The first couple of days we tootled around Hanoi, saw some of the most important tourist sites and ate some FABULOUS sushi and sashimi with Tomoko, our Japanese cultural translator. Kristi got to experience Hanoi traffic up close and personal (only a few brushes with death).
Mmm, Japanese food - the REAL thing (or, as real as it gets outside of Japan).
Tourism has been the next savior of the local culture - one newspaper article claims the area hosts up to one million visitors each year - a quarter of all foreign visitors to Vietnam. we managed to pick the perfect time - May is a dry (if a bit warm, but not as warm as July) month with relatively few visitors. The fine hotel we stayed in only had two rooms in use for most of the week.
One of the major highlights of Hoi An is the SHOPPING! Yes, we were girl-y for the first part of our vacation and overindulged in the stereotypical feminine pursuits - but how could we resist? Hoi An purportedly is home to over 400 tailor shops, and one can hardly step out onto the street without being accosted by voices begging you to enter their shop and consider the possibilities. Artists in their own right, the Hoi An tailors can copy and improve almost anything you throw at them - from pants to shirts to shoes. If you don't have something you want copied "100%," then you can look through any number of J.Crew or similar catalogs, point at something, get measured and the next day look like you stepped out of the magazine pages.
Then, when we had finally tired of the shops, we took a tour to a traditional lantern-making shop. We each made our own lantern (err, glued silk on the pre-made frame) after watching the workers ply their trade, and of course were enticed into buying more and better-made lanterns.
I highly, highly recommend Da Nang and Hoi An to any potential international tourist - and if you have the pocketbook for it, they are building five-star resort hotels and golf courses faster than a tailor can make a dress. The whole 45 minute drive between the Da Nang airport and Hoi An proper is lined with resort after resort in various stages of completeness. This is THE new destination for the upscale (and not-so-upscale) traveler to SE Asia - and so far, much deserving of the reputation. And for us, a perfect get-away from the real world for a short time.