2007 - Backpacking to Cambodia & Vietnam in 24 days

Backpacking Adventure to Cambodia and Vietnam in 24 days
13 Nov <> 06 Dec 2007

(L-R) Ching Neng Bin, Bernard Lee, Chew Leng Soon, Chan Meng Fye, Lim Kee Moon in front of Citadel at Hue, Vietnam
Day 01 (13.11.07) KL > Phnom Penh, Cambodia

A dinner meeting was held on 12.11.07 together with our spouse at the Gold Dragon City Seafood Restaurant, Paramount Garden, PJ. The meeting was to discuss the final schedule and to welcome Kee Moon to the team. On 13th morning at 10am, Kee Moon, Bernard and I together with our families gathered at Chan’s house for breakfast at a nearby shop. We then bid farewell before taking the LRT to KL Central where Chew was waiting for us. Here we took the 11.45am bus to KL LCCT and arrived at the airport an hour later.

We were on Air Asia flight No. AK 852 at 3.15 pm to Phnom Penh, Cambodia. About 2 hours later we landed at Phnom Penh airport. Proceed to Capitol Guesthouse for our accommodation. We then explore the town centre and walked along the river-side for a sumptuous dinner at Sa’em Restaurant, No.379 Sisowath Quay.

AirAsia – KLIA to Phnom Penh, one way RM113 per person
Taxi fare – Phnom Penh Airport to town is US7 per car
Motorcycle – Airport to town is US2 per person
Capitol Guesthouse – US5 a room for 2 pax No.14AEO, Road 182, Sangkat Beng Prolitt 

Phnom Penh Airport with our van driver

Cultural show at the riverside night market
Day 02 (14.11.07) Phnom Penh

After breakfast, we walked to Russian Market to buy T-shirts and shoes. We visited Wat Toul Tompong on the way and later to Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum. After lunch we walked back to GH for a rest. At the GH we purchased bus ticket to Saigon at US10 pp. In the afternoon, we walked to Central Market, National Museum, Royal Palace, Wat Phnom, and Victory Monument and later visited the Cambodian Public Bank and met the branch manager Mr. Phan Yin Tong. Walked to the railway station, Governor’s House, Hotel Phnom Penh all along Monivong Boulevard and had dinner @ No.9 GH by the Boeng Kak Lake. For future consideration, a nice place to stay is the No.9 Angkor GH by the lake behind the Phnom Penh Hotel - US5 per room. As for food, Sa’em Restaurant along the river side is recommended.

Capitol GH – US5 a room for 2 pax
our guesthouse

Tuol Sleng Museum - In 1975, Tuol Svay Prey High School was taken over by Pol Pot's security forces and turned into a prison known as Security Prison 21 (S-21). It soon became the largest such center of detention and torture in the country. Over 17,000 people held at S-21 were later taken to the extermination camp at Choeung Ek to be executed; detainees who died during torture were buried in mass graves on the prison grounds. S-21 has been turned into the Tuol Sleng Museum, which serves as a testament to the crimes of the Khmer Rouge.

When Phnom Penh was liberated by the Vietnamese army in early 1979, they found only 7 prisoners alive and 14 others had been tortured to death as Vietnamese forces were closing in on the city. Photographs of their gruesome deaths are on display in the rooms where their decomposing corps was found. Their graves are nearby in the courtyard.

Each prisoner who passed S-21 was photographed, sometimes both before and after being tortured. The walls of the prison now display photographs of men, women and children who were tortured and later killed.

an old lady drying things on the roof

Central Market

Mr Phan Yin Tong the Public Bank branch manager

Railway station

The mosque by the lake behind Phnom Penh Hotel

at Boeng Kah Lake

No.9 Guest House at Boeng Kah Lake

Day 03 (15.11.07) Phnom Penh > Ho Chi Minh

At guesthouse, bus departed at 10am for Saigon and arrived at Cambodia/Vietnam border of Moc Bai at 1pm for lunch, changed local currency and continued to Saigon arriving at 4.30pm. We noticed a few casinos at the Cambodian border. After dinner at Gon guesthouse we walked round Saigon City (district 1). Mr. Chew, Kee Moon and I went for a drink at the Seventeen Saloon with live-band in attendance.

Bus - Phnom Penh to Saigon is US10 pp
Bus ticket can be purchased at Capitol GH
Thanh Tuven GH – US18 for 2 rooms No.84/12 BuiVien St. Pham Ngu Lao, District 1

We had the best baguette breakfast at Capitol GH café.

Casino at the Cambodian border

Immigration check point

dinner at Gon guesthouse

nice live band at this Seventeen Saloon

Day 04 (16.11.07) Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon)

As usual, after breakfast we walked all over the city starting from Pham Ngu Lao road the backpacker area on District 1 or Saigon. There were plenty of places around here to fill up on eggs and bacon before the walk, but to soak up a real Vietnamese experience start the walk with a bowl of pho (noodle soup). From Pham Ngu Lao road, follow Nguyen Thai Hoc road north to the New World Hotel, turn right and follow Le Lai road to Pho 2000, a good place to sample some noodles – former US President Bill Clinton did, so it can’t be that bad! Cross the road and enter the vast indoor Ben Thanh Market which is at its bustling best in the morning. Crossed the large roundabout where you’ll see a statue of Tran Nguyen Hai on horseback. One short block south, on Pho Duc Chinh road is the Fine Arts Museum. Walked east to Ham Nghi road and turn north again on Ton That Dam road to stroll through the colorful outdoor street market. At the northern terminus turn west at the Huynh Thuc Khang to Pasteur road out to Le Loi road, the large boulevard leading towards the grand and thoughtfully restored Municipal Theatre. The popular War Remnants Museum is just a few blocks away along Nam Ky Khoi Nghia road. Reunification Palace is along Vo Van Tan road. After lunch we stroll north along Le Duan road to look at Notre Dame Cathedral and the impressive French-style post office. A few blocks northwest along Nguyen Binh Khiem road are the Jade Emperor Pagoda.

