A Travellerspoint blog

The City of Sandalwood... and Gold!

Vientiane

sunny 32 °C

25th March 2011

The plan today was to visit the Victory Gate and the Golden Stupa, but first things first! The banging and screeching from the bathroom pipe work was just too much to bear through the night so, after breakfast, we asked the receptionist for a different room. He duly obliged and we stood in the new room listening to exactly the same overture that had been playing all night! Opting for a change of venue instead, the both of us checked out and trudged to a hostel we had discovered last night. It was much cheaper, with a decent room, but was run like a little military camp! Rules and regulations were plastered on every wall! It did, however, seem to work because the place was very clean and reasonably quiet – just what we needed!
After dropping off our bags in Stalag 17 we went in search of the Victory Gate but spotted a lovely temple close by. It turned out to be Wat Sisaket, the oldest surviving monastery in Vientiane. Built in the Thai style with five roofs overlapping one another, it was probably this design that saved it from destruction when Siam attacked and razed Vientiane in 1828. Unfortunately (as has become familiar for us on our travels) the place was closed when we arrived, but was due to open at 1pm, meaning a wait of around half an hour. We opted to hang around so walked the perimeter of the monastery. There was much restoration work in progress at the time, with a huge section of roof on one of the cloister buildings completely devoid of tiles, with only a ripped, blue tarpaulin flapping in the breeze covering the gaping holes. Other areas were sectioned off and not open to the public. At the very back of the monastery bright orange robes hung over washing lines and railings while a few monks milled around and on the western side was a large, stone construction, with an ornate door, housing a massive wooden cabinet in desperate need of some repair. It must have looked amazing in its day, though, as it was of red lacquer with intricate gold designs on the interior panels, the external black lacquer now completely faded. It was used to house the sacred palm leaf Buddha texts and manuscripts. Opening time soon came and, once we had paid the 10,000 kip entrance fee (about 80 pence!) we were inside the cloisters for real. It housed over 2000 Buddha images! The majority of them were only a few inches high and were placed in thousands of niches cut neatly into the walls, but the larger images were of polished black stone and were adorned with sashes of bright orange, yellow and gold – really striking. The insides of the main hall were decorated with paintings depicting scenes from the past lives of the Buddha but, alas, photography in the hall was prohibited.

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The old library that once held the sacred Buddha texts

The old library that once held the sacred Buddha texts


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Wat Sisaket, the oldest Monastery in Vientiane

Wat Sisaket, the oldest Monastery in Vientiane


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Some of the many beautiful Buddha images in Wat Sisaket

Some of the many beautiful Buddha images in Wat Sisaket

Eager to see as much as we could today we finished up here, walked back out into the bright day and blistering heat, and headed in the direction of the Victory Gate, ignoring passing taxis and tuk-tuks as we thought the walk would be nice. We didn’t realise it was so far away! We were both exhausted and more than a little hot by the time we made it to the self-proclaimed ‘monster of concrete’ – Patuxai which literally means Victory Gate. Started in 1962 it was never completed and a blue plaque affixed to the monument actually declares From a closer distance it appears even less impressive, like a monster of concrete!! We didn’t think it was that bad to be honest and some of the adornments on the walls and ceiling were lovely. If you have the energy you can walk the many steps to the top and, despite our long walk so far, Stew decided to do just that while Jen plumped for a sit on a bench! The climb was not too bad and is split into a number of different floors, each one housing a small souvenir market! The very top, though, affords a wonderful 360 degree view of the city.

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The incomplete Monster of Concrete, the Victory Gate

The incomplete Monster of Concrete, the Victory Gate

By the time we had restarted our walk, we were hot, hungry and thirsty so, now heading towards the famed Golden Stupa, we found the perfect fillip – a pizza parlour! We devoured our meals in the cool of the air-conditioned interior and slaked our thirsts with ice-cold drinks before setting off once again, wondering if we were ever going to reach the stupa! It was an epic walk in that heat but we made it and it was worth every step – the stupa was quite an incredible sight, the sun glinting off the brilliant gold edifice. We had to walk through the obligatory souvenir market sitting just outside the site before we arrived at the most incredibly colourful scene you could imagine! Sitting proudly, high on his golden throne, was a fabulous statue of King Settat Thirat, smiling down at everyone walking the pink tiles towards the stupa. In front of the King was a small garden of brilliant coloured flowers fenced off with a pure white, wooden railing and a bright red parasol opened in the sunlight. The stupa itself is the most important structure in Laos and is indeed its National Monument. So should it be as it is quite magnificent. The original structure was looted and sacked by a number of invaders as it was made of gold and over the years a number of restorations have been made, the last being in the 1930s by the French. Said to hold a relic of the Buddha inside, it is a massive edifice and we were so lucky to see it on such a beautiful, sunny day. It radiated light from every angle and, against the bright blue sky, it was a wonderful sight. Brilliant hues were all over – on Buddha images, dragons, serpents, flowers, trees, statues – everywhere! Ornate iron gates at the top of steps kept the eager inquisitives like us from venturing any further into the stupa. Either side of the Golden Stupa were amazing temples and monasteries of brilliant white and dazzling golds and reds, with their wonderful red roofs nestled on top of one another and the ornamental golden chofahs pointing skywards. Close by a monk worked in his garden while in another corner a massive stone reclining Buddha drew our attention. Other halls had vibrant painted scenes depicting the lives and the teachings of Buddha and golden images draped in saffron sashes, whilst the air was rich with the perfumes of smouldering incense sticks. It was a feast for all the senses and as we drifted from building to building and hall to hall we were completely unaware of the time until we were gently informed that the stupa was closing and it was time for us to leave. We left slowly, taking more photos as the sun sank lower in the skies and walked back through the small market, now almost completely devoid of tourists, and towards the road. Our feet just could not manage the long march home and we commandeered a tuk tuk after haggling with him for a few minutes to take us back to our Boot Camp! We were grateful for both the seat and the cooling breeze as we whizzed back to base. Stopping at reception to book a minibus to take us to Luang Prabang the following day we hauled our weary selves up the stairs to our room and flopped, exhausted, onto our bed, where we stayed for the rest of the day. After a long snooze we packed our bags and got everything ready for our long journey in the morning.

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A monastery on the grounds of the Golden Stupa

A monastery on the grounds of the Golden Stupa


Inside one of the temples by the Golden Stupa

Inside one of the temples by the Golden Stupa


The brilliant coloured garden in front of King Settat Thirat

The brilliant coloured garden in front of King Settat Thirat


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King Settat Thirat surveys all he sees

King Settat Thirat surveys all he sees


Entrance to the Golden Stupa

Entrance to the Golden Stupa


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The wonderful Golden Stupa

The wonderful Golden Stupa


An ornamental finial on a building in the Golden Stupa

An ornamental finial on a building in the Golden Stupa


A reclining Buddha image near the Golden Stupa

A reclining Buddha image near the Golden Stupa

Posted by StewnJen 10:25 Archived in Laos Comments (2)

Just a Walk in the Park...

