Day 14 – Thursday 7th January – Hoi An

After the last few days with an early start we had a lie in this morning… And only just made breakfast!

After this we wandered back into the central area and bought a ticket to view some of the houses and pagodas inside. We saw Tan Ky house, an example if a late 18th century shop house combining Vietnamese, Chinese and Japanese architecture.

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We also went into Phung Hung house which has been in the same family for 8 generations. Our last two stops were at the Cantonese Assembly hall, just one of the various assembly halls on Hoi An, and then the museum of trade ceramics. There are a number of assembly halls because historically reach ethnic population from China had their own community.

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We had a light lunch at the Mermaid restaurant before catching a taxi back to our hotel… Ed’s ankle is doing its tropical thing and his bites are swelling… What with the anti malaria, vitamin B1, antihistamine and antibiotics that her had now started, I’m sure he would rattle if he bounced to much!

We siege the afternoon lounging around the hotel before meeting up with everyone else for a meal at the banana leaf restaurant. We caught a taxi there and back, in deference to Ed’s ankle!  Last night in Hoi An tonight…. Off to Hue tomorrow!

Day 13 – Wednesday 6th January – Hoi An

We had an early start this morning with a wake up alarm at 5.45am!  We meet the rest of the group on reception and Phuong took us in a walk back to the old town. The sun hasn’t really risen, and the roads were definitely a lot quieter. However, there were still a steady stream of mopeds heading around on their early morning business.

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We walked over the 16th century Japanese bridge and around the old town.. a very different scene to that of last night.

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We’re walked to the river where the rarely morning light allowed some great reflections on the river.

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Finally, before we headed back to the hotel for breakfast, we walked through the market, which was bustling, despite the early hour.

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There were all sorts of things on sale.. Some of the fish were still moving!

After breakfast we had a shower and freshen up, before meeting again at 9 am to get a shuttle to there old town. There Phuong showed us a number of skills of local craftsmen, including an optician, site maker, jewellery shop and tailor who promised made to measure clothes by tomorrow. We didn’t buy anything, although it seems that lots of our fellow travellers did! 

Ed and I spent a few hours wandering around the old town before heading back to the hotel where I had a swim in the pool. We had a relaxing afternoon before meeting a chef for a cookery class. He first took us the another local market and showed us all that was on sale… fruit, veg, meat and noodles!  I even managed to chiefly identify the carrots! 

We then headed to his restaurant where we were shown and then prepared four courses.. Fresh spring rolls, deep fried spring rolls, marinated mackerel and a green mango salad.

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We were allowed to eat what we had made in between courses and I have to say that it read delicious! They even arranged a taxi back to the hotel where we had a couple of drinks before having an early night!

Day 12 – Tuesday 5th January – Quy Nhon to Hoi An

Another early start this morning and we were in the bus by 7.30 to travel the 330km to Hoi An, where we will stay for 3 nights.

Quy Nhon arms like a lovely place, much quieter than the other places that we’ve visited and with wide open streets, a sandy foreshore and warm water. The hotel wasn’t as good as the ones we’ve been used to, although the
Roof top bar was lovely.

We drove north, still on Highway 1, passing through similar scenery to yesterday, rice paddies, coast and more built up areas. Every so often the road was smooth, but we did have to slow down quite often when a bridge appeared as the join with the road usually isn’t smooth!

We stopped a couple of times, once for a toilet break and once for coffee. At midday we stopped at a restaurant besides a river for dinner lunch… Spring rolls for us both, before driving the short distance to My Son, site of a massacre by the US army on 16th March 1968 where 504 unarmed villagers, Men, women and children, including 18 pregnant women, were murdered. You are shown a film, before looking around the small museum where there are some VERY graphic photos taken by the US army photographer.

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It was a balanced exhibition and also told the story of one if the US pilots who saved 10 villagers, when he could see what was happening, even threatening to fire on his own soldiers if they shot the people that he was trying to save. You can see the remains of the foundations of many of the houses, as well as one that had been reconstructed to look like it would have been on that morning.

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All in all it was a very moving experience and I was left wondering how anyone could actually believe in what they were doing.

