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althom1122 Apr 19th, 2014 09:17 AM

Karen and Tom - a romantic Vietnam getaway: ENGAGED!!!
After much planning with you Fodorites and Tonkin Travel, Tom and I were ready for a romantic trip to Vietnam, with a quick side-trip to Cambodia. He was a little leery of Asia, not sure he'd like it and dreading the long flight, but he ended up like so many on this board - a true convert. He loved it and we had a WONDERFUL time. I know the title has given away what was for me a big surprise, but I'll just let the story unfold. :-)


Hanoi - 3 nights
Halong Bay - overnight cruise
Back to Hanoi for 1 night
Mai Chau - 1 night
Hue - 2 nights
Hoi An - 3 nights
Siem Reap - 2 nights, with late departure on last day

It was a bit of whirlwind, but we enjoy being on the move and we loved it.

Our flight was with United/Asiana from Dulles to JFK to Seoul to Hanoi. About 28 hours total. We were exhausted on that last leg from Seoul to Hanoi and it was so bumpy that I feared for my life! I'm a nervous-Nellie flyer anyway, and that flight nearly convinced me to stick with car trips in the future. But once we were there, all was well.

We had arranged for visas-on-arrival through Tonkin, and it went very smoothly. Within about 15 minutes, we were through immigration. Because we hadn't checked any bags, we were ready to set off immediately. Our driver from Tonkin was waiting with our name on a sign, and off we went to Hanoi. It was about 11 at night, so we checked in and went straight to bed. As tired as we were, it wasn't difficult to go right to sleep.

Hotel: Essence Hotel. We had a deluxe double and really liked it (room 205). The boutique-like hotel is perfectly situation in the old quarter. The king-size bed was the most comfortable of the trip (least hard), with luxurious down pillows. The room and bathroom were spotless and very tastefully decorated. Highly recommended.

Next up: first day in Hanoi.

Craig Apr 19th, 2014 10:26 AM

Good start - it will be interesting to contrast your experiences in Hanoi and on Halong Bay and ours of 5 years ago...

thursdaysd Apr 19th, 2014 10:47 AM

Looking forward to more. And congratulations!!! (On the engagement, obviously, but also for having an Asian convert.)

Kathie Apr 19th, 2014 11:30 AM

Congratulations and best wishes to you both.

I'm looking forward to reading more about your trip.

Shanghainese Apr 19th, 2014 02:20 PM

CONGRATS, sounds exciting!

progol Apr 19th, 2014 03:14 PM


I'm also looking forward to reading about the trip. Sounds very romantic!

Marija Apr 19th, 2014 05:52 PM

Congratulations! Seems like yesterday you were posting about how to tell if he likes you.

Florida1 Apr 19th, 2014 06:16 PM

Looking forward to reading more - and congratulations on your engagement!!!

kmkrnn Apr 19th, 2014 06:20 PM

Fantastic news


rkkwan Apr 20th, 2014 05:06 AM


dgunbug Apr 20th, 2014 07:09 AM

So happy for you and looking forward to the details!

dgunbug Apr 20th, 2014 07:13 AM

Good thing he was a convert, otherwise you would have had to dump him!

althom1122 Apr 20th, 2014 06:14 PM

Day 1

We were up early and ready to explore. Hanoi did not disappoint. Surprisingly, it's a city of commerce. Vibrant and full of life, every street buzzing with activity. No beggars to be seen.

The hotel dining room was fairly small but lovely, and we had a really nice breakfast of omelets, fruit and croissants. Then we headed out into the Old Quarter to do battle with a bazillion motorbikes. As others have said, crossing the street takes some practice. Just take a deep breath and start walking - don't hesitate and somehow the traffic parts around you. We headed for the lake, where we stopped at the red bridge, which is lovely. We crossed over the bridge to the small island and temple, where we bought some incense, lit it and put it in the urn. Locals were burning what looked like counterfeit U.S. $100 bills - which we later found out was in honor of their ancestors.

As we walked on around the lake, we came to a group of women who were doing not tai chi, but rather aerobics to rock music and after a little encouragement from one of the women I joined in while Tom took pictures and laughed at me being totally out of step. No one cared though and it was a lot of fun.

We then continued our walk to the opera house and French quarter. We made a brief stop in the history museum, which we considered a bust. Not worth the time. Then we headed to Women's Museum, which in contrast was delightful. I especially enjoyed the wedding section with the beautiful costumes.

We had lunch at the museum cafe. Tom had stir fry chicken and shrimp and I had tofu soup. Toms was delicious, mine was good but a little bland. The food was quite cheap. Then we went back to our hotel for a rest, followed by a cyclone ride, which is a far more pleasant way to see the Old Quarter than walking. You can sit back and relax without having to worry about dodging the motorbikes. And although the streets were unbelievably crowded, it was a joy watching it all go by from the cycle.

