Now that I've returned from my trip to Vietnam/Cambodia I have been dawdling and avoiding doing a Vietnam blog because there's just so much to see and post! I think I'll focus a blog on the LL property we adored - Evason Hideaway - and instead just let everyone know that Vietnam is an excellent destination, well worth the trip. I'll post more later, but if anyone has any specific questions feel free to fire away!
I knew you'd have a great time. We're just back from our sixth trip to Vietnam...second stay at the Evason Hideaway...and wondering when we can go again. We only stayed in Nha Trang this time...the Hideaway for a week and a week at Ana Mandara. We took the "5-Star Express" train to Nha Trang from HCMC this time....just slightly less than a 5-star....more like a 1-star but it was fun watching the countryside go by during the day. HCMC was a 36 hour stop...so we got to our favorite places, e.g., Tara and Kys...a small art gallery.
This is the time to visit Vietnam...it's changed a lot since our first trip (at least for me...my husband was there in 1966)....in 2001. Still a friendly, welcoming country with beautiful scenery and good food. The luxury link packages to the Hideaway or the Ana Mandara can't be beat. We're thinking of taking one of the Evason Thailand packages next year...combined with a return to Laos for a few days....and then back to our favorites in Vietnam.
JGuffey - you are right, the Evason property was out of this world. I am really interested in hearing about other Evason and Soneva properties. How does Ana Mandara compare to the Hideaway? I just can't imagine anything better than Hideaway in terms of design, privacy and service.
That train sounds like quite an adventure! I have to say flying everywhere on Vietnam Air was easy enough.
We also visited Tara and Kys gallery - what a great place! We pretty much spent all of our time in Ho Chi Minh and Hanoi shopping, it really was amazing in terms of price, quality and variety. I guess in Hanoi we did a couple of the standard tourist things - the bridge/temple on Hoan Kiem lake, the "Hanoi Hilton" but somehow we avoided museums and war-related activities. I think we got a little museumed out on recent trips. Plus, Angkor in Cambodia was so packed with ancient wonders that satisfied us for the rest of the trip. Have you made it over to Cambodia during any of your Vietnam trips?
I think the highlight of our Vietnam portion of the trip (besides Evason Hideaway) was the four-day bike tour through Mekong Delta. It was totally low-rent in terms of accommodations - the first night's homestay was rustic and charming but we slept on uncomfortable cots with mosquito nets practically outside! - but biking really got us off the beaten path, we didn't see other tourists for days and the terrain was gorgeous. Everywhere we went, everyone yelled "Hello, Hello!" and we were invited to a few houses along the way. We really experienced a bit of the life there - using the local toilets, eating the local food, it was an incredible experience.
By the way, Cruisinred, our (brief) experience with Ponheary in Cambodia was wonderful. She arranged for us to be guided by her good friend Sopheap who was great. Unfortunately she was already booked with another couple while we were there but she made time for us one day to host a lunch for local schoolchildren. She is an amazing woman. She speaks English very well! You can tell she really lives to serve the local children. There were over 300 children at the school, in uniform and lunch bowls in hand, and she recruited a group of about 10 locals to help cook enough food. She and a couple other tourguide friends brought their American/British clients as well so we had a very nice lunch group. My husband and I managed to lug a big bag filled with toys and school supplies to distribute to the kids and teachers. Everyone seemed happy and we were all grateful for the experience. Ponheary and I were teary-eyed at the end, it was such a nice day for the kids due to her hard work. You can tell she has made a huge impact on the school but there is still so much more to do. I would encourage everyone to check out her foundation's website: www.theplf.org
Ana Mandara vs Evason Hideaway. For us these are two great places. Ana Mandara because we've been there 5 times and the staff treat us like family. Remember our names (even after not being there last year), our favorite bar drinks, which 'tours' we took. It's difficult to leave and we're always laden with gifts from staff members. We now take something for those we know we'll be revisiting but still come home with more than we take.
The Hideaway...we were there 3 nights the first time and 7 on this most recent trip. I didn't think my husband would be content for 7 nights and I was right....tho he tells me he had a great time. The difference for him is there is nothing to do (or almost so) at the Hideaway. I on the other hand am blissfully content reading, watching the calm surf, eating. We know the Chef (David Thai) well from our visits to Ana Mandara (he was there when we first went to Vietnam)...and consider his daughter, Ana, our 'adopted' granddaughter. She's a beautiful 2-year old now. Bill (my husband) took the shuttle back to Nha Trang twice....ostensibly to have shirts made at a tailor shop (one recommended by two different staff members) and then again to pick them up so he 'got off the rock' and was happy doing so.
We think that when (not if!) we go again we'll take a 4 night stay at the Hideaway to satisfy me (but this also depends on whether or not Khanh Yen would be out butler)...Yen is one of the main reasons we chose to return to the Hideaway. She had a couple of days off when we left so traveled with us to Nha Trang and then the three of us had lunch together at a local restaurant before we were shuttled to the airport for our flight to HCMC. She is absolutely delightful. Efficient, friendly, speaks 3 (or 4) languages....we would be hesitant to go back to the Hideaway if she isn't our butler....that said....I like both places equally well. I can do nothing most places in the world and be happy.
We went to Laos on our trip to Vietnam in 2006 and plan on returning. We went to Vientiane..then to Pakse for a four-day boat trip on the river on the Vat Phou. We saw the Wat Phou which predates Angkor Wat. I'm (nor is Bill) a big museum person and we saw many, many temples in Vientiane. We've been told to see Luang Probang so that would be our spot for the next trip....with some time on the river....then to Vietnam.
