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December 7th 2005
Published: January 7th 2006
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This is the correct version, not the one previously published. The computer had not saved the updated version and so had published the un-spellchecked, unfinished version. So here you go, the full, proper version!

Cheesy title I know, but it had to be done!

HUE (29 NOV 05 - 02 DEC 05)
No thanks to the traffic four floors below us, we actually manage a bit of a lie in. We seem to be staying at the busiest crossroad in Hue. We have a lazy morning and watch the Legends of the Fall on t.v.- what a novelty (I don't even watch t.v. in bed at home!). We eat brekkie at La Boulangerie Francaise where they make delicious cakes and pastries and profits go to local charities.

We wander around a bit, down to the waterfront of the Perfume River, constantly turning down offers of motorbikes and cyclos (a carriage on the front of a bicycle). We go back to the room and watch a bit more telly, and then go out to book our Open Tour bus ticket to Ho Chi Minh City/Saigon (HCMC), where you can hop on and off at Hoi An, Nha Trang, Mui Ne and then HCMC ($16). We also exchanged some money and booked a boat trip on the Pefume River to see the local sights.

We go for dinner across the road at Xuan Trang, where we both try local specialities, including beef noodle soup and a 'make-your-own' spring roll type thing where you wrap pork, lettuce, mint and beansprouts in rice paper and then dip it into a peanut sauce. Finished off with a banana pancake of course!

Well, it's just as well we needed to be up early as a combination of the traffic and the noisy nuns on our floor (yep...noisy nuns- seems there's a bit of a girls night out, or convention, going on!) wake us up anyway.

We get some pastries for the boat trip, then head to the departure point, where a little girl then proceeds to take us to our boat- it seems she is the Captain as she accompanies the group the whole day (and is the bossy one!). Our trip, on a Dragon Boat, begins by puttering past the front of the Citadel, the remnants of Hue's once magnificent 19th Century Imperial City. Our first stop on the boat is the Thien Mu Pagoda, and is the oldest in Hue. In 1963 one of its monks burned himself to death in Saigon in protest at President Diem's regime. The monks' car (a blue Austin) is displayed here, with a copy of the famous photo that made international headlines. The Pagoda itself is an octagonal shape, with seven tiers, each one representing one of Buddha's incarnations on Earth.

The three Royal Mausoleums we are going to see are a unique expression of each monarch's personality (planned during their life and is their palace in death). The three we see are all contrasting styles, and our first stop is the Tu Doc Mausoleum. Tu Doc is very elegant, with pavillions and lakes set amongst landscaped gardens. It has a very serene feeeling to it. This was about a 2km walk from the river, so much to the disappointment of the motorcycle taxis we did exactly that!

Hon Chen Temple is next, set at the waters edge. Luke and I decide not to go in (it's pretty small and doesn''t look anything special), but we do walk around the grounds a bit- and when we get back to the boat a table has magically appeared with our lunch all set out! So off we go, eating our way down the river to the next mausoleum. We stop at the waters edge, and according to our book should only be a 1.5km walk to the mausoleum of Khai Dinh, so again we decline the motorcycle taxis and walk. 5km later, we get there! But the walk there is enjoyable; we see incense-making villages and things you just wouldn't see whizzing by on the back of a motorcycle. Khai Dinh looks very impressive on our walk there. It is (apparently) a "monumental confection of European Baroque and ornamental Sino-Vietnamese style", and is nestled amongst densely forested hills- it looks just like something out of The Jungle Book. It's a bit of a climb up, but it's worth it to see the inside - the walls are completely covered with glass and porcelain mosaics, and a little Vietnamese man asks if we want our photo taken, so I give him the camera and don't get it back for another 10 minutes while he goes crazy taking pictures!

Last stop is the Mausoleum of Minh Mang- thankfully only 200m from the boat! This one is our favourite- built along traditonal Chinese lines and set in beautifully landscaped gardens dotted with pavillions and lakes. We then pootle back along the river for about an hour: we get back at 3pm. After getting back to the hotel we decide to stay on an extra day. We go for a cup of tea at the Boulangerie and then wander out later along Pham Ngu Lao Rd in search of somewhere for dinner- and we bump into Sanj, Antje and 2 Austrian girls (Ingrid and Christina) they've picked up along the way (they had flown from Vientiane, Laos to Hanoi, Vietnam and then travelled down on the train). We make a date for dinner the following night as they've already eaten. Luke and I got to "Friendly" restaurant, which certainly lives up to its name (and the pork with sesame was delish!).

