Vietnam 2019

September - October 2019
Four travelers to Vietnam
  • 17footprints
  • 2countries
  • 36days
  • 168photos
  • 0videos
  • 2.1kmiles
  • 657miles
  • Day 1

    Vie. Viet. Vietna. Vietnam!

    September 24, 2019 in Vietnam ⋅ ☀️ 30 °C

    Jeez. Tickets for March 9th. Trip postponed. Tickets for September 9th. Trip postponed. Tickets for September 15th. Trip postponed. Tickets for September 23rd. Finally!

    After awhile I wasn't sure that I'd ever make it back to Vietnam. This despite already planning my next visit before Augie and I left Hanoi last year. That trip with Augie was so epic that I had to get back as soon as I could.

    Worth the wait! This time I flew with Nancy and our good friends Don and Mary. We've been planning this month - long trip since March. We have enlisted a tour agency to provide us with a driver who will take us to some great places as we move from north to south of this beautiful country. Two weeks in tour, three days in Siem Reap and Angkor Wat, followed by two more weeks riding motorbikes in the northern mountains near the Chinese border.

    I've included some photos from last year to get us in the mood!
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    Traveler  We are looking forward to seeing your photos of your new adventure! Viet nam sounds amazing!


    Traveler  I hope this trip is as epic as the first!


    Traveler  great picture ~

    3 more comments
  • Day 3


    September 26, 2019 in Vietnam ⋅ ⛅ 30 °C

    SFO to Hanoi

    A short report here.

    Our friends from Amsterdam will be staying in our house while we are away. We spent three pleasant days together before Augie dropped us at the airport. They made us some delicious beet burgers for us on our last evening together. We need to ask for the recipe.

    We met our friends Don and Mary at the International Terminal and immediately headed to the KLM lounge for a bit of food and relaxation. The flight was long, but uneventful. Before we knew it we'd all slept well and arrived in Hanoi. The line to finalize the visa was tedious, but soon we were sitting in our hotel lobby having a tete a tete with the tour operator who helped us arrange our route and driver. Manh ta Tien was very enthusiastic and supportive as we laid out our route from north to south.

    Long Ha bay
    Ninh Binh
    Phong Nha
    Hoi An
    Ho Chi Minh Saigon
    and the Mekong

    In Hanoi we had our first meal at Bun Cha Huong Lein. The restaurant made famous when Barack Obama and Anthony Bourdain shared a meal there. They have since enclosed the table and place settings in plexiglass. The food was delicious. Note that Nancy and I didn't even take time to look up at the camera.

    Next. Long Ha bay cruise...
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    Traveler  sweet ~


    Traveler  Cool commemoration ~

  • Day 4

    Ha Long Long Ha Bays

    September 27, 2019 in Vietnam ⋅ ⛅ 29 °C

    Ha Long Bay. I first read about this area a limestone karsts almost thirty years ago. Sea Kayak magazine ran a trip repo on the place. It was relatively empty then, it's pretty much packed now. Manh from Vietnam Real Tours booked us a trip to the lesser traveled Long Ha bay.

    This was the first cruise that Nancy and I had ever been on and I have to admit it was pretty plush. We participated in most of the activities. Kayaking, bicycling, swimming, and a cooking class. We skipped sunrise yoga in favor of staying in bed.

    We cycled to a small village on Cat Ba island for a wine tasting. Cat Ba translates to 'Women's Island' and is about 100x larger than nearby 'Man's Island'. The rice wine tasting was special in that it took several forms based on whatever was being pickled in the wine. Most of the concoctions were brewed with plants and herbs to be beneficial to women's health. Vitality, cancer prevention, smooth skin, youthful appearance. The men's concoctions were brewed with scorpion and snake and dedicated to stamina and fertility.

    Don and I took part in a cooking class/competition. Things were fine until he brought in a ringer from the audience to coach him on the finer points. Despite the shenanigans it all turned out to be delicious.
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    Traveler  Ha !


    Traveler  ooh lala ! Tasty?

  • Day 4

    Hanoian Evening

    September 27, 2019 in Vietnam ⋅ 🌙 26 °C

    We spent the afternoon and evening exploring Hanoi and its Old Town. Actually, I spent the afternoon catching Grab taxis on failed errands for moto gear and phone sims all over the city. Nancy, Don, and Mary spent the afternoon getting lost on the way to and the way back from a water puppet show where Nancy was able to extend her 'blur' photography portfolio. We met for our first banh mi sandwich before continuing our walk into the evening.

