Not Really a Blog

June 29, 2012

Mekong Delta

Filed under: Cambodia, Mekong Delta, Travel, Vietnam — Tags: , , , , , — jesus @ 05:11

To finish up my stay in Vietnam I decided to take a Mekong Delta tour during three days ending in Cambodia. These tours are very common in Saigon where you go for three days (two nights) and then you come back to Saigon. Anywhere you walk in Saigon you’ll find a travel agency where they advertise them. I don’t know if there are different types of tours, but I would generally avoid them if you are thinking of going yourself. Mine was not very good, and on top of that I had a bad experience with the hotel, the Nga Hoang Hostel, I was staying at in Saigon. If I were to do it again, I would probably travel by myself and choose the places I wanted to go, sleep in the area and avoid the worthless visits to different places where all they want you to do is to buy some stuff. Which is fair enough, but it gets old very quickly and you don’t get to see that many nice things.

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Anyway, the idea is not so bad though. You are supposed to go around the Mekong river south of Saigon and see all this area in all of its grandiosity. The river, the rice fields, the floating markets, etc. In the end, it feels more like you are in a theme park than anything else. It’s not so bad because you get to see some nice sights, but it feels like it’s not enough though. And, that you are taken to a theme park of Vietnamese stuff.

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Wanna see crocodiles eating ducks? how to make rice noodles? play with a big snake? being taken through one of the canals of the Mekong river? This is your place.

Siesta

Instead of returning back to Saigon, I booked a boat trip into Cambodia through the Mekong River, to get to Pnomh Penh, the capital of Cambodia. To me the most interesting thing on this trip was a visit to the floating market in Can Tho. You know, you are on a boat in the river and you go to this market made of tens of other boats where people are buying stuff and exchanging goods. And of course this has become a tourist attraction. Very funny, but interesting anyway.

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Floating market where you can buy coffee

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Fresh pineapple, ummm!!!

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Rice noodles

Fried rats with onions

Something on the menu, fancy it?

We were getting closer to the border and the weather was getting muggier and hotter, as we spent the last night in Chau Doc from where we were going to go, supposedly through the Mekong river, to Cambodia. And well, it turned out to be not the Mekong river proper, but a canal that goes along the border of Vietnam and Cambodia. Where we finally arrived, waited a couple of hours to get our passports sorted out and then finally we took off again on a different boat to get to Phnom Penh. Or that’s what I thought. In the end we went up the river for like 30 minutes where a bus was going to pick us up.

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Cambodia in the distance
Cambodia in the background

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Isn’t he cute?

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And isn’t she cute???

Now, this was my first encounter with Cambodia. Bus is a very loose term in Cambodia, it seems. Instead of what you could think, it was not actually a bus, but a van for around 12-14 people. There, they put us all, 20 people plus bags. You can’t imagine the scene? try hard, remember Twister? that’s basically what we did for 2 hours. It gets better. Driving at 100km/h and overtaking on blind spots while speaking on the phone.

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Untitled
The Canal

From Vietnam to Cambodia 8

Boat Driver
Boat driver

Welcome to Cambodia, this was certainly going to be an interesting country…

Bus or minivan (2 of 2)

The back of the van where we were squeezed in!!

More photos of the Mekong Delta and the trip to Cambodia.

May 16, 2012

Images from Saigon

Filed under: Places, Saigon, Vietnam — Tags: , , , , , , — jesus @ 23:46

Saigon at night

Mess

Tunnel opening
Not technically Saigon

Tet Holiday

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Saigon 16

Siesta 1
The art of siesta

Eyes
Eyes…

Siesta 2
More siesta

The streets of Saigon

Four on a scooter

Chinook Helicopter

In a way like Hanoi, noisy, effervescent, hot and humid, bubbling during the Tet Holiday in January, this is my view on Saigon or Ho Chi Minh City

May 11, 2012

Mũi Né

I arrived to Mui Ne from Dalat using the Easy Riders early in the afternoon and chose a room close to the old village. Mui Ne got famous among tourists recently, apparently. It is a long beach strip in southern Vietnam, famous for its winds, which attracts kite-surfers, and the different dunes around the area.

