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Monthly Archives: March 2018

Nha Trang, Hoi An and Da Nang (China Beach)

This part isn’t all in the correct order, but it works.

Leaving Da Lat on the bus we head over a great twisty mountain pass (highway 723) on the way to Nha Trang. Buses belch black smoke as they over- take small motorcycles hauling from one to four people and all types of product over the mountain.

There are road hazards everywhere. At times, the corners are full with buses over-taking buses. Another bus comes toward us. The motorcycles cling precariously to the side of the mountain road, a mere millimeters from the side of the bus. All of this on a tight, what is meant to be, two lane road. Several people gasp at times when it all looks impossible, but we make it, with sighs of relief for the tiny baby being held to his Mom’s chest with Dad at the helm and the little sibling standing in the front holding on to the bars.

Rice Paddy

The views of the jungle are beautiful and we sit and wonder what this was like being a soldier here 50 years ago.

Nha Trang. The city of Russians and Chinese. They are everywhere and the Russians are large people. We see some on the beach where they are in tiny bathing suits. Some that probably weigh over 300 pounds. The men are much larger with equally tiny suits. Some things you just can’t unsee.

Tasty pastries on the beach

Our hostel, upscale for US$15.00, is a 5 minute walk from a very beautiful beach. It is a very busy area with restaurants, stores and street vendors everywhere.

Walking down to the beach, we pass a man and stop to talk. He is a snowbird from Nova Scotia and tells us of life in Nha Trang. He and his wife rent a cute apartment near the beach for US$400/month. They have been here for over 10 years. He invited us up to his 5th floor apartment and his wife returns from her swim at a pool at a nearby resort. They are moving next year to an area that doesn’t have so much new growth and construction going on.

After a visit we head down to the Alley Bar and meet the owner, a Greek born in Australia and now living here.

John, the owner of the Alley Bar

He married a Vietnamese woman and now owns and runs this very cool bar and lives in the attached building. While we are chatting about our next ride he mentions that his Dad lives on one of the Greek Isles we will be visiting. We find the village on the map and make plans to stop when there. It will be our last island before heading to Turkey.

On the wall of the bar, love the reminder

The bar is a haven for expats, mainly Aussies, and, with the liberal laws toward recreational marijuana use, full of smokers rolling their next joint while sipping a beer. The food is superb and inexpensive so we eat there a couple times.

Hanging out a bit, we hear a real motorcycle pull up, a DRZ400. The two guys are running a big bike tour company and putting together a camping ride down the old Ho Chi Minh Trail. Looks like a good ride for sure. They will help riders get their Vietnamese drivers license. http://www.bigboybikesvu.com.

Vietnam tours

Great saying

The beach is beautiful, reminding me of Waikiki Beach with the crescent beach and the volcano at the end of the curve. The beach is full of the previous mentioned persons but some that are also able to wear the tiny bikinis with portions of the fabric being stuffed where it shouldn’t go. It seems everyone is proud of their bare arsses no matter the size.

Food on the beach

The trip up the coast was on a night sleeper bus, leaving at 1900PM and arriving in Hoi An at 0630AM in the morning. We bounce, stop and go throughout the night, but thanks to the Valium we bought for pennies at the local pharmacy, we were able to get some sleep.

We are greeted at our hostel by the nicest hostess we have ever had. Her name is Daisy. She was just a fantastic person. The room in our hostel was perfect overlooking the pool and dining area.

The pool area

Greg, Melanie and Daisy

Breakfast was included for US$7/per night for both of us.

Beautiful street in Hoi An

Business. Everything is by small motorcycle.

Temple

Sculpture on the river

Hoi An was a beautiful town with a peaceful river that splits the town into equally beautiful sides with colorful paper lanterns everywhere, including the foot bridge that connects both sides of town.

Water marks inside house

Inside the house

Small courtyard and gathering place

We took off on bicycles to look around town and visited several old homes that have remained in the same family for several generations. The weather was perfect while we were there. Inside these homes, already several feet above the river, we’re marks on the walls showing flood stages during monsoon season. Some of the water marks were up to 12 feet above the floor, some 20 feet above the river. At this stage the entire town would have been under water and boats (there were pictures of boats during the flood on the wall), would have been the only way around. They just fix and rebuild, almost yearly, and carry on. There was also a wonderful market with all types of food, as seems to be normal at the riverfront that we visited.

Indoor market in the center of old town

It’s always a navigational miracle to make it through the narrow pathways made by the vendors squatting beside their baskets of fruits, vegetables and animal parts while dodging motorcycles, bicycles and walkers.

