Guest Blogger: Suzy R (currently on location in Vietnam)
Cruise Megastore has made it so simple and easy to book – they coordinated the tour with Tweet World Travel, the airlines and made sure everyone knew what was going on. The holiday was ideal for family and/or a group of friends. It had just the right amount of adventure vs relaxing, catered for every age within our group, and celebrated along with us as we journeyed through this fascinating country.
Now, let’s continue our journey through Vietnam with Suzy, Greg and Sophie and 8 of their friends. The group heads into the UNESCO World-Heritage Listed – Hoi An and the bustling capital – Ho Chi Minh City with all of their sights and sounds.
Here’s what happened next on their journey to Vietnam…
Day 9: Hoi An
After relaxing in Vietnam’s beautiful mountain retreat of SaPa we were whisked down to Lao Cai for an overnight train to Hanoi. It was fairly basic by western standards, but still relatively comfortable. The kids were out like a light, and most of us adults managed to sleep well enough. Looking forward to a sound sleep in a bed tonight though!
From the train we were driven to Noi Bai Airport for a short flight to Danang Airport where we were transferred straight through to our Hoi An Beach Resort.
We are right near Cua Dai beach – perfect. The hotel is absolutely beautiful, four/five star, pool and spa and our room is huge.
We are heading out to the main shopping area of Hoi An because… EXCITEMENT OF THE DAY! All the ladies are going to be measured up for new clothes. Sophie and I have never done this before although our friends have. Tape measure at the ready, Chi, a lovely older lady and Min, her daughter, showed us all swatches of fabric, style options and then had us strip down to our scanties to be properly measured. There we were all in a row, arms out like birds waiting to be measured. We thought it was so funny, we were giggling like schoolgirls. Tomorrow need to return for final fittings… I’m not sure how they are going to have my 4 dresses, 2 shirts, 2 pairs of trousers and 4 skirts ready by then, let alone everyone else’s, but Chi and Min have said “No problem, no problem, come tomorrow”.
We wandered around and met up with the guys who had been roaming around the markets for the past hour and a half. We walked over a footbridge to An hoi island to a riverfront bar and sat for a while watching the boats and other tourists wander by. A tasty set of BBQ pork, chicken and prawn skewers and some local beer was just what we needed before heading back to our hotel for a quick dip in the pool and a long soak in the spa. It was a lovely end to a rather long day.
Day 10: Hoi An
An early morning run along the beach as the sun was rising for Greg, Sophie and I, before a breakfast of a basket of pastries (French-Vietnamese perfection) and tropical fruits…Greg has a taste for noodles this morning, though it’s a bit too much for me! Talking over breakfast with the rest of our group, we are all blown away with how beautiful Hoi An is! It has such a graceful old world charm, no wonder it’s a UNESCO World Heritage Listed area.
Today we head out to see the sights of city from an ancient Japanese-style covered bridge, avoiding motorbikes in jam packed narrow streets, donging the gong or ringing the bell in Chinese temples, astounding pagodas and age old buildings from ancient times through to French colonial days.
We stopped in a Chi and Min’s on the way to have a dress fitting. I am astounded that they have everything that everyone ordered almost ready to go. A few minor nips and tucks here and there, and they will be ready for us by lunchtime. Chi and Min are miracle workers., and such lovely people.
We grab a coffee (and a few pastries) and watch life pass by for a while, before heading into the bustling market area.
Everywhere you look are stalls full of ceramics and souvenirs, clothing, spices, vegetables, herbs, flowers, fish – seemingly everything you could ever want to eat or need is readily available. The street foods smells absolutely amazing – steaming bowls of pho, noodles, spring rolls (kid’s favourites), crispy prawn pancakes, skewers (not sure what some of them are, but they look and smell delish!) and delicate silk lanterns everywhere, thousands of them. As the sunlight fades the lanterns light up – it’s just beautiful.
There is a festive atmosphere on the streets of Hoi An tonight, everyone is excited. It seems their team is playing in the Asian Cup – soccer. The expectation is that they will win. As we sat for dinner later on the cheers started, getting wilder and louder as the evening went on. The streets were filled with people and a cacophony of noise, everyone was smiling, dancing, clapping each other on the back and laughing, hooting horns and cheering. Our guess is that the team won.
Another magic day in Vietnam. Hoi An is definitely one of the most memorable and beautiful cities I have visited. BTW – authentic Tom Yum Soup is worth the wait!
