Off lineFebruary 9, 2018 in Vietnam ⋅ ⛅ 24 °C
We are about to board our cruise boat for our week long trip on the Mekong. It apparently has NO internet ( how will we manage??) so we will not be issuing any updates for the next while.
After a smooth flight from Da Nang, we arrived in the hot hustle and bustle of Saigon. While we felt that Hanoi was busy, it felt somewhat restrained but Saigon is just full on. There are more motor bikes and scooters than cars here (10 million people live in Saigon and 8 million of them have motorbikes/scooters) and they just ride them in any direction; whether it’s on the road or the sidewalk. In terms of crossing the road, there is no point in waiting till the road is clear because it never is clear. You just have to step off the curb and proceed across the road at a steady pace. No-one will stop for you, but they will drive around you. If you rush or you stop, then chaos ensues. It takes nerve to do it the first time but after that you believe that you will get to the other side unscathed and it works.
We are on a VIP floor at the Caravelle hotel for some reason and they indicated that canapés were available in the late afternoon. When we showed up there was a full feast available complete with free wine! There was lots of Sushi, rice dishes, French fries, baguettes and cheese, etc etc. Unfortunately we had made dinner reservations so we were not able to take full advantage. Tonight we expect to eat our dinner there! In our hotel there is a famous rooftop bar where all the generals and war correspondents used to drink. It’s very nice and open to the breezes. From there we can see across to another famous rooftop bar at the Rex hotel, where the American press briefings were held during the war.
For dinner we went to an Italian restaurant close to the hotel that was highly recommended. We both had pasta and I thought that my ravioli was the best pasta I have ever eaten- outstanding!
Today we did a walking tour of the city. We started in the downtown area, visiting the city hall and the Notre Dame church. We also passed the spot where the famous photo of the helicopters evacuating the last of the Americans was taken. We then drove to the old national palace which is now a museum but shows the old meeting rooms etc as they were. Our next stop was rather depressing. It was a museum called the war remnants museum. It used to be called the American war crimes museum and that is still the major thrust of the place. The Americans certainly have a lot to answer for including their use of Agent Orange to defoliate the country. However, it was of course one sided ( the victors always get to write the history) with the communists apparently blameless. Nice collection of American planes, helicopters, tanks and guns which they left behind. Anyway rather depressing all told.
We next visited a pagoda that was built in the early 1800’s to honour Buddha, before being dropped off at the local market. The market was enormous and sold everything from meat, fish, fruit, vegetables to clothes and souvenirs. The very first clothing stall we came to, Brian was captured ( physically) and was persuaded to buy some golf shirts etc. Very aggressive stall holders but fun bargaining anyway. We then wandered back to our hotel and on the way visited an indoor plaza that was full of very high-end shops; Coach, Prada, Chanel etc etc. Clearly someone has money to spare in this city. As it’s very close to the lunar new year, there are signs and preparations everywhere. This year it’s the year of the dog and there are many statues of dogs of different colours and sizes on display and also lots of yellow(chrysanthemums ) and red flowers being placed into arrangements. This is the biggest festival of the year, so most people take a week off to celebrate the event - somewhat like Thanksgiving, when people try to go home for the holiday to be with family.Read more
At last ...... sunshine! Finally, the weather took a turn for the better and after a cloudy start, the sky cleared and we had a beautiful sunny day. It was still a little cool in the breeze, but we gratefully made use of the loungers around the three pools and enjoyed the sunshine.
We did our constitutional along the beach, so felt that we had done at least some exercise. Anne dipped her toes in the sea and quickly retreated - too cold to swim in and today, a yellow flag was flying on the beach, that apparently indicates “sea pests” whatever they may be!
The pool staff were very attentive and came around several times offering pieces of fruit, water, small ice creams, or offering to clean our sunglasses etc- very civilised. Had a nice pizza and beer served on our loungers for lunch, also very civilised. Have attached some pics showing the pool areas in the sunshine.
Off to Ho Chi Minh city tomorrow where it is reported to be 30 degrees so that will be quite a change.Read more
Hoi An was our next stop. It’s on the coast near Da Nang and about an hour’s plane ride from Hanoi. The drive from the airport to the hotel showed us a very long sandy beach with an enormous amount of building going on for resort hotels and apartments. Some efforts seem to be proceeding well, but others have clearly run out of money, as the half-built structures attest.
It is still quite cool here, about 15 degrees with a fairly stiff breeze. We have our own villa again that looks out onto the beach. It would be idyllic if the weather was warmer - since we have been here, a red flag has been flying on the beach showing that it is unsafe to swim. There are three pools in the complex - two are unheated, but one feels like bath water - the thought of undressing in the frigid air, does put you off wanting to take a dip! Our villa is quite large with two seating areas and a bed placed in the centre of the room. There is also a large soaking tub by one of the seating areas! We also have a his and her’s dressing area, two sinks and a separate shower, plus an outdoor shower in a private courtyard - not too shabby at all!
We went into the town of Hoi An today which is a world heritage site. It’s a nice little tourist town beside a river. There are some old parts such as a Japanese bridge which dates from 1780, a house that has been in the same family for about 300 years. The ladies of the house do amazing embroidery and we were persuaded to buy a tablecloth and napkins - such pushovers! Otherwise there are lots of tourist shops, some nice restaurants, a big market and a number of places where you can get a suit made in 24 hours. Along the river there are lots of boats offering cruises along the waterfront.
