Getting stamped out of Cambodia.
Entry point into Vietnam.
Vietnam has been wonderful so far. The border crossing was somewhat of an experience. First, we all exited the bus just to walk 20 feet and have our passport stamped out of Cambodia, which included 4 fingerprints. Then, we handed back our passport to a bus official and got back on the bus, traveled 100 yards, and were asked to get off the bus again with all of our belongings. We went inside the Vietnamese entrance building and had our stuff searched. While waiting inside, our passports were handed back to us and the bus was searched. I was sitting on the steps on the Vietnamese border when a kind, young gentlemen (of Kampuchea Cham decent) spoke the line above. He has been working in Cambodia and Vietnam for years and was raised in Cambodia, but his people were controlled by the Vietnamese, being forced to learn Vietnamese and no Khmer or English in school. He has overcome so much!
When the search was over, we packed back into the bus and started into Vietnam. About 2 miles passed the border we pulled over to pick up a massive bag of food. Dinner! A meal, water, and wipe was included in my randomly purchased bus ticket. Thank you to the man who was sitting outside the Capitol bus station and sent me to a better bus! Cambodians are so helpful!
I arrived in Ho Chi Minh (Saigon) around 7 pm (one hour ahead of schedule!) and hopped on the back of a moto to arrive minutes later at Vietnam Inn Saigon. What a wonderful 9 story hotel with dorm rooms and a rooftop restaurant. Perfect spot in Ho Chi Minh for $6 a night! After exploring the city and playing Frogger on a few streets, I hit the sack for an early start.
The following morning was beautiful! People who have not yet been to Bangkok or Ho Chi Minh cannot appreciate the danger, excitement, and frustrations of crossing a road. It's unlike any other real life experience. I mean, picture real life Frogger. You know that computer game that kept you entertained for hours when computers were dinosaurs? It's real man! Dodging dead chickens hanging from rusted baskets, ducking before a horizontal ladder whacks you across the forehead, being aware of that crouch rocket that is going 10 km/hour faster than the bike with a family of 6 barely hanging on are just a few of the everyday challenges. The danger of people watching while trying to get across is as real as taking a fiber glass boat in pitch blackness, high seas, and storms through Bligh waters (Fiji trip for those of you who didn't live through it to tell the tale). I love the excitement!
I spent the day walking around the city, seeing the Ho Chi Minh City Museum, the History Museum, the Notre Dame Cathedral, historic hotels, the Opera House, stunning shopping centers, the Central Post Office, the Reunification Palace, and eating yummy Bun and Pho.
Hang Dau Go (grotto of the wooden stakes) In 1288, General Tran Hung Dao amassed hundreds of wooden stakes here; these were driven into the Bach Dang River estuary mud, skewering the boats of Kublai Khan's Mongol army as the tide went out.
Saigon backpacker central.
Large indoor/outdoor market in Ho Chi Minh City/Saigon.
Shoe business on the streets.
A new meaning to 'Street Food'.
View from my hotel restaurant.
Bun Cha Gio. One of the best meals I had in Vietnam.
Ho Chi Minh City Museum.
Ho Chi Minh City Museum.
City Hall, 1902-1908
Saigon Central Post Office, 1886-1891
Notre Dame Cathedral, 1877-1883
Municipal Theatre or Opera House, 1897
As I passed by the historic Opera House I was handed a flyer for a show that evening. It turns out, it was the Grand Premiere of the AO Show Saigon. Enchanting, intriguing, ingenuity, talent, mesmerizing, beautiful, emotional, I could go on and on. The best $22 I will spend on this entire trip. The show started in a village and progressed to city life. The performers used only baskets and bamboo. With the baskets upside down, they jumped on them like trampolines, they bounced and rolled from one to another, did acrobatic and Cirque du Soleil bending, acted out a frog scene with baskets attached to their backs, used the bamboo to shuttle baskets through a system much like a conveyer belt in a factory, rowed a member of the live orchestra in a basket with bamboo acting as waves and an amazing singer floating in the background, used bamboo shakers to create a mesmerizing wave, appeared and disappeared behind rolling baskets, and climbed up bamboo poles to perform balancing acts on each other. There was even a section with performers acting out scenes in an apartment with funny, sexual, and heart felt interactions within and among rooms. A hip hop contest on the street ensued before an enchanting aerial portion in large baskets hanging from the rafters. A must see when this show comes near you! I know it will become worldwide! It was that good!
My enjoyable stay in the former Saigon city quickly came to an end. I could definitely see myself living here! On to the beach!
The weather was dreary and warm for my visit to Mui Ne. Between renting a bike, taking a tour to the sand dunes, and just walking the beach, I had a lovely time in this Russian influenced beach town. Two nights here and on to Da Lat.
