Monday, June 30, 2014

Beautiful Stay in Hoi An--6/26-28

I had again planned to stay in Hoi An during my travels through Vietnam because I find it one of the most beautiful cities in SE Asia with its well preserved buildings that represent different international traders primarily Chinese,Portuguese, Japanese, and French. The old town area restricts automobile traffic as well as most moto bike traffic. To walk about the Old Town area you are suppose to purchase a pass for 120,000 dong--about $7 USD, and that also gives you access to some of the private homes with private chapels, churches and folk dance and music performances. Apparently Hoi An and Delat were some of the towns that during the "American War" both sides of the conflict agreed not to bomb or destroy. Good thing for the residents there as well as future tourists. I guess the Monument Men were reactivated for this war.

This private chapel was a large as some normal churches found elsewhere. Once inside and gave them our admission ticket we had opportunity after opportunity to buy some of the trinkets. Another way to make some money from the tourists I suppose.

Most of the boats have the eyes painted on the fronts of the boats to scare away evil spirits.

You can see that the ferry boat commuters are now tending toward motor bikes compared to when I was first here in 2002 when most frequent mode of transportation was the bicycle. I saw a similar situation in Hanoi where the motor bike had replaced the bicycle.

I always enjoy strolling through this wharfside market where all types of fresh vegetables and fruits are stacked up for sale along with a variety of fish and meat, including dog---the meat with the skinny tails.


Too bad my camera skills did not adequately capture the night lights with the festive silk lanterns and floating votives that people bought from various vendors---children vendors seemed to yield greater sales--and then placed them in the water.


Again here, the food did not disappoint me with its international influences, especially from the French including wonderfully delicious baguettes, in this case filled with an omlet, and Vietnamese coffee

Chicken and vegetables along with some eggplant.
White Rose---shrimp with translucent noodles---and fried eggplant
Another interesting stop was this beautiful Chinese Church which is still used for worship.
I also visited the Ceramics Museum and then headed to the music and dance performances which were a part of the admission fee. Here are some of the performances I saw.

After I stopped to get some money from a workable ATM--many did not accept my ATM card and others charged double the normal 30,000 dong service fee---I met a couple from Seattle who had quit their jobs with Microsoft and intended to travel until they tired of it. In April, Dina and Eric joined some friends of theirs to motor bike through the highlands of Vietnam and Laos and now their adventure continues open ended. How amazing is that to find travelers from Seattle by chance at a street side bar in Hoi An because where I have been traveling the past month, I have run into few Ameicans from the US. They have a blog which has some interesting stories of their adventures and amazing pictures thanks to Dina's good eye for shots.

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Here are some of the last views of Hoi An before I head off to Danang and the train to Nha Trang, my last planned long distance train ride that began in Moscow over a month ago.










Easy Rider from Danang to Hoi An--6/26

We arrived in Danang about two hours late because one of the trains hit a car and blocked our passage until they could get a replacement engine. Good thing it was not our train.

As I left the station I was looking around for a mini bus with a Hoi An sign on it rather than jumping on a moto taxi to catch a ride to the bus station. Instead, Minh, an Easy Rider, offered me a ride on his big motorcycle to Hoi An for 150,000. This sounded "easy" to me.
I am just posing and was just a passenger on this run.

After getting to Hoi An, I first headed down to the harbor area for a bit of lunch and then checked out a number of hotels I had reviewed in the Lonely Planet guide. One of the ones listed in the old copy of the gude book I had was just a pile of rubble. That was the one nearest to the wharf at a reasonable price. After checking out a few, I ended up with staying at the Hoi Pho Hotel at $15 per night. It was a very clean and comfortable place with A/C, hot showers, CNN, and a comfortable bed and a nice view out the window of backyard gardens. The staff of Loc, Tho, and Hoa could not be more helpful in helping me out with laundry, directions and advice on what to see and do, and served up some great Vietnamese coffee.



Viet Cong Soldier treats me to Breakfast--6/26

After a good night's sleep, I made my way to the bathroom to shave and refresh while continuing on the train to Danang. It turns out that the father had been a Viet Cong soldier and he and his son were on their way to a veterans reunion in Ho Chi Minh City. None of us spoke the others language, but signing and looking at my Vietnamese phrase book I pieced out the following information about this father's life.

Here is a picture he showed me when he was a fresh recruit.

He started out with the Viet Cong as a recruit in Hanoi and then proceeded to move down toward Hue and participated in the Tet offensive in 1974. His speciality was as a bomb disposal expert.


Here are the captured mine field instructions from the US Army that shows how a mine field is laid out and the various types of mines to be used.

Here is a page from his journal that has a picture of a hilltop that he had defended.

He indicated that after the Tet Offensive, his group made their way down the Ho Chi Minh Trail through Laos to Saigon where they laid siege on Saigon until the fall of Saigon and the end of the "American War". Here are two picture of him and his buddies in Saigon in 1975.

After showing me all of his materials, he ended up offering me some breakfast so I did not have to buy some from the train staff.

The final picture he showed me was of the last war reunion that he attended and this time he was taking his son to the event. He is on the far left in the white uniform.



