A Travellerspoint blog

Hoi An: Rural and Urban

From serene early morning countryside to hot afternoon shoperama

sunny 34 °C

We all rose early this morning, hired bicycles (1 GBP for all three, no insurance, no deposits) and cycled out into the countryside to try and find the 'real Vietnam'. We discovered lovely friendly people, serene countryside, some wildlife... and black teeth!

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Then back home for a late breakfast and a swim in the Hotel pool (good move to get a hotel with a pool, it keeps the kids occupied for hours!).

Emma in heaven when the three 'girls' went for a pedicure at a local Nail Bar - a stark contrast to this morning.

On our 'contrast' theme which is constantly popping up during our travels, here is a photo of the view behind Jackie as she sits at the pool...

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...and here is the view in front of Jackie as David orders a book off Amazon for Matthew to be delivered to Whale Island, our next stop, 12 hrs south of here.

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Posted by snellfamil 06:21 Archived in Vietnam Tagged family_travel Comments (0)

"Just pop out and get some bananas, would you?"

It'll only take a couple of minutes - but make sure you're back for breakfast at 7am!

sunny 23 °C

I was up early the other day, because I wanted to catch a bit more of Hue before we left on the bus at 8 that morning. Jackie wanted me to get some fresh fruit for the journey.

So I obediently set off on a pushbike borrowed from the Guest House where we were staying. In Great Bedwyn, I would do the same but pop to the village shop or to Waitrose. In Vietnam, things are a bit different.

6am. Down the lane on my yellow pushbike (with an attractive basket on the front). Most of the town already seems awake (many are up at 5 here). Past the old lady on the side of the road who had already put on breakfast for the family (there was a pot on the boil for the rice or noodles and she was cutting up some fresh herbs and vegetables).

Past the Charles Bronson lookalike (who always seems to be there, day or night doing very little, just sitting there, watching the world go by) and straight into the stream of traffic which was already starting to build.

90% of traffic in Vietnam is on 2 wheels and it is amazing how no one seems to get hurt, because when it is busy, the whole road is filled with bikes or motorbikes and you just get swept along. But what is really amazing is the junctions. Because no one is travelling particularly fast, and there are no particular rules like there are in England, everyone is alert, so if you make to turn across oncoming traffic, as long as you are consistent in your movements, the oncoming traffic moves around you like a river.

Over the bridge over the Perfume River; Find the big market, but too early. Lots of activity but no one set up yet. Spotted a few bags of green mangoes but no bananas.

Decide to look in the old part of town, near the Citadel. The great thing about cycling is that you don't get pestered by anyone trying to sell you a ride on a Cyclo or something to eat or something to visit.

Down numerous little streets, past schoolkids heading for school, people heading for work, cyclos laden down with fresh produce being taken to the markets or with building materials or household goods (the ubiquitous Cyclo is not just used to carry tourists, it is used instead of a small van in Vietnam - I have even seen a large heavy mahogany dresser being transported by a Cyclo!)

Lots of people having breakfast, families sitting on tiny plastic chairs or boxes (or just crouching) and lots of people selling breakfast from in front of their houses. Breakfast comprises noodle soup and bread and vegetables, mostly, and some juice or tea or coffee. (There seems to be lots of hanging around in Vietnam too!).

Even the school children eat their breakfast by the side of the road - many outside their schools, where food stations are already set up and groups of kids are already tucking in.

I stop outside a house where a woman has put down her baskets of fruit a) for a rest and b) to sell.

She has ripe mangoes, which is great, because the only mangoes we seem to have found up to now have been hard and green. I buy 3 and rather embarrassingly barter her down from 30p to 20p (bartering is a way of life in Vietnam - they seem to respect you for it, but sometimes it seems a bit pointless).

Then further down the road the landscape opens out into a water-filled area, where women are already at work in their little banana-shaped boats, cutting what looks like watercress. It is a beautiful, serene scene (they probably rose before 5am and have done half a day's work already and will earn the equivalent of about 2 GBP for a long, hard day).

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I cycle on. No bananas yet and it's 6.30 already.

Then I spot a lady with a little stall outside her house and she has some little baguettes, so I stop and haggle with her - I buy 3 for 20p.

Time is running out so I turn back. The traffic is really building now, so I get swept along as I move from small tracks to bigger roads - by the time I get to the main bridge, there must be 10 bikes abreast on my side of the road.

Still no bananas.

7am Back to the Guest House. Get directions to a "small local market". Get permission from the missus to have one last try. Sprint round to the small market selling fresh fruit and veg but still no bananas.

Back to base with conclusion that there are no ripe bananas in Hue today for some obscure reason.

Then, after breakfast, as we are leaving to catch the bus, our landlady's brother (or cousin or uncle?) says he'll get some for us for 10,000 Dong (about 30p) and scoots off on his little Honda motorbike.

He arrives back 5 mins later, grinning - and produces a hand of delicious ripe bananas (about 15 of them)

Mission accomplished. Simple really.

There must be a moral to this story, but I enjoyed the trip and the mangoes and bread were delicious!

Posted by snellfamil 21:01 Archived in Vietnam Tagged family_travel Comments (2)

$5, 1 Hour, Very cheap, Where you from? Manchester United?

