“Personalized itineraries, fast responses, professional, patient and helpful travel consultants”
5 of 5 bubbles
I was traveling for 3 weeks through Vietnam with my sister and we have used Vivu Travel further to a recommendation of friends based in Bali who have organized a Sapa tour through them last year. We organized part of the trip ourselves and we used the services of the agency for 16 days.
I was dealing with Ngoc and she was extremely fast in answering, communicated very well in english, was patient and suggested a personalized itinerary from the information we have given her (it will be much easier for them if you let them know in advance which places you want to see, activities that interest you in general and if possible also your budget). It is actually quite easy, just go to your local travel agency in your country and pick up a catalogue and it gives you a pretty good idea of what to see and how a round trip is structured. In case you are from Europe, a personalized tour like we did would have cost more than organizing it through an agency in Vietnam.
You can always fine tune the proposal or take services out. In our case, we realized that a guide in Hanoi and also Saigon (except for the Cu Chi tunnel tour) was not really necessary and we easily found our way around ourselves.
The same applied to transportation. Transfer between hotels and the airport and train stations (although we suggest you use their transfer from Sapa to the railway station in Lao Cai (about 38 km from Sapa) you can easily arrange yourself and save your budget (unless you want to be taken care of from A-Z) for other things (like eating all the delicious food).
We also arranged our air tickets through Vivu Travel to Hue, Nha Trang and Saigon (three flights in total). If you arrange your tickets yourself and book directly online with the airlines, you are likely to save a bit of money (for our three flights it would have been around USD 60 per person). This is not because of the high mark-up of the agency, but due to the fact that the airlines sell to the agencies an average price (and tickets are modifiable) and the agency has no influence on it. In the end we booked through the agency, as it just meant less hassle for us and saving time.
All the hotels that Vivu Travel had booked for us suited our needs (again, tell them beforehand what style of hotel you want, the star category, as it will really make it easier for them to suggest the right type of accommodation and price range) and were well chosen.
Remember though that they will not book hotels they are not convinced will offer at least a certain standard of comfort (I would say minimum 3-star category for the cities). In Sapa we also stayed one night in a home stay which was a simple, but very good experience to stay with a local family.
A special mention and I would say our absolute highlight of this trip organized by them was the 3-day cycling trip in the Mekong Delta. It was a personalized trail though local villages, where we could really see the life of the local people (and they were still excited to see foreign faces and I cannot recall the number of “Hello, hello” we heard during the 3 days), far from mass tourism (as a matter of fact we have not seen a tourist in the 3 days we were cycling). We were riding on small paths with fruit trees along the way, through rice fields, saw rice farmers at work, tasted fresh sugar cane juice and coconut juice (coconuts coming straight from the tree in the garden), watched locals making products from bamboo, took local ferries, etc.
You decide on the distance you want to cycle (we did 50 km the first day, 75 km the second and 60 km on the third, but were also lucky, because it was cloudy, not too hot and did not rain) and we were taken in a several seater very comfortable mini-van (just the two of us) from Saigon (takes about 2 hours to get to the point where we started) and the bikes and luggage were always with us. Our driver and the guide were super helpful, polite and flexible.
Breakfast was taken at the hotels and lunch was always in a simple restaurant since the location was off the beaten track. I would suggest though that you ask the guide what you are entitled to order, as otherwise he will order several dishes for everybody and those might be delicious to somebody local, but to some foreign taste buds some are very “special”. We are certainly among the more adventurous people (having tried dog meat too in Vietnam, just ONCE), but some of the dishes the guide ordered we would have liked to skip given the choice.
We were given cold towels and water all the time during the tour, so do not fear to get dehydrated, they have a full ice cold water box in the van. They also give you a rain coat just in case it rains.
The bikes were in very good condition and were rented from a bike company in Saigon and our guide was very strict on security (you have to wear your helmet) and made sure that our bikes were safe and we were comfortable. They obviously do those trips often and are in good shape, so do not hesitate to remind them to go a bit slower if you feel you want to enjoy the scenery and do not want to rush like participating at the Tour de France.
Regarding the Halong Bay trip, which was another one of our highlights, just one mention which should be better clarified in the itinerary. One activity was a cooking class. If you expect a proper cooking class, you will be very disappointed. We literally just had to fill some rice paper with some stuffing like vegetables and chicken, roll it, eat it and that was it. It was ok for us, as cooking is not our interest, but for those who were looking forward to it, remember, its more of a small participation in rolling some spring rolls.
