The Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum is a sombre attraction visited by many but my personal highlight was a walking tour along a single track railway line where the trains pass within one metre of the houses’ front doors and children play happily on the track. It was fascinating to see how the locals live and we were greeted by smiles along the way. The walk took us through farming areas and across the river where we found a coffee shop. Vietnam is the second largest coffee producing nation – and they love it served with sweet condensed milk it’s very different to Starbucks!
From Hanoi we took the long but really interesting drive to the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Halong Bay on the northern shore of Vietnam and boarded a beautiful traditional style Junk Boat called ‘Jasmine’. During the sail we stopped at caves, a local beach and also visited the ancient fishing communities at Cau Van. The food on-board was excellent – we were even taught how to make traditional Vietnamese spring rolls! This is a really relaxing way to see some of this amazing scenic country.
The following day we flew to Hoi An which is a thriving port with busy ancient streets packed with shops selling spices, coffee pots and all manner of clothing – This is a great place to haggle for bargain items including silk lanterns, linens and local art – or just relax on the beautiful beach. From Hoi An we took a day trip to My Son: this little known attraction is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and home of the Cham people. The temples date from between the 4th and 13th Centuries and, sadly, were badly damaged by American bombing in 1968: the crater remains as a painful reminder. For the best experience, visit at sunrise.
Whilst in Hoi An, I took a Vespa tour – one of the best excursions I have ever experienced. We met locals weaving mats and making rice crackers visited a local boat yard where traditional large wooden fishing boats were made. The scenery was absolutely incredible, passing through rice paddies and farmlands and watching the farmers drying corn, chillies and tending their peanut plants.
From Hoi An, we took our next flight to Ho Chi Minh City – formerly known as Saigon and still called Saigon by the locals. The old Saigon was the capital of French Indonesia – known as Paris of the Orient – and plenty of the Grandeur survives today, with the Opera House nestling alongside fine restaurants and designer boutiques.
In total contrast, we headed to the famous Cu Chi tunnels where visitors can visit a small section of the staggering 125 miles of tunnels on various levels where the Vietcong guerrillas used numerous tactics to live, eat, cook and avoid capture In Saigon you can also visit the War Remnant Museum: but please be warned it is very harrowing and contains detailed photographic images you may find disturbing.
The 60’s style Reunification Palace – site of the famous storming of the tanks on April 30th 1975 – is also worth a visit; see the meeting rooms, maps and original tanks on display.
On our last day, we drove to My Tho – a bustling town in the agricultural region of the Mekong Delta. We enjoyed travelling along the river and seeing the beautiful birds that populate the area, stopping briefly at a honey farm for honey tea. On the way back, we visited the stunning Vinh Trang Pagoda, which dates back to the 19th Century and is famous for its Giant Buddhas.
Time Difference: +6 hours
Currency: Vietnamese Dong (but U.S dollars is widely accepted)
Flying Time: 11 hours 40 minutes
· Don’t miss Hoi An at night – famous for its lanterns.
· Visit the EON 51 Heli Bar with vertigo-inducing night time views of Ho Chi Minh City – it is located on the 51st floor of the Bitexco Financial Tower.
· Ladies – carry a lightweight long sleeved shirt for vising temples.