In 2004, I had the opportunity to visit Vietnam.  I wasn’t able to find a last minute travel companion who could take time off, so I went by myself.  My jampacked itinerary kept me traveling non-stop for about a week from the North, landing in Hanoi with a side trip to Ha Long Bay, then heading South towards Saigon, stopping along the way in Hue, Danang, Hoi An, and Nha Trang.

Pictures will be posted soon, but outlined below is my general itinerary and a few suggestions on places to stay, eat, shop….

Hanoi – highly recommend staying at the Sofitel Metropole, next to Hoan Kiem Lake (run around) ; Co Loa Citadel and was enchanted by the colored lanterns lighting up the courtyard; tasted delicious traditional Vietnamese cuisines at Cha Ca La Vong at 14 Cha Ca and had their famous Hanoi fish dish; Water Puppet Theatre; Tay Phuong Pagoda – carvings illustrate Buddhist stories; bicycle country roads; 11th c Thay Pagoda; Ho Chi Minh’s Mausoleum – Vietnam’s most revered monument; Presidential Palace; One Pillar Pagoda; History Museum; Museum of Ethnology – intro to 54 minority groups in Vietnam; strolled narrow streets of Hanoi’s Old Quarter – small shops, pho noodle vendors, alley shops for everything you need.  Contact Handspan Tours:  www.handspan.com

Ha Long Bay – junkets; took a boat in the Gulf of Tonkin to visit a limestone cave; World Heritage Site – archipelago of thousands of islets and rocky outcroppings, dramatic limestone formations, gemlike coves, secluded beaches

Hoi An – Victoria Hoi An Beach Resort (got an old man to give me a ride from the bus stop in town); elephant walked in front of my room – found out it belonged to the hotel; ran on the beach; get anything you want sewn; historic homes from 18th/19th c, Japanese bridge, Chinese temple, winding lanes, fish market in morning – took wobbly wooden boat out with fishermen; walk lantern lit streets at dusk; www.adongsilk.com – great tailor; make your own shoes at Thu Hien on Hoang Dieu St. – I got some purple sandals made with red stitching for $5 – made in 1 hour!

Hue, a UNESCO city- stayed at the Hotel Saigon Morin – www.morinhotel.com.vn;  visit the Dai Noi, Tu Duc and Khai Dinh tombs; have lunch on the dragon boats; Dong Ba Market; moat-rimmed Citadel, Imperial City, Thien Mu Pagoda – monuments of the Nguyen Dynasty (1802-1945) which united the north/south; visit royal mausoleums of Tu Duc;  Hoi An – stayed at the Victoria Hoi An Beach Resort; visited the Cham Museum

Danang and My Son Cham ruins – once a stronghold for the Viet Cong – walk on bamboo bridges for a hike through jungle and ruins; Cham Museum

Nha Trang – stayed at the Ana Mandara Resort right on the beach, also visited the new hotel – first guest to visit island at Evason Hideaway at Ana Mandara (Six Senses Hotels); go to Van Phong Bay; visit Qui Nhon small fishing town, twin Cham Towers

Saigon – stayed at the Rex Hotel; visited the Cu Chi tunnels and took a day boat trip along the Mekong; Get your hair shampooed…for $2 – beauty salons in the world surprise you; Buddhist, Taoist, Chinese temples; 1,000’s motorbikes carrying everything from a pig to a fridge, and some entire families of 6!; Presidential Palace – aka Reunification Hall; Thien Hau Pagoda, markets in the Cholon Chinatown district; trips to Cu Chi tunnels – “underground village” used by the guerillas during the Vietnam War; Mekong Delta – My Tho town – orchards, hand rowing sampan;  Spa Tropic (www.spatropic.com)

***If you have an extra day or two, take the Victoria Express to visit the Sapa/Lao Chai hilltribes in the Vietnam highlands – tribes; 6 ethnica groups, including Hmong, the Dao, and the Dai still following age-old traditions; visit Bac Ha Hmong market on Sunday – ethnic color and commerce/trade

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