- Halong Bay,
ONLY US$ 319.00 per person (Private from 2 person). (Valid til 30 September 2009). Soak up the stylish atmosphere of InterContinental Hanoi Westlake. Explore the natural wonder of Halong Bay aboard the luxurious Bhaya Cruise vessel. Get to know Hanoiís fascinating Old Quarter on an exciting cyclo tour. Contact us at: DISCOVER MEKONG Address: 99 Ba Trieu str., Hai Ba Trung dist., Hanoi, Vietnam Tel: +84-4 3943 9211 Fax: +84-4 3943 9209 Email: firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com Website: http://www.discovermekong.com Discover Mekong is managed by HG TRAVEL
See + Do
Hoan Kiem Lake, Vietnam
A good way to get your bearings in Hanoi is to take a quick stroll around Hoan Kiem Lake, a pleasant 30-minute circuit. The lake is fringed with willows, myrtles, flame trees, and tamarinds. Legend has it that the 15th-century emperor Le Loi received a magic sword from the lake, which he used to expel Chinese occupiers. After his victory, he returned the weapon to a golden tortoise, which vanished with it into the lake's depths (Hoan Kiem means "restored sword"). An islet on the northern end of the lake contains the Chinese-style Ngoc Son Temple and the remains of an enormous seven-foot, 500-pound tortoise found (sword-free) in the murky lake in 1968. Admission to the isle, which is accessible by the fire-engine-red Huc footbridge, one of Hanoi's most photographed landmarks, is 2,000 Vietnamese dong (about 12 cents). It's also well worth rising at dawn to see the lake at its busiest, surrounded by locals practicing tai chi.
See + Do
The limestone pillars of Thailand's Phang Nga Bay may have gotten the screen time in The Man With the Golden Gun, but for sheer spectacle, nothing compares to the sublime pinnacles of Halong Bay, 100 miles east of Hanoi. Many of the bay's 1,600 limestone islands and isletsthe world's most extensive karst seascapeare part of a protected 580-square-mile UNESCO World Heritage Site. Cruises are the best way to appreciate the bay and the fantastically shaped formations that erupt from the South China Sea. Dozens of companies offer daylong tours from Halong City; splurge for a longer trip and spend two or three days exploring. There are numerous sea caves and grottoes as well as the primeval Cat Ba Island, where a national park protects habitat for one of the world's rarest primates, the golden-headed langur. The most comfortable way to cruise the seas is on the 38-cabin floating palace operated by Emeraude Classic Cruises (59A Ly Thai To St., Hanoi; 84-4-934-0888; www.emeraude-cruises.com). Although the design replicates that of a French paddle steamer that sailed these very waters a century earlier, you'll get the full round of modern conveniences, from sunrise tai chi classes to sea kayaks to evening movie screenings on the open-air "star deck.'' With working sails to augment its engines, the junk-style Halong Ginger offers more rustic luxury (84-4-984-2807; www.cruisehalong.com).
Cool, misty weather swathes Halong from February to April; depending on your taste, this can make the bay a bust, or even more magical. Check your boat company's cancellation policy; in the summer and fall, storms and typhoons can prompt authorities to temporarily close the bay.
See + Do
The French Quarter, Vietnam
Lying to the south and east of Hoan Kiem Lake, Hanoi's French Quarter has grand boulevards and elegant French colonial buildings. These include the stately Opera House, based on the neo-Baroque Paris Opera, complete with gray slate tiles imported from France. One block east of the Opera House is Hanoi's Museum of History, an elaborate blend of Vietnamese palace and French villa, a style that came to be called Neo-Vietnamese. Trang Tien, the main artery of the French Quarter, is still a busy shopping street where you'll find bookshops and art galleries as well as cafés and hotels.
Melia Hanoi, Vietnam
Tel: 84 4 934 3343
The likes of Princess Anne of the United Kingdom and members of the Brunei royal family have rested their crowned heads in this slick, 22-story hotel. There's a heliport on its roof, so guests can arrive in style, and the hotel has the largest ballroom in Vietnam (with a capacity of 1,200). The Art Deco rooms are large and pleasant, with luxurious bathrooms, minibars, and satellite TV. The high-rise hotel may be something of an eyesore on the Hanoi skyline, but its height guarantees guests a glorious view. There are two restaurants: El Patio, serving international cuisine, and Lotus, offering Thai and Chinese food. Melia is centrally located in the heart of Hanoi's business district, within walking distance of Hoan Kiem.