Hue, Hoi An, Nha Trang
30.05.2012 - 05.06.2012 35 °C
First stop after Hanoi was the ancient city of Hue, former capital of Vietnam from 1802 until 1945, and also the scene of some of the heaviest fighting during the Vietnam war (and the setting for the film Full Metal Jacket). Arrived early after our first experience of a night bus which was uncomfortable and fairly sleepless. Ate breakfast at Mandarin Cafe next door to our hotel, the cafe is run by a famous local photographer and we both got free prints of some of his work. From there we set off on a walking tour of the city which took in the main sites across the Perfume river and around the huge Citadel, the old walled city built by the ruling Nguen dynasty from 1804 with the help of the French. Our first stop was the Hue Imperial museum for some cultural perspective, then on to the Forbidden City - the royal temples within the citadel. Although there was massive damage caused by the US war and natural disasters, you still get a sense of the former grandeur of the place. Interesting fact - much of the palace was only accessible to the emperor, his female concubines and male eunuchs, presumably because they posed no threat to his masculinity!
Just the one day in Hue was plenty of time so the next morning we got a 4 hour bus to Hoi An further down the coast. Hoi An is definitely my favourite place in Vietnam so far, an old UNESCO protected town of Vietnamese, Japanese, Chinese, French and other European influences. There are quaint houses and gift shops everywhere, all draped with Chinese lanterns and climbing plants in full bloom, the restaurants and food are superb, we found a great backpacker place with draught beer for just 3000 dong (less than 10p), and to top it all there's a beautiful 5km stretch of beach just 20 minutes bike ride away, what more could you ask for?
We spent three and a half days in Hoi An. Our hotel was the An Phu which for just £7 for a twin room also had a swimming pool, we spent one day at the beach, took a trip out to the Cham ruins at My Son (not that exciting) and also managed to meet up for dinner and drinks with Anna, Jerri, Sophie and Nicola, my Kiwi traveling friends.
The highlight of Hoi An was the cooking class at Cafe 96, a great little restaurant on the river front. At first the decor appeared to be all shabby chic and distressed which looked really cool, but then realised it was actually just the flood damage which had made it look like that. About 6 foot up on one wall is the waterline from their 2009 flood, and at about 7 foot up is the waterline from the 2011 flood. The class was a bit different from the one I'd done in Thailand, less a cooking lesson and more a cook along with the chef. We started with Vietnamese spring rolls (so I can now do 2 varieties of spring rolls), followed by green papaya shrimp salad and spicy fried eggplant. And the piece de resistance, lemongrass fish cooked in banana leaf on a wood fire. Ate everything with our cooking partners, an older Australian couple who seemed to have come back to Hoi An mainly for this restaurant.
Left Hoi An on Sunday evening for another night bus, this time to the sea side town of Nha Trang. A strange place really, not dissimilar to a typical Spanish seaside town just with more Vietnamese people and food, and also more Russians - I suppose Russians have to go on holiday somewhere but just wasn't expect it to be here. Anyway there isn't a huge amount to do in Nha Trang other than sun bathing on the beach and scuba diving, so we chilled on the beach (which allowed plenty of time to read my Vietnam history book so I am now fully aware of the war and everything that went on - reading it in a place which is mentioned on multiple occasions gives real context to the history). Didn't quite get to scuba diving but did go snorkeling. This was a really great experience, for just £12 we got boated out to near to Hon Mun (about an hour off the coast of Vietnam) and from there spent over 2 hours floating around with perfect views of the coral and sea life below. Visibility was really good so we could see everything really well, from the surface what just appears to be dark shapes suddenly turns into a multi coloured array of beautiful corals. The fish were all around, from the thousands of tiny little ones passing by in huge schools, to the brightly coloured ones that seemed to illuminate light, to the seahorses and jelly fish, I hadn't expected to see so much sea life. Also included in our trip was a really nice lunch and drinks an fruit so it really was a bargain little adventure.
Two days and one night was plenty of time to see everything worthwhile in Nha Trang (apart from the beach there's really not much going for it), so again we got another night bus to leave central Vietnam and go to Saigon.
I won't bore you with another massive story about a bus journey, but this one was another long saga - the short of it is that our supposedly 9 hour journey took over 24 hours due to our bus being impounded by the police not far outside of Nha Trang. Not sure what the issue was but we had to wait until 9:30 in the morning for a replacement, then had a 10 hour journey.
So a slightly unfortunate end to what had been a very nice week along the central coast of Vietnam. Starting to learn just to accept the inevitable bus problems, and even though they are annoying at the time it's all worth it to experience beautiful places like Hoi An.