"If you wish to travel far and fast, travel light. Take off all your envies, jealousies, unforgiveness, selfishness and fears.” – Cesare Pavese
This "Intrepid Tours" adventure (12 travellers from around the globe and a local guide) ends in Hanoi but first stop on the Vietnam Express is Ho Chi Minh City, (Saigon). Prepare your senses for lots of people (6.6 million), aggressive markets, great baquettes, great coffee on every corner and major league traffic. First up we are set up riding in a Rickshaw into a manic Traffic Circle. I see this as intense with cars, bikes, trucks, rickshaws and mayhem in my face as my trusty driver peddles into this abyss. But ultimately, this is just another day in the life of Saigon as my ride zens through the pulse of modern Vietnam. Our sightseeing goal is the War Remnants Museum. The Vietnam War history is never forgotten and always a part of any Vietnam tour. They don`t seem to obsess but they won`t forget! And they do not pull punches to a former enemy!
Once you solve the energy of this city you`re ready to settle into the Vietnam Express. After the city tour we step back in time to endure (and ultimately enjoy) 17 hours on a very basic and very old Vietnam sleeper train. As Intrepid claims, it is a best way to experience long distance with the locals. So suck it up and get to know your new friends in a musty 4 berth cabin that might be the closest you get to strangers for the rest of your travel life. An excellent experience in the end. It forces us to engage on such a positive level. The best of all of us rises to the stuff of great memories.
Next up is Hoi An, a "world heritage site" that has become a handicraft shopping mecca. Shop for ceramics, woodwork and tailored suits before a motorcycle tour to the rice fields of quintessential Vietnam (we are passengers on the bikes). We then visit an active Buddhist Monastery (dated from 1601), play soccer with young monks and then head off to an excellent orphanage experience. The orphanage is run by monks and the kids seem well taken care of but the experience is sadly touching and very inspiring at the same time. I think Intrepid has stopped this practise because of the lasting affect on kids. It is complicated as the kids broke our hearts and inspired our charity but we probably distort their expectations. We likely offered more hope than some of these children will ever realize but it really has motivated me to the cause of orphans. Such is another side of travel karma. You receive so much that you should seek to give back! And that quest begins.
The final stage of this quest will take us to Hanoi and Halong Bay. A night spent aboard a private boat (gorgeous) cruising through those dramatic limestone cliffs and peaks is just another "oh my god" landscape moment. Even in the rain and mist that we drew, it was stunning!
Finally, Hanoi takes us into the heart of former North Vietnam. Old Russian inspired infastructure mixed in a thriving street economy leads us through a mix of French and old Communist influences. Hanoi sums up 11 days and nights of the spirit and history of Vietnam. I`ve never been inclined to try "group tours" but this mix of 12, Europeans, Ausrailians, English and Canadians with an engaging Vietnamese guide, was a great way to discover the world together with new friends. I will do this type of travel again.
We will remember this and I have been inspired to think outside this box that I call my life. Maybe I still have more to offer as I travel to the next inspiration?
Good night to Vietnam. Next stop, Cambodia or Thailand? Possibilities are like that box of chocolates!