No one can bring our tours to life better than those who have seen, done and experienced it all first-hand, so we’re opening up the blog to our wonderful customers who want to share their amazing Wendy Wu adventures!
Expectation Versus Reality
If someone had asked me what I had associated Vietnam with before embarking on a journey across the country, I would have naturally said the war and its rather grisly history. Although there is of course no shying away from one of the most influential historical events of the twentieth century, I soon found out that this rather exotic South East Asian nation can offer visitors some of the most immersive cultural experiences on the continent.
Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City)
Saigon (as it is still fondly known as by many) was the destination that I had been looking forward to the most on the whole tour. As someone who adores history, I knew that this city would be a treasure trove of incredible sights and it did not disappoint. However, before delving straight into history, we had given ourselves a day before the tour started to familiarise ourselves with modern day Saigon. A short walk from the hotel over to the beautiful Tao Dan Park proved to be a wake-up call for the senses!
Something as simple as crossing the road in Vietnam is one of the most exhilarating experiences that you can have in the country. A kind man who must have sensed our surprise gave us the wise advice of ‘take a step out into the road and commit to walking across because that way the mopeds will go around you…just don’t freeze or step back as that’s when you’ll have problems.’ As unnatural as this advice seemed, we did step out and the mopeds did in fact go around us. We carried this tip with us for the whole tour and lived to tell the tale!
One of the main historical highlights of Saigon was visiting the Cu Chi Tunnels. Having studied the Vietnam War at school, I was familiar with the Viet Cong’s guerrilla warfare tactics. However, nothing could prepare me for experiencing the reality of what living underground in tightly confined tunnels would have been like for them (even if, for me, it would only be for a short amount of time).
As myself and some of the other members of the group descended into the pitch black tunnel, the confinement was the first thing that hit, followed swiftly by the heat. Luckily, there are exit ladders back up to daylight at regular intervals for anyone who feels that it is too much. I was absolutely determined to make it all the way through the tunnel to the end and was very proud of the fact that I was one of only two people in the group to have done so.
At one point, where I had been waiting for others to leave via the ladders, I was completely on my own down there. I’m not sure I have ever moved so fast in my life to catch up with the only other group member who was somewhere ahead of me at that point!
Although my nerves had very nearly got the better of me, those moments where I was on my own were some of the most powerful of the whole trip. For anyone who is claustrophobic, there is no expectation to experience the tunnels and some people in our group chose to enjoy walking through the jungle environment above ground to explore artefacts like tanks that have been left behind from the war.
Of course, no visit to Southern Vietnam would be complete without an excursion to the Mekong Delta. From beginning to end, this day showcased one of Vietnam’s most spectacular natural wonders. The highlight was being paddled through the palm lined canals in a canoe – wearing an obligatory Vietnamese hat to complete the experience! For me, the Mekong Delta was Vietnam at its most iconic and is one of my fondest memories from the tour.
Central Vietnam (Danang, Hoi An, Hue)
After exploring the range of sights and landmarks that Saigon had to offer, it was time to board a plane and head North to the central coast. Shortly after leaving Danang Airport, it became clear that the pace of life in this region was going to be much slower than that of Saigon and a complete contrast to the Vietnam we had experienced thus far.
Our upcoming destination was Hoi An, a traditional town on the banks of the Thu Bon River which is a fusion of Chinese, Japanese and Vietnamese culture. A meander through the narrow streets during daylight hours offers glimpses into merchant houses from times gone by, textiles shops (which will tailor clothing to any specification) and temples.
However, anyone who stays in town after sundown is treated to a sudden explosion of colours as lanterns illuminate the streets and river. After dinner in a restaurant overlooking the river, our guide very kindly let us have some extra time to capture the colourful scenes unfolding.
The following day, we drove over the scenic Hai Van mountain pass en route from Hoi An to the imperial city of Hue. On the right hand side of the pass is the sea, which looks dazzling on a clear day, and on the left are the mountains that the road hugs. On this particular day, clouds and mist had rolled in from the sea which I felt added to the atmosphere of the mountain scenery.
From Hue, it was onwards and upwards to our final destination – Hanoi. Although I had really enjoyed the slower pace of the central coast, I was intrigued by what Hanoi would offer as the nation’s capital.
After an afternoon at leisure, it was time for a culture-fuelled day of sightseeing ahead. Our first stop was a visit to Ho Chi Minh’s mausoleum. Fortunately, because this was the first stop of the day, we did not have to queue for long to get inside. Of all of the sites we had visited in Vietnam, I felt that this was the one that offered one of the most tangible links between the past and the present.
From beginning to end, the mausoleum and the area around it revealed how revered Ho Chi Minh still is to this day. Our guide explained to us that it is almost seen as a rite of passage for Vietnamese people to visit the leader who successfully unified their country. Surprisingly, there were children as young as five or six years old visiting as part of a school trip on the day that we were there; a concept I found intriguing as a teacher myself.
After walking up the steps and into the darkened building, the first thing I noticed were armed guards in incredibly pristine white uniforms guarding Ho Chi Minh as he lay in state. When we had exited the mausoleum, we were able to explore the grounds further and visited Ho Chi Minh’s stilt house and some of his car collection.
Of course, no visit to northern Vietnam would be complete without a visit to Halong Bay. Our overnight cruise on a junk boat was the perfect chance to relax after our city sightseeing in Hanoi.
On the first afternoon, we visited one of Halong Bay’s floating villages which offered a unique glimpse into the way of life of the people in the region. Seeing the village school was particularly fascinating, as well as watching the fishing boats coming and going. That evening, we all sat up on deck enjoying the warmth and the stunning scenery that surrounded us.
As we were coming towards the end of the tour, it was also a good chance to reflect on our journey as a small group and what our favourite experiences had been along the way. After a visit inside one of the karst caves the following day, we headed back to Hanoi where our tour would unfortunately end.
Overall impressions of the tour:
Overall, I felt that this itinerary offered an excellent insight into the different regions of Vietnam. By the time it had finished, I felt like each region had fused together to form a complete jigsaw of the country’s past, present and future.
Our tour guide, Tam, was incredibly knowledgeable and during the many conversations that we had with him, was able to offer us an even greater insight into the life of a modern Vietnamese citizen.
Due to the fact that our hotels were centrally located, we were also able to visit other places of interest during our free time. For example, we were able to visit the Hoa Lo prison in Hanoi and the military history museum where the actual tank that stormed the presidential palace in Saigon is displayed. The Silk Village was my definitely my favourite hotel on the itinerary as each traditional ‘villa’ is located around a central swimming pool which was perfect for one of our afternoons at leisure.
Every effort was made to ensure that we experienced the different foods of each region, including pho which is Vietnam’s national dish. This was my second Wendy Wu Tour and it will definitely not be my last.
Thank you Kirsty for the fantastic article and the stunning pictures!
Kirsty travelled on our Vietnam at a Glance tour. Tick off the highlights on this immersive experience with visits to charming Hoi An, historical Hue, spectacular Halong Bay and much more.