1800 Arrive: Hanoi 2000 Apr 08.

Transfer Hanoi Airport to hotel
Thien Thai Hotel – Hanoi Sup Room/Full B’fast Twin 1 night
Full day in Hanoi: (we spent more time in Hanoi after the Halong Bay cruise but to see the best of the markets around Sapa, we left for Sapa on Sat Night):


Hanoi, Vietnam


Hanoi is the capital city of Vietnam. Its colonial architecture and tree-lined streets, lakes and parks,are quite a contrast to Saigon. Hanoi’s history dates back to the 9th century and there is no better place to experience this than in the Old Quarter, where traditional trades have been passed down from generation to generation. Some of us just walked to all the interesting sites, rented bikes or cyclos, however you might like to do the Hanoi City Tour (full day):

AM: 8h00 Visit Ngoc Son temple, coach trip along the Hanoi Old Quarters, pass by Dong Xuan market then continue to the Old Citadel. Stop for visit to Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum and Museum, One Pillar Pagoda. Continue on to the Quan Thanh Temple and Tran Quoc Pagoda. Lunch.

PM: After lunch visit the Ethnology Museum, the Literature Temple and Quoc Tu Giam.
PRICE: 12 U$/ person
Price includes: Transport, entrance fee, lunch and guide.

Saturday Night 09 Apr Meet at 8:30pm at the Handspan office, 80 Ma May St. Transfer by private coach to the train station for the night train to Lao Cai. ***Soft sleeper with air-con, dep. 9:30pm, arr. 5:30am. Then on to Sapa Hill Tribes

Woman at Binh Lu markets near Sapa, Vietnam

Woman at Binh Lu markets near Sapa

We chose to do this part of the trip with a local operator – Handspan. We wanted to do some trekking and weren’t sure where to go. The Handspan guides were delightful and it was great to have these young, intelligent locals with us to talk about the culture, the country and its people. Visiting Sapa and the hill tribe markets was a highlight of the trip for me and I would highly recommend it.

Full details of trip below:

Market Explorer – A Cultural Insight 3 Days, 4 Nights, 3 Markets & Sapa trek Highlights: Vibrant hill-tribe markets, stunning vista views and trek to visit the locals.
What’s included:

  • Train tickets (soft sleeper)
  • English speaking guide
  • Transportation
  • Meals as mentioned
  • Accommodation
  • Entrance fees

Handspan have designed this  itinerary to give you an insider’s perspective into the importance that weekly markets have in the social and economic aspects of hill tribe life. During this educational journey you’ll interact with a diverse range of ethnic minorities as you explore three of Northern Vietnam’s most interesting markets. This is both a culturally and physically rewarding trip, you’ll trek through verdant tea plantations and rice terraces to visit local villages and experience their daily life as it has existed for hundreds of years. You’ll never forget your experiences here nor the awe inspiring scenery and breathtaking vista views as you traverse through some of the most stunning valleys and mountain passes found anywhere. We encourage you to share your experiences and knowledge with others to help protect this valuable cultural resource that makes this region such a unique place to visit.


Trekking in Sapa countryside, Vietnam

Trekking in Sapa countryside

Saturday Night 09 Apr:

Meet your guide at 8:30pm at the Handspan office, 80 Ma May St. Transfer by private coach to the train station for the night train to Lao Cai. ***Soft sleeper with air-con, dep. 9:30pm, arr. 5:30am.

Sunday 10 Apr(B-L-D): From Lao Cai, drive up the mountain road to Sapa, continue over the Tram Tom Pass, the highest mountain pass in Vietnam at 1900M, down to the town of Binh Lu (2.5-3hrs). Binh Lu is one of the most interesting markets to visit due to its diversity of ethnic minority groups including Dzao (red, black, coin), Giay, Meo, H’mong, Nung and Phu La. Continue along the valley to Tam Duong. This vibrant market attracts H’mong dressed in colorful skirts and plaid head dress, Black & Lan Ten Dzao and Nung. After lunch trek through beautiful tea plantations, rice terraces and farmland to local villages of Dzao and Lu people, then down to Ban Hon village and back to Tam Duong for dinner and overnight in a guesthouse. ***Note: The Tam Duong Guesthouse in Phuong Thanh offers basic accommodation, but it is clean and equipped with hot shower and air-con.

Monday 11 Apr (B): After breakfast in Tam Duong, start your ride back up over the mountains to Sapa. Arrive approx. 10 -10:30am and check into your hotel. Take some free time to explore the town, check out the market and enjoy lunch in a local restaurant. The Hoang Lien mountain range, home to Mt. Fansipan, Vietnam’s highest peak at over 3100M, and its nature preserve, create a towering backdrop and great setting for trekking. Meet your guide at the Handspan office at 1pm and take a jeep ride down the valley to visit the Black H’Mong people of Lao Chai village, from there trek to see the Dzay people of Ta Van village. At the end of the day you’ll be picked up by jeep, return to Sapa and overnight in the Hotel. Chau Long Hotel.

