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This trip is a great introduction to Vietnam for first timers to the country. You get to experience many wonderful ‘must see’ locations and there’s opportunity to get off the beaten track and experience rural Vietnam too.
Train travel is a big part of this trip with two overnight journeys and one day train on the Reunification Express. It’s a fun, adventurous way to see a lot of the country.
I love the fact you can really see that this trip is benefitting local people. Every second breath the local leader told us about projects that were being supported and we saw many of these in action.
You’ll experience Hanoi in the north, see how it contrasts to Ho Chi Minh City in the south and visit all the best bits in between.
Once capital of French Indochina, Hanoi is now Vietnam’s capital city and the start of this trip. In the narrow streets of the Old Quarter, you’ll find shops selling everything under the sun. This is a stark contrast from the tree-lined boulevards or peaceful lakes you’ll find in other parts of the city.
I can recount so clearly the beautiful evening I spent in Halong Bay and taking a dip in the warm South China Sea in the twilight. The sound of some gentle Vietnamese music played in the background from a neighbouring boat and a fish leapt out of the water just as the sun started to disappear out of sight between two limestone karsts – magical!
I chose to spend some of my free time around Hué exploring the more rural parts of the local area. I visited a village where a remarkably athletic elderly lady showed us about rice cultivation and farming in the area. I also visited the local market, full of brightly coloured vegetables and animals.
Hoi An is a shopper’s paradise – from jewellery to shoes to clothes, you can get many things made to measure here.
Nha Trang is the most resort–like destination on this trip. It’s a university town and has plenty of bars and bright lights and a wonderful beach where many locals congregate to play volleyball or sell/buy fish as the sun sets. Nha Trang is famed for enjoying 300 days of sunshine every year and an average temperature in the high 20s, so it’s a great place to relax and chill out near the end of the trip.
My favourite city was cosmopolitan Ho Chi Minh City (formally Saigon). It’s quite a contrast from Hanoi in the north and this was highlighted on our cyclo tour of the city (a cyclo is a one passenger cycle rickshaw, a bit like a reverse tri-cycle).
First stop was the War Memorial museum. We had an hour here to scratch the surface of the museum, which was an emotional time capsule of graphic exhibits from the American War. Clambering back onto our cyclos, the drivers manoeuvred their way through the hoards of city traffic with some precision. We stopped at the Reunification palace gates to take a photograph from afar before continuing to the square with the replica of Notre Dame Cathedral and the huge, gothic post office.
Overall, a good mix of culture, history, local life, charming towns and beautiful scenery.
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