My three 21-year-old girlfriends and I are super-keen for a two-week trip to Vietnam. We're a little worried about exploring Vietnam on our own as inexperienced travellers. But if it's easy to do, what are the must-sees and must-dos that are off the beaten track? Should we begin from the north or south of the couontry?
- V. Yue, Epping.
There's no reason to be nervous. Vietnam is one of the most exciting and appealing destinations in south-east Asia. It's user-friendly for the novice traveller, with ever-improving infrastructure, lots of tours, wonderful food, fabulous shopping and a range of hotels at reasonable prices. It's also safe.
Start in Ho Chi Minh City and finish in Hanoi. HCM City is a little more Western-oriented and you'll appreciate Hanoi, the Vietnamese capital, more at the end of the trip. Ease yourself in with a guided tour. You can arrange this easily when you get to HCM City. Vietnam does not have a lot of off-the-beaten-track experiences. It's a long, skinny country with more than 3000 kilometres of coastline and most of the places you'll visit lie along the coastal fringe.
What it does have is incredible variety, from the tangled waterways of the Mekong Delta to the island-studded seascape of Halong Bay, to the high and misty hills around Sapa. You will also find that the Vietnamese have a different take on almost every aspect of life.
My daughters (aged eight and 12) and I will spend Christmas in New York. I want to find a hotel or other accommodation that celebrates, or does something special, on Christmas Day and I would also appreciate suggestions for restaurants and other activities on Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and Boxing
- Day. S. Gleeson-White, Glebe.
Beyond a tree, some decorations and a Christmas meal, New York hotels don't do much to celebrate. However, the city certainly does. The giant Christmas tree at the Rockefeller Centre is a must-see, especially if you can be there on Christmas Eve, and you might even venture onto the centre's ice-skating rink.
No other city does Christmas decorations quite like NYC's department stores. Start at Bloomingdale's on Lexington and 59th, then head for Fifth Avenue. Macy's, Saks, Barneys and Bergdorf Goodman are usually the standouts. Before and after Christmas, the New York City Ballet (nycballet.com) will perform George Balanchine's Nutcracker, which would be a magical experience for the girls. Mamma Mia (mammamianorth america.com) is a show you can all rock to and the girls will be impressed you know the lyrics.
A walk through Central Park would be a fine idea on Christmas Day. Boxing Day is not celebrated in the US; it's a regular working day. The real attractions in New York are the post-Christmas sales and, from Wal-Mart to Bloomingdale's, come December 26, the "sale" signs will be screaming for attention.
Options to warm to during an Italian hibernation
My husband and I have booked tickets to Rome, arriving on December 22, for 2½ weeks. Unfortunately, this is the only time we can travel due to work commitments. We would love to see Venice and Tuscany and maybe spend a week in a cottage somewhere. Will this time of year be too cold and snowy for travel? Can you suggest travel and accommodation ideas in Italy for the Christmas-New Year season?
- S. Christie, Port Macquarie.
This is not the optimum time to visit Italy. Northern Italy will be quite a bit cooler than Rome and there might be snow or drizzle but they are not reasons to write off Venice and Tuscany. If you're lucky enough to see Venice under snow, you won't forget the experience.
On the upside, you won't have to compete with a crush of fellow tourists, the museum and gallery queues will be short, waiters will be polite and obliging and you'll probably even get a front-of-house table at Caffe Florian in Venice's St Mark's Square. A week in a cottage is really a warm-weather proposition. You'll most likely be in a rural setting, perhaps a long drive from the nearest dining and the roads might be icy. Days are short at this time of year and you'll probably be doing a fair bit of driving to your country villa in the dark. The things most attractive about country accommodation - drinking chilled prosecco by the pool, breakfasting on ricotta and figs under a grape-covered trellis - belong to the warmer months. You would be better off to stay in pensiones or hotels in towns and cities.
The highlights at this time of the year include the papal midnight mass in Rome's St Peter's Square, the Christmas market in the city's Piazza Navona and the Regata delle Befane in Venice on January 6. For accommodation, check reviews on Tripadvisor (tripadvisor.com) and book through the hotel. Take the warmest socks you can buy. Those flagstone church floors are murder on the feet in winter.
Best directions for Tasmania
My husband and I are planning a 10-day driving holiday in Tasmania. There appear to be numerous recommendations and opinions on which route to travel. Can you suggest websites that detail the best travel itinerary, capturing the "must sees" while there?
- K. Rizk, Eastwood.
The official travel and bookings website for Tasmania, Discover Tasmania (discovertasmania.com), does a fine job of sorting the must-sees from the don't-bothers. From the home page, click on the Itineraries link at the top. This will take you to another page with 11 itineraries of between two and five days, which you can stitch together to fill your 10 days with fun and wonderment.
When you click on each of the individual days on the Itinerary Overview panel, you get a fleshed-out view of each day's suggested activities. You can also download each of the itineraries as a PDF file that you can print out and take with you. If you have questions, talk to a Tasmanian travel expert on 1300 827 743.