We had chee-cheong-fun for lunch, Pho2000 at tea-time and dinner at Ben Thanh Market. We then bought Mekong Delta tour ticket (US8pp) at Sinh Café and the Open Bus ticket to Hanoi (US25pp + US2 for sleeping)

Sleeping: Thanh Tuven GH – US18 for 2 rooms

looks like Public Bank logo

Courtesy call to Public Bank HCMC and met Ms. Ho Minh Phuong, head of Operations.

the grand and thoughtfully restored Municipal Theatre

the impressive French-style post office

Notre Dame Cathedral

the popular War Remnants Museum

The Jade Emperor Pagoda - Entering the temple courtyard, there is a small pool on the right full of large tortoises. The interior is dominated by an effigy of the Jade Emperor, correctly addressed as 'Most Venerable Highest Jade Emperor of All-Embracing Sublime Spontaneous Existence of the Heavenly Golden Palace’. He is the head of the heavenly bureaucracy, governing spirits assigned to oversee the workings of the natural world and the administration of moral justice. Demons and the ghosts of hell acted like bullies and outlaws threatening strangers in the real world and were treated accordingly. To avoid their attentions, people bribed them or invoked the martial forces of the spirit world’s officials to arrest them. The mighty Emperor monitoring entry through the gates of heaven is flanked by his senior officers, one bearing a light to illuminate the path, the other wielding an axe to administer justice. The King of Hell and his red horse are on the right of the chamber surrounded by the two gods of yin and yang, and four more gods who mete out punishment for evil and reward goodness. He looks towards the ‘Hall of the Ten Hells’, a room containing ten magnificently carved panes that vie with Hieronymus Bosch for depictions of the horrors awaiting the ungodly. Next door, there is another room with twelve ceramic figures of women with many babies presided over by Kim Hoa, the protector of all mothers and children. Each figurine represents a particular human characteristic, good or bad, and one year of the 12 year Chinese calendar. Childless couples often visit this small chapel to pray to be granted a child. To the left of the Jade Emperor in an enclosure containing Thien Loi, the god of lightning and other deities, is a life-sized effigy of a horse. This is also popular with women who seek fertility – they rub its flanks and neck and whisper their prayers in its ears.

dinner at Ben Thanh Market

Day 05 (17.11.07) Saigon (Mekong Delta tour)

After baguette breakfast we walked to Sinh Café for the 9.30am bus to take us for the one day Mekong Delta trip. We first passed through the city of My Tho and then through Ben Tre. At Ben Tre we boarded the motorized boat ride to some islands and landed at Con Phung (Phoenix Island) for a Vietnamese lunch - Elephant Ear Fish see picture. Cruised along small creeks to Mekong River estuary, see the manufacture of handicraft made from coconut trees. Cruised through small rivers and visiting small villages in Ben Tre province – visiting orchards, bee-keeping farm, taste natural honey & honey wine, enjoy tropical fruit, traditional music. We experienced horse-cart ride through the villages. Paddle our sampan on the small river out to our motorized boat. See coconut candy production process, taste candy & coconut pulp. Visit Mekong rest stop on the way back to Saigon at 7pm. Had the best dinner at Quan Anngon at 138 Nam Ky Khoi Nghia, Quan Mot. On the way back we had free concert at an open-air theatre.

Sleeping: Thanh Tuven GH – US18 for 2 rooms
Mekong Delta tour ticket - US8pp at Sinh Café
Open Bus ticket to Hanoi - US25pp + US2 for sleeping

at Ben Tre we boarded the motorized boat ride

Elephant Ear Fish

we paddle our sampan on the small river out to our motorized boat

Coconut candy

Day 06 (18.11.07) Saigon > Dalat

8.30am bus from Saigon to Dalat arriving at 4.30pm. The distance is 308km and takes about 8 hours. On the journey we stopped at Bao Loc pass for a spectacular view of the valleys & mountains. The evening was walking around the town centre and had dinner at Dalat Market. Very good hot soya beans drink and sweet potatoes sold by old lady along the main road. The cheapest and best mulberry wine in the world is found here in Dalat at US1 per bottle. We bought enough stock to last our journey to Hanoi. At night each of us drank a bottle and phoned Mr. Val Allan to convey our greetings.

Bus – Saigon to Dalat is US5 pp
Hotel Hang Nga – US12 for 2 rooms, 01-Bui Thi Xuan Street, Dalat. (Opposite Sinh Café)

Kee Moon and I waiting for the bus to Dalat

the cleanest toilet I have seen at petrol station - need to wear their shoe in

Lim Kee Moon had a nice sleep in the bus.

the main street in Dalat

hot soya beans drink and sweet potatoes sold by old lady along the main road

cheapest and best mulberry wine in the world is found here in Dalat at US1 per bottle

each of us drank a bottle and phoned Mr. Val Allan to convey our greetings

Day 07 (19.11.07) Dalat (1 day sightseeing trip)

We managed to get a car & driver from GH for US7.50 each to take us and explore around Dalat. The driver took us for the best noodle breakfast at Pho Hanoi which is 10minutes walk away from Dalat Cathedral. Places of interest visited are: Prenn & Datania Waterfalls, Chicken Village, incense stick making & the Buddha Dog, Hang Nga’s Crazy House, Buddhist meditation monastery & Paradise Lake, Cremaillere Railway Station. Evening was walking & jogging round the 7km Xuan Huong Lake. We met three university students who were very eager to converse English with us. We had the best Vietnamese coffee beside the guesthouse and the worst dinner at Khach San Phu – the beef-steak is actually beef hamburger.

Sleeping: Hotel Hang Nga – US12 for 2 rooms

Dalat is at the Central Highlands built by the French colonists and still bears a resemblance to a French town. The drive from the south is satisfying, especially as you climb up through rubber, mulberry, coffee and tea plantations. Located nearly 1500m above sea level has a population of 130k. Dalat has a cool climate usually remaining between 10º C and 20º C throughout the year. This ‘eternal spring’ is responsible for its increasing importance as a fruit and flower growing area. Xuan Huong Lake, an artificial lake created by a dam in 1919 with a 7km perimeter.

at our guesthouse

Chicken Village - Famous for its 5m high giant concrete chicken in the village centre has become very popular with travelers. Once a KoHo ethnic minority village, it’s now a heavily-commercialized operation making inferior woven material to sell to tourists.

incense stick making

the Buddha praying dog


Prenn & Datanla Waterfalls - Need to walk down the slope on a path that first passes through a forest of pines and then continues steeply down the hill into a rainforest. The falls are impressive and you can scramble around on the rocks to your heart's content (at your own risk, of course). It's a good place for picnics.

