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Update from brother Drew’s recent visit to Vietnam as an adventure guide:

South Vietnam has been quite an experience so far so just a quick update of the past fortnight.

Managed to get my group from HCMC airport into the city safely ... though I'm not too sure about the swarms of motorbike riders we left in our wake as our bus driver used the 'my vehicle is bigger than yours' mentality and hefty amounts of horn abuse.

It was a great introduction to Vietnamese culture.
From HCMC we visited Mekong Delta, Cu Chi tunnels (had an interesting chat about firing of military weapons and assault rifles!) and various markets and street vendors. We have since learnt that the motorbike is the life blood of Vietnam and all riders are Asian David Copperfields!

Headed north to Cat Tien N.P to see more humidity, mosquitoes and some pretty cool rainforest walks. Only a day here so could have done/seen more with more time. Early morning punt ride to meet up with our dare devil bus driver for the next 5 hours of clenched butt cheeks and swear words under the breath. It seems if you honk your horn loud enough and long enough a blind, hair pin bend is the prefect place to overtake a slow moving, heavily laden truck.

Obviously we made it to Dalat which is in the central highlands. A gorgeous, mountain city, clean, dry air and a more relaxed pace. This is were we started our trekking phase.

Amazing scenery, mountains, rivers, rainforest, water falls... this place has it all. We were looked after incredibly well by our 4 Vietnamese guides, Fu, Lhum, Bo and Viet, fed huge amounts of food and generally had a good time. These guides can do things with 2 minute noodles you wouldn't believe.
Our final night was again a great meal served with a healthy dose of Typhoon Durian that wreaked havoc over the Philippines and was apparently heading for Dalat. All preparations were made for 270km/hr winds, driving rain and flying debris. What we did get was some rattling tin, heavy rain and a pissed off dog! Had to endure heavy rain all day today to finish of our hike, which was fine with me but had some tired and cranky teenagers! ... who would have thought!

So now warm and cosy in our hotel in Dalat, washing done, time for a cold beer and some rice noodle soup ...

Since leaving Dalat in the Central highlands the kids were looking forward to some sun, sand and surf ... obviously they thought the typhoon was a local event and so were quite disappointed to find brown water, stormy seas and masses of debris on the beach in Nha Trang. So we stayed for the afternoon and caught the overnight train to Hoi An.

Hoi An is a lovely old river side town, lots of history and ambience, and Vietnam's capital for tailor made clothes. Everyone went a little crazy ... inside legs were measured and chests buffed out by the boys for their suit purchases and lets just say the girls now have 1 or 2 extra bags each to bring home! At least we'll look good on the plane. Also did lots of walking round the old quarter of town with narrow lanes, buildings dating back several hundred years with Chinese and Japanese heritage and had fun in the markets.

The group organized a cooking class which started off in the local markets before a boat trip down the river to a great little restaurant in an idyllic setting. Learnt some great recipes such as fresh rice papers rolls, squid and vegie dishes, really good fun. I also managed to sneak away and have a fun tour on the back of a motorbike. Went to see some pagodas, temples and dodged the rain, unsuccessfully, getting to the beach, a fun morning for a pittance.

Was a bit sad to say goodbye to Hoi An but we set our sights north towards Hue. By this stage I think exhaustion was starting to set in and coupled with the intense haggling by cycle riders and street vendors the students found Hue a bit hard to deal with. We had a nice afternoon at a mineral springs hot spa and I caught up with another leader for a few beers and a boat ride down the Perfume River to see Tu Duc Temple. This temple was built by 6000 people over 3 years and was used by the emperor to house his 107 wives (maniac) and several dozen more concubines.

A really peaceful place and great to get some space. Didn't have time to see the Citadel (400 year old walled city) or go to US Army combat base, Khe San, or the DMZ. Always something to come back for!
Boarded the overnight train bound for the capital, Hanoi. Arrived in the morning at 0430, some strong coffee and cocoa saw us through till hotel check in and sleep.

Made it to Hanoi, back into the hustle, bustle and horns of city life, to start our project at a primary school for disabled kids. This school would have to be the LOUDEST school we had ever witnessed, they seem to need to conduct their classes using either loud hailers or a PA system in each class room!! Still trying to figure that one out. So we tuned out and painted a delightful mural and replaced a ceiling in a classroom, it seemed to go down well with the staff and the head mistress was very pleased so the students felt they had accomplished something which was good. The kids put in some big hours working their little fingers to the bone (not quite but they thought so!) and we rewarded ourselves with a 3 day trip to Ha Long Bay.

Ha Long Bay is a World Heritage Area of towering limestone islands. Sheer cliffs rising straight out of the water much like the islands of southern Thailand. (For the climbers out there it's prime ground for F.A but bring your bride money for the bay officials!)

We had an amazing few days sunbathing, swimming/jumping off the boat, watching the sun go down and the stars come out and generally relaxing. It was exactly what we all needed and a brilliant way to finish the month.

Some lasting memories for me will be:

Sharing amazing food with our trekking guides and sampling some strange looking but tasty sweets and savories on street corners from south to north.
Watching the sun sink into Ha Long Bay with not a horn to be heard.
The horns!
The friendly faces and generosity of the Vietnamese people.
The rare moments when it felt like I wasn't responsible for 15 kids and I was just a regular traveler.
Watching my team develop into more adventurous and confident people.

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At right is my cousin Maureen, an intrepid traveler to Hong Kong, Vietnam and soon Singapore. Maureen of course is the slightly taller one doing all the work, as she usually does!

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