Tour of Duty
Bijgewerkt op: 14 feb 2018
For one month we have been allowed to travel through this beautiful country. It was amazing!! The country is rich in culture and history, lots of friendly people and a great kitchen (they even have a true Kitchen God).
VIETNAM, also called the 'Socialist Republic of Vietnam', lies on the South China Sea and shares its land borders with China, Cambodia and Laos. The country is 7 times larger than the Netherlands and 5 times as many people live there (Vietnam has 90 million inhabitants). Vietnam has a very young population. More than half of the population is younger than 21 years. The main reasons for this are the wars; 1st Indochinese War (1945-1954) and the Vietnam War (1960-1975).
Faith and traditions play an important role in the daily life of the Vietnamese. 55% (= 42 million people) of the population belongs to Buddhism, Taoism and Confucianism. These religions are mixed with ancestral and spirit worship and animism (faith in which souls or spirits not only exist in humans and animals, but also in plants, stones, etc.) and more or less merged into one faith, 'Tam Giao'.
Especially around Tet (Vietnamese New Year) you can see faith and traditions come to blossom. For example, many people make sacrifices around this period. This consists mainly of fresh food, fresh water, flowers and sometimes clothing and money (fake money) which are destined for the three kitchen gods in the house. These gods, the Tao Quan, are the kitchen gods who report to the heavenly Emperor Ngoc Hoang about the ups and downs of the family. Thanks to a favourable report from the kitchen gods, the family hopes to receive lucky for upcoming year!
Besides the offerings, carps are released in rivers and lakes. Vietnamese are convinced that the kitchen gods make their journey to heaven, on the back of these fish.
During the absence of the kitchen gods as they have to report, the houses of the Vietnamese are not protected against evil spirits. To protect the house anyway, people place a bamboo pole in front of the house or purchase a Kumquat tree (a small green tree with mini oranges). Especially the Kumquat tree are transported in large numbers during the last days before TET. Scooters are suddenly much broader than cars, because there are several trees bound and people in the bus have to cut down because dozens of trees need space. But it is almost TET, so everyone is happy!
The most common mode of transport is the scooter. Since the car is expensive to purchase (you pay 100% VAT on this), almost 50% of the inhabitants drive on scooters. With the scooter everything is transported, from families (2 parents and 2 children) to furniture, to whole market stalls and animals, you name it. It is their support and refuge. Even doing an afternoon nap on your scooter is no strange sight.
Welcome to Hanoi, the capital of Vietnam. The second largest city in Vietnam with 6.5 million inhabitants. The French era (Vietnam was a colony of France from 1862-1945) is still visible in the colonial buildings and the wide boulevards.
In contrast of this you will find the delightful chaotic Old Quarter, with cramped houses, narrow alleys and streets full of small restaurants, small bars, small shops, small market stalls and hotels. We say ‘small’ because everything has been done in a very small matter. On the street, cafes have set their terrace with small chairs and tables. It looks super cosy and attractive. Where Vietnamese are sitting comfortable, tourists are not with their legs next to their ears.
Our hotel was also situated in the Old Quarter. For less than € 15.00 per night we slept in a spacious and clean room with air conditioning, free breakfast every morning and the most friendly and helpful hotel staff we have encountered so far. After a wonderful night's sleep, we got up the next morning to enjoy breakfast and afterwards went into the city and visit the many sights that the city is rich.
We visited the Mausoleum of Hồ Chí Minh. In this huge tomb, the body of Ho Chi Minh, a former president of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam (better known as North Vietnam / VietCong / Victor-Charly / Vietnamese Communists) and the national hero of Vietnam has been laid to rest. The mausoleum is closed for two months a year, because the body of Hồ Chí Minh is then taken to Moscow to be newly embalmed. This place is very important for many Vietnamese people and it is one of the most visited attractions in Hanoi.
On our way to our next stop we have to cross the streets. As there are no traffic lights in the vicinity we have to just cross it and look out for the traffic. This is normally no problem. But Hanoi is different as you will encounter lots and lots of scooters that Hanoi is rich. As thousands of scooters are coming at you and you think yourself crazy for actually crossing the street here, you get your bearings together and go for it. But there is apparently a rule (which you learn gradually) that you have to hold when you cross. Watch cars or buses when you cross. As long as they are not too close, go! Do not stop or become insecure on the road, all those scooters can easily avoid you, as long as you keep going. In the beginning quite exciting and especially unnatural to run, but it is the most normal thing in the world here.
Our next stop is the One Pillar Pagoda where we attended a Tet ceremony. Something that struck us most about this ceremony was that a lot of money and cigarettes were given away by the priest who led the ritual. We stayed here for a while, but unfortunately, we did not get anything ;-).
Another attraction is the Hoa Lo prison (now a museum). The French built this building (also called 'Maison Centrale') during their reign and mainly housed political prisoners here. The building opened its doors in 1896 and there was room for around 450 prisoners, but reality showed that the number of prisoners often exceeded four times this number. The detainees lived there in human-unfriendly circumstances. They were tortured here, got too little to eat and what they got was mostly residual waste from the butcher or greengrocer. Starvation was one of the biggest causes of death within the prison.
