A Travellerspoint blog

Nha Trang

The beach town

sunny

Our next stop was the beachy coast in the middle of Vietnam. There are several locations along this long and narrow part of Vietnam. We chose to stop at Nha Trang—probably the best known beach location in Vietnam. Its well developed for tourists and has charming beaches with plenty of white sand. Plenty of hotel locations. Lots of local and Western restaurants all with intensely reasonable pricing. There's even some diving in the area. We didn't partake in the Viet-SCUBA but we did go snorkeling.

A couple of weeks prior we were enjoying the world-class islands of Thailand. Do Vietnam beaches compare? Well... probably not. We enjoyed our short stay in Nha Trang, but based on what we saw, we'd not call it a world-class beach destination. The diving outfits are probably a cut below what we saw in Thailand. Not that they seemed unsafe or unprofessional, but (based on appearance) they didn't compare. In particular, the big wooden boats used by the diving outfits seemed a little dated, if not in fact ill-suited for diving. Nor did the locations didn't have the amazing views of cliffs, beaches, rock formations that seemed to crop-up everywhere in Thailand. Its just not as dazzling and our camera reminds us of that. Our snorkeling was quite alright, but nothing particularly memorable.

So, should you stop at the beaches in middle of Vietnam? Of course. You'd be crazy not to. Its still a beach. Its still got plenty of clean sand (something often missing from Thailand). And there are big, if not huge, waves to make your swimming memorable. But be careful—swimming fatalities aren't uncommon there. If we understood someone correctly, there was a child who drowned the day we went swimming. Had we had more time, Ren would have liked to visit more of the beaches near Nha Trang. Towards the South, MuiNe was a possibility, but apparently just about anywhere North of Nha Trang is a reasonable spot to stop and beach for a day.

We did quite enjoy a restaurant that seems to be well know for its grilling-- the xxxxxxx ? [forgot the name :-( ]. Make the trip out there if you're in Nha Trang. We also liked the little German restaurant we visited—Die Treffenpunkt.

Posted by dacostas 25.04.2008 22:29 Archived in Vietnam Comments (0)

Vietnam: Dalat

This is getting silly

Unless you've traveled in Vietnam, you've probably never heard of Dalat. Dalat is a city in the hills of South Vietnam. Thanks to the French, Dalat earned its reputation as a vacation destination due to its colder, mountain climates. Seems like a fair assessment to us; Dalat was the first place where we actually wore long sleeves in SE Asia. Putting on long sleeves was very sad for Ren. Fortunately, we still wore shorts. No long pants---not during a summer vacation. We're not crazy.

How to get to Dalat? Of course, our favorite Sinh Cafe bus once again. Sinh Cafe (in the South of Vietnam) has disproved Ren's theory about buses—specifically, that buses suck for travel. We took an early morning, 7 hr bus ride from Ho Chi Minh to Dalat. It was clean. Actually pleasant. We had no problems. Before our vacation began, we would have guessed that we'd never, ever consider such a long bus ride. But now with bus rides in Cambodia and Thailand behind us, we know its no problem. Not even for Patty's back.

So you're in Dalat. What do you do? Little. This is a place to vacation from your vacation. We ate. We drank (wine actually – Dalat is where Vietnamese wine is made. Of course, the wine was plain bad).
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We tandem biked. And we toured just a bit. We visited the post office. And, the post office cafe. Maybe the biggest accomplishment in Dalat was Ren purchasing a black ink pen for his diary. Blue was getting tiring.

Hightlights? Well, there was at least one. One that might rival every other highlight in the trip. One that, unless we saw it and did it ourselves, we might not actually believe it possible.

[pictures]

We were told “ostrich rides” and we didn't actually understand what was meant. Actually sitting on an ostrich and riding? Was that even physically possible? Well, it took two men (maybe boys-- they probably weighed-in at a buck thirty) to hold down the unruly ostrich and push it towards the loading stairs. “Jump on” they said to Ren, as the ostrich struggled to get free. Ren obeyed, jumped and held on for dear life. The ostrich somehow escaped from the guys and off it went -- Ren bucking on its back as it ran down a path in the park. Eventually, the boys caught the unyieldy beast (and the ostrich as well) and shortly after the ride was over. For sure, this is inhumane for the ostrich. And Ren is likely wanted for contributing to ostrich delinquency. But you know... it was a hoot. Probably the silliest thing during the entire trip.

Another memory, especially for Patty, is the high tea at the Sofitel hotel (this is not where we stayed). The hotel is quite grand in a traditional way—even among other the Sofitels it seams to stand out. There we enjoyed a Vietnamese take on the British high tea. Not quite scones and clotted cream but instead pancakes and waffles!! Tea—of course—or super sweet vietnamese coffee.

Our hotel in Dalat kicked some serious ass. This might rival Alum Shanti for our favorite hotel—though for entirely different reasons. The Ngoc Lan (a 4 star hotel) was a truly modern, comfortable hotel with great amenities, lots of style... and well, it's not what most folks would want for their vacation in Vietnam but it was exactly what we wanted. Btw., if you're visiting Dalat, it's worth shopping around for hotel rooms. Some hotels we saw in a narrow price band were putrid while Ngoc Lan and another hotel just a bit more expensive, the Blue Moon, were perfect examples of affordable luxury.

Posted by dacostas 24.04.2008 20:19 Archived in Vietnam Comments (0)

US and Vietnam

A few thoughts about US, French and Vietnamese history

American tourists are welcome in Vietnam. This did not surprise us. Now about 30 years after the war, there's no noticeable resentment towards Americans travelling in Vietnam. Of course, there are government museums that show the expected, one-sided views of history and do a fine job highlighting war attrocities by the US. But what communist society would be complete without such showcases? Their heros proudly and bravely doing what is just and heroic. With smiles on their faces.

