Day 17763. Back to more mundane things.

Arriving back to the UK and my sometime day job seemed to be the end of a blog about my travels but there are other things that people have said they hope I am recording so I will continue.  If I had to give it a specific start date my mid-life crisis happened the night before Leeds Festival 2003.  At the age of 38 it was my first music festival and I went only to give lifts to some younger people (teenagers).  Since then I have attended about 50 festivals, learnt to ride a motorbike and had two long rides round Scandinavia and the Baltic, moved from my house into a flat and lately into a coach that I am turning into a motor-home.  Perhaps mundane is not really an accurate description.  I decided that the best day to put was the day since my birth.  Can’t help it I’ve always been a nerd.

I bought the coach on e-bay in 2008 winning the bidding one day while supervising a detention on supply at a high school.  The young man in detention sees me occasionally and reminds me of the event.  It is a DAF 3500 chassis and engine with a Jonckheere Deauville body.  I bought it from a couple in Cheltenham and having taken the train down to see it and organising the bank transfer I drove it back to Scarborough.

It was quite pleasing when the coach took Whitwell Hill, a steep climb on the A64 between York and Malton, without having to go down too many gears, in fact it took it in 4th gear.

The first task was to take it to Carnaby Industrial Estate near Bridlington for several of the windows to be replaced by aluminium sheet.  I didn’t want to just blackout or block them on the inside as I want the coach to look as good as possible.  Unfortunately the coachbuilders didn’t follow my instructions accurately and instead of both rear windows being replaced only one side was done and the section in front on the near side was replaced.  My original intention was that a double bed would go across the back with solid walls at either end.  I decided to keep the bed along the back but changed some of the other plans.

The coach with windows blocked in.

The coach with windows blocked in.

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Unfortunately the return of the coach coincided with the start of the festival season that year and work was abandoned.  It was not until the following spring that we started again having found a yard to park the coach in near Pickering.  The first job was to take out all the seats, at one point I planned to leave 4 pairs of seats in at the front, eventually settled on 2 pairs with the spacers taken out of the mechanism so that they can recline as far as possible.  I couldn’t find anyone that would take the 22 unwanted pairs of seats so they ended up being taken to the county recycling centre.coach3 coach2 coach1

Once the seats were out we took down the racking, the parcel shelf above the seats running the length of the coach on either side.  These contained the lights, air blowers and air conditioning units and taking them out was quite a fiddly job especially as they ended up as long sections which were awkward and heavy to move.

The empty(ish) space

The empty(ish) space

By now the inside was becoming a large empty space and it was getting easier to imagine how things may fit in.  I have wanted to do a project like this since I was about 11 and travelled daily on a coach to school.  Though I never knew him as such my Granddad was a bus driver before he retired and it was one of my childhood ambitions to get my licence.  It may sound daft but I was more pleased to get my licence than I had been to get my mediocre degree a few years earlier.  I suppose the degree was something that was just expected of me rather than something I really wanted.  So having had so long to dream and day-dream about it the plans for the coach were pretty quick to do even if there have been many versions since.

One of the early plans.

One of the early plans.

Day 16 The Journey Home.

Got up quite early today, had breakfast at 203 de Tham again (omelette and bread) and headed off to the bus stop about 10am.  We took a while to locate the right queue and by the time we set off the 152 bus had 4 people on it.  Two got off on the way to the airport leaving Ali and I and the driver who pulled over at one point to pick up his lunch.  We arrived at the airport soon after 12 and checked in early enough to get seats with extra leg room.  The check-in clerk also wanted to check our meals as we appeared to have pre-ordered baby food, we changed to his suggestions and spent the next few hours waiting for the flight.  Saigon airport is not very big so there is not much to do.

The flight was uneventful, my meal was beef and rice and I made a good move by ordering beer which meant I had a full can while others only got a glass full.  When we arrived at Bangkok we followed the instructions from the hotel and found a rep. waiting at a gate downstairs.  We had a few minutes wait for the minibus to arrive and a 20 minute journey to the hotel.

Our room in Bangkok was large with a kitchen and bathroom but unfortunately no bath.  Next morning we ate breakfast in a back room downstairs before heading off to the airport on the 8.30 shuttle.  I made a big mistake by leaving my new suit hung in the wardrobe in the room and the next minibus had to bring it for me.

We did not manage to book seats with legroom on this flight but managed to get some on the Istanbul-Heathrow stretch.

We arrived back at Muswell Hill in London at about midnight having taken a cab from King’s Cross station.  My body clock thought it was 7am.

This part of my adventure had been great and I have had to amend my plans for my Round the World trip to include another visit to Vietnam.

