Private arrangements in Vietnam

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My wife, Carol, and I wanted a custom tour of Vietnam so we could include five days on our own in the Mekong Delta city of Vinh Long where I had taught English a couple of years ago. We also wanted a tour that would emphasize contact with people rather than visits to temples and monuments. Although it was already mid-November ’04, we insisted that our visit had to conclude before the Tet holiday on Feb. 9, ’05.

Responding to an ad in ITN, we turned this project over to Vietnam Orient Tours (4109 Peralta Blvd., Freemont, CA 94536; phone 510/794-8989 or visit www.vietnamorienttours.net). They provided a tour Jan. 18-Feb. 5 that met all our requirements and exceeded our expectations in every respect.

Chi Le Brinkman was a delight to work with. She prepared a program that included 16 nights in hotels with breakfasts, plus private guides and drivers, most meals, two domestic flights, numerous tours, visits and experiences and even our visas all for $1,450 each. She also arranged our international air (Orlando-Los Angeles-Hong Kong-Hanoi, with return from Saigon) for $1,350, explaining it was $100 more because of the holiday period.

After some 36 hours of travel time we arrived in a cloudy Hanoi. What a relief to find a sign with our names as we exited the terminal. We met Tuan, our “national guide” who would be with us for the next 10 days. He spoke excellent English, was very knowledgeable and had a great sense of humor. He soon became a friend.

He and our personal driver escorted us to the 4-star Sunway Hotel, which was the first of four hotels that exceeded our expectations. During our three days in Hanoi we never saw the sun, but we did see the sights: villages, markets, shops, crafts and water puppets, with cyclo rides, daily walks around the city and its lakes and meals in traditional restaurants.

Next we flew to Hue. Of course, travel was now a breeze as Tuan took care of our luggage and tickets and got us to our new car and driver and thence to the beautiful Hotel Saigon Morin. Our huge room had a balcony looking over the Perfume River and its bridge. Sumptuous breakfasts were served outside in the courtyard.

We visited with students at nearby Hue University, walked the bridges and toured the markets, visited the Citadel and had a tour as well as a private cruise on the river.

After two days in Hue we traveled overland to Hoi An via Da Nang. The 3-star Hoi An Hotel was not as luxurious as the previous hotels, but it offered a wonderful pool. We walked all around as we toured the city and even took a ferry ride in the harbor. One morning we got up to visit the fish market at 5 a.m. as the boats unloaded.

We headed back to Da Nang with a stop to visit Marble Mountain and then caught our flight to Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City). Tuan found our new car and driver, who guided us through the jam of traffic to the luxury Majestic, where we had another balcony, this time overlooking the busy Saigon River. We immediately took the ferry across the river, walking the other side and happening on a school where they were practicing a pageant; they made us welcome.

We had a full day of touring Saigon, after which Tuan delivered us to Vinh Long, some three hours south of Saigon. He got us installed in the Cuu Long Hotel (2-star and virtually the only hotel in town), where we bid him farewell with gratitude for his exemplary service.

We spent five busy days in Vinh Long, teaching English, taking boat trips, motorcycle rides and bus trips and visiting friends both old and new, receiving warm hospitality at all times. We felt like celebrities. I celebrated my 75th birthday with a party at the hotel restaurant. We invited eight and 12 came — memorable.

A new guide picked us up for the return trip to Saigon and two more days at the Majestic. We especially enjoyed observing the elaborate preparations being made for Tet, less than a week away. Finally, we were delivered to the airport for our return trip.

By the way, flight service on both Vietnam Airlines and Cathay Pacific was excellent.

Here are some general observations.

The Vietnamese are the most friendly people we have encountered. Their national expression is a smile and they really made us feel welcome (“Where you from?”).

We walked everywhere — on jungle trails as well as on Saigon streets anytime from 5 a.m. to 11 p.m. — and always felt safe and comfortable.

Most Vietnamese we met were eager to learn English, which leads me to a tip I mentioned previously in ITN: wear a name tag in Vietnamese. Mine said “Hello, my name is Ted. Please practice your English vocabulary with me — or SMILE!” They loved it; everyone wanted to read our name tags, and even if they couldn’t speak English they laughed. Then we would give them a “happy face” sticker.

I hope you will go to Vietnam. The Feb. 14th issue of U.S. News & World Report had it right: “You have exquisite landscapes with endless green rice paddies and rural agrarian people who welcome visitors as exotic beings. You have to see it to believe it.”

If you go, I enthusiastically recommend Vietnam Orient Tours.

TED MULLETT

Vero Beach, FL

Please login or subscribe to ITN to read the entire post.

