Category Archives: Vietnam

Vietnam Pt12: Ha Long Bay

Ha Long Bay is one of the big draws to Vietnam, for all types of tourist, from the cheapo backpackers through to rich Russians on private boats.

Ha Long Bay

There are an unbelievable amount of options to choose from, and a thousand different places to book them all. Each shop works with different boats, and trip suppliers. What confused me from the start was that the agent would show you a boat, tell you that you’ll be on that boat, and then tell you it leaves everyday – for a 2 day trip. It’s all just awful, and the corruption and bullshit is worse than anywhere, even Bangkok.

The crewSo after wandering around trying different agents for a while we picked a guy we kinda liked, and booked as a group – there were about 7 of us in total – to get a big discount. Although I have come to suspect that a big discount is not a discount at all, they’re simply selling you a cheaper package, possibly at a higher than usual price. There’s no way to know where this money is going, or that you’re getting what you paid for.

BusySo we get picked up, along with a whole load more backpackers for the bus down to Ha Long town, and meet some cool guys on the trip (which would have been so much worse without them) and assume we must be on the same boat – we’ve paid about the same and are doing the same length trip. We arrive at the Port, and are left standing in the bus park for at least an hour, after a little while our new friends are called away and put on one boat, and a bit longer after that we are taken to our new home. It’s not amazing, to say the least. The rooms are all doubles, so I’m sharing with Nico again, and the facilities are pretty standard cheap Asian. However, we weren’t expecting luxury (even if the pictures were a lot nicer!) Upstairs is the dining room, and on the roof a sun deck with some broken loungers and umbrellas.

cavesThe weather wasn’t great, so the sights were a little spoilt, but the caves were very cool, although that was an extra charge we hadn’t been told about. Not as spectacular as some of the caves I’d visited previously, but still worth a look. I also enjoyed the Kayaking, although a guide around the village would have been appreciated, we were just pointed in the direction of some cool rocky bits, and left to it.

The ViewsThere was also a lot of travel time, sitting on a slow boat heading out to the part of the bay that is so nice. Surprisingly we didn’t see any of the nice sail boats that are always used in the adverts for Ha Long Bay. I can only assume they start closer and spend the nights in the nicer parts of the National Park.

The best part was playing drinking games in the cabin in the evening, and then after a sneaky bribe to their captain the boys from the bus joined us for a bit of a party. More drinking games and some drum n bass kept us going pretty late until their captain insisted on returning to their anchorage. Speaking to the boys it seemed as though they’d done the same as us that day, and their boat was pretty much the same as far as standards.

Our troubles really began on the second day when we realised that quite a few things had been stolen. A pair of real Nike trainers and several amounts of cash had been taken from bags on deck. There were only a few crew members and the travel company rep on board during the thefts, so we tried to insist that the crew compartments were searched, but with no luck. The crew mostly hid away and the captain was belligerent in his refusal. On speaking with the rep, he explained that the crew and boat are hired, basically on a first come first serve basis, using whichever boat is ready at the time, so they have no responsibility for the actions of the crew, or if the boat is horrible.

It makes me think that the whole area is run as a total scam, overcharging for ‘upgrades’ that mean nothing and treating guests like cash machines. The customer service was terrible, the food was disappointing and overall the trip was a waste.

However on route back we bumped into some people that had gone out for the three day trip, who told us they had had no troubles at all, and that the food and service was excellent. They had paid a lot more than us, but in hindsight it may have been worth it just to get a meal that didn’t leave me hungry.

Booking Ha Long Bay is a minefield, I’d suggest booking through an agent at home, but you’d likely end up spending four or five times as much money and potentially ending up with the same thing. At least that way you can complain and get a refund. With the local agents you have no chance of that happening.

Cave

Benjamin Duff

@versestravel

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How NOT To Get A Chinese Visa In Hanoi

I planned my tour through Vietnam to include plenty of time in Hanoi to allow me to apply for my Chinese visa – this didn’t work out so well.

The main piece of advice I can give you if you are looking to apply is book your outbound transport. It’s so simple, but I know that it’s the last thing you want to do. Whether it’s the cheapest short haul flight out you can find, or the actual flight you want to take. Book it before you go to the embassy.

