A Travellerspoint blog

April 2018

Charming Central Vietnam

sunny 25 °C

March 25-26, 2018
Hoi An, Vietnam

After our VietJet flight out of Ho Chi Minh city was delayed by several hours, we finally arrived in Da Nang at around 10:30 pm on March 24th. From there, a driver hired by our hotel in Hoi An was waiting to transport us the additional 45 minutes (south) to the hotel.
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Hoi An is a former port city on the central coast of Vietnam, with several canals running through it. It is famous for its charming mix of architecture and for an ornate Japanese covered bridge over the river leading into the tourist district. Hoi An's Ancient Town area is accessible via numerous small bridges and is within easy walking distance (10 minutes) of our hotel.
The first morning in Hoi An we had a slow start at around 10am and did some self-directed wandering in search of breakfast. The weather was tolerably warm, but not stifling, which came as a welcome relief! The forecast for our two days in Hoi An predicted 25-27 degree Celsius temperatures and possibly a morning of rain. We have yet to see any rainfall since our arrival in Southeast Asia.
The area around our hotel was fairly quiet, but we somehow stumbled upon a cooking school that offered classes and food to order. Both of us chose a traditional Vietnamese meal: Cao Lau for me and Pho Bo (beef noodle soup) for Adam.
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According to Wikipedia, with correct accents included, "Cao lầu is a regional Vietnamese dish made with noodles, pork, and local greens, that is found only in the town of Hội An, in the Quảng Nam Province of central Vietnam." The presentation was amazing and the food was filling and delicious.
Next, Adam rented a motorbike from Mike's Bikes over Whatsapp and they delivered it to our guesthouse in less than twenty minutes. It was nearly new and outfitted with a phone holder in front so we could use our phones for navigation.
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I think I forgot to mention that in Saigon, we each picked up a Vietnamese sim card complete with unlimited data for only $8 USD each. Since then we've been able to use our Google maps, TripAdvisor, and other necessary travel apps without requiring WiFi everywhere we go. Just goes to show how overpriced our telecommunications are in Canada... but then again the population here is 3x that of our own, low population-density nation.
We headed out to An Bang Beach, the other major draw in Hoi An, aside from the Ancient Town district. It was lovely, with palm-fronded huts and beach loungers and seafood restaurants stretching out along the shoreline.
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But it was so busy! People everywhere you looked and vendors weaving in and around to offer their various wares to the sun worshippers. We grabbed a spot a ways down and up from the busiest section of the beach, and ordered some of the cheapest things we could find on the overpriced beachfront restaurant menus, and a couple beers.
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It was late in the day and people were slowly leaving the beach, making for a more relaxed atmosphere. A few dogs scampered in to investigate any snacks left behind by the vacating tourists.
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Next up, a motorbike ride back to our end of town to wander the shops, historical buildings, and waterways of Hoi An ancient town.
90_IMG_8085.jpg There were numerous shops offering custom-made suits and clothes, leather shops with bags, shoes, belts and wallets, and all the art and souvenir shops you could ever want or need.
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Lanterns hang from every tree, doorway, and bridges and give the ancient town a beautiful ambiance.
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The storefronts here are nicely decorated and less congested than Ho Chi Minh or the market streets in Cambodia, for a slightly elevated shopping experience. A square leather laptop-style shoulder bag called my name and I bartered with the girl in the store, who originally wanted $110 USD, settling at $62. More than the cost of two nights' accommodation, but still worth it in my opinion! A few scarves and t-shirts for those waiting at home also found their way into my possession.
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The streets and stores of the Ancient Town were simply packed with people after dark and so we opted to return to the guesthouse for a quick swim, beers, and an early night.
The next day we headed out of town to see the Mỹ Sơn Sanctuary. My Son is a cluster of abandoned and partially ruined Hindu temples constructed between the 4th and the 14th century AD by the kings of Champa. Like Angkor Wat in Cambodia, the temples are dedicated to the worship of the god Shiva.
Since we were travelling a fair distance on the bike, Adam looked for an alternate route that would save us from driving on busy commercial and industrial roads where the traffic is heavy (and dangerous). We pursued that for longer than we would care to admit before realizing that Google was trying to get us to drive through a river. Eventually, a nice local woman, Hang, stopped and offered us help. Apparently she had seen us looking lost, dropped her kid off at school, then came back to find us - still lost. Ha ha ha. She told us she used to work as a tour guide and now was a teacher. Her English was very good! She led us back through the town and out and up to the main route we'd originally hoped to avoid. Turns out there used to be a small path across the river but it had been washed out. So Google wasn't just trying to drown us/waste our afternoon after all.
We finally got to My Son in the later afternoon and spent about two hours walking through the expansive site. The temples were incredibly old, and many were still being restored. It was interesting to see the excavation and reconstruction process.
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March 27-29, 2018
Hue, Vietnam

