Guest Blogger: Suzy R (currently on location in Vietnam)
To celebrate my BFF’s BIG birthday (shh… don’t tell anyone, but she’s 50 this year!) we thought let’s go to Vietnam! OK, so why Vietnam? Let me tell you why… it’s quite hard to coordinate 11 people from all over the world to meet somewhere where everyone would have a similar distance and expense. It was always going to be Asia, with us in OZ, good friends from England, more from the States and our next door neighbour and his wife. Phew, a lot of people, a lot of organising. We were determined though to be together for a holiday (and the BIG event), so Vietnam it was.
Cruise Megastore made it relatively simple and easy to book – they were able to coordinate everything with everyone. The passports (with at least 6 months validity), Visa’s for all, suggestions on what to pack and tips for travelling with the kids (and friends). Then there was the actual holiday – a Halong Bay cruise plus travelling around Vietnam to see as much as we possibly could within 17 days and nights.
Let me tell you all about it, starting with…
Day 1: Fly from Australia to Singapore
We begin our holiday in Singapore. It’s a quick stopover to gather the troops, as friends fly in from all over the UK and USA. It’s a great way to acclimatise and get all of our body clocks on the right time. A bit of sleep now because we have a big day tomorrow.
Day 2: Singapore
We have all slept late except for Greg (my hubby), who has been awake since 3 this morning. He will take a few days to adjust I’m sure. The rooms are OK, nothing spesh, just clean and comfortable, which is all we need. Time to wake Sophie and go.
We start the day with brunch at a local restaurant before heading out – fried rice is superb! Singapore is great place, cooler temp which is a welcome relief from the humidity back home. Wandered around Old Singapore and the Gardens by the Bay – the Cloud Garden is spectacular.
As we ventured into the narrow market streets you had to be quick to weave in and out of traffic to avoid all the motorbikes and mopeds.
Going to Singapore Zoo with Keryn & Olly today. Apparently there are four different parts to the zoo. We’re doing the main zoo and Night Zoo which should give us a great overview. Greg wants especially to see the fishing cat! No idea what it is, but we are looking for it. After an exhausting day, we head back to our hotel ready for a good sleep and our flight to Hanoi in this morning.
Day 3: Singapore to Hanoi
Finally we are on our way to Vietnam. The flight was quick and easy and on landing met up with the rest of our party. All 11 of us are together again to celebrate the BIG birthday (shh… did I mention she’s going to be 50?).
We thought the traffic in Singapore was bad, it’s organised chaos in Hanoi. It’s crazy busy, at all hours of the day and night. Everyone has a scooter and to cross the road is, well, if you are watching, it’s entertaining at best. Definitely looking both ways before stepping onto such busy streets – there are hundred of honking scooters and cars blowing horns, bicycles ringing bells – we’ve been told that “the secret is faking confidence – to hesitate is to die.” Hmmm, I’m thinking, we’re all in the wrong business – we need to open a scooter shop – we would make a mint! LOL
Glad to hit the hay tonight, jet lag is almost gone, but it’s been a busy day.
Day 4: Hanoi
I’m up, Greg’s up, Sophie’s up and we are all raring to go see the sights in Hanoi. We start our touring tomorrow, so today is our time to explore on our own – well, the 11 of us.
Highlight so far is a traditional lunch at another local restaurant. It was a sort of BBQ, spicy duck and vegetables all cooked at your table for you. OK there were some chips served up too for the less adventurous of us! All very tasty.
We wandered the streets just enjoying each other’s company while experiencing and soaking up all the sights, sounds and smells of Hanoi. There’s a bit of culture shock with the younger members of our group, and not a lot of English is spoken in some older parts of the city, but it’s absolutely mesmerising just being here – can’t wait ’til the tour proper starts tomorrow.
Day 5: Hanoi
One of our friends back home had recommended a Water Puppet theatre so we were pleased that on the first day of our tour, this is where we ended up.
I had never heard of a water puppet theatre before, but it is an age-old traditional form of art that is popular with the locals as well as the tourists. Essentially it has a number of performers, underwater, operating puppets via thin bamboo sticks, while a group of musicians plays, and a storyteller highlights what’s going on. It is something so unique and original and very entertaining. The kids loved it.
Hanoi is the capital of Vietnam so it is filled to the brim with modern buildings sitting alongside little temples, colonial buildings from when it was under French rule and the much older curly corner buildings (pagodas). We visited the Imperial Citadel (UNESCO World Heritage Site) and the Old Quarter, learning about Vietnam’s history, traditions and a lot about about the culture along the way – our guide is so knowledgeable. Ngoc Son Temple (Temple of the Jade Mountain) was just beautiful, there was the Temple of Literature and visited a shrine over the red Huc Bridge.
