After more than a month of the return of my trip I can begin to write the Vietnam travel blog. As it has been usual lately, work does not allow me to write blogs so often. It had been a long time since I thought about traveling to Vietnam. Specifically after my trip to Egypt. But for one thing or the other the time never came. But finally the ideal moment arrived, although it was not clear yet in what month.
I have a coworker who travels very often to Vietnam. I told him that we had been recommended to avoid the summer months since the heat was considerable, and he said yes. So, asking one and the other, we decided it would be in winter. It would be a faster trip, but at least I would finally go to Vietnam!
I am very reluctant to organized trips, but within this concept, the idea convinced me, because it would only be us. So of course, we did not have to worry about booking hotels, flights, or anything at all. And it was already there! The day arrived! We had a long trip by plane to reach my desired destination!
It was time to go to the airport. Our flight left at 18:20. So we went by the van one last time, and at 3:30 we were already there. We entered the mini-terminal and took the opportunity to take out things that we had in the backpack and that had to go in the suitcase. We had time. So we sat down to wait, since the screens still did not show at what counter we had to check-in. There were few seats.
At 16:10 I went to the screens and see the counter where we would check-in. So we went to the queue. While we waited, a huge group arrived, who were also at our hotel because we had seen them. It seemed that the responsible guide was looking at how to get through.
We show our passports, pack our bags, and that's it! With tickets in hand, and since there was nothing to do there, we went to the immigration. The airport was small! We threw the bottles of water that we had. Luckily, at that time there were still few people.
In the immigration they took away the paper that was stapled in our passport. They made me leave my fingerprints. Already in the area of the boarding gates, we went to sit down. We had no choice but to wait. There was little to do in that airport.
Suddenly, we were surrounded by a group of Americans who were on an organized trip. They sat close to us. The airport wifi did not work very well, so there was no way to connect. Finally, at 17:50, embarkation began. We did it on foot as the Siem Reap airport is small! We went through the tracks and got on the plane.
When everybody boarded, they gave us a wet towel. And at 18:20, the flight take off! During the flight they brought us a bottle of water, but nothing to eat. And I was hungry! I had not thought about taking anything to eat at the airport, so I would have to wait.
The flight went well. At 18:45 the pilot announced that we were preparing to land. There were enough clouds. We caught some turbulence, and the plane moved a little. Slowly we started to see Saigon. And I realized that the pilot was circling. Surely the conditions would not be the best to land. It is not pleasant to see that at the moment we cannot land.
I tried to relax, seeing the lights of Saigon from the air, and thinking about what our hotel would be. At 19:10 after a long delay, a Vietnamese companion who decides to use me as a pillow, and without being able to sleep on the trip, we landed at the Hanoi airport. Finally we were able to go down. We were going to do it in front, but they forced us to go down the back. They put us on a bus that would take us to the terminal. It was raining a bit.
We have the on arrival visa that has cost a lot cheaper. After leaving the terminal, on the left there are three ATMs from which you can get dongs. We carry just enough for the visa and thus save commissions. With all the documents in order, we went to the belt to collect the suitcases.
It is always a relief to see that the luggage arrives well! We took a trolley, loaded the suitcases and went to the exit. But we had to pass bags and suitcases through another scanner. After the process, we went out and saw a lot of people with signs in their hands, with names. We were looking for ours, and there it was!
We saw who would be our guide in Saigon. He told us that those days it was raining in the afternoon. We confirmed that we had gone in the rainy season but he told us that in the mornings it might not rain.
The van was not bad. It was spacious and modern. He introduced us to the driver and told us that we had about 7 km to the hotel. As it was already night, we would enjoy our first sensations of light in the city. The journey could last about 45 minutes! Well, traffic was bad in those parts! Nothing to do with Cambodia!
And we began to hallucinate with the amount of motorcycles we saw (and what awaited us). It was chaos! We heard a lot of horns. That would be the soundtrack that would accompany us for a few days! But in the end we get used to it! Saigon was already beginning to impress us!
After a good while we arrived at the hotel. The building was certainly tall! It was still raining a little. While they were checking in they invited us to a cold tea that was delicious. We told the guide that we needed to change currency since we did not have Dongs. He took us to another part of the reception, and there they made the change.
The change at the hotel was not bad. We feel millionaires for a moment, with so much money! We ask where we could have dinner, because we were hungry. The guide took a map from the hotel and marked us the backpackers neighborhood. It was right behind the hotel. We only had to leave the hotel to the left, take the first roundabout on the right, and the first street on the right. There we would have a great variety of restaurants.
We said goodbye to him. It was 9:00 p.m. We go up to our rooms. The boy opened the rooms with the cards! We unpacked our bags and put important things in the safe. We admired the rooms again, and we were amazed by the views we had from there! On the huge plasma television they had left us a welcome message.
We went to dinner. It was still raining a little. There were not many traffic lights to cross the road. So we had to arm ourselves with courage to cross the street. We started to live already our first experiences with the Vietnamese traffic and with their bikes! I had the printed Google maps.
And we reach Bui Vien street. What an atmosphere! There were a lot of young people (and not so young). We started looking at where we could have dinner. We saw a restaurant that we liked, but they told us that they had run out of food. So we went to the restaurant next door. A boy showed us the menu in the street, and a girl told us that they had only been open for two weeks.
We decided to have dinner there and give them a chance. The girl was very nice and attentive. It was 10 pm and we were hungry! The place was tiny. They accommodated us at a table. There were some young guys celebrating something. We asked the girl what she recommended, and she told us that people liked a vegetable a lot, and later we learned that it was called Morning Glory.
So we ordered a serving of Morning Glory, fish balls, grilled prawns, beer and a water bottle. The Morning Glory was fried with garlic and we loved it. We became true fans of that vegetable! The truth is that everything was delicious. I started my first practices eating with chopsticks. But just in case, we also ask for forks. We finished and left. What a bustle!
I was liking the first feeling of Saigon. I could not help but keep in mind the musical Miss Saigon that we had recently seen in London. We saw some local prostitution in the area. It was not raining anymore. We were struck by a kind of motorcycles with carts that sold dried squid!
But we went to the hotel because it had been an intense day. At the reception we asked for the key and the wifi password and went up to our rooms. We take this opportunity to send messages to family and friends. The room was large and the beds were very comfortable!
At 23:50 we were already in bed! The first feeling I was having was that I liked Saigon. And that we had seen very little. Goodnight Saigon!
Day 1 - Saigon
Good morning Vietnam. It's about 7 o'clock in the morning! It is unfair that the alarm rings at that time, but it is what it is! We drew back the curtains of our huge window, and from the heights we saw Saigon in morning light. It looked huge, and at that time we could see bustle of motorcycles and people.
On the terraces of the nearby floors we could see people doing gymnastics. It was a bit cloudy but it was not raining like the night before. We get ready and at 7:30 we go down for breakfast. The restaurant was large and we stood next to the window, to admire the biker show!
The breakfast buffet is complete. There is everything from Western and Eastern and for every taste! There was chocolate donuts, neapolitan chocolates, croissants, yogurts, variety of juices in the bottle (papaya, orange, multifruit). There was also toast, butter, jams, varieties of bread, eggs and tortillas, cereals, ice cream (lemon, strawberry), sushi, and cheeses. Then there were Vietnamese dishes, sausages, bacon, potatoes, sausages, and cut fruit. It was super good!
We had a good breakfast, watching the chaos of motorcycles that formed when the traffic lights in front of the hotel turned red. We were getting used to what we would see in the city! What better way to acclimatize, than having breakfast while we are watching that chaos through the window?
When we finished, we went up to the room to brush our teeth and finish preparing. And we went down to reception at 8:30. The guide was already there. And we got going with our new van! We could not stop looking from one side to another, hallucinating to see how they were riding a motorcycle! Many people on the same bike, loaded to the brim.
We were already beginning to see that Saigon was a city of many contrasts. We started to go through a bit posh neighborhood and it was pretty clean. The first stop was at the History Museum. The museum showed pieces from prehistory to the last feudal dynasty. When we entered there were very cute children from a school with a guide.
In the museum repairs were going on. Upon entering there was a sculpture of Ho Chi Minh. We started to see the prehistory rooms. We saw coffins and we learn their funeral customs. They are buried even with fake (paper) bills, paper watches, and paper houses. We would have the opportunity to see all this in the markets.
Suddenly, observing one of the pieces to see the chronology, I saw that it put some dates and behind BP. The guide talk about rebellions against the Chinese in northern Vietnam. From prehistory to the fifteenth century it was not Vietnamese territory. The history of Saigon is a history of three centuries alone. He was also telling us about the first feudal dynasties.
We saw painted images of a battle, which was the first independence from the Chinese. And we could see that the victory was in a river in northern Vietnam. They had a system with wooden sticks, planted at the bottom of the river, which at high tide were not visible. And the large ships that tried to pass, were badly damaged.
We went up to the second floor. We saw sculptures of the Champa Kingdom. The figures were beautiful. We saw headless sculptures. We saw a Buddha with thousand arms, and in each hand he had an eye. There was even a mummy, with hair and everything!
After about an hour we left the museum. It was interesting, although it was a bit shabby. Suddenly a good sun had come out. The children who were visiting the museum were now having breakfast outside. We went to the cathedral and the post office in a van.
The people who went by motorcycle, were covered! I noticed that some cars had flowers in front of them. That day was for them National Day. Our driver was carrying the Buddha Avalokiteshvara. We passed the American consulate. There were a lot of queue, since they were people who wanted to obtain a tourist visa.
