Sapa. Ha Long Bay, just a few
hours east of the capital, is a
stunning area of high lime-
stone karst peaks, now visited
by luxurious overnight cruise
boats and kayak excursions.
South of Hanoi is the
city of Hue, the old royal
capital, a popular stop that
offers a glimpse of life under
Vietnam’s last royal dynasty.
Farther south, near Danang,
is Hoi An, a 15th-century
trading port and cultural
center; it’s a great place to
By Charles Agar shop, especially for individually tailored clothes,
VIETNAM IS A LAND of stunning natural beauty and to enjoy Cua Dai Beach.
and rich ancient heritage, and the Vietnamese peo- Closer to Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC) is the
ple—more than half of whom were born after the city of Nha Trang, Vietnam’s ocean city, with long,
war—look to the future with relentless optimism. sweeping beaches, picturesque outlying islands and
Backpackersrediscovered Vietnamintheearly1990s; a gaggle of good upmarket resorts. Inland from
today it’s popular with all types of travelers, from Nha Trang is the town of Dalat, a former French
budget to deluxe. Modern Vietnam is a safe and colonial hill station and gateway to the rural roads
accessible travel destination for just about anyone in of the central highlands. This is a region where
search of adventure. some of the Vietnam War’s toughest battles were
A short ride along Vietnam’s backbone, coastal fought (Pleiku and Kontum might ring bells). A
Highway 1, offers a glimpse of this bustling, bur- newly paved road now traces what was once the
Rich in geoning nation of more than
80 million. You’ll pass infamous Ho Chi Minh Trail. motorbikes balancing a family of four, stacked 10 Ho Chi Minh City—the old southern capital
culture feet high with bamboo fish traps or carrying a gag- still known as Saigon to most (“Saigon” refers to the gle of plucked geese in front and back. Traffic is central business district)—is a heady mix of cobble-
chaotic. Inaclearing,achildabsent-mindedly gnaws stone streets (in areas such as Cholon, the city’s
and natural a switch of grass while riding astride a water buffalo; Chinatown), contemporary hotels and office towers
the beast lumbers across a marshy rice paddy as constructed of concrete and glass. The city offers
beauty, bright sun glints off the surface of the water. Workers some great, inexpensive shopping and a large cen- nearby are bent at the waist, replanting delicate rice tral market (Ben Thanh). Unforgettable day trips
Vietnam shoots. Fisherman cast their nets. Elderly women from HCMC include a visit to the Cu Chi Tunnels, paddle small boats no bigger than buckets as they where North Vietnamese guerrillas hid out, and a
offers tend to a floating garden of white lotus. tour of the headquarters of the Cao Dai sect, a All of these scenes are typical in Vietnam—a unique interdenominational faith. A mandatory
country whose colorful landscape is matched by the trip to the Mekong Delta (south of HCMC), best
visitors vibrancy of its history, its rich traditions and the done in an organized tour, includes visits to large indomitable spirit of a people who have endured so floating markets, mangrove swamps and boat rides
more for much yet look eagerly to the future. along rural canals to tiny fishing and craft villages. Adventures abound—trekking among hill tribes Despite the expense and hassle of the long
less. in the far north, riding the spine of the Annamese flight, travel in Vietnam is a bargain, and luxury Cordillera on a motorbike or in a rented car with hotels, fine dining and exciting adventure tours
driver, enjoying a languid city tour by “cyclo” (pedi- come at a fraction of the cost of similar services back
cab), dining street-side or exploring a local market. home. Explore, enjoy and get there before every-
A visit to Hanoi, the capital, is a cacophonous body else does! C
romp. Start in the Old Quarter, a 15th-century trade
center where streets are named for the crafts once Charles Agar is a freelance travel writer for
plied there. Many visitors choose to visit the body of Frommer’s specializing in Southeast Asia.
Travelers to today’s Vietnam
will find history, tradition
and diverse experiences.
INDEX STOCK/MEDIA BAKERY
DIGI TAL VISION/MEDIA BAKERY
Ho Chi Minh, lying in state, or to take in Hanoi’s
famous water puppet show.
Hanoi is the gateway to the far north, an area The Costco Connection
populated by diverse groups of ethnic hill-tribe peo- Costco Travel offers exotic cruises that call at
ple from the south of China. Most popular are the various ports in Vietnam. For details, call Costco
luxury overnight trains from Hanoi to the town of Travel toll-free at 1-877-849-2730.