Vietnam - View from the Inside

"After a short flight to Hanoi we were finally on the road to Ha Long Bay, and I couldn’t contain my excitement. It has always been on my bucket list and it didn’t disappoint."

August 2018 • Debbie Heffernan, Senior Personal Travel Expert

Vietnam - View from the Inside

After having already witnessed the hustle and bustle of Saigon & Hanoi, this second visit will allow me to explore the people, villages and dramatic mountain scenery of rural Vietnam and also to experience Hue & Hoi An plus ‘Ha Long Bay’ - its most famous UNESCO World Heritage site.

My journey began in Hoi An’s Ancient Town and straight away you can see how the early days as a merchants’ city had an impact on its architecture. We visited the merchants' houses as well as the 400-year-old Japanese Covered Bridge.

Japanese Covered Bridge, Hoi An

We wandered through these souvenir rich streets and on occasions lost ourselves in the tangled alleys. However, I will remember this Ancient Town for its vibrant colour. It really comes to life at night, as the streets are lit with beautifully coloured lanterns.

Hoi An - Lanterns

Situated on the banks of the Perfume River Hue, the former capital was our next stop. Our visits included the large and impressive Citadel, a leisurely cruise on the Perfume River and the emperor’s tomb.

The first thing you notice as you enter the Imperial City is its protective wall and moat. We spent a couple of hours wandering around the various buildings and learning about its history. We took a leisurely cruise along the Perfume River which winds its way through Hue. The emperor’s tomb is situated just outside Hue and over three levels; however it is worth the climb up the approximately 100 steps.

Citadel, Hue

The view was amazing. The walls inside the mausoleum are decorated with fabulous mosaics of birds, dragons, plants and flowers. However, in the imperial audience court there are stone statues representing bodyguards that reminded me of my visit to Xi’an as they resemble the terracotta warriors.

Hue Citadel

Ninh Binh was a real surprise especially our visit to the Van Long Wetlands. I didn’t really know what to expect and was blown away by the sheer beauty of this nature reserve. As we boarded our traditional bamboo boat our rower, a local woman, made her way through the reed lined waterway for an hour long ride. We didn’t see many other boats for most of our trip. The scenery was beautiful. 

Van Long, Ninh Binh

The next day we visited Tam Coc, true to its name a boat trip through three limestone caves on a river surrounded by rice fields. It was a similar experience to the previous day. The scenery was breathtakingly beautiful; however, it was busier.

Tamcoc caves, Ninh Binh

The local women and men row the wooden paddles of the boat with their feet. We also visited the Bich Dong Pagoda and the citadel and temples of Hao Lu.

Our next stop was Mai Chau. It is all about its scenery and people! White and Black Thai people are the biggest ethnic groups of the region. The villages are built with traditional stilted houses.

House on stilts, Mai Chau

We spent time in some of these villages. I could not believe I was walking through the patchwork of rice fields and getting to witness first hand local Vietnamese rural life. The mode of transport here is usually two feet or two wheels. 

Mai Chau

We stayed in the Mai Chau Lodge located in the valley surrounded by rice paddies and the rolling mountains - a collective favourite.  We also used the bicycles in the hotel to explore further.

The mountain scenery en-route to our next destination Dien Bien Phu was breath-taking. Dien Bien Phu is where the French were defeated in the 1954 battle. We visited some sites including A1 Hill which is well maintained with its trenches and bunkers. Also nearby the war cemetery and museum.

After a short flight to Hanoi we were finally on the road to Ha Long Bay, and I couldn’t contain my excitement. It has always been on my bucket list and it didn’t disappoint.

Ha Long Bay

We boarded our vessel for an overnight stay as it sailed gently through its emerald waters and rock islands of many shapes and sizes, it was simply beautiful with photo opportunities at every turn! We visited Surprise Cave one of the largest in Ha Long Bay. The mouth of the grotto is reached by ascending about one hundred stone steps. Our guide pointed out the different formations as we made our way through. I also loved the climb up Titov Island to get the panoramic views over the bay. This visit was magical.

Looking back now, I have many highlights as Vietnam is a country of timeless beauty!

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