We walked on the streets of the old town of Hanoi. We saw a few sights (temples, churches), nothing too crazy or different from the usual sights. Hanoi does have an interesting street setup. The names of streets are named after the guilds that used to line them. After reading about this in the guide book, I had visions of streets lined with goods of one kind. Modern times bring modern changes, and this part of town has largely been devoted to tourist (many cafes, bars and tour offices). There were some similarities among the streets though, below I will share with you the different streets (or at least what I would have named the streets due to their merchandise) and some of the sights that we saw.
Hue is a town which houses the an Imperial Citadel. The citadel is a huge complex in the middle of the city. There is an outside wall, which houses many buildings, shops and houses. We rented bicycles and crossed the moat to check what was on the inside of the huge walls. Inside the walls is similar to that outside the wall, a Vietnamese city. As we have been moving north on our journey though Vietnam, we have noticed that the farther north you move, the more chilled out the country comes. In Siagon, it was crazy, a ton of motorcycles and many cars. The past week, we have seen more bicycles, less motorcycles and way less cars.
This is understandable as the wealth seems to be more concentrated in the south. Vietnam appears to have the most fairly distributed wealth out of all the countries we have visited. Saying that, there are some houses which are large (not huge), and there are some people living in poverty, but no where near as polarized as India, Cambodia or Malaysia. Everyone seems to own a motorcycle, and a surprising number of people own electric motorcycles.
We went to see the imperial citadel the other day. It was great, there was a ton to see. The complex is huge, and as a result from its size, they were many times you could escape the crowds. It was great, Tanya and I would have a chance to walk alone, in quiet (the walls of the citadel cut out the traffic noise). We walked along the stone sidewalks, looking at the interesting use of porcelain to decorate the walls of the buildings. We even had the chance to watch a cat “play” with a small lizard, although, I’m sure the lizard wasn’t enjoying its last few minutes of life.
The complex has many stages in different stages of restoration, as some parts are pretty much fully restored, many parts are not. Which is nice, there seems to be a nice balance of what it used to look like, and now, what it looks like after it has been neglected.
The colours were truly amazing, full bodied reds, mixed with shimmering gold. Walls had the red brick colour, and were stained with years of tropical weather. Blue porcelain accented many buildings and green plants bordered nearly every wall. It was truly enjoyable way to spend the morning.
Hoi An is charming riverside town (I copied that description from the Lonely Planet) in the middle of Vietnam. There is a distinctive French influence…in the old town buildings, architecture, and the food (baguettes and pastries). Once again, Vietnam is tops on the awesome value accommodation and we found a great hotel with an even greater indoor-outdoor pool and our 3 days here went like this: Wake up and eat all the fresh fruit we want at the free breakfast by the pool, rent bicycles and ride for 1-2 hours along a beautiful road on the ocean that is basically free of any traffic, come back sweating hot and jump in the cold pool, lounge in the sun, go for lunch, type up a post like this in the afternoon because it’s way to hot to be outside, then once it starts to cool down we hop back on the bikes to explore the streets and alleys of Old Town (which is closed to vehicle traffic – although it allows motorcycles).
Besides the historic old buildings, Hoi An is famous for Tailor-made clothing. I’d say about every second or third shop is a tailor shop with enticing looking apparel…suits, jackets, tops, skirts, and dresses. You can either a) choose from their samples b) you can bring in absolutely anything and they will copy it, or c) you can look through their stacks of photo albums full of magazine tear-outs of designer clothes they will make you for a fraction of the cost…in one day or less.
I couldn’t bear to spend money on something without knowing what it will look like in the end, however Kelly decided to take the plunge. He brought in his favorite pair of shorts, picked out the material and color of the copy and that’s it…come back later that day! We came back and overall they looked very similar to the original pair of shorts, though the sides of the sorts looked a little funny…too much material maybe…no problem though, the tailor comes right over and knows exactly how to fix it. The next morning we go back and Kelly’s got himself a perfect copy of his favorite shorts.
While we might claim to be budget travelers, and certainly we have stayed in more than our share of accommodation complete with cockroaches, moldy walls, suspicious sheets, and rats…any chance we find a place to stay or restaurant to eat at that is really good value and still within budget (or…well…almost within budget) we go for it.
This is exactly what we’ve done for the last few days we’ve spent in Mui Ne. We met a couple in Dalat who just came from Mui Ne and said we would never stay in a place so nice for so cheap, and this turned out to be true. For a price (basically) within our budget , our hotel has a swimming pool literally right out our door, the ocean and beach about 10 steps away, and includes things like free breakfast, free laundry, free wi-fi, free water, a DVD library, and an in-room kitchen and computer. It’s going to be hard to leave!
Since we’ve been in SE Asia we’ve made the great discovery of the benefits of low-season travel and the great deals to be had!! While you do have to put up with 40 degree weather and the occasional downpour of rain, you get hotels for way cheaper and happy hour specials galore.
We have taken a vacation…from our vacation!
