Da Lats the Hue uh-huh uh-huh - I like it!

Trip Start Jul 27, 2003
Trip End Jul 26, 2004

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Wednesday, May 5, 2004

Monday 26th April
We had an uneventful bus trip getting us into Hue infact an hour early at 6.30am. We avoided the hotel touts and made our way to Mimosa Guest House listed in our guide book and got a room for $4 a night. We had a couple of hours sleep before heading upto our guest house's pretty terrace on the second floor for breakfast. After brekkie we headed out to explore the old imperial city of Hue. There is an incredible concentration of sights and ruins after being attacked by the French in 1838 and then in 1968 during the Vietnam War.

The centre of Hue houses the old imperial city housed between 2 giant walls and 2 moats and is now a UNESCO World Heritage sight. We cycled round the Imperial City which contains some fantastic temples and ruins of former royal residencies. The gates into the Imperial City alone are huge grand structures. We cycled round Hue the rest of the day criss crossing over the huge Perfume River which cuts through the middle of the city. It was 37 degrees again today so after a while we headed back to the guest house. I spent an hour on the internet and then we cycled back out to watch the sunset over the Perfume River.

Tuesday 27th April
We got up and had breakfast on the terrace before making our way across the main street to the Perfume River where we had booked a daytrip. We boarded our boat and set off down the river making our first stop at Thien Mu Pagoda which was set up high on a hill overlooking the Perfume River. Behind the Pagoda was an active monastery where monks could be heard chanting. We soon reboarded the boat and continued down stream to our first Tomb. The tomb was actuallty many tombs for Emporer Nguyen Dynasty and his many wives. There was a big Lotus pond with bridges and walkways that took you round the gardens to the various tombs. We wanderwed round for an hour trying to learn about the tombs and the people in them but unfortunately the $4 admission fee didn't include any sort of guide or info leaflet which was a shame.

We reboarded our boat and had lunch onboard before setting off to see more tombs. It was red hot and we were quite glad when we eventually got back to Hue. We spent a few hours chilling at the guest house before heading out to get some beef noodles and a couple of beers.

Wednesday 28th April
We got up and headed off at 8am on our bus to Hoi An not to be confused with Hanoi! We had a fantastic drive through some amazing countryside, thick mountain forests on our right and long sandy beaches and crystal blue waters on our left. We passed China Beach in Danang where the US first landed in Vietnam. We arrived in Hoi An at lunch time and were dropped off at a brand new luxury hotel with a huge pool. We were trying to get our bearings on a map when one of the many hotel staff asked if we would like to see a room. We explained we were on a budget but she said they had only just opened one month before and their advertising had only just started so they were relatively quiet and if we could complete a feedback form she would do us a special price. The rack rate was $60 and as I looked longingley at the pool and comfy cushioned loungers I agreed to see a room. I went to look at a room which was beautiful and had everything including a bathtub (a first since the US!) It had loads of comlimentary goodies and a minibar. We got to the negotiation and we eventually agreed on $7 a night.

We checked in immediately and decided on a couple of days rest and relaxation. No trips, no tours, no sightseeing! We got to our room and surfed the Tv channels before heading out and getting a shaded lounger by the pool. We spent the rest of the day reading, swimming and generally just lying around the pool. Bliss. For dinner we headed upstairs to the roof garden restaurant and had dinner with a couple of Larues beer the local Hoi AN variety!

Thursday 29th April
We got up and took a walk into Hoi An. Hoi An is home to 200 tailor shops and as a result the touts are more extreme here. They walk with you down the street for ages telling you about their shop. We took a walk to the river and round the market but as it was once again high in the 30s we could hear the pool calling and by lunchtime we had resumed our position next to the pool for more shade and swimming.

We headed into Hoi An for a traditional Hoi An dinner at a lovely place called Cafe Ly. We started with Cao Lau which is a thick rich noodle soup with salad in it and crispy croutons. It was delicious. This was followed by white roses which are steamed shrimp wrapped in ricepaper and made to look like roses and the third dish was Wontons. They are open crispy wontons stuffed with filling and a sort of gravy on top. They were all delicious and washed down with a few banana shakes. We headed back to the hotel stuffed and watched a few movies.

Friday 30th April
We were leaving tonight for Nha Trang on the night bus so we made the most of our room and had a lie in watching a movie and finally checking out at 11.55 (5 minutes before the deadline!) We decided to go back to cafe Ly for lunch and then had a wander round. Hoi An is a nice town with narrow streets and some amazing old houses. We used the internet for an hour and then made our way to the pool where we made the most of our time left and lay by the pool taking the occasional dip. We bought some sandwiches and supplies from the street stall conveniently located directly opposite the hotel and waited for our bus to pick us up. At 7pm it eventually arrived and we set off on our 12 hour journey to Nha Trang.

Saturday 1st May
At 6.30 we arrived at Nha Trang, known as the Vietnamese Riviera and is more a holiday destination for the Vietnamese as it is tourists. This is not a good thing to find out on the morning after Reunification Day! Basically 30th April 1975 was the day the North Vietnamese tanks stormed Saigon and renamed it Ho Chi Minh City. This makes 30th April Vietnams biggest holiday and as it fell on a Friday one hell of a weekend! We walked the streets stopping at every guest house and hotel. All were either fully booked or had hiked up their prices by 3 times. One shabby guest house that not surprisingly had rooms available wanted $20 a night even though the rack rate was $4!

