Posts Tagged ‘Vietnam’

  • Conclusion of Vietnam

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    We entered the country thinking about a past war, rice fields and conical huts. We exit the country now thinking about many other things, much more interesting and appealing. Vietnam has so much to offer, and we have enjoyed it so much that we have promised ourselves to come back again sometime soon.

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    In short we could summarize:

    – People: big smiles and huge temperament -they always seemed to be arguying.
    – Landscapes: beutiful and colourful. It’s a shame that the sides of the road are built up to the extreme and towns and villages are spread in kilometres by the road.

    – Transport: easy and relatively good. The open bus ticket connects all the touristic places covering the whole length (more than 1700 km) of the country.
    – Food: amazing! One of the highlights for us. Everyone should try their “looks like meat/fish/seafood but it is not” Com Chai restaurants (pure vegetarian).
    – Culture: an interesting mix of religions, rituals, traditions and foreign influences resulting in a blend of colours, behaviours and human ideals.

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    It could have been the food what made us fall in love with the country, or maybe the smiles of the people, or maybe the nature. It could have been many things but it is for sure the great experiences we have had what has made us crazy about Vietnam.

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    We would recommend any traveller to start his trip from the south, where people are fun and friendly and not as much into taking your money as they are in the north. Mainly we would recommend the Mekhong Delta with its floating markets, cannals and fruit orchards, Mui Ne with its beautiful coastline and the sand dunes, the charming Hoi An with its peaceful atmosphere and great architecture and Halong Bay, one of the World’s wonder under our point of view. We are sure we have missed much of Vietnam but those have been the highlights of our one month trip there. Next time we will scape the tourist routes and avoid as much as possible the open bus tickets to come closer to the real life in Vietnam.

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    To end this post and as a way to make a little joke –with our full respect to the vietnamese culture and traditions- we would like to share our thoughts about the similarities between north vietnamese -concretely Hanoi- and valencian people. While we have “Las Fallas” festival in our city, which means fire and noise everywhere, the streets in Hanoi are extremely noisy and people burn paper made representations of material objects -cars, motorbikes, clothes, watches, jewlery and money, USD being the most popular- in the streets every evening. These are offerings for their ancestors to have in “the other life”and have become one of the most succesful business in the city, as it happens in Valencia… Who is copying who?

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  • Change of plans, our first flight within Asia

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    A couple of days before our vietnamese tourist visa expired we had to face a difficult decission which would affect the philosophy of our trip and consecuently our trip itself. We had two options: whether cross the north of Laos in order to come back to Thailand again by land, or take a plain and make the whole thing easier for one time. The first option was our starting plan. We always had thought of keeping our feet close to the earth, so that we are able to diggest the differences between countries, cultures and landscapes. We have always had enough time to do it this way too. The second option, the one with a plane involved, had been a temptation before since one can travel fast and easy between two points in a matter of hours, not weeks. We did the usual research –internet, travel agencies, other travellers…- and finally decided that we were flying this time.

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    On one side of the balance was our desire to come back to Laos and visit the north of the country, which we were not able to visit on our prior trip because of our camera problem. Crossing the border by land would have been paying 60 USD for a 30 days visa plus the usual problems and delays of any trip in Laos. On the other side of the balance was our desire to finally visit the south of Thailand, the beaches, the islands… and their laid back atmosphere, all this for just a mouse click and 70 USD. So, it was difficult, but we finally took a decission. We booked our flight from Hanoi to Bangkok with Air Asia –a low fare airline- and it only took us 2 hours to be back in our preferred asian metropole, nice and easy!

  • Boat trip in Halong Bay, unforgettable!!!

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    Once in the north of Vietnam, we had to decide whether going to Sapa or to Halong Bay because our one month tourist visa was running out soon. Two factors determined our choice: on one hand, the bad weather conditions in the northwest region of Vietnam, on the other hand, a tropical storm which had flooded and incomunicated the northern region of Sapa, leaving hundreds of deads and homeless people behind. We could only go then for a boat trip in Halong Bay. As it is usual on our trip, we asked for advice in many different travel agencies and checked the internet to make our move independently with all the info available. This is how we found Cat Ba Ventures (www.catbaventures.com), a tour operator based in Cat Ba, the biggest island of Halong Bay, who offers tailor made boat trips for independent travellers.

