Hitting the road to Vietnam, I didn’t know what to expect; the journey began in Southern Vietnam in Ho Chi Min City, formerly known as Saigon. We started off exploring the city, with our pro globalization cyclo driver kept saying "Got mouth to eat, Got no mouth to speak".
We then traveled to Cao Dai temple, in which the temple was like going through some mad alice in wonderland dream. The architecture was like nothing I have ever seen before, it was modern with lots of exquisite art and detail everywhere. The religion is a combination of teachings from Buddhism, Hinduism, Taoism, Confucianism, Christianity, Islam and other religions with the intention to promote peace.
Another highlight was visiting the Cu Chi Tunnels, which is an ingenious invention of seeing how resilience the Vietnamese during the American war. The Vietcong controlled under the grounds while Americans controlled the sky and land. The tunnels were tiny and it was amazing to realize that people lived there, cooked, slept, used the bathroom and even had children. The visit was quite emotional because our tour guide was quite the opposite of our cyclo driver, he was a Vietcong fighter during the war. As we watched movies of how Vietcong rewarded brave soldiers that fought the evil Americans, it took me back to realize how symbolic nationalism was during that time.
We were then transferred to a parallel world to have a dinner in a completely different world of westernize vietnamese food before dancing the night away to fusion of the francophone culture.
Next destination to the midlands, in which we hoped on an internal flight to Danang, which was quite an adventure sort of like being on a busy public bus in a rural towns. The only thing missing from people’s luggage were the chickens, they had their things huge plastic bags. The flight was noisy and for three girls who got less than three hours of sleep it was quite the nightmare.
Our next destination was taking a cab to Hoi Ann, which was a 45 minute drive. We negotiated with our cab and after five minutes of driving, the cabbie stopped opened the trunk and there was a black car behind us. Once we realize what happened, Vimal tried to open her door, and it was locked. My immediate reaction is like I am not going to have my things robbed from me. It wasnt going to happen to me so I jumped to the passenger seat of the car, rushed to the trunk and pushed the driver aside, not sure what I was yelling. We all took our bags and walked back to the airport. The driver kept saying it was cheaper to take a private car but after hearing the horror stories of backpackers in Vietnam we werent going to find out.
An hour later, we eventually made it to Hoi Ann, which is a UNESCO Heritage Site where we spent the day cycling the city indulging in Vietnamese coffee, tea and cuisine while the city poured around us. The city was magical, it made me realize how this haven had so many settlers. It was protected and because it was hard to get, spared the horrors of the Vietnamese war, the pagados, the old houses, and the atmosphere. We had loads of fun singing at the top of our lungs while cycling the rice paddies. We also go to experience the fabulous world of tailored clothes.
A couple of days letter, we set off on what is a common mode of transport a sleeping bus, the travel agents promotional posters made it looked like it was spacious and luxurious with full length beds. It was amazing to see the three rows of beds on a regular bus customized for the Asian body. The bus driver was quite hilarious as he took a 20 min break to stop and shop for some jackets on the way. As we set off to Hue, another unbelievable UNESCO Heritage Site, we rented bikes again and ventured to the old fortress, temples, and even played football with a group of young Vietnamese girls, in which we realized how badly we were.
My final stop was to Hanoi.. the second biggest city in Vietnam, which was a bit overwhelming after enjoying the peaceful countryside.The highlight was the water puppet show which is definitely a must see for anyone going to Hanoi. This was a great way to see Chinese aspect of Vietnamese culture.
Vietnam surprised me with its beauty, charm and friendliness of the people.
On 28th Sep, 2011, carrying the eager to explore the grandeur of nature, the first travelers together with ATA’s product manager – Mr. Tony Tran had launched the discovery to Son Doong Cave, the biggest cave in the world.
Accompany with the group is Mr. Ho Khanh who found the Son Doong Cave as a tour guide. The first meet with Mr. Ho Khanh really impressed everyone. Just a warm smile, a strong handshake from him is enough to make everyone feel warm at heart. At Ho Khanh ‘s house, the group had the moments of relax with green tea, a simple lunch with steamed rice cake and salted peanut and an open conversation. All of that was promising for a memorable journey.
Mr. Ho Khanh in old costume of troop
The first obstacle for the group is leaches. They are everywhere and all in hungry for blood. It was really a nightmare at first but as time passes, the scare was fade when everyone got used to them and they weren’t the obstacle anymore. In the deep jungle under shade, the expedition team followed jungle trails that on limestone Mountains to the Swallow Cave.
As planned, the expedition team would camp at the Swallow Cave. But “Man proposes, God disposes”, everything weren’t going as planned, it was dark so quickly so the expedition had to camp at a clear ground that is 30 minutes walking to the Swallow Cave. The tents were pitched up, dinner was also cooked and everyone had a good time to eat dinner together. Camping in the deep jungle, it was indeed an interesting experience!
Everything was not easier on the next morning. Although the sky seemed so bright, no rain and the ground was dry, the obstacles was still waiting for them. This time was the torrential river bank. If the expedition team couldn’t cross the torrent, that meant they wouldn’t be able to get to Son Doong Cave. This case forced everyone had to discuss and find the way to cross the torrent and after that decided if they could go any further or not.
In the torrential river bank....
Ho Khanh proved himself as a local guide with many years of experiences. At the hard times, his skill is very essential. He swam to the other side with a rope, he tied it to a tree then he led them crossing the river one by one. After much effort, finally, the group crossed the river safety. With the hope “After a storm comes a calm”, everything would be smooth but the obstacle has passed, another comes. A lake blocks the way to Son Doong Cave. To cross the lake at that time was impossible and instead of risking themselves, it was better to take the photos of Swallow Cave then head back to the other side of the cave using rope to cross the river again.
The trek back is so nice with not climbing and great view. Crossing over shallow stream, walking through banana forest and spending sometime for hot green tea in Doong Village. All of that little things made a memorable tour.
Due to bad weather, the expedition might not succeed as planned but everyone was all happy with what they experienced. Son Doong - We will come back soon.