Vientiane, Laos

sunny 30 °C

23rd March 2011

Even the alarm sounded tired as it rang out at 5am this morning! We threw on our clothes, loaded our backs and headed off into the dark, silent streets of Hanoi towards the Tour Agency where our taxi would be meeting us. Already there were people on the roads warming themselves in front of small fires and setting their stalls out for the day ahead. Our tour operator was in the office and we told him we had booked a taxi for a 5:30am trip to the airport. No sooner had we explained this, our ride was pulling up outside. We were at the airport in plenty of time for our 8:40am flight to Vientiane, Laos and wasted the time looking around the small airport. Time flew by and we were soon landing in Laos after a non-eventful hour-long flight from Hanoi. In fact, it probably took longer to get through immigration than to actually fly! After paying our 35USD visa fee we found our bags had already been taken off the carousel and left on the floor! Again loading our backs we found an ATM and took out some local currency – Lao Kip - before running the gauntlet of taxi drivers and heading out of the airport in the direction of the main street, hoping to hail a passing tuk-tuk on the way. It wasn’t a very good idea because it was swelteringly hot and the main road was a long way off! We made it after a 20 minute hike and found a young lad washing his tuk-tuk! He was more than happy to give us a ride into town and to our hotel. Unfortunately we were too early for checking in, so had to sit in the hotel lobby and wait for our room to be ready, which it was after around half an hour or so. The heat, the walk and the early morning had taken their toll on our aching bodies and we succumbed to a short nap before popping into an Aroma coffee bar opposite and loading up on caffeine while studying the local area on our free hotel-supplied street map. We took the opportunity of checking out the coffee house’s guest rooms as we had only booked to stay for one night at our current hotel and wanted somewhere cheaper. Before making a decision, we decided to walk the streets and check out some other guest houses before making our decision based on lowest price but best comfort! Once that was out of the way we took a walk along a newly built road and park running alongside the Mekong River, picking out various temples and sights along the way that we wanted to see in the next few days. The daylight was thinning out and our legs and bellies were complaining in equal measure so we went in search of food, finding it at a small Italian restaurant on the main road. Opting to sit outside in the warmth of the evening, we ordered our meals and watched as the flying bugs seemed to congeal into small clouds! One by one, the eateries and bars along the road turned off their outside lights as the mass of insects grew larger by the second! We were amazed at how many there were just swarming around the lights near us. We were being eaten alive so had to rush our food and get out of there as quickly as we could, itching all the way back to our room! Having decided on where we were going the next morning, we got some tuk-tuk prices from drivers hanging around the hotel and headed for our room, catching up on some blog and some much needed sleep.

24th March 2011

After a decent and early (for us!) breakfast we walked the short distance to our new lodging. It was another beautiful day, very hot with brilliant blue skies. Although the walk was short, we were red-faced and panting by the time we arrived and checked in. After dropping our things off in the room (and discovering some very strange squeaks and bangs emanating from the bathroom!) we walked out into the heat again and put our negotiating skills to the test once more with a couple of tuk-tuk drivers. After bagging ourselves a bargain (amazingly with the help of a Thai speaking Brit!) we were on our way to the Buddha Park, a fifty minute assault on our backsides! Tuk-tuks are bumpy at the best of times, but coupled with the condition of the some of the roads, we were begging for the journey to end, despite the scenery being so lovely! The Buddha Park itself was built in 1958 by Bunleua Sulilat but was taken over by the authorities when he fled the country and they turned it into a public park. It is very beautiful and contains over 200 images of various characters from Buddhism and Hinduism as well as just some very strange, scary figures! The park includes towers large enough to climb up (and through!) and is dominated by a massive 120 metre reclining Buddha with enormous feet, and a three storey, pumpkin-shaped sculpture in which you enter through the mouth of a three metre high demon head. Once inside you can climb from hell to heaven, with the top floor (actually the roof!) affording lovely views of the entire garden. We spent a couple of enjoyable hours just looking around, despite the incredible heat, until we cried enough and returned to our waiting driver who must have been bored senseless! Surviving the fresh assault on our bodies we asked to be dropped off by the Temple of the Emerald Buddha, a stunningly beautiful former temple (now a museum) of many colours, including much gold that glistened in the late afternoon sunshine. Built in the traditional style, it had three roofs overlapping one another and pillars running around the entire building holding them up. The steps leading up to the ornate main entrance were flanked by huge stone serpents or dragons, while stunning carved and gilded wooden shutters adorned the building’s flanks. The entire edifice sat in perfectly manicured gardens and was simply beautiful. Unfortunately it was to be a flying visit as we only had half an hour before it closed! Once again the evening and its associated hunger were upon us so we walked towards the area we had dined last evening and found a lovely little cafe where we sat and rested our weary legs (and tender backsides!) while enjoying a nice coffee and one of the nicest cheesecakes we have ever tasted! Just in case we weren’t happy with our new lodging, we popped into a few more guest houses on the way back to enquire about prices and availability before arriving back and flopping on the bed exhausted but content with our day.

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The amazing Buddha Park in Vientiane, Laos

The amazing Buddha Park in Vientiane, Laos

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The Temple of the Emerald Buddha Museum

The Temple of the Emerald Buddha Museum

Posted by StewnJen 16:55 Archived in Laos Comments (0)

The Rising Dragon...

..to the Descending Dragon Bay

overcast 25 °C

19th March 2011

After a nail biting taxi ride, we arrived at the airport early to catch our 8.20am flight to Hanoi, still poetically referred to as The Rising Dragon. After checking in we headed upstairs to grab a coffee, only to find that the shop hadn't opened, so we just took a seat and waited in the empty lounge. Slowly but surely the lounge began to fill up as more and more passengers arrived. Finally, someone turned up and opened the small coffee kiosk and Stew was first in line. An announcement informed us our flight had been delayed an hour so we entertained ourselves as best we could until our plane arrived and we were able to board. We finally touched down in Hanoi at around 10:30am and were hoping our pre-arranged pick up would still be there waiting for us. Thankfully it was and we piled our luggage into the large 7 seater and set off towards the Phoenix Hotel in the centre of Hanoi. After changing cars on the way (on the side of a busy motorway – due to us being given the wrong car!!) we arrived at our hotel and were immediately disappointed. We were not given the room we had booked and, when it was eventually deemed to be ready for us, it was a dump! The first thing we did was go and look for a new hotel, which we found on the other side of the road with a lovely room and we managed to persuade the proprietors to give us the same rate as we were paying at the other hotel. We booked a room for the following night and then returned to our old hotel to look at some of the tours to Halong Bay that they had available. After looking at several with varying price ranges we opted for a medium priced 2 day trip and booked it for 2 days time. After getting a map from reception we set off to explore a little of the city and headed down to the lake, a very popular place with the locals. It was a really lovely walk and we went in and out of many shops on the way down. The tree-lined lake itself was reasonably large and was a mecca for fitness fans of all ages with joggers, cyclists, walkers and the more elderly contingent performing some very strange stretches and exercises – including an elderly Chinese man speed walking – backwards! At one end of the lake stood a beautiful, small pagoda on a small island connected to the bank by a lovely red stone bridge. We walked to one end of the lake and then onto the main road to look at some of the shops, and then started back. By the time we had got back to the area near our hotel we were quite hungry and found a nice looking restaurant overlooking the street from a balcony upstairs. After a nice meal we walked back to our dingy little room for an early night as we were so tired.

