For those of us that stayed we took a short flight to the ultimate Indian Ocean on the lush island of Zanzibar. We arrived to the Blue Bay Beach Resort & Spa and are ready to relax on this stunning east coast of the island of Zanzibar with the finest, white, sandy beach. It is set in 30 acres of tropical gardens with over 1, 000 palm trees. We are ready for fine wining and dine plus a whole lot of fun!
This morning we visited took a boat ride through the narrow channels of the Mekong River to several scenic locations, including a small village known as “Evergreen Island. Huan guided us through the quiet farming community where the men and women tended the fields, children rested in hammocks, dogs lounged out from of their homes, chickens picked around in the yard and the locals greeted us with a friendly hello. It’s as if we stepped back in time.
We transferred by boat back to Tan Chau, a small Mekong River town unspoiled by tourism. We enjoyed a traditional “xe-loi” (trishaw) ride around the town, with stops at a rattan workshop and a silk-making factory. There was some serious shopping at the silk factory.
This evening’s sunset over the Mekong river was spectacular.
We cruised on to the Cambodian border and went through the visa formalities. The ship continued sailing overnight to Phnom Pehn.
This morning our cruise took us to Cai Be and its colourful local floating market. We passed the city’s beautiful French gothic cathedral then toured the historic An Kiet House with its beautiful surrounding gardens. .
We strolled alongside the waterway taking in the scenery and meeting the people.
We visited local businesses where the women were hard at work making coconut candy, rice treats while the babies slept peacefully in their hammocks. We had the pleasure of tasting a variety of typical Vietnamese sweets, popped rice and jasmine tea. The brave ones sampled snake wine. After an interesting visit we headed back to the ship for lunch.
Life on the river is bustling, fishermen our casting nets from their boats and various sizes of boats carrying all types of cargo.
This afternoon we took a sampan boat excursion to SaDec to observe daily routines of the villagers, We visited the home of Mr. Hyun Thuy Le, who inspired Marguerite Duras’ novel, L’Amant (The Lover) . The ornate table is used for family dining, the food goes in the middle and the family sits on the top around the food. We were treated to delicious cup of lotus flower tea and candied ginger. The In the evening the table transforms into a bed.
We continued our tour with a fascinating walk through the town’s market experiencing the sights and smells of the colorful fresh produce, meat, live fish, and seafood being sold. The locals drive their scooters, bicycles and motorcycles up to the individual stalls to pickup their food items then continue on to the next one. The locals are friendly and many greet us with a smile and hello. Especially the children.
Continuing our tour we visit a two different temples, a Taoist pagoda then Cao Daism invented in the 1920’s and has prophets who range from Buddha , Jesus, Joan of Arc and Victor Hugo.
After breakfast we transfered to My Tho to embark on our Mekong cruise on board the AmaDara, with luxurious suites, all with private French Balcony plus a full-size step-out balcony. The ship’s elegant public areas include two stylish restaurants serving delicious cuisine, an inviting lounge, a fitness room, hair salon, massage rooms, and a refreshing Sun Deck swimming pool.
The bus transfer took about 1 1/2 hours on the highway. We traveled from city chaos to green countryside where rice fields and coconut trees cover the landscape. It’s a pleasant change from the hectic pace and noise of the city. The AmaDara is welcoming and quite luxurious spacious comfortable cabins. Upon arrival we enjoyed a delicious buffet lunch. The afternoon was at our leisure to unpack, unwind and take part in the safety drill. This evening we met the captain and crew, enjoyed a champagne reception and a sumptuous dinner.
Accommodation: AMA Waterways AmaDara
This morning we headed out of the city centre to the Cu Chi region to visit the vast underground network of tunnels built first as a defence against the French and later expanded during the American war. It was from here that the North Vietnamese waged their guerrilla warfare with secret trapdoors, underground kitchens, living areas, and meeting rooms. The site is well laid out and our guide Huie shared a wealth of knowledge about what life was like for the Vietcong living in the tunnels. This was their home for 20 years. The adventurous explored the deeper second, and even third level tunnels.
We returned to Saigon for a late lunch at Xu Restaurant. The Vietnamese food is very flavourful and the service excellent. This afternoon we visited the former Presidential Palace, now preserved as a museum and including the underground communications bunkers, headquarters for the Saigon Government during the American War.
Onwards to visit Notre Dame, an impressive neo-Romanesque cathedral and the city centre. The photo at the bottom of the page is where the helicopter landed to take the last US citizen out of Vietnam during the war.
This afternoon we had free time to explore the city, visit the famous market and take in the street entertainment. Saigon is a very cosmopolitan city. The locals enjoy socializing over coffee or tea, a meal at a local restaurant or to take in the activities in the main square. This evening some of us enjoyed a great dinner at Citadel Saigon restaurant.
We spent the whole day on Safari in Africa’s we saw so many but feel blessed to have seen a Leopard and a male lion protecting his bride. We also ventured to the river and saw sooo many hippos resting. In late afternoon we visited a Maasai village and learned about tribal customs and the place of the Maasai in today’s Africa. We enjoyed a colourful Maasai dance and cultural performance.