Buddhist meditation monastery
Buddist meditation monastery & Paradise Lake. - Tuyen Lam Lake and the Truc Lam Pagoda. The pagoda is a Buddhist meditation centre, and hence not open to visitors, but the gardens are well designed and a riot of colour. The far side of the lake is dense pine forests.

& Paradise Lake
Hang Nga’s ‘Crazy House’ is a truly memorable guest house if you don’t mind being uncomfortable. The owner is Mrs. Dang Viet Nga, is from Hanoi and lived in Moscow for 14 years, where she earned a PhD in architecture. The architecture is something straight out of Alice in wonderland and cannot easily be described: there are caves, giant spider webs made of wire, concrete tree trunk, and nude female statue.

The railway station without a railway - Well, almost! Once the terminus of a superb track connecting Dalat with Saigon and the rest of the country, it now serves a 7km track to Trai Mat village and back with a single USSR-built diesel locomotive and a couple of carriages.

local university student wanting to learn English from us

city view from the lake

Day 08 (20.11.07) Dalat > Nha Trang

8.30am bus from Dalat to Nha Trang arriving at 2.30pm. The distance is 214km and takes about 6 hours. Sightseeing stopover was at Cham Sculpture Tower along the bus journey. After checking at GH, we walked and explore the town centre and had lunch at Red Star Rest. Dinner was at the GH. We booked the island boat tour from TM Brothers at US6pp.

Bus – Dalat to Nha Trang is US5 pp
Sleeping: No.62 Tran Phu Hotel – US15 for 2 rooms

stopover was at Cham Sculpture Tower along

Day 09 (21.11.07) Nha Trang (1 day boat trip)

The 10am bus took us to the harbor for the boat trip. First we visited the Mun Island (Ebony Island) to enjoy swimming, snorkeling and sunbathing. Visited Mot Island and had lunch with fresh seafood. After lunch we enjoyed the live-band performed by the boat-men. Many of us were dancing with the good music. An open floating bar was set up and we had to swim to the bar for free red wine and pineapple. Proceed to Tam Island, enjoy water sport services there and came back for seasonal fruits on the boat. Visited Tri Nguyen Aquarium where you see different kinds of fish, marine wildlife. By 5pm we returned to the harbor where the bus took us back to our hotel.

Sleeping: No.62 Tran Phu Hotel – US15 for 2 rooms
One day boat trip from TM Brothers at US6pp.

Mun Island (Ebony Island) to enjoy swimming, snorkeling and sunbathing

after lunch we enjoyed the live-band performed by the boat-men

floating bar was set up - we had to swim to the bar for free wine and pineapple

Tri Nguyen Aquarium to see different kinds of fish, marine wildlife
For the love of food, we had to walk 35 minutes from our hotel to a recommended shop at Lac Canh restaurant for do-it-yourself BBQ seafood & hot-pot dinner followed by our Dalat Wine.

Day 10 (22.11.07) Nha Trang > Hoi An

The day is free, but was unable to walk around because of rain the whole day. For dinner we had the best squid salad, spring roll & steam boat at Tuyet Moi restaurant beside our guesthouse at 62 Tran Phu Hotel. The bus leave for Hoi An at 8pm, hence, need not stay on this day, should have gone to Hoi An yesterday after the boat trip as we were back by 6 pm. The day was wasted doing nothing.

Bus – Nha Trang to Hoi An is US7 pp
Sleeping: Over-night bus

my Vietnamese girl friend
Day 11 (23.11.07) Hoi An

The distance from Nha Trang to Hoi An is 530km and takes about 13 hours. Arrived Hoi An at 9am. We stayed at Phuong Nam Hotel beside Sinh Bus Station, not an ideal place to stay as it’s away from town. The day was a very wet as it was raining all day long and we had to put on raincoat. We were told that the yearly monsoon was just over and the town was flooded by almost 5 feet.

After breakfast at the hotel, we did our Hoi An walking tour starting at Phac Hat Pagoda, heading east along Phan Chu Trinh Rd., turn right into the alley next to street number 69. Here lies the Truong Family Chapel. Back on the main road; look out for the Tran Family Chapel in the northeast corner of Phan Chu Trinh Rd. Head south now on Le Loi rd. and turn left at the next junction into Tran Phu Rd. visit the Museum of Trading Ceramics. Opposite the museum is the Historic House at 77 Tran Phu. Continuing along Tran Phu, there is a cluster of interesting buildings on the left side of the road, including the Chinese All-Community Assembly Hall and the Assembly Hall of the Fujian Chinese Congregation. Back on the road keep heading east and at the next junction you’ll see the Quan Cong Temple. Take a short detour north on Nguyen Hue to the Quan Am Pagoda & History Museum. Back on Tran Phu, still walking east, the Assembly Hall of the Hainan Chinese Congregation is on the left. Cross the next junction and the road becomes Nguyen Duy Hieu. On the left is the Assembly Hall of the Chaozhou Chinese Congregation.

Take the second right and turn right again into Phan Boi Chau, There is a whole city block of colonnaded French buildings here between Nos.22 and 73, among them the 19th-century Tran Duong House. Wander along Phan Boi Chau take the fourth street on your right, turn left into Nguyen Thai Hoc and soak up the ambience of this street. Turn right onto Le Loi then left into Tgran Phu. Almost immediately on the left is the Old House at 103 Tran Phu. Keep heading west now and you’ll pass the Assembly Hall of the Cantonese Chinese Congregation. A little further along on the left is the Museum of Sa Huynh Culture. Beyond the museum is the famed Japanese Covered Bridge, which connects Tran Phu with Nguyen Thi Minh Khai. Continue westward and keep an eye out for Phung Hung Old House. Also check out Cam Pho Temple.

