Tag Archives: temple

Rhodes, Islands of Castles Pt.1

Using a bit of time off from the Busabout Greek Island Hopper I visited Rhodes, one of the largest of the Greek islands, closer to the Turkish mainland than Greece but only a short (and cheap) flight away from Athens.

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I arrived in the morning, and immediately jumped on the bus into Rhodos, or Rhodes town. Not much to see out the windows but fairly average looking beaches, but once I hit the town thinks started to look up, it’s not hard to find the incredible old town here, it encompasses about 50% of the area. My hostel was only a short walk from the bus stop, but I got distracted by the nearby sights and started exploring.

img_20160827_111807627The old town is surrounded by Byzantine city walls, two layers of thick brick structure used to defend the town throughout various periods, through the Christian Crusades and Turkish Invasion as well as during the time it was built. Inside the walls is a maze of alleyways, blissfully free of cars and surprisingly few nagging salesmen desperate to have you look at their wares. It’s clean and tidy, while still holding it’s ancient stylings. The Road of Knights is a popular stop, the curving street that arcs gently up to the Grand Masters Palace.img_20160827_114452347_hdr My highlight inside was the Roloi Tower, for 5EUR you can climb inside, and you get a drink included as well, I think it’s a rather hopeful attempt to encourage people to use their bar, but it’s not a bad place at all, and the tower offers some great views of the city.

img_20160827_124425180Surrounding the central section, between the two walls is the Tavros, the moat that attackers would have had to climb into before reaching the main castle walls. It’s impossible to imagine the loss of life in that huge manmade canyon, but taking a walk through is both poignant and beautiful. It’s possible to walk the entire length, or just parts of it, and it’s well worth doing. Surprisingly quiet despite between sandwiched between the two parts of the city.

img_20160827_161144616Mandraki Port is worth walking through, further fortifications can be found here and explored for free, but also the port entrance has some nice statues framing it which make for a good snap. From there you can explore around the sea front to the beaches. While I was there I found that the wind was blowing from the north, making the southern beaches much more pleasant. On the North-Eastern tip of the island is the Aquarium, fairly highly rated, but not on my list of things to do.

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After dropping my bags at the very pleasant STAY hostel, I decided to make the trip up to the acropolis. It’s clear when you get there why it’s not as famous as the one in Athens.img_20160827_170444189The stadium is impressive, but the temple is all but gone, with just four pillars remaining along with a lot of scaffolding. Perhaps in a couple years when whatever work they’re doing is complete it’ll look a little better, but for now it’s not worth the walk up the hill.

I enjoyed a nice evening at the hostel, they hosted a Greek night, which was a little redundant for me having been in Greece for the last couple of months, but it was good to meet some fellow travellers and experience the whole backpacker vibe again properly. The hosts certainly did a good job and provided plenty of food.

img_20160828_104718076Day two involved jumping on my rented quad and heading out for the first of my many pinpoints along the North coast of the island. Filerimos was the first stop, a monastery at the top of a hill overlooking the coastline, and plenty of the inland as well. A huge cross was accessible for free, and making an impressive photo point, but was also placed at a great lookout.img_20160828_105055829_hdrWorth the drive up for that alone, but for only 6EUR I entered the Monastery site as well. Relatively small, and clearly not used any more the Monastery was pretty, but not overwhelming, however on the far side was another Byzantine remnant, a small fort built up on one of the higher cliff faces. Again, great views from here, and some interesting architecture but nothing that would blow your mind.

img_20160828_135002542Next location was a little more inland, and as it was through a valley I decided to take the scenic route, heading further south and nipping up to it. The Valley of Butterflies can be entered from a couple of places, I would recommend starting at the bottom so it’s downhill on the way home, of course I started at the top and had a long climb to get back to my vehicle. The Valley was 5EUR entry, but is very peaceful once you enter, the path winds it’s way down through the lush forest, although it may take a little while to realise why it has it’s name. There’s only the one type of butterfly in there, however once you spot one, you’ll recognise it’s camouflage and start to see them everywhere. They rest on the floor and on trees, and blend in so well with the dirt and bark.

