Danu Enterprises in SE Asia

This item appears on page 25 of the May 2010 issue.

My husband and I took the “Arts and Culture of Vietnam, Laos & Cambodia” tour, Jan. 11-Feb. 4, 2009, with Danu Enterprises (Capitola, CA; 888/476-0543) — a great trip. The land part cost $3,332 per person, and the air portion, out of San Francisco and including all internal flights overseas, cost $2,256 each.

Except for breakfasts, most meals were not included. For two people, restaurant meals (with wine or beer) ran $40 in Vietnam, $20-$30 in Laos and $10 in Cambodia.

We didn’t hop all around each country but spent four days to a week in two places in each country, getting to know those areas in depth. We stayed in locally owned, three-, four- and five-star hotels.

Three of the five guides we had were exceptional; the other two were knowledgeable and competent. By “exceptional,” I mean they often could make the impossible happen, such as using their contacts to hold an international flight when we were delayed by accidents and holiday traffic. They also gave in-depth lectures at museums and exhibits.

In Hoi An, Vietnam, we went to a cooking class. The food was so great, we can still taste it in our memories. In Laos, our guide introduced us to street food — delightful little treats that we might have been too cautious to try on our own.

We walked through a forest at sundown one evening to visit a monastery. These monks had a peacefulness about them and a playfulness and kindness that stopped you in your tracks.

I liked Luang Prabang, Laos, the best. We stayed in the Old City, which is on a peninsula about a mile long and four blocks wide. There are 30 temples, with 300 monks in residence. Cafés line the banks of the rivers, and the architecture mixes old French-colonial buildings with traditional Lao structures.

It is a quiet area, the sidewalks ideal for strolling and stopping at little cafés for ice cream, a papaya shake or a beer. The night market is huge. People come in from outlying villages or motor up the Mekong from Thailand to sell their beautiful goods. Bargains are plentiful.

On our last night in Laos, we went to a private home for a blessing and dinner. The home owner had never had foreign visitors before and had invited her neighbors and family to help out. They were as excited as we were.

The blessing was very involved, with hand washing, fortune telling and a blessing by each of seven persons to each one of us. As each one blessed us, they tied a string bracelet on one of our wrists.

Finally, we filed outside for dinner — lots of food and a drink so high in alcohol it made your hair stand on end. What a party!

I woke up the next day with seven strings tied to my wrist. The guide told us that to remove them before five days was bad luck. At the airport, security was tight but not for us. They saw the strings and smiled.


Los Gatos, CA