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For anyone who’s interested, I’m halfway around the world and doing something I’ve never done before. Who knows if I’ll ever do a repeat performance. It’s too early to tell.
When Toby, my frequent travel partner, and I discussed the idea of making a return visit to Vietnam, we realized one of the negatives of “adventure” travel is packing and unpacking and being subjected to airport security checks ad nauseam. She and I thought it might be time to try something different and called Susan at Imperial American Express Travel Services. If Susan hadn’t done the research, booking plus all of the coordination and answered my 102 emails, we wouldn’t be here.
Our first stop was Hong Kong. We splurged and stayed at the Hong Kong Intercontinental in Kowloon. Our room overlooked Victoria Harbor and had a bird’s eye view of Hong Kong Island where the majority of multinational headquarters are located. The buildings were decorated for the Christmas season and they didn’t hold back on the number of lights they used and how. If you weren’t in the holiday spirit before, you couldn’t help but be after spending a few minutes staring out the window.
If you stay there, bite the bullet and pay the supplement for the Club Intercontinental. It’s a lounge, but if you play your cards right, you never need to eat anywhere else—breakfast, tea and cocktails are served gratis—plus its members are entitled to free Internet in their rooms and the lounge has computers, so you’re not running up business center bills. In addition, the lounge’s personnel made guests feel as if they actually cared because they do. They couldn’t have been more accommodating and it was tempting to just stay there and veg out. In addition, I’d bet we ate and drank more than the cost.
But, I’m not suggesting you don’t go out to eat. There are wonderful noodle houses on Nathan Road, and Michelin just announced that its Hong Kong Macao 2011 guide has awarded four restaurants three stars, twelve restaurants two stars and fifty-three were given one Michelin star. In fact, the Yan Toh Heen in our hotel merits a one star and features healthy cuisine. If you like dim sum, you’ll be in heaven. So much for chop suey, which they don’t make or eat here anyway.
Toby and I relaxed and didn’t do our usual “hit all of the markets and buy it all” because we needed to rest up for our trip. That may sound strange but crossing thirteen time zones between NY and Hong Kong can play havoc with your internal clock.
As I write this, we’re sailing though the Gulf of Tonkin on the Seabourn Pride. This is by no means my first trip to Vietnam nor will it be my last. If I were substantially younger, I might have started Bonjour Hanoi rather than Bonjour Paris.
When we set sail this morning, passengers viewed the most incredible sunrise over Halong Bay. To be sure, cameras were clicking away recording the moment.
There are so many things about this country that touch my soul. Skip the war that (in my opinion) should have never been fought. There’s gentleness about the people, the gorgeous countryside, the growth pains from being an emerging country and its heritage, which includes Vietnamese traditional characteristics that were influenced by the Chinese and the Japanese.
So much of this is derived from Buddhism, Hinduism and Confucianism which are expressed in the country’s art, architecture and its not-to-be-missed temples and ruins. It’s amazing to think that archeologists just unearthed temple artifacts that date back to 1200 B.C.
I would be remiss if I failed to mention the French influence on so much of the country’s architecture. Merci, M. Charles Garnier, architect of the Paris Opera House, for building some breathtaking buildings that are now being restored after years of neglect. The more you learn about the history of this country, the more meaningful seeing the Vietnam of today becomes.
One of the reasons we selected this cruise was because of its guest lecturer Denise Heywood, who makes the region come alive and is passionate about this area of the world. There are tours and there’s no dearth of guides in the area (tourism has become big business), but listening to a historian who’s willing to field questions is en enormous plus.
Even though this is my sixth trip to Vietnam, there’s no way visitors can do much more than scratch the surface.
About the boat (I’m told one doesn’t refer to it as a ship), there are 204 passengers and 175 staff members. The service is impeccable and the meals are worthy of a Parisian Michelin chef. The challenge is not to eat everything—which is hard not to do. I’m trying and taking the stairs up and down at a full gallop hoping I’ll burn off some calories. Yes, I’ll use the gym and will take Pilates classes rather than learning how to play bridge.
This is the third day of the trip and the beginning of a fabulous adventure that you’ll hear about if you want to.
Do I have a complaint? Well, yes. The Wi-Fi connection leaves much to be desired and isn’t always working. Some people have placed bets as to whether or not I can break the Internet habit. I just hope my Blackberry will pick up the satellite signals. And if it doesn’t, thank goodness there are many people who can fill in for me in making sure Bonjour Paris is regularly updated.
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Readers are constantly asking me for authentic and out of the ordinary experiences when they come to Paris. Experience Paris – our newest travel partner – can arrange unique experiences in Paris and throughout France. When you contact Larry, please say, “Karen sent you” and use the code BJ001.
And — when feeling decadent, I order:
- zChocolat: “World’s Finest Chocolates by World-Champion Chocolatiers.” zChocolat’s selection is handmade by world-champion French chocolatiers following a 400-year-old tradition of passion and zealous adherence to purity. A single bite is an instant of pure seduction and sensory bliss one has never experienced before.