Evening was walking through the old streets of Hoi An where the Chinese celebrated the full moon festival with prayers and colored lanterns.
Sleeping: Phuong Nam Hotel – US20 for 2 rooms

Hoi An's History The Chinese took an interest back in the days of the Cham Empire, and began anchoring their ships in Tra Nhieu Bay, south of Hoi An, but it wasn't until the early fifteenth century that the area’s potential for trade was recognized. Originally known as Fai Fo, Hoi An was established somewhere between 1602 and 1618 by Nguyen Phuc Nguyen, the ruling ‘Lord’ at that time. He had close relationship with both the Japanese and Chinese, who were the first to use the new port via the trade winds. The number of traders expanded rapidly and by the mid-1600’s ships from Japan, China, Europe, India and the South Pacific countries congregated for an annual four-month trading fair. Fai Fo became a melting pot of cultures. Predominant were the Japanese and Chinese that ran with the trade winds. As many of the merchants often had to wait several months for favorable winds to carry them home, they established resident communities with their own rulers, legal codes and temples. Fai Fo reached its zenith in the middle of the seventeenth century, when it was among the largest ports in South East Asia. Towards the end of the 18th century, the river began silting up, coinciding with the focus of trade in the region turned towards China. Fai Fo’s value as a port dwindled rapidly as Danang began to develop. Renamed Hoi An in 1954, the town had reverted into a sleepy backwater until the rapid post-war rise in Vietnam’s population stimulated a considerable amount of urban development around the Ancient Town.

What to do in Hoi An? The centerpiece is the Ancient Town. It retains the original street pattern and many of its buildings. Some of the houses and temples participate in a ticket scheme: for US5 ticket contains five ‘tokens’ allowing visitors to choose what attracts them. The proceeds are directed towards renovation. However, nearly all the owners of the old houses are delighted to show visitors around.

Hoi An is also famous for its many restaurants offering both local and Vietnamese specialties, and international fare. The standard is high, and the prices inexpensive. It’s also a good place for shopping, especially for silk material and garments. Most of the silk shops are just outside the boundaries of the Ancient Towns – most can turn material into a tailor-made garment within 24 hours.

For early risers, the riverside end of the town’s market is an interesting place to be around 5 to 6am when the night fishing boats come in to unload their catches. The islands in the river and other local communities are worth visiting. In the past, there was a thriving network of craft villages, but they declined as the town slipped into obscurity. Nevertheless, some vestiges of the old trades are still to be found, such as boat building on Cam Kim Island. Some of the Cam Kim artisans were ‘recruited’ by boatyards in Ha Long, where they applied their skills to creating the distinctive wooden junks that have become a feature of the Bay and a popular tourist attraction.

About 4km from the town is Cua Dai Beach, part of an enormous strand of sand lining the coast as far as the Mekong Delta. Don't be misled by references to ‘China Beach’ – that's a section of Danang's My Khe beach. Cua Dai is just as good: clear water, and palm/ pine fringed sandy beaches. Further afield, visits to the Marble Mountains and the UNESCO World Heritage Area of the My Son Sanctuary would each take about half a day.
Hoi An's Buildings architectural development passed through 3 stages. The first was early period as an insignificant village of bamboo shacks, of which none remain. The second period was some time after it expanded into to become a flourishing commercial port attracting merchant ships from afar. From the middle of the seventeenth century, the growing Chinese and Japanese communities began erecting places of worship, assembly halls and, later, residential houses. The first of these were Chinese assembly halls that also served as temples for ancestor worship, followed by pagodas dedicated to the worship of Taoist gods, Confucius and Buddha. As the town became more prosperous and populous, further assembly halls and pagodas were built together with fine houses for merchants who had become full-time residents servicing an increasing volume of exports and imports. All were built predominantly of wood on a stone foundation. Those that survive are the architectural heritage that justified its World Heritage listing and are the main attraction for the hundreds of thousands of visitors that arrive each year. The architectural styles are based upon that of China and Japan, but there are also Vietnamese features and some influences from Europe and other countries that frequented the port. As the port declined during and the number of traders dwindled during the late 18th century, some of the buildings fell into disrepair and collapsed. The gaps were in-filled by unattractive rendered brick structures built in the boxy Vietnamese style.

The Assembly Halls Tran Phu, one of the main streets, has five interesting assembly halls all on the left hand side with your back to the bridge. Four are for specific ethnic groups in China, but the Chinese Assembly Hall is open to all Chinese seafarers. From the bridge, the Cantonese Assembly Hall is the first you come to, followed by the Chinese, Fukien, Hainan and, somewhat further, the Chaozhou Assembly Halls. All combine social and welfare functions as well as places for ritual and worship. Each has distinctive features usually relating to the sea, sailors and shipwrecks.
The many Merchants’ Houses are scattered around the town. Typically, they are a combination of Vietnamese, Chinese and Japanese architecture, each with distinguishing features and styles of interior decoration. Many combined commercial and residential functions – storage and trading area in the front, and accommodation at the rear. They were usually long and narrow, with one or two interior open courtyards, sometimes with decorative pools, providing light and fresh air. Many also contained private temples, either incorporated into the structure or in a separate building, and family tombs. Larger houses had extensive lofts, also at the front and used as warehouses. A few similar structures can be found in Hanoi's Old Quarter. Apart from that, the architecture of Hoi An's old houses is a unique example of a blend of many cultural styles.
One of the oldest Pagodas is the Ong Hoi An, dating back to at least 1653. Inside, a huge red-faced effigy of General Quan Cong dominates the array of statues and votive objects. The Chuc Thanh was built in 1744. Among the other pagodas and temples, you'll find a small Cao Dai temple tucked away. Comparatively modern, it is an outpost of Vietnam’s ‘tailor-made religion’ based in the south. Both the Truong and the Tran family chapels are interesting. Both were built by ethnic Chinese people, and reflect the architectural styles of both China and Japan. The altar in the Tran chapel has a set of hand carved stone tablets commemorating the ancestors. The rear garden is a delight in miniature.

Apart from the municipal museum, housed in an unprepossessing brick structure, some of the old buildings has been converted into museums. The Museum of History and Culture is housed in a redundant pagoda, and provides a good overview of the town’s development. The Museum of Trade Ceramics, funded by donations from Japan, is more specialized. It has some fascinating exhibits of ceramics and porcelain, one of the mainstays of Hoi An's trading past, and some detailed architectural drawings.

The Ancient Town of Hoi An, is on the mouth of the Thu Bon river. Facing the silted-up river that once made it a major trading centre, it is now a World Heritage Area and a popular destination. Its close proximity to Cua Dai Beach, good hotels and restaurants make it a pleasant place to spend a few days in the middle of a full tour of Vietnam. Although it's commercialized, it's a well managed site and retains it's 'village’ atmosphere. Apart from the ancient streets of wooden buildings, silk shops, river trips and a delightful monthly 'return to the past' evening when traffic and electricity is replaced by lanterns and traditional costumes, are additional attractions.

