Very Vietnam, Very Nice!
I’ve known April since we were both fifteen. Think out of control perms, double denim at its worst, rah-rah skirts, Expo 88 and the best of INXS! Seriously the best time of our lives – driving around in our matching little Holden Gemini’s; young, wild and free. We drifted and went our separate ways post school for a few years–backpacking around the globe, work and moving interstate until we both settled down, met our partners for life and both had our kids. Back we were.
We often talked of the good old days over a good cuppa and wondered if we would ever get the chance to travel overseas together one day. I mean, we’ve had our girlie 3-day weekends here and there. They were always filled with fun, laughter and school girl silliness; but after we lost our ‘third amigo’ Bron our much loved third member of our unstoppable trio to cancer, family priorities and stars not quite aligning; this opportunity seemed less achievable than ever.
We both turned the big 4…Ohhhh, our eldest boys then finishing school (which didn’t come easy to us both) and after both having the most challenging times of our lives at different stages last year; we were now edging closer (although not quite there yet!!) to the big 45.
So after giving each other a good old pep talk, followed by a big high five – we decided 2018 will be ‘our’ year. Our year indeed! The year we will be devoted to ourselves via self-care, mindfulness, spontaneity, growth and discovery in all shapes & forms. For the first time since our year 12 leadership camp, families prepped at home; our girlie adventures together begin!
Deciding where to go actually worked out rather easily for us – we both wanted to go somewhere we have never been, somewhere we felt safe, with some soft adventures, good food, maybe a cooking demonstration, a little shopping or browse and some pampering along the way. We both had similar budgets so we weren’t expecting to tick off everything off our wish list…. But we did!
When On The Go Tours reached out to us regarding their organised tours, Vietnam met all our ‘wants’. I haven’t been on an organised tour since I was 20 (where I met my husband, which is a whole other story!) but I have to say by going with On The Go Tours, it really allowed us to fully enjoy discovering this beautiful country, people and ourselves in the best possible way. No cooking, top class accommodation, airport transfers, terrific itinerary (tick, tick, tick, tick!) So within 3 weeks of choosing our destination (how very spontaneous of us… tick!), our bags were packed and like 2 little schoolgirls (but now with our pre-menopausal hot flushes in tow!) we ventured off to our Very Vietnam 10 day tour. How exciting!!
First stop Hanoi:
After a comfortable flight we arrived in Hanoi the capital of Vietnam! Met by our transfer we were easily transported to our lovely Hotel for the next 2 nights. We arrived the day before our tour (highly recommended) and ventured out on our own to explore this busy city. It was certainly a sensory overload for us both– the hustle bustle, the smells, the noise, the traffic. I’m still unsure if all the giggling was a mixture of excitement, anticipation or lack of sleep but we liked it! We braved crossing the road after getting a ‘how to’ tip from the concierge – we handled it like pros and so proud of ourselves too. April & I jumped in an electric car that toured us around the Old Quarter for an hour and we couldn’t get the smiles off our faces. Hanoi is everything I thought Vietnam would be and more. From the amazing and diverse street food, the hard working people and the bustling markets it really is a must visit!
After some time around the city we ventured back to the hotel; where that night we met our On The Go Tour Guide Kien, received our welcome pack and itinerary run sheets and met the other travellers joining us for the next 10 days! Kien our On The Go Tour Guide was a proud Vietnamese gentleman, so knowledgeable and spoke excellent English – this was a relief to us as we found out during our day trip, communication was proving difficult at times. We also found out what time our tour bus was leaving the following morning and what we needed to bring for our overnight stay in Halong Bay. We return back to Hanoi in a couple of days to experience a joyous rickshaw ride where we laughed & smiled through the city tour, another adventurous activity we thoroughly enjoyed! We were so happy and thought we were so wild! 😉
Driving comfortably on a tour bus through the scenic countryside to board our overnight Junk Boat was surreal. We soon discovered the masses of motorbike riders make their own road rules in Vietnam. It was a site in itself but who are we to judge…it seems to work! The countryside provided us with a great understanding of the land with rice paddocks and buffaloes a plenty.
We arrived in the marina to board our Junk boat – our bags collected and we were welcomed on board like we were all royalty. Rose petals sprinkled like confetti down on us and traditional welcome drinks where we waiting for us as we were shown to the upper deck. Actually everywhere we went welcome drinks awaited us – the Vietnamese are so welcoming and giving in their hospitality.