Wake up the next day- can't believe it's December! The Citadel was the plan for today, so off we walk, and halfway across the bridge it begins to chuck it down with rain! You'd think by now we would have bought an umbrella........we soon find one though. We stop for some shelter, and a cuppa, at Lac Thanh. It's run by a deaf man and his family (most of whom are also deaf), and through signing tells us what's good to see in Hue.

The Citadel (or Imperal City), originally 148 buildings (but now only 20 remain), would once-upon-a-time have been awesome, but today it looked a bit dreary (though I'm pleased we saw it). We took a cyclo back to the hotel and chilled out for a bit before heading to the Boulangerie for another cuppa. A young Vietnamese boy was looking so longingly at the pastries I couldn't resist buying him one too. Of course he went and told all his friends so they all came and wanted one too!

We meet up with Antje, Sanj, Ingrid and Christina and eat at Xuan Trang again- we encourage them to try the Hue speciality dishes- and we all finish with a banana and chocolate pancake (I think I'm addicted). We then go to Mandarin Cafe for another drink and also buy some photos taken by the owner of the cafe- they are images of Vietnamese life that we as a tourist could never get. We say goodbye to Antje for the last time at the end of the evening as she is flying on to Ho Chi Minh City in the morning, before heading on to Cambodia (Sanj and the 2 girls are on the same bus as us the next day to Hoi An).

It's an early morning to get the 8am bus to Hoi An. Luke grabs us some pastries from the Boulangerie to eat on the way. After about 90 minutes we stop at Lan Co beach, the first beach we've seen in Southeast Asia- it's great to see the sea! We all have an ice cream before getting back on the bus (and it's about to rain!). An hour later we stop at Marble Mountain, a place packed with shops selling marble wares carved from the mountain.

HOI AN (02 DEC 05- 05 NOV 05)
We finally arrive in Hoi An at 12.30pm and settle on our first choice of 'hotel' (woohoo!), actually recommended by Phu An, where we stayed in Hue. Hop Yen hotel is very friendly, clean and fairly central (our double room with fan, hot water and t.v. is $7). Sanj and the girls stay there too. We all head off for a walk around; it's impossible not to be distracted by all the tailoring shops (v.v.v. cheap!) lining the streets (Hoi An is famous for it). hhhhmmm.....maybe some shopping tomorrow!

Hoi An is another UNESCO World Cultural Heritage Site- it's a "rich architectural fusion of Chinese, Japanese, Vietnamese and European influences dating back to the 16th Century". This used to be a major port town for the world's great trading nations. The town (God knows how) escaped damage in both the French and American war, so there are charming 200 year old wooden-fronted shop-houses lining the streets of the port/waterfront area. We eat lunch down there, trying to get a feel for the place- and chatting about things we might have made...(need that extra bag again!).

We also have dinner on the waterfront, where the tide has risen so much that the road is flooded and bikes parked on the street look like they're floating at the same level as the fishing boats! Luke and I try the local speciality of fish (tuna for me, red snapper for Luke) cooked in banana leaf with garlic and lemongrass. Tasty!!

It's raining again, so we've all decided Hoi An is the place to shop (yey!). I decide to have a jacket made ($28) at one place (Impressions tailors- friendy until you've paid. It's all about the money for them but I make sure my jacket is made well!). We also go into the tailors next door to the hotel, Giogio's, where I decide to have a dress made...for now. We wander around, get a bit wet but see the market, the artist's quarter and resist getting more clothes made. Luke and I stop at the Cargo Club (a colonial style restaurant also known for its patisseries), where we have afternoon tea and a patisserie (it's patisserie happy hour so 20% off). Yummy.

