Tag Archives: ho chi minh city

Part # 17: Panorama Vietnam

Vietnam #1: It’s a Long Ass Flight to Vietnam
Vietnam #2: The Best Hotel in Ho Chi Minh City
Vietnam #3: A Lesson in History and Propaganda
Vietnam #4: The Streets of HCMC
Vietnam #5: Is the Mekong Delta Worth It?
Vietnam #6: My First Overseas Doctor Visit
Vietnam #7: Welcome to Central Vietnam
Vietnam #8: Two-Wheeling in Vietnam
Vietnam #9: Don’t Skip Hoi An
Vietnam #10: A Hot Day in Hue
Vietnam #11: Exploring Hanoi
Vietnam #12: Hanoi Hilton
Vietnam #13: The Best View in Hanoi
Vietnam #14: Sheraton Hanoi Hotel
Vietnam #15: Need a Reason to Go to Vietnam: Here it Is.
Vietnam #16: How to Pick a Ha Long Bay Cruise

While I love taking and posting my own pictures, I don’t have a panorama option on my DSLR. Thankfully, Lisa’s camera does, and she loves taking panoramic shots. She does a great job, and it’s a neat way to get a feel for this fascinating country.

Thanks Lisa!


A row of motorbikes in Ho Chi Minh City


A row of shops in central Ho Chi Minh City


The beach at our Hyatt hotel in Danang


Fishing boats in the Hoi An countryside


Lang Co Bay en route to Hue


A street corner in Hanoi


Sitting on a tree in Hanoi overlooking Hoan Kiem Lake


The stunning and incomparable Ha Long Bay


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Vietnam #6: My First Overseas Doctor Visit

Vietnam #1: It’s a Long Ass Flight to Vietnam
Vietnam #2: The Best Hotel in Ho Chi Minh City
Vietnam #3: A Lesson in History and Propaganda
Vietnam #4: The Streets of HCMC
Vietnam #5: Is the Mekong Delta Worth It?

The ominous title of this blog post notwithstanding, my first overseas trip to the doctor turned out to be a productive and even enjoyable experience.

One day into our Vietnam trip, I experienced severe blockage in my ears to the point where I could barely hear Lisa. Lisa argued this was to my benefit because I couldn’t hear the overwhelming HCMC traffic, but I was inclined to disagree.

A day later, a not-so-lovely rash broke out on my legs, and proceeded to spread to my arms, my neck, and the rest of my body. After an unsuccessful trip to the local pharmacy, I asked the hotel concierge how to find an English-speaking doctor. Concierge referred me to the Family Medical Practice – barely a five minute walk from our hotel.

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A beautiful picture of my hive infested leg. Awesome.


Apparently, my arms were feeling left out.

I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I was pleasantly surprised. As we sat in the waiting room, it became clear that the Family Medical Practice is geared toward expats with a steady stream of English-speaking and other foreign doctors, though we saw several locals there as well. My doctor turned out to be an American Israeli woman who was extremely kind and helpful.

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According to its website, Family Medical Practice is “the first foreign-operated, multi-disciplinary medical provider in Vietnam, opened in Hanoi in 1994 and owns and operates five modern clinics based in Hanoi, Danang and HCMC. FMP is the only Private Medical Provider in Vietnam with such national coverage.”

I am lucky that my ailments were not dangerous or life threatening in the slightest – just a nuisance. But even this nuisance turned out to be an eye-opening (and mildly comical) experience.

Travel has taught me many things about the world and myself – and one of those lessons is that human beings are adaptable. Sure, I missed my doctor and the local CVS where I don’t have to engage in a game of charades to find the medication I’m looking for. But even half-way across the globe, I was able to get the treatment I needed. I am also awed by the doctors who leave the comfort of their home countries to work in hospitals and clinics across Vietnam.

The moral of this story is that shit happens – especially when you’re on vacation 8,900 miles from home. And more often than not, there is a solution if you’re willing to ask a bunch of questions, roll with the punches, and laugh a little.

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Is the Mekong Delta Worth It?