Having said that, the food during the trip in Halong Bay on the boat was absolutely delicious and plentiful (let them know in advance if you are vegetarian or have special needs). The cabins were nice too and it was such a great feeling to wake up, looking through your open window and nearly touching the water. Although there are of course hundreds of boats doing the same trip, it never felt mass touristy once you are sailing, because boats are silent and beautiful and just fit in the landscape. Go on the kayak trip in the early morning which they offer as part of the tour, you feel so much in tune with nature.
We also found the train ride to Sapa very comfortable, cabins were super clean, the right temperature. You can lock them from inside. We had a cabin for 4, but were alone inside. It all felt very safe too.
To give you an idea of the price for the trip, we paid USD 3090 for the two of us for 16 days (you have to pay 30% deposit upon confirmation and the rest upon arrival in Vietnam) and the locations we covered were Hanoi, Halong Bay, Sapa, Hue, Nha Trang, Hoi An, cycling Mekong Delta, Saigon. It included the hotels (most were 3-4 star ones), entrance fees to the sights as per itinerary, guides (very friendly and good cultural knowledge), always breakfast, many times lunch as well and rarely dinner. Three domestic flights were included too, as well as our bicycles and very big van for the Mekong Delta Trip. Several transfers were included too, but others we organized and paid ourselves. So in case you want them to organize all transfers from A-Z, the price will be higher.
I think it was a fair price and I would think that the Mekong Delta trip was probably the highest cost, but well worth it. I highly recommend it to those who like getting close to the activities and life of the local people, like sport activities and the outdoors and love nature. I am currently in Bali and I felt the Mekong Delta area we cycled along was like it was in Bali many years ago, before the heavy development started.
My personal Vietnam recommendations which might help fellow travelers too:
• Once you get to Vietnam buy a local Sim card as it will be super useful for the GPS service on your mobile or general surfing (you might also occasionally communicate via SMS with the agency in case you have questions). We also used the GRAB (similar to Uber) service all the time (in Saigon we were constantly on a Grab Bike), so in case you do not have it, you might wish to install for free this transportation app. Prices are far lower than the normal taxis and you do not risk to be ripped off, as you see the price on your phone before you confirm the booking.
We used the Mobifone provider (was very reliable everywhere) and brought it from our first hotel at the reception. It was only Dong 112.000 = approximately USD 5 and it lasted us for the entire 3 weeks in Vietnam. If you buy the card at the airport, they are likely to sell you a more expensive package.
• The price you pay from the airport in Hanoi to the Old Quarter by normal taxi is roughly Dong 280.000-350.000. I have not used Grab car on this occasion, but used an airport shuttle which was Dong 105.000 and drops people right in front of their hotel (I think the prices of the shuttle vary and can be cheaper, but I was happy to pay a bit more and they dropped me off right at the hotel). You might have to wait a bit until the shuttle is full, so if you are in a hurry better take a taxi or order a Grab car.
• From the airport in Saigon to district 1 (the centre) the price with Grab car is only around Dong 100.000 = approximately USD 4.5 (depending on the time of the day).
• In Nha Trang there is a also a shuttle service to the centre and it cost Dong 50.000 per person = approximately USD 2.
• Grab bike in Saigon was also very cheap. Just Dong 23.000 = around 1 US Dollar from our district 7 to district 1 and its fun to discover the city from a bike.
• I would recommend to stay at least 2 nights, 3 days in Hanoi. It is such a charming city and well worth to just “drift” and enjoy walking around and discovering. I personally do not think that a guide is necessary, we did everything without problems ourselves and the centre is very compact and easy to walk (by the way, remember that you can currently not go in the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum, as its closed for renovation, but you can see the gardens and house).
It is also well worth to go early at around 06.30 am and watch or participate at the activities around the Hoan Kiem Lake. It has such a local feel at this time of the day, with people doing their exercise, Tai-Chi (we even participated at a group practicing laughter tai-chi which was hilarious). And it is nice to experience Hanoi before the city gets busy.
• In Saigon you can easily discover the major sights yourself as well. I think 2 nights, 3 days is enough, because once you have seen the sights, its just another big city. Do hire a guide and driver though if you wish to do the Cu Chi Tunnel tour (I personally think a must if you go to Saigon), since it is a bit outside and you need transportation to get there).
