Vietnam seems to be the flavour of the month, travel is inexpensive, the food is great, and the people are very friendly.
So when Don Clutterbuck of Shepparton was looking for a fun break from Australia, Vietnam was the choice.
Don, his wife Sue, with friends Terry and Gail Allen and John and Robyn Guilmartin set off together on their Asian adventure.
First stop was Hanoi, Don could not get over the traffic, not just the huge number of motorbikes but the noise as they constantly sounded their horns.
It was explained by their travel guide that the honking was not a warning signal of impending doom but more of a social recognition of other users of the road.
Next morning, bright and early the group set off on a walking tour of Hanoi, it soon became apparent that huge numbers of people lived on the footpaths of the city.
They slept, washed, ate and lived with their families right on the footpaths so the walkers had to take to the road for space to walk.
Don says you share the roadway with thousands of motorbikes, but there’s a lot to local etiquette as well. If crossing the road you just keep a steady pace and the motorbikes will find their way around you, it’s not considered good form to run over the tourists.
Next they toured the major sights of Hanoi including the Temple of Literature, Vietnams first University built in 1070, to educate the sons of the Mandarins.
The complex holds many ancient buildings that tell the early history of Hanoi, such as the One Pillar Pagoda.
The highlight was the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum, which still holds the body of Uncle Ho, as he is known to the people.
Next a tour of the countryside and a visit to a lake known as Little Halong. They were taken out on the lake by local people in rowing boats. Don says it was unusual with the main rower sitting at the back of the boat using their feet to hold the ores with their toes to push the craft along.
They saw Limestone Mountains and had the chance to row beneath large arches eroded into the limestone.
Next day, they boarded a sleeper train to visit the hill tribe people of Sapa, after the overnight ride on the train they arrived bright and early the next morning to begin their tour.
Sapa is high up in the mountains near the Chinese border, this is the land of the rice paddy fields and it’s a visual feast.
Paddy field after paddy field rolling over the mountains and down into the valleys below.
Don says you can walk along the ridges down into the valley and the local village people will walk right along with you. Up in the mountains the weather is much cooler and it’s a wonderful feeling strolling along.
They were shown one of the local huts where a family lived, Don found it to be very basic with a dirt floor and chooks in the corner, but just outside was a satellite dish, it seems even up here TV has found an audience.
Next day, they returned to Hanoi and made their way to Halong Bay, it was time to board their boat, a Junk, and spend time touring the lake.
Their Junk had everything, quite luxurious and well laid out from the dining area to their overnight accommodation, the food was excellent and soon they were interacting with the staff learning some of the intricate ways food was presented in Vietnam.
Many dishes feature vegetables made in the form of animals and birds, the women carve them, as presentation is paramount.
At night the Junks on the bay all tie up together except for one, a junk known to accommodate the under twenty fives, they were sent far away from the others where the beat box could play all night.
Leaving Halong Bay and heading up to Saigon, on the way they stopped at Hoi An, a beautiful city set right on the edge of the river.
At night as they took their evening meal, hundreds of floating lanterns were on the river and made a wonderful experience as they floated by.
While in Hoi An, they attended a cooking class where they were taught to make the local dishes and share them, but unlike Master Chef, no-one was eliminated and everyone had a great time.
Hoi An is known for the quality of clothing made by the local tailors, everyone had something made, suits, shirts and skirts.
Don decided on a new jacket, he had bought one with him that had cost $400 but in Hoi An just $80 and the workmanship and quality is superb.
They now entered Ho Chi Minh City or Saigon, the old presidential palace is now a museum to the last days of what is referred to locally as the American War.
It’s a bustling city with lots of night life from here you can visit the Delta of the Chu Chi Tunnels where the Vietnamese solders during the war lived underground in a complex of tunnels covering hundreds of kilometres.
It was now time to leave Vietnam but Don and the rest of the group were going to miss the many sights they had seen, the wonderful food and those ever smiling faces of the people.
Don says if you are looking for a holiday with a difference then Vietnam could be for you, he also would like to thank Flight Centre for arranging the trip
Until next time,