Authentic Vietnam

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.

If you need day wise details of the itinerary, write to me at info@soltrips.com

Binh Tien

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Why I love walking tours

Maybe it is my age (only in my 40’s, but still!), I have now reached a point whereby ticking off a list of places and things to do are not on my priority list on my holiday. I do my research before I travel and figure out things I would like to see / do and spend time doing them well. I do not like wasting my precious holiday time on things I know I would not enjoy. It certainly has something to do with my profession too. I am in the travel business and to give honest feedback to clients I do have to try out all the sightseeing tours. My friends often comment sarcastically “things you HAVE to do for a living”. Don’t mean to sound pompous, but I do find it cumbersome and needless to say quite tiring.

The one good thing that has come out of these endless inspections, is that I have realised how much I love walking tours. They are quite common these days and they do seem expensive when compared to the regular ‘seat in coach’ city tours, however I have become a big fan of these tours. I particularly like them for the following reasons:

  1. I can decide the area I am most interested in. For example in Paris, I can decide between Marais, Montmartre, Saint Germain and so on. I can do multiple walks over a number of days and just chill after the 2 or 3 hour of walk to soak up the atmosphere in that area. Also, one doesn’t waste their time in Latin Quarter if they are not into Roman history and architecture.
  2. I can also pick the walking tour based on my interests, like in Athens one can pick from food walks, political / historical walks, street art, daily life of the Athenians and more.
  3. You get to walk with an educated and aware local. As per me, the best experience. My husband and I had done a food walk in Athens, he being a vegetarian got hardly anything to eat. But he loved it as he kept asking the guide a lot of non-food questions, which the gracious guide patiently replied. Of course, the organic 99cents olive oil soap bar from a local store was the bonus too.
  4. You burn calories….. he he!

 

As I mentioned above, some people find them expensive, not me. I find them absolutely value for money. Of course, it all depends on the guide. Like in Toulouse I tried the same walking tour from 2 different companies and realised the stark difference. My travel colleagues thought I was stupid to go for the second walk the very next day, but I wanted to know the difference. I was so glad I did. The second guide, though not a native from the region, was way better. She did not rattle off facts, was smart enough to gauge my response and divert the conversation accordingly. That is what smart guides are supposed to do, gauge the response and be crafty enough to change the spiel. She was brilliant, she knew that and hence charged more. I would pay EUR 10 more to her rather than get bored after 30 mins of the walk and lose my money paid for 2 hours of the walk.