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|Vietnam: readers' tips, recommendations and travel advice|
This week’s readers’ guide is a selection of the excellent emails we received in response to Philip Sherwell’s
recent cover story on Vietnam.
To say Ho Chi Minh City can be humid is an understatement. We found the heat
incredibly debilitating at times – be prepared, and save sightseeing for
early morning or evening.
Young travellers might be au fait, but not all visitors will know that the
prefix "happy" in some bars and cheap restaurants in gap-year
spots – Happy Pizza, Happy Burger, Happy Shake – often means the basic
ingredients have been pepped up with marijuana.
Many taxi meters are illegally set to run extremely fast. My daughter, who has
lived in Vietnam for three years, and I have seen drivers use a hand-held
device that can speed up the meter to often what seems like five times the
correct rate. There seems little in the way of checking and control by the
authorities. My daughter recommends that wherever possible, any fare should
be agreed upon with the taxi driver in advance, rather than relying on what
a false meter will show at the end of the journey.
NOT A GEM
We heard several tales of people being taken for a ride over gemstones –
usually being sold duds, especially by fellow "visitors". Steer
clear of anything to do with precious or semi-precious stones.
HOTELS WITH A VIEW
In Hanoi, visit the Highland Coffee Bar, at the top end of Hoan Kiem Lake/Ngoc Son Temple and around the corner from the Thang Long Water Puppet Show. Take the lift or walk up to the third floor, buy a coffee and take it outside on the balcony and watch the traffic – it's truly an amazing sight.
Make sure you have an ice cream at Fannys near the ANZ Bank, opposite the lake. The Melia Hotel (0084 4 3934 3343; www.meliahanoi.com.vn) is excellent – and if you have time, visit the Hanoi Hilton museum just round the corner.
In Saigon, visit the Rex Hotel (141 Nguyen Hue Boulevard; 8 3829 2185; www.rexhotelvietnam.com/en),
get the lift to the fourth floor and take in the view from the lovely open
café/restaurant.This is where the foreign correspondents used to meet to
report on the war. If you visit at lunchtime the bar offers excellent snacks
and drinks at respectable prices.
Many visitors, rightly, want to see the new Vietnam without harking back to the war, but whatever your priorities, it's well worth visiting the war museum in Ho Chi Minh City (it's usually known as the War Remnants Museum).
Compared with Western museums, you'll find it dated and low-tech, but somehow that only adds to the impact of the exhibits.
The battered guns and stripped-down United States helicopter, as well as some
gruesome, yet extraordinary photographs, spoke simply and eloquently of this
period in the country's history.
The Cu Chi tunnels used by the Vietcong during the war just a few miles
outside Ho Chi Minh City, then known as Saigon, were fascinating, both for
the stories of how they were used, but also for the fact that they were used
virtually under the noses of the US and South Vietnamese, for most of the
You can fly from Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh City in about two hours, but it's far more of an adventure (but not too much of one) to take the Reunification Express (www.vr.com.vn or www.seat61.com), the train journey between the two cities. It's a great way of seeing a big slice of the country.
Depending on the service, it'll take between 30 to 35 hours. Go for the
quicker services, as these usually have better and more modern trains, and
pay for the best class of seat (or sleeper), as there are lots of options.
RED RIVER VILLAGES
We enjoyed a trip to some of the craft villages in the Red River delta beyond
Hanoi. Each village traditionally makes just one item – pottery, hats and so
on – and while some are a bit touristy, many go about their life in a way
that must have remained unchanged for centuries. They're difficult to visit
on your own, so book a guide through a local travel agency, and stress that
you want to see some of the more remote villages. Some will suggest you tag
on a visit to the Perfume Pagoda, but don't bother – it's very busy, a bit
of a let-down and full of hawkers selling tat.
I suggest leaving a day to get over some of your jet lag before you start touring. Take an extra day in Halong Bay and go kayaking round the fishing villages, away from the crowds. You can see the community working and can make a donation if you wish, though there's no pressure to do so.
Go to cooking school in Hoi An. Try the Red Bridge cooking school (510 393
which has a fabulous location and a restaurant. Even my husband learnt to
cook, plus you get to eat what you make. At the end of a tour, take a three-
to four-day break at the beach, then you'll return home refreshed as well as
You can't help but feel that hotels and modern tourism are on their way to
Vietnam in a big way. One area of the country – but I am sure there are many
others – where we found miles of unspoilt beaches, with only the first
smattering of places to stay, is the Hon Khoi peninsula and areas nearby on
the coast above Nha Trang, such as Hon Ong, 30 or so miles to the north. On
the last, we stayed at the Whale Island Resort (58 384 0501; www.iledelabaleine.com),
very laid-back, with diving for those who want it (we didn't) and the chance
to see whales and sharks from May to August.