We already saw from afar the Notre-Dame Basilica, with two gray towers, added after its construction. It was built by the French in 1863. The towers are from 1953, as is the image of the Virgin Mary in front of the church. And of course, we saw a wedding!
And we got off the van to see the cathedral and the post office. And we went to the post office, which looked like a train station. It was built by the French in 1886, specifically by Gustave Eiffel. It was made in colonial style. We saw the portrait of Ho Chi Minh. In French times, Ho Chi Minh was an enemy of the French. There were also old maps.
The post office was beautiful! There were people walking around there. But there was a certain ancient feel. There was a small shop in the center of the post office. We went to see the image of Mary in front of the cathedral, in the Paris Commune, crossing as crazy as the cars passed by.
At 10:25 we go back to the car because at 11 o'clock closed the entry to the Reunification Palace! At 11am they close for lunch, and reopen at 1pm, but at that time we had to be somewhere else. In the van we took advantage to hydrate (we also had free bottles of water). But we had a serious problem with the Vietnamese water bottles. It cost a lot to open them! It happened to us during the entire trip!
We went down at the palace door. I took the opportunity to take a picture, because as always we were running, at least that's the way it was! And with the tickets in hand, we accessed the palace grounds. And the guide began to explain the history of the palace. It was built for the first time by the French (1868-1873), but with another (colonial) architecture.
They called it Norodom Palace, in honor of a Cambodian king, since in the French era Cambodia and Vietnam were the same thing. During the World War II it passed into Japanese hands and then back into French hands. In 1954, after the defeat at the Battle of Bien Phu, an agreement was signed with Ho Chi Minh to be an independent country.
It has about 100 rooms, 3 floors, a terrace, an underground tunnel. We started to see rooms and more rooms. There were reception rooms decorated with different colors. We saw the hall of the members of the government, and the conference room. We saw the Vietnamese national flag. We saw the national security council room.
In another reception room we saw fangs that are now imitation, since the end of the war was chaotic and someone stole them. There was a Chinese carpet, made in Hong Kong with four dragons, since it is a symbol of political power. And in the center a phoenix stand as a symbol of the first lady.
We arrived at the area reserved for the family with furniture from the 60's. It had the first air conditioning in Vietnam. We also saw the dining room with two tables with the revolving table for Asian food. Upstairs there was a chapel, since the president was Catholic.
And there was an interior garden that gave a lot of peace, with a fountain. There was also the president's room. We saw the room where his wife received the friends. There was even a private movie theater! And we continue climbing!
We climbed to the terrace. There was a good view! The avenue recalled the Champs Elysees. And we go down. And I discovered on my own where the building was bombed. We went down to the bunker. They had it as prevention. There were many more rooms down there. The wall of the bunker was made of steel.
The bunker was very big. And we came to a fully equipped kitchen, which was the one in the palace. They had machine for ice cream! There was an old Mercedes, one of the trophies captured on the day of the liberation of Saigon. And we reached the end of the visit. It had been interesting. We had been an hour.
We went back to the van, which left us next to a shopping center, the Vincom Center. It is very close to the town hall. So the first thing we went to see was the Saigon City Hall building also made in colonial style by the French. We saw a square that was new, made that same year to celebrate 40 years of reunification. And of course, there was a statue of Ho Chi Minh.
That area was already modern and expensive. We even saw the Bitexco Tower. On the 49th floor there is a viewpoint. And on the 52nd floor there is a platform for helicopters. On the 50th floor there is a restaurant. In front of the park was the Hotel Rex, very famous and important during the Vietnam War.
We walked to the Continental Hotel, the oldest one. It was next to the Opera building. We returned to take the van to go to the Ben Thanh market. We enter the market! The corridors were quite narrow and with many products (there was even food). The issue of shopping and bargaining, makes me nervous.
We ended up buying little plates decorated with Vietnamese women (very pretty, certainly) and little bags to give as gifts. At 1 o'clock we go for lunch. The place was beautiful. It was like a haven of peace in the hustle and bustle of Saigon. Upon entering the service was very friendly and ceremonial to the point of becoming overwhelming (we had 5 waiters for us, and the boss).
We saw the menu. The price was not marked (something that cannot be because the price must always be written). When the boss came to take note, we told him that we were not very hungry. If we were hungrier afterwards, we would ask for something more. The boss told us that this could not be. We had to take at least 2 items.
We insisted that we were not hungry and there was no way. So in the end we had to take two 7-course menus each, and I got really upset. We also ordered a bottle of water and a beer. Despite that, the dishes were good and well presented. And they gave us a goodbye gift. After all this mess we went back to the van.
At 2:30 pm, we go to the Fito Museum of Traditional Medicine, at Hoang Du Khuong Street. Each floor was decorated in different ways. There were old books written with Chinese ideograms. There were very old objects to prepare medicines. The house was from the 19th century and was in the north of Vietnam. It was made of teak wood. We saw the names of famous doctors from the 11th century to the 20th century. It was made of wood and weighed 500kg.
We saw an old traditional pharmacy, with all the old boats. The whole house smelled very well of natural herbs. Luckily there were fans all over the house, because it was hot! We were able to try a "machine" to grind herbs. There was one to do it with the legs and another with the hands. At the end of the visit we were invited to drink mushroom tea.
If you have time and you want to see a different museum (not art, history or ethnology), it's worth it. When leaving it rained a lot! We go to Binh Tay, the central market of Chinatown, in the neighborhood of Cholon. When arriving it almost did not rain. The feeling that the market gave me is that it was somewhat chaotic, but not overwhelming.
When we left, we were amazed by the traffic and motorcycles of Saigon! And we went back to the van. At 4pm we arrive at the Thien Hau pagoda at Nguyen Trai Street. It is dedicated to Thien Hau, the lady of the sea. The roof was filled with porcelain figures with themes of Chinese religion and traditions.
The altar of Thien Hau was at the back of the temple. There were also some papers that were offerings that people wrote. Upon leaving, we saw on the street a woman who sold birds. It was to set them free but the birds ended up coming back. We went back to the van, and among other curious images we saw two men carrying a huge crystal on a motorcycle!
After the day's visits we go to a lacquer shop. A very kind man was explaining the entire process of making the lacquers, some with eggshell. And we finish the visit in the store, of course! I got into the van and we go back to the hotel. At 5:00 pm we went up to the room and in the plasma we had a message from the hotel, that the steam sauna did not work.
We decided to go up to see the pool. It was beautiful and practically empty! And we met the girl at the reception. We were talking with her for a while. And we asked her to recommend us somewhere to go to dinner, near the hotel. So we went to the room. We prepared to leave and at 7:30 we went down.
When leaving it rained a little. We had to walk on the road, as the sidewalks were full of bikes! We found the restaurant easily. It looked nice on the outside and inside! So it convinced us and we entered. We were seated at a table, and the atmosphere was super cozy. A very nice music was playing.
There was a menu that had food from Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Thailand. But we ordered Pho Bo (soup with noodles and meat), chicken with honey (Ga Chien Mat Ong), breaded squid (Muc Chien Toi), rice (Khao Suay) and water.
They brought some really good peanuts to snack on, but they served us pretty quickly! Everything was delicious! We just had dinner at 8:45 pm and when we left it was raining a lot! We got a little wet because the bikes were on the sidewalk and we had to go on the asphalt.
Already in the hotel I gave myself a good shower with good smell of the soap, shampoo, conditioner and body lotion of the hotel! We took advantage of the calm and relaxation of the room to watch American TV channels for a while. On TV we could also see a webcam that was on the top floor of the hotel. But since it was raining it did not look very good. At 23:10 I already got into bed, to rest!
Day 2 - Mekong Delta
At 6 o'clock the alarm clock rang. And through the window we could see the sun and the city in full operation! Of course, there was no noise in the room during the night. How well we slept! At 7 o'clock we went down to breakfast, but that day they did not put us next to the window, but at a huge round table for us alone!
We have chocolate donut, a pastry with almonds on top, chocolate pancake, fruit (watermelon, melon, mango), and multifruit juice. The body asked me for sugar! At the end we went up to the room to brush our teeth. When going down to reception, I realized that I had left the sunscreen (vital for me) and had to go back up. Luckily, the elevators went fast.
We got on the van. We got to see a man on the bike who was carrying boxes with eggs! We took a highway. During the trip we saw people working in the rice fields by the side of the road. And we also saw graves in the middle of the fields. The road went by the side of many popular cafes, with hammocks for the clients to rest. They liked this kind of relaxation very much, since there were so many! In Cambodia we had also seen them.
The locals reminded me of the typical motels in the US, which are seen in the movies. And after a long time of traveling we arrived at 10:15 a.m. to Cai Be. When we went down there were many more tourists like us, waiting to embark and make the trip through the Mekong delta. We go to one of the boats, which was for us alone.
After a while of navigation we arrived at a floating market. But I must tell you that I was very disappointed with what we saw. I expected much more from the floating market. We did not see people buying or selling. And then, when we returned, we found out that we should have gone earlier, not at that time.
We saw the Catholic church near the waters. The boat took us to the shore and we go to a rice paper, coconut candies and popcorn rice factory. We were able to see the manufacturing and packaging process of these products. We were able to try the freshly made pop rice, and it was good!
After the mini-visit we sat down to try peanut pastries (great ones), peanut candies, banana candies and a tea. And after a while of rest, at 11.15 we continue navigating the river. The truth is that it was quite relaxing. It was a breeze that was much appreciated. And I have to say that we did not see any signs of mosquitoes!
