Cuisine, Culture and Adventure – Vietnam Trip October 2019

This Art & Technology trip gave students the chance to immerse themselves in a culture that is very different from their own.We explored some incredible landscape features; including the iconic towering limestone Karsts of Ha Long Bay and the mighty Mekong Delta where boats, houses and markets float upon the innumerable rivers, canals and streams that criss-cross the landscape like arteries.

 

DAY 1

A visit to Hanoi which included Hoan Kiem Lake and Ngoc Son Temple, located in heart of the city, which contains an islet with the tiny tortoise pagoda. The historic Ho Chi Minh mausoleum, an imposing monument lavishly built using marble and granite, and where the preserved body of “Uncle Ho” resides. Behind the Mausoleum, Ho Chi Minh's simple house where he lived and worked from 1954 until 1969 is made of wood and enjoys a tranquil setting, with a view of a lotus pond.

Next, the Temple of Literature, Vietnam’s first university, constructed in 1070, the gardens and well-preserved architecture offer a relaxing glimpse into Vietnam’s past.

Onto a group tour on cyclo’s; a chauffeur-pedalled tricycle, pass by Hoan Kiem Lake and Ngoc Son Temple, through Hanoi’s Old Quarter, also known as “36 streets”. This bustling area of narrow streets and alleys is home to literally thousands of small businesses and shopkeepers. It was a great place to explore, especially by cyclo, with plenty of photo opportunities all around us.

DAY 2

Departure from the hotel in Hanoi to Halong Bay took us on a journey through the rich farmlands of the Red River Delta. Observing everyday life in Vietnamese Villages as we saw the villagers work the local rice fields, take live pigs to market on bicycles and plough the fields with their large water buffaloes. We arrived in Halong and boarded a traditional sailing junk via water taxi, discovering some of the treasures disseminated across the Bay of the Descending Dragon during the afternoon: fascinating caves, pristine beaches, picturesque floating villages, fantastic rock formations rising up out of emerald water. Small bamboo rowing boats were used to explore the islets, and this was a highlight of our trip. Back onboard our small sailing junk ‘Victory Star’, we attended our chef's cooking demonstration and tried our skills in the art of traditional Vietnamese cooking. In the evening, successful squid fishing by moonlight was enjoyed by many, as well enjoying a starry, sparkly night on the upper deck surrounded by limestone rocks majestically springing out from silent waters in the moon light.

DAY 3

Early birds attended a Tai Chi demonstration on the sundeck at the break of dawn and then we started the day enjoying a light breakfast and followed by a colourful brunch whilst exploring Halong Bay, sailing across its 2000 islets and visiting some of its major highlights – secret beaches, floating villages, majestic caves and hidden paths on the islets.

Next onto Yen Duc village for a short visit to a typical Vietnamese village and enjoyed a traditional puppet show and simple late lunch.

Internal flight to Saigon amidst a spectacular thunder and lightning show!

DAY 4 Ho Chi Minh

A local chef accompanied us to the vibrant central market, inviting us to understand more about Vietnamese ingredients and their uses, and also guiding us in selecting some fresh vegetables, spices and other ingredients. We proceeded to a local restaurant where we were introduced to "Corner of Vietnamese Traditional Kitchen" while enjoying a welcome drink. A three-hour hands-on cooking class followed in food preparation with the Chef, receiving a detailed explanation of the ingredients and utensils often used in the Vietnamese kitchen. This was an excellent opportunity for us to use our artistic flair and to prepare our favourite Vietnamese dishes. This cooking class truly offered authentic Southern Vietnamese cuisine and was thoroughly enjoyed by all.

Next, onto the War Remnants Museum, this museum was formerly known as the Exhibition House of American War Crimes. A poignant visit reflecting the crimes, loss and impact of war shown through photographs, artefacts and film.