A narrow canal

The riverfront at night

The footbridge connecting both sides of town

Riverside diners

We read in a travel book that the evening hours are not to be missed in Hoi An. That was an understatement. The town really changes at sunset. The market area shuts down and the small riverfront restaurants and businesses light up with thousands of multi-colored lanterns. The riverbanks become street food seating areas, small motorless dragon boats are poled up and down the river with couples and families. Lanterns and lights reflect off the river on both sides as people let little paper square illuminated “boats” set sail in the river, adding to the twinkling colors.

Menu. The exchange is $22,600VND to $1US.

Happy people everywhere

We sit along the riverbank and sample some local cuisine, not quite sure what we ate, but it was…OK. Finishing our meal we walked across the bridge and found a beer vendor ($0.50 for a can of beer) and wander amongst vendors and have a vegetable and fish pizza with a rice crust like a crepe. Melanie can’t do it and seeks out some fresh made strawberry ice cream rolls.

A little later, a musical show happens on a stage by the river.

El Paso in Da Nang

Da Nang Beach, aka China Beach

Melanie’s Ural

Greg’s Ural

We move on up the coast a bit and stay at Da Nang, a place of heavy fighting early in the war which became an area for R and R for the American military known as China Beach. Robin Williams famous “Good Morning Vietnam” was about this area.

Large cave

Just 4 kms south of us is a group of 5 monolithic mountains, the Marble Mountains. The five mountains are named after the five elements: Kim (metal), Thuy (water), Moc (wood), Hoa (fire), and Tho (earth). All of the mountains have cave entrances, tunnels and Buddhist statues and temples.

The mountains were very close to the American Air base and China Beach. The Vietcong had a hidden hospital in one of the caves, unknown to the Americans.

The caves are enormous and are filled with stone carvings throughout. The area is well known for generations of stone carvers. The caves are full of carvings, many carved directly into the stone walls.

Entrance to the first cave. Sorry it’s out of focus.

In the first cave you enter it is based off now and the afterlife, Heaven and Hell. There are beautiful large carvings of Buddha on the entry level as you walk through a tunnel leading to a large cavern, probably 50 meters high in areas. Following the tunnel down you see carvings of your descent into pain and “Hell”. Coming back to the main level you climb a seriously steep staircase back and forth almost straight up into the lighted opening in the top, and “Heaven”, and a fantastic view and a smiling Buddha.

Stone carvings at entrance

Pathway to “Hell”

Purgatory

Center, and headed to “Heaven”.

Steep Stairway to “Heaven”.

Happy Buddha waiting in “Heaven”.

The rest of the mountain is equally impressive leading to the last cave, which has two carved Buddhist temples in it. They are all lit with red and greens lights. It was full of people praying and lighting incense.

Pagoda

Stone carved temple in cave

Eyes of Buddha??

Directly above you are two “eyes” looking down into the cave. When we were in Bulgaria we saw a similar sight in a cave, the “Eyes of God”. We wonder if this is the “Eyes of Buddha”.

We hang out for a couple days meeting people, exploring town and hanging out on the beach.

Cheers,

2WANDRRs

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Da Lat, the City of Flowers

We walk around the corner in the morning and catch the day sleeper bus going to Da Lat, about 8 hours away. Our seats end up way in the back of the bus and what feels like a tomb.

Climbing to my perch in the back I flop down into the reclining seat and my legs are too long, hanging over the drink holder in front of me because they don’t fit in the place for my feet in front of me. I slide backwards in the narrow space attempting to make more room for my feet. My head is very close to the ceiling and now I can’t raise the seat. I start to sweat, the confinement is starting to get to me. Finally I need out, now! The drivers assistant wanted me to sit back down. I make believe I can’t hear him. Finally the bus gets underway and I find a space, with good meditation, that I can survive the next 8 hours of the trip. Melanie just finds another seat. On to Da Lat.

We arrive in Da Lat without any issues. A taxi is near and we flag him down. Showing him the name and address, he has no clue. I use Maps.me and guide us once again near our destination. We get out and pay the outrageous amount of VND$30,000 (about US$1.30, it just sounds much larger). Looking around, we just can’t find it. A little boy playing in front of his house guides us down a set of stairs, and there it is. Great place for about US$8/day, including breakfast and dinner, for both of us. It is a homestay and the family is wonderful, helping us with whatever we could need.

A pig walking the streets that grunted a warning as I got close.

We got settled and take off to find a street food vender and try something that turns out to be fish ball soup. I choke one down and Melanie almost looses it. We abandon or meal and the next place has pizza, our safe food. A couple beers later and $4 lighter, we are happy.

After a good night sleep we wake up to cooler temperatures. Da Lat is situated in the mountains at an altitude of about 1500 meters. This makes for a fairly consistent weather pattern and mild year round temperatures. This also makes Da Lat the flower and vegetable growing region in all of Vietnam. This area is the flower exporter capital of all of Vietnam.

