In December 2010, my 12-year old son Oliver and I went to Vietnam with Ramblers Worldwide Holidays. It was our second Ramblers Worldwide Holidays trip, but the first outside Europe to a destination in a developing country.
The arrangements were excellent throughout and the planning nothing short of brilliant. There were no mishaps or last minute changes of plan, all eight hotels were comfortable and clean, the itinerary was varied and the places visited all fascinating. More than that: it was very thoughtfully done, with our leader, JP, and his side-kick, Mike, giving an impression of effortless coolness that masked an awful lot of truly hard spadework. They were terrific! And they really knew their stuff…..
Oliver was the youngest in the group; the oldest celebrated her 84th birthday when we were in Nha Trong. She received a cake and flowers to celebrate the event……
The group was mixed and interesting and fun to be part of; several had travelled widely, others less so. All loved Vietnam.
Vietnam. My generation will forever associate it with that war, but to visit this country is to understand that there is so very much more to Vietnam than its difficult history. The country looks forward not back, the people are welcoming and warm, and they seem not to harbour any grudge against their former aggressors.
My favourite parts? Well, the Mekong delta was tropical, lush and vibrant. The market in Da Lat was atmospheric and full of people buying the huge variety of fruit and vegetables. Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City/Saigon were a sea of motor-bikes and busy humanity. But for me the ancient city of Hoi An, with its beautiful Japanese covered bridge, Chinese trading house and medieval streets was simply divine. You could cut the history floating in the air with a knife…..
Ha Long Bay has the most spectacular natural landforms I have ever seen; my digital camera developed a stitch as I pushed it over the limit. Hanoi’s old town has a thousand years of commerce behind it, and the nearby 17th century bridge on the lake made me purr with delight. And when we retreated into the hills west of Hanoi we stayed in a hotel formerly used by the Communist Party as a thermal re-charging centre for their cadres; warm pools and spa baths everywhere……
Each day was different; every restaurant unique. Each bus stop took us somewhere entirely new. And when we boarded the flight out of Hanoi on Day 20 of a packed programme, I felt a twinge of sadness, mixed with a surge of warmth for a country that made us welcome, treated us royally, and forever changed my perspective of a formerly war-torn region of SE Asia. Vietnam’s bustle and modernity and its young people with their state-of-the-art smartphones and smiling welcomes were a joy to behold; this was a truly wonderful holiday!
Thank you JP and Mike, and thank you Ramblers Worldwide Holidays too. But where can we possibly go next time after a holiday like that?