Later we were shown our rooms for the night to change for our organised dinner spectacular on board that night.
As the boat sailed off we had the pleasure of enjoying Halong Bay at its best; over 3000 towering limestone islands and karsts scattered throughout. It was peaceful, calming and oh so magical! Later that night April and I went squid fishing with the boat staff–YES you read right; we are out of control adventurers. Something about going just with a girlfriend, just made us both so relax and allowed us both to try and do things that we wouldn’t never normally get the chance to. Our families back at home loved to hear this happening too – as mums of teens; we were soon becoming cool mums again! Challenging ourselves further (and some personal fears for me personally). The next day saw us happily jump into sampans and venture through a local fishing village and explore a cave. Seriously we were becoming unstoppable – it felt so good to achieve these goals.
After a short flight (optional extra arranged by On The Go Tours) we arrived in this Imperial City. Totally different to Hanoi, Hue is filled with pagodas and a Citadel, which was an amazing to explore during our walking tour. The palaces and shrines were divine! We enjoyed a “royal lunch” with a host family and later in the day had a dragon boat ride. A much-needed massage was enjoyed by both of us at this stop (another tick!).
Please note: we chose to fly to Hue from Hanoi (an add on) rather than take the overnight sleeper train – which we have been told is a great experience to do…once!
Our drive from Hue to Hoi An was such a scenic ride. Mountains and the sea. We stopped in Da Nang for a beautiful seafood lunch surround by the most stunning beach view.
As we arrived April and I already felt at home, we were in Hoi An for the next three days – we were in love with this place! Hoi An, again totally different to any other place we have visited in Vietnam. Hoi An is filled with lanterns, music, markets, shops, bars and amazing restaurants. This place certainly comes to life at night with boat rides down the river, lighting your own floating lanterns (which was a special moment for us both) all very affordable and top class. We believe 2-4-1 cocktails are on offer most places for around $3 for 2! (But then again, what happens on tour stays on tour right?) We both felt very safe (tick!)wandering this picturesque place on our own at night enjoying everything Hoi An has to offer. Hoi An is THE place to go for leather goods, amazing tailors and world class cooking schools. On The Go Tours are experts in showing you around, the most reputable tailors and recommending great food & restaurants. We lined up for 10 minutes for the BEST Banh Mi we have ever tasted (for $1.50). We had a free day to ourselves and explored this place for everything it had to offer.
Over our three days – we had the opportunity for a bike ride through the countryside (where my adventurous friend April mounted and rode a buffalo!); we stopped in to the most wonderful organic garden and farmed. We picked herbs and vegetables to assist our cooking demonstration (tick!). Finally, we made and flipped our own Vietnamese Savoury Pancakes – Oh my, they were delicious! On The Go really nailed it with including 3 days at this gorgeous destination.
Ho Chi Minh City:
After a very early morning flight for the day, no time was wasted and we arrived in Ho Chi Minh City – THE busiest and bustling place I have ever had the pleasure of seeing. This was next level compared to Hanoi so I am glad we visited there prior so we were prepared for the madness.
We made our way via our comfy bus to Can Tho and the Mekong Delta for the night. It was a big day for all on the tour and we thoroughly enjoyed our sampan ride through the Mekong and walk through the village where we saw (and smelt!!) the fresh and live seafood & meat market of EVERYTHING you could ever image!! It sure was an experience! We stayed that night at the most amazing hotel we have even been to and were looked after like Queens!
The next morning we hopped back on sampans and headed to the floating markets – the hustle and bustle, the variety of fresh food offerings and trading was unbelievable. We had boats approach ours selling fresh pineapples, coffee – you name it we saw it; it was so much fun!
Afterwards our boat took us to a family where we assisted in making rice paper and beautiful toffees. I’ve decided I am better purchasing rice paper rather than making them – a fine technique I am sure will improve over time and plenty of practice. Of course, April and I stocked up on toffees (packets and packets!!) and munched our way through back to Ho Chi Min City!
We enjoyed a short walking tour that led us to Notre-Dame Cathedral (lots of French influence here), the iconic apartment building where the helicopter landed as an assembly point to evacuate in 1975 in the fall of Saigon. We then headed over to see the historical General Post Office Building where we bumped into a group of young school children wanting to practice their English skills for their upcoming presentation on the old GPO. This was such an unexpected and very unplanned highlight for both April and I, as we were starting to miss our families a little. It was a moment in time we both will never forget.
