A Travellerspoint blog

An exceptionally busy couple of days

sunny 86 °F

You'll have to forgive me for not writing for the past few days. Two days in a row I had morning tours. The first was a sunrise photo tour (I got up at 4 to meet the van at 5) and the next day was a tour to My Son which left around 8. The next day, I also had an early start - to go to the bathroom and vomit. It still turns my stomach to think about it, but something in my salad from the night before definitely made me sick. I won't be going back to that restaurant again!

So that's the reason I didn't use that "tour-less" day to write - I was sick in bed the entire day instead. I'm in Ho Chi Minh City now (formerly Saigon) and have already had a lot of fun and gotten some great pictures here, but I'll save those for the next post since I know you've been waiting patiently for this one.

IMG_3474.jpg Me and a local woman in Hoi An who asked to get a picture with me

IMG_3522.jpg Street scene in Hoi An

IMG_1154.jpg My first picture with assistance from the professional on my tour (these plastic bottles will later contain fish sauce)

IMG_1157.jpg Fish sauce factory

IMG_1158.jpg Some unused fish sauce baskets - this seems to be a popular shape in Vietnam

IMG_1162.jpg The large cask in the background is for making higher-grade fish sauce, what the guide called "liquid gold"

IMG_1170.jpg This boy was running around and laughing so much, this is the only clear shot I got of him

IMG_1177.jpg My photo tour guide had been visiting this village for two years and apparently never asked her for a photo. She stopped him one day and asked if he didn't want to take her picture because she was too ugly - now I think she's a regular on the tour

IMG_1180.jpg Trying my hand at "panning"

IMG_1199.jpg These next few pictures are from "My (pronounced May) Son" - it's a complex of partially ruined Hindu temples that was built between the 4th and 14th centuries by the kings of Champa. A large majority of the buildings here were destroyed by US carpet bombing during the Vietnam War



IMG_1221.jpg This dog was so cute! He wouldn't let me pet him, though.





IMG_1319.jpg On the way back to Hoi An from My Son

IMG_1320.jpg My hotel room (one of just 5!) at the Villa Hoa Su Frangipani - as the following pictures show, this is the most beautiful hotel I've ever stayed in (but perhaps too romantic for a gal travelling on her own)

IMG_1332.jpg Looking across the pool to the pavilion in the middle of a lotus pond



IMG_1347.jpg Relaxing-looking couches in the pavilion

IMG_1350.jpg A close-up of a lotus flower

Please wait a couple of days for the next post!

Posted by feiheli 14:33 Archived in Vietnam Comments (3)

Hoi An - made just for tourists?

overcast 72 °F

For dinner of my first full day in Hue, I went to a restaurant called Ancient Hue. Actually, it's technically three restaurants, one in a building of the traditional architectural style of Hue, one in the style of nearby Da Nang and one in the style of Hoi An, the next city on my itinerary. I thought the food was more beautiful than it was tasty, but to be honest, I went there for the architectural beauty and picture opportunities. The restaurant is seemingly in the middle of nowhere and when we got there, I could see lights but no people. My driver asked if I wanted him to wait, so I said yes, for one minute. I didnt want to think about what would happen if the restaurant wasn't open and I had to walk 30 minutes in the dark through the woods in the rain, just to find another taxi and return to the hotel. Shortly, though, a guy came to the gate with an umbrella and led me to one of the restaurants. I told the driver "thank you" and went inside to eat a leisurely dinner. Imagine my surprise after dinner and a tour of the grounds when I got back to the gate and the driver was STILL THERE!!! His English wasn't great, but my Vietnamese is non-existent, so as i understood it, he waited there the whole time - probably between an hour and an hour and a half. Wow!

IMG_0632.jpg Ancient Hue Restaurant

IMG_0656.jpg Reception/Dining Room/Living Room of my hotel in Hue

On the last day, I had no choice but to see Hue in the rain. Although it was raining less than it did the 2 previous days (a little less rain each day), it was by no means dry, as my pictures can attest. I rented a private car with an English-speaking driver and saw as much of Hue as I could in half a day. I first went to the Tomb of Khai Dinh, then the Tomb of Minh Mang, then the tomb of Tu Duc, then Thien Mu Pagoda, then Vietnam's Forbidden City. Truthfully, I didn't really care if I saw the pagoda (I can see plenty in China), but the owner of my hotel told me it was very special. My guide also told me there are more than 100 pagodas in Hue (population about 950,000 people), so it MUST be special if there are that many! But to be honest, it looked like just another pagoda. I did get a couple of cool pics there though, which I've included.

IMG_0669.jpg At the Tomb of Khai Dinh

IMG_0672.jpg Statues stand guard at Khai Dinh's Tomb

IMG_0690.jpg Still at Khai Dinh's Tomb - let's take a vote: ornate or...gaudy?

IMG_0736.jpg Statues at the Tomb of Minh Mang - check out the standing rain! I slipped many times but thank God I never actually fell.