The Japanese Bridge The most famous is popularly known as the Japanese Covered Bridge. Unfortunately, the name leads most visitors to overlook the small pagoda of which it is an integral element. Indeed, it’s debatable whether it was of Japanese construction at all. Nevertheless, it’s an attractive structure and is probably enhanced by the mystery surrounding its origins.

a tourist looking out at the flooded river while taking his lunch

the river has been flooded

the road is still flooded

I am showing the height of the flood water level

enjoying Dalat wine

Day 12 (24.11.07) Hoi An > Hue
The distance from Hoi An to Hue is 120km and takes 5 hours. Departing at 8am and arriving at 1.30pm. Along the way, sightseeing stop-over at Marble Mountain, Hai Van Pass and the Lang Co beach. In Hue, we walked around the city, crossing the Phu Xuan Bridge visiting the Citadel and market. Walked back by Truong Tien Bridge. Dinner was at Cay Hoang Nam recommended by Singh Café.
Booked ticket for DMZ tour the next day @ US11 pp.

Hué has been one of Vietnam's main cultural, religious and education centres. Its Thien Mu Pagoda is one of the most famous structures in Vietnam. The remains of the huge, moated Citadel (Kinh Thanh), constructed by the Emperor Gia Long from 1804, contain many interesting sights, such as the Ngo Mon Gate, Nine Holy Cannons, Thai Hoa (the Palace of Supreme Harmony), Nine Dynastic Urns and the Halls of the Mandarins. Sadly, the intriguing Forbidden Purple City was largely destroyed during the Vietnam War. About 15km south of Hué are the splendid Royal Tombs, of the Nguyen emperors. Hué has many other places of religious and dynastic importance and some good museums.

Hai Van Pass The Mountains straddled by the Hai Van Pass are generally regarded as an unofficial demarcation line between the north and the South Vietnam. It has spectacular views from its highest point, a good reason for avoiding the new tunnel cut through the granite peaks.

Bus – Hoi An to Hue is US4 pp
Sleeping: Ninh Bing Hotel – US13 for 2 rooms

Marble Mountains are a popular spot for Vietnamese visitors, about 10km from Danang. Also known by their Vietnamese name of Ngu Hanh Son (Five Mountains Range), they face the East China Sea and contain some of the oldest pagodas in Vietnam. The colour of the marble in the 5 peaks differs: the Thuy Son Mountain has pink marble, while the Moc Son Mountain’s is white and the Hoa Son Mountain’s is brown. At its base is Non Nuoc, a stone carving village with more than a thousand people involved in making fine art works and Buddha statues from high-grade limestone, mostly for export worldwide.

passing through Danang town

Lang Co Beach is a long stretch of white sand with a pretty village and an attractive lagoon. Halfway along is recently built resort hotel on the beach, a short distance from Highway 1. Its proximity to Hue makes it an alternative to accommodation in the city itself.

Hai Van Pass

In Hue, we walked around the city, crossing the Phu Xuan Bridge
visiting the Citadel and market. Walked back by Truong Tien Bridge.

The Citadel often referred to as ‘ancient’, Hue’s Citadel is comparatively modern in European terms. Built over thirty years in the early part of the 19th century, the Citadel encompasses three ‘courts’ covering a total of 6 km. The outer court within the massive brick walls, 10m thick in places, is mainly open space and gardens. The Imperial City, built along the same lines as the Forbidden Palace in Beijing, was the country's administrative centre. Senior mandarins, court officers and civil servants would have entered by the ‘Ngo Mon’ (noon gate). Directly behind were the Dai Trieu Nghi (great rites courtyard) and the Thai Hoa Palace (throne hall) where the Emperor would meet foreign rulers and emissaries, high-ranking ministers and other dignitaries. At the heart of the Imperial City was the ‘Tu Cam Thanh’ (Forbidden Purple City). Only members of the royal family, the Emperor’s concubines, and trusted senior mandarins and officers such as the royal doctor were allowed through the sole entry gate. Inside were various palaces and the Emperor’s private apartments. Less than a third of the structures inside the citadel remain. The French army shelled the building, and removed or destroyed nearly all the treasures it contained. Most of the buildings in the Forbidden City were destroyed by fire in 1947.

Further destruction occurred when Hue’s Citadel became the symbolic epicenter of the 1968 Tet Offensive. Major artillery battles were fought when the Viet Cong overran Hue and when the US forces finally recaptured the citadel 25 days later. Despite more than fifty years of decay and attrition, the Citadel is still imposing, and recent renovation work has restored several of its buildings to their previous glory. In front of the Hien Cam Lac, an elegant three-storey pavilion, are nine large bronze urns, each dedicated to one of the Nguyen Emperors, the largest being that of Gia Long, builder of the citadel and founder of the empire.

Day 13 (25.11.07) Hue (DMZ tour)

Military Sites on Highway 1, we visited Dong Ha town, Hien Luong Bridge, Ben Hai River, Vinh Moc Tunnels & Museum. Dong Ha town is at the busy intersection of Hwys 1 & 9. It served as a US Marine Corps. Command and logistics centre from 1968 to ’69. In the spring of 1968, a division of North Vietnamese troops crossed the DMZ and attacked Dong Ha.

Military Sites on Highway 9, we visited The Rockpile, Dakrong Bridge, Ho Chi Minh Trail and Khe Sanh Base.

The Rockpile was named after what can only be described as a 230m high pile of rocks. There was a US Marine Corps look-out on top of the Rockpile and a base for US long-range artillery.

We had lunch at Danang and came back to Hue at 7pm for dinner at Phuong Nam café as recommended by Lonely Planet and were very good. Booked ticket for River tour the next day. DMZ tour - US11 pp

Sleeping: Ninh Bing Hotel – US13 for 2 rooms

Demilitarized Zone (DMZ). From 1954 to 1975, the Ben Hai River served as the demarcation line between the North and South. On either side of the river was an area 5km wide that was known as DMZ. Ironically, as the conflict escalated, it became one of the most militarized zones in the world. It left a barren desert created by hundreds of thousands of tons of high explosive, estimated to be the equivalent of seven Hiroshima atom bombs, as well as napalm, phosphorous and herbicide. Today, nature has reclaimed much of the land, but craters are visible almost everywhere in the area.

