A Travellerspoint blog

Hoi An

sunny 26 °C

Another night bus later and we arrived at Hoi An. Night buses really don't bother me as I can always get a bit of sleep in the almost comfortable 'beds.' The only thing I really need is a real bed to fall into as soon as I arrive in town, which unfortunately didn't happen in Hoi An.

Hoi An used to be a major shipping port in centuries past but during the 1800s the water level diminished and a port in the nearby city of Danang took it's place. With little development in recent history the old town district is incredibly well preserved with rustic buildings and narrow streets. This is largely because any modern developments happen outside the UNESCO World Heritage protected old town. In one museum I saw a photo from the 1950s and it really didn't look much different from now. I don't think you could say the same for anywhere else I've been to.

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The only downside I could see to the town was the constant barrage of people trying to make you rent bikes or buy clothes. Hoi An is well known for it's tailoring industry and now has over 100 clothes shops vying for the tourist dollar. I decided to take up the opportunity to have a custom made 3-piece suit made at a fraction of the price I would pay at home - while still being a big enough dent in my backpacker budget! I figure this can be justified on the fact it will make me 100% more employable in job interviews when I get home.

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A pleasant and quiet beach is only a few kilometres away so one afternoon we rented bicycles and took a trip over there on roads that cut through rice paddies.

The Chinese influence is obvious in Hoi An where the multi-cultural society each built their own communal halls (yes Cameron, it does work!). I can't quite tell the different between Chinese and Chino-Cantonese but it all looks good.

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You might be able to guess from the quantity of photos in this entry that I really like Hoi An. In fact it's my favourite place in Vietnam and definitely one of the best places I've visited in SE Asia. The old town and temples are beautiful. There are plenty of tourists - enough to create an atmosphere but not enough to ruin it. Interesting history although the museums are a uninspiring. Activities such as boat rides, the beach, fishing, cookery classes, seeing traditional arts and crafts.

The next place is always in mind whilst travelling so after 3 days we jumped back on the old bus for a ride to Hue (Pronounced h-way, not like hugh for anyone that cares)

Posted by oli.heeley 21:01 Archived in Vietnam

Nha Trang

sunny 29 °C

A bumpy bus ride down the mountains and we were in the beach resort city of Nha Trang. The beach is nice - long, narrow but not too busy. A long, narrow and not too busy park separates it from the road making a nice green space to keep the cars and motorbikes at a distance.

The first day was spent walking up the beach, visiting a temple and then a pagoda.

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On the next day we visited a nearby island-come-theme park called Vinpearl. Ticket cost includes the cable car over to the island and then all rides and attractions on site. The cable car towers are replicas of the Eiffel Tower and are fully lit at night, appearing as a line a towers marching across the water. The park includes a beach, waterpark, fairground rides, 4D theatre, arcade and a pretty fast fixed-track sledge ride down the hill.

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In the arcade I had a go at one of those football kick machines where you're measured on how hard you can kick the ball. Unfortunately on my second go I made contact with the wrong part of my foot and managed to injure it. A few minutes later a huge bump had grown on the side of my foot and walking was VERY painful. A quick, hard jab on the bump by the onsite medic was enough for her to decide I would be fine in 2-3 days.....

We had arranged a sleeper bus to leave Nha Trang that night so I was quite happy to do a short hobble from the hotel and then rest my foot until morning.

Posted by oli.heeley 07:59 Archived in Vietnam

Dalat

semi-overcast 23 °C

To travel the Vietnamese coast we chose the open bus ticket where you pay in one go for travel from Saigon to Ha Noi and visit a certain number of stops along the way. All you need to do is call the travel agent and reserve a place on the bus a day before you want to move on to the next destination. It's certainly not as attractive as the train but incredibly convenient. City centre drop-offs that eliminate the need to negotiate a tuktuk ride from a far off bus/train station are very welcome.

First stop was Dalat and an massive change in scenery from previous locations on my trip. It's inland from the coast and nestled at a reasonable altitude amongst rolling green hills. As a result the climate is very green and much cooler than anywhere I've been in 2 months. Dalat is rich in fresh produce - mainly fruit, flowers and wine. It felt great to be out of the sweatbox and into such a lush environment.

