When considering a vacation to South East Asia, the first consideration should be Vietnam. Vietnam is a beautiful and diverse country where the strength of major currencies provides a bigger bang for your buck. The impact of western cultures, and a general affinity for all things western has not altered the nation nor any of its original charm and unique characteristics. This ensures greater interaction with the population so that positive experiences are to be expected.
Vietnam utilizes a western form of writing, rather than the script style common to the orient, so that it is easy to find directions and facilities. The pronunciation is unique, however, so keep your language attempts to trusted phrases, so as not to offend. The exchange rate is currently in excess of 16,000VND (Vietnamese Dong) to $1US and 13,000VND for the Canadian dollar. Bribery is common so expect to find your guides paying for privileges; it is wise to keep some personal cash available to do the same. Pricing is on the barter system with most street and market vendors, so avoid paying the initial price, even if it seems cheap by western standards. Should one need a retreat from total cultural emersion, there are western clubs and restaurants, such as the Wild Horse Saloon steakhouse in Saigon or French cuisine in Nhatrang.
Vietnam is essentially several hundred miles of beaches with many rocky costal areas, reminiscent of the American, Pacific coastal region. The scenery is lush if you travel inland, contrasted with welcoming sandy resorts along the coast. Perhaps the best stretch is north from Saigon to Danang, which includes the coastal resorts of Mui Ne and Nhatrang, with modern cities anchoring each end. As you travel north from Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City) the scenery constantly changes from lush rice paddies to desert landscape while skirting mountain ranges. A side trip to the old French retreat at Dalat will traverse a harrowing, winding road over the mountain and provide spectacular views. The drive is not for the faint of heart, however. As you continue your journey along the coast you will discover that even the sea shells vary from beach to beach and ancient coral is deposited along with the shells. The coastal Journey can be made by car, but it is best to utilize a driver or tour service since finding sanitary stops along the way is still hit or miss. Lodging can be secured in four star resorts for as little as $50.00 to $75.00 and there are also many quality facilities for far less. Certainly making a stop at Mui Ne and at least two nights at Nhatrang are musts. There is also an active club life in Nhatrang, although not on the scale of Saigon. Green Hat of Nhatrang is the ultimate party scene; taking revelers on their party boat.
Arrival in Danang, requires a side trip to the former Imperial City of Hue. The cuisine of Hue (pronounced: “way”) is delicious and unmatched elsewhere. Resorts are remarkably cheap and the four star, Lang Co resort ranges from as little as US$30.00. Hoi An is an appropriate side trip as well, where you can watch craftsman practicing ancient skills and purchase quality souvenirs directly from the artisan. If you have the time to add Hanoi, it is best visited via air since a drive will eat up most of your time. The city is becoming more modern but not as much as Danang and Ho Chi Minh City. However, it is the only logical point of departure for Halong Bay and the stunning rock outcroppings protruding from the ocean.
Regardless of the breadth of your planned vacation, it is still advised to book with a reputable travel agency. There are many places that are off the beaten path and can only be visited with someone who knows the terrain. Saigon Tours is perhaps the most reputable, nation wide agency, but a check of the internet will provide many others. Plan well and select the sites you think most interesting. It will give you a starting point to work with an agency. I would suggest: www.waytovietnam.com as a balanced, initial information source.