Day 1:

I found out from various forums what things I needed to fill out the forms, this is mostly the address and phone number of your hotel/hostel, your own details, passport, and plans for China. I found out which train I wanted to take in, and found out the name of a few hostels in the towns I was to spend the first few days. Some people have said it’s a good idea to have all these booked, which is easy enough with the hostels, as you’ll only be charged the 10% fee through the booking site. However, booking the train is a little trickier, they don’t tend to sell tickets for future travel, so good luck if you want to book that.

I also had a more general plan of my tour through China, which included a stop over in Hong Kong (when in Rome…) which counts as leaving the country as far as the visa is concerned, so I was applying for a double entry visa – same paperwork, just a different box to tick.

On arrival at the embassy I was given a big form by a grumpy security guard, so I filled it out as best I could. The guards will look over it once you are done, and will point out anything you missed, which may sound nice, but feels like getting told off by a strict teacher. You’ll also need to get photocopies of everything ever, there’s a place just around the corner, head right out the door and right again at the corner, and it’s on the right. Don’t listen to the taxi drivers at all. At one point I needed to check online for the hostel phone number, so asked where I could find Wi-Fi. After a few horrendous offers I decided to try a little walk, and about 200 meters away, opposite Lenin, is a coffee shop with an open network.

Once the form was filled in, and I answered all the questions I could, to the lady at the desk, I left with fingers crossed. I knew at this point I was very on the fence, as the lady had told me so. She said she would show it to her supervisor who could advise me whether it was worth applying officially. I’m not sure if this is a normal part of procedure, but I’m glad they did it for me, as it saved me paying for the application, which I’ve heard is an ordeal itself.

Day 2: 

No news is good news right?

Day 3:

Nope. I got a phone call that I could come and collect my passport from the office as they didn’t think it was worth putting through my application. They didn’t give any exact reasons other than ‘lack of evidence’ – not sure what they meant by this, but reading others experiences the only thing my application was really lacking was the transport out.

So if you’re thinking about applying, make sure you have everything, then double check it all.

In all honesty, I was actually a bit relieved when I was rejected, after about 5 months in Asia, I was starting to get tired of the similar landscapes, food and environment. Although it’s somewhere I really wanted to go, I know that, unlike places like Thailand which caters for the youth, China can be appreciated in much the same way at any period in your life, and it certainly isn’t going anywhere. I hope that I will go one day, preferably soon, to explore the amazing sites, but for now I am happy to have adventured in South Africa instead.

Benjamin Duff

@versestravel

Vietnam Pt11 – Hanoi

So on to the biggest city in the north of Vietnam, Hanoi. The second largest in the country, and the capital while the country was divided during the war.

Church

There’s two little areas within the city that have a few hostels in each, the first is home to the Infamous Hanoi Backpackers, and Central Hanoi Backpackers while the other hosts the Hanoi Backpackers Downtown; a fancy new build with impressive bar, the starting point of the notorious bar crawl that sucks in pretty much all western tourists under 30. The two areas are a little way apart, but definitely within walking distance although getting from the last bar of the bar crawl back to the first area is a bit of trek.

LeninI stayed at the Central Backpackers, but if you’re a bit of a party animal I’d recommend either of the others mentioned above. Both are run by the same people, are very western friendly and good places to meet other people. They constant run games and have fun little events for theitr guests, they also run their own tours, the Buffalo Run, which takes those that don’t know the real cost of things via a few stops down to Hoi An over seven days, and the much discussed Ha Long Bay Castaway Tour. This tour was something I’d heard about since Thailand, and the reviews are unbelievably mixed, from pure love to spiteful hatred. It’s the perfect trip for those that love to get very drunk and enjoy drinking games along with a bit of daytime adventure activities. I’ve heard horror stories that include the drinking of vomit, 6am shotgun beers, and forced drinking on those that could not handle it. I also heard girls complain that they were constantly sexually harassed by staff members. However, I have also heard people say it was the best weekend of their lives, so it’s a very divisive tour as far as opinions go. I choose not to go with them for two reasons; drinking to excess doesn’t appeal at all (as I’m straight edge I wouldn’t be drinking at all but being on a boat with those people would not be pleasant) and it’s at least two times more expensive than most other options. I have written up my Ha Long Bay Tour here (coming soon).

