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Erika Reategui and Fernando Gonzalez
On her second trip to Vietnam, our insider Mona Behringer found the country equally enchanting but even better. “The people and country are as wonderful as ever. It’s just easier to get around and more tourist ready, especially for the luxury traveler.” She shares more of her insights:
Why is Vietnam such a hot destination?
What isn’t special about Vietnam? The people, the fresh food, the landscape, the beaches, the history! It all makes for the perfect destination. It is very civilized. The French influence is indeed there. The scenery is out of this world. Stunning mountain peaks (think Big Sur) cascade into untouched beaches. One of the greatest pluses is value. Compared to more popular destinations like Thailand, you can enjoy top notch luxury without breaking the bank.
What’s a good itinerary for first timers?
Vietnam is a small country and you can cover the north, south and central Vietnam in a week. Start in Ho Chi Minh City at the base, and marvel at this bustling city. Move upward to Da Nang and the mid-coastal beaches, which are relatively untouched. End in the north in Hanoi, one of the world’s most ancient capitals.
Tell us about some must-dos on your list.
• Watching life on the river aboard a Mekong Delta cruise while in Hanoi.
• The Marble Mountains near Da Nang – a well-known pilgrimage site with peaks, caves, tunnels and mystical temples all just waiting to be discovered.
• Drinking champagne and watching the sunset aboard an overnight cruise in Halong Bay.
• Spa treatments any chance you can get.
• Taking a Vietnamese cooking class at the organic farm in Banyan Tree Lang Co.
Everyone talks about the UNESCO towns of Hoi An and Hue.
They’re definitely worth a visit. Hoi An is one of the most picturesque Asian villages I have ever seen. The buildings have beautiful slanted roofs, with gorgeous bougainvillea blossoming on each corner. The streets are lit with lanterns and the river that runs through the city often has floating lanterns. It’s a great place to buy suits and tailor-made dresses.
The Imperial City of Hue has a very different vibe from Hoi An. There are far fewer tourists here. Most are busy exploring the fascinating Citadel, which was a fortress and palace built for the Emperor and his entourage. Anthony Bourdain says the best baguettes in the world can be found here, not in France!
Who would you recommend this adventure to?
This region is perfect for honeymooners, single travelers, groups, couples, and foodies. Basically anyone interested in cultural exploration, luxurious resorts and beaches. It’s also a fun girls’ getaway with amazing spas and great custom tailors.
Where was your favorite place to stay?
About an hour north of Da Nang, on a pristine stretch of beach is the Banyan Tree Lang Co. It has 62 private villas, each with a private pool. It is part of a larger complex, which includes a Sir Nick Faldo golf course, organic farm, beachfront and wilderness to explore via jet-ski or ATV. Banyan Tree is renowned for their spas, so a massage is a must when you are here. Book a “Sanctuary Pool Villa” to get unlimited massage treatments throughout your stay!
How was the cuisine?
I am now a huge fan of Vietnamese cuisine. In the north, the food has a heavy Chinese influence. In the south, French flavors are prevalent. My favorite dishes were banh mi sandwiches, pho (which is eaten for all meals), and banh xeo which is like a Vietnamese crepe filled with fresh veggies. The exotic fruits like mangosteen and dragon fruit were to die for.