We started in Hanoi and made our way south in about 16 days. Here are the highlights.
Hanoi: My favorite Hanoi experience was attending a concert of Ca Tru, a historic genre of religious music that is all but forgotten now. A group of young musicians is trying to revive it. The venue was a beautiful 19th-century house, one of many in Hanoi’s old quarter.
Hue: This city was the empire of the Nguyen dynasty in the 19th and early 20th century. It’s full of palace ruins and royal tombs. The most memorable one was the tomb of the emperor Ming Mahn. It’s set in a beautiful garden and includes many sculptures and temples. All royal tombs are built similarly, but this one is the most interesting.
Hoi An: The town is a UNESCO World Heritage site, so many colonial-era houses have been restored. Like in Luang Prabang, they mostly house restaurants and shops, but at least they are owned and operated by the Vietnamese.
The highlight was visiting the house of Mr. Duong, a retired math teacher. The house has been in his family for six generations. We stayed for a long time and talked about the elections in Russia, the future of Vietnam and American foreign policy.
Ho Chi Minh City:The War Remnants Museum here was showing the Requiem photo exhibition. It features works by news photographers from all over the world who died documenting the wars in Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos. The museum is really good but seems to be focused exclusively on how America wronged Vietnam.
We also watched a religious service at the colorful Cao Dai temple outside Saigon. Cao Daism includes elements of Christianity, Buddhism, Hinduism and other faith traditions. The religion, which has about three million followers, was founded in Vietnam in the early 20th century. The Cao Daists want to tell the world about their faith, so they let tourists sit in on services. The writer Victor Hugo is one of the Cao Dai saints.
Mekong Delta: We stopped here, in the very south of Vietnam, to see the countryside and the floating markets on the Mekong River. The trip was amazing.
Traders arrive from their villages by boat each morning to buy and sell produce. All trade is conducted on boats floating in the Mekong River. Whatever fruit or vegetable people have for sale is tied to a post on the boat. We had to leave our hostel at 5:30 a.m. to see the market at its busiest. By 8 a.m. most merchants are returning to the local markets in their villages.
Cai Rang floating market, the biggest in the Mekong Delta region of Vietnam.
I may never be able to take a months-long trip again, but that doesn’t mean I won’t return to Asia. Here are five of my favorite destinations that would be great for a short trip:
Chiang Mai, Thailand: Enjoy the famous northern Thai cuisine and hospitality, visit beautiful Buddhist temples and go trekking in the lush forests.
Rajastan, India: Visit magnificent forts and palaces, stay at a Haveli (a historic mansion converted into a hotel), learn about life in the desert.
Georgetown, Pulau Penang, Malaysia: See colonial architecture, explore Strait Chinese heritage and try some of the best food in Malaysia.
Hoi An, Vietnam: Stroll through the streets lined with well-preserved colonial buildings, try the delectable Vietnamese cuisine at one of the riverside cafes and visit the ruins of an ancient Cham civilization.
Siem Riep, Cambodia: Discover Angkor Wat and other temples of the Khmer Empire, see a traditional dance performance, swap stories with fellow travelers at one of the funky bars.