Archives for posts with tag: Hue

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….

Originally published on facebook –  October 28, 2010 at 3:48am ·

Hue – day 19

We tried to get up early with the idea of renting motorbikes to get to the DMZ (demilitarized zone) for the day. On the road by 9am, I’m on the back of Anders bike and he was a superstar making me feel very comfortable there. I’ve been nervous about motorbikes since a tumble I took in Greece back when I was 19. We made it out of the city easily and took a couple rest stops on the way, Saw a thermometer at some point which read 39 degrees, HOT! We needed to travel about 100km to get to the Vihn Moc tunnels, our first goal. We stopped for lunch at a small town, not even a town really, near where we thought the tunnels would be. Some roadside cafe/foo place where the specialty was Beef Pho. It took some work but we managed to get it made without beef (even though the broth was pork) I think the guy who cooked for us thought we were a little weird to not want beef though. He gave us Vietnamese tea which was excellent, very refreshing. The food was pretty tasty though my mouth felt greasy for a few hours afterward, my stomach didn’t feel great either but handled it ok. the best part was that 3 guys came in while we were eating, friends of the chef come to gawk at the crazy travelers I think. Though we couldn’t really speak with them we did manage to communicate a bit through smiles. One man showed me how he was missing the tips of all his fingers on one hand, “bomb” he told me. I said “fucking war” and he laughed like crazy agreeing with me I think. He had a tattoo on his arm of 2 doves intertwined, I touched it and told him I liked it, flashed the peace sign. Got big smiles for that. We asked for and got perfect directions for the last few km to the tunnels, with many smiles and handshakes all round we set off.


We found the tunnels and paid the entrance fee, we were directed to an entrance but without a guide. As soon as I saw the entrance I got a feeling of dread up my spine. we went in and right away I felt really uncomfortable. It was very narrow and low and hot and I felt the weight of the earth above me keenly. I felt really jumpy and uneasy and it got hard to breathe really quickly. After about a dozen meters there were stairs carved out of the rock leading down and my brain just shut down, no way. I needed to get out, NOW. I told the boys I couldn’t do it, didn’t even wait for their response just turned around and got the hell out as fast as I could. Back outside my heart started to calm down and the air felt wonderful. I went into the museum and saw the displays of what life was like for the Vietnamese who lived and died in the tunnels during the war. There was a guest-book I read through it and the few entries that were in English praised the ingenuity, resourcefulness, courage and heart shown by the Vietnamese people. I wandered around the site outside, seeing the entrances to a few more tunnels, the trails that are dug deep and lined with concrete and quite a few bomb craters. I felt disappointed with myself for not going on in the tunnels and yet relived that I wasn’t down there at that moment. I was so surprised by the way I felt in there, I didn’t even know what to do with it, I never anticipated feeling uneasy, have never felt claustrophobic in my life and was so surprised by the reaction of my body and mind. I hope this prepared me so that when I am in Saigon I can try to go to the other tunnels that are there, they are not as good apparently, having been altered from their original form a bit but I will try anyways.

I met up with the guys after a bit and they told me about it and showed me some pictures. It was 3pm already and we had another 100km drive to get home so we got back on the bikes to get to it. We thought about making a detour to the National Cemetery on the way back to Hue but by the time we got to the turn off we could tell rain was threatening so we pressed on. About an hour outside of Hue the rain hit and it started to get dark we decided to stop for a break and pulled over at a small street cafe. A lot of these cafes are family run and it’s actually the porch in front of their house that is the cafe, that was the situation here. A woman and her young son  were there and we tried to order coffee without condensed milk, tricky. She obviously didn’t get a lot of travelers and I had to come into the kitchen with her to help her make it, I thought she had it too but she somehow snuck a bunch of sugar into the cups when I wasn’t looking. Back at the table Anders raised the question of whether the coffee was made with safe water, I figure it would be ok, Alex did too and we toasted each other and downed it, Anders soon followed suit. The sweet lady offered us some Vietnamese tea, which is really what we should have gone for in the first place, and we all heartily accepted. As we were drinking our tea her young daughter rode in on her bicycle. Soon after the little boy came up and placed a folded piece of paper in front of me on the table. I opened it and in perfect penmanship it said “Hello, what is your name?” I scrawled back in my less then perfect writing, “Laila, what is your name?” I never got a response and I didn’t get to keep the paper either. But I did get to say goodbye to the girl as we left, I shook her hand, her mothers and the little boys too, incredibly sweet.

