The Ho Chi Minh Trail, July 2012

I’ve spent the last 10 days exploring the landscape in central and north-east Vietnam.  The limestone karst terrain is common across sections of South East Asia, creating mazes of caves and jagged mountain ranges.  In Phong Nha National Park with the aid of local guides I forged 7km into one of the underground cave systems – some of the largest caves in Asia.  One of the individual caverns spanned almost 700m, its vast roof seemingly supported by massive stalactite pillars that would dwarf all the columns in Rome!  The cool subterranean climate was a refreshing break from the cloying heat of the Vietnamese summer.

Turquoise streams emerge from the cave shadows to feed lush, steamy jungle that lines the legendary Ho Chi Minh trail passing through its midst.  The beauty of the scenery is tainted by the unfortunate reality that thousands of unexploded bombs still litter the area and threaten life and limb for locals, still paying the price as victims of the “American War” some 40 years on.

Halong Bay was where I next set the backpack down for a few days.  The giant limestone karst pinnacles dot the eastern coastline of Northern Vietnam – sheer grey cliffs glisten beneath overgrown vines and tangled greenery. Elegant chinese-style junks cruise with visitors on the emerald waters – like sailing around a giant watery chessboard. Not content to just admire, there were plenty of opportunities to kayak around the many beaches and bays, through small caverns and to scale some of the karst cliffs rockclimbing with an adventure guide.

I have finished my journey in elegant, hectic Hanoi – its French Colonial flavour blends with Vietnamese pagodas lazily around the tree-lined lake in the city centre. Vietnam has been a wonderful destination – every bus and train trip like an old movie reel of verdant green rice paddies flashing by, the quintessential conical hats bent over the rice crops rippling in the summer breezes. The food is fragrant and, most of all, the people warm, proud and resilient.

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One Response to The Ho Chi Minh Trail, July 2012

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