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    We booked a 3 days/2 nights trip and paid 90 USD each. We arranged more or less the plan for everyday: sail in the morning to a nice spot, go on the kayak for a while to hidden lagoons and caves and have a swim, then eat and do the same in the afternoon in another spot. Overall we wanted to avoid tourist places and crowds. We wanted to go further away than the normal tours go. We wanted to be alone most of the time and sleep in a different secluded place every night. We wanted many things and almost all of them were accomplished. You can contact Mr Tung, the operator, through his website or under info@catbaventures.com.

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    Halong Bay is spectacular and the weather conditions were great (sunny, cloudy and few big storms during the nights, which gave a feeling of adventure to the whole experience), as well as the arrangements of the organizer. Basically we had a wooden and bamboo sail boat for four people –we were travelling with two other spanish guys together- entirely at our service. We could decide where to go and where not to go, if we wanted to stay longer or not. We could stop the boat and take the kayaks or just jump off the boat for a refreshing swim in the middle of nowhere –with some restrictions, of course. The crew, Tim and Hum -at least this is how their names sounded to us- were great although we had kind of communication problems sometimes, when we had the feeling they had not understood what we were asking for. They cooked so well and so much that we are missing their food a lot now –we have to say that we ate the same lunch and dinner during the 3 days with slightly variations, but still great food!

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    If we sumarize the trip, it was awesom! If we had to make a review about the arrangements of Cat Ba Ventures, we would say they did it very well! Some companies in Halong Bay or Hamoi are not very reliable and most of the time don’t provide what was promised. They is a big issue going on in Hanoi of copycat companies that just take the name of a reputed one to steal their clients. Those companies don’t offer the same quality tours and you will end up paying a service that you won’t get. This is what we heard or read while we were searching. Just some tips if you are planning to do a similar tour: fix the route and what you are interested in seeing –it is enough to have an approximate idea, you can change plans once in the boat-. Insist on it once onboard. Ask for a map to be able to locate yourself at anytime –we didn’t do it and missed it- and corroborate you are doing what you were promised to. Ask in advance any question you may have and above all, enjoy the experience!!!

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  • Hue, the capital of the Nguyen emperors

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    Hue is one of the jewels of Vietnam and many ancient, vietnames style buildings would still remain intact if war would have never happened. It was first the French, later the American, who bombed and destroyed one of the marvels of the country: Hue’s citadel. The complex is located within 3 concentric stone walls of around two meters thick, each of them keeping the security and the privacy of the one inside. The first wall and also the longer one runs along the Perfume River bed and was the entrance to the city itself. The second one, the imperial enclosure housing the emperor’s residence and the main buildings of state, separated citizens to the emperor’s court, and nowadays keeps vehicles outside its limits, which makes the visit much more quieter and nicer. And the third one gave access to the Forbidden City, inhabitated by the Emperor and his concubines.

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    It is a pity that there are only a few intact buildings left because the beauty of the area is thought to be similar to that of the Forbidden City in Beijin, China. The majestuosity of the it all remains in the ruins anyway and one can imagine how well the Emperor’s family could have lived within the walls. It is a pleasant day out visiting the complex although it can be tiring because of its size. Very remarkable for its beauty and good state of conservation is the Emperor’s Reading Room, which is unfortunately used nowadays to store rubbish and useless stuff and it is not possible to visit inside. Actually, very few of the remaining buildings can be visited inside and one can only imagine its inner splendour by watching old pictures of them.

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    Appart from the citadell, Hue is crossed by the beautiful Perfume River, which can be navigated with tourist boats, although we didn’t do it. The water is clean and clear –something uncommon in rivers passing through a city- and we were tempted more than once to jump into it and have a swim. Definitely, we liked Hue because of the Citadel and the river, although we found Hoi An much more authentic and beautiful. If we come back to Vietnam again, both cities will be on the list!