After viewing the deserts we went to a place called Fairy Stream. Although the internet will tell you about a small waterfall, we didn’t walk far enough. We we did see was a small stream slowly eroding the heck out of giant sand dune. The result was a canyon, about 25m deep. To make things better, you had to walk up this stream to get to it, the stream was cool and it looked like we in paradise (you know, sandy banks, palm trees, hot weather). We even saw a cow, which adds to experience (being India for five months will make you look at cows in a whole different light). It was a lot of fun and no better way to spend the morning in this town.
Mui Ne has some pretty spectacular sights. One being the sand dunes, there are two of them, one close to town (the yellow dunes) that sees a lot of tourists and another over an hour out of town (the white dunes). We signed up to go to the yellow ones early in the morning, early enough to catch the sunrise. Although is sunrise wasn’t anything spectacular, the sand dunes were. It was very cool, and the temp was nice as well. We had fun (despite the 4:20am alarm setting), and it was pretty neat, now we have a new fondness of deserts.
Ok, maybe I went a little overkill on the number of dune pictures.
As you knew from our last post, we were involved with a motorcycle tour, which took us around the sights of Da Lat. Of the many things we saw, the Silk Factory and the Crazy house, I thought could use some more information.
Silk comes from the silk worm, but in reality it is a caterpillar, which makes it an insect, not a worm. Caterpillars should be allowed to become a moth, but as you will soon know, this doesn’t happen. The first thing that happens, is the caterpillar is fed mulberry leaves, in a controlled environment (like on shelves, with a screen to protect it from predators). The caterpillar eats the leaves for about a month, after a month it is ready to change into a moth, so it spins a cocoon. A tiny thread is made and it covers the whole caterpillar.
The cocoon is then put into boiling water to kill the insect. The thread is then placed on a high speed dethreading machine.
And that is it, you have the thread, you use a loom to make the fabric.
Pretty interesting, or at least I thought so, see the worm, then the cocoon, the boiling water, the high speed dethreader and the loom was pretty cool. As an added benefit, you can take the boiled caterpillars, add some seasoning and sell them at the markets as a tasty, salty, protein snack.
The other sight that we saw was the Crazy house. This place was CRAZY…seriously. A place like this may be built in Canada, however it would have never had passed the building code. If it did pass the code, there is no way the public would be allowed to wander around this complex. Railings were knee height, and there were many opportunities for someone to trip and fall over 3 meters to concrete landing. Although it did look pretty cool, here are some pictures.
After a long, windy, bumpy but very scenic bus ride (all the while wishing we were riding our bikes) we arrived Dalat. Stepping off the bus we were instantly refreshed by the weather here! It’s probably colder than Canada right now…no more that about 20 degrees Celsius! It’s been between 35-40 degrees basically everyday since leaving India (with really high humidity) so Dalat has been welcome relief! We actually wore sweaters for the second time on our trip (the first and only other time was in Hampi in December)
p style=”margin-bottom:0;”>For our second day, we couldn’t pass up the chance to experience the highly recommended motorbike tour with the “Easy Riders”. The Easy Riders are a group of local motorcyclists that take tourists on 1 to 5 day motorcycle tours of the Vietnam highlands. We had a fantastic time seeing the major sights (a pogoda, a waterfall and silk factory and the crazy house) in and around Dalat. It is an incredibly scenic area full of hills, trees and lots of farmland slightly resembling the Okanagan Valley.
We were really tempted to do one of the longer tours for a couple days but we decided to save our money. We both really like seeing the sights on a motorcycle and perhaps some day we’ll do a long motorcycle tour….but based on how many times we change our minds you just never know!
Before coming to Ho Chi Minh, all I new about this busy city is what I saw from Apocalypse Now (which wasn’t much). With a population of 9 million, this place is fully of energy and excitement. After getting off the bus, which was in the “tourist area,” we looked for a hotel. The first thing I noticed about this place is the motor cycles. There are a lot of them…4 million (according to Wikipedia). Crossing the road here is near suicidal. In Asia, motorcycles act more like bicycles, they drive on the sidewalks, they don’t really care what traffic light is and a lot get parked inside shops (including our hotel). This nice thing about the motorcycles is that they treat you like a big pothole in the road, they will do everything to avoid you, which is nice, but when you are facing 4 million coming at you at 45km/h you start to worry. Forget India, crossing the road here is way more dangerous. Other then crossing the road, this place is pretty cool.
Food here seems to be great value, breakfast was huge and meant we didn’t need to have lunch. With fully bellies, we headed to Reunification Palace. Reunification Palace was the presidential Palace from 1966 to 1975. A tank crashed through the front gates in April 1975, ending the Vietnam War. The place has been kept in wonderful shape, admission is cheap and your admission includes a guide. The first thing you notice is that the president had a pretty nice pad. You also realize that the 70’s were a pretty interesting time for interior design. Bright yellow furniture, olive greet carpet, and brown fixtures, this place makes you step back in time.
The really cool sights are in the basement though. As you walk down the steps you feel like you will turn the corner and Q from James Bond. I didn’t see him, but I did see a lot of old gear. Rooms were named by their function, the map room, the phone room, the war room. It was pretty cool.
Afterwards we headed to the War Remnants Museum, which was interesting and shows the brutality of the war.