My wife, Carol, and I wanted a custom tour of Vietnam so we could include five days on our own in the Mekong Delta city of Vinh Long where I had taught English a couple of years ago. We also wanted a tour that would emphasize contact with people rather than visits to temples and monuments. Although it was already mid-November ’04, we insisted that our visit had to conclude before the Tet holiday on Feb. 9, ’05.

Responding to an ad in ITN, we turned this project over to Vietnam Orient Tours (4109 Peralta Blvd., Freemont, CA 94536; phone 510/794-8989 or visit www.vietnamorienttours.net). They provided a tour Jan. 18-Feb. 5 that met all our requirements and exceeded our expectations in every respect.

Chi Le Brinkman was a delight to work with. She prepared a program that included 16 nights in hotels with breakfasts, plus private guides and drivers, most meals, two domestic flights, numerous tours, visits and experiences and even our visas all for $1,450 each. She also arranged our international air (Orlando-Los Angeles-Hong Kong-Hanoi, with return from Saigon) for $1,350, explaining it was $100 more because of the holiday period.

After some 36 hours of travel time we arrived in a cloudy Hanoi. What a relief to find a sign with our names as we exited the terminal. We met Tuan, our “national guide” who would be with us for the next 10 days. He spoke excellent English, was very knowledgeable and had a great sense of humor. He soon became a friend.

He and our personal driver escorted us to the 4-star Sunway Hotel, which was the first of four hotels that exceeded our expectations. During our three days in Hanoi we never saw the sun, but we did see the sights: villages, markets, shops, crafts and water puppets, with cyclo rides, daily walks around the city and its lakes and meals in traditional restaurants.

Next we flew to Hue. Of course, travel was now a breeze as Tuan took care of our luggage and tickets and got us to our new car and driver and thence to the beautiful Hotel Saigon Morin. Our huge room had a balcony looking over the Perfume River and its bridge. Sumptuous breakfasts were served outside in the courtyard.

We visited with students at nearby Hue University, walked the bridges and toured the markets, visited the Citadel and had a tour as well as a private cruise on the river.

After two days in Hue we traveled overland to Hoi An via Da Nang. The 3-star Hoi An Hotel was not as luxurious as the previous hotels, but it offered a wonderful pool. We walked all around as we toured the city and even took a ferry ride in the harbor. One morning we got up to visit the fish market at 5 a.m. as the boats unloaded.

We headed back to Da Nang with a stop to visit Marble Mountain and then caught our flight to Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City). Tuan found our new car and driver, who guided us through the jam of traffic to the luxury Majestic, where we had another balcony, this time overlooking the busy Saigon River. We immediately took the ferry across the river, walking the other side and happening on a school where they were practicing a pageant; they made us welcome.

We had a full day of touring Saigon, after which Tuan delivered us to Vinh Long, some three hours south of Saigon. He got us installed in the Cuu Long Hotel (2-star and virtually the only hotel in town), where we bid him farewell with gratitude for his exemplary service.

We spent five busy days in Vinh Long, teaching English, taking boat trips, motorcycle rides and bus trips and visiting friends both old and new, receiving warm hospitality at all times. We felt like celebrities. I celebrated my 75th birthday with a party at the hotel restaurant. We invited eight and 12 came — memorable.

A new guide picked us up for the return trip to Saigon and two more days at the Majestic. We especially enjoyed observing the elaborate preparations being made for Tet, less than a week away. Finally, we were delivered to the airport for our return trip.

By the way, flight service on both Vietnam Airlines and Cathay Pacific was excellent.

Here are some general observations.

The Vietnamese are the most friendly people we have encountered. Their national expression is a smile and they really made us feel welcome (“Where you from?”).

We walked everywhere — on jungle trails as well as on Saigon streets anytime from 5 a.m. to 11 p.m. — and always felt safe and comfortable.

Most Vietnamese we met were eager to learn English, which leads me to a tip I mentioned previously in ITN: wear a name tag in Vietnamese. Mine said “Hello, my name is Ted. Please practice your English vocabulary with me — or SMILE!” They loved it; everyone wanted to read our name tags, and even if they couldn’t speak English they laughed. Then we would give them a “happy face” sticker.

I hope you will go to Vietnam. The Feb. 14th issue of U.S. News & World Report had it right: “You have exquisite landscapes with endless green rice paddies and rural agrarian people who welcome visitors as exotic beings. You have to see it to believe it.”

If you go, I enthusiastically recommend Vietnam Orient Tours.

TED MULLETT

Vero Beach, FL