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Monday, April 20, 2015

Vietnam “Foodie (and Train) Tour” Proposal - for March 2016

Vietnam “Foodie (and Train) Tour” Proposal
© Elisse & Dan Clark 2015
For information and to book, call the Elkhorn Inn & Theatre, Tel: 304-862-2031 or email elisse@elkhorninnwv.com

Note: This is a proposal, and can be altered to suit the group. It was designed as a 28-day tour that shows you a great portion of Vietnam, from Hanoi, down the coast, through the Central Highlands, and then to Saigon & the Mekong Delta, but we can cut it to 2 weeks or less- obviously eliminating many things, however. Once we have 10 people committed to the trip and agreed on the basic itinerary, we will arrange it and provide the final itinerary and final cost. Our estimate, based on current prices, is that the basic land portion of this 28 day trip should be approximately $6000 per couple (rooms being based on double occupancy), but it may be higher- or lower! Only some tours and meals are included; we have added (and will add more) suggestions for dining and additional activities, and money should be allocated for those things. Air fares can fluctuate wildly, and we will negotiate that, as well as the rest of the itinerary, once we have at least 10 people committed to the tour. The intention is to get everyone the best prices possible, and we can do that if we have a group of at least 10 people. (Yes, you can do Vietnam a lot cheaper- if you want to do the backpacking thing, stay in $9/night hostels, and be an old hippie! LOL!) We are looking at doing this trip in March 2016, when the weather is good, and before the rainy season starts and it gets incredibly hot. We do not want to take more than 12 people on this tour. 



We want to keep it small and manageable, intimate, and fun! As this is a proposal, the times listed are subject to change. Depending on plane, train, tour, and bus schedules, it may be necessary to add a day or two. The itinerary was designed to be leisurely, and allow for free time to enjoy the places visited without being rushed, and it is based on things we have personally experienced, both in 2015 and 2008, and the people we know, have worked with, and trust. At this time (April 2015) 4-star hotels are approx. $50/night. The 4-star Indochine Hotel in Kon Tum is $35-$40 night. The fabulous and historic Hotel Majestic in Saigon on the river is currently $104/night. (Marriott hotels and such, in Saigon, are currently $230/night and up; fancy resorts at Hoi An, such as the Nam Hai, can run $800/night and up. Nice, small hotels throughout the country can be as low as $24 a night, and many are even less. We have stayed at a variety of accommodations throughout Vietnam, and chose mostly 4-star hotels for this tour because they usually have an English-speaking concierge and a helpful staff, elevators that work, hotel amenities, a/c, comfortable beds and bedding, often a pool, and good, safe, and central locations, all things which we have found make a trip a lot more enjoyable! Day tours are approx. $60 per person, with some higher, depending on what is included, and we always add a tip. ATMs and free WiFi are available throughout Vietnam, even in remote areas! Food, including street food, coffee, wine, beer, spirits, water, and ice, are all truly excellent! We felt safe- and were safe- all over Vietnam. We were only advised about the possibility of pickpockets, motorbike bag-snatchers, etc. in Saigon, but we had no problems. The people we work with are multilingual, and language is not a problem. At this time the exchange rate is 21,000 VND to the US dollar, meaning that when you change $100 you instantly become a millionaire! Why are we doing this? Because we love Vietnam and would love to share the amazing fun we’ve had there, and because going back with a group of fun, adventurous friends would be a blast! I (Elisse) have been to Vietnam twice for a total of two months, and planned both trips; Dan has been there 10 times, literally for years. He did 3.5 tours in Vietnam in the US Army, and worked in Vietnam in aviation after the war, as well. We had our month-long Honeymoon in Vietnam in 2008, and just returned from our month-long Second Honeymoon there last week!

