Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh City
Although I'd always been interested in Vietnam and Cambodia, especially as it related to the historic monuments such as Angkor Wat, I had never really considered a visit. But one day I found we had some how inherited a DVD produced by Viking Riverboat Tours. On perusing the DVD, I came across their Magnificent Mekong tour, showed it to Judy, and the rest is history! Viking offered a 2 for 1 package if you signed up a year in advance and we determined we could also coordinate this tour with Aeroplan flights.
After the usual administrative and bureaucratic time consumers (new passports, visas, etc.), in early September 2013 we left Ottawa for Hanoi by way of Vancouver and Seoul, Korea, a lo-o-o-ong flight, close to 24 hours. Also, there is an eleven hour time difference, just to add to the stress! Nevertheless, on arrival in Hanoi we were met by our special taxi and driven to our 5 star hotel. Thus began one of our most memorable trips, and certainly one we would highly recommend to everyone.
The following are notes and a map taken from our travel information provided by Viking and also, of course, our comments as relevant. As can be seen, we started off in northern Vietnam, went on to Cambodia and ended our tour in the southern region of Vietnam. Our riverboat excursion on the Mekong was from Kampong Cham in Cambodia to near Ho Chi Minh City.
"Explore the stunningly scenic and culturally distinctive lands that lie along the remarkable Mekong River. On this 15-day cruisetour, discover two countries, two cultures and two ways of life linked by Indochinas most important riverfrom Vietnams bustling cities to the tranquility of Cambodia. Encounter ancient Khmer monuments at Angkor Wat and the elegant French colonial capital of Phnom Penh in Cambodia; and in Vietnam, visit the floating markets of the Mekong delta, experience the intimate charm of Hanois old city and tour dynamic Ho Chi Minh City, formerly Saigon. Here you will find gracious hosts and some of the finest cuisine in the world, while enjoying the natural beauty and rich history just beyond the banks of the magnificent Mekong."
Here are links to each of the pages in our amazing tour saga, except Page 1 of course, which starts below.
Just click on the Page number.
PAGE 2: Our arrival in Siem Reap and our beautiful hotel, the Sofitel Royal Angkor.
PAGE 3: We visit the ANGKOR ARCHEOLOGICAL SITES and then board our river boat, The Saigon PANDAW.
PAGE 4: As we sail down the Mekong we visit religious sites, schools, and family owned factories. On board we are entertained each evening with local music, dancing and movies. Also, we tour Phnom Penh on our own private 'Cyclos.' Finally, the sobering memorial in the Tuol Sleng detention center, a former high school in which thousands of victims of the murderous Pol Pot Khmer Rouge regime died, and the Killing Fields of Choeung Ek.
PAGE 5: Continuing on-board entertainment, shoreline factories, and local markets.
PAGE 6: Some more cruise visits, traditional music and crew farewell and dinner, then on to Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon). In HCMC, we visit a Lacquer Factory, The Reunification Palace, the fascinating Saigon Market, and then check into our elegant and luxurious hotel, The Sofitel Saigon Plaza. Though the tour had officially ended, we spent a further three days in the capital and visited parks, museums, and,of course, restaurants!
"Take a tour of this unique, thousand-year-old Asian capital where old and new combine in a lush setting of parks and lakes. Visit the Museum of Ethnology which includes a number of fascinating exhibits that bring Vietnams history and astonishingly diverse culture to life. Then tour the notorious Hanoi Hilton, a facility where American POWs were held captive during the Vietnam War. In the afternoon, visit Hanois Temple of Literature. Founded in 1070 as Vietnams first university, this maze like compound features inviting courtyards, gateways, pavilions, walkways, lakes and a museum. Continue on to the One Pillar Pagoda, an 11th-century monument that was rebuilt after being destroyed by the French in 1954. En route, pass some colonial landmarks such as the magnificent Opera House and St. Josephs Cathedral."
In Hanoi we stayed at the Sofitel Metropole, a five star hotel having just about any service you might want, including three excellent restaurants, and rooms fully equipped with TV, WiFi, air conditioning, etc. Below are photos of the hotel courtyard taken from our room, and an example of an elegant dinner and dessert served to us in the main restaurant. (Makes me hungry even now!)
Of course we were rapidly introduced to Asian vehicular traffic, which for us westerners was utterly unbelievable. Cars and buses are king, though fortunately there aren't many on the roads. It seems the major means of locomotion in Vietnam and Cambodia is the motorbike, and traffic lights and signs are treated only as decorations!!! The basic rule is, "Yield only at the last moment", and this applies to pedestrians as well. Evidently, the way to cross a busy street is to step out boldly while moving steadily, with your eyes focussed on oncoming vehicles. Our guide warned us, "Don't stop, keep moving!". Surprisingly, a plethora of motorbikes continues to flow around walkers like water around a turtle - a cacophony of mini-beeps providing sound to the chaos. Motorbike safety rules seem nonexistent, with unhelmeted families hanging precariously on a single little vehicle! That's right, families of dad, son or daughter, and mom nursing a baby. But amazingly, we didn't see any accidents! Below are some photos giving you an idea of the maelstrom on the roads.
How's this for a 'Tractor/Trailer' arrangement !?!
And finally, the most incredible of all, five on one motorbike! Unbelievable!!!
The following are some photos of our first day in Hanoi, which included visits to the Museum of Ethnology, Temple of Literature, One Pillar Pagoda, Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum, and finally, the notorious 'Hanoi Hilton' American POW camp.
Every setting seemed the right place for a photo op, typically of young women dressed in traditional costume.
The Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum
Unfortunately, we were not permitted to enter ...
... by this arrogant and officious soldier, even though our guides had the appropriate paperwork!!!
Finally, the infamous "Hanoi Hilton", where American POWs were held captive during the Vietnam War.
Although I took many photos, I deemed the majority to be too graphic for inclusion here!
The prison even included an original French-style guillotine!
Judy with our amazing guide, 'Tin' just prior to our departure for the flight to Cambodia.
So ended our wonderful Hanoi and area adventure.
And now on to Cambodia! Just click on their flag at right.