After another 2.5 hours we eventually arrived at our hotel in Hoi An. We said goodbye to Mr Minh, our driver, who is now heading back to Saigon. (Apparently it will take him 26 hours!). 

The hotel is lovely, with a pool and a bathroom that I think is bigger than the bedroom! 

After a shower we meet the others for some food at a place called Little Menu.  The prices were cheap and the food excellent and clearly freshly cooked. I had some duck spring rolls followed by snapper!

Finally we went for a wander around the town. Hoi An seems to be a buzzing place, set on a canal/river and the shops were all still open late into the evening.

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Phuong has convinced us that it would be a good idea to meet him tomorrow at 6am to wander the streets before anyone else is around!  So it’s an early night with the alarm set! 

Day 11 – Monday 4th January – Nha Trang to Quay Nhon

Early start today at 7.30am for the 230km drive along the coast to Quy Nhon.

Before we left Nha Trang, we stopped at the P Nagar Cham towers, a Hindu temple which was constructed from around 784 AD. There used to be 10 towers but now only 4 remain. Some have been partially restored, but this doesn’t detract from the fact that it feels as ancient as it looks.  The carvings on the stone are indicate and look like they were done just a few years ago!

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Just a few miles down the road we stopped at a fishing village where we could see the morning catch coming in and being sorted…

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… And sold.

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The smell was quite an assault on the senses first thing in the morning!

We travelled onwards following Highway 1 north. The road winds its way along the coast, sometimes hugging the side of the hills that rise steeply up from the sea.

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The scenery on the left is mainly mountain while the scenery on the right is of beautiful coast and islands in the sea. Whilst we van the body of water the South China sea, Phuong calls in the Pacific ocean… Because there Vietnamese don’t like the China reference! 

After a couple of hours we stopped at a beautiful beach side cafe. The views were amazing…

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Every so often the land would widen out and the hills move far away. We’d be travelling through large flat areas of land on both sides, with paddy fields as far as the eye could see… They only get two crops a year in this areas compared to the Mekong delta where they get three. No not of land seems to be wasted!

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We stopped for lunch at about 1 pm at a roadside place. It looked sparse but the view was lovely, overlooking a bay with fishermen and some fisheries. The food was pretty good too even if I did end up with sweet and sour pork instead of beef.  Ed had a huge portion of mackerel, which as before, was more like tuna.

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After book l lunch it was about another hours drive before we reached Qay Nhon.

When we arrived in the city we went straight to the Nguyen Nga training centre which was set up by one woman over 20 years ago. She now leads a charity that teaches life skills to people with disabilities in order that they can support themselves. We met some of the young people who had a range of disabilities but the highlight was heading the music class of blind and partially sighted.  It really was inspirational to hear them play the traditional instruments, and they even had us up dancing to the twist at the end!

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We then spent some time looking around the shop of handmade items ranging from cushion covers, coasters, paintings and hand made jewellery. We bought a few things!  They also make the bags that intrepid give to all of their travellers.

We drove to the hotel and checked in and were given a ginger tea on arrival!  The hotel is in two parts, with a modern 14 storey new section and a lower 4 storey old part. We’re in the old part and the corridor smells a bit of stale food. The room is nice enough though and had a sea view, after looking over a concrete roof!

After getting our bags, we striker along the sea shore which had a promenade and we stopped after a while for me to have a swim in the sea, which was very warm! 

We walked back to the hotel and had a gabber of cards before meeting the others for dinner at the hotel restaurant at 7pm. After we’d eaten, most people headed for bed, but we went back to the 14th floor rooftop terrace which gave great views of the rest of the city.

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After some more cards, and beer, we headed back to the room to get some sleep before another 7.30 start in the morning!

Day 10 – Sunday 3rd January – Nha Trang

After a late breakfast on the 12th floor, where you got a really good idea of the amount of building taking place in Nha Trang, we got in the bus to take you us to the port for a day on a boat. There port was bustling with all sorts of boats taking, mainly, day trippers! 

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We were asked to wear life jackets. Although as it turns out this must be mainly for show when entering and leaving the port! 

