My recent summer trip to Vietnam was rewarding in so many ways. Visitors see a progressive, hard-working country, steeped in French and American influences. It is a worthwhile place to enjoy what is comfortable, diverse, and well-priced. I have traveled all over Asia, and my fourth visit to Vietnam reinforced my positive feelings.
There are several prime suggestions for maximum enjoyment of this geographically long country. Do it north to south, hire well-priced private guides who can facilitate travel, and take as much advantage of tourist sites and shopping opportunities as you can.
We began our trip with arrival in Hanoi with new electronic visas in hand and our guide meeting us at the jetway to facilitate arrival formalities. It was worth it as a time-saver. Then, it was off to the historic Sofitel Metropole Hotel, built in the early 1900s. This is still the best hotel
for location, service, and quality of design. This is truly a legend, including its once-hidden bomb shelter where tours are now given.
During our time in Hanoi, we did general sightseeing but also private visits our tour company arranged. One was to meet a 76-year-old North Vietnam Air Force veteran who was a fighter pilot and fought against the Americans. In later years, he actually met in Kentucky one of the American pilots he shot down. A second home visit was to a famous modern artist who worked 12 years as a secret policeman in Hanoi. Now, he does situational modern art and design for galleries all over the world.
We took the new freeway for 2.5 hours to famous Ha Long Bay for an overnight boat among the stone towers of this World Heritage site. It is dramatic in its own way, but, even with a full moon, I am not convinced that it is worth the time and trouble. There are many boats, and the scenery seems repetitious to me. Some will feel it is worth it; others will not.
We then flew to Hue, the ancient imperial capital, for a quick overnight at beautiful La Residence Hotel. We then visited the Citadel, which was home to the ancient rulers when Vietnam had kings. Much has been rebuilt from the war, and it now is reminiscent of a smaller version of China’s Forbidden City. This country has a rich history unknown to many visitors. We then proceeded on the old road for about 2.5 hours over the beautiful Central Highlands to Da Nang and neighboring Hoi An for totally different experiences, which you’ll read about in my next blog.