My Ultimate Vietnam and Taiwan Trip

Asia · About Wellness

HANOI, Vietnam's capital is described by almost all who go there as "an old-fashioned

city". Old-fashioned in style, it is a city of lakes, parks, trees, villas, mansions and an area called the Old French Quarter where crumbling houses are crammed into narrow alleyways that are still named after the goods that were traded there - Silk Street, Gold Street, even Fried Fish Street! Old-fashioned in atmosphere, Hanoi has sidewalk cafes, pavement barbers, wide tree-lined bicycle filled boulevards, and elegant colonial French mansions. The grandeur and solemnity of Ho Chi Minh's monumental Mausoleum, the incongruous rustic simplicity of the house in which 'Uncle Ho' lived out his final years, the barely concealed misery of the Hoa Lo Prison, the 'Hanoi Hilton' where so many prisoners of war were incarcerated, the religious pride that constructed the beautiful temple of Literature compound - it's all here in Hanoi, a microcosm of the Vietnamese culture.

Ho Chi Minh’s complex.
The tomb is monumental, built of marble, granite and precious wood. Behind the mausoleum is Ho Chi Minh's house. The simple house where Ho Chi Minh lived and worked is made of wood and enjoyed a tranquil setting, with a view of a lotus pond. Ho Chi Minh’s belongings are on display and visitors can walk up the steps of his house to see his bedroom. Close by, is a famous pagoda built in the 11th Century named the One Pillar Pagoda.

Ha Noi’s famous Hoa Lo Museum (former prison famously known as the ‘Ha Noi Hilton’).

We also visited the Ancient Quarter or 36 Streets District. This densely populated corner of the
city was once a centre of commerce where goods were sold under the street name of a particular guild. Still a thriving community of sellers today, you see street names such as Sugar Street, Tin Street and Paper Street. Ancient homes and temples are interspersed with stores in this souvenir hunter's paradise! As we strolled through the atmospheric streets of the old quarter we also visited some of the local artists’ homes which are open almost as public galleries. We also visited the Hoan Kiem Lake, located in the very centre of the city also known as Lake of the Restored Sword from the legend that surrounds it.

HA LONG BAY is often called Vietnam's eighth wonder of the world and once visited, it is hard to dispute that claim. 3000 spectacular limestone outcroppings, cliffs, arches and coves compete for space in an area that is without doubt the most outstandingly naturally beautiful in the country - wih incomparable coastal scenery. We went on a traditional sailing junk and meandered through the area whose name translates as 'Where the Dragon Descends into the Sea', stopping off at an islet and climbed through a series of caves and grottoes, some of the most impressive stalactite and stalagmite formations anywhere in the world.

Our Boat and my stateroom

The caves………..

There were many activities while onboard our cruise, we kayaked, went caving, learned Tia Chi as
the sun came up and had a cooking class where we learned how to make flowers from carrots and tomatoes, all this while sailing through the beautiful Ha Long Bay area. The food on board was traditional Vietnamese and all very very delicious.

Our Cooking Class…….

After leaving Ha Long Bay we continued on our way back to Ha Noi but not before stopping at
Phu Lang - a craft village which is situated at the Cau River. Among dozens of craft villages in the Cau River area, the cradle of the Red River civilization, Phu Lang is well known with many ceramic artisans. For years, the village seemed unchanged. We got to see how people made the pottery products by hand. And a great souvenir stop!

Fridge magnets!

DANANG our next stop. One of the most ancient cities in Vietnam, Da Nang was the centre of
the Cham Dynasty from the 2nd century. Da Nang's rich cultural history, its proximity to Hoi An and the extraordinary ruins of My Son, and it's world-famous Cham Museum all continue to draw visitors. Unwelcome visitors have made their mark here too – Da Nang was the first landing-point for the invading French troops and again decades later for the US Marines. Today Da Nang is the fourth largest city in Vietnam and is a major port and centre of industry. Close by Da Nang is Non Nuoc Beach, immortalised for many by the US television shows and still one of the most spectacular beaches in Asia.