We were struck, however, by how little emphasis appears to be place on France's role in Vietnam's historical plight. Museums may contain a few pictures of attrocities by the French (e.g., enslaving of Vietnamese and beatings of slaves) but the vast majority of the attention goes to the war the Vietnamese call the “American War".

A quick history-minute (as retold by Ren and Patty): France spent over 100 years trying to colonize Vietnam. Their goal was to profit from Vietnam's resources and cheap labor. France's efforts to make themselves rich while exploiting Vietnam created fertile breeding grounds for populist movements and ultimately the Vietnamese communist party. Eventually, the French colonial dreams failed. Enter the US (who had already been funding French efforts). The US' misguided efforts were to crush communism (anywhere) at (practically) any cost. And in guerilla warfare, that involved many deaths of Vietnamese villagers. Some of which were certainly soldiers. Some were Vietgong supporters. And others were just innocent, poor people stuck in the middle.

We expected to read a bit more about Vietnam's history with France, but this just wasn't the emphasis of the Vietnamese government and its museums.

Posted by dacostas 22.04.2008 17:39 Archived in Vietnam Comments (0)

Vietnam: Ho Chi Minh city

Strap on your helmets and get ready to scoot

Welcome to Vietnam! Vietname boasts a long, narrow geography stretching North to South and emcompassing an amazing range of mountains, valleys, deltas and endless beaches. We didn't realize the name "Vietnam" came from the Chinese. It means the land beyond the South (the beyond the southern border of China). In the South are Ho Chi Minh (once Saigon) and the fertile Mekong delta. Mid country are beaches and the ancient capitals. North is Hanoi and the mountain areas that border with Laos and China and home for many indigenous, non-ethnically Vietnamese people.

We arrive in Ho Chi Minh to learn that we forgot to pack something very important: our scooter helmets. Here on the streets you're either riding your scooter, siting on it or you're just in the way :-) More so than any other country in SE Asia, Vietnam is scooter central. And the scooter capital in Vietnam is Ho Chi Minh. Look up any street and you'll see an endless sea of scooters spewing dirty, black, two-stroke engine fumes. Most everyone wears masks while scootering. Sidewalks for pedestrians? Think again. Any pavement is fair game for scooters. This was our first impression of Ho Chi Minh. Sadly, we're not exaggerating.

Ho Chi Minh highlights:
+ Near here are the famous Cu Chi tunnels dug by the Vietcong for the "American War". These tunnels highlight how tough guerilla warfare truly is. Vietcong would attack US soldiers and dissappear into tunnels. Booby traps are spread through-out. Most traps involve a US soldier falling into sharp wooden sticks. His weight would further impail the dirty sticks into this legs, torsoes, everywhere. Its horrible to imagine. Of course, any tour of such areas isn't complete without explanation of how heroic, honorable and brave the Vietcong “American killers” were. Its a one-sided view of war around here. No doubt.

+ The Mekong delta was quite interesting to visit. We took a 2 day trip in the region where the mightly Mekong river finally lets out into the ocean through the vast mangroves and delta region. Its a super fertile rice growing area (Vietnam is the #2 rice producer in the world). Saw lots of silly stuff (e.g., coconut candy making, puff rice cooking). We recommend the Sinh Cafe tours to the delta. Top notch for the price.

+ And we saw a lot of poverty. Based on what we witnessed, Vietnam is solidly in the third world. There may be a few, special economic areas where production and wealth are manufactured, but thus far that's escaping us.

Posted by dacostas 22.04.2008 17:30 Archived in Vietnam Comments (1)

Songkran

Thai new year celebration

April 13:
SONGKRAN is here! If you don't know what this is, you're lucky. At least that's what Patty and Ren think. Songkran is the new year terror... er... festival in Thailand, Laos and Cambodia. Why a terror? The traditional celebration involves playfully spraying water on each other as a way to cheer the new year and cool off. And some white powder gets splashed around as well. Not sure what the while stuff signifies.

Get the idea?

Now, imagine you're on a scooter travelling 30-40 miles an hour and someone throws a huge bucket of ice cold water at your face. THROW!! As fast and as hard as they can. And its a whole bucket. Scooters diving and darting everywhere to avoid being hit. You're just trying to stay on your path to avoid a huge accident. And when we weren't moving, we were stuck in a traffic jam caused by the water revellers throwing water, slapping white powder on each other, and blocking traffic. Its reminiscent of a huge, drug induced rave except you are forced to take the drugs and join in. In fact, because you're a foreigner, you're targetted. You can't get away. Songkran is everywhere. And it lasts 3 horrific days. Everything you might have wanted to do is out the window because mobs of wild, dirty people stop you on the road, sidewalk, everywhere to have their fun on you.

Could it be fun? Sure if you're a sadist and you're the one throwing the water at unsuspecting drivers. Or if you're 20-something and you just want to party for 3 days in dirty, water-filled streets. But it sucks for everyone else. Nor suprisingly, Songkran is the #1 period for road fatalities in Thailand. TV seems to urge folks to use restraint and only politely splash water on others who are willing. That's not how it works. Let's be clear: Patty and Ren didn't care of it. Think carefully about your trips to this part of the world during Songkran. If you're not keen to party Songkran style for 3 days (day and night), you'll be held hostage.

April 14-15:
By the way, we returned to Bangkok during Songkran and had to cancel our sightseeing.

Posted by dacostas 14.04.2008 17:27 Archived in Thailand Comments (0)

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