The group arrived safely in Hanoi after almost a 24 hour journey. The flight from Instanbul was extended by close to 90 minutes due to turbulence over the Himalayas, but everyone landed in the Vietnamese capital in good spirits.
After collecting their bags, the group were happy to see Mr Hung, their Hanoi guide, waiting for them at the International arrivals.
Straight on to the coach, the group made their way through the evening traffic to a restaurant where some delicious Vietnamese cuisine was enjoyed: seafood soup, deep fried chicken with chili sauce and stir-fried beef with seasonal vegetables.
After dinner the group made their way back to their hotel, and were ready to rest after a long day of travelling.
Tomorrow, the group are excited to go on a city tour and see the capital in the daylight, to truly understand modern-day Vietnam.
The group’s first full day allowed them to see Hanoi at a furious pace. The morning was focused on visiting the Ho Chi Minh mausoleum, where the pupils queued along with thousands to see the former leader of Vietnam’s former living quarters, cars and gardens that he enjoyed before his death in 1969.
The group were also shown the spot were former US Senator John McCain was shot down during the Vietnam war.
Lunch was delicious – a full range of Vietnamese cuisine was on show, and everyone has started to slowly get used to using chopsticks.
In the afternoon, the group visited some of the most beautiful Buddhist pagodas in the city and attended a short lecture regarding Vietnamese history, led by one of the foremost academics in Hanoi. The pupils then made their way into the backstreets of the city to meet a local folk artist who specialised in Vietnamese water puppetry. Safe to say, this was a first for everyone!
Tomorrow will bring an earlier start and a long drive to Halong Bay, where the group will board a boat for the next 24 hours of sightseeing.
Day three began with a long drive in a tropical storm to Halong Bay. Although this may be a typical tourist destination, it is also situated just west of the Gulf of Tonkin, where in 1964 the famed ‘incident’ took place. Halong Bay is a UNESCO site and its beauty made it hard for pupils to put into words.
The group then journeyed to Tito Island, named after the famous Soviet cosmonaut, where they climbed four-hundred steps to the pagoda overlooking the bay.
There was still time for some kayaking and a cookery demonstration on board before pupils enjoyed a delicious five course dinner and headed to bed.
Boats, Buses and Brunch.
The pupils woke up and began their day with a Tai Chi class at 6.30am. Mastering the ancient Chinese art as the sun emerged over the bay gave everyone energy for the day ahead.
After breakfast it was time to visit some of the famous caves found within the bay – these took everyone’s breath away. After returning to the boat, the group spotted one of the local monkeys, perched on a rock and observing the tourists!
Following a quick buffet brunch, the group sailed back to the harbour and then took a bus to Hanoi in the rush hour traffic. The pupils were delighted to then have three hours of free time, where they could do some shopping in the old city.
At 6pm, the group climbed back on the bus with lighter wallets and plenty of bags! A quick meal and a dash for the night train to Hue completed the day.
Arriving in Hue.
The night train to Hue saw the group head southwards for 12 hours before emerging into the oppressive heat of the former imperial capital.
Breakfast at the hotel was followed by a journey on a dragon boat to the seven story Pagoda – part of a working Buddhist temple. Everyone marvelled at the ornate golden Buddha before moving on to lunch – steamed rice, spring rolls, grilled beef, prawns, tofu and lemongrass.
It was then time to head to the Imperial Citadel where the last six Indochinese Emperors served their time, surrounded by eunuchs and concubines.
The group were expertly lead by their new guide, Mr Phu, who explained the intricate details of late imperial Indo-China and the emergence of the Vietnamese state. There is no doubt that our pupils will be returning with a huge insight into South-East Asian history and culture. The day ended with another Vietnamese culinary experience before the group made their way back to the hotel, exhausted, but also preparing for all that the next day will bring.
Hue and Hoi An.
Monday morning brought blue skies and a rising temperature. The first stop for the pupils was a local orphanage to meet the 20 Buddhist nuns who look after over 130 children. It was a wonderful morning as pupils spent time with the children, playing football, chatting and learning about the amazing work carried out by the orphanage. The pupils felt that the selfless dedication of the nuns would stay with them for a long time.
After a vegetarian lunch, the group took the bus to the stunning UNESCO city of Hoi An. Everyone enjoyed a walk through the crowded streets to view some more pagodas, temples and visit the ever present coffee shops.
Vietnam is one of the biggest coffee producers in the world and every village, town and city hosts a whole collection of cafés and coffee shops selling the local brew.
The pupils enjoyed some more Vietnamese specialities at dinner – dumplings, river fish, spring rolls and a variety of vegetables. Every meal that has been served during this trip has consisted of between 8-10 courses; so readjusting to normal eating habits may be difficult!
Everyone is looking forward to tomorrow where the pupils will head to Da Nang to catch the Reunification Express south to Ho Chi Minh City.
The group were on the road early, with another busy day ahead. The bus drove into the hills of the central highlands, taking the pupils to visit another UNESCO world heritage site – this time the Hindu Tower Temples at the My Son Sanctuary.
This site gives visitors a little taste of the ancient Champa civilisation, who lived in this part of Vietnam between the 2nd and 17th centuries. Much of the complex had been ravaged by recent wars but there was still enough standing to impress the group.
After visiting the site, it was back to Da Nang for a quick lunch before jumping aboard the “Reunification Express” and heading southwards to Ho Chi Minh City. This was a 16 hour journey, only broken by the odd card game, a few quizzes and plenty of some much needed napping! Everyone woke up at a very uncivilised 5am to gather their belongings together and emerge into the warming sun of Saigon.
The guide, Mr Bien, was there to greet the group before whisking everyone away for a very early breakfast. The pupils had the chance to catch their breath as it was time to get back on the road to head north west of Saigon to visit the Cu Chi Tunnels. This was one of the main items on the itinerary – so many of the pupils were looking forward to this.
The tunnel system was constructed by the Vietcong during the war against the Americans and showcased their amazing ingenuity and determination to succeed in their chosen method of guerrilla warfare.
The pupils were shown the tunnel system itself and crawled through the still remaining tunnels to see the numerous ingenious booby traps that were utilised by the Vietcong between 1964-1973.
It was then time to go back to Saigon to visit the former Presidential Palace of the South Vietnamese President, the National Museum of the Vietnam War and the impressive French colonial architecture that still defines much of the former capital.
A long day came to an end with a wonderful meal in the city centre. Tomorrow the group will head south to the Mekong Delta for some historical, cultural and, no doubt, culinary adventures.
As the heat intensified, so did the pace of the group’s sightseeing! The pupils had an early start on Thursday as they left Ho Chi Minh City and headed south west to the Mekong Delta.
Winding in and out of the anarchic Saigon traffic is indeed the 8th wonder of the world – the old capital has over 11 million inhabitants and all seem to possess a moped!
The pupils headed onto the highway, and the first stop was Ben Tre. Here, everyone was able to see some of the traditional handicrafts in action – brick making, mat weaving and coconut processing. The pupils were treated to some of the local delicacies: fresh mango, coconut and many other flavours that they had never encountered before.
Lunch was taken deep in the Delta, where huge langoustines and “elephant ear” fish were the standouts. It was then time to get back on the bus for the three hour haunt down to the Can Tho – the biggest city on the Mekong Delta.
This is the group’s last stop before returning to Ho Chi Minh City tomorrow.