 

Day 15 Ho Chi Min City, Saigon

Today was to be a day of visiting the sights in Saigon and perhaps a little shopping.  In the light the area we were staying in did not seem so run down and perhaps threatening as it had in the darkness of last night.  The alley that the hotel was on was still narrow, with buildings towering 4 or 5 storeys on either side and a web of wires suspended across the gap.  We left the opposite end to that we had entered by last night and turned in the direction we thought the museum area lay.  The road at that end of the valley was obviously tourist quarter with bars, restaurants and shops to provide for them.  We found a bar serving breakfast  (203 de Tham) and ate looking out on to the road which was already quite busy.

Having eaten we found a shop selling postcards so that Ali could send more home we could buy a map to follow to the Museums.  Once again it was a sunny day and it was a good walk to the Museum of War Atrocities.  On the way we saw more evidence of western influence than we had seen in the cities further north.  Though there was still no MacDonald’s we did find a Burger King and a couple of Canadian food chains.  We didn’t buy from any, instead I got a shaped coconut from a street vendor who was carrying a cool-box full.  It had taken us a while to work out what they were, he was carrying white objects shaped a little like tribal nuts and when you purchased one he chopped in to the top and provided you with a straw to drink the coconut milk.

"Hut shaped" coconut.

“Hut shaped” coconut.

"Hut shaped" coconut with straw.

“Hut shaped” coconut with straw.

Having got a drink we headed to the Museum.  People who know me would perhaps tell you that I am rarely stuck for words, my main job as a teacher means that I am not meant to be, but at the end of the trip round the exhibits here I had nothing to say.  In fact I felt that to speak about it would almost be some sort of devaluation of the experience.

Some people from the West describe the Museum of War Atrocities as a piece of propaganda as if all museums in their own countries are entirely even-handed and present their exhibits without prejudice.  I would certainly not say that the exhibits are pro-American, why should they be? the Americans were the enemy of the Communist North Vietnamese and it was the North Vietnamese who were victorious.

The Museum house displays of munitions used during the war and captured tanks, aircraft and artillery.  The pictures show the destruction wrought by them and the effects on the population.  The most moving were those showing the results of the chemicals used such as Agent Orange.  These are obviously well known throughout the west but the concentration of images and to see children in the museum itself who have been damaged by their parents exposure to American Chemical munitions just left me feeling that to even speak would be in some-way to justify the West’s actions.

This picture reminded me of all the kids I work with who moan about the perceived hardships they suffer.

This picture reminded me of all the kids I work with who moan about the perceived hardships they suffer.

One particular display made me think.

“Nguyen Noc Ki’s arms were paralysed since he was little.  He lived in Nguyen My village, Hai Than district, Hai Hau, Nahm Dihn.  The two legs turned to magical arms.  Ki was good at school and at writing poems.  He then graduated from the literature department of the National University.  He then became a literature teacher in his homeland.”

Having spent most of my teaching career working with children who feel hard-done-to in various ways I wanted to take this off the wall and take it back with me so that I could put it on the wall and silently point at it when they started to feel sorry for themselves.

It was a quiet walk to the Cathedral and the Post Office which are impressive buildings from the French period.  Outside the Post Office (across the road from the Cathedral) there were a young couple in Wedding outfits being photographed.  Their clothes were disappointingly western in fact I thought they would have been more at home in Vegas.

The Cathedral on its road island.

The Cathedral on its road island.

The Post Office.

The Post Office.

Inside the Post Office.

Inside the Post Office.

After taking a few pictures and posting Ali’s cards we stopped at a noodle restaurant, one of a chain, and ate lunch.  Once again we had a young waiter who was keen to speak English so it wasn’t too adventurous though we did try Sugar Cane juice and would not recommend it.

Bikes outside the restaurant.

Bikes outside the restaurant.

From there to the National Museum where some of the items from the My Son were displayed.  This museum was much like any other showing displays of the history of the country, the tribes who migrated back and forth and the beliefs and art they brought with them.  It was interesting but not inspiring, perhaps it would have seemed better if we had visited it before the Museum of War Atrocities.

Some of the objects from My Son.

Some of the objects from My Son.

On the way back to the hotel  We wandered the streets and called at one of the Baskin Robins ice cream parlours for me to get a milkshake.  We bought some T-shirts and boxer shorts from tables on the pavement and explored the indoor market.  Found a tourist shop selling dried fruit and bought some to take back to the school I am working in at the moment. In our walking we saw a family climb on to a scooter and they were happy to pose for a moment for me to get a photo.  Once again I wondered what the accident statistics were here compared to the UK and whether all the laws we have to make life safer and faster make us any happier.  We found the bus stop and times for the trip to the airport in the morning and made it safely back to our hotel.hcmc18

A well loaded bike and a display of helmets.

