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Hue, the Cultural Heart of Vietnam

By on Dec 3, 2010 in Vietnam | 0 comments

Hello, What’s Your Name? A three week adventure around Vietnam. Our second day of site seeing Hue involved jumping on an overcrowded boat and heading west to visit the various Royal Tombs. This boat was packed full of tourists and all it needed was a guy with a white flag saying “this way people” for the image to be complete. Needless to say I hated it! I have no problems with people travelling this way; I understand budgets and time constraints. However I’m not fan, I can’t even go the supermarket at home on a busy night. So as we slowly headed up stream, baking in the sun, surrounded by people running left then right across the boat to take photos, I pondered about life on the river. I was pondering about the children swimming on the banks, about the people living in river boats, to the hard workers dredging the bottom of the Perfume River to their families at home. Pondering perhaps that we are no different, we all work too hard and we all have families waiting for us. This was about the time we got kicked off to go see a Kung Fu Fight and requested to pay an exuberant fare for the privilege. With that I chucked my toys across the room, started kicking and screaming, then proclaimed to the world “I’m not playing anymore”. So whilst everyone else watched Jackie Chan take on Jet Lee, part of me regretting my tantrum, I sat outside and watched a local man fish in a drain pipe. Rule No. 12 of being married – If you’re going to throw your toys across the room, perhaps don’t throw them at your wife, she will just throw them back. By the time we arrived at our first real attraction, the Thien Mu Pagoda, the sun was burning its way into my soul and I was bathing in my own sweat. The Buddhist pagoda was beautiful and reached high to the heavens. As the tour guide was doing his spiel, I crept off to the back on the temple and quietly found a group of monks chanting into the fading morning. I sat quietly to the side, just listening and trying to understand what they were chanting. My peace was only broken by the squeal of delight behind me as my tour realised the enticing sound of the monks. It was a scene straight out of the discovery channel. The lions stalk their prey, before encircling it to prevent escape of the helpless antelope, then in the final dying moment of a scene forgotten, fifty cameras start clicking away causing blindness to all involved and the lion leaves well fed. On a side note, if you remember back to a protest where a Monk, Lâm Van Tuc, self-immolated himself for his beliefs in Saigon. At this pagoda there is shrine and the original car used in the protest. The boat part of our tour concluded with us jumping on a mini bus to visit four different tombs known to the area. Nic and I chose the Tombs of Tu Duc and Ming Mang to visit. Reminding me of my travels in China, the tombs offered the chance for travellers to gaze at a world of riches, opulence and massive egos. Could you imagine a prime mister or president today saying I want the country to build a grave the size of small city to house myself and all my belongings? Tu Doc was easily my favourite, with a small pagoda built just for the emperor to write his poems in and overlooked a small pond fall of floating lily pads and swimming Koi. Ming Mang was arguably grander, with complex after complex housing various statues and inscriptions. Just like the rest of Vietnam, explanations are limited. Nic and I jumped back on our mini bus, beginning our long cramped journey back to the hotel. We stopped on route at a small tourist trap town with Niki having the chance to get lost in thousands upon thousands of brightly coloured incense sticks. The incense was laid in bunches that made Canon printer adverts look dull. After my fellow tourists’ ooowwwed and arrrrhheddd at the colours ( secretly so did I), purchased half a rainforest worth, we resumed our trip back to the hotel. After finding another cockroach that night in the hotel, this time the size of a small rhinoceros, I suggested to Niki it was time we moved on. Hue thrives on culture, is full of history and awash with tragic memories.  With this tantalising concoction mixed with the general Vietnamese desire for chaos, you would expect Hue to be an eclectic mix of everything South East Asia should be…but it’s not. For everything Hue provides, it is lost in it’s over organised tours, its unbalanced mix of contrasting characters and Hue’s inability to express itself confidently.  In saying all that, it’s well worth a stop if you are in Central Vietnam, just don’t expect Hoi An…which might be a good...

