My recent trip to Vietnam started in the northern part of the country with visits to Hanoi and Halong Bay. We then continued south to the central coast of Vietnam, which included the cities of Hue, Danang, and Hoi An. After that, we went further south to Saigon and the Mekong Delta. In total, I visited 8 hotels during my travels and experienced a night aboard the ship Paradise Luxury Cruises.
Our flight arrived into the bustling city of Hanoi and our team of 9 agents was met by ICS Travel Group, a destination specialist that would escort us throughout the entire country. ICS provides a wide range of travel services in Asia and specializes in creating authentic, tailor-made programs to Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand, Indonesia, and India. We were accompanied by Tom Linton of ICS, Jody Katz of Sofitel, and William Chang of Eva Air; whom together provided all the tour services, hotels, and air flights throughout our stay, respectively.
Vietnam is not a particularly large country. Compared to the square miles of California, it may be smaller, but is much longer having a north-south distance of 1,025 miles, with the narrowest point being only 25 miles wide. This country is also the largest exporter of cashews, and the second largest supplier of rice and coffee in the world. Although Vietnam is a developing country, it has a literacy rate of 94% and one of the lowest unemployment rates of any nation.
Nguyễn is the most common Vietnamese family name. An estimate of about 40 percent of the country share this family name; for it dates back to the times of the Imperial Vietnam, where the family of emperors was the Nguyen dynasty.
In Vietnam, it is so important to have a good ground operator with great guides, as they act like ambassadors giving you your first and most lasting impressions of the country. Both Nam (Hoang Tu Nam) and Tam (Minh Tam Le Thi) were particularly wonderful guides, and are highly recommended. While in Hanoi, I enjoyed the Ho Chi Minh memorial complex, temples, pagodas, and the museum of ethnology where we learned about the 54 different ethnic groups that make up the country of Vietnam. We visited the infamous Hanoi Hilton prison that is now turned into a museum and was used to house American soldiers during the war. After that powerful experience, we took a lighter excursion with a ride through the exciting streets of Hanoi on a cylco (similar to bicycle rickshaw), and ended our day at the water puppet show.
Next on the itinerary was a visit to Ha Long Bay, located about 4 hours drive north of Hanoi. This is where we enjoyed a one-night cruise aboard the ship Paradise Luxury Cruises II. Ha Long Bay features thousands of limestone islands in various sizes and shapes, and was recently voted as one of the new Seven Wonders of the World. All cruises include fine dining and exciting activities with a chance to visit exquisite islands and secret caves.
Central Coast Vietnam
After our fabulous cruise we made our way to central Vietnam by flying from Hanoi to Hue. We enjoyed excursions to the Thein Mu Pagoda and a boat trip on the Perfume River. By vehicle, we drove from Hue to Hoi An over mountainous roads with spectacular views of the coastline and we stopped along the ocean side city of Danang to dip our toes in the famous China Beach. The resort Nam Hai is located in this area and is one of the finest 5 star luxury beach resorts in Asia. We stayed in different hotel in Hoi An near the preserved merchant town that dates back to the 16th century and is now a Unesco World Heritage Site. While there, we enjoyed seeing and experiencing colorful shop houses, temples, and restaurants, After watching a Vietnamese performance in the quaint little town, we then flew from Danang to Saigon.
Our remaining days were in Saigon (now called Ho Chi Minh City) with a full day spent in the Mekong Delta. Since the city of Saigon officially changed name in 1975 with the reunification of the country, it is interesting to note there is no disrespect to continue calling the city Saigon. While there, we visited the War Remnants Museum, Independence Palace, and passed by our American Embassy on a walking tour. The Mekong Delta was certainly a highlight of our trip that gave us a glimpse into the life of native families. We embarked on their local boats, explored the riverside villages, and learned how the residents make traditional rice pancakes! We even got the chance to sample a few of the local delicacies.
Throughout my entire experience in Vietnam, I think I enjoyed most meeting the people and hearing their personal stories. The people of Vietnam are warm and friendly. Surprisingly, they do not bear any animosity against Americans and our involvement with the Vietnam War (which is referred there as the American War). Vibrant Vietnam is certainly just that… Filled with interesting history, beautiful beaches, wonderful scenery, great shopping and tasty food. It is a country certainly worth a visit.
Hanoi, Sofitel Legend Metropole: A luxury award-winning French Colonial style hotel that is located in the heart of Hanoi. Built in 1901, it has seen quite the changes over the years and certainly is a living Legend. Guest rooms are located in both the historic and modern wings. I particularly enjoyed the relaxing spa there and the history tour led by a docent which included a bunker tour.*** Spa treatments included: 60 min. Vietnamese Journey & 30 min. Neck and shoulders. Signature property.
Hanoi, M Gallery L’ Opera: This luxury boutique hotel follows an Opera theme, as mentioned in their name. It is also located just around the corner from the Metropole Legend and offers up amazing views of the nearby Opera. Their guestroom and opulent 8 story interior courtyard makes you feel as if you are still enjoying a night out at the Opera.
Paradise Luxury Cruise II– Ha Long Bay: This vessel was built according to the traditional Vietnamese junk design with 17 luxury cabins. The 1 or 2 night cruises include all meals served in their fine dining restaurant, plus exciting shipboard activities and excursions to the various islands and secret caves in Ha Long Bay. There is even a spa on board!
Hue, M Gallery La Residence: A former residence of the French Colonial Governor, this delightful hotel feels more like a palace with an art-deco flair. The fabulous pool and spa are so inviting and a must to visit. ***Spa treatments: 60 min. Indian Head Style Signature property.
Hoi An, M Gallery Hotel Royal: Within easy walking distance to the charming merchant town of Hoi An, this boutique hotel offers elegant guest rooms and a unique style bathroom with beautiful sliding doors for privacy. Cozy pool surrounded by relaxing lounge chairs situated both inside and outside of the pool water. The spa was very nice. *** Spa treatments included: 60 min. Aromatherapy and 30 min. Reflexology.
Nam Hai:This 5 star luxury resort is located on a beautiful beach south of Da Nang and near Hoi An in the central part of Vietnam. Simply stunning oceanfront villas with serene Asian accents and decor. The spa is surrounded by a tranquil lagoon with 8 separate treatment villas which all include an overwater relaxation room with daybeds. Signature property.
Saigon, M Gallery Hotel Des Arts: A new trendy hotel in the heart of Saigon with chic rooftop pool and bar. 24-floors up, the infinity pool offers spectacular views at sunset or nighttime city lights. The hotel itself is centrally located within walking distance to major attractions. The spa was beautiful and had a lovely relaxation area. Spa treatment: 60 min Aromatherapy
Saigon, Sofitel Plaza: Centrally located, reasonably priced, with modern décor in the guest rooms. Their large rooftop pool area has expansive views. Excellent buffet restaurant offered at this hotel.
Saigon, Park Hyatt: French colonial style hotel with recent renovations. The elegant lobby was the highlight with a beautiful winding staircase. To be honest, I preferred the guest rooms at either M Gallery Des Arts or the Sofitel better. Signature property
– Kathleen Johnson, Travel Consultant