A Travellerspoint blog

Vietnam: Hue to Danang and Hoi An

51 not out

overcast 20 °C
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John:....blog number 51 and still going strong! I only scored above 50 twice when I played cricket. 51 not out is a good score for me!

At the end of my previous blog we were about to go across the road from our hotel and spend an hour with the orphaned youngsters at BLOOM (Because Love Overcomes Our Misfortunes) restaurant as they got together for their English lesson. We said we would be happy to talk about our travels and our home, answering any questions they might have. After a short discussion about our RTW trip and their obvious interest in NZ their eyes really lit up at pictures of our family and friends. We carry a small album of pictures with us including a photo of my brother Pete in his best chef's outfit complete with grand head-chef's hat and it was this picture that really lit them up. These kids (late teens), with help from the charity, had pulled themselves up out of the most awful circumstances by their bootstraps through this humble little cafe restaurant. Cooking and waitering were the vehicles for that progress and Pete in his best, gleaming white chef's outfit represented the pinnacle of everything they aspired to. No self pity or misery on show. It was a simple but very moving and humbling few moments and one of a number of experiences in similar projects as we continued our journey into the south of Vietnam.

We enjoyed Hue very much but after 5 days were ready to continue our journey south. A short train ride of just over 2 hours took us to the city of Danang; Vietnam's third largest after Ha Noi and Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon).

The train ride took us along part of the coastline, up on the cliffs, a good 5 iron strike higher than the sea and then down to sea level where the flimsy flood defences looked fragile enough to dissolve in the next rain shower. As always on the trains we got some good insights into Vietnamese life; who looks after the children and how, who reads, who chats and, on this train, who laughs at the Vietnamese stand-up comedians on the DVD shown on the TV set in the carraige. Unlike the tourist trains we have been on so far this was a regular train. Last modified sometime in the late 70s, I would guess, many of the reclining seats were faulty, set by broken mechanisms and gravity to permanent recline. A mixture of Vietnamese families and tourists from all over the place filled our carriage completely. The meal trolley came along soon after the train grudgingly left Hue, selling boxed hot meals of fish and rice with vegetables. Another trolley followed dispensing a rather green looking liquid from two large aluminium buckets. I thing it was a vegetable soup.

On the flat we journeyed over rivers and rice fields by the score and to starboard the high central hills oscillated towards and away from us, ocassionally driving us into tunnels before stepping back into the haze. We arrived in Danang pretty much on time and took the short taxi ride to the hotel, just a couple of blocks from the Han river. An occasional concrete gun emplacement the only visible reminder of the battles fought here so recently.

We only stayed for one night in Danang and, as it turned out, could have stayed a little longer or skipped it altogether. Staying a little longer would have given us an opportunity to see more of the city that has almost completely shrugged its shoulders at tourism. The brief glimpse we saw was of a prosperous, busy place. I had a chance to walk through the city before we left for Hoi An. My fruitless search for a replacement lens for my (non-digital) Nikon took me past the market, past the road full of motorcycle parts and sales shops and on past the collection of stalls selling black rubber; shoes, cam belts, fan belts, bicycle tyres, plugs - you name it. If it was made of black rubber you could buy it here!

We could have missed Danang out altogether. If we had we would have missed out on one of the best breakfasts we have had in a long time. A charity called 'Bread of Life' has set up a training/fundraising restaurant cafe for its staff of deaf people. We have seen a lot of this type of initiative in Vietnam and there is more to tell of this from Hoi An. Suffice to say that the restaurant was very good and I was in awe of people for whom learning to speak their own language was hard enough. To also learn sign language AND, in some cases, a few words of English showed an extraordinary will to succeed and make a contribution. The French influence shows in Vietnam through a number of things, amongst them very good bread and coffee. Both were in abundance here.

The reason we may have missed Danang is because although the train doesn't go there it was only a 40 minute drive to our next destination, Hoi An. A private car cost us just 17 dollars so we took that, driving along the coast, past Marble Mountain to our right and along China Beach, place of huge hotel developments, carving up the beach between names like Hyatt and Crowne. Where the hotels aren't visible from the road, the high walls and security staff that seal them off from the local villages certainly are. China Beach was once a huge American base for soldiers on their R&R leave and the enormous concrete airbase still stands as testament to this previous life.

Another town, another UNESCO World Heritage Site. Hoi An Old Town is as pretty a picture as it is possible to paint.

Lanterns at night in Hoi An

Lanterns at night in Hoi An

It is so high on the tourist hit list that the town must have the highest tourist:local people ratio in the country. The reason for its popularity is because of the well preserved nature of the old centre of the town. Because of its popularity the usual tourist services are developed, at once preserving and protecting the town but changing its reason for being. As long as you're not too sniffy about a town being 'touristy', and in the case of Hoi An I'm not, this is a beautiful spot. Sitting on the Bon River, just 4 km from the sea this little town has, probably, the best food in the region. If you want a shirt, suit, pair of shoes, bag or anything else making for that matter you can get it done well in around 48 hours. Full of galleries, workshops, silk shops, shoe shops and restaurants, at night the town is lit up with lanterns, the river decorated with large colourful illuminated images of a tiger, a dragon and a fish.


One of our favourite shops is Reaching Out is a fair trade place with on site workshops dedicated to training and employing disabled people, or, 'people with different abilities' as they say in the workshop. The craftspeople here work a fixed 8 hour day and are paid around 35% more than the regular rate here. This higher wage is reflected in the price of the goods on sale. Even at that the products in the shop represent excellent value for money. Many of the products are actually made on-site and it is a real pleasure to see how much enjoyment there is in the workshop as you walk around. There is no question of 'charity' here. The quilts, plates, jewellery, clothes, bags etc are at least as good as others in the town and the designs are often drawn from minority groups including the H'mong people we met in Sapa. Disabled people working at home have their work collected and sold in the Reaching Out store. On the wall of the store are pictures of the staff, each quoted about what it is like to work there. For me the best quote was from a young man with a huge smile saying "working here is better than feeding water buffalo". What a great statement and one that should be an answer for anybody who is happy in their work!

We have done a lot here. On Wednesday I took a full day cookery lesson at the Red Bridge Restaurant and Cooking School just outside the town. We began in a village devoted almost entirely to the organic growing of fresh herbs and vegetables. No machinery in evidence and the only fertilizer used is river weed grown and harvested locally. In meticulously tidy rows asian basil, saw toothed corriander, lemon mint, scallions (spring onion) and a host of other herbs whilst hanging from frames many other crops including bitter melon, squash (various) and beans. Our chef/teacher, Phi (fee), showed us each ingrediant we would need for our meal and showed us the characteristics to look for when choosing herbs for cooking.