The old village is quite picturesque, as it is a fishing village and has lots of boats in its harbour, which makes for nice pictures. It is not uncommon to find tens of people taking photographs at any given point there.

Mui Ne

It’s even been the cover photograph of one of the editions of the Lonely Planet for Vietnam:

Now, that’s one thing, but the rest of the touristy area is a different world. Basically the whole beach strip is a succession of hotels, guest houses and restaurants non-stop for a few kilometres. Literally non-stop, parallel to the beach and to the main road of this town. Which is a bit more inconvenient than it seems as you have to cross through one of these establishments to reach the beach.

Mui Ne

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Mui Ne fishing village

So, having a scooter here is a must, as there’s no way you are going to walk like 9 km to get to the nicer spots in this place. And well, driving in Vietnam, I should just post an entry on this blog about driving in South East Asia, starting by ‘It’s illegal to drive unless you have a Vietnamese issued driving license‘ to ‘100 ways in which you can kill yourself or end up permanently disabled by driving in Vietnam‘. I’m sure it would be a success among readers ;-)

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Boats in Mui Ne

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Sunset in Mui Ne

But the thing that I found the weirdest here is that it’s full of Russians. Everywhere. I found it extremely difficult to meet people as most of them were Russians with mostly no command of the English language. Damn, even the menus were written in Russian in restaurants. I don’t know why, but everywhere you go you can breathe russian. Even the kite-surfing schools were employed by russians for russians (!).

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Mui Ne 5

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Mui Ne 7
Jump jump

Yeah, kite surfing seems to be the big thing here. it’s literally filled with people kite-surfing. Schools everywhere, experienced surfers jumping above the waves also. It was nice to see all these people doing their stunts.

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Vietnamese kids

The beach is not particularly impressive. Good for kite surfing but not so good for swimming. Although it’s nice to go for a walk early in the morning or late in the afternoon when the sun is rising or setting.

Starfish
Starfish on low tide

Sunrise
Sunrise

Stars over Mui Ne
Orion under the palm trees

But Mui Ne is also famous for its dunes, as it seems like a big local attraction which gets visitors all day round. It’s funny because around these dunes bars and restaurants have sprung up to take care of all the tourists that go there. It’s also full of kids who try to get you to buy something from their family owned restaurants. The deal is, you buy something from them, they’ll keep an eye on your scooter or bicycle. Which is a good way to get to know them a bit as they are easy to talk to, they want to know a bit about you, where you’re coming from, etc.

Mui Ne 10

You can just walk the dunes, which are prettier at sunset, getting them in an even more intense orange colour. Or you can just rent one of the sliders and then go down one of the dunes. Don’t worry if you go there, you’ll be harassed by zillions of kids who want you to rent their board ;-)

The sand slider I

Sand slides

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Nice place to come, but preferably come with some friends or having notions of Russian as it’ll be difficult to make new friends ;-). And with lots of energy to try kite-surfing. Have a look at my full gallery on flickr if you fancy these photos.

From here, next step, Saigon, or Ho Chi Minh City!

March 31, 2012

To Dalat and then Mui Ne

From Nha Trang we decided to visit Dalat, which is up in the Vietnamese Highlands. It’s a bit of a change compared to all the other places I’ve been in Vietnam as it is further inland and 1500 m above the sea level. The central highlands is a plateau that borders with Laos, Cambodia and other southern provinces in Vietnam. It also changes as it has a year-round cool weather due to its altitude.

So we decided to pay it a visit for a couple of days with the intention of hiring some easy riders and have some fun (more below).

Dalat is known for its French colonial architecture where the train station is probably the most obvious example.

Dalat 4
Train Station

But possibly the thing that most people know about Dalat is the Crazy House (Hằng Nga guesthouse). From wikipedia:

…popularly known as the “Crazy House”. Described as a “fairy tale house”, its overall design resembles a giant banyan tree, incorporating sculptured design elements representing natural forms such as animals, mushrooms, spider webs and caves. Its architecture, consisting of complex, organic, non-rectilinear shapes, has been described as expressionist. Its creator, Vietnamese architect Dang Viet Nga (also known as Hằng Nga), who holds a PhD in architecture from Moscow State University, has acknowledged the inspiration of Catalan Spanish architect Antoni Gaudí in the building’s design.

