|Lynne Ryan and her friend Louise Ellings
Lynne Ryan and her friend Louise Ellings touched down at the Noi Bai International Airport last Friday and have been enjoying a nine-day trip to popular tourist attractions in the country for free at the invitation of the Vietnam National Administration of Tourism (VNAT).
They visited Ninh Binh Province, around 100 kilometers (62 miles) to the south of Hanoi, and took a boat tour to explore the limestone landscape of Trang An, Ninh Binh’s largest limestone complex.
They also visited the Lan Ha Bay, relatively unknown sister of the world-famous Ha Long Bay, and relaxed on a five-star cruise ship to enjoy its pristine beauty.
Located to the east of Cat Ba Island in the northern city of Hai Phong, the 7,000-hectare wide bay is home to around 400 islands of all shapes.
"This trip is something I will never forget and tell my friends after returning home. Thank you Vietnam for giving me a chance to experience the whole of Cat Ba-Ha Long Bay," Ryan said.
The women will next tour Hanoi’s Old Quarter and the famous Train Street built by the French more than 100 years ago before flying to Da Nang City in central Vietnam to see the famous attractions of the Golden Bridge and Ba Na Hills as well as the ancient town Hoi An in the neighboring province of Quang Nam.
In May last year, Ryan and Ellings, along with four other Australians, visited the world famous Ha Long Bay in the northern province of Quang Ninh.
Ryan later wrote a Facebook post calling it a "horror trip." She and her friends had booked a Ha Long Bay cruise with a travel agency in Hanoi and had been shown a glossy brochure with beautiful pictures of a boat and its services.
Instead they were taken on a rat infested "junk boat" with a "rat house" under the sink in the bathroom, a rat coming through a window, and rat droppings in their bedrooms. One of their rooms had a broken toilet door and a non-functioning air-conditioner.
She described the experience as a "nightmare."
After many Vietnamese news outlets reported the incident, tourism authorities fined the owner of the cruise ship and the travel agency in Hanoi that booked the tour VND15 million ($660) and VND8 million ($351) respectively, and suspended the ship’s operation.
Tourism authorities apologized to Ryan and invited her and her friends to return to Vietnam for a free tour.
Ryan said she was very happy to return. "We love Vietnam," she said.
Booking data from Webjet, the largest online travel booking site in Australia, shows that Vietnam has overtaken Bali to become the most favorite travel destination for Australian tourists.
Australia has always been Vietnam’s top 10 feeder markets, and the country last year welcomed 387,000 Australian tourists, a 4.5 percent increase from a year before.
Vietnam has tried to relax its entrance procedures with an e-visa policy which is now available to people from 80 countries, with Indians and Australians added late 2017.