Saturday, 19 May 2012

Hoi An - Da Nang

Anniversary Special

We had originally planned to stay in Hue for 4 nights but after 2 we realized that was 2 too many. We ended up staying 3 nights and booking a night in Hoi An instead. We departed Hue at 8am for our journey to Hoi An on the ‘Tourist Bus’. I use the term lightly but that is how it’s described by local travel agents. Keeping in mind that this is the 16th May and our 20th Wedding Anniversary, what followed was a minor disaster.

The Tourist Bus does in fact transport tourists around the country. ‘Open Tour’ is a company that runs open ended bus tickets, get on here got off there etc. not a bad idea if you like bus travel or want to go somewhere that the train doesn’t, such as Hoi An. However the buses are the worst run down excuse for transport we have seen. Most of the seating is broken and uncomfortable but worst still, any type of mechanical maintenance had been ignored to the point of making the vehicle obviously unroadworthy! Shortly after leaving Hue, the bus started chugging and making groaning noises and the driver stopped on 2 occasions to dive into the engine bay for 20 minutes before coming to a complete stop at a petrol station where we all vacated the bus. We waited 2 and a half  hours before formulating a cunning plan.

I still had a card from a taxi driver that had taken us from the Hue train station to our hotel and at that stage we still had our mobile phone. We called and with the assistance of a local, our taxi was able to find us. The taxi itself was a battered little van barely big enough to fit the 4 of us and our luggage, not much bigger than a Mazda Bongo van if you can remember them. Any way our fellow travelers whom we had plenty of time to bond with during our spare time, instantly became envious and started crowding us as we were trying to clamber into the taxi with our luggage, “where can we get one?, is this one really yours?”. Needless to say we departed promptly without a backward glance to wave ‘bon voyage’.

The road ahead re-enforced to us how dangerous this stretch of road is up and over the passes, had we still been on the bus. In any case it was $50 well spent to arrive in Hoi An with some of the day still left. However this is where the phone went missing, between the time I phoned the taxi and when we arrived at our hotel, settled in and prepared to go out and explore. We searched high and low but it never turned up.

Hoi An was well worth the journey for. It is a very picturesque postcard kind of place. Our hotel was across the river from the old town and a short stroll to everything. The old part of town is closed to motor traffic making it seen part of yesterworld with only bicycles and cycloes and pedestrian traffic. The old town is smattered with historical buildings, museums, pagodas and tourist shops with tailors, cobblers, tinkers and many restaurants. With bougainvillea sprouting on just about every street corner and in between, the French and Chinese architecture and the dominance of the golden yellow and white color of the buildings creates a charm about the place even with the moldy walls and faded grandeur. Of note is the Japanese bridge, the local market area and the river district. The town takes on a completely endearing char when the sun goes down and the light of the lanterns come into their own.

We only stayed the one night but stayed in town the following day until about 4pm before moving onto our booked accommodation in Da Nang about 20km north. As it was our anniversary, we did plan on a 5 star break. The Lifestyle Resort truly lives up to that with massive grounds and scenic pools that run off into the distance and a edgeless pool at the end that appear to be joined the ocean. Our rooms balconies open onto a butterfly aviary and a worth the 5 star tag. We enjoyed the pool and had dinner in the restaurant. The food was top class as you would expect in a 5 star and we finished with liquid nitrogen ice cream which is a spectacle in itself. They mix a cream mixture and other ingredients with the liquid nitrogen at the table producing an impressive cloud of toil and trouble.

Fortunately our 5 star provided a complimentary shuttle service to Hoi An so the following day we decide to go back. As we arrived in Hoi An, I received an email from my good friend Frannie that amazingly, one of my old sailing buddies Mike and his wife Bertina were following us on our journey by one day. We arranged to meet up and had a splendid time catching up over dinner and a few drinks.

Louise and I have had a bit of a spent up in Hoi An, Louise had a Jacket, an overcoat ankle boots and a dress made and I have had some boots made as well, so luggage quotas may kick in from here. We travel on to Saigon tomorrow.

Friday, 18 May 2012

Hanoi to Hue

The Ruecroft Noble Adventure continues…

After our Ha Long Bay trip we took the next few days exploring Hanoi further. We found the best way to get around together as group (4 of us) was to hire the electric tourist cars, a car and driver cost $12 an hour and took us right through every part of the old city and around the lake through some of the new city. Recommended as a first day activity, as it give a good overview of the city, and you can cover so much ground in that hour. We did a day time tour and on another day did an evening tour which was different again.

Also on the agenda was a performance at the Water Puppet theater. The performance included traditional Vietnamese music played live as stories of folklore were told through the puppets dancing on the water. Perhaps 2 dozen short tales played out during the performance, ending with the water dragon and puppeteers appearing in the stage of water. Great show.

We also indulged in some local retail as well, Louise & I replacing all our luggage and I bought a very nice Ukulele with carry case as well as the usual T shirts scarves, wallets, watches and belts you usually buy.

Another pastime while on holidays is getting a massage. Louise and Sally had manicures and pedicures in the morning and Ian & I had foot massages, which included hand, arm foot and leg with a back rub to finish off, more than an hour for $12. Very relaxing!

