2019 – VIETNAM Insiders

Welcome to our Unforgettable Vietnam Insiders’ diary!

  1. Click hereUnforgettable Vietnam Itinerary 2019
  2. Our trip coincides with the lead up to the most significant celebration on the Vietnamese cultural calendar: Lunar New Year or Tet. Preparations for Tet and the activities associated with its celebration, have deep cultural connections. Even today, traditions are respected and preserved. It is a time for honouring ancestors, preparing the home for family and personal renewal through rituals that involve floral decorations, symbolic offerings to the Kitchen God, the sharing of food, visits to temples, extended family and friends. The month prior to Tet is a busy time for Vietnamese people and a very interesting time for us to be visiting. We will leave a few days before New Year, at the beginning of their public holidays.
  3. Customs and traditions vary in different parts of the country. As we move from the north into central Vietnam and then further south, we will observe some of these.


Lucky trees

Yellow blossom

I will give a brief introduction to the cultural significance of Tet at our first meeting. In the meantime, you might like to watch the following short video:

4.  Notes from tour briefing 31 August:

  • Weather: approx. temps during our time in Vietnam: North VN 14-19 degrees, colder in Sapa; Central VN 19-25 degrees; South VN 21-32 degrees. It should be dry in most places, but bring umbrellas and/or light wet weather gear. Also a warm coat/jacket, beanie and gloves for Sapa, we might want to walk around in the evenings.
  • Clothes: mostly light clothing; layers; coat/jacket for Hanoi and Sapa; rain wear; Vietnamese people, especially women dress modestly, remove shoes in temples and homes. Laundries are plentiful and inexpensive, especially in Hoi An.
  • Visas: Natalie will advise by email
  • Money: VND (the dong) can be purchased from Travelex before we go, but you need to order online or call a week before going into the office. I use Travelex in the QVB: Shop 15C, Lower, ground 2/455 Ph: (02) 9264 1267 credit cards and debit cards work everywhere in Vietnam, so you won’t really need much till we arrive. We can use ATMs at Hanoi airport – don’t buy at Sydney airport!
  • WhatsApp: could everybody please join? it makes communication so easy when we are there!
  • Health: bottle water only! There are recommended vaccinations – best to consult your GP and/or this Travel Doctor page: https://www.traveldoctor.com.au/destinations/vietnam
  • Safety: very little crime, but we should use hotel safes and not carry too much cash around
  • Tipping: easy! $2 per bag for porters and I will advise as we go along; some has been built in.
  • Time: 3 hours behind us here, consistent throughout Vietnam
  • Luggage: we have a generous allowance, however, very large cases could be cumbersome in our cruise cabins, especially if sharing. * I will enquire about us leaving our cases at our Hanoi Hotel and just taking a small bag to Sapa.
  • Donations for Sapa school children: Annie has volunteered to oversee our contributions – more info to follow
  • Some pre-reading: ‘The Quiet American’ by Graham Greene + ‘Hanoi Adieu’ by Mandaley Perkins +Rain Falling on Tamarind Trees, A Travelogue of Vietnam’ by C.L.Hoang. This one is very short, not at all ‘literary’, but I recommend it as a quick introduction to most of the places we will be visiting. Also, it is written by a Vietnamese American, returning to his homeland for the first time since fleeing in the 1970s, interesting on a few levels. $5.87 on kindle
  • Movies: ‘The Quiet American’ and ‘Indochine’ – I have DVD copies of each which we will share around.

5. HOLIDAY COOKING CLASSES. Below is a rant from the Sun-Herald Traveller 14/8/18 and a rave photo from our 2010 Colours of Vietnam Tour at the Red Bridge Cooking School in Hoi An: this is where we are going, and as you can see there is no hot kitchen, nor any spaghetti, in sight! It’s a fun and practical experience, beginning with a tour of the fresh produce market in Hoi An, then a leisurely boat trip up the Thu Bon River to the picturesque Red Bridge Restaurant and Cooking School. Our class is a combination of demonstration and hands-on, after which we have a delicious lunch, prepared by the Red Bridge kitchen. We come away with recipes and all the know how to reproduce 5-6 distinctive Vietnamese dishes: http://www.visithoian.com/redbridge/recipes.html

Cooking classes SMH      Cooking students 3

6. VIETNAMESE LANGUAGE: Shall we learn a few words and phrases? I have downloaded the FREE nemo app onto my iphone and opted to learn three (3) words a day, a bit optimistic!

Below is the nemo icon;  online nemo reviews here

Nemo icon

I would like some company please – we could practise on WhatsApp! 👍

7.  FOOD: Local specialities: thank you Susan!

Vietnam special dishes

Hoi An food

8.  Most wonderful shop in Hoi An: Reaching Out: read on…

https://reachingoutvietnam.com/about-us/our-story/ The craftsmanship in this place is superb and the designs are truly original. Also, they will ship overseas.Reaching Out 1   Reaching Out 2

9.  Halong Bay Cruise: time to relax, read, enjoy the scenery and the company!

The Au Co_oVERVIEW_3


What’s the weather like in Ha Long Bay in January?


From the website: It is the middle of winter in January in Ha Long Bay, which is located in Vietnam, however that doesn’t mean the average temperature is cold as you can expect a pleasant 17°C which is the second lowest average temperature of the year. Even though the average temperature is towards the low end, it is still warm enough to enjoy days out on cultural tours, water sports and to go sightseeing…

According to various websites, the temperature ranges from 13-26 degrees – their ‘middle of winter’ will be very pleasant!

10. Hoi An Tailors: with over 400 tailor shops in Hoi An, it is worth being a bit prepared: https://xotours.vn/blog/the-art-of-finding-the-best-tailors-in-hoi-an/

I have two favourite shops and I have contacted both to let them know we are coming:

BeBe: https://bebetailor.com/  When I first met BeBe she had one small shop and a tape measure glued to her chest, she now has three shops, a website and a manager who answers her emails!

Yaly Couture: http://www.yalycouture.com/ this is Hoi An’s elite tailor destination. 

Judith’s Tips

  • Bring with you something you would like copied
  • Take more complicated designs to Yaly, and expect to pay more
  • Check the racks at the tailor shops – they ‘appropriate’ the latest styles and will make to fit; all tailors have a multitude of design books
  • you can trust the fabrics at Yaly and BeBe, even so, check quality there and everywhere else
  • return for as many fittings as it takes
  • tip your assistant after your first fitting and when you collect

This is a lot of fun!