Back on the bikes for the final stretch, we arrive at the hotel filthy,wet and sunburned, great day. After showers we got out for dinner, drinks and some pool, turns into a late night, tons of fun.

Hue to Hoi An – day 20


Got a morning bus to Hoi An, great bus with beds side by side , nice and big and long and we all stretch out and nap most of the way. Got a great room in Hoi An, wandered a little bit in town and had dinner. At dinner we tried one of the specialties of the region, White Rose. They are kinda like Ha Gow, shrimp wrapped in white rice noodle and steamed with a dipping sauce, we all love it. We get convinced by a bar tout to try out the Sun Bar, he promises it is 100% excellent. Once we are on the motorbikes for the free ride to the bar he backpedals and says, well, maybe 99% excellent…uh oh. At the bar it’s super loud and only tourists, we stay because there is a pool table and free vodka shots, lots and lots of free vodka shots. I “discover” the “baby bucket” a mixture of vodka, coke and lemon in a jar with a lid and a straw sticking out of it. I decide it is the perfect drunks drink as it is virtually unspillable. Another late late night, I’m beginning to think that traveling with two 24 year old guys might be the death of my liver.


Hoi An – days 21, 22, 23 & 24.

Day 21 is a bit of a write off for all of us, I try to get some shopping done but am too hungover and end up with the boys lounging in our room watching stupid movies on tv, we only venture out to eat.


Day 22 it’s raining we go wandering through town, Anders orders 5 pairs of custom made running shoes, Alex orders 1 and I order a bunch of stuff I can’t tell you about because they are Christmas gifts. At some point Alex and I lose Anders. We look for him where we think he might be but he’s not so we decide to hang out by the river and eat some late lunch. We have Cao Lo, another specialty of the region, it’s only made here because the noodles are made with water from the Bai Lo well, located nearby. It’s noodles with herbs and veg and seafood, the sauce is superb, kinda cinnamony or something, we are not sure but ti is so good. We hang out here for quite some time, hiding from the rain and we start to drink beer (I know, me, drink beer, it really happened, 5 beers actually, a record for me). We are joined at some point by a guy I met on Cat Ba, Pawel from Poland. He joins in the beer drinking and we get hungry again so we order some White Rose and a Seafood Hot Pot for us all to share, yum. We sit and talk about everything under the sun, politics, religion, love, human nature, etc. It’s lovely. Before Alex and I know it we’ve spent 5 hours in this restaurant and figure we should go and find Anders. We pay up the bill and start to walk beside the river to go back to the hotel, we’ve gone about 3 stores down and we see Anders sitting in a restaurant. We join him for a couple beers and then Alex and I are restless, we want to go out, Anders says he’ll join us in a bit so Alex and I head back to Sun Bar. It sucks as badly as it did the other night but I chat with people anyways. We enjoy a few free shots, a couple baby buckets and some pool and then catch a motorbike taxi back to our hotel, Anders never joined us.


Day 23 is the boys last day in Hoi An they are heading down to Nha Trang a day ahead of me, I’ll meet up with them there. The weather is still crap but we run chores picking up our custom stuff, doing a little more shopping and sitting and eating an awful lot. The boys catch a bus at 6:30pm and I take myself out for a lovely dinner where I try Vietnamese pancakes for the first time (not the last). It’s a rice flour pancake fried with shrimp and beansprouts inside. It comes served with rice paper wraps,fresh herbs and satay sauce, I ask my server how to eat it and he shows me. I cut the pancake in half, wrap it up inside the rice paper with some of the fresh herbs and then dip in the satay sauce, incredible! The pancake is rather small and I start wishing I had ordered more when mama-san comes running out of the kitchen with another pancake on her spatula, she slides it onto my plate and winks at me. after the second one I’m feeling pretty good, and then she comes out with one more, heaven, I’m stuffed silly.

