VIETNAM PART 1, Ho Chi Minh City, Cho Chi Tunnels & The Saigon river
Our first day in Ho Chi Minh city Vietnam and the heat was immediate, hot steamy heat that outside is inescapable but that is life in south east asia so we had better get used to it. After breakfast we ventured out to wander the streets and take in some of the sights. We were in a great location, right in the heart of the high end tourist zone staying at the Sensational Saigon Sheraton so were able to walk the streets to the Ho Chi Minh monument square and old colonial town hall.
We visited an old stately palace now city museum and did a bit of shopping in the air conditioning to get John some undies…oops packing fail. We grabbed a cooling fresh coconut drink along the way and admired the ingenuity of the Electricity cabling. Lunch was calling and we took Amy’s advice and went to a hidden gem of a restaurant Hoa Tuc that was just opposite our hotel but evaded us for a good 20mins trying to find it. The meal was sensational and perfect for our introduction to Vietnam.
We planned a big day of walking but the heat got to us very quickly and we took a taxi up to the war remenants museum which was a real wake up call to what is correctly called the American War.
The horrors were all around us and it was hard not to be moved to tears. Ann got interviewed by some students before we walked to the old presidential Palace which is now a historic museum and is basically untouched since the liberation in 1975 so it is a shrine to the decadence of the 60’s & 70’s leadership of the west.
We decided to make good use of the abundant cheap taxis in the heat and went back down town to the USA press club in the hotel where we enjoyed a great meal up on the roof top bar overlooking the city.
Another taxi after lunch and we arrived at the Jade Temple…not much chop but we ended up at the botanical gardens…not much chop either apart from an ornate temple and it was time to head back to the hotel.
Tonight we were meeting the Scenic crew and then heading out to dinner and figured out quickly who we did not want to be around. Mostly Aussies with a few poms thrown in and there were two other groups joining us the next day with some yanks and Canadians in the mix. Dinner was back at Hoa Tuc and we sat with Jim & Robyn along with Jimmy and ? And had a great night.
Our first adventure with out guide pronounced “Twee” but spelt was on bus ride through the peak hour bustling streets of the city to visit the cho chi tunnels, the original tunnel system of the Viet min , the farmer soldiers who had been in resistance since the French wars of the 50’s and were now extended and enhanced during the wars of the 60’s and 70’s . These tunnels run for over 30km around the outskirts of Saigon ( still referred to that by the locals ) John ventured part way in but backed out as it got very claustrophobic. The tunnels were a revelation on the ingenuity of a people under the thumb of the oppressor and what they will do to both survive and overcome.
It was a full day with an extensive boat ride up the Saigon river, lunch at a fabulous river restaurant and an afternoon visit to an artist studio down river where we got to do our own ink painting with a master whilst visiting his amazing studio and enjoying all it had to offer.
Margaret and Pam from melbourne joined us on this little excursion.
That night we ate at a stunning old colonial house in the older part of the city centre with Pam, Margaret, & one of the English couples before enjoying a late night cocktail on the top of then hotel at the bar.
Before heading down to the Mekong delta to board the Scenic princess we had a walking tour up to the cathederal and post office , two of the renown french colonial buildings and then a fabulous lunch at one of Saigon most popular restaurants.
The bus took us down the highway to the boat and off we set up the river. The cruising was easy and the boat was beautifully appointed and suite was stunning, a huge comfy bed, big bathroom and a seperate living and dressing room with massive windows to enjoy the river views. Along the river at night we saw a massive amount of low lying barges full of river sand that had been dredged and heading down to siagon and this was a huge business as they were everywhere.
THE MEKONG RIVER
Our first day on the Mekong river and we awoke to another steamy morning berthed in the middle of this massive river. We had moved up from the delta overnight and the brown river had turned a little bit more green. Our first adventure was out on a long boat to the local town of Cai Be where we ended up visiting a local house /restaurant that was getting ready for the day.
We wandered through the gardens and then out along the canals through the village streets and over the local bridges while our local guide pointed out all the local fora and fauna we then witnessed the making of a rice husk sweet and did a bit of spruker shopping in the street stalls before heading back for the feast of a lunch on board the boat.
We opted for the afternoon shore excursion into what they call the “wet market” in the town, and wet it was, or alive it was, freshly butchered and raw foods and the biggest variety of fruit and vegetables imaginable.
