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From the colonial, French-influenced Hanoi to the white sand beaches of Hoi Ann to the frenetic pace of Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam is a fascinating country that’s exotic and captivating and will make your head spin. A country with a long history, today’s Vietnam is a mix of old and new, juxtaposing modern cities and ancient temples, with some of the best food in Asia. There’s a lot to do and see in one trip, and a good itinerary is your best friend. Just back from a two-week journey we are lucky a well- traveled friend was willing to share her detailed itinerary with Daytripper365, designed for her family by ASIA TRANSPACIFIC JOURNEYS.
Stay: The Metropole Hanoi is Vietnam's finest hotel, located in the heart of Hanoi near Hoan Kiem Lake and the magnificent Opera House. Boasting a classical white façade, green shutters, original wrought iron detail and a lush courtyard, the hotel is one of the region's few remaining French-colonial structures. Elegant architecture and sophisticated service combine for an unparalleled experience.
Morning: Begin by learning of Vietnam's greatest hero Ho Chi Minh, visiting his simple stilted house. Continue to the Confucian Temple of Literature, site of the first university in Vietnam and a serene and beautiful place in the midst of this bustling city. Other highlights today include tours to a local market, the Beaux Arts-style Opera House, the One Pillar Pagoda, and lovely Quan Thanh Temple.
Lunch: Venture to Quan An Ngon Restaurant for a street food lunch. Quan An Ngon is designed with seating in a spacious courtyard surrounding a giant central tree, with food stalls on all four sides cooking food to order. Prices are quite reasonable, so feel free to sample and try a variety of dishes. The stalls are organized into categories of food, such as noodle soups, dry noodles, salads and wraps.
Tour: After lunch, tour the city's Old Quarter aboard an electric car. In this part of town, each colorful street is devoted to a particular craft or ware. You will be pedaled amongst the quaint French buildings along Shoe Street, Silk Street and Art Street (to name just a few). Your tour of the Old Quarter will end at historic Hoan Kiem Lake, the social center of Hanoi. Here, attend a water puppet performance. Water puppets are an ancient form of entertainment enabling the puppeteers to control their active marionettes by levers hidden under the water. Water puppet skits generally enact ancient folklore and legends that are rural in origin, and the theme of water is often present, as it defines so much of Vietnam's landscape. The show is also accompanied by beautiful and traditional Vietnamese music. After the performance, enjoy a "behind the scenes" experience and go back stage to meet the artists and learn more about the puppets and performers.
HANOI / HALONG BAY
Fly: Take a seaplane to Halong Bay. Flying allows you to avoid the long four-hour drive while also enjoying spectacular views of the Red River Valley and a 15-minute scenic flight over the bay itself, another of Vietnam's UNESCO World Heritage sites. You'll be exploring Halong Bay in style and privacy aboard the Bhaya Legend, luxury Chinese-style sailing junks designed exclusively for private charters. The ships have spacious ensuite and air-conditioned guest suites designed in classic Eastern style and offering luxury fit for Imperial Royalty. Onboard you'll receive attentive personalized service, an ideal option for couples, friends or families wishing for a private, customized charter cruise on Halong Bay.
Boat: Savor a delicious fresh seafood lunch onboard before continuing to Vung Vieng, a fishing village nestled among the limestone islands. Visit the village by kayak or small row boat to see the daily lives of locals up close. You'll then have the option to swim and kayak the turquoise waters off uninhabited islands with pristine white sandy beaches. Back onboard as dusk falls, watch the sunset over enchanting Halong Bay while cruising to your overnight anchorage. Enjoy a set-dinner this evening followed by an evening of leisure, or join the crew for some night fishing.
Sleep: Overnight on board the Bhaya Legend Boat.
HALONG BAY/ DA NANG/ HOI AN
Awake: Drive about one hour to the city of Haiphong, the north's largest port and former administrative center for the French. You will then transfer to the airport for your short flight to Da Nang.
Tour: Upon arrival in Da Nang, meet your private guide, and depart on the 20-30 minute drive to the Marble Mountains, where five craggy marble outcrops are situated atop a hill across from China Beach. Climb the stone-paved path up the mountain to visit the numerous caves containing ancient Buddhist shrines. There are also a couple of wonderful pagodas to visit. (This excursion takes about two hours.)