Later, during the Vietnam War, American prisoners of war stayed here. They called the prison 'Hanoi Hilton', because they were treated well here and had good food with for that time luxury prison beds.
Because the temperature had let us down a bit, it was about 8 degrees and we did not have any warm clothes with us, we really had to buy some jackets. 3 layers of summer clothing was not sufficient and comfortable for the upcoming period. Fortunately, Hanoi is ideal for shopping with its many night markets and shops. We bought 2 North Face jackets for less than € 30, - and 4 pairs of shoes. We know it, we do not need it, it is only extra weight, but we simply could not ignore it for the price (a pair of All Stars were € 6, - and Nikes € 10, -).
Now that we had purchased our gear (gloves, socks, jacket) for the long journey to Hồ Chí Minh (abbreviated HCM) it was time to buy our scooters. On the advice of a scooter dealer from HCM we went looking for 2 Yamaha Nouvo's. To some research on the internet we ended up slightly outside the Old Quarter at seller Huan. He did have a nice scooter and after some test work it seemed like a good buy. "The scooter is good?". "Very good", Huan said. "Does it drive smoothly" "What do you mean? It is very good scooter. "Okay, but can you fix the following problems and can help you with a second scooter?" We asked. “I will fix all the small problems and you will get scooter number 2, but you have to pay me now." Always tricky, these situations, but we had our goal set to leave Hanoi as soon as possible, so we agreed. And with the promise that he would arrange the same kind of good scooter, we paid him $ 260.00 each. In the evening, Huan happily came up with two Nouvo's. Although less beautiful and here and there a slight suspicion that this scooter was not in top shape, the deal was settled, as we wanted to leave the next day.
The next morning, we were up early because we wanted to drive away before the crowds. But unfortunately scooter number 2 did not want to start. Huan turned out to be a good guest and took scooter number 2 back, and scooter number 1 remained in our possession.
After some further research, after a whole day of testing different scooters, we had one in mind. Another final check from James (a man we got to know when buying the 1st scooter) who checked the oil (apparently this wasn’t done by Huan, despite his promise), the brakes and a few other minor inconveniences we were ready to go. We could finally continue our way to Halong Bay.
HALONG BAY (about 150 km from Hanoi)
Halong Bay, when translated means Dragon Bay, (80% of names in Vietnam have a meaning) are beautiful rocky karst mountains off the coast in the northeast of Vietnam. It is one of the most popular tourist attractions of Vietnam. Not only is the beautiful bay on the UNESCO World Heritage Sites list, it has also been voted one of the new seven wonders in the world in 2012. The area comprises more than 1900 islands, some of which are no more than a rocky outcrop from the sea.
According to Vietnamese legend, the islands were created by a dragon (hence the name) that was given the Emperor's order to protect the country against an invasion of the Mongols. The dragon spewed pieces of Jade and smashed land and enemy with its tail, and thus these 1900 islands arose. In reality, the special shapes of the rocks have been created by the centuries-long influence of wind, rain and waves. However, the Vietnamese monster of 'Loch Ness' has been spotted several times by sailors from the area. So, cameras at the ready, because a picture says more than a thousand words.
We were warned by some locals in Hanoi to pay attention to buses and trucks on the road. Buses have the tendency to continuously drive on the other side of the road (on our side) blowing their horns to make way. We were immediately confronted with this. And not only busses, but also every other vehicle on the road uses their horns to let you know they are approaching. That continuous honking, really makes you crazy and anxious of it because it comes so unexpectedly. Actually, we found this quite exciting, so we did not really dare to look around us because we were so focused on driving. The funny thing was that we had driven the first tens of kilometres as slow as slugs, but after some time we where so accustomed that we drove as fast as Speedy Gonzales.
Not knowing how fast we were allowed to drive, our speed was considerably high and that wasn’t only noticed by us, but also the police. Inge was allowed to continue if she wanted (whether in Europe or in Asia, women are always lucky when it comes down to these things), but I had to stop. They asked me to come along. In a small building along the side I was asked to sit on the typical, tiny Vietnamese chairs again. There they showed me a picture of someone who drove 20 km too fast. Despite the fact that I had something to say about the lighting that was used for the photo, I could recognize myself. Damn busted!
Through google translate I was told that I had to pay a fine of € 40.00. I walked back to Inge to tell her the bad news.
"Honey, we are not going to pay that,"
Inge said. After a short talk we determined that we did not want to pay more than € 8.00. With my international driving license and a 200,000 Dong (= € 8,00) ticket in my hand I walked back to the police. Meanwhile, Inge had stuffed all the money that we had with us in her bra. If they were going to check if we had more, they would not see the piles of notes in our bag. Again, at the police I gave him my driving license, but what turned out this was not valid for Vietnam. Oops! "No Vietnam?" I said indignantly. "How is that possible? I do not understand, it's an International driver license ". "Can I pay with credit card?" I asked him to change the subject. "We do not have enough money. We only have 200,000 Dong ", and I put the money on the table. After a few seconds he took the money and I was allowed to leave. Our first bribery scandal was a fact, but we could move on to Halong Bay.
