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My Vietnam adventure.

Our ever adventurous explorer Clare Dudley has returned from her most recent travels to Vietnam with Travel Indochina read here about her fantastic journey and what she really thought of this magical land.

After our 11.5 hour flight with Vietnam Airlines who were surprisingly good, we arrived in Saigon. Whilst the heat was the first thing that hit us as we left the airport, we were then totally un prepared for the amount of motorbikes on the road. Literally 1,000’s! The city is more modern and built up than I had imagined. Many high rise buildings and many modern constructions. However there were still many shanty, poor homes (buildings) spread and amongst the new!
We took part in a walking tour visiting the parliament and here was our first of many insights into the history of Vietnam. We saw the Opera house and went to the musuem. Here you can see historic memories with tanks, helicopters, planes and ammunition! Inside the 3 story musuem photographs tell the many tragic stories that occurred during the war which seems hard to believe was only 38 years ago!
In the evening we were treated to a local meal in a outdoor location that had bbq cooking on your own table. So we cooked a variety of dishes and enjoyed very much.

Day 2
An early start as we had a 2hour drive to the Mekong Delta. It was well worth it We spent several hours slowly travelling along the Delta. Stopping to visit a coconut. Here we saw how the coconuts are opened and their hairy type shells removed first. It was explained that this is used to make things such a door mats! Then we were shown how the remove the coconut from the shell (we have seen many gifts made from these shells). The juice removed – good coconuts provide coconut water and the not so good provide a coconut oil that is made into caramel. We were shown that the excess peel from the coconut is used for coconut oil! So many things that can be made. One thing I learnt here and can see through Vietnam is there is NO waste
We visited a family business that made bricks. Here the tradition and time consuming process of making bricks was demonstrated. A slow and careful process! Such hard work when we then heard that about 25bricks can be purchased for £1
Our finally stop was lunch. In the heart of the Delta. We left our boat and then had an exciting drive on tuk tuks to the primitive restaurant where we enjoyed an Elephant Ear river fish, amongst other delicacies.

After our River trip we headed back to inspect two hotels. The Renaissance a 5star hotel very centrally located. On walking into the lobby my first impression was WOW. But for me the high rise building let itself down with the standard of bedrooms and a real strange smell in the bedrooms. For me the 5 star look could be seen in the atrium, lobbies, restaurants and Bars but 3star rooms. Next was the Duxton. Now I liked this hotel a lot and would struggle to know which of the two I would recommend from the hotel we are staying in which is the Caravella. Beautiful bedrooms and I preferred the restaurants over the Renaissance. Again a great location.

We were given a free evening to enjoy Saigon. We headed to the market where fake sunglasses handbags purses t shirts and local craft were in abundance. Fantastic bargaining. I brought Channel sunglasses for £3. Paul had 3 linen shirts and 2 t shirts for£25. I also brought a lovely table runner for £5. Very cheap and this is the place to buy fake stuff like handbags, purses, clothes, sunglasses but not too great here for local craft and design. We followed the suggestion of our tour guide and eat in the Lemon grass restaurant. If you do chose here my recommendation would be not to have the set menu but to simply chose a few dishes. We found the meal very nice but came away feeling we’d spent too much money as many others eat local food for a 3rd of what we paid.

On day 3 we head to the airport for our internal flight to Danag. A 50min flight. Then half an hour from airport to Hoi An. From what I could see on the bus journey this was much more in keeping with the Vietnam I had imagined. Hoi An is a quaint, busy town. Full of character, charm and ambiance. Colours, smells and scenery in abundance. We had lunch at Mrs Leys. Fabulous local inexpensive food in the heart of the town

A hotel inspection was then carried out the Anatara Hotel in the heart of the town alongside the river. This is a gem of a hotel. Excellent hotel. Stunning rooms. Real ambiance in the restaurants and cafes. Charming and colonial style. Main pool was ok but nothing special. The hotel rooms were superb. Location is the key here but take into account the beach is only accessible via a free shuttle bus is approx 4km

We then did a walking tour of the old quarter. The oldest house. A temple and Bridge. The shops were more beautiful and authentic here with local craft being of exceptional standard. Tailoring was almost every other shop.

We then checked into our hotel The Fusion Maia. Oh My Goodness this hotel is lush! Very oriental and amazing facilities. All spa treatments are included all day! All rooms are villas and each has its own private plunge pool. The villa has a lounge bedroom huge bathroom with unique sunken bath and large walk in shower all over looking your pool. Quite something! The location – right on the beach is idyllic.

We headed back into town – a 25min bus ride. The hotel provides a good complimentary service. We then had a truly fab meal at The Mango Rooms. Highly recommend. Fresh local food cooked to the highest standard!

An early start on our next day as we were collected by a taxi and taken back to Hoi An, to embark on a cookery lesson with a difference. Firstly a chef from the school takes us around a local market, to look at the fresh vegetables, herbs and spices are chosen for each meal. We then embark on the fresh food market. It is all so bizarre to see live food for sale, the raw meats and fish on display in such heat and to be honest not the cleanest of places. The colours, the smells and the atmosphere are quite surreal but a real insight. We then took a boat ride along the river to the cookery school. Here we were given 4 recipes, shown how to make them and then it was out turn. This was a fun experience, and we got to brought home all the recipes so we must make a Vietnamese meal for our friends.

