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Classic Images of Today's Vietnam

Classic Images of Today's Vietnam

By DiscoverMekong
Trip Plan Tags: 
arts + culture,
beach + island,
city,
cruise,
family,
luxury,
road trip,
romantic
Destinations: 
Asia,
Halong Bay,
Hanoi,
Ho Chi Minh City,
Hoi An,
Hue,
Mekong Delta,
Vietnam

For travelers with less time but still want to discover the real Vietnam, this 10 day program visits the most interesting locations in the country, introducing the mystery of old Hanoi, the magnificence of Ha Long Bay, the historic Center and the tropical evergreen South. Itís the perfect introduction to one of Asiaís most fascinating cultures. For further information, please visit our website: www.discovermekong.com or email us at bookings@discovermekong.com DISCOVER MEKONG Address: 99 Ba Trieu str., Hai Ba Trung dist., Hanoi, Vietnam Tel: +84-4 3943 9211 Fax: +84-4 3943 9209 Email: bookings@discovermekong.com or customercare@discovermekong.com Website: http://www.discovermekong.com Discover Mekong is managed by HG TRAVEL

ITEMS

$200-$299
Editor's Pick
ALT HERE

Hotel

Melia Hanoi, Vietnam

44B Ly Thuong Kiet St.
Hanoi, Vietnam
Tel: 84 4 934 3343
Email: melia.hanoi@solmellia.com
Website: www.meliahanoi.com

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.

See + Do

Temple of Literature, Vietnam

Quoc Tu Giam Street, Dong Da District
Hanoi, Vietnam
Tel: 84 4 845 2917

Many travelers to Asia come down with a case of pagoda overload during their visit. So be sure to make time early on for Hanoi's most beautiful and historic monument. Founded in 1070 by Emperor Ly Thanh Tong, this campus of tile-roofed sanctuaries and walled courtyards located one mile west of Hoan Kiem Lake held Vietnam's first national university. Promising Confucian scholars and court mandarins selected from across the country took three years of rigorous study in literature, poetry, and penmanship. The names of hundreds of graduates are inscribed on 82 stone stelae that rest on the backs of stone tortoises, a symbol of wisdom. The heads of some of these rock reptiles were worn smooth by students who rubbed them for good luck before exams. Outside the south wall, another monolith commands visitors to first dismount from their horses. These scooter-mad days, it's not a problem. While the Thai Hoc Courtyard is rimmed with tacky souvenir stalls, free enterprise is redeemed by the temple's enormous shade trees and placid, lotus-filled ponds.

Open daily 8 am to 5 pm.

See + Do

The Old Quarter, Vietnam

Hanoi, Vietnam

Hanoi is the only city in Vietnam to retain its ancient merchants' quarter, and its narrow streets, packed with fruit and vegetable markets, have housed the city's artisans and tradesmen for five centuries. Each street was named after the craft guild that it formerly housed—Hang Be was the place for rafts, Hang Hong for incense, Losu for coffins—and even today these lanes and alleys tend to specialize in one item, such as silver, silk, or, in the case of Pho Hang Ma ("Counterfeit Street"), the votive papers incinerated by devout Buddhists to bring good luck and prosperity. The heart of the area is Lo Ren and Thuoc Bac streets, where blacksmiths and tinsmiths thrash, knock, cut, and weld metal into everything from mirror frames to cooking pots. Take a few minutes to pop into 87 Ma May Street, a 19th-century "tube house" (so-called for its long, narrow design, which features a pair of atria for ventilation) that was once a private home and has been restored as a small museum.

See + Do

Hoan Kiem Lake, Vietnam

Hanoi, 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

Halong Bay

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 islets—the world's most extensive karst seascape—are 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.

$199 or less
Editor's Pick
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Hotel

Hotel Saigon Morin, Vietnam

30 Le Loi Street
Hue, Vietnam
Tel: 84 54 823 526
Email: sgmorin@dng.vnn.vn
Website: www.morinhotel.com.vn

The landmark Hotel Saigon Morin has stood since 1901 on the banks of the Perfume River through war, flood, and typhoon. Remodeled a decade ago and expanded last year, the practical-minded 184-room hotel offers easy access to the Citadel from Truong Tien Bridge, which is just across Le Loi Street. Supersized second-floor rooms in the original wing have 13-foot ceilings and Continental-style furnishings such as cabriole chairs, beds with padded headboards, and thick drapes (though they unfortunately don't quite muffle the traffic noise outside). The quietest quarters, rooms 140–168, are in the rear of the hotel. A peaceful inner courtyard holds a kidney-shaped swimming pool and a tree-shaded café with Parisian-style wrought iron furniture. Hotel service is attentive, from the rose-petal-strewing housekeepers to maintenance workers who arrive moments after a glitch is reported. The four-star amenities also include a tour service, currency exchange, beauty salon, and free lobby Wi-Fi. And breakfast might be the longest buffet in Vietnam: Platters of mango and pomelo, croissants and cheese, and banh khoai (steamed rice paper pancakes) stretch at least 30 yards.

