Vietnam 21 March until 15 April 2016

Xin Chào Vietnam! A roundtrip organised by Vietnam2Go and the local Khiri Travel Agency

Monday 21 March 2016 we, Elly, Carin, Jeanette, Gilles, Feri and Ben, left Amsterdam at 14:45 pm with flight QR 274 from Qatar Ariways via Doha to Hanoi in Vietnam. 6½ hours to Doha, 2 hours waiting time in Doha (little bit boring) and then 9 hours via Bangkok to Hanoi. Finally with some delay we arrived Tuesday 22 March, around 4 pm at Hanoi.
At the airport ms. Tu from Khiri Travel the local agency, waited for us for the transfer to our hotel, Boutique 1 hotel, well situated in a small street in the old quarter of Hanoi. For the program of our trip, see
 Trip Vietnam 21 March until 15 April 2016

An ATM, that’s what we needed first to get some millions of Vietnamese Dong (10.000 Dong is ± € 0,40). So the evening of our first day, Tuesday 22 March, we thought we just had to take a short trip to the lake where some ATM’s where located. So, don’t ask people on the street the way, every direction is a good direction. Anyway, it was a nice walk and finally we found the ATM and we could have diner. Just close to our hotel there was a nice small restaurant where we enjoyed our first Vietnamese dishes. The next morning we noticed an ATM in front of our hotel. 
pictures start of our trip Vietnam

Ha Noi (Hanoi, 22 until 24 plus 26 March)

Hanoi is the capital of Vietnam,with about 7 million inhabitants and lots of millions of motorbikes and scooters. Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon), the economic center of Vietnam, however is even more busy. Crossing the streets with such well-organised traffic, was a real sport.

We visited the famous ancient art form of water puppetry, which has a long association with Hanoi. The original – and widely regarded as the best – theatre in town is the Thang Long Puppet Theatre. Puppets dance and slide elegantly over the liquid stage, controlled by a whole troupe of puppet masters hiding behind a screen.
The mausoleum of “Uncle Ho”, Ho Chi Minh, who has left an indelible mark on Vietnamese history, and who is revered in Hanoi as the country’s greatest leader. His preserved body is now laid to rest in a glass case in the Ba Dinh area of Hanoi. This is, beside a tourist attraction, a part of living history. The sombre building was modelled after Lenin’s mausoleum in Moscow. The visit was impressive.

Hoan Kiem Lake (Lake of the Returned Sword) is a central feature of Hanoi and is a popular hangout spot throughout the day with locals and tourists. Ngoc Son Temple, on a small island in the centre of the lake and linked by a bridge, makes a beautiful background for photos. Around sunset this area becomes especially busy with joggers and couples enjoying the relaxing views across the lake.

Dong Xuan Market is the largest of its kind in Hanoi. The market has several floors of fashion, apparel and souvenirs at some of the best prices in the city. On the ground floor there is the fish market, where also turtles and frogs are sold.
In the old quarter, where our hotel was located, we saw endless packs of scooters, motorbikes, bicycles and cars weave around traders on foot selling fruit and souvenirs, and narrow shop houses where delicious Vietnamese food was on sale for pennies.

The Temple of Literature is a charming temple complex in the centre of Hanoi, originally built to be a centre of learning dedicated to the Chinese sage and scholar Confucius. Over the proceeding 1000 years many more buildings have been added and beautified so that now this large area is filled with ornate pavilions, shrines, and a rich garden. It has become a special rite of passage for graduating doctors to visit the temple. We were lucky to witness this funny event.
And we enjoyed just walking in this amazing city, with its wide (to cross) and clean roads. People at every corner of the street with their merchandise, the traffic, the smiles and the restaurants, especially those where we did not eat, at the street side: because the chairs were too low and too small, not because of the quality of the food, off course.
For more information about Hanoi see
 Hanoi attractions
pictures Hanoi

Ha Long Bay (24-25 March)

