Better than Ha Long Bay, Vietnam?
We've been asking top guidebook writers to recommend alternatives to well known tourist attractions.
Today we talk with Robert Reid, U.S. travel editor and spokesperson for Lonely Planet. He's certainly the right person to ask about travel in Southeast Asia. He has authored over two dozen guidebooks, including Myanmar (Burma), Southeast Asia, Colombia, Trans-Siberian Railway, and his own online guidebook to Vietnam at reidontravel.com.
Ha Long Bay cruises make almost every first-timer's itinerary to Vietnam, with reason. The boat trips through a valley of limestone mountains are gorgeous.
But Ha Long Bay can get crowded. If you've seen it—or are prone to getting seasick—you may want to instead go to Tam Coc, which is a quick two hours south of Hanoi, near the town Ninh Binh.
There are good reasons why Tam Coc is known as the 'Ha Long Bay of the ricefields'—and why filmmakers chose it as the glorious setting for Catherine Denueve's famous scenes in Indochine.* If you rent a motorcycle and go to backroads, you can stop at an ancient capital, or climb towering limestone cliffs to pagodas with giant views. in nearby Cuc Phuong National Park, you can see very rare gibbons not found elsewhere and hike in solitude in the jungle.
In many ways, Tam Coc offers a better experience than Ha Long Bay, especially if you're the type of person who finds the presence of fellow western travelers to be a distraction. To beat the day-trip crowds to Tam Coc, bus to nearby Ninh Binh from Hanoi and overnight there or in a simple guesthouse next to Tam Coc. If you wake at 7 a.m., you'll have the place to yourself on land or on water.
Most visitors to the Mekong enjoy guided boat tours past thrilling local scenes along chocolate-colored rivulets of the big river. Most go to Chau Doc, near the Cambodia border. But no tours make it to Tra Su Bird Sanctuary about 20 miles south (it's not even in the guidebooks). Ask a local motorbike rider to take you there for a low-canoe ride through a mossy waterways as thousands of birds come home at dusk. There's a watchtower to climb where you can see the sun dip into purple and rust past far-off mountains, then take a spooky ride back as birds gossip about the day's adventures. For the time being, you'll have it to yourself.
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THE FINE PRINT
Now don't get us wrong. These guidebook writers (and their publishers, like Lonely Planet) are not dismissing any attraction that's rightfully famous. Everyone agrees you can have fantastic experiences at well known attractions. All we're trying to do here is recognize that, under some circumstances and for certain types of travelers, lesser known attractions may have their own appeal, offering comparable experiences.
*CLARIFICATION: *The sentence about the movie Indochine was corrected a day after publishing to correct a error introduced during editing.
Dining on the Bosporus? Preposterous!
Dining along Istanbul's Bosporus used to mean shelling out an absurd amount of lira at a stuffy hotel restaurant, but recently a crop of laid-back and worldly spots has opened—all with glittering views and down-to-earth prices. Our favorite is Zuma, a Japanese grill and lounge that turns out creative small plates, such as sea bass with truffle oil. Salhane Sokak No. 7, zumarestaurant.com, from $12.25. —Debra Shigley, from the September 2009 issue of Budget Travel THE REAL DEAL Cappadocia & Istanbul, Turkey, Air/6 Nights, From $1,499 Split six nights between central Turkey's Cappadocia region (with its volcanic rock formations and underground cities) and bustling Istanbul. BT Exclusive! As a reader, you get an exclusive itinerary, including a free hot-air balloon ride. MORE NEWS Switzerland's trendiest neighborhood Should "fuel" surcharges be renamed "profit" surcharges?
Hawaii deals for its 50th anniversary
Still want to squeeze in a trip to Hawaii by the end of the year? (We did name it one of the top budget travel destinations for 2009, after all.) The state officially celebrated its 50th anniversary on August 21, but that doesn't mean the party's over. In fact, if you use Facebook or Twitter—or just need some incentive to start—you could increase your chances of winning a free getaway to Hawaii. Marriott Resorts Hawaii, along with the Hawaii Visitors and Convention Bureau, Hawaiian Airlines, and Hertz, is commemorating the state's birthday by giving away 25 trips for two to Hawaii in the Tweet Yourself to Hawaii contest. To enter, you just need to provide your e-mail address—and if you have a Facebook account and/or a Twitter handle, you can get up to two more entries. The prize includes round-trip airfare for two on Hawaiian Airlines from one of its West Coast gateways, five nights at a Marriott Hawaii resort, a Hertz rental car, a $100 resort dining credit per day, and selected island activities, depending on the resort. Trips must be taken by December 20, 2009. The first drawing took place Friday, with additional drawings happening every Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday until October 21. You can enter again (up to three times!) once each week and then follow Marriott Hawaii on Twitter to find out who won. A separate Marriott contest, Tweetup in Hawaii, invites you to really use your social media savvy: To enter, you must create a video explaining in three minutes or less why you love Hawaii, upload it to YouTube, and submit a link to your video on the contest website by December 20. Marriott will post the videos on the site and select a group of finalists. On January 4, 2010, the public will be able to vote for their favorite clip, with the top vote-getter as of January 15 getting a "Tweetup" in Hawaii: Round-trip airfare for the winner and 11 guests, a