Budget Travel editors usually coach readers through their travels, but for the anniversary issue, the tables were turned. Editors posted questions on our blog, and readers weighed in on where to go, eat, sleep, and shop.
Dear BT Readers...
I've heard there's great shopping in Vietnam, including custom-made dresses, leather jackets, and boots. Any boutique recommendations in Ho Chi Minh City, Hoi An, and Hanoi? Laura MacNeil, Associate Editor
In Ho Chi Minh City, don't miss the Ben Thanh Market or the Mini Tax Market, in the center of the city near the Rex Hotel. You'll find unbelievable bargains on watches, backpacks, wallets, and clothing. I got a custom men's suit made from Super 150s wool for less than $200. If you want a unique hand-painted dress or the traditional Vietnamese tunic (ao dai), go to Si Hoang (36-38 Ly Tu Trong St.). It's expensive, but worth every penny.
Hoi An is full of custom-clothing shops, but Thu Thuy is my favorite. I still wear the beautiful silk robe I had made there in 2002 (60 Le Loi, 011-84/510-861-699, thuthuysilk.com). Yaly is excellent! They made my husband's suit during a typhoon when the power went out (47 Nguyen Thai Hoc, 011-84/510-910-474). We found exquisite hand-embroidered silk at a shop called XQ. It has stores in several cities(xqhandembroidery.com).
Ipa-Nima in Hanoi has a great selection of funky, fashionable handbags—most cost less than half what you'd pay in the States. We picked up several to give to friends as gifts (34 Han Thuyen St., 011-84/4-933-4000, ipa-nima.com).
It's best to seek out tailors' shops on your first day; some take more than 24 hours to make certain items, especially on holidays. Bring some of your favorite clothes to the shops to use as examples, and give the tailors plenty of information about what you want in terms of fit, style, and material. To carry all of your loot home, go to the local market and buy one of the zip-top shoulder sacks made out of tarp material. You should be able to buy one for less than $5.
Thanks to these readers for their Vietnam tips: Lanny and Mary Farmer, Clemmons, N.C.; T. Do, Potomac, Md.; Lee Daley, Sausalito, Calif.; Jane Woody, Greensboro, N.C.; Jim Arbuckle, Bellevue, Nebr.; Chris Shearer, Chicago, Ill.; Renée Everett, West Chester, Pa.; Jack V. Owens, Isle of Palms, S.C.; Susan Nguyen, Seattle, Wash.
Dear BT Readers...
I'll be in Denver for three days. Where should I go for my morning coffee? Low-key lunches? Nice dinners? I'd also love tips on which neighborhoods I should explore. Beth Collins, Associate Editor
For pastries and coffee in a fun neighborhood, go to Generous Servings, a café in the West Highlands (3801 W. 32nd Ave., 303/455-9730, generousservings.com). Happy Cakes Bakeshop is right next door. Afterward, you can walk down 32nd Avenue and browse in the shops. Mona's Restaurant has the best orange-brioche French toast (2364 15th St., 303/455-4503, monasrestaurant.com, $8). For a little excitement, eat brunch at Bump & Grind. During the week, it's merely a coffee shop, but on weekends, the kitchen opens up, and the servers wear wigs and stuffed bras and shuffle about in high heels. And they certainly keep things lively: We ordered two Cokes, which were served with two lines of sweet white powder—that tasted remarkably like Sweet'N Low—and a book of Suzanne Somers's poetry to reflect upon (439 E. 17th Ave., 303/861-4841, brunch entrées from $8).
Steuben's serves comfort food at its best (523 E. 17th Ave., 303/830-1001, steubens.com, entrées from $8). Denver has a thriving Ethiopian community, so check out any of the Ethiopian restaurants along East Colfax. The burgers at City Grille are some of the best in the nation, and they're served on buns from Bluepoint Bakery. My favorite is the buffalo burger. The French fries are a great accompaniment, cardiologists be damned (321 E. Colfax Ave., 303/861-0726, citygrille.com, buffalo burger $10).