Day 6: Hanoi to Halong Bay
It’s an early start from our hotel to drive 3.5 hours to beautiful Halong Bay where we board a Signature cruise through thousands of rock formations, islands and islets. It’s all so very peaceful and serene here.
BTW Stunning accommodation onboard – we were not expecting such luxury!
After a seafood buffet lunch we were taken to Thien Canh Son (a cave system). It was easy to get to & from the ship, nice and cool inside with lights to highlight the grottoes, rock formations, stalagmites and stalactites. It was all very interesting.
Once back onboard some of us jumped in and went swimming, others took time out on the deck – some of the boys tell us they are going Squid Fishing tonight after dinner!
My BFF and I pitched up for a Vietnamese Cooking Class and learned about rice paper rolls and the best stir frying techniques I have ever seen – can’t wait to try it again at home.
As we sat down for dinner the sun was setting across the bay and mountains. It is breathtaking – the emerald green waters turn to so many shades of reds & oranges, it was like the whole place was on fire – just magical.
And speaking of fire – we celebrated the BIG 5-0 birthday onboard. OMG hilarious! The kitchen had found this huge firework and stuck it in the middle of her cake. When he saw it, Greg snorted beer out of his nose, beer went everywhere. We’ve been laughing about both every since.
Day 7: Halong Bay to Hanoi
Tai Chi on the deck with the sun rising over Halong Bay is one of the highlights of my life so far. The simple freshness of the air, water and rock islands all around, the serenity of the movements brought an overwhelming calm to what had to date been a pretty fast paced, sometimes hectic trip. I am refreshed and ready to take on the world! But first breakfast – I’m absolutely starving!
Pastries and fruit are served before we hit the kayaks for a paddle around Vung Vieng – a floating fishing village. This was a chance to see the real Vietnamese cultures and traditional customs first hand. The villagers made their own fishing nets, let us kayak nearby while fishing in their small boats, showing us their daily lives and exploring their homes. Some of the families were offering homestay where you could live among them for a more authentic experience – something to think about for next time. It’s all a bit of an eye opener, yet these fisher-folk have happily been doing this for thousands of years. You can see it’s a hard life, yet a life filled with purpose, promise and great satisfaction.
We head back to Hanoi after another fabulous lunch onboard. Once in Hanoi, we will explore the city a bit more before catching the night train to Lao Cai and Sa Pa, because tomorrow we are heading into the mountains.
Day 8: Hanoi to Sa Pa
The Hoang Lien mountains and Sa Pa Valley are covered in endless green terraced rice paddies, stilt houses and traditional villages, home to the H’mong, Tay and Dao hill tribe peoples.
After settling in to the Sa Pa Highland Resort and Spa, we set out on a hike up to Giang Ta Chai village where we met a grandmother (lady in the red hat) who proudly showed us around her village, introduced us to everyone we met. We just love her. She is so open and friendly, and obviously so enjoying the attention. The traditional detail on the tribal clothing was phenomenal. Basic black, with decorative braiding on the cuffs and collars.
After a trek of suspensions bridges, rock carvings, bamboo forests, waterfalls and the Muong Hoa River, we returned to our Sa Pa hotel and all kicked back to relax for an hour. The kids made a beeline for the heated pool and spa… us too!
The night markets of Sa Pa were something to behold – a bit chilly but well worth it. Shops and stalls, where everything was on sale. People in traditional clothes selling things to wear or the local handicrafts for us to take home and there is lots of traditional street foods to eat. Cooked over an open flame and served up with sticky rice were veges, chicken, beef, pork (I think), fish on skewers or on a plate, dowsed in chilli or lemon. The roasted chickens smelled so amazing – even if they did have their heads on!
Day 9: Sa Pa
Today is an easy day. We drove to Silver Waterfall – a sparkling cascade that lived up to its name, and on to the stunning views of Hoang Lien National Park. From here we drove uphill to the Heaven’s Gate (Vietnam’s highest road), then back to Sa Pa for a free afternoon.
We all stuck fairly close to the town and looked out for local viewing spots to see the mountain views that just went on forever. It was a lovely day spent with my family (Greg and Sophie), as well as time spent with our new extended family (the rest of our friends in the group). We spent the afternoon chatting, comparing photos, relaxing and just being together.
Vietnam is turning out to be a great family & friends holiday.
Read Part 2 Now when we head back down the mountain to Hanoi in the morning, to continue to explore the rest of Vietnam.
Vietnam is the flavour of the month at Cruise Megastore – call now to book your family reunion or & holiday with friends on 1300 657 948.
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