We had arranged a hotel in Halong and because we had some problems with scooter number 2 we drove it to the garage. The suspension had to be replaced. Costs: € 20.00. The scooters were not exactly in top condition as the sellers (the previous mechanics) had indicated. Luckily, they are pretty fast here and within 2 hours the scooters were equipped with a new suspension.
To explore the Halong Bay area, you can sail around on one of the many tour boats that lie off the coast. Some offer a day tour and other multi-day tours. We chose to do a two-day tour where we visited the more quiet and beautiful part of the region 'Bai Tu Long Bay'. On the boat, we were welcomed by Hong the manager and guide of the ship.
"Hello everybodies", Hong said in his best English (his English sounded a bit like a bad text from Scooter) and welcomed us on the Legacy cruise. "Check your rooms, please come back upstairs within 15 minutes for lunch", he said.
We were so hungry that we were back up within 5 minutes.
We sat down with a couple of French and Belgians and we were served a 2-course dinner. As an appetizer marinated oysters, tempura corn, cucumber-tomato salad and as a main course fried fish, calamari salad, vegetables, tofu and meat while having the beautiful view of Halong Bay on the background. Unfortunately, it was cloudy and mega cold but that did not spoil the fun.
During our first day we visited the only traditional fishing village that is left. The village consists of very simple houses, built on wooden platforms that float on plastic barrels. They are hidden between the mountains, which makes them well protected against the annually recurring Typhoons. The people here live off their catches and earn money with selling pearls. But it is no big business and more and more children leave this place to find work on the mainland. This is also supported by the Vietnamese government.
Back on the boat a course was given how to fold a spring rolls. Afterwards we enjoyed a nice game of UNO with our new Belgian friends. After a few beers, Inge had enough courage to eat a special delicacy which was served as a snack. This was fried mackerel from head to tail. I passed as this wasn’t my cup of tea.
The next day we sailed back towards the town of Halong, but not before we visited the most beautiful cave of Halong Bay, the Hang Sung Sot Cave (translated: cave full of surprises). This cave was opened to tourists in 1995. Through an 800-meter-long path you walk through the 12,000 m2 cave that is illuminated with the help of LED lighting. The surprise (hence the name) is in the images you can see in the stalagmites and stalactites such as different animals, buddhas and people.
Because we arrived at the hotel after lunch, we stayed in Halong for 1 more night so that we can leave early in the morning to our next destination. Afterwards we visited the local fish market and the Ferris wheel. Exhausted from this beautiful day we went to bed early as we have a long day ahead of us tomorrow.
So Long, Halong!
TAM COC (about 185 km)
Tam Coc Is a small picturesque village located 10 minutes from Ninh Binh. It has the same beautiful rock formations as in Halong, but these are situated on land. On advice of our Belgian friends we stay at 'Nguyen Shack', situated in a beautiful spot between the mountains, on a small lake. We receive an upgrade and get a spacious bungalow entirely made of bamboo for € 18.00 per night. Again, we receive free breakfast (fried egg, coffee, fruit shakes, etc.) and again we notice the enormous friendliness and hospitality that we have encountered on our trip so far.
Nguyen Shack is run by a young team that you can ask for everything. Tickets for the train, a tour through the area, a mechanic to fix your scooter, no problem they can help you. You also do not have to read in what to do, because the team will be happy to help you and provide you with a map with highlights of the area. One of the highlights is to take a boat trip.
The boat trip took place in the Trang An Grottoes nature reserve where we sailed over the Hoa Lu. Zigzagging between spherical karst hills (up to 200m high) in a flooded landscape where river and rice fields flow together we move along slowly. The whole area is connected by a network of caves, 9 in total, with a total length of a few kilometres, where you regularly have to crawl in your boat (in a cramp-like position) in order not to bump your head. We are lucky that it is low season as in high season more than 1000 boats will sail over Hoa Lu in.
After the boat trip we decide to continue to the 'Bai Dinh Temple', the largest temple complex in Vietnam on a plot of 536 hectares. The complex houses several large temples such as Tam Temple (Past, Present and Future), Dharma Temple and the Three-door temple gate. But the most impressive of the complex are the 500 different Arhat statues of 2.3 meters high and made of stone (Arhat means "worthy to be the object of meritorious action", and meritorious action is then giving gifts or providing different kind of work). Locals touch hands, stomach, feet, knees, to force happiness.
The bronze buddha of 10 meters high, that weighs 100 ton is also well worth seeing.
We have seen many buddha statues along the road, but what do the different kind of postures mean? We have written down the 3 most common one’s for you;
Both hands folded together in the lap: This buddha is also called the Dhyana midra. The historical Buddha in daily meditation. The buddha thus symbolizes the gesture of balance, inner meditation and rest.
Buddha with two hands at the height of his chest, with his forefingers and thumb tops of each hand pressed together: This buddha is called Dharmachakra Mudra and is also well known as the preacher's gesture. The posture symbolizes the moment when Buddha held his speech and explained his teachings. The attitude refers to the moment that Buddhism has begun.
Smiling buddha with a big belly: The fatness symbolizes the good blessed life of someone who understands the secrets of existence and now fully enjoys all the good that life has to offer. Meaning: Happiness and welcome.
