Vietnam & Cambodia: scents and flavors of the East

Who I am
Martí Micolau

Author and references

Vietnam? a country less traveled than other Asian destinations more? popular. Known to most? (myself included) for the bloody conflict with the United States, which lasted over fifteen years, Vietnam had to fight for union and independence. A conflict that still marks the population and the territory.
Forty years after those tragic events, Vietnam? today a country that, despite a thousand contradictions, is becoming a destination more and more? coveted by travelers from all over the world.

I have built an itinerary that has given us the possibility? to discover a lot and which, ideally, I divided into three stages: South, Center and North, following a circular path.

Travel ? started and finished in Ho Chi Minh City, in southern Vietnam, then touching the Mekong Delta, the cities? historical sites of Hoi An and Hu? in the center of the country, the capital Hanoi, in the north and the wonderful natural sites such as Halong Bay and Sapa. Before returning to the South we made a trip to Cambodia to visit the famous temples of Angkor Wat. A trip organized entirely independently, as I like it, with the exception of some stages for which we availed ourselves of the support of a very valid local agency, Tonkin Travel.

1 day

We leave Milan Malpensa with an Emirates flight. The flight ? was definitely the most? dear of the trip, I have long monitored the routes of the different airlines but I have not found anything more? economic and for fear that the costs would increase at the end of February we decided. The same route could be checked for less but the waiting hours in Dubai increased exponentially.

2 day

At 20,15 pm local time the next day we finally arrived at our destination! We are in Vietnam! I try to peek out the window of the aircraft in the vague hope of glimpsing something that will allow me to realize that I am actually in Vietnam but? too dark. Do we queue to complete the formalities? customs and obtain a visa.
Since July 2015 the Vietnamese government has adopted new rules relating to entry visas for some European countries including Italy, abolishing it for stays of less than 15 days. We hold back more? for a long time and traveling to Cambodia we also need a multiple visa.
Go to the appropriate counter, hand over the documents including the invitation letter, your precious passport and then wait for patients to be called. Letter of invitation from a Vietnamese accredited agency service that almost all paid or free agencies do included in the packages.
It is also a service offered by many hotels in HCM and Hanoi.
Visa ? valid for 30 days and allow at least an hour of time to complete all the procedures. Often c ?? the queue and they are very slow. Waiting for us is the pick up service of our hotel, the Liberty Central River Side, booked on booking, in the center, a bit? pi? expensive of the average but we wanted to start big and will reveal itself? the best of the whole holiday. We deposit the suitcases and despite the tiredness from the long journey we allow ourselves a beer at the Hotel Roof bar. A small but nice and welcoming bar on the 25th floor with swimming pool and river view, overlooking the city, illuminated with a Christmas tree. I savor the atmosphere that feeling of lightness typical of holidays!

3 day

It is just 7,00 in the morning but the city? ? already? in turmoil. A myriad of scooters animates the road below The Hotel, on the river with muddy waters, barges and barges flow slowly, some boats even transported containers. We dedicate the day to visiting the city.
Ho Chi Minh city, with its 8 million inhabitants,? the "P? populous city of Vietnam; it is located on the western bank of the Saigon River, a river that flows in the south of the nation. It was originally a fishing village, and was called Sai Gong; many people still use this name to indicate it today. Subsequently, in 1975, the communist front that won the Vietnam War renamed it? Ho Chi Minh in honor of the founding father of socialist Vietnam.
But let's see how to visit this splendid city?
Of the 24 Districts in which? divided the city? the one that contains the places of greatest tourist interest? District 1, which is the area that roughly corresponds to the city center. Let's follow the walking itinerary recommended by the Lonely planet. Our hotel is located exactly in the middle? of the route. The heart of District 1? the square overlooked by the Palace of the People's Committee which at the time of the French colonization was the Hotel de Ville (Town Hall) and in the center of which stands the statue of Ho Chi Minh. ? from here we decide to start the visit. In front of the statue of HCM, the large Nguyen Hue pedestrian boulevard starts, where locals and tourists flock to it in the evening and becomes the most popular area. lively city, with improvised shows by street artists, children playing and many families out for a walk.
A few meters away is the Opera House, built in 1897; ? another splendid example of the French colonial style. Currently the Opera has 500 seats and? used to host major events and artistic performances. Next to the theater there are other European-style buildings that house historic luxury hotels, such as the Continental and the Caravelle hotel. The latter was the favorite of foreign journalists during the Vietnam War.
We continue with the visit of the Ben Thanh Market, a narrow tangle of aisles divided according to the type of products. If you are looking for souvenirs here you will be spoiled for choice. The prices are not very low but you can always bargain. Behind the complex you will find a fresh produce market. Meat, fish, vegetables? A bit of everything.
Walking through the streets of the center it is immediately evident that the highway code is not? equal to ours. Thousands of scooters whizzing in every direction,? It is permissible to take lanes in the opposite direction to the direction of travel or cross a road crossed by thousands of vehicles. The horn sounds every two seconds, but only to signal its presence to others, no controversy. To an unaccustomed eye, the scene appears surreal. In this chaos, crossing the road becomes an epic feat. Start walking slowly and keep going straight ahead at the same pace and speed. Will the scooters dodge you and the road will appear as if by magic as you pass? clear as if it had always been. Simply put, you have to trust them!
After the initial impact, I have learned to appreciate the vitality? crackling of this city.

