A Vietnam Holiday. 30/12/2014-11/01/2015
From a cold and miserable London via Hong
Kong we arrived in Hanoi early on 30th to a (somewhat) warmer
climate and a very warm welcome from our tour operator Vidotour (chosen by
Audley Travel) who have been looking after us splendidly throughout our
Like other nominally ‘socialist’ republics
still run by a Communist party, Vietnam is a mixture of centralised political
direction and laissez-faire capitalism with its accoutrements of increasing
inequality, a welfare state that might make many in the UK count their
blessings, and a seemingly happy lack of concern with environmental issues. Ho
Chi Minh is still, of course, revered, but I think as the national hero who
drove out the French and defeated the US, rather than as an architect of
socialism. His official biography is quite an interesting (though fairly
unreadable) account of how he was influenced in the 1920s and 1930s by the
Soviet dominated Cominterm and later on how he ensured that the Vietnamese
communists were able to command the leadership of the successful liberation
Anyway, enough of that – this is a lovely
country, beautiful, with very friendly people. Over 12 days we moved, by car
and plane from Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) and the following is a short
travelogue in pictures.
Old Hanoi with new Hanoi growing out of it.
We actually stayed in a modest hotel on the edge of the old city. Eminently
walkable so long as you can avoid the motorbikes, cycles and cars that drive
wherever they see a space on the crumbling roads (pavements exist in theory but
in practice act as parking places for the motorbikes). Went to
see the skilful water puppets one evening – a tour of the markets and cafes
another morning and visits to shrines and parks the rest of our 2 days there.
The power distribution network!
Laid back in the market.
Colour on a bike
Buddhist Temple gate
And of course Ho’s mausoleum
On to Mai Chau
Leaving Hanoi with Long our guide we drove
4 hours to Mai Chau a valley west of Hanoi, where the largely White Thai and
also Mong inhabitants increasingly cater for tourists amid the farmers tending
their rice paddies. Very picturesque and pleasant relaxing walks. We decided
that riding bikes involving dodging the motorbikes and people even along
‘quiet’ paths would be just too stressful, and anyway you see more interesting
detail just walking. Here are some views:
Riding to work
Every house has a loom and every girl has to learn to
Water buffalo ploughing
Traditional house on stilts = protection from wild
animals and floods.
From Mai Chau to Hue
We flew from Hanoi in the north to the
ancient (19-20C Nuygen dynasty) capital in the centre of Vietnam. A rather more
elegant city with colonial influences and with the enormous royal citadel
slowly being restored after a lot of destruction during the Tet offensive
against the US during the ‘American war’.
A very relaxing 3 days spent seeing the royal artifacts, tombs etc and
Here are a few images.
Our excellent hotel – training students for tourism
A boat trip along the perfume river
A sacred pagoda
A gate in the citadel
Canon to resist the French colonialists!
From Hue to Hoi An
Another 4 hour car journey with our great
Hue guide Son for a couple of nights in this small town with a very unspoilt
old part – that all the world’s tour operators know about! Pleasant enough but
nothing special, so just one or two snaps.
Up early on 8th to fly to Ho Chi Min City to
board a Bassac boat for an overnight trip on the Mekong.
From HCMC airport was 3 hours to Cai Bei
and onto a ferry to take us to the Bassac Boat past riverside dwellings, stores, workshops etc.
The boat, a converted rice and general
merchandise carrier was splendid, with a pleasant set of 11 other couples:
With a delightful hostess, Tam, to look
after us along with a crew of 10 who prepared a set of splendid meals – some of
the best we have had.
Tam took us on a walk through a village
along a small stream, where we had a splendid sunset.
The next morning a superb sunrise and a
boat ride among the floating vegetable market boats.
And a pineapple with a stick for everyone.
Then back to the car and guide, Thang, to
HCMC for the last two days.
Ho Chi Minh City and farewell to Vietnam.
Bigger and busier than Hanoi, hotter and a
lot of the French colonialist atmosphere still, with the opera house (Mozart
and Brahms concerts) though modern skyscrapers are beginning to dominate.
You realise coming into the south how
Vietnam is still in many ways two countries. And there is still resentment on
both sides of the old DMZ. Some northernors who settle in the South are still
regarded with suspicion, and the South seems to be driving the economy. HCMC,
at least in the ‘French Quarter’ is fairly indistinguishable from other major
world cities with the usual glitzy stores and depressing fast food locations.
The people of course are still delightful and friendly. We visited the ‘must
see’ sights of the reconciliation palace – which dictator Diem remodelled and
has been restored to show the grand
style lifestyle he surrounded himself with. The war remnants (formerly
‘crimes’) museum is a haunting catalogue of French and especially US atrocities
– though silent about any misdemeanours perpetrated by the Vietminh or
Vietcong. Perhaps most surprisingly (or perhaps not) not a word about the
material support received from China and especially the Soviet Union which
supplied the missiles used against the B52 bombing attack on Hanoi in December
1972 that led up to the final peace treaty in Jan 1973.
So – some pictures of HCMC today:
Constructing the new metro (with help from Japan)
Exhorting the people to build the country and also to
consume foreign beer
Colonial era general post office
Captured US hardware
Empty buses – almost everyone has a m/bike