    After watching Don and Mary finish their gelatos we headed to the famous Hanoi Beer Corner. Beer corner was just getting started, but we did get to witness a beer cheerleading squad.
    Beer Corner video:

    Don and Mary retired for the night and Nancy and I continued our walk to Hoàn Kiếm lake. The lake is at the center of north Vietnamese culture as it is the place where the metal to forge a famous sword was given to the king to defend the homeland. The turtle god then asked for the sword back when the king was finished with it. Hoàn Kiếm is also a center for Hanoian nightlife. People stroll its shores much like an evening promenade around the zocalo in Mexico. It seemed that every few steps we ran into people practicing dance steps, jumping rope, playing jenga, or singing pop-up karaoke.

    Here are a couple of video links from our stroll.
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    flowerstone  hi guys, you really are having fun right from the start he? And a lot of energy, it looks like! Great pictures and vids :-)


    Traveler  ~ heart the art shot ~

  • Day 6

    Tam Coc Ninh Binh

    September 29, 2019 in Vietnam ⋅ ☀️ 32 °C

    We have left Hanoi and begun our trek south. We are traveling in a Ford Transit passenger van driven by Phuc, a native Hanoian who speaks only Vietnamese. We use a combination of Google Translate and texting our tour operator Manh to communicate directions and plans.

    First stop is Tam Coc Ninh Binh. Tam Coc is an area of limestone karsts similar to Ha Long bay. These formations are surrounded by rice fields rather than ocean. We stay at Sunshine Homestay with Phan and her family. Augie and I so enjoyed this place last year that we extended our stay for several days. The family is pleasant, the area is fascinating, and Phan's cooking is really wonderful.

    We spent our first evening hiking up the karst at Mua Cave for a view from above. The next morning we woke early and drove to nearby Trang An where we followed a waterway through nine caves and three temples. Unfortunately someone let a small Smokey like creature into one of the temple areas. Still, it is a pretty cool place. Our last stop for the day was the ancient citadel of the northern kingdom. Mary took a photogenic ride on a traditionally attired water buffalo.
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    Traveler  Otherworldly ~


    Traveler  Ha !

  • Day 8

    Phong Nha

    October 1, 2019 in Vietnam ⋅ ⛅ 33 °C

    We spent most of a day driving from Ninh Binh to Phong Nha. The trip took a little extra because ws asked the driver to cross a stream bed to bypass a 'road closed to cars' sign. We also asked him to add a half hour or so to steer away from the busy truck traffic on the A1. This allowed us to head up into the mountains and witness some stunning landscapes. The mountain road is now designated the Ho Chi Minh route. At one point the road suddenly get very flat and straight for about a mile. The road here is a remnant of the clandestine airstrip built by the north Vietnamese to land and refuel Russian MIG fighters flown by Vietnamese pilots. The US forces in Danang were completely unprepared as they assumed that they were beyond the range of those planes. The attack shook US confidence.

    Phong Nha is a town bordering Ke Bang National Park. It's sort of a case study in tourist planning and zoning gone wrong, but it does have its positives. The government built a streetscape heading out of the town to the south that is now completely crumbling and overgrown. The actual investor related development snakes up the riverside for several kilometers. Lots of homestays Nd bars right on the river.

    Ke Bang National Park is home to several of the largest caves in the world. One of which is the largest. Period. That one costs 3k to enter and takes days to explore. We chose the cheaper and more visited Paradise Cave. It is vast and filled with interesting formations. See the first few photos below.

    In the late afternoon we visited Phong Nha Cave. It is a few miles upriver from the town and requires a boat to visit. See the subsequent photos.

    Evening we headed out to Momma D's. A new open air bar/restaurant atop one of the tallest buildings in the area. Momma D, from Edmonton, Alberta is a great host. See photo from the rooftop.
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    Traveler  Gorgeous!!


    Traveler  Love the wood grain.

  • Day 9

    PeaceTrees Vietnam

    October 2, 2019 in Vietnam ⋅ ⛅ 33 °C

    After a hearty breakfast of very fresh eggs and rolls (and chocolate pancakes for Don), we left Phong Nha early, at 7, for our day visiting with PeaceTrees, the organization Hans and Augie visited last year and one that we support as a family. It was an incredible day. The PeaceTrees slogan is "Healing the land. Building community. Planting futures." The organization, a US non-profit, based in Seattle, was started by Jerilyn Cheney and her husband Danaan Perry. Jerilyn's brother, Daniel, was killed in Vietnam and Jerilyn vowed that when the time was right, she would figure out a way forward. Her way became PeaceTrees, now a thriving organization that does land mine removal and land mine education for children as well as provide support for families with someone who has been injured by a UED. The organization works in several provinces bordering the former DMZ. These provinces were heavily bombed during the war and much of the land is still unusable due to unexploded ordinance. Consequently, they are the poorest provinces in the country. PeaceTrees also partners with communities to build kindergartens, support families with healthy food and clean water, and build community centers.