During the navigation we were given fruits to try like rambutan, dwarf plantains, and dragon eyes. We liked the fruits that we did not know. The houses are located just above the waters! During the walk we saw a kind of shop, with huge coffins. And we also saw some big boats that had some eyes painted on the front. According belief they could see at night.
We went back down to the shore to visit an old house, from 1938 of Ba Duc's Ancient House. The house had Vietnamese and French style. The front had old furniture. We reached the back of the house, which was now much more modernized. The family that lived there even had internet. So they had already succumbed to the pleasures of comfort and modern life.
We returned to the boat to continue navigating. Slowly we reach the widest part of the Mekong River. We saw the big cruises that sail the Mekong. And we returned to navigate another tributary, smaller and quiet.
After one more piece of navigation, we came to a quiet corner where a man with a sampan, a traditional boat, was waiting. He put a Vietnamese hat on us, and the oarsman took us for another narrower part of the river. I was struck by the crossed position of the oars of the boat.
In the narrowest areas it was quite hot! The truth is that the swaying of the boat and the silence were appreciated. What peace! The walk lasted about 10 minutes. And when we return, we climb again to the biggest boat. The trip lasted about 3 hours. And we arrived at the restaurant. We go to a kind of cabin on the water, just for us.
We would eat a 5-course menu. We ate elephant ear fish, vegetable soup and a kind of meatballs, chicken with ginger, crepe with vegetables and meat, rice and pineapple dessert. During the whole meal the woman made us eat in a hurry. We ate well. It was all pretty good, and the surroundings were beautiful. We even saw a version of the Vietnamese Manneken Pis.
When the woman considered that we had finished, she took us to another part of the restaurant to see live traditional music. It was fine, but nothing spectacular. It got a little long and it was pretty hot. Finally, at 2:20 we left there. We got into the boat, and there was no way to start it. The poor man try a long time, but there was no way.
So after 15 minutes of attempts, they changed our boat. And we reached the other mile, to Vinh Long. We went to a service for a moment and started the trip back on the van, to Saigon. In our program it was stated that on that day we would see an orchard and a fruit plantation, and that we would walk through the village. We had 130 Km ahead, and would be about 4 hours away.
The traffic was quite chaotic. We saw bikes loaded with ducks, motorbikes with four people, motorcycles with two adults and two children (one of them sleeping soundly). It was a show of motorcycles! At 16:15 we stopped for a moment to rest. Shortly before 5 pm it started to rain very hard! But after a while it stopped.
And at 17:30 we arrived at the hotel. We had not taken 4 hours at the end. When we went up to the room, none of the cards worked. We had to go back down to reception and they fixed it. Once in the room I thought about going to the pool, but it was raining. I did not feel like bathing in the rain. I waited a while, but it did not stop. So I gave up on the idea.
We rest for a while in the room. At 7:20 we went to dinner. We went back to the previous restaurant since we liked it. It was raining a bit. That day we ordered fried cuttlefish with garlic, prawns with coconut juice and eggplant with meat! We took two dishes from Vietnam and one from Cambodia. We also ordered a Saigon beer and a water bottle.
They also brought us the peanuts to snack on. Even the waiter who helped us the day before, brought us more. The waiter explained that we had salt and pepper, to which we had to put lime, to wet the prawns. It was delicious! For dessert we ordered flan, strawberry ice cream and chocolate ice cream. When we left, I told the boy that he had been very kind to us, and that he had helped us a lot! And he told us to be careful.
We arrived at the hotel and climbed to the panoramic terrace to see the view. I was on the 30th floor! What views! The terrace was after going through the restaurant, and they let us pass without problems. We take a few pictures! It was early, 9:20 pm, but that way we could sleep a little more. And I left the suitcase more or less ready for the next morning. At 22:30 I was already in bed.
Day 3 - Hoi An
We get up at 6 o'clock. I looked out the window. There was a kind of haze in the air, but it seemed like I wanted to get out in the sun. At 6:50 we went down to breakfast and we were able to sit next to the window, again. But that day it was cool in the dining room. We had breakfast very well, as always in that hotel.
And when we finished, we took advantage to go down to reception and change money. The change at the hotel was not bad at all. We left the hotel to take a picture of the building, so we can see how high it was. It was a good day.
We went up to the room. We brush our teeth, picked up things, went down and checked-out. The porters of the hotel helped us to take the suitcases to the van. We loaded our bags in the van and left the hotel behind. For a long time I swelled to take pictures of motorcycles and people! What fun it was!
Everywhere they put a few stools and have a kind of cafeteria in the middle of the street! And I continued with my photos. Finally, after an hour, we took a country road. And suddenly the guide told the driver to stop. He told us that he wanted to show us something very typical of southern Vietnam. And he told us that he wanted to show us how they killed and skinned rats, to sell them, because people ate them.
We went down for a moment. They also sold bags with snakes inside. We see the motorcycles that carried cages with dogs enclosed inside. After a while we stopped next to a forest where they got rubber. We saw how they extracted the resin. There were people selling figurines built with wood and gave us a large seed and a piece of souvenir wood.
Finally, at 10:10, after all that odyssey we arrived at Cu Chi. Then we walk among the trees of that jungle and see several holes caused by American bombs. A local guide continued the visit. He showed us one of the trapdoors through which the tunnels could be accessed. He tried to find out, but there was no way, because there were leaves and dirt. So he showed us where he was. And he got inside! Of course the Vietnamese were smaller and thinner than the Americans!
And suddenly, he appeared to us from behind, when we expected him to go back out the way he had entered. And finally we had the opportunity to enter some of the tunnels. We asked that it not be too complicated. They told us that they were widened so that tourists could pass.
We could do it perfectly, since we made short stretches. It is true that we had to go a little crouched, but it was not too hot inside either, and it got along well. I had a flashlight that I took from home, and it was great! We saw the recreations of the spaces dedicated to kitchen, operating room, place of command.
In one of the tunnels where I got alone with the guide, when I focused with my flashlight, I saw a bat in the low ceiling of the tunnel. I did not expect it, and the guide scared him so that he flew out. So, although it gave me a little something to go through the tunnels I enjoyed it.
We also saw an area where there were explanations and reproductions of traps designed by the Vietnamese, to hurt or kill. It was really curious to see the operation, and the ingenuity applied to those traps. We also saw a selection of old photos. After we go to sit at some tables, we eat yucca.
At the end of the visit there was the option of being able to fire weapons. But we had no desire to do so, since we were not attracted by the idea. The visit to Cu Chi ended after 1 hour min after arriving. It was 11:25. We wanted to see the Cao Dai Temple but had to skip it.
We climbed into the van and headed towards the airport. We went through a place where the guests were arriving at a wedding. The driver stopped for a moment next to a cemetery for us to visit. He told us that it was a graveyard of victims of the Vietnam War.
The cemetery was completely empty. We see the different tombstones of the victims. The tombs followed a very marked order. And in the background there was a huge sculpture. And at 12.45 we arrived at the airport. There were an hour left for our flight to take off.
They lowered our bags, and said goodbye. We entered the terminal and took the opportunity to put things that we did not want to carry in our hand luggage, to the suitcases that would be invoiced. It was so early that they still did not come out on the screens or on which counters we had to check our bags to Danang.
So we went to sit down. I connected to the airport's Wi-Fi. After a while I looked at the screens. So there we went. We arrived at the counter and the guy who attended us was very friendly! And with the tickets in hand we went to the access door. The escalators were damaged! Loaded with the suitcases we went upstairs. There was some line to pass security check, but it was quite fast and we passed without problems.
There was a variety of restaurants and we ended up deciding for an Asian. I ordered noodles and a slice of pizza. We sit down to eat quietly! We had time to spare. After lunch we went around the terminal. And as I was beginning to notice that I was missing some sugar, I saw a Dunkin Donut, and I went to buy a chocolate filled donut! And finally, the boarding started at 2:15!
Slowly, the plane was filling up. And at 2:40 we already started moving. It was a bit cold in the cabin, so we asked the stewardess if she could give us blanket. At 2:45 we were already in the air. During the flight they brought water and a refreshing wipe. And at 18:25 the captain announced that we were beginning the landing maneuvers. The flight had been super quiet! At 3:40 we landed in Danang.
We got off the plane and when we got to the terminal, the bags were already there! We went out and saw a short boy holding a sign with our names. At the moment the van arrived and we went in the direction of Hoi An.
As we were in Danang he was telling us things about the city. It is a modern city, with a good beach area, and many hotels. Although it was already dark, we could see the number of hotels that were there. What a difference with the chaotic traffic of Saigon!
At about 5 pm we arrived at the hotel in Hoi An. At night we found it very beautiful. With the light of day we would check it better. So we sat down comfortably as they brought us a very good drink and a washcloth to refresh. And immediately the manager came with the cards to open the doors of the rooms. He explained where the breakfast was, how the wifi worked, that we had a shuttle bus that could take us to the beach by booking previously.
He brought us a map of the town and he marked us a place that recommended us if we wanted to make custom clothes, since Hoi An is very well known for that. The tailors make suits, dresses, tailored shirts very fast. It also marked me where the restaurants were.
A girl accompanied us to the building where we had our rooms. The hotel had several buildings surrounded by beautiful gardens. We passed by the pool! What a joy! Our room was on the floor of one of the pavilions. A boy brought our bags to the room. He showed us how the air conditioning and the fan above the beds worked.
