The expert's experience: Gemma’s trip to Vietnam
At the Journey’s Exclusive event hosted by Gold Medal earlier this year, our Managing Director, Annelene Hutton, won a place for a member of the Dawson & Sanderson team to embark on a FAM trip to the breathtaking nation of Vietnam.
We sent our Carslie Branch Manager, Gemma Wheatley, on this trip to get a first-hand experience of everything the destination has to offer. Gemma attended the 9-day trip of a lifetime hosted by Gold Medal and G Adventures to broaden her knowledge of the country. This trip has allowed Gemma to educate our consultants so they can provide more informed travel recommendations to our customers looking for a long-haul or worldwide destination for their next trip.
In this blog post, we will be looking at what Gemma got up to throughout her time in Vietnam as well as her most memorable moments from this experience.
The first day began with Gemma landing in the Vietnamese capital of Hanoi. After unpacking her bags in the Calcedony Hotel, she met up with the rest of the tour group and explored the bustling, vibrant city. She enjoyed a spectacular day of sightseeing in the city, even visiting one of the oldest pagodas in Vietnam, Tran Quoc Pagoda.
In the afternoon, Gemma and the rest of the group met the CEO (Chief Experience Officer) who was their tour guide for the trip. The guide explained the itinerary and provided them all with a list of hints, tips, things to see and things to avoid whilst in the country.
Gemma ended her evening at a local restaurant that the tour guide had suggested, located just across the street from the hotel. The tour guide later joined them for dinner and made recommendations on what to order from the Vietnamese set menu.
On the second day, the group boarded a tour bus to explore one of Vietnam’s most captivating wonders, Halong Bay. They were given the opportunity to enjoy an overnight cruise on board the popular Halong Bay Junk Boat. Gemma was provided with a spacious cabin and was impressed with the high-quality facilities, which included air conditioning, porthole windows, and an ensuite.
The traditional junk boat set sail over the bay’s glistering waters to show hundreds of limestone islands and mysterious yet intriguing caves. Before heading out to explore the islands and caverns, Gemma and the group remained on board the boat for lunch and sampled some local speciality dishes. At the end of the day, the group had the chance to ascend to the top of Halong Bay to take in the breathtaking 360-degree views of their surroundings.
On the third day of the trip, the group spent the morning kayaking and basking in the natural beauty along Halong Bay. They enjoyed the glorious sun and the crisp blue water that was set perfectly against the clear blue sky. They kayaked around the quieter islands, which were less touristy to get up close and admire their untouched beauty.
Following this, the group returned and had lunch in the junk boat before returning to Hanoi. When they arrived back in the capital, they enjoyed embarking on a foodie tour where they indulged in a variety of traditional Vietnamese specialities from stalls around the old town. Gemma's favourite local delicacy was the ‘cà phê trúng’ which is a ‘surprisingly delicious’ coffee made from eggs.
When the day's activities came to an end, Gemma and the group boarded an overnight sleeper train to travel to their next destination, Hue, the ancient capital of Vietnam.
Gemma awoke on her fourth day in the historical ancient capital of Hue, a city steeped in rich cultural and historical heritage. The group started the day on a tour of the Imperial Citadel, a UNESCO World Heritage site that previously served as a walled fortress and palace for the Nguyen Dynasty for 140 years.
The group later visited the Thien Mu Pagoda temple, a stunning piece of architecture that serves as a place of worship for many local residents. After touring the sites, the group enjoyed a peaceful and delicious lunch prepared by monks at a local monastery. Gemma described their tour guide as incredibly knowledgeable when touring this part of the city, presenting the group with a wealth of insight into the history of the area.
Later in the afternoon, Gemma embarked on a highly recommended bike tour before finishing off the day with some local entertainment, enjoying dinner in a popular karaoke restaurant.
On the fifth day, Gemma and the rest of the group travelled by tour bus to Hội An. Along the way, they passed through the breathtaking countryside of Vietnam and took pitstops at famous attractions such as the City of Ghosts, where they gained further knowledge of burial traditions and took a look at some of the elaborately decorated tombs.
Gemma also enjoyed a stop at a local fishing lake, where she was shown how to fish for oyster fish and other species before enjoying lunch on the lake with a local family. As they got closer to the city, the group travelled across the Hội An pass to take in the magnificent views of Da Nang and Hue from opposite directions.
Later that day, Gemma and the group arrived at their hotel and began their three-day adventure in Hội An. First, they visited the magnificent evening markets in the city before heading to the river to admire the colourful lanterns of Hội An, as lantern craft is a Vietnamese tradition that has been around in this city for over 400 years.
Gemma and the group had an early start on the sixth day and set out on a cycling tour of Hội An. Throughout the journey, they were able to visit places they otherwise would have missed, including riding through traditional villages and rice fields and attending a local wine tasting to fully immerse themselves in Vietnamese culture.