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(Most photos of my trip up the coast were taken on my phone. Thought the quality would be better than it is)

As with many places in this region the French colonial history is apparent. Even the phone masts have a certain 'I don't know what'

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One of Dalat's main attractions is the self proclaimed Crazy House. It's the base of a huge tree (made from cement) with hollowed out roots/branches giving the feeling of being some kind of 10cm tall fairy. I think the most crazy thing about it was the actual idea and conviction to build it.

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The remainder of our only full day in Dalat was spent looking at a pagoda and temple and then a walk around the lake. Very peaceful and pleasant. In the evening we walked around the night market and a bought a huge bag of blackberries for about 30p. Ignoring the slightly gritty consistency I later realised that I must have consumed a huge amount of dirt and crap due to them not being washed. This realisation came from the horrendous stomach pain and that 'just on the edge of vomiting' sensation I had for the following 4 mornings. Lesson learnt.

I thought Dalat was a really nice town and a worthy stop if you have a good amount of time to travel the coast, as I did. Two nights was sufficient, however, and the beach resort of Nha Trang was calling.

Posted by oli.heeley 04:45 Archived in Vietnam

Ho Chi Minh City

sunny 33 °C

Another boarder crossing and I was onto country number 7, Vietnam. I was given a leaving gift from Cambodia when the boarder security guard chose not to fine me $20 for overstaying my visa. My Vietnam visa was pre-arranged in Cambodia so it was a relatively quick and easy jump into a new country and culture that I had to get to grips with.

For me, and certainly most other people I've met, the biggest shock is the amount of motorbikes on the roads and the bustling streets of Ho Chi Minh required almost 360 degree vision in order to avoid getting run over. Being so used to SE Asia I no longer think to take photos of the 'ordinary', such as the busy, sensory overload tangle of little streets all over HCM. This is odd really as it's generally more interesting than another photo of a temple or skyscraper....I'll get that rectified as it's the different street level experiences that really characterise the countries I'm visiting.

Anyway, HCM offers the usual spread of offerings found in many Asian cities - temples, museums, markets, parks. Same same but different. The War Remnants museum was certainly a worthy visit. Although far from informative of the causes, events and outcome of the Vietnamese war, the photograph exhibits captured the horror and destruction from the perspective of the locals, Americans and war photographers.

In a museum about the man Ho Chi Minh I was pressured by a group of university students to sing a song, completely on my own, in Vietnamese. I have no idea what the lyrics meant and hope to dear God that no recording of this incident exists.

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Little parks are dotted across the city. Well maintained and a welcome break from the noise and congestion.

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French colonial history is evident in the architecture as well as this replica of Notre Dame.

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In HCM I was joined by an old travel buddy and we planned a 3 week journey taking us north to Ha Noi, with stops at the most popular towns and cities along the way.

Posted by oli.heeley 09:10 Archived in Vietnam

Phnom Penh

sunny 31 °C

A rather brief visit to Cambodia's capital was the next stop. With one full day here I chose to find out about the country's more recent history and visited sites where in the mid-70s the Khmer Rouge committed some of their most horrendous atrocities.

The first location was the Killing Fields, a place where many Cambodians were taken to be executed and buried. There wasn't a great deal to see here but the audio tour was superb and just being in the place where it happened helped to put into context the history I was learning. Standing on the same ground you can't help but picture the events that took place. I really recommend a quick Wikipedia read if you're not familiar with the place or period of history.

I never feel comfortable taking photos in such a place, just my personal preference, and would rather the events be told by someone more knowledgeable than me so further reading and research might be needed for this blog entry.

Later in the morning I visited S21, a group of school buildings near the centre of Phnom Penh that was converted into a jail, interrogation, torture and murder camp. Many bare classrooms/prison cells contain the original bed along with a photo taken by the liberation army of the body they found in that room, on that bed. Other rooms exhibit the countless photos of detainees - staring out at the audience - taken by the Khmer Rouge in their efforts to record all the people who came there and later perished at their hands. Original torture devices are on display in some of the rooms along with drawings of how they were used.

The remainder of my day was spent walking along the riverside promenade, a long strip of attractive paving dotted with trees, and a healthy amount of people watching. On a nightly basis the promenade is full of local people partaking in sports or exercise or simply socialising. It's a wonder to think after the last few decades of horror how the Cambodian people could be as warm, happy and friendly as I found them.

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Posted by oli.heeley 21:17 Archived in Cambodia

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