Monthly Archives: April 2018

Ha Long Bay, One of the New 7 Wonders of Nature

Leaving Huê, we took the overnight sleeper bus to Hanoi. The bus let us off on a empty street in Hanoi at 5:30 in the morning. We made our way to our hotel which was down an alley in the middle of the city. The city was already alive with a mix of people, scooters and vendors. In the alley people were making Pho for breakfast and eating in the street alongside butchers cutting up fresh meat for the day.

From Hanoi we took a bus and ferry to Cat Ba Island, which is a large island in Ha Long Bay.

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Ha Long Bay has been a designated UNESCO world heritage site since 1994. The bay features around two thousand towering limestone karsts and tiny islets topped by rainforests rising from the emerald waters of the Gulf of Tonkin in Northeast Vietnam. There is a history of prehistoric humans in the area about 1,500 km² since 18,000 BC.

On the ride out to Cat Ba there was a young couple with two children on our bus. Just before getting on the ferry we were able to talk to them. They were from Germany and living in Australia. Several years ago, pre-children, they took a multi-year motorcycle trip around the world. They were familiar with Horizons Unlimited and we had several international, motorcycle traveling friends.

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We arrived at our hotel which fronted a lake just off the bay. Our 6th floor room was fantastic with a balcony overlooking the bay which was full of small, colorful fishing boats and Chinese junks with large, square red sails. For a cost of 7 US dollars per night, including breakfast, it just couldn’t be beat.

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A large boulevard running along the bay separated the bayfront boardwalk from the restaurants lining the street. We walked along the waterfront checking out the beautiful crescent moon shaped bay and chatting with various restaurant owners about their food specials for the night. Walking by a popular restaurant we look inside and see Frank, who we met up with in Huê, sitting there. We decide tonight that we would like pizza for dinner and joined him for dinner, good craic and a few beers.

The the next day we decided to take a cruise through Ha Long Bay. For US$14 per person a bus picks us up at our hotel and takes us to the boat for a full day on the bay, including lunch.

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About 30 people from about 12 different nations sit on the top deck as we leave the bay, snapping pictures left and right. The conversations are engaging as we all get to know each other and learn about each other’s individual cultures. The views of towering limestone columns and green rainforest surround us as we cruise slowly east and north around the island, towards the main portion of Ha Long Bay.

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After about 3 hours our boat anchored in a small cove and we all had the opportunity to jump off the top deck into the cool, emerald waters below. Cans of beer were tossed in front of us as we jumped, a prize to sip on while floating in the beautiful waters below. I toasted to friendship and world peace with a fellow traveler beside me. Life is good!

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After the swim we all climbed back on the boat and gathered below deck for an incredible meal that was cooked while we were swimming. Our crew brought out plate after plate of vegetables, rice, cooked fish, squid muscles and tofu. The plates were placed on large tables where we were sitting. We passed the plates back and forth, laughing and joking with each other while trying to understand the accents of many different languages present.

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Our next stop was a floating village where we all got into kayaks to paddle through a couple of the many caves carved out of limestone in the bay. The front navigator person of the kayak wore a headlamp. We paddled through several hundred meters of pitch black cave with bats flying around us and just above our heads.

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As we exited the cave and our eyes got use to the light again, we were in a small, peaceful bay surrounded by mountains. Large hawks seem to float above us rising gracefully on wind currents. We all sat silently in our kayaks, taking in the beauty of the moment and nature around us.

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We ended up spending three more days on the island. Our day on the boat and cruising Ha Long Bay was so much fun, two days later we went out and did it again.

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Cheers,

2WANDRRs

Categories: 2WANDRRs, adventure travel, Cat Ba Island, Ha Long Bay, Horizons Unlimited, SE Asia, vietnam | Leave a comment

Huê and the 17th Parallel

There are two ways to travel north leaving Da Nang. The first is a new road via a 5 km modern tunnel through the mountain. This is reserved for buses, private vehicles and trucks carrying non-explosives. The other is a pass road of the Stelvio variety.

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Pass road, Đèo Hải Vân

This road twists and turns back on itself, climbing constantly to a tourist filled pull-off at the top with views of serpentine roads and crescent moon, blue water bays on either side.

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China Beach

After stopping to get our pictures we continue downhill off the mountain toward the historical city of Huê.

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Huê was the capital of Vietnam from the early 1800s until 1945 during the time of French involvement in Vietnam. In 1945 a communist government being led by Ho Chi Minh moved the Imperial Palace north to Hanoi. At the end of World War II, Ho Chi Minh, who’s Viet Minh forces already controlled a large portion of the country, declared Vietnam independent. In 1954, the French efforts to reassert control led to a violent full-scale war. The Geneva accords of 1954 provided a temporary division of Vietnam at the Ben Hai River. When the Catholic leader of the southern zone refuse to hold elections, the Ben Hai River, (DMZ/17th parallel), became the border between North and South Vietnam.