So, have a look at some of the pictures

Crazy House

Dalat's Crazy House 4

Dalat's Crazy House 6

Dalat's Crazy House 15

Yeah, Crazy crazy….

Marielle
Marielle

Marielle and I arrived to this city and spent a day and a half just enjoying it. And to be honest, the weather was just great, sunny and not hot. So we enjoyed walking its streets and eating its food. Really good. We even caught some action along the way.

Oooops
I think they are embarrassed

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Dalat 5

Wheel

More about Dalat (Full flickr set)

 

But what we really wanted to do is grab one of the Easy Riders for a ride around Vietnam. The Easy Riders is a term that now applies to many groups of people who do basically the same. They give you a ride on the back of a motorcycle around Vietnam. The original Easy Riders due to its popularity has made appear lots of spin-off which basically offer the same thing. The idea is that you choose what kind of itinerary you want and how many days you want to do it, and then they pack everything on the back of the motorbike (and the front), you jump in and then they take you around while stopping frequently on different places which are usually not easily reachable from main touristy cities (you might like the many spots they stop or you might not, but they are interesting nevertheless).

From Dalat to Mui Ne 1
That’s how they pack your stuff on the motorbike

We wanted a 4-day tour starting on Dalat, going around the border with Cambodia and then going south to Mui Ne, but due to the Tết Holiday (Vietnamese Lunar New Year) which was starting in two days, we just had to reduce it to two days. During these holidays basically everything shuts down (and they even say that finding bus tickets is difficult, but I didn’t have any problems. The easy riders stopped though). Well, I took a 2-day tour, Marielle took a 1-day tour as she had to go to Saigon to catch a flight. So be it, two days.

I have to say that the experience was awesome. A bit tiring, but a lot of fun. So, if you are thinking of going to Vietnam, don’t even think about it, just get on one of these tours. You’ll love it. Make sure you also have your camera with you (and, just unlike me, make damn sure your filters are properly attached to the camera, as I saw, like in snow motion, how my $80 polarizer filter dropped off my camera while we were going at around 80 km/h, seeing it crashing on the asphalt. I think I shed a tear).

Among the highlights:

American Airport
American airport abandoned in Dalat

Weasel
Weasel (AKA shit coffee)

I think I have to introduce you to the weasel coffee. So, they feed weasels with coffee beans that go through their systems. Then they collect them from their droppings (good euphemism) and then they toast it as normal coffee. It seems it’s one of the most valued coffees in Vietnam. More information in Wikipedia. As I’m no fan of Vietnamese coffee (sorry guys, I kind of hate it), this didn’t actually made me appreciate it more.

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Me trying weasel Coffee :-P (Photo courtesy of Marielle)

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My rider

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From Dalat to Mui Ne 26

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The Highlands

Dead Snake
Dead Snake

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From Dalat to Mui Ne 37

Oh yeah
Little I knew that my filter was about to drop off :-(

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Kid on a bike
Kid on a bycicle (Love this photo)

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Feeling the speed

And finally I arrived to Mui Ne. I have to say that I really liked this. It was fun and I got to see parts of Vietnam I never thought I was going to see. I really liked the ride through the forest going from the highlands down to sea level. It was actually a shame to see that so much forest has been destroyed due to Agent Orange, as you see big chunky patches missing. The parts where there’s still forest/jungle, it’s actually very very cool.

So now you know, boys and girls, if you go to Vietnam, get one of these, get on a predefined tour or a tailored one, and enjoy yourselves! :)

(Full flickr set)

March 20, 2012

Hoi An

Filed under: Hoi An, Places, Travel, Vietnam — Tags: , , , , , , , , — jesus @ 13:44

Hoi An is this little precious town which was initially a fishers village and now has become a full tourist attraction. It survived the war fairly well, and now it’s regarded as a lovely destination for tourists. Part of it is the small size and traditional atmosphere you see here (French style). And mainly, too, because it has around 450 tailors who will make suits and other clothing items for you in a matter of days.

