Monday, September 26, 2011

Vietnam South to North: The road warriors disbanded and I'm left alone to plot my next move. Since I only had a single entry visa for Vietnam, I decided to stay in the country, travel around and check it out. Leaving Ho Chi Minh City I took a 10 hour bus ride east to the town of Nha Trang on the south coast. Here's some pics and commentary of my travels from south to north Vietnam.

Beaches, beaches, beaches seems to be the theme. The entire coast line in the south is beach. This one is in the town of Nha Trang.

This beach is further north near Hoi An. If they seem a little deserted, they are! End of season according to locals. People have gone back home, returned to school. While there are tourists, there are not many.

I'm always on the look out for the ultimate, typical house in a country. This one seemed to fit the bill. Vietnamese houses are long and thin - tube houses they are called. Seems a long time ago taxes were paid based on the amount of frontage you had so everyone built their houses narrow but deep. This one has some nice property around it. The majority of houses on side by side and right on the street.

While in Hoi An, I rented a bicycle for $1/day and rode around the country side. This was a particularly nice street. The round tub in the yard is a basket boat.

 Hội An pronunciation (Hoy An) is home to approximately 120,000 inhabitants. It has been recognized as World Heritage Site by UNESCO. The city possessed the largest harbour in Southeast Asia in the 1st century. Between the seventh and 10th centuries, the Cham (people of Champa) controlled the strategic spice trade and with this came tremendous wealth Although a bit touristy, it has lovely perserved buildings of Chinese, Japanese and local influences. The streets are blocked to vehicle traffic so it is fairly calm.

Hoi An street, early morning. Vietnam has 90 million people. You would never guess that looking at this sreet scene.  

Hoi An is known as the city of laterns. They make beautiful ones here and many shops, restaurants, homes hang laterns. When they are all lit at night it is lovely to see.

It started to rain.

I sought refuge from the rain  in a cafe and these two came along peddling fruit. They let me take their picture although were a bit upset that I did not buy any of their wares. I think this is the best rain photo ever. The afternoon was a bit dreamy and the blurry image sort of captures the feeling. If you click on the image to enlarge, the only thing in focus are their smiling faces.
Chinese temple.

The best way to travel from Hoi An north to Hue (pronounced 'Way') is by car along the old coast road. Stunning views of the coast.  If you go by train or bus you end up inland on the new, express road.

Another view of the coast from the old road.

One more shot.

So, of course, instead of taking a car, I found a motorcycle company that took me on the 150km journey. Hue Riders ( are a great way to see the country side and I recommend them.
Along the way we detoured to a mountain stream that the locals use. It is known as Elephant Springs.

They block the stream and create these little pools. There are shaded platforms built that you rent for the hour, hours, day. Hang out, swim, eat, etc.

The water is clear, clean and cool. The South China Sea is extremely warm and salty. I did not enjoy swimming in it. But this was heaven. I went in with all my clothes on much to the amusement of the local kids. But you dry instantly in the air because it is HOT!

A couple of local kids.

A beautiful lotus flower. You see these everywhere.

Buddhist nuns leaving a tomb of a past emperor. Hue, Vietnam.

Perfume River, Hue, Vietnam. This photo is taken from a vantage point where there is an old American bunker. This area saw a lot of action during the Vietnam War. The Americans were constantly on the look out for Viet Cong travelling along the river.

Arrived in Hue. This is my driver Hieu (pronounced Hugh). He was a very safe driver and a great guide.

From Hue I flew to Hanoi in northern Vietnam. My cousin joined me there and we visited some of the local sites. This is on the grounds of the "Temple of Literature" (site of the oldest university in Vietnam 1010). Hanoi is the capitol of Vietnam, has about 6.5 million people. It was once the capital of French Indochine and has a lot of French influence.

This street seller was making small figures from a plasticine like substance that later hardened.

Basket seller in Hanoi.

Monument store and my cousin in the doorway. Had to get one of these as a souvenir (not me, her).

Ducks on the way home. I was told they were not taking their last ride to market!

We took a side trip to  Hạ Long Bay for a few days. The bay features thousands of limestone karsts and isles in various sizes and shapes.

View at sunset.

Local fisher person.

We stayed on a Chinese junk for two nights. Very comfortable and great boat ride through the region.