I hope if you go back and are in Hanoi you'll see the Museum of Ethnology. A bit of a way out of the city...we took a cab...but truly interesting.
On our first trip to VN Bill saw almost all the museums. I quit after two. In Hanoi we saw the Hanoi Hilton and Ho's mausoleum. Now we don't revisit any of those. Tara and Kys....I bring back cards and shirts each year. There's a great shop near the river (I never remember the name)....around the corner from the Renaissance Riverside that has 'antiquities' and other interesting items. Always a must do for me.
This year we branched out and stayed at the Rex for the 'experience.' It was fun but check-in was definitely not as smooth as the Renaissance....the ambience in the lobby is much more rushed/busy. We had fun dining at the rooftop bar (and an absolutely delicious rack of lamb). I think we may try the Majestic next time (again for the experience.) We don't like the Caravelle.
The train wasn't as bad as I may have made it sound....just not five-star. It was fun! English movies onboard advertised...turned out to be black and white Charlie Chaplin silent films. No food (except to buy) now...tho in the beginning it was offered. No massage....no towel...(all things advertised on the website)...but again...it was fun and interesting to see the countryside by day. We've never had a problem flying Vietnam Airlines (ooops...this last trip our flight out of Cam Ranh was delayed 90 minutes and the waiting area was filled with irritated parents and crying babies and the a/c couldn't make enough cool air to pacify anyone.)
I'd love to see some of your photos....I came home with 1600+ and I'm still having trouble culling. I have an 'off the record' email: [email protected]. If you would like to see any of them or share yours with me...that might be the way to exchange photos....or when I get ambitious I'll have a url link to some of mine.
Thanks so much for the quick reply. We only booked 3 nights at Hideaway because my husband and I - much like your husband - I thought we'd go stir crazy staying there for any more time! But we killed one day with excellent diving and the second day was packed with spa treatments and snorkeling - I certainly could have gone for a few more days to just relax and enjoy the beauty of the place. This, however, was after a packed two weeks of going, going, going in all of the cities and towns (not to mention biking 160+ miles!) so it's safe to say we were a little tired.
For our next big trip, I think we are ready to do a bit more relaxation, which is why I am so interested in the Evason/Soneva properties everywhere. I am really interested in the Maldives Soneva properties - I just love the philosophy of the company in regards to the environmental impact and they do such a great job of giving visitors a high level of luxury at a (relatively) low level of impact.
Oh, and I highly recommend the Majestic Hotel in HCMC! That was home base for us four times over the course of our entire trip, and everyone remembered us each time we returned. It's maybe not quite as sophisticated as the new Sheraton or Park Hyatt but is smaller and more intimate, has history, has great service and our rooms were always lovely. We also had to stay at the New World for one night when our flight home was cancelled and that was really sub-par.
In Hanoi, the Sofitel Metrople was great, we also did a one-night cruise on the Ginger Boat in Halong Bay which was heavenly, and if you have a chance to go Siem Reap I (like Cruisinred, whose advice I took) really enjoyed the modern design, great service and excellent food of Hotel de la Paix.
I'll send you a link to our photos - my husband is an avid photographer but managed to cull down the thousands to just 120 or so to show off to our friends....I'd love to see yours as well when you have them "culled down".
Thanks for the info on the Majestic. It's always looked intriguing from the outside but we have never ventured in. When we're in Vietnam we don't like the big city hotels (at least not in Saigon...) The Caravelle (in my opinion) is a cold, noisy, modern, U.S. city-like hotel. Not at all what we prefer. So we'll try the Majestic on the next trip.
I doubt we'll get to Cambodia....but we'll definitely get back to Laos...specifically Luang Prabang on the next trip. Vientiane was interesting for a day or so....Pakse was 'quaint'...and enjoyable. We particularly liked the boat trip on the river...3 nights on the "Vat Phou" and hope to do something similar out of Luang Prabang. I like going to villages and taking photos of the people in the villages so we'll include some kind of village visits in the trip. I'm not a trekker (nor a bicyclist)....at age 71 I'll take my travel just slightly easier but I don't rule out some short, i.e. 2 hours or so, treks into village areas.
A highlight of Laos in 2006 was riding an elephant. We lived in South Africa for four years and I am enamored of elephants (really...African elephants)...but the ride of an hour was great. Each of us on our own elephant with a mahout...fun fact....the guide who took us around used his cell phone to call ahead so two elephants could be brought out of their work area and do the tourist thing!
Thanks for sharing your comments on your recent Vietnam trips. It really makes me want to go back....particularly to the private pools at the Evason Hideaway....sooooo relaxing.
So glad to hear about your visit to the school in Siem Reap. Isn't Ponheary the most amazing woman?
My husband and found her stories about life under the khmer rouge fascinating in an awful/sad way.
I also love Luang Prabang. I was there last year and understand that it is changing rapidly as tourists pour in. I foundly remember riding an elephant across a stream in the mist covered hills outside of LP, and hearing the mehout sing to the elephant in lao....I turned to my husband and said " this is why we traveled 20+ hours to Southeast Asia!".
I found this 'surfing' the web and my husband thinks it looks really interesting. We'd like to spend more than 3 nights in Laos on the next trip. We don't need to go back to Vientiane. I may have mentioned neither of us are big museum/ stupa/temple addicts. We're looking for village life/people/food/and this looks like it would be a great place to stay for a few days.
We're booked for Fiji in Feb. 08, Illinois for May 08 (grandson's high school graduation) but we're taking the train across Canada from Vancouver to Toronto, and Canada again in October 08...the "Tall Sails and Ales" five-night trip on a schooner to include various beer tastings....so the next trip to southeast Asia will have to wait until 2009 (that seems like a very long time to wait!)