Archives for the month of: April, 2011

Jack, Tobi and I make our way by train to Hue. I was here on my last trip but missed out seeing the Citadel, so we’re here for a day to see it. I’ll let the pictures do the talking….

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I arrived by bus from Hoi An and set out to find the guesthouse my friend Garth had recommended to me. Bit of a mess as my moto taxi driver didn’t know where it was and it took us forever to find but find it we did, eventually. Hoa’s Guesthouse, about 4kms outside of Danang, sits about 30 meters up a dirt road from China Beach (famous for having been a R n’ R spot for GI’s during the war), and about a 10 minute walk from the Marble Mountains. It’s a beautiful beach, super wide, mostly clean and virtually empty. Hoa’s is a blast. I meet a few lovely people and we formed a very nice group. I’d planned to spend only a couple days in Danang but it ended up being about 10 and could have been much longer.

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One of these lovely people that I met was named Jack, a (then) 18 year old from England and who celebrated his 19th birthday just a few days after I met him. That bakery I found in Hoi An came in handy as we drove the half hour (by motorbike) into Hoi An and picked him up 5 pieces of cake, each one different, and surprised him with them. Pretty happy kid.

My friend Garth took me out on a tour by moto one day, we visited the beautiful “Lady Buddha” that is so big she can be seen from all around Danang. I call her the “Lady Buddha” because I think she is just so stunning but perhaps I’m wrong, perhaps she’s a he?

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He also took me deep into a jungle trail to a shrine which had been built around a really old tree. I don’t know what these trees are called but they grow slowly and intertwine with each other and take over anything that surrounds them, making it a part of themselves. Smaller trees grow up from the ground around and join with the main tree, creating an almost veil like effect. There was a feeling around this tree that is indescribable, an aura of calm, an oasis….

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Four of our group went to Hue on motorbikes for an overnight visit, Jack and I stayed behind as both of planned to head that way anyways, eventually, when we could tear ourselves away from Danang. But we arranged to meet up with the gang at a National Park. We rented a motorbike and had a blast getting lost and then eventually finding our way there, we met some cute little oinkers at a restaurant high in the hills,

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We did actually manage to meet up with the others, had a hike and found a sweet swimming spot to cool us down and clean the road dust and sweat off. Made it back in one piece to Danang and I finally decided it was time for me learn to ride my own motorbike, I was tired of having to get people to double me. So the next day I rented a bike and took a Jack and Roger into Hoi An for the day. I was so nervous at first, but I did it and it’s so much better then being on the back of one, my thanks to the boys for coaching me along!

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Eventually you have leave and keep moving, Jack and I both wanted to head into Laos soon but we had a couple more stops in Vietnam first and a German guy named Tobi was going to join us for those.

Hoa….after a few beers.

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Marble Mountains is located in Danang, Vietnam. They are land karsts (not sure if that is the correct term), they look like big lumps rising up up out the flat land that is Danang. I visited them twice during my stay in Danang. The first time I went I joined up with a few people I had met at the guesthouse and we walked up the many steps to an upper viewpoint with a pagoda on it. Fantastic views and lots of templely stuff to look at. We found one cave and it was neat but nothing spectacular if you’ve been to other caves and I have. At the time that I visited there was a gigantic glass elevator shaft being constructed right next the mountain, an incongruous sight to say the least. Needless to say I wasn’t overly impressed, I had expected more as it’s one of the only reasons listed in Lonely Planet to go to Danang.

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Once back at the guesthouse we talked to a guy who had been staying there a while and he told us we had missed the best part, we’d have to go back, so a few day later I did, with a different group this time. We walked past the stairs my group had gone up the first time and entered a large cave. Inside was massive with a row of statues, a set of scales and a central figure with a wheel behind it, I realized that this was supposed to represent purgatory, the space between heaven and hell, and these figures represented the people? angels?  who were going to sit in judgement of your soul to figure out which direction you would be sent. We found a passageway that lead downwards into a maze of tunnels and nooks and crannies with all sorts of bizarre statues showing various tortured souls, demons and monsters, it was surprisingly disturbing and graphic. The “hell” passageways eventually led up back up into purgatory and from there we found another pathway, this time leading upwards to “heaven” filled with hundreds of Buddhas, dragons, lotus flowers and more, all in white marble. A massive stairway lead upwards with all these images carved into relief on the walls. At the top we climbed through a small opening into daylight and there was a simple Buddha shrine.

“Purgatory”

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“Hell”

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“Heaven”

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Definitely a worthwhile second visit!

After 2 months in Mui Ne, I’m done my contract and ready to get a move on. I’ve been restless and ready for a while so the same day that I teach my last class I book a night bus to Saigon. I don’t have a plan yet and figured I’d go to a big city so as to take advantage of greater options.

I spend a single day in Saigon and then get on a bus for Hoi An. It was supposed to be a direct bus but instead it drops me off in Nha Trang, not my favorite city and I have to wait 3 hours until my connecting bus shows up. Pretty displeased about that. The bus I ends up on takes about 12 hours to get to Hoi An (instead of the 6 they told me) and wanting to drop me off at the side of highway in the middle of the night about 5 kms outside of town. I refuse to get off the bus until they call me a taxi and pay for it to take me into town. This doesn’t make me very popular but I am sick of being shuffled around and lied to by this company, I’ve also been on buses for about 24 hours at this point, without proper food or a clean bathroom.They get me a cab, it’s paid for and takes me into town where I find a hotel and get some much needed sleep. I’m in a pretty bad mood to be honest so the mental oblivion of sleep in a comfy bed is fantastic, as well as the shower. I wake up the next (late) morning feeling revived.

I spend about 5 days in Hoi An, I get some clothes made, copies of things I have with me, see some sights, go to a nearby beach, meet some lovely people and take a Vietnamese cooking class with one of them. We learn how to make a soup with shrimp dumplings in it, fresh spring rolls, green mango salad, 12 spice bbq, and my favorite, Vietnamese pancakes (Bahn Xeo). I also find a great bakery which will come in handy in about a week.

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Next step, Danang. It’s not actually that far away but I never made it there on my last trip through and I have a friend that I haven’t seen in ages who has been living there for a couple years teaching English.