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  • The serene city of Hoi An

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    Hoi An has been the most beautiful city we have visited so far in Vietnam. It took us long to get there from Buon Ma Thuot. Very long, around 24 hours and two different bus rides, but it was worth the effort!! The first bus we took left us in the cathastrophic coastal town of Nha Trang, a highly tourist-polluted place with high hotel and resort buildings, cable car to a nearby island resort and every kind of sea sport activities for upmarket tourists. Once we were able to see how things looked like in town, we decided to catch an sleeper bus on the same evening to go to Hoi An and spend there the minimum possible time. We were lucky enough to book the last two berths available for that night’s sleeper bus.

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    So we slept –or tried to- in the bus that night and arrived in Hoi An early in the morning. It took us some hours to find the proper, cheap hotel to stay and then we walked the streets in the city centre. From the beginning we were delighted by the charm of the old city. Small streets with no 4 wheelers –although motorbikes and bicycles are allowed inside- and old, beautiful french, chinese and vietnamese architecture not exceding 2 storeys. Luckily the city largely escaped the destruction of sucesive wars and it is still possible to admire ancient chinese merchant houses and other old buildings, retaining a sense of history more than any other place in Vietnam.

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    Only the large amount of souvenir and present shops and their touts calling your attention from the door were a bit annoying, but you could easily manage to say NO and they would not insist more. According to our guide book –the same one everyone else seems to carry with them- Hoi An is the place to get a suit made in Vietnam, so many tailors and shoe makers were quite busy measuring arm brights and so on. The cloths looked nice but we didn’t even think about buying anything –we already carry enough weight with our 10 kg backpack!!

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  • Dalat hill station

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    The reason to come to Da Lat and Buon Ma Thuot was to come closer to south Vietnam’s highest altitude, to the coolest climate in the area and to the coffee production centre of the country. The Swiss Alps of Vietnam, as Dalat is known because of its surrounding nature, would be the perfect place for us to explore the surrounding valleys and hill tribe towns. While wild, beautiful and green nature was easy to find everywhere around Dalat –we were riding a motorbike and could take several offroad tracks-, the tribe people were kind of hidden to our eyes and we could not get an idea of what their customs and activities are.

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    It was a pleasure to visit some 3-or-4-houses small towns where we were received as VIPs with hand wavings and smiles and it was really good fun to ride the motorbikes up and downhill on muddy paths, although Julia and me ended up by sticking our leg on mud while Empar and Juan laughed from a safe position.

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    The people were nice, the food was good, the air was clean and the area was very green. Our visit in Dalat was great although short because we wanted to move further to Buon Ma Thuot, which at the end did not fill our expectatives and left us with a little pf bad taste in mouth.

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  • Mui Ne, the lonely beach

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    The first impression we had once we arrived in Mui Ne was “Holy shit! Where have we arrived?” Our bus stopped at the beginning of that 10 km long beach town, right at the door of a 4 star resort, which was surrounded by many others of the same category. We didn’t feel comfortable there and the first thing we did was to ask for a mass-tourism-free-spot in town. Luckily, there were still some places further north where we could stay cheaper and without the annoyances of high luxury tourist services and so on.

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    We found what seemed to be the cheapest hotel in town, a nice bungalow shaped hut full of mosquitoes but almost first line on the beach. We were the only guests that day and had a portion of the beautiful palm-fringed white sand beach just for our personal use. We spent quite a lot of time walking along the shore until we arrived to the fishermen settlement –over 5km- and came back to the hotel just on time to see sunset. A beautiful moment.

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    On the next day, after doing some sport at the beach, we rented two scooters and head to the Red and White Sand Dunes, two of the highlights of any visit to Mui Ne. It was a pleasant ride of 10 and nearly 30 kilometres respectively to arrive there, and we had a great time rolling down the dunes and playing around like kids. The next day we continued our trip northeast, to the mountain town of Dalat.

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  • Ho Chi Minh City, aka Saigon

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    We arrived in Ho Chi Minh on the early afternoon just at the begining of that day’s showers over the city. The idea was to wait for a release of the rain by having a natural fruit juice in one of the many cafe-bars in Phan Nung Lao area, where the backpacker hotels and scene concentrate. Time passed by and it never stopped raining, so we decided to move and look for suitable accommodation to our needs… something cheap. Since we were still travelling with Empar and Juan we thought to share a room for us four, which should be cheaper than two double rooms. Nothing as far from reality. In Ho Chi Minh City the price for the accommodation was expensive –for Southeast Asian standards so far. We finally stayed at a place with free internet in lobby and a non-operating fridge in the room, not before getting soaked under the heaviest rain we have seen so far.

