Vietnam

Trish Griffiths on 02 March 2009
We decided to do our Vietnam tour from north to south, starting in Hanoi and ending up in Ho Chi Minh City.

In Hanoi we stayed in the Old Quarter, not far from Hoan Kiem Lake. This is the traditional commercial heart of the city with many shops and restaurants. We stayed for three days in Hanoi, using it as a base, and only spent one day in the city itself, but we felt that was enough time to see all the main points of interest. The other days we visited the Perfume Pagoda, about 2 hours north of Hanoi, and one of the main Buddhist sites in Vietnam. This is a good opportunity to see the countryside around Hanoi, and includes a very picturesque 1 hour boat ride to the temple.

We also went to Halong Bay – possibly the highlight of the whole trip! The scenery is stunning, and even though it was cloudy the whole time, it didn’t detract from the beauty and tranquility of the area. We stayed overnight on an old (but very luxurious) junk and visited the (aptly named) Surprise Cave, and a local floating fishing village.

From Hanoi we flew to Da Nang, where we stayed at Furama Resort, right on China Beach which has gorgeous fine white sand. From Da Nang we were able to visit the two main cultural sites in the central area – Hue and Hoi An. Hue was the imperial capitol of Vietnam during the 18th century, and the impressive Citadel still stands as a reminder of this past time. Unfortunately there was heavy fighting around this area and a lot of the original structures were destroyed in the Vietnam War, and there are some reminders of this more recent history still to be seen. One other bonus of taking this trip is that you cross the Hai Van pass, a great coastal road that climbs up into the hills and gives you great views.

We also visited the lovely Hoi An – another highlight! The central area of this town appears not to have changed for many years, and offers an insight into life a couple of hundred years ago. Now, as well as being hugely photogenic, it is a retail delight, with many art and craft vendors showing their wares, at very reasonable prices. There are also many restaurants, some right on the riverside – one tip here, if you cross the river, they get even cheaper. It was here that my husband drank beer for 32p a pint, but make sure to ask for “fresh beer” – it is what they call draft beer.

From Da Nang we flew to Ho Chi Minh City (HCM) in the south of the country. We stayed at the majestic Majestic Hotel, right on the river. The rooftop bars offer great views over the city and you could easily lose an afternoon just watching the world go by from here. This hotel is also at the heart of District 1 which has the main tourist sites and the most high-end shopping and restaurants. It is also opposite the river cruise terminal, if you can cross the road! We wandered across one evening and just went on board for a few drinks as we had already eaten - it was 50p each for the trip, and was a very enjoyable hour or so.

HCM has many iconic buildings, from its French colonial past up to those made famous through the images of the fall of Saigon from the 1970s, so a city tour is well worth it. If you’re interested in a Vietnamese perspective on the “American War”, do visit the War Remnants Museum, be warned though, a number of the exhibits are not sanitised in any way!

We also visited the Mekong Delta, a town called My Tho. It’s about 2 hours from HCM and we did it in a local taxi – they charge about $10 per hour. We hired a boat in My Tho and took a 90 minute trip around the delta, and into the backwater canals – again a very beautiful landscape.

If you do think about visiting Vietnam, it is worth remembering that tourism is still relatively new. Be aware - they eat virtually anything, especially in the north – “Dog anybody??”. As for the traffic – IT IS MANIC – especially in the cities – just go with the flow and enjoy the difference to home – you often don’t get any other choice!

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