20th March 2011

After an uninspiring breakfast we checked out of the Phoenix and headed over the road to the new Pearl Hotel, after our host asked us why we were moving hotels! We politely told him that, had he given us a room that looked remotely like the one we had seen online we would have been happy to stay. Our new room was so much better – very comfortable and stylish, the hotel only having opened in February this year. It even had a computer in the room! As we only had today to go and see the sights we grabbed our cameras and hit the streets of Hanoi, heading towards the mausoleum of Ho Chi Minh. The skies were grey and heavy but the air was warm as we walked through the back streets of Hanoi and towards the main road, using our free map from the hotel to guide us. Crossing the road and entering the busy main street, we turned the corner – and walked through the quite surreal scene of an outside Barber shop!

The open air Barber shop in Hanoi!

The open air Barber shop in Hanoi!

Staring into a mirror perched on a wall a man sat still while a barber trimmed his hair in the middle of the pavement while another customer sat on a chair leaning against another wall, reading a newspaper! There was human hair everywhere so he obviously did a good trade! We couldn’t resist taking a photo before we moved on, stopping at a little temple on the way. We had to pay a small entrance fee before we could go for a look around. In a small tunnel next to the temple there are a few scratched names in the stones, written by French soldiers in the late 1800s when Vietnam was under French rule. The temple itself was a small and striking double storey pagoda with a colourful but diminutive altar and it housed a beautiful old iron bell and a huge red and gold ceremonial drum. The outside walls were a plain cement colour with both roofs in bright red tiles. It didn’t take us very long to look around and, when done, walked back out to the main street.

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The small temple with drum and iron bell

The small temple with drum and iron bell

One thing we noticed about the houses in the area were just how incredibly narrow they were! The majority of them were three or four storeys but they were so narrow they looked as though they would topple over if they were not adjoining other, similar buildings!

Their houses are so narrow!

Their houses are so narrow!

After a long while we finally reached the area containing the mausoleum but first came upon the Presidential Palace – a huge, magnificent yellow palace completed in 1906 to house the French Indochina governor. Set in some beautiful grounds, the Palace itself is not open to the public but the gardens can be viewed for a small entrance fee. Unfortunately for us they were not open at that particular time so we just had to be content with viewing them through the bars of the huge ornate gates that kept us out!

The magnificent Presidential Palace in Hanoi

The magnificent Presidential Palace in Hanoi

Moving on after taking a few photographs we arrived at the mausoleum of the revered Ho Chi Minh – a huge, grey, columned building containing the mortal remains of Vietnam’s beloved ‘Uncle Ho’ - something very difficult to understand. Ho Chi Minh’s last wish was to be cremated and yet, after everything he did for his country, they repaid their debt by doing the exact opposite of his last wish and had his body embalmed and placed in a glass coffin for all his adoring public to see – reducing this amazing man’s memory to something akin to a circus sideshow! The area surrounding the mausoleum was cut off from traffic and the peace was in total contrast to the hustle and bustle of the city’s roads, only a couple of hundred yards away. Either side of the the huge, bright red doors of the massive sepulchre, two rifle-wielding, immaculately garbed sentries dressed in pure white uniforms with red piping stood guard.

Uncle Ho's resting place

Uncle Ho's resting place

Our day wasn’t going too well – the mausoleum only opens on a Monday morning up to 11am ... we really should check opening times of the places we are going to visit! Undeterred we carried on our stroll around the area and found ourselves at the beautiful Vietnam War Memorial, a curious structure built in 1993 to commemorate the Vietnamese heroes who gave their lives for their country. Although basically a simple square block structure, the openings in each side of the block are negative images of a pagoda and finished in gold colour, a really striking feature. The memorial is surrounded by a small moat, is cordoned off from the public and has an armed guard permanently patrolling the area.

The unusual Vietnam War Memorial

The unusual Vietnam War Memorial

After a number of snaps taken in the grey and murky light we walked back towards the Ho Chi Minh mausoleum and turned left past it and to the Ho Chi Minh museum – only to find that closed as well! It had closed for lunch and was due to reopen in a couple of hours’ time. Not really knowing what else was around the area we went for a walk along a busy street, hoping to find a cafe or coffee shop. What we actually found was a small square lined with a host of different coloured, multi-storeyed narrow houses with a large, square pond in its centre. It just looked so strange but was actually quaint! We turned round and walked back along the street and noticed a sign pointing to, of all things, a botanical garden! It required a small entrance fee which we duly paid and went for a walk around. Built in 1890 by French architects, it was remodelled and opened to the general public in 1954, after the French were defeated and retreated from the country. It was a petite place, and was more akin to a park than a botanical garden, although there are species of trees in the park of scientific interest to botanists. In the centre of the garden was a large cage containing a family of monkeys! They didn’t look very happy, which was a shame, and we felt they and the park would be better off if they were not there! It was a busy place and was obviously a popular venue for the keep-fit fraternity with badminton players, roller-skaters and the ubiquitous joggers among others strutting their exhausting stuff among the greenery and multi-coloured flora. On the east side of the park was a number of sculptures by Vietnamese artists which made it a popular site for just sitting and contemplating, reading a book or just people watching! We spent a while sculpture-watching, monkey-watching and people-watching before starting a slow stroll back to the Ho Chi Minh museum in the hope it had reopened. Thankfully it had and we walked around the unusually laid out but interesting museum full of facts, artifacts and pictures of the great man, tracing his history from birth to death. After a couple of hours, we both needed food so we called it a day in the museum and marched the long march home! Stew was in pain with a backache so we returned to our hotel and rested for a little while before going in search of sustenance. We revisited our usual restaurant and had another nice meal on the balcony overlooking the busy street. To burn off the calories we went for a walk around the nearby shops before deciding we were too tired to carry on and returned to our lovely room to sort out all the things we would need for tomorrow’s trip to Ha Long Bay. We had arranged earlier in the day for both our backpacks to be stored in the hotel’s storage room so that we didn’t need to take the huge things on the boat with us. We made do with our smaller rucksacks, chose our clothes, packed them and got everything ready for the morning.