img_20160828_134807389It creates quite a lovely atmosphere with so many of them flying past here and there, and the occasion mass movement from a hideyhole where they explode like a slow-mo party popper. There are some spots which were really overwhelmed with the creatures, trees and rocks covered so thickly that you couldn’t see what the bugs were sitting on. There is a little stream that flows through the valley as well, and in a couple spots where it was more rock than mud, you can spot some fresh water crabs, standing is still as possible, clearly waiting for the chance to snatch a butterfly from the air. I watched for a little while, but of the five crabs I could see, not one even moved, let alone caught some food.img_20160828_141436419_hdrAt the main entrance is a little cafe and info booth, although there’s really not much info there at all, and if you continue further down it’s much of the same, with less people. The walkways are well built and family friendly, although I wouldn’t trust someone too old to make the walk back up.

img_20160828_153804383Kameiros was everything that I had wanted from the acropolis but hadn’t got. The site was large, well presented and showed a settlement of impressive size that provided remarkable facilities to it’s residents considering the age of the place. Fresh running water was provided to all homes, and a clear hierarchy within the town is still visible, with the larger richer houses along what would have been the main roads, while others were tucked behind.img_20160828_155216443_hdrIt’s fascinating to walk through homes so old and to really begin to understand the lives of these people. The remains of the temple at the bottom of the hill was a centre point for the town, while a second at the top added another altar. It’s possible to note the era that certain parts were built, and to explore the baths that used to running water, along with a surprisingly technical series of pipes to provide hot water and steam to cleanse the locals.

img_20160828_170751927_hdrNext up was the first of the little castles I was due to visit over the next few days. With a pleasant cafe, and a well kept path leading in, Kritinia was one of the more complete structures. Most of the main walls were standing, but a few collapses had been tidied up and made safe, without any major reconstruction work spoiling the aesthetic. The views from here were amazing, many an instagram photo to boost the likes and gain a few extra follows as you gaze out over the winding coastline and the distant islands fading into the mists.

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img_20160828_184758730_hdrThe last stop for the day, after dropping my bag and quad off at the hotel was the castle of Monolithos. Not much of a castle, but it makes up for it with it’s location, perched on a cliff with sheer drops on three sides. Only accessible through a short path up from the road, which locals and tourists alike have decorated with hundreds of small cairns, piles of rocks built from the loose stone all around. Makes for a rather pretty walk through, and then on reaching the pinnacle there were many many more. The location reminded me stronger of the monasteries at Meteora, although this just had a small church and some fortified walls which were well crumbled away. The best thing about it, as the point on the north west of the island, was the sunset. I reached there with about half an hour to spare so had enough time to explore and snap away, then as the sun actually set just sit and appreciate the pure beauty of it all. The colours in the sky, and the fact that the sun was setting over pure ocean (something that Santorini can’t claim) along with the incredible setting made it an excellent end to a busy day.

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Benjamin Duff

@versestravel

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Delphi and Meteora

With the time off I get in Athens, it gives me a lot of chances to see more of Greece, so I decided to do an actual tour. I wanted to see some of the real history of the country, so Delphi and Meteora were a must do. Epic scenery and some great stories as well

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I booked through a website called GetYourGuide.com which was pretty good, their price was about 30EUR less than if I’d booked direct, and the company I went with was called Key Tours. It’s a two day tour, and the price included a stay in Kalambaka at the base of the Meteora cliffs.

img_20160816_093201012I was picked up, transferred, fussed around and faffed about until eventually I was on a coach heading up to Delphi for our first stop. The guide was an impressively knowledgable lady called Anastasia, talking almost constantly all the way out of Athens, and then from Athens the whole way to Delphi. Honestly it was very hard to listen to her talk for such a long time, there was just too much chatter that didn’t interest me, so I fell asleep. The service breaks were depressing tourist traps full of over-priced tat and rubbish food, but we didn’t get much choice.

