From exotic flowers growing in their wild natural state in the countryside and by the road, to carefully cultivated pagoda gardens and intricate bouquets and displays in florist shops and hotels, Vietnam provides a wondrous, colourful show wherever you look.
Setting out with two good friends from London, our first stop was the capital Hanoi, in the north, from where we gradually made our way down south to what was formerly Saigon, now known officially as Ho Chi Minh City since 1976 after the infamous communist leader Ho Chi Minh. There were lots of florist shops here, and I really enjoyed seeing their different style, which seemed to consist of very neat, symmetrical designs, often using grouping and strong lines. It was also here, in the gardens around the Ho Chi Minh museum, where I first saw a beautiful pot plant with a five-petalled pink flower that I fell in love with, which I have now found out is called Adenium obesum; common name ‘Desert Rose’.
From Hanoi, we caught an overnight train to Hue, the former imperial capital and home to various Emperors right up until as recently as the mid 1900s. The Citadel, which was significantly damaged during the Vietnam (or American, as they call it) War is the main site here and was made a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1993. Currently undergoing restoration, much of it is still in ruins, but it’s worth setting aside a day to wander around. Here you can admire the beautiful architecture of the old buildings, plus giant lily pads in the moat and pretty, manicured shrubs in pots. Whilst wandering (read: getting lost!) around the streets, we also saw many tropical flowers growing in peoples front gardens and lawns.
After Hue, we had our longest stop; five days in the pretty town of Hoi An, once a sleepy riverside village, but now a thriving tourist spot which has very much still retained its authentic charm. Here, I didn’t have to go far for my thirst for flowers to be satisfied, as we slowed down the pace for a while and relaxed in two beautiful bungalow-style hotels surrounded by tropical gardens and pools. In the first I spotted many of the plants on my aforementioned plant I.D. test list, including Anthurium, Aspidistra, Codiaeum, Euphorbia and Philodendron, and at the second place, Orchid Garden Homestay, I saw lots of, well, I think you can guess!
Heading inland from here, we took a flight to Dalat in the South Central Highlands, where the climate changes from hot and humid to temperate thanks to its mountain location. The playground of the French in colonial times, Dalat is a bit like a cross between Vietnam and the French Alps and even has its own ‘Eiffel Tower’! Here we whizzed off with the Easy Riders for a whistle-stop tour by motorbike, taking in pagodas and gardens, a coffee plantation and flower farm, which, although I thought it would be full of exotic plants, was just all one thing – Gerberas! We also saw beautiful Hibiscus and a few other exotic, strange-shaped flowers I’d never seen before, plus some pretty displays in Windmills cafe in central Dalat, which also operates a florists elsewhere in the city!
Finally, after a couple of days rest at the beach at Mui Ne, we almost reluctantly headed further south back to the heady heat, humidity and skyscrapers of cosmopolitan Saigon where we were to spend two more nights before flying home. By this point we had packed in quite a lot of activity, so even though Saigon offers no end of distractions, we mostly just meandered about its streets in the evening, after spending the days lounging around our roof-top pool the Liberty Central Hotel (it’s a hard life!). Saigon still offered plenty of flower-watching too though, with many colourful florists selling large bouquets and arrangements, and the display in the hotel itself showed a good example of Vietnamese floral style too.
What do you think? Do you prefer exotic flowers or more traditional British blooms, and can you help me identify any of those flowers I can’t?