21st March 2011

Our pickup for the drive to Ha Long Bay was at 7:45 this morning so we were up very early at 6:30am and eating a nice (but strange!) breakfast of a toasted cheese, tomato and cucumber sandwich together with a fried egg, a piece of toast, coffee and fruit! After putting our backpacks in storage in the hotel and booking another night for when we returned from our trip, we crossed the road back to the Phoenix and waited for our bus. We didn’t have to wait long at all and were soon on our way to pick up the remaining passengers. Our guide, Dian, was a really nice guy and he told us a lot about life in Hanoi, the history of Ha Long Bay (which literally means Descending Dragon Bay!) and about the almost impossible task of buying a house in Hanoi as we sped past the wonderful scenery outside. After an hour and a half we stopped off to buy some nibbles for the boat (just in case we didn’t enjoy the food on board!) and to look around a craft market. Another two hours driving and we were at the port and looking over the fence at the myriad of cruise ships while waiting for Dian to return with our captain so we could board ours. Passengers queued here, there and everywhere and were shown to their vessels once their crew had joined them. The area was bustling with excited groups of people chit-chatting and laughing, all looking forward to their trips on the sea. We waited. And waited. And waited some more. The port rid itself of people and we were getting more and more concerned (as well as a little annoyed!) as we only had the daylight to sail in as vessels are not allowed to sail at night. After more than an hour of waiting our ‘captain’ turned up, citing new rules for the lengthy delay! He took us through the quay gates and we stepped aboard a large dinghy, our taxi to our waiting cruise ship. We didn’t know what to expect as we had opted for a ‘medium priced’ cruise but were relieved to find it was quite a lovely boat. Painted dark green and black, with tinges of gold here and there, she looked lovely. Our cabin was at the very back and was really nice. Decorated in wood with black and gold lacquer panels it looked quite stylish and comfortable. As we had been asked to do we dropped our stuff in the cabin and rejoined Dian and the other 3 guests in the dining room for a briefing. We made the mistake of asking Dian why it took so long for the captain to show up at the port as we had lost over an hour of our cruise and were only here for a couple of days. His reply quite shocked us. Apparently, on 17th February this year, a cruise ship actually sank at around 5am while everyone was asleep, resulting in the deaths of 12 tourists. Rules, regulations and security had changed and become much more strict and stringent. It was these changes our captain had cited for the delay. The mood became a little more sombre for a while until we heard the chugging engine increase in volume and felt our little cruiser begin to move. Unfortunately the cloud was heavy and grey and a light sprinkling of rain started as we swung around and moved out into the open water. We stepped outside and walked up the stairs to the top deck to watch the view. We just couldn’t believe the number of boats still anchored in the bay. Although slightly raining and leaden skied the air was still warm and we marvelled at the sight of so many limestone karsts sticking out of the water seemingly being born from the water itself. After an hour or so of sailing we arrived at our first stop – a huge series of caves that was obviously a popular stop judging by the many sailboats anchored a little way from the small dock. The caves were huge inside and had different coloured lights installed, giving them an eerie luminescence. The caves were used by the French as storage when they ruled the lands and there is still some French graffiti on the walls. It took around half an hour to complete the tour as they were so enormous inside and we corralled into our little group, got back on the little dinghy and headed for our next little treat – an hour in a kayak! Nobody in our group fancied that so we asked Dian if we could, instead, climb up a nearby karst that had a tower perched on the top. He agreed and we were dropped off at the small pier and started climbing the many steps to the top, stopping now and then to get our breath back and to take some photos of the amazing views. It was such a strenuous climb that we passed an elderly lady who had decided, to cool off, to remove her top and complete the climb in her bra... Once at the top the views were incredible and we looked out over the seascape dominated by the amazing karsts nearby and in the distance. Close by we could see a sinkhole in the centre of a nearby group of karsts with the strange phenomenon of the emerald green water level in the sinkhole being much higher than sea level! After taking many photos (and resting our aching legs!) we started back down the many steps, eventually reaching the bottom and rejoining Dian in our boat and were ferried back to the cruiser where we were greeted with glasses of red wine and some pineapple! We took a quick shower and changed before dinner, but, prior to our meals being served, we were given a lesson by Dian on how to make the perfect spring roll! After a few demonstrations he invited us all to have a go, which we did, and Dian explained that we would be eating these as part of our meal as soon as we had finished making them! We all did pretty well considering it was our first ever time and they were quite delicious once they’d been cooked and served up to us. The food just kept coming and, although plentiful, it wasn’t the best meal we’d ever eaten to be honest. We were all a little disappointed. The spring rolls were good though... After dinner we had an attempt at squid fishing but to no avail. The five of us all came up empty handed after around half an hour or so of trying. We did see a number of squid but they just weren’t interesting in being a meal! As it was a little on the chilly side we opted to disappear back inside and order some drinks. The girls grabbed the cocktail menu and made their choices and ordered them with the ‘bar tender’. A few minutes later the drinks arrived – all the same and none of what was ordered! It turned out the bar tender could only make a margarita – it didn’t matter what was ordered it came back as a margarita!! Stew was quite safe with his beer though... To go with our drinks we started watching a DVD but it wasn’t too long before the long day, the long climb and the long drinks took their toll and we had to take our leave and retire to our cabin for the night!

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Our lovely little Ha Long Bay cruiser!

Our lovely little Ha Long Bay cruiser!


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Inside the huge colourful caves in Ha Long Bay

Inside the huge colourful caves in Ha Long Bay

What a load of old junks!!

What a load of old junks!!


Yes - we climbed up this!

Yes - we climbed up this!


It was an exhausting climb - but what a view!

It was an exhausting climb - but what a view!