We had dinner at the hotel. Tom had spicy chicken and cashews. The first bite seemed relatively mild, but his sinuses were cleared up by the end of the meal. I had curried vegetables -cauliflower, broccoli, and beans -- yum. For dessert we shared passion fruit ice cream with chocolate sauce. Delicious.

Then took another cyclo ride - this time around lake and French quarter. Everything looked so pretty at night.

By this time we were pooped and went straight to bed.

Next: Hanoi Kids

althom1122 Apr 22nd, 2014 04:43 PM

Day 2

We were up early for another great breakfast - banana pancakes - and in plenty of time to meet our Hanoi Kids, Linh and "Raccoon" - two charming young women from local universities.

We took a taxi from the hotel to the Ho Chi Minh complex, where the line was unbelievable - it made the Harry Potter line at Universal look like a piece of cake. We weren't that interested in seeing Uncle Ho so we skipped that part and walked around to the rest of the complex. We especially liked Ho's car exhibit and the rooms where he lived. He passed up on the presidential palace in favor of two small simple rooms in a traditional wooden house on stilts. The grounds were lovely and the one pillar pagoda built by a king longing for a son was also interesting. What we enjoyed most however was the interaction with the girls. They were a delight. Full of stories about school, family, boys, and Vietnamese culture. We had a blast with them.

Next up was the temple of literature, another lovely spot- definitely worth visiting. Beautiful grounds and several temple-like areas including one with a statue of Confucious with top students on either side. There was also a tall statue of a crane standing on a turtle, representing ying and yang and good luck. In the rainy season the crane stands on the turtles back and in the dry season the crane brings food to the turtle.

We took the girls to lunch at an outdoor restaurant of their choosing. It was bustling and packed. There were different stations wit hall kinds off different food. We ended up ordering Hanoi fried spring rolls, a pancake like crepe stuffed with meat that you topped wth leaves and rolled up in rice paper. I was afraid of getting sick on those leaves, but we were fine. We also ordered chicken pho and one stir fried dish. Double dipping in the sauce was apparently allowed. :-)

Then it was back to the hotel where we said our goodbyes to our new friends. After a brief rest, we set off on our own for the Ho loa prison (aka Hanoi Hilton), a pretty good walk from our hotel. We thought it was definitely worth a visit. The propaganda was not unexpected - how you see things depends on where you sit. Found it interesting that John McCain's jumpsuit was on display.

Ww walked back past St. Joes cathedral. As we neared the lake, we saw Thongs water puppet theatre and noticed people heading inside. We were able to get tickets on the spot and ended up in the front row right in the center. I hadn't planned it in advance because I didn't think we'd like it that much, but it was definitely worth 50 minutes. I thought it was pretty cute and am glad we did it.

For dinner we went to a restaurant just around the corner from our hotel, New Day. Our Hanoi Kids had recommended it. We had barbecue spare ribs, hanoi spring rolls (again), and steamed shrimp. I ordered a banana smoothie. The food was excellent, cost less than 500k dong.

We ended the day by buying Tom's son a t-shirt from an adorable woman with a sweet smile for 90k dong.

Then off to bed.

Next: Halong Bay

Marija Apr 22nd, 2014 06:08 PM

So glad you liked the Hanoi kids. Ours were delightful as well. No line when we went to see Uncle Ho on a Saturday morning in January. Waiting for more.

yestravel Apr 22nd, 2014 07:45 PM

Hanoi Kids are just delightful. Enjoying reading your TR and remembering our trip to VN. Congrats!

cigalechanta Apr 23rd, 2014 08:16 AM

I followed your blooming romance,
love the ending. Congratulations.

dgunbug Apr 23rd, 2014 04:56 PM

Waiting for more...especially the proposal!

althom1122 Apr 24th, 2014 06:45 PM

Day 3

The driver picked us up a little early at 8:15 for the trip to Halong Bay. As everyone says, it's a long 4 hours with quite a bit of road construction and a fair amount of traffic. After the obligatory shopping stop, we finally made it to the pier. The boarding process was very efficient. When we pulled up at a coffee shop of sorts with plenty of outdoor seating, they took our names and told us to wait about 15 minutes for a bus with the other passengers to arrive. Indeed, the bus arrived quickly, and we walked down to where the tender was moored.

