...Was the question I was asked by my parents when I told them where I was going :) I know Vietnam for people who lived through the Vietnam War may think it is an extremely odd vacation destination, but I had the opportunity to go to Hong Kong and wanted to do a side trip. After weighing pros and cons of plently Asian countries, Vietnam won and it was an amazing experience!
HALONG BAY CRUISING
If you want to go to Halong Bay, it's about a 3-4 hour private car ride from Hanoi so you will need to stay in Hanoi the night before and probably the night after to be on the safe side. I stayed on the boat for two nights which I really liked because you get to see a little bit more. If you only have time to stay for one night, it's still a great experience! The other night thing about staying for two days was that one day was super cloudy and I could hardly see any of the islands, but the next day was completely clear and gorgeous so, the longer you stay, the better your changes for awesome scenery. When you're on the junk aka boat, there are thousands of small islands you sail through, you visit fishing villages where people live on the water year round. You can go swimming, go hiking, go kayaking through caves, I loved it all! They also teach you how to make fresh shrimp rolls and Tai Chi classes each morning for a relaxing start.
CU CHI TUNNELS, HO CHI MINH CITY
History lesson- These tunnels were built by the Vietnamese during the war to live in, to hide in, to catch American's in and to use to their advantage. The tunnel systems are intricate and vast. It was crazy to see them in real life. If you are claustrophobic, this is probably not for you. The tour takes you through one tunnel that's pretty big and has lights which is not too bad. Then, there is an optional tunnel to go into which was more reflective of what it was really like during the war. It is super dark, and small, and a bat flew by me when I was crawling through. Needless to say, I was a bit scared and hurried out of there. At the end, you can go to a shooting range where you can shoot AK47's and machine guns. I am not a gun person, but it was something you don't get the opportunity to do so I took advantage.
THE LUNCH LADY, HO CHI MINH CITY
The Lunch Lady serves a pretty terrific bowl of Pho. She is in the middle of no where but again, Anthony Bourdain brought her to my attention and if you like Pho, it's definitely worth it. Her sister has a stand next to her whrre she makes fresh shrimp rolls all day. This is very yummy!
Location: Phuong Da Kao, District 1 (Quan 1), Ho Chi Minh City
XUAN XUAN, HANOI
The first thing you need to know about this palce is there is no 'ambiance' which is like most places to eat in Vietnam. It is all about the delicious food and fun experience. This place was the icing on top of making me fall in love with Hanoi. So, you must sit outside. They give you a small table and a chair that is probably for a child under the age of 5. My husband even fell over in the chair at one point but it's all part of the fun! I ordered the traditional meat and vegetables with a beer (which ended up being several on a hot Hanoi night!) The food is absolutely amazing and they give you a side dip for the mean, it is compromised of dry seasonings such as salt and garlic powder (I wish I knew the recipe) and they give you limes to squeeze into it to make it a dipping sauce. It is literally mouthwatering! It is super cheap and the staff are constantly helping you with whatever you need, including heating you cook the meat (oh yes, you cook the meat and veges yourself). If you are looking for a fancy restaurant, keep walking. Bug if you want an amazing meal and a fun memory, you must go here!
Location: 47 Ma May Street
HO CHI MINH CITY: Park Hyatt Saigon
This hotel is amazing. This was my first trip to Asia and all of the motorbikes can be a bit overwhelming. This hotel made all the difference in my experience. They have a staff to help with everything including help booking tours for you. They also have a really great pool and outside bar area with great food. This hotel is more expensive than other others, but still very affordable. This hotel and service in another country would have been completely out of my budget so it was nice to splurge a little!
HANOI: Tirant Hotel
The Tirant Hotel made my stay very comfortable. It is literally in the center of everything so if location is most important to you, you can't go wrong. The hotel is nice and the staff is amazing and willing to help. The ownders of this hotel are a young husband and wife who studied hospitality in Texas. We asked for suggestions on places to eat and the owner must habe spent fifteen minutes talking me through the map of Hanoi. My other note is that if you want to stay in the absolute nicest hotel in Hanoi, this is not it. They have big name hotels (like the Mandarin) as well, but those hotels are very far out of the city center.
HALONG BAY: Luxury Halong Cruises
I booked through Luxury Halong Cruises. They were very helpful. I wanted to stay on the ship called Violet Cruises but it was fully booked so I went on the boat called Indochina Sails in a superior room. You have to make sure that you get the nicest room possible on the top floor because the ones on the first floor were half underwater without balconies and the nice rooms are cheap anyway so I would ensure you get a nice room!
Disclosure: Traveled in April, 2012