    We met the In-Country Director, Ha Phan, at a small coffee shop near Dong Ha. Our first stop was a kindergarten in a small village in the mountains near Laos. On the drive to the village, Ha told us that the money for the school was donated by a Vietnam vet in memory of his best friend, killed in the war. She also told us how she came to PeaceTrees. She started as an intern after university, and was tasked with interviewing survivors of land mine explosions. The first day on the job she spoke to an 18 year old young man, just married, who lost both hands due to an explosion. That interview transformed her and she had been with the organization for 18 years now.

    The school was a bright open one room building, with colorful decorations in the walls. The children were eating lunch when we arrived. The focus of the school is teaching children Vietnamese, as the Viet language is used in school, business, industry, etc. A community has to ask for a school. This is not an organization that swoops in and takes over. If the community asks, PeaceTrees works with the community to design and develop the school, which is built by locals. 

    As a birthday present this year, Don had given Hans a portable mini-printer, which Hans brought along. We were all taking tons of photos, and Hans took photos of groups of kids. The children were amazed, watching this 5x7 inch device spit out an image. He'd hand them the photo and they'd smile and laugh. Don and Mary handed out stickers. The kids sang for us and we sang for them: the first verse, and the first verse only, of Mary Had A Little Lamb. After distributing gifts provided by Peace Trees, we said our goodbyes and headed to lunch and coffee. Here is a link to some of the singing:

    The next stop in our day was the unexploded ordinance clearance site, where we met the team of 10 folks doing on the ground de-mining. Brave people. (PeaceTrees has 10 teams is the field.) They receive extensive training, but still, it is risky work with potentially fatal consequences. Wow. This work is funded by The Office of Weapons Abatement and Removal, a US Department of State office. Our tax dollars paid to drop them in the first place and are now paying to remove them. The team showed us a map of all the bombs dropped across the province, a map of dense red dots covering pretty much the entire province. The data was provided by the US Air Force. The area the team was working in was a rubber tree plantation. They started in February, and to date, had removed 92 unexploded ordance (UDX) so far, and expected to finish up at the end of the month. The area was the size of a football field. They walk every inch, using sensitive metal detectors, to ferrett out what lies below the surface. Not every find is a UDX, but it has to be treated as such.

    The team had saved a cluster bomb for us to detonate. We could see it lying in the sandbagged hole they'd carefully excavated around it. It was a small black ball, the size of a tennis ball. You could see why it would be so appealing to a kid. A single bomb held hundreds of these small balls. When they exploded, they sent out small bullet - like projectiles that reached a radius of 300 feet. Anything in the area didn't have a chance. Mary and I were given the task of blowing it up, but before we did, we had to sign a waiver and provide our blood type. Just in case…. The team made sure the site was secure, then ran a wire from the bomb to the detonation site, 300 feet away. We practiced, Mary armed the device with one button and I hit the Fire button. After the technician, a young woman, wired it up, and the team leader counted down in Vietnamese, we pressed our buttons. It was deafening and terrifying. I could imagine the impact. Here is a link to the video:

    Our day ended with a visit to the PeaceTrees office, on a former Marine base. We saw the tree Hans and Augie planted last year. It was an amazing day, and I urge you to check out the PeaceTrees website to learn more about what they do. There's a short video there about a day in the life of a young woman working on a de-mining team.
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    flowerstone  what a nice story, and great to see you with the kids. Lovely pics!


    Traveler  Tree People ~ my peeps in LA ~ good on ya, lads!

  • Day 10


    October 3, 2019 in Vietnam ⋅ ⛅ 35 °C

    It is hot and humid again. It should remain so for the rest of the trip as we move south. Note the 'feels like' on the photo below. 114! On top of that I have come down with a head and chest cold that is slowing me further.

    I did manage to get out to visit the royal tombs in this ancient capital. Hue was the residence of the royal families over the past several centuries. Emperors spent money and time designing and building their tombs and completing those of their ancestors. The practice has filtered down to middle class families in this central area of the country. We were told that this is not the practice in the north. We visited Minh Mang and Tu Duc tombs. Tu Duc was the more fascinating.

