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Up and Down in VietnamAuthor: Brian W Fisher (More Trip Reviews by Brian W Fisher)
Date of Trip: November 2013
Up and Down in Vietnam
Having toured most of South East Asia, with the exception of Vietnam, I wanted to redress that omission.
One can study the many Internet sites, which advertise holidays and tours to that country as well as read the countless reviews by past travellers.
It is difficult to choose unless you know exactly what it is that you wish to experience. Maybe just a 'flavour' - perhaps to visit a world famous region such as Ha long Bay – or to see as much of a country as possible within a specific time frame and budget. In my case, it was the latter.
I had already 'done my homework' which let me plan an itinerary. But, would that itinerary maximise my experience. That I wasn't certain about. Good local knowledge (provided it is given without bias) is almost priceless and should be sought whenever in doubt.
Writing to a few Tour Operators based in the country you want to visit, is a great way to gain knowledge and evaluate what responses you receive. I do so each time I intend to tour a new country or region and did so on this occasion.
Of the three replies received, one did seem to stand out, not only by the professionalism shown, but by the offer to 'mix and match' any of the suggested itineraries. This suited me perfectly and once a final quote was received and accepted, I began to plan in detail, corresponded with that company – Asia Tour Advisor (from its Hanoi headquarters) and between us, 'tweaked' the itinerary to one of 14 days.
Hanoi. I was to begin here and end in Ho Chi Minh City – visiting Ha long Bay, Da nang, Hue, Hoi An and Nha Trang in between. Not wanting to make a long (overnight) train journey, I opted to take flights between each major venue – thus the reason for the title of this piece.
Hanoi is certainly a bustling city full of contrasts. The old and the new are very different both in architecture and style. It suited my plans better to base myself in what is called 'the old quarter'. Life here is as genuine as one could find. Narrow streets, streams of buzzing motorbikes, shops of all types, restaurants and cafes to suit all tastes, pavement vendors of everything from homemade items to wok-fried shrimps. I relished it all, even more so when, for a couple of dollars, sat in a cyclo (Vietnam's wheeled version of the old rickshaw) as its owner peddled me around streets I'd not ventured down when walking.
I 'took in' (as did many tourists) a few landmarks such as the Vietnam Ethnology Museum, Hoan Kiem Lake and Ngoc Son Temple, all interesting and worth a visit.
Splashing out around ten more dollars late one afternoon, I sat among the theatre audience of hundreds, watching the famous Water Puppet Show. The skilful display lasted about an hour and by the looks on people's faces as they left the theatre, it was a huge success.
Ha long Bay.
A pleasant drive from Hanoi took me to the quayside of this UNESCO-declared, World Heritage Site. Much has already been written about this area so I won't go into any fine detail. A simple overview, perhaps? So here goes.
Ha Long Bay is a naturalist’s dream. Sculpted into strange shapes by the wind and weather, the up-thrusting limestone karsts hide deserted beaches, many magnificent caves and hidden lagoons that can only be reached by small craft navigating through breaks in the karsts – and only at low tide.
As one would expect, there are many boat companies offering tours in and around the bay. My choice was to take a two day (one night) cruise with one named Glory Cruises. They have two boats, one quite new (my choice) but both resembling Chinese Junks when their sails were hoisted. I found absolutely nothing to complain about, the cabins – the food and the crew interaction were well honed to passenger's needs.
From a large hatch in its side, I and others, stepped down into a much smaller tender and taken to areas the mothership could not reach. From a wooden jetty at a floating village, we changed craft yet again, either into two-person kayaks or flat-bottomed boats, small enough to enter the low openings in the cliffs and emerge into fully enclosed lagoons. Quite magical!
Sung Sot Cave is a an 'out of this world' experience. Reached only by boat, its size and complexity is mind boggling. Ignore the fifty or so steep steps to its tiny entrance – just climb them – squeeze yourself through a narrow 'slit' in the rocks and enter this massive, cathedral-like wonderland.
At around noon the next day saw us alight back onto the harbour quayside, identify our guides and drivers and head back to Hanoi.
Ha long Bay truly is a 'must see' when visiting Vietnam and I'm glad that I incorporated it into my plan.
Hue (pronounced 'whey')
Reached this town by the first of my internal flights with Vietnam Airlines. A brief few words about this carrier...on time – clean – cabin crew excellent – organisation as good as many majors.
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