EntranceWe had arrived in Hanoi with a little bit of extra time because I wanted to apply for my Chinese Visa while in the city, you can read my article on how not to get your visa here (coming soon).

While in Hanoi I had a very pleasant surprise; bumping into a friend of mine that I had lived with in Melbourne for some time. Simply walking past a restaurant around the corner from my hostel I heard a call, and was very happy to see Andy. This made our evenings out very entertaining, as we have one main thing in common, and that’s the meeting and chasing of girls.

Hanoi has a few little bits and pieces to visit, so over the course of a couple days we visited several of them. The first is the large lake between the two backpacker areas which is also used as a giant roundabout. On one side there is a bridge to an island on which there is a quaint little pagoda. While not spectacular it is a very popular stop and is worth a quick look. The city is also home to many churches as well as small temples, so a tour of this is possible if that’s what you’re into.Ho Chi MinhThe Tomb of Ho Chi Minh is probably one of the biggest tourist draws I’ve been to, although we arrived too late to visit his body (something completely against his wishing when he died) the monument is very impressive. It’s something I wish I had seen properly and visited his body as well, although I’ve heard it’s rather disappointing an experience.

War MemorialThere is of course the obligatory War Museum, although this is more of a tribute than a complete museum and features just a few of the larger pieces in the courtyard of a small citadel style fort. Across the road from this is a statue of Lenin, a man who didn’t do too much for Vietnam directly, but apparently their love of communism was enough to erect the dedication. Finally is the old prison, which famously hosted John McCain the US Presidential Candidate.Hanoi Hilton Hao Lo Prison, popularly nicknamed the Hanoi Hilton is a very peculiar place to visit, and shows the way the Vietnamese will try to change history by showing us a rather false view of the Prison. The first part shows the horrific condition that the Vietnamese were kept in by the French Colonists, while the second displays the lovely conditions that the Vietnamese wish to show that American prisoners were kept in. This includes a rather basic but pleasant dorm room and lots of photos of US soldiers sharing happy times including having Christmas dinner and playing basketball. The Museum claims that the nickname Hanoi Hilton was because the conditions were so good. It is general knowledge that this is all propaganda and in fact the conditions for the Americans were similar to those of the Vietnamese during the French rule. Accounts of torture, and terrible conditions are rife amongst ‘guests’.

One Pillar Pagoda

The city has plenty of great walking streets with market stalls and shopping littering the sidewalks, so shopping is easy and often tempting, and you can get pretty much anything you could want there. Overall it’s a pleasant city to spend a couple days in, although it gets a little dull if you’re there as long as we were.

Benjamin Duff

@versestravel

Veitnam Pt10 – Dong Hoi and Phong Nha Caves

Moving on from Hue on the bus got us into Dong Hoi mid afternoon, enough time to find a cheap place to stay, and explore the town a little.

Paradise Cave

ChurchThere’s not a whole lot in Dong Hoi, but it’s a great base for exploring the national park in which there are several amazing caves to explore. The worlds largest cave was recently discovered in this area of Vietnam, including a cavern so big you could fit the Sistine Chapel inside. Unfortunately this cave is highly restricted, and limited to only a few thousand visitors a year, with very expensive trips in through the network. Instead we settled on a couple of the smaller, cheaper options which were a little more suitable for our needs.

Paradise CaveSo, on the day we arrived we found the few bits of interest, including the ruin of the Tam Tao Church, and an archway which is one of the few remaining parts of the original citadel wall. This arch is now more commonly used for serious drug usage, so only go during the day and watch your step, I don’t recommend it at all as it’s small and pretty rubbish looking, but if you must, please don’t wear flip flops. We also found out that the circus was in town, so later that day I checked it out; and was mostly pleasantly surprised. Certainly they did far too much with animals, but it didn’t seem overly cruel. I wouldn’t like to say it’s a good thing in anyway, and I felt bad for having supported the activity. Excluding the animals though I was very impressed with the acrobatics, some impressive pieces of stunt work and well choreographed dance work. The clowns were amusing for the kids I assume, and overall it was a pretty good show, although not as impressive as the show we’d seen in Cambodia.

