July 14 to July 30 2011

(where are they off to?)

July 14 Thursday DAY 1: WGTN-SINGAPORE
Flight from Wgtn, to Auck to Singapore. We arrive early evening in Singapore. Check in @ 7:15am @ Wgtn Airport NZ412 08.30am19.3Oam SQ286 12.lOpm/7.OOpm Royal@Queens Hotel

In Singapore ... All safe at the hotel flight was good .

July 15 Friday DAY 2: SINGAPORE
Full day in Singapore. Need to discuss what you wish to do here. Suggestions of using the Singapore Stopover package that allows students to use the Hop-on - Hop-off buses to tour around the city visiting tourist attractions using the Free and discounted admissions.  
July 16 Saturday DAY 3: SINGAPORE - SAIGON

We fly from Singapore and arrive in Saigon mid morning. On arrival we take a short city tour of dynamic Saigon, visiting the colonial- style Old Post Office, the Notre Dame Cathedral, China Town with Thien Hau Pagoda, and Cho Lon Market. At lunch time we transfer to our hotel (midday check in) and have lunch in local restaurants. After lunch we visit the former Presidential Palace.

SQ172 9.5Oam / lO.55am

Liberty 3 Hotel, 187 Pham Ngu Lao St Tel: 0084 8 8369522

This is a big challenge and great history, to see the US embassy in Saigon( now rebuilt) that we saw the helicopter lifting off from at the fall of Saigon is so interesting. Ho Chi Min'ss statue and portrait, catholic cathedral, French railway stn were great moments of interest.

The traffic.. Is astonishing full of scooters. We cross the road like a rugby scrum.

The taciturn military at the airport were no welcome to the country.

Last night we shopped at the night market and had soup for tea. The hawkers are always in your face and desperately trying to make a living. One or two beggars as well are on the streets, One was a hunchback with no legs.

Night time was a time for all to be out on the streets or in the gardens across from the hotel. Teens sat on their scooters, parked in couples., some played hackey with a type of shuttlecock.Children played with balls and people sold light up toys.

Most extreme traffic went all night.

Crossing the road is crazy ... They don't stop, as a group we form a scrummage and slowly advance in front of a myriad of scooters, cars and buses,they weave in front and behind you. The cardinal rule is " do not step back , do not run, walk"

This is such a contrast to the urban garden that is Singapore .There all is calm and well organized with wealth and architecture and arts.

July 17 Sunday DAY 4: SAIGON - MY THO
Excursion to My Tho and the Mekong Delta. Cruise on the Tien River and visit Thoi Son Islet, where we enjoy tropical fruit with local tea, honey and coconut candy. We then experience a sampan ride through the small canals before returning to My Tho and back to Saigon.

We headed out of Saigon on the motorway, first passing a canal built by the Chinese to link with the Mekong, now being rebuilt by hand. We passed ricefields and farms and people in conical hats, white concrete structures studded around were the graves. Apparently they are not allowed them now in the ricefields, so they have them closer to the house This keeps their ancestors close.

When the communists came into power people were given land according to number of children, so they had "rugby teams" of children. Now it is a two children suggestion.

On the way we passed a huge development of a resort. Apparently funded by Michael Jackson's father. Students sleepy. Apparently it was a late night last night.

Arrival at My Tho meant the obligatory group stop at "the happy house" first, then on to a boat to travel down the river, passing fishing boats and a deserted Coconut religion site - a cult of the 1950s.

We visited a place that made coconut sweets and sold tourist things. We sampled coconut whiskey and snake whiskey. Also met the pythons kept to eat the rats and mice. Strangely warm to touch. They were draped around our neck for photos. On to small horse carts, we were taken to a open sided tea-serving place for tea with honey and tropical fruits like dragon fruit, pineapple, jack fruit and more.

Then onto small boats to go down a stream to the boat on the Mekong again. Lunch was where we moored by the Mekong.

Then returned to the hotel. Mary and I sought out the local cathedral and crossed a number of roads by ourselves to navigate our way there. This sounds simple but it is like parting the red sea of bikes cars and buses.You have to steel yourself.

Dinner was in a restaurant and the most exciting dish was pork in bamboo. It arrived at Mary's table then was set alight.

There are (brief) videos to watch
July 18 Monday DAY 5: SGN - CU CHI TUNNEL
Travel through rural countryside to explore the Cu Chi Tunnels: the amazing tunnel system where the Viet Cong lived and operated underground during the Vietnam War. Options to fire military firearms under the supervision of the Vietnamese Army. We return to Saigon to visit the War Remnants Museum.

