A Travellerspoint blog

By this Author: Mr.Silent

Hoi An - VIetnam travel story

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When thinking of Hoi An, most minds drift to palm strewn beaches, a rich history and really cheap suits. Despite the omnipresent hawkers, the town is synonymous with tranquility and days are whiled away at the beach between ambles through the Old Town in search of that perfect double-breasted jacket or another feed of local specialties like Cao Lau noodles or prawn dumplings.

Life is good in Central Vietnam.

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But here’s a secret: there’s more to Hoi An than the aforementioned. The islands dotting the Do river are perfect for day trips and virtually unspoilt. There are no cries of “you buy from meeeee” or jacked up costs.

Though Hoi An hosts some 700,00 foreign visitors a year, who stay for an average of 2.3 days and come in tour groups (clumps might be a more accurate word for how they navigate the town) most don’t step out of their pre-planned fun package, making exploration that much more peaceful.

The best way to see the islands is on bicycle. Walking will take too long and become tiring in the heat and uncomfortable in the odd rain storm which sweeps the area, and there are no xe oms to be had, unless you bring your own.

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We left from Hoi An’s ferry dock on riverside Bach Dang, a boulevard filled with restaurants and shops. At night the place lights up, with Hoi An’s colourful traditional lanterns shining from entranceways and reflecting off the river. In the midday sun however, things were more muted but the street was busier, with throngs of tourists wandering up and down or sitting, tired from the heat, at various restaurant tables. It’s a complete contrast to where we were heading.

From the docks, we took the ferry to Cam Kim Island. The ferry boats are terrifically simple, just wood boards and peeling paint. Seating is mainly below decks and makes little concession to giving passengers a ‘view’; it’s designed to shield people from the sun, not let them soak it up. Despite the shelter, most women were in standard Vietnamese vampire-ninja wear, all hats and long sleeves and gloves and masks - anything to avoid a tan.

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Can Kim is famous for its wood working and many tourist boats stop there, albeit only briefly and in a contained area. Free from the shackles of a schedule, we explored things at our own pace, getting lost whenever we felt like it.

From unloading our bikes from the ferry we pedaled slowly through streets with one-storey houses, their backyards filled with palm and banana trees and the odd front yard and front room an out-of-the-way wood working shop, with small groups shaping trunks into tables and ornaments. We stopped at the military cemetery. Viet Cong soldiers from the area are buried here, in graves far simpler than those in surrounding cemeteries, which are pastel and wreathed in dragons. Most deaths are listed as in the 1970s but some old soldiers who’ve died more recently are also buried here. Well-kept and quiet, the place was unassuming, with little to no propaganda. A couple of the stray cows that wander the streets were in here, grazing.

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We continued along gravel roads, not headed to any particular destination but simply taking in the quiet scenery, watching a world so different to the one in nearby Hoi An. We pedaled slowly across a newly-built bridge to Duc Xuyen Island, which was the same save for the lack of wood working shops. On Duc Phuoc Island people were making sleeping mats. Seen in markets and used on the floor or bamboo slat beds of most Vietnamese houses, these mats are sometimes mattress and sometimes akin to a tatami mat - something you sit on during family meals on the kitchen floor. Afterwards you can sleep on it during the inevitable post-lunchtime nap. They’re surprisingly comfortable.

Like so many things in Vietnam, everything was being done by hand. The long green grass is grown in off-season rice paddies, harvested then left on roads and in yards to dry in the sun until straw-yellow. A percentage is dyed with homemade dyes in vivid dark greens, purples, pinks and yellows. You can see similar looking bundles of colourful grasses in all towns and cities, but generally they’re for decoration and don’t reach more than a foot or two. These were over six feet high, and sticking out in the afternoon sun, surrounded by so much greenery.Hoi An, Vietnam

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After taking a wrong turn that resulted in a dead end at a family’s duck farm, we were invited inside to see how they make the mats. It was a one-room house, with a bed in the corner covered in a slightly frayed grass mat. On the other side of the room, a low wooden frame with a complicated system of strings across served as the loom. Working together, the wife fed a strand through the wires whilst the husband secured it in place. Half-made, a pattern was already emerging, the centre a diamond of green and purple. It was deft, but incredibly repetitive work. After getting back to the main road, we stopped for beer at a small restaurant. Well after lunchtime, the place was deserted save for a lone man preparing vegetables for that night. Though friendly, he seemed indifferent to the presence of foreigners, not foisting anything on us and charging the correct amount for a La Rue - around 6000 (on Cam Kim anyway).