Day 11: Ho Chi Minh
A bit of traffic as we drove past the very green rice paddies on our way to Danang Airport. Amazing to show the kids how in this modern age that people actually still work in the fields, backs bent or use oxen to pull a dray. They were a bit stunned I think, even after all this time in Vietnam.
I must say again that Cruise Megastore and Tweet Travel have made travelling so easy for us. With so many people, they got us here, we are staying in great hotels and all of the transfers have been private in either chauffeur driven mini-vans or limo-type cars (depending on the region and size of the car). We will all definitely be booking through them again.
We fly into Ho Chi Minh City also called Saigon and have the rest of the day to ourselves. Everyone did their own thing, some went for a nap, then to the hotel restaurant, others out on the town by cyclo (a bike/taxi). Greg and I took a stroll through the nearby markets to see what we could see, Sophie stayed with our friends from England – their kids were in the pool.
Day 12: Mekong River Day Cruise
An early start for us when we were all picked at around 7.30am for a drive to Cai Be in the Mekong Delta. We are going on a cruise along the Mekong River today!
First stop was at Cao Dai Temple, celebrating the worship of Caodaism. And what an exceptional sight! The temple has a pagoda-like roof but the inside is a whole riot of colour. Vibrant yellow walls, green ceiling, wraparound dragons climbing central columns, a golden altar and robed priests sitting in rows praying in harmony. It was all profoundly spiritual.
We then visited a Catholic Gothic French-style cathedral with an enormous 5-bell tower in Cai Be. Another church you might think, but while our guide was showing us the yellow stained-glass windows inside, we could all plainly see the bullet holes in the walls. Quite chilling really.
Once outside again our guide took us by boat through the Delta area along narrow canals to a floating market. His commentary was all focussed around witnessing the local people’s daily struggle for life. The vibrancy of the market, the hustle and bustle soon livened everyone up and we were haggling with the best of them.
Did I mention the snake that Sophie insisted on having her photo taken with? It was alive, large, coiling and did not come anywhere near me!!
We were ferried across to Tan Phong Island, where we set off on a bit of lazy bicycling to a few traditional handicraft workshops and a visit to a local farmer. The whole family welcomed all 12 of us (guide included) in for a cup of green tea made over an open fire. Reminded me of how we made billy tea on the campfire back home in OZ.
Our host and his wife chatted to us about their farm, the fishing and how sustainable the resources in the Mekong Delta were. Sophie asked loads of questions about the environment, which I think made them (and her) feel very involved with saving the world. Greg and I were so proud of her.
Cycling back to Mekong Ecolodge we were just in time for a late lunch – more noodles, spring rolls, fried rice (I can’t get enough of it) and stir fried tofu with veges. The spicy, spicy sauce made this the best dish of the day. Bit hot though. There is a bit of time to wander around before the boat returns to take us back to Ho Chi Minh City this afternoon. We all spend it reminiscing, drink in hand, by the riverside.
A big last night celebration with the whole gang. It’s a little bittersweet because everyone has had, and is having such a great time together, yet we know it’s about to end and we wont be seeing each other for at least another few years.
We have to pack tonight – we fly home in the morning.
Day 13: Ho Chi Minh
We are trying to make the most of our final half-day in Vietnam. Greg, Sophie and I took a run down by the riverbank to see the markets getting started for the day. All of the vendors were chatting to each other, getting kids organised, eating breakfast – all the normal things you do before heading out to work. And after a quick snack for breaky our tour guide picked us all up for a morning tour to the Chu Chi Tunnels – a leftover from wartime Vietnam.
They are a huge maze of tunnels and it’s considered a major tourist attraction, especially for the Americans (our friends from US were fascinated). Our guide told us that the tunnels had originally been built in the 40’s and were extended for use by the Viet-Cong during the Vietnam-American War. It was a tight squeeze and I cannot imagine the hardships the soldiers went through living here day in day out. Glad we are not claustrophobic.
Heading back to the hotel. A bit sad because we leave first, in about 2 hours. Everyone gathered around us to say goodbye. There were some tears, not the least for the beautiful country we have just spent two weeks travelling through. We will definitely be returning. One last kiss all round, and we are on our way home.
Day 14: Australia
Flight from Vietnam to Singapore then on to Australia. We are home again.
My favourite thing about the trip, apart from seeing old friends, was the stunning sunrise over Halong Bay, the day I spent in SaPa with Greg and Sophie, and the pride I felt when my teenage daughter reached across the language and cultural barriers and spoke about the environment with a fellow devotee. I will never forget this journey for as long as I live.
Did you miss Part 1? Click here now and read all about it
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