Blog based on Facebook posts made by Alex Reid during a package trip to Vietnam, along with the Brooks, in February 2024.

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Wednesday, 14-Feb-24:

Flying from Sydney to Hanoi, with a brief stopover in Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon), in order to join our TripADeal tour group of ~20 people (a photo of the Group can be seen at the end of the Cambodia section of this Blog).

Here is a map of the tour route.

Thursday, 15-Feb-24:
Arrived in Vietnam, overnight at our hotel, and next morning our first trip was to Ha Long Bay (about 3 hrs by coach from Hanoi). We arrived at Ha Long City where we embarked on our boat (via a small tender), and were allocated cabins. Here's a photo (taken later on) of the boat and our cabin.

The scenery was just astounding! I went mad with the camera!

We also visited a pearl/oyster farm set up in the calm waters of the Bay, and had a look at how they seed the oysters; here is one with a pearl that has been opened. Also at the oyster farm we had the opportunity to do a little kayaking, which I did. You may notice a lone kayaker under the lee of our boat in the photo above - that was me paying a visit to Helen who remained on board.

On Ha Long Bay, Vietnam: misty at first, the sun finally came out, just in time to set. Fitting that we'll stay here at anchor overnight.
Just before dusk, we landed on conical Ti Top Island (named after an astronaut who visited it) with a big sandy beach and a steep climb to a lookout at the top (425 steps, some quite steep), from which stunning views were to be had!

A day spent on Ha Long Bay included anchoring at various places (see pic of our boat) and taking the tender to land - including a pearl farm, some kayaking, a sandy beach and a swim (not for me!), and a climb up 425 steps to the top of this conical peak above the beach. Also far too much to eat, all beautifully presented.

Friday, 16-Feb-24:
Lots more to see in Ha Long Bay, including a visit to Sung Sot ("Surprise") cave. This consists of 3 caves, progressively bigger. Lots of stalagmites, but not too many stalactites (not sure why?), many other shapes and formations. About 100 steps up then down about 70 to first cave, others on similar levels. It got its name when it was first explored by the French, who were surprised by the size of the 3rd cave, having thought the 2nd was impressive! An alternative explanation is that the French were surprised, when they first entered the caves, to discover Vietnamese already there with ticket booths!

We then returned to the Ha-Long base, transferred to our coach and returned to Hanoi. But I can't resist sharing a few more photos of these stunning limestone formations...

In the evening, we attended a performance of the famous "water puppets".

Saturday, 17-Feb-24:
On Saturday morning, we had a walking tour of Hanoi, taking in the French quarter (now the seat of government), and the old quarter, as well as the railway that runs through the middle of restaurants, etc. Lot of fine colonial architecture in the French quarter, as well as lots of flowers and lanterns - mainly, I think, owing to the recent New Year celebrations (in Vietnam, it's Lunar New Year, not Chinese New Year!).

On Saturday afternoon, we flew from Hanoi to Da Nang, and then took a coach through Da Nang to Hoi An, an ancient capital of Vietnam. Da Nang has some great beaches and plenty of resorts (with exclusive beach access), but also plenty of half-built resorts that seem to be abandoned. Our earlier guide, upon being asked why so many developments seem to be half-baked (eg in Ha Long city) said that it was considered cheaper to make multiple buildings at the same time, even if they were not required for some time. This *may* be a case of communist planning, or poor economic management by private developers...

Sunday, 18-Feb-24:
Sunday morning saw us on a walking tour of the old quarter of Hoi An. We took an electric taxi into the centre (ICE's are prohibited for most of the day from entering the centre). Then we saw the old Japanese covered bridge (currently undergoing restoration), the Tan Ky ancient house (with a "greedy cup", designed by Confucius, or at least used by him to illustrate a point*), then the Museum of History & Culture, then the Chinese Assembly Hall, and finally the Art Performance house where we saw a show and played a form of "bingo". And of course markets and retailers everywhere. And lots and lots of flowers (residue from Lunar New Year)
* if you fill it 80% full, it holds the liquid; if you try to fill it more it all pours out a hole in the bottom.

