- Halong Bay,
- Ho Chi Minh City,
- Hoi An,
- Mekong Delta,
- My Son,
This journey has quickly become one of our most popular. It combines some of Vietnam’s major highlights with an in-depth exploration of the major cities in Vietnam. We end with Asia’s most memorable sight – the temples of Angkor. This is a journey for those seeking a deeper understanding of Vietnam’s culture and landscape, with a look into the enchanting country of Cambodia’s history, both past and present TOUR PRICES CLASSIC US$ 1,459.00 per person DELUXE US$ 1,773.00 per person For further information, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org or: DISCOVER MEKONG Address: 99 Ba Trieu str., Hai Ba Trung dist., Hanoi, Vietnam Tel: +84-4 3943 9211 Fax: +84-4 3943 9209 Email: email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org Website: http://www.discovermekong.com Discover Mekong is managed by HG TRAVEL
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.
See + Do
Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum, Vietnam
When he died in 1969, Ho Chi Minh was embalmed, in the tradition of great Communist leaders. His mausoleum was modeled after Lenin's in Moscow (and rumor has it that Ho is sent to Russian embalmers for annual touch-ups). He is now on display to the public, lying in a glass box in a simple khaki uniform, and looking a little yellow around the chops. Visitors are not allowed to carry anything while viewing the body. Arrive early to avoid the long lines as people deposit and retrieve their belongings. Tues.Thurs. 7:30.10:30 a.m., Sat. and Sun. 7:3011 a.m.
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 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.
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.
Wild Lotus, Vietnam
Tel: 84 4 943 9342
Located just south of Hoan Kiem District, Wild Lotus has an ethereal elegance and even better food. Inside the walled compound, paving stones bridge a reflecting pool that leads to a staircase winding past a grotto holding a large Buddha image. Inside, the intimate rooms of this old French villa feature 13-foot ceilings, hand-painted wall murals, and lotus-theme tiles. But it's the meals that command the most attention, with gourmet Vietnamese dishes like peanut-crusted shrimp on green mango salad and grilled duck with orange sauce. The generous portions are thoughtfully presented, though some diners may prefer spicier interpretations, such as the prix fixe "spice route" meals, which explore a variety of Asian cuisines. Less formal than its upscale sister property, Wild Rice (6 Ngo Thi Nham St.; 84-4-943-8896), this rambling, romantic space appeals to expat couples and hi-so (high society) Vietnamese families and is usually packed by 7:30 pm. The third-floor terrace holds an open-air bar that's ideal for a digestif.
Open daily 10 am to 11 pm.
Restaurant Bobby Chinn, Vietnam
Tel: 84 4 934 8577 or 84 4 934 8578
Owned by the young American chef Bobby Chinn, this hip restaurant is packed with Western ex-pats and visitors seated on the silk-pillowed banquettes. Gauzy drapes and paintings by young Vietnamese artists complete the stylish setting. You won't get the deferential service that's typical in Hanoi. Instead, servers are as casually friendly as actor-waiters in a Manhattan hot spot. Chinn combines organic Vietnamese ingredients in his inventive dishes, such as spicy sea bass in a turmeric vinaigrette or banana blossom fritters in ginger sauce. If you're lucky, the chef will sit at your table and offer an irreverent commentary on local goings-on. Sit by the windows for great views over Hoan Kiem Lake.
Hotel Saigon Morin, Vietnam
Tel: 84 54 823 526
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 140168, 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.
See + Do
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 184383. 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.
See + Do
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.
