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Trip Report My visit to Vietnam

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This is a continuation of our trip to SE Asia, which started in Thailand (see Thailand for the beginning of the report and Lao for that report).

We arrived in Hanoi later than planned, so it was straight to our hotel. We were meeting up with our third couple to continue this amazing trip, so once we checked in to the Sofitel Metropole Legend Hotel we went looking for our friends. Now there were 6 of us. We quickly regrouped at the bar by the pool for cocktail and a late snack for the weary travelers.

Next morning we are refreshed and ready for a full day of sightseeing. But first Mr. Xuen Hao (our tour director) met us at the hotel to introduce himself. Nice touch, he had bouquets of flowers for all the women and packages of coffee for all the men. It was nice getting to meet him after spending so many month planning this trip, our only contact by email. We are on our way. First stop Ho-Chi-Minh's Mausoleum. We couldn't go in because it was a Friday and they re-embalm his body on Fridays. Oh well, it was beautiful from the outside. Also very interesting to hear our tour guides point of view on Ho-Chi-Minh, I'll leave it at that. Next it is on to his House on Stilt, the One PIllar Pagoda and the Temple of Literature. Later we visit Tran Quoc Pagoda & Quan Thanh Temple. Then we enjoy a traditional Cyclo (trishaw) ride through the streets around our hotel. Fun and exhilarating. After we clean up we are treated to a wonderful dinner at a restaurant near our hotel. Later we walked to the Night Market, but we were very disappointed. Not as good as some of the others we had visited. I wouldn't bother with this one.

The next morning we depart our hotel at 8 am for the journey to Halong Bay. It takes a while to get there, but the scenery is lovely. We arrive at our Junk the Prince II at Hon Gai International Harbor in time for lunch. After check-in and dropping our stuff in our rooms we meet for lunch. Side note, we had decided to take this particular Junk because it can accommodate 8 and our group was 6. We had a spare room to store our luggage LOL. It was great taking a small private junk because we knew each other and didn't have anyone else to contend with. Our crew was wonderful and extremely caring. We were served the most delicious meals. Lunch is served outside, upstairs, so we can enjoy the beautiful views while cruising to Bai Tu Long Bay. This is also the route less traveled. More of the junks take another route that is much more congested. Glad we picked this junk. We also chose to cruise for 2 nights. Not really worth the trip to travel all that way for only one night. After lunch we cruise to Cap La and go kayaking. The scenery is incredible and we really enjoy the relaxation. Dinner on the junk and a lovely evening of socializing with our friends. The next morning more spectacular views as we have breakfast and cruise to Vung Vieng Fishing Village to see how the local people live on the water. Of course they manage to have a pearl store right in their village. Next it is on to Hon Co Island where we are treated to the most amazing lunch in the Thien Canh Son Cave. I kind of insisted we have this and I'm so glad we did. It was a truly a one of a kind experience, and the crew made it really great. After lunch we were able to enjoy swimming right off the beach. Back to the junk to clean up and yes have dinner. In the morning we start our cruise back to civilization, but not before they feed us twice again. Sadly we leave the junk to continue our tour. Glad to have had the 2 days of relaxation and beautiful scenery. During the drive back we stop for a traditional water puppet show performed by local artists. Not very exciting, but a nice break from the drive. We have a late afternoon flight to Danang airport where we are met by our next tour guide and taken to our hotel in Hoi An. Our hotel is the Anantara Hoi An Resort with a river view. Another great choice of hotels.

The next day we travel to the Tra Que Vegetable Village to learn about farming. We get to try our hand at fertilizing the earth with seaweed. Great photo op. Then after all our hard work we are rewarded with a relaxing foot massage. Next we have a cooking demonstration and try our own cooking skills making spring rolls and banh xeo with our chef. Lunch is delicious and we helped make it. In the afternoon it is on the Hoi An Ancient Town, which includes the Japanese covered bridge, some Chinese Assembly Halls and of course some time for shopping. Custom made silk outfits are a specialty so of course I bought one that was delivered to my hotel later in the evening. After a busy day we decide on a dip in the hotel pool and dinner at the hotel which is a Vietnamese Tasting menu and delicious.

Our next day is a long travel day. We drive to Hue through Hai Van pass after stopping briefly at a beach along the way in Danang. At the top of the pass there are some beautiful views. On to visit King Tu Duc's tomb and King Minh Mang tomb. Hue Imperial City is quite remarkable. Lots to learn and see. Then it is on to Thien Mu Pagoda and a cruise along the river at sunset. Tonight our hotel is at the Pilgrimage Village, beautiful accommodations in a honeymoon bungalow. Great resort, sadly we only have one night here. Big mistake.

The next day we have a flight to Saigon (the new name, Ho Chi Minh City is used by the north Vietnamese, but the people in the south still refer to it as Saigon). Our guide meets us at the airport and we head for lunch and then on to the Cu Chi District to see the incredible underground tunnel network. Really amazing to be there and walk through the tunnels. A must, there are exits along the way if you can't make it all the way. Unfortunately, due to our late arrival and time spent in the tunnels we did not get to the other tour items on our agenda that day. We definitely needed another day in Saigon. Our hotel was lovely, the Nikko Saigon, and we were upgraded to suites with executive privileges so another night here was also necessary.

The next day we head south to Ben Tre Province to the Mekong Delta region. We take a xe loi ride to a bridge where we board a small but lovely boat to travel along the river's tributaries. First stop is a coconut factory to see how they shell and use the products. We also get to ride bicycles through the local roads until we reach a local rice noodle factory where we see them making noodles. Then on to a brick factory and next a sampan trip through narrower canals to stop a a local resort for a wonderful lunch. The day is wonderful, but ends to quickly as we have to sit in traffic to get to the airport for our next flight to Cambodia. I would definitely recommend an extra day in Saigon. The one real mistake we made in planning this trip.

I will continue my report of Cambodia under the Cambodia heading.

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