Flower Hmong Women, Bac Ha, Vietnam

Flower Hmong Women, Coc Ly, Vietnam

Tuesday 12 Apr (B-L-D): Enjoy an early breakfast buffet before or 6:30am departure from Sapa to Coc Ly. You’ll head back down to Lao Cai and across to the east side of the red river and up to the Bac Ha region. Coc Ly is a small Flower H’mong Village located on the banks of the Chay River, its remote location in this mountain area gives you an appreciation of the harsh geography in which these people carve out their agricultural existence. The Flower H’mong people are the most colorful ethnic group with elaborately embroidered spirals and geometric figures on their clothes and colorful bands for leg wrappings. After exploring this vibrant and fascinating market, you’ll board a local boat for a 2.5hr trip down the Chay River, stopping along the way to explore the ‘Fairy Cave’ and enjoy a picnic lunch. You’ll be picked up in Bao Nhai then return to Lao Cai for dinner and the night train back to Hanoi. Time depending, you can visit the Thuong Temple with its impressive 500+ year old Banyan Tree. Trip ends Hanoi Station, 5:30am.

Sapa Trekking FAQs :
Q- What is the night train like?
A- The train is very updated and you’ll be staying in an air-conditioned cabin with four bunks.

Q- Why take the night train, and not the day train?
A- You won’t miss much in the way of scenery and this will give you extra time in Sapa for shopping etc… basically you won’t waste a day traveling. The soft sleeper on the night train is also much more comfortable than the wooden bench on the day train.

Q- Do the guides go with us for the whole trip?
A- Yes, most of the time. In some cases, your guide is already in Sapa, so a Handspan representative will take you to the train and show you to your sleeping berth. You’ll then be met by our representative at the station in Lao Cai and he’ll take you to our Sapa office to meet your guide. You’ll be well taken care of on all legs of your journey!

Q- How hard is the trekking?
A- We have treks to suit most fitness levels, including light treks of only 3 hours. Basically we trek from 3 to 6 hours, covering a distance of 8 to 15Km. There can be some tough and muddy terrain depending on the weather, including walking along some rice terraces. You can buy a nice bamboo walking stick from a local H’mong for 1000VND… that’s about 7 cents!

Q- How cold is it in Sapa?
A- Sapa is 1600 meters above sea level, so its always cooler than Hanoi. The mornings are often cool and misty, most trekkers start out with a couple of layers on, but shed this as you descend down the valley and the day warms up. During the night the temperature can dip down to 3 to 5 degrees Celsius, so a good jumper is recommended. The weather can be unpredictable in the mountains, so a wind breaker and/or rain coat are recommended.


Halong Bay, Vietnam

Halong Bay

Can highly recommend this cruise on the Dragon Pearl junk. The standard of accommodation was excellent and the seafood meals were wonderful.

Weds 13Ap Day 1 (L-D): Depart Hanoi from the Handspan office, 80 Ma May St and drive 3.5 hrs by private coach to Halong City. Transfer from the dock to the Dragon’s Pearl or similar, enjoy a welcome drink and a lunch of savoury local sea food. Start on a 4 hour cruise of the bay to see the amazing karsts with different formations: Lion, Tea Pot, Toad, Dau Nguoi (Human Head) islet, and then visit the Sung Sot (Amazing) cave. Stop for a walk through the “Amazing Cave”. There’ll be plenty of time for swimming and sunbathing (weather permitting) as you anchor for a night on the Bay. Enjoy a wonderful sunset dinner in our beautiful restaurant before retiring to the comfort of your cabin.

Thurs 14 Apr Day 2 (B-L): Early risers will enjoy a refreshing swim. Brunch buffet will be served from 9:00am-11:00am. Cruise to see more of the bay passing such interesting formations as Titov, Soi Sim Beaches, Ngon Tay (Finger) islet, Thien Nga (Swan) islet, Ga Choi (Cock Fighting) islet as you make your way back to Halong City. Check out procedure (10.30am-11.30am). Transfer back to the dock and enjoy lunch in a restaurant before returning back to Hanoi. Arrive in Hanoi around 5:30pm.

World Heritage Halong Bay FAQs

Q- Does the boat rock or shake during the night? A- No. 1600 islands provide natural shelter in Halong bay, so it’s quite calm.

Q- Where do I sleep on the boat? A- The Dragon’s Pearl or similar has fully equipped cabins with en-suite bathroom and air-con.Cabins are twin share and there are doubles.

Q- I’m traveling alone, is there any chance that I can pay extra to have my own cabin and hotel room, or do I have to share with someone else? A- If it’s available at the time you book, you can pay $15 extra to have a cabin to yourself. Hotels are based on availability as well, and the cost is usually $10-$15.

Q- Where does the tour depart from and return to? A- All of our Halong Bay tours Depart and Return to our 80 Ma May office.

Q- Can I sleep on the deck? Are there mosquito nets on the deck? A- Yes, you can sleep on the upper deck if you wish, there are comfortable lounge chairs there. There are no mosquito nets available on the deck.

Q- Are there lifejackets onboard? Will they fit children? A- The Dragon’s Pearl is fully equipped with all the latest safety gear and each cabin has lifejackets. There are also life buoys suitable for children.