Lady tending herbs at 'The Organic Village', Hoi An

Lady tending herbs at 'The Organic Village', Hoi An

From there our little group of 7 moved onto the market to buy chillie, Vietnamese 5 spice (lighter than its Chinese equivalent), limes, ginger and tumeric roots, chicken, shrimp and fish.

Carrying our goodies we made our way to the Red Bridge. Beautifully situated on the river's edge and with a bespoke teaching area out doors, Phi set to; teaching us how to make rice noodles, flavour shrimp, cook in banana leaves, make a beautiful chicken salad and, most interesting of all make the Vietnamese national dish pho (fer), a soup with noodles, beef, vegetables and a hatful of flavours. Locally this is often the breakfast of choice for the discerning Vietnamese and pho cafes are set up early in the morning on pavements to catch people on their way to work. No pho ever tasted as good as this! It was really good to make everything from scratch. Whilst it may turn out that life is too short to make our own rice noodles when we get back to NZ I would like to think that it will be a good thing to do. If nothing else it gives time to think about where things actually come from. Our own noodles were much lighter and less salty than ones I have shop-bought before.

Much of the cooking was done over a charcoal grill (bar-b) and the aromatic smells of the herbs and spices as they cooked combined with the slight smoke from the grill wasn't too disimilar to the fragrance of the smoke from the incense sticks carrying messages to the Gods and ancestors in the temples.

This was a great thing to do. For just 40 dollars, a full day of hands on cookery class in a cuisine that is really good to eat, including a first class meal four course meal cooked by your own fair hands....and they provide the ingredient lists and recipes plus you get to keep your apron! If you're coming to Hoi An I can't recomend this enough. Our menu was:

5 season chicken and banana flower salad

Chillie shrimp cooked in banana leaves
Clay pot baked fish in tumeric

....with cold beer to drink by the river side; perfect. We returned to Hoi An on a little motor boat. The boat was steered by a wheel that looked as if it had come off a child's go-cart and the engine speed controlled by a length of string with cruise control being a wooden peg jammed into a hole. I 'took the helm' for some of the short trip back as we chugged up river to the boat terminal and thoroughly enjoyed it.

Last night, against all the odds, Jackie found a DVD of The Quiet American with Michael Caine. Filmed, in part, in Hoi An and in Ha Noi, watching the film again was different. This time knowing more about recent Vietnamese history and seeing the towns and countryside gave us new insights. I really enjoyed the film first time around. This time it had a little more depth to it for me.

The physiological processing of sugar for some of us is a challenge. The propensity for Vietnamese people to add sugar to almost everything is considerable. When ordering coffee, tea, fruit juice etc if you don't want sugar you have to be fairly explicit. The same trend to over sweetness is present in a lot of contemporary Vietnamese music. I mentioned, in a previouis blog, how delicate and beautiful the traditional music can be in the hands of talented musicians (it can also be pretty strident and bordering on unlistenable to these ears at times). I spent a little time in a music shop this morning and was struck by how much 'musical syrup' is added, by way of strings etc, to sweeten the otherwise difficult music. Finally settling on some music featuring the monochord, a single stringed instrument whose note varies by adjusting the tension of the string, this had the delicacy and grace that I was looking for. This music is as 'unfamiliar' as anything I have encountered so far. Much of the African music we encountered has travelled via slavery into the blues and jazz and therefore into the western world. A lot of the music we heard in South America was a blend of Spanish and African music and has also entered the western musical lexicon. The music in Vietnam uses completely different scales, notes, instruments and voices and although dealing with the same issues in life does so with a different vocabulary altogether......

Musicians at the Water Puppet Theatre in Ha Noi

Musicians at the Water Puppet Theatre in Ha Noi

Anyway what I bought sounded great in the shop in Hoi An. Whether or not it transfers well to New Zealand is another matter!

I have become giddy with shopping in Hoi An. Having bought a couple of jackets and some trousers, Jackie with some tops and trousers plus Christmas presents various, our heads are spinning with deposits paid, fittings, balances to pay and such like, our dizziness is exacerbated by the excessive number of zeros in every transaction. I wish I had done my 19 000 times table at school! Instead we round everything up to 20 000 Vietnamese Dong to the Dollar US, aware that we are a bit wide of the mark but not completely off the target.

Today we walked around the town having bought a ticket giving us access to some of its historic buildings. An old house combining Japanese and Chinese building styles coping with the river's annual flood, two meeting houses, each with a temple, ornate and colourful carvings.....


.... and historical artifacts from Hoi An's colourful past as a major sea port were amongst the highlights of the walk. If you get sick of the retail onslaught that is Hoi An, a step through a gateway into one of the meeting places or temples is like climbing off the treadmill for a while: immediate peace and quiet until you feel strong enough to resume the courteous but firm "No. Thankyou." to the moto taxis, cyclo taxis, tailors and touts along the way.

Anyway time to post this blog from the delightful town of Hoi An. On Saturday we resume our journey south. Tomorrow needs a trip to the post office....we may be some time. Lots of love and best wishes to family and friends

Posted by JohnandJac 01:24 Archived in Vietnam Tagged round_the_world Comments (0)

Vietnam: Ha Noi to Hue

Some like it hot

sunny 37 °C
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John:... as flagged in the previous posting, we are now in Hue, one time capital city of imperial Vietnam. It is hot. At 37 degrees with very high humidity any exertion produces corporal cascades reminiscent of some of the fullest waterfalls in South Westland. We are trying to organise our days accordingly, maximising the relatively cool beginning and end of the day for most of our activities and saving our inactivity for the middle.

Our trip to Hue on the Livitrans night train from Ha Noi was largely uneventful. Our cabin comfortable enough and shared with a young Danish couple. As with our trip to Sa pa a few days previously the train tracks made for a bumpy, rocky ride with occasional sudden stops, some lasting for 5-10 minutes at a time...then with protesting creaks and groans from the train the sluggish progress recommenced. Early on, rolling through the heart of Ha noi we crossed main roads as the level crossing gates struggled to hold back the tide of motorcycles and bicycles. Fleeting glimpses of people's lives, in their shops, at home, with families and friends or alone and all blisfully ignorant of the lives passing them by in the train.

