A Travellerspoint blog

December 2008

Hoi-An Market

overcast 20 °C

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In the 14th.and 15th centuries Hoi-An was a major trading post. Chinese, Indian and Vietnamese merchants sold silk, china and other wares to fleets of Spanish and Dutch merchantmen. Little has changed in the past 500 years. A hundred and forty tailors' shops, with an equivalent number of shoe emporiums, line the streets, and the Central Market Hall is a giant Alladin's cave. Merchandise of every kind is stacked to the ceiling leaving only a dimly lit maze of narrow passageways for the shoppers. Hundreds of stalls selling meat, fruit and vegetables spill from the market hall onto the surrounding streets, while the fishmongers are kept at arm's length on the quayside.
To our western eyes the entire market appears as chaotic as Hanoi's traffic, but the eagle-eyed Vietnamese spot every opportunity to pitch their merchandise and services. As we browse the market and walk the streets we are constantly forced to do the George Bush duck. And it's not just shoes. Clothes, cloth, peanuts, ginger,
banana fritters, and a thousand other goodies, are touted by pretty little Asian sparrows wearing conical straw hats. Sometimes the "pusher" is an ancient shrivelled granny with teeth blackened by years of smoking and chewing betel. But whoever tries to part us from our money, young or old, male or female, none of them wear glasses. None - not one - not even the frail septugenarians who embroider, sew and knit in the permanent gloom of the indoor market. An opthalmologist would be out of business in a week here. Someone should do a study to find out where we went wrong.
Hoi-An is a fascinating town with delights around every corner. We've done museums, temples and the ancient Japanese covered bridge; we've done the cafes, bars and restaurants; we've even been to cooking school. Tomorrow we will visit the ancient monuments at My Son, and then we will fly to Ho Chi Minh with the feeling that we could happily have stayed here another week.
Today we made the fourth donation on your behalf. This time to an Australian based organization that arranges for severely handicapped and sick children to receive medical care. It is called "Children's Hope in Action" and their website is www.childrenshopeinaction.org

Posted by Hawkson 21:29 Archived in Vietnam Comments (2)

Rebecca's Backpack

sunny 28 °C

This is Rebecca. She is usually a very chipper Aussie. But today she is looking glum because she took the cheapie junk tour of Ha Long Bay - Crikey! What a BIG mistake Rebecca!

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But this is Rebecca's backpack with Sheila and friends. Unlike glum Rebecca, her backpack looks jolly cheerful because it took the luxury cruise with us - Way to go Rebecca's backpack.

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We can't be certain that Rebecca's backpack planned it this way, but while Rebecca thought her faithful piece of luggage was lounging securely in her hotel's baggage room until her return, the crafty sack slipped aboard our tour bus and came on the cruise with us to Ha Long Bay. And what a time it had - five star accommodation, superb haute cuisine, and even a visit with the captain on the bridge of our junk. It is a trip that Rebecca's backpack will never forget. Poor Rebecca. She'll only have memories of a vomit blocked toilet and fifty drunks singing "Waltzing bleepin' Matilda."

Apologies to Steve Butler of The West Australian newspaper for scooping this splash.

Posted by Hawkson 01:50 Archived in Vietnam Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

It's a dog's life on the roads here!

overcast 20 °C

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Hoi-An is geographically halfway between Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City, but it is a world away from both of these crazy, chaotic cities. We have only been here half a day and have already been ensnared by the ancient labyrinth of tiny shophouses and fine restaurants. But tourism is at least 50% down and the top end of the market has been devastated. Enormous luxury hotels that line the bay lie empty and, on our way here from Hue, we passed numerous partly built resorts that are destined to become white elephants.
In the next few days we will explore the temples and pagodas of this Vietnamese gem. In the meantime, some general observations on traffic.
A single crash helmet will protect up to 4 people on a motorbike as long as the wearer is the man. No more than 6 people and a dog are allowed on a moped.
"Keep Left" and "Keep Right" signs are merely political slogans.
Sidewalk parking places for motorbikes are provided everywhere, and the numerous ramps that we assumed were thoughtfully provided for handicapped access are actually for the bikers. Pedestrians and wheelchair riders are relegated to the gutter, (where they apparently belong).
All vehicles are equipped with the very latest in collision avoidance technology - it's called F.L.H. (A f.....g loud horn).
Size matters here. Amid the vehicular anarchy there is a heirachy, At the top of the pecking order are the buses and trucks that forge through intersections and overtake without regard for their lesser cousins, the cars. Motorbikes, scooters and mopeds come next - sometimes laden with passengers carrying double beds and three-seat settees - no joke. The motorized menaces weave and dodge without regard to life or limb and make crossing any road a game of chicken. Cyclists - no more than four per bike - swarm every available paved inch, leaving the lowly pedestrian, forced off the footpath by the parked vehicles and the sidewalk vendors, in constant danger of being clipped.
Only the dogs fair worse than people here. If they get knocked over they are likely to be served for supper. The stomach churners continue. Here, "The Dead Dog Cafe'" isn't a CBC radio show - it's a reality, as are the restaurants offering bear, ostrich and sea snakes. Cocker Spaniel stew anyone?

