Vietnam is a country like no other, with a complex culture, beautiful natural land and seascapes, and a long, rich history. And it’s a favorite with travellers – but don’t just take our word for it. Here’s Malita Crasto’s account of her voyage to Vietnam with Byond’s Rooftops and Flipflops group, to convince you to pack your bags!
It is a lazy summer afternoon. The sun is blazing down on us and the Mekong river glistens like a million diamonds are floating on it.
Our boat-woman smiles shyly as she lifts the oar to row the sampan. Her graceful poise makes this job seem effortless. As she paddles away, deep into the marsh and mangroves, we snatch glimpses of the river life and its people.
My name is Malita Crasto, and I am travelling with 11 ladies on a journey to explore Vietnam. A journey which takes us to the lows of war and genocide and the highs of beauty and art.
Xin chao from Vietnam!!
Scootys zip by, politely honking for us to step aside; draft beer and coffee is sold everywhere; people sit on sidewalks sampling some of the world’s best street food. As we drink in these sights, we realize that Hanoi is just a teaser. The best is yet to come!
An opening act of fire and water fascinates us at the water puppet show, during our first evening in the city. Local singers add a musical touch and some drama.
Later we explore the old quarters of Hanoi and sample some street food. Dinner is traditional Vietnamese and delicious. The night is full of opportunities for street shopping – of which we took full advantage!
MEKONG DELTA DISCOVERY
A bus ride on the Can Tho highway leads us to the Mekong River. We pass by verdant green rice fields and never-ending coconut groves. I file away these views in my memory.
Vietnam’s food basket, the Mekong Delta, is blessed with a variety of crops, including rice and fruit. A day trip on a junk boat gives us panoramic views of life on the Mekong River. Barges loaded with fruit and rice float past us. Children jump into the river for an afternoon swim.
Most villagers are engaged in small scale industries making coconut candy and rice paper. The local brew here is the rice wine, and another potent juice worth giving a go is the snake wine. Both were kickass!
The fruit found here is both exotic and colorful and should not be missed. We also had an opportunity to watch a short skit and we listened to some folk songs which gave us another view about the life on Mekong.
A variety of fish is found in abundance and is a staple meal for the families. The most popular being the elephant headsweet tasting fish is deep fried, scales and all. It is best eaten wrapped in rice paper rolls.
The Halong Bay Cruise
An overnight cruise by the Halong Bay was most awaited by all of us. Legend says Halong is where the mother dragon descended and scattered her emeralds into the sea.
It seems like the dragon has descended again. The sea is upset and the stormy sky refuses to calm down. As the angry sea throws her tantrums, dark and gloom sets upon us as our cruise is cancelled BUT the morning after is bright and sunny.
Our moods match the weather and we hop into our cruise boat. The emeralds (limestone cliffs) are seen scattered far into the horizon. The towering limestone cliffs arise from the sea. They hold deep secrets which are yet to be discovered.
Hello Ho Chi Minh!
The night is hot as we fly into Saigon or Ho Chi Minh City. I’m feeling wonderfully lost as Alice in Wonderland. The city is both modern and vintage. It’s shiny new boulevards and avenues blend with older French architecture.
After touring the main city spots, nostalgia and charm took over at the old Saigon Post Office. We sent postcards to our loved ones.
EXPLORING THE CU CHI TUNNELS
Cu Chi tunnels, the epicenter of the civil war looks like a photo scrapbook. A well preserved timeline of the events walks us through the struggle and pain experienced by both sides of the war. As we crawl into the deep dark tunnels, reality hits – nobody wins a war.
Eat, shop and make merry!
A new day dawns and it is time to spend those Dongs on Gucci, Fendi and Botega….the best first copies. Ben Than market and Saigon Square are raided by us. Our shopping is never ending…. The spas attract us like moths to a light. We did not need an excuse to feel luxuriously pampered like this. A great way to unwind at the end of a hard day of touring and shopping.
Vietnamese cuisine is a colorful tapestry, like the silks of the land. It is light and has a fresh and clean palette. We have an array of dishes to sample.
Pho, rice spring rolls, fresh sea food and the local fruit is our all-time favorite. All of this is accompanied by numerous pints of the local beer.
As our Vietnam discoveries come to a close I find myself comparing this country to a strong and beautiful woman with a difficult history. Scared by the ravages of war she is now slowly coming back to life. She is letting go of her painful past and moving forward. Vietnam will reveal her true beauty to only those who are willing to meet her with an open mind.
Are you ready to hit the streets in Hanoi? Relax, enjoy the sunshine on your back and the beauty of Halong Bay as you cruise its waters? Eat tasty local food and shop to your heart’s content? Then, rejoice! We’re heading back to Vietnam. Plus, we’re exploring Cambodia too, learning to cook local dishes and walking inside the world-famous Angkor temples.