The Contrasts of Hue

By on Nov 21, 2010 in Vietnam | 0 comments

Hello, What’s Your Name? A three week adventure around Vietnam. We were lost…again! I swear it’s not my fault this time, however I could see in Niki’s face that she didn’t have the patience for it today, not after our last episode only a couple of days ago. Getting lost is something I usually don’t do and when I do do it, I don’t do it very well! See we arrived in Hue that morning after taking a sleeper bus (think Harry Potter style) to the cultural heart of Vietnam. Home to imperial cities, the former demilitarized zone and many opulent tombs. Unlucky on my behalf, the hotel (Bing Minh Sunrise 1) we were looking for had closed down. In fact it had been pulled down and rebuilt into a concrete car park. I liked what the owners had done with the place, rather simple yet minimalistic. What muddied the situation even more was a pushy tout who latched onto us saying the hotel we were looking for had closed and we should stay with him. I have to say though, when is this ever actually the case? Vietnam is the only country I’ve ever visited where hotels have actually disappeared, closed or been demolished. On any other day my not so friendly tout would just be pulling the wool over my eyes.   With the heat bearing down and our stress levels going up, we got a lot a little too stern with our tout. With this he then promptly zoomed off on his moped and shouted something in Vietnamese which I could only roughly translate into “may you develop back and nose hair like an ugly yeti, whilst your bed is filled with a plague of cockroaches”. This was about the same time we found our car park and now needed a new place to stay. Rule No. 11 of being married – Learn from your past mistakes, getting your wife lost twice in one week is never a good idea. We ended up checking into the not so smart hotel named the Thai Binh Hotel 2 and regretted the curse our tout had put upon us. I’m not a fan of hurling abuse at hotels, however I’m going to give it go: Over priced ($40pn), big cockroaches, bad service, bland breakfast, gross dinner and it shouldn’t be in my guide book! Hurts me to say it, however it was easily the worse hotel I stayed at in Vietnam. Still to this day I wake up in a cold sweat thinking about the size of those cockroaches! Our first day in Hue was spent visiting the impressive Citadel on the north side of the Perfume river. Constructed in 1904, the citadel houses the imperial enclosure and the decaying remnants of the Forbidden Purple city. It will easily take half a day just to walk the enclosure and is well worth the visit; don’t forget heaps of water and a hat. The site is slowly being rebuilt after it was bombed by the Americans during the war and there isn’t a lot of information available on what you’re looking at, so if you can grab a guidebook or a guide, you’ll get a more rewarding interpretative experience. By the way, watch out for the toilets, we saw a BFS – a Big Fire truck of a Snake. Walking through the citadel is an intriguing experience and one of contrasts. You have the opportunity to experience ancient oriental architecture long lost in the pages of history, yet it’s strangely disengaging as you pass hawkers deformed from the atrocities of war selling dog tags and war “memorabilia” of fallen soldiers. It got even weirder when we ate at the Lac Thien Restaurant which is run by a deaf family and is popular with tourists.  It wasn’t weird due to the establishment or the excellent food, but due to the messages that had been written all over the wall by passing Contiki groups about varying topics – ranging from political statements to how good someone was in bed; it sadly reminded me of a dog marking its territory in the park. I felt awkward as an Australian to be reading some of the comments about Tasmanians and Queenslanders, yet here I was in Hue reading stuff that wouldn’t look out of place in a pub back home. Heading back to the hotel and to the waiting cockroaches, I didn’t really know what to make of Hue so far and felt a little perplexed by it all. I suppose every destination doesn’t necessarily have to be fun and entertaining to be worth a visit, sometimes it should be reflective and engaging, after all that’s what travelling is about. Perhaps tomorrow will shed some light on the...

