Hoi An 2 Ha Noi, SE Asia2
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For my second Lunar New Year trip to SE Asia I wanted to start where I left-off the year before. Or somewhere in the vicinity. As I ended my previous year's excursion in and near Ho Chi Minh City, I wanted to see the other parts of Vietnam. Again I only had 10 days for this trip, so no time for Nha Trang, Dalat or Sapa. However, a few days in the central coast towns of Hoi An and Hue, fly back Hanoi and take in Halong Bay, was very do-able at a comfortable pace. Tet is a bit of a unique time for travel in Vietnam. You'll get to take in local festivities, enjoy free entry to fabulous Buddhist shrines, and see markets and homes adorned with colorful flowers. But the price to pay is many businesses including restaraunts, shops, tailors and museums will be closed. As I'm not that into haute cuisine or shopping, and prefer outdoors to exhibits, traveling during Tet suits me well. If you are planning a Tet holiday I would advise that you do indeed plan. Just winging it could very well leave you wishing you could flap your arms and fly. In fact the reason I didn't get much beyond Ho Chi Minh City the first year was due to my failure to make transportation reservations in advance.
Hoi An and Hue were both great. Hoi An is a tourist town, but a tourist town that hasn't sold its soul, (like Lijiang or Yangshou). Hue's Imperial residences (in and out of town) are definitely worth seeing. Yes the Purple Palace suffered war damage, and the effort to restore it might seem half-hearted. But this is colonial ambitions, pompous monarchies, revolutions, foreign conquests and defeats you can touch. In fact you can still see the scars of these conflicts, both literally and on the social psyche, there. I also highly recommend the train trip from Danang to Hue. Fabulous coastal scenery will float by the window on this twentieth-century-paced train trip (get a seat on the right hand side) of 3 to 4 hours.
Last but not least, if you do a Halong Bay cruise, remember you get what you pay for. I (and I think everybody aboard the boat) was quite happy with the $200US two day, one night cruise I signed up for with Calypso Cruise. It was on the luxurious side, but it was also quite safe. And because it was a bit expensive there were no binge-drinking, obnoxious passengers. The staff at Hanoi Gecko sold this cruise to me by convincing me Hanoi would be completely dead during Tet. If you happen to stay at The Gecko, listen to their advise. You'll be happy you did.