Paradise CaveBack on a moped again we headed up through the forests and fields towards the Phong Nha Ke Bang National Park to explore a few of the caves. The fist of which was the Paradise Cave, a dry cave with a huge cavern just inside the entrance. It features all the expected features, most of which I don’t know the names of. The walkway is useful and doesn’t ruin the vista like many do, but allows for easy passage through the cave, which is actually longer than the Phong Nha cave.DCIM100GOPROThe National Park itself is a lovely place to drive through, quiet roads within the deep valleys with hills covered in trees. We had a little problem with our bike, the petrol gauge was stuck at about 1/3, so we ran out of petrol about three times that day. Thankfully we’re very good at rolling down hills, and after the third time we made sure we filled it up and bought some spare as well. Pushing a moped around is no fun, and driving home in the rain because you were delayed sucks as well

BoatAnyway, the Phong Nha cave is the main attraction for the area, and we found out the hard way that you can’t just drive to the entrance. You’ll need to go down to the docks in the nearby village then rent a boat. The boat is best shared with other people to split the costs, but it’s Vietnam, so nothing costs too much. Once in the boat you’re taken up river to the entrance, and then inside on a semi-guided trip, including a short walking section.Phong NhaWe were hurried somewhat by our guide, while the boats skipper pulled the boat up through some shallows to meet us on the other side. It was a shame to be hurried so, but having seen so many caves in the last couple months we wern’t too concerned. The cave was very impressive and well worth the trip, hard to describe though!

As I said, heading back was raining and that’s something I hope never to repeat. That night we were on the coach again heading to Hanoi with an aim to getting me a visa for China.

Phong Nha Cave

Benjamin Duff

@versestravel

 

Vietnam Pt9 – Hue

Hue is one of the larger cities on the route up through Vietnam, and the backpacker area is nicely placed over a few streets in the centre of the town.

Ruins

TankIt has a large citadel near the town, and then lots of little(ish) tombs out in the surrounding countryside as well. We decided after a decent night out, that we’d cycle (no moped this time) to see as much as we could. So heading out to the Citadel area we checked out yet another War Remnants Museum, which while the field of tanks was larger than most, was all much of the same as the others.

PalaceThe Citadel is a large area, with big impressive walls all around, at the centre of which is the Royal Palace which unfortunately was under reconditioning while we visited, meaning a lot of scaffolding in and around the site. While it was still worth a look around, the limits on where you could ride bikes and having to pay more than we had expected soured the experience a bit. Once the work is complete I imagine the area will be quite spectacular, however while we were there the construction and restoration meant we saw more of the work in progress than the buildings actually being worked on.

TombThe best part of the day was certainly cycling through the countryside, trying over and over to find the various tombs that were dotted about. Many wrong turns and detours meant we got a little sneak peak of life away from the touristy side, including some horrible new construction sites of cheap housing, some posh housing and the fairly reasonable conditions of the outer suburbs of the city. Once out in the countryside we found the tombs we were looking for although there were plenty of mis-directions and unhelpful locals, there were at least enough that did help us, and provide us with soft drinks to keep us going throughout the day.

ViewEach tomb had a nice unique factor, and the main ones, Khai Dinhs Tomb and the tomb of Tu Duc, were very impressive. Again construction and restoration efforts meant the views were a bit less impressive, but still they each featured some fascinating architecture and a fun place to explore. There were a couple smaller ones that we’d found in between, some were free entry and others I’m sure were supposed to be ticketed, but we missed that bit. Certainly not as impressive as the main two, but they helped to fill the day with interesting stops.

TombCycling was a nice change from the moped as well, and with the mellow hills of the area and reasonable traffic we felt perfectly safe at all times. Overall we rated the tombs much higher than the citadel and palace, but we booked our bus out again for the next day as we felt we’d seen all that the city had to offer us.

The nightlife is pretty good though, one of the hostels has a decent bar, although it shuts a little early, but meeting some of the people we’d met on our route up we had a good meal with a load of strangers, and ended up the only group in a bar at the end of the night. Playing pool against the staff and YouTubing punk rock songs on the sound system was a nice way to spend an evening.

Off the next day heading to Dong Hoi, to explore the famous caves in the area.

