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I Haven't Been Everywhere But It's On My List I love to travel and experience the world but part of the fun for me is documenting those experiences through photography and writing. Follow along with me and enjoy the ride!

I've Got a Lovely Bunch of Coconuts

VIETNAM | Sunday, 26 July 2015 | Views [200]

Beach day! It was HOT but the water and the ice cold coconut was amazing.

Beach day! It was HOT but the water and the ice cold coconut was amazing.

We left Hanoi on Thursday but before we headed to the airport we went to the Ho Chi Minh mausoleum. Getting there was easy enough and we hopped out of the cab and got in the security line. There are many places (temples, churches, etc) that require you (read: women) to "dress appropriately" which means you can't show your shoulders or your knees.  Apparently mausoleums can also be added to this list.  Like I mentioned before, Hanoi was HOT and that is putting it lightly, so putting on another layer was suffocating.  Security entailed an x-ray scan, a metal detector and an intimating number of armed soldiers.  We made it through just fine and were ushered 2 by 2 down a sidewalk where we weren't allowed to talk, take pictures or cross our arms.  We finally made it to a giant granite building and were escorted in.  It was freezing in there, which we later learned was due to the preservation requirements, but it felt good.  We walked up a few flights of stairs, down some long hallways and finally showed into a large room.  In the center of the room was a large glass coffin with Ho Chi Minh laying inside.  I really wanted a picture but knew this wasn't the place to risk it.  Luckily, we saw people outside the mausoleum taking pictures so I dared to take one too.  
Ho Chi Minh was the leader of Vietnam from 1945 until his death in 1969 and is one of just a handful of famous world leaders that have been embalmed, encased and preserved in mausoleums.   Among them are Lenin and Stalin of Russia, Kim Il Sung and Kim Jung Il of North Korea, Mao Zedong of China, Hugo Chavez of Venezuela, and Ferdinand Marcos of the Philippines.  Interestingly, Russia was the first to perfect the science and helped Vietnam build their mausoleum for Ho Chi Minh when he died.  A few years later, China wanted to construct a mausoleum for Mao as well when he died in 1976 but due to contentious political relations with Russia, they called on the Vietnamese for assistance.
After that, we headed back to the hotel and hailed a cab to the airport then waited there for a few hours just to find our our flight had been delayed.  We finally got in to Da Nang, a city just north of our final destination, Hoi An, around 7pm.  I wasn't feeling great so I took a shower and went to bed early while Jeanette went out to grab something to eat.  Not to worry, it was just a headache and I woke up feeling much better.  We decided to spend our first full day in Hoi An at the beach.  There is a beach close to us but the guidebook said it can get busy so we decided to go An Bang beach, which is 4km from our hotel.  It was well worth the $52,000 dong ($2.50USD) in the cab because when we got there, there were just a handful of other people, rows of beds under giant bamboo umbrellas and cute beach side restaurants.
It was a hot day but the sun was shining and the sky was blue so we were happy to be at the beach.  We walked down, chose our beds under the perfect umbrella, and made friends with a local woman named Bi.  We found out she was 25, married, was a twin and had 4 year old twin daughters!  We chatted for a while, swapped pictures and learned some Vietnamese phrases from Bi before heading to the water to cool off.  We quickly learned that walking up to the ocean's edge was not an option.  You know that game you played as a kid when you were at the playground with all your friends?  The one where someone is it and everyone has to escape their reach without touching the ground cause it was lava?  That's exactly what the sand felt like.  It was so hot, I am almost positive I burned the skin between my toes.  Every time we wanted to go into or come out of the water we had to get ready for the 20m dash back to our beds.  All we did all day long was run back and forth between the ocean and cool relief of our umbrella shade.  We also indulged in our first coconut!  They hack off the top of a coconut, stick a straw or two in it and serve it.  Ours came right out of the refrigerator so it was incredibly refreshing. 
After about 8 hours at the beach, we headed back to the hotel and showered up.  We both got a bit sunburned (even after reapplying sunscreen 3 or 4 times).  It felt good to get cleaned up but I was excited to see the city because I stayed in the night before.  We left right around dusk so I got some really beautiful pictures of the ancient city.  Hoi An used to be the major port city in central Vietnam and because of this, you can see many influences from various cultures (Chinese, Japanese, Dutch, etc.) in the architecture.  We walked across the Japanese covered bridge and you have to see the pictures in the gallery because they are STUNNING.  The bridge looks beautiful in the dusk light and I also got a great picture of the town from the bridge as well.  We walked around a bit and I fell in love with all the beautiful Chinese style lanterns hanging everywhere and snapped a great shot of Jeanette just before dark.  After that we headed to a restaurant one of the ladies at our hotel recommended and it was delicious.  We went back to our hotel when we finished dinner and watched Mulan before calling it a night :)