East Colfax Avenue is undergoing a renaissance and has become quite the hangout spot. For a coffee break, go to Hooked on Colfax (3215 E. Colfax Ave., 303/398-2665). On the same block are three popular bars with great food: The Atomic Cowboy (3237 E. Colfax Ave., 303/377-7900, atomiccowboy.net), Goosetown Tavern (3242 E. Colfax Ave., 303/399-9703, goosetowntavern.com), and Mezcal (3230 E. Colfax Ave., 303/322-5219, mezcal-restaurant.com), which has every type of tequila you'll ever want to try. Just to the east is the largest outpost of the Tattered Cover Book Store (2526 E. Colfax Ave., 303/322-7727). East of Colorado Boulevard, at Elm Street, is Geez, Louise!, a quirky coffee shop with a mannequin mascot who sports a different look every day. This is the second Louise; the original was kidnapped last summer (4924 E. Colfax Ave., 303/322-3833, geezlouisecoffee.com).
Thanks to these readers for their Denver tips: Sheila Baldwin, Erie, Pa.; Shirley Mathistad, Denver, Colo.; Marilyn Cook, Parker, Colo.; Susan Fitzgerald, Denver, Colo.; Patrick Tucci, Golden, Colo.; Dave Dudar, College Park, Ga.; Tom Tafoya, Denver, Colo.
Dear BT Readers...
My husband and I will be taking our 5-year-old son to Amsterdam, so we're looking for kid-friendly activities, interesting places to eat, and a day-trip excursion by metro. (My son loves subways.) I'm also interested in checking out up-and-coming Dutch fashion designers and H&M-type shops that haven't yet made it to America. Suzanne McElfresh, Online Managing Editor
Take a boat tour through the canals—you don't know how beautiful the city really is until you see it from the water. My 2-year-old found the tour fascinating. Artis, one of the Netherlands' oldest zoos, is also great (Plantage Kerklaan 38-40, 011-31/20-523-3400, artis.nl, $28). Kids love NEMO, a science museum in a building shaped like half a sunken ship. Many exhibits are in English (Oosterdok 2, 011-31/20-531-3233, e-nemo.nl, $18).
Two other worthwhile ideas are TunFun, an indoor playground (located under the Mr. Visserplein traffic circle, 011-31/20-689-4300, tunfun.nl, kids $12, adults free), and De Krakeling, a children's theater where you don't have to understand Dutch to enjoy the performances (Nieuwe Passeerdersstraat 1, 011-31/20-625-3284, krakeling.nl, $14).
No visit to Amsterdam would be complete without a sobering trip to the Anne Frank House. It could offer an opportunity to have a discussion with your child about the Holocaust and anti-Semitism (Prinsengracht 267, 011-31/20-556-7100, annefrank.org, $12). Right down the street from the Anne Frank House, The Pancake Bakery is a great kid-friendly place to eat. It offers all different kinds of pancakes, both sweet and savory (Prinsengracht 191, 011-31/20-625-1333, pancake.nl, from $8).
Edam and Gouda, two towns famous for cheese, are both scenic train rides away. Our favorite city outside of Amsterdam was Kinderdijk, which is just east of Rotterdam. It has 19 windmills, several wooden-shoe shops, bike trails, very friendly people, and great food. You can tour a few of the windmills. Even just sitting at the bus stop and watching old folks pedal by in their wooden shoes can be entertaining. Children always seem to love Kinderdijk.
The Hema, C&A, and V&D are all big department stores with great and affordable selections of clothes. Don't miss the markets: Albert Cuyp and Dappermarkt (both closed on Sunday). The Jordaan neighborhood has several boutiques and nice places to eat. You'll definitely want to shop along De Negen Straatjes (Nine Streets), a collection of streets known for its great specialty shops and boutiques (theninestreets.com). P.C. Hoofstraat is Amsterdam's upscale shopping street, and Utrechtsestraat also has some interesting shops. Be sure to check out the clothes at Cora Kemperman. They're unique, stylish, and comfortable, and they're made with luxurious fabrics that are often machine washable. The store frequently has great sales during the winter months, so you might be in luck (Leidsestraat 72, 011-31/20-625-1284,corakemperman.nl).
