Tag Archives: south east

Laos Pt1: Luang Prabang

I left Thailand from Pai, taking the slow boat into Laos, a popular way to across into the northern end of the country. You’ve got to get lucky with this boat, as the people you meet are likely to be your friends for the next couple of weeks.

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DCIM100GOPROSo getting the bus and boat over and into Laos is ok, don’t expect luxury, and don’t expect much fun, it’s all very basic and the ‘slow’ part is correct. The bus over to the border is pretty standard, after which you do all the visa stuff before shipping down river to the town to sleep your first night in Laos before the second half of the boat ride. Don’t get duped into spending any extra money on the hotel at Pakbeng, they are desperate to eek every penny from you, and don’t care about what happens to you down the line. Those that paid the extra wasted money on rooms hardly any nicer, even if the one I slept in ranks in the bottom 5 of rooms I’ve stayed in. It’s an early start the next day, but the little town you stay in is not nice, and I was glad to see the back of it.

DCIM100GOPROIt’s a good thing you’re going down river otherwise the boat would hardly move at all. The views are pretty good as you go, but it’s not enough to keep you from getting bored for 5 hours. Find somewhere to sit, near some people the same age and that speak the same language and prepare to learn everything there is to know about them. Thankfully my crew were lovely, and we bonded quite nicely, mostly English with a couple of exceptions. With the hard seats and no chance to nap, we were all grateful to reach Luang Prabang and head to our hostel – Lemon Lao/Spicy Lao. The hostel was supposedly started by the same guy that ran the ‘spicy’ hostels in Thailand, it was rather clear why he’d given up on this one (if he really had anything to do with it). While the staff was lovely, and most of the place was pretty chilled out a friendly, it was freezing cold. There were only a few rooms with windows and doors, and those that did were loose or broken, which wouldn’t have been a problem if it wasn’t winter and very cold at night.

DCIM100GOPROLuang Prabang was actually a great little city, with some lovely French Colonial architecture and the whole town had a strangely European feel to it. Excellent markets and some some great bars made it a nice place to spend a bit of time, just be a little careful of the table football sharks, they’ll let you win a game, then start betting and win so easily.

DCIM100GOPROThe best bit of the town is the waterfalls nearby, the first day we checked out a complex which has plenty of falls and one area that has featured in a thousand Facebook profile pics. Kuang Si Falls has a beautiful green water pool, and a great waterfall flowing in that makes it just perfect for posing in swim wear. There’s also a rope swing that has plenty of people queuing to use it, but it’s all very friendly, and there’s lots of people having fun, so the ‘Oooohs’ from the crowd when someone belly flops in is quite impressive. Of course there’s a few trying flips and things, but mostly everyone is just happy to be there. Thankfully the sun warms the water nicely, and the cold of night is long gone. This site also had a little bear sanctuary, and being a big fan of bears I found this rather pleasant. Of the zoo style places I’ve seen this seemed to be one of the nicer, with no metal cages and plenty of space for the animals. Apparently all of the bears here have been rescued from farms or zoos, so support the charity and help some of these awesome creatures

DCIM100GOPROThe next day was a another waterfall network, Tat Sae Waterfalls, not so great for swimming and diving, but we still found plenty of spots. The most fun at this one was finding the highest place we could jump from. Certainly lots of adrenalin pumping as we clamber up platforms and over rocks to the high perch, only to plummet straight back down into the water. You need to be careful where you land though, the depth isn’t obvious and I’m sure it would be very easy to hurt yourself if you mis-placed your jump.

DCIM100GOPROOne of the most interesting things about Laos is that they have a curfew, everybody must be home by midnight, so everything shuts at 11.30. There is one exception, which was the bowling alley. The tuk-tuks line up outside the  bars in town ready to take westerners out of town to the mythical bowling alley, which continues serving until the last people leave. There’s not much music, and absolutely no atmosphere, but the venue serves it’s purpose – allowing tourists to keep drinking. After a couple of games the novelty wears off, and people start drifting home, only the hardcore and the desperate stayed very late here.