ISLAND BACK COUNTRY
Like your writer, we visited Halong Bay and did the usual boat trip. But we also visited Cat Ba, the biggest island in the western part of the bay. Cat Ba town, sadly, seems to be undergoing a building boom, and we felt it was very touristy. However, we'd still recommend a visit to the island, as long as you're sure to get into the interior, where there are still few roads and lots of unspoilt landscapes.
We hired a car for the day and enjoyed the drive. Don't bother with the trek
from the national park gates – the promised views are disappointing. Or you
can take a boat trip from the town, which was less crowded than the one we
took in the main part of the bay.
HALONG BAY CROWDS
It's as well to wave a few red flags when it comes to Halong Bay. The potential problems with rogue and dangerous replica junk operators were underlined by the accident in February, but after all the hype about the bay, its rock formations and so forth – and it does looks great in all the pictures – we were unprepared for the sheer number of visitors, and the fact that parts of the mainland coast are very industrialised, and the bay sits astride some major shipping lanes.
You definitely want to visit in the off-peak period if possible, but not too
much in the off-season, as we gather the weather in winter can be grim
(November to March).
THE HILL TRIBES
We read up on Vietnam and found that many Vietnamese, especially honeymooners, like to go to Da Lat, apparently one of the country's "best" hill stations. Guidebooks also raved about the place. So we thought: "give it a go" but couldn't really see what the fuss was about – unless you're a fan of kitsch, of which there's plenty. There's the odd bit of French colonial architecture, but not much else in the town itself.
What saved this bit of the trip for us was a visit into the countryside, where
you can see some of the villages of the hill tribes of the central mountains
– fascinating. We also loved the drive to the coast at Nha Trang on an
amazing road through the mountains. Fantastic scenery, and one of the best
roads in a country where driving is not always easy.
THE WRONG HOTEL
In Hanoi our taxi from the airport took us to the wrong hotel – not because
the driver didn't know the way to the right one, but because drivers can
earn commissions if visitors end up staying in the hotel. We heard it's a
problem even with relatively expensive hotels. Insist on deliverance!
MIND THE BONES
It's true – they eat dog, but at least you can avoid it (don't choose the thit
cay or thit cho). Not so easy with monosodium glutamate (MSG),
which is commonly added to food, especially in the north.
Telegraph Travel offers a 14-night escorted trip to Vietnam and Cambodia, operated by Riviera Travel from £2,159 per person, including flights, tours, 12 nights' accommodation and transfers. Call 0844 873 0746 or visit telegraph.co.uk/escortedvietnam
Do you have tips, advice or observations on any of the destinations below
to share with other readers? If so, we would like to hear from you. A
selection of your submissions will be published in Discover and on our
The prize will be awarded to the sender of the best submission on each destination. It is offered strictly according to availability and must be taken before March 31 2012. Transfers and transport to and from London and the hotel are not included. Other terms and conditions apply (see below).
The Halkin (020 7333 1059; www.halkin.como.bz) provides the perfect sanctuary in the heart of London. Located in a quiet street close to Hyde Park Corner, the shops of Knightsbridge and Mayfair, and surrounded by the discreet charm of Belgravia, The Halkin provides an ideal base for those visiting the capital to shop, sightsee or relax.
With its elegant and contemporary interiors, in which comfort is fundamental, the hotel has the feel of a home away from home. It also has a boutique size that creates an air of intimacy, with just 41 guest rooms and suites. The wonderfully innovative design, the work of Italian architects Laboratorio Associati of Milan, is clear from the moment you step into the airy lobby and glance up at the soaring atrium ceiling.
The hotel is also renowned both for its five-star service and its technically sophisticated in-room services, with state-of-the-art, touch-screen consoles, on-demand movie and music selection, and complimentary Wi-Fi access. Gourmet visitors should visit Nahm, the hotel's acclaimed Thai restaurant by celebrated chef David Thompson, or The Halkin Bar to sample its new Flights of Wine menu.
Email your tips and recommendations (no longer than 150 words, please) on any
of the five destinations with your name, address and phone number, by April
28 2011, to
or post them on our website at telegraph.