A Travellerspoint blog


Hanoi and North Vietnam

Hanoi and North Vietnam

Hoi an

Fresh off our 12 hour bus ride - they aren't fun, but I met a friend, Dill, so we aparently managed to keep a chunk of the bus awake. It's lucky we aborted our attempts to get everyone singing - we arrived into the heart of Hoi An. This town is one of the only ones in Vietnam not to have been damaged in the numerous wars. Sadly, our first taste of it was at 6am on a very wet day! Thankfully the bus dropped us at a really nice, cheap hotel - there's a lot in Hoi An - where we crashed until lunchtime and the sun had appeared. Actually, it was in full force by that point, and those of you that know me will know what the sun does to me...

Digressing slightly, I'm going to move onto the buses. Poor old Dan was becoming less of a fan of the buses than me, and often felt terrible whenever we arrived anywhere. I was ok, as long as I reacted fast enough with my knee when I saw the person in front going for the tall person crippling lever (or recliner as it's known). I 'd also like to know who's [insert expletive here] idea it was to put reclining chairs on buses and planes in the first place, and why on earth they recline to the almost horizontal position! It's madness, and seeing as every bus we took was full to capacity, strikes me as a waste of money unless of couse they don't like tall people who moan about recilining chairs.

The town is based around the old quarter, where you can find some wonderful, traditional shops specialising in custom made outfits, galleries - I can really recommend checking out some Vietnamese art! - restaurants and street cafes, perfect for watching the world go by. Watching the world go by is, incidently, one of my new favourite pasttimes! It's fascinating watching and listening to people. I'm especially a fan of the Japanese and Korean tourist groups (but heards might be more appropriate).

As you can guess from that, we spent a while just ambling round the streets and looking in shops. It's really not the kind of place you rush as you'll end up knocking people over, much like the bikes squeezing down the narrow streets! Flowing through the South side of the town is the Thu Bon river, which serves as the main artery into the town, and a great place to eat. We also did a lot of people watching, and we worked on honing our pool playing skill (or lack of - you need beer for pool). We also ran into several of our friends from Nha Trang. It's the kind of place that really draws you in with it's peaceful laid back ways, and we really wanted to stay for longer, but decided it would give us a reason to come back in the future!


Moving onto Hue - the former Imperial city - the bus journey was a much more respectable 4 hours, and once again I bumped into a friend from Mui Ne, Dave, so that journey passed fairly quickly, but no singing this time and it was during the day.

Once again, our arrival was slightly odd, but this time because they seemed to have forgotten to build any streets lights! It was actually quite an unnerving experience, especially when I wandered off to get money from an ATM along dark streets, continually tripping over potholes. We also made the long trek to the train station in the dark - some 2km - to book our overnight sleeper train tickets to Hanoi (we didn't like the thought of another 16 hours on a bus!).

Come the next day, it was glorious sunshine, and we set off on foot - for a change - to explore the Citadel. Crossing the perfume river, and then entering into the Citadel was like entering another world! It was akin to entering Angkor Wat for the first time, with large open streets, sparse buildings and moats. Our first stop was the Antique Objects Museum, which contains items from the royal dynasties over the last 2000 years.

Next up, we worked around the outer wall of the Citadel, and in through the Ngan Gate, then into the Imperial City through the Ngo Mon gate. Sadly, most of the Citadel's buildings have been destroyed in the wars, but a few are still left, and you can walk around the grounds. Of those still standing, I thought that the Royal Reading pavillion was the most regal, but we also went into the royal theatre - there seemed to be no shows that day - and round to the Queen's palace.

Exiting the Citadel, we stopped for a bite to eat in what is described as one of the best, if not the bestm restuarant by the guide books, and is run by a family of deaf mutes. It's called Lac Thien, and I'd have to agree that the food was truly excellent!