Onto Dong Khoi street, or Rue Catinat as it was known in the time of the French occupation, to discover some of the beautiful French colonial buildings built in the late 19th and early 20th century. We appreciated the splendidly restored exteriors of the Opera House and the former Hotel de Ville which are still two of the finest buildings in Saigon, before wandering up to the Notre Dame Cathedral, a red brick edifice with twin spires based on the original construction from Paris. Then heading across the square to the Central Post Office, designed by the French architect, Gustav Eiffel, before he had risen to fame for the Eiffel Tower.

A buffet supper followed and then an impromptu journey to Level 51 Sky bar for sodas, sorbets, mocktails, waffles and fondants with a spectacular panorama.

DAY 5

First stop, visiting the landmark Reunification Hall, formerly known as the Presidential Palace. It was towards this modern building that North Vietnamese resistance fighters tanks (Viet Cong) rolled on the morning of April 30, 1975 as Saigon fell. This fascinating building is filled with history still fresh in the minds of many.

Next we drove to visit Vietnam's first traditional medicine museum, the FITO Museum, displaying an amazing collection of 3,000 items relevant to the development of traditional Vietnamese medicine. Implements used to prepare indigenous herbs, objects commonly found in traditional pharmacies as well as ancient books and documents on traditional Vietnamese medicine were seen in the galleries, as well as some souvenir shopping for families!

Onto District 5 to visit Thien Hau temple, built by the Cantonese congregation in the early 19th century to honour the Goddess of the Sea. The temple’s ornate interior courtyard was full of life as worshippers from the local Chinese community come to offer their prayers. We took time to make a wish, write it on a small card and attach it to one of the incense coils in the local custom.

We left the city for a 3-3.5 hour drive heading south west of Saigon. The Mekong Delta, is known as the rice bowl of Vietnam. We noticed lush rice paddies and fruit farms emerging alongside the highway as we left the city behind for the peaceful Mekong Delta. Water taxi to our Mekong Oasis paradise, gave us all a chance to cool off in the pool, explore on bikes the local paths and have some time to unwind after the chaos of city life! We followed our Chef visiting the local floating market and also discover how the local people of the Mekong make their living in the market and their culture of eating. Then we returned to hotel and took part in cooking activities and enjoyed for dinner what we had cooked – spring rolls, pancakes, noodles and fresh fruit.

DAY 6

An early morning swim and cycle for early birds and after a leisurely fresh breakfast of pastries, breads, noodles, fruit and yogurts, we embarked on our private charming wooden motor boat which helped us get closer to daily life and agricultural activities along the Mekong River, visiting the small colourful Cai Be floating market, experiencing how people exchange goods, fruit and many other commodities on their boats. We rowed in a sampan along the small canals surrounded by typical coconut palms. Next, visiting some local home factories that produce rice paste, rice popcorn and coconut candy before proceeding to evergreen islands among the Mekong River through a large network of meandering tributaries, crisscrossed with countless arroyos. A magnificent light lunch at a local restaurant whilst tasting some local delicacies before returning to Saigon in the afternoon. On arrival back into Saigon, we checked in at the hotel and refreshed followed by dinner at local restaurant and an unforgettable evening of karaoke!

DAY 7

Departed the hotel to the Cu Chi Tunnels. The incredible underground tunnel network was constructed by Vietnamese resistance fighters (Viet Cong) during their long struggle for independence. The tunnels are evidence of the tremendous ingenuity and resourcefulness that are characteristic of the Vietnamese. We saw the secret trapdoors, underground kitchens, living areas and meeting rooms. The more adventurous explored the deeper second, and even third level tunnels. Above ground, there was ample opportunity to view excavated areas from above.

Finally, we arrived back at the hotel, quick change and final pack of suitcases, then checked out of the hotel and transferred to the restaurant ‘Dinning in the dark’ at Noir restaurant. An incredible finale to our tour of Vietnam.

Transfer to London Heathrow.

An amazing tour of Northern and Southern Vietnam, with an action packed itinerary that embraced culture, cuisine and adventure with 30 fabulous teenagers and our magnificent staff: Mrs Lowkis, Mrs Hamblin, Mr Heal and Mr Edmonds.

Anna Woodman

Vietnam Trip Leader