Vietnam Adventures

As Vietnam's popularity grows, new tours showcase the nation's city and rural attractions

By: David Peterkofsky

It’s too early to tell whether the October terrorist attacks in Southeast Asia will have a ripple effect on tourism throughout the region, but losses for places such as Bali could translate into additional gains for tour companies offering packages to Vietnam, a destination that has fared well lately.

Before the attacks in Indonesia and the Philippines, Vietnam saw international arrivals from January to September rise 11% compared with 2001, according to Vietnam’s National Administration of Tourism. U.S. arrivals increased 8.8% to nearly 205,000 during that time frame.

Among the tour operators presumably banking on Vietnam’s continued popularity are the following companies, each of which recently launched new Vietnam products for the coming months:

Backroads, a Berkeley, Calif. tour operator, combines Vietnam and Cambodia’s Angkor Wat temple complex on a walking tour called Vietnam and Angkor Wat: Natural and Cultural Wonders of Indochina.

The 11-day tour starts in Hanoi, where highlights include a rickshaw tour of the city’s Old Quarter. Other activities include a tour of the World Heritage site of Halong Bay, sailing on a Vietnamese junk among the limestone peaks that rise from the water, as well as walks through small villages and in rural Vietnam. After overnights in Hue and Da Nang, travelers fly to Cambodia to tour the ancient complex at Angkor Wat.

Accommodations range from historic landmark properties to beach resorts, and they include the Hotel Sofitel Metropol in Hanoi and the legendary Grand Hotel d’Angkor at Siem Reap, Cambodia.

Departures are slated for September through November 2003 and for March and April 2004. The tour is priced from $4,498 per person, double, land only.

Call 800-462-2848. Web site: www.back

Through March 31, 2003, New York-based luxury operator Absolute Asia offers a tour called Escape to Vietnam priced from $1,710 per person, double (not including international air).

The seven-night plan departs daily and starts in Ho Chi Minh City, with excursions to the Cu Chi Tunnels (an underground maze where thousands of fighters and villagers hid during the Vietnam War) and Cao Dai Temple.

Travelers then head to the historic village of Hoi An, an ancient trading port, for a two-night stay. The next stop is Hanoi, with ample free time to explore the city’s art galleries, restaurants and shops. The trip concludes with a daylong cruise on Halong Bay.

Travelers stay at the Caravelle Hotel in Ho Chi Minh City; the Victoria Hoi An (in a seaview room); and the Sofitel Metropole in Hanoi.

The price includes regional flights, many meals and airport transfers.

Call 800-736-8187. Web site: www.absolute

For those interested in seeing some of the off-the-beaten-path attractions of Vietnam, Asian Pacific Adventures of Northridge, Calif., has introduced a 14-day tour called Vanishing Tribes of Northern Vietnam, showcasing a region where the rugged landscape has helped sustain pockets of various ethnic minorities.

The tour starts in Hanoi and includes visits to that city’s Museum of Ethnology and the Tay and Thay pagodas. Travelers are driven through the countryside, past tea plantations and through the mountains to Mai Chau Valley, home to the White Tai tribe.

From there, travelers visit H’mong and Thai ethnic villages before stopping at Dien Bien Phu, site of the battle that led to the end of French rule in the region.

Tour participants travel to a series of relatively untouched villages that are home to the Red Dzao, Nung, Zay, Black Thai and other H’mong tribes, which Asian Pacific describes as being far less commercialized than the more famous hill tribes found in Thailand. Travelers also visit Sapa, a former colonial hill station set in the Tonkinese Alps. From Sapa, participants hike to villages and markets rarely frequented by outsiders.

The trip concludes in Hanoi, with optional add-ons to Halong Bay and Angkor Wat available.

A departure is set for Dec. 27 to Jan. 8, 2003, as well as for April 25 to May 8, 2003, and Oct. 24 to Nov. 6, 2003. Prices, excluding international air, start at $1,960 per person, double (based on six participants); single supplement is $290. International roundtrip air from Los Angeles costs about $1,300.

Call 800-825-1680. Web site: www.asian