There was a short ride to an island about 1 km off shore. We got off our boat and the local guide took us in a walking tour through the village. It was very hot and humid and the streets were narrow and we often had to make way for the ubiquitous motor bike. The town is malt a fishing port, with some local fishermen and other boats which can be away for up to a month!

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The lights in the boat are used to attract fish when it’s dark! The fishermen use coracles both to fish locally and also as a way of getting to their boats. This was our next stop!  The walk had taken us to the other side of the island and we now got into a coracle to take us to our boat which had come around the bay to meet us.

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Once at the boat et had a look at some of the ‘tanks’ that the fishermen use to store their catches!

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From here it was another short ride to a bay where we were able to snorkel (although Ed didn’t partake!), have a drink, and relax. The corals and fish that I could see were amazing, although not that colourful.  Meanwhile, over if the crew was cooking our lunch which was served on the benchs which converted into a takes!

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It really was amazing what he could produce from a make shift kitchen, and it is one if the best means we have had so far. After lunch, I had a massage from a lady who was also aboard and giving massages, pedicures and manicures, while some of the others were swimming again.  It was very relaxing, and cost about £4 For half an hour!  It was a bit odd though having it done in the middle of the boat, on what had been our table! 

Finally, we headed back to the port and disembarked at about 2 pm. 

At this point Ed and I decided to take the cable car, the longest over water in the world at 3.3 km, to vinpearl, a resort/theme park. It seems to have been built mainly to cater for the huge numbers of Russian tourist that there seem to be in Nah Trang, although there were locals and other tourists there too.

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It was a bit incongruous walking around in shorts in the baking heat, with Christmas carols and songs playing!  We went on a couple of rides, including another ‘toboggan’ run, which was pretty good, and then headed back to the mainland to catch a taxi back to our hotel. 

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We’d planned to meet some of our group for dinner at 7, so has a quick shower and change before heading to the lobby bar for cards and a beer. At 7, we walked to the sailing club and has another expensive meal (by Vietnamese standards) before coming back to our hotel. As it was only 9 pm, Ed and I had a game of cards before calling it a night at 10.30.  Early start tomorrow for a long drive up the coast!

Day 9 – Saturday 2nd January – Dalat to Nha Trang

After a (double!!) omelette breakfast, we set off at 9am. The journey to Nha Trang should take 4 or 5 hours and we’ll drop from 1500m to sea level.

The first part of the journey took us through the agricultural area outside of Dalat. There were valleys crammed with green houses, growing a huge array of vegetables and fruit, like we’d seen yesterday. After this we made our way through an undulating landscape of pine forest. After a little while we stopped to take photos of a Rong house, a traditional Vietnamese house. The people around here are from hill tribes that make up about 16% of the population.

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The houses are on stilts to maximise the land, as often animals are kept below the building.

As we drove on we headed up towards a pass which marked the point at which we started out descent to the coast. The weather here was misty and a fine rain made sure that we didn’t get many views. The road is not as good here with potholes, although it’s far from being the worst road that I’ve travelled on.

As we descended the cloud lifted and we were able to glimpse deep wooded valleys and waterfalls coming down on the side of the road.

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We stopped for lunch at a roadside restaurant. It was cheap at only £2 each including a beer, but the food was disappointing.

A further hour or so drive, we arrived in Nah Trang and headed to our hotel. Our room has a sea view, just about, although we are one block back from the beach. Or room is huge and I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a bigger bed!

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There was an optional trip this afternoon to the local mud baths at the Thap Ba hot springs. Ed decided not to go so I met the others who were going and we drove the 10 km north of the town. The mud baths have a set order and after a quick shower you get into a bath and they add the ‘mud’ which is actually more liquidy than I thought it would be. After half an hour you get out, shower again and then get into another pool with hot spring water. The temperature of this was like a bath!  Finally we headed to the mineral pool, stopping at the waterfall to have a light water massage!  All in all a very pleasant experience, although I’m not sure of any of the supposed health benefits! 

We got back to the hotel and I met up with Ed who had been for a walk along the beach.