Vietnam #1: It’s a Long Ass Flight to Vietnam
Vietnam #2: The Best Hotel in Ho Chi Minh City
Vietnam #3: A Lesson in History and Propaganda
Vietnam #4: The Streets of HCMC

Is a day trip to the Mekong Delta from Ho Chi Minh City worth it? The short answer: Probably not.

The standard day tour takes you two hours south of HCMC, shuffles you around to a bunch of tourist traps, and then, takes you another two hours back to the city. We booked our private tour through the Intercontinental Hotel, and the itinerary mirrors pretty much every other tour company out there. From what I read, a day trip is simply not enough time to get to the most interesting and off-the-beaten-track parts of the Mekong Delta.

That said, we didn’t have a bad time. In fact, we had a good time. We laughed at the silly tourist gimmicks, took funny pictures (at least we found them funny), played with the local children, and got to see a sliver of the Mekong Delta’s famous waterways.

After a pleasant two drive in an air-conditioned van, we rode a boat to a small local establishment that produces its own honey, tea, and other food items. They offered us samples and tried to convince us to buy. That is the model for nearly every stop along the tour.

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I’m not sure why we thought this was a good idea. We both freaked out completely.

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The bees, the bees, there comes the bees! (Bonus points if anyone gets that archaic reference.)

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Afterwards, an old-fashioned coach picked us up (remember what I said about it being touristy?) and transported us down the road to another small establishment, where we sampled local fruit and listened to a musical performance.

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Neither the fruit nor the music were memorable enough to report back. My favorite part was playing with the local children. They loved posing for photographs, and I loved taking them.

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The little girl gave me the flower I’m holding in the picture below. According to our tour guide, the flower symbolizes her love for me. Guess what guys? I’M LOVABLE.

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Some weird-looking local fruit.

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I could have played with the kids forever, but it was time for the official highlight of the Mekong Delta tour – a short boat ride down the Delta’s narrow waterways. Mekong Delta means “nine dragon river” in Vietnamese, a reference to the southern Vietnamese region where the Mekong River empties into the sea through many small streams.

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I could not get over how strong these women are. They row boatfuls of people all day without so much as a whimper. They make my meager five pushups a day look even more meager.

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So is a day trip to the Mekong Delta worth it?

Yes, we enjoyed ourselves, but I did not feel like the tour was worth the $100 hefty price tag. You can decrease that price significantly by joining a group tour, but you’ll be getting the same touristy show with less comfort. If you have time to spare in Ho Chi Minh City, it’s not a bad way to burn the hours. But I would happily have exchanged our day in the Mekong Delta for other towns in Vietnam that I fell madly in love with. Plus, there was the small matter of the hives that broke out all over my body that night… but that is a story for another day.

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Vietnam #4: The Streets of HCMC

Vietnam #1: It’s a Long Ass Flight to Vietnam
Vietnam #2: The Best Hotel in Ho Chi Minh City
Vietnam #3: A Lesson in History and Propaganda

Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC) is a fascinating city. It is a hodge podge of new and old, decrepit and shiny. It is fast-paced and buzzing with the sound of motorbikes going every which way. I have never seen traffic like in HCMC. Traffic rules? Nope. There doesn’t appear to be any, except honk your horn and do what you want. Wait, is that a red light? None of the drivers seem to notice – or care. Crossing the street is like navigating a minefield – keep your eyes wide open and pray.

Before we settled on Vietnam, I read a bunch of negative reviews of the country from unfriendly locals  to annoying scams to overly aggressive vendors. I was so rattled by these reviews, we almost changed our plans. I’m glad we didn’t.

I enjoyed HCMC with its raw energy, cheap prices, and more than its fair share of history. Did some people try to scam us? Sure. But even when we fell for it, the prices were so cheap, it was still way cheaper than anything we would pay in the U.S. or Europe!

Yes, the vendors were aggressive, but no different from their counterparts in similarly poor countries in South East Asia and South America. If anything, the vendors (at least in South Vietnam) were pleasantly aggressive – always telling me how beautiful I was before making their hard sell. And we found most locals perfectly friendly and helpful.