• When you do the Sapa tour, remember that you cannot take your suitcase with you for the trekking (we left it at the hotel we were staying at after the trek) when you stay overnight at a home stay in the mountains, so prepare a little bag pack with the things you need for one night and the trek.
• Please do not give money to the children along the trek in Sapa. They are supposed to go to school and if you give them money parents will send their kids on the road begging rather than sending them to school. If you want to help, then bring pens, notebook, or anything useful which kids can use at school (I wished I would have known that before, I would have surely brought along some items. Some warm clothes and shoes might be a good idea too).
• Be careful when walking and keep your eyes open in the traffic in Hanoi and Saigon. Motorbike drivers rule the streets and will certainly not stop for you. Forget about pedestrian crossings everybody ignores them. We called them “decoration crossings” because they served no real purpose. Go with the flow, be brave, step on the street and cross slowly. Motorbike drivers will just drive around you (even though you might think they knock you down), you just have to go with the flow on the street. Or just follow a local, they know what to do.
• When it comes to shopping, I must personally say (from a western taste perspective), I did not find Vietnam particularly exciting (compared to Thailand for example), its rather targeted towards a local taste, notably for the clothes (and I am not just talking about size). Lots of fakes too. The much raved about Ben Thanh market in district 1 in Saigon, I honestly do not understand what the fuss is all about.
It’s nice to just wander around and soak up the atmosphere, but original goods, I found very difficult to find (it was nearly everywhere the same).
One shop that stood out for us in Saigon in terms of some original souvenirs was "Saigon Kitsch" in district 1. Not exactly that cheap for Vietnamese standards, but there we found some cushion pillows with nice prints, bags, etc. Worth a visit if you are in the area and want some souvenirs which don´t break the bank, but are still of a certain quality and originality.
There are several bigger very modern malls in Saigon (much less in Hanoi), but they are just malls with the usual shops you find in other major Asian cities too (with the same standard prices). When in the markets, do not be shy to haggle. I always took my buffalo horn hair combs as a benchmark (if you like products made of buffalo horn, I recommend to buy them there, they are much cheaper than elsewhere, even Thailand). I found the same ranging from Dong 40.000 up to Dong 200.000 depending on the shop and location (Hanoi weekend night market had the best price), so you know how high their mark-up can be.
• Be careful when you travel in December and plan a beach holiday. During the 3 weeks we were in Vietnam it was not exactly very sunny (though it was hot in the South).
• I have not visited other beach locations in Vietnam and we were only in Nha Trang (it must be the most popular destination for Russian tourists, as the whole city was full of Russians. Signage in Russian too everywhere as well. Not a problem of course, I just mention it) and I personally would not choose this location for a beach holiday. It is more like a big city with a nice beach promenade and long stretch of beach (we did not get to enjoy it as it was raining for 2 days non-stop), but it certainly did not have a typical tropical beach location vibe in my opinion.
• A question about tips that might come up as well. I would say Dong 100.000 per day is an average with the driver maybe 50 of that (keep in mind that salaries are low, so you cannot compare with western standard tips).
• If you take flights within Vietnam, keep in mind that 20 kg is the allowed luggage allowance (many people come from Europe with their 30 kilos allowance and then have to pay a lot of excess luggage once they take local flights within Vietnam).
• If you book the Sapa trip with the agency, ask them if you can start the trekking on the last day around 11.00 (they normally start much earlier), so there is not so much time anymore to wait until the transfer back to the train station at around 17.00 hours. Our trek on the last day started very early and by 1 pm we were back at the hotel and did not know what to do until 5 pm, because there is not that much more to do in the centre of Sapa and of course we had to check out of the hotel in the morning and could not get back in the room.
• Do visit Hội An which is an ancient town, cut through with canals. The city´s history is reflected in its architecture which is a mix of styles from wooden Chinese shop houses and French colonial buildings. Its old city is super charming and pretty with lots of lovely coffee houses. There are many tourists, but it does not distract from the fact that this for me was one of the prettiest places I have seen on the trip.
Enjoy Vietnam, it’s a lovely and diverse country, but go fast before it starts being too developed. In certain areas like Danang it starts to develop fast now along the beach (major hotel groups are currently building hotels).
Visited December 2016