img_20160815_122408611_hdrOnce we got to Delphi there was a little more fussing, then the group followed our guide on a rather uninspiring tour of a hugely inspiring location. The site itself is incredible, ruins of treasuries, a huge temple, a stadium and so much more, all built around the Oracle, on the side of a mountain. The views in all directions were wonderful, the valley spreading below us and the mountain peaks above, while the ruins showed how the ancient holy location functioned. The story goes that Zeus released two crows who would meet at the centre of the world, then hurled a rock down in that location to mark it for mankind. There is a fissure in the rock there, where sulphuric gasses rise from the depths of the planet, and they found that breathing this gas caused strong hallucinations. They would use a virgin, who sit atop the fissure, breathing the air and explaining what she saw (or just mumbling nonsense) and priests would translate this into advise and prophesy for the leaders of the various city-states. The most well known of the prophecies is the story of Croesus who was told that he would destroy an army if he went to war. He went to war, and his own army was destroyed.

img_20160815_123438774It was a holy location, so nobody lived there, meaning there are no remains of homes, just the main temple of Apollo and various treasuries, or gold supplies for the city-states. The location at Delphi meant it was close to the coast and accessible relatively easily by all. The formed a council of elders, and it was at this location they could make decisions for the entire nation. The Oracle features in several movies, including 300, which depict it as a truly mystical place – It’s unlikely to have been quite to fantastical, but the Ancient Greeks certainly believed in the power of Oracle.

img_20160815_162113848We missed the museum, which contained many of the statues and more delicate artefacts in order to get going towards Meteora. We did get a brief stop at the monument to the Spartans who died Thermopylae. A mighty spartan warrior stands atop a wall, with a carved depiction of the battle of the 300 against the immense Persian army. Since the water level has lowered the narrow passage shown in the movie is now much much wider, and would be impossible to defend with so few men.

img_20160816_085842672We switched out guide when we left Delphi, and I had been hoping that our new guy would make the journey a little better, with shorter talks about the most important sights, however he also decided to expel every nugget of information he could about the regions we travelled through, including a wonderful 20 minutes on a special cheese, 40 minutes of the plains of mid-greece and plenty more that I was more than happy to sleep through. I expect I missed a lot of the interesting and relevant information, but trying to concentrate was just impossible. We arrived at Kalambaka tired and drowse, but a reasonable feed and a stroll around cleared my head before bed.

img_20160816_090721228An early start meant we were on the cliffs before most of the tourists, and actually had a chance to view some of the very impressive sights of Meteora. The place is famous not only for the high cliffs rising out of the plains below, but also the monasteries and nunneries built upon them. Built by religious hermits who had been residing in the caves, the cliffs gave the monks the solitude to worship and act according to Gods will. Nowadays there are roads up there, and tourist crawling all over the churches and holy areas, so I imagine the solitude is less effective, but the idea of constructing entire buildings on rock outcrops and effectively inaccessible cliffs, back in the 11th Century is just unimaginable.

img_20160816_114643010_hdrWe visited two of the main complexes, and viewed one from the outside (it’s closed on Tuesdays) and each had it’s own charm, and was an impressive structure when you consider the challenge of building on the pure rocks. The views were possibly the most spectacular, although our guide insisted on teaching us about every mural in each chapel, which took up most of the time inside. I decided to skip out of tour to enjoy the location without being surrounded by other tourists, and there’s something about musty church air that makes me feel pretty bad (I must be a sinner).

img_20160816_094120506The trip home was long an uneventful, I tried to sleep as much as I could, I had certainly had enough of the guide. At least the ride was smooth and there was minimal faffing around.

I’d absolutely recommend the sites, they’re excellent, and good value for entry, but if you can find a way to see them without doing a tour do so. Greek guides have to go to school to qualify, and the school teaches them to talk as much as they can, for as long as they can, and it’s exhausting to listen to. I’m surprised they can still talk at all.