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The insanity that is HCMC traffic. When the streets get too crowded, the motorbikes simply take to the sidewalks!

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Fascinating tidbit: The Vietnamese wear masks because they don’t want to get tanned. They view pale skin as a sign of beauty. I guess I have that going for me.

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Lisa made a friend. Turns out it cost us 150,000 VND when our new friend insisted we buy an extremely overpriced coconut.

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Apparently, sidewalks are not meant for people to walk on. They are meant for parking motorbikes. Silly me!

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No matter the age, two wheels are the preferred mode of transportation in Vietnam.

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A man sitting outside the War Remnants Museum

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A beautiful flower outside the War Remnants Museum

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Vietnam is covered in these amazing trees with roots that seem to go on forever. This one was on the grounds of the Reunification Palace.

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This is a standard scene in HCMC – vendors sitting on plastic stools cooking, selling, hawking, etc.

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Lunch break. Many shops and museums are closed during lunch hours while everyone goes on break.

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Nap time! I could get used to this life.

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The towering Vincom Center houses a massive shopping center filled with American brands, a supermarket, and a food court.

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The Vietnamese carry everything on their bikes – including these fishing nets.

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A family that rides together, stays together. It is completely normal to see two or three – sometimes even four – people on one motorbike, including brand new babies.

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Four people, one bike!

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HCMC’s opera house (called the Municipal Theatre of HCMC) was built in 1897 by a French architect. It is a classic example of French colonial influence on Saigon.

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Saigon’s Central Post Office was also a product of French colonialism, built between 1886-1891. Today, it is a major tourist attraction.

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Ho Chi Minh City Council caps off one end of Nguyen Hue – a wide, charming boulevard that stretches all the way to the Saigon River.

Fire drills are a fascinating HCMC phenomenon. Sure, we’ve all participated in the occasional fire drill. But in HCMC, they take their fire drills very seriously. They actually combat simulated fires, complete with hoses, water, and all the works. As we were walking down charming Nguyen Hue, we stumbled upon this very real looking fire – except there was no fire. It was just a drill.

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We made our way to the Bitexco Financial Tower, HCMC’s soaring, lotus-shaped skyscraper. At 861 feet, it is the tallest building in HCMC and third tallest in Vietnam. The observation decks offers 360 degree views of HCMC.

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Afterwards, we walked along the Saigon river.

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Our final HCMC stop was the Ben Thanh Market, a sweltering, crowded away of stalls selling everything and anything you can possible want or not want. The covered stalls allow for little circulation, and I felt like fainting after walking around in HCMC’s 90-plus degree weather all day. But if you can handle the heat – and the smells – it is an interesting place for people watching and cheap (worthless?) souvenirs.

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Vietnam #3: A Lesson in History and Propaganda

Vietnam #1: It’s a Long Ass Flight to Vietnam
Vietnam #2: The Best Hotel in Ho Chi Minh City

We spent our first day in Ho Chi Minh City steeped in propaganda. I don’t mean that in a pejorative way – this is how the Vietnamese refer to their museums and historical displays. They are extremely proud of their propaganda efforts, which strikes me as both ingenius and hysterical. Can you imagine if American politicos (like myself) referred to political campaign ads as propaganda?

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We started at the War Remnants Museum – a museum dedicated to showcasing American atrocities in Vietnam through photographs, weaponry, and other displays.

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The first floor is dedicated to American and worldwide opposition to the war. The walls are filled with pictures of anti-war protests and solidarity posters from around the globe.
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The second floor showcases photographs taken by photographers – many American – that were killed in Vietnam.

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Not exactly subtle…

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The AP’s Henry Huet took this photo of a soldier with the U.S. 9th Infantry Division submerged in water as he crosses a stream in the Mekong Delta. Huet was killed in 1971 when his helicopter was shot down by the North Vietnamese, killing all aboard.

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This photo by Robert J. Ellison appeared on the front page of Newsweek on March 18, 1968, a few weeks after Ellison was killed in Vietnam.

