Follow Arden on her journey through Vietnam

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Day 1 – Departure Day

Upon my arrival at the Auckland International Airport…or so thats how i thought id start this blog off. But what better way then to start this blog off with an adventure? I must apologise from the start about my spelling and lack of punctuation’s, as im writing this blog off a mobile device on the go. Anyway back to my adventure, so i travelled from Whangarei to Auckland today….oh no its now 1am Wednesday…so technically i travelled down yesterday…i didn’t think anything exciting would happen, although i had heard rumours before that travelling on the Mana bus can be a whole adventure on its own….and it sure was i tell you, but i wont go into details as id like to keep this blog PG.

Then you might be wondering why I am up at this early hour of the day? no not to catch a flight, no I haven’t lost my mind, i was actually sound asleep at a lovely Auckland Airport hotel getting in precious hours of rest before i meet with the school group tomorrow, when the fire alarm decided to go off. It was surreal really, i thought it was a joke to start off with, then realised the sound wasn’t going away and i better do something along the lines of ‘calmly make your way outside’ and this people is why it is a great idea to wear PJ’s (just FYI). I poked my head outside my hotel room to realise i was one of several poking my head out the door and looking like a stunned possum and then we all proceeded outside to find many more stunned possums in PJ’s. It was rather a scene out of a movie, you see all kinds of characters, some people really do not understand the reason why you drop everything and make your way outside. No that doesn’t mean pack up your suitcase and roll that through the hallways blocking peoples exit paths just so you can keep your belongings. And gentleman do you really think its such a great idea to light up a smoke in amongst 100 people who are trying to potentially avoid smoke? You can rest assure that he got told off pretty quick by fellow guests. All in all it was an exciting experience, i got to mix and mingle in my PJ’s not something you do every day, i wish the lovely Australian couple and their gorgeous daughter a safe and awesome campervan tour around NZ….and we promise midnight wake up calls like this are not a common occurrence.

The fire brigade eventually showed up and gave the all clear. Seems someone had been smoking inside their room. I meet up with the School group in just under 8 hours now, Im super excited and you can expect another update once we arrive into Vietnam. For now Hasta Luego! Arden xx

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Day 2 – Arrival and First Day in Hanoi

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Good Morning Vietnammmmm! We arrived into Vietnam off our flight just before midday, cleared customs and then our energetic kind fun guides were waiting for us at arrivals. After a quick group photo we got comfy in our luxury coach and off we went to Hanoi city. What a culture shock that drive was, motorbikes and cars everywhere, the students loved the entertainment. We even saw cows wandering around on country roads which i know can happen in NZ too but here it seems to be normal. Once at our gorgeous wee city hotel, we quickly freshened up before going out on our walking tour. Everyone in one long line we made our way through the busy but quaint streets of Hanoi. You could really see the french influence in the building, very stunning in its own way. Street vendors everywhere, tiny shops selling beautiful colourful dresses, stunning oil paintings, glittery shoes and much much more. Each street is designated to selling one particular thing, so you have a clothes street, shoe street, scarf street….you get where im going with this. One thing i haven’t mentioned is the mopeds, they are literally everywhere! Crossing the street means you cross and walk at a gentle pace and let the scooters weave around you. Very nerve wracking to start with but after a couple street crossings you become accustom to it. After our walking tour we enjoyed dinner at a very beautiful 7 storey french building, we had our own private room on level 3, we were all blown away by the winding wooden staircase that connect each floor, and then the meal, very vietnamese and delicious. By 7:30pm local time we were all sound asleep in our beds dreaming about everything we’d just seen.