But the grossest bit was the open air meat markets where meat is laid out in the open all day long with flys a buzzing and the 35deg heat in the shade taking its toll. Fine for the locals but don’t try this at home with our sensitive western stomachs.
We also visited the home of the man from “The Lovers” movie starring with its Chinnese weakly merchant family decor and upper class finishes and enjoyed a tea ceremony. Day two on the Mekong and we are still in Vietnam but not for long. We headed out early up the river canals for a visit to what they called the island and the village of Van Hao Vinh Loc.
We disembarked and were immediately greeted by the local children who knew there gifts in the offering, they were lovely and not at all pushy and we witnessed their families working the fields and just going about their daily jobs.
Everyone we have met has been gracious and smiling and very accommodating with us invading their daily space and this village was a real eye opener to what life is like today.
No one goes hungry in this area but as a developing nation that not long ago was third world they are doing their best to keep the traditions of the past whilst embracing all the advantages modern living offered…especially mobile phones.
The village children and elders welcomed us in tom their homes and we were given a fantastic overview by our guide Twee which made it all the more special.
Before we left we witnessed the loading of a motor bike with over ton of corn cobs heading to market, it was a revelation of balance and ingenuity and off the skinny rider went in a blaze of glory to us but to the locals it was just another day in Van Hoa Vinh Loc.
That afternoon the long boat took us to Tan Chau and John jumped on board a rickshaw for a ride into town to visit the local Monastery of a strange sect, a hybrid of eastern and western religions that was set up to be the solution to religious differences.
It only partially took off and still thrives today along similar lines to the Bahi faith.On the way back to the boat we dropped in for a visit to a fish farm and experienced the crazy fish feeding Frenzy out on the floating fish farms.
VIETNAM PART 2. Hoi An
We arrived back in Vietnam on Saturday and landed in Danang ready for a relaxing time in Hoi An. We stayed at the up market Naman Resort which is about half an hours drive from Danang and the same distance to Hoi An. We went straight to dinner on the beach with Amy, Tim, Beth & Drew and then chatted around the pool villa enjoying the cooling sea breeze before bed. The villa is perfect for the six of us with our own pool and daybeds and huge living space and separate bedrooms with ensuites .
So we have space to be away from each other but plenty of large areas to gather together as well.
Our first day was cruisey before taking a shuttle into town for a wander around the buzzing streets of Hoi An to take in the colonial mix of Chinnese, French and Vietnamese architecture.
The shops and restaurants were alive and the pace had atmosphere in abundance if not a bit over cooked , but that is what you get from tourism.
We had a sensational meal at Green Mango and then took in more of the atmosphere before catch the last shuttle back to the resort.
It was suit and shoe day the next day and we all headed into Hoi an to start the measuring. In hindsight it was all a bit much and like a lot of things you get what you pay for, some good some bad…was it all worth it maybe 50% of it but so much time spent waiting and fitting.
We ate at the resort that night and each day we took advantage of the complimentary massage so hence the resort wear outfits.
John , Beth & Drew went out snorkelling to the Cham Islands and as It is a whole day affair going on small boats etc so not for everyone.They suffered from lice attacks in the warm water and although the island was lovely it did not live up to expectations.
Amy, Tim and Ann enjoyed a quiet morning around the villa and enjoyed the complimentary daily massage treatment before heading into Hoi An for some more shopping and the enjoyment the beautiful old town during the day with far less people. We got a great spot to watch the Lantern display this evening which is on most nights but tonight’s is an extra special event leading up the full moon and it was really spectacular. John & crew met us all in there and relived their day out on the ocean with the ocker Aussies and crazy gross Chinnese tourists feasting at the BBQ and then getting stuck on the sand bank on the way back.
We moved resorts to the Nam Hi which was closer into Hoi An and this was a real treat…amazing private enclave with three bedroom villas and a central living room villa.
We ate breakfast in at the resort pool area and each day was a case of lazy mornings, swims in the pool, visits to town, shopping, sleeping and feasting in the sensational restaurants of Hoi An.
We had a sensational last meal with all of us together at and continued to wander the vibrant streets to absorb all the wonderful atmosphere.
This fashion statement from Tim & Drew was not planned but had to be captured.
So all in all a fabulously relaxing time….apart from Ann still suffering from her flu like head cold and then John catching it in the last two days.
We finished off the stay with one more night time visit to Hoi An before flying out the next day