Hoi An 9
A vendor at the beach

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It also has this…

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Hoi An 14

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French style?

Here’s the deal, you go to one of these tailors where you can choose a suit from their extensive list of models and get it done in two days. Not only that, you can show them a photograph of a clothing item you like (or bring an old one) and they’ll copy it within days. And cheaply. And when I say a clothing item, I mean anything. You can bring your favourite Nike shoes and they’ll copy them, in different colours if you like!!!

Now, you can imagine, hordes of tourists who only come here to get stuff done and have it sent back home, spending hundreds if not thousands of dollars to have tailored-made suits and dresses, at a fraction of what you’d have to pay back at home. It’s not that every other tailor is this town is good, but you’d like to shop around and find someone who has a good reputation (search online) if you want to have the best outcome at the best price. So my advise is, if you are visiting Vietnam and happen to pass by Hoi An, do a bit of looking at home, for something you like, take a photo, copy it from a magazine and bring it with you to get it ‘copied‘ in Hoi An. Because you’ll want one of these. And it’s fun to try anyway! :-)

Boyfriend Blazer
At one of the tailors…

The city has an interesting atmosphere. Apart from the suit business, it’s full of small restaurants, most of them oriented to the tourists, where you can have really interesting and cheap (and good) food. Its colonial French style gives the houses an interesting and pretty look. This frenchness can be also appreciated in the food, finding normal coffee everywhere (Vietnamese coffee should have a post of its own) and baguettes with butter and jam for breakfast.

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Espresso Machiato
Umm, real coffee! :-P

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Hoi An 20

Hoi An 13
Happy Hour all day long…

The other thing that catches your attention is the number of shops selling lamps, very colourful lamps that you can buy for nothing, and they make a good present.

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Hoi An 3
You could buy these and put them on the river

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It's sunny, make love!

If you end up buying some stuff, don’t carry it with you, go to the post office and have it sent home, via airmail. I’ve used the Vietnamese post service a few times and have found it to be very reliable. You just show up with your stuff, they’ll put it in a package, wrap it up and fill in most of the forms you have to use. Very convenient.

And then, there’s the people of Hoi An, young and old:

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Hoi An 38

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Isn’t she pretty?

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Playing in the street

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I know, I know, I said people…

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Awesome lady!

When are you coming? :-)

March 11, 2012

Hué

Only spent a day and a half in Hué. I somehow didn’t particularly like it. I have this theory about liking a city, where , when  you don’t like a particular city, it has to do with your mood during those days. And I don’t know about you, but my mood changes a lot during this trip! :) Or maybe, it was the welcome I got when I arrived to Hué and went for a stroll…

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I was on my own on this city and I joined an organised tour to see the city. I’m hating these tours, but I came to this realisation after doing a few of them. They are too constrained, as they take you from place to place where you have limited time to see it, and generally you are being hand-held all the time. They even tell you when you can take pictures ‘Sir, now take pictures‘ ‘Oh, really? Thanks‘. On the other hand, it’s a good way to meet people, on these trip I ended up meeting three nice australian girls who I would see again in Nha Trang. You keep bumping into the same people on different places. this is good if you like their company. Not so good if you don’t like them (oh, it’s you again (smirk)).

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Anyway, Hué is interesting from a historical point of view. Here the battle of Hué took place (remember Full Metal Jacket)?. It’s kind of weird to be in one of these places where all this Vietnam war happened (sorry, American War as it’s called in Vietnam). But well, it’s not only about recent wars. You can visit many temples and other places in the city, like the Citadel.

Have a look at some of the views about this city.

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Hué 11

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Hué 18
Car that belonged to Thich Quang Duc

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Hué 30

I specially liked the market, where you don’t get to see many foreigners and see the real Vietnam. Markets in this part of the world are even more boiling with life. You see all sorts of people selling everything. Clothing, accessories, amulets, roots, meat, vegetables, everything.  And it’s full of food stalls where you can try real cheap-ass food, sometimes not knowing what you are eating. But that’s part of the experience and what makes it interesting.