Taking the overnight sleeper to Hanoi - a 13 hour journey - was far more comfortable than getting the bus. We were in the SE1 train, which is classed as a soft sleeper which means soft bed and 4 persons per berth. A hard sleeper - yes, harder matress - has 6 people per berth. Our ticket also included a meal, which was rather unexpected and not something you get on the buses! We pulled into Hanoi around 6.30am. I also managed to leave my (older) glasses on the train... Fool!

Once again, we checked straight into a hotel, and crashed for a few hours. Our hotel was in the Old Quarter, which in my opinion is the best place in Hanoi to be. The streets have a real buzz to them, with street sellers, open front shops selling just about everything and scooters constantly trying to run you over - when the buses aren't trying to run them over!

There's so much to see in Hanoi, but you can also just wander around. We visited the Military Army Museum - which still uses phrases such as 'Puppet-regime' and 'spies' in the literature, unlike the Ho Chi Minh version - the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum, Opera House and History Museum. We also went to a show at the Water Puppet Theatre, a traditional art form created by the farmers to entertain the local villages, and since performed all over the world.

But, we also did that 'watching the world go by' thing again. Our favourite was to sit in the City View bar overlooking the most ridiculous traffic system ever devised - yes, we saw a few (not serious) coming togethers. I was reading a local paper which said that in December and January, there were 148(approx) deaths on the road, and another 300(approx) injuries, and they attributed this to Drunk driving and speeding. It couldn't possibly have anything to do with the way everyone goes hell for leather at each other when the lights change, or driving the wrong way down streets, or manouvering then looking!

Ha Long Bay

Ha Long Bay is an area of bizarrely shaped rocks, caves and beautiful blue water. With fond memories of our 3 day boat trip in Australia, we decided to spend 2 days on a junk - why are they called that? - in the bay. Now, before I get onto the bay, everyone on the junk - including us - was expecting there to be slightly more decorum on the seas. In fact, it was worse! There was a small harbour, and all the junks basically just pushed their way to the front, pushing others aside, creating a floating mass of wood. We were amused as one junk performed this task, and managed to lift the roof off the neighbouring one! The skipper was not happy!

The formations in the bay are amazing! You just want to go and explore every bay and island. I could have spent months there. But alas, we were on a tour, and it's a national park anyway, so you have to stick to certain areas. Our first stop was the 'Amazing Cave' - I kid you not, that's it's name! Obviously the French were feeling adventurous when they named it!

We also squeezed in some Kayaking and a dip in the - rather cold - ocean. Everyone thought we were mad, but it was so refreshing and felt great! Dan and I also made use of the upper sundeck as a launch point for jumping into the water, some 20 feet or so. It was great fun. The people on the boat were also great, and once again, we'd been lucky to get such great company!

Our second day was dissappointing sadly. We headed round to Cat Ba Island to collect some more people, which meant to more swimming, and no early morning wake-up swim sadly. We did pass a rather impressive 'floating city' though, where lots of the fisherman and street sellers - yes, they operated in the harbour too - lived and worked. That evening, those left in Hanoi met up for dinner and drinks.

The next stop is Laos, which is either 1 hour on a plane, or an 'horrific' 20 hours on a bus. Guess which we're doing... We're both sad to have left Vietnam though as we've had a fantastic 4 weeks! but we're definately both planning on going back there, and recommend it to everyone!

Posted by Glug 05:39 Archived in Vietnam Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

Ho Chi Minh City and Southern Vietnam

Ho Chi Minh City and Southern Vietnam

Ok, so this blog has been a while coming. Mainly due to me not being allowed to upload my photos whilst in Vietnam.

We arrived in Vietnam, what seems like a long time ago, travelling by boat from Phnom Penh - a spectacular journey - and arriving without incident in the Delta. Our original plan from there was to stay in the Delta for a while, but we decided to head straight for Ho Chi Minh City - the locals still call it Saigon at times, but it was considered to have been given a new start once the fighting ended so they renamed it in honour of their leader. By the time we arrived, we were so tired that we checked into the first hotel we found - that was a mistake, and we moved onto a much nicer Guesthouse first thing the next day.

