I am an absolute sucker for authentic experiences. From accommodation, modes of transport, eating out places and touring sights. Hence I always tend to pick boutique hotels owned and managed by locals over branded chains, trust me if you choose a 4* option or above you won’t have any complaints with boutique hotels. They have a more homely feel to it and are characteristic of the local culture, plus we are contributing to the local economy which matters a lot especially in Asia.
When I was planning a tour to Vietnam, I was absolutely conscious of all the above mentioned factors and had decided to go a bit off the beaten track to visit some lesser known places too rather than just visiting Hanoi, Halong Bay & Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City). Of course, I ensured they had good accommodation and opted for places where I could see the real natives rather than the westernised lot we see in the cities. To my surprise these places didn’t require much travelling and could be done as an easy driving option from Hanoi or Saigon. Places where kids could interact with the local kids and play their version of hide n seek and catching games. Visit a local school, to see how other kids in different parts of the world study and compare their learning techniques and infrastructure. Needless to say try local cuisine.
The homestay option gives one an opportunity to visit local arts and crafts workshops and learn their skills (bring home some souvenirs too), but also rent a bike and go off road to the most remote lands passing by paddy fields. In the night, most of them have a little bonfire and there is a small dance performance where you can show off you moves too. Quite a fun evening for all.
Since farming is one of the main occupations of rural Vietnam, it is interesting to know more about their farming and fishing techniques by participating in the activity. The food is superb as it is farm to table and organic. You can also learn a few recipes from the chef by doing a small course. They are very accommodating to vegetarians too, so don’t worry if you don’t eat fish or meat.
first hand the struggles of life in wartime Vietnam when you go below ground in the notorious Cu Chi Tunnels. See how soldiers and civilians lived through the conflict and the ingenious methods used to conceal themselves. Quite interesting, the kids particularly love it as they can go peek-a-boo in the tunnels. A bit claustrophobic for some, but nonetheless a unique experience. Adults can fire a few rounds of a real AK rifle!
Another interesting experience would be taking an overnight train journey. The trains are very comfortable with air-conditioned coupes and the pantry sells not just food but beverages too (alcoholic & non alcoholic). It is not the Palace on Wheels or the Orient Express or even a Eurail, but definitely worth a journey. The locals are very warm and accommodating and it is easy to chat up with them.
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