Originally, our plan had been to motorbike from Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh but after looking into it more, we decided we didn't have enough time.  Instead, we decided to fly and rent the motorbikes for a day trip.  We had good weather again on Saturday so we decided to go up to the city of Hue, which is about 4 hours from Hoi An.  We are breakfast at the hotel then walked across the street to one of probably hundreds of motorbike rentals in the city.  We checked it out, got our helmets, I took it for a test drive around the block and we were ready to go!  The rental cost $80,000 Vietnamese dong (or $4 USD) for the entire day!!! Our first stop had to be at a gas station so we asked for directions, she told us to go straight then turn left and we were off!  It wasn't exactly clear how far we should go straight, when we should turn left or how far we had to go after turning until we got to the gas station.  We stopped a couple of times and asked but we were pointed in the same general direction.  We finally thought we were on the right track then saw a woman on the side of the street with a home-made sign that said, "gasoline" on it.  She had a ton of reused water bottles filled with a bright green liquid and it seemed a bit strange but we had no idea.  We told her to fill it up, we paid her and went on our way headed to Hue!  About a minute after we pulled away from her, we saw the actual gas station just a few hundred feet ahead but it didn't matter, we were off on our epic excursion.  
We knew there was only one road to take us to Da Nang, the next city over from there so that was pretty easy but we couldn't exactly use a GPS and we didn't even have a map.  Luckily, Jeanette had taken screen shots of our trip so we generally had an idea of where we were going.  We made it to Da Nang just fine but came across a bit of trouble finding the road we had to turn on because the name of the small street didn't show up on the screen shot.  We ended up missing the turn but knew we needed to stay on the coast so we took a different road and eventually got to where we needed to be pretty easily.  After that, we saw signs for Hue and just followed those with no need for a map.  
After that, we could relax a bit and got to enjoy the beautiful scenery around us.  We were driving along the coast for a while and got to see the beaches, boats, and bays with the mountains in the background.  As we got closer to the foot of the mountain, the scenery just got more and more breathtaking.  I feel like I say this in almost every post, but words and even pictures just do not do it justice and around almost every turn I found myself saying how amazing this was.  We finally saw the sign for the Hai Van Mountain pass, quickly stopped to fill up the tank, and took a slight left turn onto the mountain road!  The turns were tight and drivers here seem to be completely fearless so I was going about 20km/hr and I had cars, trucks and motorbikes flying by me on the left and the right even around hair pin turns!  We didn't mind taking it slow - our goal for the day was just to survive but we also got to enjoy the ride too.  About half way up the mountain, we came across a bunch of goats just roaming around and that's where we decided to pull over for a short break and try to snap a few pictures.  I've been pretty good about documenting our trip through pictures but like I said, we had other priorities today (like not being flattened by an 18-wheeler) so we don't have many.  Guess you'll just have to come do it yourself to see!
When we got to the top of the mountain, there were a handful of small shops selling cold drinks and noodles.  Almost the second I shut the bike off and Jeanette dismounted, we had a bunch of old ladies yelling at us to come sit and get a cold drink.  We kept walking and didn't know what the laddies were saying when we walked away but understood that they weren't happy.  We got to the end of the small restaurants and found a much calmer place.  We were kindly welcomed in and the owner explained to us that we had food with Vietnamese prices (read cheap) but a million dollar view.  And he was absolutely right.  We got a table looking out over where we had just come from and it was stunning.  The food was tasty but it was still pretty hot, even at the top of the  mountain.  One of the most refreshing drinks we have had thus far was that coconut on the beach, so we decided to get another one and it was perfect.  While we were sitting and enjoying the view, a chicken walked out and came over to us.   I joked with Jeanette that we had made a friend and as soon as the words were out of my mouth, he flew up onto the ledge behind me, no more than a foot away.  There's a great picture that Jeanette captured in the photo gallery if you don't believe me!
We asked how far it was to Hue, and the owner told us it was about 2 hours away.  At this point, it was about 1pm and we knew we had to start heading home around 3pm to make it back before dark (there is no way I was going to drive on this thing at night on these roads with these drivers!) so we decided even if we hadn't made it to Hue, we were going to turn back at 3pm.  We came up one side of the mountain and it wasn't too bad - there were a few moments that I clenched my fists and had white knuckles but they were few and far between.  We were completely and utterly unprepared for the harrowing experience we were about to have driving down the other side of the mountain.  Going up, there were a bunch of motorbikes and a few cars but it wasn't too bad.  On the way down, I was being passed by semis and tanker trucks around sharp turns and motorbikes where weaving in and out with reckless abandon.  I think the worst part was that even if I was as far over to the right as I could possibly be, the trucks would still honk there horns signaling for me to get out of their way and each time they honked their horn, I would jump and I was sure one of those times, I was going to dump the bike and both Jeanette and me with it.  I was only going about 15km/hr the entire way down the mountain and I still felt like I was flying.  I couldn't see Jeanette's face, but I knew she was just as scared as I was.