VINH (225 km) - "My hotel is a ghost town"
We wanted to celebrate Tet in Hue. That meant, however, that we still had to drive about 600 kilometres in 2 days’ time. Because we did not want to drive the highway 1 all the time, we decided to take an exit halfway that would lead us to Vinh. It would take us more time but this was definitely worth it. It was the first time on our trip through Vietnam that we saw a proper beach, and the best way to explore it (as you would probably guess), was by scooter.
After checking whether the ground was firm enough, we took the gamble and drove on to the beach. It was a completely deserted beach and we loved everything about it!! The route led us kilometres and kilometres along the coast until we reached its end after we continued on our way via a bumpy road, along the coast to Vinh.
Along the way we visit a beautiful church. Curious as we are, we look around and less than a minute later a local approaches us. He speaks English and wants to show us around. Okay, let's go! He shows us around and invites us to come to his house to meet his family.
Within walking distance of the church, we arrive at his parents' house. His parents are in the garden preparing a traditional Tet dish. A gigantic pan is standing on a big fireplace with enough food for the whole neighbourhood. We are also asked if we want to eat, but because we have no idea what we are going to get served, we pass for now. After a nice conversation it's time for us to move on and continue our way to the hotel.
The hotel is suited near the beach and when we try to enter the hotel we find out that the door is locked. We peek inside and see that the lights are out and all the shutters are closed. Are we at the right hotel, we ask ourselves? After a phone call with the owner we are kindly told to wait, because someone is coming.
We are led inside by a young boy of 18 years…..through the back door. A bit strange for a hotel, but okay. Soon it becomes clear to us that we are the only guests. We hear our footsteps echoing through the hall, all the room doors are open (all 50 of them) and the rooms are not made up.
We are sleeping in a GHOST HOTEL tonight 👻.
Due to the need of groceries, we decide to explore the local market. It is very busy. Everyone wants to do some shopping for the next few days, because during the period of Tet (7 days) shops and restaurants have been closed in many cities (and apparently also the hotels). Yet they make time to stop for a moment to gawk at us, say hello or shake our hand. Apparently, the people here don’t see many tourists.
We went out to get some food, but no restaurants were open around Tet. Luckily, we found a big hotel after 10 minutes driving around and they had a restaurant which was open. “Whether we do not mind that karaoke is taking place”, the manager asks nicely. Out of kindness we say no, but when you hear a lady with a voice that sounds like nails over a chalkboard, you would very much like to take your words back. The best way to show that you do not like the singing very much is by putting your fingers in your ears and look at the waiter. And yes, she immediately understood our hint. After our meal in a further empty restaurant (the ghost theme keeps returning) we went to bed because tomorrow is a long drive of more than 9 hours ahead of us.
HUE (360 km)
For us, Hue was the place to be for Tet, the most important festival of the year. Tet officially lasts for three days, but many Vietnamese people have a week off. Festivities such as parades, dragon dances, fireworks and flower parades are organized, but mainly it is a family celebration. The Vietnamese travel throughout the country to visit their families and eat, smoke and drink. Everybody is on the road to be on time for these celebrations.
Thousands of scooters ride with us, just as we, packed to the teeth with sometimes the weirdest objects.
We arrived in Hue on time and in the evening, we would celebrate New Year for the 2nd time! Mimi, one of the hotel’s employees, invited us to join her and celebrate NYE with her and her friends. We said that it would be an honour, so decided to go with her. She first took us to a fair in her birth village (20km outside Hue). The fair wasn’t anything special, but it was fun to have a beer with locals and enjoying the attention as we were the main attraction.
After an hour of entertainment, we return to Hue where we eat as locals, on the street next to the rubbish dump. And literally in the trash as the Vietnamese have the habit of throwing away their food or whatever just next to them. This is neatly cleaned up in the evening, but the idea of enjoying your meal between gnawed bones, sauce and paper is not easy. But Mimi and her friends are going to surprise us with the food to take our minds of the garbage that is surrounding us. As an appetizer, we are served frog and tail of a cow. The frog is only cut in four pieces (you have a piece of head, body and two legs) which you than have to eat….uuuhmmm I don’t think so? And the cow's tail (with bone and everything else) is chopped in too pieces and then cooked / baked. As a main course we get the traditional hotpot. This is a pan with boiling water (with a taste) which is put on the table. Vegetables, meat and fish are served on the side which you can dip into boiling water yourself. Very tasty!
After dinner there is still time for a drink and that's what we do at Brown Eyes. On the newest beats, together with 200 mad Vietnamese, we go loose. From minute 1 they are jumping as if their life depends on it and we go along with them as it is so energizing. No shame, just do it. And time flies by so quickly that we almost forget that it is just a few minutes before. We quickly leave to see the fireworks, because for Mimi (22 years) this is her first time in her life that she is going to see fireworks.
The fireworks are a spectacle in itself, but the sight of Mimi enjoying the fireworks is even more special as she is stargazing at all the spectacularly lights that are coming to explosion above the Citadel.
Of course, Hue has more to offer than NYE and the next day we plan a trip to see the necessary highlights (with a light hangover). The Citadel (Hue was the imperial capital until 1945 from which the empire of Vietnam was ruled for 400 years), several imperial tombs and also an abandoned water park. Yes, I know, it is totally something different in this list, but after our ghost hotel we were ready for something bigger.
