Vietnam: Luxury on a Budget
Head to the cosmopolitan center of North Vietnam by taking a 1.5-hour flight from Dalat to Hanoi. Here the French influence again prevails, with charming tree-lined streets, lakes throughout the city, and abundant French colonial architecture.
Where to Dine
Hoa Sua (28 Ha Hoi) is a non-profit restaurant staffed by local orphans that serves both French and Vietnamese fare. The food is spectacular, as is the central mission of the restaurant: Giving troubled youngsters a second chance by training them for careers in the service industry.
And if you've had your fill of pho, consider the Press Club (59A Ly Thai To), which offers a continental menu and contemporary atmosphere.
What to See
Do not miss Hoa Lo Prison (1 Hoa Lo), better known to U.S. citizens as the Hanoi Hilton, where U.S. POWs such as John McCain were held. Part of the prison, originally built by the French to detain political prisoners, remains intact and has been transformed into a museum that showcases its chilling past, including a room dedicated to propaganda photographs displaying the "favorable" treatment of the U.S. war prisoners. Volleyball or backgammon, anyone?
The strikingly green Hoan Kiem Lake is home to a variety of temples, including Tortoise Tower, which lies at the lake's center and is believed to summon the tortoises inhabiting the water. Walk to the Temple of Literature and then on to Ba Dinh Square, where Ho Chi Minh ceremoniously declared Vietnam's independence in 1945. Dramatically situated in the middle of the square, you'll find tourists lining up at Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum for a quick peek at Ho's embalmed corpse.
Where to Stay
The Intercontinental Hanoi Westlake is Hanoi's newest, most contemporary full-service luxury hotel. Constructed on a lake only ten minutes from downtown, the property offers a resort-type atmosphere. Spacious guestrooms feature modern amenities such as flat-screen TVs and high-speed Internet. Torch-lit walkways make for an enchanting stroll to the hotel's outdoor, circular Sunset Bar, situated on its own small island. Rates start at $210.
From Hanoi fly to Danang, located in the center of Vietnam, and travel 20 minutes to China Beach, the famed vacation spot for U.S. GIs during the war. Abandoned plane hangars sit opposite the sea, with the caves and pagodas of Marble Mountain perched above.
Another 15 minutes south awaits Hoi An, a UNESCO World Heritage site characterized by historic architecture and more tailored-clothing shops than you can shake a thimble at.
Where to Shop:
As this is the silk capital of Vietnam, an overwhelming array of tailoring shops line the town. For excellent service and selection, hit one of three Yaly Couture shops. The department store-like Yaly 2 (27 Tran Quy Cap) has the most fabrics and patterns to choose from, while Trinh 95 (95 Phan Chu Trinh) custom-makes clothes in a variety of silks, rayon, and cotton in just a few hours, and will deliver your new attire to your hotel.
Where to Dine:
The best bet is to wander along the Thu Bon River and find a place that looks appealing, especially for a nice lunch. For dinner try the lively Mango Room (111 Nguyen Thai Hoc), which serves inventively flavored Asian/Latin fusion cuisine in a riverside setting.
Where to Stay:
Located just outside the ancient port town of Hoi An is The Nam Hai, one of Southeast Asia's most notable resorts and one of the only hotels on Ha My Beachfor now; in 2010 nine new properties are slated to open. The temporary exclusiveness does come at a pricethe rates start at $750 per night. Lodging consists solely of villas, with a sleek, minimalist decor, all with ocean views. Three infinity pools serve as the property centerpiece, while tennis, basketball, and badminton courts offer a bit of activity. And the resort spa, complete with villas lining a placid lotus pond, could easily compete as one of the most serene places in the country.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication
Best Hotels in Hanoi