A Travellerspoint blog

Hoi An Heaven - Vietnam

Hoi An, 3rd-12th March

sunny 28 °C

We stroll down the quaint streets of the old centre where yellow concrete buildings with little french shutters prevail, interspersed between wild west wooden buildings of Vietnamese and Chinese design. The Hoi An Old Town is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site - well preserved and exuding rustic charm. Not to mention tailor shops aplenty. The riverside resto's that run along the Thu Bon River are deliciously diverse and incredibly cheap. Locals call out to entice us onto their long tail boats, into their shops, their resto's...

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But we soldier on into the riverside market where locals are buying their fresh produce and seafood, and tourists are stuck at the souvenir stalls 'please buy something', 'just have a look'. All the attention is quite overwhelming so we duck into a quaint riverside restaurant called 'friendships' (which conveniently also appears to have the cheapest beer). The 'fresh draught beer' goes down a treat, especially at 50c NZ per 500ml glass! Being the cheapest beer EVER, it's easy to overindulge... And before we know it, it's come to dinner time so we order a 3 course set menu for $3 NZ with all the Hoi An specialities: 1. White Rose - shrimp encased in rice paper, steamed and seasoned 2. Fried Wonton's (Banh Xeo) - covered with sauteed sweet 'n sour veges and prawns, and 3. Cau Lau - doughy flat noodles with croutons, bean sprouts, fresh herbs and BBQ pork slices. A delicious feast indeed! To top it off, every meal comes with a free caramel creme dessert. Needless to say, Friendships has won us over!

In the days to come we get to know the staff rather well and even have our own table out front with pristine river views where we wile away the day watching people, but primarily drinking beer. School girls in traditional Ao Yai dress pile onto the ferries with their bicycles, vendors selling pork buns, peanuts and drinks, while we work our way down the menu. But we get stuck on the best sweet 'n' sour duck ever! In fact, sweet 'n' sour finds its way into most of our meals in different incarnations. So occasionally we branch out to the other waterfront 'al fresco' eateries where we get delish Mi Quang. A fusion of flavours made up of doughy flat noodles with herbs, veges, quail eggs, pork, peanuts, and dried shrimp. This place is truly foody heaven!

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Founded as a foreign colony it soon became a major international trading port (during the 17th to 19th century), until the river silted up. So today Hoi An remains a tourist town, albeit a charming one! We purchase a 'Hoi An Old Town' ticket (75,000d each) which enables us access to a choice of heritage attractions. We pick the best of the bunch, starting with a visit to the Japanese covered bridge. Constructed in the 1590's by the Japanese community of Hoi An to provide a link with the Chinese quarters across the stream.

Proceeding to the Museum of Trading Ceramics which showcases excavated ceramics from over 2200 years ago. The Assembly Hall of the Fujian Chinese Congregation, now transformed into a temple to worship the deity from Fujian Province; the stunning gilded chamber teems with history and symbolism, decorated with dragons, paintings, and statues among delicate flower gardens and courtyards. Inside, large incense coils burn overhead. Quite seductive and serene.

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Nearby a traditional cultural performance kicks off at the handcraft workshop. Listening to local acoustics and song, we watch dramatic dancing depicting daily village life. At the back of this 200 year old Chinese Trading House, artisans produce silk paintings, lanterns and wooden carvings - including a buddha with over 1000 hands (a six month effort!).

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Tan Ky House was built early 19th Century by Vietnamese, Chinese and Japanese. Their different styles exhibited in their creation. Every wet season (Nov-Dec) the three generations who reside here have to move all the furniture upstairs to escape the flooding. Watermarks on the walls are testament to last years 2m high flooding! In fact, the whole town has to adapt to this periodical flooding. The streets filled with boats while everyone lives on the first floor during the monsoon - a real water world. More museums and temples follow... time to reward ourselves for lasting all day without beer... with more beer.