A very impressive natural wonder and one of Vietnam’s most prized treasures. A 3 hours’ drive from Hanoi, Ha Long Bay is in Northeastern Vietnam on the shores of the Gulf of Tonkin. The bay is dominated by more than 1,600 limestone (karsts) islets which rise out of the waters of the bay to heights of up to 100 meters (330 feet) and the numerous caves and grottoes spread throughout the bay. The bay covers a total area of 1,553 square kilometers (600 square miles).
Our hotel was a Phoenix Cruiser. Too bad that the weather was not so warm and worse (for sunset and sunrise) that it was not sunny. Nevertheless we enjoyed our stay, visited some caves and had some small activities, squid fishing (just hooking the squid) and Elly, Carin and Jeanette joined the competition “make the best Vietnamese spring roll”. The most beautiful one was made by Carin, who gratefully accepted her price (a can of beer) and, no surprise, we ate all the spring rolls for lunch.
For more information about this natural wonder see Ha long Bay
pictures Ha Long Bay

Ninh Binh (25-27 March)

Ninh Binh is located on the Southern end of the Red River Delta and has a diverse topography of both mountainous and coastal areas. It contains  a lot of beautiful sceneries like the green paddy fields, expanding mountains and poetic river that flows to the horizon. 
We stayed in the beautiful Tam Coc Garden hotel with from our room a scenery landscape of rice fiends and mountains. Too bad we only stayed for 1 night. The place is also great for biking and walking and off course to be a passenger on a boat with the typical paddling in this beautiful park.
For more information about Ninh Binh see
 Ninh binh
pictures Ninh Binh

On Sunday 27 March we had a relaxed flight with Vietnam Airlines from Hanoi to Hué. Our transfer to Romance Hotel (27-29 March) was already waiting for us at the airport. 

Hué (27 untill 29 March)

Hué is Located on the bank of Song Huong- Perfume River and 700 km south of Hanoi, 1100 km north of Ho Chi Minh City, and only a few miles from the sea. Hué until 1945 was the national capital, the political, cultural and religious center of Vietnam under the control of Nguyen Dynasty and is well-known for its historic values. 
Hué Citadel, occupying a large, bounded area on the north side of Perfume River; four citadels were comprised to create the Capital City: Hoang Thanh (Imperial City) for royal palaces and shrines, Tu Cam Thanh (Forbidden Purple City) for royal residences, Dai Noi (Inner city) and Tran Binh Dai
Of the famous emperors tombs we visited (only) the tomb of emperor Tu Doc, a very impressive site which belongs to Duong Xuan Moutain, 8 km from Hué. From the boat we viewed the Thien Mu Pagoda. With the octagonal 21-meter-high tower, the pagoda is the perfect combination of artificial architectural work and picturesque nature.
For more information about Hué
pictures Hué

Hoi An (29 March until 1 April)

After Hué we went to Hoi An where we were picked up by our guide mr. Ngoc and bus driver mr. Duong from the Khiri travel company. We passed the beautiful Hai Vân Pass, once the boundary between kingdoms Dai Viet and Champa. It is the highest and longest pass of Vietnam.

In Danang we visited the small but impressive museum of Cham Sculpture (with artefacts of My Son Sanctuary) and a village near the Marble Mountains, where we visited one of the factories.

In 4 days we learned a lot about the Vietnamese culture and enjoyed the enthusiasm of Ngoc singing a song “Vietnam . . . Ho Chi Minh” and providing us with special medicine for “Montezuma revenge”. We had a lot of fun absorbing the professional information presented by Ngoc, and we felt very safe and comfortable in our bus with Duong. Until their goodbye they were part of the family.

Hoi An surprised us with the colorful beauty of the old city, the Bach Dang street close to the Thu Bon river. The city well preserved its most sacred treasure, the centuries-old architecture, dating back to the 17-18th century. Used to harbor foreign traders, Hoi An once was an important trading port in Southeast Asia. The foreigners came from all corners of the world, but mostly from China and Japan. Many settled in permanently and etched their marks into the history of Hoi An, e.g. the Japanese bridge (1593, linking the Japanese and the Chinese quarter), the Chinese community houses from 1786, Quang Dong and Phuc Kien from the 17th century, with its colorful and variegated façade. Very special were some 18th century - so called – tube houses (the houses of Tan Ky and Quan Thang), provided with many special signs for luck, prosperity, health, and long life and with a central garden used for fresh air and light.

