In September 2010 I went back to Australia for a while after spending months travelling in the US, Europe and Asia. My return was to catch up with family and friends, do some travel there and a few months of contract work to boost the coffers, then I had planned to move to the US. But with the economy still in the gutter I thought, what the hell, I am going to Vietnam and Laos for 2 months (via Singapore)! So I put the relocation off for a while and headed to S.E. Asia. I wrote a number of travel emails from that trip and I thought it would be fun to revisit them with some additional info and photos. The following blog is Part 6 of that journey (Central Vietnam).
November 21st, 2010
I finally left Hanoi (after my fourth stay there – great city!) on a very delayed flight to Danang in Central Vietnam. There were a few scary moments on the flight with the weather but we made it OK – the Vietnamese are a nervy bunch! Upon arrival in Danang I immediately transferred to Hoi An, a very nice town with lots of old buildings, temples etc. set along a river and close to the sea.
I explored a number of these buildings and the various streets and temples – always to the cry of “Hey you! You buy something – it’s good luck” etc etc. I tried to find a Vietnam Tintin t-shirt that actually had Snowy the dog in white – all seem to have him coloured black? Um, his name is Snowy!!!
Although it hasn’t rained all day everyday, some of the streets of the old town were flooded – one I walked along was high and dry in the morning, upon my return in the afternoon it was under water! Glad my hotel wasn’t right on the river – although later that night the water had crept up to and past the hotel (not very deep though – waist to chest deep in some parts – in 2007 it was up to 2 metres deep)! Turns out the hydroelectric dam was full so they opened the gates and flooded everything down river…..woke up to water at the doorstep of the hotel (nice of them to warn the town)!!!
After sitting around in the hotel for a while some of us were getting “cabin fever” so to break the flood monotony, myself and another Aussie from Tasmania arranged through the hotel to get a free boat to a dry part of Hoi An. This was a strange highlight of my stay – boats everywhere, streets flooded, it was quite surreal.
Then a driver organised by the hotel took us to the Marble Mountains near Danang and the famous China Beach. We had a great walk up stairs to the top of one of the mountains with impressive buddha caves (and bats!), tall pagodas and temples etc. We climbed up through one of the caves to get to the top of one of the mountains for good 360 degree views of the surrounding town and countryside. A very good diversion!
Upon our return to Hoi An we had to take a boat again back to the hotel – quite the adventure the whole experience! The next day the flood water had receded to half the level and was dropping fast. I had planned to go 100km south to Quang Ngai close to the infamous My Lai massacre site (memorial, museum etc) from the Vietnam War, where US troops went nuts and wiped out the village. One of many horrible incidents that occurred during that long and bloody war. Alas heavy rain and floods in that province has resulted in drownings and a lot of damage, so I decided to exercise caution and go North to Danang.
A motorbike was ferrying guests to dry land, by the time it came to my turn to get to where a car was waiting for me, the motorbike had broken down! So I slogged it out through shin high water (had gone down a lot) for about 500 metres. I was then greeted by rain throughout the day in Danang, but nothing too serious. It is set along the massive Han River, it would take a lot more rain to flood that!
I have the claim of now being thrown out of a Ho Chi Minh Museum in Danang! I got a Xe Om (motorbike rider) to take me out there, got into the gates and wanted to take photos of the well restored aircraft, tanks etc set in the garden before going into the museum. Apparently you are only allowed to visit in a group…. I was…a group of 1! We persuaded the gate guard to let me take a few photos, but this little military woman on the inside wouldn’t have a bar of that…still snapped off a few shots, then was unceremoniously sent to the street – hilariously she said at the gate “hope to see you again”!!!! Ha! Took some more photos from there through the fence! A shame really as it is meant to be a good museum with lots of things to see…..this is a classic example of Communist bureaucracy.
I cut my losses and went to the Cham Sculpture Museum (an ancient civilisation – unusual Indian-Malay-Polynesian society and religion that had cities in Central and Southern Vietnam dating back to the 7th century) which has excellent displays of Cham statues (gods, lions, elephants, Ganesh, magical bird men etc – quite cool) from various ancient sites. I wanted to go to a place called My Son from Hoi An but it was flooded too – it is Vietnam’s smaller and more ruined equivalent of Cambodias Angkor Wat, built by the Cham civilisation, so for now this is about as close as I could get.
Another day was spent in Danang, looking around temples, the river front, street markets etc. Leaving Danang I went North to Hue (pronounced “Huay” – not Donald Ducks nephew) by bus.
The trip to Hue was interesting – I took a train for about 3 hours from Danang, I booked a “soft seat” for about $3, the rush for the train was crazy with people pushing and shoving (I was the only westerner on my carriage). They all have so many bags (luggage, shopping, food etc) by the time I got on board there was quite a crush….I snapped and started pushing through the people! By the time I found my seat, which was conveniently broken at a 45 degree angle, there was nowhere to put my backpack except between my legs! So you can imagine it was not a comfortable ride! But hey for $3 it turned out OK once we got going!
Hue is set on the Perfume River (not quite as nice as it sounds) and was once the imperial capital, I have visited the walled Citadel – inside is the Purple Forbidden City and many temples etc (many buildings have been restored – but the area was mostly destroyed in various wars including the Vietnam War – Viet Cong/North Vietnamese Army recaptured it for a 3 weeks from the South Vietnamese and US. The US bombed the hell out of the place and put it under siege, eventually recapturing it – the communists apparently did some hideous things to the local population during this time for supporting the “Imperialist Puppets“. It is a very peaceful and tranquil place now thankfully and a very welcome respite from the onslaught of cyclo and motorbike riders and the common cry of “where you go? You want motorbike?” etc (much the same in Danang and Hoi An – enough to drive you crazy at times! I miss Hanoi where only a few ask you this).
Last night eating my dinner in a cafe, I thought a kitten ran in from outside under my table and across my feet…..screams from the waitress and a quick look soon revealed a huge dirty rat!!!! This caused quite a bit of excitement – the owner eventually cornered it and killed it with an old metal spatula! Not your average night out.
Today I am on a boat tour to various Royal Tombs of the former Vietnamese Emporer’s that are around Hue. Can’t wait to see what the next few weeks bring!