The abandoned water park (Ho Thuy Tien water park) can’t be found in the Lonely Planet and many locals do not know of it as well. It is only passed through from backpacker onto backpacker and after some good research on the internet you can find the location pretty well.
Through several back roads and through the busy traffic we finally arrived at a gate. Not knowing whether we were at the right address, it gave us the feeling that we had to drive on and explore the area. After 1 km and no one in sight, we saw a large lake looming in front of us. We looked at each other questioningly and both thought the same: We are the right address!
We turned right, crossed a bridge and arrived at a deserted amphitheatre. We looked around and saw a model of the water park which, unfortunately, was broken into pieces. This park must have been a huge spectacle in the past, but why was it closed? The office still with records of the park did not give us a clue. We search further and found at a flight simulator which was completely intact. Only there was no power, so an exciting ride in this wasn’t on our ghost tour.
A little further, on the other side of the amphitheatre, we saw a huge dragon. Inside we found mostly broken glass and here too it is clear that it wasn’t been used for years. We climbed our way up to the mouth of the dragon. From here you had a complete overview of the entire park and the lake. A nice place to have a picnic if not for the stench of urine.
We continued our tour and which Inge was looking forward to, we met a little later ... the slides which were full of waste, leaves and branches. Bold as we were, we climbed up to try out the slide, but in vain as we didn’t slide further than half a meter. Fortunately, because all the way down we would have ended up in a swimming pool in which crocodiles lived not so long ago. And you never know if they have all been caught 😉.
Looking at the clock we had been wandering in the park for more than 1.5 hours. It was time to go, because the day was almost upon us. We still had some highlights to go before we would continue our journey tomorrow to Hoi An, the city of lanterns.
CITY OF LANTERNS - HOI AN (150 km)
We are ecstatic as the sun is shining! Finally, we can leave our coats, sweaters and extra layers of clothing in our bags. For the first time in Vietnam we are wearing our flipflops, t-shirt and shorts. We are ready to hit the beach and work on our tan, because it is in bad shape after 3 weeks of cold and drizzly weather.
Hoi An has more to offer than a nice beach. It is most famous for its old, cosy city centre that was saved during the Vietnam War. It is even on the UNESCO World Heritage List since 1999. The cosy atmosphere with restaurants and shops (especially good for suits and dresses) ensures that you can spend hours in the city centre. In the evening, this atmosphere is enhanced by the many coloured lanterns that are lit throughout the city.
After 2 days Hoi An we decide to continue our journey and drive a part of the Ho Chi Minh Trail. This route has gained notoriety because Vietnamese fighters, in the war with the Americans, smuggled people and material from North to South along this route. The route takes us straight through the outback, past enormous coffee plantations and through the mountains to Da Lat. But before we arrive at Da Lat, we first have 2 stops in Kontum and Bout Ma Touth.
KONTUM & BOUT MA TOUTH (approx. 525 km)
Our route, which has a length of 500 kilometres, leads us through small, battered villages, through beautiful green mountains, along steep mountain passes, pass waving locals and along waterfalls for the upcoming days. We enjoy this ride and even more because we have our own transport! This allows us to stop where we want and make a detour when we think this is a nicer route.
The scooters, however, are less happy with the mountains and start to slowly sputter. If we were not yet deaf to all the honking in traffic, our scooters give us the final blow by continuously producing an abrasive sound. Let's hope that we can repair our buddies as quickly as possible so that we can continue traveling with peace of mind.
Arriving safely in the town of Kontum we immediately look for someone who can make our scooter. Normally, you can find a shop every so many miles, but because it is Tet, many of these shops are closed. A second problem is that we have a Yamaha and most shops only have Honda parts at their disposal. We have no clues on how to estimate how serious it is. Fortunately, with some tips from the home front, we decide to continue driving. Because we do not want to destroy the scooters, we decide to reduce our speed and drive 50 km/h and hope that we will encounter something on the road that is open, but unfortunately this is not the case.
Kontum and Bout Ma Touth are no more than stops along the way. There are few tourists here and there is not much to do. However, if you go there, go and visit Eva's café in Kontum. Eva's cafe is run by an artist and the entire cafe is decorated with his art (which is made of wood). The owner has a motto which is: Don’t throw it away everything has a function (even if it is broken). He has given the necessary materials new life by making chairs and benches out of it. There is even a tree house where people can sit and relax for a coffee.
While we enjoy our drink, the owner sits down with us and tells us about his life story and how Eva's cafe was created. He tells us that he lived with a mountain tribe for years, living in the middle of the woods against the border of Laos. His art is inspired by these people, where everything is used and not thrown away. Even a broken chair can be of use again as, for example, a coat rack. Attentively, as a bunch of school children, we enjoy the story. Too bad we do not have more days to visit this mountain village with him. But with a nice lesson in life we return to our hotel.
Lessons of life:
📖 Lesson 1
Help others if you can. They can’t help that they have been born in a worse life than you.
📖 Lesson 2
Be creative, Be innovative, There is aways a better way to do things. So try as much as you can.