Hoi An is also a real shopping paradise: many, many shops with souvenirs, art and off course everywhere the famous Hoi An colourful lanterns. The market also is a scenery attraction, a busy and colorful place to observe. This day also, Ngoc wanted to be our guide in his hometown, although he had a day off. Just for fun and we were very grateful for it, because it was so much more easy to see all the highlights in a short time. This was by the way, the first city where we saw a lot of tourists, Western and Asian.
For more information about
Hoi An
 pictures Hoi An

My Son Sanctuary (30 March)

From Hoi An we drive to My Son, a World Heritage site, is situated close to Hoi An and was between the 4th and 13th century a unique spot, which owed its spiritual origins to Indian Hinduism developed on the coast of contemporary Viet Nam. This is graphically illustrated by the remains of a series of impressive tower-temples located in this site, the former religious and political capital of the Champa Kingdom for most of its existence. The tower temples have a variety of architectural designs symbolising the greatness and purity of Mount Meru, the mythical sacred mountain home of Hindu gods at the centre of the universe, now symbolically reproduced on earth in the mountainous homeland of the Cham people. They are constructed in fired brick with stone pillars and decorated with sandstone bas-reliefs depicting scenes from Hindu mythology.

During World War II, the First Indo-China War and, especially, during the Second Indo-China War, many tower temples were damaged and during the Vietnam war many historical buildings were destroyed. However, conservation work is being carried out and the remaining tower temples have been maintained and are well-preserved.
For more information about My Son Sanctuary
pictures My Son Sanctuary

My Lai (1 April)

On our way to Quy Nhon we visited the site. At a coffee break we were introduced by Ngoc to a wedding party and suddenly (probably because the newlyweds already left), we were the most important guests of the party. We were invited to drink, to eat and to sing.

The My Lai massacre which took place on March 16th 1968 is probably one of the most infamous events of the Vietnam War.
My Lai was a village of about 700 inhabitants some 100 miles to the southeast of the US base of Danang. Shortly after dawn on March 16th, three platoons of US troops from C Company, 11th Brigade, arrived in the Son My area having been dropped off by helicopters. One platoon was commanded by Lieutenant William Calley and was ordered to My Lai village. They were part of Task Force Barker – the code-name for a search and destroy mission.
What happened at My Lai only came to public light in November 1969 when a US soldier, Paul Meadlo, was interviewed on television and admitted killing “ten to  fifteen men, women and children” at My Lai. An investigation started in April 1969, some six months before the public was made aware of what had gone on. It soon became clear that many hundreds of villagers had been killed. The actual number killed was never established but it was officially put as no less than 175 while it could have been as high as 504, listed at the memorial at My Lai itself. Though a number of US soldiers were charged, all, with the exception of Lieutenant William Calley, were acquitted. Calley was sentenced to life in prison with hard labour. He served three years before he was released.
For more information about this dramatic historic event see vietnam war My Lai massacre
pictures My Lai

That night we stayed at Seagull hotel in the city Quy Nhon after an emotional goodbye with Ngoc and Duong. The next day, Saturday 2 April, our new driver mr. Phung picked us up for our trip to Nha Trang. We had several beautiful stops to make pictures and enjoy the beauty of Vietnam.

Nha Trang is a seaside town on the South Central Coast of Vietnam and has become increasingly popular in recent years because of its nice beach. So we went to the beach and couldn’t stop Carin and Feri from swimming in this warm sea between the enthusiastic Vietnamese tourists. Later that night we had a wonderful diner in a restaurant near to our hotel Michelia. Too bad they didn’t serve ‘kwek-kwek’, but yes they could serve ‘tok-tok’, even fresh ones (“mean this?”). It took some time to get things sorted out with the non-English speaking staff, but in the end we ordered grilled fish, which was packed in the typical rice rolls, white pomfret, grilled pork, tahu, kankung, chicken wings, which all tasted delicious. We had a very nice time there and a lot of fun communicating.