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Hoi An by night is an enchanting place. The lanterns glow bright and fill the shops, the trees, yes even giant lanterns in the river - luminous giant fish, ox, turtle, lotus flower. The lanterns must cast a spell over us for we are drawn to a truly decadent french-style patisserie like moths to a lantern, where we give in to temptation and devour chocolate cheesecake, truffle cake, and tiramisu. Heavenly! The spell has been cast and, against our will, we are drawn back every night without fail. Luckily these are seriously magical desserts!

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To get to the Ancient Champa Kingdom (another UNESCO World Heritage Site) 'My Son', we resort to a bus tour. Our young guide 'Spider' elaborates on the plan, for we are 'Spider Team' now. He proceeds to spoon feed us in an amusingly American reality TV-accented broken English, where every sentence is preceded with a 'back in the old days...', and aptly ends his oration with a 'and now it's broken'. Then just in case we didn't grasp his wise words he'd repeat himself in similar fashion. Still, everyone clings to his every word, following a narrative straight out of 'are you smarter than a 5th grader' - funny that. Time for action; a convoy of old seventies US army jeeps (with over 750.000km on the clock) take us to the actual ruins - which resides in stunning jungle.

We break free from our web and explore the different temple groups at our leisure. Since My Son was used solely for praying (during the late 4-13th century), most of the temples were dedicated to the Cham Kings associated with Hindu divinities, particularly Shiva; founder and protector of Champa's dynasties. Unfortunately not to be. The Viet Cong too, used it as a fall out base, with a resulting unparalleled destruction from above. Numerous bomb craters signed off by the Americans remain today. Hence the 'broken' part. Restoration is ongoing for the remaining 20 odd brick ruin-like structures. The site is truly dilapidated and if it weren't for the museum in Danang, it would be hard to grasp the context of this site. Still, the Cham people today remain a substantial ethnic minority in Vietnam with over ~100,000 people.

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Back in Hoi An we enjoy sweet strong coffees across the river, a ritual turned daily. Persistent children try to sell us crappy trinkets but by now we've mastered the art of disinterest and they quickly move on to the softies next to us - a couple of Ozzies. We'd heard that frozen yogurt is a local specialty here so we place the order. Two packaged shop-bought refrigerated yogurts come out. Hey at least they could have put it in a bowl to pretend it was real!

Regardless, nicely fueled by caffeine we embark on a mission to the 500 odd tailor shops with the intention of ordering suits and the like. And over the next few days we become true fashion experts on fabric, prices, quality, workmanship, lapels, seams, single breasted, double breasted.. and begin by ordering tailor made woolen jackets with satin/silk lining. Good fun going in for fittings and being treated like royalty over something so cheap. In the end we relinquish the suits; more trouble than they're worth we reckon. The ties however are a safe(r) bet. For just $3 USD you get a sweet silk tie here. Looks tight until you start to pay attention to workmanship, and start discarding one after another for being plain filthy, off the mark, or just plain crooked. One of the ties even truly veers off to the left. How did they manage that we wonder? Sizing up the various ties our Vietnamese lady proudly exclaims 'much cheaper than home'. True enough, but we have a little process back home called quality control so we don't have to sift through hundreds off bogus ties. The lady then pokes fun at Guido for the rather substantial tear in his shirt. 'New shirt, Sir?' bearing a wide and sarcastic smile. Guido kindly defers, he's already wearing a Vietnam quality number 1 shirt. Mmm, perhaps we've been here too long.

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Time to explore beyond our usual haunts. We hire bicycles and push on through towards Cua Dai Beach (Hoi An's end of China Beach). We pass pretty rivers, rice paddies, more tailor shops, and end up between the palms on the beach. Chatting to local women who try to sell us oreo's, chopsticks, tiger balm, and pretty much everything! Covered in long cotton pants, long sleeves and gloves they must be sweating up a storm. Back to Hoi An where we finally venture over the bridge to circle Cam Nam Island. Not much there but it's good to look at the old town from a different perspective. Well, surely we deserved our daily dose of 'Friendship' now so we enjoy our roasted peanuts and beer while looking back over the river.