Pedaling off, we got lost again in the last of the afternoon sun, before finally finding our way back to Highway 1, which links Hanoi with Saigon, and back into the small-street chaos of Hoi An’s Old Town.

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Bicycles can be rented anywhere in Hoi An and the ferry leaves from Bach Dang street regularly. To get to Cam Kim, you won’t need to pay more than 1500 VND, inclusive of bike. The blackboard showing the destination also gives the price. Simply point to that if anyone tries to charge you more.

For those who are directionally-challenged or simply prefer a more structured trip, the Sleepy Gecko bar on nearby Cam Nam Island (take the bridge from Hoang Dieu street) offers day-trips, with bicycles and lunch included. Your best bet is to drop by for a beer and talk to the proprietor

Posted by Mr.Silent 17:24 Archived in Vietnam Tagged tourist_sites Comments (0)

Ao Dai - Vietnam traditional cloththing

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The beauty of women dressed in “Ao Dai”always leaves a deep impression on foreign visitors to Vietnam

The beauty of women dressed in “Ao Dai”always leaves a deep impression on foreign visitors to Vietnam. Girl students dressed in white long robes take to streets on the way to schools or back home, or gracefully sail on their bikes along streets. Female secretaries in delicate pastels greet you at an office door and older ladies in deep shades of purple, green or blue cut a striking pose at a restaurant dinner. The “Ao Dai” appears to flatter every figure.

Early versions of the “Ao Dai”date back to 1744 when Lord Vu Vuong of the Nguyen Dynasty decreed both men and women should wear an ensemble of trousers and a gown that buttoned down the front. However, not until 1930 did “Ao Dai”appear partly similar to its look today. Now, Men wore it less, generally only on ceremonial occasions such as weddings or funerals. During the 1950s two tailors in Saigon started producing “Ao Dai”with raglan sleeves. This creates a diagonal seam running from the collar to the underarm and this style is still preferred today

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“Ao Dai”is made individually to fit each customer's shape to create the most graceful look. Its body-hugging top flows over wide trousers that brush the floor. The pants should reach the soles of the feet and flow along the floor. Splits in the gown extend well above waist height and make it comfortable and easy to move in.

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Comfortability is always taken into account for fashions and beauty. Tailoring must ensure the wearer's freedom of movements. Despite it is a long robe, “Ao Dai”must be cool to wear. Synthetic or silk fabrics are preferred as they do not crush and are quick drying, making the “Ao Dai”a practical uniform for daily wear.

The color is indicative of the wearer's age and status. Young girls wear pure white, fully-lined outfits symbolizing their purity. Older but unmarried girls move into soft pastel shades. Only married women wear “Ao Dai”in strong, rich colors, usually over white or black pants. However, “Ao Dai”is rarely seen in places where manual work is practiced. The nineties saw a real resurgence of ao dai. It has become standard and common attire for girl students as well as female staff at offices and hotels. Traditionally, “Ao Dai”has become the most preferred dress on formal occasions.

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Today, “Ao Dai”has been a bit modified. Its length is cut shorter usually just below the knee. Variations in the neck, between boat and mandarin style, are common. And even adventurous alterations such as a low scooped neckline, puffed sleeves or off the shoulder designs are appearing as ladies experiment with fashion. Color patterns are no longer rigidly controlled and accesses to new fabrics have generated some dazzling results. However, most visitors to Vietnam have highly appreciated local tailors' skills when making ao dai. It is hard to think of a more elegant, demure and charming outfit, that suits Vietnamese women of different ages, than ao dai.

