Aug 122009
 

The last of our trip was spent in Mui Ne. We went full out on the hotel for this part. It is a beach town and so we might as well stay at a nice place, right? Sailing Club Mui Ne was a lovely place to end our stay. Since the reviews said it was worth the extra dough to get the most expensive room, that’s what we did. I would say it was worth it.


Mui Ne is laid out rather differently than the other towns we visited. It’s just one long road of hotels on the beach side and restaurants on the other side. So, the first day we just explored a bit, used the pool and enjoyed our bungalow. The water was always pretty muddy and so we didn’t ever venture out in it sadly. But, we had a couple of walks on the beach and dinner on our last night on the sand.

On the second day, we rented a motorbike to get around to explore. It was my first time on a motorbike on the road as well (lots of firsts here!). It was great to feel the hot wind as we sped along the road. Plus, we got to see some of the regular life along the way.

We rode in to a neighboring town and then explored Mui Ne a little bit. In the afternoon, we relaxed back at the resort. I had a massage while Craig had some man-time. ;D

The next morning, we headed off to take a look at the sand dunes that are suppose to be the highlight in the area. We found the Red Dunes and had a walk up, but we never really did find the White Dunes. Still, it was great to ride around a bit. By afternoon, I was somehow quite tired and so I relaxed more by the pool to soak up the last of cool weather before heading back to the Dab.

All-in-all, I’d say Vietnam was a lovely country to visit. Of course, I had great company in Craig and Roman. The weather was great for us and we managed to get out of the big city, which is a must to fully enjoy what Vietnam has to offer.

Until the next update!

-T

PS Photos for the posts are coming and all other photos will be available on my main website, so check’em out!

Aug 092009
 

The first of our six days on the beach began in Nha Trang. Since a bus would have been a long 11 to 12 hours, we opted for a flight from the Danang airport to Nha Trang. From the small airport, we caught a taxi in to our hotel for a fairly reasonable fee, about 100,000VND cheaper than the hotel was going to charge us for a pick-up. We stayed at the Asia Paradise Hotel, just a little bit away from the beachside and about 45-minutes from the airport. It’s a nice enough hotel, though we paid for a room with a view, we had a bit of an obstructed view of the sea. Overall though it was a good enough place to stay.

Nha Trang doesn’t have much to offer in terms of sightseeing, though I think there are a couple of pagodas and perhaps a Buddha one could see. Since we were more interested in relaxing, we focused on the beach aspect of the city. Like in Spain, there were areas of the beach where you could pay for a cabina to rest on for the day and then go for a dip when the mood inspired it.

So, we had one day just walking around and not doing too much. Then, another day we just spent on the beach totally chilling out. The evenings were spent exploring the different restaurants and bars. I think my favorite place was Crazy Kim Bar. The owner is an advocate against pedophiles, which made taking advantage of the buy 1 get 2 cocktails happy hour more fun and meaningful than just getting very happy on the VERY STRONG drinks!

On our second night, we had a farewell dinner with Roman since he was moving on from traveling with us the next morning. We found a nice Vietnamese restaurant and though the food was cheap, it wasn’t great tasting. Roman made friends with one of the fish, though, so that was worth it! ;D

For our last day in Nha Trang, we decided to go on a boat trip since that is recommended in the area. Through the hotel we booked a trip with Nha Trang Tourist company and were guided by Funky Monkey to visit four islands. We made a first stop at an aquarium that was severely lacking as a tourist attraction. Then, we went off for a swim and some snorkeling. I tried snorkeling in real water for the first time ever! It was a bit scary at first and so Craig was sweet enough to hold my hand. Eventually I got brave enough to go on my own and was so amazed by the number of fish in the water below. I’m not sure if it creeps me out more to know they are there or to just not see them…but it was a cool sight to see and now I understand why people like snorkeling. πŸ˜€

After the swim, we had lunch, some entertainment and dancing, then happy hour out on the water. There was only one drink of choice for happy hour and it was a bit dodgy, so I had a couple of sips and just enjoyed floating on my dinghy in the water more than anything else.