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Our last night is when the monthly Full Moon Lantern Festival takes place. Motorbikes are banned from the old town which duly comes alive with even more lanterns than usual, cultural performances, games etc. People emerge from the shadows en masse, and children run around selling floating candle-lit lanterns to set free on the river. A great time had absorbing the heavenly Hoi An.

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Posted by beefnlamb 07:48 Archived in Vietnam Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

Marble madness in Danang

Danang, 1-3 March

sunny 30 °C
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Standing under the highway bypass with our backpacks at our feet we're looking for our next elusive clue. We are somewhere near the periphery of Danang, but as of yet we have no idea exactly where 'here' is. The print quality of our bootleg map is utterly atrocious and the city that looms in the distance seems to bear no obvious landmarks. A slew of motodrivers hover in front of us, eyeing us up cautiously. While yelling at the top of our lungs to surpass the noise of traffic overhead, uncertain negotiations for a ride into town are begun.

$50.000 dong (~USD $3.5)?! Surely nothing should cost that much. For that kind of money we expect to be carried into town on a gilded throne. Whiffs of an unpleasant odour smell much like a scam. Now what? Neither of us budge on prices. Now this is very much like being dealt an unknown hand of cards. Town may be a few minutes away, but then again it might not be. We decide to call their bluff and walk into town - a bad idea from the outset it turns out.

Several kilometers and two hours later, soaked in perspiration and with our wet shirts clinging to our backs we soldier on under the ever vigilant watch of a scorching hot sun, until eventually we cave in. The city remains as far away as ever much like a desert mirage. In retrospect we should have known - after all it is still the fourth largest city in Vietnam. At least the motodrivers followed us through in a typical donkey and carrot stick approach, and for 30.000 dong (minus the 3km we covered on foot) we soon breeze through the innards of Danang central.

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City central is buzzing with motorbikes, lively bars & shops, and classy restaurants. A seedy legacy still lingers from the sixties when Danang made its living from a thriving and profitable entertainment industry serving the nearby American army base (you want some boom boom?). Still it has cleaned up its ways to some respect and the flashy bars and resto's look impressive with lots of great goat places offering their version of Thit de (so been there). And there are many other affordable meals to be had - some delectable such as braised swan, some not so (like sea cucumber). Being shoe stringed we opt for a local hole-in-the-wall eatery serving mouth watering pork meatball sandwiches and, even better, cold hamburgers for only 10.000 dong. For now being late afternoon, it remains a waiting game until tomorrow.

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Early the next morning we charter a motorbike and going through the gears we soon honk our way into a mad dash of traffic, heading past China Beach towards the mighty marble mountains. Five craggy marble peaks each soar into the sky ahead of us. According to Vietnamese folklore, they each represent a natural element; Tho Son (earth), Moc Son (wood), Kim Son (metal), Hoa Son (fire), and the most famous of all Thuy Son (water). Highly celebrated and richly decorated with ornate pagoda's, passageways and assorted Confucian shrines you'd be forgiven for thinking such a popular place would be well signposted.

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Instead we're lost in the the maze of back alleyways that is Non Nuoc - a well known marble carving village that surrounds the rocky crags. Too many polished happy Buddha's here. Ironically most marble for these statues is actually imported from China these days, the very reason we still have something to look at today - spot the fridge on the motorbike in front of us:

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As it turns out we find the other four lesser elements first. Bravely contending with the leftovers of Vietnamese pilgrimage we follow the mounds of garbage checkpoints and foul pee smelling cave trails that lead the way. Not quite as polished as the marble they produce but we do have the place to ourselves. Last but not least we track down Thuy Son, and what a spectacular sight to behold. Steep flights of stairways lead to a reclusive Buddhist sanctuary, well tended gardens, and several cathedral like caves within a hidden valley nestled on top - granting supreme sweeping vista's over life below.