Benjamin Duff

@versestravel

Vietnam Pt8 – Hoi An and the Hi Van Pass

Hoi An is a gorgeous little town, maybe not as exciting as some, but definitely very pretty.

Personal

RiverI’ve seen photos of the town during Chinese New Year/Tet, which is very impressive, but getting through Vietnam on public transport is an absolute nightmare at this time of year. Unless you’re on a pre-planned tour it’s very risky to try traveling at this time, you’ll be crammed into buses, and lucky to get a bed for the night.

ShoppingYou don’t need to visit during Tet though, the town is still very pretty and a wonderful place to chill out for a couple of days. It’s most famous for its’ tailors, even the Top Gear guys dropped in to get a specially made suit while here. It’s a nice experience, and usually the hostels will have a book of recommended places to try. You can get pretty much anything made for you, out of any material you like, and if you’re not flying straight home then you can get it all sent back for you.BridgeIf you’re looking for something really nice, it won’t be cheap: A lot cheaper than Europe, but still a couple hundred dollars. However I recommend getting something really nice made up, then just for fun a couple silly costumes or jackets made up as well on the side. It all depends on where you go, their reputation and the material. It would be easy to spend days searching and trying places, but pick one and stick with it.

Other than that and the pretty streets Hoi An isn’t crazy with loads to do, with one major exception – The Hi Van Pass. Made famous first by the Easy Rider motorbike tours and then by Top Gear there’s a lot of different ways to experience this epic mountain road. We choose a one-way bike hire that included transfer of our gear to a hostel in Hue. It gave us the freedom to hit the places we fancied, and cost less than the tours.

Buddha

My SonSo after an early morning suit fitting Nico and I jumped onto a ‘ped again and headed the wrong way in search of the My Son ruins, a historical Vietnamese city, made up of a variety of ruins, rebuilt structures and recreations it’s a fascinating chance to see some of the ancient history of the culture in this country. The next stop was the Marble Mountains, where if you’re willing to take the stairs you can climb up the steep cliffs that pop right out of the flat plains around.The viewThere are three in total, with the main one crawling with statue shops and trinket sellers around the base. The further up and into the temple and pagoda complex you climb, the quieter it becomes, and offers better and better views. The mountains are only a short distance from the sea, so it’s possible to see the huge sweeping curve of the bay and far over the flats up to the mountain range through which the Hi Van Pass road runs.

BuddhaBack down to ground level we continue our route along the coast towards the mountains, stopping out on a peninsula that features another huge Buddha statue that looks back over the bay we’d just driven up. Then into the town of Da Nang, where we looked for some lunch. Along one of the streets we burst a tire so had to find a shop to fix that. A lucky find on a back road killed two birds with one stone, bike shop and lunch next door, and we were very happy with price as well.HappyInstead of the usual tourist rip-off prices these guys charged the same as they would a local, happy with a few snaps with us instead. It’s meeting these people that reminds you that the locals are not all greedy cheats, but incredibly friendly and happy to help. As a thank you we dug out some odd coins from other countries that they seemed to love. Getting going again we headed north around the next bay to start of the pass.

Hi VanThankfully we had a more powerful bike than the TG boys, so getting up was no trouble even with two of us on board. As we climbed we stopped at several locations to get pics of the epic views which really must be seen to be appreciated. At the top there is a little bus stop with shops and supplies and a couple Vietnam war remnants, gun turrets and bunkers mark the border between North and South. An odd thing happened as we looked down the other side, the weather switches completely. On the Southern side there wasn’t a cloud in sight, on the Northern the fog was so thick you couldn’t see more than 200 meters. It made for a rather strange and unimpressive ride back down.

Hi vanThen we hit the road, the main road that runs through the mountains rather than over them. It’s a busy motorway and it’s absolutely horrible to drive along on a moped. I imagine it’s not much better in a car really, the trucks that are steaming along at full speed have no problem with pushing you off the road if they want to overtake. We saw two accidents that had happened along that stretch, neither were small, and that didn’t make us feel any better. It’s definitely doable, but I don’t recommend it to anyone, even experienced bike riders, it’s just so dangerous, especially when you’re wearing half a helmet and a hoody as protection. It’s also a long drive, and when we finally arrived in Hue, I was very relieved to get off and say goodbye to that bike.

