Archive for the ‘vietnam travel’ Category

Exotic Asian Escapes

Pink Beach - Indonesia

Recently, Asia Transpacific Journeys sent me some information about their new custom journeys and small group trips to the Asia/Pacific region so I had to share the details; primarily because I’ve never seen such interesting itineraries to places like Komodo Island or Myanmar before. Founded in 1987, they claim that no other company offers such expertise in the region and I’m of the mind to believe them. With long-standing connections in Asia, outstanding personalized service, and deeply insightful cultural interpretations, this has made them the travel company of choice for organizations such as the American Museum of Natural History, the World Wildlife Fund, and Ivy League alumni associations so see below for some trips that are sure to tickle your fancy.

Indonesia: Pink Beach in the Komodo Archipelago

Indonesia’s 17,000 islands are home to stunning beaches, none more famous than Pink Sand Beach in the Komodo Archipelago. Komodo Island is also home to incredible wildlife such as the Komodo dragon, and offers unsurpassed snorkeling. Travelers can stay on a wonderful private yacht (hello, Captain!) or opt for gorgeous island resorts.

Best time to travel in Indonesia: Now through October.

Vietnam in Style: Six Senses Con Dao

Vietnam: Con Dao Archipelago

White-powder sand rings the 16 pristine islands that comprise the stunning Con Dao Archipelago, where impressive rock formations jut from crystal-clear Windex-blue waters. Deserted, perfect beaches, a ring of colorful coral reefs and a towering mountain backdrop make this magnificent national park Vietnam’s top insider tip and one of Asia Transpacific Journeys’ favorite seaside destinations.

Best time to travel Vietnam: November to April, so travelers should start planning their winter getaway now.

Now is a great time to plan a trip to Myanmar (Burma) with the best season to visit coming this fall.

Myanmar: Ngapali Beach

The country is up-and-coming and offers plenty of hidden treasures, including the snow-white sands of Ngapali, the second largest beach inSoutheast Asia and a great place for strolls along the vast, sandy beach. Stunning Ngapali Beach is as unspoiled as it gets and makes a great place to relax and enjoy the views, and engage in other activities such as swimming, snorkeling and fishing.

Best time to visit Myanmar: November to March.

Cambodia's Swanky Digs: Song Saa Island Resort

Cambodia: Koh Rong Archipelago

Cambodia’s islands, situated in the sapphire waters of the Gulf of Thailand, are a true treasure trove for those travelers looking for a quiet and tropical escape to get away from the crowds. Most of the islands in the Koh Rong Archipelago remain remote oases of virgin rainforests, tropical reefs and glistening white beaches, and opportunities for offshore adventures and water activities are plentiful.

Best time to travel to Cambodia: October through April.

Vietnam: Six Senses Ninh Van Bay

Vietnam: Six Senses Ninh Van Bay

At a small resort in southern Vietnam eco-fashionistas and eco-travel addicts can stimulate their senses the sustainable way. The Six Senses Ninh Van Bay named for the little bay it sits on, is likely one of the most stunning eco-friendly Vietnamese properties around.

We happen to think almost every Six Senses property is top notch and noteworthy for their expansive views, natural decor, and fine attention to luxe detail. Traditional Vietnamese architecture of stone and natural wood with gauzy white fabric flowing throughout blend seamlessly into the rugged rocky landscape with 58 villas of varying sizes, from the Hill Top Villas high on the hill to the sprawling Presidential Villa.

Vietnam's Six Senses Eco-Resort

However, their attention to sustainability doesn’t stop with locally sourced materials. All aspects of energy efficiency, water conservation, waste reduction, fair-trade and local community building are part of the agenda and you can feel it in the staff who all feel personally tied to the success of each locale.

For this, we give it a 10 out of 10.

Now we’re just trying to decide when to find the time off. Snow in NYC is fading into rain and Vietnam is sounding better and better every day!

Discovery and Gap… Adventures?!

Turkey, Istanbul - Blue Mosque

We’ll admit it. We’re a little obsessed with the Discovery Channel. We worked with them back in the day and always had the best things to say. Which is why, when we heard about Discovery Adventures (an adventure tour operator developed – get this – in partnership with Gap Adventures), we thought that sounded like a nice,sexy Safari-meets-sweet style combination.

