Ho Chi Minh City
We arrived safe and sound to a rather hot, muggy and busy city where we were whisked off for a lovely dinner before heading back to the hotel for some much needed sleep.
Our first morning of activities took us to the West of HCMC to visit the Cu Chi Tunnels. We explored a variety of tunnels and onto the War remnants museum (a sobering experience for all). We then visited Vietnam's version of Notre Dame and the classic Saigon Post Office, a spectacular French colonial building that still functions as a Post Office. The evening meal involved trying a variety of 'street food' such as shrimp pancakes and Pho.
Today we drove down to the Mekong Delta for a beautiful cruise along the river and its tributaries stopping off at a few local industries including brick making, coconut husking and sweet making. We then jumped on bikes and cycled to a rice paper factory before stopping off for a delicious lunch on an island in the Ben Tre area of the Mekong.
Tomorrow we head to Hoi An for more excitement in Central Vietnam.
After the day in the Mekong Delta, a beautiful evening meal and a trip to the night market we were all up early to fly to Central Vietnam (Danang).
After meeting our new guide we had a walk around the spectacular 400 year old town of Hoi An. We visited one of the oldest homes in the township, walked over the Japanese Bridge and then learned about the art of silk making before checking into the Emm Hotel.
The weather is a little grey here and temperatures are cooler than the south (phew!) but we have thankfully missed flooding in the area by just two days. Lets hope tomorrow brings sunshine.
It may be raining but that hasn't stopped the activities. Today most of the group biked (a couple on motorbikes) through the rice paddies to a communal gardening area where we learned about traditional gardening methods. Some helped with watering herbs and vegetables before we all had a ride on a water buffalo! Then we jumped on a boat and went to a local fishing village where we tried our hand at fishing Vietnamese style. We paddled in circular boats through a water coconut plantation and then enjoyed a beautiful seafood meal prepared by 'Captain Cook'.
The rain got heavier as we headed to Lifestart Foundation in Hoi An (who support people with disabilities as a result of the war and other birth defects) and there we were taught how to make colourful lanterns. Tomorrow we head to the old Imperial city of Hue via the Hai Van Pass.
Hoi An to Hue
Well the rain hasn't stopped, so after checking out of the hotel in Hue we headed through the city of Danang and visited Marble Mountain where we climbed 100 or so steps to visit a Pagoda that was beautiful and the views over the area wonderful.
After a quick visit to a marble statue factory we headed over the Hai Van Pass towards Hue. The weather closed in and became very misty so the views unfortunately were minimal and consequently there were lots of sleeping passengers! After a lunch stop we arrived in Hue and visited the Forbidden City of the Nguyen Dynasty followed by a cruise on the Perfume River.
Tomorrow is a travelling day up to Hanoi where we will visit to the Ethnology Museum and a meal in Hanoi's Old Quarter before we board the overnight Fanxipan "Express" train to Sapa.
After flying from wet Hue to clear Hanoi we headed to the Ethnology museum to learn a little about the myriad of minority groups living in Vietnam including the two key groups we will see in Sapa. Our guide then walked us through the old quarter in Hanoi and a bit of shopping time before heading out for a dinner and onto the overnight train up Lao Cai and onto Sapa. This afternoon we will explore the town and surrounds before tomorrows longer wander through local villages. It is chilly up here at 1500 metres but a welcome change as there is no humidity.
The weather turned it on for us up in Sapa and after a restful morning we all had a reasonably short but steep walk up hundreds of steps to the 'Dragons Jaw' for great views of the town.
Today we walked about 12km through local villages with spectacular scenery and a chance to see how both of the minority groups Black Hmong and Red Dao live. Luckily it was Sunday so there were many children about, which made it even more interactive. Tonight we are back on the overnight train to the hustle and bustle of Hanoi.
After a rest from the train trip back down from Sapa on Monday morning (4.30am arrival!) we all walked to the NZ Embassy in Hanoi's French Quarter where we listened to an informative presentation and then onto a public high school called Viet Duc. This was a chance for our students to meet Vietnamese teenagers, and a few struck up friendships and ended up playing basketball with some and had a meal together that evening.
On Tuesday we travelled to magical Halong Bay, kayaked around some of the islands, wandered up to a Pagoda and played a game of football on Ti Top Beach. The Phoenix Cruiser staff made us very comfortable and we have eaten delicious food.
This morning we visit a cave called 'Surprising Cave' and after lunch on board we head back to Hanoi - last day will be a tour of Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh's Mausoleum. Sadly it is all coming an end and Friday we will bid farewell to Vietnam and head for NZ shores.