Far Eastern Trilogy – Part 2 – Good Morning Vietnam

Part 2 of the Far Eastern Trilogy that my wife and I recently completed and covers those areas of Vietnam that were additional to the two cruises that APT organised at either end of our 22 night adventure.

Sandwiched between two cruises is hardly a fair way to describe either the itinerary, the engaging sightseeing,  or the unfolding adventure that was as described in their brochure as ‘The Best of Vietnam and Cambodia’.

This particular APT package was to include a number of features at various stops. These were what APT describe as ‘Outstanding’ accommodation, ‘Signature Experiences’ and ‘Freedom of Choice’ sightseeing and dining options.

I will do my very best to convey what each entailed  and how the individual ‘experience’ impacted on the holiday as a whole.

Another plus was that APT had arranged the availability  of complimentary wifi  at all hotels in addition to  complimentary bottled water.

Our journey began in Hanoi, a city I was well acquainted with but my wife had not yet visited. We were greeted at the airport by APT appointed local guides and transferred to our hotel in Hanoi city centre. Our hotel was the Sofitel Legend Metropole Hanoi…

 

The Metropole is a 5 star award-winning French colonial-style hotel located in the heart of Hanoi.  An icon of style, elegance and sophistication with tastefully decorated public rooms, three restaurants and a number of superb bars. Colonial style well kept gardens offer a tranquil haven from the cities hustle and bustle…

In the afternoon we experienced our first ‘Freedom of Choice‘ tour. My wife and I opted for the walking tour of Hanoi’s French colonial area and a guided tour of Hanoi’s Opera House..

*****

A nice surprise during our walk was for our Vietnamese guide to take us into a typical Hanoi street bar where we sampled the local beer – courtesy again of APT.

The evening saw us at a ‘welcome’ briefing and cocktail in the hotel before we boarded a coach that took us to an inclusive dinner at a Hanoi restaurant.

The following day we boarded coaches  for a guided tour of the city. We started with Ho Chi Minh’s mausoleum…

…and continued around the visitor complex between the Mausoleum and the Presidential Palace

This of course included a visit to the home of Ho Chi Minh

 

*****

and the opportunity to visit the iconic One Pillar Pagoda…

 

 

…before continuing to the last of the morning visits, the Temple of Literature…

 

 

*****

The temple was built in 1070 at the time of King Ly Nhan Tong and is one of several temples in Vietnam which are dedicated to Confucius, sages and scholars.  The various pavilions, halls, statues and stelae of doctors are places where offering ceremonies, study sessions and the strict exams of the Dai Viet took place. The temple is most revered and is featured on the back of the 100,000 Vietnamese Dong banknote.

As luck would have it the time and date of our visit to the Temple of Literature coincided with a graduation day of Hanoi students and it was with considerable pleasure that we were able to witness the obvious pride of the students as they celebrated their successes in education…

At the Temple of Literature Main Gate

 

At the Turtle Steles

 

at the Drum House

and at one of the numerous courtyards entrance portals

 

The Temple of Literature is a fascinating visit and while there we also managed to see the Altar of Confucius…

…as well as an uninterrupted view of the Turtle Steles...

 

…which traditionally bear the names of those successful at the royal exams.

 

For our afternoon tour we were taken on an APT arranged ‘Hanoi Cyclo Tour’…

…through busy Hanoi streets

 

…eventually culminating at Hanoi’s famous Water Puppet Theatre

…to see a late afternoon performance…

 

Following our stay in Hanoi we were transferred to Ha Long Bay for a three day cruise. A review of that can be found at…

https://solentrichardscruiseblog.com/2014/12/09/a-far-eastern-trilogy-part-1-halong-bay/

Our next destination after the Ha Long experience was to be the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Hoi An. A coach transfer was arranged between Ha Long Bay and Hanoi Airport for a scheduled Vietnamese Airlines flight to Da Nang.

APT had arranged for a ‘lunch’ stop at the Chi Linh Star Golf Club Restaurant. Our luggage was transferred to hanoi Airport under seperate transport and was all checked in for our flight prior to our arrival at the airport.

From Da Nang we made the short coach transfer to Hoi An and our hotel there, The  Anantara…..

 

 

Scenically positioned on the banks of the Thu Bon River, Anantara Hoi An Resort proved a charming boutique retreat in this  historic port town. Designed with the French, Dutch, Chinese and Japanese influences that typify  Hoi An’s fascinating cultural diversity, we spent an excellent 3 days here in very comfortable accommodation…

 

******

 

…with superb views across the river from the restaurant…

Day two was a hectic day. We were divided into small groups and each group was allocated an escort from ‘The Market Restaurant and Cookery School’…

 

http://msvy-tastevietnam.com/the-market/

 

…firstly for a market tour to acquaint us with the produce of Vietnam…

 

*****

*****

…before actually attending a class…

 

 

…and turning out a few treats ourselves. First we made a Rice Paper Prawn and Pork Roll...

