A Travellerspoint blog

Hue

May 27, 2011

We have arrived in Hue! Although it’s a short stay, we are going to make the most of it. Hue, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, was once the capital of Vietnam from 1802 to 1945 during the Nguen Dynasty. It is situated on the banks of the Huong Giang which means Perfume River. Everywhere you look monumental temples, Buddhist pagodas, markets and architecture begging you to explore every nook and cranny.

Our tour guide suggested many different things we could do during the day at Hue and we decided on Ho Quyen, a tiger fighting arena within Hue. It is one of the most interesting sites and one of the most overlooked by visitors. Ho Quyen was built in 1830 during the reign of Emperor Ming Mang where elephant and tiger battles were staged yearly. The exterior consists of two thick, circular walls with stairs leading to the top of the wall. One set of stairs was for the Emperor and his family while the other set were for the court and commoners. Across from the Emperor’s seats are five tiger cages within the stadium where the tigers were held in anticipation before a battle. It was sad to see and we each tried really hard not to imagine what really occurred there. We were told that the fights between the tigers and the elephants were always fixed. Because the tiger symbolized rebellion and the elephant symbolized the monarchy, the tigers would be drugged and have its claws and fangs removed so that the elephant would always win.

Ho Quyen Stadium Exterior Hue

Ho Quyen Stadium Exterior Hue

Ho Quyen Stadium Hue

Ho Quyen Stadium Hue

Ho Quyen Tiger Cage Hue

Ho Quyen Tiger Cage Hue

That evening, we decided to take a night boat cruise along Perfume River to Thien Mu Pagoda, a seven-storey tower standing on the riverbank. Dinner was included on board the boat and featured live Hue folk music. It was a great way to experience the food and musical culture of Hue. Seeing the river at night was truly magical- the pictures just don’t do it justice. I think we all really enjoyed it.

Perfume River Hue

Perfume River Hue


Dragon Boat

Dragon Boat

Thien Mu Pagoda in Hue

Thien Mu Pagoda in Hue

Thien Mu Pagoda (which means Heavenly Lady Pagoda) is one of the oldest buildings and is a religious monument. Each of the seven tiers is said by some to represent human forms taken by Buddha while others say that they represent steps to enlightenment. It was a beautiful site to see and a great way to end the day. Tomorrow, we pack up and travel south to Hoi An!

Posted by tvtvietnam 16:10 Archived in Vietnam Comments (2)

Halong Bay

May 24 - May 26, 2011

After a 4-hour drive, we arrived in Halong Bay – a spectacular area surrounded by beaches and known for its seafood. Our tour group boarded a junk boat for an overnight cruise – we visited the famous grottos which were filled with stalactites and stalagmites. We then anchored in a secluded spot for swimming, kayaking and relaxing.

Halong Bay Junk Boat

Halong Bay Junk Boat

Legend has it that Halong Bay was created by a family of dragons that the gods sent to defend the land when locals were fighting invaders. When the dragons descended down into Halong Bay (or ‘Bay of Descending Dragons’), they began spitting out jewels, which formed the various surrounding islands and thus created a barrier against the invaders. It is because of this that Halong Bay was kept safe and free from the invading warriors.

Halong Bay

Halong Bay

Halong Bay

Halong Bay

After a long and spectacular day, touring Halong Bay came to an end and our tour group sat down for a Vietnamese dinner complete with pho (a noodle soup in a clear broth), bun cha (fresh rice noodles with barbecued pork in sauce) and bia hoi (beer). During dinner, our tour guide taught us some useful Vietnamese phrases:

Hello – Xin chao (seen chow)
Goodbye – Tam biet (tam bee-et)
Thank you – Cam on (Cahm un)
You’re welcome – Khong co gi (Kawng koe gee)
Yes – Vang (Bahng)
No – Khong (Kawng)
How much – Bao nhieu (baugh nyew)
I need a doctor – Toi can bac si (toy cahn back see)
Excuse me – Xin loi (seen loy)
I don’t understand – Toi khong hieu (toy kawng hew)
When? – Luc nao? (look now?)
Where is…? – O dau…? (Er dow…?)
Drinking water – nuoc khoang (nook kwang)
Hotel – khach san (kak san)
Restaurant – nha hang (nya hahng)
Toilet – nha ve sinh (nya vay shin)
Turn right – Re phai (ray fie)
Turn left – Re trai (ray chrai)

