Good Morning Vietnam …. Part 1
As I am now searching for my next holiday destination I thought it would be a good moment to get down some thoughts on our Vietnam Adventure …. So this is the postcard I should have sent from there a couple of years ago …… this post is the equivalent of the postcard you find at the bottom of your beach bag when you drag that same sand laden bag out a year later, there it is just waiting to be sent, stampless but complete with grease spots, salt, sand and an unwrapped Werthers original stuck to it coupled with fond memories … happily through the wonders of modern science this is no longer sitting in my beach bag but will instead be sitting here as a postcard to you all.
We chose Vietnam as it offered not only the opportunity for a new destination but also great value, when compared to Europe which over the Summer months can be eye-wateringly expensive. After doing a little research, I discovered that both the North and South of the country can experience a lot of rain at the time we planned to travel in September. Influenced by this, we chose two resorts in Central Vietnam which had the added benefit of not requiring anti-Malarial drugs. We only needed the standard jabs for Hepatitis, Tetanus etc (always check with your GP’s practice nurse before travelling as they will have up to date information on immunisation for all over the world). Vietnam definitely offers up new and exciting experiences, culture and cuisine. As with all our travels we had some very funny moments enjoying all these.
The journey was long with no inflight entertainment simply because, it would seem, that the stewards weren’t quite sure how to make the system work, although the films on offer all seemed to be widely available on DVD anyway (#firstworldproblems – quit my moaning!). Vietnam Airlines at the time was new to the UK direct market and I think may have been a work in progress, although the staff were absolutely lovely – and we were offered limitless Pot Noodle at any time of day or night throughout the journey (yum! not). After a 13 hour flight we had a stopover in Hanoi which truly was an assault on all the senses, anyone who has travelled long-haul with little sleep knows that the brain is working on an altogether different frequency to normal. Hallucinations are not unusual, tired and emotional in the extreme, Mr H and I get a little snippy with each other, there is quite a bit of that spittly, under-the-breath talking between gritted teeth followed by tear-filled eyes ready to weep any second – and that’s just him!! Hanoi airport and the interchange was baffling to our sleep deprived brains – my one saving grace was that at 5ft 2 and a half inches, I was unusually a head above most of the indigenous travellers as we moved from International Arrivals to Hanoi Domestic Departures, which gave me an advantageously clear view as to where I was trying to get to. Once in the domestic departure lounge we were desperate to eat something …. And more Pot Noodle was all that was on offer. I kid you not, we saw a lot of the pour on water type noodles in a pot on offer – a students dream, for me – not-so-much!
A brief and comfortable one hour flight from Hanoi to Hue on the domestic service which is reminiscent of a 1960’s air travel infomercial, this is the way to cover the country if your destinations are far apart. We came out of the airport to be greeted by 20 or so yipping taxi drivers, each vying for our attention but not permitted to approach from beyond a line where they stand ever hopeful that you will pick their taxi over the others. We gratefully fell into the care of a pre-booked tour guide and private transfer who bundled us into a car and off we went …. Only to receive a phone call 5 minutes into the journey to return to the airport. Our tour guide had unwittingly sent us in the wrong car and needed us to return, change cars and he would join us to give us a little history as we were driven to the hotel.
Vietnam is very laid back in its approach to service. always friendly and sometimes a little hit and miss and no concept that telling a group of two couples that one man is more handsome than the other may be offensive … yes, we really had THAT conversation, fortunately Mr H was the more handsome so I didn’t feel compelled to protect his honour and good name. oh yes, and another favourite is to tap your (his) tummy and say “happy Buddha” … not rude at all!
On the way to the hotel we passed paddy fields and farmers laying their rice crops out in a very busy road to dry (and not one truck, cyclist or moped drove over this valuable crop – seems rice may be a more valuable commodity than life!!!), as well as goats, chickens and assorted livestock milling about in the roads, …. And a herd of Water Buffalo …. We are yet to understand if these water buffalo that we had seen everywhere belong to anyone or if they roam free but they, along with the most beautiful mountain range skylines capped in white clouds that are the perfect introduction to Vietnam.
Our guide-book advised us that when crossing the street one should avoid sudden movements and walk at a steady pace, however this is difficult in practice when you are faced with a sea of mopeds coming at you from both directions – the instinct is to flay your arms around and RUN. We survived and took away with us the indelible aural memory of NeepNeep …. the constant sound of Vietnam and its traffic!!
Despite telling ourselves this was going to be a relaxation only holiday, with no sightseeing, a deluge of rain prompted us to don our Haviainas and a very fetching khaki plastic duck suit to wade through Hue’s old town and visit the Citadel …. This ancient palace is now little more than ruins but still a city-within-a-city surrounded by lotus blossom and water-lily gardens …
Anxious that we may be missing out on the culture we also booked a Dragon Boat Trip on The Perfume River to visit ancient tombs and a Pagoda and working monastery (The Perfume River is a bit of an anomaly, it’s NOT perfumed! the waters are fast flowing in places and milky brown in colour) …. The sightseeing, on a very sunny day, was incredible and the Dragon Boat journey memorable. The boats are used during the day for tourist trips but are also the homes of the family who take you along the river and tourists are their main source of income … The youngest ‘crew’ member was 3 and a very enterprising salesman, using our time on shore to swiftly change into silk pyjamas (very conveniently available for sale) and turn up the cute levels.
After ten days in Hue we prepared to move on to our next destination. As we passed through Central Vietnam and over the Hai-Van Pass (Sea Cloud), a three-hour drive takes you to another province and it becomes clear that each region is different and unique in its people and food. A cookery class in our first hotel taught us how to make Hue Pancake (Banh Khoai), hand rolls (banh beo) and Bun Bo Hue Noodle soup and introduced us to our lovely translator Nhung who invited us the following day for Vietnamese Coffee at an off the tourist trail Coffee Shop sitting on the banks of the Perfume River An experience we would have missed had Nhung not met us after she had finished her working day, as the only Westerners at this off the beaten track coffee bar we were made very welcome.
… From purchasing the cheapest ‘Genuine’ 3 dollar Ray Bans from a street seller who, whilst we were deciding on tortoiseshell or black, put in a call to his hilarious daughter in the silk market who hot-footed it over to meet us and frog marched us to her stall of yards and yards of fabrics and a team of tailors. They proudly presented us with several seasons of Next catalogues and nobly advised us they could make anything we liked for very cheap US-dollaaagh or Vietnam Dong
We spent a couple of very happy hours with about 15 women who were so generous in spirit (I know there was a sale at the end of it!) and so much fun that it really was one of the highlights of our holiday. Kelvin had a massage while I browsed the Internet for designer togs and we were introduced to friends and family, all interestingly, purveyors of fine quality Vietnamese goods!!
And of course we have had our usual trials and tribulations with the paper knickers at the spa, It is safe to say that the cut of the Vietnamese gib is no roomier or generous than those found in the Indian Ocean …. and once again we managed to reduce the therapists to hysteria with Mr H’s struggle to get said knickers past his knees!!
So we took home with us some new cookery skills, very happy memories and our daily conversation with street vendors … Where you from? …. London? Or Kangaroo? …. Luvvly Jubbly (who teaches them this rubbish?) …. You know Elton John? Not personally, no ….
Most important travel item is …. A camera!
More information to follow on the resorts and top tips for travel