Tavel: Together’s Catherine Feore visits the historical and beautiful Vietnam.
A visit to Vietnam begins on Vietnam Airlines. Flying from Paris Charles de Gaulle– just a hop, skip and a jump from Brussels – is usually uneventful, but due to a train delay (and some tight scheduling on my part), getting to the gate resulted in a race to the finish. Collapsing into my business class seat, I was swiftly presented with a list ofd rinks, including concoctions invented by Vietnam’s most celebrated cocktail baristas. Breathless, this was just the pick-me-up I needed – this is definitely the way to travel.
Vietnam Airlines flies to Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon), but you can equally fly direct to Han Oi. Both cities have their charms and, let’s face it, if you’ve managed to fly half way around the globe, you want to see as much as possible. There are excellent internal flights and, if you are less pressed for time, you can take a train between the two main cities.
The bustling modernity of Ho Chi Minh, with its skyscrapers and swarms of mopeds, doesn’t immediately scream ‘Socialist Republic’, but the occasional sighting of a large mural with a hammer and sickle is a reminder that this country is still… just that. In the mid-80s, Vietnam opened its doors to a freer economy, and since then has enjoyed rapid economic growth.
The freshness, lightness and diverse flavours of Vietnamese food are – to my mind – the best in Asia. An absolute must in Ho Chi Minh Agent Orange. There is a room in the museum dedicated to the pesticide and its impact on the environment and human health. The museum is a reminder of the horror of war and is part of a network of museums for peace.
There is much to see in the city, but if you wantto get out to see the surrounding area there are regular tours to the Mekong Delta. The riveris vital for the country’s agriculture. Small islands specialize in different handicrafts and agricultural products from honey to coconut sweets. We took a boat to visit some islands and were then given a tour of the narrow canals on a narrower wooden boat.
After a long day visiting the sights, you can easily find spas offering massages and beautytreatments. By Brussels standards, this is verygood value and a foot and leg massage is agreat way to end a busy day.
Han Oi has a very different feel from Saigon – there is more evidence of the city’s colonial past in the French Quarter. The Old City is higgledy-piggledy, and has a heavy-duty railway line going through its narrow streets – quite a spectacle, if you manage to get there for one of the two times per day a train passes through.
Vietnam’s lacquered boxes are recognized around the world for their craftsmanship. Hanoia works with two historical lacquer-making villages, which have specialized incarefully crafting these goods for centuries. Today, this ancient craft is matched with contemporary designs.