Tag Archives: Vietnam

Hanoi & the Hanoi Kids

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Well we have arrived at Hanoi our final destination in Vietnam before we fly back to Bangkok, our stay in Hanoi has had some high’s and low’s mainly high’s thankfully. We stayed at the hotel Meracus which is located in the old quarter near the Hoan Kiem lake a perfect location for exploring the city. Hanoi I’m my opinion is very different from Saigon, it has much more of a communist feel about the place, like the public address announcements each morning, the very difficult access to social media sites on the web and the use of such words as the imperialist invasion referring to the Vietnam war and rightly so in my opinion, but nonetheless Hanoi is a great city to visit.

One of the many things on our list of ToDo’s whilst here in Hanoi was to get tickets to the water puppet show which was recommended to me by a friend, so without further a do we strolled along to the theatre to purchase our tickets, the entire show is performed in a large pool of water which is the stage and the elaborately decorated puppets all appearing from behind screens and from beneath the water, the show tells the story of the marriage between Lac Long Quan the king of the dragons (a sacred animal in oriental culture) and Au Co, a fairy, the story tells the origins of the Vietnamese people, a truly magnificent performance, culminating in a spectacular colourful ending a great eve was had by all.

Water Puppets

Water Puppets

Whilst we were in Hanoi I celebrated my 56 birthday, and it was on my birthday that we had arranged a free tour of the city with the Hanoi Kids, now the Hanoi Kids is an organisation of some 200 hundred volunteers consisting of university students who are learning English and by taking English-speaking tourists on tours of the city this enables them to hone their english speaking skills. I discovered the Hanoi Kids organisation on my research into our trip, and what a truly memorable tour of the city we had, our tour guide Son who is 21 and studying to be a teacher gave us a fantastic tour of the cities sights, we visited the infamous Hoa Lo prison or known to the American prisonors of war as the Hanoi Hilton, the Temple of Literature, the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum Ho Chi Minh’s house and grounds, he took us to a very busy and vibrant restaurant Quan An Ngon that many of  the locals frequent for lunch where we ate some delicious local food. After visiting the Ho Chi Minh complex in the afternoon Son suggested we have a cup of coffee, now the coffee shop was situated down a very small ally, which incidentally we would never have found ourselves, then Son told us we were not having any old coffee but an egg coffee, yes I know what you are thinking that sounds really disgusting let me explain, the coffee shop has been in the same family for a couple of generations, and the current proprietors father invented egg coffee as there was a great demand for cappuccino but he could not get the raw ingredients he needed to make it so he invented the egg coffee, now when it come to food or drink for that matter I will try most things, but I must admit I was a bit dubious about said egg coffee, but honestly I can safely say it was the best coffee I have ever tasted, in fact we were all so impressed we had another. So a big big thank you to Hanoi kids especially our tour guide Son (pronounced Sun) a day that will live with me forever.

Outside Cafe Giang with Son our tour guide

Outside Cafe Giang with Son our tour guide

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Quan An Ngon our lunch time restaurant

Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum

Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum

Well its soon time to leave Indochina and Vietnam behind us and for me it will be a sad parting, as the country is truly an amazing place, so much culture, so much history and just amazing people, and I for one will now instead of thinking of the terrible war that went on there every time the county’s name is mentioned I will just think of it as probably the most amazing country that I have ever visited in all my years of travelling. I will definitely be back.

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Hue (pronounced “Hway”)

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Hue (pronounced “Hway”)

After a very relaxing and tranquil stay in Hoi An it was time to move on, our next leg of the journey was by train to the city of Hue, we desired to take the train from Danang to Hue as its journey winds it’s way along the coast with some stunning views of the coast line. The reason we wanted to to stop in Hue as we wanted to visit the city’s citadel which a recommended place to visit. In 1802 emperor Gia Long founded the Nguyen dynasty and moved the capital from Hanoi to Hue in an effort to unite North and South, but in 1968 Hue was back in the news again as a fierce battle took place during the Tet offensive, during the three and a half weeks that the battle raged more than 10,000 people lost there lives, now thankfully as we are all aware Vietnam has its independence.