The room was very good. It had everything from bathrobe, slippers, free water, Safe, TV, bathtub and dryer. We go down to the pool to complete the relaxation to the fullest! We went down with the bathrobe we had in the room. How nice it was lying in the hammocks! What is the life of the traveler?
We connect to the hotel's wifi to contact the family. Throughout the hotel there were lovely flowers on the ground, and even in the pool waters. They smelled very good! I even tried the jacuzzi, and I was bathing in the pool completely lit already!
And totally relaxed, when it began to get dark, we went back to the room. We got ready and went out again. I went down to reception to change. The change was somewhat lower than in Saigon. And when we were ready, we left the hotel for a first inspection round to Hoi An, and for dinner. We were very close to the most touristic part of Hoi An. First we went to see the tailor shop.
I was looking at fabrics, because I wanted to make an oriental cut shirt. But the fabrics did not convince me. We were trying to find a store where I had seen a shirt that I liked. But it must have closed already. I should have looked at the shirt right when I saw it.
We continued walking and saw a shirt in a store that I liked. So we entered the store. I left very happy with my shirt! In a little square we saw that there were a lot of people. We approached, and see a kind of cock fight. We were entertained for a while watching them.
Walking, walking, we reached the Japanese bridge and we saw it illuminated! The area was very busy! There was a kind of show in a place, with children selling lanterns, and people walking. We passed the bridge (not the Japanese) to get to the other side and see the night market. We bought some more postcards and a buddha.
We crossed the bridge again, which was very crowded. And at 9 pm they turned off the lights! Those of the Japanese bridge too! We tried to find two restaurants that I had selected, but there was no luck. We even went through places that were a little empty.
We went down to the river and decided that we would have dinner. We reached Nguyen Thai Hoc Street and we found the restaurant. They accommodated us at a table on the upper terrace. The table was right next to where the river was. What a beautiful and cozy place! There were many people! They brought us the menu.
We ended up ordering White Rose (shrimp wrapped in rice paste and with fried chili peppers), fish with caramel sauce, rice with jasmine. For dessert we have chocolate cheesecake and mango cake and a Larue beer. It was all great! We were lucky that they put us on the terrace, next to the railing. The view we had from there was beautiful.
We finished dinner and went around the town. What a contrast to Saigon! We saw one of the traditions of Hoi An to light a lantern and let it navigate the river. The shore was full of people selling the lanterns. We also approached to see the Japanese bridge, but it was not illuminated. We continue walking, but at that time there were enough shops closed. So we went on our way to the hotel. The illuminated hotel was also very nice! When we arrived, we were already in bed.
Day 4 - Danang
At 6:30 we woke up with the birds of Hoi An. How nice to wake up like that, right? And at 7:15 we went down to breakfast. But when passing by the side of a window that faced the street, we saw the school that was right next to the hotel. We stayed for a while observing the curious ceremony they were following. An adult (I guess it would be one of the teachers) seemed to ask a question to the children sitting in the yard.
The children raised their hands and one of them would go to the microphone, and it seemed that he was answering. If he was right, they would sound drums! After the questions they made a kind of theatrical performance. I loved watching it! Yes, we went down to breakfast. We seat at a table in the hotel garden.
At the hotel buffet in Hoi An there was also everything. It was complete! We took orange juice, bacon, sausages, cinnamon donut, and muffins. We tried a fruit, which was a kind of rosewood. I tried the watermelon juice from the buffet.
What a nice breakfast between nature, birds, silence. We were really on vacation! We finished and went up to the room to brush our teeth and finish preparing. And at 9 o'clock we were already at the hotel reception. We walked to the center of town, which was right there!
We were already beginning to see women carrying their wares, with this typical image that many of us may have of Vietnamese women. The first place we visited was the China Phuc Kien Assembly Hall, on Tran Phu Street. It is an 18th century building, built in 1757 by Chinese merchants to be able to meet each other. The port of Hoi An was very important in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.
The temple is dedicated to Thien Hau, the goddess of the sea, protector of sailors. We already knew Thien Hau from Saigon. The door has been rebuilt since 2000, but the rest is original. It is oriented to the south, following the ideas of Feng Shui. We saw a garden in front of the temple that was full of bonsai, and had figures of tigers, lions (animal defenders and protectors).
We see a very typical flower, something like chamba. During the war with the Americans, Hoi An was not affected. In 1999 it was even declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. We came back to find the huge spirals of incense, as in Saigon. They could last between 20 days and a month.
After visiting the building calmly, we continue with our walk. Through the streets there were several French groups almost as much as the Chinese. The buildings we were seeing had French influence. We even saw a house decorated for a wedding. The lanterns give the note of color to the old part of the town. I would have taken them all.
The next visit was to an old house called Tan Ky, on Nguyen Thai Hoc street. In the house there were more groups and they made quite a noise. The house was from the 18th century, from bourgeois merchants. It was full of lacquered furniture. The house was basically made with teak wood, as it is a wood very resistant to moisture. And being next to the river, and near the coast is something fundamental.
We came to see some marks on the wall with the height at which the water had reached during several floods. We went to the river and we saw more beautiful images. Then we go to see the Trung Hoa Assembly from 1885 in Tran Phu Street.
And how could it be otherwise we went through the famous Japanese bridge, built in stone and teak wood. It is now a replica of the eighteenth century. The bridge connects the Japanese district and the Chinese quarter of the old city. Inside the bridge there is a temple from 1719 and there is also the Ying Yang.
At both ends of the bridge there are guardians with dogs and monkeys. The bridge was built between the year of the monkey and the dog. Next we went to the museum of history and culture. Small, but perhaps dispensable. We saw tools and prehistoric objects of the Champa.
Finally we go to a silk shop. In the shop a girl explained the process. She took us to the tailor-made clothes shop, to silk-embroidered paintings! And we saw the workshop of lanterns so typical of Hoi An! In the end we did not buy anything, and the girl started to grumble.
And we already spent the morning walking around Hoi An. Seeing the shops, the restaurants. From time to time we bought something. We were attracted by some very elaborate and beautiful postcards. We go through the river again. In some sections of the streets with shops there were times when the bikes did not have access, so they were completely pedestrian, and for the bikes.
That's where we used to smell incense. The little village was beautiful with a mixture of tradition and modernity, with great charm. And the town continued with its daily life. Another wedding! They wore the traditional Vietnamese dress, the Ao Dai.
We go through the market. As we were already hungry we decided to go to lunch at 13:15. We ordered Wonton, Cao Lau, prawns with garlic and onion. For dessert we order pineapple crepe, fruit crepe and a yogurt ice cream with chocolate and peanuts. Everything tasted great!
And after eating we went to the market again, but this time to see it inside. There were enough people eating in some kind of restaurants, and some of them lying on the benches sleeping. Further on we find the shops, with very varied products. We had a young couple in front of us.
We went through the meat section. What a smell! At 1:00 pm we decided to return to the hotel. We take down the suitcases in the elevator, to the garden and a guy mounted them in a kind of motorized golf cart to take them to reception.
We did the check-out at reception and they went to check that everything was correct in the room. When we were already there, we sat on the sofas of the reception. After a while we packed our bags in the van and we left that magnificent hotel. Goodbye Hoi An!
The first thing we would see that day would be the marble mountains. So we go in the direction of Danang. Before arriving, we stopped at a marble factory. We were struck by the contrast in one place of Buddhist and Christian sculptures. There were huge and beautiful figures.
But the visit was totally dispensable. A waste of time. We arrived at the foot of the mountain. Our mountain would be the one of water (Thuy Son), since they were also the one of fire, earth, metal and wood. The water was the highest (100 meters) and large.
We went to the elevator, which goes up relatively fast. There were good views from the viewpoint. Above all we could see the South China Sea and the beach. But the waters were quite turbid. The hexagonal tower Xa Loi had 7 floors and was made of cement to get to nirvana. It was the tower of Buddha's ashes, but not anymore.
Our guide talk about the two types of Buddhism, which differ in structure. In India there is original Buddhism and in China is the modified Buddhism. There were mosquitoes over there. We arrived at the foot of the oldest pagoda in the area. The Linh Ung pagoda was from the XVII-XVIII century, and was made by monks, but the one we saw now was modern. There was a woman Buddha. And other buddhas.
We saw another smaller tower, which was the tomb of a monk. It had as many floors as the level it had come to achieve. It was a chief tomb. There were ancient tombs of 300 years. We saw natural caves that had formed in the mountain. There is a huge cement Buddha near the entrance to the Van Thong cave.
We enter one of the caves. The Vietcong were there and the Americans bombed that area. The light effect was magical! Inside the cave we saw two temples. I have read that the marble that was extracted from these mountains was used for the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum that we would see in Hanoi.
At 10:05 we finish the visit. We went down the stairs. There were a few steps, but they went down well. And we continue the trip. It was about 3 hours until Hue. We went through Danang and that day we saw it with light. So we appreciated the hotels, a ferris wheel, an amusement park, and a bridge in the shape of a dragon.
And we started to climb towards Hai Van Pass. The road is about 22 km long, and it is full of curves, in addition to the huge climb it makes. It is a mountain range (Truong Son), which has about 1500 meters. The climb was spectacular, although in the environment there was a kind of fog that blurred the images.
At the top is Hai Van port, a mandatory stop for all tourists. Up there too a few cyclists climbed! We arrived after 11am. We could see the bunkers of the 60s and other constructions. Slowly we already had more and more evidence of the Vietnam war. If there was no fog, Danang could be seen, but that day was not possible.
