North Vietnam, Hanoi
From P. H. Murdock, Palm Beach, FL
WHERE TO STAY: Metropole (15 Ngo Quyen Street; 84-4-826-6919; www.sofitel.com) Stay in the old wing at this venerable hotel. Have drinks and a light meal at the Bamboo Bar, which is reminiscent of a bygone era.
WHERE TO EAT: Emperor (18 Le Thanh Tong; 84-4-826-8801), Bobby Chinn (1 Ba Trieu St.; 84-4-934 8577; www.bobbychinn.com), Dac Kim (1 Pho Hang Manh; 84-4-828-5022) and Indochine (32 Pham Ngoc Thac St.; 84-4-823-9256).
I Would Skip: Eating at the Foreign Correspondents Club but as it’s across the street from the Metropole, go for a drink on the terrace to soak up the atmosphere.
SHOPPING: My Nghe Hong Ngoc Co. (110 B Ngoc Ha, Ba Dinh.; 84-4-734-0074) to have a long silk áo dài (the national dress for ladies) custom-made and for lots of linens. My purchases were delivered to the hotel the next evening.
Go to Kenly Silk (108 Hang Gai St.; 84-4-826-7236) for Chinese jackets and custom-made shirts.
Nguyen Frères (9 Dinh Tien Hoang St.; 84-4-926-0128.) for antiques and lacquer ware.
DON’T MISS: A ride in a rickshaw around the Old Quarter (fun yet exciting with thousands of scooters whizzing every direction), The Temple of Literature (Quoc Tu Giam St; 84-4-845-2917) and Ho Chi Minh’s Mausoleum (on Ba Dinh Sq). The sight of him “under glass” is pretty wild. If you go, hats, sunglasses or hands in pockets are not allowed. Respect is key and they’re not kidding. Also don’t miss Halong Bay, which is one of the most beautiful places. It’s too long and dreary a drive for a day trip from Hanoi (about 3.5 hrs. each way) so either go by helicopter and rent a private junk for lunch and a cruise or spend the night aboard the Emeraude, The Bhaya or a private junk.
I Would Skip: Sapa in the far north, mostly because of the overnight Victoria Express train from Hanoi, which I was told was like the Orient Express. It’s not and worse, there are no private bathrooms. We also found the nicest hotel, The Victoria Sapa Resort, pretty basic. However, the surrounding mountains are spectacular and it’s interesting to visit the Red Zao ethnic tribe, though, one is hounded to buy something from each of the sweet but aggressive local women. You can visit a few other local ethnic tribes but one was enough fun for me.