Having travelled to Vietnam numerous times I have never been there at the right time to take advantage of joining a Mekong River Cruise. Having only seen a Pandaw ship in dry dock I am really excited to have the opportunity to hop onboard for the 3 night short cruise between Saigon and Phom Penh. I have seen Vietnam change hugely over the last 12 years since my first trip, it seems once a country starts moving it moves quickly! There are aspects of this that are positive and travel certainly is alot easier now for anyone wanting to do it independantly. It may be hard to believe for anyone who has heard the stories of crazy streets overun with tooting scooter chaos but the traffic has actually improved! All that aside Vietnam is still a place where, if you get a good guide and/or some great informed information before you leave you can escape the bustle and connect a bit more with the local people and experiences. I am looking forward to experiencing the ship and taking a long awaited look into Cambodia.
Singapore Airlines is the most convenient option if you are travelling out of Christchurch and I would highly recommend taking a relaxing day flight (of which there are 2 now some days) where you will arrive into Singapore early evening. You can stay in the airport overnight with your luggage being checked through (no clearing customs and immigration) and enjoy any of the MANY activities the airport has to offer. In doing this you will be up bright and early well rested for your morning flight to either Saigon or Hanoi arriving around lunchtime. For this trip I am taking the midnight flight out of Auckland which will arrive into Singapore at 6am and just a short wait to connect for my flight to Vietnam. The Singapore airlines website has great information on Singapore Stopovers if you choose to add one of these (highly recommended) as the food, shopping and attractions in Singapore are something else.
Day 2 - Arriving into Saigon airport is not quite the experience it used to be with the airport undergoing and overhaul in the last few years. It was the old military airport during the Vietnam war and for a long time was home to an aircraft graveyard which made for an interesting arrival. On the up side it is alot quicker now but you will still find it hard to get a smile out of the immigration staff, they keep a very formal stance.
We arrive late morning and are transferred to our hotel with a short city tour on the way. The buildings in Saigon are very French influenced and our hotel is located close to The Rex an area where at times you could think you were in France. The Caravelle is one of the older hotels about 6 blocks walk to the markets. If you are looking to visit and eat in the market at night or get away form the major tourist location the other side of the market is for you. I can recommend the Central hotel that many of my clients have stayed at and loved the location. 1 block from the market you can wander down to everynight for great food and atmosphere. Dont be talked into going to any of the "local" markets they are REALLY local markets and you will be wasting your time AND money! This evening I decide to opt for a drink and snack on the rooftop bar with great views, a massage ($15.00 for an hour) and an early night. It has been a very LONG 48 hours.
Day 3 - Today we are off to the iconic CuChi tunnels. I havent been here for a number of years and so it is great to have the opportunity to see them as my clients still have this in on the list. This time we are taking a speedboat up the river which is a great alternative to coaching each way. It is very little extra to do this and early in the morning it is a great way to see life along the river. On arrival we are directed through to a pretour video explaining the history of the tunnels during the war. I saw this video on my first trip 12 years ago and the only difference is the audio, which has now been replaced with an alternative version. It highlights the suffering of people in the war but in a way that I think most of the audience are pretty uncomfortable with. This has happended with alot of the tourist attractions in Vietnam and I do advise people of what to expect which prepars then and they can chose not to stay through it all. The tour about the tunnels itself is very interesting but I will add, if you do have time there are some lesser known options that I use for clients which are away from the crowds and provide a real unique experience. There are tunnels in a little village toward the coast of Saigon that are well worth a visit if you can fit it in. The history dates back to the French War and are only just being developed now so likely you will be the only ones there.
What I love about Vietnam - the giggles you get along the way. This sign in the toilet that prohibits showering, standing on the toilet seat or washing your feet in the toilets???????? Oh and of course no smoking!