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The Vietnam Conclusion

By on Apr 1, 2011 in Vietnam | 0 comments

Hello, What’s Your Name? A three week adventure around Vietnam.   After three intense and chaotic weeks of travelling through Vietnam, Nic and I had made it to our last destination, Ho Chi Minh City airport for our flight home. It was with a mix of sadness that we were to be concluding such a great adventure, yet relief as my travel worn body, challenged at every corner on this overland trip, was glad to be heading home to the comforts of a clean shower and a comfortable bed. We had done it! A journey that so many dream of and a journey that will remain with me for the rest of my life. In retrospect, Vietnam is what I had always been looking for in my South East Asian adventures, rough and ready travel, chaotic Asian influences, amazing food and the chance to really get off the beaten track with no one holding my hand. Yes I nearly got Niki injured a few times, yes Giardia is not a good travelling companion and yes I was pick pocketed, however we can’t overlook the most important aspect. We had successfully travelled from Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh City for our honeymoon and Niki and I were still married by the end of it (not to mention the rules of marriage I learnt) – that tells me my marriage is as strong as Vietnamese rice wine. Wrapping up the Hello what’s your name? Blog Series, I want to share my thoughts with you on a country that is rapidly opening to tourism and some of my highlights over the three weeks. Hanoi, like an estranged lover, just as you get close it bitch slaps you and puts you back in your place. I liked Hanoi for this reason. It’s a political capital city with hard liners and a do or die attitude which more resembles China than South East Asia. I won’t lie though, I can see why this city wouldn’t appeal to everyone. It’s not relaxing, you’re constantly on edge from touts and manic traffic and you never quite feel like you’re welcome. Halong Bay. It’s touristy, it’s expensive and its one of the best indulgent activities I have ever participated in. Let’s face it, this is Halong Bay, nothing else in the world is similar! Splash out and spoil yourself with this one, its well worth it. Sapa’s uniqueness comes from the gracious Hmong indigenous people of the area who single handedly make it worth the 12 hours of train travel it will take you to get here. Its cultural vibe is rivaled by nowhere else in South East Asia as its not staged for tourists like Thailand. Well worth a trek to Ta Phin if you get the chance and the whole experience is a must when travelling to Vietnam. Hoi An is Vietnam’s tourist town and is polished, buffed and presented in a neat package. Needless to say Hoi An is popular and you’ll be surrounded by tourists from all over the world and from all walks of life. However if you’re like me and you wish you could have seen Asia in the times when Singapore was the whore of the east, Hong Kong was the opium capital and sea traders ruled South East Asia, then Hoi An can give you a glimpse into what a trading port would have looked like. No opium or ladies of the night (not that I saw) but heaps of great restaurants, relaxed nightlife, clean beaches and of course lots of lanterns. Hue! I don’t really understand where Hue fits into Vietnam. Torn apart by war, centered on its cultural history of emperors and moving forward whilst watching its back. Perhaps I was in a travel low whilst here or perhaps travel shouldn’t always be fun, sometimes it should be hard going and thought provoking – which Hue certainly is. Nha Trang is a small town and reminds me of the coastal towns of Spain – English breakfast cafes, themed pubs, tourist development, the beach and not much to do. Nha Trang was comfortable but I personally don’t know why people stop there. The beaches are better near Hoi An, there aren’t many attractions and unless you’re into getting cheaply drunk all night………ohhhh that’s why people stop there. Apparently it’s a good dive spot too! Ho Chi Minh City. I have to admit I didn’t give enough time to explore this city, only staying here for two days. Saigon as it was formerly known is just as crazy, chaotic and thrill riding as you expect it to be. It’s also very sobering with the War Remnants Museum and Reunification Palace giving a horrific glimpse into Vietnam’s history. Make sure to give yourself plenty of time when visiting this city and hold onto to you knickers you’re in for the ride of your life! So with that I say thank you for sticking with me over the last five months, the trip to Vietnam was life changing. I really encourage you to visit Vietnam before it starts to open to the mass western tourism that so much of South East Asia has already adopted. Vietnam isn’t a walk in the park however if you’re thinking of travelling to Vietnam, you probably already know that.  That’s it for “Hello, what’s your name?” and with that I’d like to say my name is...

