The long flight

T 12.11.19 Only slight delay of 20 mins, at 12.15 GMT. On an Airbus 380, the Thai Airways livery of pinks and purples is a welcome change, and the traditional silk outfits of the female staff quite stunning! Bulkhead seats a treat and upstairs, but then also offered 2 side seats with window and large side compartments, just behind Business/1st class.

The Long Day

W13.11.19 No matter how much room we had on the  plane, it had been  hard to sleep at all. Arrived in Bangkok in early morning smog and to long slow security queues for transfer flight to Ho Chi Minh City (old Saigon) – people grumpy from tiredness and some tense from  missing the tight connection on  previous trips

By HCM, tropical heat hit us & rooms not yet ready – had to do impromptu shedding of UK layers + leave cluster of cases & bags in 5 star hotel lobby … To keep us awake a  short orientation walk, but it proved hard to focus.
Glorious interlude when could absorb quiet swimming pool atmosphere surrounded by old balconies festooned with greenery.

Final test for day came for evening meal around different stalls on street markets – the real deal for many  Vietnamese – & what a contrast with the hotel!

Thurs 14 Nov Vietnamese War: to the tunnels and back

A hectic day – 8am on coach, through the hugeness and brashness that is Ho Chi Minh City nowadays, a city of 13 million people and 7 million scooters.

Our first trip was to the Cu Chih underground tunnels used heavily by Communist Vietcong in their guerilla warfare which defeated the much greater firepower of the Americans. Had been warned of malarial forest there containing poisonous snakes, but worst encounter was with hordes of other tourists. Some simulations but gave a real feel, along with the various spiked booby traps!

Then on to another brand new experience – that of a Buddist temple (Vietnamese style) but with lots of gods and several safes in front of altars to avoid theft of donations. Small, noisy and didn’t seem at all spiritual but apparently very popular with residents.

The main event for all of us in the afternoon was the national War Remnants Museum, an odd name for a significant reminder not just of tanks and aircraft outside, but of the Requiem exhibition of actual war photos. These were taken largely by war photographers most of whom were killed getting their shots, and are no holds barred. An exhibition all should see. Very moving, particularly those containing women and children. Just as graphic were those depicting the impact of Agent Orange attacks and the horrific bodily defects in births afterwards – several people had to leave this room since they had had their fill of horror. Apparently American visitors can be particularly affected…

Fri 15 Nov HCMC-Danang-Hoi An

1 hr flight to Danang (3rd city of Vietnam). 1.3 m people now, was large US base during war. Also had their R&R on ‘China Beach’, 1 of top 10 in world. Main road was originally runway, so v straight. The Demilitarized Zone is 200 mls N. Drove S to beautiful Hoi Ann Silk Village resort. Complete contrast with HCMC, in quiet, lush tropical setting. Free silk production tour, from silkworm to cloth stages.

Charlie at 6.45am

Sat 16 Nov: Hoi An

2 hr walking tour, through old market + 2 temples, + through shops selling silk clothing + lampshades. Mid morning tea in ancient house, over Japanese Bridge, lunch demo, preparation + eat.

Pm – water coconut drink before coracle boats, then bigger boat up very wide Hoai River.

Sun 17 Nov: Cham traditions

Went into hills, first saw traditional dancing by Cham people, then UNESCO site of remaining My Som temples, where US bombing had destroyed many. Needed guide to explain significance of remains.

Mon 18 Nov: Hoi An to Hue

Called in marble carving factory, with thousands of v elaborate statues, mostly Buddhist with some flowing abstracts.

Over Hai Van Pass (= ocean cloud), made famous by the 2008/9 Top Gear trip. Beautiful views of ocean + beach from 1,500 ft up, then even better when lower down.

Hue an original capital in French colonial style, but part razed to ground in war. Rebuilt but more spacious feel than HCMC.
Saw 2 elaborate tombs of kings out of town, the architecture and settings giving a decidedly more Chinese feel, though first serene, second OTT. (more photos to follow)

Tues 19 Nov: Hue for Hanoi

Very busy day after only one night in Hue. First allowed myself to be led astray once more by Jane ‘s purchases, + even before 9.45am had bought a dress + had it altered in 5 minutes flat!
Trip on dragon boat up Perfume River to lovely pagoda buildings for Buddhist monks including novices aged 7-15.

Then to large citadel, including Vietnamese Forbidden City. After seeing 4 very different types of monuments, would never have thought I would find it so interesting with generally peaceful atmospheres.

As soon as finished there, straight on to Hue airport for flight to Hanoi, the current capital city. Hanoi different, plainer + poorer, more Communist, and from 30° plus down by at least 10°. Hanoi 9m people + 6m scooters.
Capital since 1010. 4,000 yrs history. (Ninh Binh cap till 1010). Wholesale night market starting as we passed at 20.35, lots white flowers (sign of autumn) arriving on individual scooters. Very late supper + straight to bed!

Into Forbidden City

Wed 20 Nov: Hanoi highlights

Am: Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum, popular with Vietnamese, in spacious parkland area with HCM ‘s house where he lived till death – simple but elegant.
Saw several children finely dressed with makeup, who readily took up poses for photos, apart from the girl in white who looked only about 10 & seemed uncomfortable at being asked to pose for person with her.
The Temple of Literature used to be the leading university, but now used just for special occasions like graduation. Beautiful curved roofs with carved finials of dragons, clouds etc.
Tasted egg coffee, a Hanoi speciality made with egg yolk in coffee over tealight burner – delicious & more like a dessert.

Our guide Thiep
Egg coffee