Thanks to these readers for their Amsterdam tips: Kim Dillan Eich, St. Cloud, Fla.; Sheila Pizur, Amsterdam, Netherlands; Jennifer Katz, New York, N.Y.; Priscilla Emery, Longwood, Fla.; Michelle Willson, Ayer, Mass.; Jacki Harris, La Canada, Calif.; Kim Dillan Eich, St. Cloud, Fla.; Sheila Pizur, Amsterdam, Netherlands; Michelle Willson, Ayer, Mass.
For my long weekend in Knoxville, Tenn., I need advice on absolutely everything. Where should I eat? What should I do while I'm there? Are there museums or galleries I should see? And I'd love to find a small, charming hotel or B&B to stay in. Liz Ozaist, Senior Editor
Be sure to spend some time in the Old City and Market Square, near downtown. There are some great little restaurants and shops to visit. The Tomato Head is a popular spot to grab some fresh and inventive pizza or sandwiches (12 Market Sq., 865/637-4067, thetomatohead.com, entrées from $8). The staff at Downtown Grill & Brewery is wonderful, and the food and beer are delicious. It has outdoor seating, so we were even able to bring our dog (424 S. Gay St., 865/633-8111, downtownbrewery.com, entrées from $8). For an excellent sandwich, head to Sam and Andy's (11110 Kingston Pike, 865/675-4242, sandwiches from $4.25). Everyone loves the barbecue at Calhoun's (10020 Kingston Pike, 865/673-3444, entrées from $8).
I was in Knoxville last year for a conference, and I appreciated how compact it was. In my free time, I spent a nice couple of hours at the smallish Knoxville Museum of Art, just between the university campus and downtown. I was the only person in the gallery, and a University of Tennessee art student working there gave me a tour (1050 World's Fair Park, 865/525-6101, knoxart.org, $5).
You can stay in a quaint little B&B close to downtown called Maplehurst Inn (800 W. Hill Ave., 865/523-7773, maplehurstinn.com, from $79).
Thanks to these readers for their Knoxville tips: Emily Utt, Maryville, Tenn.; Kimberly Yavorski, Ambler, Pa.; Stephanie Fox, Woodstock, Ill.; Mark Doig, Corryton, Tenn.; Paul Prew, Eagan, Minn.; Clay Greene, Knoxville, Tenn.
My friends and I will be in New Orleans for New Year's. Can you suggest swamp or plantation tours? Super restaurants? Do we need to rent a car the entire time? Amy Chen, Assistant Editor
To see the swamps, nothing beats Jean Lafitte Swamp Tours, about 20 minutes from downtown (6601 Leo Kerner Lafitte Pkwy., Marrero, 504/689-4186, jeanlafitteswamptour.com, $24). If you only have time for one plantation, go to Oak Alley Plantation in Vacherie (3645 Hwy. 18, 225/265-2151, oakalleyplantation.com, $15). San Francisco Plantation in Garyville is also unique (2646 Hwy. 44, 985/535-2341, sanfranciscoplantation.org, $15), and Nottoway Plantation in White Castle has the absolute best food in its restaurant. Order the Cajun Two-Step—shrimp creole and jambalaya—and the bread pudding (30970 Hwy. 405, 866/527-6884, nottoway.com, admission $15). Gray Line offers a tour of areas affected by Hurricane Katrina (800/535-7786, grayline.com, $35).
For the best gumbo, go to the Gumbo Shop (630 St. Peter St., 504/525-1486, gumbo $8). Make sure to stop by the piano bar at Pat O'Brien's (718 St. Peter St., 504/525-4823, patobriens.com). Napoleon House makes delicious muffulettas (500 Chartres St., 504/524-9752, napoleonhouse.com, half muffuletta $6.75). No visit to New Orleans is complete without sitting down to coffee and beignets at Cafe Du Monde, near the riverfront (800 Decatur St., 504/525-4544, cafedumonde.com, three beignets $2).
Parking in the French Quarter is tricky—and can get expensive—so it's best to stay at a hotel in the area and walk everywhere. Wait until you go to the plantations to rent a car.