The beach at Hoi An and early morning fishermen

Ho An village market

We took a walking tour around the unique trading town of Hoi An which was a civilisation cut off by destroyed rail lines and a silted river, leaving it untouched by war and frozen in time. Seeing architecture reminiscent of traders of a bygone era - Japanese, French, Chinese, and Indian, as well as beautifully preserved ancient houses. No cars are allowed to pass through Hoi An, rendering it an excellent walking village. We visited the unique Japanese covered bridge and a Chinese communal house. Shopped for art at one of the numerous galleries and enjoyed the riverside ambience.

We explored the Red Bridge cooking school’s herb and vegetable garden, before learning about
some of Hoi An’s and Vietnam’s well-known dishes. The cooking lesson ran for about 2 hours – each dish is first demonstrated by a local chef’s, before we prepared the same dish ourselves. After our lesson, it was time for dinner and to eat exactly what we cooked!

The Chefs

Mine

The finished dish that we made!

SAI GON is surely one of the most evocative place names in Asia and definitely one of its
most extraordinary cities. The most Western in atmosphere of Vietnam's cities, Ho Chi Minh City (to use its official name - although to residents and visitors alike it is universally and affectionately known as Sai Gon) has a population of 8 million, and a booming freemarket economy. Saigon today is a city of amazing contrasts; elegant new international hotels, exclusive restaurants and trendy bars side-by-side with roadside noodle stalls, street children and vociferous cycle drivers. Golf courses, bowling alleys and shopping malls vie for space with fruit and vegetable markets, pagodas and karaoke rooms. Bustling, booming, crowded, noisy – all words that barely scratch the surface of the chaos that is Saigon. And yet there are the elegant colonial French boulevards and buildings, the Cathedral, the riverfront, the quiet moments at a sidewalk cafe watching the world literally go by you. Saigon - a city that is almost indescribable and completely unforgettable.

One of our stops was the Cu Chi Tunnels where we visited 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. We saw secret trapdoors, underground kitchens, living areas and meeting rooms. There are deeper second, and even third level tunnels which can be explored.

In the afternoon, we visited the Museum of War Remnants which is housed in the former U.S.
Information Service building. Many of the atrocities documented in the museum were well publicized in the West. In the yard of the museum, U.S. armored vehicles, artillery pieces, bombs and infantry weapons are displayed. After the War Museum we went to visit the nearby Central Market (Ben Thanh Market) where were able to see colourful stalls and stands of this central area of local trade and commerce. Lots to buy here be sure to bring along money. The next day we drove toward Ben Tre province which is an island located on a branch of the Mekong River. Then we boarded a motorised sampan for a unique experience on the mighty Mekong Delta waterways.

Sampan Ride

The boat cruised along the Ham Luong river and stopped off at a local brickworks - where bricks
are still made by hand; a salt refinery; and a coconut processing workshop - where we sampled fresh coconut and watched how every single part of this versatile coconut turned into food and other products. We visited a mat weaving house, where straw mats are woven using a hand loom. Our boat then stopped at a quiet village where we took a short walk through a real Delta village. Then we boarded a xe loi (a kind of motorized rickshaw) and travelled through fruit orchards before stopping at a riverside restaurant for another delicious Vietnamese style lunch. The lunch featured some local specialties such as elephant-ear fish and river shrimp which we washed down with some cold beers.

After lunch we boarded a non-motorized sampan for a relaxing trip along narrow canals back to our waiting boat.

To finish off our stay in Sai Gon we took a Vespa Tour. The tour took us through the streets of
Saigon on scooters; Just like the locals! The tour took us to a local restaurant where we tasted dishes include snails and frogs legs. Then back on the vespas for another ride around town to another restaurant where we ate mouthwatering spring rolls and drank avocado shakes. The vespa tour ended in a small bar titled Woodstock with some lively music and dancing.