I had a quick shower and then we went for a walk and drink before meeting the others for tea. It was one of our fellow travellers birthdays so we are at a restaurant near the beach called Louisiane.

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There was also a small brewery at this restaurant and so we sampled a couple of their brews, and I had far too much to eat!

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Having eaten far too much, we headed back to the hotel to prepare for tomorrow’s adventure… a boat ride and some snorkeling! 

Day 8 – Friday 1st January 2016 – Dalat

We started the day with breakfast which, as at our first hotel was an odd mix of choices.  However, there was a chef on hand to cook fresh eggs and I had a lovely omelette.

We left the hotel at 9am to visit the third palace of the 13th and final king of Vietnam, Bao Dai, who abdicated in 1945 and then moved to live in France. It was built by the French in the ’30’s and is in the art Deco style.

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Next we moved onto a building called three crazy house.  It’s still being built having been started in 1990 and is pretty wacky, with walkways, many with low or no handrails going high above the buildings.  It reminded me of singer if the buildings in Barcelona. You can also stay there as there are a number of equally odd rooms.

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From here we headed to the Then Vuong Pagoda which read a couple of miles out of Dalat. There are a number of buildings in the complex and the style is very different to the buildings that we saw in Tibet. Here there are bright colours and open airy worshipping spaces.

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Our final stop before lunch was the old train station. You can only catch a local train here now, but it is the oldest station in Vietnam having been built by the French in the 1930’s.

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We returned to the same place that we are last night for lunch but this time Phuong had arranged a set menu. The good just kept coming and included soup, deep fried shrimp, a couple of different curry dishes and a sweet and sour pot that you cooked on the table. We left absolutely stuffed.
From here it was on to another pagoda complex, via a cable car ride. This one was set alongside the lake and we wandered around there taking in the scenery!

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Or final stop of the day was at a waterfall. However, to get to it you had to take a ‘roller coaster’.  What that actually meant was a toboggan which took you all the way to the bottom of the hill. Unfortunately, the couple in front of me appeared not to know how the thing worked and in the end it was a very slow trio down.

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The waterfalls were good and seemed to have a lot of water flowing over them.  To get back to the top u could either walk up some steps or queue up to get another toboggan up.  The queue was pretty long and I had to remind a Russian man on the etiquette of queuing, in a very polite way if course!  The return trip was quick… and steep, and once at the top we drove back to the centre and were dropped off at the market which was maybe clothes, with syne fruit/veg places. 

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We quickly realised that it wasn’t something that Ed or I would be interested in, although it read interesting trying to cross the roads and taking in there atmosphere. We walked back to the hotel and after a short rest, shower and refresh, we walked back to the centre to meet some of the rest of the group for dinner at the V cafe. My Thai green curry was delicious, although I really didn’t deserve to be hungary after the huge lunch!

We all headed back to the hotel and despite it being only 8.30, the others headed to their rooms. We had a game of cards in the hotel bar before having a relatively early night in preparation for he next leg of our adventure tomorrow! 

Day 7 – Thursday 31st December – Ho Chi Minh city to Dalat

Long journey today as we leave Ho Chi Minh city for the last time. It’s a really great place, but it’s good to be travelling to see other parts of this country.

Our journey today takes us to Dalat, about 200 miles away, and in the highlands north east of Saigon (the name that most locals still use for Hi Chi Minh city)

We left the hotel at 8 am and were quickly out of the city onto a brand new toll motorway. The views out of the bus were of flat lands with all sorts of farming. After about an hour we left the motorway and joined a main road. The quality of the road surface is good and we seemed to make good progress before stopping just before 10 am to stretch our legs and grab a coffee.

Had a little moment this morning with ‘seat wars’. Despite our vehicle being big enough for us to each have a double seat, one of the Russians caused a bit of a stir by insisting that one if the others had to move as she was in the seat that she had been sitting in on other days! 

After our break we continued on the highway and crossed a river. From the bridge we could see house boats and a village in the river. Apparently they are Cambodian fishermen who are farming fish.