Day 3 – Hanoi – Local village tour

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6:30am We woke up and enjoyed our buffet breakfast at the hotel, with a choice of Vietnamese or European food. 8am We were on the bus ready for today’s adventure. Starting off with a visit to our very first Pagoda temple, followed by a visit to a local village and then a stop at a museum. The bus hits country roads pretty quickly and we are surrounded by rice paddy’s, it was a stunning view although it looked very muddy. It is currently winter here and for the locals it is very cold, they are dressed in thick winter jackets but they keep on working in the wet paddy fields. We climbed several hundred stairs to reach the Buddhist temple which is very old, how old? No one really knows. The students were mesmorised, cameras all out and ready to capture the pure beauty. Next stop is a local village where we enjoyed a bike ride through the tiny cobble streets, it reminds me of  the city of Pompeii, very similar buildings and colours. We walk through rice paddy fields, meet buffalos and lots of friendly locals one well known local even wanted a picture with the kiwi students. After all that the students and teacher were ready for a big meal and so was i, and did we have a treat waiting for us! A local family spoiled us with Vietnamese food, too much for us all the finish. Afterwards we visited a local museum followed by a stop at a stunning art gallery. Then back to Hanoi for dinner and to venture out into the night markets. The day was amazing, everyone kept saying how amazing it was and how much we have seen already in such short time. I cant wait for tomorrow to come!

Day 4 – Day at Leisure

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Today we spent the day at leisure. First we visited a local market, where the students got to test their haggling skills….although the locals where tough to barter with. We think they all had agreed to not barter with tourists and only sell to locals. Afterwards we visited a local Vietnamese restaurant, where we ordered A la cart. Interesting experience…don’t think they were quiet staffed for such a big group. Non the less we all enjoyed being out of the wet and cold. Afterwards we headed back to our hotel where some went to rest, and the remaining broke into groups of 5 or less and roamed the mystical streets of Hanoi. Followed by an early nights rest for tomorrows big adventure.

Day 5 – Ho Chi Minh’s Mausoleum

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Up at 5:30, for breakfast at 6 and on the bus at 7 to beat the 4km line to see Ho Chi Minh’s body. The head teacher could not contain her excitement, she has been teaching about this man for over 10 years, she couldn’t believe she was finally going to see him! And worth the wait it was! He is so well preserved its unbelievable, for a man that died over 40 years ago he looks like he died yesterday. Tad freaky in a way too. Afterwards we visited his house and gardens, stunning and humble both combined. Afterwards we walked to KOTO Restaurant (know one teach one) to warm up on delicious soup followed by a stunning main meal of fish and chicken. Today happens to be the coldest day this winter in Hanoi …. 4 degrees!!! Next and final spot at the Hoa Lo Prison, a very emotional journey for the students to see how the prisoners where treated. Then back to the hotel to pack and get ready for our overnight train to Dong Hoi.

Day 6 – DMZ

The overnight train was a great venture. I had heard many stories about these trains, however I found them to be rather pleasant. The rocking on the tracks and slow movement of the train slowly soothed me in and out of sleep. The students had a jolly old time singing at the top of their lungs, before also eventually giving in to the sway of the train. Once we arrived at the train station at 6:30am, we made our way to a nearby hotel for breakfast and a freshen up. Then travelled further south towards the DMZ, we stopped off at a cemetery that has the graves of all who died in the DMZ area during the wars (including one of our guides uncle). We paid our respects by placing an incense stick on the grave of our choosing. From there we made our way towards the Vinh Moc Tunnel, which was super impressive, the students where stunned with how people could have lived in those little tunnels and tiny caves for so long. In the tunnels the air was nice and warm, a welcomed feeling. We have come to terms with the fact that the cold wet weather is just following us down south ha-ha. Next stop on the list the Hien Luong Bridge, which used to mark the separation point of North and South Vietnam. We enjoyed lunch at a local restaurant, something we have come to realise is that a lot of restaurants have no windows, which we can imagine is great in summer, not so much with temperatures under 10 degrees. However we were starved so the amazing food took our minds of the cold very quickly. We enjoyed a feast, one of the best meals yet! All filled up we hopped back on the coach for our final leg to Hue. We are now all checked into our hotel and about to head out for our dinner. Xin chao!

Ps: i do have great photos, but they are all on my camera, will post them when back in NZ. So stay posted!!