Benjamin Duff

@versestravel

Vietnam Pt7 – Nha Trang

Nha Trang is the first of the really commercialised touristy areas we hit, but very different to the commercial areas in Thailand and Cambodia because this town is geared to Russian Tourists not Europeans.

Nha Trang

PagodaWhile you may not think it would be very different, seeing restaurants with names in Russian lettering, with unknown themes mixed in with the occasional English, and even rarer Vietnamese signs was a little surreal. I can only assume it’s how non-native English speakers feel as they wander around the rest of South East Asia. It also warps the travel style to be in favour of the Russian, which is resort holidays, packaged tours and expensive, high quality at every turn. The complete opposite of the western way, constantly searching for the cheapest (but still high(ish) quality) way to do everything. So, less hostels, less local places to eat and more fancy themed bars.

BuddhaArriving earlyish in the morning, we dodged the over-charging taxis, choosing to find the nearest place with wifi to google our hostel. Turns out the bus stop is right next to the main hostel area, so a short walk later we found it and dumped our bags. If you’re getting the bus in, make sure you don’t get a taxi or moto, it’s less than 1km to walk. With our shoulders a little lighter we headed out to see the town, and well, it’s pretty big and fairly nice. The beach was very windy so wasn’t much fun for sitting on, but walking along the promenade was pleasant enough, and there’s a few monuments to keep it interesting.

BuddhaThe bus system here is blissfully easy to navigate, so we explored the Po Nagar Cham Towers which are across the far side of town. Very cheap entry and a wonderful little sight, if you have a little time to kill in Nha Trang then I highly recommend it. Another good stop is the Long Son Pagoda which is also on the bus route, so long as you can get your head around where each bus actually goes. Again, pretty and cheap, and with a huge Buddha to see, at the top of the hill with excellent views it would be crazy to miss.

Tower ShrineThere’s a good couple of bars near all the hostels, the most popular being the infamous ‘Why Not?‘ bar, which has been repeated from city to city around SE Asia. Be careful of the sharks in there, they’ll play a game of table football or pool with you, let you win, then offer to play another game, but make a bet with you. This is how they make their money, so don’t fall for it, you will lose.

CablecarNext day we hit what I had been looking forward to since arriving in Vietnam, the Vinpearl amusement park. It’s situated on an island accessible to the longest over water cablecar, along with a large resort complex, think Disney Land, but a lot more Vietnamese, and no cartoon characters wandering around. Entrance isn’t cheap, but it allows unlimited access to all rides and games all day, so it’s not a bad deal. Mostly, the queues were short, but you do need to be at the ride at the right time, they cycle through, usually a short window for each ride, so timing is pretty important.FlumeThere’s also a large waterpark, which is most of the fun really. The lazy river is great if you fancy being really lazy, but the flumes they have are great fun, big fast ones, big ones with a giant halfpipe, spinning ones, and plenty on inflatables. I advise taking your flip flops (thongs/jandles) with you to climb the towers, the metal gridding really starts to hurt the feet after a while. Just throw them off the tower at the top and pick them up after. If you lose them, just buy some new ones later, not expensive in Vietnam. We spent most of the day there, and filled it happily with slides and rides. Definitely the highlight of Nha Trang.

The last day was spent just hanging out and waiting for another bus over to Hoi An.

Benjamin Duff

@versestravel

 

Vietnam Pt6 – Da Lat

After the somewhat disappointing Mui Ne, we were looking forward to Da Lat, with it’s unique Swiss Alps reputation.

DCIM100GOPRO

ParkAnd it’s a reputation it deserves, while still un-mistakingly Asian, it’s really possible to get that alpine feel with the wide open but winding roads that weave and knot across the towns hills and suburbs. It’s got a lot of charm, with occasional European style bakeries, and some nice local food stops as well. We enjoyed a meal one night in (one of the many) Art Cafe, which features paper tablecloths and crayons, meaning you can draw yourself a picture before your food arrives. Functional accommodation at a decent price wasn’t hard to find which is always nice as well. The town has a pretty decent night market in the centre, ranging happily from the usual touristy fair through to more authentic basics, including some of the best thrift store style sale rails I’ve ever seen. It was be possible to stock up on fancy dress gear (especially 70s and 80s) for the next decade for less than a tenner.

