A country rich with its own history and culture, Vietnam gets millions of tourists every year. In December 2018, Brenda Gardiner and her daughter were two of them.
Gardiner, who lives and works in Quesnel, will be presenting her trip as part of the Bouchie Lake Lawnchair Travel Series.
Of her 18-day trip, she says approximately 15 of the days were spent on the ground in Vietnam (rather than in transit) and that the two weeks they spent exploring was all they needed.
Gardiner was originally scheduled to visit Vietnam — as well as Cambodia and Laos — in 2017. However, due to a breast cancer diagnosis, she was unable to make the trip.
So in 2018, exactly one year to the date following her breast cancer surgery — and on her 60th birthday — Gardiner flew to Vietnam with her daughter.
The two flew into Ho Chi Minh City, where they stayed for a few days, exploring the city and making day trips to the surrounding area.
From Ho Chi Minh City, they went to Da Nang. The pair didn’t love Da Nang, so they left early to stay in Hoi An, a city about an hour away.
Hoi An is beautiful Vietnamese city known for its tailors. It’s also a place where Gardiner and her daughter had garments made.
“I got there with the idea of having this one item made for myself, and my daughter said: ‘oh Mom, you’re not going to find that here.’ And I said, ‘well, I’m going to try,’” says Gardiner.
“So we went to the first little shop, and it sold leather boots and shoes. And I said, ‘well, I’m actually looking to have a hot pink leather coat made.’ And Erin, my daughter, says, ‘oh Mom, get over it. You’re not going to find it.’
“And then the little Vietnamese lady said: ‘hot pink leather?’ And all of a sudden a girl [leaves the shop], jumps on this little scooter and off she goes.”
The girl came back with a handful of hot pink leather swatches for Gardiner to choose from, and a few days later, following a fitting, she had a custom-made hot pink leather jacket.
From Hoi An, the pair visited Hanoi, where they explored famous train tracks and left on a two-day tour around the famous Ha Long Bay, which is famous for its emerald- green water and towering limestone islands covered by rainforests.
On the tour, she says they went paddling around a fishing village, she practised Tai chi on the deck of the ship in the early morning, and she even tried squid fishing.
Gardiner also tried snake water — which comes out of a jar with a fermenting snake.
“Medicinally, it’s supposed to be really good for you, so I thought ‘why not? I’ll try some snake water.’ So I did, and it tasted like bad tequila,” she says.
While exploring the country, one thing in particular that stood out to Gardiner was the motorcycles, which, she says, are everywhere.
You can’t wait to cross the road in Vietnam, because the swarms of motorcycles never end. “You have to just step out onto the street … and then you just walk at the same pace. They anticipate the speed that you’re going to walk. So don’t speed up, don’t slow down. And all you do is you just walk and pray that you aren’t going to get hit.
“The more times you do it, the more brave you get. It’s just phenomenal.”
The more they crossed the street, the easier it became.
Gardiner even rode on the back of one of the motorcycles while she was there.
She and her daughter also explored the National War Museum while they were in the country. It’s something she’s glad they did, but Gardiner says she had to leave early.
“After I went through so many pictures and saw the torpedoes and the bombs and the cages where they fed the captives to tigers … It was just too much. I couldn’t do it.”
While Gardiner thoroughly enjoyed her trip, she says she probably won’t go back.
She just wants to keep exploring and visiting entirely new places rather than return to countries she has already seen.
Gardiner will be presenting her trip as part of the Bouchie Lake Travel Series on Monday, March 4 at 7 p.m. at Rocky’s General Store. Gates open at 6:30 p.m.