Our hotel was situated on the south of the perfume river and in my opinion the better side to stay as it has quite a few restaurants and bars and is also the location of the popular DMZ bar. The citadel however is on the north side of the river and a short taxi ride from where we were staying. When you approach the citadel you are confronted by a very tall flagpole with the Vietnamese flag proudly flying at the top, and although many of its buildings were destroyed in the Vietnam war there is a great deal of restoration going on to try to bring the Citadel back to its former glory, I would throughly recommend a visit.
Sorry about the lack of captions on the images but the Internet is severely restricted here in Vietnam and will not let me use my tablet to access the full wordpress site.
Image 1: Is of an ornate calender one of may which can be seen around the site.
Image 2: View from inside one of the walkways
Image 3: Restored ornate doors
Image 4: This is the view from a rooftop bar we were having a drink in, the bridge in the bridge in the background was bombed many times in the Vietnam war and continually rebuilt, the Americans only stopped bombing it when it was discovered that it was American POW’s was doing the rebuilding.
Image 5: one of the many ornate gates in and around the Citadel.

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Sunset over Hway

Hoi An and Ba Na Hill

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After a wonderful time in Saigon it was time to move on for some well-earned rest and relaxation. This leg of our journey onto Hoi An we decided to fly, a big thanks to Jetstar airlines for their great service. The flight took about an hour from Saigon a lot shorter than the train journey originally planned, when we arranged the trip it was decided to have a week in the middle our for some chill time, and we chose the perfect place to do it the Vinh Hung Riverside Resort, what a fabulous place and a perfect location for exploring Hoi An. The resort as the name suggests is situated right on the river edge with great views amazing staff, we could not have picked a better place for our stay, we even got handed a gift when we left the hotel to say thanks for our custom an amazing place. Now Hoi An can only be described as a jewel in the crown of Vietnam, but then again there are many more, it is extremely picturesque a photographer’s dream, it has an abundance of shops, restaurants, and many interesting sights to see, and at night the whole place is magically transformed into wonderland with street after street lit up by lanterns of all colours and shapes and sizes absolutely breathtaking. Now like I said it was our time on the trip just to relax and this is what we did, either by the pool, the riverside, or as you would expect the bar, so there is not a great deal to write about except don’t ever miss out on visiting Hoi An if you plan a visit to Vietnam. During our stay in Hoi An we also visited the Ba Na Hill Resort and I took myself off for a morning of cycling in Vietnam but first Ba Na Hills

Ba Na Hill was formerly a French resort built-in the 1920’s and once boasted 200 villas, and many restaurants, and clubs. It is now undergoing a major re-building project and being turned into in my opinion a rather tacky theme park, but the main reason we visited Ba Na Hills was to ride on the worlds longest cable car at 5km long and to experience the magnificent views from the top of the mountain and to see the equally magnificent 27m high marble Buddha who proudly sits at the top. You can arrange a trip from the many travel agents in Hoi An for around $39 per person, which includes transport to the hill station, the return journey on the cable car and also lunch, but we thought we could do it ourselves cheaper, so we hired a car with a driver for $50 return, (incidentally the journey from Hoi An is around one and a half hours) and the cost of the return trip on the cable car is 400,000 dong which is $12 per person so we did not save a great deal, but a worthwhile visit nonetheless.

Ba Na Hills Cable Car

The worlds longest cable car at 5km long

 

The 27m high buddha at the top of Ba Na Hill

The 27m high buddha at the top of Ba Na Hill

Now everywhere you travel in Vietnam there are hundreds of scooters, motorbikes, and bicycles on the roads, and Hoi An is no exception, also there are many travel agents offering tours of all kinds to various sights in and around Hoi An and cycling trips are one of them, I looked at the various options of the tours, one included visiting a farm and helping with the gardening “I don’t think so I’m on holiday” so I just decided to rent a bike for myself for the morning as the girls wanted to lay in the sun, so I took myself off, the cost for the said bike rental by the way was a massive 50,000 dong or one pound twenty pence. My journey took me along to the beach some 4 miles from where we were staying I followed the road along the edge of the beach until I come to a dead end (why do men always think they can navigate without a map it must be bred into us). So I reluctantly got out my map and realised I would have to cycle back almost the distance I just rode to get to where I originally planned to go. Whist cycling back along the beach road I decided to look for somewhere that I could stop and have a drink and against my better judgement take anothere look at the map. It was then that I passed a small house with a small stall outside selling drinks when a Vietnamese local called me to me “Have a look” in broken English so I stopped as I needed some more water, he invited me to take a seat, and that’s where I sat for some 20mins or more chatting to Sun, he brought out his Vietnamese to English phrase book so I was learning a little Vietnamese and I was teaching him some English (mind you I’m not a very good ambassador when it comes to speaking our mother tongue coming from the east end of London, “Apples and Pears and all that) I had a great time he introduced me to his wife I showed him pictures of my family and of my home town, a really special moment, so if you are ever in the Cui Dai beach area of Vietnam and come across a cockney Vietnamese then you can blame me. After my little break I followed a cycle route marked out on my map, it took me through some lovely small villages where I witnessed many cottage industries, furniture making, the making of roofing panels from palm leaves even watched the locals cutting up large blocks of ice on a band saw normally used for woodworking, a thoroughly enjoyable way to spend a morning. Click Here for my route and stats of my journey supplied by my cyclemeter phone app.