They’ve also just announced brand spankin new trips to: Japan, Kenya, Greece, Italy, France, Turkey and Indochina for 2011, where they’ll take you to all the cool places you want to see in the world. And here’s the best part, you’ll get the same experiences as to what you’ve seen on Discovery Channel, gaining insider access into local culture around the globe.

On the Mekong River, Vietnam

Bottom line: two new tours for 2011 offer exclusive access only available through Discovery Adventures. On the Classic Japan tour, travelers get a behind-the-scenes look at the life of a Geisha – featuring a personalized tour through the Geisha district by a real Geisha, and an invitation to a traditional Geisha gathering and sake ceremony. On the Kenya Wildlife Safari, travelers get the rare experience to interact up-close with Baraka, a rare Black Rhino.

For more pricing and itineraries,get on it:

Vietnam: Topas Eco-Lodge

Located near the Chinese border in Northern Vietnam’s Sapa Valley is an eco-retreat so discrete… it’s 250 miles northwest of Hanoi in the 10,000 foot tall Hoang Lien Mountains, also known as the Tonkinese Alps by the Colonial French. Topas Eco-Lodge is like this:

Exotic, quaint, lush, and peaceful. It might even change your life (Vietnamese mountain regions have a way of doing that). The 25-room bungalow retreat tickled our fancy because it’s also in a particularly diverse area, home to five ethnic tribes, each with their own language and culture. A joint venture between the Danes and the Vietnamese, therefore sticking closely to Denmark’s strict environmental regulations, the property provides the perfect opportunity to experience nature and culture in ways that lead to a greater appreciation and understanding of our environment. Actively implementing practices that optimize energy and encouraging suppliers to take part in environmental protection initiatives, Topas is a living breathing example of how to do luxury, style, and ecology. By treating its own wastewater, running off solar power, and being made from limestone from a local quarry and palm-thatched roofs straight from the Vietnamese jungle, they try to think of impact with every decision they make.

Not too shabby. So how do you spend days in this peaceful lust mountainous retreat? By meditating, trekking, or biking through the friendly villages with a guide, lunching at a local’s, or taking a dip in a river. It’s really all up to you. There’s no pressure. After all, this is Vietnam. Definitely a spot to put on the Bucket List of ‘Places to See Before I Die.’

The restaurant serves everything from pork ribs with sweet brown sauce to curried chicken. But, as notes, “The biggest luxury is that magnificent view of the green peaks from your private balcony.”


Numerous carriers fly from NY and LA to Hanoi through other gateway cities. You can get to Hanoi over-land from elsewhere in the country via train or car, but most people chose to come by plane. Hanoi’s small international airport (code: HAN) is not as served by international airlines as Ho Chi Minh City so visitors coming from Europe may fly into Bangkok and then on to Hanoi via Thai or Vietnam Airlines.

From the Americas, there are flights via Hong Kong and Taiwan.

Here are some airlines to look for deals:

*Singapore Airlines
The Singaporean national airline flies daily between Singapore and Hanoi.
*Thai Airways
The Thai national carrier flies daily to Hanoi from Bangkok.
*Vietnam Airlines
The Viet national carrier flies to Hanoi from major cities around the world.
*Pacific Airlines
The only other domestic airline in Vietnam. It is a little cheaper than Vietnam Airlines, but isn’t really a budget carrier. Also serves Taiwan.

From Hanoi, trains run day and night to the mountainous town of Lao Cai. From there, it takes an hour to drive to Sapa, the town nearest to Topas Ecolodge. These trains run day and night and night trains provide good standards of soft sleeper berths. By train, you can depart from Hanoi around 9:00pm and arrive in Lao Cai the next morning at 5am. There are many other departures and arrival options and, the best part… all transport can be arranged by Topas Ecolodge! They’ll provide daily transportation from Sapa to the Ecolodge (45 min drive). Said to be a dirt road and an interesting journey, along the way, you’ll see daily life in the rice fields and the picturesque Muong Hoa valley where beautiful locals make their way to Sapa to sell handcrafts and vegetables.