We made a necessary technical stop. And we continued because there were still about two hours of travel. On the way down we saw goats quietly on the road. They are the owners! Upon reaching the bottom we stopped for a moment to see a fishing village, Lang Co. We were surrounded by postal sellers, but then we followed our route.
During the trip we did not see anything remarkable. We saw rice fields. We saw children alone on the road, coming home after school, with their bikes. And at 1:15 we stop to eat. The place is in Duong Hoai Tranh (far from downtown). It was very calm and beautiful with a pond of water, fish, and silence. They treated us very well. Even there were individual towels to dry our hands. They also brought us a wet wipe for the hands on the table. There was wifi.
We ended up ordering Morning Glory, spring rolls in the Hue style called Nem, and noodles with seafood. We also ordered a Huda beer. They also brought us rice. And for dessert we have chocolate crepes and strawberry ice cream. It was all delicious! The only thing that the service was somewhat slow. At 14:40 we left there.
We arrived in Hue. Everywhere we saw many flowers and the next day was the day of the Vietnamese woman, and that many flowers were given away. And at 15:15 we finally arrived at the Hue Citadel. It was built between 1804 and 1834. In 1945 the last dynasty ended. And it was declared a World Heritage Site in 1993.
The imperial city is inside the wall that surrounds the enclosure. It was for the emperor, the woman, the concubines, the eunuchs. The rest had the entry banned. Within the citadel was the imperial city, the civic city and the forbidden purple city.
There were some girls with the Ao dai, the traditional Vietnamese costume, and they were taking pictures with the people that were out there. They were really very beautiful! The colors of these dresses are spectacular, and the design is beautiful! We saw the flag tower, with the highest column in the country and the largest flag.
It is a square used for ceremonies, parties, and meetings. We went to access through the door. The one in the center was reserved for the emperor. It has a yellow roof. The two doors that remain on the side of the plant were for civilian mandarins and the military. And through the tunnels on the sides came the soldiers.
Above is a construction called the balcony of the 5 phoenix, so that the emperor presided over the acts. The forbidden purple city was the precinct where the emperor's women were, and the concubines. We saw the Palace of Supreme Harmony.
It was the only original building, since the rest was bombed by the Americans and are reconstructions. In fact, we saw how they were still working with the reconstruction tasks. In the palace we could not take pictures inside. There was the throne replica of the Nguyen emperors (the original is in the Hanoi museum). It is on three steps, which represent the town, the mandarins and the imperial family.
We saw a model of all the buildings of the Citadel. To the north was the door of peace. There were about 135 constructions. We continue with the visit to the Hung Mieu temple. And we got to the library. They had done a good job of reconstruction, since the result was beautiful.
And we arrived at the theater, but that day was closed, so we could not access. We had seen official cars outside, with flags of Cambodia. Maybe that was why it was closed. And we left by one of the doors. The visit had lasted an hour. We took the van and we go to the Dong Ba market.
The smells were pretty intense. The corridors were quite narrow. We returned to the van and went to the Thien Mu Pagoda. We arrived at 5:00 p.m. The sun began to fall and we saw a beautiful sunset on the Perfume River. The Perfume River was so called because the flower of the chamba came down.
The pagoda was the first the center of Vietnam. It's from 1601 from Chinese Buddhism. Because of the war, it had to be rebuilt, just like the original one. We saw the octagonal tower (something unusual), with 7 floors. In the temple we saw that they were celebrating a ceremony. Inside was the head of the pagoda. We could hear the chants from outside. During the ceremony we could not enter.
We saw the car of the monk Thich Quang Duc. The bonsai garden was very beautiful. And we saw the little monks playing! At the end of the garden there was the tomb of the chief of the pagoda, which had 6 floors. We stayed until 5:35. We left the premises to the edge of the Perfume River. We took a Dragon Boat, a boat shaped like a dragon, very typical of Hue. The boat was for us alone.
But as we had entertained ourselves in the market, it became dark. The woman on the ship tried to sell us things. We pass in front of the citadel, again, but now darker than before. Of course, we saw the iron bridge illuminated. We got off the boat and returned to the van, which took us to the hotel.
We got off the van and entered the reception. There was a huge group! We did the check-in. They gave us a drink, and the cards. We went up to the room. It was very good! It was quite big! And when going to use the safe, we had several problems. So we had to tell reception and they came up to help us. But it seems that we were not the only ones that happened to them, because there were more people complaining.
The room was very nice and very complete with TV, mini bar, Safe, bathrobe, slippers, and free water. Once solved, I go to the pool, which was on our floor! But when I put my hand in the water, I lost the urge! It was freezing! So I gave up on the idea. And I will tell you that I was not the only one. There were more people like me. The pool was simple, nothing to do with Hoi An.
We went up to see the solarium. And we also inspected the gym room and the room for the children. We went for a walk around the block of the hotel. And we decided that we were going to have dinner. They gave us the menu. There are Vietnamese and European dishes. We ordered Morning Glory, prawns with salt, pepper and lemon, battered squid, a large bottle of water, and beer. We ate well, and the restaurant was very good.
After dinner we went to the promenade that is next to the river (Le Loi) to walk a little and stretch your legs. We reached the Truong Tien bridge. It was a very good night, with an ideal temperature. We saw a group of young people, who had made a pretty big circle and were singing songs. We stayed a little bit to listen to them, because they were very lively.
We went back to the hotel, and in our street there was a lot of noise in the bars. We went up to the terrace to see the views at night, but they were not worth it. I expected to be able to sleep, with as much noise as there was. At 11pm I went to sleep, hoping to rest.
Day 5 - Hue
We woke up at 7 o'clock and we had a good shower. We looked out the window, and the day looked nice! It was sunny! At 8:30 we were ready, so we went to breakfast. The dining room was on the upper floors. There were more people having breakfast, but it was not a crowd.
The breakfast was nothing to write home about. The bacon was cold and a bit dry. There were sausages, sliced fruit, toast, croissants, small chocolate neapolitans, coconut cakes, and banana cakes. I ate all this and I had a passion fruit juice. When we finished breakfast, we realized that the previous night we had not gone to the correct terrace. So we went up to the other terrace, and from there there was a good view.
There we see the Perfume River, with a somewhat chocolate color. We went to the room to brush our teeth and to close our bags again. We went down to reception and asked what time we had to leave the room. At 12 o'clock (as usual, but it was worth it to be sure).
We went out to the street and Hue began to wake up slowly. We walked around a bit, and ended up biting into two small shops. We bought shirts, steamy type, and black pants. We bargained a little, but not much, because the price was already good.
With our booty in bags, we went back to the hotel, picked up our bags, went down to reception and checked out. They told us they had to check that everything was fine in the room. They checked it and they gave us the OK. We packed our bags to the van and left.
On the street we already saw quite a few people carrying flowers. We could tell it was the Vietnamese women's day. In about 20 minutes we arrived at the first tomb we would see that morning to the Imperial Tomb of Tu Duc.
We arrived around 10:50 and got off the van. I saw a little sign with the prices. Some believe that it is the most beautiful imperial tomb. I do not know if the most beautiful, but it was great for a while, huh? There are 50 different buildings. The tomb is surrounded by a huge lake, and the emperor used the place as a summer palace.
We saw the pavilion where the emperor sat. Inside was the Empress's altar. The roof was propped up by termites because it is made of teak wood. The guide told us that the emperor had 103 women. There was some building under restoration. We also saw the buildings of the mandarins, but they were in ruins.
We entered the building of the Minh Khiem theater, and saw the Emperor's throne and palanquin. There was also the platform where the emperors sat to watch the shows (operas and shows made by the concubines). The theater is the only one built in the area of the royal tombs, and it is the oldest theater in Vietnam that remains relatively intact.
We also saw the Luong Khiem temple. At first, it served the emperor as a residential palace. But it ended up being a temple. There was the altar of the mother, and in the background the symbol of the throne, which was small.
We continue the route. I love the crowning of the roofs of buildings. On the floor we found several flowers like those in the Hoi An hotel. They smelled so good and so good! They were called Great Flower. The tree lasts a lot, that's why it was usually planted in front of the tombs.
And we went to the burial area (there is the temple area and the tomb zone). While the ritual area contains several aspects of the kings' daily existence, that other area represented later life. The environment and buildings reflect the earthly and mundane world. The mandarins await orders in the courtyard, while the eternity houses of the wife and the adopted son are on the other side.
We arrived at the pavilion of the stela, with a huge tombstone (they say the largest in Vietnam), which weighs about 20 tons. We saw the guardians, horses, elephants, guarding the space. The emperor died at age 50. There are some columns that represented the strength of the emperor.
There was a lake in the shape of a half moon, and right behind it was the tomb of Tu Duc (although his body is not there). It is said that to avoid looting (since it is said that he was buried with a great treasure), 200 workers buried the body of the emperor somewhere else. It is also said that they were beheaded once it was done, so that they would not reveal the place.
It was 11:30 and a sun of justice was falling! The tomb of the emperor was rather austere and modest. I loved the details made with pieces of pottery. The setting was definitely beautiful! Small peace was breathed there, and all rose green! Next we went to see the tomb of the Empress Le Thien Anh, the first wife of Emperor Tu Duc.
Then we went to the grave of the adopted son (his nephew), who governed very little time. He had three adopted children. In his tomb there were no towers or protectors, because he actually governed very little time. We also enter the temple of the adopted son. And so, we arrive at the end of our visit to the Imperial Tomb of Tu Duc. It was 11:50. We were an hour or so.
