December 30

We're back from Halong Bay at the office of the woman who booked the Halong trip as well as all of L&J's onward air. We called her The Closer. She could sell sand to the Saudis. We loved her. Unfortunately I cut off the top of her adorable brother's head. She ran that business entirely which included running her brother's life. What a gal.

She also arranged our train tickets and got her brother to escort us through the formalities - not necessary but a good thing for her to offer and we'll be recommending her wildly.
Life on the overnight train.

The fourth in our cabin was a member of a hoppin' tour group. We crashed their evening festivities and much beer was consumed by The Boys including Leslie, a Kiwi, and two Auzzies. The Brits went to bed.
Our Travel Agent cutie also arranged for a car and driver to pick us up in Hue, drive us around for sightseeing and then drive us down to Hoi An. It was a great plan because otherwise we would only be able to see Hue if we schleped our bags.

Our first stop was the Tomb of Tu Duc constructed between 1864 and 1867 for the longest reigning Nguyen monarch, Tu Duc.
He isn't actually interred here though. (btw This is a very cool horse.) From the Lonely Planet:

"The site where his remains were buried (along with great treasure) is not known. Because of the danger of grave robbers, some extreme measures were taken to keep the location secret...
...Every one of the 200 servants who buried the king was...

We also saw another tomb which had the same style and structure. It was bigger to begin with but had been extensively damaged in the various wars. Here in Central Vietnam somebody was always bombing the place.
Next we visited the Thien Mu Pagoda, an icon of Vietnam. It is stunning.

All these monuments are located along the banks of the Perfume River and the guide books all recommend you can ride down the river stopping off to see the historical buildings as you go.
A very young monk at the Pagoda.
Turtles are all about long life and you're supposed to rub their head and then tap your forehead. That's what somebody told us anyway, so we Did! Long life is ok but these days we all know that long life in itself doesn't much do the trick if you're sick all the time.
Wow! It's Lallo and Paola! They were our table mates on the boat in Halong Bay and we also ran into them at the Pagoda and here we are at the Citadel. More hugs and laughs and plans to meet up in Hoi An.
Begun in 1804 the Citadel is a walled fortress now a UNESCO World Heritage site. Many of the buildings are in great disrepair and many have been carefully restored.
A museum of tanks inside the walls of the Citadel.
Now we're off for the 3-4 hour drive from Hue to Hoi An. The weather is simply not cooperating. Of course it could be worse. Plenty worse. We say this to each other regularly to overcome the WhyWhyWHY that burbbles up every hour or so when you haven't seen the sky for a few weeks.
December 31 and January 1

H*appy N*ew Y*ear!
New Years Eve day was all about rain rain Go Away and then we had a major New Years Eve Festivo. We went to The hot spot in town where it turned out we hooked up with the crowd from the train and had a grand old time.
We went across the street for dinner at 11 and watched the hoop-la from the balcony of this place. We're talking Loooud music, street dancers, and shoulder to shoulder people - tourists and young local people who must earn tourist dollars to be able to afford this luxury.
This is an old Russian bike, a Minsk, that is hugely popular for touring around the country.
A street scene in a moment without rain.
Tailoring is the thing here and there are no less than 100 shops that cater to 'made to measure' clothes. 100% of the guidebooks and online recommendations agree that this shop, Yaly, is the most upscale and professional.

Julie had a dress and jacket made that she is very happy with. Leslie got four shirts that he is very happy with. I got a copy of that shirt I wear every day of the week, which went well, but the dress I tried to have copied was shockingly wrong. They're going to remake it and we'll see, since as soon as I finish here I have to brave the pouring rain to try it on again.
Last night the river flooded the bordering street well up past this small key.
There are a lot of very charming buildings in Hoi An and the Old Town is kept up pretty well to tourist standards.
They also have many sites such as pagodas, temples, and old residences, shops, and government buildings open for viewing. You buy a general ticket and then you can choose to enter any 5 of the sites - they punch a hole in your ticket to keep track.
Another site but because of the rain I just rushed out and snapped a pic whenever it wasn't pouring.
These trucks are also from the olden days and you see them all around Vietnam.
Mr Darell - the owner/operator of the Safari Bar down by the beach. A waiter at a restaurant in Hanoi told us to be sure and stop by to give Darell his regards. That was fun.
In the lobby of the hotel.

Leslie and Julie have left now for HCMC and I'm thrashing what to do next. CNN is predicting rain all down the coast, Dalat is showers instead of rain, maybe some better, and it's actually not raining in Hanoi, but that's just too big a backtrack, so what to do what to do. And my nose is running like the rain.
January 2-3-4

When I last wrote it was mid-day on the 2nd, L&J were on their way to HCMC, and the rain was continuing unabated. This is a picture of the river in Hoi An overflowing her banks from the night of the 1st.

