Tuesday April 12
Vy, who owns Vy Khanh, had arranged an airport pick up to our hotel Tam Anh (her crazy Aunties hotel because she was full for our extra night) for our 10:30 am flight to Danang. At the airport a couple of girls sat across from us that were on our tour of the floating markets the day before. One of them had a binder of travel documents all in shiny plastic sheets and I was worried for a few minutes this might be the end of my marriage. LOL James sat watching her leaf through it and exclaimed “I am in love!” We ended up chatting with them and in the next few days getting to know them as we bumped into them around Hoi An.
Once in Danang we needed to get to Hoi An. This meant more bartering for transportation. We finally decided on a cab to the local bus station which was 6 km away. A German girl, very tired from 30 hours of travel, shared our cab, which I think she may have regretted. A few minutes into the ride James realized we were going the wrong way, kinda (James’ Note: completely wrong, not “kinda”) . Our cabbie took us almost double the distance by taking the really long way in the opposite direction past the shore front and back towards the bus station. James started to complain. Once at the bus station James figured out how much it should have cost (the meters have a handy km counter beside the price) and paid him for what it should have been. I gave the girl a heads up and she just took a few steps back and watched the excitement. The cabbie was showing James a print off, James was arguing he was cheating us…the cabbie called over a friend who I believe understood James and just started to laugh at his friend. Finally the cabbie took the money and we walked way…..to begin the bartering process all over for the local bus. UGH! We got on the bus and only paid double what a local would pay, and we know this because in great big numbers the actual price is written on the side of the bus. Once to the Hoi An bus station it started all over again. “sigh” The bike taxies were asking about the same prices as our ride from Danang cost and added it was 7 km. (James’ Note: It was less than 1 km, and was obvious from the giant map directly behind the taxi drivers). So we decided to walk a ways from the station and shortly found 2 old guys on even older bikes that took us for less than one tenth the price– the whole 300m. 2 km if you include circling various blocks because they didn’t know where our hotel actually was, with James pointing in the right direction the whole time!
We dropped our bags in our fourth floor no elevator room and went to explore the beautiful town of Hoi An. We ended up having a meal and Happy Hour drinks (about $1 each) before finding our recommended clothing shop and getting fitted for zip off pants/shorts and a brown corduroy wrap skirt for me. Hoi An is filled with shops that will make anything from $4 dresses to custom fit dress shirts and suits to traditional Vietnamese dresses but it is smart to have a recommendation from someone who had something made. Some are fantastic and reasonable priced, some amazing and expensive and some cheap and make crap.
Happy Hour in Hoi An
Wednesday April 13
Armed with our Hoi An entrance ticket we slowly walked the streets stopping into the old timey places. Despite the first impression that Hoi An is nothing but clothing shops it is filled with beautiful old buildings, some restored to their original state some a crumbling mess. Hoi An was a big commercial port from the 15th the 19th centuries until a change in power was opposed to foreign trade and/or due to silting up of the river mouth. A few things we saw were Quan Cong Temple, Quan Hung House and the Japanese covered bridge.
During our walk we stopped and booked a few busses, a plane ticket and our private car for the next day. At the beginning of the booking James went to the bank machine and I stayed to give dates. The girl assured me I’d get a good deal if we booked it all with her. I asked what kind of a deal, she said “a good one, no worries”. James came back and asked about the “deal”. I said she didn’t actually say. So after giving me a dirty look he asked her the same question and pretty much got the same answer. Hmmmm. Once the total was tallied and mistakes were corrected she gave us $2 off our $400 purchase. UGH! So we stood to leave, then she played with the numbers and we sat back down, and this went on for some time. All in all it took us about an hour to do the whole transaction. (James’ Note: My legs were sore for 3 days from all the standing up to walk out we did during the bargaining) At this rate we will never make it to India! During our day we bumped into the girls from the airport/Ho Chi Minh tour – a common thing while doing any “loop” in the same direction in any country and one of my favourite things about travelling.
Our plan was to do the old timey stuff, have lunch then rent bikes ($1 /day) and go to the beach. But we had lunch at a restaurant that had “Cold Fresh Draft” for 15 cents. After a few we decided to spend our bike money on more draft. $1 each well spent if you ask me. Other than getting our final fitting we pretty much lazed the day away…..and loved it.
Beautiful My Son
Inticate & delicate stone work at My Son
Thursday April 14
Our car picked us up at 8:30 am. We wanted to see a bunch of stuff around Hoi An and Danang but didn’t want to rent scooters and do it ourselves or do it on tours.