A VW covered in flowers in a roundabout in the center of town

A flower covered motorcycle in the same roundabout.

The skies are clear and the temperature mild as we walk down to the local market. There is an absence of any supermarkets here, plus no street lights and basically zero crime. The market is packed with people doing their shopping for the day. Everything you could possibly want is here. Fresh flowers for your home, vegetables, fruits and freshly butchered meats and live fish are displayed. In places the cement floor is still slippery from the fresh blood. The smells are strong of everything that we see mixed with curry and incense burning.

Beans

Flower and Cactus

As fresh as it comes

And beef and pork

Shrimp, octopus, and fish

All sizes of fresh eggs

We wander around in awe of finely stacked fruits and vegetables and brilliant colors of every shade of the flower bundles.

Stacked Strawberries

Green zucchini

Overwhelmed, I need to sit some distance away and order the best coffee you can get. Vietnamese espresso with sweet, fresh cream over ice, US$0.75.

We continue our journey around the lake. People are walking, sitting in coffee shops, sipping tea out of tiny porcelain cups all the while talking and enjoying each others company. They meet us on the street, our eyes lock, a smile crosses our faces and we both give a slight nod, saying hello.

My back finally calls it quits and we hire a taxi back to our homestay.

The next day we head out on scooters with Bruce Lee.

Bruce Lee and Han

He is going to take us around to see a few things. We get out of town and ride down small lanes avoiding numerous potholes. Most of the roads are new and good.

Good roads

Our first stop is at a Buddhist temple. We wander around looking and discussing what we see and our thoughts of the day. Always an engaging discussion. Melanie is so much smarter than I am. I feel I was kept in the cave too long.

Inside a Buddhist temple

Dragon

We stop at a flower farm, a strawberry farm and a coffee farm. Mr Lee explains many things about life in mid Vietnam. We openly discuss the Vietnam War. We are told that the Vietnamese haven’t forgot and and still remember, but it is now buried deep in their hearts, where it will remain. They are happy that their country is finally at peace after hundreds of years of war. They welcome all nationalities, including Americans, with open arms.

At the coffee plantation we are shown the trees and the coffee beans and told of the process of making Weasel Coffee. They use to follow the weasel through the jungles collecting the excrement. Now the weasels are kept in captivity and fed a diet of coffee beans and bananas. The beans are ground very fine and hot water poured on top in the drip coffee maker. After several minutes you have a tiny cup of espresso Weasel Coffee, which is quite rich. We sip slowly on the large back porch with commanding views of the mountains and lake surrounded by beautiful flowers and lush green coffee trees.

View from the deck of the coffee plantation

Drying Weasel poop

Cheers

Weasel Moca, so good

Our next stop is a silk factory. We see the worms, cocoons and the entire process leading up to the purple silk robe Melanie bought and the two silk ties I bought, not for me but for my two boys. Paying for our items, I get a chance to sample a dried silk worm larva. An Iranian man next to me jokes about eating the small creatures. I tell him they are very crunchy, but they would have tasted better with salt or covered in Chocolate. We both laugh.

Silk worms

Coccoons

Boiling the silk coccoons

Silk threads

Boiled and dried silk worm. Yummy

Moving on down the road we see what looks to be a distillery. There is a pile of discarded coffee beans shells out in front drying. We are told nothing goes to waste.

Cobra in the Rice wine

They also make coffee here and they have several cages occupied by weasels. They are using the discarded coffee bean shells for the fire under the large pots boiling the rice mash for the rice wine. I am fortunate to be able to dip a shot glass into a large storage bin and pull out a 1st run sample with a proof of 140.

Cheers

It is strong, better than moonshine, but surprisingly smooth like a 10 year old Scotch. It will go through 4 different runs that will cut the alcohol content to under 40% before the other ingredients are added for curing. Some of these bottles sell for more than US$500. The pictures below show some of the ingredients of the more expensive wines.

Large Lizard fermenting in the rice wine

Looking at the bottle with the furry ingredient sort of turned me off to any further sampling.

Bird and snake in rice wine

The last stop we make is to Elephant Falls, one of the largest in the area. We park at another temple and take a look around then walk down the street to the top of the falls.

To get to the base of the falls you have to climb and scramble over large boulders, walk across a 4 inch diameter log while holding on to vines and and slide down a slimy flat rock face. Once on the bottom the mist of the falls pours though a slight crevice in a deafening roar. The rocks push toward the sky all around you as the algae forms the surface of the rocks fighting for sunlight. I step out into the watery onslaught briefly for a quick photo. Very intense.