Folding my legs around the large bags that we have with us I dozed off to sleep on the top bunk, listening to Steve Reich's piece 'Different Trains' on the iPod. I have always been fascinated with the idea of falling asleep whilst on the move, particularly at sea or on a train...something quite magical about it and quite different from sleeping on a plane or coach. Waking occasionally through the night, the moon reflecting on the water in the rice fields and navigation lights shining on the rivers as we rattled across them, I tried to imagine what this countryside must have been like for those involved in or caught up in the fighting 40 or so years ago. I couldn't conjure up the images or noises of the war, just mental re runs of 'Apocolypse Now'.

Being in the first class carraige entitled us to a mattress, breakfast and a bottle of water. We declined the pot noodles but enthusiastically took the water as daylight revealed mile after mile of rice fields. Unlike Sapa in the north the rice crop is well underway with each field coloured an improbable bright green, well on its way to deliver Vietnam's 'White Gold'. From time to time a white heron imperiously patrolling, on frog or fish watch. The fields are dotted with people in their conical hats and square cut trousers and tunics, getting the hard work done before the sun and humidity beats them to sleep in the late morning. 13.5 hours after leaving Ha Noi we slowly pulled in to Hue station.

Hue is a fascinating place. 800 kilometres south of the intensity and flamboyance of Ha Noi, it is rather genteel by comparison. The traffic lacks the volume and madness of Ha Noi's, the motorcycle riders grip the handle bars a little less tightly and whole minutes go by without the sound of a motor horn being sounded. That the 'rules of the road' are the same is not in doubt, just the volume of vehicles disregarding them. It is the old imperial capital of Vietnam. The modern city nestles in around the old imperial buildings or across the fragrantly neutral 'Perfumed River'. The massive citadel, on the north side of the river was home to a succession of emperors, towards the end of their rule manipulated by the French and eventually abdicated as Uncle Ho's resistance to the French prevailed.

The city is far less influential now and it is known mainly as a tourist city centred around the citadel and as a base for trips along the Perfumed River to visit a series of increasingly elaborate and extravagant tombs designed and built by the various emperors.

On our arrival we took a taxi the short distance to our hotel on the south side of the river. Surrounded by nice eating places and a million cyclotaxi drivers, the area has a nice, easy ambience. Hue is quiet at night; the town shuts down at around 23:00. Steamily hot in the day time and only a little better at night the very good but hopelessly out gunned air conditioner attempts to bring the room temperature down to 18 degrees whilst the sun competes to get it up to 37. We settle for something in the middle.

There is a DVD copying store just around the corner from us with a vast selection of film titles. I tried hard to find a copy of 'The Quiet American' with Michael Caine whilst the images and noises of modern Ha Noi were still fresh. Nowhere to be seen but perhaps more success in Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City).

After a fairly easy first day exploring, we took a taxi across the river to the Citadel. This enormous walled city for the Emperor and his family, concubines and entourage has survived against all the odds. It was ransacked and vandalised by French paratroopers and heavily damaged during 'The American War', then neglected by the incoming Vietnamese government as it grappled with the priorities of rebuilding a traumatised nation and its own ideological ambivalence to its imperial legacy. Recently huge efforts have gone into the restoration of the palaces, theatre, court rooms and gardens. Newly painted doors with gold Vietnamese style characters and restored mosaics of glass and china depicting dragons, tigers, herons, trees and other iconic symbols from Vietnamese mythology look fresh and vibrant. We walked slowly around the place, glad not to be on an organised tour, seeking shade from the heat as we needed to. As well as the physical restoration, performances of Vietnamese opera are scheduled (we just missed this) for the imperial theatre. The complex is huge, beautiful and all the more interesting as skilled restorers work away seemingly oblivious to the toursists around them. All this for a little under 3 dollars each and we could have stayed all day.

We drifted around the fairly non-descript commercial areas of the town and determined that the historical interest was the main reason for being here. The same over the top approach that had been used for the building of the citadel was evident in other aspects of the Emperors' lives. One had a hundred or so wives and over 400 concubines but remained childless. We hired a car and driver to visit another aspect of imperial decadence, the extravagant tombs that are dotted along the Perfumed River. In marked contrast our first visit was to a temple on the north side of the river and adjacent to the citadel. Unlike the temples we visited in Ha Noi this was a place of peace and tranquility. Whilst we were there the murmer of monks at prayer merged with the sonorous ringing of the temple bell and the heady scent of incense sticks carrying messages to the ancestors. Small children trotted by quietly to school behind the temple. A football in the garden suggested that the monks might enjoy a little of the beautiful game as well.

We visited three tombs, each more elaborate than the previous one. Culminating in the Minh Mang tomb complex with elaborate buildings, a temple and series of lakes. The visit to each the set price of 3 dollars (55 000 Vietnamese Dong). The tombs and complexes were beautiful, the weather hot. Each visit took us to ticket sellers who were fully or nearly asleep, ticket checkers likewise. The countryside seemed to move in the heat and humidity and we tried hard to replace water as quickly as we were losing it. At the end of a long day it was good to reflect on what it must feel like to have to work hard in these conditions rather than swan about as we are doing in air conditioned (relative) luxury. 3 tombs and a temple was our lot for one day.

We have eaten well in Hue. Nowhere better than a lovely place just across the road from our hotel. BLOOM (Because Love Overcomes Our Misfortunes) is a training restaurant for orphaned children from around the country. We have enjoyed several excellent meals there. The cooking and service are both enthusiastic and wholesome without being too polished and slick (one waitress last night happily passed the non-compliant corkscrew to the diner to sort out - he wanted to drink the wine after all!). Not yet included in the Lonely Planet entry for Hue we would strongly recomend that you seek it out if you visit Hue. Not only will you have a good meal (try the green curry) but you will have supported a really worthwhile venture.

The above brings to mind how hard it is to conceive that 10 000 or more people here were killed in fighting for Hue. The tenacity and optimism of the Vietnamese people that have seen off the Chinese (after 1000 years of rule), the French, the Americans and the Chinese again (who unwisely invaded the north after the Vietnamese had moved into Cambodia in 1979). It is this optimism that encourages the 10th cyclotaxi driver to ask if you want the 1 hour tour for 5 dollars after you have declined the same offer from the previous 9. The drive to survive, and succeed is relentless. Every offer is rephrased and restructured 20 times just in case one inflection or variation is enough to persuade you to reconsider the polite 'No. Thankyou.' Gambling is big here and this morning we walked past a group of men squatting in a circle, in turn vigorously slapping their cards down on the pavement. When the card game started they were probably in the shade but the sun had shifted from behind the tree some time ago without them noticing. Small children were equally unsuccessful in drawing attention away from the card game to themselves.