Last night I had a poor sleep as I was frightened by an allergic reaction that had my neck and face swell and my throat constrict a little. I think it may be the towelettes, but not sure. An antihistamine this morning has helped a bit. Someone suggested it might be the fish.

We travelled to Cu Chi, it took an hour and a half. We stopped to see a rubber plantation and learned about the industry.

Cu Chi was the scene of intense fighting in this area. It was a Vietcong concentration area, there were 250 km of tunnels by 1965. It was also sprayed with agent orange and carpet bombed. 12 thousand Vietnamese died in this area.

We saw lots of displays and were able to fire AK47s. So loud we had two lots of ear muffs ... This brought home the sheer noise of war.

On the way we saw a gaily painted cart, ironically we found out it was a hearse. Also on the gate posts there were china dogs ... Apparently they used to keep dogs to bark at dead spirits at night, those are eaten now ... So china dogs protect them.

The next stop was back to Saigon to the War Remnants Museum. This museum has three floors of progressively heart rending displays of war photos. They dealt with war, torture, massacre, dioxin birth defects, agent orange damage and more ... So sad and a massive waste of life. It was also astonishing how many tourists there were.

Then we were back to eat at 3pm ... we were besieged by small cute girls selling us things... "you buy from her. Why you not buy from me". We were such suckers.

People beep to warn each other they are passing, it's not aggressive but persistent and sometimes dangerous.

There are (brief) videos to watch
July 19 Tuesday DAY 6: SAIGON
Free day in Saigon to visit the Ben Thanh Market. In the evening attend a traditional wedding performance at the Binh Quoi tourist village.

So engrossed in the experience of Asia. Everything is so different.

We shopped in a market today and the shop girls would hold you by the hand, sit you down and help you put on the garment to try easing it over your feet and chatting. It was a ferocious onslaught we could only bear for 15 minutes. I was ripped off buying a tee shirt.

Money is so strange. 100.000 dong is $6.00 NZ, so dealing in thousands is very stressful.

We left the students loose to shop and went and had a cocktail in the Rex Hotel, a famous landmark where Graham Greene and war correspondents during the Vietnam war drank. Then we went through rush hour traffic to a landscaped resort by the canal and had a light three course meal.

This was followed by a reenactment of a traditional Vietnamese wedding, this had song and music and dance. Strangely we were reminded of the way we regard tourists and shows in NZ. However I loved this.

Wake up call 5.30 tomorrow to fly to Danang.

Lift in the Rex Hotel, Saigon Cocktails Saigon traffic
Table decoration at dinner Wedding performance Light at the Wedding performance
There are (brief) videos to watch
July 20 Wednesday DAY 7: SAIGON - DANANG

Flight to Danang and bus to Hoi An.

Hoi An Hotel, 10 Tran Hung Dao Street Tel.: (0510) 914 444

This morning the wake up call was 5.30am. So students had to get to bed a bit earlier last night. This has not been too much of an issue, but some resistance has been noted, despite the brisk pace of the trip so far.

Early breakfast, airport, and take off. We noted a student is also showing signs of an allergic reaction; Shaun has hands that have a rash and swelling. We wonder if hand sanitizer could be at fault. Telfast is prescribed from our first aid kit.

We arrive at Danang airport and the original USA hangers are there, now housing Vietnamese fighter jets. I remember this airport from "Good morning Vietnam"

We drive to Hoi An stopping near the marble mountains to visit a marble workshop and display of sculpture. Then on past China Beach, site of massive resort development which has sold the beach to foreign investors. And the resorts are empty!

Arrival at the hotel Hoi An reveals a lovely resort with a pool and space. Flowers are used to decorate the rooms in a creative way.

Pool and relax is the call. Especially as it is 33 degrees; however it was 40 degrees last week.

Once refreshed we set off with our guide, Nev Parrott, to explore the old city of Hoi An. This is to orientate the students as it is a miniature old town with little traffic and tourists and tailors to make clothes and shoemakers also.

It is a world heritage site and is astonishingly old and beautiful with a sense of preserving the past knowingly, and a tourist attraction, and a job market. With fashion also.

We all order clothes and arrange to return for fittings then it is time for a late lunch. I had a specialty dish that is only made here "Cao lau" - a mix of lettuce, meat or fish, noodles crisp and soft, broth and mint. Yum!