Night Train to Danang and Bus to Hoi An--6/25-26

Since my train was not leaving Hanoi until 7PM, I had more time to wander around the Old Quarter and resisting all of the sales bargains I did not want to carry on the rest of my travels. I really wanted to get some Vietnamese weasel coffee, but I did not want to haul around an extra pound of stuff nor did I want to take the chance that the US Agricultural Inspectors would not confiscate it.
The Rising Dragon also negotiated a fair price for a moto taxi ride out to the Hanoi Train Station. They wanted me to go in a taxi, but since it was rush hour I figured that the moto taxi could weave in and out of any possible traffic jams we may encounter. I am sure glad that all of the drivers know about "weaving" traffic. They say their biggest road hazard are tourists who do not know how to cross in this "weaving" traffic.
I made it in plenty of time for my train departure and sat in the station a while. Lots of Vietnamese find it comfortable to sit on their haunches like this woman is doing. I guess that is why they prefer those squat toilets you find in so many places including the train carriages.

A fellow in a blue shirt who check my ticket when I entered the station motioned to me to follow him as the gates opened. I followed him ahead of everyone else and when he got me to my carriage and I entered, he tried to enter as well, but the train conductor did not let him. After I got to my cabin, I realized that he was just a tout and was probably expecting me to tip him for escorting me ahead of the other passengers. I guess not all blue shirst are train officials. Pretty clever business on his part which did not work to his advantage with me. Had I known that is what he was about, I would have just flowed with the crowd of passengers..
I ended up on the top bunk and early evening the other people in my cabin kept changing around until they finally settled in. My bunk mates were a father and son and a mother and small girl who ended up sleeping in the cabin. Apparently the mother and small girl were a part of a large group of Vietnames tourists bound for Hue because they all had the same orange and white baseball caps.
I needed the quilt to keep me warm during the night because the A/C was blasting out within inches of my head. It was very tough to wiggle out of the top bunk in the middle of the night for my bathroom break, but otherwise it was a comfortable sleep.

Good Morning, Vietnam-6/24

After my last buffet breakfast of noodle soup and other delectables at the Happy Meet Monastery, I caught an early morning bus that quickly got filled by about three farmers who were hauling their two baskets each of vegetables and yellow flower blossom. By the time I got off, it was wall to wall people and vegetable baskets.

Again I used the Chinese script that says Friendship Pass to have people show me when to get off the bus.
After getting off, I again got on a moto taxi to make my final 3 kms to the Friendship Pass.
This time at the Friendship Pass, I am with my backpack as I get ready to go through China Customs and Immigration Building I showed you in my earlier blog. It was the easiest border crossing from China and Vietnam. After clearing the Vietnam Immigration and Customs building which was just a few hundred yards down from the China building, there was a shuttle bus that would take us to where the bus station was. This is where I would figure out how to get onward to Hanoi.
To my relief there were two minibuses that were competing for customers bound for Hanoi and places on the way. I usually try to pick the one that is fuller which means we leave as soon as the bus is full. The cost was 40 RMB---less than $6USD---for the 4 to 6 hour ride.

For the first time in three days, I was able to speak to some people that understood and spoke English. Among the riders in my bus were Sharon sitting beside me and Wendy now in the front seat after suffering a bout of car sickness despite wearing a travel patch. They were studying Chinese and were returning home for the summer holiday period. Sharon had indicated that much of their English studies involved studing grammar and not speaking English so she was glad to spend time talking with me.


About halfway there, we stopped for some lunch at a rest stop. We all had pho gau--chicken noodle soup. After that we continued on until Wendy got off on a town outside Hanoi and a bit later Sharon too got off along side the highway where her parents were waiting for her in their SUV.

Thay had instructed the driver where to drop me off in the Old Quarter of Hanoi, and sure enough, they dropped me off just a block away from the Rising Dragon Hotel.

When I entered the hotel and told the staff who I was, they warmly welcomed me and sat me down with some wonderful Vietnamese coffee---beats Starbucks by a mile---and went through the registration process. Mai, the receptionist, said that Glory had informed them of my difficulities. One of the things many of the hotel staff do with you in this sit down is to hear about your travel plans and then proceed to offer you tour and ticketing options for onward travel.

Since it was about 100 degrees with high humidity outside, I jumped at her offer to get my train ticket to Danang on the 25th with a little commission for them. Because it was a Vietnamese holiday period, she told me that my ticket choices were limited to the top bed in the hard sleepers---the third bunk up. At least I saved having to travel to the train station and waiting in line for the ticket which cost about 408000 dong--about $20.

After a shower, I decided to just walk about the Old Quarter area of Hanoi since I had been here just last year. I enjoy sitting at this corner sipping a street beer at 5000 dong per glass and watching the weaving traffic.


I then headed down to the Lake Hoan Kiem where Senator John McCain bailed out and spent the rest of the "American War" as a prisoner at the nearby Hanoi "Hilton"/

I had a lunch of pho gau on one of the rooftop restaurants overlooking the lake.
It was then just some more walking around the Old Quarter until dinnertime got me to the Tamerind Restaurant across the street from my Rising Dragon Hotel. What a great setting for a gourmet feast and splurge.


After walking about until dark, I returned to my hotel to wash out a few things before going to bed.