Tuesday, March 25, 2008


Our tour started today at the Confucius Temple of Literature and then on to the Hilton Jail - of which only a small portion remains as a tourist site. Another cyclo ride took us through the old section of Hanoi before depositing us at our hotel, the Sofitel Metropole - a lovely old throw back to colonial days. The rest of the day was on our own to walk about and risk our lives crossing the streets as we wished! Dinner was at the Green Mandarin - Vietnamese/French fusion and superb.

At 6:30 in the morning we saw people playing badminton on the sidewalk, others walking, or doing tai chi. We started the day with a viewing of Ho Chi Minh who I understand is sent back to Russia annually to be re-balmed. We toured the museum and his house, which was a lovely modern "cottage" on a small lake. On to the Ethnic museum with an outdoor display of different types of traditional houses. The evening finished with a water puppet show.

Our last day was spent visiting Ha Long Bay. It took several hours with stops along the way for silk and laquer ware. The scenery was stunning, but a few hours on the boat barely does it justice.
Once we got past the scrum of all the boats leaving, it became very peaceful with herons and eagles flying overhead. Lunch on board was a seafood feast.
And dinner was also a feast - at Bobby Chins (he's a local TV cook/celebrity).

Wednesday, March 12, 2008


Once again the weather wasn't on our side - overcast and rainy. So we passed on the mountain drive through the Hai Van Pass and took the tunnel instead. It seems as though every square inch of land is cultivated with rice paddies or vegetable fields. The vistas were beautiful. Hue was a seat for many of the Emperors of the Nguyen dynasty and they left their mark with a number of Royal mausoleums - these were used during their lifetimes as summer palaces.

We had lunch at the Mandarin restaurant (opposite the Imperial Hotel). The owner is a photographer and sells his lovely photographs - you choose the size and they are printed up while you eat.

Dinner was an interesting feast. We all dressed up as mandarins or concubines, with one couple as emperor and emperess. And as hokey as it may sound, it was a delicious and different dinner with local musicians to entertain.

The next day we toured the Citadel with it's now bombed out Forbidden City. The frangipani trees were not yet in bloom but they are all around and this is how the Perfume river nearby got it's name. We had a boat tour up the river to the Ming Mang tomb.

Part of our journey to the hotel consisted of a cyclo - another way to enjoy the chaos of the streets.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Hoi An

A very early and short flight took us to Danang where our bus met us for the trip to Hoi An. On the way we visited a museum dedicated to the Cham people. The museum was built by the French, and showcased many of the temple statues that were created, some from the 4th Century. Unfortunately quite a number were missing their heads - this according to our guide was because it was easier for them to be taken back to Harvard where they now reside. Shame.

On to the marble mountains - a series of steep hills rising up from the plains by the sea. We climbed to the top of one, where there is a large Buddhist shrine, and an enormous cave. The view over the ocean is that of China Beach. We had a quick snack of freshy spring rolls at a local café near the beach. From the looks of the fencing that is going up, there are large resorts that are going to be built in that area.

Hoi An is a small town with a section of preserved Chinese houses and a Japanese covered bridge. One of the houses is open for viewing, but many others have become stores or museums. The ceramic museum gave us an opportunity to go in and look at the building as well as the exhibit. The wood is mostly teak and has weathered to an almost black colour. This area of town floods on an annual basis, as much as 2 metres and the houses have a centre open area on the second floor with a hoist to lift everything off the ground floor.

We went through the market in town, which was packed with vendors, shoppers and the ubiquitous motor scooters. Everything seemed to be on sale, from chopping knives to live fish and shrimp in aerated pails, as well as butchers chopping meat, live chickens, and all sorts of fresh vegetables and fresh rice noodles.
On our free morning we toured the town and after lunch Rob took a bike ride along the quieter roads near the hotel. The roads into and in town are typical of much of the country - a zoo of buses, scooters, bikes and buses many of which are not on their side of the road, and often not even going in the right direction.