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Vietnam - Everything you need to know

25th August 2015

Southeast Asia is becoming a hugely popular destination for British holidaymakers.

Thailand and Singapore have typically become hotspots for the younger generation, Cambodia, Indonesia and Laos are favourites among backpackers, but there is one nation that has crossed over all different tastes - Vietnam.

From its stunning temples and pagodas to the glorious scenery around Sa Pa to cruising on the Mekong River, Vietnam is such a wonderful country to visit. So what do you need to know about this corner of Southeast Asia? Read on for our Vietnam fact file.

Hue Vietnam

The Country

Vietnam is situated on the furthest eastern point of the Indochina Peninsula and is bordered by China, Laos, Cambodia and shares a coastline of the South China Sea. It has a population of around 90 million with the Kinh people making up the majority of its ethnic demographic.

The country was originally part of Imperial China but became independent following victory against the Chinese in the Battle of Bach Dang River in AD 938. Over the years Vietnam has been occupied by the French and Japanese before expelling the former in the First Indochina War.

Following the end of the Vietnam War in 1975 both North and South Vietnam were reunited with Hanoi being named as the capital city. Nowadays it welcomes people from all over the globe as they visit historic Citadel in Hue, the Long Son Pagoda in Nha Trang and, of course, the mighty Mekong.

Mekong River

Customs and Tradition

The Vietnamese are hospitable, proud people and over 4,000 years of civilisation has developed a number of customs and traditions. One of which is to recite a myth which says they descended from the dragon lord Lac Long Quan and the female heavenly angel Au Co.

Such is their hospitality that should you be invited into their homes at meal times they will share whatever food is available. They are also prone to providing guests with the best portions as a gesture of close friendship. If you happen to be a visitor in their home you should come prepared with a gift.

Religion plays a huge part of Vietnamese culture with the majority of people in the country practising Vietnamese folk religion. This form is not an organised religious system but more local worship traditions devoted to the than, translated as spirits and gods.

Currency

Vietnam deals in the Vietnamese Dong with the current exchange rate having 33,654 dong to the pound.

Food

Vietnamese food is one of the huge plus points about visiting the region. This is quintessential Southeast Asian cooking and is a delicious treat when rounding a full day of sightseeing or river cruising.

Make sure to try Pho, a noodle soup which is a staple of Vietnam containing vegetables and either beef or chicken, Ca Kho To, a caramelised fish dish served in a clay pot, Banh xeo, a savoury sizzling or even Banh Cam, one of the most beloved desserts the country has to offer.

Rice Fields in Vietnam

Stay Safe

While Vietnam is a relatively safe place for tourists you need to be aware of thieves and pickpockets, especially at some of the nation's most famous sights. Areas such as Ho Chi Minh City, Hanoi and Nha Trang are home to thieves who snatch handbags, mobile phones, cameras etc. Be sure to do your research as the country is susceptible to scamming so be careful when shopping and eating in places which don't have the price written down. Make sure you take some extra cash with you to cover for any unforeseen eventualities.

Sign up for our new Asia brochure for more information about cruising all over this exotic continent.

Experience Vietnam


River cruising on a budget

20th August 2015

River cruising is a great way to see the world whether exploring Europe's hidden gems or embracing the culture of Southeast Asia.


A week or two-week long trip will take you to some of the places you may have never considered venturing before. Cruises along rivers like the Rhine and Danube bring the rich histories of Eastern Europe to life, whilst river cruising Asia gives you a real sense of being an intrepid explorer.

There is a common view with many of those who have never been on a river cruise before, that river cruising is expensive. However, many river cruise lines are All Inclusive and include excursions. If you consider the cost of an All Inclusive ocean cruise, plus the total price on average of an excursion in each destination, the price of river cruising compared with ocean cruising soon even out. As with ocean cruising, there are different classes of staterooms for every budget and with a bit of careful planning you can ensure you enjoy your holiday without the fear of overspending. Here are our tips for a cost-effective cruise to some of the most picturesque places in the world.

 

Pick an all inclusive river cruise

 

Scenic river cruise ship



When picking your cruise make sure that you opt for an all-inclusive option. This means you won't have to worry about any extra expenditure whilst onboard. The majority of river cruise lines will offer all-inclusive holidays which cover essentials such as breakfast, lunch and dinner, drinks, evening entertainment and a number of excursions.