Back to the hotel via the river which was beautiful, then the pool ... and bats swooping. The pool is stunning in the heat; we all are enjoying it so much.

Tomorrow is a free day where we can wander and browse at will, and sleep in....

July 21 Thursday DAY 8: HOI AN
Today is free to shop and explore. Hoi An is famous for its clothing, art and silk markets and its magnificent Chinese and Japanese architecture. This is the opportunity to have silk dresses, ball gowns and tailored suits and shirts made.

Hoi An is a rest and shopping stop in a world heritage site of great beauty. The old town has many ancient buildings, yet is full of tailors and shoe manufacturers.

The students have bought suits and jackets which seem to fit really well and are stunning on. The girls have bought ball dresses amd more. They want to stage a fashion show with their purchases.

I have purchased orders for family, a winter coat and a hand bag. Other times we have been in the pool, while avoiding the mid day sun ... 33 degrees.

We ate down by the river, a set menu: first, white flower, a rice , soft wonton, shrimp in a small thin pikelet, fish in garlic, with rice, next was mixed calamari. The dessert was banana slices. This four course meal was only100.00 dong per person $6.50 NZ.

The food has a delicate flavour and each serving was small, but sufficient.

There are (brief) videos to watch
July 22 Friday DAY 9: HOI AN
Today we continue exploring Hoi An. Options of swimming at Cua Dau Beach or shopping.

Today we were up early and three students and three teachers went to the Firststart foundation to take part in craft activities, the payment for which will go to support their work with the disabled, poor and lack of education.

This was an experimental visit to see how school groups would like this, so our tour leader filmed us.

We first were taught a simple picture, then we painted it on rice paper, using a weasel hair brush. Then we went to a workshop and learned to make a traditional lantern.

This was a quiet interlude that the students with us really enjoyed. I felt it was a good antidote to the shopping.

When we finished there we had lunch and then visited a silk shop where we saw weaving and silk worms and their culture. ... And bought some silk.

Another stint in the pool was welcome on return to the hotel.

A recipe for Cao Lau.

Tomorrow we move on to Hue.

There are (brief) videos to watch
July 23 Saturday DAY 10: HOl AN - HUE

Travel to Hue over the Hai Van Pass, visiting the caves of Marble Mountain and stopping at Lang Co Beach for lunch.

Romance Hotel 16 Nguyen Thai Hoc Str Tel: 84-54-3 898 888

At 9 .30 pm yesterday we staged the Hoi An - Taita college fashion show. All the new suits, shoes and frocks were modeled in the corridor outside our room.

We saw Ryan in a grey pinstripe suit with a red tie, Cathy in her orient-inspired outfit and Daniel in his white jacket. Yordon had his custom made high tops with Yordy written on the back, and Kendall wore her black frock the same style as Jayne's one-armed frock.

All looked amazing, and I filmed in poor light on my i-Phone.

Some people might hate traveling here; the Asian food is great, and the heat would bother people.

Most of all the myriad of shop keepers importuning you vigorously would annoy many. You just have to say no thanks, and not look at them. Then there is the haggling; sometimes you have to leave a shop as you don't like a price and they will call you back.

The service for making clothes bags and shoes is 24 hours. .. This means some have long hard working hours according to tourist demands.

Now is not the busy tourist season - it must be very crowded then. We notice Americans, Australians, German, French, and more here at present.

Today we drove to Hue. We stopped to climb a marble mountain with a cave for the Buddha. It was a major site during the Vietnam war as Viet Cong shot down 7 USA planes heading for the base at China Beach.

We travelled over a major mountain pass and along a beautiful coastal highway, eating in a restaurant by the sea.

The temperatures were roughly 37 to 40 degrees. Our bus air conditioning broke down. And it was cooler out of the bus when we went to see the ancient citadel of Hue.

This evening we went to a banquet which was a surprise for the kids, and they dressed up in clothes of the ancient imperial emperors, they had a great time.

Tomorrow they start early to go to the DMZ.


There are (brief) videos to watch
July 24 Sunday DAY11: HUE
Day trip to the mountains to visit Khe Sanh, former US military base then on to the Vinh Moc Tunnels and the Ben Hai Bridge. A day of studying the former De-militarized Zone.

We left in a bus to go to the DMZ and saw the many graveyards of the North Vietnamese army. Apparently if you fought for the South you can only be buried in a family grave yard.