Ben Hai River is 22km north of Dong Ha, once the demarcation line between North and south. Following the signing of the Paris cease-fire agreements in 1973, the present Hien Luong Bridge and the two flag towers were built.

the large numbers of speakers used for propaganda

Vinh Moc Tunnels – We walked through part of this 2.8km, all of which can be visited and for viewing by tourists. The underground passageways are larger and taller than those at Cu Chi near HCMC. There are lights installed inside the tunnels. We came out of the tunnel on the other side facing the South China Sea. Offshore is Con Co Island, which during the war was an important supply depot. Today the island, which is ringed by rocky beaches, houses a small military base. In 1966, USA began a massive aerial and artillery bombardment of North Vietnam. Just north of the DMZ, the villagers of Vinh Moc were living in one of the most heavily bombed and shelled strips of land on the planet. Small family shelters could not withstand this onslaught and villagers either fled or began tunneling by hand into the red-clay earth. All families lived here and 17 babies were born in the underground delivery room. The tunnel network has 12 entrances and was built on three levels ranging from 15m to 26m below.

Dakrong Bridge crosses the Dakrong River rebuilt in 2001 and was part of the HCM Trail

Khe Sanh Combat Base is the site of the most famous siege. It sits silently on a barren plateau, surrounded by vegetation-covered hills that are often covered by mist and fog. In early 1968 the bloodiest battle of the war took place here and about 500 Americans and 10k North Vietnamese troops and uncounted civilian bystanders died amid the fire of machine guns and the fiery explosions of 1000kg bombs, white-phosphorus shells, napalm, mortars and artillery rounds of all sorts. The site includes the recent addition of a small memorial museum. A couple of bunkers have been recreated and some photos and other memorabilia are on show. Behind the main site, the outline of the airfield remains distinct – to this day nothing will grow on it.

Day 14 (26.11.07) Hue > Hanoi

Morning was the dragon boat river tour along the Perfume River for US3 pp. Places visited were Thien Mu pagoda, Tu Duc Tomb, Minh Mang Tomb, Khai Dinh Tomb and Hon Chen temple.

Bus – Hue to Hanoi is US9 +US2 pp
Taxi – Bus station to Old Quarter – D24k
Dragon boat river tour – US3pp
Sleeping: Over-night bus

Thien Mu Pagoda founded in 1601 was a hotbed of anti-government protest during the early 1960s.The monk Thich Quang Duc travelled to Saigon and publicly burned himself to death to protest the policies of President Ngo Dinh Diem. A famous photograph of his act was printed on the front pages of newspapers around the world. His death soon inspired a number of other self-immolations. Built on a hillock overlooking the Perfume River. The 21m high octagonal tower, the 7-storey Thap Phuoc Duyen, was constructed under the reign of Emperor Thieu Tri in 1844. The bus departed for Hanoi at 5.30 pm.

by bus – Hue to Hanoi is US9 +(US2 for sleeper)

Day 15 (27.11.07) Hanoi

The distance from Hue to Hanoi by night bus is 660km and takes about 14 hours. The bus departed Hue at 5.30pm and arrived at Hanoi next morning 7.30am. Took a taxi to Old Quarter and had very good beef-noodle breakfast at Pho Manh Cuong 23. Check in at Bao Long Hotel. The day was spent walking the old-quarter. We had lunch at one dish restaurant at Cha Ca La Vong. Yew Thean Lye and friends arrived at 8pm from airport and had dinner together at Hang Voi Restaurant. We then bought returned train ticket to Sapa on 28th night at US50 pp. Evening was an all-night-long drinking session by the 5 foot -way as a cold glass of Beer-Hoi is only RM 40cent.

Sleeping: Bao Long Hotel – US4 per person

lunch at one dish restaurant at Cha Ca La Vong

Yew Thean Lye and friends arrived at 8pm from airport and had
dinner together at Hang Voi Restaurant

an all-night-long drinking session by the 5 foot -way
as a cold glass of Beer-Hoi is only RM 40cent

Day 16 (28.11.07) Hanoi > Sapa

Morning was spent walking to places of interest in the city and window shopping to check out prices for things to buy on the last day. We took taxi to train station and had dinner there before we leave at 10pm night-train to Sapa. Do not get your train ticket from tour agent; get it at the train station at US40 pp for return trip instead of US50.

Train – Hanoi to Lao Cai – US25 pp
Sleeping: Over-night train to Sapa

the famous one pillar temple

the famous flag tower

Day 17 (29.11.07) Sapa

Arrived at 6am at Lao Cai railway station and took a van to Sapa for breakfast at Hill View Restaurant. After check in @ Pinocchio Hotel, we walked around and explore the town and market area where dog-meat is for sale. We met three teachers from Malacca who joint us for trekking. The temperature is at 15C very cold for us.

Sapa came into existence as a hill station during the French occupation in 1922. Previously a Black H’mong village, it was discovered early in the 20th century and developed as a resort for French military officers. Nestled in a beautiful valley close to the Chinese border, the spectacular scenery that surrounds Sapa includes cascading rice terraces. The valleys and villages around Sapa are home to a host of hill-tribe people who wander in to town to buy, sell and trade.

For souvenirs, please buy from the markets as you’ll be dealing direct with the producer, not giving the profits to the wealthy shop owner. Bear in mind that very few of the shops, restaurants and hotels in the tourist areas are owned by local people.
Sleeping: Pinnochio Hotel – US13 for 2 rooms
Van – Lao Cai train station to Sapa – D25k pp

city view from Pinnochio Hotel

we were at this church to pray for safe journey

dog meat for sale at the market

the red Hmong tribe

the black Hmong tribe

a city view from the Dragon Jaw Mountain

Day 18 (30.11.07) 18km trek to Giang Ta Chai

After breakfast we started from our Hotel and trek down to Lao Chai village (8km) to visit the Tay and Zday tribes and moving along the bottom of Sapa valley reaching Ta Van Village which is supposed to be the most beautiful in the area. We then proceed to Giang Ta Chai village (Red Giao people). We passed through bamboo forest, silver water fall and a rattan bridge. We had lunch on the way and got back to Sapa by van. Our guide is Ms. Zio a Red Mong tribe.
Trekking fee is US3 pp
Sleeping: Pinnochio Hotel – US13 for 2 rooms

