Adventure and family reunion in Vietnam

Published:  08:48 Monday - March 04, 2013

Adventure and family reunion in Vietnam

IT'S amazing what the Vietnamese transport on their bikes: fridges, furniture, dogs, cats, small children, chickens; we even spot a monkey.

We’re on our way from the airport into Ho Chi Minh City and hundreds of scooters and motorised pushbikes weighed down with all manner of things are weaving in and out of the taxi’s path.

My husband Stewart, daughter Isabel, seven, and I are visiting my recently retired father Patrick who lives 300 miles north east of the city in Nha Trang, where he was teaching English.

New direct Vietnam Airlines flights from Gatwick have slashed the journey time from 18 hours to a more comfortable 11.


Before taking the overnight train north to meet my father we are spending three days exploring Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC), still widely known as Saigon by the locals of Vietnam’s biggest metropolis straddling the Saigon River.

Although Vietnam is officially a Socialist Republic it feels like the most capitalistic communist country I’ve ever visited.

HCMC, where skyscrapers rub shoulders with fading French colonial buildings, pagodas and Soviet-style blocks, is a hive of activity.

It is home to six million people, three million mopeds, bustling bars, restaurants and shops galore. Evidence of the French occupation of the 1800s and early 1900s is still visible in the beautifully laid out avenues and the stunning red-brick Notre Dame Cathedral.

Its twin compass-point spires are now dwarfed by the dazzling glass of Diamond Plaza, one of the city’s numerous shopping malls.

We booked a morning city tour which took us to the vast Chinese ghetto of Cholon where we explored the maze of streets lined with barbers, bird sellers outside tumbledown pagodas and heaving markets where fishwives loudly sell their wares.

We visited the Reunification Palace, a whitewashed concrete edifice which is now a museum and where time has stood still since 30 April 1975, when a phalanx of North Vietnamese tanks smashed down its gates signifying the end of the Vietnam War.

We also visited the historic surroundings of the Rex and Caravelle Hotels - where reporters, soldiers and attaches hung out in the Seventies. We ate ice-cream and drank coffee watching the world go by in air-conditioned cafes and we were not ripped off once.

No £5 cokes, no £30 bottles of wine, no £7 coffees, no £10 G&Ts – just lovely service at the kind of inexpensive prices that don’t make mum and dad wince at buying a round of ice-creams.

Our most expensive meal was just £25 in the Vietnam House restaurant, Saigon, housed in a French colonial building. We tucked into delicious crab spring rolls, pineapple beef and spicy noodle soup.

After sightseeing in the heat it was wonderful to retreat to the 470-room Sheraton Saigon Hotel & Towers for a cooling dip in the outdoor pool and watch the sunset over the city at the Level 23 Wine Bar.

On our third day we headed to Saigon Station to catch our overnight train to the coast.

Unfortunately due to some mix up, the tourist ‘Golden Train’ we were supposed to catch, with a private cabin and comfortable bunks, had already left. This was where our trip became a real adventure as we travelled as the poorest Vietnamese would travel – uncomfortably.

The next morning we awoke to a spectacular scenery of sugar cane plantations and white salt flats before arriving in the beach resort of Nha Trang, renowned for its golden stretch of sand and watersports.

The view from the Sheraton Nha Trang which overlooked the sea was stunning and there’s enough going on in the hotel with its pools, cooking classes, leisure centre and beauty spa, to keep everyone entertained.

But a visit to the amazing VinPearl Land water and amusement park is not to be missed. Neither is the journey there on the world’s longest over-sea-chairlift.

sarah o'grady

Sarah, daughter Isabel and Sarah's father Patrick, reunited in Vietnam

It wouldn’t be out of place in a James Bond film. It’s not surprising that we spent the whole day there enjoying the fairground rides, the water slides, the aquarium and shows.

It was spotless, uncrowded and cheap; Alton Towers eat your heart out.

We dined on succulent seafood at the off-the-beaten track restaurant Cay Me and the beachfront Baodai’s Villas. For a more upmarket waterside restaurant we went to the Nha Trang Sailing Club and stayed to listen to the music.

It was also lovely for Isabel to spend time with her grandad. One day he turned up on a moped similar to the ones we’d seen in HCMC where three days earlier Isabel had vowed she would never ride. She pootled off up the Nha Trang coast without so much as a backward glance.

It was just one of the experiences that made our trip feel as much as an adventure as a holiday.

Source: express

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