Our final stop was at another island that we had to pay to go onto, but I didn’t really enjoy it as my leg was burned by a cigarette and I had to get it to stop hurting. We were both pretty tired by the end of the day. Overall, though it was a nice day to spend with other crazy tourists and a good time was had.

One more stop in Vietnam to go!

-T

Aug 082009
 

Perhaps the favorite city for all of us was Hoi An.

Our hotel – Ha An – arranged pick-up for us around mid-day for a rather large fee ($18) considering it was only about 15-minutes away. The hotel seemed fairly nice, though our rooms were right next to the lobby and our room opened up to the main entrance steps as a balcony. But, overall, it was a nice place to stay for our short visit in the city.

Hoi An is known of its tailors and so the boys were keen to get some workshirts made. So, our first mission was to take care of that to allow as much time as possible for fittings, sewing and adjustments. Craig had found some reviews for a few places and we ended up at B’lan, which proved to be a very good choice. The ladies were kind, personable and helpful with the process of measuring, deciding on fabrics and negotiating prices. Depending on the type of fabric and amount required, the prices ranged between $12 – $15 per shirt. Craig got 5 long-sleeve, double-cuff shirts and Roman ended up with 6 short-sleeve button-up shirts. The quality seemed pretty good considering they made up the shirts in a few hours, then adjustments in a couple hours after an initial fitting. Who knows how long they will last, but it’s a process worth undertaking if you have the time.

Once the tailoring was sorted, we walked around the town. It was the best for walking around as the old-city area was blocked off to motorbikes and it was easy to walk in the middle of the streets without fear of getting hit or honked at. The old town is a World Cultural Heritage site and has been well-preserved. There was French, Chinese and Japanese influences seen in the buildings and designs. The Japanese covered bridge was a highlight as well. We bought entrance tickets for 75,000VND that allowed us to visit one of the museums, old houses, assembly halls, workshops and the bridge or a temple. So, it was nice to have some options on what to see, but to also get some historical sightseeing in.

The other highlight of the town was the market. Craig and Roman were both looking at North Face backpacks, so they had some fun negotiating with the ladies on prices. Surprisingly, I enjoyed the shopping around even though I was sure I wasn’t going to shop again after Spain! πŸ˜€ In fact, my only souvenir from the whole country is a pair of Billabong board shorts. ha ha.

In the evening, we had drinks at Brother’s Cafe, which was in a very cool French-style building. The outdoor seating along the waterfront was quite lovely. However, it seemed reservations were needed to get those seats, so we had a quick expensive drink and then looked for somewhere else for dinner after picking up the boys’ workshirts. We headed further down the river and found Mango Rooms for dinner. It was a bit expensive, but the food was delicious!

Thus was our short visit. I think two days in Hoi An would have been just right for meeting tailoring and sightseeing needs, plus it’s just a lovely little town to spend some time in.

More to come…

-T

Aug 072009
 

Continuing our move down the coast, we were off in the morning to Danang. The bus from Hue to Danang is just three hours and about USD5. We were dropped off somewhere in the main part of the city and then grabbed a taxi to Sandy Beach Resort. Funnily enough, we passed our bus on the way!

Most of the time we were staying at reasonably low-priced hotels, but as the guidebooks showed that there wasn’t much to do in Danang, we booked up a resort to have somewhere to enjoy and relax for a day. Our room was called a villa with a view of the beach – China Beach. Though we could have gone in to the city, we spent the day taking a dip in the ocean, swimming in the pool and enjoying the resort.

Not much more to say for this day since we just relaxed. We really could have skipped visiting Danang as the city didn’t seem to offer much and it is so close to Hoi An, that we could have used more time there instead. Still, it was nice to have a day to chill and live a life of luxury!

More to come…

-T

Aug 062009
 

We really only had the afternoon to do our sightseeing in the city as we were set to leave the next morning for our next stop. So, after settling in to the Orchid Hotel and refreshing a bit, we went off to explore the sights.

