My Son (sorry Dom and Aiden – not talking about you)

Day 113, Thursday 26 April 2012, Da Nang – My Son

Once I was secured in my room at the Phi Yen Hotel I pretty much crashed straight away. When I was on the train I was really looking forward to a shower, but after two late nights in a row all I could manage was to flop unceremoniously on the bed where I remained until I awoke, rather groggily at 8.

My plan for Da Nang was to visit My Son as I missed it last time I was here and to catch up with a couple of people from the wedding, however I am stuffed if I can find my Vietnam sim card and I have phone numbers on it…

So, I have decided tdo a trip to My Son and have got a motorbike taxi for a few hours for $25, I could definitely do it more cheaply on my own but I am not riding a bike for 150kms !

Motorbike is definitely the way to see the country, we went pretty slowly so I got to see a lot more than I have done on buses or in cars, we only had one “oh shit” moment when a guy on a motorbike just shot out of a side heading the wrong way into us as we were being passed by a truck – well maybe I had the “oh shit” moment and everyone else just carried on as normal. I did see two guys got knocked off their bikes by side swipe from a passing bus, no one was hurt, thank God, and no one seemed to be too worried. Daily life on the road in Vietnam, if you make it home at the end of the day it’s a good thing.

My Son was a bit of a let down to be honest, maybe my expectations were too high for a site that is quite small and was bombed only forty years ago. Those days around Angkor and Bagan have given me unrealistic expectations for all ancient sites in SE Asia.

On the ride back to the hotel I was comparing the rebuild of Christchurch to the rebuild of Vietnam and have realised I have been very unfair on the historical sites here. The expectation is it will take many many years to rebuild Christchurch city, in a country that has a good economic base and a commitment to rebuilding. After the war Vietnam had no economic base and so much of its infrastructure had been destroyed, the rebuilding of places that are hundreds of years are old were and still are not a priority. Having said that there is a huge amount of construction work in Da Nang, from highways and resorts to houses and historic sites there is work going on everywhere.

My Son is a small cluster of Hindu temples started in the 4th century and active as a site until the 14th. The French started the renovation of the site in the 1930’s and had completed, what appears to be, some good work until hostilities started. The site was heavily bombed by our American cousins during the American war of aggression AKA the Vietnam War.

I found this great cockie in the small museum at the entrance, biggest I have seen that was not on a BBQ 🙂

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The trail down from the first temple site just made me think of my lovely Waitakere Ranges at home.

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I spent an hour and a half wandering listlessly around, not really in the zone for it today, there was a big tour group there the same time as me and it was very hot.

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I stopped for a water or two at the end and found this little beauty.

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On the way back to the hotel we stopped briefly at this temple. The wind had really picked up on the way back and we had a couple of good gusts hit the bike.

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After a wee lie down I walked a couple of kms to the good old beach side Temple Bar for a pizza and beer, though their internet access was down, which was a bit of a pain as I was going to do a couple of hours of email. I snapped a couple of pics on the walk there and back.

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I was back in the hotel with a full belly and zero energy by 6.30 PM, watched a bit of V8 super car racing from Hamilton – wicked, haven’t seen any all season !

Ba Na (na na na ) Hills

Day 95, Sunday 08 April 2012, Da Nang

Up early again for a group trip with some of Vans family to Ba Na Hills, just out of Da Nang. We took the hire car with a few of us inside and four motorcycles, I got to ride in the car ! Dan and Malcolm with Dan’s bro Russell in the background.

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Ba Na Hills is a weird place ! I am not entirely sure of its history, but the original site was started by the French in 1919 as a 200 bed hotel. This all fell apart before the war in the 60’s and now it is owned by the Vietnamese government who are investing huge amounts of money into making it a major tourist attraction. However, it is not the type of tourist attraction I would go to!

The cool bit is the cable car ride up to the 1290 metre(i think) point, it is supposedly the longest cable car in the world and it is pretty cool riding up into and then out of the clouds, the view of the forest and rivers was lovely.

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From there you get a second cable car up another couple of hundred meters to this bizarre mass of construction, building a family fun park, Vietnamese style of course.

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There was a walk up to a pagoda, but it was all too new and modern for my tastes, though I did like the goddess of mercy statue.

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We had a walk around the fun park and then caught the 4d movie, which turned out to really only be 3d as bits of it were not working. After catching the cable car back to the top of the first car we stopped for ‘temporary lunch’ and then walked up to the big Buddha and to find the wine cave – the main mission. 1110744

Dan and Van had been here a year ago and had found a wine bar in an old cave that the French had used as a wine cellar, it was quite cool up here (lovely !), however it was all being renovated and was closed – which was a major disappointment…

There was a nice pagoda here with a very cool bonsai garden complete with miniature pagodas, bridges and people.

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I think I may be eating too much chicken !