Surely we could have spent a little more time, but what we saw we liked a lot and did not know much. We went back to the van again, to go to the Tomb of Khai Dinh. We arrived at 12:05. Duc told us that this tomb is not wide, but long. At the moment, what impressed us from there was the very long staircase that we had to climb to start!
We took it easy, and we reached the top. There were about 130 steps. The tomb integrated the modern and traditional influences from the East and from Europe into construction. The most important example of this synthesis is the interior decoration of the Thien Dinh palace. We saw the pavilion on the stele, but this time it was not an autobiography, but a biography, written by his son Bao Dai.
In the distance, in the mountain we saw a huge figure. And we arrived at the Thien Dinh palace. It has three rows of rooms. Those on the right and left were reserved for the guardians of the tomb, and the central one for the relics of the emperor and the cult. So we entered to admire it. The first thing that struck me was the ceiling, decorated, painted with dragons.
They were 9 dragons, and they had been painted with their feet. And again, the decoration with ceramic pieces was absolutely beautiful! We went to see the tomb of the emperor. Upon entering, we were amazed. Despite being smaller than the previous one, we also enjoyed visiting this imperial tomb. We finish the visit at 12:35. Until 2:30 pm we did not have to be at the airport for our flight (which was at 4:20 pm)!
We wanted to see the Tomb of Minh Mang, because I had also been told it was interesting but we again had to skip. We went up to the van and they took us to a road cafe. Right next door was a school of Buddhist monks. We went into the cafe, we sat down and they invited us to a tea. And after this rest time, we went back to the van and went to the airport.
We arrived at 14:10 at the Hue airport. The driver unloaded the suitcases. We passed the control without any problem. We just forgot to take two bottles of water out of the backpack, but that's it. And we went up to the area of the boarding gates. We hallucinated, because there were only 3 doors! As I said, Hue airport is really small.
In addition, there were also very few stores, so it was going to be the boring 3 hours we had ever spent in an airport. We went to sit down. We walked around a bit to see what there was to eat, but it did not convince us. The airport's wifi is not very good. As what there was to eat there did not finish convincing us, we ended up eating a hot dog. The bread was crispy!
At 15:20 we saw that on the screen it said that the flight to Hanoi was estimated at 5:35 pm! This was exasperating! To make up for the wait, Vietnam Airlines gave us a bottle of water, or tea, or Pepsi. We sat down again, to continue waiting for more. Finally, after so many hours, at 17:30 we started to embark. They checked our boarding passes and took us on a bus, which would take us to the plane. And we arrived, finally!
We settled into our seats, and we began to laugh alone. We started thinking about what our next guide would be like! Slowly all the passengers were already seated, and the plane began to move. They explained the usual security rules, and at 5:50 pm we finally took off! It was time! The north awaited us! And above all, my desired Halong! Let's go!
The sunset from the airplane window was spectacular! They brought us more water and packaged wipes. The flight went smoothly. And at 18:30 we started going down. At 18:45 we landed in Hanoi! There was some fog. We got off the plane, we got on a bus and they took us to the area of the tapes where we collect the suitcases.
The suitcases took a while to leave. We took them and headed to the exit. It gave me the sensation of hearing a drum roll! And there, in front of us was a gentleman holding a sign with our names! The man had a very peculiar Cuban accent. The van arrived, we loaded the suitcases and went up. During the trip the guide explained his life to us and he had lived 30 years in Cuba and his wife in Cuban. In fact, she lives in Cuba!
We asked him about the show of the Water Puppets, and he told us that he would get us tickets for the next day at the time we told him. Slowly we get closer to the city! We were already beginning to see something familiar to us at this stage of the trip of the traffic and the motorcycle madness!
We saw a wall that is 7 km long, all covered with mosaics, which was made in 2010 to celebrate the millennium of Hanoi. Finally we arrived at our hotel in the Old Quarter of Hanoi! We did the check-in. We were told that we had interior rooms (we had requested this, if possible, to avoid street noise).
We went up by elevator. We entered our room and it was pretty good! The trunk brought us the suitcases. And we keep the four important things in the Safe. We went down to the reception and exchanged some money. We took a Hanoi map and went to explore the city a bit! It was 8:25 pm and we leave the hotel.
That controlled motorcycle madness was worse than in Ho Chi Minh! We went down Ma May Street, the street of our hotel. And we arrived at Hang Be. There was one of the restaurants. We liked it on the outside and decided to go in for dinner. We reached a patio, lit, very beautiful.
The site looked pretty posh. We could say that they make a kind of fusion between French and Vietnamese cuisine. They took us to the top floor and accommodated us at a table. The staff was very attentive. They brought us the menu and we chose eggplant with tomatoes and olives, Bacon with soy and fruit, and Ravioli with vegetables. To drink we asked for a large bottle of water.
The place was very cozy, lit with a soft and pleasant light. And the plates arrived. Very well presented! The truth is that everything was very good! Maybe it was a little posh for our taste. The service was attentive! We left there at 10pm. And we went for a little round. Through Hang Be and Hang Dau, we arrive at Dinh Tien Hoang, which is right next to Hoan Kiem.
What an odyssey to cross the wide street! I followed the basic instructions for crossing in Vietnam by walking at a safe pace without changing the pace. The bikes calculate the trajectory and they dodge us! Above all, we cannot stop! It is impressive to see all the bikes that cross us, but we have to do it that way!
The lake area was very lively! We saw an illuminated bridge, and a kind of temple. There were cartoonists doing cartoons, and people walking. Suddenly, I stopped a guy and asked if he can take a picture of me! With the calm we went back to the hotel, more and more acclimated to that biker madness! We went up to our room, and at 23:15 we were already in bed.
Day 6 - Hanoi
The alarm clock rang at 7:15. And that we were on vacation! Never mind, getting up early is worth it! We gave ourselves a shower, but the water was cold. There was not much pressure and it did not heat up too much. Surely it would be because we were on the top floor.
At 8 o'clock we went down to breakfast. The dining room was quite good. It was not the super dining rooms of the Cambodia hotel, nor the Ho Chi Minh hotel, but it was pretty good. The hotel was also much smaller than the others.
The breakfast was quite good and varied. I ate cheese omelette (freshly made by a cook), bacon, sausages, sweet pastries (banana and yogurt), a roll with jam and butter. There were also chopped fruits. And I had a passion fruit juice. Everything was good.
We went up to the room to brush our teeth and collect the gear for the day. We went down to reception. The first thing we learn was to say good morning (Xin Chao) and goodbye (Tam Biet). We went to the van to start the day's visits.
The first stop would be the Ho Chi Minh mausoleum. At that time the motorcycle traffic was already hellish! I loved that city chaos! We went through the wall again with mosaics from the previous night. It would not be, far from it, the last time we would see it.
We arrived just at 10am and saw that the changing of the guard was starting, so we started to run so we could see it and take some pictures! Not that there were many people watching the changing of the guard.
After seeing the changing of the guard we went to the shade (although there is not one in the esplanade! The guide told us about the date on which Ho Chi Minh declared the independence of Vietnam, precisely in that place. It meant the liberation with respect to the French. It seems that Ho Chi Minh wanted to be incinerated, but the government decided to incinerate it in order to expose it to the public. At that time I remembered the Lenin Mausoleum in Moscow.
From the huge esplanade and Ba Dinh Square we could also see the presidential palace, the finance ministry, and the parliament. At 10:30 another change of guard began. From there, we walked to the one-pillar Pagoda. It is a unique work, because there is no more with this structure that resembles a lotus flower. It comes directly from water.
This small Buddhist temple was founded in 1049. Emperor Ly Thai Tong did it to thank Buddha who had a child, when he could not have. Inside we can find the merciful Buddha, golden and with many arms. At 10:50 we went to the van, to continue with the visits.
At 11:05 we were already in the Temple of Literature (Van Mieu)! There were enough people out there! We go to the entrance. And when we cross the doors we find many boys and girls very well dressed! And we also saw small hedges, cut in the shape of animals. We saw a buffalo, a snake, a dragon, and a pig.
The surroundings were beautiful, very green! There were also some floral compositions with the name of some virtues. In 1070 it was founded in honor of Confucius, by Ly Tranh Tong. It is one of the few places in Vietnam dedicated to Confucius. And in 1076 it was founded as the Temple of Literature and the first university in Vietnam.
It was an academy. There they taught the king's sons (princes) and the good students of the country. The classes were of history, sociology, and philosophy. From here came the country's rulers. This university worked for about 700 years.
The stelae are divided into 4 buildings on the sides of a lake. There are 10 slabs per roof (being a double slope, in each construction there are 20 slabs). On the other side was a lake that was the mirror of heaven. I saw some of the students posing in the lake for a photograph, and there I went to take the picture too! It was 12:10 and there were a lot of people visiting the site.
We saw a sandalwood burner, beautifully decorated! There are four sacred animals: the dragon, the tiger, the phoenix and the turtle. We saw some of these, made of different materials. And we reached the anteroom of the Temple of Confucius. As you can see, people touch the head of the turtle (at the feet of the phoenix) and the chest of the phoenix, because it seems to be lucky.
And we entered the temple, with the figures of Confucius and some of his students and followers. The offerings that are made to them are very varied with sweets, money, fruits. Slowly we headed towards the exit. It had been a very interesting visit! Before leaving, I also noticed two flags. On the one hand there was that of Vietnam.
