This trip was organised by Hoai Nguyen from Vivu Travel who I would highly recommend. We arrived in Ho Chi Minh city late in the evening and surprisingly it was so easy as we had assistance in attaining our visas. We were then pleasantly greeted by our tour guide, Don, in Ho Chi Minh. He was very friendly and easy to get along with. We were then driven to the Grand Hotel which was a very nice hotel.
The breakfast we had was unbelievably amazing. After breakfast, we met up with Don and the driver who took us to visit the Cui Chi tunnels. The Cui Chi tunnels was an amazing experience, my girls thoroughly enjoyed the history of the tunnels and how it was all demonstrated. They learnt a lot from this experience. For the afternoon, we were taken back to the hotel by the driver and our tour guide, Don. We were then greeted by the Saigon Vespa Tour. We had been nervous about this tour due to the high concentration of people and traffic. I have to say they tour guides did a great job at making us feel safe and it was the highlight of Saigon. We were able to do a lot of back streets, taste local food and see the real side of Saigon.
We then headed to Mekong Delta where we got to experience real Vietnamese Delta living by boat. We were able to see how they made coconut candy and product out of coconut. It was astonishing how everything was done but also how much our tour guide knew. We also stopped off at a factory where they made products out of rice and we even got a go at making rice paper and rice noodles. It was a great insight into how hard the work of some of these people are.
We arrived at a village where we got on bicycles and rode through other little villages. The scenery was beautiful and not spoilt. We then arrived through little back lanes through the thick scenery to a restaurant which was on a little river and enjoyed a beautiful lunch. We then got on a row boat and it took us to Ben Tre which our driver was waiting then drove us to Can Tho which we spent the night there.
Early the next morning we went to the floating markets which was full of different fruits and vegetables. It was an experience that was unlike anything we could imagine. The girls got to get their favourite, mangosteen, which made them happy. We then made our trip back to Ho Chi Minh airport to get a plane to Denang to meet another tour guide and driver who took us to our hotel in Hoi An.
We spent five nights in this lovely city. The first day we did a cooking school with Red Bridge which was highly recommended. The chef was entertaining and helped us cook food that was fantastic which we then got to sit down and eat as a family. Our next few days we enjoyed the cycling to and from the beach. We got a lovely dress made for my daughter from Tina’s who was very helpful. Hoi An was a beautiful city and came so alive at night with all of the bright lights and pretty lanterns.
Now on our way to Hanoi where we met charming Mr Quang our tour guide and Mr Trung also known as handsome driver. We were taken to our hotel in the Old Quarter and were given the rest of the day to take in the sites as we desired. It was enjoyable to walk around another busy, bustily and full of atmosphere town.
The next day we were greeted by Mr Quang our tour guide where we had lunch as what is known as Obama noodles. This place was busy and delicious! We then had coffee at the train tracks that ran through the city where local people live. At this location Mr Quang filled us with lots of history of Hanoi and trains. We then farewelled our guide as we got on a rickshaw and driven around the Old Quarters. After the rickshaw, we went and watched the water puppet show. The whole time my daughter was amazed but I personally didn’t enjoy it as much. Maybe because it was I have previously done similar things in other countries.
The next day we met with Mr Quang and our driver Mr Trung for our long trip to Sa Pa. Beautiful scenery not just on the way but even when we arrived. It was a very long trip but worth it. Sa Pa village was full of tourists.Mr Quang took us to have a lovely lunch which was probably my favourite so far. After lunch, we were taken to our hotel and spent the rest of the day doing as we pleased.
The next morning Mr Quang and Mr Trung picked us up to take us to some very remote villages. While we were driving there, Mr Quang educated us of the different tribes in the Sa Pa area. These little remote villages, with very poor people, were really an eye-opening experience for not just me but the whole family. I realised that often people don’t understand how lucky they are and how much they have until they experience something like this. We were so grateful for Mr Quang for being with us or we would have never been able to experience this. It was great to be taken away from the beaten track of Sa Pa. I am sure most of these village people have never seen a tourist in their lives and was very obvious.
The next day we checked out of Sa Pa and headed to Bac Ha markets. It was bazaar seeing what was sold, anything from fruits, vegetables and foods to puppies, water buffalos and colourful tribal clothing, it was all there. Even though it was strange it was still very enjoyable. We then headed back to Hanoi with Mr Quang and Mr Trung where we stopped off at a road side for a tasty local lunch.
The next day we headed to Ninh Binh, Mr Quang said it was like Halong Bay on land and it certainly looked like that with all the lime stone cliffs. We went down the river passing under the cliffs in these lime stone caves. The untouched, beautiful scenery took our breaths away. After a scrumptious lunch, we trekked our way up the dragon mountain and had the opportunity to learn more about Mr Quang. It was hot and hard but worth the effort as the view was spectacular. Mr Quang and Mr Trung was so thoughtful of everything, making sure we were all very comfortable. After some skilful driving from Mr Trung in the massive down pour of rain we returned safely to the hotel. We enjoyed the rest of the night in the comfort of the hotel.
We checked out of Hanoi and met Mr Quang and Mr Trung who were very excited to take us to their village, Ken Village. For us it was very special as we have never done anything like this homestay and it was our hosts first time as well. I also felt privileged because I now know Mr Quang and Mr Trung very well as we have spent many days together.When we arrived, we were welcomed into the family with open arms, large smiles and welcome drinks. The house is incredible, very comfortable and has two quarters, the original house and the main house for living. The people are all so friendly with generations of family visiting including grandchildren whose English was outstanding.
We sat down in the traditional ways to an unbelievable lunch, definitely one of the best meals yet in Vietnam. I do have to say though for people who eat a lot it was still too much food but never the lest it was still very tasty. It is so nice to arrive to an area like Ken Village which is away from the hustle and bustle of the tourist areas. We rode bikes supplied by the homestay host around the beautiful country side, through rice paddies and farms. All the locals were so excited to see us with big smiles and confident hello’s.
Once we returned from our ride we had the chance to go fishing using rods which were also supplied by the host. It was extremely enjoyable. That evening after a delicious dinner local village people came for a welcoming celebration. We had traditional dances from the village perform three different and amazing dances for us. Food and drinks were served. Ken Village was a great break and definitely off the beaten track of tourists I would recommend staying more than a day and great to do it on the way to Halong Bay. My kids thought Ken Village was the best part of the tour in Vietnam.
The next day we said goodbye and made our way to Halong Bay where we got onto a typical Vietnamese junk boat. We sat down to a lovely lunch while cruising through the bay. Later we then went kayaking and swimming at the beach. It was lovely because it was quite remote. We then returned to the boat to watch the beautiful sunset and have dinner.
Today most people got off the boat but we stayed an extra night so we got on our private boat. We did more swimming and kayaking in the bay. We then had an exquisite lunch as we sailed around the bay. Then we arrived at the floating village where a local rowed us around until we reached a pearl factory. We saw how they made the pearls and got to shop around for some jewellery. We then got back to the main boat to greet the new lot of people. We swam and like the day before we ate a sunset dinner.
Today we went to visit this amazing cave with great photo opportunities. But sadly Mr Quang and Mr Trung had to pick us up to return us to the airport to end our vacation.
Thank you Hoai for making our trip so wonderful!
By Katia and Family