Hue

Days 96 and 97, Monday and Tuesday, 09/10 April 2012, Hue

Dan and Van had organised a bus for two days to take us all up for an overnight trip to Hue. We left pretty much on time at 8.00 and took the coast road through the “hill of clouds”.

We stopped close to the top, at a big rock that has great views over the bay and is obviously a magnet for tourists and the associated hawkers. There are two hawker woman almost fighting over the right to sell bangles on the bus, it was verging on comical, they were still at it as we were driving off.P1110760

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The drive to Hue took about three hours and was a mix of stunningly beautiful countryside and nerve wracked clenching of seat arms as we passed trucks and watched oncoming vehicles also overtaking and heading straight for us. I am sure that on more than one occasion the top .001 mm of paint on the buses mirror was left on the mirror of an oncoming vehicle ! We did pass some lovely villages and as we passed Long Co we asked if we could stop “somewhere nice for coffee”, meaning a beach or local cafe. The driver took that literally and we stopped at a resort ! not the same. I am going to go back to Long Co when I return to Da Nang in a couple of weeks as I make my way up Vietnam once all the wedding guests have gone back to NZ and Australia.1110764

We got to the Ideal Hotel in Hue about lunch time and after checking in most of us met for lunch at an Italian restaurant over the road, though I had chicken cashew and rice this is one of my favourite SE Asian dishes for lunch. It was good too, though the smiley face did not improve a very average cappuccino.P1110771

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After lunch we all did our own thing and I wandered off on my own – nice to have some space, I am too used to looking at things on my own ! I have posted separately about the Citadel. Though I found this great spirit house in a tree (even after seeing hundreds I still love them!) .

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And this guy who had a bit of fun trying to get this into the traffic.

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Though I have to really experience the thrill of motorbikes as Hue and Da Nang are supposed to be nothing compared to Hanoi and HMC, it was still pretty crazy and very noisy. With Hue being a massive tourist town – there were a lot of hawkers everywhere, especially cyclos and motorbike touts, however, nothing is far and I like to walk – so I did.

After the Citadel we all reconvened in Russell’s room on the top floor of the hotel for a wee gin and tonic or three before heading out to a street stall for dinner. The stall was typical of street food all over Asia, dishes washed nearby in cold water (often not that clean) and wiped on the same old cloth, the tables are a wee big grubby, are very low and the chairs lower, the floor is filthy with cigarette butts and egg shells – but the food was delicious and fresh and cheap. Some of the others who had not been here as long as me were a bit hesitant, but I have seen it all before and never been sick from the food. Though my chicken noodle dish still had some pork in it…

We stopped for an “Italian” wine after at little Italy and I went exhausted to bed.

I am going to need a holiday from holidaying soon as I am tired and my back and legs are sore from playing football – i am feeling worn out !

We all reconvened around 7.00 am for breakfast in the hotel, which was huge and very nice and then shot over the road for a real Vietnamese coffee which I am getting quite used to. It is a short shot of coffee in a small glass with condensed milk. Very strong and sweet.

After breakfast I had a wee like down as I am still tired and then left the hotel at 8.30 for a walk around for a couple of hours, it was stinking hot !

I ran into Dan and Van and we looked at some women doing traditional needlecraft work before I wandered off again and walked over one of the bridges across the Perfume River, hmm didn’t smell like anything I would wear !P1110854

There were a few of these women carrying heavy loads from the market, across the river to their various eating establishments. They have a rolling gait from the weight of the loads.

I took a walk through the main market and found the fruit and vege and then meat and fish section by the river. A lot of the fish were still kicking in the bowls, they were that fresh ! In Vietnam (I guess all SE Asia) not much of a beast gets wasted, this woman was selling the bits of a pig you would not see in NZ, intestines, liver and a pile of wobbly, gooey fat….

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I took a stroll up one of the tributaries of the Perfume River and only a few metres up the side street I was away from the hustle and bustle of shopping, tourists and hawkers. It was a pleasant stroll up a leafy river side street and a got a few picture of people washing clothes and dishes and collecting shell fish in the river. I didn’t take a photos of the woman weeing in the river just on the side of where the shell fish gatherers were : )

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It was at this point that my camera battery died and i found my spare was flat ! the spare spare was back in the hotel and mostly flat and the charger was still in Da Nang. I headed back to the hotel, picked up an Adidas running shirt for $6 so I can now send my dying but favourite favourite running shirt back to NZ – the 2XU shirt I got as a spot prize in some event and have almost worn out, I have never found that model shirt ever, damnit. I found this old Colt 45 in a shop near the hotel.

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We left Kevin and Philip in Hue as they were off to Hanoi and on to more travels. I am hoping to catch up with them later in the year as they live in London.

After lunch we all piled back into the bus and went out to Tu Duc Tomb, a burial site for the emperor Tu Duc, constructed between 1847 and 1870. The site is not particularly old when compared to Bagan in Myanmar and Angkor in Cambodia, but I was looking forward to seeing more of the Viet style architecture, which is quite heavily influenced by the Chinese style – in my uninformed opinion of course ! I had enough battery life between my three dead batteries

gallery – Imperial Citadel, Hue

Day 96, Monday 09 April 2012, Hue – Imperial Citadel.

A post about the rest of the day will be posted soon, but I seem to have a lot of photos from the citadel so thought I would do a separate citadel only post and do the rest of the day later. I have been so busy in Vietnam, hanging out with friends and family of Daniels and Van’s has meant many dinners and nights out and I am never going to catch up with blogging and photo editing at this rate.

The citadel is not that old, being started around 1820 as the Vietnamese imperial palace, it was kicked about during fighting with the French in 1947 and was then shelled by the Viet Cong and bombed by our American friends in 1968. The site still has some clear war damage as well as vast empty areas that I guess were totally beyond repair. Much renovation work has gone into the site.

I am going to say initially I was really disappointed with it, there is a big festival in Hue starting tomorrow night so there is a lot of work setting up stages and lights and monster sound systems playing bloody awful music – loudly – why do they have to play the awful Hotel California !!! I ended up putting head phones on. The site was quite antiseptic, until I walked through a gate and found peace and tranquillity and some nice things to look at – and then stayed for two hours until sunset.

The architecture is quite Chinese, especially compared to Thai and Khmer temples.  I really like the gateways and the art on the gates, and the yellow that is everywhere in Vietnam is becoming my favourite colour – though I would never wear it 🙂

Some of the photos are a bit wonky, I am sure it is my eyes, so not the best photo day ever.

I also saw a snake , a small grass snake was basking in the sun behind one of the buildings, we were both a wee bit cautious after that encounter.

 Right, onto the photos !

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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!