Hounded in Hue-moving onto Hoi An

sunny 34 °C

Our last day in Hue and despite phenomenal heat, I dragged the family off to the Ancient Citadel. After all, isn't that the point of visiting Hue? Its all ancient buildings and pagodas and so far the family had managed to avoid any historical buildings. Sweating and moaning I managed to get them in the ancient palace whereby Matt and Olivia lay flat out on the tiled floor. There were loads of tourists there on guided trips who looked on enviously!!

We didn't really like Hue very much. It was essentially flattened in the war apart from the Citadel. The rest was rebuilt in the 60's and it feels a bit like a Milton keynes! Also I think the heat really hit us and it has taken a couple of days to adjust.

Everywhere you turn in Hue someone is hot on your heels trying to get you to go on a cyclo. They are like bees round a honey pot. Emma has got a very cross vietnamese 'NO' off pat now and seems to be able to frighten them off!

We arrived in Hoi An at lunch time today (34'c) and found a nice hotel with a pool where the chldren have spent most of the day.

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Hoi An is completely different to both Hue and Hanoi. The guide books say its 'living history' and I guess you can imagine an old port in times gone by. Its another world heritage site. Crumpled old fading buildings strung along the coast. Its full of tourists and silk shops and I have promised to take the girls shopping. Its much smaller and quieter and cleaner than Hanoi!

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David has finally plucked up courage to try the dog kebabs!! while Matt is living on banana juice. The fruit juice drinks here are amazing and only 30p a glass for fresh pineaple, banana or mango.

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Some factoids I have found interesting:

The vietnamese go out of their way to avoid the sun - they love pale skin so they wear these face masks (also against pollution) and even in this heat they wear long polyester gloves to cover their arms.

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They are only allowed to have 2 children - hence the constant comments I get:'3 children - 2 girl, 1 boy , very lucky'

The high school uniform are these long white trouser/dress things.

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They wear white and have white flowers for funerals and red flowers for weddings.

The average national wage is GBP 500 yet they have to pay to send their children to school!

Open heart surgery at Hue Hospital would cost you GBP 700!!!

When they die they can bury their dead anywhere!!There are tombs all over the fields!!!

Posted by snellfamil 04:01 Archived in Vietnam Tagged family_travel Comments (0)

Going Underground

A long journey to the famous North Vietnamese tunnels

sunny 30 °C

Hue is close (although not as close as we thought) to the famous DMZ (Demilitarized Zone) which was the 'no mans land' between North and South Vietnam before reunification. It has the best preserved and least visited tunnels in Vietnam.

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So after breakfast on the balcony, we took a minibus and guide to them, stopping on the way to take in a bit of rural Vietnam (buffalo crossing the busy highway, trying to work out how they extract rubber from the trees and watching people working in the rice fields) and have an interesting lunch by the sea on the way.

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It turned out to be rather further than we had been led to believe, so the journey itself took about 6 hrs there and back.

We saw the military cemetery where over 10,000 Vietnamese soldiers were buried during the 19 year war (another 5000 odd died clearing up the unexploded bombs afterwards).

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The tunnels themselves were the highlight of the day. Built on three levels through the earth there are 4kms of them and it took just 20 months to build them. 400 North Vietnamese lived down there, whilst the war raged. 19 babies were born down there during the period!

Posted by snellfamil 05:25 Archived in Vietnam Tagged family_travel Comments (1)

Death in Hanoi

We saw lots of dead things today - hence the title of this entry (thought up by Matt)

overcast 28 °C

No-one seemed very keen on the 2 main things that we had planned for today - to hire a Vietnamese English-speaking guide and to see Ho Chi Minh lying in state - but we spiced things up a bit by racing through the town to the mausoleum on the back of 3 motorbikes. The kids loved it, in spite of the rain.

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We queued for about an hour (very strict security etc) to see the great man (who has been dead for nearly 40 years now and had gone a bit yellow).

Then on to a very traditional market with our guide called "UK". Incredible array of fresh fruits and vegetables, live fish and shellfish (including bowls of live eels and crabs).

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Saw Vietnamese speciality which is grilled dog - none of us have plucked up enough courage to eat even the heavily disguised dog kebabs yet!

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Learned a huge amount about Vietnam from "UK", including the fact that the Vietnamese people are heavily penalised if they have more than 2 children - hence their interest in our three. Also learned that the loud radio that is played all over the city every morning at 5am is the News! Funny how you learn to sleep through it.

Long day, but said our goodbyes to our friends at the hotel

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and then caught the night train to Hue at 11pm which was quite an experience - nearly got ripped off by someone masquerading as a guard, then found our cabin for the night - 4 beds. But we managed and all went pretty well on the 10 hr journey south.

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Awoke to rural scenery and a 15 degree hike in temperature - much more tropical 'feel'.

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Nice guesthouse (8 GBP a night for all of us). Everyone tired and irritable - Jackie went to find jam sandwich for Matt, David took off on a motorbike to let off steam and then we gave up and went to the poshest hotel in town for a relaxing swim and then out for a pizza. Will try harder tomorrow!

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Posted by snellfamil 05:22 Archived in Vietnam Tagged family_travel Comments (4)

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