Do not miss the Central Post Office, pearl of French colonial architecture, equipped with a large metal structure by Gustav Eiffel. The elegant yellow building with green wrought iron finishes houses a grand atrium covered by a vaulted roof. Historical maps of Vietnam are displayed on the side walls while a huge portrait of? Uncle Ho? who with a warm smile watches over the benches and tables in the waiting room.
Right next to it is the Notre Dame Cathedral, which with its two twin spiers? It has been one of Saigon's landmarks for years. ? a lovely red brick building built in built in 1877 with materials imported from France. In the small park in front of the cathedral stands the statue of the Virgin Mary. After lunch we head to the War Remnants Museum. Descriptive panels and photos recall the tragic event, which indelibly marked the history of this country. All of us Westerners have heard of the Vietnam War, but generally from the American perspective: the numerous losses and difficulties? psychological that had to face the veterans on their return home, torn by the memories of a conflict like this? bloody. Does the Museum tell what it meant? the war for the people of South Vietnam, hit by bombs, attacks and the infamous Agent Orange. During a trip to Vietnam this? a must, to better understand the past and present of the nation. In the external courtyard various war relics such as tanks, helicopters, planes and other military vehicles are exhibited. There are many tourists who are photographed smiling in front of these relics, personally I found it absurd and in bad taste but we do not all have the same sensitivity.
To finish the day, we visit the Jade Emperor Pagoda, the largest and most famous one. ancient temple of the city, built around 1900 by the community Cantonese. To the right of the external courtyard c ?? a pond populated by turtles, hence the nickname of the temple, turtle pagoda. On the altar of the central hall stands a statue of the Jade Emperor with an impressive mustache. A rickety staircase on the right leads to a balcony overlooking the pagoda's elaborate roof. If you have little time or don't want to visit too many temples, I recommend this one.

4 day

Today ? our first day of tour, we leave the HCM traffic to immerse ourselves in the rural areas of the Mekong Delta, the region in the southwest of Vietnam and on the border with Cambodia where most rice is produced than all the rest of the country thanks to the incredible fertility? of the ground.
The agency comes to pick us up on time at the hotel.
Many excursions (such as the Mekong Delta, Halong Bay, trekking in Sapa, to name a few)? necessary to book them with an agency. You then have the choice to do it before leaving or directly on site. I had requested quotes from various local agencies, the programs are more? similar or less, the difference is certainly a group tour or a private tour. Obviously the cost of a? Private excursion? different from group ones, but not that much and I firmly believe that the game is worth the candle.
The trip on the Mekong usually includes, regardless of the agency you decide to rely on, a series of activities? interesting (even if a little too touristy) to understand how the populations of these areas live and how they lived.
The first step ? Ben Tre, about 2 hours by car from HCM.
We arrive at Ben Tre around 10.00, in the meantime, yes? unfortunately it started raining heavily. First we visit a brick factory made from Mekong clay. We are explained the process and the various stages of production, which after all are the same as ours, here for? ? all manual. ? one of the last factories that remain family-run and that are disappearing due to industrialization. ? finally time to get on the boat. River water? of a brown color, very uninviting but? due to the clayey nature of the soil. The trip ? pleasant and relaxing. The banks are surrounded by huge coconut plantations. We stop in a small shop where they explain the processing of coconut.
We continue the boat ride along the labyrinthine canals, difficult to count and understand their topography. We have lunch in a typical tourist restaurant on an island inside the Mekong, we are served good fish, as bad as it is good, including Mekong prawns, inevitable noodles and rice paper rolls to make ourselves. After lunch we get on board a smaller boat. small rowing, which takes us into the canals pi? narrow and internal to let us enjoy the rural life and more? true of the Mekong. The pi? authentic, what more? there? liked. The day ? was useful to understand the importance of agriculture for this population. Everyone sells what they produce to the market and exchanges it for other products. ? a large community, which thrives on trade, tourists can facilitate and bring more? well-being to their life, still very simple and genuine. With the boat we return to Ben Tre and again by car we move to Can Tho.
From the window I observe the very green and lush countryside where the women are bent over the rice fields and never look up from under their cone-shaped hat.
Can Tho? the smallest town? important of the Mekong delta, much more? chaotic than we expected.
We stay at the Hotel Iris booked by the agency why? included in the package.
For dinner, from the hotel we walk to the Pier and the night market. They are about 2 km but in the humid heat they seem to me at least 8 !! After dinner we are curious to try the much acclaimed coffee? Vietnamese. Here is produced one of the most? prized to the world. Perhaps few know that Vietnam? the second largest exporter in the world, after Brazil. But the thing that most? surprised us with the coffee? Vietnamese? which must be prepared and tasted slowly, very slowly, waiting for the cup to fill up drop by drop.
The flavor can? be very strong to whom not? used to it, but you can remedy it by dipping an ice cube or adding milk, which in these parts you will practically only find condensed.
Do not be horrified, on the contrary? the mix that I absolutely prefer: in addition to mellowing a bit? sar? even more? consistent and dense. A thirst-quenching drink with an intense but pleasant taste.

5 day

Today the alarm rings relentless at 6,00.
After a quick breakfast we take the boat that will take us? at the Can To floating market.
After a 30 minute boat ride the river comes alive with quaint boats of all sizes selling colorful local fruit and vegetables. There are also smaller boats? small that sell sandwiches, coffee? and noodles, in short, small kitchens. Some sellers on these boats live there, in fact they don't? strange to see whole families on board with small children, hammocks, hanging clothes and so on? Street.
Not ? a tourist market, although obviously there are many tourists. ? an exchange market for locals who nimbly jumped from boat to boat to sell their products, nothing to do with the colorful and now too touristy floating Thai markets.
IS? it was a real spectacle to see a river come alive with all these boats loaded with tropical fruits and vegetables.
Then we go to a family workshop where we can see with our own eyes the process of preparing rice noodles. We then return to Can Tho, collect our luggage and leave. Let's have lunch at a crocodile farm (Crocodile Farm)! In reality? there are no crocodiles in Vietnam. They are specially important and bred for the meat and skin! Now we wait about 2 hours by car before arriving in Chau Doc. Afternoon rest in the splendid Victoria Lodge, at the foot of the sacred mountain. It would be a perfect afternoon to relax by the pool but the strong wind almost makes you doubt you are in Vietnam. And to think that we are instead almost on the border with Cambodia.