We have just returned from one of those fortuitous episodes that happen when you don't over plan a trip. We had walked along Le Loi street, past the Truong Tien bridge to The Arts Foundation building, an elegant large house on the south banks of The Perfumed River. It transpired that this was the gallery, studio and base of the venerable Vietnamese artist Le Ba Dang. Now in his 90th year, his gallerey is full of the most wonderful and varied collection of his work. From elaborately embossed paper with delicate watercolour paintings to the vivid imagary of his war paintings and exquisitly detailed wood sculptures this is somewhere to visit. Not yet featured in the Lonely Planet but sure to be in the next edition. To top it all we had the honour of meeting this wonderful old gentleman at the foundation. A real bonus to our trip to Hue and a big signal that Hue aspires to a reputation for hosting contemporary Vietnamese culture as well as some of its rich history.

We have just one more night here in Hue before we take the relatively short train ride to Danang tomorrow morning. We are going to speak to the class studying English at the BLOOM restaurant I mentioned earlier before seeking out the coldest beer available in the town.

The next blog possibly from Hoi An where we stay for a few days before heading inland.

Lots of love and best wishes to family and friends. Happy birthday Gill

Posted by JohnandJac 22:26 Archived in Vietnam Tagged round_the_world Comments (1)

Vietnam: Sapa and more Hanoi

semi-overcast 26 °C
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John:....First things first and our thoughts are with the friends we made in Chile only a few weeks ago. Having been on the 18th floor of an apartment block in Santiago with only a slight tremor, I can only begin to imagine how terrifying it must be to experience an 8.8 RS earthquake.

In my haste to impart news in the last few postings I forgot to say Gung hee fatt choi, which loosely translates to "Congratulations and be prosperous". In this part of the world it would be unthinkable not to say Happy New Year to anybody and everybody. We arrived in Hong Kong on the Monday after the New Year celebrations had started so caught the public holiday. In Vietnam the celebrations associated with New Year, Tet, continue for 7 days, incorporating New Year celebrations, birthdays and numerous other reasons for parties and celebration. As I write this piece Tet is at an end and Ha Noi has got much busier as Government offices and larger companies get back to work.

This is the Year of the Tiger and people born this year are reputed to take on the characteristics of the tiger including power and strength, impetuosity, sharing and kindness. The sign of the tiger keeps away the three main tragedies of a household; fire, thieves and ghosts.

The Flirtatious Tiger

The Flirtatious Tiger

At the end of the last posting we were about to leave on the night train to the hill town of Sa Pa via Lao Cai. At 1600 metres the highest part of our trip to Vietnam and, we had been advised by many people, bitterly cold. Our briefing at the time of booking our tickets was that we could undertake easy, medium or difficult trekks...more on this later.

We arrived at Gai Lam Train Station in Ha Noi as night was drawing in. We were assisted to get on the correct train and easily found our carriage and compartment. As the train groaned and rumbled its way out of the station, heading to the north west corner of Vietnam we watched night time Ha Noi roll by. We moved through the centre of the town. Brightly lit streets and dark little lanes and alleyways. Groups of people dining al fresco on the pavements, or just sitting drinking tea, each scene lit by a small fire or street light like small islands in the darkness. Like floodlit shrines little shops, cafes, motorcycle workshops and tailors shone out from the darkness around them.

The motor madness continued but seemed a million miles away from us. As the tracks left the ground on the elevated section we saw into small apartments with tomorrow's dry washing hanging outside and large groups sitting around tables enjoying their evening meals. In no time we clattered across the Red River as young couples canoodled and chatted away on the railway bridge. We drifted off to sleep aware of the stopping and starting, swaying and bumping of the train. Our progress was more stately than express. The journey to Lao Cai took 8 hours and during that time we covered 380 kms, an average speed of not very much but comfortable enough. At some point our companions left their bunks and were replaced by two more. We pulled into a busy Lao Cai station at around 5:30 and smiled our way through the various taxi touts, offers of accomodation and mini-bus tours to the mini bus we were taking to our next stop, Sa Pa town, an hours drive north west.

The drive to Sa Pa from Lao Cai was an unrelenting climb up into the hill country just south of the border with China. At first cloaked in mist we saw little of the country side to begin with but as we climbed and the day warmed up the surrounding hills and steeply terraced rice fields emerged. For me there are a number of images that I associate with this part of the world. Monotone layers of mountains with diminishing detail and misty outlines is one and steep terraces of narrow rice fields the other. Both were all around us as the visibility improved. We drove through small hamlets, some balanced precariously on the edge of the road with family groups in traditional costume getting ready for the day. We arrived at Sa Pa, bemused by the developing heat and reflecting on our choices of clothing, leaning heavily in the direction of finest NZ marino wool. After breakfast and a hurried repacking of our bags we met our guide for the next few days, Ker.

Ker is small in stature, 6 months pregnant and dressed in the H'mong style with, instead of the conventional H'mong headgear, a pink cotton bonnet. Wearing a bone carving pendant donated by a Kiwi traveller and large, decorated earings and sensible walking shoes Ker led us on our way down hill towards our first overnight stay. There were 6 of us in our group, good people all of them and we were escorted by around 6 more women from the H'mong tribe, each sporting a large wicker basket carried like a rucksack. The walk was pretty straight forward, downhill all the way to the bottom of the valley, with regular stops for drinks and taking in the view. By now the temperature had risen to the low to mid 20s centigrade, far from bitterly cold!

Jackie and I have only got two good knees between us so a little help was needed from time to time as we crossed small streams and climbed rough paths. The escorting H'mong ladies leapt in a helped whenever needed.

The views on the way down were wonderful; tier after tier of rice fields, here in the north, up high, waiting for the warmer weather before planting. Each complex of fields supported by intricate water management systems. Where the fields were already wet the occasional water buffalo was enjoying a wallow in the mud. Ker serenely led us towards lunch, producing a blue check umbrella for sun protection. As we got nearer to the villages pigs, ducks and small children all took turns at playing in the mud of the rice fields.

Rice fields near Sa pa

Rice fields near Sa pa

Rice fields near Sa pa 2

Rice fields near Sa pa 2

The only slightly sour note for the whole of the 3 days was the relentless pressure from the ladies escorting us to buy their goods ("you buy from me" "why you not buy from me?"). The wicker work back packs were opened, revealing piles of embroidered bags and other such things. On the scale of human suffering it was pretty small stuff but 'No, thankyou' was a difficult concept to put across politely and I suspect that there is no direct Vietnamese or H'mong translation! By half way through the second day the H'mong ladies left us as we moved through Giang Ta Chai where the Red Dzou people live, distinguished by their bright red head coverings and shaved eyebrows (to denote the women who are married and those who are not). Our destination was different village again, Ban Ho, with a different tribal group, the Tay people.

