Our week in the northern part of the country flew by, and before we knew it, it was time to continue our journey South. We really enjoyed our time with Tony, the guide Exo arranged for us. He was always a step ahead of us, professional, flexible, and as we got to know each other better, was able to make recommendations for us to tweak our daily plan so that we could make the most of our time. Everywhere we went, Tony shared interesting stories about the Vietnamese culture. We could all feel that he genuinely wanted to do all he could to make sure we had the best experience possible.
When we got of our Halong Bay cruise, Tony was there waiting to whisk us off to the airport. While en route, he let us know that he had already checked us in for our flight, and while doing so, learned that our original flight was postponed. He made a few more calls, and before we knew it, we had been rerouted on a flight that would have us arrive in Danang 10 minutes earlier than we had originally planned. It was one example of the many things he did so that we could focus on enjoying our time and experiencing the country.
With the recommendation of Exo Vietnam, we selected Hoi An as the city to use as our “home base” for our remaining four nights in Vietnam. The small picturesque city was perfect for us. To reach Hoi An, we first took a short two hour direct flight South from Hanoi into Danang. In Danang, we were met by Thien, another wonderful Exo Guide who escorted us the 45 minutes to the our hotel in Hoi An.
Exo arranged for us to have a walking tour through old Hoi An on our first morning in the new city. Hoi An, is far less hectic than Hanoi. The small town is rich in history, and very walk-able. Certain streets in the old town are “pedestrian only” for many hours of the day. While still packed with with people, it was quite nice to not always be on the lookout for approaching motor bikes. Our little Hotel Allegro was clean, moderately priced, within walking distance of old town, and had a pool, probably the most important check mark of all for the girls.
During our morning escorted walk, we became familiar with our surroundings while visiting some of the main highlights of the city. We explored The Japanese Covered Bridge and stood by the water marks showing how high the water has risen during recent Typhoons, learned how the homes were built with a pulley attached to the ceiling on the second floor that could be used to hoist furniture up during floods. Families would relocate to the second floor and wait out the storm. We walked through the oldest house in Hoi An, and visited with the 6th generation owner who spoke English quite well, land earned about the culture of the people in the central part of the country. Everywhere we went there were hanging paper lanterns. After sunset, we really enjoyed walking beneath all of the colorful lanterns strung across the streets. One evening, we walked down to the river to take a short boat cruise before releasing our own paper lanterns into the river.
Four days were barely enough time to do all we wanted while based in Hoi An. On our second morning, our guide Thien escorted us up to Ba Na Hill, a giant theme park built on top of a mountain, about an hour drive from our hotel. Vietnam is hot in the summer, Florida hot, so spending a day on top of the mountain in the cooler temps was refreshing. There were shows to watch, an alpine slide, various temples structures to explore. It felt similar to a mini Disney Park built on the top of a mountain. Before riding the gondola back down, we took a walk across the Golden Bridge, constructed with two giant concrete hands holding up the pedestrian bridge. Everywhere we went, the girls, with their light curly hair and blue eyes were hugged, rubbed, photographed, and sometimes even kissed. The lady in the photo was a stranger who couldn’t get enough of them.
On our third morning and final full day in Hoi An, we took a local farm and fishing tour, probably the favorite tour we had while in the region. The day began with a ride on a water buffalo before we visited a local farm. The farmer, now in her 70’s lost her husband and son in the war, now manages the farm on her own. She showed us how she plants and rotates her crops and we all got a turn being the sprinkler system. As we were leaving the farm, we purchased a basket of fresh lettuces that we’d enjoy with our lunch later that day.
Next on our agenda was some time a local fisherman. The fisherman and his wife were so excited to teach us how to throw the cast net, and were even more excited when we pulled up a few fish. Once we had our turn with the nets, we learned how to navigate the small bamboo basket boats used by the fishermen. In between learning how to paddle, we enjoyed a few spins with the boat crew. On our way back to town we enjoyed a freshly prepared seafood lunch on board.It was a day filled with new experiences for all of us.
Singapore was a convenient transition city for us on our way in and out of Vietnam. So clean and safe, and filled with nice luxury hotels everywhere. As a higher end International business city, the prices were a bit of sticker shock after our 12 days in Vietnam. A Tiger Beer for example ( a basic Lager comparable to a Coors or a Bud), in Vietnam cost $1 around town and then $2-$3 US at a nice resort. Same beer in Singapore jumped up to the equivalent of about $12 US in a local restaurant, a even more in the resort hotels. .