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Yummy!

But maybe, it was that it was raining (again) and that made me not like this city very much! Rain Rain Rain, when are you going to go away? ;-)

March 10, 2012

From Ninh Binh to Hué

I really don’t know any more which day it is now. I mean, I know the number, as I base my bookings on that. I also know when my visa is expiring. But I don’t know if it’s a Thursday or a Sunday. Not anymore. I guess this is what happens when you are doing pretty much every day the same thing and there are no ‘weekends

That’s what happened to me when booking a train from Ninh Binh to Hué. I thought it was going to be on a Sunday, but it ended up being a Tuesday Morning.

Anyway, I had this train ticket I had bought in Hanoi to go to Hué. I found out that I paid some commission at the hostel. OK, fair enough, they did all the work and I didn’t have to go to the train station. In Hanoi. Beep beep.

But today, I was talking to this girl at Ninh Binh train station. She’s German, but from Vietnamese origin, so she looks totally Vietnamese, and people treat her as a local, until she speaks, because she only has a basic command of Vietnamese.

  • Yeah, I look Vietnamese but I pay foreigners’ price.
  • Foreigners’ price? What?
  • Oh yeah, they have a two-tier pricing system here. Institutionalised.

Fantastic. I still don’t know if it’s true or not. But on the tickets themselves it’s printed with a big font: Foreigner

Score: Vietnam 5 – Jesus 1

From Ninh Binh to Hué
Typical Vietnamese Train

From Ninh Binh to Hué
My cabin

I had a ticket for this soft sleeper on an empty cabin, just for me. Boring. Almost every carriage was empty. And I had 12 hours ahead of me on this train. Only the people who work on the train are using one of the cabins. Luckily, after one stop more people come in and it becomes nicer, as you see you are not the only one travelling on this carriage.

From Ninh Binh to Hué
Empty train

Alright, what do I do? The train is moving. There’s nobody in this train except two women and a semi-naughty kid on the adjacent cabin. Get some sleep? No, too noisy to get some sleep at 10 in the morning. Try some music? Could do, but I still have 12 hours ahead of me…

It was obvious that this was going to be a really boring trip, 12 hours trapped in this metal cage without having anyone to talk to.

From Ninh Binh to Hué
Kid next door

But as it happened, the guys working on this train were very nice and they somehow managed to get my attention. First, one of the girls gave me some sunflower seeds, like the ones we have in Spain, but not salty at all. And while I was eating them, a middle-aged woman called me from 5 cabins away. Intrigued I went there and found all these guys who work on the train. They were all sitting comfortably there.

Three girls, one guy and this woman. Ah, yes, and a Spaniard. All the conversation carried in Vietnamese, as English was only spoken by a couple of them, and by English I mean a variation of ‘How are you?‘, ‘What’s your name?‘ and so on.

So what happened is that each of them sat in front of this woman, who had deployed a table-cloth on the train seat, on which she put some cards, while all of them paid attention to her. WTF? After a few moments, I figured it out. She’s a fortune-teller. In Vietnamese. Awesome!

Fortune Teller
Fortune teller in action

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more fortune telling

So I sit there for like an hour watching the whole thing fascinated while I try to speak some rudimentary English with one of the girls, who had a limited vocabulary and pronunciation. At the same time I’m paying attention to this woman and the reaction on these guys. Well, trying to get their body language, because to say this was a conversation would be a bold statement.

I was enjoying watching all of that, actually. When the lady finished we all moved to my compartment (except the lady, who wanted to get some sleep ;-)) and they all tried to engage me in some conversation. They either kept my company as way to spend some time or they really wanted to know more about me because they don’t see many like me (I know, I know, one of a kind…). Probably they were equally bored about being trapped on a train to Saigon (36 hours)

And to top it up, the kid sleeping next door joins us attracted by the smell of some Oreos cookies, so a lot of fun was guaranteed.

From Ninh Binh to Hué 30
Oreo cookies, anyone?