“Thank you Sensei!“
On our way to Bout Ma Touth we are continuously looking for a garage as the scooters seem to be doomed, especially Chris’ scooter has a hard time. While refuelling, Inge spontaneously asks the neighbour if he is able make the scooters and he tells her yes. After an hour’s work the mechanic has replaced both crankshafts and the bearings. The V-belts also needs to be replaced, but he does not have them in stock. But we can drive further and with feeling that everything is going to be all right, we return back on the road to Bout Ma Touth.
The only thing that still has a hard time is our buttocks. After more than 40 hours on the scooter, these two are no longer friends. Standing, sitting, lying down and all this in different positions while driving, is needed to make those extra kilometres. But we aren’t there yet, not for a long shot.
DALAT (210 km)
Before we leave for Dalat we will stop by 'Trung Nguyen Coffee' at Bout Ma Touth to have breakfast and a nice cup of coffee. This is the largest coffee producer in Vietnam and it has great coffee: tasteful, strong and cheap. And the way they present it makes it complete. The cup of coffee is served with a Vietnamese coffee filter on top of your cup. You have to wait a while before you can drink your coffee, but it is fresh from the press. Vietnam is also full of coffee plantations and is the second coffee producer in the world. So, coffee lovers 'drink your heart out'!
On our way to Dalat our scooters start to show the same strange sounds, even worse. We start to wonder if the mechanic fixed the scooter at all. So again, we stop at a shop along the road and ask for help. But no English is spoken and with a wave gesture we are sent away. We drive on to Dalat and hope that the scooters wont brake down. What we do not know is that there is a tough route up ahead with 10% steep slopes and gravel roads. Every now and then I even have to ask Inge to help me get up the mountain as my scooter can’t handle it. Our speed isn’t more than 30 km per hour, but that is not at all annoying, because this route (QL27) is really amazing.
For lunch we stop in Jun Village at Lak Lake, a traditional M'Nong (an ethnic minority) village with wooden stilt houses. The villagers live on the lake and with their typical canoes go on to the water to catch fish while the women and children are looking for crab, snails and other types of shellfish. A nice view during your lunch with even in the distance elephants.
At 5 pm we arrive in the city and drive to our hostel to check us in. But nothing turns out to be less true. We made a mistake in the dates of our reservation. Unfortunately, this man has no place for us (it is high season because of Tet), so we have to look for something else. Apparently, we are not the only ones who are looking. Many backpackers are in the same boat. But we have already done some preliminary work (long live travelfish.org) and we immediately call the next hotel (Dreamz) on the list. The cheaper rooms are full, but they still have a room available in their second hotel (Dreamz 2) for $ 35.00 per night. This was not the budget that we were accustomed to, but we will have to adjust, because the chance that we are going to find something cheaper is zero.
Arriving at the Dreamz hotel we are welcomed by the owner, who tells us that we have to drive a bit further and that the receptionist is waiting for us.
'You have to hurry, because at 19 o'clock the jacuzzi closes' she shouts after us. "???, a jacuzzi 😳?". "Yes, she tells us. We have a jacuzzi, sauna and Turkish bath on the roof of Dreamz 2 ".
Full throttle, with 20 km per hour (this is my scooter’s speed limit), we drive to the second hotel and check in quickly. To our surprise there is a huge room waiting for us, with a king size bed, a beautiful bathroom and ... on the roof the jacuzzi!!!! Nothing can stop us anymore and within 5 minutes we sit in the hot tub to chill with our sore buttocks. Finally, they get what they deserve: relaxation and rest. And for our pleasure a nice cold beer! Cheers!
Dalat is the city of eternal spring, lies at 1,500 meters altitude and has a pleasant temperature between 15 and 24 degrees all year round. The city is known for its flowers, vegetables and silk. But to this day, tourism is the biggest source of income for the city. Dalat has a lot to offer for the tourist. In addition to many outdoor activities, you can also find beautiful pagodas and temples and visit artistic sights.
One of the highlights we found at the Linh Phuc Pagoda. Despite our temple fatigue we decided to take a look and we weren’t disappointed in the slightest. The temple and pagoda are fully garnished with mosaic; from the floor, pillars, stairs, railings, walls to the roof. You can’t find one piece that does not meet this requirement. And all this with 3d prints. It took them 3 years to fully provide this building with mosaic. On top of that, the dragon that protects this pagoda is 49 meters long and the scales are made of 12,000 empty bottles. Imagine how many bottles, tiles, vases, crockery for this have been destroyed.
Our next stop and what certainly should not be missed is the Crazy House, an architectural excess (a mix of Gaudi and Alice in Wonderland) by artist Hang Nga (65) who lives in the 'main house'. This house consists of various buildings in the form of trees and tree stumps that are connected by steep and high stairs with often low railings. There are even rooms where you can stay overnight. At the moment they are working hard on expending this building which should be ready in 2020.
If you think this house is strange, take a look at 100 roof café, which is built in the same style. Here you will find the same avant-garde mix. Dark corridors lead you further to unknown places in the café. It even has a roof terrace with a view over the city. If you are looking for a nice place to drink that certainly visit this café, but do not drink too much, otherwise you will not find your way out.