Posted by Hawkson 05:56 Archived in Vietnam Comments (2)

You Only Live Twice ....

sunny 28 °C

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You only live twice or so it seems. Once in real life and once in your dreams.
We drift slowly across a serene onyx ocean, past the mist-shrouded rocky islets of Ha Long Bay, and we sink into a dream aboard the luxury junk, The Red Dragon.
Please excuse the lyrical waxing, but there is no other way to describe this magical voyage.
As we navigate a surreal seascape of three-thousand limestone karst islands we are totally isolated from reality and imagine ourselves drifting through an alternate world inhabited solely by us, four other couples, and the eight-member crew.
The warm crystalline waters of the South China Sea feed us royally, then we swim and kayak on its silky surface before it lulls us to sleep.
Our fellow sailors, a united nations of strangers representing countries as diverse as Australia, Argentina and Dubai, together with the Vietnamese crew, meld harmoniously and make us wonder why the real world is so fractious.
This is a movie set, and fans of James Bond will recognise it from the '97 movie, "Tomorrow Never Dies."
However, like all movies - it has an ending, and we must wake from this dream and return to the nightmare traffic of Hanoi. But before we leave we will be chauffered around a floating fishing village in a boat woven from cane - similar to a Welsh coracle - and we will make a 3rd donation on your behalf to the tiny floating school.
In the words of Chief Inspector David Bliss in "Crazy Lady:"
"If this be a dream, wake me never, so that I may not suffer the pain of disilusionment."

Posted by Hawkson 03:09 Archived in Vietnam Comments (4)

The Vietnam War

semi-overcast 27 °C

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We went to visit Uncle Ho this morning, (Ho Chi Minh to you), and the old guy looked as though he was still smiling over his defeat of the mighty U.S. in 1973. But, as he rests in his marble mausoleum, he has no idea that a war is still going on all around him.
The battle of Hanoi is ceaseless and for the past 3 days and nights we have been on the front lines. Pineapple sellers, postcard pushers and copy-book peddlars constantly hurl their wares at us; shoeshine boys, rickshaw drivers and restaurant touts accost us at every turn. The moment we leave the tranquility of our hotel bunker the relentless attacks begin. And then there is the traffic: The light infantry - batallions of mopeds, pushbikes, cyclo's and motorbikes - swarm the streets and sidewalks, while regiments of taxi and rickshaw drivers assault us with horns, bells and whistles. The heavy artillary of buses, vans and trucks, forge fearlessly through the fray, like Sherman Tanks, giving way to no one
It is a frenzied cacaphonous battle on the roads and there is no escape - no one even slows at a pedestrian crossing and traffic lights appear optional. But, if you can brave the smoke-filled air, the cratered sidewalks and the shrapnel strewn streets, and avoid everything that the arsenal of traffic throws at you, you will be rewarded with cafe's and restaurants catering to every taste; the splendid architecture like the Opera House, Historical Museum and Uncle Ho's Mansion (formerly the French Governor's pied a' terre until the locals kicked him out); the giant trees that line the boulevards and encircle Lake Hoan Kiem in the city centre; Lake Hoan Kiem itself; and numerous parks, gardens and pagodas. (Though it's difficult to escape the noise of nearby street battles). We loved the performance at the famous Water Puppet Theatre. And were greatly impressed by the helpful and friendly hotel and travel office staff who seemed oblivious to the war going on around them.

We are now off to to sail a Junk around the tranquil islands of Halong Bay for some well-deserved R & R.
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Posted by Hawkson 01:51 Archived in Vietnam Comments (2)

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