Posted by Mr.Silent 15:57 Comments (0)

CU CHI TUNEL - a legend of Vietnam war

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The Cu Chi Tunnels are the most popular day or half day excursion from Ho Chi Minh City. Full day tours begin in the early morning and head first of all to the Cao Dai Temple at Tay Ninh on the Cambodian Border. After lunch the tour proceeds to the tunnels returning to Ho Chi Minh City by late afternoon or early evening depending on the traffic entering the city.

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The Cu Chi Tunnels are a network of around 250km tunnels built by the Viet Cong over a twenty year period which allowed them to move unchallenged underneath enemy held territory including the US military base at Dong Du. At one time they allowed access to the outskirts of Saigon from as far away as the Cambodian border.

Originally the tunnels had been built in the 1940s in the fight against the French as they allowed underground communication between villages. In the 1960s the VC repaired and expanded them in their fight against the Americans and the South Vietnamese using them not only for communication but also for surprise attacks on the enemy. US ground operations in search of the tunnels lead to the loss of many American lives so a huge bombing campaign against Cu Chi including chemical destruction of the vegetation took place but the VC weren't found to this day crop yields are poor as chemicals remain in the soil and water).

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American "tunnel rats" were the next solution the Americans came up with as they sent men into the tunnels to seek out the enemy causing terrible casualties. Eventually Cu Chi became a 'free strike zone' meaning that little (if any) permission was required to carry out any form of attack on the area. Eventually in the late 1960s American B-52s destroyed most of the tunnels and the surrounding area but the tunnels had already served their purpose.

Recommended Reading: The Tunnels of Cu Chi (Tom Mangold & John Penycate)

Posted by Mr.Silent 16:52 Archived in Vietnam Tagged tourist_sites Comments (0)

Hanoi - capital of Vietnam

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Vietnam’s capital city has to be one of Asia’s most fascinating cities offering a unique blend of oriental and western charm. It is a city of exotic brightly painted temples and pagodas, elegant ochre-washed colonial villas, bustling narrow streets and alleys, grand tree-lined boulevards and shaded lakes. First established as Vietnam’s capital in 1010, when it was known as Thang Long, the city’s name changed several times before it eventually became Hanoi in 1831.

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The Temple of Literature, the site of Vietnam’s first university, dates back to 1070 and its peaceful gardens and pavilions offer a relaxing respite from Hanoi’s busy streets. Today Hanoi is still a city that attracts many of the country’s intellectuals as well as artists and writers.

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Paintings by Vietnam’s new generation of artists can be seen for sale in the dozens of galleries that have sprung up in recent years in and around the city’s Old Quarter. It is here in the Old Quarter that Hanoi began life as a commercial centre over a thousand years ago. The original 36 streets that make up the Old Quarter are named after the goods once sold there such as silk, paper, silver, copper, herbs, cotton, fish and chicken. Nowadays the goods on sale are more likely to be t-shirts, sunglasses or embroidered table cloths but step back from the main streets and you will still find shops specializing in candlesticks, pagoda flags, engraved headstones and traditional musical instruments amongst others.

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Just to the south of the bustling Old Quarter streets is Hoan Kiem Lake, an oasis of calm right in the centre of the city. Old men, students and weary tourists stop to rest in the shade on the park’s benches while local residents begin their day with a lakeside tai chi workout. Some of the capital’s finest colonial buildings can be found in the area of Hoan Kiem Lake including the magnificent Opera House, History Museum and the Metropole Hotel.

A couple of kilometers west of Hoan Kiem Lake are the imposing granite structure housing Ho Chi Minh’s Mausoleum. The mausoleum overlooks Ba Dinh Square, the square where President Ho Chi Minh read Vietnam’s Declaration of Independence at the end of World War Two. Nearby is the lotus flower-shaped temple of the One Pillar Pagoda, first built in 1049, and the grand palace that was once the residence of the Governor-General of French Indochina.