We split our five nights in Singapore between the Andaz hotel and the Six Senses Maxwell. Most of our time we spent enjoying the properties, swimming in the pools, catching up on work, sampling the food in the restaurants. We did wander the clean city streets a few times, and spent a few hours one afternoon at the Gardens by the Bay where we talk a walk through the Supertree Grove and along the OCBC Skyway. The girls really enjoyed accepting an invitation to try Karaoke one night at one of the local pubs.
In total we were were able to experience three Virtuoso properties in Singapore: The Ritz-Carlton, Millenia Singapore, the Andaz Hotel and the Six Senses Maxwell. Each of the three had their highlights – The Club Level at The Ritz-Carlton, Millenia Singapore, the pool on the 25th floor at the Andaz, and the personalized service at the Boutique Six Senses were all highlights.
On our last night in Singapore, we re-organized our suitcases, and shipped a bag of cold weather clothing home with our partner, Luggage Free. Such an easy process, completed with a few buttons pushed on the computer.
In the morning, when we walked down to the lobby to catch our transfer to the airport, the hotel staff had already received all paperwork from Luggage Free and were waiting on our bag. We left it with the hotel staff, and continued on our way, one less bag to wrestle with. Two or three days later, we received the notification that the bag had been delivered home.
We went on a fun tour of little Hoi An and saw a cute little old man who was sixth generation owner of his house. We went to another hotel for lunch. It was fancy there.and also fried banana and ice cream for dessert and a birthday cake for my mom. Later that night for dinner we walked to old town. I saw this cute little lady who I wanted to buy lanterns from. We tried to eat at a restaurant called Morning Glory. It was recommended by two of our guides, but there was a party so we ate somewhere else that was still really good.
The next day, we went somewhere called Sunny World. We saw a show with teams named things like Land of Volcanoes, Fantasy Land and Land of Flowers. There was the first playground we saw in Vietnam and also saw the golden bridge.
On our last day, we got to ride water buffalo, go fishing with a cast net, help far vegetables and eat a great lunch on a boat. Oh and I almost forgot. When we were gardening, we got to help water the plants and feed the nice old lady’s fish. Her husband and son had both died in the war. On the fishing part of the tour, we got in basket boats. Oh and by the way, it was held together by buffalo dung. Anyway, they spun us really really fast.
That night, we went on a boat ride after dinner and set off lanterns into the water. it was cool. I found the little lady i wanted to buy some from and set them down in a basket with her. The lanterns are for good luck to your family and friends.
On our first morning in Hoi An, Thien, took us on a walking tour through old town and we saw two museums and walked over the famous Japanese bridge . We found a nice restaurant to eat dinner in for Mommy’s birthday.
The next day at Ba Hills, we watched a show that had cool dances and tricks. We also saw temples and pagodas with robots that rang bells and gongs. We walked across the golden bridge that looked like giant hands were holding it up in the air. After dinner that night, we went on a boat ride and put lanterns in the water for good luck for family and friends, and then we bought more lanterns from a cute little old lady we had seen the night before.
On our last day in Hoi An, we met our new guide Marie who took us to ride water buffalo. When I first got on, I was scared, but it got fun, I even stood up! At our next stop we helped a lady garden who had lost her husband and son in the war. We watered plants, planted plants and fed her fish. Next we went on a big boat and went to a spot where we could ride in bamboo basket boats to a bunch of palm trees. The boat crew made all sorts of things for us out of the palm fronds. We then fished with local fishers and swam with our clothing on.
We’ve arranged for most of our family touring in Vietnam with Exo Travel. We like exploring new destinations by all methods of travel – cruising, touring, or on our own. The thing we like best about private custom tours is that we can collaborate with and design our experience exactly the way we want, under the expert guidance of a trusted local operator.
Southern World has contacts all over both islands of New Zealand. Under their knowlegable guidance we’ve coordinated several day tours as well as chosen cities to serve as our home base while we explore the amazing country.
River Cruises are a very popular way to experience Vietnam as they offer an opportunity to visit many sites without having to unpack every other day. On a river cruise, you can enjoy the luxury of exploring the interior waterways of the country with a small group of like minded travelers and experience guided excursions at each stop along the way. At the end of each day, return to the luxurious accommodations on your ship to rest in comfort and observe the scenery floating by.
There are several options for cruising around the perimeter of Vietnam- Large ship, small ship, expedition. The cruises are a great way to see the sections of the country you may like to return to at a later date. Some itineraries include a port or two in Vietnam while visiting several countries in Asia, others are based solely in Vietnam. We recommend anyone visiting the country spend a few days pre- or post-cruise to explore a bit of the interior of the country in addition to the coast.
Taking a tour with a small group provides the opportunity to experience the sites of New Zealand with other like-minded travelers on popular pre-designed itineraries.