We stayed for two nights with different families in the valley. It was intersting to see the changes happening to the hill people as they adapted to the pressures of tourism and modernisation generally. Whilst the rice planting and harvesting routines are very old and the work still revolves around manual work and buffalo used to help with the ploughing, all around change is happening. At the second village we stayed a large hydro-electric scheme is being built, motor scooters are ubiquetous and now the main method of getting to and from the market in Sa Pa whereas just 10 years ago bicycles and foot were the two main means of transport.

More contact with our host family this time and I was really interested to sit quietly on a low stool and watch the lady of the house cook a lovely meal on a wood fire on the kitchen floor. She squatted in a position that looked anatomically dangerous, bare arms flicking the wok as the naked flames seemed to lick around her. Above the fire, no heat or smoke wasted, the pig, killed as part of the Tet celebrations, was hung in jointed pieces drying and curing.

We took the night train back to Ha Noi for our last couple of days in the north of Vietnam.

On the two days we had in Ha Noi before heading south we encountered some really interesting places in the city. The first of these was the delightful Thang Long Water Puppet Theatre on Dinh Tien Hoang Street. This consists of a lovely theatre with, as a stage, a large rectangular pool of water, backed by an ornate looking building set and the lower half green bamboo screens. Through the use of poles and strings the puppeteers manipulated articulated, brilliantly painted and at times comical wooden puppets through a series of sketches and scenes from rural life. These involved water spouting dragons, leaping fish, intimidating frogs, tigers, a man on a water buffalo playing the flute, a phoenix, boys playing in the mud and much much more. All accompanied by the most delightful traditional music played by the house musicians. If you are going to Ha Noi you should put this on your 'must see' list. The whole show lasted for an hour and it was funny, informative, interesting and not a word was spoken. The history is interesting as well but the website


would be worth viewing for this.

On the same evening a meal of Vietnamese traditional cookery was exactly what we had been looking for in quality Vietnamese cuisine. We had dinner above the Thuy Ta Cafe on the edge of the Hoan Kiem Lake. The food superb, crisp, fresh vegetables, subtle use of spices from (for my meal) the Hue style of cooking in the mid to southern part of Vietnam. As with the puppet show earlier, accompanied by really beautiful live traditional music.

Vietnam is a country of huge contradictions and puzzles. I suppose the visitor sees these more clearly and I am sure somebody visiting New Zealand would see things that we no longer notice. For example, in Ha Noi the road that looks impossible to cross because of the traffic chaos is, in fact easy to cross; the tight regulation of some elements of life is in marked contrast to the completely unregulated free enterprise culture on the streets and the apparant concern about pollution demonstrated through the widespread use of face masks is in contrast to one of the worlds highest smoking rates at around 60%.

The young rather anonymous looking woman who sat on the seat next but one to me didn't look like the sort of person who would pinch the zoom lens for my camera from my bag, but she did and the seemingly tired looking policeman who we reported the theft to didn't look like the sort of person who would conduct an investigation (as much about the veracity of my claim as anything else) and provide the necessary paperwork for the insurance company in just under an hour, but he did.

We owe huge thanks to one of the hotel staff, 'Tom', who with absolutely no obligation or expectation that he would get paid for this came to the police station, translated for us and kept the whole thing moving along. Thank you Tom if you are reading this. Our thanks are partly reflected in our review for the excellent Indochina 1 hotel in Au Trieu on Trip Advisor.

We were grateful for the speed with which the policeman worked because we were due to catch the night train south to Hue (Hway) at 19:00. A hurried bite of tea and a taxi to the station got us there with little time to spare. I was very concerned when the porter at the station on seeing our tickets grabbed them and shot off across the forecourt of the station. It turned out that what we had were just vouchers and needed to be 'converted' to tickets, The porter duly did this for us and added to the long list of good people we had met in Ha Noi and the north of the country. Good people 100 (or many more) - Bad people 1.

Trying to find 'the real' Vietnam in Ha Noi is rather like looking for 'The Real' England sitting in London. There are lots of 'real' Vietnams and we caught glimpses of some of them in Ha Long Bay, Sa Pa and surrounding villages and in Ha Noi. The most 'preserved' traditions in Vietnam were the ones we saw in the last couple of days in the Capital. We will see many more in the south but of equal interest is the way Vietnamese people are dealing with their 20th century history, their ambivalence about their imperial legacy in a socialist country and the tensions between urban and rural living.

Lots of love and best wishes to family and friends. I am posting this blog from Hue (36 degrees c and very steamy), 800 kms or so south of Ha Noi. Referred to in the Lonely Planet as 'The intellectual, cultural and spiritual heartbeat of Vietnam' this was the old imperial capital of the country. Described by an American soldier involved in the assault on Hue as the city that had to be destroyed in order to be saved. 10 000 people died here, many civilians included. I understand, but haven't yet read it, that 'A Wavering Grace' by Gavin Young (1997) is a moving account of one family's experience of the battles for Hue.

Posted by JohnandJac 02:27 Archived in Vietnam Tagged round_the_world Comments (1)

Vietnam: Ha Noi and Ha Long Bay

World Heritage and Karaoke all in one day. Beauty and the beast.

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John:....Millions count in Vietnam or should I say you count in millions in Vietnam. Caught in the ideology trap of US dollars and Vietnamese Dong we were obliged to use our USD slush fund to pay for visas for Vietnam and India to find that the Vietnamese government doesn't permit banks in Vietnam to dispense dollars. This being the case I went to the ATM at the HSBC and withdrew 13 000 000 Dong to pay for our excursions and accomodation. At approx 17000 Dong to the dollar you can imagine that there are no easy sums to do. It is also quite easy to miss count the number of zeros on a note (50 000 and 500 000 for example). In addition to the currency, millions apply elsewhere; 18 000 000 litres of fish sauce made here every year and 16 000 000 motorbikes. Of the latter more than 2 000 000 are located here in Hanoi, contributing to the craziness that is motoring in Vietnam.

