For Spring Break 2019 we booked a 12 day tour of Vietnam and Cambodia. This was our first experience booking through a travel agency, and learned several things during the process, which I’ll describe below.
Thursday & Friday March 12th & 13th, 2019: Travel Day
As usual, we flew out of the Mumbai airport just before midnight on our way to Hanoi, Vietnam. Singapore airlines has become our preferred carrier to take east of India due to its amazing service, clean planes, and on time performance. It also doesn’t hurt that the Singapore airport has a butterfly garden, movie theatre, and now a rainwater- water fall.
On this trip specifically we had a very long layover of almost 7 hours, which was no problem filling the time in an amazing airport with all these amenities. It also doesn’t hurt that we have free access to airport lounges through our travel credit card.
After the long layover, we boarded a two hour flight from Singapore to Hanoi, and quickly found our driver and way to the hotel. The hotel was tucked back on a busy street in the heart of Hanoi. The Tirant Hotel was amazing and we had two rooms to stretch out during our stay.
Saturday March 16th, 2019 Halong Bay Overnight Cruise
On Saturday morning we woke up early so we could grab breakfast and head down to the bus on our way to Halong Bay. Our tour guide for Halong Bay was Hong, or ‘Brian’, which we found hilarious. I tried to call him by his real name, but found that he responded better to Brian.
It was today that we met the rest of our group that would be with us during the entire tour. the group consisted of two other groups. Two close friends who often travel the world to meet up, and a group of people from Australia who do the same.
The Trip to Halong Bay took about 3 hours and covered some great scenic areas of Vietnam. When we arrived we waited for the current group to de-board the boat so that we could get on. It looked like they had these vessels sync’d up perfectly and were not empty more than 30 minutes a day.
We left the dock around 1pm and after being shown to our cabins we headed up to the dinning deck to have a traditional Vietnamese lunch. As expected Madelyn was the only one who ate the food on this trip.
After breakfast we went to our first of two sightseeing events for the day. Our first stop was Lion Cave where the boys and I Kayaked our way through the tunnel and into he heart of the cave, which was actually open, while Mom and Madelyn went on the boat.
Although we were not the only kayak making the rounds we were definitely the most photographed. I think it was because we were the only kayak with three people, two of them being kids.
One interesting thing we learned about Halong Bay is that it’s a popular destination for the Chinese. Much like Americans go to the Caribbean and Australians go to Bali.
After the cave we went back to the boat to regroup before heading to Titop Island, where we got the opportunity to swim in Halong Bay. The water was cold, and we spent most of the time playing in the sand.
After the beach we headed back to the boat to relax and watch the scenery while the boat drove to the sleeping area for the night. The bay was filled with boats, more than we could count, and it was after dark that we realized this was a very popular business.
Dinner was served on the boat, and as usual it was phenomenal. We were served a lot more squid than I was expecting, but everything came with fresh vegetables…and spring rolls.
After dinner we were schedule to have a sunset party on the top deck, but unfortunately the sky was cloudy the entire time we were in the bay so no sunset was visible. We did however take that opportunity to relax and have happy hour in Halong Bay.
Sunday March 17th, 2019 Halong Bay Overnight Cruise
Sleeping on the boat was fun, and with two cabins we all got a pretty good nights rest. We decided to skip the 6am Tai Chi, but managed to get up in time for breakfast before heading out to our tours.
After breakfast we went to the Surprise Cave which is a cave system where the caves get larger and larger as you go further back in to the rock. They last cave was huge and took almost 5 minutes to walk around.
After gathering up the entire party we went back to the boat for a live spring roll demonstration. Spring rolls were the best part of our visit to Vietnam so we took the opportunity to make a few of our own, which would be cooked for our lunch.
Turns out there were a group of guys that were not very familiar with cooking spring rolls because they started eating the rolls they made, which had raw pork in the middle. We hope that guy was ok.
We checked out of our rooms before lunch and headed back to the dock. We arrived much earlier than we expected and had to sit and wait on the boat for our tour time to finish before they would let us off. Again, it was a well oiled machine.
We hopped on the bus and made our 3 hour journey back to Hanoi for two more nights in the Tirant Hotel.
Monday March 18th, 2019: Hanoi Free Day
Out of all 12 days on this tour we had one free day. We decided to spend our day in Hanoi exploring the streets, and hunting down a Starbuck’s to make sure we got our mug. The weather forecast in Hanoi during our trip was cloudy with rain, and that’s exactly what it did. Fortunately it rained on and off which gave us enough time to get out and about.
After breakfast at the hotel we found a Starbucks less than a mile away from the hotel that we thought we could walk to using Google Maps.
After getting our cup and taking a coffee break we slowly made our way back to the hotel, stopping by small shops and vendors along the street. We purchased some souvenirs and managed to find a great art gallery where we purchased two paintings that looked exactly like what we experienced in Hanoi.
The pool at the hotel was too cold to be of any use to us, so we visited the spa and got some needed massages. I have to say that this experience in India has gotten me to appreciate a deep tissue massage. I carry a lot of my stress in my upper back, and have pulled muscles several times as a result.
We had to get an early bedtime in order to be up and through breakfast by 6:45am the following day so we grabbed dinner at the hotel.