The next day we visited the Po Nagar Cham Towers, next to Cai River, with our local guide, at least that’s what the Vietnamese thought of Jeanette. Not all of us could join, but later, again Ngoc’s medicine proved to be succesful.

Po Nagar Cham Towers is a complex of temples erected approximately before 781 A.D. This site belonged to the medieval principality of Khauthara, a small country near modern Nha Trang.
The largest tower, which is 23 m high, contains a linga and a statue dedicated to the goddess Ponagar, who is said to have taught new agricultural and weaving techniques to people of the area. The central tower is in honour of Cri Cambhu who blesses devotees with fertility. Childless couples often visit and pray there. The North West tower is in honour of Sanhaka, a wood cutter and foster father to Ponagar and the tower in the south was dedicated to Ganeca, the daughter of Ponagar. The complex is placed on a hill with a beautiful view of the city.
For more information about Nha Trang or for the Po Nagar Cham Towers see Nha Trang 
and Po Nagar Cham Towers
pictures Nha Trang

Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) (4-7 April)

This very interesting historical city was our next stop. When we arrived at the airport, again the transfer to our hotel La Jolie Hotel & Spa was waiting for us with a sign: Party Hornyak. As soon as we unpacked our luggage we went for a walk to some of the highlights of the city: the Re-unification Palace (formerly known as Independence Palace), which has stayed in the mind of many generations, the Rex hotel, Caravell hotel, post office, Notre Dame church and of course an ATM. These highlights were rather close to the hotel, so we had some time to get to know the traffic, even more busy than Ha Noi. Ho Chi Minh City is the economic capital of Vietnam, with its 9 million inhabitants and more than 6 million motorbikes and scooters a very impressive city.

The Re-unification Palace is known as the famous historical witness which passed through the two fierce wars against the French and American colonists. As Vietnam was divided into North Vietnam and South Vietnam, the building served as presidential home and workplace. Nowadays for the Vietnamese, the palace is remembered as a marked end of the war (just like the fall of Berlin Wall in 1989) as the North Vietnamese tank crashed its gatesThe building now functions as a museum. Here you find a F5E fighter plane, similar like the one that bombed the palace on 8th April 1975, and a tank with number 843 (not the original but a similar model) which led the final assault through the palace gate at 11.30am, 30 April 1975.

Once dearly called Diamond of the Far-east with a luxury level overriding that of Hong Kong and Bangkok, HCMC is now the most populated city in Vietnam. Modern office skyscrapers, amidst oriental style pagodas and food stalls along the street, create a dynamic urban area in a very special sense.

The second day in HCMC we walked through Cholon (the Chinese quarter) and visited many temples, a.o. the Jade emperor pagoda and Ngoc Huang. The Ben Than market is a very busy market where we bought t-shirts, finally the silk nightdresses and other “souvenirs”. Not everywhere you could bargain, but the prices were ok.
For more information about  Ho Chi Minh City
pictures Ho Chi Minh City

Cu Chi tunnels (6 April)

It is Wednesday 6 April and the famous Viet Cong tunnels are on our program. We met our new guide mr. Kim to visit the Cu Chi tunnels. These tunnels are an immense network of underground tunnels located in the Cu Chi District of HCMC and are part of a much larger network of tunnels that underlie much of the country. The Cu Chi tunnels were the location of several military campaigns during the Vietnam War, and were the Viet Cong's base of operations for the Tet Offensive in 1968. The tunnel systems were of great importance to the Viet Cong in their resistance to American forces, and helped to counter the growing American military effort. They were used as hiding spots during combat, served as communication and supply routes, hospitals, food and weapon caches and living quarters for numerous North Vietnamese fighters.
So, after a heavy diet (stopped with this famous medicine) we tried to enter the tunnels, some were enlarged to tourist size, other were really small, but we managed. First we had to look for an entrance of course. In the tunnels (total length more than 200 km, made by hand) we met some bats and spiders, we visited a meeting room with Viet Cong soldiers, a hospital, a kitchen and we tried the commander’s sleeping hammock. We were warned about the booby traps in the tunnels and saw some incredible booby-traps used by the Viet Cong. Impressive and interesting. For more information about Cu Chi