The remainder of the displays on the second and third floors detail the war’s civilian casualties. These photos are gruesome, and I had to look away on more than one occasion. There were many pictures of victims of agent orange – the chemical defoliants used by the U.S. military in an aerial defoliation program called Operation Ranch Hand. The goal was to destroy the rural countryside used by the Viet Cong as a base for their guerrilla warfare. The pictures showed children born with serious deformities, civilians suffering from cancer and other fatal ailments, and stillborn babies preserved in jars.

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This famous photograph shows Vietnamese children running for help down Route 1 after suffering from an aerial napalm attack. The AP’s Nick Ut received the Pulitzer prize for this photograph in 1973.

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After the War Remnants Museum, we headed to the Reunification Palace, or the Independence Palace as it is called now. The palace housed the president of South Vietnam during the war until April 30, 1975 when North Vietnamese tanks rolled through the front lawn in the infamous Fall of Saigon.

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A replica of the North Vietnamese tanks that ended the war:

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State banquet hall

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Cabinet room

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The view from an open window in the palace

As someone who works in politics and loves history, I enjoyed the museums – though “enjoyed” feels like the wrong word. I came prepared for a one-sided display of the Vietnam War, or as it is called here, the U.S. Aggressive War in Vietnam. Nothing I saw changed my views on this tumultuous period in American history, but it is fascinating to see history through the eyes of the other. There is no question about it: War is brutal and complicated – even the wars we deem necessary. Civilians die, and atrocities are committed. And hindsight raises a lot of tough questions.

People have very strong feelings about the Vietnam War and the era in general. I have no intention of getting into a political discussion here, only to highlight the value of looking at history from many angles. To me, the 1960s is a fascinating period, filled with tragedy, change (good and bad), and upheaval. Seeing a piece of this era up close in a country I read about in text books and never imagined I would actually visit is a gift. It is the reason why I travel.

Even more amazing is to see the juxtaposition between these historical photographs and the modern, bustling Vietnam of 2015. As we walked around Ho Chi Minh City, I saw almost no signs of the country’s wartorn history – save the government propaganda displays. In reality, HCMC is expanding and bursting with energy. The museum reminded us that there are still civilians suffering from the residue of war. But the vast majority of Vietnam has its eyes set firmly on the future – not the past.


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Vietnam #2: The Best Hotel in Ho Chi Minh City

Vietnam #1: It’s a Long Ass Flight to Vietnam

I am in love with the InterContinental Asiana in HCMC. Like head-over-heels, I-want-to-marry-this-hotel in love. Has anyone ever said that about an InterContinental hotel before? I don’t know, but I will explain.

The InterContinental Asiana has two buildings. The first is your standard InterContinental hotel. The second is the InterContinental Asiana Residences – which are apartment style hotel rooms. You get all the benefits of staying in a hotel, but you also get an apartment. Why anyone would book the regular hotel over the residences boggles the mind (the prices were the same when we booked).

Our apartment is 700 square feet – huge by hotel standards, and even large by New York City apartment standards. That includes a large bedroom, a lovely bathroom, a living room, a dining room, a small kitchen area, a terrace, and a washing machine. Yes, a WASHING MACHINE. In HCMC’s sweltering, unrelenting humidity, the washing machine has changed my life.

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Living room, dining room, and kitchen

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Living room

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Dining room and living room

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Bedroom (before we figured out how to turn on the lights)

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The view from our terrace

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The view from our terrace – you can catch a glimpse of Notre Dame Cathedral in the bottom left hand corner

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The restaurant located in the lobby of the residences

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The front desk

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The lobby

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The outdoor swimming pool

The hotel is centrally located on the border between District 1 and District 3 – the two main tourist areas. We are a 10-15 minute walk to the Reunification Palace and the War Remnants Museum in one direction and a 10-15 minute walk to the Saigon River in the other direction. We are a stone’s throw away from at least two malls, and our building houses a small grocery store on the ground floor, which has proved abundantly useful.