A well loaded bike and a display of helmets.

We had a quiet last evening, watched a few movies and visited the Oakley shop for Ali to grab a bargain, ate at the noodle restaurant we had found last night and had a relatively early night.

 

Day 14; The bus to Saigon.

We got up early (6.15) to get a taxi to the bus office to avoid the long haul.  We were at the office soon after 6.45 and the buses didn’t depart ’til 7.30 so we had time to sit and have a bit of breakfast at the cafe opposite.

Karen, JJ and Lilias got the bus to Da Lat and we waited for the late running bus to Saigon.  Our bus was an older sleeper with the recliners welded in place, we had seats near the back and it was more comfortable than others so we got a few naps on the journey.  Most of the route was the main highway but we took the coastal route at one point to Mui Te, a surf resort with lots of Russians even more than there had been at Nha Trang.

On the road to the coast we passed a Christian village with lots of crosses and a seperate cemetery full of tombs with crosses on.  This was the first one I recall seeing as most tombs seem to be spread round the fields, it covered quite a lot of space with the graves spread out.

At Mui Te we had lunch at a restaurant where the coach pulled up the menu was in English and Russian.  It is a surf spot as well, though most of the tourists we saw did not appear to be the same shape as most surfers you see in the UK or on films.

From the coast we headed back inland towards Saigon, this last part of the journey seemed to take ages.  For the first time we ended up in traffic jams.  As it got dark we crawled into the city and I looked out for any sign of PCV dealers in the hope that I could get mirrors for the coach at a ridiculously cheap price.  Unfortunately I didn’t see any and a search on the internet didn’t help either.

When we arrived in the tourist quarter where the hostels were Ali got very excited as there was a huge poster of a smiling snake on the corner of one of the street.  At the bus stop we were surrounded by the usual crowd of people offering hotels and pick one who seemed ok until he started leading us down a narrow alley.  It turned out that the hotel was pretty good despite its location.  We had the very top room which was quite comfortable with an ensuite.  Once we had dumped our stuff and complained about the fact that the door wouldn’t lock from the outside we head out to find food and ended up at a noodle franchaise which was pretty good with a very attentive waiter eager to practice his english.  Once we had eaten we head back to the hotel and bed.

Day 13, Nha Trang

Having arrived at the Camel office we walked to the Son and Daughter hotel that Karen had booked on the internet yesterday.  This was a bit of a haul and motivated me to repack my bags and divide the load better.  While the others went off I had a shower and got a bit of sleep.  Ali went down to the beach and Karen, JJ and Lilias hired bikes to go to the longest cable car.

I got up soon after 12 and headed to the beach and then south along the prom just to enjoy the walk.  I had thought that maybe I would walk as far as the cable car but didn’t make it that far before I turned back and decided to try to find a map shop.  It was overcast but warm and very windy.  As I walked south towards the cable car I saw a ship which seemed so back heavy that I thought its stern must be resting on the bottom.   There were also more of the white painted trees.

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The city is trying to develop as an international resort and quite a few of the big chains are building there.  My walk took me away from the city centre and passed the naval airbase where a poor guard seemed to be having to salute everyone who left the site at the end of their days work.  He must have been the lowest sort of naval life as I saw no-one leave who didn’t get a salute.  As I walked back I was hassled by a middle-aged man on a ped who was determined to give me a lift for only $1.  Eventually he gave up.  When I got back to the sea-front nearest the city centre I found that some school kids were out doing games whilst older people did Ti chi.  One of the games used kicking a bag which had feathers like a shuttle-cock and was obviously a very popular sport with quite a lot of skill being shown.

A big building on the prom.  perhaps the town hall?

A big building on the prom. perhaps the town hall?

I found the Tourist information centre close to the area where the exercise was going on and asked inside where I could find the equivalent of OS maps for bike trips.  He directed me to a book shop.  The New Year decorations are being taken down today and a Police truck passed with all its lights flashing yet only seemed to be carrying trees.

The book shop didn’t have any road maps but I bought a map of the whole country to take in to school just because it was only £1.  I took a different route back to the hotel and passed a Yamaha dealer so called in to see if I could find out what locals did for maps,  after talking to a few people I gave up, their English and my lack of Vietnamese was just causing too much confusion.  Perhaps there are no road maps which show more than just the main roads.

Nha Trang city centre near the Police station.

Nha Trang city centre near the Police station.

I also passed a bakery so went in to get some pastries and things to take back (and nibble on the way).  The police station was blaring out what seemed to be motivational messages but could equally have been the football scores.

