We’ve been hard at work for the last month exploring options for Niteo Tours in both Thailand and Vietnam. Riding elephants, kayaking in Halong Bay, and watching how silk is made were some of our featured blogs. But there was so much more! After a week back in the USA and time to reflect on the trip, here are eight of our trip highlights.
1. Nightlife in Hanoi, Vietnam. Every night the city of Hanoi comes alive with captivating colors and lights and people. Patrons sit outside streetside shops and eat bowls of noodles. Parks are full of families picnicking and laughing. Open-air street markets and shops are open, selling everything from handmade souvenirs to silk.
Fourteen million people in Vietnam own a motorbike, and all of them seem to come out at night. Traffic is like a well-coordinated orchestra, every vehicle and pedestrian playing their part. The unspoken understanding between the two was fascinating. Pedestrians plunge into the traffic and walk slowly and steadily. Vehicles almost magically weave around them. The hustle and bustle of everything is magnetic.
2. Hands-on opportunities outside of My Son. On our way back from visiting the ancient ruins at My Son, we stopped at a family-owned business and tried our hand at making traditional rice paper. The family makes upwards of seven hundred rice “rounds” a week for wholesale—right in their home. Some of the rice paper is soft and pliable, perfect for wrapping up fresh herbs and shrimp into a spring roll. Others are hard and crispy and sprinkled with salt, sesame seeds, and other seasonings and make a crisp cracker. Having hands-on experiences is one of the things that we strive for at Niteo Tours and the thing that made this stop so memorable.
3. Real life in Hoi An. Along with an itinerary full of opportunities to experience culture, cuisine, and famous sites, we intentionally build time into a Niteo tour for people to experience things on their own, whether that’s shopping, sitting by the pool, or, in our case, renting motorcycles.
The morning after a tropical storm blew through Hoi An, Kjell and his brother rented motorbikes and set out to explore on their own. Off the main road, they noticed a stream that ran under a bridge from one rice paddy to another. A couple of men were fishing. Not with a pole and lure but with a huge square net, not something you ever see in the USA.
Taking that slight detour off the road resulted in an unexpected look at what life is like in Vietnam. It’s not always the things you do on a tour that are the most impactful. Sometimes it’s just seeing life up close and watching real life happen.
4. Mountain village in Sapa, Vietnam. After hiking up a mountain north of Sapa, we came to a small village where a school packed with eager, curious, beautiful children met us. Singing and playing with those kids drove home for us what Niteo Tours is all about—giving people an incredible vacation and giving them the privilege of knowing their vacation dollars are helping people around the world.
Niteo Tours will be partnering with two women in Sapa who care deeply about these mountain village kids. They’ve helped build them a school, a road, and given them food and school supplies. When you take a tour to Vietnam, funds are going to these women and you are investing in kids like these. How can you beat that?
To read more about our mountaintop experience check out our blog.
1. Zip lining in northern Thailand. There’s something to be said for soaring over treetops and seeing the jungle from above. The view was incredible! At one point we plunged from a skyscraper-sized station above the jungle floor and careened along an 800-meter stretch. That’s the longest single zip line in southeast Asia.
The forest is protected by the government. Zip lining fees go to preserve wildlife. An incredible amount of engineering had to happen so that the trees aren’t harmed. Platforms are built around the tree and wooden blocks protect the tree from the zip line cables. Flying down those cables, you sense a thrill of excitement as you take in canopy tops, wildlife, and everything around you. Everything about it was amazing. We’d do it again in a heartbeat.
2. Boat ride to Chiang Rai. We climbed onto a thirty-meter longtail boat and sped along the mountain ridge that lies parallel with the Kok River. The boat was swift, powerful and the scenery breathtaking. For several hours, we made our way through small rapids, around islands, past water buffalo, fishermen, and small farms. There was nothing to do except simply sit back and enjoy.
3. A breakfast sunrise south of Bangkok. Breakfast was an everyday highlight. We usually had a big buffet that catered both to Western appetites (think pancakes, bacon, freshly made omelets) and Asian palates (fried rice, chicken stir fry, noodle soup, salads and fresh watermelon, papaya, and pineapple).
We got up early one morning and headed to the breakfast area next to the Mae Klong river. We watched the sun rise, commuters ferrying to work, and huge islands of water hyacinths being pulled out with the tide. Taking in sights and sounds that we don’t experience in the United States was a treat.
4. Food tour in Chiang Mai. Great food is a must on a Niteo Tour. Our second day in Chiang Mai, we toured and ate our way through the day market. We walked our way through clusters of women swapping stories and stalls piled high with everything from fabrics and flowers to fresh herbs, chilies, and fruit. We stopped here and there to sample some of the best food offered, things like sticky rice and mango drizzled with coconut sauce (be still my heart), orange tea mixed with sweetened condensed milk, and sai oua, a delicious northern sausage made with meat, lemongrass, turmeric and other spices. Experiencing the culture through food is one thing you don’t want to miss.
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