Last month I embarked on my first ever journey to captivating Vietnam. I was joining a fam trip organised by Vietnam Airlines and which consisted of a five-day trip (seven, if you include the flights) to get to know two places mainly: Phu Quoc and Hanoi. Despite the challenges the weather sometimes posed, I did try to capture this country’s unique beauty at some of the sites we stopped by and lingered on. The ending result is this illustrative photoblog, giving you a personal insight into my first glimpses of Vietnam.
The beautiful, (so far) virtually untouched, island of Phu Quoc lies southwest of Vietnam, with stunning beaches lined by lush green mountains and miles of dense jungle still largely unexplored by tourists. We stopped here for only a day and a half, and that’s in no way near enough time to fully enjoy this stunning slice of paradise.
At present there are only a few hotels and resorts facing some portions of the island’s sandy coastline, but we could see lots of developments going on, which means it won’t remain as virginal and secluded for long, and to me that’s a real shame. Still, despite the works starting on the island’s eastern coast, Phu Quoc is large enough to leave plenty of wild areas to explore, which remain as nature intended.
Vietnam’s buzzing, loud and busy, extremely busy, capital of Hanoi is a mind-boggling place where the senses are invaded by an explosion of colourful sights and a myriad of screeching noises. From the relentless, never-ending honking of the mad traffic to the peaceful silence of the stunning pagodas and temples.
During our time in this vibrant city we got a full immersion into Hanoians’ frantic daily life and visited some of its most awe-striking sights, such as the scenic Hoan Kiem Lake, shown in the first picture above, and the beautiful colonial building (bottom left image) that is now the Hanoi Opera House, built by the French conquerors at the turn of the 20th century. The last photo speaks for itself: scooter-led madness on the traffic-jammed road!
If there’s something that Vietnam has an immense wealth of, that’s enthralling culture and rich heritage, with eight UNESCO-listed World Heritage Sites to peruse (five cultural, two natural and one mixed) dotting its exotic landscape. But what inspired the most was the country’s riveting collection of pagodas and temples, each more stunning than the last.
My top two images in this section are from one majestic temple complex in Phu Quoc: Thien Vien Truc Lam Chua Ho Quoc. Taking centre stage in my array of photos above, is an image of The Temple of Confucius in Hanoi, sometimes also referred to as Temple of Literature. It was built in 1070 and stood as Vietnam’s first national university. As part of the complex there are a few smaller temples, beautifully landscaped gardens, a tranquil lake and an area of worship, where Vietnamese students go to pray for luck with their exams.
Contrary to popular belief (if you go by what some past visitors say on travel forums about encountering rudeness or indifference) I was pleasantly surprised to find the Vietnamese a bunch of friendly, approachable and smiley people. Not only were they extremely helpful on all occasions but their kind, courteous treatment was a huge part of my positive experience and my keenness on going back.
Throughout my trip I loved to people-watch as much as possible and see the locals rushing about their daily business with utmost diligence and a hardworking attitude. Vietnamese are always busy, with the only exception of older men, who seem to spend their days playing traditional board games on the street. I was awe-struck to find some Vietnamese families seemingly living out their lives on the front of their houses, cooking on the porch or sidewalk. Children were incredibly cute, friendly and smiley!
Seafood is king here, in fact I’d go as far as saying that fresh produce from the sea is both king and queen in Vietnam, and the dishes certainly know how to make the best of what they reap from the country’s rich waters. It’s not by accident that many past visitors and foodies claim to find the best seafood in the world here.
Despite seafood not being my forte, I do like prawns and I did thoroughly enjoy everything I tried. All dishes I tucked into were tremendously tasty and wonderfully light. As can be expected in this part of the world, most dishes came accompanied by a variety of rices and noodles. Since I had arrived to Vietnam with a bit of a cold, the chicken and vegetable noodle soups did wonders for my recovery, and each warm, savoury spoonful went a long way toward helping me feel better.
GETTING THERE & BACK
My experience of Vietnam actually started when I boarded the onward plane to Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City) and got to lap up the luxury and comfort of Vietnam Airlines’ swanky Business Class. It was Vietnam Airlines who had kindly upgraded us to Business on our outward journey and everyone enjoyed the additional benefits, like having a seat that fully reclined into a bed (highly appreciated on such a long flight!) and tucking into delicious meals with proper crockery and cutlery. On our way back home we were upgraded to Premium Economy, which may not have been as pampering but was nevertheless pleasantly enjoyable, with larger seats than those in Economy Class and more leg room.
But what truly touched me about Vietnam Airlines’ service was the way the stewardess looked after me on my onward journey, as I was feeling poorly and had a bit of a temperature. She kept checking up on me and offering frequent drinks as well as painkillers. It gave me a glimpse of Vietnamese hospitality before I got there.