Archive for June, 2012

Pretty but NOTHING to do

A slow-paced town bracing for the inevitable onslaught of tourism…

It hasn’t arrived yet, trust me! I was only there for an afternoon and overnight sleep so did not have the opportunity to delve into the National Wildlife zone off to the east of the town which was ashame as the centre itself offers little of interest.


The Da Lat–Thap Cham Railway was an 84 km (52 mile) railway track connecting Dalat to Thap Cham on the main North/South Line from Hanoi to Saigon, it was built by the French in stages from 1903 to 1932.




It fell into disuse during the Vietnam war and was gradually dismantled after the North Vietnamese victory in 1975, breaking it up it to fix the main north/south line which had been heavily damaged by American bombing.

In the 1990s, a 7 km (4.3 mile) section of the line between Da Lat and Trại Mát village was restored and returned to active use as a tourist attraction. Plans in 2002 were drawn up to restore the entire line for both cargo and tourists is a top priority for local government and businesses.

The half hour trip costs £4 return but the trip itself is rather uninspiring and definitely a one off journey, not in the same league as the toy trains of Darjeeling and Shilma in India.

I spent the afternoon here, enjoying the array of mud baths, hi jet water massage wall, steaming hot mineral baths and therapeutic waterfall/swimming pool. In England I would expect to pay over £60-100 for this, here is was roughly £3.50… a must do if you are in the area







Great day

I have previously been to Angkor Wat in Cambodia and had been told that Mỹ Sơn in Vietnam was a must see ancient site whilst travelling south en route to Da Lat.

It is roughly 42 miles from Hoi An to Mỹ Sơn so I decided to hire a scooter for  5 USD for the day and head of. The directions I had been given were relatively vague, but throwing caution to the wind a raced off down country lanes, cutting through rice fields, small villages and several rivers/fords on my 150cc Yamaha!

Luckily Mỹ Sơn is such a well known site, which is visited by thousands, the locals understood my dodgy pronunciation and waved me on my way, an hour later I arrived.



Mỹ Sơn was constructed between the 4th 14th century AD by the Kings of Champa, the temples are dedicated to the worship of the Hindu god Shiva (The Destroyer/Transformer.) Mỹ Sơn was the site for highly religious ceremonies for kings of the ruling dynasties of Champa, as well as a burial place for Cham royalty and national heroes. After the Viet took control central Vietnam early in the 15th century, the decline and eventual fall of Champa followed.

The Mỹ Sơn complex fell into disuse and was largely forgotten until rediscovered by a Frenchman M.C. Paris in 1898, when restoration started in earnest from 1937-1943.


Thanks to the yanks in the Vietnam war much of the site was destroyed by carpet bombing, but several examples of buildings spanning the extensive construction period over the centuries remaim. These include,

A kalan: a brick sanctuary, typically in the form of a tower, used to house a deity.

A mandapa: an entry hallway contiguous with a sanctuary.

A kosagrha or “fire-house”: a construction, typically with a saddle-shaped roof, used to house the valuables belonging to the deity or to cook for the deity.

A gopura: a gate-tower leading into a walled temple complex

Today the site has undergone a second phase of reconstruction under World Heritage, while the grounds around are still being made safe from unexploded munitions from the war.

Amazing walk on the beach




Time of dinner and bed

Today I decided to wander around Hue’s main draw – the historic citadel. Hue was the original capital of Vietnam Nguyen Imperial Family Nguyễn Phúc Ánh in 1802 took control of Vietnam and declared himself Emperor – China subsequently recognized his rule in 1804. After he consulted his engineers or ‘geomancers’ they decided on the location to build the capital and work began that year.


The Citadel is made up of a wall within a wall. The outer wall surrounding the city and the inner wall the Emperor’s palace (Forbidden Temple), meeting hall, offices of business, etc. Despite severe bombing by the Americans that leveled many of the original buildings, enough remain to warrant it’s World Heritage status, the Thái Hòa and Cần Thanh temples, Thế Miếu, and Hiển Lâm Các.


After my last overnight bus from Hong Kong I was relatively optimistic for my next.

