AUSTRALIAN tourists have taken to Vietnam and Cambodia by the thousands, with the high Aussie dollar, shopping is good and both destinations offer an incredible history.
Stuart and Hanna Bunn of Shepparton have just returned from a 20-day tour and were blown away by what they saw.
Arriving in Hanoi, they travelled to Halong Bay. Stuart says it was an incredible sight and a real highlight of their tour.
Staying overnight on a junket, they made their way around the bay with its beautiful limestone mountains.
Stuart and Hanna had the opportunity to enter the caves in the mountains, some with stalagmites, others with interesting formations in the shape of animals.
In one, a rock that looks like a Buddha, another a formation that looks like a turtle, in Vietnam the turtle stands for longevity and the locals paid great reverence to the shape.
Stuart says the atmosphere at Halong Bay was almost mystical as a light fog settled in over the bay.
On board their junket, life was good. Big cabins with large windows to look over the bay and a great dining room with excellent food, particularly the seafood.
Leaving the serenity of Halong Bay, they headed back to the bustling city of Hanoi, it was an experience being on the roads, motorbikes were everywhere.
You can cross the big wide roads of Hanoi City anywhere you like, just step out into the oncoming traffic and the idea is they will miss you as you walk across in front of the oncoming mass of motorbikes.
Stuart and Hanna did just that, it was a bit scary at first but it works, just keep walking at an even pace till you get to the other side.
Next day, a visit to the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum where the body of Uncle Ho as he is affectionately known lies in state.
Stuart says this is a very solemn place. You go through a check point to gain entry, when inside as you pass by the embalmed body of Uncle Ho, no talking is permitted, hands must be held at your side and great respects shown.
In case you don’t want to go by the rules, there are armed guards with machine guns to make sure the rules are not broken.
They stayed in the old quarter of Hanoi and Stuart and Hanna found it great for restaurants and shops.
Next day, on a cyclo tour they were taken on a hairy ride around the bustling city, sitting out front on the cyclo with the rider behind you, it’s like you are right in the traffic.
Motorbikes were everywhere dashing past you and others crossing in front just missing you by metres, Stuart reports that there are an estimated four million motorbikes in Hanoi and that day, they were all on the roads.
Next stop was Hue a much smaller city than Hanoi so things were a little quieter, until Stuart and Hanna decided to take the option of a tour by motorbike.
One on the back of each bike, their riders took off along the back roads. They stopped at a number of local landmarks including the Citadel, once the capital of the old empire. Bombed out during the American War it is now slowly being restored.
Out on the roads they reached some good speeds as they passed through the countryside, five hours later they were back at their hotel, but what a ride.
From Hue they drove the Hoi An, along the way they stopped at Cable Beach, made famous as an R&R resort during the Vietnam War, then onto Marble Mountain.
Yes the mountains are made of marble, and after a steep climb to the top you find a series of caves.
Walking down into the dark interior you become aware of shrines around the walls, the interior of the cave is lit by a defused light, it’s provided by the hole in the roof of the cave left by a bomb during the war.
Arriving in Hoi An it was time for some R&R so Stuart and Hanna took time to relax, shop and visit the many restaurants overlooking the river.
Hoi An is known for its tailors so they decided to get some clothes made, Stuart a suit, Hanna a dress and jacket.
They were measured up that night at 8pm, by 2pm the next day a fitting, next morning their clothes were finished and the quality was great.
While in Hoi An they attended a Vietnamese cooking class and just loved it. They made the local version of pancakes, then rice paper before making spring rolls and finally eggplant hot pot.
Stuart and Hanna then sat down with their instructors and all enjoyed the fruits of their labour.
They now made their way to Saigon and the Cu Chi Tunnels where the Vietcong hid from the Americans during the war.
Saigon, or Ho Chi Min City is an amazing place, from its markets to sprawling streets there is lots to see.
Stuart and Hanna next headed for the Mekong Delta. At a floating market the river was awash with small boats, long sticks on the front of each boat held a sample of what was on sale, you just waved them in and bargained for the produce.
They saw Pop Rice, like popcorn being made and coconut candy and it tasted just great.
After this they headed to Cambodia to Siem Reap, home of the famous temple complexes.
Stuart and Hanna loved the people they met there, they were extra friendly and the pace of life was slower.
Reaching the ancient temples they first visited Angkor Wat and the grand Angkor Thom. The workmanship of these huge sites is incredible, the work of a civilisation that has long since abandoned the site.
Stuart was told the area had been a great irrigation site where the waters of the rivers had been harnessed to feed its many thousand inhabitants. It’s thought the irrigation had dried up forcing people to leave.
In the 14th century Angkor was the biggest city on earth, the second biggest was Paris, France.
Finally they headed home via Kuala Lumpur and what a city, it was full on, the main landmark, the Petronas Twin Towers, are amazing.
Stuart and Hanna took the lift to the 80th storey, at that level there is a skywalk in the form of bridge from one tower to the other, the feeling is incredible says Stuart as you walk alone with just the city far below.
They visited an elephant rehabilitation area where the elephants rescued from the wild are given special care.
You get to help feed them and wash them in the river and you even get to ride on the fitter ones, Stuart says it’s well worth a visit.
Back home in Shepparton, both Stuart and Hanna have some really great memories and photos of their holiday. And yes they would like to go back to KL for some R&R and also to Hoi An, both for the restaurants and to get some more clothes made.
They would like to thank Carl at Jetset in Shepparton for arranging their fabulous experience.
Until next time,