I can say, without fear of contradiction, that motoring here is an act of madness. Crossing the road is an act of faith. Having just completed the 3 hour journey to Ha Long City and returned today I cannot understand why there are not more accidents on the road (and there are plenty). It is routine for coaches, cars, motorbikes to drive on the wrong side of the road. We saw an articulated lorry take the exit slip road to access the highway. Motorbikes, normally Honda or Yamaha 'step through' scooters, are ridden by up to 4 people at a time. Any one of these people may be smoking, texting, feeding a small child or talking on a cell phone. Adults wear crash helmets (children seem to be exempt) but many of them look like the kind that dissolve in water. I would rather drive in Lima than here and that is saying something.

Ha Noi is a fantastic city. Chaotic, classy, driven, vibrant, leafy, noisy, ancient, damaged and recovering and probably unsustainable as it is in the long run. Our hotel, Indochina 1 is a lovely little place in Au Trieu in The Old Quarter. A very good price for us gets an en suite room with computer, phone, breakfast and balcony overlooking the side street that we are on. We are just a few minutes walk away from the heart of the city, or at least that part of the city of interest to us. Just next door is the St Joseph's Catholic Cathedral and a short walk from there brings us to the rather murky waters of Hoan Kiem Lake with the busy Ngoc Son Temple. Only a few hundred metres back from there are streets of shops selling everything from clothes to electrical goods, 'antiques' to laquerware, at galleries and cafes. Here you can buy clothes with famous labels at a fraction of the cost at home. Labels here are so important that Jackie tried on a pair of trousers with a Columbia label on one bit and somebody elses label on the legs!

Getting about as a pedestrian is slightly problematic as life in this area is lived on the pavement. Cafes stretch their premises across to the kerb edge, motorbikes are parked on the pavement and people just bring their plastic picnic chairs and sit on the pavement chatting and eating or drinking. Stepping out on to the road is an interesting experience as the traffic honks at you and (just about) swerves to avoid you. The best advice about crossing the road here is to step out and walk slowly but steadily across. Do not deviate to left or right or slow down...if you do the traffic will get confused...just walk on into the road as if you were walking in to a rather cool sea for a swim...

This area is full of interesting eating places. The French, here until 1959, have left their influence in the coffee, bread and desserts and there are several French cafes in the area. Italian, Vietnamese and several other cuisines are represented here and we have enjoyed all of these to date.

Our first job on arrival was to get the process underway for our Visas for India. This was accomplished with relative ease as our dual citizenship enabled us to leave our UK passports for the India visas. As it is not possible to move in Vietnam without a passport we would have been confined to Ha Noi for a week if we had had to submit our NZ passports (containing the Vietnam visa). This process underway we started to work on our itinerary for the time we are in Vietnam. A tour of the city and two visits, to Ha Long Bay (world heritage site off the east coast) and to Sapa (mountain region and home to many of the hill tribes, minorities to the predominant Viet people).

The city tour was less that than a multi entry ticket to 5 of the cultural attractions of Ha Noi. We began with a visit to the most popular of the Buddhist temples in the city. Located on the West Lake, the Tay Ho Pagoda is a bustling, busy place. Dedicated to the Mother Goddess the temple is a popular place to worship. Outside the entrance is a lane of stalls with people selling temple offerings, incense sticks, burnable money, chocolates, drinks, in fact anything that the worshipper believes will connect them with their ancestors or the Gods. We saw one small shrine in a shop with three cans of Ha Noi beer and a couple of cigarettes as offering...anyway back to the temple with its crowds of visitors and worshippers. Far from being the kind of contemplative, quiet environment I had associated with church this was the opposite. Wreaths of fragrant incense smoke carrying messages to the ancestors blended with the less fragrant smell of 'offering money' being burnt. The altar, full of statues and other representations of the Gods was darker and quieter than the courtyards but even so....this was the quietest of the 3 temples on our itinerary for the day.

In stark contrast our next port of call was the mausoleum constructed to house the body of the father (or Uncle) of modern Vietnam, Ho Chi Minh. His wish to be cremated was disregarded 'out of respect and the love of the people' and in the manner of other socialist leaders of his generation he was embalmed and, courtesy of the Soviet Union, this huge dark marble mausoleum was built. To visit 'Uncle Ho' as he is affectionately known by many Vietnamese in these parts first give your passport details, surrender camera and bags, stand in line and as the queue (moving all the time) winds around to the entrance to the mausaleum take the time to contemplate the difference between the chaos, mayhem and noise of the rest of Ha Noi with the tightly regulated silence and conformity here. Slowly walking past the golden hammer and sickle and golden star flags and the fierce honour guards required no talking, no hands in pockets, hats off, single file and so on. Their instructions were barked at those who didn't comply. Several German visitors thought it amusing to taunt the guards by disregarding them; both foolhardy and disrespectful behaviour I thought. Uncle Ho's body loked almost white and fragile and in the strange light seemed almost to shimmer. From the little I have read about his relatively austere lifestyle it seems that he would have hated all this as much as he would have hated the thriving food and souvenir outlets in the grounds of the Presidential Palace (he lived in a stilt house in the grounds of this French Colonial building). One of the things I tried to reconcile for myself was the rampant, uncontrolled free enterprise evident in these various outlets and the strict controls elsewhere in Vietnamese life...on with the tour, this time to the excellent Museum of Ethnography which showcased the clothing, customs, artwork, farming and hunting practices and beliefs of the many (58) ethnic groups that make up modern Vietnam. More of this in my next blog after we get back from Sapa up in the mountains but if you are visiting Ha Noi this place should be on your list of places to visit.

We have just returned from a trip to Ha Long Bay. This World Heritage Site, off the north east coast of Vietnam is an area of limestone 'Karsts' or islands. Some, small pillars of rock jutting out of the sea, others big enough to enclose 'secret' lagoons several hundred metres long. We began our trip with an insane mini bus trip to Ha Long City. I won't go into all of the driving manouveres we undertook as I am still discussing them with my therapist but the one where we overtook a coach on the inside as another minibus overtook the same coach on the outside of the single lane whilst blasting away on the horn to clear the poor motorcyclists out of the way comes easily to mind. On the roads there is, seemingly, no consideration for anyone or anything other than to get there first. It will be interesting to see if this is the same further south but the various safety warnings we have heard suggest that this is indeed the case. We will take the train when we go south! (Based on this return trip I would like to introduce a new verb into the dictionary: horner - the simultaneous sounding of horn whilst taking a bend in the road thus 'hornering'. Beginners just let a hand rest on the horn whilst cornering but skilled or advanced practitioners will manage stacatto beats on the horn leaving time to text somebody on the cell phone or tune the radio.)