The food here has a outstanding mix of French and Laotian influences, so it’s possible to find crepes and croisants along with noodle and rice dishes, just be aware that if it looks too nice, the price may be too much. Some good views from the town across the Meekong make this a much nicer introduction into the country than the previous stop.

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Benjamin Duff

@versestravel

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Cambodia Pt6: Kampot Pt2

Continued from here

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DCIM100GOPROThe casino, the only part of the Chinese plan that seems to have been built, sits on it’s own looking rather weather worn and dated. It’s the only place that we found that sold food, so we had a little bite and marvelled at the bad interior design. The next is a part built hotel, a concrete shell that never saw any fixtures or fittings, rather ugly, but good fun to explore, and the views down to the sea are even better than from the Buddha. After finishing off the concreting so well, it’s so strange to have just left it there. There’s some more roads that head around the mountain top, open and quiet, so good for a little burn about, even on the little scooter I had. Finally there is a waterfall in a little dip, along with typical touristy gift shop. It was very dry while we were there, but judging by the size of it, a good amount of water would be flowing over the rocks when raining. Riding back down we got to enjoy the view all the way down, and with the engine off it was remarkably peaceful.

DSCN6712The last day in Kampot was spent with a Belgian guy and a British family climbing some of the Karst cliffs not far from the town. I highly recommend checking this out if you’re staying in Kampot, Climbodia was a great day out, and one of the best activities we did in the country Following the directions was good fun, but we did find the place (definitely got lost on the way home though). David, our lead guide was excellent, with some impressive knowledge both of the local area and the mountain we were climbing. Along with the rest of the Climbodia guides we had the complete package, with lunch, snacks and drinks included. The day starts with a nice easy climb leading to the Via Ferrata (assisted climbing) then an awesome abseil through a hole and down into a chute of rock.

DSCN6723The tour then heads right inside the hill, through some of the more picturesque sections, winding through tunnels and caves before working our way way up again. A cool section allows you to crawl through a tight gap then peer over the edge into a 100m deep chasm. After seeing that, wiggling away again was something of a relief. The final part after lunch allowed us to climb as we wished, taking on some of the traditional style climbing options, some that were pretty normal, although still challenging, and one up through the chute we had abseiled earlier which meant bracing your back against one wall then walking up the opposite, then juggling up and so on, certainly a new challenge and one that defeated us.

DCIM100GOPROKampot was a very cool place to visit and a great surprise. It would have been easy to spend more time there if only we hadn’t got to get into Vietnam before our Visas ran out.

Benjamin Duff

@versestravel

Cambodia Pt5: Kampot Pt1

The last stop in Cambodia, before we headed into Vietnam was a very pleasant little town known as Kampot.

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I spent for the first couple days with a friendly German girl before being joined again by Nico. We stayed in a hostel that had been recommended to me over a year before by a Spanish guy called Pablo I met in Malaysia. Bodhi Villa is a little away from the town, so you need a moped to out there, but it’s an idyllic location next to the river. Waking up each morning with a jump into the water was a great way to get ready for the day. A nice range of rooms, including a selection of mattresses on the floor barely covered with a roof through to private little rooms and even a couple of separate riverside ‘suites’. A great atmosphere at the hostel made for a very pleasant stay.

DCIM100GOPROThe town itself doesn’t have anything to draw people in, no big sights to see, but it is a lovely place to spend some time. The local expats provide good restaurants and a friendly word or two, and the monthly mini-magazine that gets printed provides a sense of community that is hard to find elsewhere. That said there’s still plenty of Kampot unspoilt to explore including the usual baffling markets and shopping arcades.
The first night we took a sunset boat trip up the river that flowed past our hostel. It’s a pretty big river so the cruise took a while to get up to it’s end point, but watching the sun set over the Karst mountains in the distance was very relaxing. Once the sun had set and the dark started to set in, the hunt was on to find the fireflies. Moving each day, once it’s dark enough to spot their glow, they start to cluster up usually all in one tree or another. Seeing the whole tree lit up like it was christmas but knowing it was all from the light of these little insects was incredible. We were allowed to get out onto the bank to get closer and try to get some photos, though a camera lens is never as sensitive as the human eye. We headed back shortly after to experience some of the good variety of food the town had to offer.

