In a New Light
updated 05/01/2000 AT 01:00 AM EDT
•originally published 05/01/2000 AT 01:00 AM EDT
In fact there are places so far off the beaten path that few attempt the trip. To get from Hanoi to Sa Pa, near the Chinese border, requires a no-frills nine-hour train trip followed by an hour-long van ride up a winding mountain road. "You need a sense of adventure," says Laura Rutherford, 29, a Manhattan Beach, Calif., marketing manager who found that the magnificent views made the effort worthwhile. In Ha Long Bay in the northeast, where visitors can take kayaking tours of the ethereal islands, Manhattan investment banker Tim Laslavic, 45, reports, "The first time we went into the lagoons, we were awed into silence."
The tourist boom in Vietnam was first fueled in part by veterans (including director Oliver Stone) who came in the late '80s to reconnect with their pasts. Locals happily obliged with war-themed tours of sites like the Cu Chi Tunnels, from which the Viet Cong launched surprise attacks against U.S. forces. But for most visitors now, Vietnam calls to mind pleasure, not pain. "The beauty, the sounds, the smells," rhapsodizes Joni Goldman, 55, a Newton, Mass., psychologist who spent two days on a boat, gliding up and down the canals of the Mekong Delta. "I don't think of Vietnam in terms of the war anymore."