A short 5 minutes later we were aboard the Treasure junk. I had selected this boat after a fair amount of research, and we were quite happy with it. Tom wanted to splurge for one of the two suites - which should have been a giveaway for what was to come. :-) We had a little balcony at the back of the ship and a large jacuzzi tub plus a large shower with a steam sauna. The king bed was quite firm but ok.

Unfortunately, it was very hazy that afternoon - still lovely but no blue sky like I was hoping for. Lunch was very good, starting with a spicy seafood soup, followed by squid salad (which I skipped), shrimp, and fresh fruit for dessert. It was the best of the three meals onboard.

After lunch, most of the passengers went kayaking, but with both of us still recovering from shoulder problems (tendonitis) suffered while kayaking in Croatia last year, we opted for a short cruise on the tender for an up-close look at the karsts. There was then time for relaxing on board in the loungers on the sun deck or taking it easy in the room; I spent much of the time taking photos of the beautiful scenery. Dinner was just fair - more shrimp and squid plus fried spring rolls, which were the best part.

After dinner, there was an opportunity for squid fishing, but Tom said let's go up on the top deck first. We had the entire deck to ourselves. It was nearly dark, the lights were dim, and we could just make out the outline of the karsts.

Tom took me in his arms and said he wanted to get serious for a minute. And I knew.

He said "here's the deal..." (he ALWAYS says that, so it was adorable that he stayed completely in character). Then simply, "Will you marry me?" He went on to say he was a simple kind of guy so he didn't have fancy words or anything. I said, "but you're not down on one knee!" He laughed, got down on one knee and asked again. Then he pulled a small jewelry box out of his pocket and said he had a token ring for me (it was an aquamarine stone), and that he'd researched and wanted to have "the real one" custom made in Hoi An so we could pick it out together. And of course, I said yes I'd marry him. We hugged and kissed... for a little bit... and then went downstairs for some squid fishing (yes, we did), before retreating to our romantic suite...

Next: Halong Bay and back to Hanoi

dgunbug Apr 24th, 2014 07:41 PM

What a lovely setting for a proposal. I'm very happy for you both!

progol Apr 25th, 2014 03:23 AM

Sigh...that was beautiful! I feel like I'm watching a romantic movie - this brought tears to my eyes!

Congratulations again!

yestravel Apr 25th, 2014 09:16 AM

Perfect setting for a proposal - congrats again!

sartoric Apr 25th, 2014 05:56 PM

What a fantastic story !

I'm enjoying your report, and looking forward to more.

Great to have a SE Asia convert too.

Congratulations to you both.

thursdaysd Apr 25th, 2014 06:21 PM

Lovely! Certainly justified the drive from Hanoi, no?

althom1122 Apr 30th, 2014 05:03 PM

Day 4

We were up early for the floating village. After a light continental breakfast, we boarded the tender for a floating pier. They assigned us four four to a boat in small boats rowed by locals. The scenery was spectacular, and the water was so smooth that the reflection from the karats was unmarred. After about 45 minutes on the mirror surface we stopped for a pearl demonstration. We gave a nice tip to our rower, a woman with a gentle smile and obviously a strong back and arms! Then it was back to the Treasure junk and time to pack for departure. While packing, the sky darkened and a storm rolled in. The rain came down in torrents and the sky grew very dark. It was beautiful watching the storm from our deck.

Brunch was very good. Beef or chicken pho, an egg station, fried rice or noodles, stir fry vegetables and fresh fruit. Then a 100 or so pictures later and we arrived back at the dock. Our driver was already waiting for us, so we got an early start back to Hanoi.

We checked back in at the Essence and paid $15 for an upgrade to the 7th floor suite with small balcony overlooking the city. The bedroom was smaller than the junior suite but the bathroom had a nicer shower and there was a separate sitting room with second tv and sofa. AC didn't work in the bedroom but there was one in the sitting room that kept us comfortable.

At the recommendation of an Aussie couple, whom we had met at New Day restaurant, we decided to go to Quan An Ngon for dinner. We walked along the lake, past the water puppet theater and toward the Ho Loa prison. We burst out laughing when we arrived... Because it was he same restaurant the girls took us to! We hadn't gotten the name when we were with them and we had arrived via taxi without paying much attention to where we were. We even ended up at the same table! Food was good again - a reapeat performance of the pancakes ands spring rolls, plus a stir fry dish. Delicious. And about $10-12 usd.

Slept well - very comfortable beds and pillows at the Essence. When we checked out, Tom mentioned AC issue just so they'd know and they didn't charge for the upgrade. Highly recommend the Essence. Very nice rooms, great location, excellent customer service and for a small hotel, a very good breakfast.

Next: Mai Chau

yestravel Apr 30th, 2014 05:39 PM

Can't wait to hear about Mai Chau. I loved it there.

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