Fish sauce at Fairy Stream.
Fairy Stream, Mui Ne
Fishing Village, Mui Ne
White sand dunes, Mui Ne
Mui Ne group
Children renting out plastic sheets as sleds for the sand dunes.
Da Lat from a distance.
The view from the crazy house in Da Lat
Elephant Falls, Da Lat
Very busy chicken kabob lady.
Bahn Xeo. Delicious rice omelettes with sprouts and meat, wrapped in a lettuce leaf and dipped in sweet and sour. Mmm!
Bahn Xeo preparation.
What a charming little French influenced mountain town. The altitude and weather definitely make you feel like you are in Red River, NM. The tall, slender buildings butted up to fields of lettuce, strawberries, and roses making this a traveler's delight! I only stayed two nights, but a few boys and I rented motos and drove around the sites outside of town.
The views were stunning and the weather was quite a nice change from the dry heat of Cambodia. We thoroughly enjoyed our stay! Chicken fetus and all.
Alex is about to try a young chicken fetus from the egg.
The chicken fetus. Yuck!!
Road from Da Lat to Nha Trang.
Nha Trang Beach
Jamie Buddha. Ha.
Spending one night on Nha Trang was sufficient for seeing the sites. The beaches were beautifully lined with grass umbrellas and off in the distance were green hills and a ski lift crossing the bay.
Nha Trang Beach in the morning.
Fishing village in Nha Trang.
While strolling along the waterfront I stumbled upon a popular hole in the wall with the ceramic egg pot that I had been wondering about. I sat myself at one of the red kiddie chairs and started to eyeball what everyone else was doing when a beautiful woman next to me offered some advice. She ordered for me, showed me how to prepare the sauce, and showed me the way. When it came time to pay she wouldn't even let me cover my part! She is definitely one of the highlights of Vietnam so far. I haven't come across too many Vietnamese whom are willing to sit down and converse with foreigners.
Quail eggs with a delectable dipping sauce.
I stayed in Nha Trang for less than 24 hours because of my desire to spend more time in the north, so I continued on fairly quickly. div> Qui Nhon
Rice paddies galore.
Beautiful Qui Nhon Beach.
The locals here are not yet jaded with Western tourists and seem to genuinely say hello and desire to practice their English. Besides that, the beach is trashed and poop is frequent. No dogs in sight. The fishing dock was a special treat though.
Fishing port in Qui Nhon
Bamboo canoes to transport workers to their boats.
Pulling the crabs out.
Untangling the nets.
Typical fishing boat. So colorful!
Taxi service to the fishermen's boat. Women sit around all day in their bamboo canoes looking for a fare.
Have you ever wondered how the ice is packed onto the fishing boats? Wonder no more!
Large version of a snowcone machine. Putting ice into the fish compartments on the boat.
Directing the ice into the hull.
Plus, round, woven fishing vessels littered the beaches giving this local tourist destination character.
Homeless family's shelter.
Pulling in the fishing boat.
Little boy under his shelter on Qui Nhon Beach.
I stayed one night though, which honestly, was too long. On to meet Ni in Da Nang!
Side Note to self: Never take local minivan again. Two miserable rides, one with too many smokers, the other with too many sissy girls and kids throwing up, four out of six hours. I kid you not. I can't do it!
Da Nang and Hoi An
One of Da Nang's many bridges.
Jellyfish salad, personal Vietnamese tour guides, ancient city of Hoi An, and pampered tailoring. I enjoyed four days of nice weather in Da Nang Hoi An with great people from Poland, UK, Germany, Vietnam, and New Zealand.
My first night was spent in Da Nang with a family friend's family. I was welcomed with open arms and a table full of traditional Vietnamese food. As we discussed the different dishes I was surprised to find out that one of them was jellyfish! It was delectable! And I didn't even know you could eat jellyfish! Along with clams, fish, pork, and greens, I was once again treated like royalty and loving every minute of it. I had my own private room on the top floor of a really nice home and prepared to get up early the next day to head for Hoi An.
Japanese Bridge in Hoi An
Enjoying a chat.
Beautiful old woman who has been indulging in betel root.
Another beautiful old woman.
The betel root the woman above was chewing. Makes women's mouths red like blood! Sedative.
While riding my bicycle this man stopped me to pet his bird. Lol. Weird!
Vietnamese version of Pinata. They us a woven mask to hide the eyes and a ceramic pot held up by rope. Then a wooden club as the bat. Funny to watch!
Beautiful handmade lanterns.