Day 1: Arrive in Hanoi, go to hotel and relax! (This is an overnight flight from the USA, approx. 15 hours direct from NYC). If you have the energy, explore the city a bit, on foot or cyclo, having a fine meal, and maybe going to a trendy club! When we were last there, Bobby Chinn's was the hot place; we will update you on the trendy clubs right before we go! :-)
Hanoi: 3 nights – 4-star hotel
            Day 2: Tour of the city and market and a Street Food Tour. Evening suggestion: dine at one of Hanoi’s great restaurants and enjoy a hot  music club!
           Day 3: Free to enjoy the city, museums, etc. PM: Traditional Hanoi Puppet Theatre. Dinner with Hanoi Vodka tasting. (Tip for Jews: there is a Chabad House in Hanoi!)
Day 4: Halong Bay Junk Cruise (one night on board). This is a “must-do” if you are going to Hanoi! It is Gorgeous! There is often an opportunity to kayak, and explore the incredible caves that dot the Bay.
Day 5: After return from the cruise, take the train to Hue. Night at hotel.
Hue:    3 nights – 4 star hotel
            Day 6: Tour several of the fabulous Royal Tomb “estates”, for which Hue is famed. Evening Street Food Tour by Cyclo, sampling a variety of Hue specialties around town.
             Day 7: Free to enjoy The Royal City of Hue. You can take a boat down the Perfume River and visit the Citadel, or go to the Pagodas… PM: Royal Cuisine Dinner (with costumes and traditional music if desired), and Emperor Minh Mang’s Royal Liqueur tasting.
Day 8: Train to Hoi An, night at hotel.         
Hoi An: 3 nights - 4 star hotel
             Day 9: Cooking Class with a trip through the incredible veggie and fish market. (The class is at a GREAT restaurant where you can sample and learn about Vietnamese Street Food, and try things that you might be afraid to try on your own. You have the rest of the day to enjoy walking through this UNESCO Heritage Site old city and perusing the museums, having clothes made at the speedy and great tailors Hoi An is famous for (Men: get shirts or a suit made. Women, get a fab dress or a gorgeous silk ao dai! There are also luscious cashmere shawls to be had here for $40...), and sampling fabulous Hoi An street food! Suggested dinner: Vy’s “Morning Glory” Restaurant. Tip: Get Vy's cookbook- she is seriously the "Mario Batali of Hoi An"! And if you buy the Hoi An Chili Sauce- a specialty of this city- in the market, double wrap it in plastic before you pack it- the bottles leak. LOL 
            Day 10: Rice Farming with Water Buffalo excursion, or Fishing/Palm Paradise Excursion (both are excellent, and both include truly great lunches). On the Wet Rice Tour you will ride a water buffalo, and “surf” and plow with a water buffalo, as you learn by doing how rice is planted and harvested, followed by a delish lunch on the rice farm! On the fishing tour you will swing fishing nets with fishermen, bring in the nets with your feet, have fun in a basket fishing boat, and enjoy a cruise though “Palm Paradise” and a seafood lunch on board! Or you can opt to take a tour of Marble Mountain, or of the ancient Cham site.  PM: pick up the clothes you had made in Hoi An, enjoy the old town, and hang out at the cafes and pubs on the river! (Note: as there is a lot to do in this area, we can add a day here to do additional tours, if the group wishes to do that).
Day 11: Train to Nha Trang in a “soft sleeper berth” (4 berth cabin) with a/c. It’s a 12 hour train trip down the beautiful coast, and you can watch the gorgeous and fascinating scenery from the dining car on the train, with food, coffee, and beer- and then have a snooze in your berth! There are Western toilets on the train, too! Yay! :-) Night at hotel in Nha Trang.
Nha Trang: 3 nights – 4 star hotel
            Day 12: Enjoy a Mud/Thermal Bath Spa Day, a Snorkeling excursion, or just relax on the gorgeous beach, sipping great Vietnamese coffee or a drink as you watch the Russian tourists! LOL (There is also the possibility of an evening squid fishing excursion if we have enough people). Evening Tip: At this time, “BBQ and More” is a fun & trendy (and cheap) street-side restaurant in town, that is popular with young people, and serves great small plates of marinated BBQ meats, fish, and veggies, and a green dipping sauce that is Seriously To Die For! And “Fantasy” is THE hot and trendy bar for $12 G&Ts!
            Day 13: Brewery Tour and Beer Sampler at a great brewery on Nha Trang beach, which has a lovely restaurant, and a pool, too! PM: BBQ Dinner at an old and famous local (and very informal) restaurant a bit off the beaten path. Tip: get a bottle of Dalat Wine to have with your selection of deliciously marinated BBQ meats, fish, seafood and/or veggies, which you grill yourself at your table. We had to try Lots of stuff, of course, and everything we ordered was excellent- it’s been a fave of both locals and ‘in the know’ tourists for over 40 years!
Day 14: “Tourist Bus” to Dalat (4 hrs). Night at hotel.
Dalat: 3 nights – Train Café lodging (if available) or 4-star hotel
           Day 15: Train Excursion to the Pagoda from the beautifully restored historic Dalat Train Station, which has a cute café in an old steam train where you can enjoy a coffee prior to the excursion! Afternoon free to enjoy Dalat. Suggestion: Tour the Palace, and let them dress you up as Emperor and Empress and photograph you sitting on the throne! The Dalat Train Station Restaurant in a restored RR car is a delight for lunch or dinner! There are also lovely cafes and restaurants on the lake. Evening tip: live music and drinks in a Dalat music club!