Topas Ecolodge
Tel: 84 20 872 404
Doubles from $125, including meals and transfers from Sapa

A Vietnam Bargain: The Exotic Vodka Adventure

Usually, when we think vodka we’ll be honest… we think of Ruskies (and forty year-old housewives), but this ultra-premium Vietnamese rice vodka quickly caught our staff’s attention for another reason altogether. What does Vietnamese vodka have to do with vacations, you ask? Well, we’re here to tell you. KAI Vodka, the world’s only ultra-premium rice vodka handcrafted in Vietnam, has announced a special Vietnam travel package in conjunction with Pleasant Holidays.
So drink up! KAI, distilled in northern Vietnam from the rare and highly prized yellow blossom rice that grows only in the country’s Red River Delta, is the first product of its kind to be exported from Vietnam, while KAI Lychee is the only vodka to be infused with the sweet subtropical lychee fruit. The country’s 600-year history of making vodka only adds to KAI’s exotic mystique. Designed to give le vodka connoisseur the chance to experience and learn about its unique origin, we say… vodka with a cultural incentive? We’re into that.
The KAI Exotic Vietnam Adventure (KEVA) is a custom packaged excursion that offers tours from 8-14 days including round-trip airfare, all transfers and tours, accommodations, and featured meals at KAI Vodka’s recommended culinary and nightlife destinations along the way with carefully selected Vietnamese translators and guides. You’ll visit all the hot spots like Saigon, Hanoi, and Halong Bay allowing guests to experience the rich culture, vibrant towns, and phenomenal beauty.
The KEVA Eight Day Package includes:

· Round trip air from Los Angeles or San Francisco on Cathay Pacific
· Overnight accommodations
· Cruise of the Halong Bay
· Sightseeing in Hanoi and Saigon
· A blend of classic and contemporary excursions
· Select meals
· Transfers, gratuities, and taxes

Starting at only $2,649 per person – $3,575 per person for 14 days, it’s also a real bargain.

KAI Vodka’s Managing Director Marcus Bender had this to say: “Vietnam has become one of the top 10 travel destinations according to Condé Nast Traveler and seduces visitors with its exotic mystique. A true fusion of eastern and western cultures lies at its heart, blending over 50 different ethnic groups, including Chinese and French influences. It is this rich and complex influence that is the essence of KAI Vodka.”

Jaunt says: “True dat!”

LA-based Pleasant Holidays have developed the perfect Vietnam experience blending city and country, relaxation and adventure. Hiking, biking, kayaking, and select dinners of traditional and contemporary cuisine, as well as ‘must see’ tours of off-the-beaten-path adventures, are all included. They’ll even advise travelers of restaurants, nightclubs, and adventures in each city.

So maybe it’s time for Jaunt to get over it’s ‘only Ruskies and 40 year-old housewives drink vodka’ thing, no?

That would be a ‘Vâng.’

Vietnam: A Note From Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh

Ha Long Bay, Vietnam

Today, one of our favorite Jaunt Contributors, Victoria Yanakos, says, ‘Good Morning, Vietnam.’

“Where are you from?” in Vietnamese, ‘tá» cái³tc bạn Ä’ translates to mean: “from what water do you come.” Inspired by this beautiful sentiment I spent the past few days sailing on Ha Long Bay and enjoying a respite from the city.

Swimming in the bath-like water, drinking with the locals, bruising most of my lower body jumping off the cliffs (note: no correlation to the Mekong whiskey, I just couldn’t figure out how to fall that far and get my feet to go in first), and sleeping out on the water… perfection.

Another Vietnamese sentiment I picked up this week is “same same.” For instance, I ordered yogurt for breakfast, she brought me pork. The explanation : “Oh no, no yogurt, I make you pork. Same same.” How do you even argue with this? Public buses are another culprit.

Me: You go to Ngo Hyen st?

Bus Driver: Yeah, yeah, Ngo Hyen Street

20 minutes later, many km’s away from Ngo Hyen Street, I’m in front of a handicraft shop that appears to be owned by the bus driver’s brother.

Bus Driver: No Ngo Hyen St. Here, same same.

One final thought on Hanoi before I leave this wonderful city: crossing the street. Or rather crossing the death gauntlet of hundreds of motorbikes who yield to no one. Having refined my skill for this in India, and taking a cue from the locals, the basic protocol is to confidently step out into traffic with a deep-rooted belief that the bikers will stop. A. they don’t and B. this only works if the streets aren’t flooded – which they were last night. Suffice it to say, I survived a rather comical collision soaking wet but otherwise only minorly scathed.
Hanoi, Vietnam

As a solo traveler in this country, everything has this spectacular way of feeling like a free for all. It’s rather wonderful never knowing exactly what you’re in for. I subscribe to a travel philosophy that organized tours (at least for me) are never the most genuine way to experience a culture or a country, however, never has this been a more challenging theory to live than in the Mekong Delta.

