Growing up during the Vietnam War, seeing the tragedy play out night after night on the small screen, Vietnam held a particular fascination for me. I had the opportunity to travel there, with stops in Siem Reap, Cambodia, and finally a few days in Bangkok. I took my daughter along, who had no emotional memories of this destination other than what they taught in history class.
We arrived in Hanoi - and were quite surprised at how beautiful this city is. With its French Colonial back ground, the architecture is lovely. We stayed in the Sofitel Metropole - a 5-star luxury hotel, with a historical wing and a more contemporary wing. Comfortable, stylish, a wonderful retreat in the center of a busy city. We struck out on our own, walking toward the old town. There was a great juxtaposition of old and new - cyclo vendors calling us to ride, fashionable shops, lush parks full of flowers, then the old town - narrow streets filled with small shops and vendors - bargaining, calling us to shop. Fun, vibrant, full of life, prosperous - nothing like how I imagined it.
During our stay in Hanoi, we took a cyclo tour through the streets of old town, and did a “foodie walk” with a local guide - so interesting! My favorite was when we stopped for egg coffee. I was not in the mood as it was a very hot and humid day, but our charming guide promised it would “change my life!” I must say, it did. I loved it. The coffee tasted so creamy and rich - I just wish I could find egg coffee here at home.
She also showed us a street with some fish vendors - one of the women was actually slicing up the fish while it was still alive - I had to look away.
Vendors were carrying all kinds of loads on their bikes - huge displays of flowers, boxes piled high; amazing to see the bicyclists balancing their loads as they pedal down the street.
We saw Ho Chi Minh’s mausoleum as well as the house he lived in. Lots of school groups were visiting, dressed in their uniforms, happy to be on an outing.
We visited some lovely temples as well, and then the most emotional stop - the Hanoi Hilton - the name of the prison where captured US military servicemen were held. Of course, there was propaganda playing on the television screens explaining the scene. Not easy to listen to for those of us who still remember.
From Hanoi we headed to Danang, where we stayed at the Intercontinental Sun Peninsula Resort. Danang was where we had the largest military base in Vietnam - close to the demilitarized zone. There are still the remnants of the huge base and aircraft hangers. This is also where China Beach is - the place where the US forces went for some r&r time at the beach. It is a beautiful area.
The hotel was absolutely gorgeous - however it did have a few drawbacks. The rooms were stunning - all built on the side of a hill overlooking the sea. Amazing views. After a long walk to the beach I was anxious to jump in the water. I was curious why not many were swimming - but found out right away when I felt the bite of tiny sea lice! I headed up to the pool, but the water was much too warm so it was not at all refreshing. Other than that, the place was lovely. It is about a 40 minute drive to Danang from the hotel.
Continuing past Danang to the town of Hoi An, we stopped at the Nam Hai Resort, which we loved. I asked about the sea lice and was told they send the lifeguard into the water in the morning to see if there is a problem. If he feels the sea lice he puts out a red flag to warn swimmers. This hotel is sleek and beautiful with several gorgeous pools.
In Hoi An, we had a tour of the old town and then time on our own. Hoi An is definitely worth a stop - we had a great time looking in the shops, talking to locals, bargaining for lanterns, etc. For those wanting to stay right in the city there are some nice options.
Now to Ho Chi Minh City, or Saigon, as everyone still calls it. Saigon is big and modern, high rise buildings, parks, shops, not much left of the old town. There are masses of people on motorbikes and motorcycles. Many more drive a motorbike rather than a car. The city is congested and always busy.
We headed out to see the Cu Chi Tunnels, about an hour’s drive into the countryside. This is the tunnel system used by the Vietcong during the war. We watched a propaganda movie, then were shown how the tunnel system worked. The Vietcong were quite small people and very creative. The tunnels are again, an emotional part of the history we were once involved in. We saw the traps set up to catch and kill Americans.
In Saigon my favorite hotel was the Park Hyatt - elegant and chic. We also saw the new hotel - The Reverie, over-the-top design, reminded me of a cross between Dubai and Vegas. We had lunch at the Ly Club - sophisticated cuisine, fabulous.
Leaving Vietnam we were off to Siem Reap.