Vietnam – Planning Phase Two

I’ve spent way too many hours over the last week trying to sort out the details of our upcoming Vietnam trip. It’s no wonder why people book tours and cruises. It makes life so much easier, especially when negotiating a place like Vietnam where the answers to your questions can’t be found, scams abound and the myriad websites are all pushing tours when I just want a train ticket.

The simple answer is to wait until you get there. Great if you have time to spare but otherwise you are wasting valuable travel time arranging hotels and transportation.

The good news is that if you are trying to get to a tourist destination there is almost always a way to get there, even if you can’t find the details in a travel book or on a website. Enterprising locals want to make money and will provide a way for you. You may pay too much, but your trip won’t be ruined.  Just have a little faith. Great advice, now if I could just follow it myself.

Train to Sapa

I am a little type A and am still fretting over our trip to Sa Pa, a mountain area near the China border that is reached by an overnight train out of Hanoi. We want to take a Friday night train arriving in Lao Cai Saturday morning, heading first to the Can Cau market and then spending the night in Bac Ha to get a early view of their Sunday market the next morning. 

You would think the weekend markets would be popular and therefore a good idea to book the train ahead of time. Most things I’ve read say there is no need to book more than a couple of days in advance UNLESS you want to get there on a specific day. That would be us. It looks like Et-Pumpkin does provide a way to buy just a train ticket in advance. They have their own carriage of soft-sleeper berths that attaches to the regular train.

Other companies also have this type of carriage but I haven’t found a direct website for them. Livitrans is the same website as Trains to Sapa , charging twice the going rate ($60 instead of $30) for a soft sleeper. The Pumpkin folks would be happy to arrange a tour for us charging $90 to take us to Can Cau and then back to Bac Ha. Seems way overpriced for the area so I tell myself just to have a little faith and work it out when we get there. If anyone has any information about this area, would love to hear from you.

Resources For Arranging Your Own Trip

For ideas on creating your own itinerary see my post – Vietnam – Planning an Adventure


I generally use a combination of guide books,, or some other booking agency and of course Googling the hotel name. I find tripadvisor reviews are more reliable than guidebooks, offering many people’s opinions rather than just one. These days you can find reviews for hotels in towns as small as Bac Ha!

Train travel – is a great resource for information on train travel in Vietnam.

Internal Flights

Vietnam Airlines – cheaper flights do seem to sell out.

Jetstar – An Australian airline that flies into Da Nang, which Vietnam Airlines does not.

Tours I Like

Yes, from time to time I do think it is worth it to book a mini-tour. Although I haven’t been on either of these tours yet, they do look promising and I will be reporting back after our trip.

Mekong Delta bike trip with Sinh Balo

Cooking class and market tours in Hoi An. We used the Lighthouse restaurant but they have since closed.

Finding Answers to Your Questions 

Lonely Planet’s Thorn Tree.  I also use this website for checking out possible complaints for specific tour companies. For example, Kangaroo Café is listed in Rough Guide as a reliable tour operator in Hanoi. While on Thorn Tree there are scathing reports of the owner’s treatment of locals.