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  • Vicki Scheck

Cruising & Touring Vietnam

Updated: Mar 15, 2021

Halong Bay Junk

Photo courtesy of Pixabay

Recently some clients of ours (but more than that, long-time friends) returned from their Tauck tour of Southeast Asia, including Vietnam, Cambodia and Thailand. They have graciously given permission for us to share their experience and photos with you. This post will be about the Vietnam part.

Vietnam is so much more than about war, jungles and Agent Orange. In spite of the damage done and lives lost by U.S. bombings, the Vietnamese people display a warmth and love for Americans.

I hope you will enjoy this tour, as seen through the eyes of our clients.


Traveling in style! Dennis and Karen left the driving to the operator of this pedi-cab, a manpowered-tricycle.

Pedi-cab in street of Hanoi, Vietnam

It looks so peaceful in the photo above, but Dennis described the traffic in Hanoi as “chaotic chaos." If you have 41 seconds and nerves of steel, check out their video from the streets of Hanoi.

"Here, green means go, yellow means go, and red means go,” he said, and that when attempting to cross the street, you start walking and don’t stop. The drivers will go around you; but if you stop, they don’t know what you’re going to do.

After their long flight to Asia, they enjoyed a chill day at the Sofitel Legend Metropole Hanoi, which dates from 1901. The hotel is located in the city's historic French Quarter, in which are most of the foreign embassies and affluent residential neighborhoods. It also boasts upscale hotels, restaurants and shopping. Tell me, is this what you expected Vietnam to look like?

Sofitel Legend Metropole Hanoi

Photo courtesy of Accor Hotels

This iconic hotel has a “Path of History” tour available for guests only, including its 1960s-era bomb shelter. Our clients informed us that, during the Vietnam War—called the “American War” by the Vietnamese—only guests of the hotel were allowed to use the bomb shelter. The staff and everyone else had to duck into the manholes along the sidewalks.

The shelter came in very handy for Joan Baez, who happened to be staying at the hotel when the U.S. conducted a night-time bombing raid in 1972. One day she witnessed a wailing mother, digging through the rubble with her hands, trying desperately to find her missing son. Returning to the shelter every night of the 11-night bombardment, Baez composed the haunting song, “Where Are You Now, My Son?” and later performed it in the same shelter. Clearly moved by the experience, she subsequently painted a large canvas of how she pictured, in her mind’s eye, the grieving woman’s son. It hangs proudly in the hotel’s lobby.

Joan Baez painting in Sofitel Legend Metropole Hanoi

After a day to get settled in, our clients went on a two-night cruise of Halong Bay, an incredible archipelago in the Gulf of Tonkin. The passenger ships that cruise the bay are called junks. When Karen took the photo below, she told Dennis, “I’ll tell Vicki this is our junk.” :-)

Vietnamese version of a "houseboat"

Actually, their cruise was on the ship below (photos used with permission of Orchid Cruises). This is the kind of junk I like! What a beautiful way to see Halong Bay.

Orchid Cruises "Junk" Cruise Ship in Halong Bay

The cruise line had kayaks available for exploring some of those caves.

Cave grotto in Halong Bay, Vietnam

Photo courtesy of Pixabay

Karen told me that capitalism is alive and well in Vietnam. When the junks would anchor, locals would paddle their rafts alongside the larger vessels and sell their wares to the passengers. On their cruise, the ship only provided complimentary beverages at breakfast, so the raft contained a variety of drinks (e.g., bottled water, wine and beer) for sale, as well as some snack foods.

Capitalism, Vietnamese-style

That is not to say, however, that drinks were not available on the ship. Look at the artistry that’s been put into these. No boring "umbrella" drinks here!

Orchid Cruises fancy cocktails

Photo courtesy of Orchid Cruises

Back in Hanoi, one of the sites they visited was The Mausoleum of Ho Chi Minh. “Uncle Ho,” as he is still known affectionately, is wax-preserved the same way as Lenin. Consequently, the mausoleum is kept cold, so the wax won’t melt.

Mausoleum of Ho Chi Minh, Hanoi

They also saw the “Hanoi Hilton.”

"Hanoi Hilton" in Vietnam

This was where John McCain and other shot-down U.S. pilots were ‘housed.’ The official line is evidently that "John McCain broke some bones playing basketball.” There isn’t much left of the prison itself except, for some reason, the guillotine.

Our clients reported during the trip: “We have been very fortunate with our tour guides. Our main guide is the son of a former Clinton administration official, who was involved with, and was present at the opening of, the U.S. embassy in Hanoi. Another guide is the grandson of a former Mandarin, an assistant to the king. As a consequence, both have been able to give us insights that most tourists never hear.” (I feel that this is one of many ‘hidden advantages’ of going with a good tour company.)


Hue was the capital of Vietnam, and also its political / cultural / religious center from 1802-1945, under the Ngunyen Royal Dynasty. The Complex of Hue Monuments is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, with hundreds of monuments and ruins, including the Forbidden Purple City. The royal palace and forbidden city were patterned after the ones in Beijing, China.

Royal Palace in Hue, Vietnam

When the last king abdicated and went to Paris in 1945, he personally handed to Ho Chi Minh the royal scepter, which was the symbol of the right to rule in Vietnam. The king also had an official seal, about 8" square, made of gold, and weighing 7 lbs. That seal is represented by this statue.

Golden statue of the king's seal, Vietnam

This is Hue’s An Quang Pagoda, built in 1600. The tower has seven levels, signifying the fullness of the lotus flower.

An Quang Pagoda, Hue, Vietnam


A Vietnamese tour-operator acquaintance of mine said that he can’t ever plan a trip to Vietnam without including Hoi An, “or nobody will go.”

Hoi An, Vietnam at night

Even before Marco Polo, this was a trading center, connecting to the silk and ceramic routes. It is an attraction for tourists from around the world, known for its silk lanterns, which are amazing to see after dark.

Silk lanterns for sale in Hoi An, Vietnam

Photo courtesy of Pixabay

Dennis and Karen happened to be there during the lunar New Years’ celebrations. He wrote that “the river was filled with colorful floating candles, as well as lantern-guided gondolas. We took a gondola ride and then had a patio table for dinner, which was a perfect viewpoint for watching all the people.”

Their river-front hotel, the M Gallery Royal Hoi An, provided a beautiful sense of place. Photo shown is of a Grand Deluxe Room (king beds also available).

M Gallery Royal Hoi An Hotel, Vietnam

Photo courtesy of Accor Hotels


It was on April 30, 1975, that a tank plowed through the walls of the palace, bringing about the “liberation/fall” of Saigon, in what was then South Vietnam. The new palace is of mid-century modern design.

However, the Central Post Office was spared destruction. This 19th century building (sometimes attributed to Gustave Eiffel, but possibly erroneously) is now a tourist attraction.

Central Post Office, Saigon, Vietnam

Dennis reported that “today Vietnam is still a poor country (average income $1800 per year), but the people seem happy and are hardworking, and of necessity, a self-reliant people. Given freedom from war (there have been two since the Vietnam War), Vietnam will continue to improve since it is now a Communist country in name only.”

Our thanks to Dennis and Karen, not only for their support and long-time friendship, but also for generously sharing their trip with us, and by extension, with all of you!


Copyright ©2018 All sharing of our photos and text subject to "Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives" Creative Commons License. CST #2109492-40

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