See + Do
My Son Sanctuary, Vietnam
This UNESCO collection of ancient Cham tower-temples is a more mellow alternative to tourist favorites like Hue and Hoi An. Set in a valley a scenic 30-mile drive west of Hoi An, My Son was the hub of the Champa Kingdom for almost 1,000 yearsthe longest continuous occupation of any major monument in Southeast Asia. However, the Viet Cong hid out in the ruins during the Vietnam War, leading to American air strikes that badly damaged many of the brick and sandstone structures. Restoration is under way, albeit slowly, and it's a pleasant one-mile walk from the parking lot through second-growth forest to the crumbling temples beneath Hon Quap (Cat's Tooth Mountain). An excellent visitors center explains the history of the seafaring Cham people, whose culture was influenced by trade networks that extended as far as India and Java. While every hotel or travel agency in Hoi An offers a My Son coach tour, it's better to indulge in a private car and driver (about $20 to $25 from Hoi An) to beat the mobs. Go early, and you'll have the archeological park practically to yourself, just as sunrise burnishes the brickworks and the jungle comes alive with birdsong. Private English-speaking guides at the site can be hired for 70,000 Vietnamese dong (about $4.50).
Open daily 6:30 am to 5 pm.
Custom Tailoring in Hoi An
In a nation known for its needlework, no place counts more talented tailors per yard of fabric than Hoi An. Hundreds of small shops will stitch up made-to-order women's blouses, dresses, and ao dai tunics or men's trousers, dress shirts, and suits. Simply pick a sample style or point to a magazine picture, choose your fabric, and submit to a few measurements. Return the next day and your new bespoke threads will be waiting, at prices you'd expect to pay for clearance duds at Kmart. In addition to bolts of luxurious silk, 41 Le Loi Workshop raises silkworms on-site and will explain the process of sericulture, from the care and feeding of silkworms (they love mulberry leaves) to spinning and dyeing. With multiple showrooms, Yaly Couture, the largest made-to-measure tailor in town, supplies the sample styles, the material, the tape-wielding clerks, and even a high-tech body-scanning machine to turn out custom-made clothes in a day. The original showroom focuses on menswear while a second outlet, at 47 Tran Phu Street, is geared to female clients. Price depends on style and fabric: A pair of bespoke men's trousers, in tropic-weight wool and cashmere, costs $45. It's easy to see why the firm has a national reputation for quality and service: Three fitting sessions guarantee that each garment hangs perfectly.
Sheraton Saigon Hotel and Towers, Vietnam
Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
Tel: 84 8 827 2828
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.
Rex Hotel, Vietnam
Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
Tel: 84 8 829 2185
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.
See + Do
War Remnants Museum, Vietnam
Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
Tel: 84 8 930 6325
Formerly the "Museum of American War Crimes," the place is now euphemistically titled the "War Remnants Museum." Though the name change was intended to avoid giving offense to Western visitors, the displays are unabashedly anti-American, giving you a chance to see the Vietnam War through the eyes of the Vietnamese. The deliberately disturbing exhibits include machinery, weapons, and gory photographs related to the French and American wars (with emphasis on the latter). You can also see a chilling deformed fetus in a bottle, supposedly damaged by Agent Orange, a powerful herbicide used during the Vietnam War to destroy jungle terrain.
See + Do
Ben Thanh Market, Vietnam
At the intersection of Le Loi, Ham Nghi, Tran Hung Dao, and Le Lai streets
Frenetic, eclectic Ben Thanh is the polar opposite of a sterile American supermarket. This market has been around since the French occupation, albeit in different locations: It has occupied its present spot since 1899. Crab, scorpion wine, Calvin Klein knockoffs, pickled vegetables, ducks, silk, watches, frogs, flip-flops, curry powder, and rice are only a fraction of what's on offer. And prices are far less than at the more touristy shops on Dong Khoi Street. Don't be afraid to haggleit's expectedand keep an eye out for pickpockets.
See + Do
The 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 Citybased 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).
Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
Tel: 84 8 829 3968
Khaisilk founder Hoang Khai has built a diversified corporation that includes Nam Phan (one of the city's top restaurants), an office building, and even a resort in Hoi An, but the company's foundation remains fine silk clothing. There are ready-to-wear men's and women's collections in linen and silk as well as cravats, cashmere scarves, and limited-edition handbags. Don't see what you want? The store can copy any shirt or dress you desire: Just pick out the bolt of fabric. Delivery takes two or three days; allow five days to a week if beading or embroidery is requested.
Open daily 10 am to 10 pm.