We met at Heathrow Terminal 4 which for once seemed quite quiet, at 8.15 am, a group of 6 agents none of whom had ever visited Vietnam before. We were with our TransIndus leader, Emily ,who had visited the area as a backpacker 10 years previously so was keen to see the changes that had occurred there in the intermediate years and also to do it in a more comfortable way than before.
The outbound flight to Hanoi with Vietnam airlines was only a half full so we enjoyed a comfortable 10 1/2 hour flight with ample food and numerous recent films on their Dreamliner plane before arriving at 6 am having lost 6 hours along the way and gaining 15 degrees in temperature.
Soon we were all checked into The Ann hotel in a comfy deluxe room and after a couple of hours power nap we were ready to enjoy our first real taste of Vietnamese meal by way of lunch at the nearby Silk hotel.
Another colleague from TransIndus reservation team, Sean, had also joined us now. He had already been in the country a week and was to stay on after us to do a thorough reckie of the country. At this point I would like to say that the food is quite amazing and anybody who doesn’t eat meat is extremely well catered for with delicious dishes if a little too much toffu in every possible disguise. Numerous dishes are provided but usually the desert is disappointingly fruit.
A city tour of Hanoi followed lunch to see the modern day capital of Vietnam, a city that is centuries old but although still keeps so much charm does have a lot of new buildings and is very busy with bikes everywhere.
The museum of Ethnology was very interesting showing arts and ways of life from the 54 different ethnic groups that inhabit the country. We also visited the Hoan Kiev lake and Ngoc Son Temple. Finishing the day at a very amusing water puppet show, a must for every visitor as a clever and a fantastic art form.
Next day we continued our city tour of Hanoi starting with a trip to the Temple of Literature, founded in 1070 and a fine example of Vietnamese architecture as well as being extremely peaceful with lovely gardens. We then went to visit the iconic Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum where we queued along with hundreds of others to walk in silence past the embalmed body of Ho Chi Minh,leader of the anti French resistance ,Viet Minh.
Following a delicious French influenced lunch we then walked the train tracks, an interesting and fun walk past houses so closely built beside the tracks that you can almost touch from side to side.
We then continued our walk across dragon bridge with bikes zooming past us carrying families and lots of other items packed on as well. Just over 2 klms in length and quite scary but we made it and then returned to our hotel by local train.
The following morning we travelled to Halong Bay ,about a 4 hr trip, to join the Jasmine overnight cruise through the World Heritage Site of Halong Bay. After a buffet lunch we visited the Cua Van fishing village in bamboo rowing boats, which was great fun.
A cookery demonstration back on board by our chef before the evening meal and talk on the area.
The next day for the early risers a Tai Chi class started at 7am followed by a visit on boats to a beach for swimming or a few mad ones, myself included, climbed the steep 400 steps to see the view over the bay. A superb breakfast buffet followed before we arrived back at the marina to take our coach back to Hanoi airport to fly to Danang to visit central Vietnam.
Vietnam is a large country, from north to south about 1400 miles so air travel between the main areas saves a considerable amount of time and works extremely well with quick check ins and as most people travel with hand luggage, hold luggage appears very promptly. Train is an alternative but can be very slow.
We were now in Hoi An where our home for the next couple of nights was the Emm Hotel again. very comfortable if lacking in a bit of character.
The weather was slightly hotter here as we found out next morning when we travelled to My Son with our new local guide, Ha. This is an important religious site for the Cham civilisation who ruled central Vietnam from the 2nd to the 13th century and there are still temples there today in beautiful surroundings.
Following another fab lunch we did a walking tour of Hoi An which is a great place with loads of good shopping opportunities and so reasonable. Once a prosperous trading port and now this town boasts well preserved streets and buildings with lovely beaches close by. I loved it here.
One of the best excursions ever, started our next day, Vespas in the Hoi An countryside. They were incredibly good fun and very cooling to be dashing round the countryside hanging on to your driver!
During this trip we visited a coffee grower, mat weaver, boat builder and rice paper maker and what was really surprising was that when I asked to buy some coffee they acted as if this had never happened before.
Following this we transferred to the airport to fly to our last city Ho Chi Ming although the locals prefer to still call it Saigon.
Here we stayed at The Equatorial hotel, very nice and as with the others free wifi, tea and coffee and safes in all rooms.
This city is massive and very busy, bikes everywhere and again smiley faces and happy folk. I found both the war museum and the CuChi Tunnels very upsetting but a must to visit to see and understand a little the horror that the war had caused the country.
To end this amazing trip we had a day on the Mekong River with a brief sampan drive through the waterways visiting a bee farm and even better a coconut sweet making home.
Another good flight home brought us all back to reality and lesser temperatures as those we left in Saigon were very high.
Vietnam was great , the whole country has so much to offer and the people are so happy for you to see their country. I cannot recall a country which I have visited previously where I could not understand one road sign or where the currency was so hard to convert, just as well they like the dollar. We will return as there is still so much more to see but for now I’d like to thank TransIndus for giving me the chance to visit such a wonderful country.