This evening we went to the night market to eat.  Lilias and I had beef noodles with a tamarind sauce for no other reason than I had never had tamarind before,  it was very good.  I also had a sampoche smoothy for the same reason.  Ali and Lilias went back to the hotel while Karen, JJ and I sought buckets and Karen and I got temporary tattoos done.

Nha Trang's decorations.

Nha Trang’s decorations.

Karen and JJ in the night market.

Karen and JJ in the night market.

Karen getting her tattoo.

Karen getting her tattoo.

Me having got my tattoo (a scorpion) and looking much too much like my Dad.

Me having got my tattoo (a scorpion) and looking much too much like my Dad.

 

 

Day 12; My Son

This is no acknowledgement of previously undeclared children but the name of another of the UNESCO World Heritage sites which is a ruined temple complex about 45km from Hoi An. We hired the bikes and a driver for Ali from the shop next door to the hotel where we had our laundry done yesterday.  This was a good move as our guide/driver led us an excellent back route to the site which we would not have found ourselves.  He took us on a main road out of Hoi An then turned on to a series of tracks between the paddy fields which brought us to a steep dirt track which went up to the main highway (behind the armoured barrier).  This seemed to be the AH1 which we had left to go on the “Top Gear” road and we followed it south for a few miles before turning off right on a minor road towards My Son.  As we travelled between the paddy fields we saw a large white ship in the distance which seemed to be some sort of cruise liner.  I pulled over to take a picture and a few kilometres further on we stopped for some more.

The view across the paddy fields.

The view across the paddy fields.

The top of the "cruise ship" can just be seen.

The top of the “cruise ship” can just be seen.

My pic of our guide, Ali and Karen.

My pic of our guide, Ali and Karen.

Our guides pic of Ali, Karen and I.

Our guides pic of Ali, Karen and I.

As we drew closer to My Son the roads got smaller and filled with children who were either coming out of school or going, we never discovered which.  Karen suggested that it may be shift change with the youngest coming home and the teenagers starting.  It seems this is the system in some schools in Thailand.  One they can keep if the same staff teach both groups.

It took almost an hour to get to the site entrance and exhibition hall which was about a kilometre from the site itself.  Having paid our entry we got back on the bikes to go to the site car park to save the walk.

A Russian couple had booked a guide and agreed to share the cost with us.  Luckily the guide spoke English not Russian.  The Russian couple were keen to get pictures of themselves at the ruins and our guide had to wait a few times for us to form up as a group.  There is little point describing the site as it has been done better elsewhere but here are a few of the photos.

First view of the site.

First view of the site.

One of the main temples.

One of the main temples.

Karen

Karen

Harrison Ford?

Harrison Ford?

One of the more complete temples not destroyed by american bombing.

One of the more complete temples not destroyed by american bombing.

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The religion at the temple centred round phallic symbols.  Lingams.

The religion at the temple centred round phallic symbols. Lingams.

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It was a very interesting place to see though it was a little saddening to hear of the destruction caused by bombing in the Vietnam war.  It made me realise, as I had in Istanbul, how little I know about other religions.  In Istanbul it was Islam that I didn’t understand, here it is a combination of Hindu and Budhism.  I knew that the Indian religions revered lingams and yoni (penis and vagina) and with the Karma Sutra were much more open than post-Victorian Britian, but how this fits with the gods with many arms or the head of an elephant I have no idea.

After a few hours at the site we returned to the bikes, paid a fee for car parking and then headed off back to Hoi An.  This proved more eventful than the journey there as in one of the villages the bike with Ali and our guide got a flat tyre.  Luckily it was just outside a bike workshop and while it was being fixed I took the opportunity to take pictures of the typical motorbike repair shop.

The mechanic and our guide (on right) at work on the back tyre.

The mechanic and our guide (on right) at work on the back tyre.

The un-typical workshop.

The un-typical workshop.

It’s actually an untypical workshop as it is much cleaner and well organised than most I have seen.  The repair was done quickly and we set off again only for the tyre to go again a few metres further on.  The guide suggested that Ali get on the back of my bike and we set off to find some lunch while he got the tyre fixed.  We were told there was somewhere about 5km further on.

The three of us set off and after a pause in one village to guess our route, we ended up at a restaurant which was empty of customers and had no confident English speakers.  Menus were brought to us and then we were told what was available.  We ended up eating small slices of roast pork served with rice bread, watercress, soy sauce, sweet chilli sauce and a green chillis mixed with salt crystals.  Our guide arrived just after the food was brought out and told us that the Hoi An way to eat it was to lay it all on the bread and roll it up a bit like a wrap.  It tasted great but the salt and chilli mix was ferocious and made my lips numb.