DCIM100GOPROThe next day we decided to bike up to a rather interesting tourist spot. Bokor mountain has supposedly been bought in entirety by China, who are in the process of building a holiday town. Work is still in the early stages though, and the whole site is open to the public. The most noticable feature when you arrive is the quality of the road, and although i haven’t ridden a bike in many places that road was certainly one of the most fun I’d ever driven. On the way down, turn off your engine and coast, it’ll save petrol and make it nice and quiet too.

The first actual stops are some big Buddhas not the largest I’ve seen, but with some incredible views over the flat lands below and down to the sea in the distance. The strange visitor centre was next, with a plan for the mountain, although it really didn’t seem to make much sense, and didn’t match up with the shape or any existing features. Perhaps the Chinese are planning to re-landscape the whole thing. The Mountain is flat topped, so the roads are pretty simple, and there’s a few more features on the top to check out.

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Continued here 

Benjamin Duff

@versestravel

Cambodia Pt4: Sihanoukville Pt1

On to Sihanoukville, another bus, but clearly not a bad one as I remember nothing of it.

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DCIM100GOPROI did leave Jess behind here, but was re-united with Nico who I’d travelled Laos with and a few old good friends. The first place in Sin-Ville, as it’s jokingly known as, we stayed was possibly the cheapest hostel I’d been to, but it was understandably cheap, thin mattresses on big shelves with plenty of other people, no locks if there was even a door, nights spent cuddling your bag and sweating. Still at only $2 a night, it was almost ok to wait an hour for one of the two showers to come free. Don’r recall the name, but it’s right on the inside of the main corner in town.

DCIM100GOPROWe were only there a short while though, quickly heading over to Koh Rong Samloem for a full moon party. Not quite the scale of the Thai version, but the island had a little restaurant and plenty of friendly people on it. It would have been nicer without the lengthy boat ride either way, I did feel bad for all those suffering with hangovers on the way home. Back on the mainland we moved over to Led Zephyr for nicer rooms and a better bar. Much the same as the Thai equivalent Sihanoukville has it’s share of awful bars, promo girls and guys, buckets of dubious quality, hookers and crime. If you stay away from the main beach it’s generally pretty pleasant, but the sea front is pretty nasty. Away from the touristy beach the main town has a nice ex-pat community, often happy to have a chat with some snails (backpackers) the newly-locals share some wisdom and give some good tips on where to go for some incredible western food. The first roast dinner in a long time, and very nice it was.

A few days there and it was time to jump over to Koh Rong, an island of note for three reasons;

  1. Everybody smokes weed, all the time
  2. The whole island runs on one generator, so when it’s out, the island shuts down
  3. One of the most gorgeous beaches I’ve ever seen

DCIM100GOPROThe main strip is a hive of ramshackle bamboo buildings, constantly extended to cater for more and more backpackers. Getting a room is tricky as their booking systems tend to be ‘first come first served’ and as the residents wake up before the boat arrives it can be a nightmare to find the few newly located rooms before anyone else does. Once there though, you can spread out a bit, find a place you really like and either explore, or get high. Unfortunately most of the tourists seems to stick with the latter, but if you’re willing to avoid that and explore, there’s the popular and stunning beach on the other side of the island, but even more than that every section of coast is beautiful and often avoiding the two hotspots mean you’ll find somewhere even nicer. There’s plenty of trails through the forest to check out as well.

To be continued…

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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