TAIPEI is the capital city of the island Province of Taiwan, ROC (Republic of China). Located in the
northern tip, on the Tamsui River, Taipei is the political, economic, and cultural centre of Taiwan. Situated in the Taipei Basin, the city of Taipei offers scenic beauty with its various mountain ranges bordering this thriving metropolis, including Cising Mountain, the highest (extinct) volcano in Taiwan, located in Yangmingshan National Park. Taipei is slowly turning into a modern, cosmopolitan city, tree-lined boulevards were laid, high quality apartment blocks constructed, and stylish restaurants and cafes established. Downtown Taipei is culturally divided into east and west. The west features older city life, with its narrow streets and roadside vendors, whereas the east is the more modern side, featuring classy malls, chic boutiques, and trendy cafes and restaurants. Along with its modern vitality, Taipei features temples, shrines, and museums dedicated to its history and traditions. A thriving economy, safe streets, entertaining nightlife, plenty of shopping, and endless eateries, all make Taipei an exciting destination to visit.

We visited the 89th floor of Taipei 101 and Observation Desk. This skyscraper is Taipei’s most
recognizable landmark and features 101 floors (hence the name). With a stunning view of Taipei we could look down and the people on the street were barely visible from this height. From 2004 – January 2, 2010, it was the world’s tallest building. After Taipei 101 we went to Din Tai Fung for dinner at the base of the tower. Founded in Taipei in 1958 as a cooking oil retail shop, it is now a full-fledged restaurant specializing in soup dumplings and noodles. The restaurant has won rave reviews from all over the world and the tradition continues today with locations in United States, Taiwan, Japan, Singapore, South Korea, Australia, Indonesia, Malaysia, China, and Thailand. Following dinner, we explored one of Taipei’s famous Night Markets. An open air market where there is much to discover such as one-of-a-kind clothing stalls and food alley’s.

We began our day in Jiufen. Jiufen, a former gold rush town that possesses both Chinese and
Japanese influences. The town today exists mainly as a tourist destination, remembering and celebrating Taiwanese history and culture. We walked down the cobblestone steps of Shuqi Road and saw a variety of Chinese and Japanese style cafes, tea houses, shops, and restaurants. Jiufen is located in a mountainous area and has spectacular views of the ocean. A charming little place.

From whisky to tea, Taiwan has it all! We next had a Cultural Tea Experience in Jhong Shan
Agriculture and Leisure Centre picking, drying and then drinking our own tea.

Visiting one of the city’s top religious sites, Longshan Temple, The temple was founded in 1732
by Han immigrants from Fujian and has gone onto not only being a house of worship, but also as a municipal, guild and self-defense centre. Longshan is dedicated to the bodhisattva of mercy (Guanyin) and over 100 other Gods and Goddesses.

We then took a stroll through the historic district of Dadaocheng, which was an important
trading port in the 19th century and also the centre of the “February 28 Incident”. The February 28 Incident, also known as the February 28 Massacre, was an antigovernment uprising that began on February 27th 1947. It was violently suppressed by the KMT (Kuomintang)-led China, which killed thousands of civilians beginning on February 28. Despite its dreadful past, Dadaocheng is now a popular tourist attraction with its tea culture.

We also stopped at the Wang Tea Experience and sampled some of the best that the country

has to offer before ending our tour with a farewell dinner at the Shin Yeh Taiwanese Restaurant for some delicious Taiwan dishes. My experience in Vietnam and Taiwan was so very memorable and I thank Goway Travel for this opportunity . This was on my bucket list of places to see and I was not disappointed. I found Vietnam to be very friendly and colourful and interesting. It offers such diversity with beautiful scenery, an ancient past, lovely beaches and lots of shopping experiences. If you are interested in going to Vietnam please come and see me, I can offer suggestions to help make your trip memorable. OR even better I am planning to go there again in March 2017 and I would love it if you could join me. We will be doing something a little different than this tour but I assure you; you will have a great trip and will return home with lots of wonderful memories.

Susan Davies

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