A Travellerspoint blog

December 1999

Uncle Ho N The Water Puppets

Hey Hey and a Big G'Day toya

We rose early for a guided half day tour of Hanoi.

By now the tour was beginning to drive us a little crazy. The constant moving on and not being able to sit and appreciate things that made us both happy. This day was an example, some of the places we visited we wanted to stay longer but we were moved on to visit another place that maybe wasn't so interesting to us. We both loved Na Trang but off we went to another town. By Na Trang we knew that we had made a mistake doing a tour but it was paid for so we decided to stay on.

Plus we had made friends with some great people and of course it was an easy way to travel and see a lot of things.

On our half day mini tour we visited some of the main sites including the Temple of Literature. This temple was extremely beautiful. It was built in 1070, being an Australian that is sometimes hard to comprehend. We also headed to the One Pillar Pagoda. A stunning and peaceful place to sit for hours but of course we stayed only a short time.

A real bugger for us!

We then visited the one time random world traveler 'Uncle' Ho Chi Minh. For some reason the Vietnamese don't like to talk about his random world travels. If they do appreciate them they never talked to us about it when they talked about his life. The guy had been everywhere.

From memory he spent several decades walking around different countries and his English was fluent.

The other real strange thing to us was that his 'after death' wish was to be cremated and spread north, south, east and west. Everyone talks about how much the Vietnamese love their Uncle Ho, but what I can't understand is if they loved him and respected him so much then whey did they embalm him and put him in a glass case with lights for all the Vietnamese pilgrims to pay homage to.

To see the man as he is now you must enter an Airport type building.

Here you are x-rayed, have to hand in several belongings and have armed guards around you at all times. You then have to walk single file past him and from what I can gather, continue walking without stopping. Very strange. I can't for the life of me think of what they believe someone would try do to him. The man is dead. If they believe someone would try to shoot a dead man then put him in a bullet proof glass case instead. I'm lost for words just as I was then. I mean do they think he's gonna sit up and say, hey, stop holding hands or Hey, why are you exposing your legs!

I, um...the man is dead!

The group went its separate ways for the remainder of the afternoon. We headed to the Hoan Kiem Lake to sit and play cards in the sunshine. Here many came over to watch us play and to our surprise some of them motioned to join us. They played the same game with slightly different rules. So there we sat for hours surrounded by Vietnamese playing cards. This was something that we continued each day we spent in Hanoi.

On one occasion two police officers came over to see why the crowd was gathering.

The evening was spent at the Municipal Water Puppet Theatre. It was such a wonderful experience. I sat wide eyed and eared throughout. Anyone who visits Vietnam or Hanoi must see the water puppets.

Another daily ritual was to watch the beggars or whom we called 'scammers'. They were pretty crafty too. Some of them whom did NOT have a disability would create one. When they would see a Foreigner walking towards them they would go from walking normally to walking as if they needed a wheel chair. Others would sit and happily play with their child until a 'victim' came along and in an instant the child would be severely disable. Others sadly did have disabilities and couldn't really do much in the financial way.

It was these people whom received some of my colourful little bank notes. In Hanoi another thing you must get used to are the young children and teens with trays selling post cards, books and tee shirts. They hover in droves and attack with out mercy. When you finally get away another bunch move in even though they have just watched you say no to the others. In their trays they all carry the exact same things. There were three small paper backs, one of which was the 'Quiet American', they all had the same post cards and small nick knacks.

The girls were usually the tee shirt sellers. They also stocked the same tee shirts.

After several days being around they get to know your face and leave you alone. In fact some of them will come and sit with you and talk to you. It's a beautiful experience. Whilst playing cards and relaxing in the sunshine we became friends with several of them whom would come and sit with us and spend time without their tray of goods to sell. They would tell us their sad tales of their life and would not accept our money or food when we offered it to them.

Beers N Cheers toya...shane

Posted by eddakath 17:00 Archived in Vietnam Comments (0)

The Y2K Bug N The Simplest of Cities

Hey Hey and a Big G'Day toya

How do I describe Hanoi? I guess I begin as I would any other city.

It is such a beautiful city. It has usual new city and the old city known as the Old Quarter. But it's more than that. Hanoi was and still is one my most favorite cities I have visited in the world. It is nothing at all like Ho Chi Minh City which moves along at such a fast pace in compression. It's kind of like comparing Melbourne and Brisbane in Australia. Melbourne is a modern city and has the city pace and attitude attached to it. Brisbane is of course a modern city but it is more like a huge country town with the relaxed atmosphere of 'hey, it will be done mate!

Relax and have a beer'.

We arrived in Hanoi on New Years Eve, the last day of the 1999 year. At 12:00 that very night the world was supposed to go into complete chaos as the Y2K Bug bit its techno arse. The money Microsoft and other companies must have made! Hey, all of my electrical appliances have only two digits for the year, best I go buy new ones because they won't work anymore! Unbelievable and the world fell for it, me included. But I wanted the chaos and disorder in our technological lives. Maybe it's the big kick in the butt the world actually needs.

