I met with ten other travel agents at 8am at Gatwick Airport. After a long but enjoyable flight from Gatwick to Hanoi with Vietnam Airlines, we arrived at Hanoi airport and were greeted by Martin, the Travel Indochina rep.
Hanoi is a charming city with beautiful lakes, shaded streets and lovely people.
On arriving at the hotel, we were introduced to Gaing, who would be our local guide for a few days and for this morning’s first experience of Hanoi, which was to see the preserved body of Ho Chi Minh, the leader of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam and the first president of Vietnam up to his death in 1969.
This is a sombre experience, more so, seeing how the Vietnamese were saddened by his death and the respect he still has by the people. His nickname amongst them is ‘Uncle Ho’.
Afterwards we went to see the “Hanoi Hilton” not the hotel but the Old French Prison, used to keep the Vietnamese in check, while the French ruled the country. The name Hanoi Hilton, came from the American Air Force officers, who were imprisoned there, during the American/Vietnam War.
That night we had our first experience of Vietnamese food, which was excellent. Martin, chose various Vietnamese dishes for us all to try. The food was all very fresh, healthy with lots of vegetables and fish. The most popular dish is Pho (pronounced ‘Fur’) which is a big dish of tasty soup with noodles, meat and your choice of chillies, herbs etc.
To end the night, we had a few drinks in a local bar, 3 floors up, overlooking a busy traffic junction.. to see the organised chaos from above, is a sight to behold. Crossing the roads in Vietnam an experience in itself. They are full of scooters who don’t believe in stopping and seem to drive on any side of the road in any direction!. You literally have to just cross in front of them and they go round you – really! If you don’t you will be stood there all day!
After a second day discovering the wonderful delights of Hanoi, we then set off to Halong Bay, the highlight of my trip!. We boarded our luxurious boat and, whilst enjoying a sumptuous lunch, set sail out amongst the thousands of limestone islands. We were extremely lucky with the weather and had clear blue sky and sunshine for the rest of the day, the scenery was fantastic! We stayed on board overnight and rose early the next morning to climb to the top of Titop Island to see the amazing views!
On the way to the airport, we stopped to visit a lovely rice farming couple and their family, who invited us all in for a drink of her homemade rice wine – tasted very potent!
On arriving at Danang Airport we transferred to Hoi An for our 2 night stay at The Hoi An Historical Hotel Hoi An was an important trading town in the 16th century for the Chinese, Japanese, Dutch and Indian, which was heavily influenced by these countries and you can tell in the feel of the place. Lots of Chinese pagodas, the beautiful Japanese bridge and the smell of incense in the air from the Chinese temples.
Hoi An is famed for having some of the best tailors in the world where you can get suits and dresses made for a fraction of the price!
Later we had a great meal at the Duck café, fantastic high end Asian fusion food, from our chef, who recently taught Gordon Ramsay a thing or to about Squid!
We ended the evening with a walk along the river, with all the different coloured lanterns floating on the river and hanging in the trees and on the bridge – a wonderful sight!
The following day we all learnt how to be fishermen ( the Vietnamese way). We went out on the little boats and learnt how to throw the nets and pull them back in ( not much in mine I am afraid!) and learnt how to navigate a basket boat through the narrow waterways of the jungle before enjoying a wonderful seafood meal on board.
Sadly, the next day, we left Vietnam and boarded our flight to Siem Reap, Camboadia for our 3 night stay.
The day that followed was my birthday and I was treated to a very early start, at 4.45 am, where we were picked up from our hotel, the lovely Shinta Mani, and travelled by tuc tuc to Angkor Wat. We entered by the little-used eastern gate and witnessed the iconic spires of Angkor Wat emerge from the surrounding darkness. What a way start my birthday!! We spent the rest of the day visiting other hotels and temples, including Ta Prohm Temple where the blockbuster ‘Lara Croft, Tombraider’ was filmed.
After diner, we went out and experienced the nightlife of Siem Reap on Pub Street, with it’s bright lights, loud music and ‘crocodile pizzas’. Not really what you think of when you imagine Siem Reap!
For our last day we took a boat ride out on to Tonle Sap Lake and cruised past the floating villages, schools and houses before heading back to the airport for our long journey back to London.