3 hours and 20 hotels later we eventually found a guest house that hadn't put his prices up and just wanted $6 a night. We were sweating buckets by the time we checked in and handed over our passports. I jumped into the shower straight away. As with all these places in the whole of SE Asia all the rooms have tiled floors and as I came out of the bathroom soaking wet I fell flat out on the floor and scraped all the skin off my arm. The good thing is if it scars I can tell people "I got it in Nam!"

After a crappy morning we head out and found we were only 2 blocks from the beach so went to check it out. We were very impressed. A wide public beach ran the whole length of town in both directions. The water was warm and there were bunches of big bamboo shelters to protect from the sun. We walked along the waters edge watching the Vietnamese enjoying their holiday with baskets of fresh seafood and lots of beer. We walked around Nha Trang which is a fairly big town. We stopped at a little cafe for some frozen yoghurt which is famous in Vietnam for good reason. We had a lazy rest of day getting books swapped at the local book exchange and checking emails. We found a Mexican restaurant and had delicious Tortillas and Beef Fajitas with a couple of Bia's! We then headed for an early night to get over our night bus journey.

Sunday 2nd April
Today we got up early to avoid the heat of the day and hired two bicycles to explore Nha Trang more. We cycled the whole length of the public beach which is about 5km long and then to Hon Chong Beach which is about 4km North. The water here is so bluie and Hon Chong is pretty empty compared to the busy public beach where jet skiers and paragliders spend their days. We found an amzing restaurant called Ninh Hoa and ordered Nha Trangs local speciality Nem Nuong. Its a parcel food. You get lots of plates of rice paper, grilled pork, vegetables, and fresh herbs which you put together and roll up like a spring roll and dip into a fish sauce. They were delicious.

After lunch we headed for a walk around Dam market and then to the beach for a laze about. 4pm is a perfect time in Vietnam particularly Nha Trang. The sun starts to sink and the temperature drops and here a lovely sea breeze comes in. This is when the beach gets busy and the locals make the most of the day. We took a last cycle along the beach and then returned the bikes. We felt like we had seen Nha Trang after today so we booked our bus onwards to the mountain region of Da Lat tomorrow.

Monday 3rd May
We got up and checked out and caught our bus to Da Lat. We were really looking forward to Dalat purely because it is in the mountains and its alpine climate reduces Vietnams temperature by 5 - 10 degress. The journey was a little slow as the bus attempted the steep mountain roads. We arrived just after lunch and Da Lat was a pleasant 24 degrees. We headed to the town centre after checking into a guest house. We had alate lunch at a little cafe with home made yoghurt for dessert. Da Lat is a small town but doesn't feel like Vietnam, its more of a Swiss ski town after the snow.

The locals are riding on their bikes with ski jackets and wooly hats. Its nowhere near cold enough for that but the Vietnamese obviously feel the difference. Da Lat was built by the French in 1910 and is known as Le Petit Paris and even has its own Da Lat Eiffel which is a communications tower built to look like the Eiffel tower. We walked around town after lunch and headed to the huge lake that sits next to the town. It was a nice afternoon avoiding the dozens of Vespas that buzz around the streets/ Early evening we spent some time on the Internet before getting a pizza in a lovely restaurant with a lovely balcony. It was great feeling chilly now the night had drawn in and I got to wear my fleece for the first time since New Zealand.

Tuesday 4th May
We hired a motorbike this morning and went out to explore greater Da Lat. Our first stop was a really bizarre hotel called The Crazy House. You have to pay to get in and then you can tour their 10 rooms which are positioned within two concrete trees. The building was sculpted by the former presidents daughter and each room has its own theme. Its very bizarre and looks pretty shabby these days. We got to see all the rooms which meant none were booked out so it musnt make much as a hotel and seeing the netrance fee was less than 20p they don't make their money that way either.

We left not long after arriving and made our way 6km out of town to The Valley of Love which is a sort of parkland in a valley with allsorts of flower displays and Pagodas and seats with views of the nearby mountain ranges. It even had a mini Great Wall of China ?!? We walked around for a few hours and were near the exit this Vietnamese woman beckoned me over and signalled that she wanted to take my picture. She then positioned me into a huddle with her mother, her daughter and herself while her husband took a picture. She then reorganised the huddle to get a variety of photos making sure her whole family had been in at least two photos with me. Simon decided to take one of us for a laugh and the woman proceeded to move us into again different groups so Simon could get lots of different aspects. Simon had to pretend to take the shots so as not to use a whole film nor offend!

We left and headed back to town for lunch and tooka drive round the lake which is a good 5km circuit. We sat on the side of the lake for a few hours watching the pedalo boats and the fisherman and then took a drive into the mountains which were beautiful. We went passed the Lake of Sighs and some waterfalls and huge amounts of dense forest before looping back to Da Lat to get the bike back by 6pm. We headed to a bakery for dinner and the sat in the street in the cold air watching the World go by.
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