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See + Do

Hue

Still off the standard itinerary for many foreign visitors, Hue served as the capital of unified Vietnam from 1802 until 1945. In addition to being the seat of the Nguyen dynasty throne, the imperial city held sway over the nation's cultural and religious life, making it a natural for UNESCO World Heritage status. Even today, this medium-size town straddling the Perfume River remains a center of education.

Surrounded by a thick, six-mile-long wall, the massive Citadel on the north bank dominates the cityscape. Inside is the fortified and moated Imperial City, a city-within-a-city containing the ornate wooden Thai Hoa Palace, Halls of the Mandarins, a tranquil pond, and the "pleasure pavilion" of Dien Tho, the Queen Mother's residence. Everything in the innermost Forbidden Purple City, aside from the Emperor's Reading Room, was obliterated during the nightmarish urban combat of the 1968 Tet Offensive. The streets inside the fortress are laid out in a grid pattern and are perfect for exploring on a bicycle, which can be rented from Mandarin Café for $1 a day. It's impossible to get lost; just use the 120-foot-tall Flag Tower on the southern rampart as a beacon.

The wooded hills south of town are dotted with the mausoleums of the Nguyen kings, including the frangipani-scented Tomb of Emperor Tu Duc, who reigned 1843–83. Café on Thu Wheels offers a rollicking half-day tour by motorcycle of the tombs and countryside. The route also stops at riverside Thien Mu Pagoda, whose seven-story octagonal tower is a national icon. A more unusual talisman is the classic British-built Austin sedan housed beyond the main sanctuary. In 1963 a Buddhist monk from the temple, Thich Quang Duc, drove the car to Saigon, where he doused himself with gasoline and burned to death to protest religious discrimination by the Catholic-dominated South Vietnamese regime. The photograph of Thich's self-immolation, with the Austin in the background, is one of the Vietnam War's most enduring images.

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See + Do

Hoi An


Website: www.vietnamtourism.com/e_pages/heritage/hoian.asp

How exceptional is Hoi An? So special that by tacit agreement among all combatants, it wasn't attacked during the Vietnam War. That neutrality left the town, a trading port dating from the 15th century, in a state of preservation worthy enough to gain it UNESCO World Heritage status. The gracious buildings and streets show a variety of architectural influences, especially from China and Japan; the town prospered in the 17th and 18th centuries, when merchants from as far afield as India and Holland set up emporiums. But business literally dried up in the 19th century, when silting clogged the Thu Bon River. The port shifted to Da Nang, 20 miles up the coast, and Hoi An became a near-forgotten backwater. With a medieval cityscape untouched by Vietnam's go-go economy, it easily doubled for 1950s Cholon, Saigon's Chinese quarter, in the film adaptation of Graham Greene's classic novel, The Quiet American.

Also famed for its custom tailors, the tourist-oriented old quarter is laid-back and pedestrian-friendly, with a ban on cars, touts, and street peddlers. For many of the sites you'll need to buy a 70,000– Vietnamese dong entrance ticket (about $4.50), which entitles visitors to a selection of museums, historic houses like the Tran Family Chapel (built in 1802 and still privately owned), and pagodalike community halls erected by ancient expats from Fujian, Canton, and other Chinese provinces. Take time also to just wander the streets and admire the rows of "yin and yang" (concave and convex) roof tiles, fishermen along the colorful waterfront, and quirky local enterprises like the Hoi An Department of Managing and Gathering Swallow's Nests (53 Nguyen Thai Hoc St.), which heads to the Cham Islands twice a year to gather the main ingredient for bird's nest soup.

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See + Do

Beaches of Central Vietnam

Vietnam's coastline exceeds 2,000 miles, but its finest beaches are almost all found in the 400-mile stretch from Hue to Nha Trang. Alongside a lagoon ten miles northeast of Hue, undeveloped Thuan An Beach attracts Vietnamese from May through August, when the water's generally calm enough for swimming. Forty miles south of Hue, white-sand Lang Co Beach unfolds for six miles between a lagoon and the South China Sea. Its undeniable beauty and stunning views of Bach Ma Mountain National Park have finally seduced developers: Banyan Tree has announced plans for a massive, $270 million luxury resort that will include four hotels, an 18-hole golf course, and residential villas. Da Nang's famed China Beach, once an R and R spot for American soldiers, now attracts a swelling civilian following. The busy northernmost section is characterized by gated developments. More welcoming is Non Nuoc, a section near the Marble Mountains six miles south of Da Nang, where the coastal dunes still hold stands of casuarina trees and family tombs. Fifty yards wide and gently graded, the quiet beach is excellent for swimming. Six miles farther south, fishermen launch circular thung chai, or "basket boats,'' from Cua Dai Beach with the Cham Islands as a beautiful backdrop. But deeper water and rip currents present problems for swimmers. Hoi An–based Cham Island Diving makes half-day excursions to the archipelago's marine park from February through September, when seas are calm and water visibility approaches 100 feet. Long and tan My Khe Beach is a good place to reflect after a visit to My Lai, just one mile to the west. Beach-hoppers will have a field day farther south, especially at Dai Lanh and six-mile-long Doc Let, where white-sand dunes are tufted with pine trees. Three-mile-long Nha Trang Beach is Vietnam's best urban sandbox, with clean parks and promenades, waterfront bars, and boutique hotels. Water-sports outfitter Mana Mana Beach Club operates from La Louisiane Brewhouse and rents wake- and windsurfing boards, water skis, and sea kayaks. Vietnam's most experienced dive shop, Rainbow Divers, runs half-day trips to an offshore archipelago, where a marine park holds healthy corals and 350 species of fish.