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Leaving the mountains behind we drive back towards Monkey mountain along a mostly empty beachfront - China Beach. Perhaps mostly familiar with the GI's who were sent here on their R&R or the namesake eighties television series. Not much remains. The crescent shaped beach lies desolate, its anchored fishing fleet rocked by occasional surf waves while the proverbial tumbleweeds roll down the sand. Being lunchtime on the beach we give the aptly named "Phuc My 2" resto a miss and instead hit up a baguette slash mystery meat street stall.

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Before moving on to Hoi An however, we do seek out the "Museum of Cham sculpture". Founded by the Ecole Francaise 'd Extreme Orient back in 1915, it houses an exotic otherworldly collection of sandstone carvings amongst which are funky carved linga's (the mighty fertility penis), garuda's (man eagle demons), ganesha's (the elephant kid, remover of obstacles) and famous Hindu deities Shiva, Brahma and Vishnu. The place is truly entertaining since the curators have put a great deal of effort into incorporating the exhibits into walls, nooks and corners - pretty cool! To jazz it up a bit we play a game of "who can imitate the wackiest divine moves". What else to do in a museum?

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Posted by beefnlamb 04:02 Archived in Vietnam Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

Kon Tum Timewarp - Vietnam

Kon Tum, 28 Feb - 1 March

overcast 29 °C
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Moving through Kon Tum is like moving through time - very slowly. Much like a spin-off from the Discovery channel series 'Timewarp'. And that's right - there's not much happening in Kon Tum village. Even the motodrivers that loiter around the centre square's hill tribe statue - a celebratory monument to local tribes featuring gongs and not guns (for a change), they lazily nap away the day on their bikes - a balancing act one has to see to believe. But this is exactly the way we want it to be - alternate routes away from the Vietnamese 'roller coaster' tourist rides we've been on. We've come here to check out the Ho Chi Minh trail. The intricate maze of trails that once formed the supply route for the Vietcong during the Vietnam war. Caressing its way through inhospitable Annamite mountain range terrain this jungle track runs from Vinh in the north, through parts of Laos and Cambodia, to Saigon in the far South.

A well accepted but short 300km section follows Highway 14 from Kon Tum to Giang, near Danang. We seek out the tourist resource center in pursuit of a motorbike we hope to use for this leg of our trip. But alas, it's not to be. 'Nobody does that' is the guy's autonomic response and hitherto he doesn't have a bike to rent out anyway. Either way, if we're keen on one of his trekking expeditions that go way out in the sticks of the Central Highlands instead? Intriguing but unfortunately we're on a clock with places to be other than bamboo spirit villages. Still looks interesting though. Kon Tum and its surrounding areas were carpet bombed by B52 raids during several decisive battles back in 1972 - and historical Dakto and Charlie Hill only lie 40km's north from here. Unrest among ethnic minority villages since means most of these areas are still subject to stringent permit restrictions. All in all making it raw and untouched hiking territory. Meanwhile we have to kill the day one way or another so we go for a wander about town.

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Walking down a Nguyen Hue road (there's lots of those) several Bahnar minority 'hoods' cross our path. Several gravel roads where naked cows, pigs and buffaloes intermingle chowing grass, amongst children playing soccer on the fields in dirty shirts but no undies. The raised Rong houses here are community venues; only for such times as ceremonies and festivals. Only their thatched roofs distinguish these ethnic parts from the rest of town. I know what you're thinking...no not the entire town runs around without undies.

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Another cotton candy cathedral, by now we have truly entered the outskirts of Kon Tum proper - we're 2km's out. Sights become a bit grim so we duck into a coffee shop - Eva's cafe. . A miniature hill tribe village fantasy of gardens, swings and bamboo structures which set off a wild array of gongs tied to the trees. The owner is an inviting chap and soon we're chatting away about the history of the area and his background. How he was born in this garden with his siblings, developed it into his dream over the last 20 years and how his dad went missing in action during the war. With a gained wealth of the region he leaves us to it, turning on his sprinkler system as he does so. A fine mist of droplets descends down on us from the gutters above - much appreciated at 37 degrees.