Hue is a rather small city and truthfully much more than a day is not necessary. The main attraction in the city is the citadel. With a ticket purchase of 55,000VND, you can explore the grounds to your heart’s content.

In the citadel is the Forbidden Purple City. I’m not sure why it was forbidden nor did I see signs of purple, but I’m sure if I took the time to read up on the history these answers would be clear. Within the grounds there were many missing buildings with foundation rocks showing where the buildings would have been much like a number of castle grounds in Japan. The buildings that were still around had some really interesting carvings and designs on them.

 

On our way to the citadel, we stopped at the Dong Ba Market just across the river and had a quick look around. This area is apparently well-known for their cone-shaped hats with “poems” hidden on the inside that can be seen as shadows when in the proper lighting. It was pretty cool and I half considered buying one, but as I wasn’t really in the mood to negotiate, I passed it up. What would I do with a cone-shaped hat anyway?? This was perhaps the most interesting market for me to walk through. Perhaps it felt more like a place locals would go instead of tourists. It reminded me quite of the market in Cusco that I used to go to frequently.

We had a bit of a rest before dinner and since our hotel was in the main tourist area, there were plenty of restaurants to choose from. So, we decided on a place called Hot Tuna and had dinner on the roof. The waiter was pretty friendly and made me smile with his little laughs as he inquired about where we were from and how we liked Vietnam. He was studying in Hue to be a high school English teacher back in his hometown north of Hanoi. It was the only time we really had a decent conversation with a Vietnamese person, so that was pretty nice.

Afterwards, we had drinks at Brown Eyes for their long happy hour prices. It was a weirdly decorated bar, but the staff was nice and the drinks good.

Thus ended our day in Hue.

More to come…

-T

Aug 052009
 

A full day of traveling to our next destination was spent for our half-way mark of our travels through Vietnam.

There was a bit of waiting around as our boat made its way back to the port and we were shuttled back to land. In some ways it was a relief to return to a more comfortable form of life on land after being away in the quiet and watery-world. In others, I immediately missed the breeze and peacefulness of the boat bobbing along the waves.

We boarded our bus heading back to Hanoi where we were to catch our night train down to Hue. The bus was slightly delayed in traffic due to an accident with a taxi and tourist bus, but after a bit of honking, people-watching and swerving in and out of traffic, we were on our speedy way. The bus driver was on the short-tempered side in his driving as he sped by other trucks, cars, and motorbikes driving the bus at a bouncy clip so that we could have been on a trotting horse rather than in the back of a bus. With an interesting “shortcut” that took us down a bumpy dirt road and lost time from the regular road, we made it in good time to Hanoi back to our original hotel where we had a couple of hours to spend before heading for the train station.

Craig and I went for a quick Pho dinner while Roman caught up on his internet. Then, we took a quick taxi ride to the station. Now, our hope had been to get the Livitran for our 13-hour night journey to Hue. However, when we asked at the hotel, they told us it was all sold out. The next best option was for a soft-sleeper bed, with four bunks and a bit more space. Sadly, also sold out. So, our personal trip to the station to get tickets resulted in the three of us getting very cheap tickets for the 6-bunk hard-sleeper bed train. This website shows the different options pretty well.

When we arrived at our car, there were already three or rather four (two women were sharing one of the bottom bunks) people settled in. I took the top bunk and the boys got the two middle bunks. It was an experience… no-smoking cars that allowed smoke, so that it traveled through the air conditioning system right above my head, very little head space and a precarious decline to the ground were a couple of the adjustments needed to be made. Still, I have to say it was not as bad as it could have been and I felt like I got to see how the locals would travel, which is better in a way than using my wealth for comfort. One night of less comfortable environs was worth being able to write about.

In the morning, most people were in the hallway looking out the window and trying to take in some “fresh” air as the scenery flew by. We arrived in Hue without incident and were greeted by our pickup for the hotel.

More to come…

-T

Aug 042009
 

In the morning, Columbus Cruise came to pick us up from our hotel. After a few stops to pick up more of our travel companions, we were on our three-hour bus ride to Halong Bay for our two night/three day tour.