The sinkhole is to the right

The sinkhole is to the right

22nd March 2011

Probably due to the news we’d been given regarding what happened back in February, we didn’t have a particularly great sleep last night! Looking forward to breakfast though, we showered and were outside in the dining room by 8:15am as requested (our rooms needed to be cleaned en route back to the harbour in readiness for the next batch of passengers) and waited for our food. Eggs, bacon, sausages and stale toast were put in front of us, along with some incredibly strong coffee! We all sent everything back to be warmed up but it didn’t make too much difference to the taste! We were already underway and the weather took a turn for the worse. The wind really got up and the waves got higher and higher. Our landing boat, used to get us to and from the ship, was tied up alongside us and was being thrown around quite badly, taking on a lot of water. It became so serious, in fact, that the captain ordered a crew member to untie her and pilot her away from us until he found calmer water. He did so quite quickly, steering us into a ‘forest’ of karsts which had the effect of cutting down the wind and therefore smoothing the waters. The landing boat was tied up to us once more, but behind us this time with a bigger distance between us. Not long after this we were told we needed to stop and wait for a couple of people who had stayed on Cat Ba Island overnight and would be needing a lift back to the harbour. We waited there for ages for them but, in the meantime, the skies cleared to a beautiful blue, the sun came out and it was suddenly a beautiful, warm day! We hit the sunbeds on the upper deck and enjoyed the warmth and the rest. The couple turned up after around forty minutes and we resumed our journey. Although the sun was out and the temperatures had risen, when we hit the open water once more the waves increased in size and power with the wind and Dian told us that, due to the wind speed, choppy sea and the nervousness that still remained from the tragedy in February, he didn’t think there would be any cruises setting off from the harbour today. We could tell that meant trouble in store! The sun remained shining on us for the remainder of our trip back, showing the limestone rock formations near and far in all their glory and we were soon stepping from the landing craft and on to dry land where a coach was waiting to take us to a nearby hotel for lunch.

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The amazing scenery of Ha Long Bay

The amazing scenery of Ha Long Bay


A floating village in Ha Long Bay

A floating village in Ha Long Bay

We all sat around a table tucking in to various Vietnamese dishes whilst listening to the moans and complaints of dissatisfied tourists around us who had indeed been informed that their cruises had been cancelled for the time being due to the ‘bad weather’! An excited Dian joined us a little way into our meals and told us that a group of passengers had asked to be taken back to Hanoi as their boat trip had been postponed and they were not willing to wait a day in case the weather was the same tomorrow. Dian basically told us we had to get down to the bus to secure our seats! Down we went and we all sat on the bus waiting to go - but an argument ensued between some cruise representatives and the group of passengers who’s trips had been postponed. Some wanted to go and some to stay but they were told it was either all go or all stay! In the end they all decided to stay and got off the bus. We were finally able to leave and got back to Hanoi over an hour and a half later than we should have! We paid for the trip, headed across the road to our hotel, got our backpacks out of storage and repacked everything. We were tired and hungry – the hunger pangs won the battle – so we headed out to our favourite restaurant and ate heartily before going for a final walk around the market, finally finding an electric hair trimmer so that Jen could cut Stew’s hair! We were exhausted and trudged back to our room and flopped on our bed, knowing full well that yet another early start was required for the morning as we had a 5:30am pick up outside a travel agent’s office for the trip to the airport to catch our flight to Laos. Our fantastic Vietnamese adventure had come to an end – next up Laos!

Posted by StewnJen 17:10 Archived in Vietnam Comments (1)

The Imperial City...

Hue

rain 18 °C

16th March 2011

7am came all too soon, and we were showering in the lukewarm water of the morning, having to hold the shower attachment above our heads as it had fallen off the wall! The room was even colder this morning and we looked outside and were dismayed to see leaden skies and heavy rain. Donning our trusty ski jackets we headed downstairs for breakfast and couldn’t believe the change in temperature! It was very cold and windy - only last night we were wearing t-shirts! We hurriedly ate our breakfast and our tour transport arrived to pick us up at around 8:10am – a large coach with a few other people on board. We then set off going from hotel to hotel to collect more passengers, which took quite a while, before our guide introduced himself to us all and told us the day’s itinerary.
Our first stop was to a local village that made and sold different handicrafts including the ubiquitous conical hat, and different coloured, scented incense sticks. We were given a demonstration on how both these popular products are made (all by hand) which was fascinating, before being given the opportunity of purchasing some of the products available (although our guide advised us not to as they were of inferior quality and too expensive!).

A colourful array of handmade incense sticks

A colourful array of handmade incense sticks

The pounding rain had not relented at all and we all hurried back to the dry interior of the bus, setting off to King Tu Duc’s tomb. Tu Duc was the son of Emperor Thieu Tri and became King on 22nd September 1829 amid protests regarding his coronation. Even his own brother became the leader of a rebellion against him. Scholars and bureaucrats rallied against him too as they believed the eldest son (his brother) should have been crowned King, as did peasants unhappy with taxes, missionaries of Christianity and Catholicism who were so severely persecuted during the reigns of Thieu Tri and his father, Minh Mang, (who were both fiercely anti-foreign), and corrupt officials. Tu Duc crushed the rebellion and let his brother kill himself in prison. He continued running the country the same way as his predecessors – shutting the country off from the outside world and persecuting any foreigners meddling in religious or political circles. This angered Europe and was the pretext for a French attack, and they eventually took control of the country. Tu Duc basically surrendered and made a deal with France which allowed him to keep the throne but with no powers whatsoever. Contracting mumps when he was 14 years old meant that Tu Duc was sterile, so had no natural heirs. He adopted his younger brother’s 3 sons and, after Tu Duc’s death in 1883, the eldest son, Duc Duc, became the new Emperor, being overthrown and jailed just 3 days after his coronation and then dying of starvation 7 days later!
Each tomb conforms to a set of rules to ensure the greatest chance of the Emperor reaching the afterlife. These include a courtyard containing stone statues of mandarins (officials), elephants and horses, a massive stone stele on which is inscribed eulogies to the deceased Emperor, a temple with an altar and the tomb itself.
Built from 1864 to 1867, Tu Duc’s tomb and the grounds surrounding it are very beautiful. A large pavilion sits on stilts and overlooks the lake where Tu Duc used to write and recite poetry. To the right of this is a series of steps leading up to the courtyard, where the stone effigies stand rigidly, and on through to Tu Duc’s work buildings. To the rear of these is the burial area. Although a mausoleum, it really is a quite peaceful and beautiful place despite the teeming rain! Damp and cold, we were urged back to our bus and on our way to the next Emperor’s tomb – that of Khai Dinh.

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Emperor Tu Duc's tomb and temple grounds