Here you go 🙂

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Day 7 – Imperial City

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After a great nights sleep and a filling breakfast we cruised the perfume river on a traditional boat to another beautiful pagoda. From the pagoda we made our way to the Imperial City which is just stunning, i could have easily spent hours and hours here! I must say i Like Hue much better then Hanoi, Hue is more beautiful and not as crazy busy. The imperial city has many impressive buildings on its many hectares of land, the first building we entered had mass amounts of real gold on the ceiling and wall decorations, very impressive. After another huge and yummy lunch we visited a local orphanage where we got to Q & A the buddhist nun who set up this amazing place, which has now been running for over 50years. They do a heart warming job. We handed out our NZ gifts to the kids and teenagers, who absolutely loved the attention. I think the biggest hits were the soccer ball and the hand puppets. Tonight we go for a very special dinner, fit for Kings and Queens, the students already have picked their King and Queen……the choice will make for an interesting night i can tell you that now already!

Just snuggling into bed after a great evening dining as Princes and Princesses…and of course we had our very own King and Queen. We had a fantastic evening filled with laughter and good old banter. We wore traditional Vietnamese royal clothes and hats and dined with live music. The night ended with a fantastic speech by our king and queen. I have also had a request to mention in my blog that one of our teachers… Ill give a slight hint..they are a male, is keeping the students entertained by singing songs at the top of his lungs on the bus and this evening was no exception! tonights song was Dancing Queen. Thanks Mr for keeping the spirits so high must also mention a fellow female teacher is doing a pretty good job at singing too 😉

Day 8 – Hoi An

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We left bright and early for Hoi An with promise of warmer weather. We had a quick stop at a beautiful Kings tomb then continued on our road trip through the countryside and tunnels, including South East Asia’s longest tunnel 6km. The further south we drove the warmer it got and the more excited we became. Upon arrival into Hoi An we ventured out onto an exploration walk and all fell in love with this UNESCO site instantly. We were quick to split into smaller groups and visit tailor shops to get measured up for suits and dresses. I wasn’t going to get a dress made but ended up getting sucked in by the whole experience of it and i now have two dresses being made! Fittings are tomorrow evening….fingers crossed everyone’s look great. All in all, we agree Hoi An is the most beautiful place we have visited so far and we could all stay here happily for weeks!

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Day 9 – My Lai

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We woke up bright and early for a 6am breakfast to get on the road early to My Lai. The drive itself was very interesting, lots of rice paddies and scooters with everything humanly possible on them. My Lai is about 3 hours South of Hoi An, once we arrived we watched a very moving documentary about the masacre, then we walked through the musuem looking at very sad pictures. It’s pictures you wish should never have been possible to be taken. Next we made our way outside and walked over to the spot where over 40 years ago 500 civilians fought for their lives with nothing but their children to hold onto. It was a very somber experience. The village itself is very beautiful, palm trees lining the paddy fields and walk ways, you cant begin to imagine how American soldiers could have brutally murdered so many villagers.

In the afternoon we made our way back to Hoi An just in time to have fittings for the dresses and suits being made. All in all a very tiring and emotional day.

Ps i must mention we got to see some sunshine today yay!

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Day 10 – Bike Ride

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Today we embarked on a bike ride around Hoi An and its surrounds. All looking flashy on our bicycles with helmets on we ventured out and blended in well with the local Vietnamese who either bike or go on scooters. We quickly left the busy city centre for lovely countryside rice paddy fields and small village roads. We got to see the locals hard at work, planting, feeding, weeding and cropping the rice all while knee deep in the muddy water. I think we all realised that we really do take our packaged rice at the supermarkets for granted. After watching buffalo plough fields, we visited a local vegetable garden, what a stunning sight that was, they had everything imagenable and everything planted very neatly in rows and blocks, any gardners dream. Next stop was the local beach, no swimming just a rest stop before our long ride back to out hotel. The rest of the afternoon was spent saying good bye to this beautiful ancient city before preparing out suitcases for tomorrows flight.

Day 11 – Marble Mountain

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Today we got a little sleep in before our bus ride to Da Nang Airport, with a stop at Marble Mountain. Marble Mountain is one of my highlights of the tour. I loved the secrecy and smartness of its use during the war. The VC used it to hide some of their most important people. After climbing the marble steps, which where surprisingly highly spaced, we stopped at the first Pagoda, very beautiful and behind it an entrance to a big cave with a stunning statue inside of it. Further up the mountain you’ll find gorgeous viewing spots overlooking Da Nang and its surrounds, and more pagoda’s and even bigger caves! I loved the caves, just a miracle of nature combined with the hard work of the Vietnamese.

