Itinerary: Vietnam – Central Vietnam, 12 June – 18 July 2012

I had the opportunity to be part of a study abroad tour, and lived in central Vietnam for a bit. We did some cool side trips, so I will be reviewing those.

12 – 18 June: Hanoi

19 – 28 June: Hue

29 June – 01 July: Hoi An

02 July: Hue

03 – 11 July: Dong Ha

12 – 13 July: Dong Hoi

14 – 15 July: Dong Ha

16 – 17 July: Hue


Vietnam – Hue to Hoi An, 23 December 2004

I must be UNESCO world heritage site hopping, from Hue to Hoi An, whose historic town is marked as a UNESCO world heritage site.

I think I can safely declare Hoi An as my favourite place in Vietnam. Apart from being quaint, with many sidewalk cafes sometimes housed in old houses, it’s also relatively peaceful, with little hustling. People here are not so mercenary, and apart from these, I heard that there’s a nice beach within cycling distance. Accomodation here also often comes with in-house swimming polls, and that comes cheap starting at US 6 per night for a single room.

Although I don’t find the historic town very special, as it seems to be a simple Chinese town to me, I guess it’s unique in the Vietnamese context, as it doesn’t exist in other Vietnamese towns. The conservation work is great though, and their Museum of Trade Ceramics is neat and manageable.

One thing that strikes me is the number of tailors/clothes shops and cafes/restaurants in Hoi An. It’s almost as if these were the only two things that the people are involved in, not that I’m complaining, since I spent my evening sipping cocktails and chomping fries while reading my newly acquired, Vietnam-pirated Bridget Jone’s Diary. How outdated I can be with popular fiction.

However, my experience in Hoi An was marred by the 3 blackouts in the night, worsened by my inability to kill the greedy mosquito that left me with more than 10 itchy bites.

Hoi An Boats.jpg

Hoi An Boats

Japanese Covered Bridge.jpg

Japanese Covered Bridge

Cantonese Temple in Hoi An.jpg

Cantonese Temple

Vietnam – Hue, 22 December 2004

I woke up on the bus to find myself in Hue. Perhaps due to my abandonment of my guidebook, I ended up missing out on the royal mausoleums in Hue. Oh well…

Traffic in Hue is a little lighter than Hanoi, and hence, once again, I rented a bike to explore the town. The trip was pretty fruitful, as I got to explore more parts of the Citadel (a UNESCO world heritage site) than I would have on foot. Due to my lousy reading of my guidebook, I missed out on the fine print in my book that gave me the directions to the royal mausoleum on bike, argh! But by then, i twas too late, as I had already returned the bike.

I decided to make the best out of the situation, and visit the palace complex within the Citadel! Once again, I was faced with Vietnam’s double pricing system, and I ended up paying 30 000VND more than the locals.

The palace, hmm, compared to China’s Purple Forbidden City, this Purple Forbidden City is a dwarf by comparison. However, one good thing about this Purple Forbidden City is its access. Here is about the closest that anyone can get to the dragon throne anywhere in the world. Also, the The Mieu temple has these fascinating wind chimes hanging on the eaves of its gates, giving a pleasant tinkling sound with the caress of the wind.

The walk in the palace was followed by a found hunt for Hue’s banana pancake (banh khoai). After following my guidebook, and walking for around 45 min, I was sorely disappointed to find out that the eatery recommended by the guidebook was replaced by a film processing shop, and the next nearest recommended cafe had moved. After trudging for another half an hour with my tired body, I finally settled at Mandarin cafe.

The famed banana pancake is served with a weird, sourish peanut sauce, that I decided to give it a miss, and just eat the pancake plain.

After my heavy lunch, my sore blistered feet went on strike, and the only thing left to do was to return to my room to read, which was very productive. Apart from finishing a rather intriguing “The Handmaid’s Tale” by Margaret Atwood, I was also so captivated by Dan Brown’s Da Vinci code that I ended up finishing it in one sitting. Boy, am I glad there are book exchanges in Vietnam!

Windchimes on Door to The Mieu.jpg

The Mieu

Sampan Down Perfume River.jpg

Boat floating down the Perfume River

Petfish Seller.jpg

Goldfish for sale

The Purple Forbidden City.jpg

The Noon Gate at the Forbidden City

Vietnam – Hanoi to Hue, 21 December 2004

The train ride was a sleepless one, as the train kept jamming its brakes, almost throwing me off my upper bunk, and of course, in the morning, I discovered that my wrist band from Sapa disappeared. 😦

Getting into Hanoi at 4am in the morning is one of the worst ideas in the world. As the train pulled into the station, all the touts wre already lining the platforms (how in the world did they get in?), waiting for the passengers to alight. In the mayhem, I lost the Korean boys, as there were more than one exit. Thankfully, two Canadian girls were kind enough to allow me to share the cab with them, though I ended up at Ma May, not exactly knowing what to do till sunrise, except to take the longest time in the world to eat my bowl of pho ga.

It must have been one of the longest waits for the sunrise in my life, as I paced up and down Hang Bac and Hang Be, waiting for the various shops to open up. After more touts circling round me and asking me to lodge at their hotels, that was when I decided to just move on from Hanoi, on the very same day, if it is possible.

Annoying as it is, morning is also an interesting time to watch Hanoi rise from sleep to work. At around 06 30, vendors gathered at the street market along Hang Be, selling stuff like fresh fruits and vegetables; overloaded motorcycles and cyclos also whizzed by, carrying things like a 2m high bouquet of flowers, and in the most hilarious situation– four dead pigs! This was a Vietnam that was oblivious to my existence, just humming along on its own. I think I like this Vietnam.

The magical hour finally arrived, and after some haggling, I finally managed to get my open ticket for USD 17. Perhaps due to my scare on my second night in Hanoi, I just stuck in the old town, passing my time reading, chatting with the guys operating the guesthouse, surfing the web, and buying novels. (Yes, I finally got the Da Vinci Code!)

Good bye Hanoi. I’m glad to be leaving. Maybe Hanoi will treat me differently when I speak her language.

Fresh Produce Market in Old Quarters.jpg

Vietnam – Cambodia, 14 December 2004 – 01 January 2005


14 December 2004: Hanoi

15 December 2004: Hanoi

16 December 2004: Hanoi – Halong Bay – Cat Ba Island (Bus, Boat)

17 December 2004: Halong Bay – Hanoi – Sapa (Boat, Bus, Overnight train)

18 December 2004: Sapa

19 December 2004: Sapa

20 December 2004: Sapa – Hanoi (Overnight train)

21 December 2004: Hanoi – Hue (Overnight bus)

22 December 2004: Hue

23 December 2004: Hue – Hoi An (Bus)

24 December 2004: Hoi An – My Son – Hoi An (Bus, Boat)

25 December 2004: Hoi An – Nha Trang – Ho Chi Minh City (Bus)

26 December 2004: Ho Chi Minh City

27 December 2004: Ho Chi Minh City – Phnom Penh

28 December 2004: Phnom Penh

29 December 2004: Phnom Penh – Siem Reap

30 December 2004: Siem Reap

31 December 2004: Siem Reap

01 January 2004: Siem Reap