Friday, January 3, 2020

Viet Nam Trip April 2020

Indochina Trip

April - May 2020

45th Anniversary of Peace and Reunification

The program encompasses Viet Nam's history and culture before and during the American war; legacies from land mines, UXO and Agent Orange; current society, economy and relations with the US; and the challenges posed by China in the East a.k.a. South China Sea.  As part of the anniversary, there will be official events in Ha Noi and Ho Chi Minh City and observation of the public celebration parade on April 30th.  

Our need to accommodate the official schedule of the anniversary means an unusual itinerary of starting in the center of the country, traveling north and ending in the south.  There will be many meetings, including at the US embassy., but also a chance to enjoy the food and ambience of a country that has become a popular destination for US tourism.  Our host is the Viet Nam - USA Society of the Viet Nam Union of Friendship Organizations. 

My goal is to share with you the contacts I have made during 45 years of visits to Viet Nam and Laos and 42 years to Cambodia. 

Middle to North to South

[private tourism Ha Long Bay, Sa Pa, Hoi An, Cham ruins and museum?]

April 19  arrive Da Nang, stay in Hoi An
April 20 - 21  Da Nang  (Cham ruins at My Son; My Lai; East Sea Museum, Union of Friendship Organizations, AO Rehabilitation Center)
April 22 - 23  Hue  
April 24  Quang Tri land mines / UXO Center, Vinh Moc Tunnel Village
April 25  Soft seat day train from Dong Hoi or Dong Ha to Ha Noi
April 26 - 27  Ha Noi  FRD program  (Ethnology Museum, Van Mieu University, Water Puppets; US embassy, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Garco 10 Factory)
April 28 - 29  Ha Noi VUFO program (fly to HCMC)
April 30 - May 1  HCMC VUFO program 
May 2    Ben Tre Province (Bob Kerry massacre location, coconut factory)
May 3   Bien Hoa AO remediation
May 4   Depart [private tourism, Phu Quoc Island, return to Ha Noi for Ha Long Bay, Sa Pa?)

[May 4  Phnom Penh and/or Angkor Wat
May 7   Vientiane / Luang Prabang, Laos
May 10  Depart to Bangkok]*

* according to interest

Schedule subject to change. 

One of the participants, Janet Gardner, made a fascinating documentary about the tunnel complex at Vinh Muc, north of the DMZ that we are visiting

An innovation on this trip is to take a soft-seat day train between Dong Hoi and Hanoi. We have used the overnight sleeper before.  It is a fascinating trip, but  mostly in the dark and some people don't sleep well.

If you want to spend some tourism time getting over jet lag on the beach, exploring Hoi An, getting a suit or dress made, etc. you should consider flying into Da Nang a day or two earlier.

We will confirm the Hoi An hotel before March if you want to stay there before the rest of us arrive.

FRD functions as the facilitator of your visit, not as a travel agent.

We cannot assume any legal liability so advise purchase of travel insurance, including health if your plan doesn't provide coverage  outside of the US.

Click here to register by March 1.
After completing the form, click on Submit at the bottom.

International air tickets

Flight connections to Da Nang can be made via Hong Kong, Bangkok, Singapore and Seoul.

You can take a look at route and fare options easily at  Pay attention to total time en route and layovers.   Because of the international date line, the outbound flight usually requires two calendar days, but the return flight is only one. Include premium economy as well as economy in your search.  If you can handle the extra cost, the long flight to the other side of the world is less stressful in premium.  Don't neglect options of flights via Europe, the middle east or China/Taiwan.  Business class with national airlines may be less than and their premium economy is usually better than US carriers.  Kayak and other on line services may offer different options than google.

If you have miles for award travel, start checking with your airline.  (American Airlines wants 35,000 each way in economy; 70,000 for business.)  Most have functional on-line systems now, but a phone call may offer additional choices, especially on non-US partner airlines (with a service charge for human interaction).  Keep trying.  Award tickets can become available and disappear in 24 hours.  Transpacific flights may show up as economy now because some partner airlines don't release their seats so long in advance.  If you book at an economy award level, you may be able to upgrade a month or two in advance, or you can cancel and buy a different ticket.

Check out options if your primary international flight is into and out of Bangkok.  Tickets between Bangkok and Da Nang on Thai Viet Jet are inexpensive and can be booked through google, etc.  Bangkok is also a fun place to recover from jet lag or relax after the trip.

Take a look at connections and costs on Cathay Pacific.  It is a one of the best airlines for transpacific flights.  A couple of us are on this flight into Da Nang.  (Note information below on Coronavirus.)
Operated by: CATHAY DRAGON
Sunday, 19 April 
Departure:   HONG KONG

If you want help from a professional travel agent, Steve Power <>, is familiar with the region.  My daughter Tara is also developing a travel business part time and lived in Ha Noi for four years. Tara Mullaney <>

Impact of China's Corona virus

We are regularly in contact with our hosts in Viet Nam about the status of the virus.  Hot weather in Viet Nam in April offers some protection.  We are also following Cathay Pacific about transit through Hong Kong.  Routes to Da Nang via Bangkok, Singapore and Seoul may be preferable.  Until the situation is clear, we recommend holding off on confirming air tickets, or being sure that travel insurance will cover cancellation because of risk of illness.

Supplemental travel

If you want to go to Ha Long Bay or Sa Pa, you could do that first and then fly to Da Nang from Ha Noi, an interesting way to get over jet lag.  You could also go there after the program ends in Ho Chi Minh City by flying back to Ha Noi.

For the more adventurous without time pressure, Vietnam contains extraordinary national parks described here  with a good map here   I can point you toward a local travel agent to make arrangements for additional exploration before or after our program.


On the registration form is a link to make a non-refundable donation to FRD of $250. That serves to confirm your participation and pays for my expenses to accompany you.  You will pay directly your own international air fare.  In February I'll send you an almost final estimate of in-country costs including meals, hotel and domestic travel.  You will have to bring that in cash or travelers checks.  I won't know the exact cost until the full program is confirmed by the Vietnamese.  Based on past experience, it should be between $2700 and $3200, depending in part on whether you are sharing a room (recommended only for couples).


Check the expiration date of your passport.  It must be six months after your date of entry.  Vietnam offers a good on-line application system but wait until I send you the link.  There are also commercial operations that charge more and may not reliable.  Laos and Cambodia are visas on arrival but you need to bring a visa photo.

Please scan the picture page of your passport and e-mail it to me as an attachment.  Taking a picture with your phone is not a good alternative.


Don't hesitate to ask.  Most will be answered to the whole group since your uncertainties will be shared, even if not yet articulated.

-- John McAuliff    917-859-9025

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