Following the cycling tour, Gemma and the group boarded some traditional basket boats and paddled up the river adjacent to the coconut plantations, watching the natives dance by the riverside.
In the afternoon, the group headed over to STREETS International’s Oodles for Noodles store to be taught how to make their noodles by Vietnamese students. STREETS International is a G Adventure partner, that helps Vietnamese orphans and disadvantaged children by teaching them life skills such as cooking, hospitality, and the English language. The organisation's ultimate objective is to assist these young Vietnamese people in finding jobs and starting successful lives for themselves.
The group took advantage of some downtime in the afternoon to unwind after an event-filled morning before spending the evening exploring the night markets. Gemma declared that she had “truly fallen in love with Hội An” describing it as a quaint town full of traditional charm and adorned with lanterns and antique boats.
The seventh day marked the final day in Hội An, and the group were given some free time to explore, take a short walk, grab a local coffee and see some historical sites. That morning, Gemma was determined to hand-make a lantern as, in her opinion, a trip to Hội An would be incomplete without doing so. Gemma brought her lantern home with her as a memento of the amazing time she had had in the city.
Gemma treated herself to a day at the spa in the afternoon. She followed her tour guide's advice and got a manicure alongside "the best massage she's ever had". She later headed back to freshen up before dining in a beautiful local restaurant. Gemma was in awe of Vietnam at this point, astonished that the trip was becoming more and more incredible by the day.
On the eighth day, Gemma left Hội An and took an internal Vietnam Airlines flight to Ho Chi Minh City. She described the city as the most developed, modern and cosmopolitan she had seen in Vietnam so far. She soon recognised the difference from the other cities she had visited, the main being that it featured modern skyscrapers and shopping centres instead of the historical, traditional buildings.
Upon arrival, Gemma and the group headed to the historical Cu Chi Tunnels. They were met by a specialist local guide who went into detail about the major role the tunnels played in the Vietnam War. These tunnels functioned as a vital base for the Vietnamese army during combat operations and were the site of numerous military campaigns.
Following the tour, the group headed to the Golden Hotel which is located in the city centre. The hotel was only around the corner from Saigon's Ben Thanh Market, where the group could get everything from cooked delicacies to souvenirs, fresh fruit, and clothing. The group then headed to the street food market for their evening meal, which Gemma described as 'foodie heaven' with a variety of fresh specialities and cocktails available.
Gemma decided to include a visit to the Mekong Delta River in order to make the most of her last day in Vietnam. Once she arrived, she boarded a traditional wooden Vietnamese boat and proceeded down the river. She travelled to four little islands bearing the names of four sacred animals: the unicorn, turtle, dragon, and phoenix.
The group switched to smaller boats so they could navigate the river's shallow waters. Gemma thoroughly enjoyed her trip to Turtle Island, where she was able to meet the locals and learn how to make chocolate from cocoa beans. In addition to this, the group were shown the variety of uses for coconuts, from cooking oils and sweets to crafting utensils, door mats and beauty products.
After this, they visited a fruit farm and relished the flavours of the tropical fruit, tasting the range of exotic fruits that were grown nearby, including coney, guava, mango, and dragon fruit.
Gemma ended the trip by ticking an activity off her bucket list and hired and drove a ‘tuk tuk’ around the island. She wanted to take advantage of a truly authentic Vietnamese experience as due to advancements in technology, the use of these vehicles is becoming much less common.
Gemma had the following to say about her time in Vietnam:
“What a truly phenomenal experience. Everyone would adore this trip: singles, history and culture buffs, couples, or families with young children. It's an exceptional country with so much to offer, and our branch has benefited greatly from this opportunity. Since none of the team had ever been to Southeast Asia, I was able to share my knowledge and firsthand experience with them so they would be more educated to better inform our customers. I am grateful to G Adventures for providing me with this opportunity and would recommend this destination to everyone.”
Gemma has also provided a list of hints and tips if you're thinking about visiting Vietnam so you can get maximum enjoyment out of your trip.
- Keep luggage to a minimum. Pack a rucksack or soft roll-away bag for transporting from place to place.
- There are cheap laundry services everywhere. Ensure to check recommended vaccines.
- Take strong mosquito repellent and an umbrella and poncho, especially in rainy seasons.
- Wear casual comfortable clothing and footwear, high sunscreen, and a cover-up for temples and monasteries.
- Exchange your money to Vietnamese Dong before arriving for the best rates.
- European plugs are used in Vietnam, so be sure to bring adapters.
- If you do decide to use a taxi, use registered services such as Grab, Vinasun and VM cars.
- It’s a long flight from the UK, so it's worth paying extra for extra legroom or exit seats if you fly with Vietnamese Airlines.
We would like to thank G Adventures for taking Gemma to explore the stunning nation of Vietnam firsthand.
If Gemma’s experience has piqued your curiosity in Vietnam, find your nearest Dawson and Sanderson store and get in touch with us today so that our professional consultants can help you find the best deals on this destination.