Unfortunately I had not properly observed the difference between Chinese motorway conditions to the border, which were quiet smooth and quiet compared with their Vietnamese counterparts, which were bumpy, traffic filled and a continual blare from the orchestra of scooter/bus/lorry horns reverberating through my pillow… The bus should really be called the ‘lay down’ bus rather than the ‘sleeper’ bus asI think that would be fairer desciption!

At one stage at ‘who knows am’ in the morning the night train from Hanoi was alongside for several minutes which was rather fun as I could see into all the carriages. It must have been travelling a quite a pace, seeming to clip the fronts of shops and houses that appear to sit too close to the track for the train to squeeze through.

I managed to catch a few winks here and there but feeling rather fatigued this morning 😦 Needless to say I was not ready for the in service ‘hot spicy noodle soup’ at 5.30am but it gave me something to do as the entire bus of locals just sat and stared and me… I pressume that kind of thing isn’t rude over here!!

On arrival to Hue I had an orange juice/cordial drink and headed for the dreaded motorbike taxi rank. As I approached the vultures swung into overtime touting with their unyielding yells of MOTO… MOTO… MOTO… YOU WANT MOTO MR? The first two ‘wannabes’ started at 400,00 which quickly dropped to 300,00. I simply laughed and pulled funny faces, whilst violently gesturing at his fuel tank  asking him who many times he would like me to fill it. An older bloke spoke some vietnamese to them and they all laughed, I breathed a sigh of relief, he swung round on his scooter and paid 30,000 for the 5 minute trip <1 squid in real money> DEAL 🙂

Checked in and wandered off to Train station to purchase my next ticket

Today after waking up  made my way to the bathroom to shower and clean my teeth. A chap sat outside who was sharing our dorm said, “I think someone is in there.” (The door indeed was closed which is a sign that the bathroom is in use, as the lock doesn’t work, so I waited.) A couple of minutes later a girl appeared, kissed the chap and they started discussing their day….Why am I bothering to report this you wonder.

Well here is my problem. The chap knew his girlfriend was in the bathroom so why did he say he THOUGHT someone was in the bathroom? Wouldn’t it have been easier and more acurate to say, “my girlfriend IS in the bathrooom?”

I was sat there putting my trainers on later and was close to asking out of curiousity but decided not to…


Leaving Hanoi in the morning on the 9.20 train was quite straight forward, Long Bien Station being just the otherside of a very visible 100 year old iron bridge stretching over the Red River. Keeping the bridge in sight and a bit of clever navigation through some narrow back streets, with the usual array colourful clothes drapped everywhere and crappy tourist shops, bought me to the main ticket hall. When I say *main* area try not to picture Paddington or Victoria stations in London, more a humid garage with rows of sticky plastic chairs and sweaty Vietnamese families…

The train was quite comfortable, clean and service was great, although the decor was tired and faded circa 1950 ish. I was very impressed with the toilet… a sit down loo and everything! I have experience some toilet facilities whilst travelling that I can only describe as horrific.

I pulled monkey faces and made duck noises to two children throughout most the trip much to the amusement of the mother and father, who it turns out spoke excellent English. They explained it was the Vietnamese holiday season and that everywhere was going to be very busy… she wasn’t wrong!!

After a rather wasted 2 hour wait trying to find a slower cheaper option to the 6 pound hydrofoil fast ferry, I bought my ticket and boarded. There had been a 2 pound ‘freight’ ferry that left at midday it turns out but am glad I went for the rapid crossing, as it seems the city folk and ferries do not mix well. After an amusing hour of watching sick bags being filled and skin turning green we swung round, slowed down and moored at Cat Ba Town terminal.

The hostel was a 200 metre stroll up the main street away from the harbour, lots of restaurants filled with large groups of hungry/loud Vietnamese 😉

Jim the Australian back packer who has now settled here semi permanently shows me to my room and offers me a bottle of ice cold local 29% vodka called ‘men’, which I promptly decide to call ‘menu’ as I struggle to pronouce ‘men’ as it should be said. It is actually quite a decent tipple that goes down surprisingly well… night night