I went on my post-war tour of Vietnam with the assistance of Asia Transpacific. They’re a little pricey, but worth it. And yes - I PAID! I’m just putting them in here because they rocked and everyone should use them (ask for Eric). My South Vietnam guide Truc is a genius. Knows everything about the war and has helped POW families find remains, etc. Lan is the guy to go for in the North. Ask him to take you to lunch with his friends. Trust.
Where to stay
The Caravelle Hotel
Not as luxe as the Park Hyatt across the street, but packed with a lot more personality and history as it was the home to the majority of the foreign correspondents during the Vietnam War. Also has a killer 9th floor bar with outdoor terrace and live salsa band. 19 Lam Son Square, District 1, Ho Chi Minh City, Saigon. (84-3)3823 4999
Where to eat:
A great Vietnamese restaurant that is almost always packed to the gills, Lemongrass is a little pricey (for Vietnam) but worth it. Reservations are a good idea and service is wonderful. 4 Nguyen Thiep _ District 1, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. (08) 822 0496
What to see:
District One, Saigon: Packed with the high-end hotels, including the Park Hyatt and the Caravelle Hotels. The side streets around Lam Son Square and the Opera House are chock full of high priced shops and Girlie Bars, all easily located by a “Billiards” sign out front, where lonely men can get chatted up by gorgeous young Vietnamese women – for a price. They are also called “The A to X bars” as if you opt to make the conversation more private, everything but “Z” can take place in the back. Make sure you see a drink price list up front. Absolute must see: the view from the roof bar at the Rex Hotel. 141 Nguyễn Huệ, phường Bến Nghé, Quận 1, Thành Phố Hồ Chí Minh, Vietnam. (08) 3829 2185.
Historically important is the War Remnants Museum – formerly called the American War Crimes Museum – which helpfully has a playroom for children as many of the exhibits, especially the photography section and the Agent Orange area, are so graphic, it has adults crying in the halls and is not appropriate for small children. If you’ve never seen what war does to a country or a people – this museum graphically shows it.
La Residence Hotel
This graceful French colonial mansion located on the banks of the Perfume River was the former residence of the area’s governor in colonial times. Up until recently, when tourism finally took off in the area, it housed government VIPs and even some backpackers. Now totally renovated, it’s like stepping back into time, with al the comforts of a five star hotel. 05 Le Loi street, Hue City, Vietnam. 84 54 3837475; www.la-residence-hue.com
The Mandarin Café
This restaurant has local food and doubles as an art gallery, which shows off work by the owner - a locally renowned photographer and artist, Mr. Cu. There’s also free internet access upstairs. 24 Tran Cao Van St., Hue, Vietnam. 84 54 3821281; www.mrcumandarin.com
What to see:
Hue, located near the DMZ line, was the sight of the infamous Tet Offensive of 1968, in which the city was razed nearly to the ground and thousands of civilians were massacred. The Citadel, located near La Residence, was the sight of the fiercest fighting and is being carefully restored. It is now almost back to it’s former glory. A quick trip up the Perfume River, is the Thien Mu Pagoda, the largest pagoda in Vietnam and the official symbol of the city. For war buffs or anyone who actually fought in the Vietnam War, it is worth a day trip to Khe San, the scene of some of the fiercest fighting, where many lost their lives trying to hold the McNamara Line of defense. The eerie war museum and its barren grounds reminds you of the generation of men who lost their lives and the futility of the war. Beware of the crazy guy who hides underneath the stilted building who likes to jump out and scare tourists before trying to sell them “real GI” lighters.
PHU QUOC ISLAND
Where To Stay:
La Veranda Resort
The perfect beach getaway on an island in the middle of the South China Sea. If you are in mood for company, small beach bars dot the immediate area but if you walk ten minutes down the beach you feel like Robinson Crusoe. The outside bar on the veranda is as close to heaven as you can get at sunset. Close by are rainforests, waterfalls, virgin beaches, pepper farms, quaint fishing villages …. And of course, the prison! Tran Hung Dao Street, Ward 7, Duong Dong Town, Phu Quoc Island, Vietnam. 84 77 3982 988; www.laverandaresort.com
Where to eat: Besides the hotel, options are limited, but there are plenty of seafood shacks lining the coastal road to the Coconut Tree Prison – any of which have some of the best seafood plucked right out of the ocean, grilled to perfection and a hammock to relax on while you sip a Tsing Tao afterwards.
What to see:
Coconut Tree Prison
This former POW camp at the far end of the island was Guantanamo Bay before Guantanamo was a twinkle in George Bush’s gimlet laced eye. See and learn about the most effective ways of torture, handily re-enacted by mannequins, and learn the really, really ugly side of war. A cab ride there and back (with wait time) will cost you $40, but it’s worth it.
The Sofitel Legend Metropole Hotel
The best hotel in Hanoi, hands down. Located near the Hoan Kiem Lake and the Opera House, it is one of the few remaining French colonial structures in the North. With its white façade, green shutters, wrought iron detail, and old school bar – where a lounge singer croons out jazz classics every night – you will be transported back in time. Do not miss the outside bar, where you can have a “Joan Baez” (hot toddy) on large comfy chairs, covered in woolen blankets. Be sure to ask for a room in the old section of the hotel – the ceilings are higher, the windows actually open and you will be living in history (room 218 is the old Italian embassy). 15 Ngo Quyen Street, Hanoi, Vietnam. 84 4 3826 6919; www.sofitel-legend.com
Where to Eat:
Quan An Ngon
An actual Vietnamese restaurant with actual locals eating in it, the restaurants boasts great local food (no dog dishes on the menu) with large portions and great service. 18 Phan Boi Chau | Hoan Kiem, Hanoi, Vietnam. 84439428162 | www.ngonhanoi.com.vn
What to See:
You can’t go to Hanoi without seeing the Hoa Loa Prison – dubbed by Americans who were imprisoned there, The Hanoi Hilton. Reminiscent of medieval torture dungeons, the majority of the prison was torn down several years ago to make room for a new highrise office building (what a view!), but what’s left is jaw dropping. Used first by the French to hold and execute Vietnamese separatists, then later by the Vietnamese to hold American POWs, it boasts an execution room, dark, damp holding rooms, where men and women were shackled on a slanted platform so they could never sleep for more than ten minutes at a time and smaller “holes” where individuals were held for questioning. The Vietnamese swear they never used any of this on the Americans – whom, they claim, were treated very well (a “fact” disputed by Americans actually held there), and there is even a display with happy Americans playing volleyball and checkers to prove it. A picture of Americans flipping the cameraman the bird was removed two years ago after someone finally told the Vietnamese government what it meant. Other must sees are Ho Chi Minh’s tomb, the John McCain Memorial (by the lake where he was shot down) and Ho Chi Minh’s old house.