A huge toothy grin and whoop of delight greeted us as we were launched Gangnam style in the brightly coloured coconut boats.
Our boatman was a wiry old man who obviously loved spinning tourists round and round as he belted out the nouveau rich style lyrics of the famous Korean song.
We were at the aptly named Cam Thanh Coconut Village just a few miles from the picturesque town of Hoi An, famous itself for its brightly coloured lanterns which adorn every available aerial space.
Surrounded by four waterways and lush palm groves, this is Vietnam at its best, historic, natural and most of all, quirky!
The basket boats are simple, yet sturdy and it really is a lovely sight to see literally dozens of hand painted tubs floating down the Thu Bon and De Vong rivers.
To spice up what should be a gentle ride, the boatmen compete to see how dizzy they can make their passengers as they spin and spin to the music, using their strength and a wooden paddle to expertly throw the boat around, without (hopefully!) depositing the passengers in the water.
Surrounded by rice paddies and houses made from palm leaves, the village is a hub of activity as the locals use nature to create handicrafts from coconuts and weave fishing nets.
From there to the UNESCO world heritage site of Hoi An, a beautifully preserved former South Asian fishing port dating from the 15th to the 19th century and a magical site, especially at night when boats festooned with lanterns chug slowly down the Thu Bon River to let visitors drop candle lit lotus shaped boxes into the water while they make a wish.
The town reflects a fusion of Chinese, Japanese and European influences and is made up of narrow streets filled with ancient timber framed buildings, religious pagodas and beautifully carved monuments and bridges.
High above the streets, brightly coloured lanterns hang and give the town a warm glow. On the 14th day of the lunar month, which marks the full moon, a festival is held, with music, poetry and dance to celebrate.
An hour away and you are transported from ancient to modern and the glitzy former French colonial port of Da Nang. On the coast and with beautiful white sandy beaches, this is a mecca for up market hotels which line the seafront.
French multinational hospitality company Accor has two wonderful and very different resorts side by side on the wide My Khe Beach.
The Premier Village Danang is heaven! Individual villas with either garden or beach views and access plus private pools are just the ticket for relaxing stays. With accommodation to suit your needs, the home from home has big modern living space, a well equipped kitchen and beautifully kept gardens. There are onsite restaurants serving scrumptious breakfasts featuring local and international cuisine, seafood buffet style dining, a beach club where you can admire the views as you enjoy light snacks, and for the more adventurous, in villa dining, where a private chef cooks up the most delicious meats and seafood, all served by an attentive waiter.
The resort is spotlessly clean, the staff keen to assist and there is an excellently priced spa where you can relax and enjoy massages and intensive herbal hair washes. A gym and bicycle hire is also available, as well as a kids club.
Next door is the equally plush, 5 Star Pullman Danang Beach Resort with excellent family connecting rooms, which meant my teenagers, Ruaridh and Flossie, enjoyed independence at an arm’s length. Spacious and with comfy beds and seating, they have all the mod cons needed. There are also two luxury cottages available.
The hotel, like the Premier Village, is beautifully kept, with a lovely butterfly garden and rooms overlook a delightful dragon fly water feature. The pool and spa are just inches from the beach and there are water sports from surfing to paddle boarding for guests to enjoy.
Guests can try out a Vietnamese cooking class, which is fun and gives you the chance to rustle up some authentic cuisine from tasty pork spring rolls to seafood pancakes, under the watchful eye of a trained chef. Once the cooking is done, it’s time to tuck in!
Da Nang itself is a great base for sight-seeing, with river cruises taking in views of the impressive gold dragon bridge, which breathes out fire and water every weekend and a day trip to the Ba Na Hills, a former hill station and French resort dating back to 1919. High up and only accessible by cable car, it is now an upmarket theme park.
It’s best known for the mightily impressive 150 metre long Golden Bridge, which is held up by two giant stone hands and connects the cable car with the gardens. Sitting beside it in the park are religious pagodas, old style French architecture and a funfair, so a great day out.
Getting around Vietnam is easily achievable with internal flights like buses and 90 minutes in the air takes you to the former capital, Saigon or Ho Chi Minh City to give it its modern name, a mix of big city noise and vibe.
Our base at Accor’s Sofitel Saigon Plaza embraces Vietnam’s history of French colonialism, which lasted six decades. This tranquil hotel oozes luxury, from the well-appointed rooms, with huge windows affording great views across the city, especially at night, when all is lit up, to fabulous cuisine served at breakfast, lunch and dinner. With a roof top pool to dip in, it’s ideal. The hotel embraces Vietnamese culture too, with the furniture and lantern lighting reflecting traditions. Club and suite users also have the exclusive use of a private lounge where drinks and snacks are complimentary throughout the day. Accor’s Ibis Saigon Airport Hotel is ideal to stay in, if you have an early flight. With coolly decorated rooms, a buffet breakfast and a pool, it is only a stone’s throw from departures.
A busy city, Saigon is non-stop and a great place to view it is at the skydeck on the 49th floor of the Bitexco Tower, where your eyes will be drawn to the traffic, with thousands of scooters gliding easily alongside the tooting cars. The City Sightseeing Bus is also an ideal way of looking around and will drop you off at all the main historical, war and art museums, as well as the city zoo and botanical gardens.
A must is a water theatre puppet show, a traditional piece of art which is gentle and fun, as brightly coloured wooden characters tell a tale.
There is plenty of colour too in the more laid back and Vietnam’s capital, Hanoi, a city not to be missed. Centuries old architecture with a rich influence of South Asian culture mixed with Chinese and French, the chaotic old quarter is the place to stay and at the Sofitel Legend Metropole Hanoi. Opened at the turn of the 20th century, this beautiful old building has wonderful large bedrooms, fabulous Vietnamese and French restaurants, with first class service and cuisine, an outdoor heated pool and has played host to many famous guests from actor Charlie Chaplin to writer Graham Greene. It also makes the best egg coffee in Vietnam.
Hanoi is crammed with interesting museums, temples and the infamous “train street”, where sleeper engines squeeze along a narrow track within inches of homes and cafés. Even though you know it’s safe, you still breathe in!
A popular day trip is to the UNESCO world heritage site of Ha Long Bay, famed for its emerald waters and thousands of towering limestone islands topped by rainforests. The best way of enjoying it, is by boat and the Indochina Junk offers a day La Muse cruise, as well as longer overnight stays.
And boy what a sail it is! As with everything in Vietnam, service is the number one concern of the hospitality industry, which means you are given first class fun every time. We were given all the important facts and figures by our well informed guide and as well as enjoying a visit to offshore caves, enjoying a paddle in the sea and a scrumptious seafood lunch, we also embraced the sheer beauty of the bay.
Nothing beats sitting on top deck and watching the world go by and the colourful junk boats around you, pottering slowly down the water, taking in the stunning views, just this time it was more gentle, with not a Gangnam spinning sailor in sight!
Flights to Vietnam are available from all the UK major airports. Check out www.holidayextras.com for airport parking, lounges and transfers to save money and make the journey more comfortable. Excursions and tours can be booked through www.getyourguide.com and tourist information is available via the Vietnam Travel website.
Rebecca Hay is an experienced travel writer and member of The British Guild of Travel Writers. Follow her adventures with her family on Twitter and Instagram @emojiadventurer and on Facebook via EmojiAdventurers2.
Photographs courtesy of Vietnam Travel