Holiday outline: 12 Nov-1 Dec 2019

First glimpse of our adventure holiday in Vietnam!

We went with Ramblers Guided Walking Holidays, on one of their trips classed as pioneer: this could include considerable differences in lifestyle and values; off the beaten tourist track to remote areas; different health and safety standards etc – all designed to give ‘a more adventurous travel experience’ – and this had whetted our appetites. Over the journey out we gradually linked up with 16 other customers from the UK, recognisable with the distinctive Ramblers suitcase labels, and we then travelled as a group throughout the country and back. Although we had a British leader who was responsible for general admin at hotels etc, we had 4 different Vietnamese guides for different areas, all of whom were excellent – knowledgeable, very good company, and dedicated to giving us the best possible service they could.

Tues 12 Nov: The long flight

Excitement as we took off with only a 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 which was even better.

Wed 13 Nov: The long day

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 HCMC, 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.

Contrasts of HCMC

Glorious interlude when could absorb quiet swimming pool atmosphere surrounded by old balconies festooned with greenery.

Evening glow

Final test for this long day came – having evening meal cooked and eaten around different stalls on street markets by jam-packed roads – the real deal for many  Vietnamese, & what a contrast with the hotel!

After dinner, we were taken on an unusual non-tourist route: down the second-hand street!

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!! Here’s a few photos of the rush hour, all taken on the same day in different areas of the city as we drove out …

Hard graft for some
Not quite fibre optics yet!

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!

Guess who had to have a go …
One of many booby traps, designed to trap different parts of body, even on back of doors

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, which are still affecting children now! Several people had to leave this room since they had had their fill of horror. Apparently American visitors can be particularly affected…

Evening transport in our disco coach!
Since pavements full of holes & parked scooters,
the only space to walk – up close & personal with the traffic!

Fri 15 Nov: HCMC to Danang to Hoi An

1 hr flight to Danang (3rd city of Vietnam), 1.3 m people now.  Was large US base during war, & they 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 on arrival: from silkworm …
…to magical golden silk extruded from worm as it pupates

Sat 16 Nov: Hoi An

2 hr walking tour, through old market and 2 temples, & through shops selling silk clothing and lampshades.

The full horror of foot-binding – unsure if these are Vietnamese or Chinese

Mid morning tea in ancient house

Served with ceremony, very carefully cooked & all in exquisite hand-made pots etc. I had lotus root tea – tasty!

Then walked towards the Japanese Bridge, for lunch demo, preparation and eat.

Pm – water coconut drink, before taken for ride in bamboo coracle boats, then bigger boat up very wide Hoai River.

Spin that boat!
Magic of night-time in Hoi An, when thousands of silk lamps light up, everywhere!

Sun 17 Nov: Cham traditions

Early morning swim before breakfast
Pristine blooms

We went into the hills, and first saw traditional dancing by Cham people.

We then walked round UNESCO site of remaining My Son Hindu temples from the 4th century, where US bombing had destroyed many. Needed guide to explain significance of remains. Amazingly, no evidence of mortar can be found, and the mystery of how they were constructed remains!

On right, large crater left by bomb blast, & on left the temple it ruined
Goodnight to our beautiful silk resort

Mon 18 Nov: Hoi An to Hue

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

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

Still travelling north, we passed stilt houses built for holiday homes

We saw 2 elaborate tombs of kings while still out of Hue, the architecture and settings giving a decidedly more Chinese feel. Though the first was quite serene, the second was definitely OTT!

The one & only time you’ll see Charlie appearing to meditate …
Final arrival at our hotel, & straight into rooftop pool!

Hue was the capital city from 1802-1945, built in French colonial style, but part razed to ground in the 1970s war. Though it has been rebuilt it still has a more spacious feel than HCMC.

Tues 19 Nov: Hue for Hanoi

A very busy day after only one night in Hue. First allowed myself to be led astray once more by Jane ‘s purchases, and 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.

Peaceful garden displaying feng shui principles

Then to a large citadel – the Vietnamese Imperial Forbidden City – very spacious and beautifully laid out. After seeing 4 distinctly different types of monuments, would never have thought I would find it so interesting with generally peaceful atmospheres.

Into Forbidden City
Royal Library
Outside Royal Treasury Building – lanterns Hue style

As soon as finished there in late afternoon, it was straight on to Hue airport for flight to Hanoi, the current capital city. In its 4,000 years’ history, Vietnam has had several capitals, under different rulers, e.g. French, South Vietnamese & North Vietnamese. After the war, Hanoi has been the capital since 1976, & is different from the South: plainer and poorer, more Communist, and from 30+° heat down by at least 10°. Hanoi has 9m people and 6m scooters.

Wholesale night market was starting as we passed at 20.35, with lots of white flowers (sign of autumn) arriving on individual scooters. Finally, a very late supper & straight to bed!