Hit the beaches and northbound!!!

Trip Start Aug 28, 2004
Trip End Aug 2005

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Thursday, December 16, 2004

After our one off partying binge, the following day we then booked an open bus ticket which is priced from $21 which allows you to travel throughout the entire length of Vietnam, getting on and off wherever you like (as long a you've booked it ahead!!).We were warned that the buses would take you to hotels where the bus company would get a commission. Well if they did I was happy not to lug our bags about and the hotels were excellent and cost between $6 and $10 for a luxury beach side hotel including bar in the centre of it's pool (very honeymoon) We decided to take the coastal route via "Mui Ne", and camp out there for a short while. It's a small time place with lot's of sand dunes (both red and white) and a smaller than average waterfall quite close by to where we were staying which was handy!! Again we were mad enough o take two bikes guys out to see the dunes and it was fantastic whizzing alongside the beach with blue skies and the sea rolling in and out again, it's hard to believe this whole country got the C#*@ bombed out of it not really that long ago, nature always has a way of coming back again, it's a survivor no matter what humankind does to it. The white sand dunes stretch for about 4km and are just on their own, you can see the tree tops where the sand has shifted with time and covered the woodland. There's quite a bit of regeneration going on in the area, slowly but surely. On our return we also stopped off to see some quite unusual mini canyons nearby to the red dunes (see photo's).

From "Mui Ne" we moved onto the Central Highlands "Dalat" where we got to see the start of their "Flower Festival" which was all very exciting, we were taken around the area by "Budda" and he really did look like the fat smiling Buddha statues you see all over!! It's where all the fruit and vegetables are grown and so the soils are very rich and fertile here, very distinctively red in it's colour and again the lush green grass everywhere! We did the tourist route, there's a small village known as "Chicken Village" as it has a massive Chicken sculpture right in the centre of it. Many of the local women weave a wide range of products as a living. Budda took us around the local school, which consisted of two classrooms containing very little for the older kids, the younger room was a lot more equipped. It's part of a Government initiative to educate and teach the kids to speak Vietnamese as they all speak their Hill Tribe language. It appears they are not interested and I cannot blame them as there is so little stimulation for them to respond to! One Blackboard and that is all the furniture other than chairs and dilapidated desks.......(there's an idea in the making here).We visited a buddhist pagoda which was still being constructed by monks who were defiantly Gaudi influenced amazing place.
We got involved in the evening entertainments and ended up at a Fashion show by default viewing the fantastic Embroidery work of a local Company and a famous Vietnamese fashion designer's Ai Dao's ( Vietnamese women's traditional long tunics and trouser outfit). The work of these women and their skill is just absolutely amazing, it sounds tacky but they embroider paintings, screens you name it. There is so much work involved in it you have to see it to really appreciate it. On the street stalls outside we tried all manner of local drinks and food, one drink we tried and couldn't like was a sort of hot rice porridge really thinned down and then flavoured. Martin tried a pork (?) roll with a salady thing (they like eating Dog up in these northern parts). Whilst we were here we finally managed to make contact with and received an e.mail from some friends working over here, "Howard and Lucy" (thankyou JO for passing on Daisy's address!!). Our only problem was that they were in the south and we were on our way up north!! So we made a decision to head back and catch up with them (it'd be rude not to being in this wonderful place) and then pick up where we'd left off a few days later. We really liked "Dalat" all in all and would definately come again.