6 day

Does the pick up go there in luxury today? scheduled for 10,00!
Morning dedicated to visiting the Tra Sun forest, a small oasis of paradise. The forest ? born from the work of reclamation and construction of important dams that have made these areas arable, avoiding the overflow of the Mekong in the rainy season, with consequent flooding.
Since 2007 the forest? was open to tourists and they invented these guided tours.
With a motor boat we travel the canal pi? wide, observing the local birdlife. Then with a rowboat more? baby we navigate slowly between channels pi? close. It almost seems that the forest opens as we pass. Unfortunately the tour does not? long as I would like but at the end we allow ourselves a moment of relaxation in the typical hammocks sipping a drink made with sugar palm trees typical of this area. Are the hammocks of a comfort? extreme, I would spend here all day but unfortunately? already? time to go, a long journey awaits us to return to HCM where we will go straight to the airport to move to the center of the country, Da Nang. The internal flight? It was purchased directly on the website of the low cost airline Vietjet.
The journey by car takes longer. 6 hours, an eternity. Traffic ? intense and can not? expect to go more? fast given the type of roads. We pass through villages that I would never tire of looking at. All these little women with their pajama-like floral dresses, their cone-shaped hats pulled down on their heads, pushing or pedaling their bicycles, will it be? one of the images of Vietnam that I will remember? with more? pleasure.
We finally arrive in Da Nang where the organized transfer awaits us with the Hotel, The Sun Boat, which will take us? in Hoi An. Finally after a refreshing shower we can go to sleep!

7 day

Maybe at the end of the holiday he will have? I understand where I am, I keep saying Ha Noi, but we are in Hoi An!
I think I am not the first nor the last to have fallen into this linguistic trap.
The Hotel overlooks the riverside, in a very quiet location 10 minutes by bike from the historic center. We have breakfast in the small garden of the Hotel before setting off. Bike rental? free.
We ride along the river among hens and geese that roam freely in the road while small boats glide on the placid waters. ? really another world here! At the end of the long river we turn right and we find ourselves on the main road that will lead us? at the central market. A Babylon of sounds, smells, colors! People everywhere, vegetables, fish, chickens, hens, fruit ... The vendors scream and bargain with each other. We proceed with the visit of the City? Old. With its colonial buildings, its museums and its past as a great commercial port, yes? earned in 1999 the recognition of Heritage of Humanity? of Unesco; everyone praises its charm, everyone is enraptured and they are right:? one of the cities? pi? suggestive of the whole country. The small town of Hoi An? an unmissable stop on any travel itinerary in Vietnam. The city center? closed to traffic and this? great news! Can you? turn only on foot or by bicycle. The center also? really little one, you won't need it? a guide, ? The small map on your paper guide or the one provided by hotels is sufficient. To visit the attractions of the historic center you need to buy a ticket at a cost of 120.000 dong (about 5 euros) which allows you to visit five historic buildings of your choice from old shop houses, temples, pagodas and museums. The buildings that can be visited are many more? therefore ? need to make a choice (based on your personal tastes) or buy more? entrance tickets (but the price goes up). A tip: start your visit at the city's famous covered bridge, the Japanese Bridge that once divided the Japanese district from the Chinese one. Opposite you will find a tourist office where you can buy your ticket book. The bridge, built in 1600 by the Japanese,? the symbol of the city; Here people queue to be immortalized and not wrongly,? really very impressive. Hoi An? also known as the city? of the lanterns. They are everywhere, hanging from invisible threads that cross the streets, between one house and another or displayed in the shops. When they are lit up in the evening and warm up the surrounding environment, the city? ? at its best, you can breathe a magical and inexorably romantic atmosphere.
Don't forget that Hoi An? cut in half by the river, be sure to walk both banks to savor the diversity. What if you have a little left over? of time you can think of having a tailored suit made!
Hoi An? famous for the quality? of its silk and for the very competitive prices of the tailors but be careful not to be fooled. Ask for advice at the hotel who to contact.
But now comes the flip side. Hoi An? beautiful, beautiful, a wedding favor but very "built for tourists". Despite everything, it succeeds perfectly in its purpose: to charm and fascinate the visitor. Hoi An? very photogenic. Those who love to photograph, like me, have something to do here.

8 day

Hoi An is located about 30 km south of Da Nang, a modern city? coast which is rapidly becoming the new center of Vietnamese beach tourism. Here you will find wide palm fringed beaches and a promenade dotted with luxurious resorts.
Since rest in this holiday was not contemplated, today we opted for a trip of a completely different nature, the small island of Cam Kim, on the other side of the river. Can the island be reach by ferry that leaves from the central market pier and offers a glimpse of authentic rural Vietnam. Riding our bicycles we discover with another Hoi An, where life flows quietly between small and humble houses and green rice fields, where here and there you will see little women appear with their typical cone hats intent on harvesting rice or grazing livestock. We have moved independently, alternatively you can take part in free trips organized by local students.