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We did find this very cool air filled course, that was set up for a corporate team building event, so we asked the guys if we could have a few turns and raced each other over the course, much to a few peoples hilarity…

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Van’s cheeky wee niece.

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The cloud closed in making for a spooky ride back down the hill.

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A quick stop at the hotel and I was back in the car with Luc heading off to watch his team play 7 a side football. When we got to the ground it turned out his team only had six players so I was very reluctantly roped in to play – in sandals…. it was not my finest sporting hour I will say but I had fun, though trying to kick a ball in loose sandals is not easy. I have no idea if we won or lost or what the score was, though it did seem rather irrelevant.

Unlike a game in NZ there was no swifty beer after the game, or even any hand shake, most of the guys silently left the pitch and walked to their car or motorbike and left, a wee bit odd !

Luc dropped me back at the hotel and i had a shower and a warm lager and then went down to the lobby to suss the plan for a feed for the night. There seemed to be a few options so I elected to go with Dan to meet his mate Matt for one beer and then off to the market for street food with some of the others followed by an early night as I was knackered.

As is the norm with the group we all left a bit later than planned and by the time Dan I settled in for a beer with Matt the market had closed. We had two beers and went back to the hotel on the bike (Dan was driving) and picked up a few of the others and met up with Van and one of her friends for an awesome chicken noodle dish and fresh fruit drink at one of the road side eateries in town – and I mean roadside !

After eating we went to find some other friends of Dans at the Bamboo Bar, they were not there but we stopped for one more beer and I got to watch some of the Arsenal v Man City game on TV. From there we went to another bar to watch a live band – Filipino cover band, and I watched the rest of the football (1-0 to Arsenal!) and the band. One of the backing singers had the shortest shorty shorts I have ever seen !!! We sunk a few whisky and cokes and then back on the motorbikes for a stupid (though short) ride back to the hotel, which was all locked up when we arrived just before 1.00 AM. So much for my one beer and an early night ! But a heck of a lot of fun – and no we were not that drunk for riding in Vietnam…

Da Nang

Day 92, Thursday 05 April 2012, Da Nang

Reasonable sleep last night thank God, was pretty knackered and dreading a long week with little sleep, but awake early and managed to rattle off a couple of overdue blog posts. I constantly amaze myself that I am still doing this blog thing on a regular basis 92 days into my travels. Most days I enjoy writing the commentary and editing the photos, but some days it seems to be such a chore, though it is an ambitious goal to try and blog daily – at least it keeps the drinking and partying to a minimum – though I guess those who know me well realise I do not need much of an excuse to not party.

I was still up pretty early and popped to the cafe next door for a coffee. The guy there speaks no English (this is not a tourist area of a pretty un-touristed town) so while I got coffee it was not what i expected – short black with a centimetre of condensed milk in the bottom, a glass of ice and a cup of tea – the standard coffee order around here. Coffee was OK -ish, but for 70c cannot complain.

I popped down to China Beach – I will call it that cos I can, for an early morning swim with Bruce and Tina, I have biked with Bruce in NZ a few times, but have not met his partner Tina before. The sea was ‘cool’, but not by Auckland standards, but clean and fresh and a very nice start to the day. I love the surf rescue boat – none of this fancy motorised stuff like they have at Piha !P1110583

The swim was followed by a mountain of food for breakfast, eggs, rice, fresh baguettes, fruit, vege ‘things’ that I have no idea what they were at this stage and the worlds most crap cup of coffee – no more coffee in the hotel !

The morning was pretty much spent shagging around in the hotel, trying to organise transport to do things, there is about a dozen of us from various places and with varying levels of ability on motor bikes, so it was organisational chaos. We tried to hire push bikes to ride to marble mountain, but they were not available until too late in the day so I flagged it until later in the week.

I took one of the motorbikes for a spin around the block, in NZ terms these are automatic scooters, rather than a motorbike. I did Ok, got up to 40kmh and was passing most of the locals, who generally ride quite slowly. I was tempted to hire one, and may still do so as they are a great way of getting about and at $7US a day, cheap as. But after heaps of faffing I ended up jumping on the back of Dan’s bike and he took his brother Russell, riding his own bike, and I into the main mall in the centre of town. I am soooooooo glad I was not riding, crazy crazy ride, it may not be fast but you need fifty eyes to ride a bike here !

Had a great coffee and cake at a ‘western’ coffee shop in the mall and then Russell and I checked out the market so he could buy some “Oakey” sunglasses and jandals – he is pretty good at the bargaining and got way better deals than I would have. We were wandering around town when Dan arrived back on the bike and he and Russell went back to the mall and I decided to walk the 5-6k back to the hotel and get a feel for Da Nang.