Q- Will you take us to places that other don’t go to? A- The “Amazing Cave” is a very touristy place. The rest of the trip we try to avoid other boats but at night we have to sleep in the same vicinity as a few other boats due to security regulations in the bay.


Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum, Hanoi, Vietnam

Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum, Hanoi

Apr 14 and Apr 15
Thien Thai Hotel – Hanoi
Sup Room/Full B’fast Twin 2 nights 2 nights and one full day in Hanoi. (1 Full day to explore Hanoi again). As above.

Apr 16
Transfer Hotel/Hanoi Airport Apr 16 Vietnam Airlines Flight# 315 Depart: Hanoi 1145 Arrive: Danang 1300 Apr 16
Tsfr Danang/Hoi An Apr 16
Hoi An Hotel – Room/Cont B’fast Twin 3 nights


Apr 16 – Apr 18 
The ancient town of Hoi An is 32 kms south of Danang on the banks of the Thu Bon River. Hoi An was one of the major trading centres of South East Asia in the 16th century. With a distinctive Chinese atmosphere, low tiled roof houses and narrow cobble-stone streets where no traffic is allowed, the original structure of the town is virtually left intact. Hoi An is very popular with travellers and has many good restaurants and street tailors where a complete outfit can be made within 12 hrs at a very low cost. You can also have shoes made.

Restaurant in Hoi An, Vietnam

Restaurant in Hoi An

Hoi An was also a highlight of the trip. Our Hoi An accommodation was excellent and located just outside the old town. Optional Day Tour to My Son with river trip on the return: approx US$7. A day trip from 7:30 am, 55 km from Hoi An. A small trek from the road to the valley where My Son Holy Land was constructed by King Bhadravarman 1 of the Cham in the 4th century. Here Gods of Hinduism in Champa Kingdom were worshipped. Originally there were about 70 towers, now they remain only 20 towers, square and built of red bricks without mortar, typical of the architectural art of the Cham people.

Apr 19
Transfer Hotel/Danang Airport Apr 19 Vietnam Airlines Flight# 337 Depart: Danang 1410 pm Arrive: Nha-Trang 1530 pm Apr 19 Transfer Nhatrang Airport/Hotel Apr 19 Que Huong Hotel Nha Trang Dlx Room/Cont B’fast Twin 2 nights


Nha Trang, Vietnam

Nha Trang

Apr 19 – Apr 20 
With its palm-lined streets fronting white sand beaches, ocean front seafood restaurants and side-walk cafes give a lively atmosphere similar to the French Riviera. Clear turquoise waters are excellent for snorkelling and scuba diving making Nha Trang a popular alternative to the beaches of Thailand.

Optional Tour: (recommended)

  • Visiting Mun Island. Mot Island, Tam Island, The Fishing village
  • Snorkelling equipment is free of charge
  • Meal service: sea food specialities and fruit varieties.
  • Free transport from and back

Apr 21
Transfer Hotel/Nhatrang Airport
Apr 21 Vietnam Airlines Flight# 455 Depart: Nha-Trang 1545 pm Arrive: Ho Chi Minh City 1645 pm Apr 21
Transfer Saigon Airport/Hotel Apr 21 Saigon Continental Hotel (no pool) (extra A$20pp per night) Std Room/Full B’fast- Twin 3 nights.


Even the locals still say `Saigon` although the official name is `Ho Chi Minh City`. Quickly turning into one of Asia`s most dynamic cities, the bustling pace of activities offer a more contemporary perspective of `the new Vietnam’ Optional Tours:

Cu-Chi Tunnels

Cu-Chi Tunnels

Cu Chi Tunnels US$5.00 half day Mekong Delta US$7.00 full day

Apr 21 – Apr 24 
Vietnam Airlines Flight# 783
Depart: Ho Chi Minh City 2055 pm Arrive: Sydney 08.20 am on the 25th

The following information may also be useful when planning your trip.

The prices were current in April 2005: Visa for Vietnam $82.00 Adult $59 per child (under 12). Visa forms can be downloaded from:

Medical Advice: We used one of the TMVC Centres. Full details:

Recommended Reading: My preference: Rough Guide to Vietnam ($19.95 from Dymocks)
Another option: Lonely Planet (While the Lonely Planet guides are good, I find them a bit too factual with not enough subjective comment).

Luggage: Soft bags with wheels + day bag

Clothes: If you are considering having any clothes made in Hoi An, I recommend cutting some pictures out of magazines in advance. This will save you time.

Climate: A good website to check out local weather is  Sapa Sapa is 1600 meters above sea level, so its always cooler than Hanoi. The mornings are often cool and misty, most trekkers start out with a couple of layers on, but shed this as you descend down the valley and the day warms up. During the night the temperature can dip down to 3 to 5 degrees Celsius, so a good jumper is recommended. The weather can be unpredictable in the mountains, so a wind breaker and/or rain coat are recommended.

Electric Plugs: mostly 220V but check before plugging in.

Vietnam Airlines have a frequent flyer program. Application forms can be obtained from Vietnam Airlines at: Level 13, 31 Market Street Sydney or 1300 888 028 or the forms can be obtained at the airport on departure. Full details: -> Frequent Flyer Program