If you can, look for cruises that will include flights and transfers within the price. For example, many of the Rhine cruises begin in Amsterdam so you will need to either fly or catch the Eurostar to the Dutch capital. Having this cost included can be a weight off your mind and one less thing to organise.

Seek out free attractions

 

Cologne Germany



Aside from the organised excursions included in the price of your cruise, you can save a bit of cash by seeking out the free attractions. Luckily, no matter what city your boat docks at there will be plenty of things to see and do completely free of charge.

Take Cologne, for example, this major city sits on the banks of the mighty Rhine in the North Rhine-Westphalia region of Germany. Its landscape is dominated by the imposing Do, a cathedral regarded as a focal point of the city. What makes it even better for tourists is that it is free, allowing people to wander around this magnificent Gothic structure for as long as they like.

Other favourites along traditional river cruise routes are the German National Museum of Contemporary History in Bonn, Begijnhof in Amsterdam and Geldmuseum in Vienna, all free of charge.

Sample delicious street food


Another way to save a bit of cash is by opting for the smaller street food vendors as opposed to lavish meals. Every stop on a river cruise can be a gastronomic adventure that doesn't cost the earth.

Why not hop off the boat in Germany and indulge in some currywurst for as little as €3 (£2.10) or a bowl of goulash in Budapest or even a delicious slice of apfelstrudel on the streets of Vienna? All of this glorious fare can be purchased for very little and can keep you fuelled throughout a busy day of sightseeing.

Having something on the go can mean you don't have to slow down your holiday or potentially be hit by an unexpected charge at a restaurant. If you have booked an all-inclusive river cruise you will be able to grab something whilst back on the boat.

Walk, walk, walk

 

couple walking in Italy



One major expenditure that any tourist can be caught out by is transport around a city. If your ship has docked for a couple of days you will be able to explore a little more but you need to be aware of how much public transport and, especially, taxis might cost.

With river cruising you can save on transport costs by exploring on foot because you can always expect to dock in a central location. Walking is an ideal way of navigating around a foreign city and you are more likely to discover some real hidden gems that you otherwise may have missed.

 

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Enjoy the sights and sounds of Porto

14th August 2015

Porto is one of the more understated cities in Portugal. Overshadowed somewhat, arguably unfairly, by its southern counterpart Lisbon, it is a place of immense beauty.

The coastal city sits on the banks of River Douro and is a great place to start a cruise in the heart of southern Europe. Iglu offers a series of packages which begin in Porto before moving into Spain and other parts of Portugal. The Duoro is a focal point of this busy industrial and commercial centre and is regarded as the heartbeat of the city.

Such is the majesty of the area that the historic centre of Porto was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1996. With a day to spare before setting off on your cruise of the Duoro, take a stroll around and discover everything Porto has to offer.

Discover a historical centre

 


There is no better place to start a tour of Porto than with its historical centre. Head down to the Ribeira, the part of the city near the river, to discover a bustling waterfront. It is a beautiful area with small fishing boats coming in and out of the harbour before making their way out to the Atlantic Ocean.

It is hard to miss the dominating figure on the Ribeira de Gaia which is the Ponte de D. Luis bridge. Built in 1886, this metal arch bridge connects Porto to Vila Nova de Gaia, allowing traffic to cross the Duoro. Take a stroll to this magnificent structure to take in some stunning views of the city.

Part of Porto's UNESCO status is the Church of Sao Francisco. Set in the city's historic centre, it is the most prominent Gothic monument Porto has to offer. Originally established in 1223, the church itself was completed in 1425. Inside there is some beautiful Baroque era stylings including an altarpiece which depicts the Tree of Jesse.

Moving away from the waterfront, head towards the Baixa (downtown) part of Porto and visit Mercado do Bolhao. This traditional market is somewhat of a landmark in the city with locals going about their daily business. Stalls sell a range of produce such as fruits, vegetables, fish and meat. There are also a number of small restaurants selling the local dishes at low prices.

Sample the nightlife


After a day of sightseeing it will be time to sit down with a spot of food and drink. You are in luck as Porto boasts some of the finest restaurants in the whole of Portugal. The best are mainly centred around the Matosinhos area near the beach and the seafront known as Porto de Leixoes.