Crazy HouseJumping on the mopeds again, we did a tour of the sights within the city which included the Crazy House, Palace, Cablecar and the steam train. Starting at the top, the crazy house is an Alice in Wonderland inspired piece of ridiculous architecture, fanciful staircases and archways span the gaps between castles and trees and towers. Imagine the Disney castle on acid and you’re about there. The Palace was an odd stop, not particularly exciting itself, as a holiday getaway for the Royal family, and not as impressive, either architecturally, or significantly as the Reunification Palace in HCMC,Palacebut they do allow visitors to try on some royal robes and pose for photos, which we did, and the results are quite hilarious.

The cablecar goes from the top of one hill near Da Lat, to another, a little further away, which gives you access to a very nice Temple and Gardens, which lead down to a lake. The temple building were nice, not overly impressive, but fitting for the location, and the garden was wonderfully taken care of. The ride in the gondola was quite pretty, with some nice views over the nearby hills and farmland. Finally, we hopped on the steam train, as it was leaving shortly after we had arrived to visit the station.TrainWhile the station was fairly pretty, the train ride lead through some more authentic (ugly) parts of the towns suburbs, more urban than the rural we had seen from the cablecar though. We arrived at the far end, with an hour to kill and no clue what to see, but thankfully the train staff were on hand to direct us to a big temple area, with several huge shrines and statues, along with a big statue manufacturer with plenty on display. Up in the towers, the views offered some impressive vistas both over more countryside, and across the temple grounds. Certainly no gardens with this one, but some interesting building structures, and highly ornate decorations. On our return home, we passed the ‘love garden’ a park filled with so many more of the giant tacky concrete sculptures that the area seemed to have in abundance. We didn’t venture too far in the dark, but having seen enough love heart benches and other overtly cheesy romantic features, we didn’t feel the need to go much further.

WaterfallThe next day saw us exploring a little further afield, checking out some of the local water features AKA waterfalls. The first was a touristy feature, with a strange little luge ride, another cablecar and shrines all over the place. While the waterfalls themselves were impressive the features somewhat ruined the area. The bottom waterfall is the bigger and more impressive as well as quieter, but you have to pay to take the elevator down to reach it. Once there though, it’s a much nicer part to spend time in, and a quick swim in the pool is very refreshing. Jumping into each waterfall seems to be a habit of mine. The luge was a peculiar event, as it’s on rails the only control you have is the speed, and it would seem that about 20% of the people on these rides like to go very slow, and with no overtaking lane, this means everyone ends up going very slow. So, really, I don’t recommend the luge, it’s just really annoying!

Elephant waterfallThe second waterfall is much further out and takes a bit of skill to get past the roadworks going on. Make sure your driver knows what they’re doing, it’s really not for beginners. That said, when you finally make it out there it is worth it; the waterfall is huge, and has plenty of climbing opportunities around to get different angles. The fallen rocks create quite a challenge to climbing, and getting as close as possible really is an adventure. There’s also a good pool to have a swim in, which is a must in my book. At the top there is another temple, this time featuring a massive Buddha, although this is the fat Buddha, rather than the skinny ones you find in Thailand.

DCIM100GOPRO

I don’t remember exactly where or what the waterfalls were called, although I believe the second was the ‘elephant waterfall’. The wikitravel page for Dalat was quite invaluable for this stop.

So after a good few swims, and plenty of moped adventure it was time to hop on the bus again heading overnight for Nha Trang.

Benjamin Duff

@versestravel

water

Vietnam Pt5 – Mui Ne

Mui Ne is a fairly small place to visit, and the main tourist area is quite a way from the actual town, this time spread along the beach road to the South.

