From Hanoi we flew to Da Nang and then drove on to Hôi An, our home for the next two nights. The hotel was fantastic, a refurbished residence, and the rooms were huge and luxurious - just what we needed after the rush of the previous five days.
At 9:00 AM we set off on our walking tour of the old town that was just a stone's throw from the hotel. Hoi An is a huge tourist town now, but it has retained its old world charm. If you can avoid the tee shirt and trinket sales people it is wonderful place to visit. During our tour we were met by a group of school children who were doing a project to improve their English and we answered a few questions. My purile sense of humour was stirred because all the kids, and their teacher for that matter, had a logo on their shirts that read "Po Po Doo" (the name of an English learning programme I subsequently learned). What made it worse for me was that the teacher wore a name badge that read "Dûng" and the combination of the two made it extremely difficult to maintain a straight face. At night time the old town was lit by thousands of coloured lanterns and was a feast for the eye, while we feasted on some fantastic food.
Next day, Sunday, we drove over the Hải Vân Pass that traverses a spur of the Annamite Range, the traditional border between north and south, to Hué, the former capital. The town is different to most we have seen so far, with wide boulevards lined with trees. There seems to be more order and affluence here. The storm that cut short our visit to Halong Bay, came ashore here and had left some damage with a few houses having lost their roofs and some trees broken. The Perfume River is muddy and not, as we are told, its usual blue colour.
The hotel here is decadent - the former French colonial governor's residence - with a fantastic pool, spa and great restaurant. Since the trip has been quite full on so far, we decide to make the most of the time here to indulge. During the cool of the morning - I say cool but it is still 35 degrees C and 90+ percent humidity - we visited a couple of the royal tombs and then the royal palace. In the afternoon we partake of the pool and spa facilities as much as possible. We are amused when we check out of the hotel and the bill is 11,053,350...Dong not dollars!
The flight to Saigon was uneventful, but Saigon is an exciting place, equally as chaotic as Hanoi, but much more vibrant. We have an indifferent dinner in a restaurant around the corner from the hotel and are then trapped there by a deluge that shows no sign of abating so we dash off into the rain arriving back at the hotel soaked to the skin...note to self, take an umbrella next time.
Next day was a trip to the Mekong delta. We spent some time on a number of the islands there observing some local villages before heading to the city of Can Tho for the night in a beautiful resort with a superb pool, bar and restaurant, all of which we enjoyed. The following morning found is out on the river early where we saw the floating markets where local retailers purchased fresh produce - coconuts, pineapples, watermelons, taro, tapioca, sweet potatoes...the list goes on, from traders anchored in the river. It was an interesting glimpse into the life of a river trader. Next we went ashore to the local markets. This was a busy place with all sorts of fruit and vegetables being sold, along with seafood. Some of the ways in which the live creatures were treated was difficult for her indoors to see, but it is the way of life here.
We then returned to Saigon to the Caravelle Hotel, that was the base for a number of the war correspondents during the war, and, along with the Hotel Continental across the road and the opera house next door, was the setting for the film "The Quiet American".
On Friday we walked round the city center, taking all of the famous sights - Notre Dame Cathedral, the town hall, the post office - all of which are fine examples of the French colonial style (the post office was designed by Gustave Eiffel) - the former presidential palace of the South Vietnamese Government, now called the Reunification Palace, and the War Remnants Museum. In the afternoon we walked to the Ben Thanh markets for an assault on the senses - where thousands of traders are all wanting to sell you a shirt or a watch or belt... After a short visit we return to the hotel for a swim and a drink or two at the famous Saigon Saigon rooftop bar before dinner at an excellent restaurant and bed for our last night in Vietnam.
For our last day we rise late - for the only day of this trip we aren't being collected by our guide early in the morning. We have the day to ourselves until 5:30 pm. After a leisurely breakfast we walked along the pedestrian walkway - avoiding the occasional motorbike whose rider chose to ignore the term pedestrian - that runs for a littke more than half a kilometre from Ho Chi Minn's statue to the river. We went up the tallest building to the observation deck for a superb view of this sprawling city. Then we walked up the walkway again to the cathedral and the post office, stopping in a street filled with bookshops and art galleries. Then it was back to the Caravelle for lunch, followed by a swim, then a freshen up before happy hour drinks. Almost before we know it it is time to check out and head away.
In no time we are at the airport, checked in and now, as I post this, sitting in the lounge reading the New Zealand election updates. In a short time we will board the aircraft and in ten hours or so will be back in NZ, ready for work on Monday.
It has been an enjoyable trip. The Vietnamese people are wonderful hosts - genuinely friendly and passionate about their country. Life in their cities is much like life in any city - busy, noisy, congested, but vibrant. Life in the rural areas is basic by any standards - most people live hand to mouth, with poor housing and few, if any, conveniences.
The best moment of the trip for me - the trek through the rice paddies near Sapa... visually stunning and so peaceful after the noise and chaos of Hanoi and Sapa town.