 

..and then a Vietnamese Five Spiced Marinated Chicken Skewer with green papaya and sesame Salad…

 

Also during our time at the restaurant we were encouraged to sample other dishes,  including Duck Egg Embryo

…and Silk Worm salad…

During the course of the afternoon the whole group were taken to a Hoi An Tailors Complex where every member of the group was measured for, and chose, a complimentary shirt/blouse.

Having been to Hoi An some years previous I was aware  of the talents of Hoi An’s tailors and had on the first afternoon taken myself off to one particular establishment. Readers will have to wait for the result which will be debuted on a future cruise. In the meantime I can disclose that my tailoress was well pleased with the second fitting…

No visit to Hoi An would be complete without a visit to its famous Japanese Bridge...

 

*****

 

…and one or two of the many Pagodas to be found…

 

…or the Cantonese Assembly Hall…

 

…with its resplendent Altar…

 

Our third day was one of APT’s featured ‘Freedom of Choice’ excursions.

 

My wife and I had chosen for this activity a countryside cycling tour to the village of Kim Bong which necessitated a boat ride…

…with our cycles aloft.

Our Cycle tour proved excellent, through villages…

 

 

…past paddy fields while spotting  both old and new methods of cultivation…

 

 

We stopped in one village for a demonstration of the making of rice paper…

 

Even getting involved…

and even found time to pose for a group photograph…

 

We had one free evening in Hoi An when dinner was not included. We were, however, provided with a list of recommended places and my wife and I chose what turned out to be an absolute dream, the ‘Brothers Cafe’  Restaurant, again set right on the riverside, a stones throw from our hotel…

 

Formerly the old Hoi An Police Station, Brothers…

 

 

http://www.brothercafehoian.com.vn

certainly lived up to its 5 Star rating, particularly for the food and romantic setting…

 

All too soon our time in Hoi An was over and we set off by coach for the 3 hour drive over the Hai Van Pass and on to the old Imperial capital of Vietnam, Hue.

 

Arriving at Hue in time for an included lunch we were then taken on a comprehensive guided tour of the Imperial City – a walled fortress and palace that was made a UNESCO Site in 1993 with the  buildings being actively restored and preserved following their partial  destruction during the Vietnam War.

The Citadel is surrounded by a moat…

Once inside our route included the Hien Lam pavilion with its ‘drum’ towers…

 

and the  nine  Dynastic Funerary Urns made entirely from bronze…

 

 

In ancient times access to the Residence of the Mother Queens from the interior of the Citadel was through this gateway called Duc Chuong gate…

 

The Hung Mieu Temple, whose appearance is similar to the Temple of Literature in Hanoi, was  built in honor to the parents of the Emperor Minh Hang.

 

Inside the temple main gallery lacquered altars each honor one of the Nguyen Emperors.

 

 

 The Red Wooden hallways of the Interior Palace…

Located in the east of the Quang Minh Palace (Palace of Brightness) in the Forbidden Citadel, the Royal Theater, originally  built by Emperor Minh Mang in 1826, has been well restored…

 

Following our very comprehensive tour of the Citadel we once again boarded our coach and were take to see the Thiên Mụ Pagoda, an historic temple whose pagoda has seven stories which make it  the tallest religious building in Vietnam…

 

The Thiên Mụ Pagoda sits above the Perfumed River. On completion of our visit, rather than board our coach again, we boarded a river boat that took us along the Perfumed River to our hotel, the La Residence Hue, for our overnight stay…

 

That evening APT had laid on a special treat. We were invited for what was billed as a pre-dinner drink and were escorted into a side room where, waiting for us,  was a wardrobe of traditional robes of the emperors mandarins. Suitably attired…

…we  then processed through the hotel to what was billed as ‘A Royal Dinner Experience’: an outstanding multi course traditional Vietnamese Banquet. Each course beautifully presented in the shapes of dragons, phoenix or peacocks…

 

 

The following day  saw us on an early flight to the last of our Vietnamese city visits, Saigon…

 

Our first day in Saigon or,  as it’s officially called, Ho Chi Minh City, was free for us to do as we wished. This was the first real occasion I called upon this little gem that I purchased prior to the visit…

 

 

The first  appointment I had was to witness at first hand a Saigon A&E department where the small number of stitches, administered back in Ha Long Bay,  were removed. That was an education in itself that reminded me just how lucky we are with our NHS even though I was through in less than 10 minutes with $20.00 changing hands.

So off we set to see some of the sites of Saigon that were not going to be done through the various APT guided tours. This was relatively easy to decide due to the comprehensive nature of their daily printed programmes detailing each and every event.

We headed firstly for The Jade Emperor Pagoda. A Taoist  pagoda, located at 73 Mai Thi Luu Street, it was built by the Chinese community in 1909. Neither is it one of the most attractive pagodas but it is one of Saigon’s most uniquely ornate ones, a small house of worship that honours the King of all heaven…

 

It is however one of the most spectacularly atmospheric temples: filled with smoky incense and fantastic carved figurines. The pungent smoke of incense fills the air, not over conducive with good photography but none the less, awesome and spooky…

 

Its roof encrusted with elaborate tile work, inside the main building are two especially fierce and menacing Taoist figures. In an anteroom to the left,  Kim Hua, a goddess of fertility,  while the King of Hell resides in another corner with his minions.