Lunch with our guide. Not sure what Ali is doing.

Lunch with our guide. Not sure what Ali is doing.

The big green leaves were the spicy watercress and the salt/chilli mix is at the front.

The big green leaves were the spicy watercress and the vicious salt/chilli mix is at the front.

We swapped bikes so that I was riding the one with the dodgy tyre and Ali and the guide had the bike I had been on.  We got back to the hotel just before 4pm, collected the suit and material from Kimmys and then walked to the Camel office which was about 200m round the corner.  My big bag, purchased in Hue is very heavy and needs a repack.   We waited for a while at the office and had our tickets checked several times then were told that because the police did not like the bus stopping on the road outside we would have to walk to the bus station.  This was meant to be a 5 minute walk but with the bags seemed like an expedition.  We got the back seat of the coach but Ali decided it was too enclosed and opted for the nearest top bunk.  Her place was taken by an Argentinian lad whose friends were on the bed above.

The fixed bed and a bar at the wrong position for someone 6’3″ meant that I didn’t get any sleep but the views from the window were good at times.  Most of the journey was close to the coast and at times there were fishing boats out with their lights on.  In one bay there appeared to be hundreds of them all fishing for squid with the lights to attract them.  On this trip we did at least get a stop to eat at one of the larger roadside cafes.  Not like the rest areas we had been to in the north but still had a lot of stalls around the restaurant selling biscuits and other corner-shop-type stuff.  The young waitress who served us first was cheerful enough, but the lady who came round to collect the money was like the proverbial “bulldog chewing on a wasp” perhaps she had had a long day.

Further along there was a broken down lorry causing chaos on one of the hills and our driver made an attempt to overtake traffic in front as we went down the other side.  Whether he was tired and hadn’t noticed that it was in fact a queue I don’t know, but we ended up stuck in the wrong lane and lost places as other coaches and wagons refused to let us back in.  Finally arrived at Nha Trang at 6.10 in the morning.

Day 11; Hoi An

Had another day of wandering round the town taking photographs.  Headed down an unexplored road which leads towards the beach.  I didn’t go as far as that as I was just trying a different route. I found a row of motorbike shops and managed to get a licence plate frame in anodised blue and using sign language, drawing, miming and pointing at passing motorbikes I learnt that they didn’t sell straps but gave me directions to the local market to buy a length of rubber.  Mr Huei had used a length to tie bags on to the bikes and it worked a treat and did not need the rachets or hooks that we rely on in the UK.  The first stall at the market (Cho) had large aluminium bowl full of a tangle of ropes and rubber.  I tugged at a piece of rubber for a second or two until a woman on a scooter next to the stall shouted the stall holder over who cut off 2m for me.  The frame cost me £1 and a 2m length of rubber was 30p.

From the market I walked back in towards the town centre by a road next to one of the rivers.

A house the other side of the river which made me fancy moving here.

A house the other side of the river which made me fancy moving here.

The river being cleaned by two men with a net in a boat.

The river being cleaned by two men with a net in a boat.

A wooden boat being punted along and a collection of scooters seems to sum up Vietnam.

A wooden boat being punted along and a collection of scooters seems to sum up Vietnam.

Shells piled up at the foot of a tree. No idea what ate the owners.

Shells piled up at the foot of a tree. No idea what ate the owners.

Another nice house.

Another nice house.

As I headed back I realised that I had missed my last fitting for the suit and rushed to Kimmys and the receptionist raised her eyes at my tardiness but I was soon upstairs for the fitting. I could have come away 5 minutes later with my suit but I left it there to collect with the material for the coach tomorrow.  Went across the road to the hotel for a bit then across the road with Lilias for a drink.  Ali joined us later and the two of them ate at the cafe before we all walked into town to collect Lilias’ shoes which had been made for her.  Once she had collected the shoes Lilias and Ali headed back to the hotel while I walked round to try to take better pictures than last night using the mini-tripod.hoian17hoian18hoian20

The food market at night.

The food market at night.

The floating restaurant.

The floating restaurant.

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The stall with the best banana fritters.

The stall with the best banana fritters.

While I walked I picked up some of the street food.  First a sweet potato cake then a dumpling filled with beef.  On the way back to the hotel from the Japanese bridge I went to a stall to try a banana fritter.  It was being freshly made so the stall holder cleaned her stool for me to sit and wait, gave me a free banana and let me take photos, though she wouldn’t turn to the camera.  The fritter was not like those in Scarborough chippies; the banana was cut into 6 strips which were laid across each other and glued together with batter as well as covered then deep fried.  The batter was not as hot as in the UK so it took a little longer to cook but it was delicious – ngon.

