Vietnam - boats, bikes and buses

Andre Bedford, Travel Counsellor

Vietnam was always a place I fancied going but, in all honesty, I thought it would be like Thailand. How wrong I was and what a fabulous surprise Vietnam was. Thailand is a firm favourite of mine but I have to say Vietnam is every bit as good, different and diverse and even better in some parts.

The first thing to hit you when you arrive in Ho Chi Ming City is the sheer amount of motorbikes. The whole city is full of them and the trick seems to be how many people or things you can get on one bike at any one time! From two adults, two kids and a baby to a six foot ladder being carried on a bike; you will see it all and it certainly makes for great people watching.

The city itself is quite European in style as a lot of their oldest buildings were built by the French so it is very pretty. There is great sightseeing and great market shopping too. Best of all there is no real pressure on you while you are bargaining for that handbag, shirt or dress as the people are really lovely and have a really calm way about them. Plus they are always smiling.

We headed off to see the Chu Chi Tunnels which is a must and quite an eye opener considering the tunnels would really only fit a small spaniel down them! These tunnels were used for men to hide and move through for a number of years. It is also very interesting the way in which they hid the smoke coming from the kitchens so they wouldn't be discovered, everything was thought of and quite amazing to see. The tunnels are approximately one hour from Ho Chi Ming City.

Next we headed off to the Mekong Delta and I loved it here. It is about 3.5 hours from Ho Chi Ming but well worth the journey. The people work the land, trade on the river and the boat just carries you along. We cruised the Mekong taking in the daily comings and goings of people at work and then stopped for lunch at a local house where we got to taste the local speciality of Elephant Ear Fish caught that morning.

Next we took to our bikes and cycled through the local villages as the children headed for school. The children were delighted to see us with absolutely every child shouting 'hello' as we passed and waiting for our 'hello's' in return. We cycled all through the villages, over small hump back bridges, across paddy fields watching the farmers in their funny triangle hat tending their field of rice. It was really enjoyable and should be on your list of things to do. We also cruised the Mekong in small Sampan boats to get us into the smaller tributaries of the Mekong which was lovely. Topping it all off with a stay in the Mekong riverside lodge on the banks of the Mekong which had rooms on stilts over the water. Just a fabulous way to end a great day.

The food in Vietnam is amazing. Everything is freshly prepared and cooked while you wait. There is never a problem getting looked after and the tastes are just gorgeous. You often hear the stories of unusual delicacies they eat in Vietnam but I can honestly say we didn't come across any. The food was so good and fresh it was mouth-watering.

Heading next to central Vietnam we visited Hue and Hoi An. Hue is a UNESCO World Heritage Site which houses the Imperial City and Citadel. Here is the best place to learn about the old Nyguyen Dynasty and the French invasion. My favourite spot was Hoi An, what a beautiful town. The streets are cobbled and lined with lanterns which are lit in the evening time which added to the romantic feel. There are loads of historical buildings here and sights to see and the beaches of Hoi An and Danang are only 20 mins away.

Hoi An really captured me, from the cobbled streets to the Japanese Bridge and Chinese Temple to the lanterns which are very unusual. The food and choice of restaurants was just fabulous and the shopping was great. Hoi An is famous for its tailoring and when I say they can make you anything they really can. All you need is a picture from your favourite magazine and within 24 hours you have your new garment. If you like a busier night and some night life, they have everything from large disco bars to floating bar boats on the river with live music.

The beaches of Hoi An and Danang are also fabulous and offer a great way to finish off a trip. White sand beaches, the sea lapping at your feet with great food and weather. What more could you ask for? To me Vietnam is sightseeing and adventure without having to let go of the luxury.