The first stop was My Son, a cluster of abandoned and partially ruined Hindu Temples constructed between the 4th and the 14th century AD by the kings of Champa and are dedicated to the worship of the god Shiva. At one time, the site encompassed over 70 temples as well as numerous stele bearing historically important inscriptions. M? Son is perhaps the longest inhabited archaeological site in Indochina but a large majority of its architecture was destroyed by US carpet bombing during a single week of the Vietnam War.
The second was Marble Mountain, a maze of caves full of temples that you can spend a few hours getting lost in. It’s made up of five marble outcrops that were once islands. Despite the heat we climbed to the tops (yes more than one) and were rewarded with stunning views.
Lastly we stopped at Linh Ung Pagoda. A friend of James’ from work in Korea had suggested it and it turned out to be a favourite of mine. Thanks Camille! Linh Ung is built on a sea cliff of Thuy son Mountain and has breath taking views of Non Nuoc beach, the sea and I think we even saw Marble Mountain. Stunning!
Once back in Hoi An we decide to go for wood oven pizza and of course cheap beer (50 cents for a big bottle of Saigon). While there the “girls” walked by and we called them in to join us. A few hours later and way too many beers we were still laughing and talking. After we stumbled home I passed out and James craving something salty ate chicken noodle soup dry out of the package. Ahhhh we are a classy couple.
One of the many caves at Marble Mountain
View from Linh Ung
Fishing boats on Non Nuoc beach
Friday April 15
We had to get up early to catch our bus to Hue. I was not looking forward to the four hour ride in what I thought would be a bumpy, smell, hot local bus until a very nice sleeper bus showed up. It took me about 5 minutes to settle in a fall back unto a dead sleep. Little did I know that I’d sleep better and longer on it than my upcoming overnight sleeper bus.
As we approached Hue our bus pulled over. A guy stood up and said “This bus goes to the bus station, the mini vans outside go to the town center. Me in my dead sleep got up and followed James. We were crammed into our minivan and as the bus pulled away the drives says “oh and it’s 10000 dwd /person”. Which is actually very cheap, I just didn’t like that we were tricked into getting off. We thought they were part of the bus company. Our ticket said to the city center. So James being closest to the guy started to tell him what he thought of his scam. After some not so nice words the guy said he’d drive us to our bus station. That is what we all agreed, take us to the bus station and we’ll get out. So he drove the 50 feet to the main road and said get out. Huh? James did, and continued to tell the guy what he thought. I, wedged in the back seat of the van had the “what should we actually do” conversation with everyone else. They were all pissed, but decided it was an okay price. James and I both agreed we’d rather pay ten times the amount than give this guy any of our money. So out we got into 35 degrees weather, strapped on our packs and started to walk far enough away that we could get a non-connected cab. We finally got bike taxies which for some reason loaded James and his guy up with all but me and my big pack. My guy took off and James’ guy stalled his bike. James was behind me so I didn’t notice until my guy started to stop and ask random people where my hotel was. This went on for some time until finally I just got off. I knew we were close so I figured I could walk, big pack and all. No money (my purse was in my carry on), no map, no name of hotel to show a driver, no water, no hat….. LOL Sorry mom, just what every single girl should be doing in a strange country. About 15 minutes later James and the security guard from our hotel found me walking on the right street towards our hotel! Sometimes even I amaze myself.
The Ancient Citadel in Hue
I was sooooo hot!
Once we were both at the hotel (Tran Ly) drinking the most amazing cold lemon ice tea we booked our tour for the next day and took off for a walk of the city. Hue is the ancient capital of Vietnam and full of beautiful buildings, palaces, temples, arch ways, ponds and walls tucked in to everywhere. It reminds me a bit of Rome (on a much smaller scale) how, if you are looking, can see treasures around every corner. It served as the political capital from 1802 to 1945 under 13 emperors.
We walked over to a Bao Quok Pagoda and where monks and students still study in the peaceful orchid-filled courtyard. It was beautiful, so serene. After that we walked around the citadel, meaning around the outside walls. Behind it James promised me a temple if I’d do the few hour walk in crazy heat. We did finally see the temple but thankfully got lost looking for it in a maze of tiny alley ways where the people went from wanting to sell us something to just being happy to see us. Kids were waving and smiling, old men and ladies sat up to greet us, one kid screeched from his second floor room until we turned and waved. He stopped screeching and waved back frantically. So this is what Vietnam is really like. Of course a day can’t go by without being chased by a random animal. As we walked by a nursing dog she quite suddenly jumped up and started chasing me. The owner, laughing at me as I ran away, called her back. She hesitated before taking one more run for me. We eventually found the temple in the middle of Lake Tinh Tam, it was mostly in ruins. On top was a flat grass bit where a bunch of young boys were playing soccer. Again, very serene and beautiful.
