Vietnam: Luxury on a Budget

Mui Ne and Dalat
Nui Cat Vang sand dunes in Mui Ne
BREAKFAST ON THE GO: Nui Cat Vang sand dunes in Mui Ne (Philippe Colombi/Photographer's Choice/Getty)

To escape the Saigon crowds, hop the Golden Train and head north for 4.5 hours until you reach Phan Thiet—six dollars buys a first-class ticket in an air-conditioned car with leather seating. A city known for producing a large supply of the country's fish sauce (nuoc mam), Phan Thiet is the gateway to Mui Ne, a popular resort town lined with hotels, restaurants, and surf shops.

Where to Dine
Known for abundant sunshine, high humidity, and waves that beckon kiteboarding enthusiasts, visitors can take a break from the heat with a cocktail at the Sailing Club. The hotel features outdoor dining with a buffet in addition to menu options that include U.S.-sized pita sandwiches, seafood entrees, and a fantastic mezze plate.

What to See
Take a motorbike taxi south from Mui Ne along the coast to the Khe Ga Lighthouse, which was built on a rocky peninsula in 1897. The breathtaking ride passes spectacular red and white sand dunes, as well as through Phan Thiet and a string of other small villages. Drivers will wait while you explore the sights, such as the 13th-century Cham Tower.

Where to Stay
Following an extensive renovation, Blue Ocean Resort re-opened in February 2008 with sleek, cabana-style accommodations tastefully encircling an infinity-edge pool. Rates start at $80.

From Mui Ne travel about 160 miles by private car to Dalat, a picturesque resort town developed by the French during the late 18th and early 19th centuries. Nestled in the mountains at 5,000 feet, it offers moderate temperatures year-round and a slower pace more typical to a French or Swiss alpine village than someplace in Southeast Asia. However, a visit to the market in the city's center serves as a reminder that this is Vietnam, not Europe; vendors sell everything from crafts to clothing to live snakes and frogs.

Where to Dine
La Rabelais, located in the Sofitel Dalat Palace, serves traditional French cuisine complemented by a formal European setting. A four-course, prix fixe dinner is $49. While the entire meal is fabulously prepared, the chocolate ganache dessert is perhaps most memorable.

What to See
Take in the mountain scenery on the Dalat Cable Car, which is actually a four-passenger gondola ride.

Where to Stay
Housed in the first building constructed by the French back in 1902, the Sofitel Dalat Palace is easily the city's most luxurious and storied property. Today it's an elegant 43-room property overlooking Xuan Huong Lake. The art deco exterior offers an interesting contrast to the opulent interior, which features oriental rugs, enormous chandeliers, and lavish rooms with 1920s-style phones and clawfoot bathtubs. Rates start around $200 U.S.

Published: 25 Dec 2008 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


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