Mrs. Judi & Mr. Michael Arum - New York, United States:
"Having been disappointed in the past by shore excursions offered by cruise lines, we were most anxious to explore Vietnam on our own. From a friend in the travel industry, we were lucky to learn of a wonderful tour company. She arranged with Van Nguyen, the owner of Vietnam Alive, for private tours in both Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi.
Van met us at the port and, while driving to Ho Chi Minh City, asked us many questions to learn what we were most interested in seeing and experiencing. He then proceeded to create a totally customized tour like no other! Immersed in the culture and daily life of Vietnam, we found ourselves to be the only Westerners in most places he took us...and we absolutely loved it! Besides visiting the major sites, Van took us to the busy Ben Thanh Market, where we were able to buy local ingredients for cooking back home, as well as lunch in a local Pho restaurant, where we experienced a Vietnamese signature dish.
Bad weather prevented the ship from docking in Hue, our next scheduled port in Vietnam. While we were initially upset, this turned out to be a real benefit, as it provided us with two full days in Hanoi and vicinity. We called Van and, on very short notice, he rearranged our tour in Hanoi to take advantage of the extra time. His associate, Tom (not sure of spelling), met us at the ship and, on the drive to Hanoi, we suddenly realized our camera's memory card was full. While this would have been a disaster on any group tour, it was no problem here! Tom took us to a local camera store and translated for us so that we could purchase a new one. Once in Hanoi, he created an equally wonderful experience as we had in Ho Chi Minh City. Here again, we visited tucked away, out-of-the-way places that we never would have seen otherwise. For example, he took us to a small, local restaurant that has been serving only one dish for the past 100 years! The place was packed with locals and the food was not to be believed! Since Tom knew of our interest in coffee, he took us to a tiny shop and told us, "You will never taste coffee like this anywhere else in the world!" True to his word, the "egg coffee," was incredible! Since the ship was docked in Hanoi for two days, we had requested that Van arrange overnight hotel accommodations for us. We were told that it was a 4-star hotel, but that we should be understanding if it wasn't up to Western 4-star standards. To our sheer delight, it far exceeded our expectations, including the 30-plus offerings at the breakfast buffet!Since we now had another full day in Hanoi, Van arranged for us to have a private cruise on Halong Bay.
Once again, the treatment we received was extraordinary, and it allowed us to visit the magnificent caves on the Bay. Lunch served on the boat could not have been fresher or more delicious. It included tilapia, which the captain had caught that morning!The treatment in both Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi was so professional and personal, we could not have asked for more! If you are visiting Vietnam, the first call you should make is to Van at Vietnam Alive. It is an experience of a lifetime! Visited December 2014."