9 day

Today we move to the town of Hu? through the Hai Van Pass. The chosen means? the motorbike! Yes, you got it right: in motion! The agency we used for some excursions pointed out this alternative to us and we could not refuse. The suitcase will come? tied on the rear luggage rack and the backpack tied on the hood. Where ?? the problem?
During the journey we will make several stops.
We cross the town of Da Nang, the Vietnamese Milano Marittima. An extended seafront surrounded by palm trees and extra-luxury hotels. We stop to take a picture of the beach, the only one who, alas? we will see throughout the holiday. Just outside Da Nang we visit the Marble Mountain cave.
A nice climb awaits us to visit the cave! The place ? however very fascinating and worth a stop. Our tour continues. In the distance you can see the mountains that we will soon reach and cross. Begin a series of curves and hairpin bends that are faced at a speed? very small, this allows us to fully enjoy the landscape.
Da Nang? now far away, we only see its profile, we are slowly climbing the mountain.
We get to the point pi? high, where there are kiosks and you can? admire a beautiful panorama.
After this do I cross the road? all downhill. For lunch we will stop in a lagoon, in a typical fish restaurant. I like riding a motorcycle a lot but I admit that my back and legs are grateful for the stop. Before getting to Hu? and another stage awaits us.
We visit the Elephant Springs rock pools, a kind of natural Acquafan. Many natural pools connected to each other by wooden walkways where entire local families seek refreshment in the afternoon heat.
We also find some tourists, who like us, just put their feet up and take some photos in front of a curious rocky conformation with the unmistakable shape of an elephant.
Another half hour and we will have arrived at our destination. The last piece? the pi? tiresome
Traffic yes? intensified, we are traveling on a modern freeway and consequently the landscape has stopped being interesting already? from ap ?. When do we finally get to Hu? I feel like I've been traveling for days. The hotel chosen for our stay? The Alba Spa, a new and elegant hotel; arrive by motorbike all dusty and visually destroyed? it was quite bizarre.

10 day

The day begins with a visit to the imperial citadel, which we reach on foot. Not ? far but the way to get to the citadel? a chaos. Uneven sidewalks, work in progress, construction sites, mopeds that play wildly. In short, everything as usual. After crossing the Perfume River, will you enter the City? Imperial using the majestic Ngo Mon Gate, in front of the flag tower.
The city of the imperial of Hu? ? grandiose and impressive, for a moment it will seem to you? to have been suddenly catapulted, with due proportions, into the city? forbidden of Beijing, once destined for the emperor. The citadel? quite large and with a rectangular plan.
The buildings can all be visited but the most? evocative and best preserved are the Palace of Supreme Harmony (Thai Hoa Palace) used for official receptions and important ceremonies. The mandarin halls, used by mandarins as offices and to prepare for court ceremonies. The Nine Dynastic Urns, dedicated to the 9 emperors of the Nguyen dynasty, gigantic bronze vases, 2 meters high and weighing 20 quintals each, worked with absolute skill and finesse. However, some green areas seem to have been left abandoned. Immerse yourself in this complex in total tranquility, trying not to be pressed by the clock, finding what it is? time to find suggestive glimpses for beautiful photos. We have dedicated a whole morning to the citadel. You can request a guided tour but I think it is more? pleasant to taste it alone, you will be the one to mark the times and stop where more? pleases you.
For lunch we stop in a "restaurant" if so? can you? to define that it was all a program. The owner while not speaking a word of English yes? immediately proved very nice and maybe? one of the best places I've eaten so far! Pancakes, shrimp noodles soup. In the kitchen a little woman was juggling between two stoves, cooking on high wedges and with her handbag over her shoulder! Of the series, I don't give up on the look!
But the highlight comes when the owner I repeat, did not speak a word of English, manages to sell us only by miming and helping himself with a piece of paper a scooter tour from 3 to 18 to the Nguyen Tombs and the Thien Mu pagoda. That the tour developed on a scooter was clear from the drawing of 2 wheels, a little man who drove and the smoke that came out .. !!! On the map he showed us where we would stop and take pictures and where not why? it wasn't worth it. I was so enchanted by the fact that he was the person I have understood best since I arrived that I could not tell him no! We negotiate the price and leave. We whiz through the no-holds-barred traffic of Hu? Heading towards the forest. I realize only now that the city? ? surrounded by gentle and green mountains that make the landscape very relaxing.
There are 7 tombs in total, built between 1814 and 1931, each one? expression of the personality? only one of the king to whom? dedicated. It was planned down to the smallest detail during the sovereign's life, and would turn into a royal palace when his death came. Together with the city? imperial monuments are the most? beautiful of all Hu ?. We visit only two of the most? important: Tu Duc and Khai Dinh, the entrance? for a fee for both. And finally we visit the Thien Mu pagoda, also known as Linh Mu (pagoda of the celestial woman) here the entrance? free. A twenty-one meter high tower with an octagonal plan will give you? welcome to visit one of the country's main cultural and religious centers. The pagoda became sadly famous in 1963 when, the monk Thich Quang Duc, left Thien Mu aboard his blue Austin and in Saigon he set himself on fire in protest against the South Vietnamese regime that oppressed Buddhism. The world echo was enormous but nothing changes? for many more years. The monk's car? kept here, just behind the main building. In fact, the same trip could be done by taking part in a half-day boat excursion along the river on the Perfume River. Or with a tour with a private car, which can be purchased directly at the hotel or as we did, in the cafes? frequented by travelers.