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Vietnam #1: It’s a Long Ass Flight To Vietnam

Well, we made it to Vietnam. And it only took us 22-plus hours! In case you didn’t already know, it’s a long ass flight from New York to Vietnam. There are no direct flights. We flew from New York City to Seoul (14 hours) and from Seoul to Ho Chi Minh City (5.5 hours). Throw in a two-hour stopover, and that’s over 20 hours in transit.

Not that I’m complaining. I started out in the Korean Air Lounge in JFK. It’s nothing to write home about, but the seats were comfortable and the wifi worked well as I attempted to get some last-minute work done.

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Korean Air was a nice surprise – though it helped that no one was sitting next to me. The seats were spacious, with plenty of storage space and a large selection of movies. Seriously, I watched five movies throughout the trip.

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They even had USB ports!

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Fourteen hours later, I landed at Incheon Airport in Seoul.

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Once I went through security, I made my way to the Sky Hub lounge which I accessed with my Priority Pass membership (thanks Citi Prestige!). The lounge was great: Plenty of chairs, food, drinks, and great wifi. The only thing it needs is more outlets.

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Yes – that is a frozen yogurt machine!

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My flight from Seoul to Ho Chi Minh City was, unfortunately, in economy. But I survived. Five and half hours later, Lisa and I landed in Vietnam and stepped out into HCMC’s stifling humidity.

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12 Nights of Vietnam Hotels for $92.50

I hope you’re not tired of listening to me gush about the  power of miles and points. WARNING: There is more gushing to come. We leave for Vietnam in one week (!!!!!), and we’ve been busy planning.

The short story is we booked 12 nights at pretty nice hotels for $92.50 a person. Here’s the breakdown:

Ho Chi Minh City: Five nights at Intercontinental Asiana Residences for 95,000 IHG points, one free night, and $40.

Da Nang: Three nights at the Hyatt Regency for 18,000 Hyatt points, one free night, and $75.

Hue: One night at the Eldora Hotel for $70.

Hanoi: Three nights at the Sheraton Hanoi for 10,000 SPG points.

The long story is, well, much longer.

As soon as Lisa and I booked our flights to Vietnam, I made a map and chart of all the possible hotel options. I did an audit of my hotel points and asked Lisa to do the same. I had spent many of my points in Scotland, so I need to figure out which points I needed to restock.

We started with Lisa. I had convinced her to get the IHG credit card for a bonus of 70,000 points. A couple of months later, Lisa was sitting on 75,000 IHG points. That was enough for three nights at the Intercontinental Asiana Saigon Residences in Ho Chi Minh City at 25,000 points a night. Ho Chi Minh has a number of nice hotels – from Hyatt, to SPG, to IHG, to Marriott – but the Asiana Residences offered apartment sized rooms with an actual living room and kitchen. That was a no-brainer. I just had to cobble together points for two additional nights. Luckily, the anniversary on my own IHG credit card reset on October 1, granting me another free annual night. Four nights down, one to go. Thanks to IHG’s 10 percent rebate on redemptions and my Chase points, I managed to accrue 20,000 points. That plus $40 gave us our fifth night.

Next up is the coastal city of Da Nang. This was a simple process of elimination. Da Nang has two points hotels: The swanky Intercontinental and the Hyatt Regency. We were fresh out of IHG points so I needed to cobble together three nights’ worth of Hyatt points. My Hyatt credit card give me a free annual night at a category 1 – 4 hotel. That’s one night. I transferred 12,000 Chase ultimate reward points and booked our second night. For our third night, I used 6,000 Hyatt points and $75. Three nights – done.

Our next stay is in the ancient city of Hue. There are no points hotels, but plenty of great, affordable options. You can book a motel for as low as $15, but we splurged on the four-star Eldora Hotel for $70.

Our last hotel stay is in Hanoi. We decided to stay in the ultra-bargain Sheraton (where my SPG credit card will get us access to the lounge!) for 3,000 – 3,500 points a night.

And that’s how we booked 12 nights of hotels for $185. Split between two people, that’s only $92.50 a person!


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