the foggy morning

street view from our hotel

trekking through the rice intensive farming hill slope

the Muong Hoa River

at a view point for the marvelous panorama view of the mountain slopes

Day 19 (01.12.07) trek to CatCat & Fansipan

Mr. Yew and friends left us for their exploring trip to Hekou a Chinese border town. After breakfast at the market, we started trekking down to Cat Cat and Sin Chai village of black Hmong tribe. We passed through a beautiful waterfall and the scenery along the river leading to Fansipan Mountain 3,143m the highest in Indochina. Kee Moon and I continued up the mountain for 2.5 hrs till we reached the base-camp at 2,350m. Here we met hunters and wood collectors. However, we had to trek back as we did not have enough time to reach the peak which is about another 800m up - maybe next time. We reached GH at about 7.30pm. Had very good candle light dinner at Gerbera Restaurant. The temperature is about 10C very cold.
Sleeping: Pinnochio Hotel – US13 for 2 rooms

Cat Cat Village is 2km from Sapa Town. This is an age-old village of H'Mong ethnic group remaining unique customs and practices that are lots in other villages.

a lazy pig by the road side

the base-camp at 2,350m

Day 20 (02.12.07) BacHa Market >Lao Cai >Hanoi

After morning breakfast at Royal Sapa Hotel, we took a van down to Lao Cai and leave our backpack at Friendly Travel office inside Friendly Café. The journey to Bac Ha took about 3 hours up a mountain top. We got the tour from Royal Sapa Hotel at US9pp ending the tour at train station.

Bac Ha Market (Sunday only) is the meeting place of many different ethnic groups who comes here for exchange their handmade products, as well as culture. It fills with many different hill tribe people. You will have the chance to enjoy it’s simple but unique kind of food with special wines made from rice, corn and fruits. We had lunch at Cong Fu café and later visited a Flower Mong village before going back to Lao Cai train station for the overnight train back to Hanoi.

Lao Cai, the end of the line so to speak, is right on the Vietnam-China border. The town was razed in the Chinese invasion of 1979, so most of its buildings are new. It is now a major destination for travelers journeying between Hanoi or Sapa and Kunming in China. We had hi-tea for dinner before meeting Yew and gang at the railway station.
Bac Ha Market tour fee – US9pp
Sleeping: Over-night train to Sapa

Day 21 (03.12.07) Hanoi

Arrived Hanoi at 6 am and took a taxi to the Old Quarter. We check in at Prince 57 Hotel. The day was spent walking and exploring the Old Quarter. Hanoi’s Old Quarter, with more than a thousand years of history, remains one of Vietnam’s most lively and unusual places. Exploring the maze of back streets is fascinating; some streets open up while others narrow into alleys. We did some shopping and the best place to shop is Vietnamese Traditional Fine Art at No.37 Hang Be Street and later had expensive dinner at Sind Anh Chicken Restaurant.
Sleeping: Prince 57 Hotel – Us16 for 3 rooms

Exploring Ho Hoan Kiem @ Hoan Kiem Lake @ Lake of the Returned Sword - is the most important lake in Hanoi. Located right at the centre of the city park, is associated with the legend of the restored sword, a "Vietnamese version" of Excalibur. The lake is so central to Hanoi and everything seems to revolve around it. Fitness-conscious Hanoi folks flood the banks of the lake every morning to perform their daily exercises. There was a legend about how the lake got its name. Originally, the lake was called Ta Vong Lake. The legend dates back to the early 15th century. The country (not yet Vietnam, let's call it the Ho Kingdom, after the Ho Dynasty that ruled it) was conquered by the Ming dynasty Chinese from 1407. Under the Chinese occupation, the Vietnamese suffered greatly. High taxes were imposed and the people hated their occupiers. One day, a fisherman called Le Tran caught a sword in his net. He passed the sword to the Vietnamese resistance leader, Le Loi. Using this sword, Le Loi fought the Chinese and liberated the country. He crowned himself as King Le Thai To and founded the Le Dynasty (1428-1776). One day, King Le Thai To was taking a boat on Ta Vong Lake. Suddenly a golden tortoise appeared. The tortoise demanded that King Le Thai To returned the magic sword. When King Le Thai To threw the sword into the lake, the tortoise grabbed it in its mouth and disappeared into the water with it. From then on, the lake was called Ho Hoan Kiem, or Lake of the Returned Sword. The lake is a good place for people watching, as this is where much of Hanoi comes out to play, to jog, to exercise and to romance. For a communist country, Hanoi is far more liberal, and it would not be rare to see couples holding hands and kissing.

Exploring the Huc @ Sunbeam Bridge – is an arch bridge that crosses the lake to reach Den Ngoc Son temple. The Huc is one of the central landmarks of Hanoi. The people of Hanoi often fill it in the morning when they exercise.

Exploring the Writing Brush Tower @ Thap But Pagoda - standing on small mound of stones, to the left of the entrance to Den Ngoc Son, the tower has five tiers. On the side of the tower are the words ta tien qing in Chinese, which translated means "written on the blue sky". There is what looks like an ink slab beside the tower. This is the Dai Nghien, a metaphorical take on an ink while the tower itself is supposed to resemble an ink brush.

Exploring Den Ngoc Son @ Temple of the Jade Mound, - is a small temple sitting on a tiny islet in the middle of the lake Hoan Kiem, north of Thap Rua. To reach Den Ngoc Son, you cross the Huc Bridge. Den Ngoc Son is open daily 8am-6pm, and there's admission charge. In the temple is a sculpture of the fabled tortoise that lends its legend to the surrounding Ho Hoan Kiem.

Exploring Thap Rua @ Tortoise Tower - is a three-storey pagoda located in the middle of the lake was built in the 18th century, and is one of the most recognized landmarks in Hanoi.

Exploring Indira Gandhi Park - an open space on the east side of the lake. During the French colonial times, it was a popular venue for the colonial officers to hold events and outdoor concert. In 1984, the park was renamed in honor of the assassinated prime minister of India, Indira Gandhi, a keen supporter of Vietnam. Within the park is a huge statue of King Ly Thai To, the founder and first king of the Ly Dynasty. As with Ho Hoan Kiem, Indira Gandhi is often a busy meeting spot for the people of Hanoi, who come here to exercise, does "tai chi", play ball, dance, and generally relax.