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Our journey continued on the same road, but fields and posture gave way to mountains and forests. The road steadily climbed until a couple if hours later we arrived at the city of Bao Loc where we stopped for lunch. I tried the porcupine Vietnamese curry. Which was delicious…and had a similar consistency to pork! 

After lunch we stopped in the same town at a tea and coffee manufacturer. We sampled singer jasmine tea before heading off!

A short time later we stopped on the side of the road and Phong showed us where they grow tea and coffee right next to each other. The tea is harvested by hand, daily, and the coffee is harvested and then dried in the sun.

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For the next couple of hours we drove on and tight among the route, in many of the houses that lined the road, you could see coffee beans drying laid out on sheets.

Our last stop before the hotel was at a village where, somewhat bizarrely, they have built a giant rooster!

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Apparently it was built to tell the story of a young woman who went in search of a five claw rooster, a challenge set by her future husband’s father, before he would allow then to marry!

From here it was a short 30 minute drive to our hotel. After a welcome drink, we checked in to a huge room with two windows!

We meet there group again at 6.30 for the short walk to the restaurant for dinner. After this we took a walk around Dalat to see the annual flower festival that is currently going on.

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Dalat seems to be quite a bustling place although I can’t work out whether this is because it is New years eve, or because of the festival. (Vietnamese new year isn’t until February). Anyway, is a good deal cooler here than in Saigon and we’ve had to go back to trousers and jumpers! 

We meet the rest of the group at 11 pm in the hotel bar where was a live singer laid on, a clock counting down to new year, some punch, and a finger buffet with some interesting things on sticks, mini sandwiches and dips.

We had a couple of beers and waited for the new year.  We were asked to move so that we could better appreciate the singer and then I and another member of our group (oner if the Russians whose name I still don’t know!) Was asked to open the champagne!  It turns out that this involved being called to the stage, with two other hotel guests just before midnight and standing there like a lemon whilst the assembled hotel guests counted down from… 90 seconds! 

We all managed to time the opening just right and the corks popped on the stroke of midnight!  We then poured the champagne before being allowed to return to our table. In the meantime, the singer was belting out a dance version of ‘happy new year’. All in all, not quite the same as the chimes of big Ben and auld lang syne.

The singer packed up by 12.20 and SSSI we finished our drinks and headed back to the room. 

Happy new year!

On the strike of midnight

Day 6 – Wednesday 30th December – Mekong delta to Ho Chi Minh city

We awoke early with the light streaming into the dormitory. After a light breakfast consisting of omelette (cold), fruit and delicious French bread, we said goodbye to our hosts and got back in the boat.

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We cruised back down the river for about an hour passing many boats of all shapes and sizes.

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We recrossed the Mekong river, pausing halfway for our driver to prepare fresh coconut to drink, and then sailed around the floating market where we tried even more fruit!  Each of the boats has a bamboo with the fruit or veg that they are selling tied to the top!

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Then it was back to the harbour to rejoin our bus for the return to the city!

The bus journey was uneventful and we stopped again halfway for a drink… More Vietnamese coffee! 
We arrived back at the hotel at about midday, checked in and had a shower and change if clothes!  We then went for a wander to grab some food and a drink, including more of that Vietnamese coffee.
We met up with the rest of the group at the hotel at 4 pm to get a cycle rickshaw ride around the city. This took almost three hours and I think we saw just about every road! I now know why most Vietnamese wear face masks when on they bikes as by the end of out I felt like I had my annual limit of exhaust gases.

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Our final stop was at a Vietnamese restaurant where we had dinner.  We seemed to have managed to get the prime table, although it was very warm in there! One of the Russians preferred food and the waiter tried to tell her it was a sharing dish… When it arrived it was massive and could probably have feed three people!

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Once we finished, we walked back to the hotel but as it was only 9 pm, we decided to go out for a night cap… Although everyone else decided it was time for bed!!! 
We walked back across the park to the main strip and had a beer in a bar hoi…a sort of pop up bar where we sat on the pavement on plastic chairs. We couldn’t really complain as the beer was only 9000 dong (about 30p) for a half pint. We headed back to the hotel by 10 pm as we have another relatively early start tomorrow to drive to Dalat! 

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