|February 20 2021||16 nights
|Yes||$6699 pp||add $1990|
I remember arriving in Saigon (now Ho Chi Minh City); there was a smell in the air - not a bad smell - it seemed inviting, even tempting. The time was 1996 and my first visit to Vietnam. Although I did not realise it at that moment, my first step into Indochina was to become the beginning of a lifelong relationship that has grown stronger with every passing year.
The Scent of Green Papaya journey was born - a gentle 16 day journey from Ho Chi Minh City to Dalat, Nha Trang and Hoi An to Hue, the former imperial capital, then on to Hanoi and Halong Bay. I came to understand the differences in Vietnamese people, the landscape and the food. I began to understand the language; a few new words every time I visited, and I read everything I could about Vietnam - its wars, its history and culture. Over the years we have made some changes to this trip, however, there was been no need to change the destinations and highlights, these have always been popular with our guests.
On this journey we have extended stays, colonial hotels, favourite restaurants and many Vietnamese friends to meet and share our experiences with. We call this trip our flagship and, even until today, every time I arrive in Ho Chi Minh City I sense that same smell in the air.
Saigon is awash with motorcycles, street food sellers and the Vietnamese people doing what they do best; buying and selling. Re-named Ho Chi Minh City in 1975, the locals still like to say Saigon, particularly in District One where grand old structures like the Continental Hotel and The Opera House remind one of the colonial days. We walk the city streets to discover the Notre-Dame Cathedral, the Post Office designed by Eiffel, and the Reunification Palace where the South Vietnamese government reigned for a short period from 1954 to 1975.
Just 60 kilometres to the west of Saigon are the Cu Chi tunnels. Built by resistance fighters to the French occupation, then later greatly expanded by the Viet Cong as war raged across Vietnam. Today the tunnels are a museum for us to visit and remember the horrors of war. To the north of Saigon is the former French hill station of Dalat. The meandering drive travels through rubber plantations and stands of cashew trees as the countryside gradually changes from flat to undulating, then finally rising to mountains covered with pine trees. Here the French indulged and relaxed until the end of their occupation came in 1954. The local market is colourful and always bustling.
From the highlands we head down to the coast and two nights by the sea in Nha Trang, a former fishing village that has developed into a popular holiday destination for both the Vietnamese and foreigners. We take our private boat on Nha Trang harbour and visit a local island village for lunch.
We fly from Nha Trang to the central area of Vietnam for an extended visit in Hoi An and Hue. Both cities are world cultural heritage sites, and embrace the richness of Vietnamese culture that first came to these lands in the 16th century. There are family pagodas, ancient architecture, and a way of life that maintains its origins of ancestor worship and tradition. We spend three nights in Hoi An, wandering the old streets where a myriad of shops and restaurants will tempt you. Hoi An is renowned for its food, so what better place than here to take a cooking class at the stylish Red Bridge Cooking School where we can all learn a trick or two about preparing Vietnamese food.
Travelling further north we visit the Marble Mountains and make our way across the Hai Van pass, the natural barrier between southern and northern Vietnam where mountains meet the sea. The drive is spectacular and after 4 hours we arrive in Hue, the former Imperial capital of Vietnam from 1802 to 1945. Hue was home to the Nguyen dynasty who were largely responsible for the borders of Vietnam that we see today. The early emperors followed vigorous plans to populate the Mekong River Delta to the south, building irrigation systems and extending their court to regional areas.
It was near Hue in 1858 that the French began their colonisation, eventually securing occupation and partition of Vietnam by 1880. We explore the tombs of Emperor Minh Mang and Khai Dinh by river boat, and make an extended visit to the former Nguyen dynasty palace, otherwise known as the Citadel.
Many say the epicentre of Vietnamese culture is found in Hanoi. The city was established in 1010 and has always nurtured the idea of Vietnamese civilisation enduring occupation by foreigners, war and revolution. Set in the Red River Delta, with four distinct seasons the city exudes character and style. There is a cafe society; delicious street food with a mix of the old and new is found in the 36 streets of the Old Quarter and the broad boulevards and grand apartments of the French time. The city is home to the mausoleum of Ho Chi Minh, and Vietnam’s first university dating to the 13th century. Amongst the winding streets are art galleries, museums, hidden pagodas and tunnel houses that lead from innocuous street-fronts to ornate courtyards. To savour the very best of Hanoi, we stay for 4 nights at The Sofitel Legend Metropole Hotel, built in 1903 by the French, with a history that relates the story of colonialism, two independence wars and the communist period.
We drive through rice fields of the Red River for 160 kilometres to the Gulf of Tonkin where we find the incomparable Halong Bay. Almost two thousand limestone islands fill the bay, weathered and shaped by the elements across millions of years to resemble the tail of a descending dragon, the literal translation of Ha Long. We join our private boat for a cruise amongst the formations and enjoy lunch on board before returning to Hanoi and preparing for our final day in Vietnam.
On a Goddard & Howse small world journey our hotels are more than just a place to stay. We look for great locations as well as character, service and comfort.
Our partner hotels have been delivering expectation since we began our small world journeys in China and Southeast Asia 20 years ago. And most importantly, our hotels are an enticing place to come home to after a day of discovery.
Staying with history, you'll enjoy the charms of the Metropole Hotel in Hanoi, however during the Vietnam War, bomb shelters were hastily constructed.
In central Hanoi at The Sofitel Legend Metropole Hotel, a bunker was built that now lies beneath the bamboo bar in the hotel's courtyard.
During the so-called Christmas bombings of 1972, American folk singer Joan Baez was visiting Hanoi promoting peace and delivering food parcels to American POWs. By day she travelled around Hanoi and in the evenings took refuge in the bunker. She described the experience as 'confronting her mortality'.
Mysteriously the bunker that had existed since the 1960s was not noticed. It was not until 2011 that further renovations revealed the underground shelter and the stories that it held. more
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