Travel Bustling with beauty

Vi­brant street life and his­toric won­ders can be found from the top to bot­tom of Viet­nam, writes Angela Ranke

Mt Druitt - St Mary's Standard (East) - - TRAVEL - The writer trav­elled to Viet­nam at her own ex­pense with G Ad­ven­tures

STREET ven­dors hawk their wares from bam­boo bas­kets, bowls of steam­ing hot noo­dles are served to hun­gry cus­tomers on tiny plas­tic chairs as scoot­ers whiz by on roads re­mark­ably de­void of traf­fic lights or any road rules.

Wel­come to Hanoi, the cap­i­tal of Viet­nam and the coun­try’s sec­ond largest city. It is bustling, hec­tic and hot. But there is also peace and re­lax­ation to be found in one of many mas­sage par­lours where you can get an hour-long hot stone mas­sage for less than $15.

There is also beauty and tran­quil­lity to be en­joyed in Ha­long Bay, which is about a fourhour drive from Hanoi.

Take one of the junk boats, prefer­ably overnight, out to the bay where hun­dreds of karst lime­stone peaks rise from a shim­mer­ing sea in a mys­ti­cal scene that will trans­port you to an oth­er­worldly place.

If you’re feel­ing en­er­getic, kayak around some of the ma­jes­tic mini is­lands. On your jour­ney you might come across some cheeky mon­keys swing­ing from vines, putting on a show for the tourists.

An overnight train will take you to Hue, a tourist hotspot fa­mous for its bars and restau­rants.

But it is the coun­try side around this city that is most worth vis­it­ing. We go on a mo­tor­bike tour with a lo­cal man whose scooter trips are so pop­u­lar they book out days in ad­vance.

Rid­ing on the back of scoot­ers driven by lo­cals is a great way to see the coun­try, from lo­cal vil­lages to a Bud­dhist tem­ple and even a crum­bling colos­seum used by the King and his posse to watch an­i­mal fights as entertainment. The claw marks of the cap­tured tigers can still be seen on the stone walls as where they strug­gled to es­cape their fi­nal fight and ul­ti­mate doom with ele­phants.

Next stop is Hoi An, a must see for any visi­tor to Viet­nam. Pretty Chi­nese lanterns hang­ing be­tween beau­ti­ful old mer­chants’ houses painted a bright yel­low make this city one of the most pic­turesque in the coun­try. Many of these mer­chants houses have been con­verted into so­phis­ti­cated restau­rants, bars and tai­lor shops, where hand­made clothes can be or­dered, made and packed away within a cou­ple of days.

To give your­self enough time to have clothes made yet also take in some of the many at­trac­tions in Old Town, it is best to stay at least three nights in Hoi An. Spend at least one of those nights walk­ing along the river that me­an­ders through the mid­dle of the town.

Also worth check­ing out is Oo­dles of Noo­dles, a restau­rant and char­ity that gives street kids culi­nary train­ing and English classes so they can get jobs.

If you have time, set aside a half a day to go on a cy­cling tour of the coun­try­side around Hoi An. Our tour took us past rice pad­dies tended by vil­lagers and through tiny towns where we could see how peo­ple lived.

The trip fin­ishes in Ho Chi Minh City, for­merly known as Saigon. Like all mod­ern cities, it never seems to sleep. Ex­plore its street life of mar­kets, food and bars like a lo­cal – on a scooter.

Those in­ter­ested in his­tory should visit the War Rem­nants Mu­seum, with its em­pha­sis on the hor­rors of chem­i­cal war­fare.

Deepen your un­der­stand­ing of the war by vis­it­ing the Cu Chi Tun­nels, a net­work of un­der­ground, claus­tro­pho­bia-in­duc­ing tun­nels used by the Vi­et­cong to fight a guerilla war against the South Viet­namese Army backed by Amer­ica and their al­lies.

Our guided tour of the tun­nels was led by a Viet­namese war vet­eran who worked as a trans­la­tor, then joined the South Viet­namese Army. He gave a first­hand per­spec­tive of what it was like fight­ing in the jun­gle where he takes tour groups to­day.

An overnight stay in the fa­mous Ha­long Bay is a must when vis­it­ing Viet­nam.

Top to bot­tom: a bustling street in Hanoi; an el­derly cou­ple out­side their Hoi Ann home; and a young boy monk prays at a tem­ple in Hue. Pic­tures: Angela Ranke

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