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    During our stay in the city, we did not do much sightseeing but wandered around many areas of town and found lots of beautiful corners and houses to stop at. It is a shame of the traffic all around the city, which pollutes the air acousticly and environmentally. The most interesting area was China Town, where we spent a whole day admiring the herbs shops, the scripts on the facades and the architecture.

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    Much more interesting than the city itself is the man who gave name to it. “Uncle Ho”, as Ho Chi Minh is referred to by every admirer, spent his life fighting for the independence of the country and he did it apparently quite well, since he has become the most admired figure in Vietnamese history. It is not strange that his face is to be found everywhere in Vietnam –although it is not as repetitive as the King’s face in Thailand.

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  • The Mekong Delta towns of My Tho and Ben Tre

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    We reached My Tho by local bus after a 4 hours ride on a bumpy road. The stop was a few kilometres away from the city centre, in the middle of nowhere. Once again we were lucky and a minibus took us four –we were still travelling with Empar and Juan- for free from the side of the road to the river shore, where the most of the action happens in town. We didn’t like it much and expected to find a much authentic place in Ben Tre town, just a 15 minutes ferry and an overland ride of 12 kilometres on the other side of the river.

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    We found a good place to eat first –we can not believe that we are not getting fat with such amounts of food we are having in Vietnam- took the ferry and crossed to the Ben Tre province, a more remote area that can only be reached by boat. Thanks to our big smiles and to some nice words to local people we got another free ride from the pier into Ben Tre town -12 km under a very heavy rain that was about to flood the sides of the road. We got wet that afternoon looking for a place to stay but a “Com chai” restaurant helped us to recover our strenght and to prepare for a boat ride through small river canals on the next morning.

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    This time our boat was too big and the canals too small, so we had to push the prow away from the shore vegetation again and again. This made us be slower and made the whole journey shorter but the beautiness of the surroundings (water coconut trees covering all along the edge of the small water canals) and the amount of inhabitants we met on the way made it an interesting excursion to see the life in the canals.

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  • Can Tho and the floating markets

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    What do 4 tourists do in a local bus travelling through the Mekong Delta? Well, among others, have fun!! It was a long walk from our hotel to the local bus station in Chau Doc but it was really worth the effort. Once we arrived there we found out –read corroborate- that hotels and travel agencies sell out tickets of the same buses at higher prices than in the station and then impute it to the rise of the prices of petrol, not to their comission. So we bought our tickets, got in the bus and were surprised of seeing some local people on very wide costumes filled up by what it seemed to be their flesh –something weird if you think that the average Vietnamese is quite skinny. After some minutes the bus had moved and had crossed the first police checkpoint on the road, we could finally know about this mystery. What they all had under their clothes –and in every corner and seat of the bus- was packets and packets of cigarrettes that they were smuggling into the province of Can Tho, our next destination. Between stop and stop they kept on screwing out pieces of the bus to take the hidden cigarrettes and put them on big boxes, then stoping in the middle of nowhere to pass them on to a motorbike rider, who should take them somewhere different, and so on. This trip was pretty fun and once we arrived in Can Tho we had enough to laugh about.

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    We found a cheap ‘homestay’ kind hotel and arranged with them a boat trip to the floating markets for the next day. For a few dollars per head we spent 8 hours navigating rivers and small canals, visiting noodle factories, fruit orchards and floating markets in the Mekong delta. It was a nice day out with our lovely guide “Hart” who took care of everything and fed us constantly with local delicacies. A journey that we will not ever forget, in which we could develop our skills in Vietnamese language –so, we learnt to say hello, bye, thanks, papaya and many other useful things…

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    Again, another highlight of our stay there was the food and to find another “Com chai” restaurant with many more tasty dishes which we could not believe it was not meat or fish. Ummmmm!!

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