My latest Short Journeys is out on Amazon! After some feverish editing and at one point the original file disappearing completely from my computer (yes, it wasn’t a great moment), the latest of my ebooks is out for Amazon Kindle. The Short Journeys series books are full of anecdotes, experiences, opinions and reviews on the places I stayed and the things I saw.
As per usual, this one is full of photos too. I talk about my accommodation, and how I got from A to B. Here are a few pics and a few excerpts from the book:
Introduction: Why go to Vietnam?
Vietnam is a country ‘on the grow’ as I write in 2014. It’s becoming more and more popular for western tourists – in fact the country has opened up so much in the last twenty years that it’s probably South East Asia’s most rapidly growing tourist destination. There’s no doubt it holds a lot for the traveller, and is the absolutely perfect place for backpacking.
Add to that the friendly people, the fact that it’s great bang for your buck accommodation-wise, the beauty of the place, the splendour of the Mekong and some great beaches, and if you haven’t considered going to Vietnam any time soon, I’d say you are missing out. Vietnam is vibrant, exciting, backpacker-friendly, affordable, friendly and welcoming. It’s got history, ancient and more recent, and for those who like to spend an extended period of time in the country, you are guaranteed not to be bored if you take this option.
Ho Chi Minh City
Ho Chi Minh is a great city for relaxing, people watching and meeting people. You never know what you’re going to see or who. At Hotel 64 I spent an evening or two with a couple of other backpackers staying there seated with beer in hand watching the city go by. It’s just from an intersection with a couple of bars on different corners, apparently owned by the same people. One is called ‘Crazy Buffalo’ and has a giant neon buffalo as it’s sign which flashes at you 100 or metres away. It was ugly but at least it was an unforgettable landmark to lead me back to my hotel if I was ever lost.
It was pretty hard to miss!
It was an interesting experience sitting there watching life of an evening. Yes, we did see a few ‘older’ (let’s say over 60) men with young Vietnamese girlfriends walk by, in and out of the bars. Then we would see families on holiday with young teenagers and a few tantrums into the bargain. Every night a group of guys would walk past offering a shoulder massage, and I took them up on it and got a 30 minute massage for a dollar or two that really hit the spot. Just there on the street.
Da Lat – Cog Railway
There used to be, before the war, a longish stretch of cog railway from Da Lat to Thap Cham, a rise (or fall depending on the direction) of over 1500 metres over all, over 84 kilometres of rail. Today there is only 7 kilometres of track operational, a tourist route from Da Lat to Trai Mat. Plans to restore the entire railway are yet to be realised.
Nevertheless, it made for a great afternoon on a small train. I needed a taxi to take me out to the station, which has an interesting roof with many points. At the station, after purchasing a return ticket which was around $5, (98,000 Dong), there was a bit of a wait for the train.
A couple had come down to the station dressed in their wedding clothes. I don’t think they had just got married – it’s common for wedding photos to be taken well before a wedding in Vietnam, staged somewhere interestingly. There was a disused steam train on a siding so they took a number of photos around that. The bride’s dress was a vivid red in colour. Although white is also favoured, red is a very popular colour for brides’ gowns in Vietnam, and this one was especially striking. They didn’t mind me taking a couple of pictures either which was very kind of them!
My Son – near Hoi An
I also took a ‘tour’ to the Hindu ruins of My Son, 35 kilometres away from Hoi An. It was a half-day tour to the ruins, which are a popular tourist draw in the area. Tour organised from the hotel, and went very smoothly, but I must advise you – If you are doing Vietnam and Cambodia as one holiday, you really should see My Son before you see Angkor. It’s the same kind of thing as Angkor, but way smaller. If you’ve already seen Angkor, especially not long before you go to My Son, it’s going to feel a bit disappointing.
My Son is a complex of Hindu temples that were built between the 4th and 14th centuries A.D, some are still mostly standing and others are just ruins. Unfortunately, a lot was destroyed in the 1960s and 1970s in the conflict with America. However, it’s still definitely worth visiting. For me, the surrounding ‘jungle’ was perhaps as interesting as the ruins. We went into a couple of buildings, but most are sans roof at the very least. And we were being led around by a guide departing the sort of information that is literally gone by the time you’re back on the bus.
The paths and trees are really beautiful though, and the ruins are ruins, rather than something that was once ancient but then rebuilt ten years ago and gets a new paint job every twelve months. You get a little sense of the city that once stood there, and if you use your imagination, maybe you can imagine the kings and queens of Indochina back in the 4th century living the life. Most of what you see in Vietnam is 200-400 years old maximum. My Son is far older, making it quite unique in that way.
And so we were taken by a smaller boat to the ‘Imperial Cruise’. She was big and wooden and clean and I have to say, I was impressed! It was a fine galley indeed with fresh paint work and a decidedly oriental look. We sat down to a very filling lunch in a large dining room, views from the top deck were sweepingly magnificent and the cabin rooms were really nice. The only issue was keeping warm – the weather, as in Hanoi, was unseasonably cold. I didn’t seem to have enough clothes with me to keep me warm. Thus I woke the next day with a cold in its early stages.
But that didn’t matter really, because for the quality of boat and meals, I had done really well. Good bang for my buck, even if I did keep getting asked for single supplements. I thought the guide was lying initially when he said I was up a class than what I’d paid for, but truly I had gotten lucky this time.
The boat sailed out into the bay as we quaffed down sweet and sour squid and pomme frites. The bay is famous for the rocks that jut out of the ocean, small, tall and pointy islands with a bit of vegetation on them too. Combined with the mist they are really stunning, even if atop deck we were shivering trying to get good photos.
Across the bay we could see so many other boats, some like us very impressive, some a little less so. A boat had sunken 12 months prior to my going there and so safety was a priority at the time and strict numbers per boat had to be adhered to as well. Do be a little cautious in booking your boat, look for a recommendation or two from other travellers if you can find one.
That’s just a little of my book which is now available at Amazon – HERE!
World Journeys is back Wednesday with a guest post from South America! Until then, may the journey never end!