Tuesday March 19th, 2019: Travel to Ho Chi Min City
After breakfast we hopped in what looked like an Uber, because there were no decals on the side of this Ford Ranger and headed towards the airport. I have learned to follow our trip on Google Maps to make sure we were going in the right direction. On this trip though I stopped watching when I saw the airport signs, which was unfortunate because the driver dropped us off at the international airport instead of the domestic airport that we needed.
It took us about 5 minutes to figure out we were in the wrong terminal, and then another 15 minutes to rush our way to the bus stop and to the domestic terminal. All in all we made it to the gate at least 20 minutes ahead of boarding, but it wasn’t fun.
The flight to Ho Chi Min City was good and we landed just before lunch. Our driver was waiting for us at the airport and we headed toward the Grand Silverland Hotel for checkin. We had the rest of the day to ourselves and decided to stick around the hotel to use the pool and then hit up a brewery right next door to the hotel.
Wednesday March 20th, 2019: Mekong Delta Tour
The Mekong Delta became famous world wide during what the locals called the anti-American War. The delta is famous for its floating markets which are typical of the Phung Heip and the Cali Be.
After a relatively short drive we arrived at the delta boat tour location and boarded a boat. The boat took us around the river and past several of the floating markets. Each boat sold a different item, typically a produce item, and hung what they sold on a poll above their boat.
The markets are becoming much more scarce, but they do still have their appeal, because the commerce takes place on the water and therefore the owners do not have to pay taxes.
We didn’t buy anything from the markets or talk to anyone on the boats but it was still very interesting to see everything.
After turning around in the larger tributary we went to a store that made rice paper, coconut candy, pop rice, and snake wine, just to name a few. It was amazing seeing how they made each item, and the coconut candy was delicious. We purchased two bags of candy, which were perishable, and made great treats during our up and coming bus rides.
On the way out of the store they offered the group an opportunity to try the Snake Wine. Snake Wine is rice wine that was fermented for 6 months with a snake in the bottle. Upon looking at the bottles we also found scorpions in there too. The snakes were gutted so it was just the skin and meat, but they were still pretty intimidating. Three people out of our 11 person group were brave enough to try the wine….and of course I was one of them. It was ok…
After the store we went to our lunch location where we had a traditional Vietnamese lunch. It was delicious, although as usually you three didn’t eat much. After lunch we went for a walk, and went to find as many ‘Cockadoodles’ (Roosters) as we could. Honestly it was just so cute to hear Madelyn asking about them that we probably spent 30 minutes trying to find more.
Our last stop for the day was a ride through the smaller water ways that connected the many larger rivers. We boarded a boat that was captained by a woman who was dressed like it was about to snow, as we were sweating just sitting there.
The ride started out amazing and it was a lot of fun. They even gave us traditional hats to wear on the ride.
The ride took about 20 minutes and after we were far enough away from our tour guide, the rowers put the oars away and used a small motor to get us through the channel. I bet it was 25% by oar and 75% by motor. Honestly we didn’t mind because it was hot back in those smaller channels due to the trees on both sides, partial sunlight, and little wind.
Thursday March 21st, 2019: Cu Chi Tunnel Tour
The Cu Chi tunnel tour was a day your mother and I were looking forward to. We had learned all about the Vietnam War in school and never thought we would get the opportunity to visit. The most interesting part of our day was learning about the war from the other perspective. There are always two sides to a story and we believe that it’s important to understand both.
We arrived at the tour sight in the morning and after paying for our tickets we sat through a small video about the war and the tunnels. It was very interesting.
The rest of the tour took us through exhibits of the tunnel entrances, traps, and life in the jungle.
Before I describe the stops on the tour I should mention that when they decided to turn this ground into a tourist spot they had to clear all the traps and mines, and enlarge the tunnels by up to 30%. Vietnamese people, much like most Asians, are typically smaller than Europeans, Americans, and Australia’s. This is a generalization of course, but at the time they made the tunnels just large enough to fit the Vietnamese soldiers.
Our first stop was an entrance to the tunnels. They didn’t want anyone going down into this one because it wasn’t expanded, but they let anyone who wanted to hop in and get a photo.
The next few stops were exhibits of the traps that were set by the Viet Cong soldiers along with a few of the tricks they used to identify traps as they walked through the jungle. One of the identifiers they used a lot was two smaller trees that crossed several feet above the ground. Soldiers would stay away from these locations because they typically had a trap.
Cooking and living in the jungle was also very interesting. They setup their tunnels to have kitchens several meters below ground, and then took the exhaust up to 1,000 meters away from the actual kitchen. The exhaust vents were then disguised as ant hills, which they would cover with American candy to attract insects and trick the dogs into thinking it was a familiar scent.
Walking through the tour we could see bomb craters all over the place, many of them 10 ft deep. For your mother and I this was a very interesting tour, but likely didn’t stick with you three. We hope that enough pictures were taken so you can pull these out in school when you learn about the conflict.
Our last activity was actually walking (or crawling in your mom and my case) through the tunnels. They had built a 100 meter tunnel for tourists to get a real life feel for the passages. There was an exit every 20 meters, which is where your mom and I were eager to exit. You three on the other hand were keen to keep running the full distance. It was very tight and cramped, but just your size for what I’m sure you thought was a great adventure.
Before heading back to the hotel we grabbed lunch at the tunnel restaurant, which was again a traditional Vietnamese lunch. We love spring rolls.
After returning to the hotel we packed up what we could before morning, because the next day we were headed to Cambodia.
Mom & Dad