The New Year here falls on Feb 16 this year, so we have seen lots of preparations taking place - lanterns being hung, street lights and flags etc. Beside the roads we have seen lots of places selling peach blossom trees, yellow chrysanthemums, kumquat trees and trees bearing very large grapefruit. We think these are all to do with the festival in some way.Read more
We returned to Hanoi from Halong Bay for an overnight before catching our plane to Da Nang the next day.
It happened to be a Sunday when the road around the lake near our hotel is closed to traffic and turned over to pedestrians. The locals really take advantage of the opportunity. Lots of younger people but also many families. There were a number of places offering mini electric cars and tanks etc for the kids to ride on. There were groups playing hacky sacky, playing badminton, groups all in costume, videoing themselves dancing to rock music. There were groups of graduating students in formal wear etc. There were areas where kids were building towers with wooden blocks; areas where they were playing some game that required moving white stones around boards chalked on the street. All mixed in with street vendors, roller skaters and a few wedding groups. Everyone seemed very happy and relaxed and interestingly very few were on their cell phones. After the hustle bustle of our visit a few days earlier, it was nice to see a softer side to Hanoi.
We had a late lunch among the partygoers before returning to our hotel for another early night.Read more
We were picked up early from our hotel in Hanoi for the four hour drive to Halong Bay. Our driver did not speak English, so from time to time he spoke into his phone and asked Google to translate for him. He then held up the phone for us to read. His first message was, ‘am I driving too fast?’ A later message was, ‘I am driving to scare you’. Finally ‘ the train is late would you like to see my son who is learning to make jade’ that was approps to visiting a pearl selling operation!
We duly arrived in Halong Bay to board our Junk which turned out to be a large three deck, steel boat with 24 cabins - not quite as expected, but very comfortable, especially as it was only half full for this trip. We could not get over the sheer number of cruise boats, as we set sail into the bay. We were in a stream of 30+ boats all setting out. Fortunately they spread out into different areas, and we hardly saw another boat for the two days we sailed. The food on the boat is fantastic - full 5 course lunch and dinner every day - beautifully presented, but more than we can eat. The crew is also very polite and attentive. As it was still very cold we were thankful that the heating system in our cabin was blasting out hot air for all it was worth.
In the afternoon we visited a floating fisherman village where we had the option of using a kayak or being rowed by a villager in a bamboo boat. There were about 20 houses in the village, each with its fishing boat and set of holding nets containing any larger fish that they caught.
Halong Bay is filled with islands both large and small all made of limestone rising vertically from the sea, quite an impressive sight.
Our second day saw us on a 10k walk on one island to visit a village that is run by the shipping company. The villagers are basically fishermen, but the company has helped them to set up co-operative farming to grow vegetables that the shipping company use on their boats. The people work the fields for a couple of hours or so a day, then they are able to go fishing for the balance of the day. The village looks quite prosperous with all the houses being made of concrete or brick. There is a school and a clinic in the village, so the people have a much better standard of living than most. As we wandered around, we saw how they used rice to make various products and could watch them in the fields planting rice and tending the vegetables. In the afternoon there was a visit to a local beach with the option of swimming. As it was barely 15 degrees with a very cool wind, and the water temp was similar, there were no takers. The same cannot be said of happy hour which saw us wrapped in blankets, sitting under heat lamps, determinedly drinking our G and Ts.Read more
What a difference from Vientiane to Hanoi. Firstly the temperature dropped by
10C and there was a very cold wind. We did not come equipped with any cold weather clothes so it was quite challenging. The traffic has to be seen to be believed . There is no sense of lane discipline. If the road is marked for three lanes, then there will be five or six lanes of cars, scooter, motor bikes and bicycles! If there is any space greater than six inches between the cars, then it is instantly filled by motor scooters or motorbikes. At any traffic light that is at red, there is a solid mass of 20 scooters across by 30 bikes deep all waiting to rush forward. As the traffic moves the cars fight their way forward with liberal use of horns and flashing lights and the scooters zip in between. No one gives way but amazingly there seem to be few accidents. Crossing the road for pedestrians is very challenging. The recommended way is to walk across at a steady pace and the cars and bikes will drive around without stopping. One way streets are generally ignored as motor bikes come towards you and weave in and out of the traffic. No-one gives way, they all just surge forwards and hope no-one gets hit!
Our hotel was in the centre of town, so was very conveniently placed for us to walk around and explore Hanoi. We were picked up by our guide the next morning and taken on a city tour, stopping off at Hanoi Hilton where the U.S. airmen were imprisoned. It’s now a museum and much of it is dedicated to the history of Vietnam under the French regime. We also visited the first university in Vietnam that is now the centre for Confucius teachings along with a temple dedicated to Confucius. All very interesting. Next we were to go to the Mausoleum and museum dedicated to Ho Chi Minh . However the line up was more than an hour’s wait and we were so cold by now, we declined to do that part of the guided tour, much to our guides consternation. He couldn’t quite grasp that we didn’t want to freeze ourselves to death just so we could view the tomb of Ho Chi Minh . Instead he took us through the old part of Hanoi which was more interesting. We went down narrow passageways that had no lighting where families live in rooms just off the passageway - very basic living. We were then taken to a wholesale market. In one area there were tall bags of dried mushrooms of all different kinds, others had bags of dried vegetables in some places the isles were so narrow that you had to turn sideways to pass through. Lots of other items of indeterminate nature.
We spent the afternoon wandering round on our own, taking our lives in our hands every time we ventured across a road - crosswalks have no meaning there! We braved eating lunch out and were rewarded by a delicious meal - main course, drink and dessert for the same price as two cups of coffee had cost us at our hotel!Read more