Finally, Tet is over and that means that we can have our 2 buddies (read scooters) get fixed. But to find a good mechanic who will fix our scooter for a local price, you must have a local with you. And here again comes the friendliness and helpfulness of the Vietnamese. The boy from the hostel (where we had made the wrong booking) was willing to come with us. This boy not only went along, but stayed with Inge for the entire four hours to serve as an interpreter. On the other hand, I was catching up on overdue work for the blog. When Inge came back, we were € 30.00 lighter, but the scooter was fixed with a new air filter, V-belt and bearings. We could now continue our journey with peace of mind, on to Mui Ne.
MUI NE (about 190 km)
After an extensive breakfast at our hotel we left for Mui Ne, a journey of 190km over the TL725 and QL28B. This beautiful route led us through vast coffee fields (good for a coffee pit stop), past mountain villages, over unpaved roads, slopes of 10% and winding roads to the coastal Mui Ne.
Mui Ne is where you can find a long strip of resorts, hotels, restaurants and shops along the coast that go all the way to Phan Thiet. The wonderful temperature and the exotic environment attract tourists from near and far. It all revolves around sun, sea and beach in Mui Ne. It is a super location for lovers of windsurfing and kite surfing because of the strong wind that almost always blows. In addition to these main ingredients, you also have several great attractions in the vicinity:
1) Fairy Stream:
This is a beautiful river along beautiful red coloured rocks. The area is a bit like the Grand Canyon in the USA, but then its miniature version. Here the 2 different types of colours of the sand dunes come together, which gives a beautiful picture.
2) Sand dunes of Doi Cat Bay (white sand dunes):
It seems as if we are back in Africa. The beautiful white sand dunes are about 30 km from Mui Ne and if you like it you can visit the dunes with a quad, what we did.
3)Red sand dunes (Red Sand Dunes):
You can enjoy the sunset and slide with a sledge from the slopes. Due to strong wind we left early, but it’s a great place.
Normally we arrange our overnight stay one day in advance. But this time we thought it would be a good idea to arrange it on the spot. With our scooters we drove from hostel to hostel in which we were interested in, but unfortunately everything was full except for the last one. After a day of driving and lots of impressions, it is always nice to have a place for yourself on arrival. And the price for the room with private bathroom, was $25.00 a night. In the meantime, Inge walked to the other side and came back with a big smile on her face which said, 'I found something better'. Believe it or not, but she had a arranged for us a spacious bungalow with private porch, air conditioning, hammocks between palm trees, large pool and free gym for more than half of its original price (which was$70, a night (check the hotel: Thuy Thuy)). This was the best deal ever and we stayed here for 3 days before we would go to HCM and sell our scooters.
HO CHI MINH (about 200 km)
On the way to HCM we make a pit stop at the largest lying buddha of Vietnam. This is an hour's drive from Mui Ne and located in a small village called Takou Mountain. Before you can admire the Buddha, you must take a gondola that will take you up the mountain. Besides the Buddha you can also find different temples, but most people come here to eat their lunch in the shade, in the vicinity of the big Buddha of 49m long.
Madhouse: mad.house (the; o; plural: madhouse). 2). Busy, confused or cheerful stuff. Thus the Van Dale. This seems like a nice word to summarize HCM. Especially the traffic here is one big madness that sweeps through the city like a big grey crowd. We have our share of experience, but this really is mad.
Full of amazement, due the number of scooters and the constant honking, we arrive at the hotel which is just outside the centre. We decide to wash the scooters due to the first customer who will come and have a look tomorrow. If they are not interested we hope somebody will call us who have seen our home-made flyers which we have left behind at several hostels in town. Later we go out for a bite to eat, because it is already half past nine.
The next day, 3 viewings were planned. We and the scooters were ready. The first viewing was a couple from Canada. They had barely driven a scooter and did not even know how to. We offered them a test drive in the hope which they did very carefully. Good for us, because then they would not hear the abrasive sound and use that as a negotiation about the price. After a short test drive, a lot of information from our side what they could expect, the deal was done, the Canadians 2 scooters richer and we $ 725.00 richer. Despite our nice profit, we are going to miss these buddies terribly. We have travelled with them at least 2,200 kilometres and they have showed us an amazing Vietnam. Thanks amigos!
But Vietnam wasn’t over for us yet. After the sale it was time for some culture, Dutch culture 😉. After 5 months of traveling, we missed the tasty Dutch things (liquorice, fries, stew, etc). We therefore went to 'De Bourgondier', a Dutch restaurant on the other side of the city. The restaurant looked very stylish, decorated with old Dutch paintings, miniature VOC ships and a picture of Willy and Max on the wall. After looking at the menu, we were even more impressed by this restaurant. Stampot (this is mashed potato and veggies), Game dishes, Bitterballen (a Dutch snack), Meatball with gravy, etc…. it was all on the menu. The evening ended with our belly completely stuffed with bitterballen and stew with smoked sausage and lots of gravy.
HCM naturally does not only offer Dutch culture. It is also the city where you find a lot of relics of the Vietnam war (the war between North and South Vietnam / Americans that lasted 20 years). You will find the War Remnant Museum where you will many vehicles from the war are stalled, such as airplanes, tanks, helicopters, anti-aircraft guns and long-distance cannons.
