On a recent visit to Vietnam, I was able to experience one of the most unique and incredible destinations in the world. Every moment of our trip was filled with the beauty, warmth and sincerity of the Vietnamese people.
The trip began with Singapore Airlines, aboard the Boeing 777 that flies from Vancouver to Singapore via Seoul. As this was my first flight aboard Singapore Airlines, I was very excited to see why the airline was voted “Airline of the Year” in 2007. From the moment we took our seats, to landing in Seoul, the airline lived up to this notion in every way. The food was fresh, plentiful and allowed for personal preference and choice (shocking!). The staff was amazing at keeping the passengers content and comfortable throughout the journey. The onboard entertainment was just that – entertainment! From on demand movies and TV shows to video games and learning new languages, the entire experience was incredible. This high level of service was kept throughout our trip, where we flew with 6 different flight crews. As part of our trip, we did two stopovers in Singapore, which allowed us to rest and also take advantage of seeing this beautiful city. I really enjoyed the sights, smells and tastes of Singapore’s “Little India” neighbourhood, as well as the Night Safari where we drove by hyenas, lions and elephants in their natural habitat at night. The Singapore “Stopover Holiday program” is easily added to any flight itinerary on Singapore Airlines.
The actual tour of Vietnam was courtesy of GAP Adventures, a Canadian owned outdoor adventure travel company (http://www.gapadventures.com/). Every step of the way was flawless, from our arrival in Hanoi to our departure in Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City). The local tour providers were knowledgeable, excited, and most importantly, spoke Vietnamese! The highlights in each city was as follows:
Hanoi – This is a large, bustling city in the North of Vietnam. Here we got to experience a less touristy part of Vietnam. The food was really great and very authentic – lots of noodles, “pho” and some “hot pot” style meals. We took a bike tour through the back roads of this area which was so much fun. We were welcomed by local school children saying “Hello!” as we rode through the rice patty fields.
Halong Bay – About 3 hours northeast of Hanoi is this amazing natural wonder. From the port area we took a “junk boat” around the Bay. The boat itself was a simple passenger boat with sleeping cabins and an eating/lounge area on the main level. While sailing around the bay area, we visited a grotto with incredible stone formations. From there we continued to sail until we reached a small bay where we stayed for the night. Here we had a great seafood dinner and got the chance to take a dip in the water.
Hue – We stayed in this imperial city for one night, and stayed at the famous Huong Giang Hotel – where the many news reporters stayed during the Vietnam War. With its beautiful breakfast buffet, patio overlooking the Perfume River, and spacious rooms, this was a welcome treat. From the city we did a motorcycle tour of the region surrounding Hue. This was definitely one of the highlights of the trip, as we were able to experience the countryside firsthand. One of the stops along the way was the site of where the Hamburger Hill battle took place during the Vietnam War.
Hoi An – A town famous for its extensive tailoring, lacquer ware and other handmade goods. The main attraction here was definitely getting clothes made! We all had a great time selecting fabrics, colours and designs for our custom made clothes. We also experienced some amazing fusion cuisine here – we ate at a restaurant called Mango Rooms, which offered an eclectic mix of East meets West style cuisine. Not to be missed!
Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City) – Our last stop on our Vietnam tour, and definitely the most Western in terms of architecture and ambience. Here we visited the Vietnam War Memorial Museum, which was a sobering, informative experience with lots of information, photos and artifacts from the Vietnam War.
Overall, it must be said that Vietnam is an incredible country with so much to share with the world. For those looking for a unique, authentic destination, filled with culture, food and history, then Vietnam is your best choice. And since tourism is definitely starting to pick up, I suggest going sooner than later!