The other flag is in the pagodas where there are pilgrims. They are the five colors of Buddhism. Going out I took the opportunity to take a picture with some of the students, who were beautiful! There was no problem. I asked for a photograph and they quickly put me with me!
At 12:25 we finish. We got on the van and continued with our morning journey. The next stop was the Ethnological Museum. It's on Nguyen Van Huyen Street. There were very few tourists there. We took a little stroll calmly, seeing the various showcases with instruments, dresses, objects.
There was a showcase dedicated to water puppets! We would see them in a few hours! It is very typical of Vietnam since they have a lot of water and very good craftsmen. We even saw a house of the Thai ethnic group, stuck in there!
We really found it very interesting. In the museum there is also a part of the exhibition that is outside the enclosure, with houses of different ethnic groups. We did not see it, since it was time for lunch, and the function began at 4:15. We went out to get the van, but something caught my attention in a rearview mirror of a car!
On the way to the restaurant I see some of the streets of the guilds. I leave some in case you may be interested: Hang Bac (silverware), Hang Dao (peach), Hang Quat (fan), Hang Bo (basket), Thuo Bac (medicinal remedies), Hang Gai (silk, linen).
We go to a cafe, which is on Dinh Tien Hoang Street, right next to Hoan Kiem Lake. It was already 2:30 pm. We went up to the 5th floor in the elevator, and when we got to the top, what views!
We sat in the interior dining room at one of the tables, because there was no room on the terrace. We ordered fried rice with pineapple and Nem (rolls from Hanoi, which were also very good). To drink we ordered a small bottle of water and a Hanoi beer.
At 3 pm after we have just finished eating, our guide was explaining something else from the terrace of the restaurant. Hoan Kiem Lake is like the zero kilometer of Vietnam. It is a natural lake of fresh water and has two islets of land. The large islet has a temple of the nineteenth century, and the small islet has the Tower of the Turtle.
The name Hoan Kiem means restored sword since there is a legend related to this name. After explaining this, we went down to the street, to be able to visit the lake. We meet the bases of a house prepared for a wedding!
On the way, we took the opportunity to change some money in a bank. We decided that one of the things that we had scheduled for that day (a tricycle ride through the Old Quarter), we would leave it for another day. If we were going to see the puppet show, it would be all too hasty.
We passed in front of the Water Puppet Theater. We reached the access that would take us to the temple. Inside the compound we saw some elderly gentlemen playing, a kind of board game that I could not identify. And we entered the temple.
We saw the huge figure of the embalmed turtle! We also found the altar, full of offerings, and a kind of flat bell. Some of the stained glass windows of the cathedral also had bullet marks. We went to the theater, because the show would not take long to start! It was almost 4 pm!
We sit pretty focused! We had no problem finding a good place. And very punctual, they started with the function! I cannot leave any picture of the show, because I dedicated myself to enjoy it. Music with traditional instruments is live. The truth is I really liked it! Although we had economic tickets, we saw it very well!
What we can see, is a selection of 14 scenes, from among the 400 treasures of traditional Vietnamese puppets. Among others, we can see the legend of the sword returned by King Le Loi. Of course it's a tourist attraction, but it's worth seeing! It is curious and at the same time magical.
We left at 5pm, as the show lasts one hour. The streets were full! We took a small turn, heading towards our hotel. We cannot walk on the sidewalks, because either they are busy with the parked bikes, or one have a barber cutting hair, or there are people eating. So, the pedestrian has no choice but to go down the street, where thousands of motorcycles circulate!
At 17:40 we arrived at our hotel. We took a good shower and prepared the bag for the mini trip to Halong. We could not carry our bags, because the boats are not very big. So the suitcase would stay at the hotel, and we would carry a bag with the essentials!
At 6:40 we left for dinner. We bought a couple of bottles of water, to take them to the ship. On our same street, Ma May, we found a restaurant. It looked good, so we went inside. There were several Vietnamese specialties and we ordered some nem, grilled prawns, rice and battered squid. We ordered a large bottle of water.
They did not take long to bring us dinner. The service was very attentive. While we were having dinner we heard some chants, and a kind of bell in the room. We noticed that there was a monk (or so it seemed) doing his prayers in a tiny altar that was in a corner. It caught our attention!
We had very comfortable dinner! We took a little stroll, losing ourselves through the streets of the Old Quarter, without a fixed course. People were dining at tables and low stools in the street. We returned early to the hotel! At 21:45 we were already in bed! Could I fall asleep, with the nerves I had? Well, it seems that yes.
Day 7 - Halong Bay
We woke up at 5:30. From the window we could see the wall decorated with mosaic. We prepared ourselves, closed our bags, because we had to leave the room, and at 6:30 we went down to breakfast. The truth is that we were not very hungry, but we had something to eat. We ate some fruit, and I took a couple of bananas for the trip.
We went up to the room to brush our teeth. We left the room and left our bags at the door. The suitcases weighed a bit, so the guys at the desk told us not to worry about them. We arrived at the reception at 7:20!
The van could get to the hotel door. We went up and we left! We had 180 km ahead! We went through many different landscapes with many trucks, rural areas, rice fields. The women were too capped to protect themselves from the sun.
The driver slowed down so we could take pictures of them. At 9:30 we stopped at a huge place, with people who embroidered paintings, sold precious stones, and sculptures. There were more people who had also stopped there with their guides. We did not buy anything, and at 10:10 we continued the trip.
And at 11:25 we began to glimpse the landscape of the entrance door to the bay! Rather all the cruise ships that waited for the arrival of tourists. At 11:45 we arrive at the area where the different cruise companies are. The driver was looking for ours and finally found it. We got off the van.
And at 12:30 they came looking for us. They called us and a couple of French people. So we follow the captain. Well, I do not know if he was the captain, but he was dressed in uniform. They put us in a little boat. They made us put on our life vests and we went out! There were a lot of boats around us.
After much speculation, we arrived at our future home for one night! We entered by the stern, and they accompanied us to the dining room. They gave us a washcloth to clean our hands and sweat and gave us watermelon juice to drink. It was good. They checked the names on reservations, and gave us the keys.
We went down to see our cabins that were on the ground floor. We went in and we thought it was nice! We had two bottles of water, a safe, a hair dryer, a mini-bar. The room was well equipped. We went up on deck, to take some pictures and do a little round to explore the ship.
We saw 4 cabins that had small balconies. At 13.15 we had been summoned in the dining room, and there we went. We sat where we wanted (the table was long). But just at that moment the other travelers arrived and we had to wait, to eat all together. The ship set sail.
One of our travel companions was a huge man I photographed the night before, sitting on one of the stools, dining in the middle of Hanoi's street! When we were all seated at the table the food started. There was garden salad, spring rolls, grilled chicken, Halong fish with tamarind sauce, and sauteed vegetables. And for dessert we have pineapple and banana with chocolate. Everything was good, but the fish did not convince us.
Through the windows we could already see the wonderful landscape of the bay! I was dying to get on deck to admire the show, but no. There would be time for it! The French couple sat next to us and we were talking to them. They were on honeymoon.
We finished eating at 14:50 and at 3:00 we already had the first excursion! We went to the room to quickly brush our teeth and put some sunscreen on. And at 3:00 we were already getting into the boat. We put on life vests. The landscape was already a good time that was spectacular!
I could not believe that I was already there! The feeling I had was that what I was seeing improved expectations. The boat stopped in one place, so that those who went in kayak could go down. There were only 6 people. The rest we continue in the motor boat. They took us to a jetty.
We got off the motor boat. We were going to see the fishing village Vung Vieng. We went up in some traditional boats, which a woman was rowing. We put on the vests they gave us and we started the journey. I was lucky to be able to sit in front, so I could take the photos well.
It was really magical and relaxing. We almost did not open our mouths to speak, enjoying intensely every moment of that wonderful landscape. We went through the little village. There was even a dog, guarding the entrance! The boats with those very peculiar candles fascinated me and the people who occupied them.
The sunset was fantastic with the play of lights, colors and shadows was beautiful! The rocks were spectacular, and being so close to them made an impression. And slowly, after about 50 minutes of walking, we went back to the starting point. We came back to reality! Although throughout the journey we were not alone, but there were the other boats also sailing. The feeling of calm was incredible. The people saw everything in silence. We were going back to civilization.
There are no words to describe it. You have to live it! And I suppose you will be aware, that the photos do not do justice to that wonder! The reality is much better. One of the fears I had during the previous days was the weather, because I knew that if there was fog, we could not leave the port. So we had great luck with time! We could see everything perfectly!
We got off the boat, said goodbye to the woman who had taken us, and we rode in the motor boat. The guide told us that if we wanted we could go to the beach. They took us to a small beach. We had to climb some stairs, and we arrived at the place of fine sand. There were those who had done the kayak tour. They told us we had 20 minutes to bathe.
How good was the water! Neither cold nor hot! I was swimming in the waters of Tonkin Gulf. It was the ideal complement to the relaxation of the walk among the islets. After 20 minutes, they provided us with towels. We rolled up and went back to the boat that would take us back to our boat. Already at home we took a restorative shower. From the shower I could see the landscape that surrounded us.
Fresh as roses we went up on deck and met our French friends. We had a good time talking and watching the beauty that we had before us. We were talking about our trips (they highly recommended a trip they had made to Oman). We took advantage of the fact that there was happy hour on the ship until 7 pm with discount on all drinks. We all asked for a cocktail to celebrate that we were there! I asked for a Virgin Pina Colada.