We stop back at the top for a brief respite of the 35°C heat and rest and a quick drink.

Our last stop is the Da Lat train station. The train station was design by French architects in 1932 and opening in 1938. The building was largely undamaged doing the Vietnam War but the track sustained significant damage and was closed. It opened in the 1990’s with limited service as a tourist attraction.

Da Lat train station

Budda carving

Cog railway to get over the mountain

Always wear your Horizon’s Unlimited shirt. A couple Brits saw it and wanted to talk.

Tomorrow we are off to our next location, Hoi An.

Cheers,

2WANDRRs

Categories: 2-up motorcycle travel, 2WANDRRs, adventure travel, backpacking, Da Lat, Horizons Unlimited, SE Asia, vietnam | Leave a comment

Sai Gon

Another chariot ride to the bus station and we’re off. Solid city of street vendors, family businesses, fully loaded kamakazi drivers of every size and smells for the next eight hours.

We finally arrive to Ho Chi Minh and the bus pulls up to a random curb and it’s time to get off. Flagging a taxi is easy but he doesn’t know where our place is. We direct him the last couple kms to a small walking alley, down which I believe our guesthouse, the Globe, is located. Amazingly enough, we get it right the first time.

We are located in what is the party section of the city. Walking down the narrow alley we realize everything is always shared with motorcycles as they pass by, missing us sometimes by the space of the wind, so close. The next three days are spent walking to the nearby sights of the city, getting a taxi when my back gives out. Copaiba to the rescue (Thanks dōTERRA and Simon and Lisa Thomas for introducing me to them). (Shameless plug, FB as Melanie’s Essential Oils and https://www.doterra.com/us/en/site/melanieturp ).

One of the first things we see is the Independence Palace.

Independence Palace

The palace is restored to just as it was when South Vietnam fell to the North after America pulled out of the war in 1975. Formerly the South Vietnam Presidential Palace, the war ended 30 April, 1975 when a North Vietnamese tank, number 843, crashed through the gate. The tank is parked out in front by the gate.

Tank 843

North Vietnamese fighter jet

The interior from the formal rooms, meeting rooms and the eerie basement full of 1960’s electronics and war maps are supposedly just as the North Vietnamese found them in 1975, at the end of the war.

Meeting room

South Vietnamese/American war room

A little computer in the bunker

We wander around a while and check out the Huey helicopter that was the Vietnamese Presidents official helicopter on top of the palace.

Official South Vietnamese Presidential Huey

Leaving Independence Palace we walk away from the palace, up a beautiful boulevard lined with trees with walking parks on either side. Along the way are large poster/billboards with government propaganda of the past few hundred years of Vietnamese history, which is very interesting starting from 1955.

Information boards

Reaching the two block end of the boulevard is a large Catholic cathedral, the Sai Gon Notre Dame Basilica, which was closed.

Sai Gon Notre Dame Cathedral

There was a large crowd gathered near there and a demonstration by a circus and dance troupe. It was very interesting watching the dragon dance as they maneuvered the long red and yellow dragon, twisting and turning, up and down, amongst the crowd that had gathered.

Yellow Dragon

Red Dragon

Just across the street was a beautiful, French architectural designed yellow building, the Sai Gon Central Post Office. It was constructed in the 19th century while Vietnam was still part of French Indochina. It was constructed from 1886-1891 by Alfred Foulhoux, but often erroneously credited to Gustave Eiffel.

Sai Gon Central Post Office

Inside the Post Office

Map on the wall of the post office

We next headed over to the War Remembrance Museum. This was again very difficult to view and actually be there. We became very emotional several times as we walk the three stories viewing pictures of the atrocities of war. Many pictures were taken by many journalists from many different countries, telling their own story through their pictures. Several pictures were recovered from cameras that we’re the last picture the photojournalist had ever taken, as he himself became another casualty of a terrible war. Here are some pictures I took.

Senator Bob Kerry

Senator Bob Kerry

We took our time working our way through and then headed back to our guesthouse. We enjoyed our time in the city like we do most large cities, a little goes a long way.

Beautiful flowers everywhere

On Sunday morning we saw a local motorcycle club out for a ride and some much needed relaxation. Please meet “The Ride of Your Life” Vespa motorcycle club.

The Ride of your Life

Vespa Motorcycle Club

In the afternoon when the heat subsided, it was almost 95°F(35°C) with high humidity, we would head down to the streets is search of fresh beer (US$0.50), and something to eat from a place on the sidewalk where we could observe the show and talk with people. Australia, UK, Belgium, South Africa and so many more were represented.

As usual, there was the obvious absence of American travelers. We seemed to again be the token American.

Cheers,

2WANDRRs

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