Driving through the towns and countryside of North East Vietnam was fascinating, looking at the old (people in conical hats working small rice fields with hands, hand tools, oxen and he occasional motorise rotavator type thing) next to the huge modern developments (Garment Factory Number 10, Cermaic factories and motorway construction). We got to Ha Long City and within momemts whisked off to our boat and home for three days, The Phoenix. Our companions for this time were Katie, Nikki and Louise from Australia and Jenny from the USA/Canada; excellent company as it turned out and through their travels in Thailand and Laos we picked up some very useful ideas.

The boat was great. 15 cabins with a maximum capacity of 30 we numbered only 14. Our welcome to the boat consisted of a glass of wine or two and a slice of fresh pineapple. The pineapple was delicious and the wine was the kind of stuff Amazonian Indians dip their arrows into. The crew were very friendly and our guide, Tong, an intense, anxious and meticulous chap of 34 set about giving us a memorable trip. On a very misty day we chugged out of Ha Long harbour, across the shipping lane towards the bay. The Karsts looked almost spectral as they loomed out of the mist and faded away 100 metres after we passed them. Around us were other vessels like ours coming to and from the World Heritage Site. As we approached our first place, Hang Sung Soc the mist cleared just a little.

The first visit was to a magnificent suite of huge limestone caves with characteristic stalactites and mites. In the first chamber was a stalactite that looked like an enormous phallus. In case you missed the resemblance, it had a red light shining on it. Our guide rather coyley asked me if I "thought it was an index finger pointing or something else". I replied "an index finger of course" and he looked a little disappointed. After a quick kayak around some of the Karsts it was back to the boat "you will go for relaxing for 45 minutes and then we eat at 7 pm". The food was plentiful and good. Around the boat a profusion of ladies in small coracle type boats selling everything from seaweed flavoured Pringles to beer, crisps, biscuits, chocolates and the like.

On the second day the weather was much clearer. Some of our group went off to do some kayaking further in to the World Heritage Centre. To begin with a paddle around a floating fishing village. Wooden houses built on to platforms made from polystyrene blocks, each with a porch, fish farm and fierce dog. These houses were secured to the sea bed and, in some cases joined together. On the day we visited the school was closed for a public holiday but sure enough there it was, a floating school and a floating hospital. About 300 people live in the village. With lots of small children rowing boats about the place the next generation of fishing village people is growing up fast.

After lunch our next kayaking trip was through a limestone tunnel, only accesible at low tide, which led us into a lagoon, fully enclosed by towering limestone cliffs, clad in thick vegetation. We saw and/or heard a monkey crashing about. Sadly we also saw the signs of an environment under extreme stress from human influence with slicks of diesel fuel and oil together with the flotsam and jetsom of modern life. A lot of coral in the lagoon was dead and there was a noticable absence of sea birds....possibly no fish left? Never the less a truly beautiful place. Let's hope it doesn't get spoiled permanently.

The evening held an unexpected treat. We were aware that Tong was keen to get a karaoke session going and that he had been practising a couple of songs throughout the day. We thought we heard him rehearsing 'The Final Countdown', punching the air and so on but perhaps it was something else. After dinner the karaoke machinary was switched on and Tong together with one of the other guides began to sing. Tong began with Eternal Flame by the Bangles. His rapier thin voice stabbed mercilessly at the melody and with random precision (quote anybody?) he reconstructed the English Language into a new art form. Tong's normal reticence and anxiety had disappeared and he let it all out in some of the worst singing I had ever heard. I began to shake with laughter.....

.....and the effort to conceal it in case of causing offence. It was compellingly awful. Tears streamed down my face. I needn't have worried because Tong was no longer in the room, he was in the Maddison Square Garden or some other great venue. After Eternal Flame he hit several Vietnamese songs. The squeal of the feedback was like the other voice in a duet and Tong, hand in pocket, hit all the wrong notes. At that point I was undecided as to whether I would sing or not and had picked John Lee Hooker's 'One Scotch, One Bourbon, One Beer' from the available list just in case pressure was applied but the whole thing was brought to a close by a young woman from Singapore who sang her song beautifully and after that nobody was going to get up so we all slipped off to bed, leaving Tong, the other guide and the feedback singing in perfect disharmony.

We take the night train to Sapa tomorrow and get back in to Ha Noi on Sunday morning after staying with some hill tribe people for a couple of nights. Really looking forward to this and to exploring Ha Noi a little more during the week. After that we begin our journey southwards. More on this in the next posting.

Lots of love and best wishes to family and friends.

Posted by JohnandJac 05:07 Archived in Vietnam Tagged round_the_world Comments (0)

Vietnam: Santiago to Ha Noi via Hong Kong and Los Angeles

What a long strange trip it's been

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John:...GOOD MORNING VIETNAM! Well OK then we are in Ha Noi and not Saigon, or Ho Chi Minh City as it is now known but we most definitely are in The Socialist Republic of Vietnam. This blog takes us on the longest single leg of our round the world trip from Santiago De Chile via Los Angeles to Hong Kong and finally Ha Noi. The journey to Hong Kong lasted more than 30 hours before a quick pause for breath in Hong Kong. After that the 2 hour flight to Ha Noi was a breeze.

We left a very hot Santiago on 13th February, taking the LAN flight via Lima to Los Angeles. Faced with a 16 hour wait in LA for our connecting flight would, ordinarily, be a real pain but my brother Pete lives in LA so we were able to collect bags and exit through a very friendly immigration and customs service to meet Pete and head out to North Hollywood for a welcome shower, breakfast and sleep. The 405 freeway, often a 5 lane car park was relatively empty early on the Sunday morning, after the smog of Santiago, it was lovely to see the clear, rain washed views of LA.

Apart from the pleasure of seeing Pete we were really fortunate to catch an exhibition of sketches by Rembrandt and students from his school, showing how his technique differed from and influenced his students. Exquisitely drawn and intimately detailed, the ink drawings, signed, corrected and beautifully displayed were at the Getty Centre. As if this wasn't enough, the views from the Getty, out over the coast towards Catalina Island and to the south east through Century City and Downtown were as clear as I have seen in numerous visits to LA. Recent rain had greened up all the hillsides and with a clear blue sky, the sounds of water from the fountains at the Getty and the general ambience of the place it was the perfect tonic for sleep deprived travellers. Bonus points to The Getty for also having several very fine photography exhibitions on at the same time ranging from 19th century photographs of English Cathedrals and several more contemporary but equally interesting takes on landscape photography from Iceland, New York and Los Angeles. A great day finished off with some of Pete's fine cooking and all to soon back to LAX for the next leg of the journey, the 16 hour non-stop Cathay Pacific flight to Hong Kong.

