For Travelers To Vietnam
Hiring Private Guides
The following are the names of guides we hired and who we highly recommend. All speak excellent English, are very well educated in the history and culture of their country, and are wonderful people with whom to spend time. It's easy to contact them by email before you go to Vietnam, and arrange meeting places.
In Sapa, we hired Pham The Thanh, who hiked with us for a couple of days through the mountain villages-where the government requires a guide-and who arranged for us to join a small group in a van and take it up to the Flower Hmong weekly market-a treasure of an experience. Reach via email (firstname.lastname@example.org) or cell (09 153 518 85). He can arrange to pick you up at the train station, or you can just negotiate your own cab to Sapa, or join a van, which you can arrange when you get off the train. Pham was knowledgeable, funny, reliable, and wonderful company.
In Hanoi, through Pacific Experience, we hired Le Thanh Long, who told us he's done many tours with American Vietnam War veterans, and enjoys the relationships he's built with them. Long has a master's degree in business, and is well versed in American and Vietnamese politics and history. We thoroughly enjoyed our time and conversations with him. Reach via email (email@example.com). To book him, contact Pacific Experience.
In Cambodia, we hired Seng Keo, who arranged a private car for us to head out to the temples. Keo was a tireless guide, filled with passion for the amazing temples and their history, and had a deep understanding of the political situation in modern Cambodia. Email firstname.lastname@example.org; phone 855 12 630 813.
Sailing In Vietnam
For chartering sailboats, Sunsail is the only company that has secured the right to be in Vietnam, and it has a great operation in Nha Trang. The boats are new and in excellent condition; by the 2008 season, the plan is to add a Leopard 40 catamaran to the fleet. The Sunsail team in Nha Trang is experienced and knowledgeable. Morgan Hayes, the base manager, invites anyone interested in chartering in Vietnam to contact him personally so that he can steer you to the best arrangements and help you plan your itinerary. He is an invaluable source of information, and we highly recommend that you contact him during your planning phase. Email email@example.com; cell phone +84 (0) 98 630 3984. Also consult the website for general Sunsail booking information about chartering in Vietnam (www.sunsail.com/yachts/destinations/south_east_asia/vietnam).
Once you are booked with Sunsail, call or email Morgan a couple of days before your charter begins, just to touch base, and to let him know what time of day to expect you-especially if you intend to do your provisioning and set sail on the first afternoon of your charter. He always carries his cell and is easy to contact.
We arranged our two days on a junk boat in Halong Bay through Pacific Experience. The boat, Halong Dream, was an elegant beauty, and there were only four of us aboard. Normally, the boat would have accommodated 20 people, but we were fortunate it was low season, and not busy. We had it all to ourselves and were thrilled with the voyage. It's also easy to arrange this excursion while you're in Hanoi. You'll see signs everywhere at hotel tourist desks offering Halong Bay cruises; just be sure to see pictures of the boat and the accommodations before signing up.
For cruising sailors hoping to bring their own boats to Vietnam, presently the government only allows cruising in the 60 miles around Nha Trang. An agent is required to process your paperwork; we recommend Alan Goodman (firstname.lastname@example.org), who lives in Nha Trang, and can smooth the process for you. More on entering Vietnam on a cruising boat is described in Jack Van Ommen's exclusive Cruising World web feature, Vietnam Revisited.
References on Vietnam
Andaman Sea Pilot (2007/2008 edition)-This new and impressive guidebook covers the Gulf of Thailand, Vietnam, the Malacca Straits, and Darwin to Singapore. It was written by experts from each of these regions, including Morgan Hayes, Sunsail's Vietnam base manager, who has spent several years sailing throughout Asia. The book includes charts, GPS positions, anchorage information, and a region-by-region cruising guide. (www.andamanseapilot.com)
A Good Scent from a Strange Mountain-novel by Robert Olen Butler
The Sorrow of War-memoir by Bao Ninh
The Quiet American-novel by Graham Greene
Indochine-film starring Catharine Deneuve, a love story set at the end of French colonialism in Vietnam
Platoon, Born On the Fourth of July, and Heaven and Earth-an Oliver Stone trilogy
Books recommended by historian, teacher, retired Army colonel, and Vietnam War veteran Al Jacobs:
Ripcord: Screaming Eagles Under Siege-Keith Nolan
Word of Honor-Nelson Demille
Fields Of Fire-James Webb
A Country Like This-James Webb
On Strategy, A Critical Analysis Of The Vietnam War-Harry Summers
The Thirteenth Valley-John Delvecchio
Bernadette Bernon is a CW editor at large and freelance writer living in Portsmouth, R.I. See her feature on sailing in Vietnam in CW's January 2008 issue.