           Day 16: Enjoy Dalat! Take a tour of the city, or to one of the many area waterfall/amusement parks where Vietnamese honeymooners go to enjoy the famously kitschy side of Dalat, or take a horse and carriage ride around the lake, or (if you want some exercise) a “Swan” pedal boat! PM: enjoy dinner at a local restaurant, after which we will have a Dalat Wine & Local Liqueur tasting, and enjoy live music at a local club- the talented and multi-lingual US-born band leader is the man who got the group together to restore the Train Station and the train running again- the only excursion train in Vietnam!
Day 17: Bus or Taxi/Van to Lak Lake, night in a traditional stilted “Long House”.
Lak Lake & Buon Ma Thout: 3 nights (one night at a “Long House” at Lak Lake, and two nights at 4-star hotel in Buon Ma Thout)
            Day 18: Morning Elephant Ride on Lak Lake, (which is totally wonderful), followed by a fascinating and fun walking tour of the area's market and Minority Villages. Drive to Buon Ma Thout, through the home area of the famed elephant tamers of the Highlands, the last of whom died just a few years ago, at over 100 years old. Night at hotel in Buon Ma Thout.
            Day 19: Trung Nguyen Coffee Museum/Café & coffee tastings of the world-renowned Highlands Coffees. Tip: try them all, and don’t forget to try the famous weasel coffee! Night at hotel in Buon Ma Thout. Tip: Buy coffee, and pepper, too- it's a specialty of the area, as well, and Vietnam pepper is THE best! Cinnamon, too! Driving though this area you will see the coffee and rubber plantations that keep the lights on in Vietnam...
Day 20: Bus or Taxi/Van to Kon Tum (5 hours), night at hotel.
Kon Tum: 4 nights – Indochine 4-star hotel for three nights; one night in a traditional raised “Rong House” or Homestay
            Day 21: Central Highlands excursion to Minority Villages, such as a Jarai Village, with stilt-houses, and extraordinary cemetery sculptures. Our guide speaks English, French, and many of the Highlands dialects, making him an AMAZING guide in the Central Highlands, and, since 2008, he has become our very good friend. PM: Gong Music/Jar Wine village excursion by motorbike, with the opportunity to dress in Highlands clothing (vest and loincloth for the guys, top and skirt for the gals), and learn to play the gongs and do the Highland dances, as well as play Highlands Drinking Games over Jar Wine! Night at hotel. (Tip: the Indochine hotel has an FAB view of Kon Tum and the River from the glass walls of their breakfast dining room!)
            Day 22: Visit to Sim Wine factory. A sweet desert wine made from local Highlands fruit, Sim Wine is a unique specialty of this region. Dinner at DakBla Restaurant in Kon Tum, with a tasting of several local Wines and Liqueurs. Night at hotel.
            Day 23: Central Highlands excursion:  A gentle trek (3km) in the Central Highlands, a dugout canoe ride down the DakBla (Black) River, and dinner and a homestay or Rong House accommodation. This is a wonderful day and a great introduction (or re-introduction…) to the Highlands…
            Day 24: Day at leisure in Kon Tum. Walk around, have coffee, go to the DakBla for lunch and shop their amazing collection of Highlands embroidery & the nearby shops for Highlands baskets and wood carvings... Take the 5:30pm Night Bus to Saigon (with reclining seats, a/c, and a fun and yummy communal dinner), arriving in Saigon in the morning. (Or take a taxi to Pleiku, and fly from Pleiku to Saigon, if you wish).
Saigon: 3 nights at the Hotel Majestic (or equivalent) in District 1, Saigon.
            Day 25: After you arrive in Saigon in the morning (approx. 6 am), drop off your luggage at the hotel. You are then free to explore Saigon on foot, cyclo, or motorbike taxi, or take a tour of the city. Don't eat lunch, however, because at 5 PM we will have an Evening Foodie Tour around Saigon by motorbike! The food is AMAZING, their drivers are GREAT, and the all-night neon, markets, and life all over the city will blow your mind! If you only have one night in Saigon and you're an adventurous foodie, this is a MUST!
            Day 26: Day Cruise on the Mekong Delta, with lunch and a Snake Wine tasting. (Snake Wine is not only weird and cool (so sayeth Andrew Zimmern...), it’s yummy- AND a health tonic that Dan utilized with his unit Back In The Day to keep everyone healthy!) This is a wonderful introduction to the beautiful Mekong Delta area, and the incredible floating markets.
           Day 27: Your last day in Vietnam is free, so you can enjoy Saigon at your leisure. Tip: Take a Cooking Class with a market visit, or a "Pho Trail" Street Food & Market Tour in the morning (we can arrange both), and then shop at the Ben Thanh Market or the many fancy stores, visit the excellent zoo or some of the many museums, see the puppet theatre, drink glorious Highlands coffee at one of the many Phuk Long or Trung Nguyen cafes, take a cyclo ride around the city, get a great massage or a “Dr. Fish” pedicure at a great day spa, etc. Suggested evening: We all meet for drinks at the roof-top bar at the Rex Hotel (home of the “Five O’Clock Follies”), watching the color-changing Rex crown spin around and the neon of Saigon, followed by excellent jazz at “Sax & Art” Jazz Club. Drinks will run you about $12 each at these places. (Tip for Jews: there is a Chabad House in Saigon! Tip for Catholics: Notre Dame Cathedral is in the center of Saigon, and has a standing-room-only mass on Sundays! There are also gorgeous Hindu temples, and tons of beautiful pagodas to visit, too! And craaaaaaaaaaaaaazy shopping!!!)
Day 28: Fly home from Saigon, tired but happy, full of wonderful food and drink, and suitcases bursting with lots of really cool stuff! 
For information and to book, call the Elkhorn Inn & Theatre, Tel: 304-862-2031 or email elisse@elkhorninnwv.com

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