We began planning our holiday vacation for two couples to Vietnam and Laos with Exotic Voyages back in June. As frequent international travelers, we’ve worked with a variety of tour companies over the years. We found Exotic Voyages and their travel planners to be super responsive, clear and concise in correspondences, and flexible in planning the best activities given our time frames.
We included a couple of days in Hanoi, two nights in Ha Long Bay, two in Sapa and three days in Luang Prabang.
A few observations for those planning travel in similar cities/areas:
1. Laos and Luang Prabang was our favorite part of the trip. We had possibly our favorite guide of all-time, Latta Latda, who showed us so many great gems of her city and region. If you’re considering Laos, DEFINITELY add it to your itinerary. It is a much-needed relief to the hustle/bustle/honking/smells of Hanoi! Also, I think it’s probably the massage capital of SE Asia, with plentiful and excellent $6 massages (we got lots of these!). Also, great restaurants, amazing night market, great day activities, quality lodging and friendly locals. We’re already planning our trip back to Laos!
2. Ha Long Bay is stunning and a must-see for northern Vietnam. We did the Paradise Luxury cruise, which we’d highly recommend. It’s apparently the nicest boat with fewer than 20 cabins, so you get to know your fellow travelers as much or as little as you like. While a gorgeous area, be warned that this is a very busy place with lots of other cruise boats floating nearby. Also, there was more trash in the water than we expected. Hopefully Vietnam and UNESCO will work on this in the future and consider limiting the number of visitors or expanding the area a bit.
3. Sapa is another must-visit when in that part of the country. The terraced fields are breathtaking and there are lots of small villages to visit throughout the valley. We did a 10 mile hike through these villages where we got to see things close-up (and get some much-needed exercise!). The town is pretty touristy and busy and many of the roads are under major construction, so things can be muddy/dusty. The lodging was great. We stayed at Aira, which is walkable to everything downtown, yet far enough away from all the noise. Highly recommend.
4. We took the luxury night train to/from Sapa/Hanoi. It’s small, but comfortable, but there’s lots of shaking/banging, so bring some pills to help you get to sleep.
5. I’d say Hanoi was probably our least favorite part of the trip, but only because we’re into more quiet/relaxed experiences. Hanoi – much like Saigon – is a frantic city of scooters and honking. We visited the Mausoleum of Ho Chi Mihn and hit a couple of museums, but beyond that, there weren’t many things to do. Lots of little shops, interesting food and people-watching though. If planning a trip, I’d say 2 nights there is more than enough unless you’re into big crowds and noise.
Overall, this was definitely one of our favorite trips and Exotic Voyages made everything super easy. If you’re planning a trip to SE Asia, I’d definitely recommend using them!