Local cuisine is as unusual as it is delicious. One of the most common dishes in the city is Tripas a moda do Porto which is a hearty meal, but beware as it is made from tripe. It is the reason why natives of the city are known as tripeiros (tripe-eaters). Another favourite is Bacalhau, a salted codfish, which has inspired hundreds of dishes across the city.

However, if you want a true taste of Porto then you must try a Francesinha. Translated as the Little Frenchie, this sandwich has gained huge notoriety and is the ultimate comfort food for locals and tourists alike.

This delicacy is made with bread, wet-cured ham, smoke cured pork sausage known as linguica, chipolata, steak or roast meat, covered in melted cheese and hot tomato or beer sauce served with french fries.

Each restaurant in Porto will have its own take on the Francesinha and have a variation of the sauce, but wherever you choose to indulge in this local staple you will not be disappointed. Combine it with a glass of port wine or beer and you have one of the finest dishes around in a beautiful surrounding.

Browse our Duoro River Cruises


24 hours in Budapest

6th August 2015

A true jewel of eastern Europe is the Hungarian capital Budapest. Dubbed the 'Paris of the East', the city is one of great beauty and has plenty to see and do.

Sitting on the banks of the Danube, Budapest has become the starting point of many Iglu river cruises voyaging through Hungary onto Slovakia, Austria and Germany. The vast majority of these itineraries include a night or two stay in Budapest, so you should take full advantage of this and spend at least a day exploring this glorious city.

Here is our guide to spending 24 hours in the Hungarian capital.

What to see

When Budapest was formed it brought together the separate cities Buda and Pest, which were split by the Danube. It is now divided into 23 numbered districts, which are still classed in one of the two, Buda covers the west area of the Danube while Pest covers the east. Such is the majesty of Budapest is that it was added to the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1987.

It prides itself on having a unique atmosphere and a growing nightlife, not to mention its rich history of classical music. The architecture in the city is truly breathtaking and none more so than the Hungarian National Parliament building, making this the perfect place to start your tour of the city.

Hungarian National Parliament building


The largest building in Europe, this Neo-Gothic structure has stood in the heart of Budapest since the 1880s. With a startling 691 rooms, all more decadent than the last, it is hard not to be overawed by this magnificent structure. It stands in the Lajos Kossuth Square, named after a Hungarian lawyer, politician and Governor-President of the country in 1849, widely respected as a freedom fighter during his life.

Guided tours of the parliament building are available, where you will be able to see the old House of Lords and the Hungarian Crown Jewels. The latter were lost and stolen many times and it wasn't until the end of World War II that they were handed over to the US Army, and did not return to Hungary until 1978.

Another reminder of the scars of the war is much more sombre. On the banks of the Danube, between Kossuth ter and Szechenyi ter, is the Shoes on the Danube memorial. This collection of bronzed shoes has been placed here to honour the Jews who were shot by fascist Arrow Cross militiamen during the war.

There are plenty of free activities across the city and not many are better than a walk across Chain Bridge. The first bridge to connect the Buda and Pest sides of the capital, it was considered to be a wonder of the world when it was completed in 1849 and is often referred to as the 'Pearl of the Danube'.

Budapest Chain Bridge


It was damaged during the war, resulting in a complete rebuild in 1949. It has a connection to the UK, as chief engineer Adam Clark was a master builder hailing from Scotland.

If you are visiting Budapest for the first time then you need to experience just one of the city's many baths. The traditional Turkish baths draw off Budapest's rich thermal waters and some can trace their history back to the 16th and 17th centuries. Take a dip in Rudas, Kiraly or Veli Bej for the ultimate in relaxation.

Arts and culture

Budapest is hugely proud of its arts and culture scene, making a trip to the famous Opera House an absolute must while in the city. This beautiful Neo-Renaissance building has been in Budapest since opening its doors in 1884. It has featured the work of esteemed composers such as Ferenc Liszt and director Gustav Mahler. See a performance here and enjoy a truly immersive experience. It is not just music where Budapest reigns supreme in the cultural stakes. The Museum of Fine Arts and the Ludwig Museum are two absolute musts when it comes to art. The former is dedicated to paintings, drawings and sculptures of European origin and even features the horseman sculpture carved by Leonardo da Vinci.

Budapest Opera House


The Ludwig Museum is a homage to contemporary art of Hungarian and European origin. It displays artworks from the past 50 years, which have been collected by Peter and Irene Ludwig. The pair believe that the museum helps to bring the east and west closer together and features works from the likes of Andy Warhol, Claes Oldenburg and Jasper Johns, among others.