Hoi An is Pure Travel Porn

By on Nov 8, 2010 in Vietnam | 0 comments

Hello, What’s Your Name? A three week adventure around Vietnam. Okay I’m going to say it, go out on a limb and just be done with it, no embarrassment or blushing, no pillow talk. Simply put: Hoi An is pure, unadulterated travel porn. There I said it! I’m so in love with Hoi An that I’m going to use every clichéd saying under the sun; It’s the perfect mix of old world Asian charm, home to some of the most tantalizing gourmet Vietnamese food and the perfect place for  romantic strolls under glowing paper lanterns that light the barmy evenings. Everywhere you look children play along the quiet alleyways and as you stroll along the river you are gifted with glimpsing insights into artist’s studios, ancient homesteads and a way of life long forgotten. Your senses are carried away with the aromas of simmering broths and incense sticks to a faraway place, all helping to suspend you in a sultry evening of everything you dreamed Asia to look like, plus everything you didn’t. Needless to say I think Niki and I really liked Hoi An. After a dramatic entrance and Niki collapsing, we ended up spending 5 amazing days here, just wandering through the museums and temples by day and strolling the along the river at night in search for the best dinner and of course dessert. It’s very easy to put on a few kilos in Hoi An, in fact my beloved told me I should “buy some fat pants” today. I blame Hoi An! Here are a few recommendations that are well worth the visit. Cargo Club: Neo Colonialism is still well and truly alive is this amazing bakery come cafe come restaurant. I knew about the  Cargo Club well before we arrived in Vietnam. Its name is legendary on the travel circuit and anyone who has been to Hoi An has certainly eaten themselves in to a slow death with one of their many, many, many pastries, desserts and gourmet delectables they have to offer. My brother’s girlfriend highly recommends the Tiramisu and I would have to agree! Needless to say, Niki and I had to be rolled home every night after we would finish here. Come to think of it, there were a few lunches that we need to be rolled home from as well. Secret Garden: Sort of defeats the purpose of telling you about this secret restaurant, however it’s a gem. I’ve always found my favorite places are down quiet alley ways that aren’t as popular with tourists, however this place is on the way though. Hands down and I surrender, this place had the best Vietnamese fusion in all of Vietnam and the restaurant is beautifully placed within an Indochinese setting. Yes its expensive compared to South East Asian standards, but the servings a big, the staff are beautiful and the food amazing. The free samplers you get at the start are indescribable. Phu Quoc Hotel: Another best of moment goes to this great hotel. Recommended in the Lonely Planet it’s a 5mins bike ride to the Old Town and has spacious modern rooms with room service, free breakfast, swimming pool, cable (hey I’m on my honeymoon, I can watch TV on my holiday), the most friendly staff and free internet. I’ve paid more for less in Australia and the flowers the gave us because it was our honeymoon was a nice touch. Rule No. 10 of being married – Never tell your wife a second helping of dessert is probably not a good idea, apparently women have a dessert stomach? Now for my last suggestion and one of my favorites. Wait for night, than head into the old town, cross over the bridge and head to the lantern quarter of Hoi An, it  truly is a kaleidoscope of colours and characters. Anyway what an amazing 5 days! I nearly killed Niki three times and I have only been married for 2 weeks, which so far makes it about a 30% chance when she wakes up that I’m going to some how endanger her life. It is definitely worth a stop in Hoi An and arguably the number 1 destination to visit in Vietnam. Tomorrow, we are off to Hue and the cultural heart of...

The Hoi An Cyclo Challenge, Vietnam

By on Oct 27, 2010 in Vietnam | 0 comments

Hello, What’s Your Name? A three week adventure around Vietnam. Arriving back to our hotel from our anti-climax of a relaxing morning on the beach, we received a knock on our door, considering I just got undressed to change out of my bathers I decided to just go ahead open it whilst being completely naked!  Just as my hand gripped the handle to pull it open, my bravado encouraging me to do it, Niki walks out of the bathroom, looks at my hand trembling towards the handle, instantly she knows what I’m about do and before I can explain myself, falls onto the bed laughing as if this was the biggest joke she had seen all week. With my encouragement burst like an over inflated balloon, I yelled “just a second”, grabbed some clothes and opened our door to the friendly front desk attendant. The staff at Phu Quoc Hotel are the best in all of Vietnam and as we recently found the attendant  got married only a week before, Niki and she would enjoy a number of girly chats over the week. However this time her face was smiling yet straight to the point, she said with an almost life and death situation voice, “we would like to you to be in a game show for the hotel”. Instantly I knew I couldn’t pass this opportunity up, how many times in your life do you get to be in a Vietnamese Game show right? So before I knew what I was doing, I agreed. This was one of those times I should of clarified a few things before I agreed to it – my mind takes me take to a time in Bangkok when a Thai lady asked if I wanted a happy ending with my massage, this was another time I should of asked more questions before jumping in and just saying yes…..okay maybe not, but you get the point. So after getting dressed and running down the stairs, the request became a little more detailed, in fact, it morphed into a totally different concept all together, I was going to be riding in a Cyclo Rally from the town center to the beach we just rode from. This time I was to be the passenger whilst I left it up to a professional to do all the hard work, or so I thought.  As the challenge was only for me, I felt bad about leaving my new wife but before I could say “Comme onnnnn down”, Niki was being chucked on the back of a motorbike and became the official photographer for the event, whilst I was going to represent Phu Quoc Hotel in basically an over-glorified Miss Cyclo Universe challenge.  As Niki headed off, I jumped on the back of another motorbike and hurled myself towards the starting point and where my carriage awaited. Arriving to the starting line, drums were playing, beautiful Vietnamese women were walking up and down holding banners like at the F1, I had underestimate the seriousness of this event. All the other hotels and tourist companies each had amazingly decorated cycles and an adopted tourist to come for the ride. They were dressed in amazing Vietnamese silk, brightly coloured sashes and other iconic clothing and here I was, in an outfit more closely resembling pajamas than finely tuned racing gear….I was in trouble (I put all my clothes in the wash that morning). Mentioning my dilemma to my motorbike rider, he said Ill fix it and rode off into the sunset. Niki and I were sure he went to a local tailor shop and before I could say “can I buy a vowel please”, I was wearing a red women sash with the hotel’s name on it. Now I just looked like an over-sized candy cane, but it would have to! I met my cyclo driver, a man half my size but with legs built like rocks and Niki went off to begin her photojournalism. Half and hour of waiting and my driver suggested I sit on the driver’s seat and Niki in the passenger seat for a photo; this happened to be the same time the race began! So before I could say “What is a three wheeled bicycle”, the driver gave me a sly smile and pushed me off. I had just become the next Michael Schumacher of the cyclo world in this PR stunt and it was about to backfire. Pushing the heavy pedals  to get up to speed whilst following the 20 other cycles along a route that would take us through the old town of Hoi An before onto the final destination, Cua Dai Beach.  It was surprisingly easy once you got momentum, Niki was loving it and people were lining the streets to wave and cheer. Naturally I embraced this. As I turned the first corner, watching all the cars still on the road as I was riding along, this was about the time I realized I hadn’t had the chance to ask the basics….like where the brakes were for instance? And as I waved back at people, who for some odd reason seemed to be overly waving at me as if they were trying to tell me to look out for something, I heard Niki yell out “PETER WATCH OUT”! Well apparently they weren’t so much waves of excitement and love for me, but...