 After this tour we went to Cao Dai temple, the centre of the Cao Dai religion, a new, syncretic religion which originated in 1926. The Cao Dai Temple was finished in 1955 when the Cao Dai Army was formed following the Japanese occupation of Indochina. Caodaists believe that all religions are ultimately the same and seek to promote tolerance throughout the world. The Lord Buddha, Jesus Christ, Muhammad and Confucius, in addition to Joan of Arc and Julius Cesar are all honoured in this temple.
There are nine hierarchies of worship including a pope, cardinals and archbishop, with festivals, rituals and prayer all practiced regularly. The temple is similar in design to a Christian Cathedral, but has a Muslim and a Buddhist tower.
The main focal point is a Divine Eye symbolizing God which has the Ying and Yang icon in its pupil. Ceremonies take place twice a day, accompanied by musicians and a choir. When we arrived  a ceremony was going on, all followers wearing white dresses and the high priest red, yellow and blue.
For more information about Cao Dai
pictures Cu Chi and Cao Dai

Can Tho (7 until 9 April)

Thursday 7 April we left HCMC on our way to the Mekong Delta, Can Tho. On the way we had a boat cruise in Ben Tre, along the river, a branch of the Mekong river. We visited various local workplaces, for bricks, coconut products (they really use everything of the coconut), a rice factory and a weaving house, where straw mats are woven by hand. Almost everything was done still by hand, sometimes very heavy work. We bought coconut candies for the TNO colleagues at the office and within 2 days all were eaten, which is no surprise, nice sweet taste, but heavy.

Later that day after lunch we went for a boat trip in a traditional sampan through the narrow canals and for a short cycling trip through the orchards and visit the house of mr. Khanh, a passionate antique collector, who has a large collection of family albums dating back to the French colonial time. There it was where we finally had our change to sell some coconut the Vietnamese style. During the whole trip Kim was our guide, very well informed about all the things on the tour and rather relaxed. We finished the day with another boat trip. For more information about Can Tho

The next day early in the morning we visited the Cai Rang floating market, the most famous of the Mekong Delta. It was not really what we expected as we saw some floating markets before, but this was more or less a floating market for restaurants and hotels instead of households. But still funny to see how the merchandise is handled. We visited a rice husking mill and a shop where rice noodles were produced. A new talent was discovered there.
pictures Mekong Delta, Can Tho

Phu Quoc (9 until 14 April)

And finally on Saturday 9 April, after this interesting trip the plan made by Vietnam2Go took us on a flight from Can Tho to Phu Quoc. First we had to be brave, the plane was a TR80, a plane with propellors (!) which (according to Feri) had also a strange bend at the propeller, so before we took off: “ik hou van mijn kinderen”. But it was a fast (only 40 minutes) and relaxed flight and so we went to our last hotel, Saigon Phu Quoc resort. 5 days to relax, swim, read, sleep, have massage, eat and drink. Almost forgot, but we had one day of labor, we went for snorkeling near two islands, with a nice reef, warm water, but also with many jelly fish (poor Gilles). 
For more information about Phu Quoc
 pictures Phu Quoc

Thursday 14 April we flew home via Doha, where we had a stop-over for more than 7 hours. Before landing we had to circle around for more than ½ hour because of the weather conditions: stormy wind, heavy rain and thunder, and quite some turbulence. But we managed and at the airport we found a place to “sleep” with a lot of other, snoring people in a very cold “silence” room. But we also survived this and the next day, Friday 15 April we set foot again in Amsterdam. Happily again our transfers were ready to pick us up, but only after eating a burger and things like that.

Vietnam, a new experience, a fantastic trip with a great company and we enjoyed every minute of it.
pictures End trip