Saturday, October 3, 2015

WE HAVE JUST BEEN TO VIETNAM

Our observant Norwegian blogger Ada has come back from Vietnam and Cambodia with tips and reviews of hotels. We start with Vietnam.


Ada visited many hotels. Here she reports only on the best experiences.

Hanoi

View of Sword Lake
Hanoi is Asia's most atmospheric capital with anything but a sleepy ambience. It's an energetic city on the move. The roads are filled with dense traffic – predominantly motorbikes, cars, taxi and buses, but also bicycles and bicycle-taxis. But don’t expect it to be like at home, Here the traffic moves like water in a stream around a stone. The trick is to do nothing erratic – stopping is just as dangerous as moving too quickly. My best advice is to let the locals drive or even walk you safely across the street in busy areas.


 Ho Guam Fountain Square Hanoi 

But Hanoi has a lot to offer us as travellers: sweeping boulevards, tree-fringed lakes and ancient pagodas, The country’s second largest city, Hanoi has more than 6 million inhabitants.

Sofitel Metropole Legend Hotel


Sofitel Metropole Legend

This is the hotel we always use for our customers in elegant Hanoi, rightly so. It's very Select in style and ambiance, beautiful rooms, wooden highly polished floors, staff wearing  national costumes (white), lots of history and style.

In the Historical Wing they also have the original bunker used during the war for guests to shelter when bombs were dropped on the city, and they do complimentary tours of it, with a history lesson. Good idea to book this in advance as they cannot take too many at the same time.

Opera Wing. This part is new, but they have managed to make it look old, very beautiful...down to details.




Lobby of the Old Wing

There is a very nice pool area, with a pool bar/ snack restaurant called Bamboo Bar where it's quiet, no music, but they mix some good signature cocktails. There is also a fine dining restaurant and Le Club where we had High Tea and their famous chocolate buffet.....very elegant.

Corner of the chocolate buffet



Apart from this they have Angelina Restaurant for Italian dining and DJ every night from 9 pm;
Spices Garden Restaurant with Asian and Vietnamese cuisine where the regular customers have their own private chopsticks; and Le Beaulieu for contemporary haute brasserie with French cuisine and Sunday brunch

Charmingly attired staff

What to do in Hanoi

Bicycle "taxi" tour to see the city centre and shopping area, a maze of streets with lots of shops, almost like a market. Visit also the One Pillar Pagoda, the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum and the Vietnamese women's museum; and ride a bicycle around Westlake.

Ada on cycle tour


Halong Bay


The famously beautiful Halong Bay. From Hanoi is was a 3 1/2 hour drive with one stop on the way for "happy room" at a handicap centre with very clean toilets. They have a workshop where they produce and sell all from chopsticks to bags and clothes. Could have been tacky, but was actually quite nice and it felt good to buy something from them. We were told that during the war the Americans sprayed the forest in this area to be able to see the Viet Cong better from the air and the people here still suffer from the after effects.

We arrived at a nice port area Tuan Chau Wharf and were transported to the ship by tender. The ship, Pelican Cruise is not a product we normally offer, but it exceeded expectations. Very classic in style, nice rooms, good size bathrooms for a cruiser. The rooms have only a French  balcony, there are terraces in the 2 suites.

Pelican Cruise Halong Bay


Pelican double bed



Food was generous, tasty and very nicely presented. We were presented the program by the cruise director and there was not much time to really enjoy the ship. If I ever get the chance to repeat this wonderful experience I will take a 2 night cruise.

But even with this limited time I managed a SPA session and a swim in the very warm sea. Our program included a visit to a large grotto and the floating village of VungVeng where it's also possible to follow up with kayaking and a swim.

Kayaking Halong Bay
Local grocery shop at the grotto

In the evening there was a cooking class on the sun deck. Also a very nice Tai Chi class on the sundeck early in the morning….
 
As travel agents we were also shown another grotto named Trong that is used for dinner events, a very nice natural venue. Something to consider for groups, perhaps for a wedding or a team building dinner..

The grotto tour can be very challenging for the elderly and those with leg problems, lots of steps. But it was a nice morning exercise for us and there was dramatic scenery inside the grotto.


Tai chi on the deck

Piece of art – made of vegetables by the Chef at Pelican Cruise

Floating village Halong Bay

Grotto

Da Nang

It is no longer a provincial backwater. It is an up and coming beach and culture destination, a spectacular city with everything you may need. Good hotels, bars, restaurants, only 20 minutes drive from UNESCO protected Hoi An and a good starting point for excursions to Son Tra Peninsula with the Monkey Mountain and Bach Ma National Park. It's also a very good starting point for bicycle trips to visit the rice fields and small farms.

Stroll along the Han riverfront and you'll find gleaming new modernist hotels, apartments and restaurants are emerging. Spectacular new bridges now span the Han river. In the north the entire China Beach strip has been set aside for five star hotel development.

The Nam Hai

Our chosen hotel The Nam Hai is still the best in Danang. What an amazing beach and pool area. The rooms are breathtaking and they seem professional to their fingertips.

Main pool at the Nam Hai

Beach at the Nam Hai
With Debbie Chee, Director of Sales & Marketing at the Nam Hai


Best experience: Bicycle Tour to Tra Que Herb Village

I was a bit worried about this trip, but there was no reason to. The bikes were in good condition, the roads good and mostly car free, beautiful scenery, a nice breeze cycling along the waters and rice fields, through small villages in the shadow of the Banyan trees. Wonderful....



After the cycle trip we stopped at one of the herb farms where we learned about the farming, had a light foot and shoulder massage to ease up after the "exercise" and then we also farmed a very small piece of land....nice experience.

Farmer in the village


View from the bike

View from the bike


Then to top everything we had a cooking class where we learned to make Sizzling Cake or Vietnamese Pizza....lots of fun and very tasty. Maybe the best meal on the whole Vietnam trip.

Best meal





Hoi An

Graceful, historic Hoi An is Vietnam’s most delightful town. Once a major port, it boasts grand architecture and a beguiling riverside setting, while the curses of traffic and pollution are almost entirely absent. Only 20 minutes by car will take you from Da Nang to this charming town, and if I had the time I would have re-visited the café’s here several times. A big asset for the destination. Do some shopping of local silk designer clothes,

Hoi An charm

Have a Vietnamese Icecoffee….guaranteed to get your heart pumping….

Famous Vietnamese iced coffee

A charming old town on Unesco’s World Heritage List



CLIMATE 

The climate differs between North and South.

Best time to visit North Vietnam (Hanoi and Halong Bay) is October to April, but a bit cold in Dec/Jan - autumn holiday.

Central Vietnam (Danang and Hoi An) best January to August (could be rain in October/November).

South Vietnam (Saigon and Con Dao) best November to May (can be rain in June- August).

My trip was in September 2015 and the weather in Vietnam was good all the time, maybe I was lucky!  We met the rain in Cambodia.....and even there it passed quickly, though filling the streets for a couple of hours.



 Ada Størmer Papatheocharis is a senior travel consultant at the Select Collection Oslo office.






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