Hue to Nha Trang By Train

By on Dec 28, 2010 in Vietnam | 0 comments

Hello, What’s Your Name? A three week adventure around Vietnam.   The first three hours of our twelve hour train ride to Nha Trang was stunning as it snaked its way along the coast of the China Sea. It was also the quietest of the trip as Niki was horrified into silence by the demanding conditions of our carriage. I on the other hand thought the rough and ready approach the Vietnamese had was great and was more than happy to risk my life eating poorly handled chicken and holding on for dear life in a room that resembled something similar to a bathroom thirty years ago. Nic and I were heading for the sea side town of Nha Trang via Danang (jump off here for bus connections to Hoi An) which was a solid twelve hours by train from Hue to catch up with a good mate of ours who had spent the last three months working as a promotional rep. Or at least that is the story we are meant to tell the world, the real story involves espionage, foreign relations and pick pocketing hookers – that’s another story though. Rule No. 13 of being married – Never lie to your wife about the condition of a train to lure her onto it. She will find out that there is no such thing as tourist class,  limited food options and that the bathroom is simply a  hole in the floor – this making the next 12 hours on the train a little awkward. After passing along the coast, the train veered inland past many rural towns, small commercial hubs and remarkable landscapes. Images from the puppet show in Hanoi were coming to life as I saw many people working off the land. Every time we pulled into a town, our windows became the centre of attention as beggars tried to find a way to get by. It was hard and I felt arrogant, but I couldn’t support them. The look in the hungry children’s eyes was gut wrenching and as the conductor “shooed” them off, I thought there had to be a better way to help these people without just handing money out? Arriving into Nha Trang at about 8 .30pm, we headed to the second best hotel we stayed at in Vietnam, Ha Van Hotel. Excellent location, great service, the best breakfast and polished rooms with no cockroaches! Nha Trang had an instant feel of a tourist town similar to those the British loved to visit in Spain or Greece; full of pubs, British breakfast cafes, Italian restaurants and a slightly naughty night scene. Grabbing a bite at a local restaurant that I can’t remember the name of, so its food must not of been any good, I just happen to see my mate walking down the street chasing some women to whoo to his bar – Guava. For the sake of confidentially lets call my mate Hot Dog. My mate hails from the land of the his majesty the queen, but don’t hold that against him. Hot Dog was one of those guys that everyone lovs and was always up for a drink and a good time – I could see why he found himself in Nha Trang. After having a quick chat and arranging to meet up the next day, we headed back to the hotel for some well needed sleep. Waking up to our one and only full day in Nha Trang, we strolled around this relaxed town. Nha Trang is all about the diving , so physical attractions were on the low side. Realizing this, Niki and I decided to head down to the main beach. Unlike the beautiful beaches of Hoi An, Nha Trang’s were cluttered with rubbish, mass development, noisy speed boats and slightly polluted waters. Not to mention a great Hollywood like sign construction on an island in a distance. It had seemed all the major tourism players like the Sheraton and Novotel had come to town and were exploiting Nha Trang for its full potential. That night we grabbed a bite to eat at Lanterns, a local restaurant that supports an orphanage in the area. The food was good and atmosphere was predominantly American. Catching up with Hot Dog after dinner, we headed off to pub crawl the town. There are three main bars to hang out in Nha Trang. The first being the Red Apple Club, a backpacker haven with cheap beverages and a no mercy approach to drinking everyone under the table. The second residing on the beach is the Sailing Club, which is an institution in Nha Trang. It has a funky Asian vibe with slightly over polished décor; any local mafia wouldn’t look out of place here. The final and my personal favourite, which just happened to be the place Hot Dog was working, was Guava. A groovy lounge bar with live bands, good priced drinks and a wicked atmosphere. It’s easy to crawl between them following the vibe and the Sailing Club is open to the early hours of the morning. Nha Trang definitely has a grungy party town vibe to it, however it is a little more blatantly commercial than other parts of Vietnam. If you’re in for a laugh though, Nha Trang can provide and as Hot Dog so expertly put it – “when you stumbling home at night and a...

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...