Cua Dai Beach Vietnam

By on Oct 3, 2010 in Vietnam | 0 comments

Hello, What’s Your Name? A three week adventure around Vietnam. After our disastrous ride from the day before, today I decided to treat Niki to a lazy day by the beach, so with that we jumped on our bikes…..pedal power this time for the 5km ride to Cua Dai Beach. It was a relaxing early morning ride, pass rice paddies, lily fields and kids heading off to school. We followed the Thu Bon River as it bends towards the sea, finally arriving at the empty beaches of Cua Dai. Parking our bikes up and paying 100k dong for two sun beds, we relaxed into an inspiring view of crystal blue water lapping against perfect white sandy beaches. The water was cooling against the already sticky morning, the sand was burning and the slight breeze was appreciated. The perfect touch was a beautiful old lady, with aged lines intriguingly crafted into her face who sold us fresh mangoes and a pineapple expertly cut, quartered and skinned. This woman knew how to use a knife and I was envious, if not slightly afraid, of her skills. This lasted for about 2 hours… Rule No. 8 of being married – Providing relaxation time is always good for your wife = Happy wife, happy Life! By 11ish the mainstream tourists had woken from their slumbers and nosily made there way down the beach and decided to plunk themselves on both sides of us. This was the beginning of the end of our relaxation time. Now I’m not usually so grumpy and anti-tourists (each to his or her own), but today was meant to be quiet, meant to be relaxing, meant to be chilled – and then the pawn (I can’t spell it the other way as Google will hate me) star pervert come camera man arrived. You know the type. The one with a camera pretending to take images of the ocean, instead zooming in on women in bikinis as they sunbath, as the put sunscreen on or participating in any other American college year movie stereotypes. What got me was he was so blatantly obvious about it, that I cant believe no one else noticed. So if you were on the beach in Hoi An in July perhaps keep an eye for “girls go crazy in Vietnam” DVD which might be released on YouTube soon. This was also the time that three lively tourists plunked themselves down and decided to roast themselves to oblivion and I’m talking blisters and skin cancer territory. Not to mention the loud, boisterous and slightly rude bargaining they begun with the pineapple lady. Is it really that important that you pay 20 cents more than a local? We can afford it. However this was nothing compared to a particular badly behaved British couple that were about make an appearance. So let’s set the scene: All the sun beds are lined up under umbrellas, so everyone has a perfect sea view of the beach in front of them and can pull the beds forward to get into the sun without blocking the other person sight. So lets welcome our tourists, who stroll in and instantly throw their clothes to the ground, pull out their beds and then in the most bizarre thing,  turn them sideways and place them in front of everyone else so they can’t see the water. WHAT THE!?!?! I was seething, this isn’t good beach etiquette and totally disrespectful. So what did I do? I wrote them an imaginary letter. Dear British Couple on the Beach in Hoi An I am writing to you to inform you that just because you think you have god’s gift of a body, it doesn’t mean you have the right to make everyone look at it. And no, contrary to popular belief no one wants you to pop your pimples in front them, it’s just not cool. I didn’t pay my money to witness that! So next time you come to the beach, please don’t put your chair in front us so that you completely block our view from the beautiful sea view.  Instead, grab a mango, be a little more considerate and chill out! Your sincerely Peter PS Get a wax! With that, I felt my stress levels going through the roof and decided enough was enough, jumped back on our bikes and headed back to the hotel to mope. I thought of putting a book together of all the rude and annoying things travelers and tourists do – what do you think? Dear American Tourist in Italy, no one wants to hear you sing to your boyfriend at the back of the bus for 2 hours, and then turn to him and say “I think I should become a singer” in a non joking manner. I’m sure I’ve done some rude things and I’m not perfect, but generally I try to think of others whilst I travel.  Anyway enough of my soap box, for today was just warming to be one of the most memorable days in Vietnam…I was about to become a...