On the 27th, our next hotel in Hue sent a car to pick us up at 10am from Hoi An. The taxi would also serve as tour for the day and bring us back through Da Nang to see the Marble Mountains, across the Hai Van Pass to see some stunning mountain + ocean views, a quick stop at a former war bunker site, and lunch on the beach at Lang Co, finally arriving at our hotel in Hue around 4pm.
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Our hotel in Hue was right on the river, and Adam hoped it might provide an opportunity for some fishing. IMG_8201.jpg
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We walked around the tourist area after the sun set and had a light dinner, including a glass or two of white wine, selecting a Vietnamese wine made in Dalat. It wasn't very good as far as wine goes but it also didn't cost very much. No regrets.
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Hue seemed very similar to Hoi An, though bigger, or Ho Chi Minh, though smaller, and by this point in the trip we both felt pretty comfortable in Vietnam's cities.
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Enjoyed a few drinks back at the hotel on a bamboo platform overlooking the river, with bats flitting by, catching insects, and an occasional rat walking along the riverbank below us.
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The temperature was lovely at around 25 degrees in the late evening. I'd had enough of plus-35 degree weather at that point so the change was more than welcome.
The next day we went for a walk through the town in search of a fishing supply store Adam had seen on Google. He did find it, and it was a bit like watching a kid in a candy store.
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Adam tells me the rod and reel came in at less than half of our Canadian prices, and tools and lures maybe 10-20% of the prices back home. There was a small puppy at the fishing shop which kept me occupied while he picked out all his products.
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Food options were great in Hue, a nice balance of Vietnamese and Western in case your palate craves some comfort food (like mine does at breakfast time).
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Adam spent the balance of the day and night fishing and while it would be a better story if he caught anything, he didn't. At one point a young local teenager in a carved out boat came sliding along in the dark, using a flashlight to spotlight and scoop up numerous fish as we watched. In about 45 seconds he'd collected four or five fish and was out of sight, moving along the riverbank in the dark.
The next day we took the afternoon to visit the Hue Citadel and Imperial City. Hue was at one time the imperial capital of Vietnam, from approximately 1804-1853. The Citadel is a large square walled area on the Northern bank of the Perfume River, has a moat around it, and ten gates.
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Inside the Citadel are numerous tombs and the Imperial City itself, where the King would have lived during this period.
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It was a huge site to explore on foot, but we did our best. The walk to and from the Citadel to our hotel added another 4km of ground covered.
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In the next post, we'll take our first train in Vietnam - an overnight to Ninh Binh, we'll stay in a bamboo hut, and see some magnificent inland limestone karsts and landscapes.

Posted by Casualodyssey 05:31 Archived in Vietnam Tagged coast shopping vietnam tourist central lantern scooter hue hoi an danang da nang Comments (0)

War, What is it Good For?

semi-overcast 32 °C

March 23-24, 2018
Saigon has been a fun stop on our trip and over the last three days we've been spoiled by the cheap, delicious food and abundant services offered here.
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We visited the same spa, tucked away in one of the inner alleys near our hotel, on two consecutive days for massages (and a manicure for me).
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A 60-minute massage cost 8 USD and my manicure was half that.
While in Saigon, the most interesting activities have been watching how the city operates so efficiently with so many people, so much traffic, and so much advertising... competition for products and services is intense, and ads shout at you from every exposed surface and in numerous languages.
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Seeing daily life in other countries is probably my favourite part of travel. Yes, even more than restaurants, shopping, and beaches!
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We took a day trip to the Cu Chi Tunnels, where the North Vietnam Communist fighters constructed an elaborate system of underground tunnels to evade their opponents during the war and to keep their families safe.
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There were three levels of tunnels, with the lowest level as deep as 10 metres underground.
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Seeing the level of detail and planning that went into this project was impressive, although seeing all the working models of traps designed to injure and kill people was a bit disturbing.
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It would have been terrifying to be an invading soldier in this territory and be pitted against enemies who knew the terrain, weather, dangerous plants and animals, and had the cunning to use every bit of it to their military advantage.
Like when we visited the Killing Fields in Cambodia, it was difficult to wrap my head around the immense suffering of war.
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At the end of the tour, they offer the chance to shoot some of the weapons at a shooting range and the money is used to fund and enhance the historical site.
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To round out our Vietnam War siteseeing, we visited the War Remnants Museum. There were a ton of collossally large weapons on display out front (curiously, all American)
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and a museum with two floors and numerous rooms documenting the war, albeit from a single perspective. The information and photos showing the devastation and effects of the chemical weapons used in the war were particularly harrowing.

Posted by Casualodyssey 01:07 Archived in Vietnam Comments (0)

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