Following the usual routine on arriving in a new city, we set off to amble through the streets, getting a good feel for the place, and seeing as many sites as possible. Before I get onto the sites, I'm going to get back onto traffic. Now, I think Thailand may still be the worst, purely because there's more of it. But, in Vietnam there seems to be a continual game of 'Chicken' going on! The lights (they have them, and to my surprise obey them most of the time), but come the green light and it's like Carmageddon out there! Now, imagine trying to cross that... It took us 5 minutes at one point before we felt it safe enough to go!

Back to wandering the streets. Out first stop was the War Remnants Museum, featuring some of the vehicles involved in the American war, and focusing heavily on the photographers and the effects of Agent Orange. Seeing what that chemical has done to the people and countryside is frightening, and realising how many it affected is just unthinkable. Speaking to some of the Vietnamese people, you realise they'd either been directly affected, or have a direct relation who has. The photographers' stories were amazing, seeing the shots they took, on occassions where their camera had saved them, and on others, were it had been their undoing. The machinery was also largely in good condition, even the planes that had been shot down.

In the centre of town, we came across Notre Dame Cathedral - yes, there is one in Paris too. Wandering the streets for a few more hours, we settled on top of the Majestic hotel to watch the world go by with a beer or 3. This really is a great way to pass a few hours, and get some colour in my case, and I can see why travel writers enjoy it so much. We sat slack jawed, whilst the madness on the roads continued, and the ferries did piroettes in the river for no reason other than to keep the timing correct between the 2 boats. Each ferry also delivered another load of scooters onto the already heaving roads.

I'm not normally one for organised tours, but it seemed like the best way to get the most out of the Delta. On that trip, we were taken through a floating market, a rice paper and Coconut Candy factory - fresh coconut candy is delicious! Taken for a fantastic fresh water fish lunch and cycle round a village (on a bike equivalent to a BMX for me), finishing off with a visit to a brick factory (ok, even though I'm a civil engineer, I could have quite easily skipped that!), and then a local market which sold snakes. Yummy! We also got to try snake wine, which is very similar to Sake in Japan.

We also did a trip around the Cu Chi tunnels to the West of Ho Chi Minh. This tunnel network was constructed and used by the Vietcong during both the French and American wars, and was made up of a network of tunnels some 250km in length. Our guide was a veteran from the war, fighting in the American army telling us the stories of how the VC evaded them for so long using some fairly simple but effective tricks. We also got to see how the VC lived, crafted weapons from US ordnance and survived for so long. Part of the tunnel network still exists, and has been widened and heightened for 'fat westerners' as the guide put it. I also took the opportunity to be slightly childish and fire an M16 rifle on the range. Ok, I'll admit, it was a buzz.

Our next stop up the coast was Mui Ne, which is a quiet beach resort famed for it's place on the Asian Kite Surfing circuit. You can see why! For starters, the beach was golden and the wind and waves just perfect. When we arrived, the sea (and sky) was alive with kite surfers, jumping in and out of the waves. When we hit the beach, the waves were so good, I could've mucked around in them for ages - those who know me, know I'm not so good at sitting around doing nothing on a beach. The food was also superb, and we enjoyed doing nothing so much, that we ended up spending 4 days there. Alright, not strictly nothing. We did swim and go for a cycle along the 20km of coast.

Carrying on to the North, we arrived at Nha Trang where we would be for Tet - Chinese New Year. I'll start by saying that this place is a real tourist trap. Having spent the last few days in a lightly developed area, to suddenly be engulfed by this resort town reminiscent of something on the Med, was quite overwhelming. We had fun in the evenings, but there wasn't a massive amount to do during the day due to the choppy seas, and we had to stay there till after Tet - which as it turned out was a good thing due to the major party atmosphere in the town! Again, the food was excellent, the people we met were all friendly and we did have a great time. Although one barmaid really struggled with my name, and in the end opted for calling me 'Chris' the whole time.

Our one dread was the forthcoming 12 hour bus journey upto Hoi An...

Posted by Glug 05:37 Archived in Vietnam Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

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