After dinner, night fishing took place; however, the four of us were far too tired to take part so we all went to sleep. The next morning, the junk boat cruised the bay and we did more swimming and kayaking. In the afternoon, we departed for Hanoi again for a relaxing evening before continuing on to Hue.

We were told that seeing a water puppet show in Hanoi is a must- many say that you haven’t seen North Vietnam unless you have been to see a water puppet show and apparently Hanoi is the best place to see one so we jumped at the opportunity! It was very cool- the puppets are manipulated by means of long rods by puppeteers standing in purposely murky water behind screens and most of the puppets have moveable limbs and heads. Because of the murky water, the puppets appeared and disappeared almost by magic- it was very cool. We were able to gather more information about showtimes and cost by following this link.

The next day, we wandered the streets of Hanoi and made sure to pick up some local sushi for lunch. Now we’re on board an overnight train heading to Hue. It’s very cozy and we are ready for some shut-eye!

Sleeper Train Hanoi to Hue

Sleeper Train Hanoi to Hue

Posted by tvtvietnam 15:58 Archived in Vietnam Comments (0)

Hanoi

May 23, 2011

Today was the first day of our 14 day Vietnam Adventure tour with Tucan Travel. It was a free day of relaxation followed by a group meeting in the evening to meet our travel mates! During the day, we decided to take a half-day bike tour of Hanoi, the capital of Vietnam. We saw many sites and attractions including Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum, One-Pillar Pagoda, Temples of Literature, Hoan Kiem Lake and Ngoc Son Temple.

The Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum is a memorial to the Vietnamese leader of Hanoi. It is the place where Ho read the Declaration of Independence in 1945. It was interesting to imagine what it would’ve been like to be there in 1945. We learned that Ho had requested to be cremated; however, this request was not fulfilled and like Vladimir Lenin in Russia, Ho is on display and dressed in his favourite khaki suit. A dress code is in effect here; no shorts or short sleeves.

Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum

Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum

The One-Pillar Pagoda is a wooden structure imitating a lotus flower emerging from the water. It is said that if a prayer is spoken here, good health and fertility will come to you. Wearing something long such as a skirt or long pants are suggested; shorts are not permitted.

One Pillar Pagoda

One Pillar Pagoda

The Temples of Literature was Vietnam’s first University in 1076. The grounds of the University are spectacular. Tall, ancient trees and the entrance gate make it seem far from a typical University.

Temple of Literatures Tree

Temple of Literatures Tree

Temple of Literatures Gate

Temple of Literatures Gate

It was an interesting day and we each feel that we learned a lot about Hanoi’s history. Tonight we will get some much needed rest to prepare ourselves for the beginning of our coach tour tomorrow! Next stop Halong Bay!

Posted by tvtvietnam 15:43 Archived in Vietnam Comments (2)

Ho Chi Minh Trail

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We have arrived in Hanoi May 20th and are setting out on a short bus ride to the Ho Chi Minh trail Museum before we jump on our motor bikes for three days riding a beautiful quiet road. We ride to Hoa Binh town passing extensive farming lands with seas of paddy fields. The tree-lined roads are punctuated by limestone karst scenery. After a light lunch in Hoa Binh Town, we crossed over two short mountain passes then descended to the mountain valley settlement of Mai Chau. The weather in the mountain ranges and valleys seem to have a beautiful calm to them. After a 160km day we finished first day with an authentic Vietnamese dinner cooked for us during our home stay in the village.