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Dinner we find just around the corner and, seated amongst long banners of mountain goats out in the alps which invoke that outdoor feel, we get served a Thit de - a coconut milk based goat curry. A mighty fine feed, bar the hoof that comes floating up when the curry draws to an end. Darn, they always pull our legs like this. Duly swollen, being waterlogged from marinating in curry broil for several days its skin has a rubbery texture to it - very much like the bodies they retrieve after being dumped in waterways for a few days (or so CSI has taught us). Dilligently nibbling on the latex skin Guido wasn't even rewarded with any meat.

Leaving day also starts early and frantic; hordes of hawkers swarm us pushing all forms of transport. Timely a bus headed for Danang pulls out of the gates - sweet. Sweet, if not for the minibus driver that Guido exchanges looks with for a few seconds too long. Adamant that we want to go with him he proceeds to bar entry to our bus, verbally abusing the driver, ticket man and passengers in the process, for stealing his fictional non-existing ride. Much to the amusement of all involved his beration goes on for several minutes, all the while still blocking our way. Few options remaining we (Guido) pick him up by the waist and put him aside - we have a ride to catch! Vietnamese have a tender built so you can get away with this kind of stuff. The journey through the mountains is nothing short of phenomenal. 'Slash and burned' steppes and plains make way for gentle hills, still bearing the scars of ceaseless Agent Orange defoliation campains from above, until we reach the jungle forest cover of the mountain ranges proper.

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The crew on the bus are a jovial bunch of outgoing middle-aged local people. Keen to know what we're up to and where our travels are taking us, they congenially show us the ropes on 'Xeo' whiskey shots. Not yet noon, this is all aptly instigated by our heavy-footed bus driver. Only by a miracle do we get to Danang in one piece... But then that's what miracles are for.

Posted by beefnlamb 04:24 Archived in Vietnam Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

Quest for Quy Nhon - Vietnam

Quy Nhon, 25-28 February

overcast 28 °C
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Quy Nhon - the peninsular provincial capital of Binh Dinh and a stirring seaport at heart. What's not too like? A wide crescent shaped sliver of golden sand rolls down the hills culminating in a massive hillside statue of Tran Hung Dao, who gives the Chinese the finger to the northeast. A dazzling array of swish hotels and a spacious seaside esplanade where oldies are doing their yoga it has all the attraction but curiously no tourists.

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There's a strong historical connection here too. New Zealand used to provide money and staff to the provincial hospital back in the sixties. This link still continuous today with the NZ volunteer service abroad involved in various health and agricultural related development projects as well as providing specialists for the local hospital - go us!

Our guesthouse too is run by a fellow kiwi and comes highly acclaimed but is rather low on substance. Sulky staff and their decision to re-tile the entire roof during our stay probably has something to do with that. Besieged by a battering of sledgehammers we flee our room and venture out to the city beyond. Wandering the backstreets and alleyways we find the local Vietnamese going about their daily business, totally unperturbed by our presence - a welcome change. Maybe it's because they're all watching television at work. A cyclo driver passes us by with an enormous fish for a passenger, it's tail sticking out to the side. We can wait for the next one.

The many kids that roam the streets don't let any opportunity go by to hail us with hello's and cheers. We're quite the novelty. Left to our own devices we scurry around town, in hot pursuit for food. Quite a few streets and many cafe's later but no food; the fresh produce market, people carting off huge fish, blocks of ice etc... Not an easy task finding food, people just don't seem to eat around here. Moreover the few places that do close up during lunchtime - handy. Until, just before we run out of steam, we turn a corner and find a fab local resto with foreign menu's but local prices. Huge platters of marinated steak, three wholesome squid with their cartilage spines intact, egg, rice, salad, soup and tea for just 15.000 dong (~1 USD). Unbelievably the couple who run it are super friendly too. A self assuming open friendliness still prevails in this town which doesn't yet come with a price tag - refreshing.

