14 Days Of Discovery On An Insider Journeys Tour Of Vietnam

1 April 2015

I have a real fondness for Vietnam. Like so many Asian countries it never sleeps. It has a constant throbbing life-force that shows no sign of diminishing.

The hustle; the bustle; the continuous chatter of street vendors; and the never ending hum of motorcycles weaving through the streets is a comforting, reliable, expression of everyday life.

My first trip to Vietnam was a 24-hour stopover on business. This time I am investing 14-days in a small group Vietnam Discovery tour with Insider Journeys.

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Tradition Comes To Life Before Me

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The tour takes me from the heady and chaotic delights of Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) on the Mekong Delta in the south, through the lush green plantations of the central highlands, then to the coastal resort of Nha Trang before reaching my final destination, Hanoi.

I’m met by a local Insider Journey’s guide at the airport and transferred the eight-kilometre drive to the Palace Hotel, located in the heart of the city on Nguyen Hue Boulevard.

My first full day of discovery kicks off in Ho Chi Minh City with a stroll through the too-many-to-count lanes filled with local traders haggling over the price of fresh produce and trinkets.

The air is thick with the sweet smells of smoky incense and I am in the mood to lose myself in the many shops and stalls selling hand-made silk quilts, lacquered bamboo bowls, colourful beads and mounds of bright silks.

 Market stalls overflow with items in Ho Chi Minh City (image: Getty)

Dong Khoi Street is a treasure trove of colourful shops, and I am happy to just wander, letting my eyes do the feasting.
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New Cultures Blossom After The War

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The next couple of days are a whirlwind of visits to the historic Notre Dame Cathedral, strolling along the vibrant canals of the Mekong Delta and feeling the stress melt away. The Mekong supplies most of the seafood for Vietnam and the river is vital for the growing of rice, vegetables and fruit.

The Vietnam War is very much a part of the fabric of this diverse country and a day trip to the Cu Chi Tunnels is a history lesson worth taking. The sheer ingenuity of the 200km underground tunnel system built by the Viet Cong leaves me speechless.

 Signs of life still remain in the Cu Chi Tunnels from the Vietnam War (image: Getty)

On day four we take a short flight to the former French hill station of Dalat in the southern central highlands.

The French built villas here to take in the stunning rolling green hills and cooler climate in a bid to escape the humidity of Ho Chi Minh City. The city has a wonderful combination of French and Vietnamese flare to it.  The Dalat markets provide a rare mix of food with French and Vietnamese influences. Delightful.


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Humans And Nature In Harmony

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On days five and six, the heat of the city has dissipated, and we travel by road through the picturesque Central Highlands stopping at rustic villages and lush green tea and coffee plantations.

Nha Trang, on the coast and our home for the next two nights, is famous for its white beaches. This high octane resort has plenty to do and see with great bars and restaurants.

On day seven we are back on the plane and heading to Danang’s Marble Mountains. This cluster of five small limestone mountains contains numerous caves and grottos and is home to Buddhist and Hindu sanctuaries.

 The beaches in Nha Trang could rival those of Hawaii (image: Getty)

Next stop: Hoi An for two nights.

It’s an enchanting city with a mishmash of cultures - Japanese, Chinese and Vietnamese - merging to create a unique charm. I take my first cooking class here - there’s plenty of fun and the food’s not too bad either.

Day nine is for history lovers. We head north on the pretty coastal drive to the historical Unesco heritage site of Hue - home to countless pagodas, temples and tombs.

Hanoi is our next - and final - stop where we spend four nights and five days.

The last few days are a whirlwind of fun with an enchanting walking tour of Hanoi’s old quarter, an evening performance of the famous water puppets, a magical overnight cruise through thousands of majestic limestone islands that litter Halong Bay, a visit to the infamous Hanoi Hilton (the Hoa Lo Prison) where during the 1960s and 1970s US prisoners of war where detained.

 Ships cruise between the limestone islands in Halong Bay (image: Getty)

The tour finishes with a farewell dinner, guests exchange phone numbers and email addresses and I skip out for some last minute shopping.

This trip is one of the best ways to see Vietnam. But be careful, once you go you will want to come back.
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Visit your local Flight Centre or call 131 600 for more advice and the latest deals on travelling to Vietnam with Insider Journeys.

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Alison Crisp

Alison Crisp is a freelance travel writer and publicist. She has worked in communications, marketing, publishing and print media for the past 20 years.