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Like Ho Chi Minh City, Hanoi also has some great shopping, particularly in the Old Quarter where bargains include silk, embroidery, handicrafts and original works of art. There are some interesting day trip options from Hanoi including Hoa Lu, the site of Vietnam’s first capital, Tam Coc Caves, the Perfume Pagoda and Hoa Binh, the home of many ethnic minority groups.

Posted by Mr.Silent 16:31 Archived in Vietnam Tagged tourist_sites Comments (0)

Cai Rang Floating Market

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Together with Cai Be and Phung Hiep, Cai Rang Floating Market in Can Tho City is one of the three biggest in the Mekong Delta. The shops and stalls at these markets are boats of different sizes.
Cai Rang Floating Market is open all day but it is busiest from sunrise to about 9am. The main items sold there are farm products and specialties of Cai Rang Town, Chau Thanh District and neighboring areas. Every boat has a long upright pole at its bow on which samples of the goods for sale are hung.

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During the early morning market hours, larger sized boats anchor and create lanes that smaller boats weave in and out of. The waterway becomes a maze of hundreds of boats packed with mango, bananas, papaya, pineapple, and even smuggled goods like cigarettes.Sellers do not have to cry out about their goods because their goods can be seen in a distance and their cries would not be heard in the vastness of the river and the noise of boat engines. Small boats that sell beer, soft drinks and wine go among the other boats to serve market-goers and visitors. Sellers tie their goods to a tall pole so that buyers can see from a distance what they are selling.

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Each boat is loaded with plenty of seasonal goods. Activities at the market are also an occasion for tourists to study the cultural aspects of southerners.

To visit Cai Rang Floating Market, visitors can join a tour of the Mekong Delta. On the way to Can Tho, visitors can stop to visit My Tho and take a boat trip to visit orchards, bee farms and coconut candy establishments in Ben Tre.

Posted by Mr.Silent 15:34 Archived in Vietnam Tagged tourist_sites Comments (0)

Saigon - Pearl of the Orient

the biggist city in vietnam

Like many cities in Vietnam, Saigon did not escape the wrath of war. Since the beginning, Saigon has had quite a traumatic history. There are many citations to the birth of Saigon and the origin of its name. In the 15th century, this area were swamps, marshes and thick forests. By the early 17th century, a small township was formed. According to one theory, Saigon or Sai Con has its root in a Khmer word Prei Kor (Kapok Tree Forest).

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The name Saigon was used officially in 1698, when Lord Nguyen Phuc Chu sent Mr. Nguyen Huu Canh to this region to create various districts and to form a government for this southern outpost. Because of its strategic location for trade and commerce as well as military importance, Saigon continued to grow and became a bonafide city. By 1772, Mr. Nguyen Cuu Dam began to fill many of the canals to form streets.

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In the mid 19th century, the French with the aid of the Spanish invaded this port city and destroyed the fort. This event was the precursor to the long struggle between the people of Vietnam and France leading to the historical defeat of the French in 1954. In the years after the defeat of the French, Vietnam was divided into two separate countries and Saigon became the hub of resettlement for many as people from north and central Vietnam immigrated south.

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In the 60''''''''''''''''s and 70''''''''''''''''s, Saigon was bustling with commerce and business. It was the cultural center and the capital city of South Vietnam. Already heavily influenced by the French in terms of culture and style, the city had an air of a French provincial town with a Vietnamese twist. Saigon was dubbed the "Pearl of the Orient" by the foreign press. The city was alive with activities and cultural diversity that rivaled any Asian city at the time.

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After the fall of South Vietnam to communism in 1975, the city and many of its inhabitants were in a state of chaos and turmoil. In 1976, the new government renamed the city Ho Chi Minh City and shut its door to the rest of the world. Although recognized world wide as Ho Chi Minh City, to the people of Vietnam, the city is still lovingly referred to as Saigon.

Posted by Mr.Silent 16:56 Archived in Vietnam Comments (0)

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