Xin Chao to everyone
Just in case you thought we had got lost in the dark jungles of Vietnam we have decided to collate all our experiences to date into one email with a number of links to the key things we believe sum up our experiences in north and central Vietnam.
We flew into Saigon on 11th March and immediately the next morning, after a bag repack, flew to its capital in the north of the country - Hanoi - to start our 22 day private tour odyssey - jointly planned between Tracey and the wonderful Ms Trang from our Hanoi based travel agency VivuTravel.
An adrenalin filled 2 days followed with an extensive visit of Hanoi's major sites - in particular the Ho Chi Minh mausoleum complex - where (having visited Beijing & Moscow) I am sure both Mao Zedong and Lenin would be extremely jealous of how many people wanted to line up to see Ho lying in state! We also spent much of our time in the old quarter where the footpaths are used for motorbike parking and we quickly became good at walking along the street with the 4 million other motorbikes and locals! Crossing was also pretty exciting, but so long as you continued to walk at one speed everyone seemed to be able to weave around safely!
Other highlights of our North Vietnam tour was a homestay in Mai Chau where we could wander/cycle the rice fields with the locals, whilst getting involved in the community wedding preparations (March is wedding month in Vietnam) - as well as seeing a funeral procession. We also visited Tam Coc - Halong Bay style limestone towering from a river, not the sea - unfortunately the weather was quite inclement - so we have lots of misty photos...and we had a wonderful walk in the rain in the oldest protected forest in Vietnam - Cuc Phuong - 1000 yr old teak trees!
Our time in the north was topped off with a one night cruise on Halong Bay which mostly was spent in mist - but still maintained its allure - even with a flotilla of tourists boats all heading one direction in and out of the port!
We flew to Hue on 18th March and immediately loved the city as we saw the sun for the first time! We spent a long but beautiful day driving backÂ North, along the Eastern scenic and forested Ho Chi Minh trail to visit the amazing Phong Nha cave by boat, which was well worth the 10hr return car journey. The cave was incredibly big with the largest decorations we had ever seen! Stopped at the 17th parallel on the way back and visited some of the tunnels that the local vietnamese lived in whilst being bombed - Tracey's claustrophobiaÂ kicked in so her tour was very short!! - how on earth 5 people could live day in/day out in a hole the size of a double bed is something to ponder - but if you are being bombed out of existence I suppose you do what you can to survive!
We spent our second day in Hue visiting its amazing citadel - the dynasty of the Nuygen empire - started in 1802. Although most of this area (like lots of this central part of vietnam) was bombed in the Vietnam war, with many treasures destroyed, it is incredible to see how the restoration is bringing much of Vietnam's history back to life. The Mausoleums of this dynasty were also worth seeing - they certainly knew where to go to find some peace in what is often very noisy and chaotic surroundings!
We then headed to Hoi An - the Lantern city - the city that everyone we knew in Australia said we couldn't miss - yet another historic UNESCO site - and one with lots of old world charm - much doesn't seem to have changed here since it was built! However it was teaming with tourists - in particular Aussies - which was unlike many of the previous places we had been, which we had mostly visited with local Vietnamese and some Europeans so it was a bit in your face and felt less authentic as a result. However our visit to MySon - the Ankor Wat of Vietnam, but built 8 centuries earlier, was a major highlight of our time in Hoi An. Along with a visit to a local herb farm run by 8 sisters where we had our first introduction to learning how to cook, followed up by a more intensive 6 course cooking class the next day - we certainly have got better at flipping pancakes!
Having now come much further south we realise how lucky we were to start in the north of the country where tourists (athough plentiful) are still regarded with some curiosity/interest, whilst the extreme hospitality but reserved friendliness of the Vietnamese was very much on show - particularly in country areas!! At one pagoda we visited near Halong Bay we were mobbed by a school group for a selfie with some foreigners... Unfortunately in some places since it seems the further south you go the more tourists are recognised for their spending value (and charged accordingly)!
We are now located in Dalat - the cool central plateau city built by the French in the late 1800's. Yet another contrast to our previous excursions but no less fun or interesting..
Tomorrow we head to Cat Tien NP to hopefully see some wildlife before heading for some R&R on Mui Ne beach and one last day of energy and chaos in Saigon before we fly home at the end of the month!Â
We would never had got to know these places as intimately or started to understand the inherent complexities of Vietnam's history, culture, delicious food and lifestyle without our personal Vivu travel guides Misters Tung, An and Vuong and Han today - and our wonderful drivers who have kept us safe - we want to say thanks to you all!! and hope we get a chance to return to say hello again!
Hope you are all doing well at home!
Tracey and Steve