At night time the promenade turns into a fun fair of sorts; sugarcane juice stalls, endless rows of plastic chairs, kids running around, teenagers and adults socializing. Tiny specks of illumination dot the bay; squid boat floodlights. Next day we're up at the crack of dawn, in unison with the builders on our roof. Breakfast, once again we seek desperately for a feed; something cheap and simple like pho should do. No stone goes unturned but to no avail - locals simply don't do breakfast around here. Back to yesterdays place where we get more than we bargain for. Huge slabs of tofu with meat inside - the best of both worlds. Not much else to do but relax so we head off to the Saigon Quy Nhon hotel which takes a prominent spot at the waterfront. Seated in their rooftop bar we sip our coffee's (which cost us more than our breakfast) and soak up the stunning panoramic views across the bay.

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While we're not staying any of their $100 rooms we do decide to test drive their swimming pool for 20.000 dong per hour. And the pampering session that follows is a whole other kettle of fish. One hour of massage by two feisty little girls who proceed to pummel Alana black & blue. Bones and vertebrae are systematically cracked, followed by some walking up and down her back to put them back in place followed by a violent 90 degree twist to the head to supple it up - ouch! Another pursuit for food ends up in a non-descript alleyway. No gangsters here, just surprised locals with tiny makeshift stalls who usher us in for a feed - hoorah! Creme brulee custard and savoury pancakes rolled in shrimp and beansprout. As evening comes the plastic deck chairs come out along the promenade and throngs of locals downing Saigon beer animatedly socializing.

Here we are on the beach, low tide. In pursuit of a semi submerged yankee tank, allegedly driven into the sea near the end of war to prevent it from falling into enemy hands. We search hard and wide our imagination primed and almost make one up on the spot. Only later do we learn that they excavated the thing last year for display in a fancy museum - bugger we're too late. That's another thing about Vietnam - everything is in museums but some things are better left untouched. We do however come across a graveyard of beached fishing tubs, surely there for our entertainment!

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We wonder why they are not of a more streamlined design - until a local fisherman rolls his boat onto shore. Genius!

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Leaving the next day doesn't prove easy either with our bus drivers humorous but serious attempts to double charge us for our packs on top of our tickets. That'd be fine if it weren't for the fact that he'd already pre-allocated all his luggage space behind the seats, under the seats, next to the seats, with commission paying eggs, potatoes, chickens, karaoke machines and whatever else he can get money off. Wholeheartedly smiling at the driver, we push our packs onto our seats and fold ourselves on top. In Quy Nhon nothing comes easy.

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Posted by beefnlamb 06:03 Archived in Vietnam Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

Beach, buckets, and barber bravery in Nha Trang - Vietnam

Nha Trang, 21-25th February

sunny 32 °C
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Our bus meanders around the fringes of forested mountains, beeming past waterfalls that feed into river valleys, and descends through the mist, from the Central Highlands down to the coastal Nha Trang.

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After a generous free shuttle to our guesthouse "Mai Huy", we head straight to the beach (of course), which is only a stone's throw away. We are impressed with its beauty, orderliness and cleanliness - it's very much unlike what we've seen so far. Separated from the main road by a perfectly manicured promenade - complete with conical hat shaped tree cuts and contemporary (phallic) sculptures - it's like Vietnam does Alice and Wonderland. There's plenty of beach up for grabs, turquoise waters, and a pleasant breeze to spare us from the excessive heat.

We've now come to grips with the fact that longer than a month is needed to fully appreciate Vietnam. So we will extend our visas at some stage. With such formalities out of our hair, we can now fully embrace a much needed slower pace. We bliss out to the views of the surrounding mountains and offshore islands - never minding the huge Hollywood like "Vinpearl" sign that dominates the views of the closest island ahead of us.

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Time to seek out the drink specials - starting with a very strong vodka bucket at 25,000 dong (~$2.50 NZ) and then to "Zippo's" for some deliciously dangerous Harvey Wallbanger buckets at 30,000 dong. Hey, they're too cheap not to drink! After snacking on some street stall mystery meat baguettes we reach the conclusion that we like it here.... alot!

