Laos, Vietnam, and Cambodia tour

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Twelve of us from across the U.S. met tour organizers Judy Slattum and Made Surya of Danu Enterprises (Box 156, Capitola, CA 95010; 888/476-0543, www.danutours.com) at the Zephyr Hotel in downtown Hanoi. Our group started together, then split into two smaller groups, one focusing on arts and culture (that was my group) and the other taking treks to visit hill tribes. We joined up again in Hoi An, Vietnam, and also in Laos at the end of the tour.

Hmong saleswoman at Luang Prabang night market. Photos: Levi

Our 21-day tour, departing on Jan. 4, 2006, from San Francisco, cost $3,300 apiece. This price included international and internal airfares and many meals. We also took a 4-day extension to Angkor Wat, Cambodia, for an additional $600 per person, and while the town of Siem Reap had little to offer, there was nothing that could prepare me for the sight of Angkor Wat’s magnificent temples and spectacular bas-reliefs.

The tour started in Hanoi, where the amount of traffic was mind-blowing. Crossing its wide streets was a challenge but, if we looked forward and moved at a smooth, steady pace, the Red Sea of vehicles would miraculously part for us to cross and then immediately fill the space we had just occupied.

Equally surprising was the complete acceptance of the U.S. dollar in Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia. Forewarned, we brought plenty of (crisp) one-dollar bills.

In Hanoi we enjoyed a water puppet performance, the Fine Arts Museum, the obligatory visit to the tomb of Ho Chi Minh, walking tours of the French Quarter and Temple of Literature and a cyclo tour of the Old Quarter.

Buddhist monks on their morning rounds for rice in Luang Prabang, Laos.

A bus trip to Ha Long Bay was followed by a boat cruise amongst the beautiful islands of the bay. We spent the night on board, and the seafood was super-fresh and deliciously cooked.

We returned for an evening in Hanoi, then our art-and-culture group flew to Da Nang for a quick taste of “weasel” coffee. (Editor’s note: this highly acclaimed coffee is purported to be made from beans eaten and regurgitated by Vietnamese weasels, but its popularity has inspired the development of a synthetic process which supposedly tastes the same.)

Next we were off on a spectacular bus ride past China Beach and Marble Mountain to Hoi An, a UNESCO World Heritage Site because it has managed to preserve its old-town charm. The town is also a nirvana for those seeking high-quality inexpensive tailoring — complete outfits can be created overnight.

Young Hmongs selling their handmade bookmarkers and dolls — Luang Prabang.

While in Hoi An, we enjoyed a Full Moon Festival, at which time the town is lit only by lanterns and the light of the full moon; even auto traffic is banned for several hours, and there are floating candles on the river. It was magical. We hiked the Champa ruins at My Son and enjoyed a Champa dance troupe while there.

While the trekking group left for northern Laos, the art-and-culture group flew to Vientiane for a folk dance performance and visits to the museums, wats and stupas of this capital city. We joined together again in Luang Prabang, Laos, a World Heritage Site that UNESCO is rebuilding.

Surrounded by rivers on three sides, Luang Prabang’s downtown has fantastic morning and evening markets and a most bucolic atmosphere, with small hotels and fabulous restaurants. Nearby are fascinating villages to visit. This is one place to which we want to return.

We returned home on Jan. 29 from a trip so wonderful that we hope to go back in 2007. We cannot praise the leadership of Judy and Surya enough. Their good taste, love for art in all forms and overall trip planning added immensely to the enjoyment of all.

— VIC LEVI, Larkspur, CA

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

Twelve of us from across the U.S. met tour organizers Judy Slattum and Made Surya of Danu Enterprises (Box 156, Capitola, CA 95010; 888/476-0543, www.danutours.com) at the Zephyr Hotel in downtown Hanoi. Our group started together, then split into two smaller groups, one focusing on arts and culture (that was my group) and the other taking treks to visit hill tribes. We joined up again in Hoi An, Vietnam, and also in Laos at the end of the tour.

Hmong saleswoman at Luang Prabang night market. Photos: Levi

Our 21-day tour, departing on Jan. 4, 2006, from San Francisco, cost $3,300 apiece. This price included international and internal airfares and many meals. We also took a 4-day extension to Angkor Wat, Cambodia, for an additional $600 per person, and while the town of Siem Reap had little to offer, there was nothing that could prepare me for the sight of Angkor Wat’s magnificent temples and spectacular bas-reliefs.

The tour started in Hanoi, where the amount of traffic was mind-blowing. Crossing its wide streets was a challenge but, if we looked forward and moved at a smooth, steady pace, the Red Sea of vehicles would miraculously part for us to cross and then immediately fill the space we had just occupied.

Equally surprising was the complete acceptance of the U.S. dollar in Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia. Forewarned, we brought plenty of (crisp) one-dollar bills.

In Hanoi we enjoyed a water puppet performance, the Fine Arts Museum, the obligatory visit to the tomb of Ho Chi Minh, walking tours of the French Quarter and Temple of Literature and a cyclo tour of the Old Quarter.

Buddhist monks on their morning rounds for rice in Luang Prabang, Laos.

A bus trip to Ha Long Bay was followed by a boat cruise amongst the beautiful islands of the bay. We spent the night on board, and the seafood was super-fresh and deliciously cooked.

We returned for an evening in Hanoi, then our art-and-culture group flew to Da Nang for a quick taste of “weasel” coffee. (Editor’s note: this highly acclaimed coffee is purported to be made from beans eaten and regurgitated by Vietnamese weasels, but its popularity has inspired the development of a synthetic process which supposedly tastes the same.)

Next we were off on a spectacular bus ride past China Beach and Marble Mountain to Hoi An, a UNESCO World Heritage Site because it has managed to preserve its old-town charm. The town is also a nirvana for those seeking high-quality inexpensive tailoring — complete outfits can be created overnight.

Young Hmongs selling their handmade bookmarkers and dolls — Luang Prabang.

While in Hoi An, we enjoyed a Full Moon Festival, at which time the town is lit only by lanterns and the light of the full moon; even auto traffic is banned for several hours, and there are floating candles on the river. It was magical. We hiked the Champa ruins at My Son and enjoyed a Champa dance troupe while there.

While the trekking group left for northern Laos, the art-and-culture group flew to Vientiane for a folk dance performance and visits to the museums, wats and stupas of this capital city. We joined together again in Luang Prabang, Laos, a World Heritage Site that UNESCO is rebuilding.

Surrounded by rivers on three sides, Luang Prabang’s downtown has fantastic morning and evening markets and a most bucolic atmosphere, with small hotels and fabulous restaurants. Nearby are fascinating villages to visit. This is one place to which we want to return.

We returned home on Jan. 29 from a trip so wonderful that we hope to go back in 2007. We cannot praise the leadership of Judy and Surya enough. Their good taste, love for art in all forms and overall trip planning added immensely to the enjoyment of all.

— VIC LEVI, Larkspur, CA