Day 24 I sleep late, pick up my final items and spend a ridiculous amount of money to ship them home, must stop doing this. On the bus at 6:30pm for an overnighter to Nha Trang. Top bunk of course but at least my other pair of Havianas didn’t get stolen this time.

Nha Trang – day 25

Arriving at 6am is not nice. I shake off the hotel touts and head out to find some food before I get a hotel. That taken care of I know the area the guys are in so I find a beautiful room on the 4th floor of a building 1/2  block from the beach, I have a massive bathroom and a stunning view. Pleased. I nap for a couple hours and meetup with the boys for lunch. Anders heads off on a motorbike for the day and Alex and I laze around on the beach. In the late afternoon we go far a little walk through town. It’s actually a fairly large city, I don’t like it very much, it seems to be pretty much a party town for tourists. we discover baguette sandwich carts and fall in love with them. Alex tries 2 different carts, at one he gets the meatwich and at the second he follows my lead and gets the egg. It’s a freshly scrambled egg stuffed inside a warmed baguette with cucumber, tomato, and fresh herbs. The baguette is liberally squirted with soy sauce and chili sauce and it is delicious, I’m grinning from ear to ear eating it and Alex laughs at me a lot. Back to the beach I read a bit while Alex joins in a soccer game with some locals. It gets dark and we head back to the hotels to freshen up and meet Anders so we can go for dinner.

We pick a street stall where we can point at what we want to eat, it’s decent and super cheap. Later we head out for just a “couple” drinks and some pool as we have to be up early the next morning for the bus to Mui Ne. Of course it ends up being more then just a couple drinks and we are all happy and starving as we head back to the hotel. Luckily we stumble across another baguette stall, the boys have 2 each, I only need the one and it’s soooo tasty. We need this in Vancouver instead of greasy pizza at 3 am.

Nah Trang to Mui Ne – day 26

Up at 6:30 am for a 7:30m bus we grab a quick breakfast of (you guessed it) egg baguettes and coffee. We eat it waiting for the bus and when we get on are practically the only passengers, we commandeer a row of seats each and sleep our way through the next 5 hours to Mui Ne. We find a great hotel/bungalow. It not on the beach because those are quite expensive but it’s brand spanking new, there are still stickers on the toilet, sink and fridge. Mui Ne is really just a stretch of road about 20km long with large resorts on the beach side and smaller guest houses and restaurants on the other. Right now is just the very beginning of the busy season so it’s slow and lazy, I can see that it will be pretty busy during the high season. Kite surfing is huge here and lots of places are offering to teach it, something I will definitely NOT try when I come back (I have had a job offer).

Mui Ne – day 27 to 36

We spend the next couple days being quite lazy. There is a typhoon up north right now and the weather is rainy a lot of the time. When it’s nice we hang on the beach and when it’s not we hang in restaurants, the guys eat like it’s going out of style. We play lots of cards and read, update journals etc. I meet a guy who runs a yoga studio here and he offers me a job. The guys leave after a couple days, they are heading to Saigon briefly before moving into Cambodia because their visas are running out. I’ve had my visa renewed so figure I will hang out here for a bit. Big hugs to the boys, it’s been fun.


I’ve been taking yoga classes and even taught one to give Lex (the boss) and idea of what I do, he likes it and renews his job offer so I figure to come back here at the end of January 2011 to stay for a minimum of 2 months, cool. I’ve meet a few great people and the weather has improved. It’s been all too easy to loose whole days here, lovely town. I’ve eaten snake (it’s rubbery and kinda tasteless, but it was a small snake so maybe the big ones are better, will give it another try for sure) I’ve drank rice wine (Vietnamese vodka) with snake blood in it. Discovered lots of good restaurants, read some books and generally had a very relaxing fun time. I’m leaving here tomorrow to go to Saigon where I will be for Halloween. A couple of the people I’ve met here are going as well and we already have a party invite, should be good, just need to find a costume now.

originally published on facebook –  October 28, 2010 at 1:51am ·
Cat Ba to Ninh Binh – day 16