We finally then had an afternoon off. We were very happy to enjoy the first of our spa treatments,The Fusion Maia, all the spa treatments are included in the cost. A fab idea and makes the hotel very good value. We shared a full body massage, which was one of the best massages we have ever had.
In the evening we headed back into Hoi An. We had been told that getting clothes made whilst over here will be good value and unique as everything will fit perfectly. We chatted to a few of the staff in shops and didn’t feel right about purchasing. Then as we were about to give up we came across a gem. The shop Nhi Nhi which is located at Le Lol Street. The lady in the shop spoke excellent English and instantly made us both feel at ease as she was blunt and honest about how things should look. So half an hour later, one man’s suit, one man’s silk shirt and 2 ladies dress’s ordered. We were measure extensively and our fabric was chosen. And all for £115 in total. Fantastic value. All that was left to do was pop back tomorrow evening for a fitting. We eat out in a local restaurant, we both felt the need for more western food, which was readily available and inexpensive.

We had a full day to ourselves today.. so a rest was in order. Sunbathing and a couple more spa treatments were about all that was on our agenda. But jolly nice it was to be relaxed.
In the evening we went back to Hoi An as we loved the local town here and had to go back to the tailors to have a fitting. We could not believe that Paul’s suit fitted perfectly and looked fab. One of my dresses just needed a little adjustment so we waited whilst the dress was whisked off to be altered. We then had dinner again at the Mango Rooms as it was so nice last time. Once again a delicious meal.

Our day started at 730am with breakfast on the beach now that is a nice way to start the day.
We then travelled back to the airport for our next internal flight from Danang to Hanoi. Once again just an hour long flight.
On arrival in Hanoi we were taken straight to a fab restaurant called Koto – a pioneering concept where disadvantage and disabled people are given a chance and taught to cook and run a restaurant. I would highly recommend this place the food was excellent, and the choice extensive and of course such good value for money.
In Hanoi we then visited the Hilton Museum where we learnt how the prisoners of war were held and shown there living conditions and the full story explained.
Hanoi once again an evening with some free time. We headed to the shopping part of the Old Quarter. You have to experience the concept of buying from people on the street to the classiest boutique style shops. Quite something to see the poverty and how these local people live. We didn’t end up buying too much here. Some fake shoes for my daughters – two pairs cost approx £15 for Gucci shoes. Hopefully they will be pleased with these. Lots of craft things for sale, so for many still a shopping paradise but I was definitely shopped out now.

We made a mistake in our chosen restaurant here. We were hot and tired so headed back to the Highlander which is next to the Hilton. But all you could get was a baguette and fries! Not very local! We watched sights that made us chuckle. A man on this moped carrying a 3piece suite. One chair stacked on top of the other! Families of up to 5 travelling on the one motorbike and such a strange thing that the adults wear helmets but the children don’t.
It was Wednesday now and day 7 of our trip. A 4hour bus ride to take us to Halong Bay. This was a real treat of a journey where once again the sights we passed were more in keeping with what I had expected to see. Cow and Water buffalo – known as the Vietnam tractor. Ploughing rice paddi fields. So strange to see Cows loose on the central reservation of the road. We saw pigs, ducks and dogs all piled on top of each other – alive being transported in cages – yes you’ve guessed it – on motorbikes!

We saw modern factory’s such as Cannon with its local workers coming out to traditional roadside open air cafe’s.
Alongside the roads there are people with small stalls selling bread, pineapples, coconuts, and you simply pull up and buy your goods. The road safety and attitude is something I won’t miss. Not for the faint hearted!

We arrive in Halong Bay and already the sights of the UNESCCO World Heritage site are stunning and we are excited to board our boat for the next 24hours. The Indochina Sails 2 was a real gem. A glorious old fashioned junk which has been carefully presented to a high level. The boat is decorated throughout with dark wood. The cabins are well appointed with large picture windows, double or twin bed, decent size bathroom with large walk in shower. All decorated beautifully. We were welcomed with a delicious meal. I have to say the food on the ship was the best we had experienced the whole trip.
We set sail and enjoyed the stunning views on the large open sun deck.

Our first shop was just an hour later – an island where you could climb the 500 odd steps to the top for stunning views, but I have to say it was just too hot for us to consider this. Or you could swim from a little beach area, which is what we chose. What a stunning place to have a swim. Back on the boat for about an hour then we stopped at a water village. The village is all on stilts and is home to many people. I say home – how they can live is so beyond me but I do admire them. Homes not much bigger than a garden shed all with bamboo platoons as the outside area of their home and boat deck area. Poverty hits you but then so does the sense of peace and calm and indeed happiness. We were taken on a boat ride in a little wooden boat, that was rowed by a village lady. A fascinating trip and one I very much enjoyed. Back to the boat for a fabulous buffet meal. Again a super meal. So much choice and all very delicious.
After dinner we were invited to take part in shrimp fishing, using a simple bamboo rod and wire. It was fun but no one caught anything.
It was most enjoyable sitting chatting with other guests on the top deck enjoying an evening cocktail. Still surrounded by beautiful scenery
We were able to get up early for a visit to a cave, but we did not make this and decided to just enjoy the sun deck and peace and serenity of our journey. A brunch was our last part of the journey.
We disembarked our lovely boat at midday and then headed back to Hanoi. We had a few hours free with use of a day room before a hosted meal and headed back to the airport for our flight home.

In summary our journey has been the most exciting adventure. We have seen so many wonderful sights, met some beautiful people, experienced different cultures and been sad at the country’s history. The smells, colours and scenery has been diverse and enjoyable
Our host Travel Indochina have been exceptional and I would highly recommend both the destination and the tour operator.


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