Traveling is one of my main forms of continued education in life. Luckily I have a partner who delights in adventures into the unknown. So when it was suggested that we visit Vietnam, we jumped at the chance to spend days on end eating Pho and exploring a new culture. What we found were millions of people on scooters, incredible food, dreamy seascapes, lavish hotels, and some of the most humble, happy people on earth.
First stop: Hanoi. We always like to get our bearings in a metropolis for a few days before continuing on to more remote places. In Hanoi we stayed at Le Metropole Hotel, a five star French Colonial style hotel steeped in sophistication and luxury. It was the perfect antidote to jet lag after many hours of flying but my Ever-Adventurous Husband insisted we “get out and see the city”, which means using the local mode of transportation. In this case, a scooter. I’ve been on scooters, helicopters, hot air balloons, you name it with this guy…..but when I took one look at the Sea of Scooters that is infamous in Hanoi, it was a little daunting!
Nevertheless we took the bull by the horns and set out amongst the mayhem. Once the terror wore off, it was AWESOME. We spent the day buzzing around to various art galleries, monuments and authentic restaurants, dodging death on our scooter and laughing the entire time at the incredible ways that the Vietnamese pile people, animals, lumber — pretty much anything — on a scooter.
Next stop: The Halong Bay. It was a welcome relief from the hectic city to find open spaces and serene waters in the Halong Bay. Designated as a World Heritage Site in 1994, the legend of Halong Bay is that it was created when a dragon descended into the waters. There we rented a single cabin boat called a “junk” – it’s a funny name because this beautifully handcrafted mahogany wood boat was anything but. It had an old world feel, like chic pirates had designed it. We were greeted by our small private crew and once aboard, set sail out into the majestic waters, which are dotted with thousands of moss-covered rock formations, alive with the sounds of birdsong. There are grottoes and caves to discover in the Bay. One day we took a kayak out and explored a bit; another day the crew took us to one of the few beaches and created a romantic picnic for two. We spent a total of 3 days on the boat, mostly playing chess, reading, drumming, and watching the scenery float by.
Our last stop: Hoi An, where we stayed at the incredible Nam Hai Hotel. This was the perfect way to end our Vietnam experience; we had seen a city, a spectacular Bay, and now the paradise beach of Hoi An. The Nam Hai Hotel to this day is one of my favorite hotel experiences of all time. First of all, the architecture of the place — warm, modern, spacious, luxury — is stunning and transports you to total bliss.
We voted this place “Best Turn Down Service” because each night when we would return from dinner our room would be dimly lit, light music playing, shades drawn, flower petals scattered about. It was divine.
I still dream of the incredible array of fresh fruits and fragrant pho that we feasted upon for a week at this paradise retreat but what really separated this place from others was their dedication to improving the lives of the villagers who live in the surrounding area.
Wherever we travel, we make an effort to step out of our comfort zone and go beyond the touristy or “pretty” areas. It’s impossible for us to travel through an impoverished area, arrive at our five-star resort, and ignore what’s going on outside those privileged walls. At the Nam Hai the concierge obliged our request to see some local schools by putting us in contact with the hotel’s Director of Charity. This lovely woman personally took us to see a local school and helped us to establish an education fund, allowing 60 children to complete their formal schooling. The next day, she escorted us through town to buy rice and other food supplies for an orphanage of disabled children. Those experiences were the real substance of our time spent there.
Yes, we enjoyed the beaches, the luxurious spa treatments, and the incredible food….. but that human touch was a level of service we have not experienced at a hotel before. Definitely one of the highlights of our travels!
If ever you have the chance, go to Vietnam and experience the magic of the landscapes, the food, and the beautiful people! xxx, Leah