Emperor Tu Duc's tomb and temple grounds

With Vietnam under French rule Khai Dinh came to the throne in 1916 and was made King by the French themselves. He had no powers whatsoever and was basically France’s puppet. He was a bit of lad by all accounts, becoming addicted to gambling and opium, even increasing taxes to pay for his habits and to pay for his tomb, ordering the best builders and carpenters to help build it. This didn’t exactly endear him to the people of Vietnam! After taking advice from fortune tellers as to the correct place to build his tomb he chose Chau Chu mountain, just outside Hue. Building commenced in 1916, taking 11 years to complete. It is a mixture of oriental and western styles and, although dour and unexciting from the outside, the inside of the tomb itself is sumptuous and extravagant. Although the smallest of all the Nguyen Dynasty’s Emperor’s tombs, it cost the most to build! One more thing made him oh so popular with his people – his 40th birthday celebrations. They left Khai Dinh broke and he put up taxes again to replenish his coffers! He was also the first Vietnamese King to travel abroad when he visited France in 1922, hence the western influences to his tomb. He died in 1926 and his coffin was interred by a number of convicted criminals in a secret part of the tomb, apparently containing many diamonds and lots of gold. The convicted criminals were all killed immediately afterwards so as to not disclose the coffin’s whereabouts! To this day nobody knows if his body is actually in the tomb! The entire complex is quite wonderful and, when you reach the top of the steps, you are greeted by the rows of life-size stone mandarins with long beards, bearing swords, with stone horses and elephants in close attendance, while other stone statues stand further back, hands clasped together in front of them as though awaiting instructions from their King. The interior of the tomb is exquisitely over-the-top with a life-size effigy of Khai Dinh himself in gold, sitting on his throne underneath a huge, golden canopy, the walls and ceilings absolutely dripping in more gold, artwork, coloured glass and ceramic fragments. Yet another life-size effigy, this one in bronze, stands in the left side of the building. Some of the objects he acquired while in France, like clocks, furniture and goblets amongst others, are displayed in glass cabinets in a room just off the main hall. While the rain still pelted down, we trotted back to the bus when our allotted time was up and hopped aboard to visit the last tomb on our tour – that of Minh Mang (we’re not making these names up – honest!!).

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Emperor Khai Dinh's sumptuous tomb

Emperor Khai Dinh's sumptuous tomb

Minh Mang was emperor from 1820 until 1841 and was regarded as a ruler who cared deeply for his country and its people. He was a staunch Confucianist and, basically, wanted nothing to do with the rest of the world. He was not happy when missionaries arrived to spread Christianity and Catholicism throughout his country and even had some of them executed to make his point! Minh Mang planned his own tomb and it was built after his death. His tomb is the simplest of the three we visited but is still magnificent. Set in expansive grounds with lakes and woods surrounding the pavilions and buildings, it was such a beautifully peaceful place to visit. The gateway was yellow roofed, with bright red pillars and pale yellow walls. The inside of the temple was red and gold with splashes of yellow and green. The rain had abated slightly, allowing us to walk around some of the grounds. We walked through the complex to some stone steps leading up to a large gate set in a high wall, behind which the Emperor supposedly lies – but, once again, the whereabouts of the Royal’s body remains a secret.

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Emperor Minh Mang's tomb

Emperor Minh Mang's tomb

It was lunchtime and we were all looking forward to our included meal. Packed back onto our bus, we trundled to our designated restaurant, an intriguing place with a central main building and four large gazebos at the end of pathways leading from the central restaurant. It looked lovely and we all chose a gazebo and took our seats. Unfortunately, the meal (for us anyway!) wasn’t enjoyable. It was a cold buffet and everything, including the rice, omelettes and French fries were served up cold. The Chinese contingent in our group loved it and went back for extra helpings while we pigged out on the bread and crackers,! Even whilst eating our lunch, the rain continued unabated and we left there still feeling hungry. We pulled up in the car park of the place we had both been looking forward to seeing – the Citadel, the huge walled city built by Emperor Gia Long from 1805 to 1833. We walked through the huge gate and climbed the stairs to a large room that was used by the Emperor to watch over ceremonies taking place on the grounds below. It was mainly used for important public functions like choosing Mandarins (government officials) and for publication of the lunar calendar. From here we walked through beautiful courtyards and temples and through to the Forbidden Purple City where only the Emperor and his family were allowed to enter. His concubines had their own quarters and were served only by eunuchs as they posed no threat. The First Lady (the Emperor’s wife) and the Second Lady (the Emperor’s favourite concubine!) had their very own private quarters as did the Emperor’s mother and princesses. Unfortunately much of the Citadel was destroyed by the French when they were losing the Indo-China war and also in the Vietnam War but what is left is magnificent. Every building is sumptuously decorated with reds, golds, yellows and greens with long corridors leading to huge rooms or off to pretty flower-filled courtyards. Brightly painted, ornate gateways separated different sections of the city. Some of the buildings did not allow photography for some reason which was a real shame because their interiors were absolutely stunning. We were finding it difficult to keep up with our excellent, informative and knowledgeable guide who was racing around each section while we were still snapping away at the previous one and we even got lost on one occasion but managed to find everyone after a quick double back- such is the scale of the place!

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The grand Citadel and Purple Forbidden City

The grand Citadel and Purple Forbidden City

Sadly, the weather really spoilt it for us as, although the colours were bold and bright, the greyness of the day took the edge off them and when the wind increased, the rain became almost horizontal making photography difficult. It was still raining when we boarded the bus for the next stop – one of the Garden Houses of Hue that was once owned by a Princess but is now privately owned and is one of the few intact garden houses still being lived in. Only 2 people decided to get off the bus to go and see the house and the garden as it was so wet and muddy so we waited on the bus for them to return before we headed off for the last sight – the Thien Mu pagoda – the tallest such building in Vietnam with seven storeys. Built as a place of worship in 1601, it is regarded as the unofficial symbol of the Imperial city of Hue. It stands overlooking the Perfume River and each floor is dedicated to a different Buddha. It is a beautiful building in pink bricks, but did not always look like this – before 1904 it was even grander but was severely damaged by a cyclone and rebuilt. It contains a number of interesting articles including a huge stele carried on the back of a marble turtle, a bell that was forged in a village across the river in 1701 and the Austin car that carried monk Thich Quang Duc to his self-immolation in Saigon in 1963 in protest against the Diem regime.

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The Thien Mu Pagoda

The Thien Mu Pagoda

We walked around the grounds for a while and watched some monks praying with children before walking back to the bus and driving to the river’s edge to board a boat for the journey back. Once boarded, we sailed back extremely slowly as the rain came down harder and it took an eternity to get back! Unfortunately it moored up quite some way from our hotel so we had to trudge back in the pouring rain as darkness began to fall. After drying ourselves off and having a little snooze we walked to our favourite bar, the DMZ, for some dinner and a beer before heading back to sort out a flight to our next tour stop – Hanoi.

Posted by StewnJen 21:19 Archived in Vietnam Comments (1)

The Heart of the Dragon...