Day 10; Stuck in Hoi An

Didn’t get up too early today as I didn’t intend to do much more than wander around the town.  Went down to catch the end of breakfast and made the most of it.  Several glasses of juice, coffee, hard boiled eggs, ham, cucumber, omelettes, doughnuts, pastries and bread.  Karen and JJ rented bikes and headed off to the beach.  With costs in mind I wandered round the town taking pictures though the camera soon gave up with flat battery.  The town seems about 90% clothing shops and tailors and the combination of displays fabrics and the lanterns makes the streets colourful.

Like Hue, part of the waterfront is filled with boats offering trips and beside them a market full of food stuffs.  There is also a cloth market a little further into town but I only got to the edge of it before having to beat a retreat from a pushy stall holder.  I visited Kimmys for a first fitting of the suit and arranged to buy some fabric for the coach.

Hoi An has a lot more western tourists than we have seen in Hanoi or Hue with many more middle-aged professional looking types.  It is a beautiful town and another on the UNESCO list so I can understand how it attracts the crowds.

In the evening we went to visit the Mermaid restaurant, mentioned in the guide books as place to visit with a speciality of stuffed squid which JJ and Karen tried.  I stuck with fried rice so that I could have a sweet, not something you see much of over here.  I was a little disappointed with the fresh fruit salad with honey as it wasn’t quite as exotic as I hoped with melon, mango, dragon fruit and pineapple.

The main junction near the hotel.

The main junction near the hotel.

Walking to the Mermaid.

Walking to the Mermaid.

Squid stuffed with beef.

Squid stuffed with beef.

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Waiting for the ferry.

Waiting for the ferry.

Floating lanterns caught against the wood.

Floating lanterns caught against the wood.

Floating restaurant.

Floating restaurant.

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I spent the evening wandering round trying to get pictures of the streets with lanterns before running in to Karen and JJ at a bar by the river and joining them to wander across to the otherside where I actually got the pictures I liked best.  I stayed with them for one “bucket” which turned out to be more “jam jar” and not the kids seaside buckets we had in Hanoi took the best picture of the evening by resting the camera on the seat next to me looking up at a string of lanterns.

Day 9; The “Top Gear” road from Hue to Hoi An.

We got up early so as to be ready for Mr Huies arrival at 8am.  He delivered two manual “big” bikes for JJ and I and smaller bikes for the others.  Mr Huie was a little concerned that we wanted big bikes and looked unsure that we would be able to handle a 110cc. He took all our luggage and arranged for it to be taken to Hoi An by bus while we rode.

Mr Huie was an excellent guide, always aware of us behind him and taking us to some great places that we may have missed if we had ridden alone.  The ride out of Hue was just through busy traffic and not really of great note.  But as we left the city the views improved.   Our first stop was for fuel but our second was at a fishing village beside a large lake.  We stretched our legs and took a few photographs.

Picking up the bike at 8.30am. Just look at those shadows!

Picking up the bike at 8.30am. Just look at those shadows!

Fishing village just off the main highway.

Fishing village just off the main highway.

Fishing village.

Fishing village.

Trying the cameras panorama function again.

Trying the cameras panorama function again.

The traffic on the highway was less busy as we left the fishing village we began to climb to “Elephant Pass”.  It was called “Elephant Pass” because from the top there used to be a view of the elephants washing in the bay below.  Now there is only a rock which looks like an elephant but the view was still spectacular and as we had a break at the top one of the trains that we had not been able to get seats on passed by below us.  The toilets at the top got the lowest grade yet from Lilias with only 1 point.  (The ladies had been giving the toilets marks since we left Hanoi).  It was not ’til later when Ali and Karen disagreed with the score that Lilias realised that the very basic toilet she had used was the gents urinal. Oops.

The view from Elephant Pass.  The rock is hard to make out close to the headland on the left.

The view from Elephant Pass. The rock is hard to make out close to the headland on the left.

Enjoying a Ca Phe at the top of the pass.

Enjoying a Ca Phe at the top of the pass. Lilias is still looking traumatised.

I tried to do a little more videoing as we set off from the cafe at the top of the pass, timing it well so that the traffic had suddenly got busier with lorries and buses making their way up.  I caught up with the others on the way down and it was not long before we had another stop to enjoy the view.

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A little further along the road we left the main highway to take the “Top Gear” road.  As the AH1 cut inland the old road followed closer to the coast climbing in a series of hairpin bends to the lookout posts at the top.  Once again I raced ahead to get some video of the others climbing up and then tried to hold the camera in one hand to get footage as I approached the top of the pass.  Unfortunately when I came to review it I had wasted the effort as somehow as I climbed on to the bike I had turned the camera on so when I tried to turn it on I had in fact turned it off.  I’ll just have to steal footage off the BBC.