Hanoi to Halong Bay
This morning we departed Hanoi and transferred by road to Halong Bay, (approx. 4 hours). The traffic in the city is crazy, as usual. Bikes, scooters, cars and trucks all sharing the roads and walkways. Pedestrians bravely cross the road and the bikes and cars veer around then. There are no rules of the road. They drive everywhere and anywhere. Somehow its organized chaos. On our way to Halong Bay we stopped for a break to stretch our legs. The rest stops are commercial tourist shops. They have women sewing embrodery, and many items are for sale. Purses, shoes, silk items, dresses, jewelry and much more. There are bus loads of people stopping at this shop.
Overnight: Halong Bay Syrena Cruise
Halong Bay is considered Vietnam’s eighth wonder of the world – three thousand spectacular chalk and limestone outcroppings, cliffs, arches, and coves form a dragon’s tail across the bay. Upon arrival at Halong Bay we boarded a traditional-style luxury sailing junk to meander through the area whose name translates as ‘Where the Dragon Descends into the Sea’. We stopped at an islet and climbed through a series of breath-taking caves and grottoes, marveling at some of the most impressive stalactite and stalagmite formations anywhere in the world. A lunch of local seafood specialties was served on-board. If the weather is fine you may be able to swim in the bay and sunbathe on the deck.
The following morning the early risers enjoyed Thai Chi on the upper deck. The sky was clear and the bay peaceful. Coffee and a light breakfast were served before we headed out for a kayak trip about the bay. The monkeys came down to the waters edge in hopes of receiving a treat from the tourists. After a delicious brunch we checked out and transferred back to the mainland. We drove back to Hanoi to catch our flight to Saigon. We stopped at pearl farm to learn how they cultivate sea pearls and a burial site to learn about their local customs.
We transferred back to the Hanoi airport for our flight to Saigon, also known as Ho Chi Minh city. Our guide Huie met us upon arrival and transferred us to the hotel. It was a late arrival. Most wanted to skip dinner and head to bed early. Some met at the rooftop bar for a night cap. The view of the Saigon River and the city lights are spectacular.
Overnight: Liberty Central Riverside, Saigon
We drove to the world-famous Maasai Mara National Reserve where the annual migration of over one million wildebeest occurs. This is one of Kenya’s most active reserve and it sure was. Tonight we called it an early night as some are up early for the Hot Air Balloon ride. We listened to the orchestra of Cicadas, Tree frogs, birds and monkeys…music to our ears.
We drove south today to Lake Nakuru, the most famous of the Great Rift Valley Lakes. We stopped along the way at the Equator and learned some interesting facts about northern and southern hemisphere. We saw tons of flamingos and it was a large group but at one time houses over one million of them. They seem to be coming back. We went on an afternoon game drive and saw Zebras, babies too plus a pregnant Giraffe and a hyena. Tonight at the Lion Hill Lodge we had the pleasure of a culture dance which some of our group participated in.
It’s a warm rainy day in Hanoi. Umbrellas in hand we boarded the bus for our drive through the busy streets to our first stop, the impressive Ho Chi Minh museum. Here we learned about the life of the famous Vietnamese ruler, affectionately know as Uncle Ho. Born in 1890 he grew up through the French revolution. He went to live overseas from 1911 to 1913 to learn about the ways of other countries. In 1930 he founded the communist party and put Vietnam on the world map., He lived a tumultuous life, was imprisoned in China and sentenced to death. A British lawyer came to his defense and saved him from execution. He then went on to govern the country from 1945 to 1969, making many great changes to enhance the lives of his people.
Our next stop was the Temple of Literature, Vietnam’s first university. Constructed in 1070, the university operated till 1779. The gardens and well-preserved architecture offer a relaxing glimpse into Vietnam’s past. Each plaque has the name of one of the scholars that attended the school to become a doctor. The turtle at the bottom of the plaque is a symbol of longevity.
We toured the Hoa Lo Prison also known as the Hanoi Hilton. Over 400 American pilots shot down in the war were imprisoned here, including Senator John Macean. Built by the French in 1896 to hold the political prisoners. It was the largest prison in Indochina. There were quarters for women, men and prisoners on death row. The conditions were abhor-able. The small cells held up to 20 prisoners with no plumbing, electricity or heat. The original guillotine is housed here.
After lunch we continued our city tour with a walk through Ba Din Square/ We strolled past Ho Chi Minh’s tomb, the Parliament House and the Presidential Palace .We continued on to the house on stilts which was once the residence of Ho Chi Minh. He lived from 1954 until 1969. In the same complex is the One Pillar Pagoda, founded by King Ly Thai To in 1049. On our way out a small group of soldiers marched by us. Our Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau toured these same sites the day before us. He is in Vietnam for the world summit.
On our way out of the complex we stopped at the temple to observe a prayer session. Enchanting.
Dinner this evening at Indochine Restaurant. Another fabulous meal! Tomorrow we have an early departure. We are travelling to Halon Bay to spend a night on a junk. Details coming soon!
Hotel: Silk Path Hotel, Hanoi