Up early and on the bus to Ninh Binh. I sit right up front, behind the driver, not actually the best choice as there is a metal bar wedged in front of me and when the driver gets in he wrenches his seat back as far as it can go. I’m short but still feel cramped. I stick my feet out sideways and prop them on the padded engine cover, I get told off for this because I’m still wearing my flip-flops, bare feet are acceptable to put anywhere but not my shoes apparently. Good lesson. I also discover that my ipod is gone, either lost or stolen at some point during my stay on Cat Ba (big,big bummer). The bus arrives in Ninh Binh in the mid-afternoon and I find a hotel pretty quickly and check out train vs. bus prices for the next leg of my journey. Have some cheap food and got introduced to a side of Vietnam I hadn’t seen very much of so far, sincere friendliness. Also bananas as dessert for “free, no money”, love it. I have wifi in my hotel and hook up with Alex and Anders (from Cat Ba) via facebook, we arrange to meet up in the morning.

Ninh Binh – day 17

Meet up with the boys and we rent bikes with the plan to ride about 10km out of town to the Trang An Caves/Riverboats. Riding out of town on our bikes is a little nerve jangling at first, horns are always blaring and on a bike you are the littlest, least important guy on the road. Fortunately the road leading to the caves is big (and dusty) but not very busy. We see rice paddies and limestone karsts rising out of them, on one we spot a goat climbing over the impossibly steep sides as if it’s nothing, he’s nibbling trees and vegetation, pictures are a must.

We pass by a pagoda and decide to take a look. We pedal our bikes down the path to the gate and run into Dave, an Irish guy who is staying at the some hotel as me. He’s been waiting an hour for someone to come and open the gate. Alex solves the issue by climbing over the wall and unbolting the door, it feels a little unorthodox but we all go in anyways. It was lovely and small and fairly typical of others I have seen but quite nice. Dave decides to join us for the day and we get back on our bikes, lock the gate behind us and head off again. Just around the next corner is a little restaurant, we decide to stop. The only customers besides us are a couple of Vietnamese guys drinking beer. We get lots of attention and are presented with an English menu. It’s much smaller then the one in Vietnamese and our options are goat, goat and vegetarian. We opt for veggie and have some fried rice, spinach with garlic and noodles with veg, it’s decent and cheap.

Back on the bikes it’s a beautiful sunny day and we continue to try to find the boats. We end up pedaling right past it and going 3km further down the road then we needed to. Every schoolchild and lots of adults say hello to us and wave, probably their one word of English, I never get tired of it. Once again I am noticing the difference in the friendliness of the people here compared to everywhere else I have been so far, it’s lovely and a relief as I was starting to feel a little cynical about being seen as a walking wallet. We realize our mistake and backtrack, finding the boats this time. Dave decides to opt out because he’s already seen the other caves (Tam Coc) and doesn’t want to spend the (overpriced) entrance fee, fair enough. Alex, Anders and I pile into our small boat. I’m wearing shorts and I am told to cover my legs, I’m not sure if it’s because of mosquitoes, fear I will get sunburned or to show respect, no matter, I pull out my trusty shawl, drape it around my legs and everyone seems satisfied.

Our rowboat lady starts off, she’s not a big girl but god she’s strong. The river is beautiful, this area is described in Lonely Planet as “the Halong Bay of the rice paddies”, it certainly is. We paddle for a bit, surrounded by the karsts and then start to head into our first cave. Our rower has us sit in the bottom of the boat and a good thing too as the ceilings are very low. As we navigate through the twists and turns we have to duck and swerve around formations that hang almost as low as the water. We can touch the limestone all around us and we can help the rower steer by pushing and pulling on the rocks and walls. We take pictures, lots of pictures and I’m sure only a few of them will turn out. It’s difficult to get good shots because there are only a few light bulbs hanging widely spaced from the ceilings. We travel through a series of caves, I lose count. Sometime we emerge from one cave to find ourselves surrounded on all sides by steep rising limestone cliffs, the only way out is through another cave, it’s quite awesome. Our rower shows us how she can also row with her feet, in case her arms get tired, it looks quite odd, she’s got surprisingly agile toes, little weird actually. In all our journey takes about 2 hours.