Benjamin Duff

@versestravel

Cambodia Pt2: Siem Reap Pt:2

The first part of the Siem Reap article is here

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DCIM101GOPROThe Lady Temple (Banteay Srei) was the next stop off, a much less spectacular stop, but the gardens make it impressive in a very different way. Much more peaceful and relaxing than the other temples. It’s quite a long way from the others, so you have to invest a bit of time getting there, but worth it in the end, especially if you’re a fan of flowers and gardens.

DCIM101GOPROThe Landmine museum was a rather brutal reminder of the horrible things that have happened to Cambodia only a couple of decades ago. A collection of deactivated weapons, bombs and mines are on display, along with some odd manikins modelling military uniforms and holding guns. It’s an odd but interesting stop that only takes a few minutes to explore, and all the money for the tickets goes to helping victims of landmines, so it’s worth a trip even if you don’t really take a look around.

DCIM101GOPROWe stopped on the way back at rather dodgy looking military base/shooting range Batman told us about. However it was highly over-priced and with no bargaining at all, we left without even touching a gun, one of the things on the bucket-list for SE Asia. Back through a few smaller temples,and Angkor Thom to get some more pics as the sun went down, then into Siem Reap for food and a well earned rest.

The next day was spent relaxing a bit more and exploring the town of Siem Reap, which is a lot more pleasant away from the touristy centre. There’s some interesting events that go on, including the incredible circus ‘Phare‘ which features a group of boys from nearby Battambang, The show really is very impressive, with all sorts of flips and somersaults performed, along with some great tongue in cheek jokes. What was best was that you could see that the performers were really enjoying themselves, breaking out into a grin every time they got a round of applause or pulled off the trick just right. There was also the American Ex-Pat who performed solo on Cello to raise money for the local hospitals, he had arrived in the 1980’s to help as a doctor and stayed ever since, working as a doctor during the day and performing at night to raise money for vital equipment and facilities.

DCIM100GOPROWe took another day to travel out to Tonle Sap Lake to experience the floating villages and the way the people survive constantly surrounded by water. It was a long trip out, and when we arrived there wasn’t much floating going on as the lake level had dropped over the summer. Still the houses up on stilts looked rather strange several metres above ground level. Once you get to the river you switch to a boat which guides you through the town, along with waving kids and happy faces.DCIM100GOPROThere’s a little stop to switch onto a little paddle boat with a lovely local woman and take a trip through the skinny trees that live right next to the main lake. It’s rather magical bobbing between the plants, sunlight filtering through the leaves. As you move through quietly and serenely it’s nice to take stock and realise how luck we are to be able to travel the way we do. Back out of the trees we’re back onto the motorboat and out into the lake itself.DCIM100GOPRO It’s simple colossal, 2700 square km while we visited, although during the monsoon season it backs up to 16000 square km, 22 times larger than Singapore.

Back in Siem Reap we spent a day chilling by the pool at the hostel before hopping on the night bus over to Phnom Penh.

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Benjamin Duff

@versestravel

Cambodia Pt1: Siem Reap

As always, the bus through from 4000 Islands in Laos down through half of Cambodia is pretty horrendous, definitely in the top ten of worst trips. We won’t bore you with the details, it’s always the same story. But arriving was a rather more pleasant experience. Continue reading Cambodia Pt1: Siem Reap

Why Cambodia is our Favourite SE Asia destination

Cambodia is an amazing country surrounded by amazing countries. But what makes it our favourite?

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Simply, it’s the balance of tourism, temples, history, beaches, exploration and pure unspoiled natural beauty.

DCIM100GOPROIt has something to offer for a lot of people, with Siem Reap and Phnom Penh drawing in huge crowds for the epic temples and incredible history, the southern beaches offering late nights and lazy days for the party crowd and islands, mountains, rivers and more to be explored, the variety satisfies all tastes and allows longer term visitors enough variation to stay interested. Continue reading Why Cambodia is our Favourite SE Asia destination

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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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.

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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