On her first trip to South East Asia Sales Supervisor Jayne discovered the highlights of Vietnam and Cambodia, including Ha Long Bay, Ho Chi Minh City and Siem Reap. Read on to find out more about her adventure.
"There is a joke that says that to be a good driver in Vietnam you need three things: a good horn, good brakes and good luck. As I sat in my cyclo rickshaw, my guide navigating the traffic of Hanoi, these words from my tour leader were at the forefront of my mind.
Nothing can prepare you for the traffic in Hanoi; an endless stream of motorbikes and scooters zipping together in every direction. As we zig-zagged past ladies on bicycles laden with vegetables, narrowly avoiding the pedestrians that had stepped off the pavement, it felt like I was in the ultimate live-action hazard perception test.
But somehow it does work. Fellow road users help the delivery man who has just shed his boxes in the middle of the carriageway. The traffic lights ignored, everyone keeps moving without incident. It is fascinating to watch and to ride through it is an experience I won’t forget.
From the chaos and energy of Hanoi, the peaceful and relaxed Halong Bay is quite the adjustment. The limestone islets that are scattered throughout the bay have long been on my bucket list and I was not disappointed. Each one is different and viewed both close up or in hazy groups on the horizon I don’t think I could ever grow bored of the view. Whilst some of my group kayaked between the islets I opted to take a swim in the bay’s surprisingly warm water. Floating on my back, looking at the view, I couldn’t quite believe I was there. Early the next morning I joined an introductory Tai Chi lesson on the top deck of our junk. I found I had limited success, partly because I’m not the most co-ordinated of people, but mainly because the scenery is just too distracting to have your eyes closed.
From Halong Bay we travelled by train southwards to the small city of Hoi An. Historically a trading port, the city has been influenced by the international merchants that made it home and as you walk the narrow streets you can see the Chinese temples and cross the Japanese Bridge. I opted to partake in a cookery class, something Hoi An is known for. Our chef Hung Nguyen guided us round the market, identifying any fruits and vegetables unknown to us.
We then went to his restaurant where he taught us to make various Vietnamese dishes including spring rolls. They are surprisingly easy to make and I’ve treated our Reservations Department to my own twist on the recipe since my return – a Christmas Dinner Spring Roll. They came out surprisingly well so I can declare my cookery lesson a success. In the evenings the Hoi An streets really come to life with shops lit up with brightly coloured lanterns and the night markets in full swing.
I have always been fascinated by the history of the Vietnam War so Ho Chi Minh City was a huge highlight for me. It was incredible to see the tanks driven by the Viet Cong through the gates of what is now Reunification Palace and both the War Remnants Museum and Cu Chi Tunnels gave me a fresh insight into the suffering experienced by the Vietnamese people as well as the American soldiers. No visit to Ho Chi Minh City is complete without a cocktail in the rooftop bar at the Rex Hotel. During the war journalists would gather for the 'Five O’Clock Follies', as the press briefings were jokingly known, due to the questionable credibility of the information given by military leadership. As darkness fell and the city’s skyscrapers began to light up I thought about how much has changed since the journalists sat there, although I hope for their sake the Ginger Mojito was on the menu back then. It really was very good.
After crossing the border into Cambodia we stopped at a local market. Mixed in with the usual fruit and vegetable stalls were tables covered in bowls of fried insects and spiders. After much deliberation and a few aborted attempts I took the plunge and tried a locust and a tarantula leg. Crunchy but thankfully not much flavour: I won’t be adding them to my meal plan anytime soon.
Our final stop was Siem Reap for two days of exploring Angkor. I’ve seen countless photos of Angkor Watt but it still took my breath away to see it for the first time at sunrise. It is easy to see why it is the main draw but all the temples we visited were fascinating in their own right. My favourite was Ta Prohm, a temple where nature has been allowed to continue its takeover. Roots grow in between carvings and trees soar into the sky to tower over the ruins. My camera got a lot of use as each corner turned revealed another picture perfect scene.
Whenever we return to the office we are always asked by our colleagues what the highlight was and there normally is a standout memory or place visited. I can honestly say that not a day went by on this trip that didn’t deliver a new incredible experience: vibrant cities, beautiful landscapes brought to life by Vinh, our knowledgeable and hilarious guide, plus the company of ten fantastic travelling companions. This was my first time SE Asia – it definitely won’t be the last."