From Ninh Binh to Hué 19

I have to say that the Vietnamese have surprised me in many more ways than the Chinese. While they try to squeeze a few dollars off you, when buying stuff or negotiating a taxi, etc, they always do it with a smile and, true, they try to get your money. But the normal people you see on trains, hostels, etc, they seem very very nice, and they actually are very friendly by inviting lame foreigners like me to share a bit of their lives, which has made me very happy on all of these tiny moments so far :) It’s nice to get to talk to local people and know a bit about their lives (and I guess them knowing a bit about mine too)

From Ninh Binh to Hué 12
Fun and giggles

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From Ninh Binh to Hué 18

This trip has been very enjoyable, what looked like a train trip from hell turned out to be a fun trip. There was even more to come. Apparently one of these girls seemed to fancy me as she gave me her phone number. Like she saw my phone, grabbed it and put her number on it. She didn’t speak any English so I’m still wondering what she was thinking, as most of the time she was ‘translated‘ by the other guy. This one even wrote on my notebook ‘Dung loves Jesus‘ (I think he meant ‘likes’ instead of loves). To which I tried to reply with ‘everybody loves Jesus‘ but they didn’t understand the pun ;-)

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From Ninh Binh to Hué 28

And now the other girl moved the conversation about whether I was married or not and whether I wanted to get married and, specifically, married to a Vietnamese girl. Oh, I can see where this is headed. He he he. And, the thing is that all of this was happening while I was cracking up and didn’t have anyone there to tell this story while it was unfolding :-)

From Ninh Binh to Hué 17
Rice fields along the way

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And the kid who would not stop

This way, a 12 hour train ride to Hué that looked like it was going to be hellish turned into an entertaining day.

From Ninh Binh to Hué 21

And then I got to Hué, got to my hostel finally. I took a taxi which reminded my of my first day in Hanoi. Again, they try to scam you and get more money. You get approached, no, harassed when you get off the train by all these ‘taxi‘ drivers and they offer you a flat-price ride to your hostel. Where flat is 100000 dong ($5). But I thankfully had done my homework and had found out that the taxi rate in Hué is 15000 dong ($0.75) per km. Telling these guys that you want to use a metered-taxi for 15000 dong makes them disappear. And when they disappear you can see the official taxis that use that rate. Total fare in the end was 45000, so a bit less than $2.

And, 22:00, I need some fresh air and I go for a stroll around the hostel. Just have an hour. Guess what? you get approached by moto and cyclo drivers. Every 5 minutes, and the conversation goes like:

  • Where you going sir?
  • Just want to walk for a bit.
  • I can take you anywhere.
  • No thanks, I want to walk.
  • Marihuana?
  • No thanks
  • ‘sniff, sniff’ (while he does the snorting gesture)
  • No, thanks.
  • Boom Boom? Girls, pretty girls?
  • No thanks.

(If you are interested, it’s $20 for one of these girls…).

Anyway, welcome to Hué.

February 25, 2012

Ninh Binh

Filed under: Ninh Binh, Places, Travel, Vietnam — Tags: , , , , , , , — jesus @ 12:00

I was hoping to go south seeking warmer climates and different scenery, but Amy and Mike recommended me to stop in Ninh Binh for a couple of days to explore the area as it supposed to be pretty. They were right.

Ninh Binh 1

The city itself is like 3 hours south of Hanoi by minivan, with not much in it and not many foreigners. They come usually on a day-long trip so they don’t usually stay overnight. You can tell because there’s nothing for tourists in the way of restaurants, bars and other tourist oriented establishments. And that’s good, because you get to experience the Vietnamese style. On the other hand, once it gets dark there’s absolutely nothing to see or to do. Zero, Nada, Kaput!

Like the eatery I found on my rented motorbike. I was going around and I saw this dodgy-looking eatery that was full of local people, so I decided I had to tray that. If it’s full of locals it has to be good.I was welcomed  by big smiles and fascination looks as I think they must not get many foreigners there. The food was really good and I kept coming back for the rest of my two days, as good food plus beer for 42000 dong ($2), what can possibly go wrong? I even took Santuu and Ella, a finnish couple I met at my hostel there so they could enjoy it and come again if they wanted as they were staying in Ninh Binh for longer. :)

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The machine!!!