Riverside view Hoi An old town

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Japanese Covered Bridge

One of the many lantern seller in town

The Wonderful City Saigon, Ho Chi Minh

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After another long journey on a coach and and a breeze of a border crossing compared to our crossing in Cambodia we arrived in the city of Saigon, now I know its now called Ho Chi Minh city now but the locals still affectionately call it Saigion so I will do the same. My first impression was that it was very much different than Cambodia’s capital Phnom Penh, it was much cleaner and seemed much more organised. We arrived at hotel about an hour after crossing the border and as we were approached we were all taken aback, not from the sight of our hotel which I must add was very nice indeed, but the sight of the centre of town itself, it was especially spectacular arriving at night with all the tall hotels illuminating the skyline, the streams of neon lights absoultly stunning. We checked in and was shown to our beautiful room on the ninth floor, then headed for the rooftop bar to discuss the itinerary for the next day.
Now in our lonely planet guide there was a city walk which it was recommended to do which takes in a lot of the city’s attractions, the guide stated that it should take about three hours, but quite how they worked this out I will never know unless they just did the walk without seeing and exploring any off the attractions as it took us nearly two days, with coffee breaks, and lunch breaks, nonetheless by following the walk it was a great way to explore the city.
We meandered through the streets soaking up the sights and sounds and the sheer vibrance off the city a truly wonderful place. One thing I must mention is that Vietnam is a communist country which is in my opinion supposed to mean everyone is equal, well I’m not politically minded at all but I can tell you it certainly does not work in Saigon, there were more very upmarket designer shops in one place than in my own city of London also the amount of high end cars on the roads like Bentley’s, Porche’s, Range Rovers was amazing, yet by the same token their were many people selling whatever they could on street corners just to get by. So in my opinion “Communism just doesn’t work”.
Now back to the sightseeing, the sights you should see if you visit Saigon are and in no particular order the Old Post Office, a magnificent building built by the french architect Gustav Eiffel who is probably most famously know for designing the Eiffel Tower, it is pretty much as it was when it was built and it still is a working post office. Next which is right opposite is Notre Dame Cathedral, it was established by the French colonists in about 1863 and is a smaller version of the one in Paris. Unfortunatly for us it was closed when we arrived and did not open until later in the day, so we did not have the chance to see inside, so check your times. Next which is a short walk across a nice park which incidently is a great place to get some well needed shade from the sweltering heat, is The Reunification Palace it is a large imposing building built in the sixties and in my opinion not a particularly attractive building but its the history surrounding it which is it’s main attraction, it was formerly known as the Independence Palace, built on the site of the former Norodom Palace. It was designed by architect Ngô Viết Thụ and was the home and workplace of the President of South Vietnam during the Vietnam War. It is probably most famously marking the end of the Vietnam War during the Fall of Saigon on April 30, 1975, when a North Vietnamese Army tank crashed through its gates, and the last American helicopter left Saigon. Admission is 30000 dong which is £1 and also includes a free guided tour, excellent value for money. There are many other sights to see on the walk various landmarks, the impressive opera house and the walk finishing up at Shri which is a rooftop bar and restaurant with magnificent views over the city, a very nice way to end our walk and our day.
On our our last morning in Saigon I suggested to the girls that we visit the War Remnants Museum, now this did not seem to go down to well but I managed to swing it by saying we can visit the Ben Than market on the way back.
The War Remnants museum was once know as the Chinese and American war crimes museum, and it is probably the most popular museum visited by western tourists. The museum is spread over four floors and consists of 100’s of images and artifacts from the Vietnam war it is an interesting point to note that many of the most disturbing images of US attrocities are from US sources including the infamouse My Lai massacre. Whilst in my opinion the museum is a must see if you are in Saigon, but a word of warning it is a sobering place to visit, and a lot of the images are quite shocking the girls came away in tears.
Next stop Hoi An for a bit rest and recuperation.

