Guidebook Lonely Planet 2007


SAIGON - Nov 16, 2007

Met at the airport by car (Sinh Cafe - 246-248 DeTham St - contact was

Mr Khanh,  website is Car took us to their office - it had grown quite a bit from my 1st time back in 94. We paid for and arranged all our internal VietNam Air flights with them and booked private cars for a tour of the city, other airport and hotel pick ups throught the country as needed. Then on to the Majestic Hotel (where I had first stayed in 1959). We had a beautiful room with a private balcony overlooking the river. We walked the old Catinat (Tu Do) now full of beautiful expensive stores. Walked to the Market and it was busy and much more cleaned up. The scooters and traffic was crazy - just walk, don't stop and they go around you. The next day we went with a guide to the old Presidential Palace - it had been fully restored and very interesting - only the facade looks wrong. Our guide was great - knew alot. Later he drove us to Cholon, to several temples, helped us try and find the old school (no real luck even with my maps - the area is totally changed). Walked about the Cercle Sportif and really played tourist (but no war things). The next day we walked to the Botanical Gardens, did not go into the zoo area, checked out furniture street, went by the old embassy and then collapsed in the cool waters of the Majestic swimming pool. Dinners were at French restaurants. Ate Vietnamese for breakfast and lunch. And we drank alot of beer and some wine and some cocktails. And loved Saigon.


SinhBalo tour group picked us up and one Canadian couple for our 2 day drive through the delta. We visited the Cao Dai Temple just outside of Saigon. It was so fascinating - their religion covers it all. We took a boat trip down canals of the Mekong and onto the river, past floating markets, watched villagers make rice paper and noodles, visited an old man in his home who gave us homemade rice wine (Lynn, Steve and spouses enjoyed it with us in New Orleans), and rode on the back of scooters. We stayed overnight in 2 different cities - Can Tho and Rach Gia.

Our ferry ride to Phu Quoc was cancelled because of bad weather so after trying to find alternative ways to get to the island (even chartering a plane) we gave up and drove back to Saigon. Every great hotel in Saigon was booked so we stayed in a inexpensive Chinese hotel - great view, very gaudy, no shower but a huge bathtub. Then we ate a very expensive meal for Saigon at Augustin (French).


Early flight into Phu Quoc. Island is very interesting. Wanted to rent a motor scooter and explore but not enough time. Stayed at Mango Bay an eco friendly hotel in a lovely private bungalow on the beach. Water buffalo walked by, but we still had drink service from our beach lounge chairs and ate  and drank alot.


Flew from Phu Quoc to Saigon where Sinh Cafe driver picked us up and drove us the 3+ hours to Mui Ne. Arrived at the Sailing Club where we had another bungalow and watched the in coming storm waves (which ended up missing us). David tried the boogie board - water was rough. Hotel was beautiful and I enjoyed half a spa day.


Sinh Cafe's car picked us up and we drove the 5 hours to Nha Trang. The ride was familiar but the roads were much better now. The sea, the dunes, the painted fishing boats and the rice paddies were beautiful sights. In Nha Trang we stayed at the Sunrise Beach Resort - rather upscale. It was perfect for the food, the beach views, and the spa day. In Nha Trang we visited art galleries - made a painting purchase, saw the giant buddha, enjoyed the embroidery village and took a cyclo ride (first time in Vietnam this time - not used for getting around in Saigon anymore - most streets are closed to cyclos in Saigon now).


Flew out of Nha Trang to Danang where the hotel driver picked us up at the airport. Drove to Hoi An past the Marble Mountains and China Beach. We stayed at the Hoian Riverside Resort - beautiful location along the river. They had a shuttle that took us to town and we rented a tantem bike for 2 to go to the beach. The town was much changed from my earlier visit - so many tailors, so many stores, so much hawking. We did find several lovely galleries off the beaten track and made a few art purchases. David had a few shirts made and I had a shirt and skirt made.We enjoyed the wait staff at one local restaurant that employed and  helped orphans.


Flew from Danang to Hanoi and met by a driver from our hotel - Rising Dragon - in the old quarter of Hanoi. Did the walking tour of the quarter that is in Lonely Planet - very worthwhile. Art galleries and art streets are also listed in the guide book. Some extraordinary art is being showcased and practiced here so go behind the closed doors. The French restaurant by the hotel is very good - Green Tangerine, another good choice is the Cyclo Bar and Restaurant. The Temple of Literature is worth the walk and the water puppet show was great.

The hotel had a good travel planner and she booked our trips to SAPA and HA LONG BAY. Her name is Miss Moon. Hotel is owned by a Vietnamese family who's son is married to an American from Texas. They have a baby and knew of SaigonKids.


Sleeper car on train. Sapa is very close to China in the mountains. The women dress in beautiful, handmade embridered costumes. There is alot of embroidery craft work for sale and beautiful mountain scenery for hiking, trekking or just walking. We went to different market days in the 2 cities and walked alot and made several craft purchases.


Small bus picked us up at the hotel and we headed to Ha Long Bay about 3 hours away. We spent the night on a lovely junque boat called the Santa Maria. It was a small nice group of people from all over. The scenery was very inspiring. We walked through limestone caves, kayakked about the bay, had delicious food and alot of wine and even sang kareoke at night. It was fun and beautiful and a perfect ending to our incredible journey.