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Most of the food here is to tempt the western palate, but with western prices to match. We seek out a local joint tucked down an alleyway which makes a delicious Pho Bo breakfast - tender beef soup with fresh herbs and veges (it grows on you!). This quickly becomes our local and we're surprised that no other foreigners venture beyond the main streets - their loss. We do however take full advantage of the various resto's that hand out free drinks with dinner (we'll happily endorse that!). And we work really hard at keeping the baguette ladies busy too!

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Everyday we are drawn to the beach to read, rest, swim, and soak up some rays. Little ladies act as mobile minimarts, carrying baskets of snacks to sell. Guys act as mobile libraries and in case you need another pair of sunnies... Despite the 30 degrees heat they all cover themselves from head to toe with gloves, hats, the works. It must be hot work avoiding a tan!

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One day we scrape ourselves off the beach to venture beyond the centre of town. We hire a motorbike and head south to Cam Ranh Harbour. No sooner are we over the bridge, and we've left behind us the bustle of Nha Trang. We head around the headland of shining seas, and infinite views of undisturbed beach (our mission for the day). We end up overshooting our mark considerably, end up in a village that time itself forgot, and order fruit shakes while we get our bearings back. We are introduced to the non-blender shake variety where the lady pounds a cup of sugar, fruit and ice together by hand. Lumpy goodness.

We head back, this time paying slighty more attention to the access roads that spider out to the beaches which we missed the first time. Too busy marveling at the fabulous airport road with its manicured flower gardens we reckon. It's so wide it must be made for giants (or maybe it was the 2008 Miss Universe Competition which was held here). The first road we try leads us to the beach - vast and desolate, and it's all ours! Hoping to drive along the beachfront we ride along until we start to sink - maybe not a good idea after all. Time for a swim in the surf instead.

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On our way back we go in pursuit of American war junk leftovers - which apparently peer out of the sand along the beach roads. We soon find an unmarked road that looks promising. Not sure what draws us to this particular non-descript road out of all the others. But we strike gold - it comes complete with empty bunkers, a watchtower, anti-aircraft guns and a spiderweb of trenches radiating out to the bunkers. It's hard to imagine this as a place of terror when the beach before us is so tranquil... until a vietnamese guy chases us out. The military still controls access to much of this area and it's unfortunately off limits. We won't stick around to argue! Next stop - "Bai Dai" (Long Beach) - a section of beach covered in seafood selling shacks looking out over the water. Unable to afford these fine delicacies, we enjoy Saigon beers instead as the waves lap at our feet.

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On the way home we get lost (again) within a small port side village. We spy some 20 cent soy milk and are then invited by some locals to join them for lunch - coconut milk pancakes with squid inside, cooked over a fire, then dipped in a pesto-like chilli sauce mix. Only 60 cents each for a huge feed of pancakes, and it rates highly as one of our best meals yet! Who needs the elite tourist priced variety anyway!

Back on track, we brave the suddenly intensified traffic to get to the other side of town. Somehow we end up driving through the centre of the local market (the one crazy place we tried to avoid, but at least we're not the only ones). We soon spot the Cham Towers of Po Nagar on the riverbank. As the sun sets we bask in the glory of these perfectly reconstructed 7th-12th century towers, today frequented by praying buddhists. They're adorned with statues, lingas, and inscriptions dedicated to the gods.

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We head to the barbers for some pampering. After 4 months traveling we feel a haircut wouldn't go astray - especially at $3.50 NZ each! Alana bravely asks for a trim yet says goodbye to most of her hair. For some reason Alana lets Guido advise her to dye her hair a vibrant coppery reddish colour (i.e. ginga). It'll fade... Guido gets a "cool" 1950's side part do. That'll teach him! Time to celebrate/commiserate with buckets and free beer at Zippo's. Then on to "Red Sun Bar" for more buckets which come with free mojitos... ouch! We get all primed up for ladies night at the sailing club which apparently has free cocktails - yet it's too good to be true and we turn away from the 80,000 dong cover charge - we know where our loyalties lie! A great night out and we spent a grand total of $10 on drinks. Thanks Nha Trang!

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Posted by beefnlamb 04:38 Archived in Vietnam Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

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