Good service from Cathay Pacific all the way to an overcast Hong Kong airport and quickly through the usual formalities before getting onto the bus to the hotel. The bus ride to Kowloon was an introduction to some of the many contradictions that exist in Hong Kong. The airport itself is a considerable engineering feat as is the 2.4 km elegantly designed suspension bridge(s) that link the airport to the mainland. I heard that it is currently the longest bridge of its kind in the world. Another record for Hong Kong is that it is one of the most densely populated places in the world. With a land mass of just over 1000 km2 (426 sq mi) and a population of seven million people the housing arrangements are fairly unsophisticated with enormous blocks of tiny apartments appearing early on in the journey to Kowloon. These apartment blocks are a feature of Hong Kong life...even on the poshest shopping streets if you raise your eyes above the ground floor

To our left, as we approached Hong Kong, Victoria Harbour, one of the busiest harbours in the world. Columns of shipping containers of varying colour but invariable size were stacked, Lego like, side by side reflecting the global nature of maritime business through the block letters of the companies involved; CHINA SHIPPING, COSCO, EVERGREEN MARINE, SOLVANG and many more. Container ships entered the docking area in a kind of torpor, exhausted after their sea crossing, busied about by bossy little tugs and pulled towards the honour guard of huge cranes in ranks, waiting to lighten the ship's load. Parked out in the approaches, the USS Nimitz arrived for some shore leave time as USA/Sino relationships hit rock bottom. The politics were of absolutely no importance to the retailers of Hong Kong who saw a cash inflow estimated at around $1 000 000 heading their way. Bar owners were seen to be manhandling extra beer deliveries to ensure they were available on time!

Back to the hotel for a quick sleep, unsure whether we were operating on Santiago, LA or Hong Kong time and then out into the wonderful late evening chaos of Kowloon, along the Nathan Road to Jordan Night Market where you could buy a copy of almost anything you wanted, watches, hand bags, bling, iPods, cameras, CDs, DVDs, computers...you name it. A brand new Rolex for just 30 dollars and an iPod for a little less!

The place was packed to the gunwhales, garishly lit, noisy and very very foreign. In short a great experience. We nearly bought lots of things but didn't succomb until we saw the Hawker Centre selling all sorts of interesting food. I very nearly ordered some Wing Fat until I realised that it was the name of the proprietor...a close call that might have caused offence! The food was great as we sat on our picnic chairs on the pavement by the busy market watching the traders, disregarding all the advice we glibbly dish out to travellers about what to eat and what to avoid when abroad. We have been very careful as far as drinking water is concerned which was the only reason I took a large bottle of beer, 'Yanjing Beer; The Official State Beer of China'. With such a significant endorsement I was expecting something a little more impressive but there you go....

I wasn't quite sure what to expect in Hong Kong, never having been before and curious to see what The Peoples Republic of China had done to this bastion of free enterprise. If they have done anything I couldn't see it and I suspect that the revenue gained from Hong Kong in a relatively unaltered state has been quite persuasive. Free enterprise in Hong Kong is alive and well. All the big names in the fashion and luxury markets are there for real in the shopping malls as they are in their copied forms in the street markets.

Our main objectives in Hong Kong were to sort out entry visas for India and get the remaining 4 flights on our round the world ticket rescheduled. The latter proved very easy at the QANTAS office on Connaught Street the former was a problem. We were told we would need to be in Hong Kong for a week for this to be processed...a quick change of plan, we decided to apply for the visa in Ha Noi instead. For the evening we went down to the waterfront, looking across to Hong Kong Island and at 20:00 a 'Symphony of Lights' came on as the tower blocks put on a spectacular light show to music. Very good indeed.

We enjoyed a good meal in Kowloon, joining a hundred or so other diners in a subterranean Chinese restaurant on Nathan Street and enjoyed window shopping and people watching.

I took a ferry across the harbour to try and get some good photos but as for all 3 days we were in Hong Kong the weather wasn't the best. Low cloud and mist foiled our attempts to go up on the cable car to get the panoramic views of Hong Kong on the way to the airport so we just went to the airport and paid for a small cabin to get some sleep.

Before the sleep though we came across a group of middle aged and older Chinese people dressed very smartly in beautiful burgundy coloured silk tops and black trousers. As part of the continuing New Year celebrations they played music to a very appreciative audience. Most of them played saws by scraping a violin bow over the non-cutting edge and bending the saw blade to vary the note. A highly skilled activity, it is hard enough for one person alone to produce a tune but for ensemble playing with 4 or 5 you might think it impossible to keep them all playing in the same key....and it was. One of their number joined them on harmonica as a stabilising influence as the group launched into something that sounded a little like the theme tune from The Big Country. Helped by the backing tape and supported by an enthusiastic audience with smiles of appreciation all round they seemed to be enjoying the experience very much and so did I. A lesser place might have put on a string quartet or a rather gentle jazz band but this is Hong Kong....

Our arrival in Ha Noi was pretty painless at first. We had a letter advising us that our visa application had been approved and that we simply had to pay the fee and collect our visas on entry to Vietnam. In fact we joined the queue, filled in the forms, paid the fee, kept quiet and waited and waited, eventually getting our visa stamps from the police at immigration. A taxi took us to our hotel in the Old Quarter in Ha Noi, a drive of 40 minutes or so. We are staying at the Indochina 1 hotel in a quiet little street called Au Trieu. The place is delightful, very reasonable and within a couple of minutes walk to where all the action is.....

...of which more in the next blog including our city tour which included 3 temples and a mandatory visit to Ho Chi Minh's mausoleum and provided an absolute contrast to the motorscooter mayhem in the streets of Ha Noi. Queuing to go and see 'Uncle Ho' involved a lot of instructions and pointing/finger wagging from the police. We counted numerous orders including stop talking, take your hands out of your pockets, take your child's hat off, don't hold your hands behind your back and many more. The policemen looked extremely stern and, I thought, just a little unhappy...little wonder really as their uniforms were really badly tailored and with a kind of grassy green with a hint of olive, a poor colour. Hard to be smart and proud in a uniform where the sleeves are so long that you have to keep hitching the arms up...still Uncle Ho's mausoleum is hugely significant for the nation and so it was of real interest to go and pass by his body in its glass case.

Until the next blog lots of love and best wishes to family and friends. We're off to Halong Bay for a couple of days so will be in touch when we get back to Ha Noi.

Posted by JohnandJac 04:57 Archived in Vietnam Tagged round_the_world Comments (1)

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