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dannygoesdiving This is a blog & photo journal of the trips that I (Danny) and Jo (wifey) have taken over the past few years.

Travelling through Vietnam

VIETNAM | Wednesday, 1 February 2006 | Views [3564]

Ho Chi Minh - Reunification Palace, Ho Chi Minh City

Ho Chi Minh - Reunification Palace, Ho Chi Minh City

1. Cambodia - Vietnam.  We departed from Phnom Penn a day later than planned as the previous day Jo had been unable to part company with the toilet ! (Kes and Sarah had set out the previous day as planned). We caught the tourist bus that was to take us to the Vietnam border and began another wonderful day of travel !  The border crossing was slow with long queues and having to get exit forms and entry forms stamped and then we boarded another bus to Ho Chi Mihn City.  Immediately the difference between the 2 cities was evident, whether it was just well hidden, but there appeared little of the poverty that we has become accostomed to in Cambodia.  The place felt 'better off', with better roads, much more traffic and more hustle and bustle.  We managed to arrive on Tet (Tet, which means the first morning of the first day of the new year,  and is the Vietnamese New Year. The celebration lasts for 7 days. Like the Chinese, the Lunar New Year is one of the most celebrated holidays), consequently the streets were heaving with people enjoying themselves.  We were met by Kes and sorted out accomodation - a 4th floor room that you reached through a shop, had only one winding set of stairs to get too and no other exits (don't think about fires and escapes !). We basically chilled and got over a days travelling.

2. A day in Ho Chi Mihn City (Saigon). We met Kes & Sarah the next day and headed around the city, visiting the War remnants museum (very graphic with some really disturbing photos from the Vietnam War) and the Reunification Palace.  The city has a very European feel to it (probably thanks to the French influence and infrastructure), as you sit on the pavement outside a coffe house.  All the people seem very fashion conscious and the whole place is vibrant.  We spent the evening watching the world go by from a third floor restaurant, whilst eating Pho Bo (Beef noodle broth). Pho (noodles) is the most popular food among the Vietnamese population.  Pho Bo was to become a staple diet over the following weeks ! A full day in the city is definatly not enough !

3. Nha Trang. The following day we caught a bus and prepared for the 10 hour (ish) journey to Nha Trang. We arrived late in the evening and after alot of looking managed to find some accomodation.  Danang is a holiday destination for the Vietnamese, its on the coast and has an extensive beach, it is also the focal point for diving in the country. We spent a day chilling and walking along the beach.  The following day we dived, visibility was poor (due to time of year), however, that aside the reef was badly damaged from dynamite fishing and overfishing was evident from the lack of marine life. Infact we saw more fish in the vast number of restaurants and more coral for sale as souveniers than we saw whilst diving.  We later walked to the train station to book tickets on the reunification express to our next destination (Danang), then visited the Long Son Pagoda.  The pagoda is impressive not just because of the 9m high white budhha, but also because its location high on a hill, provides a great view over Nha Trang.

4. Hoi An. The train journey was a great experience, watching the world go by, with miles of endless paddy fields (video clip at http://www.youtube.com/dannygoesdiving).  After about 8 hours we arrived in Danang, and an hours taxi journey later we arrived in the historic city of Hoi An (world heritage site). It used to be a major Asian port and has a strong Chinese influence in terms of architecture of the houses and bridges. We spent several relaxing days here, enjoying walking through the city, backstreets and markets, drinking vietnamese coffee, great local foods and indulging at the pattiserie we found.  The 2 good things the french left vietnam was their legacy of bread and cakes. We took a boat trip on the Thu Bon river, watching the daily lives of the boat people and took trips to both the 'My Son' imperial city ruins from the Chan period and the Marble Mountains (at Danang).  The former were heralded as the 'Ankor Wat' of Cambodia, however, the truth was that they were disappointing, took about an hour to view and paled into insignificance compared to Ankor Wat.  The Marble mountains were more interesting, looming over Danang, boasting a number of temples and a number of impressive caves that had been used by the VietCon as hospitals during the war.  Leaving Hoi An, Kes & Sarah and we went our sperate way,  we caught another bus and continued to head north towards Hue

5. Hue. The journey was uneventful and we arrived in Hue and began guest house hunting.  Jo wanted somewhere a bit nicer than previous rooms, so we chose a nicelooking guesthouse.  We ended up with a room on the top floor with a balcony overlooking the perfume river. It had 2 double beds, a minibar, cable tv and an ensuite complete with a bath (1st we had seen in months), all for the grand price of $12 per night!  We walked around the city for a while then got a tour on a cyclo, before being dropped off at the citadel and forbidden city.  After a wander around we saw the flag tower opposite (largest flagpole in Vietnam !)before heading back to our luxurious abode.  The following day Jo chilled in the room watching cable and I hired a moped so I could visit the Thien Mu Pagoda (oldest in Hue) and the tombs of the various emperors. The following day we caught yet another coach with a short 3 hour drive to the DMZ (demilitarized zone).

