Offbeat Vietnam

Posted on: 26 March 2008 by Gareth Hargreaves

Get to grips with the real Vietnam on this off the beaten track overland tour.

The Lonely Planet describes Vietnam, a country made famous for embroling the United States in a war it could not win, as ‘one of the most diverse and complex ethnolinguistic mixes in all of Asia.’ With over 54 ethnic groups and an ancient cultural tradition Vietnam can be a daunting country to understand and most visitors to the country leave with no greater cultural undertanding of the country than they had when they first arrived.

Gecko Travel's newest Vietnam package promises to provide travellers with a deeper insight into the complex culture of Vietnam. Lesley Schofield, Director of Gecko Travel believes the new Hanoi to Saigon Overland tour uncovers all of Vietnam's the must sees, with visits to the beautiful UNESCO heritage site of Hoi An port and the ancient imperial capital of Hue.

"Vietnam’s rich cultural make-up offers the perfect opportunity for travellers to gain a deeper understanding of the country," says Lesley. "The ethnological museum covered in the tour is a good place to start, but meeting the tribes in person is something no guide book or museum can achieve and makes this a deeply personal experience.”

Little is known about the origins of Vietnam's hill tribes, some of whom inhabited the area before the ancestors of the Viet arrived from Southern China 4-5000 years ago. However, Vietnamese legend has it that the split between the Viet lowlanders and montagnards of the highlands was based on the marriage of the Dragon King of the South to Au Co, a northern princess. Soon after Au Co gave birth to a hundred children the Dragon King missing his watery lowland home, decamped with half his sons leaving 50 behind in the mountains – the ancestors of the ethnic minorities.

An encounter with the Flower H’mong on the way to Buon Ma Thuot, will open up a new Vietnam for off the beaten track travellers. Comparatively recent migrants to Vietnam in the 19th Century, the H'mong have a rich oral culture and are renowned for their beautiful folk songs. Situated in a rarely visited area surrounded by plantations this friendly first hand encounter will provide a rich cultural insight for enlightened travellers where simple gestures will bridge the gap of communication.

Various M’nong tribes await travellers at Lak Lake including the Gar and the Jelam. An attraction in its own right, morning mists hang above the calm waters and mingle with the columns of wood smoke rising from the longhouses to provide a truly atmospheric location for the tribal visit. The M’nong are highly revered for their elephant taming skills and a visit to Juin village itself is the only way to watch the elephants as they take their evening wallow in the cool waters. Shy, but friendly the M’nong Jelam tribe will also invite travellers to stay as dinner guests in Giang La and sleep in their traditional longhouse.

Those looking to escape the tourist traps best head off the beaten track with Gecko Travel to Buon Ma Thuot, home to the elephants and several minority groups. Rich in culture the tour includes visits to various montagnard tribes including the Ede, Flower H'mong, ethnic Lao and a homestay with the M’nong villagers at Lak Lake. A real adventure the tour also incorporates trekking in Thu Yan Sin National Park and a visit to Yok Don, for elephant riding. Containing over 17 endangered species Yok Don is home to the rare white elephant and is the best place in Vietnam to catch a ride. Complete with an exhilarating speedboat journey to secluded Whale Island for trekking and snorkelling, the tour will delight even the most ‘nam-ed’ out tourist with a stop at Can Tho (‘the heart of Mekong’) to visit exotic floating markets and tribal villages away from the camcorder-toting tourists.

Gecko Travel’s New 21-day Saigon Overland tour costs £1730pp including flights (£1050pp excluding flights), departing on 01 October. Prices are inclusive of all B&B accommodation, with no single supplement for those travelling alone. Activities and entrances, the tour leader, local guides as appropriate and transport are all included in the price too.

Telephone Gecko Travel on 023 9225 8859 or visit www.geckotravel.com

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