Fairy Cliffs

Again the beach is almost inaccessible unless you’re staying at one of the resorts, although there is a very nice looking backpackers hostel, that was unfortunately booked up. As with all these places, being a couple roads back from the beach really knocks the price of accommodation down. The strip was rather bland, with nothing more than usual affair of restaurants and cafes mixed in with the ugly resorts.

dunesTo the North of the town is an area with some very impressive sand dunes, so after meeting up with the Norwegians again we took a drive on the rented mopeds to find them. While they are quite pretty, especially around sunset, this boy has grown up on coasts, and seen piles of sand before, and usually a little less covered in people. Still, good for a couple snaps.
Mui NeLater on that night we heard of a party happening up in one of the bars further up, so we decided to check it out. We arrived perhaps a little early, but still, with practically no one there, I don’t think it was going to get much better, after a quiet drink listening to the pounding commercial pop, we decided to try another place. We found a much bigger bar, with a lot more people, so ventured in only to realise we were massively underdressed. The girls inside were in cocktail dresses, while the men had shirts on at least, and I’m sure I saw the odd waistcoat. It didn’t take us long to realise we’d stumbled in to a resort party, and that these resorts were mostly full of Russians, and Russians love to dress up.

So, out of place and somewhat confused, we again have ourselves a quiet drink and decide to move on, this time finding a tidy little bar, with a reasonable amount of people and music quiet enough to allow us to talk to each other.

Fairy SpringThe next day we decided to explore the ‘Fairy Spring‘, a fancy name for was is really just a pleasant stroll barefoot up through a river to a little waterfall. Certainly nothing impressive, but perfectly nice to do, although my friend Nico was rather frustrated by the experience.

We came to the conclusion that Mui Ne wasn’t really somewhere to spend a lot of time, and really, considering how nice so many others were, I’d really recommend skipping it completely.

Fairy Waterfall

So, Dalat was next.

Benjamin Duff

@versestravel

 

Vietnam Pt4 – Cu Chi Tunnels and HCMC

HCMC is a big city, so this is the second post. If you’d like to read the first part, please head back here.

DCIM100GOPRO

Our second full day in the city was spent exploring a little more, checking out the markets and playing in the park. The market at the far end of the park features lots of the usual Asian delights, so if it’s your first, you’ll love it, otherwise it’s very much a case of ‘same same but different’.

The Water Puppet Theatre is worth a visit, either in HCMC or Hanoi. I heard from various people that each was better than the other, but having only seen the HCMC version, I can happily recommend it as a piece of amusing light entertainment. I’m not entirely sure what the story was, but the puppets are beautifully made and splash about in the pool that acts as stage (and hides the wooden bars the puppets are mounted on) excitedly and while it’s not sophisticated it really is a fun way to spend an hour.

DCIM100GOPROA full day trip was booked for the next day, encompassing the Cu Chi Tunnels and a variety of Temples on route. The variety turned out to be just one, but it was grand enough, and different enough to have been worth the additional time and cost. The temple appears to be a mix of Asian and Western religious styles, and inside we were allowed to witness the monks in prayer. There are some pretty strict customs and rules, but nothing hard to keep to. You are allowed upstairs to see the monks for above as well, and take some photos of the incredibly ornate interior design.

DCIM100GOPROThe Cu Chi Tunnels is an area that was used during the Vietnamese War by the Viet Cong to secretly transport goods past the Southern Vietnamese lines and engage in guerrilla warfare tactics. It has a short informative video, explaining the situation, and then you are guided around the site, shown some horrific traps that were used against the US and Southern troops. These include spiked pits, leg traps and many more, mostly using sharpened bamboo to severely injure any unsuspecting enemy. We were taken to displays of how they disguised the chimneys they had to use when cooking inside the tunnels, and what the conditions were like inside. They also developed methods to protect themselves within the tunnels incase of discovery, often with changing levels to prevent flooding, and multiple entrances/exits. We were given a choice next, whether to continue overland, or to brave the tunnels ourselves – of course I gave the tunnels a go, and while these were bigger than the originals they were still very cramped up and unpleasant, you can see the video of this here.

DCIM100GOPROThe last part of the site is a shooting range, where they allow visitors to shoot a variety of Vietnam War era guns. I jumped at the chance and choose a large shotgun (I thought anything rapid fire would be over too fast). The guns are permanently fixed along the edge of the range, with very limited mobility, after a brief bit of instruction you are let loose on the targets. If you shoot three, you get a prize, but alas I only managed two.You can check out the video of my shooting on youTube.

After our tour, all that was left was to jump on decent bus up to Mui Ne.

Benjamin Duff

@versestravel