Monday, 19-Feb-24:
While staying at Hoi An (near Da Nang) on Monday, we took a trip to SunWorld at Ba Na Hills, about 1500m above the coastal plain. Ba Na Hills got its name from when the French noted that there were many banana palms in the hills. A cable car was required to access the activity on the mountain top. Here are some views of the "base station", colourful insense stick bundles, and the cable car.

Still with Ba Na Hills on Monday. At the top is the "Golden Hands Bridge" which takes you out over the side of the mountain.

Still with Ba Na Hills on Monday: next thing to experience is the Flower Garden ("Jardin D'Amour"), which was very extensive and quite amazing. Complete with a Buddha...

Next at Ba Na Hills on Monday was the wine cellar, complete with a free glass of wine (a French vintage, of course!), and dioramas of genuine wine cellars. Apparently, the wine tunnel/cellar is in fact the oldest structure on the mountain, going 100m into the mountain, and dates from about 1923.

Also atop the mountain at Ba Na Hills, visited on Monday, were several medieval castles, freely interpreted (eg roman soldiers guarding the entrance!). Some professional dancers on the courtyard as well as within the glass dome (and an attempt to out-do the Louvre Pyramid).

Ba Na Hills has yet more to give, with arcade games, Flying Eyes Theatre, Funicular, Roller Coaster, French Village (complete with a version of Notre Dame Cathedral), Fountains, and then the descent by another cable car taking us over a great waterfall. Not to mention a superb buffet lunch. This was not quite what we expected (thought it might be more antiquated), but rather like Disneyland!

Tuesday, 20-Feb-24:

On Tuesday last, not a lot to report, as we spent most of the day transferring from Hoi An to Ho Chi Minh City (coach to Da Nang airport, fly to HCMC, coach to hotel). But to brighten your day, here's a photo I took of the Hoi An hotel's lily pond...

Departing Hoi An via Da Nang airport, bound for Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon).

Wednesday, 21-Feb-24:

So, we come to Wednesday, which found us in Ho Chi Minh City (aka HCMC, formerly Saigon). We took a coach tour out of the city towards the Cu Chi Tunnel complex NW of the city. On the way, encountered dense traffic (mostly motorbikes), then the little village of Hoc Mon (devastated by Agent Orange), wherein is located a lacquer workshop (Lamphat Co) employing victims of that defoliant (some beautiful pieces), then passed through Can Cu village, wherein is the hospital that treated Phan Thi Kim PhĂșc ("Napalm Girl" of the famous photo), and its rubber plantations.

So, we arrived at the Cu Chi Tunnels about 60km NW of Ho Chi Minh City. The map shows a very extensive area (in red) which boasted a complex network of tunnels with 3 or more levels below ground. With concealed entrances, clever air vents (disguised as ant hills,), smoke dispersal arrangements, booby traps, and so on, they were quite a feat of engineering.

Just a quick follow-up to my post yesterday about visiting the Cu Chi Tunnels near Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. Here is a picture of Alex (me) concealed underground in the jungle. If you don't believe me, try viewing the video at Concealed Entry to Tunnels...

Thursday, 22-Feb-24:

Thursday 22/2 saw us on a trip from Ho Chi Minh City to the Mekong Delta, where we were exposed to some local produce, lifestyle and culture. This included various boats (larger ones for the Mekong, smaller ones for the canals, and tiny rowboats for the smaller canals), as well as tuk-tuks, local songs and music, lunch (including local fish, samples of the local fruit), and honey (one of our number got stung in the process).

Friday, 23-Feb-24:

On Friday, 23-Feb, we were coached from Ho Chi Minh City to Phnom Penh, crossing the border (about 1 hour's wait) about half-way.

For the Cambodian leg our our package tour, see Cambodia Feb-24.

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Alex Reid