Sleep: Four Seasons
HOI AN/ DA NANG
Drive south to Hoi An, one of Vietnam's great artistic gems. For hundreds of years, until it was superseded by Da Nang, this was the most flourishing port in the country and attracted traders (and influences) from China, Japan and Europe. Miraculously, the town has remained intact and it's still possible to wander here and imagine oneself in another age.
Explore: On arrival, depart on a walking tour through the old town which will include landmarks like the Japanese Covered Bridge, Tang Ky House and the Fukhien Association. Also visit the active local produce market and perhaps browse the wares inside the town's numerous art galleries.
Vespa: This afternoon, enjoy a private Vespa tour of the countryside outside of Hoi An. Setting off from Café Zoom in Hoi An, head out west along the banks of the Thu Bon River, first stopping at a bustling local fish market before heading into the rice paddy rich countryside and local villages, stopping to meet a local family producing local rice crackers. Crossing a bridge over the Thu Bon River will take you through more quiet villages and then into beautiful farmlands, where you'll take a break for a local picnic lunch while surrounded by seasonal vegetables in the picturesque fields of corn, eggplants, sweet potatoes, cucumbers, and herbs.
As the sun starts to go down, you'll set off through the rice paddies, passing duck farms, visit a local mat weaving family and then ride along by the prawn farms and over the river to visit a charming family home where they produce the local and potent favorite brew – rice wine. It's then a short ride over the Cam Kim Bridge into Hoi An as the sun begins to set on this beautiful heritage town.
Sleep: Four Seasons
HOI AN / DA NANG
Cycle: Go on a cycling tour of Cam Kim Island. Laid back and rural in character, the island of Cam Kim is perfect for exploration by bicycle. Crossing the Thu Bon River by private wooden boat, your adventure begins with a visit to the island's busy fishing port before heading further into the lush interior. Cycling around the island is a real treat. Paddy fields, out-of-the-way settlements, stunning coastline and even the odd precarious-looking bamboo bridge to ride across all add to the appeal of this little-visited island. There will be plenty of opportunities to stop and interact with the local communities during your leisurely cycle ride: observe local farming methods, learn about the art of mat weaving and see how bamboo basket boats are made. Experience all this and more before making the return trip to Hoi An.
Float: Then, board bamboo basket boats and float down the river. Disembark and head to the 4th-century Cham religious sanctuary of My Son. Arriving here later in the afternoon will help avoid the morning crowds of tourists at this small site and also provide wonderful, soft light for photography.
My Son, recently classified as a World Heritage site by UNESCO, is located in a beautiful, green valley surrounded by impressive mountains. While a small site, the ruins at My Son are the largest and most intact remaining in Vietnam. It is also the home of the Museum of Cham Sculpture, which records the development of the culture and history of the Cham people through their elaborate sculptures and carvings. Fly out the next morning.
DA NANG / CON DAO
Stay: Six Senses Con Dao presents elegantly designed modern accommodations offering generous personal space with lush tropical mangrove vegetation and breathtaking views. There are 50 spacious villas, each have their own private infinity pool and unobstructed views of the East Vietnam Sea. Styles range from single-level to duplex and offer one, three and four bedrooms, with indoor-outdoor bathrooms. The efficient design style reduces air conditioned spaces whilst providing additional natural ventilation.
CON DAO / SAIGON
Upon arrival in Saigon, meet your private guide and driver and immediately depart on the one hour drive outside of the city to the Viet Cong stronghold at Cu Chi. The hundreds of miles of tunnels here often confounded American troops fighting in a very foreign land. Sections are open to tourists where one can climb in and get a feel for the harsh conditions faced by the thousands of Vietnamese who lived and fought in these tunnels.
Back in Saigon continue to the touching War Remnants Museum containing reminders of the war in graphic detail. Continue to the Reunification Hall, historically known as Independence Palace, the former nerve center of the war for South Vietnam. Still largely maintaining its 1970s décor, the palace rooms are surprisingly spartan. The dank, reinforced basement has large-scale maps, communications equipment and tunnels.
Finish up the day with a walk through lively Cholon market, Saigon's Chinatown and a hub of activity. Haggle for unusual produce, interesting trinkets and beautifully made handicrafts. Stop by Saigon's most celebrated Buddhist shrine, the Thien Hau Pagoda.
