Vietnam Odyssey

Clipper sails through history in this Asian destination

By: Judy M. Zimmerman

Anyone who has cruised in Asia knows that Vietnam offers some of the region’s most stunning scenery, cities and cultural centers. So, when the opportunity rose last fall to join Clipper Odyssey, INTRAV’s 128-passenger expedition ship, on a mini-repositioning cruise in Asia, I didn’t think twice. Our 16-day voyage featured more sea days than usual, visiting ports in Japan, Korea and China before reaching Vietnam.

Instead of offering glitzy entertainment and many luxurious amenities, the voyage focused on appreciating the cultural and historical significance at each destination. On that score, the line definitely delivered as promised. Propelled by engines, the Clipper Odyssey’s shallow drafts also make it capable of cruising in shallow coves and secluded waterways where larger ships cannot go.

All of the staterooms on the Odyssey have an ocean view and average a generous 186 square feet in size. Much to my liking, “casual” was the appropriate attire for dinner, with the exception of two dressier occasions. Dinner always featured a choice of four delicious entrees seafood, meat, pasta and vegetarian. Afterwards two movies that usually related to the ports of call where shown in the staterooms .

One major advantage of the Odyssey which I had not anticipated was its superb staff and crew, the most friendly and helpful you’ll find anywhere. Onboard lectures by an impressive roster of historians, naturalists and photographers were well-attended and often provoked long, stimulating discussions. One of the lecturers, Paul Harris, brought a unique perspective to the voyage by sharing his experiences as an analyst, writer and photographer in the conflict zones of the world for more than a decade. Another couple delighted everyone with their exceptional Power Point digital camera lecture series. The charming young duo was always near-at-hand to patiently help out after class.

Each evening, during the cocktail hour, the vessel’s expedition team led a recap discussion of the day’s excursions, followed by a briefing of the next day’s

activities. As we approached Vietnam, those activities grew plentiful. Entering the emerald waters of Halong Bay at dawn, I was mesmerized by the thousands of monolithic limestone islands that rose jaggedly out of the eerie mist in the Gulf of Tonkin, each topped with thick jungle vegetation.That afternoon, our sturdy, inflatable Zodiac craft maneuvered through the bay’s tiny boats and sampans to visit the smiling people of a floating fishing village on Cat Ba Island. The next day in Hanoi, while experiencing the unique thrills of sightseeing with a cyclo driver, I recalled a comment from one of the onboard lecturers:

“The Vietnamese are friendly and polite to tourists and remarkably resilient. They drive like they work: looking only ahead, ignoring traffic to the sides, and stopping for nothing.”

What a marvelous adventure it was to explore the maze of narrow tree-shaded lanes in Hanoi’s Old Quarter before returning on the bus for the two-hour ride from Hanoi to our port of Haiphong.

A National Day of Independence celebration greeted us at the next seaside resort town of Qui Nhon. Large red banners were waving everywhere with propaganda slogans such as “The young people must live and work like Uncle Ho,” or “Everybody lives together in this village as close friends.”

In a nearby village, we visited a class of precious pre-schoolers, a bakery and what appeared to be an upscale home; then toured the factory of silk embroidery, a traditional art of the Vietnamese people. Continuing along Vietnam’s stunning coastline, at the next seaside resort of Nha Trang, we hiked up to a Champ temple built between the 7th and 12th centuries.

On one of the last days of the cruise, I was enjoying the sunrise and balmy sea breeze over a cup of coffee when the ship’s captain Mike Taylor approached, lustily singing a rousing Irish ballad. We chatted about an extensive drydock the ship will undergo in December. (Plans call for new carpeting, soft goods and also refinishing of the vessel’s teak decks and furnishings.) I wished him and the Clipper Odyssey the best of luck. And, as we disembarked in Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon) my only regret was that I had not planned to extend my visit by at least a week.


INTRAV’s Clipper Odyssey will sail three different voyages to Vietnam in September.