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Phnom Penh and the Killing Fields

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After our six hour coach journey from Siem Reap, courtesy of Giant Ibis Buses who incidentally I would thoroughly recommend excellent service, we arrived in Phnom Penh. My first impressions were that it was in no way as nice as Siem Reap, it seemed much more run down and litter strewn in a in a lot of places. As I had emailed ahead to our hotel when we arrived at the bus terminal our Tuk Tuk drivers were duly waiting as arranged. So another mad journey ensued to our hotel but we arrived safely and in one peice. My first impressions of our hotel were not very favourable, it was not in a particularly nice part of town and it looked a bit rough around the edges, but it was clean and the staff were very friendly and helpful and made us most welcome, also we were only staying for two nights so it was fine. The reason we decided to visit Phnom Penh was not only to break up our long journey across Cambodia and to see the city, but the main reason was to visit the Killing Fields and the Tuol Sleng prison or locally known as S21. Now although many tourists visit the site it is hardly what I call a tourist attraction. Now without insulting anyone intelligence I will just explain a little of what happened here. During the period between 1975 and 1979 it is estimated that the total number of deaths resulting from Pol Pot regime and the Khmer Rouge policies, including disease and starvation, range from 1.7 to 2.5 million out of a 1975 population of just over 8 million, with an estimated 9000 men, woman and children being killed at Choeung Ek (The Killing Fields). There are many other sites across Cambodia were these atrocities took place but the one just outside Phnom Penh is the most infamous. On entry you are given an audio guide of the site which if you go do not turn down, it is part of your admission, and it is excellent, not only does talk in detail about the various points of the site as you walk around but their is various options along your way of listening to some harrowing accounts of survivors and family members who have lived through the Pol Pot era, very moving stuff indeed. In fact our Tuk Tuk driver that I mentioned in my previous post, his father was a victim of the Khmer Rouge. The army rounded up anyone who was educated and took them to the detention centre Tuol Sleng in Phnom Penh, which was a former school, they were then beaten and tortured and made to sign forced confessions of crimes against the state.They were then taken by the lorry full to the Killing Fields to be executed. Most of the victim’s were bludgeoned to death as the Khmer Rouge did not want to waste precious bullets. Women were raped, children were killed in front of their mother’s before the mother’s were killed themselves and all buried in a mass grave. Whilst we were at the site there were many other tourists taking photographs, now as anyone who knows me will know I am a very keen photographer, but before we arrived at the site I decided that I would not take any pictures as a mark of respect which I stuck to except for one, and my reason for taking this image is firstly it moved me to tears, but more importantly I hope and pray it will never happen on this scale again. The tree that you see in the photo is the one they used to smash the heads of babies and small children against to kill them, often in front of there mother’s before putting them in a mass grave. In fact when the site was found and examined they found bone and tissue fragments embedded in the bark and if anyone is wondering what the bracelets are hanging on the bark, they are friendship bracelets which people hang on the tree as a mark of respect.
“Let Them Rest In Peace”.
Our last stop of the morning was at Choeung ek, the notorious detention and torture centre of the Khmer Rouge which was also know like I said as S21. Now considering this was a former school and was once filled with happy smiling children who had there whole life ahead of them, then to end up a place where all these atrocities were carried out, and where possibly some of its former occupants teachers and pupils were killed or tortured is difficult to comprehend. There is former classroom after classroom with a solitary iron framed bed in the middle with chains and the implements used for torture lying on them, its an image which will live with me forever a very sad and emotionally draining experience and one I shall never forget “Rest In Peace” all of them.
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One last picture to lighten up a pretty dark post. It was taken outside the shop where we bought our water from, a family run concern, in the pictute was Mum two daughters, and grandson my dear wife (glasses) and our dear friend Jackie. Its time to leave Phnom Penh now and move on to Ho Chi Minh formally Saigon which in my opinion sounds more romantic. So as allways stay safe keep well and keep following.
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