Sadly it passed never to be heard of again.

When we arrived we headed to our Hotel where we happily sat for a huge breakfast. We then spent the day walking around getting lost in the maze of streets that makes up the Old Quarter. The Old Town or The Old Quarter as it is known is built around the Hoab Kiem Lake. I'm unsure if they DID spend years trying to figure out a simple structure of the streets and their street names and what to sell on each street or if it just happened by chance. Hanoi is the most sensible place I've ever walked. Surely such simplicity must take a lot longer that the more chaotic 'difficult' structure that happens in every city.

Want an example?

Ok, let's say you want to buy a new pair of shoes. Hell, go and find Shoe Street. There you will have an entire street of shoes to choose from.

You said you wanted to get married. Hey go buy your gal a new ring on Jewelry Street.

What's that? Your kids need text books for school. You'll find em on Paper Street.

Making a time to meet people is also much easier.

Hey, meet you on Shoe Street at two? Nah mate, the missus wants me to buy some rice for dinner. Why don't we meet on Rice Street instead?

You can't get lost like in most cities, especially if you can't find the street sign. An entire street of stalls would have to hide for you to get lost. It's insane at how simple it is if you name the street after what is sold there. If only every city was so simple.

Hanoi was a big favorite of many travelers I met prior to arriving there and also a big favorite of many since. It is perfect place. Life is easy, booking onward travel is easy, booking tours is easy, finding somewhere to sleep is easy, and most of all finding a great place to eat is just as easy. Usually they are all in the one Hostel cross Café and there are more than enough of those to go around.

During my stay in Hanoi which was around two weeks all up, I visited most of these Cafes. All were just as wonderful as the last. I chose not to stay in any of them after our tour finished as eating and drinking in them you become part of the noise that keeps so many awake. My favorites from memory were the Little Hanoi I & II and the Saigon Sakura. I remember another one with the name Darling in it. Probably my most visited but I can't remember the rest of the name. Oh, and the favorite place to grab a coldie was Spotted Cow.

Great music too this is always important with beer.

Anyhow, getting to one of the most talked about and feared NEW YEARS EVE's I've known. We all met for a huge dinner where we gorged ourselves on colourful food and beer. We then took to the streets and joined the huge crowd that was gathering around a huge building. I'm actually unsure what the building was. Maybe it was the opera house. To see the new millennium in Hanoi put on a spectacular musical treat. At one stage there were over two hundred drummers on stage at once.

The crowd loved it. Everyone was having such a beautiful time.

At ten seconds to twelve all stopped for the count down and afterwards everyone went home. Just like that, everyone went home. That was my first real introduction to what I call the Asian 'Pumpkin Fear'. As soon as it nears midnight, 90% of the people around you pack up and leave where they are for home.

Now in 2006 we could be at KTV.

Everyone is singing and having such a great time. It's like there no warning. The night still feels young and everyone is vibed and then WHAMO! People are rushing around grabbing their belongings and heading for the door. I've been in China for a year and it still takes me by surprise. I honestly still say, hey, what's going on. The reply is always the same. Home. It's time to go home.

My reply is always the same...HUH?

Beers N Cheers toya...shane

Posted by eddakath 17:00 Archived in Vietnam Comments (0)

The Purple City...Where is it?

Hey Hey and a Big G'Day toya

Hue, once the capital of Vietnam was a city that I only spent one night and one day in.

Usually within the first couple of hours walking around most people can tell if they would like to stay longer. For some reason Hue just didn't grab me by the goalies at all. It didn't blow my hair back or even blow my whistle. A lot of people I met loved it. When I head back to Vietnam I'll drop in and try to find out why. Anyhow, we had two choices for the day, either a boat trip along the Perfume River or to spend several hours walking about the Purple City.

I don't know why we chose the Purple City.

The write up sounded interesting and if we were told that 90% of it actually didn't exist we would have chosen the boat trip. I actually thought it was going to be something like China's Forbidden City but when we arrived we found only several buildings and a hell of a lot of grass and signs stating that 'on this site was this thingamabob'. We knew it had been bombed and a lot of it destroyed but had no idea to the extent or that bugger all had been rebuilt. We ended up spending many hours there walking around, talking and relaxing.

There was still a lot of interesting things to see and some of the buildings that were left were very beautiful.

By late afternoon we had to return to the hotel as my friend had become rather ill. There was an English speaking doctor there and after a look over he gave her some pills. We were all surprised that he didn't give her a jar of Tiger Balm and send her away.

'Hey it's Tiger Balm. What did you say? Your mother just died! Oh no! Here, put this here tiger Balm on her and she'll be right in no time!

The Vietnamese love, absaFREAKINlutely, LOVE their Tiger Balm. It fixes everything from amputated limbs to flat tyers. Well, not to that extent but everything in between. You get the drift. Back to the pills, they worked and all was well again.