 

We stopped at another cafe at the top of the pass and were barraged by locals who very insistently tried to sell us souvenirs.  I gave in a bought a little leather bracelet.  The top was a regular tourist stop not only because of the views but because there were the ruins of both a French and America lookout post which picked the spot as it had views of the bays both North and South of the headland.  The southern bay being Danang a big base in the war.

 

Climbing the "Top Gear" road.

Climbing the “Top Gear” road.

The view from the toilet window at the top of the pass.

The view from the toilet window at the top of the pass.

The last parts of the climb.

The last parts of the climb.

Ca Phe at the top with souvenirs in the foreground.

Ca Phe at the top with souvenirs in the foreground.

The view North from the lookout post.

The view North from the lookout post.

JJ flies the flag outside the ruins of the American lookout post.

JJ flies the flag outside the ruins of the American lookout post.

Karen in the door to the French post.

Karen in the door to the French post.

The view south towards Danang.

The view south towards Danang.

Once we had escaped the sales pitches at the top we made our way down more bends towards Danang stopping on the way down to take more pictures and so that Mr Huie could point out a village where people with mental illness were sent to live.  This sounded a bit draconian but it could have been something like Botton village in the North Yorkshire Moors which is a community run by the Camp Hill Trust.

As we hit the flat lands at the bottom of the hill there were more paddy fields and shrines.  Walking through one field towards the road were two women laden down with sheaves of something carried on sticks across their shoulders.  I was able to pull up a little way past them and take a photo.

The paddy fields and shrines.

The paddy fields and shrines.

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We ate lunch in Danang and then went to the beach a huge expanse of sand probably 10 miles long.  The red flags were flying and JJ caused a minor emergency and much blowing of a whistle by being too daring and paddling too far.  From Danang we went to Marble mountain Lilias had had enough excitement and decided not to go up to the top and Ali  stayed with her while Karen, JJ and I took the lift to the top of the mountain and visited the caves and temples.  Some of the temples were still in use, a nun sat in one counting a handful of notes and white robed people chanted in another while tourists watched outside.
On the way down the steps we came across a small snake on one of the steps which was causing a bit of a stir.  I looked it up later and it was a juvenile Red Necked Krail, it was poisonous but not unless it chewed on you as its venom was in teeth at the back of its mouth.  It was curled up and seemed unhappy to be the centre of attention but no one was attempting to move it to safety and I wasn’t going to.

The beach at Danang.

The beach at Danang.

At the top of the lift on Marble Mountain.

At the top of the lift on Marble Mountain.

The young snake on the path.  He may have been about 30cm long if he had stretched out.

The young snake on the path. He may have been about 30cm long if he had stretched out.

Once we got back to the marble shop where Ali, Lilias and Mr Huie were waiting we mounted up a rode the last few miles to Hoi An.  Mr Huie delivered us to Kimmys tailors for me to have a suit made and JJ hunted round for a hotel, finding a bargain across the street.  Ali and Karen went to the Camel Bus office only to find out that we had been bumped off the coach and were stuck in Hoi An for 3 nights.  At least the hotel that JJ found was luxurious and a bargain at $10 per night including breakfast.  This was the most we paid so far but the room we shared was huge and there was a swimming pool downstairs which we all tried as soon as we could.

This evening we ate in town and had a wander round.  We had been told in Hue that Hoi An was an old Chinese town and it was.  The majority of buildings were single storey with pan tiles and the streets were decorated with lanterns.  It’s the most beautiful town we have seen

 

 

 

Day 8; Hue

We arranged yesterday for Mr Huie to guide us to Hoi An tomorrow, so we have a day to explore Hue.  I got up early and walked across the bridge to the market in the hope of finding some new clothes, a Vietnamese style bike helmet and facemask.  The market was amazing, one area was food and then inside was mainly clothing with everything else you could need mingled in between.  I found a helmet and hat and socks but the nearby ATMs would not work and I ended up walking back to the hotel to get the PIN for the other card.  On the way back I ran into Karen and JJ at the Backpackers Hostel and stayed with them for a bit before getting the card and rejoining them while they booked a flight from Saigon to one of the holiday islands.

A riverside restaurant shaped like a Lotus flower.

A riverside restaurant shaped like a Lotus flower.

Part of the market.

Part of the market.

Karen enjoying lunch

Karen enjoying lunch

Lunch

Lunch

Lunch

Lunch and knees

Eating lunch perched on primary school chairs.

