Victoria Macdonald review 1 Jan 2012
1. What was the most memorable or exciting part of your holiday?
When you've hiked in the Himalayas and the Andes, communed with the Bhutanese and the Mozambicans, you can't quite imagine that you could be stunned by something as simple as a Good Morning Vietnam trip. We were immersed in this really poor country, with the hint of past traumatic occupation and wars, and received the most generous opening of hearts from this 80% buddhist country. From the arts to economics, farmlands and the intensity of a 5-million motorcycle strong Saigon, this country is vibrant with enterprise and everyone is busy at something. I am amazed at the intensity of life, such a small tract of land, home to so many millions of people, peacefully coexisting and working so hard to attain middle class status. My children wore pollution masks for the first three days, such was the intrigue of their small little noses, light hair, large eyes, that they were continually being touched and offered food ... such a compliment and yet surprising that we seem so unusual to them.
2. What tips would you give other travellers booking this holiday?
This trip is busy. We rode motorcycles into the mountains to visit a nursery and eat at a female monastery; we cycled for four hours through farmland, learning the watering and planting techniques; we kayaked in the magnificent Halong Bay and stayed overnight on a local boat; we experienced the rather precarious reunification express; we manoeuvred down the Mekong Delta and stayed with a local family; we learned to master crossing a street in Hanoi and Saigon - not for the faint hearted; we immersed ourselves in the dance and music and the water puppet show, the pagodas and Emperor dynasties ... we tested food in a restaurant run by orphans, and a kitchen where Bill Clinton enjoyed a meal - we even had a cooking class to make our Christmas dinner; we haggled and bargained and shopped and had immaculate suits tailored .... and we could do all of this with the incredible management of our guide who dextrously directed us through a very full schedule (sometimes five different venues to visit before lunch), and a very diverse group who wanted to discuss the national economic and political policies, home life and intergenerational development ... all so completely different to our Western experience. Our guide was exemplary and we would host him in any of our homes should he
wish to visit.
3. Did you feel that your holiday benefited local people, and minimized impacts on the environment?
Vietnam is overpopulated and so one can do little about impact on the environment. People need a place to live and to farm, and so natural habitat will take a knocking. Sanitation is also an issue, so be prepared for your environment not being as clean and perfumed as you would hope.
In terms of your money going to the local economy, I couldn't have imagined that our tour would support so many small business providers. We experienced about five different boat journeys, we hired 12 motorcycles and rickshaws which came with their own drivers, bicycles and doormen and cooks and laundry people. Our guide brilliantly asked for £30 upfront, and he distributed the money in terms of tips and contributions accordingly, from a nursery and monastery, to a boatman, other guides and a chef. There were additional experiences we had to pay for, but the group were happy to participate as they were so unusual, and our guide assessed our willingness to delve deeper into cultural life. However, you are given the option of taking an afternoon off or not joining some activity - and you are accommodated accordingly, as one mother had to be when her son was sick for 2 days. I was most impressed with all service we received. Early on in our cycle ride, one of my children's brakes were faulty, and as we pulled up to a traffic light a few minutes later, three repairmen were waiting to adjust the bicycle so that we could continue safely.
4. Finally, how would you rate your holiday overall?
This is an excerpt of a letter I sent to the CEO of the operator:
"Laki managed our definitive group with such dextrous skill, humour and sensitivity, that we felt that we’d lost an anchor when we said goodbye on our departure from Vietnam. He facilitated in-depth conversation about the national economic structures, technological development, local politics and social development initiatives, the communist/socialist/capitalist mileage that makes up Vietnam’s growth, the nuances of home and inter-generational life, the horrors of the wars, the dynasties of generations of leaders … and also offered us long periods of silence to absorb and review all that we observed and felt. Our cups were filled to the brim each day with Vietnam life so diverse and complex, colourful and different from our own lives, and shared with such generosity of spirit."