As it turns out the jungles and canals are significantly more expansive, and difficult to navigate, than you might expect.

Arriving by bus to My Tho, the most trafficked of the four islands that make up the Delta, I was feeling good I could do this on my own and not have to spend the day with a bunch of westerners with an “English” tour guide (read: if you stop paying attention to him for even a moment, the English starts to sound suspiciously like Vietnamese). Many of the boats at the harbor are already commissioned by tour companies, and, as such, inevitably chaotic, making stow-away status relatively easy.

The idea was to take the boat to Ben Tre- another of the islands, then bail for more genuine travel. I’m not sure where we landed, but after wondering around dense jungle for the better part of the afternoon, I thought that perhaps a row down the canals might give me some orientation. I was able to convince (read: pay) one of the local workers by the water to lend me his boat – but only briefly I assured him. After getting myself thoroughly lost and soaking wet from the short but intense monsoon rain, I was relieved to see the owner of the boat calling to me from the shore. Without discussion, he summoned his son (I assume) to come row the boat on my behalf. Humbling? Yes. Necessary? Immensely.
Mekong Delta, Vietnam

He took me all the way back to My Tho where I boarded a public bus back to Saigon. Perhaps, in retrospect, a tour would have been a more efficient way to explore the Mekong Delta, but when you’re traveling – and lost in foreign waters – the experience is all that matters, right?

Even being an eternal optimist you can only be propositioned so many times (every two feet in Vietnam – and this is not an exaggeration) before suspicion becomes your instinct of choice. The form of solicitation though has an entertainment value that far exceeds any hassle, and as such joins my list of all things wonderful in SE Asia. Aside from the ubiquitous moto taxis (of which there are 100’s on each block) that never miss a single foreigner to offer a ride, (“where you going ma’am. I give you good price.”) some of the other more discrete “sales people” are far more creative with their pitches. “T shirt, T shirt, cocaine?” is my favorite to date.

Another successful tactic is the “start conversation under false pretenses, offer obscure service, then ask for money” approach. Sitting in the park yesterday apparently this landed me (and every other girl, and a few guys, in my hostel) a pedicure. Abate the somewhat painful service; it’s nice to be able to help. Slightly derailed from Hanoi (don’t fall asleep if you have to make a bus transfer), I enjoyed the past several days soaking up the insanity of Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) and exploring the canals and jungles of the nearby Mekong Delta. Moving on to Mu Ne, and writing from the sand outside my bungalow with waters from the South China Sea cooling my feet, Vietnam continues to amaze me.


Especen Hotel
28 Tho Xuong & 41 Ngo Huyen St, Hoan Kiem district Hanoi
Tel: 0.4.8244401

Good clean rooms, en suite bathroom, good location, $12- $20/night

City Gate Hotel
10 P Thanh Ha
Warm friendly owners, very clean rooms
$10- $20/night

Intercontinental Hanoi Westlake

If you’re looking for luxury, the Intercontinental just opened their new property built entirely over the serene waters of historic West Lake. InterContinental Hanoi Westlake is adjacent to the famous 800-year-old Golden Lotus Pagoda and the hotel features 359 guestrooms showcasing contemporary Vietnamese design at its best.


Cha Ca La Vong
14 Cha Ca Street OR
107 Nguyen Trong To St
8.239 875
You will be the ONLY westerner here. Truly local, amazing “grilled fish” (which is the key note dish of northern Vietnam)

If you need a break from Vietnamese food…

FIVE bistro is predictable, comfortable and actually has good wine!

5 Hang Be, Hanoi


127 D Cong Quynh
$12 – $25/night
Clean, friendly, lots of less typical amenities for budget accommodations, such as satellite TV and in room fridges

Guest House California
837 885
Laid back, clean, rent moto bikes and bicycles on site


Quan an ngon
138 Nam Ky Khoi Nghia
Quan Mot TP HO Chi Minh
825 7179
10 kitchens, every Viet food imaginable, very local and very good! Try the papaya salad and spring rolls. I hope you like pork, it’s in almost everything.

Massage – HCMC
Try the spa at Hotel Liberty 4
265 Pham Ngu Lao Street, District 1 HCMC
8 364 556

For about $8 USD, you can get 60 min full body massage, 30 min foot massage, and unlimited access to jacuzzi, sauna, and steam room… and only minimal Karaoke. 🙂

Next stop? Cambodia!

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