Eating lunch perched on primary school chairs.

We were being touted by a rickshaw driver to take us back to into town and we eventually agreed on a price of 30.000 dong (about a pound).  We were taken back to the market and explored, ate at a stall and bought a few bits.  JJ and I resisted silk shirts but I came away with socks, helmet, facemask and sun hat.  JJ headed back to the hotel while Karen and I walked in to the Citadel,  the old French area surrounded by a thick wall and wide moat which is a UNESCO world heritage site.  As we walked from the market we passed a shop with the most amazing cakes in the window and as we admired the display and I wondered just what chemicals could produce the colours a young man emerged wearing a chefs jacket.  What part he had, if any, in making the cakes we never knew but he was quite happy to pose for a picture with his friend on a scooter.

Colourful cakes on display.

Colourful cakes on display.

The  pâtissier(?) and his friend.  Don't look too closely at the cleanliness of his whites.

The pâtissier(?) and his friend. Don’t look too closely at the cleanliness of his whites.

We crossed the moat by the closest bridge and entered the Citadel.  It is easy to see why it is a world heritage site as it is so different from the Vietnamese town around it and demonstrates the European culture transplanted into a foreign land.  It was a little disappointing but unsurprising that the place looked a little run down and it was hard to imagine how it must have been at the height of French power.  As we walked along a street called Han Thuyen my hand was grabbed by an older man who shook it vigorously and said how proud he was to see me wearing his countries flag (a red T-shirt with a golden star on it that I had bought in Hanoi).  He almost dragged me by the hand to his house at the side of the road and insisted that Karen and I take tea with him.  His wife was sat just inside the entrance and prepared a small tray of tea and he brought out at plate of sesame candy called Me Xung for us to enjoy with our tiny cups of tea.  He told us it was a speciality of the city and when I suggested to Karen that it solved my problem of a treat to buy for a class at home he asked if I was a teacher and told me that he had been a teacher of mathematics and geometry.  As we sat and chatted we found out that he had always lived in the same house even through the war.  He smiled sheepishly when he told us that he had been a soldier for 3 years for the Americans which made sense when we remembered that we were in what had been South Vietnam and would have been conscripted.  It was getting towards 5 o’clock so we set off hoping to get in to the Forbidden City  taking with us 6 packs of Me Xung.  If the old man was only a good salesman he deserved the custom for the excellent way in which he span us.

Unfortunately when we got to the gates to the city we were too late to go in and had to content ourselves with walking round the walls taking photos.

One of the gates to the Forbidden City.

One of the gates to the Forbidden City.

The main gate to the Forbidden City, unfortunately surrounded by scaffolding.

The main gate to the Forbidden City, unfortunately surrounded by scaffolding.

Walking into the Citadel.

Walking into the Citadel.

The huge flag on the Citadel walls, presumably when it was built it would have been the French tri-colour that flew

The huge flag on the Citadel walls, presumably when it was built it would have been the French tri-colour that flew

Karen admiring the view from beneath the flag.

Karen admiring the view from beneath the flag.

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Having failed to get in to the city we climbed the temporary staging that we assumed was left from the New Year celebrations and got up on to the walls below the flag.  This gave us great views of the walls, moat and city outside which must have grown up after the French had built the Citadel.  We walked along to another tower and then made our way back as all the other exits off the wall had been locked.  By this time Karen was desperate to find a toilet and we had to search.  We found a set of temporary toilets set up near the main gate, unfortunately they were locked but provided some shelter whilst I stood guard.  I took the opportunity to take a picture of the pond outside and a young mad passing had to choose that moment to do his stretching exercises on the wall.  There are poseurs everywhere!

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As we walked back towards the gates and the city outside we posed for pictures nest to the huge cannons that were sat beside the road.  Dusk fell rapidly and by the time we got to the side of the Perfumed River it was quite dark.  There were lights in the gardens beside the river and pedalos shaped like swans being hired out.  We thought that this would probably break too many H&S rules in the UK but later we noticed that each swan had a navigation light and the area they were paddling in was surrounded by a set of bouys with lights on.

Once we had crossed the river we found the night market and explored the strip of stalls.  This was obviously aimed more at younger people who were out in force, there were T-shirts and other clothes, jewellery, tattoos, blink for phones and nails and some stalls for food just underneath and beside the arch of the bridge.

The park beside the river.

The park beside the river.

The night market.

The night market.

That evening we ate at a local restaurant and had a few drinks bearing in mind that the next morning we would have to be up for the ride to Hoi An.

I have already decided that Vietnam must be written in to the itinerary for my next trip this way and Hue and its Forbidden City are a must.