11 day

With another domestic flight, this time of Vietnam Airlines we move to Ha Noi, in the North of Vietnam. This flight too? was purchased directly on the company's website. The city center? is 45 minutes away, waiting for the transfer from the Hotel, the Center Point Hotel, very central, but the room turns out to be four walls pulled up around the bed, isn't there? not even space to move! Luckily we will stay a few nights, tonight we have the night train to Sapa. For a gradual approach to the city, and given the proximity to our Hotel, we start with a walk along the banks of Hoan Kiem Lake (or Lake of the Restituted Sword) in a pleasant and relaxing atmosphere despite the noise of traffic and the numerous street vendors, quite insistent. A red wooden bridge leads to a tiny islet in the middle of the lake, which houses the Turtle Pagoda which has become a bit of a the symbol of the city. We now continue towards the Old Quarter: the teeming center of Hanoi, a continuous coming and going of people and crackling scooters, streets crowded beyond belief, street vendors with baskets loaded with fruit and flowers, smoking stalls serving noodles, small shops similar to old shops with the elderly owner sitting outside reading the paper waiting for customers. If I thought HCM was a city? I hadn't seen anything yet!
We try to find our way through the labyrinthine streets of the Old Quarter, the idea was to follow the walking itinerary recommended on our Lonely Planet but we soon understand that it is an impossible task.
Advance through the streets not? easy, a continuous slalom between vehicles and people on the move, each at a different pace: risci? that move in slow motion, scooters that dart like fish in and out of the flow of traffic, bicycles loaded beyond belief propelled by somewhat bizarre characters.
A piece of advice, do not be stubborn to want to understand where you are, it does not matter. Follow your instinct, wander aimlessly, you won't get lost and if it happens it would be just a fortune. A lot of wandering makes you hungry.
After lunch we return to the hotel, at 22,00 we have the night train to Sapa, we have to prepare the backpack (we leave the suitcase in the hotel) and exhausted by the heat and confusion we need a break.
We call a taxi to reach the train station, which is only 10 minutes from the center. The night train? an experience to do, certainly you do not arrive very rested but? pi? comfortable than I thought. There are 3 different categories (low cost, medium and luxury), and? better not to have too short arms. We opted for the Chapa Express (medium category) and we were very happy. We have booked a cabin for 4 for the exclusive use, so as not to have any nasty surprises, we sit in our beds and while the train leaves the station we fall asleep with our heads down. in the middle of the green rice fields of Sapa. Remember to bring a sweatshirt or jacket ap? heavy, the air conditioning in the cabin? really cold and not adjustable.

12 day

At 6,00 the next morning we are in Lao Cai.
At the station our guide and driver await us, a transfer of an hour awaits us to reach Sapa. I don't know why? but in my imagination Sapa must have been a small mountain village made up of two or three small streets and a little more. In reality? it is a country that is anything but small, with numerous streets, squares, shops and above all hotels. It's incredible ? the number of hotels under construction! ? clear that Sapa today is not? pi? that of 20 years ago and between 10 it will be? even worse, much worse. The first impression as soon as you arrive in Sapa? of stunning. The sad finding that? the place now? been totally invaded by tourism. We get out of the car and we are surrounded by little women and children who try to sell us bracelets, bags, postcards. This ? definitely a negative but partly inevitable.
We are taken to a restaurant near the main square where we can have breakfast before starting our trek. The agency offered us an exclusive two-day and one night trek with a guide, through itineraries less traveled by other agencies operating on site. This trek will take us? discovering a valley pi? quiet and less touristy than the well-known Ta Phin or Muong Hoa Vlley, where instead the populations are much more? influenced by massive tourism in recent years. We leave by car heading north and pass by the cable car that leads to Mount Fansipan, unfortunately enveloped in a thick layer of clouds and it will be? cos? also the following day. In the meantime it starts to rain, and even hard. The guide heartened me by saying that in the last 6 weeks it has rained almost every day! Well then?
We stop to visit the village of Ban Khoang, inhabited by the tribe? of the Red Zao, easily distinguishable from the rest of the ethnic groups by the elaborate red headdresses, sometimes decorated with long rows of coins and a completely shaved head. Do we immediately meet a little woman who welcomes us with a broad smile and leads us to her house where we can see with our own eyes how the tribes live? local.
We leave the village and our trek continues in the Ta Giang Phin valley inhabited by Black Hmong who live in small villages on the banks of a suggestive stream which contributes to making the atmosphere even more so. magical and peaceful. Despite the rain, the landscape? enchanting.
Does the walk end halfway? afternoon, we are taken to the hotel which unfortunately turns out to be a strong disappointment. In the room there is ?? so much humidity? that during the night even the few dry things we have left get wet. In the afternoon, we follow the advice of the guide, and independently we visit the Cat Cat Village. very simple, you take a long asphalted road of 3 km downhill that starts to the left of the main square of Sapa, the Fansipan street.
You have to pay for the entrance and if it weren't for the fact that I have no desire to do 3 km uphill immediately, I would like to turn my heels and leave. A p? disappointed we make the ticket and enter. The village has nothing of the village, it looks more like a mini Gardaland in miniature. The houses have been turned into souvenir shops, in some? You can enter to see how they are built and observe the different processes such as that of fabrics. At the end of the village you come to a waterfall and a hydroelectric power station. To avoid going back up on foot, we contract two guys with the scooter and we take them to the hotel.
IS? evident that I did not love this visit, but how many of you would have appreciated it?

