Travel Weekly reporter Jeri Clausing is experiencing Vietnam for the first time. A report on her experiences follows.
The famed China Beach, where American GIs went for R&R during the Vietnam War, is now a huge construction zone.
The abandoned military base in Danang is still there. But across the street, China Beach reminds me of Nuevo Vallarta, Mexico, with miles and miles of resorts under development along the shore. Raffles and Hyatt are among the brands that have resorts under construction.
We stayed just south of China Beach in the year-old Nam Hai, one of the country's newest and most luxurious resorts.
The resort is a mix of traditional Vietnamese and ultra-modern chic. And when we first walked into the outdoor reception area, with its view over long infinity pools that stretch down to the beach, I wondered if it might be a little over the top.
But the Nam Hai seems to have gotten it right. This is not a mega-resort trying to be modern chic. It is pure luxury. There are no hotel rooms, just villas, some with multiple bedrooms and private pools. All mix tradition with modern luxuries, including iPods, surround sound and even espresso machines in each villa. My favorite feature was the back garden with outdoor rain showerheads.
The Nam Hai is actually in Hoi An, south of Danang and the airport. We spent the day touring ruins from the Cham kingdom that once stretched across Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia. Then we walked the streets of historic Hoi An.
We also finally ate a truly authentic meal. Although the food has been fantastic at all stops, we hadn't had much of a chance to eat outside our hotels. The Nam Hai arranged for us to have a Vietnamese lunch along the river at a restaurant called Brothers. That was my favorite meal of the trip.
After two days at the Nam Hai it was off to Hue, where we picked up a slightly more standoffish vibe than we had experienced in the rest of the country.
Maybe I was just tired. We have been changing cities virtually daily, trying to pack in as many cities and sights as possible. One of those sights was supposed to be the scenic drive along Hai Van Pass, or the "Pass of Ocean Clouds," from Hoi An to Hue. But the driver hired by the tour company opted for a shortcut without telling us. So we missed the picturesque view of the mountains and beaches below.
Instead we traveled through a 4-mile tunnel, which ended at the bottom of the pass. Oh, well. The drive was too long to make him go back.
We arrived in Hue to yet another piece of French history, La Residence, a charming, 1930s-era, art deco hotel along the Perfume River. Like the Sofitel in Dalat, the hotel is operated by Accor.
We only had the afternoon and evening in Hue, so we headed out on foot over the river to the citadel, which housed a succession of imperial dynasties.
It was there we encountered a much cooler, almost surly, attitude from the people selling tickets. It was something I probably would not have noticed in any other country, but the coolness was so different from our experience at every other stop along the way.
Maybe it's Hue's long history of French colonialism as well as the heavy bombing that destroyed a lot of this city and its many historical treasures.
The next morning we headed back to Hanoi and the luxurious new InterContinental Westlake. We took a one-night cruise in northern Vietnam's Halong Bay, then made the long trip home.
I haven't double-checked my itinerary, but the final stop should be Denver.