Return to the city late this afternoon where you will have a chance to relax and freshen up before ending your day with a special performance at the Saigon Opera House of the A Oi Show which combines traditional Vietnamese imagery and themes with 'Cirque de Soleil' acrobatics and showmanship.
Sleep: Park Hyatt
SAIGON / MEKONG DELTA / DEPART
Wake & Drive: Drive south (two hours each way) into a region known as the Mekong Delta, where Southeast Asia's mightiest river splinters off into hundreds of branches before emptying into the South China Sea. The land here is some of the most fertile in the world and supports endless fields of rice and fruit orchards.
On the Water: Upon arrival in Caibe, embark on the lovely Caibe Princess boat, where you'll be welcomed with fresh rolled cotton towels. The tour will start with the visit of Cai Be colorful floating market. You will visit some local home factories such as rice paste making, rice pop corn, coco candies and longans drying process. You will then return on boat to proceed the excursion to Dong Phu, Binh Hoa Phuoc and An Binh islands located between Vinh Long and Cai Be. These evergreen islands among the Mekong River bring about large networks of meandering rivers, criss-crossed with countless arroyos, and remaining unknown to many people.
Add On: If you have more time, consider visiting Sapa. Take a round-trip journey to northwest Vietnam by overnight train from Hanoi to Lao Cai and Sapa, where you’ll spend your time hiking past rice terraces and scenic mountain valleys to local villages.
** This itinerary was written by ASIA TRANSPACIFIC JOURNEYS | 800.642.2742 | AsiaTranspacific.com - please feel free to contact them to arrange for drivers and guides.
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NANTUCKET: A SUMMER'S DAY
We’re just back from LA where in addition to stops at The Broad and the beach we ate, ate and then ate some more. LA is one of our favorite eating cities; restaurants are laid-back and creative, showcasing seasonal and local fare thanks to produce that is off the charts. LA reflects the rich cultural diversity of America, in the mood for Thai, Korean, Mexican, or Chinese—no problem! Like many food obsessed cities there’s always something new opening, but here’s a list to get you going with some of our favorites. As an added bonus, we asked our friend and local foodie guru Alison Dinerstein of Twist Your Spirits to share her favorite haunts listed below. Check out Twist Your Spirits artisan cocktail kits and be your own mixologist at home—just add your favorite spirit and some friends and you’ve got a party!
Bowl Food Nirvana: Breakfast at uber popular Sqirl is worth waking up for -- it’s best to go early, anyway, to avoid a long line, and be warned—you’ll want to order everything on the menu. On a non-descript street in Silver Lake, the space may be minimal but there’s nothing simple about the flavors of the food. Sure you’ll see the sorrel pesto rice bowl on everyone’s table, but we’re still dreaming of the chicken and rice porridge, and addictive, crispy rice salad. It was so good we ordered the cookbook as soon as we got home so we can recreate it all summer long. Oh and you need to get the ricotta toast with homemade jam, it may be an over order, but who cares you can skip lunch.
Better at Breakfast: Don’t get us wrong we love Republique at dinner, but with reservations hard to come by, breakfast works just fine for us. Order at the counter and grab a seat at one of the large communal tables where folks are digging in to shakshuka, mushroom toast, kimchi-fried rice or one of the excellent pastries. And can we talk about the bread--we would be happy with just a baguette and the Normandy butter, the best bread and butter anywhere. Republique is striking, especially during the day with the light streaming in.
Good Fellas: Everyone squeezes into the tight, narrow space at Jon and Vinnys - and they’re having a great time. And why not? Serving excellent pastas and delicious pizzas forget your diet for the night and dig in. Order their signature “LA Woman” pie and two orders of the meatballs. Served with garlic bread and a side of ricotta— it was the star of the night, even for a table of non-meatball fans. Jon and Vinnys is also a good idea at breakfast and lunch, and it’s easier to get in to. (From the team behind meat-centric Animal, another great dining choice.)
Italian Corner: Over on Highland and Melrose, there’s an Italian trifecta from Chefs Nancy Silverton and Mario Batali—casual Pizzeria Mozza, meat centric Chi Spacca and fine dining Osteria Mozza. We ate at Osteria Mozza known for its mozzarella bar, flavorful salads and great pastas. (Order the orecchiette with sausage) Don’t skip desert here-- Dahlia Narvaez won Outstanding Pastry Chef at the 2016 James Beard Awards—one bite of the huckleberry bombolini and you’ll know why.