As we reached the bottom of the mountain (without a scratch!), we got a bit nervous that maybe the gas tank meter wasn't working because we had been driving for a while since the last time we filled up and it didn't seem like the needle had moved at all.  We pulling into the first gas station we saw and told him to fill it up.  He took off the gas cap and I could see the tank was still pretty much full.  We put in the equivalent of about $0.50 of gas and only then did I realize we had been ripped off this morning.  We paid way more than we should have for cheap gas that we burned through quickly.  When we filled up at the last gas station, we had actual gasoline that we were using at a reasonable rate, that's why we were still almost full.  Oh well - live and learn.
On the other side of the mountain, we found ourselves in a pretty small town, but there were a ton of trucks driving through it with a further destination (possibly Hue) and the traffic was still pretty intense.  The roads were in rough shape too.  They were doing a lot of construction so in the near future, that road will probably be great to drive on, but for us it meant uneven roads and lots and LOTS of dirt in the air so we were breathing it in and it got in our eyes.  We had to stop a few times just to rinse our eyes out.  Wee saw lots of trucks - some full of big pigs and some full of baby piglets.  We also saw (or really, we heard it first) a truck full of puppies packed in so tight there must have been hundreds of them.  We aren't' sure if they were meant to be eaten or if they were strays that were rounded up to be killed.  Eating dog is not very common anymore.  The way our guide explained it was that the older generation was so poor and they had so little food, they had to eat dog.  The younger generation though, doesn't eat it.  There is a different mentality around animals and animal treatment in Asia.  They aren't cruel, but it's just different.  When we first flew in to Vietnam, we saw a young boy who was maybe 3 or 4 just bawling with his head thrown back, tears streaming down his face and wailing at a painfully high pitch.  Only then did we see his dad had a baby duck in his hands and dropped it into the trash can then took his son by the hand and led him back toward the security line.  Jeanette and I figure the little boy didn't know any better and tried to take the duck with him on the plane and the dad only found out on their way through security so they had to get rid of it.  It was really sad but also slightly funny and a good representation of the matter-of-fact mentality toward animals in Asia.
At one of these pit stops, we grabbed a bottle of water and checked the time.  It was 2:53pm so we decided even if we got to Hue we would just have to turn around, and we had no idea how far out we were anyway so we decided to start heading back.  The ride back was just a little bit better - fewer trucks, and the road was more even.  We headed back up the mountain and all of the trucks veered off taking the faster route that cuts through the mountain.  We could finally start enjoying the ride again.  We got stopped at some train tracks, but we got an incredible view of the seaport and were quickly on our way.  We made it up without incident and stopped at the same restaurant we had lunch for a cold drink.  From there the ride was easy but I started to get a bit nervous about the sun going down so I was going pretty fast once we got down off the mountain.  My top speed was about 75km/hr but we made it back just before dusk!  We were absolutely filthy so we showered up before dinner and went to bed.
We slept in late this morning and went out to see the Ancient city.  We saw many old houses, meeting halls, and temples as well as modern shops and restaurants.  Hoi An is an old city that not caters to Westerners so it's a little odd.  It was unbearably hot so we called it an early day, grabbed a late lunch at the most famous banh mi place in Hoi An - it was featured on Anthony Bonurdane's show - and it definitely lived up to it's name!  It was the most delicious sandwich I have had in recent memory!  After that, we went back to the hotel and just cooled down in the AC for a while - I took a nap and Jeanette wrote some letters then we went to dinner and started packing up.  Unfortunately, on our way to dinner we saw (or more accurately heard) our first motorbike accident.  It's a good thing we didn't witness a crash before we rented our motorbikes because I don't know if we still would have after that.  Thankfully, it seemed like everyone was alright with just a few scrapes and bruises. 
We are now officially more than half way through our trip and have 3 1/2 weeks left.  We leave for Ho Chi Minh City tomorrow morning for a short 2-day stay and then we're off to Cambodia!!
Hope all is well!


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