June 2nd 2014
Travel Indochina – Vietnam and Laos
After a long flight, our first stop was the capital Hanoi.
The first thing that hit me was the heat and humidity! Even at 6am it was hot!
Our transfer in from the airport prepared us for some of the sights that we would see over the next 9 days. On the motorway, a motorbike with a cage on the back with a pig in it!
Hanoi has 4 million residents and apparantly 8 million scooters and I think we saw a lot of them. Our guide quickly showed us how to cross the road safely – walk steadily across and they will go around you!
Our hotel, the Hilton Hanoi Opera is located in the French Quarter and just a short walk from the Old Quarter, with its traditional streets, where they are named after what is sold on them, so you have Bamboo Street, Sugar Street and so on.
We visited the infamous 'Hanoi Hilton', the former central prison made famous for the incarceration of Vietnam's National Liberation Movement and later US Air Force pilots shot down over northern Vietnam.
Our next stop was the beautiful and mysterious Halong Bay – Vietnam's greatest natural wonder, where limestone pillars and tiny islets rise from the sea.
Its a 4 hour drive from Hanoi but we were soon boarding our Paradise Cruises Luxury Junk Boat for our overnight stay. These Junk boats really are traditional luxury with modern conveniences like the all-important air-conditioning.
Whilst we were cruising amongst these islands, passing floating villages, we stopped at Hang Sung Sot, Halong Bay's largest cave. The climb to the entrance was well worth it – the cave is huge with some really beautiful formations. Another stop at an island with a lovely beach but some of us made the climb to the top for the most amazing panoramic views.
An early morning Tai Chi session on the top sundeck and we were soon sailing back.
On our drive back to Hanoi, an inpromptu visit to a small village gave us a fascinating insight into the local way of life.
We then caught the short 1 hour flight down to Danang, home to the famous 'China Beach'
where American Gis enjoyed R&R during the Vietnam War.
Our hotel, Fusion Maia Resort is Asia's first spa-inclusive hotel, where multiple daily spa treatments are included and every room has its own private pool and garden.
Nearby Hoi-An, a UNESCO World Heritage Site was once Vietnam's most active trading centre and has largely been preserved with architecture influenced by China, Portugal, France and UK and Japan as can be seen by the Japanese Covered Bridge.
Our final stop was Luang Prabang in Laos, flying via Hanoi, a journey of just over 2 hours.
Luang Prabang, another World Heritage Site is a charming town where the pace of life is much more relaxed than what we had seen in Vietnam. A walk past the Wat Xieng Thang Temple
to where the Nam Khan and Mekong Rivers meet is a must. The highlight of our stay here was watching the early morning Tak Bat ritual of the ley people giving alms to the monks,
who filed past in their bright Saffron-coloured robes. After visiting the local market, we drove the short 45 minutes to Kuang Si Falls, where you can swim in the pools, or hike to the top.
Travel Indochina (now known as Insider Journeys) have fantastic tour guides, and they
stay with you from start to finish and then they have local guides in each location.
All were so knowledgeable and enthusiastic and really made us feel part of their countries.
Such an amazing trip and I hope to be back again in the future.