Huê’s central location near the border of North and South Vietnam put it in a very vulnerable position in 1968 and the start of the Vietnam War. During the Têt offensive in 1968 the city suffered considerable damage to physical features as well as as its reputation from the American military bombing of historic features of the North Vietnamese, and the massacre at Huê committed by the communist forces.

A main gate into the Citadel

Our first day there we went to see the Citadel, the former Imperial Palace of the Vietnamese government. The original Imperial City was constructed over a period of 203 years, starting in 1362. In 1804 the emperor ordered construction on this massive Citadel complex involving a moat and Earthen wall 10 km long. The walls had since been converted to stone. Within this complex is an area called the Purple Forbidden City. During the Vietnam war this complex was bombed heavily by the American military and the destruction was severe. Reconstruction has been going on for years but there are still bullet holes in many of the standing interior walls.

Inside the Purple Forbidden City

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In the early morning hours of January 31st 1968 the North Vietnamese Army and the Viet Cong Army launched an attack on Huê and in the end controlled most of the city. During the initial phases of the Têt Offense American troops were ordered not to damage the city, because of the historic and cultural significance, but as time went on and casualties mounted during the house to house combat the order was gradually lifted. In the end out of 160 buildings only 10 significant sites remained. The city was named a UNESCO Historic Site in 1993.

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We wandered around the city the next day just looking at the different sites and talking with people. Walking through the open market the following morning was quite another experience. The blood of freshly slaughtered animals mixed with the water from the previous days rain and created quite a mess. Our senses could only take so much with the smells of the fresh fish and blood mingling with the sights of the freshly butchered animals everywhere.

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Ceiling in the DMZ Bar

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A woodcarver

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400 year old bridge

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Cooking breakfast

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Beautiful wedding

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Essential Oils store

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Top end rebuild in the street

On the following day we took a bus to visit the DMZ (the 17th parallel) and several of the major sites during the Vietnam War. The first sight we drove by was the infamous Rockpile, where the Marines had established a communication base on the top of the mountain accessible only by helicopter. A Vietnamese flag now flies high above that spot.

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Our next stop was at the Khe Sanh American Special Forces combat base. This was an interesting place with heavy equipment and aircraft. This base, which was never overrun, is the site of the most famous siege of the war and also the bloodiest battle of the war. About 500 Americans, 10,000 North Vietnamese troops and uncounted civilian bystanders died around this remote highland base. It’s eerily peaceful today, but in 1968 the hillside trembled with the impacts of 1000 kg bombs, white phosphorus shells, Napalm, mortars and endless artillery rounds, as American forces sought to repel the NVA. The bunkers have been recreated to add to the effect of the base. There is a museum but it is slanted with a Vietnamese communist platform.

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On the way there we passed an impressive bridge, built by the Cubans in 1980, that marks the beginning of the Ho Chi Minh Trail.

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We next stopped at the Trong Son National Cemetery. More than 10,000 Graves. It’s hillsides marked by a simple white Tombstones headed by the inscription liet si ( martyr). Many graves are empty, simply bearing names, representing a fraction of Vietnam’s 300,000 soldiers missing in action.

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We headed back to the former DMZ, the 17th parallel, the Hien Luong bridge, which marks the old border between North and South Vietnam.

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Old border of North and South Vietnam

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We next stop at the Vinh Moc tunnels. This large network of tunnels was used by the North Vietnamese to fight during the Vietnam war and also for the civilians to protect themselves from the American bombing. These tunnels stretched for 28 kilometers from the village of Vinh Mac to the coast on the north side of the Ben Hai river. The villagers had no other place to go. This was the first air assault on North Vietnam which completely destroyed the village. An average of 7 tons of explosives per person were dropped on the village. After the attack, a decision was made to start building the tunnel so everyone could go underground to be safe. The tunnels were built over an 18-month period and everybody in the village help with the construction. It is estimated that 300 people lived in these tunnels from 1966 until 1973 and that they were about 17 children were also born underground in the tunnel community.

While in Huê, we met up with a fellow German traveler, Frank, who is traveling the length of Vietnam on a 125 Honda. We met up with him a couple times while we are in town and had several beers and many good conversations.

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Cheers,

2WANDRRs

Categories: 17th parallel, 2-up motorcycle travel, 2WANDRRs, adventure travel, DMZ, Horizons Unlimited, Huê, SE Asia, vietnam | Leave a comment

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