13 day

After breakfast our second trek begins. We cross the Muong Hoa valley, according to the guide one of the most? beautiful in Sapa. Sar ?! The first part of the journey does not excite me at all, we could be anywhere in the world. Am I aware that I am in Sapa only thanks to the presence of a smiling woman belonging to the tribe? of the Black H? mong who follows us in the company of two beautiful girls. We pass through some houses, in one of these a woman was painting the fabric according to traditional methods. A local plant is used to obtain the typical indigo color, the dye of which is collected inside large wooden containers and, once ready, is used to immerse the fabrics in order take the coloring. The once colored fabrics will be used to make the traditional clothes of the Hmong ethnic group. The path becomes very slippery in some places. In fact, the ground has a very hard bottom and does not seem to drain the water, which therefore remains on the surface forming an insidious layer of mud and after yesterday's rain the downhill sections are not at all easy to deal with. I, despite having trekking shoes with Vibram soles with which I have so far traveled without difficulty? any type of path, risk more? times to fall. Even the guide that has certainly more? family with the ground it risks ending up on the ground a couple of times. The little woman of Black H? Mong, on the other hand, proceeds with a sure step with her plastic slippers that I see here wearing by everyone. Maybe ? is this the secret? Every time I look at her she smiles back with her broad smile. From met? path on the landscape is clearly more? interesting. The terraces are everywhere, interrupted here and there? from narrow streets, paths, trees, some remote houses, some pillars for the high voltage cables. Unfortunately, we have reached the end of our tour. We arrive at a shack where we have lunch. Around us there are numerous tourists of all nationalities: American, Spanish, French. And then there are always them, the little women of the different tribes? who, with their baskets loaded with souvenirs of all kinds, try to sing the now well-known nursery rhyme: Buy from me..only one dollar please ... buy from me ... one dollar for a picture ... buy from me .. " What more? I'm sorry ? see how they exploit children, who are beautiful to soften the tourist and entice him to buy anything. We are brought back to Sapa where we still have ap? time to wander around the city center before leaving. The sportswear items of the well-known The North Face brand are very popular. The prices are particularly low compared to European ones, but observing the realization of the garments carefully? it is easy to conclude that many items are counterfeit. Sure The North Face produces in Vietnam, so don't they? to exclude the possibility? to find something that is at the same time of good quality? it's convenient, but check the special label that is sewn on the original garments. At 15,30 we return to the hotel where will you come? to retrieve the collective taxi that will bring us back?

14 day

We start the day by going immediately to buy tickets for the water puppet show for the evening. Did they advise me to take them with a little? in advance and I absolutely do not want to miss this experience. We then hire a tuk tuk and let us take us to the Temple of Literature, too hot to do it all on foot! The complex, built in 1076 in honor of Confucius, was the seat for over eight hundred years of the first Universit? of Vietnam where the sons of the emperor and the court mandarins studied. Let's go through the entrance and the first thing that strikes me? the silence that reigns in this place, a few meters from the traffic we left outside. The complex ? divided into courtyards, pavilions and ponds separated by doors that only the king could cross while the dignitaries used the side corridors. I recommend that you visit it early in the morning or during lunch hours to avoid the large crowds of tourists. We leave the Temple and find our driver waiting for us. Next stop is the Ho Chi Minh Museum and the Mausoleum, a pilgrimage destination for devotees, where the remains of the founder of the Vietnamese homeland are exhibited in a refrigerated case. Lo? Uncle Ho ?, as he is affectionately called by the people,? was embalmed despite the testamentary dispositions clearly stated that the body had to be cremated and the ashes dispersed in north, central and south Vietnam to seal the newfound unification of the country. The Vietnamese, on the other hand, have always approved this decision which allows them to give another greeting to dear old Uncle Ho.
The Mausoleum? can be visited at times a bit? unusual (8-11 and 13,30-16,30 with closing on Mondays and Fridays and all October and November) but arm yourself with patience to endure the endless queues. We had trusted the times indicated on our guide, obviously not updated and we find it closed. Pace, in addition to the mausoleum c ?? a lot to see. We reach the stilt house, a house on stilts, in wood and in perfect traditional Vietnamese style, where it is said that Ho Chi Minh lived between 1958 and 1969.
L? near c ?? the Presidential Palace, a colonial-style palace built in 1906, which totally clashes with the simplicity? of the stilt house. The visit ends with the Pagoda on a single column (Chua Mot Cot) cos? called because the wooden pagoda rests on a single stone column to give the sensation of a lotus flower, one of the symbolic monuments of Hanoi. With our trusty tuk tuk we return to the old quarter but we let ourselves be left on the railroad tracks. Another very interesting place in my opinion, perhaps not from a tourist point of view but certainly from a photographic one. We couldn't not go! Ha Noi hosts two stations not far from each other, in a relatively central area, but the tracks leading out of the city? they literally cross the houses, passing a few meters (perhaps it would be better to say centimeters) from the houses where life unfolds as quietly as if nothing had happened. Evidently the train timetables must be well known to those who live along the railway.
Do you need a coffee after lunch? and Ha Noi? the right place, here the coffee? ? considered an art; I'm not talking about the new and modern western-style cafes but about the cafes? traditional Vietnamese, which smell of coffee? toasted and spiced. Sometimes to reach them you have to climb steep wooden stairs that climb between the floors of old houses, perhaps passing shops crammed with silks and jewels, and then emerge in warm and welcoming environments, often with small terraces from which to observe the teeming with life. below.
We seek and find, the Caf? Phố Cổ (address 11 Hang Gai), a splendid café? with a panoramic terrace overlooking the city, where we taste one of the peculiarities? of Hanoi: the ca ph? trung, the coffee? with the new warning: the bar is accessed from a tiny entrance next to a clothing and fabric shop.
Obviously I had read it otherwise I'd still be there looking for it! The bar is also located very close to our hotel, where we return for a nap before the theater. In the meantime, yes? put to flood. The day ? been long, all that remains is to wait for dawn for a new departure to Tam Coc.