We met up with Howard and Lucy on our return to "Ho Chi Min", and went out for an excellent Vietnamese meal in a great place they took us to, it was lovely to both catch up with them and for me to meet Howard (someone I've heard a lot about, but not properly met!!). They announced their wonderful news of expecting a baby and so we had even more to celebrate in some of the local bars. We have to say it is really weird being in a hot and Asian country where you are being served drinks by on of Santa's helpers!!! We had forgotten it was so close to Christmas There was good live music and we had a bit of a chat generally. They definitely have the life out here, nice private flat with gym etc... and have a Chauffeur driven four wheel drive to take them wherever they want (very nice indeed). It was great to finally be able to meet up with them before they headed off south to "Phu Quoc' for crimbo, an island just in between Vietnam and Cambodia. After saying our farewells we headed back up the coast to "Ni Trang", a coastal resort much larger than "Mui Ne" but still very nice and relaxed, beautiful stretch of beach, we both had massages and I assisted in providing all the jewellery sellers income for the day!! (I had a gaggle of them all competing for my business). It was only a day stay and so very nice.
On our way north from here we had some clothes made up in "Hoi An", which is tailoring city, the Vietnamese Tailors are extremely good at what they do and can copy absolutely anything at all!!! This city is extremely old in parts and still has the original wooden family homes that would have been all over Vietnam, had it not been taken over so many times. There's a wonderful Japanese bridge that spans the river with a shrine as you pass thro' it. We met a lovely couple in one of the Temples we visited (all decorated very nicely too) and ended up going to dinner with them, which was all very enthusiastic sharing all of our experiences to date. They were heading on up to China next and wanted some information on how things operate there as they planned to spend a chunk of time there. "Hui" was our next destination and this apparently was considered the most "Imperialist" of all the cities in Vietnam. A large city and again we only passed through here and so we took a stroll along the riverside, saw the City walls and soaked up the atmosphere a little.
Our arrival to "Hanoi" on Christmas morning was a chilly one! (almost thought we were at home with quite a dramatic temperature change). It was a thriving city with lots going on, obviously we'd missed the Christmas Eve celebrations having been stuck on a coach overnight. We did get presents from Santa which was very sweet (but Santa made a mistake in getting Martins clothes size right, oops)and there was still a real festive atmosphere whilst we were deciding where to have our crimbo dinner (that was weird I have to say, all I could think about was all our family and friends back at home and what they would be doing, obviously I was happy to be spending it with Martin, but it was too quiet). Crimbo dinner was probably the most expensive meal we had in all our stay in Vietnam and consisted of a Buffet dinner with crimbo punch and as many drinks as you wanted (brilliant!). It was more like an American traditional "Thanksgiving" dinner, with Pumpkin soup, and all the trimmings, but very nice. We even got a Santa hat to wear (although Martin did not participate in wearing his!). Martin ate too much, typical crimbo tradition and felt ill so we went for a walk to walk it off a bit. Hanoi city has a Lake in the centre and it was lovely to wander around it, soaking up the hub-bub of people coming and going all the time. It does not feel quite as big as "HO Chi Min" but there's still plenty going on here. The following day we headed off to "Halong Bay", that was a really amazing place to witness, we had a whole luxury boat to ourselves for a total of $38 each for two days. The Bay is just full of tall pinnacles and many caves, there's over 2000 in total, the sight is stunning, because it was quite cool weather we got a more atmospheric effect with mists surrounding the peaks. On our first day we got to visit some caves under one of the pinnacles and then later went out in two man canoe and paddled away thro' a tunnel inside one of the pinnacles. We felt like we were in a James Bond movie or something. That was fun but pretty hard work too, the sea has got it's own mind. On our return to the boat, there was no boat? All the other tour boats were about and had picked up their passengers but we left adrift, now I can cope with many things but just floating out to sea with no where to go is not my idea of fun I can say! After about 15-20 minutes of scouring all the boats in the surrounding waters and trying to convince ourselves that several were ours, (funny how the mind convinces itself that something is right even when its not, just because you want/need it to be). Our actual boat did finally appear! It seems it had moved away from its original spot behind several others. We got off absolutely soaked and sat down to a terrific seafood fest, with being the only people on board we got first class treatment all the way, it was a superb two days. We got to see the little communities (complete with dogs) that have settled in this area, and it reminds me of a sea version of the Mekong Delta in some ways, as all the families are pretty self sufficient trading with one another and boats that bring in produce from inland. When asked if we'd like to swim? We declined both the offer to swim/snorkel, as the sea was very choppy, unlike the previous day, also it was too damn cold! (do they think we're all mad?).

So a really sportish end to our time in Vietnam and ready for our next leg around the world, New Years Eve in Australia, surfing country!! When we come back to Vietnam a definite must is "Sapa" which is the mountainous region north of "Hanoi". It looks absolutely stunning on all the photo's we've seen and for me seems to be a mixture of both the Hill tribe areas of Nepal and the northern part of Thailand, but very Vietnamese. Top places to visit are definitely Mekong Delta, Hoi An and the Central Highlands.......The hotels are all good if you look in the right places and very cheap for what you get.
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