Anita's experience of Vietnam...
We arrived in Ho Chi Minh/Saigon after two very relaxing Emirates business class flights. The first thing to strike me apart from the humidity was how busy and chaotic everything looked. Most of the city was lost in the war and has re-emerged as the business city of Vietnam. Non stop hustle and bustle, noisy and busy day and night with traffic.
After breakfast that included western and Asian cuisine we headed off through the rural countryside on the 45 minute journey to the Cu Chi Tunnels.
The Cu Chi Tunnels were used by the Viet Cong during the Vietnam War. Some of the underground tunnels stretch up to 5 kilometers to the Mekong Delta. The Viet Cong sometimes were less than a meter below US soldiers, using the tunnels to transport food and water and also to ambush US soldiers. I managed to crouch down and travel along one of the smaller 20 meter tunnels which was enough for me. This activity is not for the claustrophobic.
We take an internal flight with Vietnamese Airlines from Ho Chi Mingh to Hue (Approx. 1 hour) – Hue is very French and colonial. Our first stop is outside Hue the Mausoleum of Tu Duc, the Vietnamese Emperors resting place. There is an air of peace and tranquility and we took a moment to feed the goldfish in the massive lake filled with lotus flowers. The royal family once used this place as a family retreat to meditate and relax. The air is heavy with the smell of incense sticks as the village is the largest producer of josh sticks.
Next we head off to the Thien Mu Pagoda the tallest religious building in Vietnam. It was constructed in 1601 situated on the top of a hill that gives you a breathtaking view up the Perfume River. The 21 meter tall tower is surrounded by fluttering dragonflies.
Our last visit today is the Imperial Citadel where the Nguyen Dynasty ruled from 1802-1945. The Citadel is surrounded by a wall that is an amazing 24 meters thick. Inside is a mixture of original and reconstructed rooms steeped in history.
Day 4 & 5
We depart Hue by road over the Pass of Ocean Clouds passing farmers working in the fields wearing the traditional Vietnamese straw hats. We pass the lovely beaches in Danang and on to Hoi An. This 4 hour road trip is full of photo opportunities especially the fishing villages along the way.
The town of Hoi An was one of my favorite parts of the trip. It is a beautiful historic town with Chinese and Japanese influences in particular the Japanese covered bridge first constructed in the 1590s. I particularly liked the town at night where the trees and bridges are covered with colourful paper lanterns. The streets are filled with market stalls and fabulous smells from the many restaurants. You can stay in the town or 10 minutes away at one of the lovely beach hotels. We took a walking tour through the old town and visited an old merchant’s house, where we were taken to see the various stages of how silk is made at one of the numerous tailors.
Flight from Danang to Hanoi – approx. 1 hour. First we stop at Hoa Lo Prison once named the Hanoi Hilton because during the American War the US soldiers were treated well by the Vietnamese. We then take a walking tour of Hanoi where you really do take your life into your own hands crossing the roads which are filled with push bikes and motorcycles. We were soon taught the only way to cross is to focus on where you want to go and walk at a slow and steady pace and the traffic will go around you. We finish the day with a traditional Water Puppet show. A North Vietnamese art form depicting scenes from rural life.
We take the 4 hour journey from Hanoi to Halong Bay. Along the way stopping at a traditional Vietnamese farm and at a pearl farm located on the outskirts of Halong Bay famous for black pearls. Arriving at the docks in Halong Bay it is clear why it is a UNESCO World Heritage site with the limestone formations pointing towards the sky. We are taken to our boat for the night. Two floors of dark wood cabins with a large restaurant and on the upper deck a fantastic terrace where you can sit and enjoy the panoramic views. After cruising for a couple of hours we take a tender to a wooden punt boat through the bat caves. After this we stop of at an island beach were we took a relaxing swim in the warm South China Sea. Finally we enjoy our evening meal which includes a Vietnamese spring roll making demonstration before finishing the evening watching the sunset on the upper deck.
After a very comfortable sleep with the boat moored overnight and fully air conditioned it is your choice to take part in Thai Chi at dawn followed by a large breakfast. By 10am it was time for us to disembark and head back to Hanoi airport for the journey home.
Vietnam is a country that I have always wanted to visit and being able to visit was a dream come true.
What you may not realise...
- US$ are accepted almost anywhere as well as credit cards
- The Vietnamese people have to be the friendliest and helpful I have ever met
- You can carry anything on a moped from whole families, 10 mattresses or even 6 pigs for market
- The food is fresh and delicious and will cater for most tastes, even the less adventurous.