“People have been living in Vietnam for 500,000 years. That gives them a certain perspective on recent history – and a connection to the land that runs very deep.”
We like to tell people that Vietnam means “journey.” So many milestones in the country’s rich history seem to revolve around some kind of pilgrimage or exodus – or just a long, strange trip – we feel the mistranslation is forgivable.
The bespoke adventure in Vietnam that we created for a group of New Yorkers was definitely a journey in the grandest sense of the word. After compiling a list of cultural and historic sites reflecting their wonderfully varied interests, the friends sketched out a tentative route – better described as a thread of graceful chaos winding from the bustling South to the more conservative North. Naturally we loved it and set about crafting an itinerary that ventured far outside the humdrum offered by most specialist operators.
In Saigon we started with the basics, like how to cross the street (not so easy), where to find the best bowl of pho (conveniently, on the street) and when to pause for a moment to take in the flow of city life. One evening we arranged a visit to the former U.S. ambassador’s home, an apt setting for our introduction to Vietnamese history and culture – by a remarkable woman who’s found success as both a journalist and an entrepreneur.
We then journeyed north to Da Lat, where we explored the surprisingly alpine landscape and got a taste of Vietnam’s blossoming tea and coffee business. Next we discovered the many sights around Nha Trang, staying in a gem-like boutique hotel. And near historic Hoi An we settled into one of the world’s most luxurious oceanfront properties, enjoying three days of cooking classes with its gracious chef.
To get more completely immersed in the sights, sounds and smells of Vietnamese life, we slowed the pace with a few days of biking and walking deep into the countryside. Through the simplest exchanges of smiles, gestures and the odd word in common, our friends were completely won over by the friendliness of farmers, villagers, schoolchildren and others they met along the way.
The group also loved exploring imperial Hue, the historic streets of Hanoi and majestic Ha Long Bay – but unquestionably the highlight was again heading off the beaten path to the remote villages of the Northwest. From creatively upgraded local accommodations, we set out on foot to visit hill-tribe artists, aged shamans and other friends who offered insights into the life of Vietnam’s ethnic minorities that few outsiders will ever have. It was the perfect end to a journey worthy of the name Vietnam.
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