Spicy: Night and Market is fun for addictive chicken wings and papaya salad unless you’re spice sensitive-- the thai food here is hot, as in spicy hot. (There’s also sibling Night and Market Song in Silver Lake) Jitaldia may be in a strip mall, but this southern-thai spot with an extensive menu is the real deal. Jitaldia doesn’t take reservations so go early or at lunchtime, if you don’t want to wait.
Downtown Smorgasbord: It was love at first sight for us at the historic Grand Central Market, a massive food hall and serious eating destination with overwhelmingly good choices. The only problem is deciding what to eat, from breakfast sandwiches at Eggslut, burgers at Bel Campo, falafel at Madcapra, smoked fish at Wexlers Deli, that street food at Sticky Rice or tacos at Tacos Tumbras A Tomas. Brand new from the owners of Republique, Sari, Sari Store is one to watch for Filipino comfort food—we expect his will be a new go-to in the market. Finish it all off with an excellent coffee at G & B Coffee.
Scenic: The waves are the soundtrack at stunner Nobu in Malibu where you could say the food, though excellent, is the supporting actor to the ocean setting. Go for lunch, sit on the patio and don’t forget your sunglasses. After lunch go for walk on the scenic Malibu Pier and watch the surfers. Malibu Farms, is a great healthy spot for salads and sandwiches on the pier, read more about it here.
Inventive: In a hip space in Koreatown, Heres Looking at You serves creative small plates made for sharing alongside delicious cocktails—take an uber and don’t drive. The Hamachi Collar with fuji apple, snake beans and Nashville Hot sauce demands a return visit on our next trip.
Local: Rose Café is the kind of place you wish you had in your neighborhood—it’s great at any time of the day—with friends, with kids, a date or even solo. This iconic Venice restaurant has been completely redone into a multi-concept eating venue. The large, eclectic space boasts a bakery, coffee bar, bar area, big open kitchens, plus two patio’s. The food is good, it wasn’t our best meal in LA, but we loved the space and the vibe, all in all a fun night.
Just Opened: From Josh Loeb and Zoe Nathan of Huckleberry, Rustic Canyon, Cassia and Milo and Otis fame its no wonder Tallula’s, though new to the scene, is already packing in the crowds in Santa Monica. The menu reads Mexican modern with SoCal influences served up in a fun, beachy space. Leave room for Nathan’s desserts and definitely have one, or more, of the delicious cocktails.
Ethnic: Out scouting USC for Daytripper University we had lunch at Chichen Itza in the nearby Mercado la Paloma. There’s a reason locals rave about the pork and chicken pibil--its the kind of plate where everything speaks to each other in each bite—sweet plantains, black beans and oh so flavorful meat. The owners have just opened Holbox in the same market featuring raw and cooked Yucatan-style seafood, now there’s even more reason to go to the Mercado hungry.
Anytime of Day: From the first moment we walked into Gjusta we were smitten—the chic industrial space, the beautiful food displayed behind glass cases, the bakers at work. Gjusta is the younger sibling of one of our favorite restaurants in LA--and really anywhere else too—Gjelina. (Book well in advance for Gjelina) If we lived in LA you’d find us here a few times a week eating on the back patio or grabbing take out to bring home or to the beach. The breakfast Bialy sandwich is seriously addictive; loaded with egg, merguez sausage, arugula, gruyere and harissa--so good were still thinking of it while eating our grain free granola back home.
Pasta Master: Chef Evan Funke is back in action with hand rolled pastas at Felix in a Venice bungalow on Abbot Kinney. The centerpiece of this buzzing Italian is the climate controlled room where pastas are being made in front of you—this is cacio pepe heaven!
Fish, Fish, Fish: Connie and Ted’s is loud and bustling—with a New England menu of lobster rolls, clam chowder, grilled fish with herbs and a seafood boil that is summer in a bowl. It’s a fun, casual place for good reliable seafood and perfect for larger groups. Dig in to the Parker Rolls and order the calamari to start—trust me.
