|Subject: Re: Viet Nam|
I was there in 1999, I think. I must preface this with the caveat that I prefer cities in my travels.
Ha Noi, as has been mentioned, is a beautiful city. The architecture is primarily French Colonial, but the old city is still organized by what was and sometimes still is sold on the particular street. I personally found the water puppet show to be something I could have passed on, but it is uniquely Vietnamese. There are various temples and parks in the city that are well worth spending time visiting. Even if you do not like to shop, visiting the various shopping areas is a cultural experience. You can walk to a lot of the various sites if you stay near the old city, but you need to know the primary mode of transportation outside of bicycles is motor scooters, and they are everywhere. Follow the lead of the locals in crossing the street by walking at a measured pace. The traffic then moves around you! Running is unexpected, and the drivers do not know what direction to go.
We were unable to visit the Ho Chi Minh mausoleum because Ho Chi Minh was in Russia for renovation. The grounds of the place where he lived were quite interesting, however.
There is actually quite a lot to see in Ha Noi; I think you could easily spend a few days there. Also, there are day trips such as to the pottery village that are worth while. Halong Bay is not a day trip. At minimum you need two days since it is quite a long way. Some of the caves are Unesco World Heritage sites (I think that is what they call them), but that is about all there is to see there. The rock outcroppings are karst formation, similar to those in Guilin in China. Very pretty, but if you are not heading that direction anyway, think carefully about whether that is something you really want to see.
Saigon (which is what the locals still call it) is very different. It is more modern, and, I suppose, more cosmopolitan. As an American of that certain generation, I found it interesting and somewhat unsettling to visit. There are upscale shops, and typical Vietnamese shopping, too. If you go, stay downtown. Our hotel was closer to the airport. It was quite nice, but too far from the areas we wanted to visit. The primary attraction as a day or more trip is the Mekong Delta, which is worth visiting. We skipped the Cu Chi Tunnels. I have heard mixed reviews. Definitely not for the claustrophobic!
Food everywhere was very good.
I did a little reading before I left to try to learn more about the country than what we saw on television in the 60's and early 70's. It did help to understand the very different perspective the Vietnamese have on recent history. What they call the American War was just a blip in a thousands of years old culture.
The country has opened up and is inviting foreign investment and tourism. The people are wonderful. I would go back.
Lisa in Chicago