We used our holiday time to really get to know Vietnam better, an extensive tour from the toe in the south to tip in the north. We then extended into Luang Prabang in Laos and ended with a couple of nights in Siem Reap in Cambodia.
I have been to Vietnam several times before, but for MH it was her first visit (excluding a 3 day stay in Hoi An some 12 years ago). WOW – what a country! We spent two weeks travelling around, having returned with so many wonderful experiences and memories. We could both wax lyrical for hours, but report here is just a snapshot of what we did and where we went.
First time for both of us. We both wished we had visited about 10 years when it had just a few hotels and deserted beaches. Now it has over a hundred hotels with more many coming. Talking to locals it has changed totally in the last 5 years. It has been earmarked by the Vietnamese Government for tourism expansion, hence the new airport and a three-lane motorway is planned. A large casino will open later this year. It already has pockets of tourist pollution and, as in common in the region, not a lot of thought has gone into basic infrastructure. But it does have some quiet areas with good beaches you just need to choose your hotel carefully. We stayed at the Fusion which was super, and also impressed with Chelsea and La Veranda.
One of my favourite cities in the world. I Just love it. Non-stop excitement. So many great moments, but the Vespa tour by night was wonderful – three different restaurants and three contrasting and atmospheric bars. Also, the full day tour by boat to the Mekong Delta was brilliant. It just gave us a quick taste of what the area offers. Stayed at the M Gallery Des Arts which was really good in every way and we particularly appreciated Club Access facility. It’s a small supplement but moved our stay from good into exceptional. We shall be pushing this option more as with wine and cocktails included it made total financial sense!
Danang / Hoi An
I was here last June, but first time for MH for 12 years. I saw last year the huge number of hotels that are under construction and there seemed to be even more this time. MH was rather shocked how much Hoi An Village had expanded. 12 years ago it was one street – it is now several and on both sides of the river. It still has great charm and is so easy on the eye and it remains a must-see place, but it is a lot busier and more commercial.
We stayed at the Fusion Maia – wonderful. Totally pampered from start to finish. I am trained to be critical and I could only come up with the towels need to be slightly fluffier! We took time to explore the countryside just a few miles outside. Really nice and the expansive beach in front of Fusion also had some precious product inspection moments.
It might not have the in your face excitement of Saigon, but we still really enjoyed it. It is a place you can explore on foot easily with a good map. The old quarter and walking by one of the 5 lakes is so pleasant. We enjoyed the Vespa tour in Saigon so much we decided to try it in Hanoi – disappointing. Saw interesting places we might never have found, but the bars and restaurants selected were just a bit too basic. We stayed at the world famous Sofitel Metropole. We had one night in the Colonial wing and another in the newer Opera Wing. Still can’t decide which we like best, as both so good. Fantastic.
I have done this before but as day tourist and frankly, that is not the best way to appreciate it, especially now. You essentially have three boat lanes. The first lane is for the day tourists, 4 hours of floating around is enough for them to allow even more time for shopping and karaoke. Lane 2 is slightly quieter and Lane 3 for those who will overnight. We were on the overnight option. A really magical experience, even though the weather was unseasonably overcast and wet. We stayed on one of the Bhaya boats, only 6 cabins so nicely boutique.
A first for both of us. It is 4 hours drive south from Halong or 2 hours east of Hanoi. Not the most interesting of drives, but once you arrive the scenery is spectacular. It’s like Halong Bay but on land, with small villages and waterways. Nicely simple and still authentic. Lots of locals and quite a few French expats out of Hanoi – it’s a popular weekend retreat. We stayed at the Emeralda which did the job for us but were captivated by the boutique charm of Tam Coc Garden.
After that, it was back to Hanoi for overnight and then a short one hour flight to Luang Prabang in Laos.
I was last here 5 years ago, MH even longer. As it is a strictly controlled UNESCO, the village centre has hardly changed since we first visited 20 years ago. A few more restaurants, many more little boutique hotels and still great charm. It has attracted many more tourists who tend to stay on the city outskirts in the larger hotels. They are particularly noticeable when the numerous monks walk through the village early morning – it resembled a rather unsightly scrum. So sad.
We elected to go to the opposite river bank, much more authentic. We were the only foreigners but only 7 monks so not the photo opportunity. We need to find something between the two. Also went to Kung Si waterfalls, another first for us. Ok, it’s not comparable to Victoria or Angel Falls, but it is attractive and nicely scenic. We stayed at the new and totally luxurious Rosewood. Superb, located 15 minutes out of town. Will move the benchmark of accommodation in the area considerably higher.
And finally, Siem Reap in Cambodia.
I was last here 5 years ago, and there are now so many new hotels, mainly on the road into town from the airport. So many more tourists, particularly in the Pub Street area. This rea is an acquired taste – so many tacky bars, fast food restaurants and Dr Fish shops. But if you avoid that there are still some really interesting little areas and some great restaurants. We did a Vespa tour of the temples – totally incredible, one of my best ever experiences. We saw all main temple sites but travelling to the various locations through jungle pathways, riversides, small villages – and hardly any people.
We stayed at the Shinta Mani Shack which was so good and well located. For something very different we went to see the Bhum Baitang resort, 20 minutes drive outside the city. What a discovery, elegant and simply charming.
So in conclusion, our journey through Vietnam, Luang Prabang & Siem Reap was tremendous. We loved every minute – even the occasional disappointments en route. Vietnam, in particular, is one of our top selling destinations and we look forward to turning our own experience into equally memorable holidays for our clients.
As you can tell from our glowing report above, we would both be more than happy to discuss these wonderful destinations with you. Get in touch with us here.