IMG_0757.jpg Still at Minh Mang's Tomb

IMG_0821.jpg The inside of the entry gate to Tu Duc's Tomb

IMG_0817.jpg Inside one of the courtyards at the Tomb of Tu Duc

IMG_0828.jpg One member of the "grounds crew" at Thien Mu Pagoda

IMG_0849.jpg The car of monk Thich Quang Duc. He drove to Saigon in 1963 & burned himself to death in protest of the persecution of Buddhists by South Vietnam's Roman Catholic government

IMG_0875.jpg Inside the Forbidden City - notice the flooding

IMG_0973.jpg My guide was kind enough to snap a picture of me gazing out to a rough Pacific Ocean from Lang Co Beach, on the road from Hue to Hoi An

IMG_1000.jpg 2 bunkers at the top of Hai Van Pass (literally, "Sea, Cloud Pass") stand as reminders of Vietnam's wars this century. The ugly one is American, the more aesthetically pleasing one on the right is from the French War

IMG_1003.jpg I would have preferred standing in front of the other bunker, but it would have blocked the view of the road and sea below (not that you could see much in such dismal weather)

IMG_1035.jpg Figurines of traditional Vietnamese musicians at a marble-carving shop

Remember I said one of the reasons I wanted to come to Vietnam was because I'd watched the Top Gear episode they made here? And while I was impressed with the whole country, I had an extra-special feeling about Hoi An. That's why I chose to stay here 5 nights out of 20. All of the other places I only stay 2, 3 or 4 nights each.

Well, I'm excited to say that my expectations have been met - this town is beautiful, even...charming (I hesitate to use that word for two reasons - it's not one I normally use, but one that my students over-use! However, it seems to be the most accurate word to use for the location). The flooded roads, blackened and crumbling walls and narrow streets make for some pretty interesting photos, but I'm sure that the locals might not see it as quaint and charming like the visitors here do.

IMG_1124.jpg Front view of my Hotel: Thien Thanh Boutique Hotel

IMG_1125.jpg Looking through my hotel, from front door to back door, by way of the indoor swimming pool (I haven't used it yet)

IMG_1057.jpg My bedroom at Thien Thanh Boutique Hotel, room 301

IMG_1063.jpg The back deck/breakfast area

IMG_1080.jpg My FAVORITE picture in Vietnam so far - I saw her coming down the street and then "accidentally" let her walk into my shot

IMG_1092.jpg I don't know if you can tell, but the road was a bit flooded here

IMG_1116.jpg Cyclo operators waiting for a fare

IMG_1127.jpg I went a little overboard when purchasing lanterns - I hope and pray my cats won't be able to reach them to shred them up. My younger cat single-handedly (single-pawedly?) destroyed two IKEA lamps that the other cat had left undisturbed for 6 months

IMG_1138.jpg Night shot of Hoi An

IMG_1142.jpg Another shot of Hoi An by night

Well, that's enough for now. As you can probably tell, it's getting harder and harder to limit myself when selecting pictures to show you. I'm going on what I hope will be one of the highlights of my trip tomorrow - a sunrise photo tour of the local villages with a French professional photographer living here. Hopefully, you can expect some great photos in my next posting. Assuming I don't oversleep and miss my 5 am pickup. Sunrise is usually in the morning, after all...

Posted by feiheli 01:03 Archived in Vietnam Comments (4)

Rain, Rain Go A-Hue

Hue, a VERY rainy former capital

rain 68 °F

I've been in Hue for about 16 hours and I think it's been raining 15 of those hours. I went out for lunch and came back absolutely SOAKING. I'm not worried about my clothes - they'll dry - but I had my guide book in my bag and the bottom is all swollen up with moisture. It'll dry too, but the bottom will always be out of shape. Most of you know how much I love to read, so you shouldn't be surprised to learn that that ruined book will always be lurking in the back of my mind. Oh well, on to other topics.

Before Hue, I was in Ha Long Bay (HLB). I can tell everyone now (I've avoided telling my mom since I've been planning my trip) that I was unsure if I wanted to take a boat trip or not. HLB is definitely on most travellers' "Places to Visit" List, but since it's so popular, sometimes "companies" and individuals decide to start up tours on their boats and bad things can happen. This past February, one of those boats sank and killed 12 people on board. I finally decided that I would take the boat trip anyway, but not tell my mom about this until I returned to dry land. Hey mom, I'm fine!

I first saw HLB in the James Bond movie "Tomorrow Never Dies." It showed some absolutely STUNNING scenery! Prior to that, I'd only thought of Vietnam as "the place where my dad was during the war." I should give you my disclaimer now - I never enjoyed taking History classes (who can remember what event or political document caused which war to break out?), so I can ask some pretty stupid questions. After watching the movie, I asked one of those questions. I remember going downstairs to the kitchen and asking my dad if he'd seen HLB while in Vietnam. He said he didn't think so, but asked where in Vietnam it was. I went back upstairs to look it up, then told him, "the northern part, close to China." He gave me a look like "are you really that clueless?" (my dad would be a brilliant Military History Professor!) and said, "No, Holli, I don't think I made it up to that part." At least I understood why pretty quickly after he gave me his answer.

