IT happened last year when Ken and Fran Chapman from Tongala were on a cruise, one of their stops was Vietnam, it was only for a few hours, but they found it so special that they decided to return.
They began their trip flying into Hanoi and what a bustling city they found, people and motorbikes everywhere.
One way to discover the city was on a cyclo, you sit out front while the rider pedals from behind, so as you enter the traffic it’s like you are out there only centimetres from all the other road users.
It was fun and thrilling at the same time and an introduction to the layout of the city, including its markets.
Later they visited the Ho Chi Minh Square and its mausoleum to Uncle Ho and then his home and the one pillar pagoda.
Then they travelled to Ha Long Bay, Ken says it’s a magic place with hundreds of Limestone Islands dotting the bay.
They stayed on a luxury junk, the food was wonderful, true silver service, and the experience of visiting the islands many of which have networks of bat caves leading to stalagmites was very interesting.
At a floating village they learned about the people who spend most of their lives living on their floating fish farms, they even have a floating corner store, and teachers come out from the mainland to hold school for the children.
Leaving Ha Long Bay they flew to Cambodia to Siem Reap, Ken and Fran just loved the people, they were so friendly. It had been raining and major flooding had occurred but the people still smiled as they went about their day.
They also had the chance to visit Angkor, it’s a world heritage listed site. The archaeological park contains the ancient temples of the Khmer Empire, with the most incredible carvings. Ken was just awestruck by the huge temples, they are so spectacular and so big, the only way to take it all in is by hot air balloon where you can look down on the enormity of it all.
Ken and Fran took the opportunity to visit an orphanage set up by an Australian woman following the great killings by the Khmer Rouge. It was a small orphanage but big on achievement with many of its students going on to university, setting them up for a good life.
Getting around was easy, using a tuk-tuk which is a Vietnamese version of a rickshaw, is a very inexpensive way to travel, and if you were shopping in Siem Reap they would just wait for you to take you back to your hotel.
They now headed to the Mekong River to board their cruise boat, home for the next seven days. The river was in flood, they could not use the normal pick up point but new arrangements were made and they boarded the cruise further down stream.
This was the maiden voyage of their APT cruise ship and Fran just loved the ship. It had everything, luxury all the way, big cabins, first class dining and very friendly staff always waiting for you after a day’s sightseeing with a cool face towel as you came back on board.
They visited everything from remote villages where the family’s proud possessions, the motorbike and ox lived side by side under the house. Fran says they even put a mosquito net around the ox at night.
At the other end of the scale they saw the Grand Palace in Phnom Penh, Fran says it’s magnificent.
Ken decided to visit the Killing Fields, it was very confronting seeing the plots of land that held the bodies of thousands of people. There is a glass tower with the skulls of those executed, in all, over 3 million people died in that bloody war.
Finally they reached the port for the last leg of their trip, it was on the Mekong River only a short drive from bustling Saigon.
They enjoyed their time visiting the major attractions and savouring their final taste of Vietnamese food.
On their last day of sightseeing they decided to use motorbikes, you ride as a pillion passenger, as the bikes wiz through the streets again the traffic is so close but what a buzz.
They stopped to see temples and other points of interest and just as they were heading home, big black clouds appeared in the sky and the rains came down.
Ken and Fran were drenched but they had had a great time and just laughed it off as they headed back to their hotel.
It was a great holiday and they would like to thank Carl Hainsworth at Jetset in Shepparton for arranging everything.
Until next time,