15 day

Today we are planning the excursion to Tam Coc, the land Halong, the excursion we have been waiting for the most. of all from the beginning of the holiday. Unfortunately when we wake up it is still raining, it has been raining continuously since yesterday afternoon. Crossing the city? we note that the tropical storm that hit the city? has done great damage. Many trees were broken by the strong wind, trees with huge trunks! Police are everywhere trying to clear the streets. I realized that it was not a usual rainy season storm but I did not think the situation was so? serious. The guide warns us. Unfortunately the city? been hit by a strong tropical typhoon but? difficult to determine how much will? to last. Generally they last from 3 to 4 days, this year they are already. past three, all have caused a lot of damage as we are seeing with our eyes. I have a bad feeling and the idea of ​​a boat trip in this weather starts to seem absurd. We are in line, in the pouring rain, to start our excursion. A first boat leaves but does not have time to disappear from our sight that an official of the local police arrives and decrees that the excursion is not possible. do, ? too dangerous! And so we say goodbye to the possibility? to see Tam Coc, at least on this trip but the worst news has yet to give us, even tomorrow's excursion to Halong Bay? at risk. Do we go back to the hotel, maybe? the right day for a rest, to recover ap? of energies and when we wake up try to see things from another perspective.

16 day

During the night I hardly closed my eyes. I could hear the copious rain falling and the wind? Howling?
I looked at the clock every 5 minutes to understand how many chances we had that it would stop raining before dawn. At 8,30, punctual as always, the pick up service comes to pick us up at the hotel, are we lucky, the trip? been confirmed! Halong Bay is a 4 hour drive from Hanoi. The best solution ? to rely on a local agency. Hanoi? the classic departure point and the package includes pick-up from your hotel and cruise of varying duration. The classic formula lasts about a day, with night on board, but there are also cruises of more? days. The agencies that organize these tours are many but the quality? and the level of the excursions differs a lot, going from the more? basic to super luxury, so the choice is not? easy but in this case I advise you not to be too economical. Personally I can recommend the La Fairy Cruise which has a fleet of excellent quality junks and offers a punctual and reliable service, always booked through Tonkin Travel. We chose the Fairy why? proposed a program slightly different from the other companies of the same level but more? or not the activities? are the same: fishing, kayaking and some of the many caves on the islands, Tai Chi and Vietnamese cooking lessons
IS? hard to put into words what the view of the enchanting Halong Bay arouses. Halong means "where the dragon sinks into the waters". Legend has it that one day a great dragon came down from the mountains running towards the coast. In his run he cre? with its tail gorges and crevasses which then, when it plunged into the sea, were filled with water. What? the 3.000 islands of Halong Bay would have formed. Legend or not, the fact remains that Halong Bay has an indisputable charm, in front of which? impossible not to be amazed. If you are short on time and have to sacrifice a few stops on your trip to Vietnam, make sure it's not Halong Bay. It would be a sacrilege! Can anyone? to object that a Halong Bay cruise is too touristy. Nothing more? true. You will be surrounded by a myriad of other ships and tour groups, all participating in the classic two day and one night cruise on the Bay. But this is not? a valid reason to give up, the poignant beauty of the landscape deserves to be seen with your own eyes.

17 day

A private transfer picks us up at the disembarkation to take us to the airport where the flight to Cambodia awaits us. Each company generally guarantees the transfer already? included in the price but with the minutes running out we preferred to be autonomous. The flight ? at 18,00, it takes about 3 and a half hours to get to Noi Bai airport, luckily we don't have to anymore? pass from the city center, thanks to a new highway that cuts it off.
Also this time we fly with Vietnam Airlines, the flight lasts about an hour and a half.
Siem Reap airport amazes me for its modernity. Here too we have to carry out the visa procedures, fortunately much more? fast than in Vietnam and it helps that we are only about ten people.
You simply need a passport photo, the completed form that you received on the plane, usd 30 in cash and obviously the valid passport? remaining of 6 months. Deliver everything to a counter and you will be called back after 15 minutes. Waiting for us we find the transfer organized with the Hotel, we will stay at La Niche D? Angkor, a Boutique Hotel, which from the photos seemed very nice, and what is fundamental,? equipped with swimming pool. Listen to me, after a full day visiting temples the pool? of vital importance.
Let's change ap? of money in local currency (Riel) but we will soon realize that everything here is paid in dollars. All prices are expressed in dollars and if you pay in this currency you will almost always come? given the change with the same coin. Obviously, Cambodians should make you pay in dollars why? do they increase a little? the prices and also why? the local currency is worth very little. The advice then?, Do not exchange money in local currency and use dollars. Does the road lead to the center? lined with pharaonic hotels, one more? sparkling of the other, there are also several very modern clubs and restaurants, I didn't expect it so? Cambodia! ? clear that? it was all built for mass tourism but the impression? very positive. Fortunately, our hotel has nothing to do with the mega structures seen a little while ago.
? much more? modest but? cute, we take advantage of the pool immediately take away the tiredness of the trip. Tomorrow we must be in shape, we will go to the discovery of the mythical Angor Wat. I still don't believe it!