Food and drink

If you want to experience some delicious Hungarian cuisine then there is only one place to head to - the Central Market Hall. Officially called Kozponti Vasarcsarnok, it is the largest indoor market in the city and has been here since the 19th century. Selling a large selection of sausages, meats, cheeses, fruits and vegetables it will provide a great insight into day-to-day Hungarian life.

You will be able to sample some traditional goulash, which is a meat soup with potatoes and paprika that is normally served as a main dish. If you're feeling a bit more adventurous then sample the toltott kaposzta, a stuffed cabbage filled with meat in a paprika sauce and served with sour cream.

If you have a sweet tooth then why not try a somloi galuska, a poem on biscuit dough, cream and chocolate sauce. A trip to the Central Market will be able to perfectly top off a day in Budapest.

The Danube river is a hugely popular route for top river cruise lines, with Budapest being a must-visit destination along the way. With lines such as AmaWaterways, Saga River Cruises, Avalon Waterways and more visiting this fantastic city, be sure to browse our Danube River cruise deals and be on your way to your Budapest adventure!


The many wines of the Rhine

6th August 2015

The Rhine river cuts through some of Germany’s finest winemaking regions; ideal for cruisers who love their wine.

Renowned regions the Middle Rhine, the Rhine Valley (Rheingau) and the Rheinhessen, all lie on the banks of this famous waterway, making it easy for you to sample the wine as you go. It would almost be rude not to.

We’ve put together a guide for each of these three magnificent regions, their specialty wines and which ports are in each area.

The Rhine Valley - Rheingau


The picturesque Rheingau is one of the most famous areas in Germany for wine making. The name of the game here is quality, not quantity and each batch of wine being crafted with perfection as the goal. The region’s wine-making exploits date back to the Roman era, making it the oldest wine-growing area of Germany.

Known for its high quality Riesling grapes, the region produces some of the finest white wines in Europe with 80 per cent of the produce coming from the valley being fruity Riesling varieties. However, while it’s certainly a popular stop for those who prefer white, Rhine Valley’s reds are also high in quality. Much lighter than their neighbouring European counterparts in France, German reds are much more delicate and subtle.

Many of our river cruises take dock at Rüdesheim; a wine-making town in the heart of the Rhine Gorge. Here, you’ll be right in the heart of German wine-land, with fine Rieslings and tasty reds easy to come by in almost every bar and restaurant.

The Middle Rhine


The Middle Rhine is another area of Germany where Riesling rules the roost. While not as famous as the wineries of the Rheingau, the quality is still very high.

Dotted with picturesque castles and lines by green rolling hills, the Middle Rhine is one of the most popular sections of any Rhine river cruise with its fine wine only aiding its popularity. Vineyards are aplenty within the region, so you won’t have to travel far to find a good glass of wine when exploring your ports of call.

As well as Riesling, the Middle Rhine is known for its own delicious variety of pinot noir; spätburgunder. This full-bodied wine has a real kick to it and is one of the most celebrated reds on the Rhine.

Besides being one of the most important cities on the Upper Middle Rhine, Koblenz is also a popular stop for wine. Our Jewels of the Rhine from Basel stops at Koblenz, and so it’s the perfect choice if you’re after a few different tipples.

Rheinhessen


For a different kind of white to Riesling, although there’s still plenty around, take a stop in the Rheinhessen and enjoy a glass of Müller-Thurgau; a flowery tipple with a hint of nutmeg.

For reds, try the dry Dornfelder, This common grape is the most popular type or red in the region and can be distinguished by its deep, dark colour. For a more Mediterranean flavor, look out for Regent, one of the newer grapes to be cultivated in the area. Since 1994, this red has been popular with locals and tourists alike, and now takes up 800 hectares of the Rheinhessen’s vineyard area.

The towns of Worms and Bingen are the most important places on the Rhine in terms of wine, but you can pretty much get hold of a bottle of quality Rheinhessen tipple anywhere along the river.

A side (tasting) note


Due to the proximity of these regions, many of the wines crossover and can be found in each. If you are after a bottle to accompany your meals, don’t be afraid to ask the waiting staff for tips; they will be more than happy to help out.

Browse our Rhine River cruise deals


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