We stopped at a Buddhist shrine to light incense for the dead but there was a festival there so we had a great audience.

People thought we were very strange; they felt the skin of the men and gently patted my leg. They stood around and smiled and talked about us ... apparently not seeing many foreigners.

We next had lunch, then visited the base at Khe Sanh. On then to tunnels. These were larger, but I did not like them much, so stayed out with one nervous student. We met a man who was  born in the tunnels, who was very sympathetic to the nervous student.

July 25 Monday DAY 12: HUE - HANOI

Flight to Hanoi. After checking into our hotel we take an orientation walk around Hoan Kiem Lake. We venture into the fantastic shopping (silk, clothing, ski gear, DVDís and electronic goods) and eating area of the old French Quarter.

Thang Long Opera Hotel, 1C Ton Dan St., Tel.: 0084 (4) 824 4766

We woke at 5.30 to catch the plane to Hanoi , having breakfast on the 10th floor overlooking Hue.

Here we are up against the traffic again. Once again crossing as a scrum,

We flew to Hanoi , and checked into the hotel, resting then going for  lunch and a reconnaissance walk so we could find our way around. Nev is good at giving three significant land marks to orientate ourselves - in this case the lake, the pagoda, the large pink bank building.

We are again facing crossing roads among traffic, forming a scrum, moving slowly and purposefully as traffic weaves around you, although but here it is faster and more aggressive than Saigon.

That evening we walk to the old quarter, then break into groups for tea.

There are (brief) videos to watch
July 26 Tuesday DAY 13: HANOI
Visit Ho Chi Minhs Mausoleum, One Pillar Pagoda and Hoa Lu Prison. After lunch visit the Ethnology museum. Attend an evening performance of the world-famous Water Puppets.

Today we are up early and once again having a wonderful hotel breakfast of omlette, fruit and yoghurt and tea.

We have been warned to dress sedately, and then we  drove to the mausoleum and queued for half an hour. Soldiers change guard goose-stepping as we watch, then we enter the cool darkened room and move in single file past Ho Chi Minh's body in an ornate, raised glass case, so you are near, yet moving continuously past, around the room.

Next we visited the Hoa Lu prison where the French incarcerated and beheaded many Vietnamese freedom fighters, then American pilots also were kept in the "Hanoi Hilton". Many propaganda photos were produced showing how good the prison regime was.

After lunch we went to the ethnology museum and learned of the many ethnic groups and some of their customs and crafts. There were also modern exhibitions on the lives of street people and aids.

The outside area had housing displays and we saw frogs and snakes in the grass.

In the evening we went to the water puppet theatre, a traditional craft and performance held after rice harvests.

Thereafter to eat tea of Vietnamese cuisine which is very interesting and filling, followed by ice-cream.

There are (brief) videos to watch
July 27 Wednesday DAY 14: HANOI - HA LONG BAY
Day tour to take a cruise to visit the bay, where over 2000 spectacular islands rise dramatically out of the South China Sea. A fresh seafood lunch is served on board. We then drive back to Hanoi.

On Wednesday we travelled by bus to Halong Bay, 4 hours there and 4 hours back, and a 4 hour cruise with a luxurious seafood dinner on board.

It is well worth it's status as a world heritage site, so beautiful with 2000 islands, however the 4,000,000 tourists mean it is polluted.

A highlight was a visit to an extensive cave system, which was so humid we were dripping, yet cool. The students loved the  cruise and looked born to a life of luxury.

There are (brief) videos to watch
July 28 Thursday DAY 15: HANOI
Free Day for shopping.

Today we broke into groups and wandered the town buying gifts and browsing at our own pace, until we ran out of steam and my group had ice cream for lunch.

We then headed to air conditioned hotel rooms for a break, then to have a last tea together for Nicole's birthday.

Tomorrow we fly to Singapore then NZ.

The adventure draws to a close.

July 29 Friday DAY 16: HANOI - SINGAPORE - NZ

Leave 10:00am to airport. Evening flight to NZ

SQ175: 1.l5pm/5.4Opm

SQ285: 9.O5pm/10.45am (Sat)

July 30 Saturday DAY 17: NEW ZEALAND

Arrive Auckland. Transfer to flight to Wellington.

NZ457 2.3Opm / 3.3Opm

Kiwi Vietnam Tours Ltd POBox 123
PH 06 3248444

This Tour Itinerary is correct at time of printing but may be subject to change given weather or road conditions in Vietnam.