So late the night of the 2nd again I checked our old friend and discovered that if I buzzed on down to Nha Trang, a resort town between Hoi An and HCMC, that it would be clearing by the next day.
OK, that means I got up at 4am to go to the 5:30am train in Danang to get to Nha Trang before dark. It all went just fine. The train trip took 9 hours and this was the scene out the window the entire time. Nothing but this. Rice rice rice.
And more rice.
I got in early enough to shop hotels and ended up with the third floor corner unit here with the wrap-around balcony, nice windows, air-con, tv, decent reading light, fridge, sitting chairs(!), basically clean enough, and very comfy. For Ten Dollars. I don't know why. Having seen other rooms for more and less it's impossible to figure out how the hotel operators figure value. Maybe I looked like a person who was going to spend ten dollars?

So I went to sleep...
...and I woke up to Blue Sky!
And The Beach! for which Nha Trang is noted. I had to go back to my room for Sun Screen!
Here is an example of the internet cafes around Vietnam. They still call them cafes here although they rarely have food but do offer beverages for sale. They are just open 'single car garage' type places and vary wildly in the quality of the equipment and connection.
Walking around town I stumbled across a Vietnamese embroidery studio. The stuff was amazing how they use layer after layer of threads to create a real 3-d effect.
Then I went to this Mud Bath place and it really was cool, very worth it even though the massage people were all booked up which (the massage) is what I was hoping for.
The drill is like this (and everything is pretty much in public with big shared facilities): change, shower up, soak in the mud, sit in the sun until the mud dries, shower up, get pummeled by the waterfalls, soak in the mineral water, swim in the giant 105 degree pool, and when you are entirely water logged, shower up and dress.
It was fun! Check out the expression on that old guy as he pours mud on his wife's back.

Like all these tourist attractions you predominantly see Westerners, some big groups of Korean men, the occasional Asians I can't identify, and what gives me the uneasies is you often see Western men with a couple of very young local girls. You can't help but notice.
I've been st*lk*ng these guys for weeks trying to catch a picture of that incredible color. The guys who wear this color are the most serious of all police presence. Maybe they're the Federales. When you see a guy in this color the situation is usually such that you want to just Back Off.

Not scary really, just not a welcoming photo-op. I was on the balcony of a restaurant and the police were making the operators move the displays and cooking stations they had setup on the street. There was much HubBub and gesticulating and then the guy in the bright green tore off in the jeep and the plain green guys stayed around to watch.
Sunset from my lovely wrap-around balcony.
January 5

It was a little cloudy in the morning but you could always peek the bit of blue sky. Then the sun came pouring out and it got Hot! but I am not complaining. No. Not complaining.
There are some new and grand-style buildings along the sea wall.
Palm trees. So lovely.
Most Vietnamese women are incredibly slight. They weigh like 65 pounds and they could wear a leg of my slacks for a dress so these ladies caught my eye. And anyway they called out to me when they passed and I could not resist those outfits.
She is painting the inside with what I take to be a waterproofing material because...
...they use these babies as transport between the fishing fleets and as shuttles to shore.
Another method of getting around.
I was heading to visit that tower you see in the distance, in the middle of the picture at the very top but decided prudently (and also because the sun was beating me blind) not to make my way on foot through this settlement to get there.

It's called the Cham towers of Po Nagar, originally built between the 7th and 12th centuries for Hindu worship and now 'both ethnic Chinese and Vietnamese Buddhists come to Po Nagar to pray and make offerings, according to their respective traditions.'
In Vietnam Uncle Ho is still a figure of respectful veneration and his advice is much in evidence although not as omnipresent as before I'm sure.
Hello! Hellooo! I asked the first brave one 'how are you?' and when she replied 'fine, thank you' and I told her 'excellent answer!' she ran off to get more of her friends. Helloooo...
This is the Nha Trang Cathedral built between 1928 and 1933. I love these contrasting images -the commie flag, the Catholic cathedral, there's a giGANtic Buddha visible from all over the city located at Long Son Pagoda, and then there's the whole cult of Louis Pasteur to talk about.
Inside the cathedral...
...and more. Wow. Those Catholics sure know how to build a building.
January 6 and 7

I signed up for a group trip out to some islands around Nha Trang. There are just a few operators of these trips but hundreds of ways to buy them under any number of names. Every hotel and internet cafe and travel service wants to sell you tours.

This was our boat.
And this was our group. Not too many but as always interesting. There was another big lot of Vietnamese people who had lived in Australia for a generation, like the crowd from the Halong Bay trip.

All these tourist areas have been working hard I think to spiff things up with plantings, paths, signs, and toilets, trying to make the visit an enjoyable experience.
At one stop the attraction was to feed these ostriches and also they had some semi-tame deer.
And another island was famous for its monkeys. I skipped the dog-and-bear show and am very glad to have done that. Another of the islands we visitied featured lunch and a swim or a hike depending on your desire. I sat in an easy chair and read my book.
Coming back, those are shrimp and lobster farms out there.

The next morning, today, the 7th, I got the bus to Dalat. The place I am in for tonight is the first by a mile bed that is not comfortable. I didn't even check it because all the beds have been really clean and firm and nice. This one has identifiable springs and that is not a good thing. I'll probably change hotels tomorrow.
HomeAsia • Vietnam • '06 Jan: Hue and Hoi An and Nha Trang

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