20.07.2011 34 °C
It’s been a week or so of stopping off at beachside locations in Vietnam, enjoying the sunshine (and less rain), filling our backpacks to near-bursting point and seeing some of Vietnam's cultural sights. We've well and truly been on the well-worn backpacking route, but we've really enjoyed it all. I last updated when we arrived in Nha Trang, since then we have been to the ancient town of Hoi An, and the ancient but almost flattened Hue in the centre of the country. We've now arrived in my favourite city in South-East Asia, Hanoi.
There isn't a whole lot to write about Nha Trang, it's a small city on the coast. Everything on the beachside is dedicated to tourism with plenty of choices of guesthouses, restaurants, bars and souvenir shops. It’s the kind of place that you'd go to on a nice week-long holiday when not hugely bothered about anything except the beach and a book. We took it as (yet another) holiday within a holiday and enjoyed time just relaxing, and enjoying a few drinks in the evening with Jan, a great Dutch guy we seem to have seen everywhere since Laos!
Our travel from Saigon to Hanoi has been via bus, which allow you to 'hop' on and off along the route at set destinations. This is what I mean by being on the well-worn trail of travellers. There are several bus companies but they all do the same 5 or 6 stops. There are a few bad stories about bus companies being unsafe and very uncomfortable at times but after a bit of research we picked one (Sinh Tourist) that has been fantastic. To save time we completed two legs overnight on a 'sleeper bus' which after a couple of sleeping tablets aren't too bad at all!
The next stop after Nha Trang was Hoi An, a stunning riverside town with lovely cobbled streets and historic buildings in the old town, you could spent a couple of days just walking through and sitting relaxing on a bench by the riverside. Hoi An has gained a reputation as a town of tailors. Every other shop, house or market stall will custom make suits, shirts, coats, shoes or whatever you like a rock bottom prices. We picked a couple of places that looked good quality and I ended up walking away with 3 shirts, a fitted business suit and an overcoat (think Jose Mourinho...) all for about £140! Letha also got some work trousers and a coat made. The only problem is that it has added about 10kg to our luggage; it'll be worth it though!
After Hoi An, we moved onto Hue (my lazy way of spelling Huế), which we had spent a night in when first getting to Vietnam from Laos but didn't see anything except a bed and a bus station. This time we spent a couple of days there seeing the 200 year old citadel- the old walled city surrounded by a moat, and also cycled around the surrounding countryside to a royal tomb of a previous dynasty here. As it is very central, Hue was once the capital of Vietnam and this is obvious by the extravagance of some parts of it. Unfortunately a lot of the buildings inside were destroyed by American and French during the wars here.
As well as some sweaty cycling to the tombs, I also got Letha and Jan to cycle to the other side of the Citadel insisting I wanted to see the 'fortress' marked on the map. Upon arriving we discovered the fortress was not the several hundred year old building with old cannons that I'd expected but an out of bounds military area! We moved on pretty quickly...
So another couple of sleeping tablets and 15 hours overnight on a bus has landed us in Hanoi, Vietnam's capital and a colourful, loud and beautiful mix of everything that is so addictive about Vietnam. Our Chinese Visas are being processed unwillingly by the embassy here which gives us a few days to cruise Halong Bay and for me to continually tell Letha how much I love Hanoi!