Thanks to these readers for their New Orleans tips: Randy Houghton, New Orleans, La.; Gwen Rohan, Huntsville, Ala.; Kimberly Eliason, Quincy, Calif.; Brianne Riker, Silver Spring, Md.; Janet Dales, Blaine, Wash.; Jeanette Parker, Lafayette, La.; Kathleen Karsko, Grand Junction, Colo.
I'm heading to Bend, Ore. (my first time visiting the Pacific Northwest), in late October. Does anyone have suggestions for things I shouldn't miss? Hikes, restaurants, little boutiques? Naomi Lindt, Senior Assistant Editor
For info on hiking in Bend, go to bendparksandrec.org. I enjoy hiking down into the canyon at Smith Rock State Park, just north of Bend, and watching the rock climbers. If you drive from Portland to Bend, go through Mount Hood on the way there, and then on the way back, go through the town of Sisters to Salem and then north. Both are beautiful drives.
While you're in the area, stop in Sisters to check out the old-west atmosphere, complete with old wooden storefronts. The Gallery Restaurant has homestyle country dishes and serves the best fish-and-chips (171 W. Cascade Ave., 541/549-2631, from $7). There are some nice antique stores a block north of the main street. If you have extra time, take a trip over to Crater Lake, about two hours away. It's the deepest lake in the U.S. The hike down to the lake is great!
Hot Box Betty, a shop in downtown Bend, has the cutest shoes and clothes (903 NW Wall St., 541/383-0050). La Rosa is a fabulous Mexican restaurant that features homemade infused tequilas. The vanilla-bean margarita is yummy (1444 NW College Way, 541/318-7210, margaritas from $7, entrées from $11). To sample some of the spirits made by Bendistillery, go to Bendistillery Martini Bar & Sampling Room. My favorite is Cascade Mountain Gin, made with local juniper berries (850 NW Brooks St., 541/388-6868, bendistillery.com).
Thanks to these readers for their Bend, Ore. tips: Diana Edwards, Salem, Ore.; Brittney McChristy, Portland, Ore.; Nancy Pitman, Salem, Ore.; Julia Bahner, Seattle, Wash.; Sally Ridenour, Salem, Ore.; Cara Filsinger, Salem, Ore.
Any tips on good tours and wine bars in Rome? Sean O'Neill, Senior Editor Online
The Scavi Vatican tour is Rome's best-kept secret. You get to go under St. Peter's Basilica—it's the experience of a lifetime (e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org for tickets, $16). There are three books that make for wonderful self-guided walking tours of Rome: Not Built in a Day: Exploring the Architecture of Rome, by George H. Sullivan; Rome from the Ground Up, by James H. S. McGregor; and Rome in Detail: A Guide for the Expert Traveler, by Claudio Gatti and John Moretti.
Make sure you see the Trevi Fountain both during the day and at night. It's beautiful and romantic. I suggest the often-overlooked Crypta Balbi, one of four Roman National Museum sites. Inside, you can see layers upon layers of civilization that have been unearthed in that one spot (via delle Botteghe Oscure 31, 011-39/06-3996-7700, $11, includes entrance to all four museum sites). Sant'Ivo della Sapienza, Borromini's magical church, near the Piazza Navona, is only open on Sundays and was the highlight of our trip (corso del Rinascimento 40, free). The Spanish Steps are a popular hangout for young locals and tourists. If you climb to the top and turn left, you'll end up at the border of Villa Borghese Park. Follow the edge of the park until you get to a viewing area overlooking Piazza del Popolo. You can see St. Peter's Basilica and all the major avenues and obelisks of the city.
We found a fantastic mozzarella bar called Obikà in the Piazza Firenze, a few blocks north of the Pantheon (Piazza Firenze 28, 011-39/06-683-2630, obika.it, appetizers from $8). Cavour 313 is a great place for wine and snacks (via Cavour 313, 011-39/06-678-5496).
Thanks to these readers for their Rome tips: Jennifer Tobkin, Los Angeles, Calif.; Dan Rouhier, McLean, Va.; Pennie Harris, Greenville, S.C.; Jennifer Katz, Brooklyn, N.Y.; Dan Rouhier, McLean, Va.; Kristin Kilburn, Honolulu, Hawaii; Tanya Farshy, Atlanta, Ga.