Later that afternoon we visited the War Museum, which was a real eye opener to what the country and Vietnamese people have gone through. We both really can’t describe this experience in one word – it was overwhelming, unfathomable, profound and an emotional must see.
That evening after another massage (the best I have ever had!!) we said a fond farewell to some of our newfound friends before heading off to our last dinner with some others from our tour. That night April and I both reflect on our adventures, the highlights (as there were no low lights to discuss), how much we enjoyed our tour, its itinerary and On The Go Tours – how professional, smooth running tour group they are and how blessed we were to have such an amazing tour guide in Kien, who actually made the entire trip a blast. He looked after us all so well and is an asset to the company. April and I both agreed how fortunate we were on being able to have this time and experience together – who would of thought those 15 year old girls in the quadrangle at school plaiting each others hair would some 30 years later be experiencing such an awesome adventure together. It was the perfect trip to highlight our treasured friendship and to rediscover ourselves. The first of many girl’s getaways to come we now know that for sure, and without a doubt; both of us returning with our families to enjoy Very Vietnam for Teens in the very near future.
Things to know:
On The Go Tours due to our spontaneity and short timing before our trip, organised our visa confirmation letter for us to collect on arrival in Hanoi. They assist with all booking requirements and made the process very easy and fuss free. Everything was taken care of by them professionally within a fast timeframe.
- Friendships made from all over the globe
- Vietnamese are hard working people, many embracing the Australian Tourists
- Vietnamese rely on tourism and love to practice their English with you if they get a chance
- The fresh food and new experiences were heavenly
- Embracing their culture
- (Please tip for great service – its not a lot but makes such a difference)
Currency: Vietnamese Dong (the only place we will ever be a millionaires!)
Cost: Vietnam is very affordable to travel. We both spent no more $300 AUD each for the 10 days that included tips, massages, souvenirs, taxis, snacks, all types of drinks and meals that weren’t included on tour. We certainly didn’t go without. (One night with 2 other girls from our tour, we ordered the whole dessert menu just to give all a try – $24 for 8 desserts between us! Followed by a couple 2-4-1 cocktails!) We could of spent more if we got any tailoring done – but will save this for our next trip back!)
Temp: Dry season is December to April. Wet Season is May to November. As an indication June to August is very hot and humid, 40+ degrees.
Getting Around: Internal flights were all arranged by On The Go Tours, I highly recommend an organised tour like On The Go Tours to travel a far distance/itinerary within Vietnam, as it takes the hassle of driving and ensures safety and comfort at all times.
Upgrade options: there are plenty of optional extras available to arrange with On The Go – like our Flight to Hue, others arranged day tours, additional cooking school classes, shows etc for your free times. Great value for money!
Vaccinations: please see your GP for medical advice but as a general rule Hep A&B, diphtheria, polio, TABT and malaria (depending on where you are travelling within Vietnam).
Communication: was difficult at times – so we found being with On The Go Tours just for that alone was invaluable.
What to wear: Vietnam can be very hot and humid. We packed to accommodate this but found it was rather cool in some areas and needed a jacket and light jeans some days (in January).
Comfy shoes, hat, sun cream and cool cotton and light weight clothes are a must.
Please remember, if you are visiting temples to cover your shoulders and legs out of respect.
International Flights: We flew with QANTAS who were world class to Singapore (overnight stopover at Crowne Plaza Airport Hotel and then had an amazing 3 night stopover in Singpaore on the way home from Vietnam)
Vietnam Airlines from Singapore to Vietnam
Internal Flights: Vietnam Airlines
About On The Go Tours: From grand palaces to historic temples, hot desert plains to snowy mountain peaks, cosmopolitan high rise to safaris at sunrise; we bring you the finest sights and adventures the world has to offer. Immerse yourself in a truly authentic local experience on one of our popular guided group tours which are a great choice for families, couples and single travellers too, make a date with some of the world’s most colourful festivals, take an unforgettable family adventure, tailor make that dream holiday or discover the pulse of the world’s most exciting cities on our wide range of day trips.
Booking: For all What’s On 4 Australia audience – great discounts and offers are available at all times with On The Go Tours – please mention What’s On 4 Australia at time or booking or use the discount code: DISWO4
This is a partially sponsored post. Flights and extras were funded by What’s On 4 Travel