August 24, 2008
Xin Chao everyone! Hello and hugs from Vietnam!
We are now in Ho Chi Minh City, the former Saigon, in the south of Vietnam. Vietnam is a fascinating, wonderful country to explore. We crossed the border from Laos to Vietnam at the border town of Cau Treo on July 29th with our Intrepid group of 8, and headed to Hanoi.
Hanoi - “city in a bend in the river”, capital city, 3.5 million people, population of Vietnam is about 84 million, staying at the lovely Victory Hotel. Vietnamese people are warm and friendly and interested in us….”where you from? …Canada…oh beautiful country. How long you stay? How old are you? Where you go today? Take motorbike -or cyclo…..you come my store, just look. Many beautiful things”. And people do not want to say “no” so they always say “yes” - no matter what! The streets and sidewalks are filled with vendors marketing everything -cigarettes, fruits, vegetables, postcards, books (most photocopied -we did buy “The girl in the picture -the story of Kim Phuc, the photograph and the Vietnam War” by Denise Chong…excellent read for each of us as we traveled through Vietnam), sunglasses, jewellery…women carry
2 huge baskets on a bamboo pole and sell their wares. Others have mini round hibachi style fires on the curbs where they will cook up yummy dishes…. Here we feel like millionaires as we take 2 million Vietnamese dong out of the ATM and this is equal to about $126. and gets us lots
Hanoi -the wonderful water puppet theatre, KOTO’s restaurant (KOTO stands for “Know one, Teach one”; offers street kids and disadvantaged kids an opportunity for training in the restaurant business -and provides them with a home, benefits, a bike and a 2 year training….fantastic food and fantastic staff), Temple of Literature, amazing Ho Chi Minh Museum, saw Ho Chi Minh mausoleum where Ho Chi Minh himself is lying in state…yes really…..he died in 1969. Lots of exploration of the beautiful Old Quarter, French colonial buildings, Dong Xuan Market, fresh baguettes, excellent Vietnamese coffee. Oh and crossing the street! What an experience! Motorbikes and cyclos and bicycles and cars and trucks are all zooming and there is never a break so you just walk slowly across the street (against your better instincts!) and somehow they weave around you!
And we continued our way south…..
Halong Bay -a 3 day, 2 night trip with Ocean Tours -first by boat in Halong Bay -swimming and kayaking in the midst of beautiful limestone formations…then on to their own small peaceful island “Ocean Beach Resort” -bamboo bungalows on the beach.. our small group -fabulous dinner…and next day more boat and cave touring and then overnight on a junk -incredibly beautiful setting but what was distressing was the garbage floating in the waters - and many plastic bags - and so many boats…hope the government can institute some regulations to protect this beautiful place.
Hue - 2 nights here -arrived on the overnight sleeper bus- tight narrow beds, upper and lower bunks -cosy! Arrived early and settled in to the Guest House, Dong Tam Impression Hotel -lovely family run place in pink! While having breakfast we were talked into a motorbike tour for the day! I faced my fear of riding motorbikes- 2 brothers took us, Al on the back of one bike and me on back of the other…and off to the country side…saw sites of US bombing in the American War -as it is more appropriately called here….Hue was the site of the bloodiest battles of
the Tet Offensive in 1968.
Hoi An - 4 nights here - smaller than Hue and very pretty with French colonial buildings, pretty streets, flowers. Stayed at the Grasslands Hotel, very nice, about $20. per night with breakfast included. Used the bikes from the hotel and explored for 3 days - biking through gorgeous rice paddies, men and women farmers working in the fields, all wearing conical shaped hats. Hoi An is famous for its tailors- and yes we had suits made! A first for us! 20 years ago there were 10 tailors located in the Market; now there are 600+ tailors and they are everywhere! Very fun to have custom made clothes by our fabulous tailor My; ready for fitting the next day and finished the day after that. We got everything packaged up and shipped home by sea! Took a day trip by bus and boat to My Son, remains of ancient Champa Kingdom…very bombed during the American War so most is in ruins but restoration is underway.
Nha Trang - beach time on the South China Sea! Another all night sleeper bus and so we recuperated with a lovely beach day. Stayed at the Blue
at the Ho Chi Minh Museum, Hanoi
Star hotel for 5 nights for $20 per night -just a few doors from the beach….then snorkelled three mornings in a row with Rainbow Divers -excellent and well organized group and very safety conscious. Most people scuba diving, many taking courses, but we were snorkelling; saw beautiful colourful corals and fishes…again seeing garbage in the waters, alas. Waking for the 5:30 a.m. sunrise we saw many people in swimming already, walking , jogging, setting up their street shops - and their little low tables and chairs - the world is very alive early as the days become very very hot!
Dalat -into the mountains and cool air- beautiful winding roads -with bus driver always honking and honking as does everyone else -passing huge trucks and buses on curves only to meet a bus honking and coming the opposite way - gasp! - this is travel in Vietnam! Here we stayed at The Most Wonderful Place - Dreams 1 Hotel - with owner Dong -the most lovely lady….could have stayed for a really long time but just had 2 nights here. Explored the town, ate Dalat strawberries, drank Dalat wine, had great meals, saw French villas from colonial times, relaxed
in the hot tub on the hotel roof and feasted on an all you can eat fresh breakfast each morning - endless fresh fruits, fresh coffee, baguettes, cheeses, meats, etc. All for $25/night. We spent time with other travellers from all over, some going north , some going south, all sharing stories and information…excellent.
And then on to Ho Chi Minh City on August 20th -crazy, huge, and busy! Staying at Madame Cuc’s in District 1 - breakfast and light dinner included in room price of $25/night. We eat in the lobby and meet a wonderful variety of travellers here too. Much more to say about HCMC but will save that for another blog.
Tomorrow, Monday, August 25th, we leave at 7 a.m. for a boat trip which begins here on the Saigon River, continues through the Mekong Delta and ends in Phnom Penh on August 27th and the beginning of our adventures in Cambodia.
Much more to come!
Al and Robin
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