Outside can be found a turtle sanctuary. These are considered symbols of good luck and while obviously most money is spent on incense sticks a considerable amount is also spent on turtle food…

Some 15 minute walk from the Jade Emperor Pagoda is one of Saigon’s more popular museums, The War Remnants Museum…

*****

This is a rather  good museum particularly for those who have an interest in both the military and the most recent of Vietnam’s  conflicts.

 

It does however suffer from a degree of old fashioned communist propaganda which often borders on the pathetic rhetoric of the early seventies…

 

 

…which is a shame.

At the time of our visit Saigon was, and probably still is, undergoing some major public works. There is considerable disruption in and around the central Dong Khoi district where the new Saigon metro is under construction…

The picture of the construction site above was actually taken from the third of our DIY targets in saigon, the famous rooftop bar of the even more famous Rex Hotel

 

 

A drink at the rooftop bar of the Rex Hotel is a rite of passage while visiting Ho Chi Minh.  It was a well-known hangout spot for military officials and war correspondents during the Vietnamese War.

It is currently  one of the lowest rooftop bars in the city but far from hindering the view the modest height is actually one of the Rex Hotel’s redeeming features. On the streets below are several of Vietnam’s most beautiful and cherished period buildings, including the Saigon Opera House…

 

 

and People’s Committee Hall – formerly the Hotel de Ville –sadly also affected by the current works…

While spending time in Saigon,  APT’s ‘Freedom of Choice’ excursions kicked in on two occasions. The first was a choice of some four activities: a Saigon motorbike tour, a cookery class, a visit to a Vietnamese artist’s home or, the one we chose, the Saigon walking and cyclo tour…

 

There was an element of fun heading through the streets at a relatively relaxed pace while Saigon’s traffic criss-crossed all around you…

The Cyclo ride took us to the Reunification Palace where we disembarked and commenced the walking tour…

This of course was the famous Presidential Palace site where the Vietnamese War finally came to an end with two VietCong tanks crashing through the gates. They still remain as part of the historical tale..

 

A visit inside the palace is a must…

The Cabinet Room

The Banqueting Room

and the  Palace Conference Room

 

…just some of the fascinating rooms on view to see.

Other memorable buildings visited included Saigon’s Notre Dame Cathedral

…with its interior…

Saigon’s Central Post Office…

It was designed and constructed by the famous architect Gustave Eiffel in harmony with the surrounding area. Today, the building is a major tourist attraction and no visit to Saigon is complete without a look at its amazing interior…

On either side of the main entrance  are two painted maps that were created just after the post office was first built in 1891. The first one located on the left side of the building is a map of Southern Vietnam and Cambodia titled ‘Lignes telegraphiques du Sud Vietnam et Cambodge 1892′ which translates to ‘Telegraphic lines of Southern Vietnam and Cambodia 1892”…

The second map of greater Saigon is titled ‘Saigon et ses environs 1892′ translating to ‘Sai Gon and its environment 1892’…

 

Our tour completed with a walk along Dong Khoi where we took in a second visit to the Saigon Opera House, albeit this time in the presence of a film crew…

No visit to Saigon would be complete without an excursion to the Tunnels at Cu Chi…

 

…though  this was one of two options for the second of APT’s ‘Freedom of Choice’ Saigon excursions. The other option was aimed more at the Australian contingent in our group and was to Long Tan, a memorable battle where many Australian lives were sacrificed…

 

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Long_Tan

The Cu Chi Tunnels are a two to three hour coach ride from central Saigon. On arrival we were given a comprehensive briefing of operations by a Vietcong veteran…

 

before we headed off with another guide…

 

We had the mandatory display of ‘Now You See Me’…

 

…’Now You Don’t ‘…

….before we were given the opportunity to explore some of the underground networks…

 

…and a demonstration of one type of ‘man trap’…

The tour culminated in a display of just how many of these fiendish ideas were developed…

…and some of the ‘ordnance’ that was dropped on them by the Allied Air Forces…

All in all a visit to the Cu Chi Tunnels is a most interesting and eye opening experience, especially the APT way.

Further to our delight, and as a measure of the APT quality, lunch had been arranged at a local riverside restaurant before we made the coach journey back to Saigon…

 

 

The following day we departed Saigon and headed to My Tho, on the Mekong Delta,  where we joined the RV Amalotus for our week cruising up the Mekong River to Siem Reap.

 

That part of the adventure will feature in Part 3 of this Trilogy – Amalotus and the Mekong River.

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Happy New Year everyone

One response to “Far Eastern Trilogy – Part 2 – Good Morning Vietnam

  1. Pingback: Cruises.co.uk | Solent Richard's Cruise Blog·

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