Well what can I say about Vietnam, a country still visibly recovering from the most horrific of wars. Without help from much of the Western world the extraordinary extent of damage left by agent orange will haunt this country for the next couple of centuries. But amongst the poverty and the hard working agricultural lifestyle the country is blessed with a ravishing coastline, emerald-green mountains, breathtaking national parks, insane cities (unless u happen to like mopeds) and cultural interest in abundance.
Our trip began in Ho Chi Minh City, the financial hub of Vietnam, a city full of vibrance, fine cuisine and bikes… Crossing the road really is an experience in itself. We headed South down the Mekong Delta. Life on the Delta revolves around the river with fishing and local floating markets aplenty. Flat padi fields mark the landscape around the river, producing over 50% of Vietnamese rice. Unfortunately our trip did not stop to take these in.
From the Delta we headed to the hidden pearl of the South, ‘Phu Quoc island’. Lined with white sandy beaches and dense national parks there remains much political debate over who actually owns the land. Though officially the Vietnamese own it, the Cambodians lay claim to it and in turn it’s led to a large miltary base being established. During the later years of the war the islands prison cells became renowned for carrying out the most brutal forms of torture. Now it is fast becoming Vietnams number one growing tourist destination with plans to turn it into the Vietnam equivalent of Phuket, the introduction of an airport in late 2012 may well spell the end of a tranquil getaway.
After whizzing around ‘Phu Quoc’ on mopeds and exploring it’s many hidden beaches we headed inland to the Central Highlands where I took a cultural trip with a guide along it’s many winding roads and dramatic landscapes. Ethnic minority tribes inhabit much of the region with many still practicing their century old traditions and ways. During the war many battles were fought here as the Americans struggled to establish an air base. The steep sided mountains and single track roads meant they were often sitting ducks for the Vietcong guerrillas hiding above in the cover of dense jungle. In turn vast amounts of agent orange and Napalm were dropped, the after effects still remain.
Following a very brief stay in the now Russian populated Nha Trang we headed North to Hoi An, the ‘Venice of Asia’ and a cosmopolitan melting pot , a delightful blend of Asian and French influences. You could spend days losing yourself walking round the many windy roads but it’s all part of the experience. Arts and crafts are aplenty and suits are being tailored on every corner. The River that runs through the town centre comes alive at night with lights and floating candles. Restaurants line the banks serving up some of Vietnam’s best dining experiences.
Cold weather and poor packing meant travelling further North would become impractical, so South to the coast was the only option. There’s little I can really say about Mui Nai as it was New Year and cultural experiences seem to take a bit of a back seat. Still what else is there to do when your lounging on a beach than get your camera out. That brought the end to our Vietnam adventure. A quick stop over in Ho Chi and then onwards to Cambodia.