    Google has misdirected us on several occasions. Earlier in the trip it sent us through a riverbed and construction zone. In between tombs it sent us on a newly constructed and very narrow road with lots of overhanging branches and right angle curves. Not the best for a 19ft long step van. Phuc managed pretty well until we encountered a tuk tuk blocking the road with no driver around. A little clutch work and a bit of shoving from the peanut gallery got us underway again. Phuc was not amused.

    As my cold deepened I spent the afternoon and evening resting. Nancy, Mary, and Don toured the Imperial Palace complex. We met for dinner at another highly rated restaurant featuring local dishes; Madam Thu. Night before we hit a less fancy but just as delicious place; The Hanh Restaurant.
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    Traveler  Great photo!!


    Traveler  We are so glad you are posting such beautiful photos. It looks like an amazing country!


    Traveler  Only 96 degrees eh?!

  • Day 12

    Hoi An

    October 5, 2019 in Vietnam ⋅ ⛅ 31 °C

    Hoi An. Chosen by Travel and Leisure magazine as the best city in the world to visit in 2019. This could be bad...

    At least that's what I remember thinking when I read the article. One more place in the world to become like San Francisco, Venice, or Amsterdam. But it turned out to to be less over the top than I expected. If anything there were more Vietnamese tourist families there than any other sub group. Certainly more pleasant than last year when every other tourist scoping out the copious shops and restaurants was a a pink scowling Russian.

    We drove from Hue to Hoi An over the Hai Van pass. A squiggly mountain road with a view much like a spot along the Big Sur coast. I caught a photo of our crew on the pass and a selfie with our driver Phuc. From there we skirted along the coast at Danang and arrived at our idyllic little hotel in Old Town Hoi An.

    Nancy and I immediately headed out to Ba Ri tailor to be fitted for some new togs. The women who fitted us were the same sisters who'd fitted Augie and I for our Mumbai wedding suits last year. They kept asking about my son and asking to see pictures each time we returned to the shop over subsequent days.

    That evening we all walked around the night market buying smoothies and looking at some interesting grilled foods. We sat and watched the spectacle on the river as tourists hired boats to float in the estuaries. People floated candles in paper boats for blessings. It was quite beautiful. Nancy commented that she was enchanted by it all.

    Don and Mary spent the next day exploring with a rented scooter and visiting the beach. Nancy spent her time shopping for cold remedies, bringing me sodas, and taking photos. We did get out to some really good restaurants in town. We returned to Ban Mi Phuong and found an excellent Greek restaurant run by a congenial gentleman from Crete.

    I'm feeling better today as we head to the airport in Danang for our flight to Ho Chi Minh. Hopefully a guy with a sign with be waiting for us at the other end.
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    Traveler  Nice ~


    Traveler  That looks refreshing. What a trip !


    Traveler  Ooooh ahhhhh ~


    Traveler  I love their style ~ so cool .

  • Day 14

    Ho Chi Minh City

    October 7, 2019 in Vietnam ⋅ ⛅ 32 °C

    We landed in Saigon, checked into our hotel and immediately made it over to the Ben Thanh market. The tourist sites refer to this as the central market in not only Saigon, but all of Vietnam. Lists of places to visit and walking tours all start here. It's a great place for introduction. The market is over 7000 square meters of clothing, knickknacks, bulk items, fresh foods, and food stalls.

    We wandered around the aisles for awhile waiting for just the right scent emanating from a kitchen to lure us to lunch. We found it and took seats along with a couple of Australian tourists on holiday. They'd just finished a beef salad bowl called 'special bowl' on the menu and recommended it. That and a mango Lassi really hit the spot.

    The afternoon we wandered up toward the ex presidential palace and American Consulate. Memories of war coverage came flashing back.

    In the evening we took a Grab taxi to Belgo, a Belgian brew pub some 3 kilometers away. The burger and Belgian frites with Samurai sauce were excellent. The beers were spot on as well.

    Our last night in Ho Chi Minh was spent at the Continental hotel. The legendary historic inn where Graham Greene wrote The Quiet American, the war journalists liked to drink in the 60s, and Bourdain preferred during his visits to the city. The hotel upgraded our rooms to suites. Nancy and I had two bedrooms with full baths and Don and Mary's spacious digs overlooked the Opera House. A night to remember.
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