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On the second day we said goodbye to the villagers and we head south on a beautiful winding road which follow the banks of the Ma River. After 2 hrs of riding along the river we have a stop to see Fish Ferry Stream. It is a stream with thousand of big fish peacefully swimming in shallow water. We jump into Ho Chi Minh Highway and head to Khanh village, which is home to Muong ethnic minority. We again have an amazing dinner and stay overnight in a local house.

After breakfast at the home stay we ride on to Hoa Lu, the ancient capital on Vietnam which dates back to the 9th century. After here we have a stunning ride on the village road to Tam Coc, the well-known “Halong Bay on the rice field”. We will have a relaxing boat trip on the river. We stopped for lunch in Tam Coc a scenic landscape dominated by rice fields and karst towers. After lunch we ride back to our starting point of Hanoi and arrive May 22nd at 5:30pm.

Posted by tvtvietnam 07:34 Archived in Vietnam Comments (0)

Getting Ready for Vietnam

Before we go...... getting excited!!

overcast 7 °C

Wow! Finally, the four of us are going to Vietnam! We’re getting so excited about going on the 14-day tucantravel Vietnam Adventure tour in May! Before that we will be going on a 3-day motorcycle tour of the Ho Chi Minh Trail with Vietnam Adventure Holidays.

There is so much that needs to be done in the next 6 weeks before we take off over the massive Pacific Ocean. We definitely need to get a tourist visa. The information we needed about visas is on the Canadian Government website, The Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada (click here to be directed to the website). This website will keep us up to date with any travel advisories that may arise, even though there are no official warnings right now. Our passports are still valid and will be at least one month after we land back in Canada; one less thing we need to do right now! We will all need to be certain we get a stamp when we go through customs; there are huge repercussions if we do not have a stamp in our passports!

We have an appointment with the International Travel Clinic, here in Calgary this week for a Yellow Fever vaccination. The Yellow Fever vaccination does not take effect for at least 2 weeks, so we should be okay getting the vaccine 5 weeks out. We will need to make sure we bring our International Certificate of Vaccination (the ‘yellow booklet’) just in case we get stopped by the authorities. It probably wouldn’t hurt to get a Dukoral prescription as well; their water is going to be very different than Canada’s and who wants to be stuck in the washroom for the whole 14-day tour!

Money! We’re going to need to exchange some money into US Dollars before we leave. It will be much easier for us to exchange US Dollars into the Vietnamese Dong. Other major currencies can be exchanged but the USD will be the easiest, especially if we are exchanging at a bank like Vietcombank. We’ll have to make sure we exchange any money we need when we are in Hanoi or Ho Chi Minh City because the exchange rate gets worse the farther away from the tourist areas we are.

The summer monsoon starts in May which means 2 things: hot and humid!! We will need to bring loose fitting, non-synthetic clothing and a rain coat. If anyone of us has hair that goes frizzy, be sure to use conditioner and letting your hair air dry; no blow drying ladies!

It’s going to be so incredibly eye-opening to see the different culture and religion in Vietnam. Apparently 75% of the Vietnamese people follow a combination of Confucianism, Buddhism and Daoism religions. Religion plays a huge role in their everyday lives, similar to the Islamic faith of the Middle Eastern countries of Asia.

So far this is what we need to pack:

- Lonely Planet Southeast Asia Phrasebook (covers Vietnamese, Lao, Thai, Burmese and Khmer)
- Rain coat – chances are we will get rained on at some point
- Comfortable shoes and sandals
- EARPLUGS!! – I have heard that it can be very noisy between general traffic noise and the loud speakers; I plan to sleep later than 5 AM!

On May 18th & 19th, the four of us will be sitting on a Cathay Pacific flight from Calgary, connecting in Vancouver and Hong Kong, to our final destination of Hanoi. It’ll be great to be escorted around Vietnam seeing all of the amazing sites of this ever growing country, and learning the history that has shaped Vietnam to what it is today.

Keep checking back! We’ll let you know where we are and what we are doing next.

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Posted by tvtvietnam 10:16 Archived in Vietnam Tagged vietnam packing before_you_go Comments (0)

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