Vietnam? Yes Vietnam!
Dec 17 - Jan 1, 2023
Vietnam? Yes Vietnam!
To be honest we pondered that question as well prior to making our plans to visit this little known country located in SE Asia, but Vietnamese expats we knew reassured us that it was a beautiful and very friendly country, and boy were they right!
We used KimKim Travel to help us plan a vacation which took us from the capital city of Hanoi and Ha Long Bay to the ultra-modern Ho Chi Minh City (aka Saigon) and Mekong (river of the 9 Dragons) Delta. We initially viewed Vietnam as a small country but were surprised to discover that the distance along its coast from the northern tip to southern tip is further than the distance from Vancouver Canada to Tijuana Mexico! Just letting you know in case you thought this could be covered in a week’s time. We spent 17 glorious days and discovered that the wonder that is Vietnam will take time to truly savor, and savor we did!
We started in Hanoi and met our northern guide, Khoi, at our very charming boutique hotel, La Siesta Classic, located in the old French quarter of the city. We toured the capital and biked through the suburbs, learning about Vietnam’s early history and the Buddhist influence. We toured the local markets and met with a local family where we learned to make spring rolls before heading off for two days in Ha Long Bay. This is the one you see in literally all the brochures about Vietnam and it is every bit as magical in real life, especially aboard a Junk Ship, the Dragon Legend, where we spent the night in a luxurious stateroom. Sunset and sunrise at among the 1500+ limestone islands was a delight. The expansive development in Ha Long impressed us and we pondered where all the people would come from. The why is obvious, Ha Long Bay is definitely a destination in itself.
Returning to Hanoi we quickly boarded a flight to the Imperial City of Hue where we spent another two nights. We met our next local tour guide, Chu, at the airport and headed off to another fantastic hotel, The Eldora. Hue was not only the political but also the cultural and religious center under the Nguyen Dynasty, the last royal dynasty of Vietnamese history. A private tour of the King’s fortress with its multiple moats rivaled the finest of medieval castles of Europe but with a definite Asian flair. The afternoon was spent bicycling alone the Perfume river stopping to visit another local family where we learned how to make paper flowers.
Day 8 began with a drive through the marble mountains to Da Nang and eventually the ancient town of Hoi An. If you are a fashionista, this is the place for you. The town abounds with tailors and is renowned for crafting whatever garments you can imagine overnight. You can bring a picture of what you have in mind or spend hours perusing the many fashion catalogs to design the perfect tailor-made wardrobe. Just bring an extra bag to take it all home with you, or you can opt to have a leather bag made to your specifications, as we did to hold your new apparel.
The beach front Boutique Hoi An Resort, was our home for the next four nights. Tip, the Spa is fabulous! Over the three days we toured My Son, learned about the Champa people who helped to settle Vietnam in its early days. We returned to Hoi An by boat but not before stopping to learn how to make fishing nets and how to cast them as we went on our first fishing trip of the tour. At another stop along our river voyage, we stopped to learn about pottery making where we got to take a spin at the potter’s wheel to make souvenirs. The next day we toured the ancient city of Hoi An, a much slower life style, walking its streets are a delight, especially since it is also known for its colorful oriental lanterns which turn magical in the evening. Round boats! I sore they didn’t look safe but my fears were quickly assuaged when we were treated to a river filled with them including people using the round boats to literally “dance” on the water (granum style).
The next day was beach and spa day, Ahhhh! That night we ate at a new restaurant, Reu, that we heard about from other guests at our resort. As much a work or art as it is a restaurant, hands down our best meal the entire trip, and trust me that is quite a compliment as the food of Vietnam is extraordinary. I am not sure if it is due to the French Colonial influence or that they influenced the French, maybe a bit of both!
Day 12 and we were off once again, our flight took us from Da Nang to Ho Chi Minh City where we met our last tour guide Duc (Dee). I include his nickname here because he showed us how complicated the Vietnamese language can be. The same spelling of a word, such as Mo, can have 5 different meanings based on the accents and hence the pronunciation of the word. The meanings can be vastly different. Our hotel this time was the classical Saigon Majestic Hotel located on the waterfront which afforded us front row seats for New Year’s Eve celebration.
Early the next morning we traveled north to visit the Cu Chi tunnels, made famous by the Viet Cong soldiers during the Vietnam War (or as they call it the American War). First created during the French colonial period, the Cu Chi tunnels became strategic in the fight to retain South Vietnam and quite possibly, what helped them win. The 155 miles network of tunnels were ingenious to say the least and a must see.
The afternoon was spent touring the modern city along with its historical landmarks from its French Colonial period including the Notre Dame Cathedral, the Opera House and the Saigon Central Post Office. Ending our day at the Thien Hau Temple helped slow our pace down, preparing us for the next day’s trip to the Mekong River Delta, or as they call it, the River of the Nine Dragons. Amazing how each tributary of the river can be so massive and support so much maritime trade.
In Can Tho we started our day early so as to our guide could take us up river to the floating market. Although we were told that it pales in comparison to what it once was, we were impressed with the hundreds of boats gathered together selling fresh produce and other goods and service including breakfast on the water. Surprisingly breakfast was served in china dishes that had me wondering what to do with them once we were through, not to worry they’re quite adept at keeping track of everything and soon they reappeared and gathered up all their china. Anthony Bourdain spoke highly of the floating market cuisine, and I can definitely see why! Our river tour continued with occasional stops to educate us about the agriculture and life along the Mekong Delta. We met up with our driver who drove us back to the Majestic in Saigon.
Our last day in Ho Chi Minh City, sad to go, so much left unexplored but memories to last a lifetime. We are sure glad we made the choice to visit Vietnam as our first foray into Asia. Truly, a magical place filled with amazingly friendly people, I can see now why so many people have tried to conquer this marvelous country for over a thousand years.
Thank you KimKim for putting together an extraordinary package of experiences, led by great tour guides and top rate accommodations. You exceeded our expectations. We will definitely seek you out for our next adventure! We’re already beginning to plan where to next…