See + Do

The Mekong Delta, Vietnam

Mekong Delta, Vietnam

Two hours' drive south of Saigon, Vietnam melts into a waterland of rivers, rice paddies, and canals. The fertile Delta region, formed by the silt-rich Mekong River, is the nation's breadbasket. Outside Vinh Long, a maze of river islands supports countless fruit orchards. Farther south, the alluvial plains have been cut into a patchwork of rice fields and shrimp farms, while scattered sanctuaries attract numerous bird species, including the rare redheaded saurus crane. The main city, Can Tho, on the south bank of the Bassac River, hums with waterborne trade. Four miles to the east is Cai Rang floating market, the Delta's largest, where scores of sampans and barges display their wares atop boat masts. Cruise along one of the waterways and you'll see locals trading from boat to boat, tending vegetable gardens, or working their abundant paddies. Delta denizens often live on houseboats or in huts on stilts that double as fish farms: Inhabitants feed the fish beneath the floors of their homes then haul them out when it's time to eat or sell them. The best way to see the Delta is to use a tour agent. Ho Chi Minh City–based upmarket operator Trails of Indochina will organize boat or cycling trips to untouristed villages; clients even have the option of donating a sampan to a needy local family (10/8 Phan Dinh Giot St.; 84-8-844-1005; www.trailsofindochina.com).

See + Do

Cu Chi Tunnels

It's difficult to regard the orderly rubber trees and rice paddies and realize this rural landscape 40 miles northwest of Saigon was the most heavily bombed, gassed, and defoliated target in the history of warfare. Through a labyrinth of underground passageways and rooms, Vietcong rebels were able to control this rural area, emerging from trapdoors at night to lay booby traps or ambush patrols, then retreat to well-equipped lairs 30 feet below the surface that could withstand B-52 air strikes. A section of the 150-mile tunnel network has been developed and, thankfully, enlarged (the original passages were barely 18 inches wide and 30 inches tall). Saigontourist, along with every private tour company in town, offers a half-day tunnel excursion, usually with hotel pickup and return (84-8-829-8914; www.etravelvietnam.com). You'll find displays of gruesome booby traps, a screening of a heavy-handed 1967 North Vietnamese propaganda film about a pretty Cu Chi peasant girl turned "American-killer hero," and several winding, lengthy tunnels to navigate (flashlights are provided). And for an extra $13, you can squeeze off a ten-round clip—the munitions menu includes a choice of M16 or AK-47 rifles—at the on-site firing range. Go as early as possible to avoid Ho Chi Minh City rush hour traffic and tour-bus crowds.

$200-$299
Editor's Pick
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Hotel

Sheraton Saigon Hotel and Towers, Vietnam

88 Dong Khoi Street
Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
Tel: 84 8 827 2828
Email: sheratonsaigon@sheraton.com
Website: www.sheraton.com/saigon

The service and attention to detail at this hotel are outstanding, with aromatherapy scents wafting from the air-conditioning on the landings. The 374 spacious rooms and suites have contemporary decor, marble bathrooms, and mod cons like Internet access (for a fee) and satellite TV. Ask for a city-facing room, and you should get a small balcony and a great view of the city (on the other side of the hotel you'll be looking right into the adjacent Towers rooms). Dining options include Li Bai, a superb Chinese restaurant, and the rooftop Level 23 Signature Restaurant. Patrons can boogie the night away at the hip wine bar/club attached. The hotel is in walking distance of tourist sites such as the Opera House.

$199 or less
Editor's Pick

Hotel

Rex Hotel, Vietnam

141 Nguyen Hue Boulevard, District 1
Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
Tel: 84 8 829 2185
Email: rexhotel@hcm.vnn.vn
Website: www.rexhotelvietnam.com

The best of Saigontourist's holdings, this business traveler's favorite offers solid, albeit small, rooms with less kitsch than the Majestic and, in the rattan furniture, more style than the Continental. In addition, the Rex can claim a colorful history: The nation's reunification was announced in the hotel's conference room, which was also the site of the U.S. military's media briefings, known to many a jaded journalist as "The Five O'Clock Follies." The 217-room hotel is in the midst of a multimillion-dollar expansion. A new casino, the Bingo Club, operates on the first floor, while the 180-seat Royal Court restaurant features live traditional music and the spicy food of central Vietnam. The location, just south of the Hotel de Ville, is ideal for shopping. And the fifth-floor outdoor bar and restaurant has topiary animals, live music, and bird's-eye views of downtown.

Information may have changed since the date of publication. Please confirm details with individual establishments before planning your trip.