At first, our tour guide, Hai, was a bit too talkative and happy for me. After Egypt, I’ve become a bit less patient and more skeptical of tour guides and their babble. However, everything got better despite a hot rest stop and some waiting for our shuttle boat to arrive to take us to our ship – the Pinta Gold. Once we settled in to our tight, but lovely cabin quarters, had some lunch and adjusted to a few days on the water, I felt a bit better.

Our first event after lunch was to take a smaller boat to the “Amazing Caves”. The event didn’t start too well as my sunglasses dropped into the sea forever since they were on my head and not my face….If only they had been $10 ones instead of what they really were…oh well, just things, right???

The Amazing Caves turned out to be pretty cool. Though, after seeing the caves of Nerja, they were perhaps less amazing than they could have been. Still, it was a nice little tour to start off our trip. Afterward, we returned to our ship to anchor in the night spot and have a bit of a swim. At last! With a slight hesitation to jump off the boat, I felt happy to be back in the water since it had been a bit of time since I last had a good swim and was starting to miss it. We all enjoyed the refreshing water until a jellyfish scare and someone getting stung took some of the joy out of it and we all got out of the water for the evening.

The next day was an early start with breakfast at 7am and off on an “adventure” kayaking trip at 745. The kayaking was a bit tough, but Craig did most of the work, so I didn’t feel too sore afterwards…, but the weather was absolutely perfect and we got to see some great views of the islands and water. Too bad I didn’t get any photos of the kayaking trip, but I was afraid of the water ruining my camera.

After the kayaking we returned to the ship to prepare for our day trip out. We took a smaller boat out towards the Cat Ba islands and found a private beach to have lunch on the sand and a good safe swim in the sea. Some of us stayed to enjoy the water and others (Craig and Roman) went off on an “adventure” trek. Apparently the trek was good exercise and worth it the effort. I enjoyed the water immensely and spent most of the afternoon floating and swimming around. Considering I have spent a great deal of my life hating water, I’m a bit shocked at how much I really am enjoying and almost needing to swim these days!

In the evening, we headed back to the boat and had a quiet one.

Our last day in the bay started like the previous one and we did a short kayaking trip around the floating fishing village. It was cool to see how people live in houses on the water. It’s a lifestyle totally impossible to me!

After some waiting around and such, we finally made it back to land and had an interesting bus ride back to the city noises of Hanoi.

More to come,

T

Aug 032009
 

Cities used to be my favorite places to be, but now I’m reconsidering if I’m a city-girl or not. Walking down the streets of Hanoi is so stressful to me with the incessant and mostly-unnecessary horn-honking. The sidewalks are full of motorbikes or squatting people having a chat, so pedestrians are mostly forced to walk on the street. So, it’s not really fun to walk the city – though it is still infinitely better than Ho Chi Minh.

We set off to see “Hanoi Hilton” or Hoa Lo Prison in the morning. In my junior high gym class, my teacher – an Army reserve person – would make us do obstacle courses and called it Hanoi Hilton. So, for some reason I imagined some sort of obstacle course for the real place…of course, it wasn’t quite the same. The prison was pretty interesting. The pictures showed soldiers having a “good” time during their captivity and made it seem less terrible as a prison should seem. Makes you wonder about the truth as is true with all historical places. In any case, it was nice to read some descriptions that didn’t include the evil Americans, but rather the evil French! ha ha.

From the prison, we made a short rest stop and then headed out to the Vietnam Museum of Ethnology. This was definitely worth the trip out. The inside of the museum was pretty good with representation and explanations of the various tribes and ethnic groups in Vietnam throughout history. There were exhibits of the usual cultural artefacts and such. However, the best part, I thought, was the outside exhibits showing the life-size houses/dwellings and replication of the lifestyles. We also saw a water puppet show that can “only be seen in Vietnam”. It was humorous, but overall not so interesting to watch. I think seeing how the puppet-masters worked would have been more worth it, but what can you do? πŸ™‚

 
 
  

All this was done pre-lunch, though we ended up having a fairly late lunch and thus a ridiculous amount of food at the Hanoi Garden. The food was excellent and tided us over for the rest of the night. So, we found a pub from the Lonely Planet called “Polite Pub”, which was quiet and nice. Then, we decided to wander to another venue and found “Avalon” overlooking the lake. It was a middle-class bar for the young Vietnamese folk, which made it a bit more interesting.

