Travel VUDA is back from another very successful Vietnam Delights Women Only Escorted Tour. Read all about it here;
We hit the streets of Hanoi, head on, full frontal! Nothing like a cyclo ride to soak up the atmosphere of the Old Quarter (especially as we’re a little jetlagged, so we can sit back and relax), winding in and out of the charming chaotic streets. It’s leading up to Liberation Day and Labour Day, and there’s a real vibe in the air as the locals celebrate the long weekend. As the sun goes down the pretty Hoan Kiem Lake comes alive with a gorgeous display of lanterns set high in the trees that line the lake. Mesmerizing and enchanting. Perched high atop the buzz at a rooftop cafe, excitedly we clink glasses and toast the beginning of our adventure.
Over the next few days we’re introduced to the rich history of Vietnam, starting at the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum complex, the fabulously presented Museum of Ethnology and the beautiful Temple of Literature. A few of us also head to the Hoa Lo Prison (aka Hanoi Hilton). We also sample some gorgeous local cuisine and wander the Old Quarter picking up a bargain or two (or three, or four).
Time for some quiet relaxation time aboard our traditional style Junk. We let the scenery amaze us and the breeze cool our skin. This is a lovely change from the busyness of the city. The 1000’s of limestone islands rise up from the sea and are surrounding our vision in no time. We are encased with beauty. We explore a little on foot – Surprise Cave & Titop Island for panoramic views – and a little by boat, but mostly just relax (and eat!). On the return trip to Hanoi our local guide, Nam, shares his recent experience of getting married, out come the photos, and we learn about the traditions of a Vietnamese wedding.
We’ve come prepared with crackers and cheese, chocolate, chips and of course – alcohol..!! We get right in and sample the Vietnamese Vodka – great choice! Lots of fun and soon it’s time to settle in for the night. We all have a good sleep, rocking in time with the train as we move along the tracks. Morning comes, its lovely just sitting back and taking in the view, countryside vistas grace the eye and locals go about their daily chores and activities.
After a quick refresh and refuelling, we start the day by visiting Tu Duc Tomb, the late Emperors ‘summer palace’, until his death. Amongst the beautifully landscaped grounds you get swept up in the history. Then the impressive Imperial Citadel, Thien Mu pagoda and to finish up a boat cruise along the Perfume River. Our local guide here is excellent and fills us with just the right amount of information. We’re all a little ore struck by the depth of history, the nobility of the Emperors and the sadness for the wars that have been fought here.
Coming over the spectacular Hai Van Pass, views over Lang Co Fishing Village and Danang, a casual relaxed feeling comes over you. Seaside villages, broken down trucks casually stopped in the centre of the road (with a pile of tress put at the rear to warn other vehicles!), fantastic views in every direction. Iced coffee, thick, sweet and cool – just want is needed! I order another round while bartering over a black pearl necklace. As we cruise into Danang wide boulevards line the seafront and the sea breeze creates white caps on the lagoon.
A view over the Thu Bon River looking back towards the Old Town as we dine yet again on some delicious local dishes. I love Hoi An! The charming Old Town, the river activities and two beautiful white sandy beaches close by. We’ve been rather busy the last few days, so there’s now time for a bit of a holiday. Time to relax, read that book and laze by the pool. A few of the girls book massages and facials, a lovely holiday treat. We also attend a fantastic cooking class at Morning Glory, and learn a few tricks of the trade and about some of the local ingredients that have featuring in our meals.
A day at the beach! Sun, salt and a fresh breeze sweeping across the beach. As we eat yet another meal, this time al fresco at a rustic little beachside cafe. A lovely old local lady hovering quietly and patiently at the side, hopeful for a sale - cigarettes, chewing gum, a set of playing cards. Then there’s the younger generation of hawkers, like my new friend Bi, she speaks good English and has ALL the sale lines. One of the ladies comments she could ‘sell ice to an Eskimo’, which I believe she is totally capable. There’s the line that she’s attending evening classes, trying to learn English and French, so she can work in a hotel and that her family is from the local fishing village. I can truly see it in her eyes that she’d prefer not to have to beg for her money like this, hawking cheap goods on the beach, and I wish her well in her quest to find a job. I’ll be checking in on her next time I’m at the beach – nothing like a bit of encouragement!
We’ve found a fabulous tailor, and the girls are all busy getting fittings and adding to their orders. After a few minor adjustments, bags full of new outfits are delivered to the resort, just in time to squeeze them into our suitcases for tomorrow’s flight to Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon).
Ho Chi Minh City
Time is flying by; here we are in Saigon already! We stop and see the Reunification Palace and the War Raments Museum, which has us in near tears the whole time as the horrid war reveals itself. Everything we’ve seen and heard about over the past week or so, travelling the length of the country, are all starting to piece itself together. Places, events, dates and people. Then a photo stop at the Notre Dame Cathedral and a peak in at the grand Post Office. Checking into our lovely hotel, lapping up the luxury. A few of us hit the Lucky Plaza shopping mall and find some great buys (handbags, t-shirts, great little tops to layer up with back home). Then cocktails on the rooftop bar taking in the magnificent view over the busy Saigon River.
Mekong Delta: colours, camera opportunities aplenty, trades past down from generation to generation, working for survival. Nothing’s happening too fast in the heat, there’s a few locals sleeping in hammocks that line the canals or the back of the boats, swinging with the wake of passing vessels. Criss crossing the mighty Mekong, on an unknown mission, weaving in and out, everyone seems to have a task. There’s something about the Mekong Delta that always wins me over. The size of it, the grandness, the grant importance and the many miles the water has travelled to get this far. Life giving to the whole nation, its fertile soils and the ever import flow of water.
The sweet voices of a local band, with traditional musical instruments, playing out stories of local folklore. It’s so sweet and charming, and sad, that we are all totally overcome by emotion. The last song/story is of a young ethnic girl whom is about to be married and go to live with her husband and his family, the mother tells her how she’s spent so many years looking after her, and watching her grow, but now it’s time for her to go, she’s all grown up. The mother shares insights with the daughter on what married life with be like and how to fit in with the new family, and especially to please the new mother-in-law (!). The performance is a lovely end to our day at the Mekong.
Next morning, we head out to Chu Chi Tunnels and are impressed with the Viet Cong’s network of underground tunnels and how they fought the war. I have a go on an AK47! Wow that sure was an adrenaline rush!
Finishing it all off with yet another meal at the Temple Club (try the Temple Chicken) and some jazz music at Sax’n’Art. We make several toasts to our adventure and the great times we’ve had!
I can’t wait to go back!