Slowly, it began to get dark. At 7 pm, a cooking class began. We approached to see what they were doing. We were taught how to make spring rolls. It was good and they did it pretty well. We ended up trying the rolls that were quite good. At 7:30 they started preparing the barbecue for dinner.
There was everything from cucumber salad, papaya salad, mango salad, steamed vegetables, grilled prawns, pork, chicken, squid, oysters, moniatos, rice, noodles. We get up to serve. The desserts were dragon fruit, cut watermelon and cut pineapple. The dinner was good, and especially in that incomparable setting! The moon illuminated us.
We put on the loungers to rest a little and look at the sky. We could see the stars. Sure, there was not any kind of light pollution there! What a pleasure! And after a little while there, enjoying, we went to the room. The next morning at 6:30 there was Tai Chi class on the deck, and I really wanted to do it!
So at 10pm we were already in bed! In the next room there was a bit of fun. The Malaysian guys were a little noisy. Let's hope they let us sleep at night. And so, rocking, in the middle of Halong Bay we fell asleep, with those fantastic images recorded in the retina. It had been a great day!
Day 8 - Hanoi
At 5:30 I opened an eyelet. I saw a little light coming in through the blinds, so I did not want to miss the sunrise in Halong Bay! I put on a jacket over my pajamas. It was cool, but not at all exaggerated. We saw the captain sleeping on a small cot.
There was no one on the deck. We were completely alone before that spectacle. And what a spectacle! I went down to prepare for the Tai Chi class. I had brought comfortable clothes, because I already knew that in the cruises there is this activity first thing in the morning.
The landscape was still beautiful, and the poor cameras had no truce! There were more people practicing Tai Chi on other boats! Slowly the bay was waking up. The teacher arrived and we started the class. First we warm the body a little. The ship was slowly moving, and we were seeing the beautiful images that were passing in front of our eyes! I had never done Tai Chi like that!
He showed us a piece of the 24-movement form. But the teacher was a bit quick, and not everyone could follow him well, so there were people who left him. After about 20 minutes, we finished the mini-class by massaging each other, all in a row, as if it were a little train. What absolute relaxation!
We finished, made the final greeting, and finished the class. At 7 o'clock we went down to breakfast, as we were hungry! There was cut fruit, tea, coffee, fruit salad, cucumber, grilled tomato, pancakes, toast, jam, egg. It was all very good, and at that time it entered as if nothing!
When we finished breakfast, we went to the cabin to wash fast, change clothes, and quickly to the boat, because we had a trip to a cave. When we went to the cave we did not take anything. It is very clear that it was the time when all the cruises took people. The cave we would visit was Hang Sung Sot.
Before starting to climb, the boat's guide was explaining that the cave was discovered in 1901 by a French explorer. It is about 30 meters above sea level. And he told us that they had come to find prehistoric remains. The cave was also declared a World Heritage Site.
We started climbing ladders and that at the pace of a procession, as you can imagine. But the climb was worth it! There was a time when, among so many people, we ended up losing the ship's guides. But it was normal, as the whole group ended up shelling.
After the climb, we arrive at the entrance of the cave. It is well conditioned, and illuminated. And the shapes of the rocks are beautiful. We saw other guides who, with a laser pointer, were illuminating forms. We already know that in places like these, there are people who see various forms (a Buddha, an elephant, a jellyfish), and this cave was no less!
We went through a place, where people threw coins and touched the stone. It turned out that it was shaped like a turtle. We have already seen that in Vietnam, the turtle is an important animal. We also touched the head of the turtle and slowly we started heading towards the exit. In total we had been about 40 minutes.
As a conclusion of the cave it is large, well prepared and illuminated, but honestly, it did not impact me much. Upon leaving the interior of the cave we reach a spectacular viewpoint! Slowly, we went down and went to the pier where the boat awaited us that would take us back.
We went through the side of a kind of small shops and fisherwomen selling their fresh products. We had to wait a little while on the jetty, because the boat had already left for the boat to take the first passengers who had already arrived. And that, it was only 9:20! The boat arrived, and we went up!
We got to the ship, took a quick shower and left the cabin, because in a few hours new passengers were entering. We left the bags, did the check-out and paid what we owed for the drinks. We went to sit on the deck. At 10 o'clock a class began on how to make shapes in vegetables, cutting with a knife. More than a knife it was a kind of scalpel, but it worked wonders!
We had a good time entertaining, and then proposed that whoever wanted, could try to make a rose with the skin of a tomato. At 11 o'clock they made us go down to the dining room. There was salad, chicken rolls, fried prawns, fried noodles, aubergines. Everything was very good.
It was time to leave. We took our bags and disembarked. We went up to the boat for the last time. It was 12 o'clock. And so, we reached the mainland. We took our bags, and said goodbye to our French friends. We got into our van, and at 12:15 we were on our way, towards Hanoi again.
I felt sorry, as I did not want to leave there. It had been wonderful, and a very good way to recharge batteries. We had absolutely Zen moments! The guide told us that the only inhabited island is that of Cat Ba, and that perhaps the beach we had been on was that of Soi Sim. We take the road from the previous day again. We saw how at the entrance of some houses, they spread the rice to dry.
We went through a kind of grotesque and exaggerated mansion! The asphalt was nothing special. There were stretches where I had to go at 40 km/h. That's why it took so long to make the journey. Another thing that caught my attention is that the clothes were laid out at the entrance of the house, with some hangers.
The driver was very good. To avoid heavy traffic, the driver took a shortcut and passed through an urbanization already arriving in Hanoi. It was like a little Venice, because it had channels. Finally, we started to enter Hanoi. At 16:20 we arrived at the hotel. We did the check-in again and they gave us the keys to the rooms. We climbed in the elevator that we always used, but when we reached the fourth floor we could not find our room!
We went back down, and saw that there was another elevator. We went up, and there we had them! We went down to reception again, and the guide had already brought the tricycle that would take us around the Old Quarter. Our trip was not over yet!
We said goodbye to him, and pulled the tricycle. The gentlemen who took them gave us a good little spin! We went through some of the streets of the guilds. The one that smelled the best was that of medicinal herbs, of course! And of course, could not miss the shocking images! I was absolutely fascinated with that city!
We could tell that Halloween was coming! The tour lasted 30 minutes. They left us at the Cathedral. I read that they call it the little Notre Dame, not so much for Paris, but for Ho Chi Minh. It is the oldest church in Hanoi, and was built in 1886 by the French, demolishing an ancient pagoda. It is very close to Hoan Kiem Lake.
We enter through a side entrance; the main one was closed. It is really imposing, and a small contrast in the chaos of that city. We were not able to see the bullet holes. We went for a walk, and made the last purchases (some boxes, and some bookmarks).
We had already become complete experts in crossing the streets of Hanoi! It was as if we had done it all our lives! Slowly, we reached the street of our hotel, Ma May, and went to dinner at the place we already knew, because we liked it.
We were seated at one of the tables on the ground floor. Today there was no one who was praying. They brought us the menu and we chose pork Nem, breaded prawns, crispy cheese (which tasted great), and beer. The dishes arrived quickly.
Everything was delicious. When we finished, we asked the waitress to help us, to bring us the dessert menu. But instead, she brought us directly cut watermelon. They invited us to the desserts! We were very satisfied with everything we had requested. The waitress had been so nice to us, that we gave her a small tip for her attention.
We went out to the street! I do not know what entered me, but suddenly, I started running down the street, and the girl who was at the entrance of the restaurant laughed! Those were amazing! There was a kind of festival in the streets of the Old Quarter, because there were shows, music, lots of people!
We stayed a moment watching a group that sang and danced, I guess traditional music. We continue walking. People were already dining on the street. We passed in front of our little hotel. We arrived at one of the corners, where they had set up a kind of disco for kids! And how well they were having fun, dancing!
We said goodbye and continue. In another section of the street there was another group playing. And we came to a flea market. We were browsing through the little shops, and I ended up buying halong shirt. We were trying to book the Sapa trekking. Thank goodness we did not because once in Sa Pa the prices drop by half or less.
Slowly, we went back to the hotel. At 22:50 we were already in bed.
Day 9 - Sa Pa
We woke up at 6:30. We showered, kept the last four things that were missing in our suitcases, and at 7:45 we went down to breakfast. The dining room was very full! We managed to find a table. The breakfast was quite ordinary. The juices were not very good. The croissants had too much butter flavor. I took a banana for the trip.
At 8:15 we finished breakfast. And the city was already starting to wake up! We went back to the room, brushed our teeth, closed our bags and went down to the reception. We did the check-out. When we were ready, we loaded the suitcases, and at 9:10 we were already running.
I had a hard time deciding which train to choose. The train really was super comfortable, much more than I thought. We shared cabin with a very polite Chinese until we reach Lao Cai. We went to a humble little hotel, clean with spectacular views of the valley.
We went to Giang Ta Chai, passing through villages such as Ta Van and Lao Chai. It was really beautiful, I have spectacular photos of those landscapes, we walked among the rice fields, we saw the villages, and we ate. At night, we toured Sa Pa. We gave ourselves a massage, had dinner, and went to sleep, since the next day we wanted to do another trek by free before they came to pick us up at the hotel to take us back to Lao Cai.
The trip was coming to an end. We went up to our rooms, packed the bags and put all the gifts in the bags of hand luggage. We already had everything. We were ready to go home. I still had a few more days of vacation (especially to recover from the Jet Lag). But I had liked the trip so much (despite the little things with one of the guides). Tomorrow we have a very long trip with a stopover at Changi Airport in Singapore! So the visits were not over yet!