Monday, December 17, 2007

way to hoi an

it was supposed to be so easy - just take the midnight train from saigon to danang, then grab a cab to hoi an. the guidebook said it should only take us around 16 hours, that's 15 hours by train and 45 minutes by cab. it took us 40 bloody hours.

jay setting up his bed on the train to danang (upper soft sleeper)

the train journey was very relaxing, until we woke up the following day and saw how bad the weather was. the rain wouldnt stop and we passed by some heavy floods. oh boy.


rainy outside

we also saw loads of cemeteries/tombs. in their culture, living near a cemetery is considered bad luck so in a countryside like what we passed by, cemeteries are isolated from the villages.

an isolated tomb

a countryside cemetery

16 hours later, we arrived in danang. we looked for a cab together with a british guy we met on the train who was also on his way to hoi an. got a taxi for 15 usd which was not bad since we can divide the fare into three. we again passed by a lot of flooded areas but we still arrived in hoi an town in less than an hour. the street to our hotel though was flooded - the driver was telling us it was neck-deep so we had to look for other hotels but everyone was fully booked already. they had one advice to us - go back to danang. so thats what we did, but even in danang the first few hotels we checked were either flooded or fully-booked. we were wet and hungry and homeless. we found an ok-looking hotel after sometime and i have to say our taxi driver was very kind, he was very helpful and didnt overcharge us or anything.

so we got a very nice room with a big bathroom for 22 usd. and a tv and a nice view of the grim weather outside. we were happy for about 10 minutes until the power died. power was like that until the next day but its still ok because at least we were safe. it was also very hard to get a meal because of the damn rain but we managed to get a pho(soup) outside the hotel, which was not good at all. first meal we didnt like in vietnam, and first time i saw jay in a very foul mood. we were able to get a couple of delicious pao across our hotel though so jay brighten up a bit after a while.

the next day, weather was still bad. we were bored but didnt want to go out and get wet so we just watched tv and slept. by 12 noon though, rain suddenly stopped and when i called phuoc an hotel in hoi an, they said the flood has subsided in some areas and they got a spare room(25 usd for a twin room) for us so right there and then, we packed our stuff and waited for our cab(12 usd).

i guess the lesson here is dont give up :). weather will clear up after some time so just wait it out, after all hoi an is a unesco world heritage site so its worth the trouble. and never ever feed your starving brother a no good pho.

coming soon: hoi an

where to stay:
in danang
xuan hung hotel (22 usd for a twin room)
56 phan chu trinh street, danang city
(84.511) 843 333

in hoi an
phuoc an hotel (25 usd for a twin room, much cheaper on a non peak season)
31/1 tran cao van street, hoi an town
(84.510) 916757

how to get to hoi an from saigon:
taxi from pham ngu lao to train - 40,000 dong
upper soft sleeper - 1,184,000 for 2 people
taxi from danang train station to hoi an town - 12-15 usd

we didnt have enough time to get the tickets from the railway tourist services so we bought our tickets from TNK travel agency just below anan2 hotel(pham ngu lao), i think they charged us 12 usd

Saturday, December 01, 2007


if there's one good thing that came about for bringing my brother on this trip - it's having him along while trying to cross the streets of motorbike-crazy saigon. i dreaded it every time, didn't know if i should just run all the way till i reach the other side of the street (very dangerous!) or just wait for other pedestrians to cross first (might take a loong time) or let all the motorbikes pass before i cross (not possible). my brother's technique which was very effective was to cross slowly, making sure that the motorcyclists are aware of you which will give them enough time to stop or go faster (the bastards).

we stayed in pham ngu lao - a popular street for backpackers. our hotel an an 2(20 usd a night) had a very good location - you can go on foot to see the city's sights - museums, government buildings, cathedrals, and markets. the area was also teeming with small shops and we enjoyed going through them especially after a few hours inside a museum. i got a kick out of their "fake" bookstores, you can buy lonely planet books for 6 dollars, pop fictions for 3 dollars. lots of cafes and restaurants around the area and it seemed like we couldn't go wrong when ordering food. everything tasted great! we also loved the coffee where they serve with the metal strainer, the yummy french ice cream, and the ice cold beer was perfect especially after a long day of wandering around. it was amusing how most of the pubs got these lawn chairs all facing the street - you can just watch as motorbikes, tourists and locals alike pass by.

travel agencies also abound the city and they offer lots of cheap services. from open-tour bus tickets, motorbike rentals, to guided tours. for our second day, we decided to take the 5-dollar cu chi tunnel and cao dai temple tour. was it the best idea? i don't think so but for 5 dollars for a whole day tour, it certainly was cheap.

factory of inlaid mother-of-pearl furnitures

we were early for the tour, but my brother forgot his psp and cash so he had to go back to our hotel room which made the whole bus wait for 5 minutes which ticked our tour guide. we stopped first at a factory of inlaid mother-of-pearl furnitures, it was quite interesting how they do it - very intricate designs so sometimes it takes them weeks or months to finish one design. i had to go to the washroom though before going back to the bus which made me what - 2 minutes late. our tour guide wasnt very happy with me, i tell you. after that, no more late incidents but it seemed our goal for every stop we made was not to be late. it kind of took the fun out of the trip. one of the many reasons why i dont like guided tours - always feels like you're being herded like sheep. (ok i was wrong for being late but still..)

inside tay ninh holy see - jesus, confucius, buddha(?), muhammad(?) and other gods/saints i cannot recognize

our next stop was the cao dai temple - home of the weirdest religion ive ever seen. they combine the teachings of buddha, mohammed, confucius, jesus, moses and some bits from lenin and victor hugo. cao dai philiosophy is "all religions are one" so a cao dai disciple accepts all religion. at noon everyday, a prayer session is conducted where it is possible to see and take pictures of the disciples worshipping.

jay trying out the hidden trapdoor

after a relaxing lunch, we headed straight to the restored cu chi tunnels - a tunnel network used by the viet cong during the vietnam war. i would have to say jay enjoyed this place, he tried everything(which means i had to try it too) - from going inside small wooden trapdoors to crawling inside a dark and tiny tunnel that made me feel a bit claustrophobic to firing a few rounds of ak-47.

we spent one more day in saigon, just checking out the museums and other sights as we wait for our midnight train trip to danang(central vietnam). looking at the reunification palace/war remnants museum/the musuem of ho chi minh city, this country's history says it loud and clear - the vietnamese will fight and die for his independence.

"The southern mountains and rivers belong to the viet people,
It was so written clearly in the celestial book.
Those who dare attack our territory,
will be immediately and pitilessly annihilated."
- Marshall Ly Thuong Kiet
XIth century
(a quote we found in the war remnants museum)

mural in museum of hcmc

more pictures on my smugmug

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