Happy times in Ha Long Bay.

Early morning beach excursion Ha Long Bay.

Back in Hanoi. Couldn't resist the sight of these kindergarten girls going for a walk.

Wedding day in Hanoi. Seems photos of the happy couples are taken everywhere.

Different couple. It was a Tuesday. Couldn't figure out why this day was so popular.

Which way to go? This way or this way?

Tired bride. She is dressed more traditionally.

The narrowest building ever!

Neon party dresses!
That ends my Vietnam travels. Great country, fabulous food, nice people. I would go back and I recommend it. From here I flew to Singapore to visit family and plot my next move. Stay tuned.

Wednesday, September 07, 2011

Biking Vietnam: Leaving Phnom Penh we rode south along Highway 2 to the town of Takeo and on to the remote border of Phnom Den, Cambodia / Tinh Bien, Vietnam. It's remote but lively with lots of goods coming and going. Immediately once we crossed the border the difference was noticable. People everywhere. Cambodia has 14 million people, Vietnam has 90 million. The roads are action central and we headed into the Mekong Delta to bike and experience life on the river. Here's a few pics and comments.

Along the highway in Cambodia there is rice drying in the sun. This went on for kilometer after kilometer. All the traffic sort of keeps to the centre - both ways, except when passing. Luckily it's not a really busy road by Cambodia standards so the rice is not disturbed too much.

The people sweep up the rice once dried and fill the bags. Even children work at this and it looks like it's back breaking

Trucks come along and collect the bags of rice. There are scales on the ground that they use to weigh the bags.

The bags of rice are loaded onto boats from the trucks. This is still Cambodia.

A rice barge on the Mekong river, Vietman filled to the brim.

Thai cat, not to be confused with Ti Cat (bad CFL joke for those in the know)
Actually he was in Cambodia and I miss my kitties.

My trusty steed which I had to give up at the border for Vietnam bikes. For some reason we could not take these over the border.

We waited forever at the Vietnam border to have the paperwork processed. Guess the Communists want to make sure they don't let in any troublemakers.

So while we waited I started to take photos of the scooters crossing the border from Vietnam to Cambodia. I could not believe what they tied to these bikes. None of the bikes were bigger than 125cc. Later in the trip I saw livestock, full size refridgerators, doors and windows for houses, huge mirrors, entire families, riding on these bikes which have replaced the bicycle over the last 10 years.

Click on the photo to enlarge it and see what he is carrying.

It just gets better and better.

I had too much time to kill.

Honestly it was a never ending stream.

This bike was incredible.
(Al our tour leader finally has the paperwork complete.
So we're off into Vietnam. )

Dyed grass reeds drying in the sun on the road. Later they will be woven into mats for family homes. People use the mats to sleep on.

A view of life on the Mekong River. We're on a boat making a crossing from one island to another.

More Mekong action.

We stayed at the home of a Vietnamese family. "Home Stays" are popular around this area. Lots of tourists come to the Mekong area.

So, ummm... this is a cage of rats raised for food.

This was one of the sons at the home stay cooking rat for our dinner. \
"Tastes like chicken!"

The lady of the house cooking fish for us.

Family patriarch presenting cooked fish. Note the little fisherman carved from cucumber sitting on the fish's head. Very creative! Fish was very tasty.

Snakes raised for food. We did not have to eat snake at the home stay.
Probably tastes like chicken anyway.

This is one way to remove feathers from dead fowl.

End of the trip. We are about 50 kms from Ho Chi Minh city (aka Saigon). The traffic was getting too crazy so we said good-bye to the bikes and headed into town on a bus.

Tired, hot but happy cyclists. We biked just over 500 kms through the three countries - Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam. It was a fantastic trip. I would recommend it. Great way to see the country, people, get off the beaten path plus slim the thighs and improve one's cardio.

Ho Chi Minh is scooter city and everyone wears a helmet and they have fantastic looking helmets.

Had to get one. Actually I bought two. Perhaps will use for cycling at home.

At the end of the biking trip most everyone headed home. A few stayed on to travel on their own and I was one of them. I decided to stay in Vietnam and see more of the country. So next blog entry will tell you of my adventures alone in Vietnam. Thanks for reading.