On Saturday evening we embarked on our train trip to Hue, leaving at about 7pm the journey lasted until about 8am the following morning. We had a 4 berth cabin to ourselves, booked as first class soft sleeper, it was double bunks on either side with the people who could reach the top bunks (Sally & I) up,  while the plebs took the lower bunks. With a couple of wodkers and a sleeping tablet, train travel is tolerable and a bit of an adventure. Saw quite a bit of the country side as we where awake early, sunrise here is about 5am.

We are staying at a nice 4 star hotel on the Perfume River in Hue although a bit faded in beauty and grandeur, it is in a good location and only $4 from the train station (and has a pool!). We had an arrangement with our laundry man in Hanoi, who also put us on the train, that we meet his friend in Hue to organize our city tour, Ms Tram

We started our tour at 8am the following morning and visited 3 tomb sites of previous Kings of Vietnam, including the 2nd last king that they don’t mention because of his flamboyance that questions his manliness, however it was included in the tour? Anyway as the morning progressed, so did the temperature and humidity. Each tomb complex included unimaginably steep steps and much walking through the sun. We had to pull the pin on the tour at midday, and our help tour guide agreed to take us to lunch and back to the hotel for 2 hours of swimming and aircon before resuming our tour our the Imperial City, the Citadel and Forbidden City.

This is the highlight of a visit to Hue and it lived up to my expectation. Although some of it has been damaged in successive wars, it is a vast complex with fortified walls, many different living precincts and you can visualize it as a city. Here again we discovered the electric cars. At an additional $10 it was worth it to cover the entire site, we saw areas that we would not have had time to see had we been walking. Our City tour ended with a visit to another Pagoda, this one over looking the Perfume River. The Pagodas are interesting but tend to look the same after your third or fourth, but a good day had by all.

Our last day in Hue was spent…shopping. Well we did have a cyclo adventure getting to the markets and back. Cyclo’s are the 3 wheeled bicycles with the seat in front, we hire 4 of them, there and back which was a lot of fun in itself was.

Our last night in Hue was spent at the Octopussy Restaurant, Louise and Sally ordered flaming coconut prawns (not what it read like on the menu). A coconut containing prawns is set alight on your plate. Remember it’s an adventure.

Tomorrow morning we depart for Hoi An, and as I write, it is now after midnight, making it the 16Th May 2012 in Australia at least, marking our 20Th Wedding Anniversary.


Thursday, 10 May 2012

Hanoi - Ha Long Bay

Dear Ethel Family and Friends,

It’s been 2 and a half years since we departed Vietnam last, November 2009, and since my last post on this blog in Feb 2010, life has changed, I ended up getting a Government job in Canberra but not before unpacking our house in Coolum, only to re-pack and moved back to Canberra again. We rented the Coolum house once more and have bought a house in Canberra as well, small and modest but comfortable and weather protected.

Enough of life in Canberra, the purpose of this blog is travel! We haven’t had a decent holiday since we arrived back and as Louise’s brother Ian and his wife Sally had let us stay with them for our first six months in Canberra, so we wanted to take them on holidays with us to…Vietnam! We are spending 3 weeks, starting in Hanoi, out to Ha Long Bay, down to Hue, Da Nang and to Ho Chi Minh City.

We departed Canberra and caught the bus up to Sydney staying overnight in town, so as to capitalize on our favorite Spanish restaurant, mmm Sangria, Tapas and Paella. With an early start and time differences it took us approximately 18 hours door to door to reach Hanoi and with a white knuckle descent into the airport through an electrical storm, we were grad to arrive, around 2.30am home time.

The new day brought the excitement of Vietnam back to us, starting with breakfast and the unique way the Vietnamese do things, Louise had a boiled egg that arrived at the table as a yoke in a bowl of hot water with some herbs floating in it, and my omelet was in fact a fried egg but that’s ok because it is an adventure we are on and we are use to it. We eased Ian and Sally into it with a walking tour around the city, stopping for coffee and observational studies (people watching).

We asked our hotel for a full city tour with driver for the next day, he came up with a price of $100 US per person, we declined and I commented to Ian that they had mistaken us for rich fat bastards, where as we are really only fat bastards. We did negotiate a better price and the following day and visited the Temple of Literature, Ho Chi Minh’s Mausoleum and complex and West Lake Pagoda with a very funny guide. We also had lunch at Koto, a celebrity chef run establishment helping street kids to learn new skills, superb food.

The last two days and overnight we spent at Ha Long Bay, about 4 hours there and back but a stunning area. Louise & I have been here about 10 years ago, but it is always a spectacular sight. We stayed on junk boat overnight, our boat catered for 10 people with individual ensuite cabins. Apart from the cruising through the spectacular limestone pinnacles, we did some kayaking through caves into seclude lagoons a heartbreaking climb up one of the mountains for a spectacular view and swimming. A cooking demonstration ended up being a great excuse to roll and eat our own fresh spring rolls however I prefer the ones made for me. Happy hour had a two for one cocktail deal that proved too hard to resist and all meals included seafood and at least 10 courses.

We arrived back in Hanoi this afternoon and Ian and Sally really seem to be enjoying them selves so we went to a local restaurant popular with tourists that had a good observational studies area. We are in Hanoi for another 3 days and then catching the train to Hue, so hope to have some new then, all the best

Ric, Louise, Ian and Sally