Vietnam From Hanoi to Saigon (HCMC)

Flying into Hanoi really makes one think. I had a lot of questions; like, what was I thinking when I made these plans? Forget accessibility; what about the fact that just a few years ago we bombed this city in a war. As soon as we landed I felt better, as the airport is quite inviting with money exchange booths and all of the normal things one would expect. Our drive into the city was through rice fields and a wonderful countryside. My first impression of Hanoi was that of a small provincial capital with a million inhabitants all of which were on their motorbikes. Our hotel was small and proviincial, the streets were small and provincial and to tell you the truth the people… But don’t get the wrong idea these attributes can be as beautiful as the people were.

My first day of touring, our guide told me that I would not be able to get into Ho Chi Minh’s mausoleum, as Ho was on the second floor of the building. I was disappointed as you can imagine and more so when I saw that the line to get in was at least 2 to 3 hours long. I envisioned myself waiting in the bus as the others also waited but for a reason. However, and here is the reason for the story, our guide came to me a few moments later and asked if I could transfer to another chair, I assured him that I could and he went off. Ten minutes later he shows up with a squad of 6 honor guards who proceeded to lift me into the other and then lift that chair and march about 200 yards to the head of the line with all of our group in file behind me. Up the stairs, around old Ho, and back down. Needless to say the people who had waited in line were wondering, who is this VIP? But more importantly, I ingratiated myself to the rest of our group who had just avoided a 2 plus hour wait in the drizzling rain.

The rest of the trip was not as easy, looking back now I can remember pushing through dirt and packed sand on many occasions and not having access to an occasional site. My group was of great help and would push when they saw I was sweating to keep up. In general the trip would be difficult if you were not prepared to be lifted or the group was not able to assist you a number of times over barriers and into and out of junks and canoes. I would not be so bold as to try Vietnam on my own; I think a group or a travel company that is prepared to make accommodations and adjustments to a regular itinerary is a must.

The more modern cities to the south; Hue, Danang, Nha Trang, Saigon, even the ancient cities of Dalat and Hoi An were all very interesting and easier to negotiate. Because of the size of the country you will have to fly and drive. The countryside is wonderful and full of surprises around every bend. The people are downright friendly and doing their best to learn English.

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