In the building itself you will find many photos of the war. Some are gruesome, some will make you nauseous and others will make you cry. Wy did the Vietnamese have to suffer so much before the war ended? In total, 3 million Vietnamese people died (2 million of whom were civilians), 2 million were injured and 300,000 were missing, all through the hands of the Americans.
The reason for the Americans to invade Vietnam was because they feared the 'domino effect'. Should Vietnam come under Communist rule, neighbouring countries such as Cambodia and Laos as well as other Asian countries and countries from the Middle East would soon follow. And the Americans wanted nothing more than to prevent that. For this purpose, the Americans used 80 million litres of chemical weapons (including Agent Orange, which provides birth deformation to the Vietnamese to date), 6.7 million tons of bombs and 17 million tons of ammunition. But due to the resilience of the North Vietnamese, the Americans have never triumphed.
The next day we went to the Cu Chi tunnels, which is a 2 hour from HCM. This tunnel complex is part of a tunnel network of more than 250 km. This complex not only housed tunnels, but also kitchens, living and work accommodation and meeting rooms that were hidden between 3 and 12 meters underground. The tunnels were used by the Vietcong during the Vietnam War. They often sat here for months at a time to sneak attack the Americans. Through small inconspicuous openings, the Vietcong rose up from the tunnels to attack the Americans from all angles.
For tourists, the original tunnels can’t be entered since it’s built to Vietnamese standards; narrow and small! But there is an option for you as a tourist to experience the narrow tunnels, a small section of the tunnel has been slightly widened so that you can crouch through it yourself. You can cover a stretch of 20, 40, 60, 80 or 100 meters underground. With about 20 men in a row you creep into the pitch-black, blood-hot tunnel. Once you get in, you can only move forward squatting. You can’t stand, can’t go back, to the left or to the right, only move forward to the next exit. If you weren’t claustrophobic yet, you are now! We are amazed of the Vietnamese. They have been in these tunnels for more than 20 years, we less than 5 minutes old and already have a hard time.
After the tunnels we went to the shooting range as this was one thing I really wanted to do. We shot with an M16 and an AK-47. Especially the drawback of the AK is very strong and to think that these small Vietnamese women could handle this with ease. Respect for the ladies!
Our last night in HCM arrived and because we wanted to go to bed early, we decided to have a bite near our hotel. What we found was the same as how started in Vietnam, low tables and chairs and with our legs next to our ears. But try it out when you are in Vietnam, because this is often better than the restaurants you can find in TripAdvisor and also many times cheaper. Just look whether there are a lot of locals, because this gives you an indication if it’s okay.
The Mekong Delta is also called the rice bowl of Vietnam. This area, less than 1/10 of the country, ensures 1/3 of the rice production each year. In addition, a lot of fruit and vegetables are also grown here. It is also a big labyrinth of waterways and bridges that connect sleepy villages. It is one big water world where boats, houses and markets float on the mighty Mekong river. It is therefore not surprising to see that the boat is the most common mode of transport. And these boats are a funny appearance with an engine that is more like a whipped cream whisk.
The people here are poor and most of whom can’t even read and write. The government has devised something to help the villagers by hanging up loudspeakers in the villages. As a result, a voice reverberates through the village for 3 hours (05:00 am to 8:00 am) to provide the locals with the daily news in the world. It is very dated but it works.
Tick tack, tick tack <ALARM> It is 5 o'clock in the morning. Rise and shine as it is time to participate in our first activity, the floating market. With sleep still in our eyes and our fresh morning breath, we sail to our first destination while the sun rises in the east. The floating market is close to the big city of Can Tho and is the largest floating market in the Mekong. Here you see a jumble of small and large boats that are provided with melons, pineapples, potatoes and other kinds of fruit and vegetables. Residents, restaurant owners and market traders come here to store their goods. And not only they, tourists also come in large numbers to enjoy the fresh products that the Mekong Delta supplies.
Next to the floating market you will also find a market on shore. What strikes us most here is the food rarity. Rat on sticks, bins full with organ meat, fish filleted alive and frogs that have been skinned and of which part of the head is missing. If you are not already a vegetarian, you will now be after the sight of this market.
After our trip it is time for breakfast (no bacon please) and afterwards a bike tour through the countryside. With this tour they want to show how the locals live here. We cycle along bright green rice fields with lots of palm trees. We visit a school, we see cute Vietnamese children, with on their back a cheerful backpack with cartoon characters on it. We visit the only local in the village who grinds and repairs tools and knives, we visit a pagoda where nuns live, we go to a rice wine and rice factory and we visit the local doctor as last. This doctor has a huge number of herbs in his practice and these are free for everyone to use. In addition, this best man doesn’t use instruments to see what is wrong with you. No, he puts 3 fingers on your wrist, 1 for your heart, 1 for your liver and 1 for your lungs. If something is wrong, he feels it in one of his fingers. He can also feel without devices whether a woman is pregnant or not. A different way of approaching but it works. Afterwards we travel back to our hostel to enjoy our last night.
Thanks Vietnam! .... for all your beautiful impressions, delicious food, but especially your hospitality.
We will continue our trip to Cambodia, which is known for its Killing fields, Ankor temples and the Koh Rong Islands. Have we already made you curious? Keep an eye out, we'll tell you more about this soon.