Our flight to Ho Chi Minh city went flawlessly, at the airport we (almost) all stocked up on Burger King (shhhh it was nice to have some Western food again). One determined student stuck to the traditions of Vietnamese food and had some Pho. Once we walked off the plane we where struck by the intense heat, which I welcomed with open arms. 34 degrees! Yay! Our bus was nice and air-conditioned and they had cold water waiting for us. Another amazing hotel awaited our arrival, with a stunning dinner at a local restaurant! This dinner setting was my favourite every! It was outside and had fairy lights hanging in the palm and banana trees, just looked very beautiful!

Day 12 – Cu Chi Tunnels

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Early start to make our way to the Cu Chi Tunnels. Loving the warm weather I must add! The Cu Chi Tunnels are one of the most interesting things I learnt about on the trip, loved learning about how they where made and how they lived in them. Very smart people and really using everything to their best ability. From making their shoes out of old tires and confusing the Americans with making different markings under the shoes, to what direction they where walking in. And dispersing the smoke of their cooking by letting it go through 4 different chambers under ground and timing it with the morning mist the next day to let it out into the open air. We got to walk through 60m worth of tunnel….which was widened and heightened for us tourists, but we still struggled, we had to hunch, and I really mean hunch to get through the tunnels. Next we stopped for lunch at a gorgeous restaurant along side a river with palm trees everywhere, made us feel like we were on a tropical island somewhere, very nice. Then on our way to the Mekong Delta, many of us dozed off on the bus and had wee naps before we arrived at our homestay in the Mekong Delta. Very interesting setting, running throughout the property where lots of small rivers forcing us to walk over small bridges to get from one end to the other. Very basic living space, with chairs and hammocks everywhere to accommodate us tourists. We where lucky to all get a proper bed and not canvas stretchers like originally expected. After some stick cricket and card playing we hit our comfy beds under mosquito nets.

Day 13 – Mekong Delta

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We had our own personal wake up call by the many roosters on the property, which not everyone was impressed by. But we had to make an early start as was so I wasn’t too bothered. By 7:30 we where all in Vietnamese Canoes and getting paddle down the small rivers lined by hundreds and hundreds of palm trees, rather magical. From the small canoes we climbed on-board a larger Vietnamese boat and he took us along the Mekong Delta and dropped us off literally into a fish market, hold your noses shut students! Very interesting to see a real (non touristy) Vietnamese market, may have made some stomach churn, but it was a great thing to see. Next we where picked up by horses in carriages, no not the kind you see at New Yorks Central Park, but these were small very sturdy working horses. They delivered us to a coconut factory, where we got to observe how coconut sweets where made….very yummy! I think we all purchased some! Next we walked over to where the snakes where kept (literally next door), there we all got to hold a huge snake! I swear I didn’t freak out….yeah right! It was very entertaining watching everyone interact with the exotic animal. From there we watched how rice sweets and bread where made and then hopped back onto our boat, which took us to a place where they made/collected honey. They served us up a delicious honey and lemon tea, just to die for! Then back on the boat which took us to our bus, our ride home (to the hotel in Saigon), was nice with a quick stop at a local Church/Pagoda, which has a strong influence of Hinduism and a bit of Buddhism and Catholicism. Back in the big city we had only a couple hours left do so some last minute souvenier shopping before we had to freshen up for our final dinner in Vietnam. All the boys that got suits made really brushed up well, looking handsome in their flashy suits, and the girls looked beautiful as always too!

Day 14 – Home Time

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Today we said good bye to our amazing guides that where with us through the ice ice cold to the hot hot warmth. They did a fantastic job looking after us, we couldn’t have asked for nicer or kinder guides, they will be sorely missed!

We where all sad to leave this very beautiful, interesting developing country behind.

Thank you to the amazing school group that let me go with them through this amazing and once in a lifetime opportunity! You guys are all beautiful people inside and out! I will miss you all super much! I wish you all the best for the future and hope you also had a fantastic time! 🙂

xx