6. DMZ. As soon as I knew we were going to be travelling through Vietnam, the DMZ was always top of my list of places to visit. The DNZ is the area around the former border between North and South Vietnam. The area saw heavy fighting in the war, and ruins of old American military bases still exist. This is not so much on the tourist track, becoming evident as we were the only 2 to get off of the coach ! Fittingly it was raining and would continue to do so throughout the day.  We tracked down a guide and headed off on a day of learning. We visited the Doc Mieu firebase ( a long walk in the mud to an American bunker); Truong Son National Cemetery (Vietnams national war cemetary); Ben Hai Bridge (crosses the river and marks the former border); Vinh Moc tunnels (amazing - encompassing meeting rooms, kitchens, areas for livestock, hospital, wells etc); Vinh Moc beach and part of the Ho Chi Minh trail.  It was a very sobering day and the rain almost seemed appropriate !  We had no desire to stay overnight, so caught a late bus, opting to endure the discomfort of overnight travel.

7. Nihn Bihn. After very little sleep, we arrived in Nihn Bihn at about 5am in the morning - again this is not a major tourist area and only the 2 of us departed the bus, it was still dark, raining and being left at the side of the road was to say a little disorientating. As we were wondering what to do a vietnamese guy appeared and offered to take us to his guesthouse, although we usually avoided doing this we had little choice and were too tired to argue.  He showed us to a room and left us to catch up on sleep. We awoke more refreshed, went downstairs and were warmly greeted.  The guesthouse was family owned and it turned out to be our most enjoyable and memorable stay during our entire time in Vietnam.  In the evening there was no set menu, his wife just cooked a range of dishes, all of which were fantastic, then came out the Nihn Bihn water (home made rice wine !), after a few of those, sleep came quickly.  The following day we hired a guide through the guesthouse and set out for the day.  We were not prepared for the change in temperatures further up north and once again our host went the extra mile and gave us coats to wear.  We travelled through the countryside, the views were a contrast to what we had seen so far, more mountainous, surrounded by paddyfields in the lowerlands and pineapple plantations higher up, herds of goats, and oxen pulling carts - the whole place was more rural and seemed far less influenced by th 21st century.  We went to Cuc Phuong National Park.  This was one of vietnams first national parks setup by Ho Chi Mihn. We spent several hours walking through the woodlands, where we saw a number of caves and the 1000 year old tree.  The only other people were vietnamese enjoying a day out.  We also visited the endangered primate rescue centre, the only such one in vietnam, where primates are cared for and eventually released back into the wild.  The following day we hired mopeds and headed for Tam Coc. Here, the Hoang Long river flows several miles through limestone mountains, it is often compared to Hamong Bay and is often referred to as Halong-bay-on-land.  We hired a boat and guide and travelled down the river.  The boatpeople here are unique in that they use their feet to paddle the oars(video clip at http://www.youtube.com/dannygoesdiving).  Even though it was misty and overcast the scenery was spectacular, with paddy fields merging into the river, water buffalo grazing, hand made fishtraps in the shallows and the looming mountains each side of the river.  We travelled through 3 caves, and apart from boatpeople trying to sell us anything and everything had a great few hours.  We then jumped back on mopeds and travelled through the countryside, enjoying the freedom and 'non tourist' feel to the whole area.

8. Hanoi. We were really reluctant to leave Nihn Bihn, but jumped onto a local bus (as opposed to the usual tourist bus) and headed the few hours north in Hanoi, our host, realising my addiction to Nihn Bihn water had even supplied with a bottle of the evil stuff !  We got a room in the centre of Hanoi and walked around the croweded. bustling streets, where day-to-day life, mingled with the throng of tourists.  There were streets dedicated to specific trades - blacksmiths, religious ornamants, flowers etc etc, everything was alive and hectic, food was being cooked in the streets & the sale of bootleg produce appeared thriving - even crossing the road was an experience. We caught up with Kes again for a final evening and consumed the Nihn Bihn water which led to a completely messy evening and loss of memory ! The next day I visited the Ho Chi Mihn Mausoleum (strange seeing a preserved body) and the military museum (which boasts a bazare sculpture made up of remnants of various military American aircraft).  We spent our last day walking around the streets, taking in the atmosphere and relaxing.  The final day, we boarded an aircraft and headed back to Bangkok.

Tags: Sightseeing


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