Finding The Heart Of Vietnam

13 July 2016

Although she had never visited Vietnam, Flight Centre Wollongong Travel Expert Leah Bullough already felt a personal connection to the country that was bittersweet, as her grandfather had fought in the Vietnam War. She expected to taste the amazing cuisine, see the verdant rice fields and travel along the coastline. What she didn’t expect was all the fantastic experiences she encountered in between that opened her eyes and heart to the Vietnamese way of life.

 Leah soaks up the ambience in Vietnam. (Image: Leah Bullough)

During her recent Vietnam Express Southbound tour with Intrepid, Leah visited Hanoi, Halong Bay, Hue, Danang, Hoi An and Ho Chi Minh City over 10 days. Leah describes the tour as magical, and there were certainly some enchanting experiences along the way, from cruising on a junk boat past floating villages and limestone pillars in a misty Halong Bay – cocktail in hand - and kayaking through the caves at sunset to wandering the lantern-lit street of World Heritage-listed Hoi An.


More firsthand Vietnam travel experiences:

Serenity and hill tribes in Sapa. Venturing Into Vietnam With Intrepid

Exploring on two wheels. Cycling Vietnam - A Two-Week Itinerary


Travelling with a group of 14, there were also plenty of opportunities to immerse herself in the everyday life of locals – Leah says shopping and bartering in the markets, watching how incense is made and cruising along the Mekong Delta were some of the highlights of the tour, but her favourite memory was a motorbike ride through Hue.

 Emerging from the Cu Chi Tunnels. (Image: Leah Bullough)

“We all hopped on the back of motorbikes and went buzzing through Hue for the day. My rider just happened to be the leader of the pack, and he was teaching me Vietnamese while driving. We visited some incredible sights, and it was such a rush being immersed in the crazy traffic on the streets – I would do that over and over again!” she says.

The herbaceous hallmarks of Vietnamese cuisine was another highlight, and while hard pressed to single out just one favourite dish, Leah says she enjoyed a particularly memorable meal in the backstreets of Hanoi – a $3 bowl of pho.

 A cruise interlude in Vietnam. (Image: Leah Bullough)

“Bon, our guide, took me and three others to the ‘best pho in town’ and the line was down the street – it wasn’t part of the tour, he just wanted to show us,” she remembers. “He turned up with our bowls of pho bo (beef pho) and a local beer. I’ve never tasted something so incredible in my life!”

A more poignant dining encounter occurred during a meal with a local Hue family in their home. Consisting of just one room that served as their living room, bedroom and dining area, the family welcomed the tour group with several dishes of authentic Vietnamese food and shared stories.

 Magical Halong Bay. (Image: Leah Bullough)

“The experience moved all of us and made for a very quiet trip back to our hotel as we reflected on the differences in our lives,” Leah says. “Their little girl, nicknamed Spring Roll, was the most precious little girl I’ve met, which made saying goodbye really sad.”

The compact tour also saw Leah jump on an overnight sleeper train from Hanoi to Hue and visit My Khe beach (also known as China Beach, this famous shore was the resting place for soldiers during the war), as well as an embarrassing experience getting stuck in the Cu Chi Tunnels on an Urban Adventures day tour. Leah says the trip offered the perfect balance of included activities and free time, which allowed her to explore at her own pace in her own way, while eschewing coaches for local transport made for a much more authentic experience.

“Bon’s knowledge, experience and love for his country made this trip. His personal touches gave us a true insider experience that you just would not have received doing it alone.”

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Visit your local Flight Centre store or call 131 600 for more advice and the latest deals on travelling to Vietnam.

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Cassandra Laffey

Consumed with unrequited wanderlust, I get my fix in 24/7 cities and hippie retreats. I'm still looking for the ultimate combo of secluded beach and major metropolis, and my happy place is a 5-star hotel room all to myself - sigh.