Hoi An

sunny 30 °C

12th March 2011

Yesterday we finally received our passports back from Nungh, complete with Visas for China. That was a huge weight off our minds which meant today we could stop worrying and get on with the business of travelling!
Today we were flying to Da Nang and then heading to Hoi An by bus, so the pair of us were up and downstairs eating our unusual breakfast of jam roll with lukewarm coffee by around 7:30 am and were climbing in our airport bound taxi at 8:15am to catch our 10:40am flight. Arriving at Ho Chi Minh airport we were glad to find a very small queue at the check-in desks and were saying goodbye to our heavy backpacks in no time. As there was very little to look at this side of the departure lounge we elected to go straight up and through departures and wait there for our flight to be called. As we headed up the escalator we were horrified when we saw the queue to get through security. There were about 10 lines full of people and each line was all the way back to the rear wall. The security checks were ridiculously slow and they were only allowing one person to put their hand luggage through the x-ray machine at a time. People started pushing in front of us and we kept telling them (with the cooperation of the people in front of us), in no uncertain terms, to get to the back of the queue! After an eternity we were through security unscathed and went straight upstairs to our gate as time was now limited. Our flight was on time and was pretty uneventful. We landed at Da Nang airport as scheduled at 10.40. We were almost the first ones off the plane and our luggage was, unusually, first off the carousel. We walked to a taxi desk and asked where the bus terminal was and were told we needed to get a taxi to the bus station as it was too far to walk. We weren’t convinced so went outside to take a look. A driver came over to us and asked where we were going. We were soon on our way in his taxi to the bus station! It was a quite a distance before we were being dropped off outside a very dusty, scruffy looking bus terminal. After paying our cab driver our eyes wandered along the row of touts all standing guard outside their ticket offices waiting for the likes of us – tourists with money to burn! After running the gauntlet of the salesmen all trying to direct us to their little corner of the terminal and managing to just say no and keep walking, we spotted our quarry – the bright yellow local bus headed for Hoi An. After a little research on the internet the day before, we knew exactly what we were looking for and how much the ticket should be. The conductor had other ideas about the fare and demanded more than we knew it should cost. We didn’t waver and Jen was having none of it and decided to get the other passengers involved by asking them how much they had paid for their ticket. A couple of them quite sheepishly answered and we gave the conductor the same amount. He wasn’t overly impressed and demanded more but we just said no and sat down. One of the passengers said something to him in Vietnamese (which we took to mean he shouldn’t try and screw us over) and the conductor smiled and put the money in his pocket, saying no more. At last – a little victory in the war against being conned over transport costs!! We hugged our backpacks and rucksacks as best we could on the small vehicle, trying to make as much room as possible and settled on our seats for the hour long journey to Hoi An. Once the bus had started off, it seemed to stop every few yards to pick up people or set them down, and it wasn’t too long before the bus was so full that people had to sit on the floor in the aisles. We tried to get our bags out of the way as best we could but it was very difficult and we ended up with our huge rucksacks on our laps for some of the way! The bus driver seemed to drive with one hand on the wheel and the other on the horn! It was constantly in use and became quite an irritation! An hour or so later and we were being dropped at the bus terminal. It was baking hot and we looked around to get our bearings, expecting the bus station to look a lot different than it did, according to our research. We had, in actual fact, been dropped off at a totally different terminal! We headed for the street to hail a cab and were stopped in our tracks by a small group of old men who were determined to get us on the back of their motorbikes – Stew on one, Jen on another and our backpacks on yet another! We had absolutely no intention of giving this a go and told them we wanted a taxi and that we were not interested in riding pillion! Our pleas fell on deaf ears and we looked around the streets, having to ignore the advice of the old men insisting theirs was a great idea! There were no taxis around whatsoever. Tired, thirsty and fed up we headed across the street to a small street cafe for a cool drink and a sit down to try and work out where we needed to go and how we were going to get there. With no WiFi service at the cafe we phoned the hotel and the cafe owner very kindly spoke to the receptionist on our behalf with the hotel agreeing to send a taxi to collect us. It arrived within minutes and we were soon pulling up outside our new abode, the Hai Au Hotel. It was an extremely pleasant place with a very friendly receptionist who made a point of calling all the guests by their first names. Our room was quite reasonable too so, all in all, we were happy campers! Both of us wanted to familiarise ourselves with the town almost immediately and, armed with a street map of the area with some personal recommendations circled and annotated by our enthusiastic receptionist, the two of us set off in blinding sunshine and roasting heat to see what Hoi An, the town the 18th century Japanese considered to be the heart of The Dragon (Asia), could do for us. It probably took all of ten minutes for us to fall in love with the place! It is, quite simply, one of the prettiest towns one will ever see on this planet! There are temples in abundance, it overflows with stores, cafes and stalls, everywhere the colours rich and varied, each hue a dazzling vividness and the riverfront is an artist’s paradise. Down one particular street, each store was painted pastel yellow and white, with dark wood doors, jambs and window frames. Creeping ivy or pots with plants of varying shades of green adorned the upper floors. Coupled with their colourful wares (amid the chorus of “Hello - You buy sumsing”?!!) such as Chinese lanterns, silks and fresh fruits, it was picture postcard perfect and a photographer’s dream. One of the items we’d had circled on our map as a ‘must-see’ was the Japanese Covered Bridge and we headed in the general direction determined not to miss a single thing on the way. It is such a pretty place and as we ambled along the streets we couldn’t stop grinning inanely as our eyes feasted on everything around us, including a number of incredibly ornate and colourful temples we happened across on the way. We had been told that we could purchase a ticket that allowed you to enter all or some of the temples in a day saving you some money, or you could choose to pay the entry fee of only the temples you wanted to visit. As it was so late in the day we opted to go into a couple of them as we made our way towards the bridge. They were extravagant, colourful, ostentatious, peaceful, calming and amazing to look at! Incense burned everywhere from large, cone-shaped incense sticks that resembled lanterns hung from the ceiling, Buddha images large and small sat on pedestals or inside glass cases, statues of dragons and lions adorned walls and courtyards, golden characters in frames hung from walls, golden urns stood on black lacquered stands, yellow ribbons hung from centrepieces, shrubs and flowers splashed more colour across courtyards and inner sanctums, doors held beautiful, elaborate carvings of wise men and plaques with gold lettering hung over every doorway. We walked on a little way before, inevitably, succumbing to the call of food! Finding a small cafe we took our seats at a small table and went through the small menu. A young guy holding a small dog came over to take our order and introduced us to “Jane” and proceeded to tell us all about her for the next fifteen minutes. The pizza, too, was small and not good! Sated, we carried on our walk and reached the Japanese Covered Bridge, a curious construction built in the 1590s by the Japanese community at the time to link them to the Chinese community on the other side. It is made almost entirely of wood, spanning a stream from the Thu Bon river that runs through Hoi An and has become the symbol of Hoi An. Inside the bridge is a small temple dedicated to the God of weather, Tran Vo Bac De. As we crossed over and to the other side, the town just seemed to get prettier. Lanterns of every colour hung from ceilings of open-fronted shops, materials of red, oranges, yellows and golds amongst others radiated in the sunshine, wonderful old ladies with weathered faces ambled along the street carrying pots over their shoulders on the ends of a length of bamboo while others sat on the roadside selling little souvenirs from baskets. The light was beginning to fade so we decided to head down to the river to watch the sunset. It took our breath away it was so beautiful! Along the river the town outdid itself and the colours seemed to become even more vibrant. Chinese lanterns hung from trees, the shops and restaurants shone in the dying sunlight, boats of bright blues, yellows, reds and greens sat on the still waters of the river tied to one another while small craft with painted eyes drifted slowly along, powered only by the oars held in the arms of old men and women. The red bridge that spanned the river was adorned with different coloured lanterns and flags while huge multi-coloured models of animals sat in the water. And to cap it all, the sun turned a brilliant orange in the cloudless sky and bathed everything in a red glow. It was quite amazing. Jen even borrowed a lady’s conical hat and the baskets she was carrying over her shoulders to try them for size! We started a slow walk back (visiting some of the shops on the way of course!) as tiredness (and hunger again!) were creeping up on us, electing to eat at the hotel and check up on events in Japan before crawling into bed for a much needed early night.