We then pop back to the various tailors for fittings (Luke's also having a coat, trousers and shirt made), before heading out to dinner to Cafe 96 (where we'd also had lunch) with Sanj and the girls. Luke and I have the local-taster set menu (40,000VND=$4)- I have wantons (wheat flour steamed to produce a wrapping that is filled with shrimp, pork and tomatoes- it's a bit like Vietnamese nachos), white rose (which is shrimp and pork wrapped in steamed rice flour- more like dim-sum) and then fish in banana leaf. Luke tried Cao Lau (unique to Hoi An- rice noodles with pork, croutons, bean sprouts, herbs, mint and banana flower), and spring rolls also followed by the fish, washed down with the local Beer Larue. All in all very tasty. However, the water outside was high again, and some very large (flying) cockroaches seemed to be sheltering in the restaurant as well....eeeewww! Went to Mango Rooms afterwards and were shocked by the prices- a drink cost the same as our whole meal, so we head back to the hotel.

It's raining again! We do our various fittings- I decide to have a top made at Giogio's aswell ($10, made with silk and also embroidery- which takes only 6 hours to do! It would take me...well, actually forever cos I can't sew!) and walking along the road I see a skirt I really like- so I have one of those made too! They're a small shop, a mother-daughter operation, and they make it beautifully. So I have another one made in another colour (all for only $19)! We eventually take shelter from the rain and make it to Hai Cafe where we have some tea and fruit salad (dragon fruits not so good!).

Luke and I decide to shop for some Christmas pressies for our families (can't add detail as the parcels on its way at the mo and they read this!). We go for afternoon tea again (so civilised!) at the Cargo Club, then head back to wave off the Austrian girls who are going off to Nha Trang. We then have another fitting (tailoring is actually pretty time-consuming, but totally worth it!). We go to Treats Cafe, where Luke and Sanj team up and kick some ass on the pool table!

We were going to go to the fish market (6-7am) but decide against it (we'll go somewhere else!). It's raining. Again. So we zoom around Hoi An geting all the last minute things we wanted to do before going to Nha Trang in the evening. We miss Sanj, who's flying on to HCMC, as he was supposed to be leaving for the airport at 11.30am, but goes early at 11am instead. We get to the hotel at 11.05am. I'm very sad we missed him and din't get to say goodbye- he's a lovely guy and we've spent quite a bit of time together. Though I have a feeling we'll bump into him somwhere!

We were running on time, having picked up all our tailoring, before heading to the Post Office at 3.30pm to send things home (we had the room til 6pm, bus leaves at 7pm). I was finshed in the P.O. by 5pm, Luke by 5.30pm. It's a lot of form-filling and then they have to pack the parcel for you. So, it's all rush and panic (last to get showered, changed and packed. No time to get proper food so it's Oreos and Pringles for dinner tonight. The bus was quite full, and our driver seemed determined to make good time despite the rain, and at one point after braking heavily (yet again), actually caused a Vietnamese girl to fly into the aisle. I don't think anyone slept well that night.

NHA TRANG (06 DEC 05 - 07 DEC 05)
We arrive in Nha Trang, on the East Coast, at 6am, where we head straight to the Perfume Grass Inn (the Rough Guide got it right this time- it's friendly, clean, well-priced and just, nice). They also give you free brekkie. Excellent. Nha Trang is supposed to be a popular coastal destination as the beach is nice, there's scuba diving and day trips to nearby islands. However, the wet season is November-January, and that's exactly what it is...wet. It just poured down the whole day, so we decide to go on to Mui Ne the next day. We did wander around and explore a bit though, and ate some good seafood for dinner.

We are moving through Vietnam faster than anticipated, at least a week ahead of "schedule" (or our rough idea of where we would be where and when), and so will not be spending Christmas at Angkor Wat in Cambodia (as we were planning) but instead wil be flying from Siem Reap to Bangkok on the 20th December, and trying to be in the Krabi area for Christmas so we can go sea-kayaking and snorkelling instead, and then will be spending New Year's on Koh Phi Phi. (We basically don't want to be in Bangkok for Christmas, so have to hurry along a bit!).

Nha Trang seems to be the kind of place that is heading towards becoming a package-holiday type destination; constrruction is going wild and it just has that feel to it. Shame we didn't see it in the sunshine, but let's face it, we can't have it all!


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