Jenna is the latest travel expert to join the Exsus team, introducing yet more specialist knowledge of South and Central America, Europe, and the Polar Regions. However, despite her impressive inventory of globe-trotting adventures, she was yet to visit South East Asia...Cue a whirlwind fam-trip of Vietnam and Cambodia, in which she resolved to leave no temple un-explored, no spa treatment un-sampled, and no delicacy un-tasted! Read about her experiences here – first stop, Hanoi.
Having slept off the twenty-six hour flight, I was plunged into Hanoi’s old market: each of the streets specialising in a different ware, from shoes, to clothes, to food, and tiny exotic birds. Later on we visited the Temple of Literature – a real highlight for me – where young men and women were dressed in traditional Vietnamese finery for graduation day. The temple was built in the early 11th century, and has since welcomed the brightest minds in Vietnam to study medicine, philosophy, and many other subjects. The bright reds and golds were an eye-catching introduction to the Chinese influence seen in North Vietnam.
After a night out on the town in Hanoi, it was an early rise for the drive to the stunning UNESCO Heritage Site, Halong Bay. Towered over by majestic limestone crags, its turquoise waters are host to over 1,600 islands and islets, and colourful stilted fishing villages. After boarding the sumptuous Halong Jasmine – a traditional 1930s style junk – we went over to the Cua Van fishing village, where the children learn to row and swim before they can walk, and a grocery store is a bamboo boat filled with goods for sale. It astounded me how the people made the most out of the sea: living in floating houses with fish farms underneath and imported drinking water. After returning to the ship and enjoying a magical BBQ under the stars I prepared for the journey to Hoi An.
The next day was perhaps my favourite part of Vietnam, with a visit to the charming World Heritage site, Hoi An. We began at the My Son temple complex, where Hindu ruins of the Cham Empire can be seen (these were built by the adversaries to the Khmer empire, famous for the Angkor Wat complex in Cambodia). The terracotta brick made a stunning contrast to the almost neon green of the lush mountains and was fascinating to explore; I was particularly interested in the representations of the god Shiva, which unlike many archaeological complexes have remained in situ for close to 1,500 years.
In Hoi An itself, my guide Tony took me to a friend’s restaurant where we sat outside and made our own delicious pancakes (definitely my favourite food in Vietnam). Then we went to the old quarter of town, but not before I popped into one of the expert tailors and had a replica made of my vintage Chanel cape; in just 6 hours he’d worked his magic and created my dream coat to my exact measurements! On my way to pick it up I strolled through the lines of dazzling multicoloured lanterns that Hoi An is so famous for.
After a good night’s sleep I was bound for Saigon (aka, Ho Chi Minh City, but Saigon has a more romantic feel to it). Here I was introduced to the bustling streets on an exhilarating Vespa tour: visiting the site of the reunification, as well as the vast Chinese medicine stalls. All in all it was a fascinating conclusion to my Vietnam adventure – highlighting the polarization between North and South – and inspiring me to return again, and explore the country in greater depth.
If you’re interested in a luxury Vietnam holiday, take a look at our itineraries for further inspiration, or give one of our experts a call on (0) 20 7337 9010. Check out our next blog, and see how Jenna got on in Cambodia.