A pretty street in Hoi An

A pretty street in Hoi An


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Colours galore in lantern shops, Hoi An

Colours galore in lantern shops, Hoi An


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A few of the vibrant temples - inside and out!

A few of the vibrant temples - inside and out!


Incense sticks made to look like lanterns

Incense sticks made to look like lanterns


The Japanese Covered Bridge in Hoi An

The Japanese Covered Bridge in Hoi An


The Temple inside the Japanese Covered Bridge

The Temple inside the Japanese Covered Bridge


Beautiful silk scarves shine in the dying sunlight

Beautiful silk scarves shine in the dying sunlight


What a wonderful lady she was!

What a wonderful lady she was!


The bustling market in Hoi An

The bustling market in Hoi An


An interesting stall in Hoi An market - sculpted from roots!

An interesting stall in Hoi An market - sculpted from roots!


Jen auditioning for a street vendor - she got the job!

Jen auditioning for a street vendor - she got the job!


A couple of the colourful animals in the river

A couple of the colourful animals in the river


Such a colourful place!

Such a colourful place!


The pretty bridge spanning the river in Hoi An

The pretty bridge spanning the river in Hoi An


Boats moored together in the river

Boats moored together in the river


A young boy rows his boat to shore

A young boy rows his boat to shore


The Sun dies over the river in Hoi An

The Sun dies over the river in Hoi An

14th March 2011

After another day of walking up and down the wonderful town and around the river yesterday, today it was tour day and we were up at the ridiculous hour of 4:30am this morning (after suffering the terrible noise emanating from the Karaoke bar opposite our hotel room until about 11pm where only the bar staff were singing as they had no customers!) for our tour to My Son (pronounced Mee Sonne), an area with a group of Hindu temples dedicated to the God Shiva, constructed between the 4th and 14th centuries by the Cham people some 70km southwest of Da Nang. We were to be there for sunrise, hence the very early start and, as we were being picked up at 5am, we crept downstairs and into the pitch blackness of the reception area. We could just about see where we were going and slowly made our way to the door - only to find it locked! Without warning a figure covered in a sheet got up from the sofa and came towards us, making us jump out of our skins! The night watchman discarded his blanket and unlocked the door for us! We walked out into the warm morning air and waited for about ten minutes before our mini bus arrived to take us to the tour office where we were to have breakfast before starting our journey proper. After picking up some more passengers we were dropped off at the tour office and joined a small group of people around a number of plastic tables upon which some rolls, butter, omelettes and unbelievably strong Vietnamese coffee were sitting for our breakfast. After another half an hour or so, our bus arrived and everyone piled on board and made themselves comfortable for the hour and a half journey ahead. We passed some lovely scenery and drove through some pretty villages on the way before heading into the hills. The sun was already up by the time our bus arrived at the temple site and it pulled into a completely empty car park. There wasn’t a soul around and we all climbed off the coach and milled around the area while waiting for our tour guide to buy the tickets before walking up the long pathway that led to the ruins of My Son. Birds, seemingly in every tree, chirped their morning songs loudly as the sun shone through a veiling, early morning mist adding a degree of drama and mystery to the whole site. The first area we came to was a number of decaying towers that must have looked pretty impressive in their day. They were red bricked buildings in various states of disrepair with all manna of flora growing out of them. Even to this day archaeologists can only theorise about how the bricks were stuck together as there is no mortar between them! Some have suggested they used tree sap or honey and others suggested egg white (as used in the mortar in the Peruvian Adobe houses) but tests have shown no organic material on any of the bricks! Another amazing fact is that the bricks used in some of the restoration work have deteriorated while the originals are still perfect! Walking around the site we found ornate doorways and stone carvings adorned the walls and surrounding areas. The jungle encroached on the entire site giving it a beauty all of its own as everything was bathed in green. Pedestals that once held statues and busts sat covered in moss and weeds with nothing to show. Other pedestals were in pieces or badly cracked. In other areas just the bases of buildings remain. A show room has been built specifically to showcase some of the stonework found in the area to protect them from the elements. Our guide was knowledgeable and enthusiastic but, unfortunately, her English wasn’t too good and we missed quite a lot of her explanations but one fact that we did understand quite shocked us. Prior to the outbreak of the Vietnam War there were 70 buildings intact at My Son. At the close of the conflict, only 20 remained! The Vietcong used the site as a base and the US ran carpet bombing operations on the area, totally demolishing many of the temples. The resulting bomb craters are everywhere. It is such a terrible shame. There is a renovation programme ongoing but the work is slow and not much progress is being made. One of the temples being put back together brick by brick is covered by a huge corrugated iron roof and just looks a complete mess at the moment. We walked around it and were amazed to discover quite a few Funnel Web Spiders making their homes amongst the loose brickwork! Our tour lasted around an hour and a half and we walked back to our coach through the jungle and were taken back to our hotel. As it was still fairly early we managed to grab breakfast at the hotel before heading to our room for a power snooze!

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The ruins of My Son, Vietnam

The ruins of My Son, Vietnam


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We were both petrified......

We were both petrified......


Stonework protected from the elements

Stonework protected from the elements


One of the many bomb craters found around My Son

One of the many bomb craters found around My Son


A temple undergoing restoration- they have their work cut out for this one!

A temple undergoing restoration- they have their work cut out for this one!

After a few hours and feeling quite refreshed we headed out to the wonderful town again and decided to visit the market where we bought some cheap t-shirts before heading to the other side of the river in search of the beach. All we found, though, was the banks of the river so headed back to grab a bite to eat. Jen had noticed a restaurant earlier with nice cakes on display so we elected to have something nice there. After trudging up and down a few streets we finally found it and took a table inside. We wished we hadn’t to be honest! The waitress was unfriendly, the food took forever to arrive and was quite horrible when it did and a rat was happily running around the place! We didn’t even bother with dessert...
After another walk around the shops along the riverside we opted for an early night as we had another early morning tomorrow for our bus journey to Hue. We were definitely going to miss Hoi An though.

Posted by StewnJen 05:39 Archived in Vietnam Comments (1)

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