On our walk (once back in tourist territory) we found a Lotteria and stopped for a coke float. Next door was a grocery store so we didn’t have to buy our baguettes (supper was fresh fruit and peanut butter on a baguette) exhaust filled from the street vendors.
Saturday April 16
After a hotel included breakfast of banana pancakes with chocolate we were picked up for our tour of the tombs around Hue. It was a long day but filled with beautiful sights and interesting history.
The tour started at the Ancient Citadel (after of course the 45 minute on the bus picking up other passengers and the Citadel is about a 15 minute walk from our hotel) which began construction in 1805. It is a mix of old and new and quite nice because it’s not completely redone. I think the goal is to someday reconstruct the whole thing which I think won’t be as interesting.
We then headed to Thien Mu Pagoda that overlooks the Perfume River. Behind the pagoda is a large peaceful garden (even with tourists) and behind the whole thing is a huge cemetery. The cemeteries in Vietnam seem to be spread all over the place, in the middle of rice paddies, along road sides, between houses. But this one was huge and went on forever.
Next was a garden house (about .50 cents to enter) and the house was nicely done in the traditional way but we looked and couldn’t find an actual garden. A bunch of trees, but nothing else but dirt and a few chickens. We (and the entire bus) had a shock when a lady from Sweden had her three young children squat and pee at the front gate. Even the Vietnamese men working the ticket booth seemed a bit surprised. People are strange.
If I have it correct, emperors would build a summer palace out of town along the Perfume River and then when he died his tomb would be added. Each tombs and it buildings, ponds, terraces etc. consisted of 2000m sq. or so of land usually surrounded by a wall.
A few new friends
Minh Mang Tomb – A large formal area with amazing architecture. I think I could happily live here.
Khai Dinh Tomb – It was built from concrete and used an iron rod for electricity and had eastern and western art influences.
Tu Duc Tomb – It was designed to blend in with nature, to achieve perfect harmony for poetry writing. Hmmmm. It was much smaller than the rest and had European influences. It is said to build this one bankrupted them. It also had a pavilion on the water where the concubines could lounge. Nice.
To get home we took a “traditional” dragon boat cruise on the Perfume River, which was a barge with two dragon metal heads mounted at the front. LOL Are you as surprised as me they had huge metal dragon head barges in ancient Hue?
Sunday April 17
After sleeping in a bit and having a delicious breakfast at the hotel we tidied up our packs and went to the post office to mail James’ first batch of beer bottles and a few things we no longer needed or had bought. We then wandered through the market (very big and more for locals than tourists) and to Lotteria for one last coke float. On the way back we walked through the park along the Perfume River. We spent the afternoon reading and typing while waiting for our overnight bus to Hanoi.
At about 4 pm our hotel bike taxied us to our bus pick up spot where we waited for about another hour or so. As the bus pulled up everyone made a mad dash to get a good seat. I didn’t dash as fast as I should have and we got stuck at the back. A Vietnamese sleeper bus is basically two levels of lounge type chairs three across and along the back a bench type bed which is supposed to sleep 5 – yep like sleeping 5 across in something almost the size of a king bed. Somehow the 3 largest guys ended up in the back, James, a guy from Sweden and an Australian. Add me and Australian’s girlfriend and it was a bit cozy. We were also the bottom bunk, an identical bunk was above us meaning I could barely sit up, the rest of our “family” couldn’t. As usually the fancy picture they show you when you book has a bathroom and lists air conditioning, blankets and pillows which you never get.
I pulled out my handy sarong and was using it as a pillow when I caught a scent of my mom’s laundry detergent and felt homesick.
As expected we had a breakdown of some sort (flat tire) which I was almost thankful for, the vibrating and noise coming from the engine below us made it hard to sleep let alone read or keep from vibrating off the bunk onto the floor so for the hour of stillness and quiet I slept. James says he didn’t mind the bunk, the individual seats have a foot box thing that most people can’t fit their feet upright so their legs are kinda twisted the whole ride where the bunk didn’t. He was a bit surprised waking up in the wee hours being spooned by the big Sweden guy, but it’s that what travel is all about - meeting new people and experiencing new things?