Anyway, I feel like HLB is a must-see for every traveller to Vietnam. For those of you who haven't heard of it (it was just chosen as one of the New 7 Wonders of the World) or seen it, let me show you a few pictures. It's hard to choose from the many pictures I took, but I'll try to limit myself.

IMG_3346.jpg My boat, the Dragon Pearl 2

IMG_0445.jpg My room, 303

IMG_0455.jpg Getting ready for our first lunch on board

IMG_0510.jpg A dog on an island - one of at least 3 (dogs, that is)

IMG_0526.jpg On the bay

IMG_0550.jpg Kayaks at sunset

IMG_0564.jpg Sunset of the first day

IMG_3359.jpg Dinner in a cave

IMG_3371.jpg Carved boat & eagle

IMG_3378.jpg Leaving the cave

IMG_3414.jpg 10/11 of the passengers (one was sick)

IMG_3422.jpg 8/10 of the crew (2 cooks were cleaning in the kitchen)

There were 11 passengers on board - three groups of 2, one family of 4 and myself. At times, it kinda stunk being the only solo traveller, but by the end of the ride, most of us thought that one of the best parts of the trip was the small size of the group. We ate all meals together and did a really good job of not always sitting next to the same people. Therefore, we got to talk to different people and I think some people will be keeping in touch with each other later on. I was the only American ("The Quiet American," if you will, since I'm shy when with groups where I don't already know someone) among 4 New Zealanders, 2 Brits, 2 Canadians, 1 Australian and 1 Malaysian (who is living in Australia). And for every passenger, there was one crew member! Actually, there were 10 crew and 1 tour guide, but the ratio of Vietnamese to foreigners was still 1:1.

If you're ever planning a boat ride in HLB, I highly recommend Indochina Junks (Dragon Pearl 2, specifically). The website is http://indochina-junk.com/. That's a free plug, by the way.

After a long van ride back to Hanoi and a short rest at my first hotel, I took another van to the airport and arrived in Hue just a short time later. I got to the hotel around 10 pm and was given a juice, a fried egg and a couple of pieces of toast with 2 flavors of homemade jam - passion fruit and pineapple. Both were good, but my favorite was the pineapple. Since I'd not had time for dinner, this was a nice welcome to the hotel. I found this hotel (all of my hotels) on Trip Advisor and it's rated the #1 hotel in Hue. That's amazing, especially considering the room I booked is only $15/night. I checked their website (http://hueninohotel.com/) later and found out that the $15 room doesn't have a window, so when I arrived, I asked if I could upgrade. I now have a large window in my room at the front of the hotel on the fourth floor (no elevator again) for a whopping $18/night. I haven't taken any pictures of the lobby yet, but that's one of my goals for tomorrow.

IMG_0624.jpg My room in Hue

IMG_0625.jpg The other side of my room in Hue

As you can see, this is defintely an "artsy" hotel. I'm thinking about asking where they purchased the large (pink) painting in my room and then trying to find a smaller one to take/send back to China. It would look great over my dining room table! There's been lots of things I'd love to buy and take back, but I'm hoping to finish most of my shopping on my last day in Vietnam. That way, I don't have to cart things around from city to city for the next 2 weeks.

Unfortunately, I don't have much to tell you about Hue other than that the rain is unrelenting! I wanted to go to an Indian place for lunch and on the map, it's definitely walking distance from my hotel. Even though it's not so far away, two things happened - I couldn't find it and I was soaking wet by the time I sat down to eat at another restaurant (Phuoc Thanh Garden Restaurant, #37 out of 62 restaurants in Hue). I didn't know the rating when I sat down and while I admit I wasn't crazy about the appetizers (not bad, not great), the lemon chicken, veggies and fresh mango for dessert were great. I purchased a set menu and a soda and spent $9.94. Tonight, if I want to brave the cold rain for a second time today, I may try for the Indian place again, but this time I will definitely follow the recommendation of hotel staff and take a taxi!

It's still supposed to be raining tomorrow (it's the rainy season in central Vietnam now, but 82 degrees and sunny in Ho Chi Minh City in the south!). If I can survive the cold wet weather here, I get my reward later. Tomorrow, I hope to be a bit luckier, though. I'll borrow the rain poncho the hotel offered today and I'm probably renting a private car to take me to a couple of the tombs of past emperors, as well as the Citadel (Imperial City) and Forbidden City that were the center of government when Hue was the capital of Vietnam.

I've learned that taking pictures in bright sun doesn't give you the best light, but I'd prefer that to taking pictures in the gray, cold rain. We'll just have to see.

I think that's enough for now - I hope you've continued reading this far and didn't stop from pure boredom - I know I can ramble. Until next time...

Posted by feiheli 01:10 Archived in Vietnam Comments (9)

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