There actually is a lot around Hue to see.

The main two places I wanted to head to were the Bach Ma National Park which has within another French hill station and I also wanted to head to the Vinh Moc Tunnels. It would have been cool to compare them to the Cu Chi Tunnels. The Vinh Moc Tunnels are still as they were and have not been widened for tourism.

The day ended and the sun headed elsewhere. We headed for another sew circle dinner and then made our way to the train station for our overnight journey to Hanoi.

Beers N Cheers toya...shane

Purple City

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Posted by eddakath 17:00 Archived in Vietnam Comments (0)

Marble Mountain N Sewing Circles

HeyHeyanda Big G'Day toya

We left Hoi An and made our way towards Hue.

On the way we stopped in at a place called China Beach. Like Dalat it was a place the elite enjoyed and stayed in to relax and forget about all the soldiers dying around them. It was made famous by the television series of the same name. It lies against a back drop of the visually inspiring Marble Mountains. The five peaks which are actually limestone with marble and are said to represent the five elements: Fire, Water, Earth, Wood and Metal.

The Marble Mountains were once used by the Chams for religious purposes.

That all changed in more recent times when the Viet Cong moved in due to the great views of the Danang air base. Believe it or not at that time it was the busiest airport in the World. We spent several hours climbing one of the peaks and visiting several caves within. All the time the 'You Buy You Buy' women were hot on out tails trying to sell us everything from water to tee shirts. These 'You Buy You Buy' women were pretty bloody good too.

They had never heard of the word 'No' in either English or Vietnamese.

The views at the top when you finally sat yourself in the little carved marble chair were breathtaking. I think the only thing that has come close and I won't chose between them is the sensational views from the top of Moon Hill just outside Yangshuo in China. I've climbed others but it's these two that I always remember.

We also visited shops where they carve huge blocks of marble into priceless 'things'.

We continued our journey to Hue through some pretty awesome mountains with some pretty hairy roads! Along these roads we spotted several 'tip trucks' full of Fido's (dogs) on their way to China. When I say 'tip trucks' I mean those you see with the tippy thing on the back that has huge hinges at the back and an air lift at the front to push it up. They were filled with fidos piled to the top. We shove our sheep and cattle on boats and the back of trucks.

In Vietnam and China they throw them in the back of a tip truck, literally! I don't want to write about it anymore.

So change of subject, hey, the view from the top of the Hai Van Pass was pretty impressive, try to get there one day!

We arrived in Hue well after dark and sat for a group dinner. By now the group had split into little groups. Some were like sewing circles where they squinted and glared as they talked about others in the group. As open minded as I am with people, yes there were people by now I wish had fallen ill and had to be left behind in a past town as I'm sure others felt about me.

But I chose not to squint about it!

Beers N Cheers toya...shane

Marble Mountain & China Beach

Marble Mountain & China Beach


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Posted by eddakath 17:00 Archived in Vietnam Comments (0)

Look!Theres Fido! Where? In sections on the table

Hey Hey and a Big G'Day toya

Today the group had a free day today to explore the town and its surroundings.

We had become good friends with our group leader by now and a few of us decided to meet up later for a river cruise. We spent a lot of the morning in one of my favorite places in the world, the Asian Market Place. We walked for hours up and down the isles. The Asian Market place was so new to me then. I remember the excitement and amazement I felt at all the colours, the smells and all the 'things' before me.

The fruit and vegetable section was full of newness.

It was like staring at a Technicolor rainbow of new fruits. The meat section left nothing to the imagination. Fido was waiting for you in the cage behind the stall wagging his tail waiting to be chosen...for what? There he was again in full form, skinned, tail and all.

There he was again in sections all over the table.

Then there were the stalls full of colourful fabrics and clothes. Then there were the other stalls full of 'things' and bits N pieces. Then there was the people all walking and squatting. Even today, six years later I remember that morning in the Hoi An market place. Asian markets still fill me full of excitement and wonder.

That was the day my love affair with the old and wrinkled women began!

After we finally freed ourselves from the market place we met the others for lunch and then headed down to the river to board a little tour boar. We spent most of the afternoon drifting along the Thu Bon River. We stopped to watch boat builders creating huge strange looking wooden boats. We stopped to watch crafters building furniture and wooden sculptors. We past farmers ploughing fields with oxen and other boats filled with Vietnamese all yelling 'hellow' to us.

It was such a beautiful cruise and I recommend it to anyone who goes to Hoi An.

That night after a relaxing meal we joined the crowds outside on the little cobble stones to watch the practicing of the coming New Year. Chinese Dragons (as I know them, in China it's known as Lion Dancing, don't confuse it with Line Dancing like I have!) swayed and danced to and fro between the crowds of people on either side.

It was the perfect end to a perfect day.

Beers N Cheers toya...shane

Hoi An Adventure

Hoi An Adventure


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Posted by eddakath 17:00 Archived in Vietnam Comments (1)