Great family holiday, TravelLocal and their partner in Vietnam took the time to listen and understand our requirements - level of hotels, areas we wanted to visit and activities we wanted to do. Quite a bit of detail below so hope it covers everything!
We loved having a local guide in Sa Pa - a lady from the Red Dzao, rather than a 'regular' tourist guide. She was our best guide by far and very insightful. Dzung was very aware of the needs of a family travelling, for example booking hotel rooms that were connecting or rooms that we just needed for a few hours before our train departure etc. Also recommending child-friendly activities such as the lantern making, riding bikes, on back of scooters and helping with decisions on hotels (which is really important to me - location and level of facilities) and where to go with limited time. If we had any problems or changes (due to illness) Dzung was on hand to help. Fully detailed itinerary
We did have a quite a long time to wait (3.5 hours) when transferring from Topas Ecolodge to Hanoi Airport and we felt it would have been nicer to spend more time in the hotel rather than the airport. Perhaps this is because it's a long journey and could have been lot of traffic? It only took 4. 5 hours I think so just to let you know! I'm not sure what happened in Hue but the guide didn't have the Perfume River on his tour but quickly rectified. However, it wasn't worth it as we ended up on a tourist boat that just went down the river and nothing to see or pointed out. It was just a 'tick' box really as it was on our itinerary - not the traditional sampan as per itinerary. We also missed out on the market but we have probably seen enough markets so it was fine. The guide was great so we are not being negative about him - just a mix up of what was on each itinerary.
Some guides (Sa Pa) would be 5 stars and others 3 or 4 stars so difficult to reflect that in overall review above. The transport connected with Indochine Junk would have been nicer than the driver we had been using in Hanoi - I did think this was included in the price of the Halong Bay cruise but our own driver did mean we had exclusive pick up rather than other hotel drop offs - think the kids would have preferred the Indochine Junk transport as it had WIFI! One thing we really didn't like was the toilet stops which was basically just a massive push to buy tourist stuff. On the way back we realised we had to stop at the same place but were able to say we didn't want to stay so just waited for driver to have his cigarette and moved on.. i think they also have to rest the transit vans so may be thats also why we had to stop. Tips are very much 'pushed' in Vietnam. On the Halong Bay cruise, an envelope was left out on the table towards the end of the trip and we were reminded a lot of times about this and that it didn't include the main tour guide. This is not our thing, we are more than happy to tip people but hate it being rammed down our throats - this basically goes for a lot of situations in Vietnam. We totally realise people need money but the way its done is just hideous! I am so grateful TravelLocal's Vietnam partner and Huw both recommended Topas - yes its quite a little way from Sa Pa especially after a long day but was much nicer to have the 'views' and a nice hotel. I would recommend bungalows on the left as you come out of the restaurant area as the view is much nicer.
I wouldn't recommend the Cat Cat village to anyone - it's just a tourist place and the show I wouldn't recommend. We personally found 2 villages were enough to get a flavour of the area but that is just a personal family opinion and of course people who want to trek would be different. I also wouldn't recommend the water puppet show either. The hotel in Sa Pa to have breakfast and lunch was OK - I probably would have chosen somewhere else, especially for the second meal being in the same place.. nice to experience other restaurants and I think some others looked nicer. Food was all fine though and a hearty breakfast was just what we needed. Probably if it also had a shower, then that would be even better. Totally recommend IC Danang if budget allows!! I would not recommend some of the tour drop off's, for example the Ancient House in Hoi An (a very quick introduction before you're whizzed through to be sold stuff) - just not interested in this kind of travelling and would rather not visit the place. Same with the Silk place in Hoi An - guide drops you off, you don't really know what's happening until you get to the entrance - the same old quick intro and then off to selling area - like the Lacquer place in Hanoi I think it was and followed around until you can escape. Same again on Mekong Delta tour; the brick factory was interesting and thank goodness nothing to sell us, the coconut candy place was interesting but again more selling. It was nice to take the rowing boat and walk around and meet local people. The guide on the boat and the crew were lovely but the biggest disappointment I feel the Song Xanh Sampan company need to be aware of, is you don't arrive at the floating markets until 8am when basically it's all over by then - very strange!! When we arrived back to the Victoria Hotel, it would have been nice to have a swim after 24 hours of no air conditioning so please say to others to take their swimmers on that trip. We didn't enjoy the guide we had in Saigon very much, hard to articulate but for example he was saying if we had booked with him his tours would have been better and cheaper - just a bit odd really. He did cancel our lunch when we returned from the Mekong Delta as we didn't fancy the stop off place and just wanted to get back to Saigon and the hotel. We didn't really enjoy the Notre Dame Cathedral - probably coming from Europe it didn't seem very different to us. It was under restoration so could only see outside and the Post office again wasn't much to see. Just our opinion and probably a little fatigued by then! All the hotels were great and recommend them all. Recommend the Cu Chi Tunnels and using the Les Rives company was good fun on a speed boat as we had taken lots of car transport by that point.
I'm sorry to say "all of it" as each area was great to see. We loved taking loads of different modes of transport (scooters, bikes, trains, speed boats etc). We really enjoyed our trip and do hope all the feedback is helpful and not a criticism at all.