Exploring Ly Thai To Statue - It stands on a prominent spot at Indira Gandhi Park. It is a memorial to the founder and first king of the Ly Dynasty. The Ly Dynasty reigned over the land that is now Vietnam for more than two hundred years, from 1009 to 1225AD. The dynasty was founded by one Ly Cong Uan, who changed his name to Ly Thai To when he ascended the throne. It was Ly Thai To who moved the capital to Thang Long, near present-day Hanoi, and this move resulted in the eventual founding of Hanoi as a city and present-day capital. Buddhism was the state religion during the Ly dynasty. The Ly monarchs founded over 150 monasteries around the Thang Long region. The Ly Dynasty came to an end in 1225 when a shrew commoner by the name of Tran Canh married the last queen of the Ly Dynasty and maneuvered his way to the throne, founding the Tran Dynasty in the process.

Exploring Buu Dien @ General Post Office - is housed in a lovely French colonial building in Hanoi. The GPO consists of the international post office facing Indira Gandhi Park, and the domestic post office facing the lake. It is located Dinh Tien Hoang Street, on the east side of the Lake of the Returned Sword. You can see it immediately after the Indira Gandhi Park.

Exploring Le Thai To Monument - not to be confused with Ly Thai To statue - is a memorial located along Le Thai To Street on the western bank. It was built to commemorate Le Thai To, the founder of the Le Dynasty, which ruled what is today Vietnam, from 1428-1776. He was a resistance leader who under his original name Le Loi, fought against the Chinese occupiers and managed to drive the Chinese forces out of Vietnam, and crowned himself as the new ruler, taking the title Le Thai To. Under his rule, the country was called Dai Viet.

Exploring Hoa Phuong, - a small standalone tower on the east bank of the lake. It marks the entrance of the former Bao An Pagoda complex which was demolished by the French in the 1890s when they reconstructed the city.

Exploring Thang Long Water Puppet Theatre - a cultural experience that completes any visitor's trip to Hanoi. The puppet theatre is located at Dinh Tien Hoang Street, on the north end of the Lake Ho Hoan Kiem. The art of water puppetry came as the result of having too much free time. Developed by the rice farmers when the rice fields are flooded, water puppetry was a folk art that would have died with time twenty years ago, if not for a recent cultural revival that brought it back to life. The result not only resuscitated the art, it also provided an avenue to earn much needed hard cash for Vietnam's fledgling tourism industry.

Day 22 (04.12.07) Hanoi – Perfume River tour

Perfume pagoda is 60km south-west of Hanoi. We first travel by van for 2 hours to the township of My Duc. From here we walked about 5-minute to the boat ramp. We then took the small metal boat rowed by women for 1 1/2hour along the Yen stream to the foot of the mountain where we stopped at Trinhy temple at the landing jetty. The main pagoda area is about 4km steep hike up from where the boat dropped us off. We took about 1 hour hike up the slippery trek before we reached inside Huong Tich cave. We then trek back and had lunch beside Thien Tru pagoda before boat ride back to the wharf returning to Hanoi. We reached Hanoi at 8pm.
Perfume Pagoda tour – US15pp
Sleeping: Prince 57 Hotel – Us16 for 3 rooms

Day 23 (05.12.07) Hanoi

The day is shopping, shopping and more shopping. After 22 days away from Malaysia, we had the first bowl of Wan Tan Mee at 43, Cau Go Street. It was a fantastic dinner and all of us had two bowls.

Exploring Cot Co Flag Tower is one of the symbols of Hanoi. Built in 1812, Cot Co is a later addition to the Hanoi Citadel, which was built by Emperor Gia Long in 1805, with help from French engineers. Although the Hanoi Citadel covers one square kilometers, it is still much smaller than previous citadels built on the same site. The walls are 4.4 meters high & Flag Tower is 33.4 meters tall. It was built on the southern end of the citadel, much of which was destroyed towards the end of the 19th century. The Army Museum is next to it.

Exploring Bao Tang Quan Doi @ Army Museum - Vietnam's numerous battles to stay independent, and primarily documents the struggle for unification against French and American forces. It is located on Duong Dien Bien Phu Street on the west side of Hanoi. On the opposite side of the street from it is the statue of Lenin while next to it is the remains of the Hanoi Citadel with the Cot Co flag tower.

Statue of Lenin - Using the lake starting point, walk west along Hang Khay, this becomes Trang Thi after a while. Then you reach a split in the road; the right branch is Dien Bien Phu Street. Take that street, crossing the railway track and continuing on until you see the Army Museum on your right and the triangular park with the statue of Lenin on your left. Bao Tang Quan Doi is just behind the Army Museum.

Exploring the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum @ Lang Chu Tich Ho Chi Minh - is located on Hung Vuong Avenue, on the western part of Hanoi. Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum fronts Ba Dinh Square, a manicured patch of turf where Ho Chi Minh delivered Vietnam's declaration of independence in 1945. Despite his wish to be cremated, he was too revered to have that wish granted. So instead his remains were embalmed and kept in a glass casket where temperature and humidity is monitored. And there he stays, to be viewed by an unending stream of visitors. Admission is free. Sleeping: Prince 57 Hotel – Us16 for 3 rooms

Day 24 (06.12.07) Hanoi - KLIA

This was the last day of our 24 days backpacking adventure and that was when we did our last minute shopping and last minute drinking, of course, beer Hoi. After lunch we took taxi to Noi Bai International Airport which is 35km away for our 7pm flight AK763 to KL. Bernard took the Vietnam airlines shuttle bus to Airport for US2pp. There was an hour flight delay in Hanoi and we finally touchdown in KLIA almost midnight.
Taxi fare to airport – US9 per car
AirAsia – Hanoi to KLIA, one way US72 or RM237 pp

Bernard Lee 016-2543318
Chan Meng Fye 016-2815989 email: fye2fly@yahoo.com
Lim Kee Moon 012-5065978 email:keemoon@gmail.com
Chew Leng Soon 012-2177366 email: portoon@yahoo.com
Ching Neng Bin 012-5053199 email: ching2662@yahoo.co.uk


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