French district in the Old Quarter, Hoi An Hoi An is an adorable, quaint little town that revolves around tourism and tailoring. The city is a UNESCO World Heritage site with restrictions on renovations and all construction. Shop houses look much like they did in the heyday of this important merchant village. Walking among the deteriorating wood and peeling paint gives the sense of old money and early civilizations. Shops open in the late morning and strolling along the streets reveals the slow pace of life in this town of tourism. Flowers are graciously decorating porches and dark woods are used to ordain otherwise plain storefronts.
French style architecture, Old Quarter, Hoi An
True innocence and beauty.
A form of bingo played in groups of three. The man and woman in the front sing a story to the crowd as the cards are drawn. Very entertaining.
The cards drawn during Vietnamese bingo.
One of the kitchens in Morning Glory Restaurant. You can have anything made in just hours from a number of historic, yellow, pockmarked shops. The latest trends pour from the store fronts and going Vietnamese women practically drag you into their shop to make a sell. They are masters at their work. It is extremely impressive what they can whip up in less than a day. My exhaustive list includes: a swimsuit, a jacket, a dress, a skirt, two shirts, and a pair of sandals. I went a little crazy. Well worth it! Everything fit and those that didn't were remeasured and nipped and tucked until they were right. No qualms about it. Because there are so many store the store representative must is under bridal competition and every customer must be satisfied to keep a glorified reputation or their business could go under in the matter of a week. I was definitely happy with the service I received by most of my tailors. The shoe store was not so pleasant.
Betel root. Makes women's mouths red like blood! Sedative. I also had a nice day on the beach in my new bikini. It will be a while before I am at a beach on a warm day again, probably in Australia, so I tried to soak up as much of it as I could. The beach was a nice change of pace from the stress of tailoring back in town.
A few traditional dishes of Hoi An include Cau Lau (homemade noodles like udon, but yellow) and White Roses (a shrimp dumpling). I had Cau Lau four times because it was so cheap and delicious!
Cau Lau (regional noodles) drying in the sun.
A mix of the yellow udon noodles, mint leaves, green onion, fried rice crisps, broth and topped with thinly sliced, tender beef... I couldn't get enough! While walking amongst the Tuscan styled old quarter at night you are not met with street lights, but instead, colorful homemade lanterns light the way. It is a romantic city with a channel of waterways and classical music greeting you at every corner. The highlight for my group was the fresh beer, coming in at 3000 dong (less than $0.15) a mug. It was a steal! Seven people each had a beer for one dollar - total!! Unheard of! I highly recommend this city as a top spot for tourism in Vietnam.
Train station in Da Nang.
Train from Da Nang to Hue.
The beaches untouchable by tourists. This is what Vietnam must really be like. Instead, tourists get the dirty, overcrowded bits.
What a precious little thing.
Six bed sleeper on this rickety train.
The dragon boat we took out onto the river for some traditional Vietnamese song and dance.
My next stop was my new found friend, Ni's, hometown. A beautiful city with a citadel, tombs, imperial palace, old shop houses, and mixed into a modern, clean city, Hue has it all.
Inside the Imperial Enclosure of the Citadel, Hue
Poor elephant chained up behind one of the dilapidated walls.
The gates to the Royal Theatre, Hue
My friend Ni grew up in a house inside the Imperial Palace moat. Inside her home was a comfortable ambiance with a warmth of love. Her mom and sister were such a delight as well! Extremely nice meals were prepared for me by Ni's mother while Ni served as a tour guide and friend.
Ni and I made our own spring rolls. Well, kinda. Her mom set everything out for us and we rolled them, then her mom cooked them too. Ha. I didn't really make spring rolls, did I!?
Our finished project.
Yummy steak wrapped in leaves, then bbqed. Yum.
Ni taught me how to do a traditional cup instrument.
She introduced me to her friends, schools, and local treats as well as the tourists sites of Hue. There are large markets, beautiful parks, many restaurants and historic villages. Locals, again, aren't jaded here with too many tourists and are more than willing to make an attempt at their English to try and help.
The riverboat crew.
Ni, her mom, and I.
The wonderful singers of traditional Vietnamese song.
Ni's mom is an inspirational woman. She has spent her life preserving Vietnamese traditions through theatre, song, instrument, and dance. While I was in town she decided to perform on the river boat so that I could enjoy her amazing talents.
We visited a fortune teller on a Japanese Bridge. Somehow we received the same fortune about marrying a European in the army and having three kids. It was her life! Lol. So cute!
Playing blackjack with the girls.
A delicious clay pot experience with Ni and her mother.
Star apple or commonly, breast milk.
See the milky looking substance. Hence the nickname 'breast milk'.
Vietnamese burn these after someone dies to send material things on with the deceased. Nowadays they burn paper cell phones, motorbikes, and houses too.