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It was a hot hot walk and I got a bit stuck walking down a road that I expected to have a side road towards the beach, that didn’t, so I ended up walking a whole lot further than planned until I found a small side road heading beach wards. This lead me through a fishing village that I am pretty sure did not see too many westerners wandering around, lots of people came out to see me, many saying hello from their gardens, it was kinda cool ! Once I made it to the beach it was a 15 minute stroll back to where we were swimming this morning, past the fishing vessels.P1110594

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Made it back to the hotel way later than planned and spent the afternoon listening to music and reading. Just before I got a call from Dan asking me to come down for beers at the beach it rained ! man, I have not seen rain for weeks – the last time was when i poured down in Puerto Princesa in the Philippines and the hostel flooded ! It was nice to walk down the street with a bit of drizzle falling. Though the lightening on the beach later in the evening suggested walking on an exposed road would not be a good idea!

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I think it was the first night I had not sweated in three months !

Had a good time with Dan, Bruce, Tina and Russell over a few beers and some food and then an early night for all before Dan’s big day tomorrow. Early start, with us all being picked up at 8.00 !

Good Morning (or early afternoon) Vietnam !

Day 91, Wednesday 04 April 2012, Da Nang, Vietnam.

I have a very unreliable internet connection in the hotel room in Da Nang so will go back to using BlogDesk, the one good thing with it is I can upload photos to BlogDesk off line and it will post everything when connected, this means I can do entire posts offline which is awesome…

Facebook is blocked in Vietnam, bizarrely however, the FB cellphone apps are not, so I can access on my phone but not on my netbook. The only issue with that is I cannot seem to work out how to comment on photos on the cellphone app, doh ! So apologies if I do not reply to any FB comments.

Right, back to Bangkok – I was up at 4.30 am and quietly snuck out of the hostel and up to Sukhumvit, the hostel told me I would have no problems finding a cab, even at that time of day and this was very true. I had only barely got to the street when three cabs all stopped to give me a ride. The hostel did get the price to the airport wrong, they said 300-350 baht – but it only cost 150, bonus!

Even at 5.00 am the airport was manic, the Air Asia check in was crowded and slow and I queued for forty five minutes, I am soooooo glad I got there early as I really wanted coffee before I got on the plane.

The flight to Ho Chi Minh City (HMC) was fine, full as all AA flights are, but reasonably smooth and we got there on time. I had pre-ordered my Vietnam visa on line and had to wait about 40 minutes in various queues to get it all processed, but a simple process. Myanmar and Vietnam are the only two countries that I have been to that do not do visa on arrival for NZers.

I walked over to the dometic terminal and queued some more to check in to the Vietnam Airlines flight to Da Nang. Once checked I found neither of my cards worked in the airport ATM so I could not get any local currency without changing some of my Thai or US and i wanted that for later as I did not have a whole lot anyway – so no coffee… the flight to Da Nang was the roughest I have had since my travels began – and I am not convinced it was the fault of the weather either, but we landed safely !

It was great to be met at the airport for a change ! My friend Dan was there with his motorbike to pick me up and we had a quick ride to the Pearl Sea Hotel where all the non-Vietnamese wedding guests are staying. P1110524

The rest of the crew were down by the beach for lunch, so after a very quick change we were off again. The hotel is a ten minute walk to the beach, and man what a beach ! White sand as far as the eye can see, one section of the bay is China Beach, made famous as a key landing point and military base for the US Army during the Vietnam war. Lunch was great ! beer and coffee just what was needed.
on the back of the bike again, I don’t think I am ready to ride on these streets, the Vietnamese do not ride fast, but there are a lot of them and they ride everywhere, road rules have limited application here !

Hoi An is a UNESCO heritage site and a semi-well preserved old town with sections dating back 300 years. It is a gorgeous little town and one I will go back to later and spend some more time looking around, we got there quite late in the day so did not get much time for photos and exploration. Though we did discover fresh beer for about 25 cents a handle !

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If you are new to my blog, then you will soon find out I love bicycles, especially the older steel ones found in SE Asia. There will be bike photos when I find them.

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After a very nice noodle dish for dinner, whose name I have totally forgotten we went for a walk along the water front. Hoi An is famous for its river and lanterns, with floating candle lanterns being a popular tourist attraction and there were numerous girls (child labour sadly) selling them along the river front for tourists to purchase and then float down the river.

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There is also the Japanese bridge which was built in the late 1500’s.

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We all walked back up to the bikes and to wait for the car to come and collect us, Dan had hired a people mover sized vehicle to ferry people around and Van’s brother Luc (I am guessing at the spelling) was driving us around. Though in true Vietnamese fashion the 10 minute wait was an hour. I experimented with panning photos again : )

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We had a reasonably early night which I needed after the very early start !

So far Da Nang has been pretty cool, we are away from the main back packer area, not that many stay here as Hoi An is the key attraction, but the streets are big and wide, the traffic is crazy but not crazy crazy and the beach is lovely and beer is cheap!