Word of Mouth: Everyone’s talking about Kismet, and for good reason. This all day, packed, minimalist spot in Los Feliz showcases a veggie heavy, Middle Eastern menu, from the team behind Madcapra. We don’t know about you but we are over avocado toast and the delicious broccoli toast is a welcome spin. You need to order the Persian cucumbers with lebneh and parsley seed za'atar-and the shakshuka-and the flaky bread. Better yet, go with a friend or two so you can share.
Salads: Joan’s on Third is great for breakfast and lunch with a side of good people watching. This is the space that I’m convinced Nancy Myers used as her inspiration for Meryl Streep’s gourmet kitchen shop in the movie ‘It’s complicated’. Come here for a quick bite—there’s an array of good sandwiches, veggie plates and salads. On a nice day sit outside before heading over to Melrose to shop.
Good Luck: Book way in advance at Bestia, located downtown in the hot arts district. The food is rustic Italian, the space is industrial, and the place is perennially packed-one of the hardest reservations in LA to get.
Ran Out of Time: We so wanted to try the bowls we’ve been seeing on Instagram at Baroo. And tacos at Guisados, Oaxacan food at Guelaguetza, and French-Asian fare at Cassia. We didn't have time to visit old favorites like Suzanne Goin’s Lucques or AOC, Italian classic Giorgio Baldi, or Spago in Beverly Hills. And, of course all the restaurants on Alison’s list below.
Los Angeles Favorites by Neighborhood from Alison of Twist Your Spirits
- Top Silverlake/Echo Park: Cafe Stella, Alimento, Botanica, , Ostrich Farm, Winsome, Sqirl
- KoreaTown(Ktown): Ham Ji Park, Le Comptoir, Here’s Looking at You
- West Hollywood/Hollywood: Papilles, Petit Trois, Nora, Jon and Vinnys, Gwen and Salt’s Cure, for brunch.
- Downtown: Bestia, Wurstkuche, Sushi Gen, Ka Ga Ya, Sushi Enya, Kozunori
- Santa Monica: Felix, Scopa
- San Gabriel—Mian Restaurant (insane homemade Chinese noodles)
Sometimes we haven’t been there, done that. When a friend called asking for tips on Mykonos, we couldn’t help her as our information from some 20 odd years ago (backpacking after college) was just a little out of date. Then we remembered a friend of a friend, a very chic woman who has a house on the island for over 20 years who was more than willing to help. This is what Daytripper is all about - word of mouth from trusted sources.
Hotel Info: I steer friends to stay at three different hotels depending on what they are looking for. Santa Marina has a private beach, quite decent and there’s a large pool. It’s not far from town and it’s the most similar to a resort that we have on Mykonos. Cavo Tagoo is not on the beach, but it's across the street from the sea. Everything is very white, a design and décor that works for grown ups (I wouldn’t stay here with young kids.) There's a pool but I suggest you go to different beaches every day. It’s also pretty close to town. If you want to stay in town, there is the Belvedere Hotel; it's a small boutique hotel with a stunning Nobu restaurant. You can then go to beaches during the day and not have to drive at night, a good plus after a late night dinner and dancing.
Best Beaches: I love Agios Sostis, though it’s not organized, by which I mean there’s no umbrellas, etc. But, there’s a tiny taverna called Kiki's that doesn’t take reservations, everyone waits, EVERYONE. Lia Beach is 30 minutes from town, it’s organized with umbrellas and there’s a taverna on the beach. The water is lovely. If you’re looking for something low key, Kalafatis Beach is a great place to enjoy the water - it’s very local with a taverna that’s just OK.
Lunchtime Beach Eats: Spilia is a restaurant on the beach in a cave. It's great-- really fab--you must book ahead of time. Definitely go. On Ftelia Beach, Alemagou is the coolest restaurant, another don’t miss. It’s not the nicest beach on the island, but people still swim there. Nammos on Psarou Beach is a complete scene...it’s like St. Tropez’s Club 55, but on steroids... totally full on. The water is beautiful and it is something to experience--at least once during your stay. On Kalo Livadi, an organized beach there is a good taverna as well. I love going to Fokos Beach; it’s a mix of locals and cool people, the closest to what Mýkonos was many years ago. There are no loungers’ or umbrellas, but there is a simple taverna that we like very much. The owners spent a lot of money refurbishing Panormos, there’s a good restaurant and you can arrange beach seating. Finally, Scorpios restaurant is very cool…almost too cool… great food, great vibe, very cool peeps, must book. Must go.
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