Heading South To Find A Beach
01.12.2009 25 °C
It seems that we are not only lucky, but super lucky. The day after seeing the turtle in Hoan Kiem lake, we saw it again! I’m not sure why it is supposed to be so difficult to spot the poor amphibian as it seems to come up for air every 15 mins, and the lake is flat and open. Maybe the locals just don’t look enough.
We are now on a train from a nice place called Hue to Da Nang. Since the last entry we’ve taken a two day trip around Ha Long Bay (Descending Dragon bay), an over night (sleeper) train from Ha Noi to Hue, and spent two days in Hue looking at ruins. Exciting stuff!
As an aside, the Vietnamese written language is interesting. They do not seem to write words with more than a single syllable. For instance, on western maps, Hanoi is one word. Everywhere in Vietnam it is two: Ha Noi. Sai Gon. Viet Nam. Dung cu thoat hiem (Tools for emergency). The last sentence is a sign I can see from where I am sitting on the train…
Ha Long Bay is lovely. Lots of limestone formations rising up out of the sea making it very scenic. Our two day trip consisted of a bus ride out to Ha Long City, getting on a ‘junk’ ( a beautiful boat, despite the name!), and motoring about the bay for the afternoon and next morning, visiting a large cave system and doing some kayaking along the way. The junk was lovely, exceeding our expectations and actually looking like the advertising photos of it! Our room was beautifully presented and comfortable, and the staff were friendly and helpful making the trip as good as we had dared hope it would be (preparing for the worst, as always). We spent the night at anchor in a sheltered part of the bay along with at least 40 other boats. As there were 12 people on our trip, that makes for a lot of tourists on the water, but the night was peaceful and quiet despite the large number of bodies about! (although we were able to just hear one boat partying hard in the distance if you stood on the top deck)
The day after the boat tour we got back to Ha Noi about 4:30pm and had some food while waiting to get our over night, 13 hour, sleeper train south to Hue, along the Reunification Express (goes from Ha Noi to Sai Gon and back 4 times a day – New Zealand Rail, what are you doing?). We had bought our tickets ourselves from the train station (these people have no ideas on queues – it’s a bun fight at the counter) and thought we had paid the right amount to get a first class (or ‘soft sleeper’) berth. But we didn’t have one of those. We got a ‘hard sleeper’. The difference is partly in the name, but also the soft sleeper has 4 bunks in a cabin, the hard sleeper has 6 in a cabin the same size. The soft sleepers are mainly full of tourists. The hard are all mainly locals. And kids. At the start of the journey we were more than a little p’ed off, but it was not as bad as it could have been. Nothing was stolen over night while we slept (we have heard LOTS of horror stories over the weeks) and everyone got into their bunks and went to sleep fairly early.
Hue is a nice city, a lot quieter than Ha Noi, and a lot warmer! It was the capital from about 1830 to 1945, and has a medieval citadel on the north bank of the river. So the first day we were there we wandered about the citadel (ignoring all the cyclo and motorbike taxis who were trying to get us to do a tour with them) getting hot and bothered and looking at what is really a bunch of ruins that are half heartedly and hap-hazardly being restored. The restoration seems to include getting broken china and using it as rough mosaic pieces. We even found some with English writing on it being used (one bit actually said: An Apple A Day…). They are also using green glass from bottles to help with the restoration, including the bottle neck in one mosaic. Doesn’t quite work with keeping it authentic.
Day two was a tour around the outskirts of the city seeing tombs of past emperors and the odd temple and pagoda. It started off badly and our hopes of a nice tour were looking doubtful, but in the end we enjoyed it. The guide was a lovely man (how many times can I use the word lovely?). He got a bit of hassle from two ‘extremely rude and arrogant Austrians’ (quote from Anita) who were accusing him of charging us more than the ticket price to enter the various tombs and pocketing the difference! We didn’t like them much by the end of the tour, but the guide (called Hai) didn’t say a bad word, even shaking their hands when saying goodbye (although he did say it had been ‘interesting’ meeting them, rather than a pleasure – a clever use of the English language don’t you think!?).
Since we’d seen mostly all of Hue that there is to see, and our tans are fading fast (no, honestly, they are) we decided to move on and find ourselves some beaches. So we walked the 2km (or more) to the train station last night and got our tickets to Da Nang. Which takes us up to today: getting up, packing, breakfast, check out, get on the train. The journey is picturesque (or maybe lovely?! Not sure) as the train winds slowly along the coast. Lots of nice bays, mountains and islands to see.
PS This was written days ago, on the train to Da Nang. There was no internet where we were staying, so thus this is only being posted now. A further update will be coming soon!