18 day

Cambodia? It was really a pleasant discovery, we dedicate three full days to visit Angor wat and on the fourth day we organize a trip to the floating village on Tonle Sap lake. What is commonly called Angkor? in reality? a complex of temples scattered within an archaeological park of about 400 square kilometers, a UNESCO heritage site since 1992. The largest temple famous? definitely Angkor wat (wat in Khmer means temple), but there are many others that deserve your visit, some majestic, others almost ruined, but all immersed in the jungle.
? it was a difficult experience to describe, they are places to see, to experience firsthand. ? right here, between the dense Cambodian forest and the old stone temples, that history, nature and millenary cultures mix together creating a place full of charm and mystery. Will not provide you? an accurate description of every temple I have seen. The possibilities that this park offers are so many, below I suggest the main useful information to better organize your visit.

19 day

To enter the Angkor park you must first buy the ticket, which will come to you? checked at the entrance of each temple and will allow you? to use the park toilets for free. There are various types of tickets: daily (20 usd), 3 days (40 usd), weekly (60 usd). The cost of the ticket can? seem excessive but I assure you that it is absolutely worth it,? unacceptable to go to Cambodia without passing through here.
The ticket office is located at the park entrance, a few kilometers from the center of Siem Reap, the ticket? nominal and with a lot of photos taken at the moment with a webcam.
We have dedicated three very excited days to visit the complex which? huge and a week would not be enough to see everything. Are there more? of 48 accessible temples, goes without saying? what a selection? a duty, unless you are an expert archaeologist. Conversely, if you are? Normal? travelers, I think a three day visit is the right compromise, a week could be excessive, however beautiful and fascinating Angkor Wat may be, the ruins tend to be repetitive.
The formula we have chosen and which I recommend to all those who are preparing to visit as much as possible? possible in a few days? hire a tuk tuk or a moto-rickshaw? with driver and guide and arrange the tour in advance. I saw several people on bicycles and some daredevils on foot but be aware that the distances between the temples are not short, there are various climbs and losing some wonders would be unforgivable.
So, after reading up and deciding what you are interested in seeing, arrange the tour with your guide. In the park not? It is difficult to orient yourself, but certainly with the guide you go without fail, and considering the distances this saves a lot of time. Also, the guide tells little anecdotes that you don't? easy to find on paper.
Tourist visits are normally divided into small and large circuits. The first, sometimes very crowded, includes a visit to the main temples including Angkor Wat, the Bayon and the Ta Phrom, the latter among the most popular temples. famous and photographed. The big circuit? instead pi? broad? it includes other temples including the Pre Rup, the Preah Khan and the Neak Pean.
However, outside the two circuits there are many other places to see, everyone can? create your own path based on the vehicle used and personal tastes. The temples of Angkor are all very beautiful, each with its own characteristics that make it unique, to choose? really difficult, but if I had to draw up a ranking of the three temples that pi? I was excited I would say the Bayon, with its enigmatic faces, the Ta Prohm, a perfect example of how nature has had the upper hand on? architecture, also made famous by Lara Croft in Tomb Raider and the Bantey Srei, a real jewel outside the most popular circuits. tourist, is located about 40km away from Angkor wat, peculiar for the pink color of its stone.

20 day

Sometimes the sun in Cambodia? implacable then travel with a large supply of water, why? the humidity ? a lot, it's hot and you sweat a lot. To avoid sunburn, remember to bring sunscreen and a tropical insect spray with you.

Each site has its own crowd of street vendors who will try to sell you everything: improvised guides, music CDs, statuettes, postcards, food and drinks. Often it will be children who will approach you, and will it be? really impossible to please everyone.

In some temples? You can make offerings to Buddhist monks and nuns who will pray for you and give you incense to offer to beautiful Buddha statues. IS? a ritual, no matter if you are a Buddhist or not, if you want to immerse yourself in this experience, imitate gestures? of our guests? an act of courtesy and respect that never hurts. The sure thing? that no sacrilege is committed, n? towards their n? towards your faith.

21 day

Last day in Cambodia and unfortunately we are almost at the end of our trip.
We dedicate the morning to visit Chong Kneas, the floating villages that rises on the great Tonle Sap lake, the most? great artificial basin of Asia. The excursion will allow you? to observe the daily life of fishermen, boatmen and all the people who live in this particular environment.
Will a Vietnam Airlines flight take us back in the late afternoon? HCM.
For this last stage we booked the Hotel Elios, plus? cheaper than the first one we stayed in upon our arrival; having the flight at 00,25 we paid an extra night to be able to use the room until the last.

22 day

An excursion that you cannot miss during your stay at HCM? certainly the one in Cu Chi, a district outside Ho Chi Minh City where you can visit some of the tunnels dug by soldiers during the Vietnam War. The visit of Cu Chi takes place inside a wood where, in addition to the tunnels that have allowed the population to live unnoticed during the entire duration of the conflict, you will have the possibility? to know the various tricks used by the Vietcong to trap American soldiers. Tricks of a simplicity? embarrassing but tremendously effective. You'll also find a shooting range, where you can buy bullets and shoot some of the original weapons used in the conflict. Did I find the thing a bit? creepy, but I stop here in expressing my judgment Of course, the shots from the shooting range make me shiver as I try to understand what life must have been like for the Vietnamese during the time of the conflict.
I wish I could continue the story but our itinerary ends here. Has this trip filled me like this? so much so that for the first time I was not saddened by the return, I felt the need to go home to metabolize, to settle the emotions and memories so as not to let them go away. Now would I be ready to leave immediately, despite a whole world still to be discovered? Asia once again struck me.

Audio Video Vietnam & Cambodia: scents and flavors of the East
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