Visiting the South-East Asian country reminds Thompson Travel’s Sharon Thompson of the wonders of travel
I’m currently travelling in Vietnam again and it’s made me realise how true the words of St Augustine are: “The world is a book and those who don’t travel, read but one chapter.”
This chapter of my book reveals an appreciation of the luxury in the western world that we take for granted. Travelling through the bustling streets of Ho Chi Minh City, among 11 million motorbikes mingling with other forms of transport, shows how speed is not important and consideration of others is an unspoken fact. Families board one bike with up to four passengers at a time, and have this form of travel down to an art.
Along the footpaths, traders sell food, toys, clothes and bamboo products. I have never met more gracious and friendly people
Yet the organised chaos works so well. Along the footpaths, traders sell food, toys, clothes and bamboo products. I have never met more gracious and friendly people.
And there are surprises too, with makeshift shops providing entrances to hotels that open out to opulent buildings with first-class service, food and accommodation.
I have to say an escorted tour is the way to visit. How else would you know where to find a cookery class on an organic farm, the oldest coffee shop in Hanoi, the best places to eat or a coconut palm village in the mango groves?
There are many specialist operators, so do use them and give your customers peace of mind and excellent value for money.
Hoi An comes alive in the evenings as lanterns line the streets and couples take boat trips along the river – it’s the Venice of the Far East
Travelling from south to north can be busy, so remember to stop off midway in cities such as Hoi An or Hue. Spa treatments at beautiful hotels give you time to relax.
Hoi An comes alive in the evenings as lanterns line the streets and couples take boat trips along the river – it’s the Venice of the Far East. The traffic-free Old Town is a Unesco World Heritage Site.
These are my trip highlights that you can recommend to clients:
- Mekong Delta and Cu Chi Tunnels: Take an organised tour from Ho Chi Minh and a boat trip on the Mekong River. Our journey took us through mango groves to meet villagers who had prepared the most beautiful food. We enjoyed a demonstration of how they use every element of the coconut plant and tree. Nothing is wasted.
- Hanoi Cyclo Tour: The sun sets around 6pm during April in Vietnam so, as the city lights appeared, we braved the traffic with a cyclo tour through the old city. It was the perfect way to see the locals and explore in a fun way. The tour ended with a delicious egg coffee at the city’s oldest coffee shop
- Halong Bay: It takes a while to reach from Hanoi but it’s a scenic journey in an air-conditioned coach. The highlight is an overnight trip on a junk boat – as well as the en-suite facilities, we enjoyed tai chi classes, cooking lessons and the chance to swim in the bay.
Our guide’s name is Tony. Nothing is any trouble. I asked him about getting an iron and he volunteered to take my ironing home to do it himself
People make the place. Our guide’s name is Tony. Nothing is any trouble. I asked him about getting an iron and he volunteered to take my ironing home to do it himself.
If you visit, do reward your guides, restaurant staff and the people you meet. They make our experiences and they depend on it.
Meeting locals makes a trip
Here’s an interesting insight. The first time I visited Vietnam, I wondered what the beautiful tombs were that we saw in fields and gardens. I have now discovered they are the burial grounds of the families to whom the land belongs. Here, it is customary to bury family members on their own land.
The custom becomes a bit of an issue if you move house, as the ancestors have to move too, but again, if it is what you are used to, it works. Visit Vietnam and open another chapter of your book!