Back on our bikes for the ride back to town it’s getting dark and there aren’t any lights on the road at first. This means the bugs are out in force and we feel them hitting our faces as we ride back, not so pleasant. I keep my mouth tightly shut so as not to eat any and mostly succeed. Once we are back in town I see a road sign that stops me in my tracks, it’s a trumpet with a red circle/slash over it. I don’t get it at first and say, it’s a no trumpeting sign, the boys have a good laugh at me and explain it’s a no horns sign. I still have to take a picture however this is another photo I can never show you as at some point soon I lost/have stolen my camera case with the full memory card inside.

We make it back to the hotel and get showered. The boys and I have decided to travel together for a bit and we have booked an open bus ticket that allows us to hop down the coast at whatever speed we like until we hit Nha Trang. Or first journey is tonight, an overnighter to Hue, about 12 hours. We get on the bus around 10:30pm and are all separated into different bunks, the bus is full. There are bottom and top bunks, the beds are pretty narrow and short and each one has a plastic box at the end of it for your feet to go into. I fit into it ok (top bunk of course) but poor Alex is about 6’4″ tall and has size 13 feet, he can’t even get his foot to fit inside the box, poor guy. We all spend a fairly uncomfortable night, and are not feeling rested when we arrive in Hue in the morning.

Hue – day 18

Off the bus at 10am, we are immediately swarmed by hotel touts. Overnight my Havianas have disappeared, bummer. To get away from the touts we go for some coffee and breakfast before facing finding a hotel. We find a place called the Mandarin Cafe about a block away. It’s great and run by a guy called Mr. Cu, who is a fantastic photographer, his pictures cover the walls of the cafe. He is also very generous with his information, telling us we could book a tour of the DMZ but it’s easy to do it ourselves if we want to. We like him. We find a hotel after breakfast, great room,shower, clean, yay.

We’re all pretty wasted after our bus ride, the guys want to just hang out and have some beers, I decide I want to get some “culture”. I arrange a motorbike and driver to take me to 5 locations, all in just a few hours. Tu Hieu Pagoda, Bunker Hill, Tomb of Tu Duc, Thien Mu Pagoda and the Citadel. Tu Hieu was in the forest, there are lots and lots of tombs scattered all over the place. It’s very pretty but I didn’t get much of a sense of the place. Moving on to Bunker Hill, I had no idea what to expect. I didn’t even know whose bunkers they were so I asked my driver to tell me a little about it. His English wasn’t great but from what I understand the bunkers were built in the 1880’s to fight the French who had set up their own bunkers on a hill on the other side of the Perfume River. Not really a lot to see here, you can’t go inside the bunkers so they just look kinda like lumps of concrete. However the view of the Perfume River is stunning, I could see it winding off a long ways in both directions.

Next off to Tu Duc’s tomb, a let down actually. Very old and rumbling which was actually cool but it was quite barren, it seemed like all the life had been stripped out of it. A few areas were closed off due to “danger”. Mostly it was just empty buildings and tombs, of which I have already seen quite a lot of and could have done for free. Oh well. My second to last stop is Thien Mu Pagoda, this is the “famous” one you might have seen in images of Vietnam. It also was the home pagoda to Thich Quang Duc who burned himself to death in 1963 to protest against the policies of then President Ngo Dinh Diem. He was driven to the place he choose to stage his protest in a car which is now on display at the pagoda. In pictures of the event you can see the same car in the background behind his flaming body. This place was quite busy and touristed yet I really enjoyed it and felt that lovely presence which I’ve spoken of before. In the pagoda there was a monk wandering around, he had a lovely gentle face and demeanor, I’m assuming he was there keeping an eye on the tourists as there was an area inside the pagoda that was designated “for meditation only”. I went in there and knelt before Buddha, took some time with my eyes closed and allowed the serenity of the place to wash over me, blissed.

I couldn’t stay long though as I knew I was running out of time to get to the Citadel before it closed. Hopped back on the bike to try to get there in time but made it literally a minute too late, closed. I had the driver take me back to my hotel and met up with the boys. I found them much as I had left them, though maybe more inebriated. They had spent the day hanging around the river drinking beer with some Vietnamese guys, learning how to “cheers” in Vietnamese – “yo”. We had some dinner and I decided to sample the Vietnamese wine Vang Dalat. Was pretty good actually and though we had meant to have an early night we somehow made it through 3 bottles.