There are a definitely a few interesting things you can visit in Ninh Binh.

The city of Hoa Lu, the ancient capital, was the capital of the old Vietnam back in the day. There you can see a few temples and other random ruins. It’s interesting to note that it’s full of Chinese tourists. Dunno why. Interesting for a couple of hours, better if you get a guide who explains the history to you.

Ninh Binh 4
He took a photo of me, I took one of him

Shadow

Ninh Binh 5

But if you are interested in landscape and nature, you definitely have to visit Tam Coc and Mua Cave.

Tam Coc is this river across mountains (same style as in Guilin) where  you can hire a boat and you get taken around this river while you look at the fantastic scenery and go through a few caves, one of them is 120 metres long. The fascinating thing apart from the scenery is that these guys row their boats with their feet. Yes, feet, not arms, so it makes for a nice photo moment.

Tam Coc 1
Feet rowing

Tam Coc 4
Isn’t it amazing?

Tam Coc 6
Fishing

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Tam Coc 10
Getting out of one of the caves

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A shame it’s not sharper

Tam Coc 17

Not just photo moment, it’s just mesmerizing to look at them how they do it, as they are really really skilled. Totally recommended.

If you have a look at wikitravel and/or the Lonely Planet Guide, they warn you about people trying to hard sell you things on your return trip (on the boat) and getting really aggressive and rude if you don’t buy anything. Not my experience though. True, there are people there who try to sell you stuff, but if you refuse politely all is good. All you need to do is give them a small tip at the end of the trip and that’s it.

Tam Coc 3
One of the vendors

There’s this other place called Trang Ang Which is basically like Tam Coc but less crowded and apparently nicer. I didn’t have time to see it but just saying in case anyone wants to pay a visit as they say it’s less crowded than Tam Coc and you get to see the same kind of scenery.

Mua Cave is this cave at the bottom of one of these mountains. A bit difficult to find actually, so you’ll need a scooter or a bicycle and, armed with the map, ask locals for directions. The cave itself is not really great, to be honest. Just a hole at the bottom of
the mountain which lets you get literally to the other side.  It’s just like 60 metres at most.

Mua Cave 18

Mua Cave 15
What you see is Tam Coc

Mua Cave 20

But the interesting things for me were the pond at the bottom where I could take some amazing pictures (lucky me) and the stairs to the top of the mountain.  I arrived late in the afternoon when it was getting closer to the sunset and the pond, with its lighting and crystal clear water it seemed fantastic. Just check the photos! :-) (more on flickr)

Green Reflections III

Mua Cave 1

The stairs have around 500 steps that take you to a kind of sanctuary on the top of the mountain. There you have an amazing view of Tam Coc (the river on one side) and rice fields (on the other side). Really really nice! (Big warning, there are mosquitoes of the tiger variety, and this was Vietnam’s winter, so be warned if you go in the summer.

Mua Cave 12
The start of the 500 steps

Apart from these, there are a few other spots you can see close to Tam Coc, like a small pagoda and temples in a cave on a mountain, not much, but you can climb to the top (with someone who will take you up there for a small fee) where you can get a pretty good view of the area. Difficult and  dangerous (really) but worth the visit, as you get a nice view of the area (which must look amazing if you get it on a clear day)

Let me take a picture of you
They get the ‘let me get a picture of you’ treatment :-)

Ninh Binh 31

Ninh Binh 34
Our ‘guide’

There’s also a set of temples around 25 km away from the city.  That’s the Bai Dinh temple area. It’s interesting because it’s got a pagoda in construction. And they seem to be building this huge complex to visit it, including a road through some tunnels across nearby mountains. But you’ll definitely need a scooter to visit it.

Ninh Binh 20

Ninh Binh 21

Ninh Binh 17

Ninh Binh 19

Ninh Binh 27
Before you say anything, have a look at the history of the Swastika

In summary, I liked it. I thought it was pretty and interesting to see, plus the city is mostly interesting as it doesn’t have almost any tourists, so you are seeing a real Vietnamese city!

Mua Cave 22
Bye, bye. See you next time!

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