seven-night stay at any two Marriott resorts in Hawaii, a luau dinner and show, a commemorative Hawaii state quarter for everyone, a keepsake group photo, and 25,000 Marriott Rewards points for the winner. For details, see the Tweetup entry page. Hawaiian Airlines is also celebrating a different anniversary—its own. For its 80th birthday, the carrier is giving away 80,000 miles (the equivalent of two round-trip tickets from the West Coast to Hawaii) each week through September 23. To enter, play the Travel Through Time giveaway game online. It shows you Hawaiian Airlines' uniforms from different eras and makes you guess which year they were introduced (it also gives you hints!). Note: To enter the drawing, you have to join the (free) frequent-flier program at the HawaiianMiles sign-up site. And if you don't want to leave your vacation plans to chance, there are plenty of 50th anniversary and fall promotions still going on: • Four Hilton Family Hawaii hotels are offering your fifth night for just $50, plus a $50 spa, dining, or beach-craft-rental credit through the 50 Years of Aloha promotion (from $129, through December 20). • Prince Resorts Hawaii has a Spring Into Summer/Fall Into Winter & Celebrate Hawaii's 50th special at its four resorts, providing a $50 daily resort credit, no minimum stay required (from $179, through December 22). For the skinny, visit the Prince deal site. • Aston Hotels & Resorts has a Fall for Aston special with up to 40 percent off seasonal rates at its 25 Hawaii properties (from $83, through December 21). Details at the Aston deal page. For other vacation package promotions, see our Hawaii Real Deals. EARLIER Recent Hawaii news on our blog ELSEWHERE Find more Hawaii trip ideas at GoVisitHawaii.com
Worth reading: Spend the weekend in Juneau, Alaska
A few of our favorite links from around the 'net this week: 36 hours in Juneau, Alaska—art galleries, Gold Rush-era buildings, and lots of nature. [The New York Times] Test your Oktoberfest IQ. [EuroCheapo] Coney Island: Dreamland Amusement Park most likely shut down for the rest of summer. [Brownstoner] Edinburgh offers history and haggis on the cheap. [AP via Yahoo! News] Aid workers have great hope for tourism in Afghanistan's Bamiyan province. [CNN.com] The Dutch bike bar: sightsee with beer in hand (and get some exercise). [Gadling] The government is getting grabby with hard drives at U.S. borders. [Jaunted] EARLIER The FAA's bizarre new rule (130+ comments) For more travel blogs, go to Alltop.
Paris attractions: Top 5 free events in September
The post-summer rentrée (think "back to school" for grown-ups) is in full swing, with crisp autumn air and a slate of cultural activities. Some of the best are even gratuit. Here's my selection of the top five free events in September. Dave Eggers at Shakespeare & Company (September 4) Author of the hit memoir A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius and the heartbreaking Katrina expose Zeitoun, Dave Eggers will be speaking to an undoubtedly overflowing room about Sudan and his recent book What is the What. The reading begins at 5:30pm, but come early if you want to get anywhere near this philanthropic indie publishing marvel. shakespeareandcompany.com, 37 rue de la Bûcherie, 5th arrondissement, 011-33/1-43-25-40-93. The Paris Techno Parade (September 19) Bumping up against the Techno Parade is perhaps the most efficient way to understand youth culture in France today. This annual parade winds slowly from Denfert Rochereau (14th arrondissement) at noon to Bastille (11th arrondissement) at 8pm. Traffic is blocked for hours while thousands of young people dance to electronic music in the streets. Can't imagine it? Click here to watch a video here that I made at last year's parade. Journées du Patrimoine/Heritage Days (September 19–20) A good number of French historical monuments are not open to the public…except for one weekend per year. The Journées du Patrimoine (Heritage Days) on September 19–20 will find hundreds of museums and monuments opening for free and hosting special events for the public. These include the presidential palace (Palais de l'Elysée), the Senate building (Palais du Luxembourg), City Hall (Hôtel de Ville), and many more. I'll be writing more very soon about my favorite picks, but here's a list (in French) to get you started. Ugo Rondinone at le CENTQUATRE (from September 17) One of the first visual art events for this year's Fesitval d'Automne (fall festival) is happening at the CENTQUATRE, a sprawling mortuary complex turned arts center. Rondinone's How does it feel? exhibition combines architecture, voices and neon lighting "to create a kind of sanctuary, both intimate and monumental" (11 bis rue Curial, 19th arrondissement). Slightly less morbid, the artist's Sunrise East installation in the Tuileries garden features a series of totem-like figures, each representing a month of the year (quai des Tuileries, 1st arrondissement). Fête des Jardins/Festival of Gardens (September 26–27) Gardens are a year-round draw in Paris, but this annual festival finds them buzzing with much more than bees. In addition to workshops and tours, you'll find free outdoor concerts taking place in some of the city's most flowery spaces. There's jazz manouche in the panoramic Parc de Belleville (19th arrondissement), classical music in the Parc Floral (12th arrondissement), and much more. Consult this online program for the full list of events. BONUS Magicien de Fer (through September 30) This free and fascinating exhibit about the career and personal life of Gustave Eiffel has been extended and is now running through September. As I wrote about here, this show is part of the city's celebration of the Eiffel Tower's 120th birthday. Place de l'Hôtel de Ville, 4th arrondissement.