I was lucky enough to spend almost 2 weeks in Vietnam at the start of August, travelling from Hanoi in the North, down country to Hoi Chi Ninh City (Saigon) in the South.I flew direct from Christchurch to Singapore (and return) with a Singapore Airlines a stopover, then continued next morning, flying direct to Hanoi. Internally, I flew with Vietnam Airlines on their new Airbuses and received excellent service.
The tour I took had only 10 people on it and as is the case with 'Adventure World' once you have 7 in a group, a Western Tour leader is included. As we moved through each area of the country, we picked up local english speaking guides and local bus drivers.
First Impressions: Rich vs Poor, side by side as this country rebuilds; with new roads, buildings, factories and bridges and strangest of all, a parking area, in which, basked a row of MIG fighter planes, parked and waiting. For what? We never got told.
Traffic! Oh Boy! "Mr Kevin," I was told "In New Zealand you drive on the left hand side of the road. In America you drive on the right hand side of the road. In Vietnam we drive in the middle!" This pearl of wisdom proved invaluable as the trip progressed. It's a great passtime to stand and watch some of the, approximately 10 million, scooters and motorbikes zoom past carrying family, pigs, flowers, cement or all the above on board. Most of these people do not even hold a license. As to crossing the road, I was told
"Mr Kevin - walk into the traffic and they will make arrangements to miss you!" Believe it or not,,,,this works! Remember however, when you get back to your own town, do not try these methods, as milk tankers can be very unforgiving.
Food: Vietnamese food is glorious! Always eat with the locals in their restaurants and you won't go wrong. I promise, standards of hygiene are higher than the horror stories lead you to believe. Lots of vegetables/sauces/flavours. 4-5 courses at a ridiculously cheap price. You have many choices here, cook your own meal on a charcole brazier, have a cooking lesson and eat the mistakes or be really adventurous and line up for a 'Fear Factor' meal. I wont say what was on the menu, I will say it's washed down with snake testicle wine.
A visit to China Beach for lunch, where the G.I's went for R&R. Beautiful fresh seafood, surrounded by brilliant blue skies and acres of white sands.
Shopping: Hate it! But for those who don't, Vietnam, and the town of Hoi An in the central part of the country (just to name one) has changed my opinion forever? In this Old Market Town, you can litteraly shop till you drop.
Tailer made clothes, silks and silk creations, stone carvings, ceramics, design your own shoes, wood carving, art galleries, packs, bags and original artist CD's. I purchased some tailor made clothes and even emailed an order through when I got home, receiving my clothes to my home address within 7 working days.
Another experience not to be missed is the local fish market. It's totally worth the 5 a.m. start to be a part of it. You will see everything from sardines-swordfish, prawns, crabs, eels all being traded at top volume. Run by little old ladies in comicial hats, this is an awesome photo opportunity.
Entertainment: You could not get bored in Vietnam! With so many things to do and see, for example, sitting in a jazz bar in Hanoi at midnight on a Sunday, evening drinks on the rooftop of the Rex Hotel in Saigon, enter the original ' Apocalypse Now' night club, or get locked in a pub in Hoi An and only get back to your hotel courtesy of the security guards deserting their posts to drive you back on their scooters. Hmmm there seems to be a recurring theme here involving late nights and alcohol, but we were there to enjoy and enjoy we did.
History: There is much history to be found here, Check out "The Museum of Historical Truths" which is their perspective of the 'American War'. Listen to stories from colonial times to present day how the Vietnamese fought and threw out the Chinese, Japanese, French and Americans and how only now they have a generation of children that have only known peace.
Beaches: If this is what you're really looking for in a holiday, Vietnam is your place. Virtually desserted beaches, where you can relax, swim, snorkel and eat seafood - what more could you ask for? Oh, and forget swimming with the dolphins, at the Victoria Beach Resort you get to swim with an elephant when he takes his daily bath.
Well, that's me and my experience in this
stunningly beautiful, unspoiled holiday destination. Go, look and learn.
It's an experience not to be missed!