He departed at 6:00 am from China’s Kunming railway station, which is heavily controlled by not only police officers, but also military personnel.
Security was bolstered at the station following a terrorist attack in 2014, in which knife-wielding assailants killed 31 civilians and left more than 140 injured.
On its way to Vietnam, the train passed mountains and pineapple plantations.
“I arrived at the station in Heiko, the last in China, and got a taxi to the border,” Vanni said.
“Then I walked across the bridge that separates the two countries.
“It was easy to enter Vietnam – there were few questions and I no longer needed my visa.
“Half an hour later, I was on a bus heading to Hanoi.
“Unfortunately, the start of my time in Vietnam was the only pleasant part... The rest was a nightmare.”
After a four-hour bus ride, Vanni arrived on the outskirts of Hanoi, surrounded by traffic and chaos.
It then took him another hour to reach his hostel.
On a positive note, Vanni was reunited with his daughter Gabriella and her husband, Peter, who’d travelled over from Australia to join him as he headed down to Ho Chi Minh City, also known as Saigon, which is famous for its role in the Vietnam War and for its French colonial architecture.
After a quick tour of the city, the three travellers took a bus to Hạ Long, where Peter’s relatives live.
“In the beginning, everything seemed to be going well: it was a big bus, full but not overcrowded,” Vanni said.
“But then I noticed that the driver started stopping regularly to let people on board; they were setting up chairs in the aisle and squishing three people into a two-seater... It seemed that the more there were on board, the better.”
Before Vanni knew it, the bust was overcrowded, loud and suffocating.
“Given how much I suffer from claustrophobia, I don’t know how I managed being packed in like a sardine,” he said.
The trio finally arrived in Hạ Long, where they were warmly welcomed by Peter’s aunt and uncle.
They then spent the morning with Peter’s grandmother, a spritely lady who, despite being over 90 years old, doesn’t need glasses to read and has perfect hearing.
She told her visitors stories of her life, like when she was captured by the French for passing on messages for the Resistance.
Then the three tourists took the ferry to Cát Bà Island, near Hạ Long Bay.
Vanni said the scenery was stunning, while the peculiar hills that descend into the ocean reminded him of his journey along the river Li in China.
In the afternoon, the travellers headed to the Ninh Bình Province.
Upon their arrival, they settled in at the home of a hospitable family, who shared a glass of homemade rice wine with them.
They hired scooters for the following days and visited Hoa Lu, exploring the remnants of Vietnam’s ancient 10th-century capital city.
They then checked out the scenic area of Tràng An and, lastly, the Bich Dong Pagoda, surrounded by rice fields and spiritual energy.
It was then on to the mystical valley of Tam Coc, which is famous for its natural beauty.
They were then scheduled to depart for the city of Hue at 9:00 pm, but shortly after they boarded the sleeper bus, it became clear that the situation was similar to their other bus experience.
“After a heated discussion, we decided to disembark the bus and get a refund for our tickets,” Vanni said.
It was an 11-hour train trip which got the trio to Hue in the end.
Upon their arrival, the first thing they noticed was how the old city had been rebuilt after it was destroyed by bombs.
They then travelled along the coast to Hội An, soaking up the view of lagoons and beaches along the way.
They stopped off at the Hải Vân Pass, the famous mountain pass which geographically separates the North from the South and, in the past, divided the country on a political level.
While in the coastal city of Da Nang, they visited China Beach, which was named by the American troops who visited during the Vietnam War for R&R.
The travellers will now head further south, where Vanni hopes to visit the Central Highlands, home to the little girl who he sponsors.
During his trip, the Italian explorer is raising funds for the non-profit organisation SOS Children’s Villages.
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