My boys and I arrived in the Vietnamese capital of Hanoi after a long flight from JFK. After a restful night, we awoke early and walked to the Hoan Kiem Lake, which was but a stone’s throw away from our hotel. At the lake, morning music blared while both the young and the old practiced Tai Chi. We watched the graceful art at first before attempting it with mixed results for ourselves.
The tranquil morning spent at the lake stood in stark contrast to the day spent in the Old Quarter in Hanoi. The Old Quarter has the charm and energy of a vibrant young city despite its vast number of traditional shop houses. It is also home to the Temple of Confucious — additionally known as the Temple of Literature — which was founded in the 11th century as the site of Vietnam’s first university. Next, we visited Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum, where we saw the embalmed body of Ho Chi Minh. We then explored the Old Quarter by foot, discovering narrow alleys, with a stop at Street Food cafe and the famous Vietnamese coffee.
Hanoi to Hoi An
From Hanoi to Danang, we flew Vietnam Air before transferring to Hoi An. Our hotel was located close to the Hoi An Ancient town and Hoi An market — a charming area with night markets, lanterns and great cafes. The next day, we took a Vietnamese cooking class which provided us with one of the more memorable experiences of our trip. During the class, we rode our bicycles to the market to pick up all the ingredients and then we visited the vegetable fields where we soaked in the flavor of the local farm life before cooking a delicious meal. We spent the next few days exploring Hoi An, gorging on local food and taking in the striking views that looked out over the sea.
Ho Chi Minh City
We flew from Danang to Ho Chi Minh City — still known as Saigon to many. Upon arrival, we were struck by the energy of the city. Our guide told us that there are more than eight million motorcycles in the city of twelve million people! The constant buzz of the engines seemed to be an appropriate soundtrack for a city as fast-paced and dynamic as Ho Chi Minh City.
The next day, we drove to the outskirts of the city to Ben Tre. We rode bikes on small roads, immersing fully in the local culture of the Mekong Delta and the rustic countryside. We passed secluded areas of lush orchards, green rice paddy fields and coconut trees. Lunch was delightful at a traditional Mekong restaurant, and afterward we stopped for “Keo dua” (coconut candy).
Siem Reap — the cultural capital of Cambodia — was the last stop on our trip. Our hotel was centrally located, allowing us an easy walk to the market, cafes and souvenir shops. We participated in a quad bike excursion that took us through the countryside backroads of Siem Reap, weaving along rice paddy fields and beautiful scenery.
The next day, we rose early to see the magnificent Angkor Wat at sunrise. It took almost 37 years to build this Hindu temple which later became the center of worship for Buddhism. It was stunning at sunrise to see the play of light on the stones.
We capped our trip by walking through Siem Reap’s local market and enjoying the local food and culture. It was a perfect trip for my boys and I for Christmas.