My Son and the Ride of My Life in Vietnam

By on Sep 30, 2010 in Vietnam | 0 comments

Hello, What’s Your Name? A three week adventure around Vietnam. Hindsight is a mixed blessing, it can give you the ability to look back at a situation and laugh about all things funny, or the chance to look back and say “what the hell was I thinking?” Well today on our trip to My Son, it was going to be a one of those “what the hell was I thinking” kinds of days. Earlier that day, Niki and I decided to hire out scooters and ride the 35kms to the ancient temple complex of My Son, a sort of smaller version of Angkor Wat. I grew up riding bikes and feel reasonable comfortable scooting through traffic, however my beloved wife having only attempted once in Thailand, was in a different league of her own. When the bike shop owner asked politely if we wanted to share a bike, memories of our last attempt sharing a bike came flooding back – the wind in our hair in remote Laos, my beautiful wife to be holding on to my waist like lovers riding through Rome…the small rut that I hit, Niki falling off and the  broken shin bone Niki received from this, it all came flooding back. Instantly looking at Nic thinking the same thing, I knew we had to get a second bike, neither that I had reservations about letting her even get close to the road, let alone ride on them. “Niki, you have to go faster than 10kms an hour, it’s not safe” I yelled as I zipped passed her on my scooter. After getting past her wobbles, refueling and getting out of Hoi An’s traffic, we started playing the game of cat and mouse. For the next 35km I would ride ahead, stop and wait for a couple of minutes, than Niki would cruise by, allowing me to repeat the process all over again – it was tiring.  After heading straight for a good 45 minutes, we hit our first major issue, a set of traffic lights! Being advocates of the British driving side, Vietnam developed it’s road’s like the rest of Europe – incorrectly. With nothing to loose I simply closed my eyes, prayed to the higher almighty and gunned it! All I heard was Niki yelling from a distance “waittttt fooooorrrrr meeeee yoooou bastardddddd!” Rule No. 7 of being married – Wait for your wife! It will save you a telling off. The rest of the trip to My Son would be cruisey, as all the turns would be in our favor, coming back though was going to be a different story and it was obvious Niki hadn’t realised this yet. If she had, I’m sure she would have turned around on the spot. We arrived into the complex of My Son, being told that we could park under the shade of a tree by a local women, only to get off and be told we had  to buy a drink from her shop for parking there – damn the Vietnamese were good, how do I keep falling for these tricks?! After a cold drink, we then realized we were 1km away from the actual site and it was pointless parking where we had. Laughing, we jumped back on our bikes and headed closer. As we got closer, another person, looking a little scarier, told us to park in a car park. The car park more resembled a dirt bowl; however who am I to judge? Then the scary looking official told us that we had to pay for parking, handing the money over and seething through my teeth, I knew this was going towards his Saigon beer allowance. After a good two hours, we finally begun our walk into the My Son complex, the massive site consist five regions of temples, buildings and other ancient delights. Considering it hundreds of years old, it’s aged well. After walking through the various complexes and passed a giant phallic that Niki pointed out (That’s my wife, always keeping an eye for the good stuff!), the incredible heat was starting to make us look like British tourists in Spain. With that in mind, we headed back to our bikes to head home. The ride back started off well with the exception of Niki falling off her bike…..whilst standing still. The roads were empty; this was mainly due to the fact that the roads were eerily quiet due to siesta. I broke the trip up in my mind into two intersections and a Y junction to navigate and we would be home free. Five minutes before the first one I pulled Niki over and discussed the game plan, stick with me and when I say go – we go! So heading towards our first and biggest intersection, I yell to Niki “GO” and without out looking back I merge into the endless stream of traffic, it was like a work of art! Looking over my shoulder to make sure my beloved was with me, only to look back to see Niki at the intersection still –  paralyzed with fear, tears overwhelming and a look on her face similar to a women trying to eat jellied eels – pure disgust! Zipping back to her, I can see she has had it, the incredible heat, the insane traffic and the weary body from riding a bike, I could tell all she...