We rolled into our first Vietnamese town, after a non eventful border crossing, apart from Mike having lost his passport or C having stolen it, depends which end of the story you hear. Heading for Hue, pronounced Wey by the locals, it’s a large city screaming with Moped and Cyclo drivers, touting for your business.
The hotel proved to be a winner with nice big aircon room’s right in the middle of it all. The next day folks decided to go and explore the DMZ (demilitarised zone) on one of the many tours on offer. Though it was a long haul tour (8 till 5, sounds too much like a working day for me), they all came back that evening, happy for the experience. Others decided to run around the Citadel, much of it has been bombed by the Americans, but with a bit of imagination you can really get a feel for the magnificent buildings that once stood here….
That night we all met up at the DMZ bar for a bit of western style food and drink, the infamous Odyssey blue (normally saved as a departure tax) reared its head, but with some refinement, I’m happy to add. The party went on till the early hours of the morning, with the grand finale being the whole group, and I do mean everybody, writing their names on the bar ceiling. We had another day to recover and explore and then we would be off to Hoi An.
To the beach I say!
We would not actually be staying on the beach front in Hoi An, but rather in the centre of town on the edge of the Tho Bon River amongst some truly great architecture, influenced by many different western and eastern cultures. The Hotel we were staying at was a bit of a letdown, as they seemed to have knocked down the main attraction, which was the bar restaurant area over hanging the river. But life goes on and soon everybody had spread out to explore the town.
Tailors line the streets, hug the corners and cram the alleys. You can choose how much or not you would like to spend and have a custom made suit or dress stitched up in no time. Most people chose to buy and then post there goody’s home which has proved amazingly reliable.
Tailors aside, Hoi An offers something for everybody, history with The My Son Temple ruins, or the beautiful beach only a quick taxi ride out of town. Great restaurants litter the streets with all budgets caterd for. We were glad to be spending three nights in this funky little town. Apart from the tours to temples or Wats, a group went off jet skiing, which proved a hit as we flew up the massive delta of the Tho Bon river amongst fishing nets, boats and people .Truly a memorable day on the water. Others chose to expand on their Asian cooking skills with another cooking course. For between five and ten dollars you can spend an afternoon cooking up a storm with a local chef and then in the evening enjoy all the food you have prepared.
Most evenings were spent on the white beach that seems to stretch for miles in either direction. Small beach umbrellas and lounges dotting one section of the beach gave you the comfort without the crowds and was a great way to see the evening light fade as we got ready for another great meal out in a local restaurant.
From the quiet lanes of Hoi An to the full on hustle bustle of Nha Trang. This is a big beach city with busy roads and honking horns, framed with crystal blue waters, white sandy beaches and swaying palms. We had booked into a hotel one road back from the beach and the accommodation did not disappoint. We had three nights here, with one of the big attractions being the diving.
Over the duration of the trip various people often choose to write their own blog so folks back home can keep in touch, and to avoid those nasty group emails. This works as a plus for Odyssey Overland as it gives potential travellers the chance to have a little window on the odyssey world. As such, every year we offer a prize to the best blogger. The original idea was to give the winner an open water diving course but it was agreed that with so many good blogs running there was no clear choice. The next stage down from the open water is what they call the resort divers. This means you get to have a morning diving in a pool and then that afternoon go out for two open water dives with and instructor one on one. So Rich, Karcher, C, and Ann were awarded their prizes, with many other folks choosing to join in. The diving was booked for the last day in Nha Trang. Ann, who wasn’t quite as keen on the diving idea, was suitably catered for and swapped her day of water and sun, for an incense and massage treat at a local Spa.
The only thing that stood between diving heaven and us was a short cruise to celebrate a birthday party.
We had hired a small motor boat to chug us out one of the island lying not far off shore. We didn’t quite get what we bargained for but, we did have a great party and BBQ, with enough langoustines to feed a small army. The party carried on once we returned to port with many choosing to celebrate well into the night.
The next morning everybody jumped up to go diving, there were a few folks running on low batteries after the night before, but the promise of blue water and brightly coloured fish seemed to work very well as a tonic. The double decked boat ferried everybody out to another island not far off the coast. The folks who were doing the resort divers started their training on route with the snorkelling fraternity relaxing on the top deck, enjoying the view and fresh sea air. Once the diving started everybody was truly ecstatic, Rich, repeatedly nearly drowning himself before he realised that smiling, while under water, was a bad idea. I’ll let the photos do the talking.
From Nha Trang we headed off to Dalat. Dalat is a city nestled in amongst rolling hills in the centre of Vietnam. Famous for it the cultivation of flowers and vegetables, it truly was a sight to behold. Row after row of green houses scarred the landscape, sprouting carnations, beans, cabbage, roses and every other thing that would grow in this fertile area.
Once we arrived and checked into our hotel, very flash this time as they hadn’t kept our original booking, people headed to explore the town. Many activities are available up in the mountains and some people took the cable car to see a Wat and lake, while other chose to have a romantic Swan around the lake….., or to see the crazy house.
Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon)
Saigon was everything we expected and more. We were staying very central to the heart of the city and as such could walk almost every were. Thousands of bikes, a continual werrrrrr of two stroke engines only sectioned by the honking horns surrounds you day and night. Crossing the road is a testament to the constant vigil the drivers keep, in order not to taste the tar as they weave in and out of pedestrians just walking. In one local travel advice leaflet, when suggesting how to cross a road, it read: “find a small gap in the oncoming traffic. Walk slowly and steadily across the road. Don’t stop, and definitely don’t turn and try going back, as that is the last thing a scooter driver will expect. “, and it works very, very well.
The night life in Saigon is remarkable with electronic stores blaring music into the street to attract customers and neon signs lighting up the darkness. The whole town feels like it just wants to have a good time. There’s Tai Chi in the park, alongside groups of guys playing shuttle cock. The food is diverse, street markets have tanks with live fish, crabs and prawns for you to choose from, and in the same street you’ll find a restaurant way beyond the budget of the average traveller. Big city or not, the people are friendly and welcoming.The first evening we had a group meal with everybody heading down to the Black Cat, rated as one of the ten places you have to eat in the world, we could all soon see why. Though only a humble burger joint, the food is great.
Various tours are on offer from Saigon and half the group had decided to go explore the Chu Chi tunnels which had been dug during the Vietnamese war. With a network covering more than 260km, it is truly an amazing feet of engineering. That said, it was agreed that the designer did not have westerners in mind when making the access points, as the tunnels were tiny. This was a half day activity including a river cruise, bus ride and snack stop.
Another lot had chosen to spend the first day shopping and then explore the Mekong Delta the following day. The Mekong spreads its water far and wide before it enters the sea, washing down tons and tons of prime top soil every year, making the islands that are the bread basket of Asia. A tour consisted of a full day, starting at seven thirty in the morning, jumping onto a bus and barging our way through the on flood of bikes and driving down into the delta itself. A couple of hours later you board a small boat and tour the island. Stopping for fruit and snacks along the way, the local guide explains all the bits and bobs one sees around.
Some of the highlights include being rowed down a narrow channel in amongst the palms and visiting the coconut sweat factory. At the end of the day we jumped on board a high powered speed boat and flew up the river past huge barges carrying all manner of produce and then finally right into Saigon centre, past all the riverside shanty towns. It was a great day out.