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.
On our way back to the ship our guide treated us to an unusual fruit. It was easy to peel and very sweet.
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.
Hotel: Liberty Central Riverside, Saigon
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
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.
Wuan arranged for a lunch break at 5 Spices restaurant. The food was excellent.
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
TOP 10 PHOTOGRAPHY TIPS FOR TRAVELLERS
by Ewen Bell
- Get closer
The easiest way to improve your photography is to get closer to the subject. The world changes when you are closer to it.
- Go Slow
Take your time and you will take better photos. Rushing about gives you lots of shots that you might not want to keep, so maybe it’s better to go slow and enjoy the travel.
- Shoot wide
Get a wide-angle lens and get more into the shot. Many compact cameras shoot the equivalent of 24 mm wide, and that’s good
- Look for the light
Cameras shoot light not objects, so you have to practice seeing the light as your camera does. Lovely light makes for lovely photos.
- Ask first
Show respect for other people and ask permission before shooting. It avoids offending strangers and gives you a chance to better connect with the locals. Getting local is what it’s all about!
- Get details
Take photos of the little things along the journey, not just the big ones. The texture of a place can be revealed in detail photos.
- Review your shots
Every night, have a look through your photos for the day. It helps you to appreciate the effort you put into them, and can reveal some missing subjects that you can work on the next day.
- Creative control
Try taking control of the camera instead of letting the camera determine your photo. Exploring the craft of photography is about cultivating your own ability to be creative.
- Shoot for love
We fall in love with places as we travel, so let your passion for a place guide your photography. Ask yourself: what is it about this place that makes it special, and do my photos reveal that quality?
- People matter
Travel is about people, and so should your photography. Your most treasured memories of a place are usually the people and the character, so try to get a little of them on film.
Ewen Bell is an award-winning photographer from Australia.
This morning we visited the church and graveside of Sir Winston Churchill. Churchill is buried in the family plot along with the other Spencer-Churchill members.
Our next stop was the baroque masterpiece Blenheim Palace, ancestral home of Winston Churchill.. With its 2,000 acres and 187 rooms, Blenheim Palace eclipses even the British monarchy’s homes. Our tour included the palace state rooms filled with stunning portraits, elaborate furniture, and the famous Blenheim Tapestries.
Our scenic drive back to Oxford took us through the beautiful Cotswold villages riddled with old stone mansions, thatched cottages, and atmospheric churches. We enjoyed lunch in the charming village of Stow on the Wold. The scenery is stunning. Upon our return to Oxford the ladies took a couple of hours to explore the shops and stroll along the pedestrian mall.
Dinner this evening was at the Eagle and Child pub. A delicious meal; crab pot with fresh homemade bread, chicken and chorizo pie, delectable desserts. Definitely not low fat!
Overnight: Galaxie Hotel, Oxford