Overall, our last day and night in Hanoi was pretty good despite originally thinking it would be too much time in the noise-polluted city! Our trip to Halong Bay is going to be soooo good with some peace and quiet!

More to come,

T

Aug 022009
 

Realizing that we had a day longer than we thought in Hanoi, we decided to have a fairly lazy day starting with a bit of a lie in (aka 7ish).

After a breakfast downstairs we settled on a plan to head to the train station to get our tickets down to Hue after we return from HaLong Bay.

The train station was pretty easy to find and though slightly chaotic, it was quick to get our tickets. The more comfortable night train cabins were all booked up so we are in a hard sleeper car with six bunks. Should be interesting!
 
From the station we parted ways with Roman and headed up to the Ho Chi Minh masoleum complex. Neither of us needed to wait in the long line to get up close to the ashes of the great leader but we did head in to the museum. That was mind-boggling. Perhaps modern/contemporary artists would appreciate it more than I did with an abstract setup and non-linear layout. I appreciated that it was different but am not sure I learned anything about the man or country.

From there we visited the Presidential Palace grounds where HCM had a couple of different houses. The lines were nothing like those seen in Japan but the site was moderately interesting to me. At least I got some history in, right?

It began to rain when we finished so we caught a taxi back to the hotel where we pretty much relaxed for most of the afternoon. We did go out for a really good lunch at the Ladybird restaurant, another LP listed place.

In the evening, we met up with Roman again for dinner. We went nearby to Baan Thai, which was good but paled to our lunch. After dinner Craig and I went in search of somewhere to grab a drink. We found Hair of the Dog, which had an eclectic mix of 80’s music, entertaining drink explanations and very well-mixed drinks.

It was a lovely end to our day with one more to go in Hanoi. What adventures will we find tomorrow?

-T
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Aug 012009
 

I had a terrible night’s sleep with backpacker’s alley being a busy locale until 3am and restless dreams the rest of the night. However, we were up bright and early to head out for our flight to Hanoi.
We took Vietnam Airlines up. It’s just two short hours and the flight seemed alright though I was half awake for most of it. πŸ™‚

Our airport pickup for Hanoi Boutique hotel was there to greet us for the hour journey in to the city. It was quite nice to see the mountains and countryside on the drive in.

I was struck by the orange or red roofs everywhere. I’m not sure why, but it seems somehow strange to see them. I wasn’t withit enough to take photos but maybe later pictures will reveal what I am talking about.

The city is smaller, thus fewer motorbikes but still a ton! Most buildings are tall and narrow which I haven’t quite come to understand because space doesn’t seem to be that much of a problem. Perhaps it is money….

Our new hotel is lovely and the staff is very friendly. We are located in the Old Quarter which is pretty convenient for seeing most things.

So after settling in, we headed out to explore. The streets are filled with stores/vendors and the honking of horns. The cyclo riders made frequent attempts to get us as customers but we walked on. After a bit of meandering we found the Hoan Kiem Lake and had a walk around that.

In search for lunch we took a very long detour and somehow ended up in the northwest along the shores of Ho Tay (West Lake). Thankfully, the boats had food so we ate on the Potomac. Though the food was pretty average we watched our first downpour.

Once refreshed, we took a bit of a wander along the lake shore which seemed to be the backside of the South American embassies. There wasn’t much to see other than a few crazies swimming in the water getting their next meal perhaps.

So, as the next downpour began we caught a taxi back to our hotel.

In the evening we went to a popular place recommeneded by Lonely Planet called 69 for drinks and dinner. It was pretty good and thus was our first afternoon in Hanoi!

More to come,

-T
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